A Resurgent Hospitality Company Finds Innovative Ways to Grow Its Workforce

BY Erika Riley | May 18, 2023

Three years after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, most industries have recovered their lost employees or brought their workforce close to how it was pre-pandemic; except for the hospitality industry.

The hospitality and leisure industry has the highest share of jobs lost from the pandemic (6.5%) of any industry except for mining, with 1.1 million jobs still lost

Hyatt Hotels, the multinational hospitality company headquartered in Chicago, has been leaning into new innovative ways to grow its workforce since the COVID-19 pandemic. Jin Ivacic, global head of talent acquisition at Hyatt, spoke about workforce solutions with Edward McClelland, contributing editor at Chicago Magazine, during a fireside chat that closed out From Day One’s Chicago Conference.

“During the pandemic, one in three [hospitality workers] left their jobs and 45% went outside of industry altogether,” Ivacic said. “So we knew we had to focus on retention of those that we still had, and reaching out to different talent pools.”

The unemployment rate for hospitality and leisure workers has improved significantly from its highest point in April 2020 at 39.3% to 5% in May 2023, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Data. But job openings in the industry have steadily remained around 1.5 million per month after jumping from 900,000 in February 2021, when vaccines became more widely available in the United States. In the pre-pandemic years, job openings rarely entered the seven-digit range. 

Now, the challenge is filling those job openings.

Hyatt, Ivacic explained, has taken an innovative approach to fill those openings in both its corporate offices and on-site at its hotels.

Prioritizing Immigrants and at-risk Youth

Hospitality and leisure is a unique industry in that most jobs do not require a high school diploma or equivalent. With so many avenues to choose from, including front desk work, food and beverage, housekeeping, and management, employees who come in for an entry-level job can easily find themselves rising through the ranks.

“It’s really a special industry, because you’re able to really discover a career that you didn’t know 
existed,” Ivacic said. “When you came in the door, you were just looking for a job, and now that has evolved into a career.”

Hyatt has initiatives to prioritize communities with fewer diplomas or formal certifications, such as at-risk youth or immigrants. For example, Hyatt’s Rise High Initiative aims to employ 10,000 at-risk youth before 2025 (with “at risk” described as not in school and not employed).

“So this is a typically forgotten about population…but we found that when we invest in them, we get back so much in gains because they’re more loyal. We’ve been able to promote them, and we’ve been able to retain them at higher levels than other employees,” Ivacic explained. “So it takes a little bit more work on the front end with the development, but it’s really hiring that sticks.”

She also spoke about immigrants’ historical role in the hospitality industry, especially because many positions do not require a working knowledge of English.

The vital part, Ivacic stressed, isn’t whether or not these employees have a specialized skill set yet. When hiring, she often looks for a growth mindset and a willingness to learn so the employee can scale up.

“So if they have that growth mindset, then we can really kind of take somebody and move them across a wide variety of positions, again, that they didn’t really know existed,” she explained.

Hyatt has also worked to remove barriers to employment for at-risk populations. One of the biggest barriers, Ivacic said, is the lack of access to reliable transportation. So to help, Hyatt launched a pilot program allowing new hires in certain roles to work from home as they grow and learn in their role.

Jin Ivacic, the global head of talent acquisition for Hyatt Hotels, was interviewed during the fireside chat session (photo by Tim Hiatt for From Day One)


“And it was so successful that we’re doing another [cycle]; we’re actually recruiting for it now. So we’re excited to see that continue to be a pipeline for us,” Ivacic said.

For employees who cannot work from home, Hyatt has been testing flex and compressed schedules to take some of the pressure off of employees who do not have access to reliable transportation.

Ivacic is also a board member at BUILD (Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development) Chicago, a nationally respected gang intervention, violence prevention, and youth development on Chicago’s West Side.

Retaining Talent Through Upskilling and Workplace Culture

Another recent challenge, faced by all industries, has been retaining talent. Although Ivacic thinks this will be less of a concern as employees seek more stable jobs in the face of massive layoffs (such as in the tech industry), retaining talent is still one of Hyatt’s primary goals. 

One of the ways Hyatt aims to retain talent is through its workplace culture, which Ivacic calls the company’s “secret sauce.”

