Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

Hilton Takes the Lead on Treating Service Workers with Dignity

By Leon Kaye

Much has been made about how companies across many industries are going out of their way to attract who they view as the best and the brightest employees. But in comparison, service workers, particularly those who work in retail, food service and the travel sector, have long been given the shaft.

But there is a slow, yet noticeable shift, as more companies understand that corporate responsibility also applies to how your workers on the front lines are treated. And in the midst of what most economists agree is a tight labor market, businesses really have no choice – employees who are dissatisfied with how they are treated can voice their displeasure by submitting their two-week notice and speaking with their feet as they walk to another job opportunity.

One company that has made a huge shift in the amenities that it offers to its service employees who work in areas such as food service, housekeeping and customer service is Hilton Hotels. As Oliver Staley recently showcased on Quartz, to start, the dingy breakrooms similar to the ones that anyone of us who has worked in hotels, department stores or casual restaurants are becoming revamped.

For now, the number of such hotels number in the hundreds. Hilton’s goal is to make sure that number reaches the thousands – no easy task as the company, as is the case with many hotel chains, does not actually own their properties, but instead franchises them to what are usually real estate investment trusts.

As Staley’s article points out, however, the results have largely been positive, as service workers have responded to brightly painted, decorated and well-lit breakrooms and cafeterias. Other benefits granted to salaried workers, such as the privilege to carry their cell phones, investment in more comfortable uniforms - and even generous discounted room plans - also help reduce turnover while further engaging employees.

The commitment to improved day-to-day experience for service workers is another tool in Hilton’s kit as it continues to build a reputation as a responsible hospitality company. The company claims an inclusive culture, from its reputation to within the LGBT community, to its claim that it hired 10,000 veterans over the course of three years. Local community service programs and even a soap recycling program are included in the company’s corporate responsibility agenda.

Other companies insist they are doing more to bridge the benefits gap between salaried and hourly employees. Starbucks, which last year was accused of having an unfair maternity leave policy, earlier this year rolled out a more generous maternity and parental leave program for all employees. The coffee giant also claims it has achieved gender pay equity for all white-collar and “partners” who work at its retail outlets. And in the retail sector, competitors Target and Walmart are realizing that higher wages are necessary in order to reduce costly labor turnover – but are still far behind Costco when it comes to workers’ pay, benefits and job satisfaction.

Image credit: Hilton Hotels/Facebook

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye