Listening, engaging, empathising: steps to reducing suicide in the hospitality industry

I want to talk about suicide. Specifically, I want to open a debate on how to help hospitality workers reaching the point of despair by offering practical and emotional support; and by propagating a culture across the industry in which people are able to talk about their darkest thoughts and, crucially, are listened to and spoken to sensitively and appropriately.

It’s been heartening to hear the industry talk more about mental health issues over the past few months. At HA, we’ve played our part. We were proud, for example, to work with The Caterer on their recent mental health awareness themed issue.

But, as an industry, we’re still losing far too many precious lives to suicide.

We live in a hectic and overwhelming world. For some people, this can spark feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and depression; and these in turn can set off a downward spiral of negative thinking.

People contemplate suicide for many reasons. According to the Samaritans, it’s often caused by an accumulation of difficulties that leave people feeling there is no way out. The kinds of difficulties that might increase the risk of suicide include relationship breakdown, painful or disabling illness, bereavement, bullying, loneliness and financial difficulties.

People with conditions such as severe depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be particularly vulnerable. There is also a very high correlation between suicide and substance abuse.

Add the particular stresses hospitality people encounter – pressure, adrenaline peaks and crashes, long hours – and you have a dangerous cocktail.

According to research from mental health charity, Mind, suicide rates are higher in men than in women across all age groups. Suicide is now the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.

Suicidal feelings are driven by the fear that you’ve reached the end of your resources. But with the right kind of support, resources can be restored and replenished, pain can be processed, and new ways to live life can be found.

In 2019, we’re determined to create a step-change in attitudes and prevention strategies across hospitality.

Suicidal behaviour is often described as a “cry for help”, as if it’s not to be taken seriously. But passing off talk of suicide as attention-seeking is dangerous. Anyone thinking or talking in these terms is in deep distress. If someone you know is talking like this, don’t be afraid of engaging with them. Talking about suicide with a sympathetic listener has never driven anyone to kill themselves.

But how? And how do we spot the signs, if someone isn’t actually talking about suicide?

The time has come to put strategies in place across the industry.

We’re not experts in this field, and there are many experts out there. We’ll seek their their expertise, then focus it through the lens of hospitality.

At this point, we’re looking for expressions of interest. Does this post resonate with you? I’m at mark@hospitalityaction.org.uk, or you’ll find me on Twitter (@marklewis32).

By collaborating on this important project, we can save lives.

 

100 miles in aid of Hospitality Action

We celebrate 13 brave cyclists who represented Hospitality Action and our industry on Sunday 29th July and completed the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 in wet and windy conditions. The team jointly raised over £12k for our charity.

The cyclists include Richard Davies Chef at Calcot,  Richard Ball Executive Director of the Calcot Collection, Brian Rowledge and Adam Rowledge, General Manager at Georgian House Hotel, Chris Moore from The Clink Charity, Carl Maskell Director at Just Chefs. Chef Adam Grey, industry professionals John Webb, Steve Batten, Richard Turner, Chris Schroeder, Raul Deflorian, Front of House Manager at 45 Park Lane, The Dorchester Collection and Nicholas Rettie The Master of The Worshipful Company of Innholders.

What teams them all up are their passions for cycling and hospitality.

     

Here is what our supporter Raul Deflorian, Front of House Manager at 45 Park Lane, The Dorchester Collection said: “We made it!!! It was really tough, two bad punctures after the biggest hill of the race and a lot of rain and wind, but overall very pleased! I managed to reach the target and contribute to the outstanding work that you all do at Hospitality Action!”

Long term supporter Nicholas Rettie, Master of The Worshipful Company of Innholders said: “I rode the Prudential London Surrey a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so I was delighted to have got a place this year through Hospitality Action. I’ve been in the hotel business all my working life and have always admired the work Hospitality Action do for the people in our wonderful industry who are in need of support. To raise some money by riding 100 miles was exhausting, but it was really rewarding and for such a worthy cause!”

Final word from Adam Rowledge, General Manager at Georgian House Hotel:

“It has been a pleasure to work with Hospitality Action since I became aware of the excellent work that they do around 7 years ago. There are so many different ways to support the charity, many of which I have been fortunate to be able to do during this time, from completing sponsored events such as the British 10k run and RideLondon 100, staging fundraising and awareness events during Hospitality Action Week, welcoming guests to my hotel for Golden Friends afternoon teas and of course attending the more indulgent events such as the wonderful Back to the Floor dinner and of course there are many more ways that you can help, all year round. I passionately believe that we not only should want to support Hospitality Action to give back to our industry but that we actually have a duty to. The charity is always there whenever we or our team needs its support and I have been fortunate to directly see the benefit of their involvement in my own business through the Employee Assistance Programme and the support that HA provided to our additional focus on employee wellbeing.”