“Our purpose is to care for people so they can be their best at Hyatt. We can’t get to the point of caring for people if we don’t know who they are,” Ivacic said. “So, you know, it’s really built in that we have to know people, we have to meet them where they are, we have to support them, we have to develop them along the way.”

Some examples of employee development include diversity business resource groups, heritage celebrations, wellness weeks, and gratitude days. Ivacic also explained that she and her colleagues have seen many people return to the company after time apart.

She also noted that new hires are especially interested in company culture when interviewing for a new role. They want to know what the company stands for, both in terms of its relationships with its employees and its greater impact on the world. 

Investing in employees is a considerable part of company culture. Ivacic sees it as intrinsic to keeping talent invested in the company and creating a pipeline where they can work their way up. 

“So we’ve really just seen that organically happen,” Ivacic said. “And I think a lot of companies are starting to really put action and intentionality around that upskilling theme.” 

Future Advice for HR Professionals

Ivacic recommends three pieces of advice for HR professionals working through this challenging time. First, she noted that time is everybody’s most valuable resource. And because hiring is so busy right now, it’s best to save time wherever possible. That might look like using automation tools to cut out some recruiting, hiring, and onboarding work. 

The second piece of advice is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for recruiters or HR teams, so testing solutions on a small scale before fully diving in is advisable. Having proof of what works and what doesn’t can help professionals adjust their processes.

Lastly, Ivacic stressed that HR professionals need to take time for themselves.

“I think this has been a really tough time for all of us. And you know, HR tends to take care of everybody else before themselves,” Ivacic said. “So I think it’s good to kind of pause and protect your personal time as much as you can. Perhaps go on vacation.”

Erika Riley is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


An Exploration Into How We Can Eradicate Unintentional Bias and Discrimination

Human judgment—and the prejudices and unconscious biases that it can give rise to—will always be with us.That’s why Jessica Nordell’s critically acclaimed book The End of Bias comes with the subtitle, “A Beginning.”One approach that can help reduce discrimination, Nordell found during her research, is to use objective criteria in making decisions about health care assessments and corporate promotions, among other examples.“It's not so much about changing hearts and minds as it is about changing the decision-making environment, changing the structure within which people make a decision, so that their own biases are less likely to play a role,” said Nordell, an award-winning author and science writer.In assessing the results of anti-bias and anti-discrimination interventions, Nordell focuses on examining data and looking for measurable change, she said during a session at a From Day One conference in May in Minneapolis, where she is based.“I tell stories about people and organizations and cultures that have actually changed in measurable ways and then try to explain and explore what allowed them to do that,” Nordell told moderator Stephanie Sisco, an assistant professor in the College of Education & Human Development at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.Nordell cited a group of trauma surgeons at Johns Hopkins University as an example of the difference that objective criteria can make. After the surgeons began using a computerized checklist, instead of their clinical judgment to assess patients for blood clots, those patients began getting appropriate treatment at much higher rates. The gender disparity for women, who previously were almost 50 percent more likely to miss out on blood clot prevention, disappeared, even though the doctors had not set out to decrease the bias.Businesses have seen positive results from similar efforts. “One approach that decreases discrimination against women and underrepresented minorities in corporate environments in terms of their ability to be promoted into management is using consistent, objective, transparent criteria for making decisions,” Nordell said.Jessica Nordell, pictured, signed copies of The End of Bias for the From Day One Minneapolis attendees (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)Where many psychologists see two kinds of bias, prejudice based on deeply held beliefs and unconscious bias, Nordell believes another form also exists: unexamined bias.“That better captures the fact that there’s a kind of unknowable combination of conscious and unconscious things happening,” Nordell said. “If we’re holding beliefs that we haven’t examined and we’re acting on those” that requires “deep, personal introspection and deep grappling with our belief system, with our values.”Nordell told Sisco that she had written about bias and discrimination for years as a journalist but became impatient reporting on those issues and trying to persuade readers to care. She wanted to know what to do about bias and discrimination and wanted to read a book that offered “a thorough examination of what change’s people’s behavior, what changes organizations and what changes cultures to become more fair.When she couldn’t find that book, Nordell wrote it. She spent five years on The End of Bias, which she thought would be an 18-month project.While we may never reach the end that the title suggests, Nordell believes “that we can get a lot closer and we can do a lot better.”“We can relate to each other in much more humane ways than we have,” Nordell continued. “And that’s really my goal with the book, to, wherever we are, move us more in that right direction.”Todd Nelson is a Minnesota-based journalist who writes for newspapers in the Twin Cities.

