We can all agree that the hospitality industry is a wonderful sector to work in, but I’m certain we can also agree it is the absolute opposite of stress-free.

Between long hours, employer expectations, customer demands, challenging shift patterns, seasonal highs and lows, and our team member’s personal passion to do the best job possible, it’s no surprise that hospitality workers are top of the burnout leaderboard.

What is burnout?

Back in 2019, the World Health Organisation defined burnout in three ways:

  • Feelings of exhaustion or lack of energy
  • Increased feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, as well as increased mental distance from that job.
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

In other words, the emotional and psychological health problems associated with stress at work can cripple an employee’s motivation, resulting in greatly reduced levels of effectiveness and productivity.

According to recent research conducted by HR Magazine, 2024 has barely started and there is already a startling 40% drop in enthusiasm and engagement levels among frontline workers compared to December 2023. HR Magazine’s data also showed that frontline workers are no longer interacting with each other on internal communication platforms the way they used to, a sign that more and more of them are losing interest in and withdrawing from their business’s work culture.

It’s all a red flag of an even more insidious type of burnout called ‘silent burnout’, and silent burnout has become a growing problem in the hospitality sector.

What is silent burnout?

Silent burnout happens when team members feel undervalued and unsupported in their roles and don’t believe they can approach their employer for help. It often leads to them quitting unexpectedly without their employers even realising there was an issue.

Mental Health UK has already identified that we are “rapidly becoming a burntout nation”. Their research, which showed that 20% of UK workers were forced to take time off due to stress during 2023, is backed up by the Office for National Statistics own findings that almost 2.6m UK workers are currently off work due to long-term illness.

Swift action is required to prevent it from continuing.

What are the burnout factors which especially affect the hospitality industry?

  • Heavy workloads, long hours, demanding physical work, challenging schedules.
  • Continuously providing a positive customer experience can be emotionally draining and physically exhausting.
  • Hospitality employees often feel powerless and unable to influence their work environment, such as work schedules and decision-making processes. They can often feel insecure about their future, because the industry is so unpredictable, and many employers don’t communicate what is happening on the upper levels.
  • Hospitality is a highly stressful environment. Between demanding customers, complaints, staying up to date with changes and constantly being ‘on show’, it’s no surprise that your team member’s stress levels can go through the roof.

How can hospitality employers combat silent burnout?

  1. Communication is key

Your team members need to be reassured they can talk to you and be listened to. They want to know you have an open door for them whenever they need to use it. They must also know you won’t judge them for what they have to say and be confident that you will take effective action to tackle their concerns when appropriate.

Don’t forget that communication is a two-way street. It’s not enough to simply have an open-door policy. You must proactively interact with your team members, not just wait for your team members to approach you and assume that everything must be okay if they don’t.

Also, ask yourself this question – how well do you and your team leaders know your people? Do you know what their family lives are like? Do they have young children? Are they carers? What about their housing situation? Unfortunately, the hospitality industry still pays its workers among the lowest rates of most other industries, which means our team members are often living in smaller homes with multiple occupants. That puts pressure on them too.

  1. Watch out for uncharacteristic behaviour

If you notice a significant drop in a team member’s performance or productivity, or if someone who usually has a sunny disposition has suddenly become tense or snappy, don’t ignore the warning bells. The same goes for usually engaged and self-motivated team members who are now remote and disinterested, or a normally fit and enthusiastic team member who is regularly late for work or has developed a string of minor illnesses.

  1. Recognition is essential

Employers that create recognition programmes to acknowledge and reward their best-performing staff are highly valued by employees, although it’s important that the recognition programme is more than just a gold star on the ‘employee of the month’ board. Rewards should be tangible and could be anything from a small bonus in the wage packet to an extra day’s holiday to a shopping voucher. Use your imagination.

  1. Closely monitor your team members’ performance

I’m not talking about a draconian ‘Big Brother’ approach. Just regularly check staff data for signs that any of your employees’ performances are slipping. It doesn’t have to be a negative trend like regularly turning up late for shifts or taking more than the usual amount of sick leave. Often, employees who suffer from silent burnout don’t realise what is happening to them until it’s too late, and as a result they’ll take on much higher levels of work than they can cope with.

Use your in-house technology to identify workers who could be taking on too much. The chances are they are hiding their dissatisfaction by overloading themselves until their workload becomes a point of resentment and eventually that resentment will trigger them leaving. Also, don’t forget that many of your workers will opt to take on more work and longer hours to earn as much money as they can to try and offset the cost-of-living crisis. Because many hospitality workers are from overseas, the increase in global unrest might also increase their stress and worry about family members they’ve left behind.

  1. What else can you do?

Burnout weeks and duvet days

Since the pandemic, there’s been a growing trend for employers to offer their team members duvet days and burnout weeks to alleviate stress. This is still mostly a US idea but it’s starting to take hold with many employers in the UK. Of course, burnout weeks for people working in hospitality could be tricky due to the ever-changing demands of our industry but that’s no reason why, as hospitality employers, we can’t put out own spin on it. For example, you could give your employees a paid evening off every second week.

Once again, it’s all about communicating with your people, monitoring them closely, and looking for the risk signs.

Support your employees’ wellness

One of the biggest things you can do is support and encourage your team member’s well-being, making them aware of the importance of a healthy work/life balance, and offering access to everything from practical and confidential mental health services to reduced gym memberships to free financial advice consultations. Many employers are even going the extra mile by offering their team members access to private healthcare services.

Remember, sometimes addressing silent burnout by offering a burnout week or an occasional day off might not be the best solution. According to a study conducted by Workhuman, companies that develop a wellness programme for their employees are 90% less likely to have their team members report frequently feeling burnt out.

Lead by example

As employers, we should show our team members what a healthy work/life balance looks like. If they see that you are stressed, overworked, not taking breaks, and never switching off from business, they’ll believe that’s something you’ll expect of them too.

In addition, please ensure your team members have scheduled break times, an adequate number of comfort breaks, access to free drinking water and – if possible – healthy food or at least food vending machines. Provide them with a comfortable breakout area to relax in, clean bathrooms, and privacy if they need it.

Offer competitive pay

Finally, let’s talk about the eternal elephant-in-the-room: wages. Money isn’t the be-all and end-all but we all need it to survive and make our lives as comfortable and secure as they can be. So, make the wages you offer as competitive as possible. It’s not a guaranteed way to combat any kind of burnout, silent or otherwise, but if your employees know they are being paid a rate that’s better than your competitor is offering, it may make them less likely to leave and – because they know you value them – more likely for them to talk to you when there’s a problem.

The bottom line?

There are a lot of factors behind silent burnout and not all of them are obvious. Spot the potential Silent Burnouts on your team and you’ve got a chance to address their issues with them and turn the problem around before it escalates. Prevention is always better than cure.

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