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”.

A Whole Lot of Fun – Flagship Quiz Breaks Records!

A record-breaking £85,000 was raised on Wednesday evening at our annual Big Fat Quiz! Taking place at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London the event was an enormous success and raised the most since the quiz began back in 2007!

The fundraising got off to a fantastic start when Daniel Pedreschi, Regional General Manager UK at PPHE Hotel Group presented us with a cheque for £19,533 – raised through the popular StreetSmart Campaign.

The quiz, hosted by legendary DJ Pat Sharp saw joint team CESA, Jellybean Creative Solutions, Propercorn and Wenlock Spring crowned champions out of the 55 competitive teams who took part. It was a closely fought battle with joint team Delifrance, Kellogg’s and Tyrells in second place and The Caterer coming third.

Over 500 guests enjoyed a three course meal of ham hock, chicken and leek terrine, slow-cooked shepherd’s pie and apricot and vanilla sponge mousse with coconut ganache and almond crumble. Guests were also able to bid on star auction lots, hosted by celebrated chef and HA Patron Brian Turner CBE, including an overnight stay for two guests in a Suite at The Dorchester and two tickets to see the England v India test match at Lord’s this summer.

It goes without saying that we’re extremely grateful to all of our sponsors, without whom the evening simply wouldn’t have been possible. Sincerest thanks to Bidfood, the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, Syft, Fusion FSM and all those you see listed above.

It was a fantastic evening! If you’d like to host your own (slightly smaller!) quiz to raise funds for Hospitality Action, or you have a brand new fundraising idea you’re keen to get off the ground please give me a ring on 020 3004 5504 to talk things through.

When the thud of envelope on door mat reminds you the world hasn’t forgotten about you …

This pile of envelopes can only mean one thing: it’s time to ship the latest mailing of our bi-monthly Golden Friends newsletter.

All hands were on deck last Friday – super-volunteer Denise‘s among them – to stuff into envelopes the fifteen hundred copies of the newletter we send out to our Golden Friends.

Golden Friends is a contact scheme for people who have worked within the hospitality industry and are now retired. It is a free scheme and is open to anyone who is over pension age and has worked within the hospitality industry in the UK for at least 7 years.

We use the phrase, Golden Friends, because we hope that the programme’s members are enjoying their golden years. But of course, for too many elderly people, retirement can bring with it loneliness and isolation. The loss of a life partner and worsening mobility only exacerbate this.

As well as the newsletter, the programme sends members birthday and Christmas cards and gifts, and invites them to regional lunches and teas where they can meet old friends and make new ones. (If you can donate a lunch or tea please click here for further details.)

Members can also request an introduction to one of our befriending volunteers, who keep in touch with Golden Friends through home visits and over the phone. I’ve written about my phone friendship with Dora, previously.

The Golden Friends newsletter is a mixed bag of content. The latest edition has information about how to join an audiobook library; advice on how to create bee- and butterfly-friendly gardens; and some enjoyable content about the NHS, which celebrates its 70th birthday this year. Sudoku lovers are well catered for; as are bakers, who’ll enjoy this month’s banana bread recipe.

Our Golden Friends love to browse each new edition. For some of them, points of contact with the outside world are few and far between, so just hearing the thud of post on door mat is a pleasure.

The newsletter is sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Innholders. Bless them for this gift to the people who laid the foundations of today’s hospitality industry. And well done to Hospitality Action’s Jenny Gill for compiling it.