A few short months ago, when the UK and the rest of the world were in the full throes of the coronavirus pandemic, it felt like we’d never know ‘normality’ ever again.

Now, thankfully, it looks like ‘normality’ is slowly creeping back, albeit slightly different normality than the pre-covid one we were used to.

But, just as going into the pandemic threw everybody’s mindset through a loop, coming out of the pandemic has been incredibly stressful for a lot of people to wrap their minds around too. Especially the people who work in industries that were hardest hit, and the hospitality industry was undoubtedly at the top of that very unwelcoming Covid-19 leader board.

Here are a few facts to consider, courtesy of The Pilot Light Campaign website. We’ll talk more about The Pilot Light Campaign in a moment.

  • 1 in 2 employees in hospitality suffers from mental health issues.
  • 1 in 5 hospitality workers suffer from work-related severe mental health.
  • 50% of hospitality employees work from 48-60 hours per week with no extra pay.
  • 78% said that they had an accident or a near-miss through fatigue.

Now let’s talk about a couple of other surveys conducted a couple of years before the pandemic. The results of both surveys mirror The Pilot Light statistics very closely, highlighting that it isn’t just the uncertainties of the pandemic that have impacted hospitality workers’ mental health. Their mental health was under strain before the pandemic even arrived and made matters considerably worse.

In 2017, the union Unite took a snapshot survey of London chefs that revealed 51% of them suffered from depression due to overwork, 69% believed their hours impacted their health, and 27% said they drank alcohol to see them through their shift. At the time, Unite called on the industry to end ‘the work until you drop’ long hours’ culture, and suggested the best way to start that is “by encouraging employers to fully comply with the Working Time Regulations, including the right to 11 hours rest a day and one day off a week, as well as dropping the automatic 48-hour week opt-out clauses in workers’ contracts.”

Meanwhile, a slightly larger survey conducted by The Caterer revealed that 59% of the survey’s 713 hospitality industry respondents considered themselves to currently have a mental health problem, while 71% had experienced a mental health problem “at some point.” Of those, 51% had sought help or guidance, but 56% said their employer was not aware of what they were going through. 70% of respondents said they still felt there was a stigma surrounding mental health in the hospitality industry, and more than half of the survey’s respondents cited long hours, unreasonable work demands and working within a high-pressure environment as having an adverse impact on their mental health.

Considering that so many of our industry’s workers had already reported significant mental health issues pre-pandemic, it isn’t hard to imagine how many more of our industry’s workers are suffering from mental health issues now. Most of them in silence, because if people were scared to discuss their mental health problems then, often because they were afraid it would affect their employment, they’ll be even more unlikely to discuss it now. After all, most hospitality businesses have had to take an ‘all hands’ approach to survive and rebuild after the pandemic, and no employee will want to be seen as the weakest link. Our industry is built on teamwork, and a strong team is arguably more important now than ever before.

What about the employer’s mental health?

A lot of the surveys don’t factor in that many hospitality employers and business owners will undoubtedly be dealing with their own mental health issues. The conversation usually focuses solely on the welfare of workers, as if employers are somehow immune. That’s understandable because it’s the employees who are generally at ‘ground zero, having to deal with the day-to-day realities of performing their duties and keeping the business afloat while also having to cope with low pay, long hours, and (not always, but too often) far from perfect working conditions. But it only seems fair to acknowledge that employers and managers have got a tremendous amount of added stress to cope with too. Things might finally be returning to a kind of normal, but the past two years have given everyone, wherever they are in the hospitality chain, a psychological, emotional, and financial beating.

One fact is inescapable, though. Employers who create a workplace where everyone feels valued and supported and have the best opportunities to thrive will make life – and mental health – a lot easier for everybody, including themselves. When you take the time to build a supportive, all-inclusive work culture, you won’t only be employing a happier and more successful team who will always want to do their best for you; you’ll also attract the kind of top talent who’ll want to work for you because you’re an employer who demonstrably cares about their employee’s welfare.

People who are in good mental health work more productively and more reliably. Their attendance is better, they interact more effectively with their colleagues and your customers, and their overall contribution to your business is much more valuable. However, the fundamental key to making that happen is being an employer that your team members feel comfortable enough to talk to when they’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or concerned about their mental health.

Positive workplace strategies

  • Actively promote positive wellbeing in your workplace: make sure your employees feel listened to and valued and, where appropriate, allow them to make their own decisions about how they perform their role/arrange their shift schedules etc. Facilitate team building to encourage better communication and more positive working relationships, support flexible working and encourage a healthier work/life balance. Also, give your team members the opportunities to develop within their role, and within your business, so they’ll see you’re invested in their future and feel motivated to pursue the larger goal.
  • Raise awareness and promote discussion of mental health issues to overcome stigma and reinforce the message that you value your team’s mental wellbeing.
  • Stay aware of each of your team member’s workloads, be clear about your priorities and set realistic targets.
  • Have regular one-to-ones and catch-ups to monitor how their work is going and to find out about any challenges they’re facing that you’re not aware of. If they need extra support, find a way to give it. Don’t just talk about it and then hope the situation will improve by itself.
  • As an employee, manager, or team leader, train yourself to recognise some of the most common signs and symptoms of mental ill-health and know when and how to sensitively intervene when that’s required.

Mind’s Mental Health at Work website is a fantastic mental health and wellbeing resource for both employers and employees. They’ve also recently added a highly comprehensive Coronavirus Toolkit.

The mental wellbeing advice on the NHS UK website is beneficial too, with a lot of tips and videos about the different ways to self-help your own mental care, like how to reframe unhealthy thought patterns, how to stay in the present moment and avoid unhelpful behaviours and feelings, and how to invest in yourself by developing better social connections and finding ways to feel happier. You can also download a tailor-mind Mind Plan just by answering a few simple questions.

What else can you do?

There’s a hospitality/mental health initiative we recently found out about called The Pilot Light Campaign. We’re not connected with the campaign, but we support its message and wanted to use this forum to give it a little bit of a push.

Pilot Light is a UK-based global social impact initiative bringing together individuals, restaurants, and businesses to raise awareness of mental health and provide greater support to people in the hospitality sector. Its focus is on prevention and early intervention, making our industry a better and more enriching place to work, and finding practical ways to help those that need it. It was founded by two chefs called Andrew Clarke and Doug Sanham and is already working with a number of partners and organisations to tackle mental health concerns in the hospitality workplace, including Hospitality Action, Soho House, and Tredwells.

Pilot Light also offers a pledge that – when you sign it – means ‘you’re showing the industry your investment and commitment for change’. If you’re a business owner or employer, we’d like to encourage you to seriously consider taking that pledge. It’s not just a small but significant way to support the campaign and help make conditions better; it also sends the message that you’re an engaged employer who’s committed to tackling this terrible problem.

That’s going to speak volumes when you’re recruiting for new employees and will go a long way towards retaining the fabulous employees you’ve already got… so long as you’re serious about it and not just paying lip service to this great cause. This situation will only get better if we all take positive steps to make it better.

Best Wishes!

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