A taste for talent

Being on the Best Workplaces in Asia list for seven straight years is something worth bragging about, especially since it is an accomplishment that has taken more than a century to earn, says Hilton’s vice president for human resources – Asia-Pacific, Patsy Ng

So, what’s in Hilton’s secret sauce?
I think it is all Hilton’s century-old culture and value. Our founder, Conrad Hilton, founded the company with a sense of purpose and he believed that hospitality can make the world a better place. A hundred and four years on, we continue to bring this purpose to life and to extend this culture to our team members by providing them with an environment of inclusion, where they feel respected and valued.

Our culture supports team members’ overall well-being, helping them to achieve a balanced lifestyle while working with Hilton, and delivering (career) growth for them all.

Most importantly, we are united in our focus to bring warmth and light through hospitality, not just to our guests but all those beyond the boundaries of the hotel.

This culture starts from our leaders who bring light and warmth to team members, who then do the same for one another.

Does this deep-set culture translate into longer serving staff? How long do they typically stay with Hilton? What is the level of stickiness?
We celebrate long service and work anniversaries, and we have staff hitting five-, 10-, 15-year milestones every year. We even have staff celebrating 45 years with the company. Having staff staying so long with a single company is a beautiful thing.

What does this recognition mean for Hilton as an employer, especially at a time when securing and retaining quality talents in our industry is becoming a big challenge?
It is a big deal to us and is a validation of all the things we have been doing for our team members – to do right by them and to help them to thrive.

Our culture of inclusion, wellness, growth, and purpose is our unique value proposition and sets us apart from our competitors. Talent competitors do not exist in the hospitality industry alone, we are also competing with other industries.

To be able to keep receiving such accolades year-on-year is such a privilege, but also so humbling. We never take our culture for granted, and we know many other companies work on hygiene factors like pay, benefits and work environment. The thing is, Hilton has always worked on these factors, making sure we get them right.

For example, food forms a big part of the work environment we create for our team members working in our hotels. We do not just look at the taste and variety, but nutrition too. We also pay attention to the mood of our staff, and have different ways to check in on them.

Above these hygiene factors stands our team member promise: as long as they are part of the Hilton family, we will do everything we can at an enterprise level to make them feel like they are part of us, despite their diverse backgrounds, so that they feel included, respected, have an equal share of voice, and have an opportunity to grow and contribute.

To achieve that, one of the things we are doing is to continuously invest in team members’ life-long learning.

Our approach to team member care is our competitive advantage, especially as talent attraction and retention become so challenging after the pandemic. As you know, the millions of hospitality staff that left during the pandemic have not quite returned.

We are not just looking to establish Hilton as an employer of choice, but are also working with various key players in hospitality to position hospitality as an industry of choice. We are hoping that Hilton’s Best Workplaces in Asia recognition will not just amplify the meaningful jobs and work experience the company can offer, but also showcase the career potential of the hospitality industry.

Has the company made changes to its recruitment, talent investment and retention policies and strategies during the pandemic and during the period of travel resurgence? What changes were most crucial?
With the acute labour shortage in many of our markets, we have to lift our game in the recruitment space. We are now building dreams of a career in the hospitality industry and with Hilton.

In the last 18 months, Hilton launched two global recruitment campaigns.

We launched Find Your Thing in 2022 to tell great talents out there to join hospitality, and especially, join Hilton. Hospitality is the place where you can have a global career, working in iconic places. If you have an aspiration to seek a bigger life, hospitality is it. Join Hilton because we have one of the best, if not industry-leading, team member travel programmes that give access to more than 95 per cent of our hotels across all brands around the world at hugely discounted team member rates. Today, we are close to 7,000 hotels globally. The programme also gives discounts to family and friends, whom we embrace as part of the extended Hilton family.

So, Find Your Thing is all about amplifying the unique value of working with Hilton.

The other campaign is Every Job Makes The Stay, launched in May this year. This is focused on building brand equity for the hospitality industry, and conveys the message that behind every magical moment a guest experiences in the hotel is hundreds of exceptional people working together to make that happen. We do not advertise a housekeeping role as an invite to come and be a housekeeper; we say, come and join us as the chief of a good night’s sleep, for example. For a chef, we say, come and join us as a conductor of a five-course symphony.

I love this campaign – it has brought some positive disruption to the industry. I hope the combination of these two campaigns will inspire more talents to look seriously at our industry.

So, to your question, I think these campaigns are the biggest change in our talent strategy post-lockdown.