Todd Nelson | June 02, 2023

Retaining and Motivating Employees by Showing Them Their Work Matters

Whether you’re a human resources professional in the private or public sector, motivating employees goes hand in hand with keeping them. And neither task is an easy one.A five-person panel recently went through the ups and downs of that process in a discussion titled “Retaining and Motivating Employees by Showing Them Their Work Matters” at From Day One's Minneapolis conference. It can be tricky to zero in on the intangible but important sense among employees that their work has meaning not only to the company but also the world at large. Part of that equation has to do with having employees buy in to your company’s mission, according to Laura Lorenz, vice president of human resources for 3M’s Transportation and Electronics Business Group.“The focus is aspirational,” Lorenz said. “We’re the world’s largest provider of N95 masks, and during COVID we kept our prices the same. That was a source of pride for our people.”In the public sector, keeping workers motivated and happy can be extra challenging. Toni Newborn, chief equity officer and director of human resources for the City of Saint Paul, said that tight budgets and the structure of the city government can be an obstacle.“We have 15 operating departments that are essentially their own businesses, with 3,000 employees,” Newborn said. “Our challenge was that during COVID, our budget wouldn’t allow people to work from home. So we set up a fund to create stipends for people to make working remotely a little easier–for Internet, for day care. It was a gesture that government employers usually don’t offer.”Ryan Faircloth, politics and government reporter at the Star Tribune, left, moderated the panel discussion (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)A natural outgrowth of retention effort is a benefits package, and as surveys have shown, the one most sought after among employees is one that provides help in having and caring for a family.“When people talk about work/life balance, what they usually mean is work/family balance,” said Jeni Mayorskaya, founder and CEO of Stork Club, a company that provides family and fertility-based benefits. “Twenty-five percent of women who give birth quit within a year. It will happen if they don’t get the support they need at work. They’ll put their family first.”Another obstacle in the way of attracting and keeping employees can come from above, according to Hannah Yardley, chief people and culture officer for Achievers, a Toronto provider of employee voice and recognition solutions.“I believe more than 40 percent of H.R. leaders don't think their leadership teams are ready to make change,” she said. “Leaders aren’t listening, and if you don’t take action, employees won’t trust you to make the changes they want.”One method for finding out what employees want is by, yes, asking them. Newborn said that when Saint Paul put together an employee engagement survey not long ago, a city employee of some 45 years said it was the first one he’d ever seen. “We didn’t know how important it was for employees to take ownership of city policies,” she said.One important thing to note is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to attracting and keeping workers.“Like everything in H.R., there’s no one simple answer,” said Julie Kline, chief human resources officer for North Memorial Health. “There’s no, ‘Oh, just offer better benefits.’ With COVID, we needed to look at what would motivate our employees. And for them, it was providing a solid foundation. It doesn't sound exciting. But the reality for us was that we really had to look at how we could provide them with stability in their roles.”Dan Heilman is a Minneapolis-based journalist.

Dan Heilman | June 01, 2023

After Three Years of Crisis, What Will Keep Employees Engaged and Motivated?

