COVID-19 hit hard. Increased stress levels related to the pandemic, work, and home. Organizational trust. Job satisfaction. Self-esteem. Mental health, as a whole, across not just the country, but the world. An impact we’re still trying to process, and a comprehensive understanding that conceivably feels a decade away. But the immediate numbers are staggering, as Hilton’s Vice President of Benefits Amanta Mazumdar knows.
For starters, a near complete shutdown of travel equated to a significant drop in hotel occupancy. As a direct result, in March of 2020, the American Hotel and Lodging Association forecasted 45 percent of all hotel jobs would be eliminated in a matter of weeks. Over eight million individuals.
Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta affirmed the challenges of the global pandemic via a Q&A on the company’s official website.
“We had to make really heartbreaking decisions about our team while navigating our business through an unprecedented standstill in global travel,” the CEO wrote in 2020.
“COVID presented us with the opportunity to do some really important work.”Amanta Mazumdar
The industry not only faced the temporary loss of countless jobs, but also the exponentially heightened stressors of those remaining employed. Studies published by the International Journal of Hospitality Management (February 2021) and The National Center for Biotechnology Information (September 2021) both sought to quantify the effects of working from home and additional COVID-19 stressors on job performance, health, burnout, and commitment.
Expectedly, the results painted a fairly clear picture somewhere between bad and terrible. The amount of stress, especially new stress, created a feedback loop of difficulty that only snowballed over time.
Amanta Mazumdar, vice president of benefits at Hilton, shared the same challenges as his colleagues and team. Balancing life for a family with two young children at home, while at the same time rising to the demand for benefits professionals to evolve programs at a lightning pace during the pandemic.
But Mazumdar assumed the challenge of his career by leading with his humanity, positivity, and an instinctive desire to do everything possible for those struggling through the defining moment of our collective era.
“I appreciate the direct impact we can have on our team members here,” Mazumdar explains. “While it was challenging, COVID presented us with the opportunity to do some really important work.”
The benefits space wasn’t one Mazumdar came to instinctually. Early on, the engineer-by-trade worked on designing software for large diagnostic imaging machines for GE. It wasn’t until being tasked to consult with the healthcare organizations using the equipment that the young professional recognized the need for a career evolution.
“I really loved working with hospital systems, with administrators, and with patients,” Mazumdar remembers. “I spent quite a few years working with integrated delivery networks to improve their operations and provide better care more efficiently.”
After earning his MBA at Kellogg and building out more experience in the pharma and consumer health industries, Mazumdar joined Hilton in 2017 in an HR strategy role. A few years later, he landed in his current role. And while it’s his first company in the hospitality space, Mazumdar already inspires transformational change and holistic thinking about what employers can do for their people.
With the onset of the pandemic in the United States, Mazumdar and his team addressed the immediate employee concerns as quickly as possible. Their
multifaceted and comprehensive approach essentially focusing on two main areas: the practical and
“We’re looking forward to doing some ambitious and really meaningful things to support our caregivers.”Amanta Mazumdar
The Practical Solutions
When the pandemic first hit, regular, every day living changed drastically, and with it the needs and priorities of the team members Mazumdar serves. To adjust, Hilton made several conscious efforts to support:
1. Hilton partnered with CVS Caremark to alleviate staff-expressed apprehension regarding the in-person pick up of maintenance and other medications during the pandemic height. By waiving delivery charges, the collaboration ensured employees received their necessary prescriptions safely, correctly, and worryfree.
2. The benefits team increased the flexibility of the 401(k). They understood the economic strain and uncertainty many Americans faced when the world changed drastically.
3. Additionally, Hilton created an internal website that aggregated CDC guidelines, COVID testing sites, and onsite clinic information for employees. Basically, a one-stop location for information and help. As vaccines became more available in 2021, the hubsite also served as a critical landing point for vaccine resources, including a webinar with two leading physicians.
“These were just very practical and direct measures aimed at helping our team during a challenging time,” Mazumdar explains. “The one saving grace of all of this was that as a company, and as a society, we were all going through this together.”
