press release
Published: 31 January 2023

Hospitality sector customer perceptions improve when commercial organisations are seen to be employing the houseless

Employing individuals experiencing houselessness results in positive outcomes in the hospitality industry, such as positive attitudes about hotels and positive word of mouth, according to research from the University of Surrey. 

Many hospitality organisations see the benefits of engaging in corporate social responsibility (CSR), which can take many forms. Researchers at Surrey aimed to investigate the impact of hiring individuals experiencing houselessness on customers’ behavioural intentions, attitudes toward an organisation, and perceptions of CSR actions. 

‘Houseless’ is a term often used in place of homeless – to distinguish between a house and a home. People described as ‘houseless’ may not have physical structures to live in but do feel that they have a ‘home’. ‘Homeless’ individuals may not have a ‘home’ or physical structure to live in. 

Across two experiments, researchers from Surrey investigated the impact of employing individuals experiencing houselessness on customers’ perceptions of the employee and organisation, using organisational legitimacy theory – a theory that proposes that an organisation’s structure is driven by rationalised institutional rules or ‘institutional myths’. 

Researchers found that employees known to be houseless prompted more positive perceptions from the customers, resulting in positive feelings towards the company and their responsible actions. In addition to this, the gender of the employees or the quality of the organisation did not impact these findings. 

Dr Tracy Xu, Senior Lecturer in Hospitality at the University of Surrey said: 

“Organisations that create hiring programmes and policies targeted at populations who do not have a permanent residence not only help the people they hire, they simultaneously improve customer perceptions through this kind of socially responsible action. Organisations should also consider using available resources or tax benefits to make a deliberate effort to employ those experiencing houselessness. It is a potential win-win for all involved.” 

According to Crisis, by the end of 2021, 227,000 households in the UK were experiencing forms of houselessness. There is also a national houselessness crisis in the USA, and organisations are in prime positions to respond.  

In their most recent study, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (2022) reported that on a single night, approximately 580,000 people were experiencing houselessness across the USA. A lack of employment and high costs of living suggest the houseless crisis is not an issue of providing housing, but rather an issue of providing beneficial employment to those who need it. 

The study has been published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management. 


Note to editors:  

  • Dr Tracy Xu is available for interview upon request    
  • Contact the University of Surrey press office:  

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