Quarantining with her family at home in Florida, Shelly Weir, senior vice president of career development for the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and its Educational Foundation, enumerated some of the ways the hotel industry is striving to support its displaced workforce during these troubled times. She specifically shared with LODGING her list of five specific programs and strategies the industry is implementing to help workers remain productive, optimistic, and solvent despite the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
1Employee Relief Funds
She says all across the industry, numerous companies—both on the brands and management company side—have launched relief funds for their employees. Among the larger companies that have set up or expanded existing relief funds are: Hyatt (The Hyatt Care Fund); Marriott (TakeCare Relief Fund); and Aimbridge (Aimbridge Aid). While this relief comes mainly in the form of cash grants to help with expenses, she notes another creative approach taken by a management company that handed out grocery store gift cards to all employees.
2Free Education and Training
Weir mentions that the AHLA Foundation has underwritten three free training programs to help furloughed or laid off employees advance their skills and education so that when we all get back to work, they are one step ahead. The two programs funded through year-end are: professional development scholarships for AHLA certifications, including the online exam; and continuing education scholarships for online programs, including English as a Second Language, GED, and Associate Degree College Courses. A third program offering free hospitality management online courses—but only for the month of April—is managed and produced by the Educational Institute and has already been used by more than 10,000 people. Commenting on the enormity of the response, Weir says, “It’s heartwarming to see that people are using their time to better themselves, gain new skills, come back stronger. It’s also really reflective of their commitment to working in hotel industry.”
3Continuation of Benefits
Weir says most AHLA members are continuing benefits, especially for furloughed employees, through the end of June, but that it varies from one employer to the next. “Every company has its own policy; some are paying full benefits while others are paying the employer’s share.”
4Short-Term Job Opportunities
Employers who can’t find ways to keep employees on the payroll may help them find employment in other industries that are now hiring—including pharmacies, grocery stores, online retailers like Amazon, and senior living places of business, which Weir says have a similar staffing structure and skillset need, apart from the healthcare component. Companies offering such support include Hilton and Wyndham, as well as the AHLA Foundation.
5Creative Deployment of Staff
A new trend now taking shape, says Weir, is what she likes to call “creative solutions to get hours.” This involves thinking outside the box and employees’ job descriptions to keep them on the payroll. “Examples include having maintenance staff replant flower beds and repaint the facility, and having sales staff research different prospects to approach when the crisis passes—things you might normally put on the back burner.”
Weir says these five strategies she describes paint a picture of an industry striving to take care of its people. “It’s heartbreaking on so many levels to see what’s happening in our industry at this challenging time, but, at the same time, it’s also heartwarming to see how connected we are. After all, we are an industry of people taking care of people, so it’s our duty and responsibility to take the best care of our associates as we can during this time.”