At the same time, Hilton is also making big investments in improving the candidate experience as a solution to the increasingly steep competition for talents. We are leveraging technology in the recruitment process across our hotels. One of the technology we are using is Hirevue, which candidates can use on their smartphones to book their interview slots and record a pre-screening presentation.

To attract talents to join us, we need to focus on delivering a great candidate experience and will leverage recruitment technology to achieve that. We have reduced the number of touchpoints for candidates’ online applications and introduced new tools such as Traitify (as well) to enable same-day hire which for high-volume jobs has become a critical competitive advantage.

What hasn’t changed post-lockdown?
I think it is our same approach to winning hearts and minds of our team members and continued investments in helping team members grow.

I’ll give you some examples.

We created a Women’s Team Members Resource Group to help those who self-opt out of career progression because of family commitments. This group provides a community of ally-ship where females can tap on different leaders for support and counsel. It also brings in sponsors to help propel Hilton towards gender parity in leadership roles.

We have Pride Team Members Resource Group too, and are launching Abilities Team Members Resource Group and Generations Team Members Resource Group in early-2024.

Abilities Team Member Resource Group is in line with our move to recruit differently-abled individuals. As they join us, we want to make sure we are providing the right environment that builds on understanding, compassion and empathy.

Hilton launched the Care For All Hub globally in 2022. This extends support to team members worldwide beyond their own self-care and enable care for others. The sub-hub for Asia-Pacific was created in line with feedback from team members, who shared that caregiving was their biggest source of stress. It provides helpful resources and e-courses on self-care and support for those who are caregivers beyond work. Resources are available to team members’ families and loved ones as well.

Would those changes have been made if the pandemic did not happen and travel continued on its upward trajectory following an excellent 2019?
This is an interesting question. The talent war has accelerated Hilton’s technology adoption in the recruitment process. Such technology exists in the marketplace, and Hilton has been making some investments in this area over the years, but the acute labour woes really sped up our pace of development.

There is a lot of focus on attracting new talents. The term ‘new talents’ seems to imply the young and fresh. What is Hilton’s approach to hiring mid-career switchers or those experienced seniors who had lost their travel and hospitality jobs during the tough years?
Isn’t it interesting that people equate new talents with young talents?

Through our partnerships with hospitality schools, we hear of reduced student enrolment. While young talents continue to be a target talent pool for us, which is important for organisation rejuvenation, we are also looking into many other sources. We are diversifying across multiple labour segments, from differently-abled individuals to housewives and retirees.

As we continue to broaden our source of talents by hiring matured workers and retirees, we will soon launch a Generations Resource Group (to support such team members).

Hilton has a diverse community – more than 75 nationalities amid our 60,000-strong team members in Asia-Pacific alone, and they span across five generations.

In fact, having a diverse workforce is a business need. A diverse workforce allows the company to understand the needs and preferences of a very diverse portfolio of guests.

Why is the focus on inclusion, wellness and growth so compulsory for a company?
We have been paying close attention to changing talent trends as we emerge from the pandemic. Global surveys are telling us that talents are still looking for companies with a culture of inclusion, where they fee supported in their well-being, where they can fulfil their aspirations, and where they can find meaning in their work.

These findings affirm that Hilton has always been on the right track.

But, what is particularly interesting is that choice and flexibility are now top conditions for top talent attraction and retention. Karen, you have been in this industry longer than I have, so you must know that our industry runs on shifts. The combination of shift work, no flexibility on shift scheduling, and long hours creates a condition that is at the opposite end of desires for choice and flexibility.

All hospitality players have an urgent need to rethink these work conditions if the industry needs to win in this talent war. We should not be competing for talents among ourselves, but with other industries.

Hilton is now at an exploratory stage in devising new shifts that accommodate individual preferences across compressed work weeks through technology enablement. This will give team members the flexibility of swopping shifts. This could be a game-changer for Hilton and also for the industry.

I would love to tell you more about it once we see success in our pilots, perhaps in two years’ time or so.

Career confidence in the travel and hospitality industry suffered a hit during the tough years. Do you think the industry has been able to rebuild that confidence so far?
I think the industry has made incremental progress but collectively we are still on this journey.

Hilton has a portfolio of 1,500 trading and pipeline hotels in Asia-Pacific, and that gives an indication of the company’s appetite for talents. Just for hotels opening here over the next five years, we need to place 3,400 hotel leadership roles. Hilton’s growth and jobs on offer will certainly show the world that the hospitality industry can absolutely provide career progression and personal development.

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