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Employee wellbeing: Organisations should create a workplace culture where everyone can thrive

Managing an organisation’s people and culture strategy is a multi-layered yet rewarding role. Add a global pandemic to the mix, and the nuances around creating, implementing, and maintaining a positive workplace environment can face leaders with one of the biggest challenges of their career. The many stressors of 2020 and 2021 have undoubtedly brought rapid

Managing an organisation’s people and culture strategy is a multi-layered yet rewarding role. Add a global pandemic to the mix, and the nuances around creating, implementing, and maintaining a positive workplace environment can face leaders with one of the biggest challenges of their career.

The many stressors of 2020 and 2021 have undoubtedly brought rapid change to the international workforce, and we have seen a wave of significant shifts in workplace behaviours. Due to prolonged periods of professional, personal, and social stress, adults are being challenged mentally, physically, and emotionally like never before.

In July 2020, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 53 percent of respondents reported that worrying about Covid-19 is impacting their mental health. This makes it crucial that leaders are not only equipped with the learnings gained from this challenging period, but also with the knowledge and tools to address them.

Although the topic of corporate, and more specifically, mental wellness, has only recently enjoyed greater precedence, the pandemic only accelerated initiatives at Hilton that were already in place. Team member wellbeing has always been at the core of our workplace culture, and it is this very ethos that has helped our teams be resilient and adaptable in the face of the pandemic.

We are in a business of people serving people and we believe that when our team members are at their best personally and professionally, they can better care for our guests and one another. That philosophy, or what we refer to as Thrive@Hilton, underpins everything we do for our team members to enable them to thrive in body, mind, and spirit across the nearly 170 hotels we operate in Middle East, Africa and Turkey (and more than 6,500 globally).

Our continued success in creating a workplace culture in which employees not only feel engaged and appreciated, but also empowered, is what has led us to be consistently recognised by Great Place to Work among the top workplaces around the world – including most recently  number one in Turkey, and amongst the top five in the UAE and KSA.

That is not to say we did not face challenges of our own. The past year was one like no other – the hospitality industry was hit hard and we had to make some difficult choices. However, despite these challenges, our team members have demonstrated incredible grit and resilience. And while we still have a lot to learn, I believe that this all boils down to a few universal principles.

It’s never been more important for people to care for themselves and those around them 

Mental wellness is a shared humanity

In the face of continued uncertainty and evident signs of hope, one thing is clear: it’s never been more important for people to care for themselves and for those around them. Practicing self-care, asking for help, admitting to a struggle, sharing a vulnerability are not signs of individual weakness but of shared humanity.

Companies need to help destigmatise these issues, role model healthy behaviours, and support one another to create a workplace culture where everyone can thrive.

As colleagues, we can ask one another ‘how are you?’ and take the time to listen deeply and answer authentically. We are continuously developing Thrive@Hilton to equip our team members with the tools and resources they need to effectively prioritise their physical and mental wellbeing against an ever-evolving work life dynamic.

One initiative includes the Thrive Mental Wellness Hub, a new platform free to all Hilton team members globally, with scores of mental health and wellness resources as well as training and coaching for managers and leaders. In addition, we’ve worked with our partners at Thrive Global to provide an app-based experience free for all Hilton team members globally.

The app, which is designed to improve mental wellness, offers additional resources created in partnership with Stanford University, practical micro steps for addressing mental wellness, and tools to track progress.

It is essential to look into employees’ diverse interests with respect to body, mind, and spirit

Through our partnership with globally recognised career and life coaching platform BetterUp, we also provide 1:1 coaching for both hotel and corporate leaders that focusses on wellness and includes access to specialists in sleep, resilience and nutrition. Meanwhile, our Employee Assistance Programme continues to give team members around-the-clock access to a qualified counsellor on a strictly confidential basis across several of our markets.

Beyond centrally activated initiatives, we must understand that the most impactful work should always be done by each one of us. We all have a responsibility to look out for those around us, create healthy team routines, carve out meeting/screen/interruption free time and establish and protect boundaries between work and home.

Work-life harmony is the new standard

I often hear about work-life balance – having a good balance between work and personal time. While this is of course extremely important, it also implies that employees should dedicate at least half of their time to work and that the two – work and life – exist in isolation of one other.