We thank our supporters for making our work possible. Without the funds you raise, our hands will be tied and our phone lines will be unanswered. Isn’t it comforting that hospitality workers in need have somewhere to turn to?

You are selflessly pushing yourself to achieve a challenge, to deserve the pledged moneys, only to hand everything over and help the colleagues within our industry who are next in line to be given support in their difficult time.

Yes, there is a constant stream of applications to assist and we can’t turn anyone away. If people have reached out, they are relying on our help. Going forward, we can’t leave anyone behind. Asking for help is hard and most often people would like to remain anonymous. We try and help people confidentially and without any disruption to their personal or working life whenever possible. That way they manage to keep up with their lives, keep their dignity and regain their confidence and power back.

Hospitality Action is here, with all our 181 years of experience to support you, educate or assist you. Only together we can make the changes that are worth making in the industry we all love. Choose to fundraise, choose to support, sign up for our newsletter and feel part of the conversation.

Do we all have charity in us?

We all have a different idea about what charity is, how we see ourselves getting involved and what we are prepared to do. Charity doesn’t always mean that you have to part with your hard earned cash. Charity also means awareness, consideration and compassion. Charity is a feeling that drives you to give, but ask nothing in return. With most people charity is that feeling of satisfaction, belonging, believe and honour. Charity involvement should be fun, it should inspire creative thinking, but can also sometimes mean hard work, physical training, sweat and pure exhaustion.

Have you found your charity and what are you prepared to do?

I joined the fundraising team at Hospitality Action last year in January. I found myself straight into the deep end, learning the job whilst running through my daily tasks and supporting an organisation celebrating its 180th Birthday year. I loved every moment of it right from the start and I still do. I believe that challenges are opportunities. Every single person we have helped gives me job satisfaction. Working for a charity, I am not in it for the money, but I am all about raising the money and raising awareness. For our beneficiaries financial help doesn’t just mean that the bills are getting paid, or they had a nice family day out or a nice afternoon tea with retired colleagues, because everyone deserves a dignified standard of life, needs a helping hand at times to boost their self-respect and confidence to empower them to continue their fight, survive and become independent again.

Everyone working in the hospitality industry should know who Hospitality Action is. If you do, spread the word, talk about us with your colleagues, look us up on our website, call us and have a chat. We are not a union, but after 181 years helping the people of our industry we have a very good idea about the kind of problems they face and more importantly, we have the solutions. We don’t just listen, we offer a plan, financial help, confidential professional advice, a get together, phone friends, HR support through our Employees Assistance Programme which is vast. We support employees and employers. We are all in it together and we have to make it work. After all, when you think about it, we spend most of our awake time working to pay for our living. We strive to find a balance and we believe in equality.

     

What really matters are the people we help, their real lives, their real problems and the difference we make. Working or retired, anywhere in the UK, any job within hospitality, we are here to offer support.

If you are reading this but don’t need support, then unite with us to make working in the hospitality industry a happy, safe and positive experience. Put a team together, run 10K, ride 40 miles, come up with your unique idea of team building activity, organise an event, donate an auction prize, join our EAP, make a cash donation, raise awareness, become a member, sign up for our newsletter, do something and have fun whilst raising money doing it, if you are a business nominate us as your charity of the year.

We have to raise the money to keep going as an organisation and fill the pot to pay out grants to those who need it and also pay for all the other services we offer. Our charity doesn’t receive government funding or many other grants. Last year we raised enough money to sustain and we spent £741,273 supporting the people in need from the industry we love.

Hospitality Action, our charity, has to make business sense to survive and continue to strive. So you see, it is a joint effort.

Take a moment, find the charity in you, what does charity mean to you and decide what are you prepared to do?

If you have charity in you we want to hear from you fundraising@hospitalityaction.org.uk

If you are a supporter, we thank you, you make our work possible! We would love to hear from you why you choose to support us.

The mental wellness imperative: an open question to the hospitality industry

Spending last week on holiday in Cornwall gave me time to reflect upon this month’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and the stories it sparked.

Hospitality Action marked the week by partnering with HR in Hospitality to co-host a breakfast event at the Royal Lancaster London, to shine a light on the issue of stress in the hospitality workplace. You’ll find context to the event in my previous blog post.