Over the past three years, workers have had to learn how to adapt and build new skills in order to succeed in a constantly changing work environment. In the aftermath of the pandemic, this same workforce is now experiencing extensive burnout. Now, organizations are tasked with finding ways to help their employees exit survival mode, through means of building an inclusive culture that supports a sense of employee engagement.During a panel discussion at From Day One's Brooklyn conference, moderated by Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, a group of panelists offered their perspective on how their business is renewing a sense of meaning among its employees.Widespread Employee BurnoutAccording to Dale Cook, co-founder and CEO of Learn to Live, people often think in two ways when it comes to burnout.“There’s the external forces that we all experience, heavy deadlines, heavy workloads, life pressures. There’s [also] the internal side of how we manage those things on a day to day basis.”He said that when his organization works with partners, they tend to focus on the internal side: the things that are within their control, like reframing mental health, and providing the right tools at the right time. Cook cites his own experience struggling with mental health in college and his access to mental health services as a key influence on his company’s mode of helping others do the same to manage their burnout.And yet, Lydia points out that frontline managers are often the ones truly shouldering much of the burden as they watch their teams get burned out. The key to combating this and building stronger relationships with employees, Dale said, lies in a manager’s ability to be vulnerable with one’s own mental health journey.One of the biggest shifts that Liz Pittinger sees as head of customer success at Stork Club is in the transparency behind communicating any strategic decision-making for the sake of diversity, equity, and inclusion. She points to how fertility journeys and menopause are silent stressors that contribute to burnout. These are aspects of health care that Stork Club incorporated into its benefits portfolio.The critical aspect here is how these decisions are shared to the organization at large, so that people have an understanding as to why certain health care benefits are necessary.Engaging the WorkforceA simple change in scenery could be the key driver in building engagement among employees.At MasterCard, Charman Hayes highlights the value of in-person connection with colleagues. As EVP of people and capability, technology, Hayes helps underpin activities like volunteering, mentorship, game engagement, and learning and development to fulfill human connectivity.“It's been a great opportunity since we've come out of our basements and our bedrooms.”Noting MasterCard’s goal in using technology to bring people together, Charman indicated that human connection can be tastefully met in person where it matters, and they can also be met virtually.Giving employees a sense of purpose through social impact programs is a priority at NBCUniversal. Jessica Clancy, who serves as SVP of corporate social responsibility, said the media company’s Talent Lab allows employees to be “nominated for a learning experience that wraps around inclusive leadership, the principles and values we care about at NBC, and integrates it with social impact.”The full panel of speakers, pictured, discussed how they are focusing on engagement, inclusion, and motivation within their organizations (photo by Cassandra Sajna for From Day One)Clancy said that having employees “not just participating in community service, but actively working on leadership development alongside young people from that community” is an important differentiator.“It really helps employees to think about the skills around empathy, listening, inclusivity that they are practicing in the community, and that they’re going to bring back to the job,” she said.From a leadership perspective, ensuring employee engagement is often personal.“I feel a very deep sense of responsibility to ensure that we are positively impacting lives, whether it's other employees in the organization, fans, especially in the community more broadly,” said Jane Son, co-head of foundation and community engagement at the New York Mets.Encouraging Empathy and Inclusion in the OrganizationAccording to Dale, isolation is one of the leading issues for mental health. “As much as we’ve advanced our conversation together around destigmatizing mental health, it’s still the number one barrier for people in the workforce that often translates into fear of discrimination.”To combat potential discrimination, his organization offers programs and services that are completely private and confidential.For Stork Club, the path to effective inclusion in their mission is simple: reduce the cost of health care.“Every single day, we're dealing with people who are desperate to start a family or not, who don't know if they can financially afford it. When we promote empathy, we start with the member experience,” said Liz.“When our care navigations share member stories with us, we’re getting the celebrations, the picture of their newborns, and we convey that back to the customer and through the entire company to make sure everyone understands and feels connected to what our purposes are.”Discovering the Next Steps in Professional DevelopmentOften, a natural transition from volunteering in the workplace is finding an opportunity to utilize new skills and apply it to positions of leadership, development, and service. This makes internal initiatives like that of NBCUniversal and MasterCard useful for those in leadership to recognize when an individual wants to evolve to the next stage in skill building.“Leaders can talk about the skills they need for projects, and employees can share that they want to build on and develop those skills,” said Charman. “We add this into our talent review process which translates into human resources.”At Learn to Live, there is a strong belief that acts of service is an important part of a mental health journey.“What I'm intrigued about is that interconnection between best practices, community service, and skills building, coupled with how people are working on themselves at the same time. That intersection is something worth exploring for organizations,” said Dale.Tania Rahman is a native New Yorker who works at the intersection of digital marketing and tech. She enjoys writing both news stories and fiction, hot chocolate on cold days, reading, live music, and learning new things.

Tania Rahman | May 31, 2023