An extension, and more sustainable alternative, to the concept of work-life balanced is work-life harmony, which involves integrating work into the rest of life in a way that nurtures happiness both at home and in the workplace.

As employers, we have the unique opportunity to enrich the lives of our employees and enable that harmony so that they don’t have to choose between their passions and their profession. Remote work can certainly be a part of this, but in an industry like ours that relies heavily on key social interactions and the physical presence of our team members, that can be a challenge.

Nevertheless, there are so many other simple but innovative steps we can take to establish healthy workplace practices. At Hilton, all our hotels are provided a Thrive@Hilton calendar of activities and we always encourage our team members to participate – be it a yoga class, a football tournament, a cycling route, or an art competition.

We try and keep the calendar as varied as possible to cater to our team members’ diverse interests with respect to body, mind, and spirit, and are always looking for feedback on the types of activities that drive them and give them a sense of purpose.

We also recognise that deeper levels of self-care may be needed now: our families, hotels, teams and communities are at various stages of recovery. At Hilton, a few of the unique benefits we continue to provide our team members include extended maternity and paternity leave, compassionate leave, and the Go Hilton Team Member Travel Programme, a leisure travel discount initiative for eligible Hilton team members and their family and friends.

These are just a few of the ways that we help enable our team members dedicate quality time with their loved ones and take some personal time, and space, when they need it. The importance of promoting inclusion in the workplace cannot be underestimated.

It goes without saying, an employee who feels included and part of a larger community will be the one who is more fulfilled and demonstrates greater loyalty, motivation, and performance in the workplace. At Hilton, we continue to prioritise inclusivity and make it a reality for our team members, creating a safe space where they are encouraged to have real conversations about and challenge workplace bias.

From recruitment programmes and partnerships that promote diversity and dedicated Team Member Resource Groups tailored to our diverse workforce, we are doing everything in our power to make sure each and every one of our team members truly feels like they are part of the Hilton family.

Across our hotels and markets, our team members are constantly trained on cultural etiquette and how to work with individuals from various backgrounds and abilities. This then translates into the level of service delivered to our guests, allowing us to spread the light and warmth of hospitality that Hilton has become synonymous with.

And while this is a topic that warrants a separate discussion altogether, employers must not underestimate the critical role that inclusion plays in creating a workplace environment that not only welcomes, but proactively embraces diversity.

The pandemic has undoubtedly uncovered gaps in corporate wellness

A nurturing workplace

Although this might not be a common perception, I truly believe that learning and development and corporate wellness go hand-in-hand. If employees feel that their organisations really care about their personal and professional journeys, they will likely stay at the same company for a longer period, feel less stress and burnout, and remain motivated.

Employers normally consider the wellbeing of their employees as separate or an extra benefit to L&D. Nonetheless, seeing these two vital aspects of professional life in two individual categories can restrict the organisation’s prospects to help their employees stay happy and healthy.

At Hilton, we always aim to create an environment that provides meaningful opportunities for professional growth that are unrivalled in the hospitality industry. For example, our Elevator Graduate Development Programme provides graduates with a fast-track opportunity to take on a General Manager role within five to eight years of programme completion.

Meanwhile, our Virtual Mentorship Programme allows mentors to share practical leadership skills and mentees to strengthen their self-confidence. In our first year of the programme (2019), 45 percent of the participants were promoted to a next level role within six – nine months.

The connection between nurturing workspaces and employee wellbeing should be an obvious one, and forward-thinking employers should continue to adopt initiatives that support their employees’ professional and personal growth.

Final thoughts

The pandemic has undoubtedly uncovered gaps in corporate wellness that employers can bridge to enhance employee wellbeing. In addition to being the ethical thing to do, it allows businesses to keep morale and performance levels high while retaining and attracting talent – ultimately making the investment a win-win for all. 

As the world recovers from the pandemic and starts to travel again, Hilton’s team members are once again ready to welcome guests back with our renowned hospitality – rooted in a simple but fundamental principle: caring for our people.

If we as the professional world collectively tap into these reservoirs of resilience, fuelled by adrenaline and genuine compassion, I am confident we will not only overcome this crisis, but emerge stronger than ever.


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