I had the privilege to catch up with Malaika Myers, CHRO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation, one of the leading luxury hotel companies in the world, to learn about their employee-focused initiatives.
I was a little jealous as her hotel room overlooked the pool in sunny California, while I’m in the northeast. Myers has seen a large change over the last eighteen months. The hotel and travel industry was hit hard by the pandemic. For a while, airplane travel abruptly stopped. No one wanted to go outside or stay at a hotel. Tens of thousands of Americans lost their jobs or were furloughed.
Now it’s completely different. As states reopened and restrictions eased, there was a case of ‘revenge travel.’ People couldn’t wait to get out of their apartments and homes to visit family, friends and do some sightseeing beyond their four walls.
Along with the positive changes, came some issues. The pandemic made people reassess their jobs and lives. In the past it was frowned upon for a person to make a habit of switching jobs. They were derisively called ‘job hoppers.’ Managers were leery to hire them as they felt the worker would quickly jump ship from their organization too.
In a complete turnaround, Myers and other human resource and leadership professionals now need to contend with a hot job market and the willingness of workers to leave jobs on short or no notice period. Potential workers continue to sit on the sidelines for fear of contracting the disease and are unable to find appropriate childcare.
After such a devastating time period, we were left a little shell shocked. In the past, it was verboten to talk in public about mental health issues, feelings of depression, isolation and anxiety. Now that most of us have experienced these feelings, it’s become acceptable to openly discuss these important matters in a business environment.
Here are some of the highlights of our conversation:
Jack Kelly: What programs do you have in place/or are considering enacting to help your employees deal with mental health issues, burnout and related challenges?
Malika Myers: Wellbeing has always been at the core of Hyatt’s purpose – to care for people so they can be their best. When the pandemic exponentially heightened the conversation around mental wellbeing in the workplace, Hyatt prioritized listening to colleagues’ needs, understanding their challenges and empathizing with them. We then used that information to take meaningful action by offering more resources and support.
Based on feedback we implemented a number of internal efforts including: wellbeing check reminders sent to colleagues prior to arriving at work; daily colleague surveys to measure colleague comfort, wellbeing and needs; social distance guidance and additional hand sanitizer stations in colleague areas; and new resources like complimentary access to Headspace to practice mindfulness and self-care.
Hyatt also introduced a new mental wellbeing assessment tool for colleagues, Hyatt Well-Check. It’s a quick and confidential assessment, designed by Weill Cornell Department of Medicine, that helps colleagues measure their wellbeing and provides individualized results and recommendations. Upon launching, Hyatt saw over 10,000 colleagues utilize the tool, demonstrating how collaboration and undivided support can have a tangible impact.
In addition to these efforts, we observe Global Wellbeing Week, Global Day of Gratitude and World Mental Health Day by offering virtual programming and additional perks to further enhance wellbeing.
Kelly: How are you attracting, recruiting and retaining workers in the new era of the Great Resignation?
Myers: Attracting and retaining talent remains a top priority at Hyatt, and we are intensely focused on getting our hotels appropriately staffed as travel continues to return around the world. We developed a number of support services and recruitment resources for our properties, and we have increased our pool of non-traditional candidates through initiatives focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, such as our RiseHY program which focuses on the employment of Opportunity Youth.
RiseHY is focused on hiring 10,000 Opportunity Youth (16-24 year old’s who are neither in school nor working) into our Hyatt properties globally by 2025. As part of our efforts to advance care both within and outside of our organization, we positioned our Hyatt Community Grants program to celebrate and build upon our long-standing partnerships with local community-based organizations providing on-the-job training and employment opportunities to Opportunity Youth and under-resourced youth.
Additionally, we are looking to create and implement more growth and development opportunities across the industry. Notably, we have worked alongside the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) in its efforts to pass the Save Hotel Jobs Act, a new grant program that will bring back hotel jobs, pay workers, and help our economy recover. Our CEO Mark Hoplamazian sits on the AHLA board and has played an instrumental role in supporting hospitality relief efforts to aid in the industry’s recovery.
Kelly: I understand that most employees work on the premises of the hotel properties. For those who are remote, how do you ensure that they are engaged and not left isolated?