The Mental Consideration
Mazumdar also says that seeing many fellow team members working remotely in their homes reminded the entire company they weren’t just experiencing the lockdown as colleagues, but first and foremost as human beings. Everyone is handling a significant life challenge. This moved the benefits team, with critical support from leadership, to create more resources to support team member mental health and wellness. Their strategy focused on organizing existing resources, adding new ones where needed, and building a culture of dialogue around the topic of mental wellness. To execute on this strategy, the team took several actions.
1. First, along with the COVID hub, Mazumdar’s team built out another internal hub for team members that organized existing resources, including articles, podcasts, and links to its employee assistance plans. “As part of the site, we have an area where our team members can post videos about different mental health topics,” he explains. “We have over one hundred videos ranging from how people wind down at the end of the day to people explaining why mental health is important to them.”
2. From there, Hilton introduced several new resources, including an app built by Thrive Global. The mission to “end the burnout epidemic with sustainable, science-based solutions that unlock employee performance and enhance well-being.” And, as it accommodates over eleven languages, it’s available to all team members globally.
3. Additionally, the company offered personal, 1:1 coaching with a dedicated mental health professional, available to meet with employees, spouses, and adolescent children to work through mental health topics. “Our counselor has been amazing,” Mazumdar says. “You can email or call her directly. There is no 1-800-number. You set up a time and meet with her either in person or virtually. This program has been one of the enhancements that I think has been most impactful.”
4. Finally, the team also worked with Thrive Global to create training for people managers to better support those colleagues needing extra help. Looking ahead, Mazumdar’s next major project seeks to address a huge population that so often gets overlooked: caregivers. “There’s a whole host of research out there that speaks to the strain that caregiving can have on an individual, and COVID just brought this to the forefront,” Mazumdar explains. “When we look at the data and superimpose our own employee demographics, we estimate that 35,000 of our employees probably fall into the group of individuals where caregiving can hinder their ability to be their best selves at work. As part of our next frontier of innovation, we are looking forward to doing some ambitious and really meaningful things to support our caregivers.”
Mazumdar knows those he supports aren’t through the pandemic yet. Nobody is. But the signs are improving, and the VP lists countless silver linings he and his team found in the darkest of clouds. Between Q1 and Q4 of 2021, an employee survey jumped ten points up in response to the question: “I feel comfortable talking about my mental wellbeing with my manager.”
Teams feel more seen, connected, and supported, a fact recognized by key partners, such as Amazon Care’s General Manager Kristen Helton.
“We created Amazon Care to improve patient health by delivering high-quality care wherever and whenever needed,” she says. “Now more than ever, employers realize keeping today’s busy workforce healthy and safe at work is essential. We’re proud to bring our patient-centric service to Hilton, offering their employees and dependents the absolute best combination of quality, convenience, and peace of mind.”
A result that proves to Amanta Mazumdar that Hilton’s expanding benefits program will long outlast the global pandemic. And that’s the kind of lasting change Amanta Mazumdar knows he can make in the everyday lives of people.
Notes from the Frontlines
Amanta Mazumdar says that whenever he needs motivation, he simply pulls up the messages from employees around the country. The VP reads one moving account whose subject line is simply: “I want you to know that the Thrive Clinic saved my life.” Hilton’s new onsite clinic in Memphis was able to mitigate and stabilize a high-blood-pressure episode, as well as ensuring the continued treatment of its employee, checking in every step of the way. “These are the things that keep me going,” Mazumdar says. “This is why I do what I do.”
Amazon Care gives employees and their families on-demand access to primary and preventative health care through visits with nurses, nurse practitioners, and doctors, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We offer the same services as a traditional brick-and mortar-provider, including ongoing support for chronic conditions, referrals to specialists, plus coordination and continuity of care—whenever and wherever it’s convenient. When employees need in-person care, we’ll send a nurse right to their door (in select locations) or recommend an in-network provider. Learn more at amazon.care/for-employers