I was preparing to draw to a close the Q&A session that concluded the event, when a hotelier called Darryl took up the roving mike and shared with the room his experience of spending time in the iron grip of depression. Silence fell across the room, and jaws dropped, as he spoke. In just a couple of minutes, Darryl made real the mental wellness issues we’d been debating for over an hour. Delegates left the hotel humbled by the fact that he’d chosen our event as a platform from which to tell his story.

Since our event, three more chefs have been in touch with HA to share their stories. Two approached us in confidence. The third, Charlie, has told his story on Twitter. As the hashtag says, it’s clearly #timetotalk.

Staring out at the Atlantic at Sennen Cove last week, I thought about what the industry needs, to equip it to help Darryl, Charlie and others like them.

HA already helps people for whom mental health issues have become acute. We offer people counselling … we provide them financial support when they are unable to go into work.

But what if there were a self-support mechanism that helped keep mental health problems at bay, in the first place? I’m thinking prevention rather than cure – but what would this look like? And how could HA facilitate it?

One thing’s for sure: there’s a need. As one chef said on Twitter in response to Charlie’s post, “it’s a case of which chefs I know who don’t battle these things … “.

Let me know what you think: we may not have all the answers, but we’ll do our damnedest to provide new services to support the industry we serve. You’ll find me at mlewis@hospitalityaction.org.uk – email me.

 

“The black dog still exists” … combating stress and depression in the workplace

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. To mark it, Hospitality Action and HR in Hospitality co-hosted an event yesterday morning at the Royal Lancaster London, to shine a light on the issue of stress in the hospitality workplace.

Managing your team’s stress levels is important for two reasons. First, keeping its workforce healthy and happy is the right thing for a caring and enlightened employer to do. Second, a healthy and happy workforce is also a work-ready and productive one – stress can result in high sickness absence, high staff turnover, low morale and under-performance.

To get a sense of the scale of issue, prior to the event we ran a survey with media brand Dewberry Redpoint and comms agency Mercieca.

The results paint an alarming picture.

We began by asking: “is your job a stressful one?”

Only 5% of respondents reported that their job is rarely stressful. A worrying 80% told us that their job is stressful sometimes or most of the time. And 51% – over half! – described their job as being stressful most or all of the time.

Our next question asked respondents to choose the one statement from four options that best described their place of work.

Just 3% said they rarely deal with stressful situations. Lucky them …

Roughly a third, 30%, chose “there are some stressful times, but we are really clear on how we can get support.” Another third, 34%, reported that “most of my colleagues have suffered with stress at one point or another. We wish we had more support.” And 33% selected “we all suffer with stress, it’s part and parcel of job.” This last answer is most alarming: can a third of hospitality professionals really be resigned to living with stress on a daily basis?

Question three asked whether stress levels had increased over the past three years. With 79% of respondents reporting that it had, we are clearly dealing with a worsening problem.

Next, we asked what were the main causes of stress at home and in the workplace. At work, pressure was the biggest cause, referenced  by 75% of respondents. Though poor management was mentioned by 39% of respondents, it was reassuring that only 13% cited bullying/harassment as a cause of stress – still 13% too many, but a sign that the more Neanderthal style of kitchen management is finally becoming a thing of the past.

In the home, respondents pointed to relationship/family issues (35%), health issues (30%), debt issues (24%) and addiction issues (11%).

Our research asked if the organisations where those surveyed worked offered mental health awareness training. The answer was “yes” for just 17% of managers, only 9% of employees, and 16% for both.

Meanwhile, 56% of respondents thought that employees are more likely to discuss mental health issues with employers than previously. The 44% who answered “no” used worrying vocabulary like “stigma”, “taboo”, “weak”, “embarrassed”, “macho”, “brutal”, “scared” and “militaristic” …

If your business could do more to support employees with mental health issues or any other challenges, please do consider our Employee Assistance Programme.

Research presented, I then chaired a discussion panel featuring the Royal Lancaster’s GM and a great advocate of HA, Sally Beck; Hawksmoor HR manager and EAP client Sofia Gassne; Law Express MD, Karen Archer; Work with Nest director, Maggie Campbell; and Kate Nowlan, CEO of our EAP partners, CIC.

At the end of the session, something extraordinary happened. A hotelier called Darryl took the mike and proceeded to tell us his story of depression and of pulling back from the brink of despair. He describes his experiences frankly at his blog, Mind the Gap.

I’ll leave Darryl with the last word, as I did yesterday.

“The black dog still exists, but it doesn’t mean I’m bad”.