Myers: While 2020 was filled with significant business and workforce impacts, it enabled us to think outside the box on how to maintain human connection. Within a week of pivoting to work from home, Hyatt announced the launch of Hyatt check-in, an internal tool enabling global colleagues, including those on furlough, to communicate and stay connected throughout these difficult times.
Hyatt check-in features a wellbeing questionnaire that helps employees monitor their mental health and includes resources developed specifically for hospitality employees. We have also focused on developing a mutual support network for our leaders to check in on colleagues and do the little things that build human connection. We’ve also provided them with tools to host live trivia contests and other online events that foster collective wellbeing.
Our CEO Mark Hoplamazian also launched an internal video series called, A Moment with Mark, where he regularly shares updates on a variety of topics, including wellbeing, encouraging community between colleagues, and his personal experiences, to connect and relate to colleagues around the world.
We’re also incredibly proud of our colleagues’ ability to care for one another during these challenging times. As we explore options, we will continue to be flexible as we manage through recovery beyond the pandemic.
Kelly: Companies such as Walmart and Target are offering free tuition. Other companies are offering enhanced pay, mental health days off, sign-on bonuses and other incentives to entice people to join the company and stay there. What are you offering to be competitive?
Myers: Our colleagues are at the heart of our business and embody our purpose every day. Every year, Hyatt finds new opportunities to advance care, although no year has been more important than 2020 and 2021 in which, amidst extreme challenge and uncertainty, we’ve prioritized care for our colleagues.
But at the same time, the world was faced with another ongoing crisis: racial injustice. The murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others represented an inflection point – we knew we needed to do more. As a company that stands with the Black community and with all people who suffer from discrimination and prejudice, we are committed to taking actions that combat systemic injustices.
In June 2020, Hyatt introduced its Change Starts Here commitments to accelerate DE&I efforts throughout the organization – from who the company employs, supports, buys from and works with.
While making commitments is an important step, it’s just the beginning of a larger journey that must include concrete goals and ongoing action and communication. For example, as part of Change Starts Here, we’ve committed to hiring, promoting, and retaining diverse talent.
As part of this commitment, we’ve set goals to double representation globally for women and for people of color at the VP-plus level within the US by 2025, which includes doubling the representation of Black leaders. We also have set the goal to double representation globally of women and for people of color at the general manager level in the US by 2025.
We also noticed that young colleagues were leaving the industry in droves. To showcase career building opportunities within the industry and further support diversity in recruitment, we expanded our RiseHY program, a global program dedicated to supporting and hiring Opportunity Youth (young people ages 16-24 who are neither in school nor working) into entry-level hospitality roles.
Launching during my first year with Hyatt, this program includes a commitment to hire 10,000 Opportunity Youth by 2025, providing life-long career paths and a positive impact on the local communities where Hyatt hotels operate. To date, we have welcomed more than 1,800 Opportunity Youth to Hyatt and Hyatt Hotels on the path to this goal.
Building and fostering an environment where we embrace the unique experiences and perspectives of our colleagues and celebrate the diversity of the communities in which we operate will certainly help set us apart as we continue to rebuild our industry. While we have looked at and addressed our benefit eligibility, signing bonuses and pay—simply put, we believe our culture is the biggest competitive advantage that we have.
Kelly: Are you finding that hotel workers are worried about the virus? How are you ensuring that they feel safe?
Myers: Our highest priority is welcoming back colleagues and guests safely. We’ve implemented and regularly updated Hyatt’s Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment protocols in accordance with guidance from health authorities like the CDC and Who as well as a cross-functional panel of trusted medical and industry advisors, including experts from Cleveland Clinic, to ensure anyone entering a Hyatt property is safe and cared for. During the early stages of the pandemic, Hyatt was focused on listening to colleagues and developed daily surveys in which they could share their thoughts on their wellbeing and safety. As the pandemic has evolved these surveys are still conducted monthly and allow Hyatt to ensure colleagues remain comfortable and feel safe.
Our safety measures include the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) cleanliness and training accreditation process at all Hyatt hotels, trained Hygiene & Wellbeing Leaders at all properties to ensure new protocols are being met, various mask and social distancing protocols, along with enhanced, more frequent cleaning measures. We have also implemented new, innovative digital offerings to allow flexibility and peace of mind when staying at our properties.
“The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.”