HA’s 2018 in five defining moments …

It’s a year, now, since I moved from The Caterer to Hospitality Action. I thought I’d round off 2018 by capturing my thoughts on the past twelve months. Here’s my 2018 in five defining moments.

When the chips are down, sometimes only chips will help 

Back in January, as I was trying to get my head around the sheer breadth of services our charity offers, a colleague suggested I rifle through the “thank you” file. In it, I found a note, handwritten in pencil, from a little boy called Liam. Liam and his dad had enjoyed a family day out to the cinema on us and had written to thank us. Our Family Days Out scheme gives families that are under the cosh a little ‘us’ time, a chance to regroup in the face of ongoing difficulties.

Liam’s thank-you letter hit home: for the cost of a couple of cinema tickets, some pop, a bag of chips and a ride on the bus, we’d given Liam and his dad a memory to treasure.

Liam’s story demonstrates how support can come in many shapes and sizes.

As well as Family Days Out, we run our Golden Friends scheme to keep loneliness and isolation at bay for industry retirees. We offer an Employee Assistance Programme that helps employers keep their teams happy, healthy and work-ready. We award grants to people in financial difficulty. We facilitate a phone friends scheme that provides lifelines for the elderly. And we offer bespoke counselling for a wide range of issues.

As hotelier Sally Beck said in February, once you understand what we do, you fall in love with us!

Enter Mitchell … 

By his own admission, until his life hit a bump in the road, Mitchell Collier thought he was the last sort of person HA helps. Young, healthy, forging a career at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, he felt indestructible. It turned out he was exactly the kind of person HA helps.

In early 2017, Mitchell’s health and confidence took three body blows: his relationship broke down, he was overlooked for a promotion, and he received a cancer diagnosis. HA arranged for counselling to put Mitchell back on his feet. By Spring of this year, he was back on track, and he approached us to volunteer as a case study. The resulting video drew an enormous response on social media. An HA star was born.

Too often, the perception of HA is that we exist solely to help drunk or substance-addicted chefs. Of course, we do help chefs with addiction issues, and anybody else fir that matter, and we’re proud to do so. But that’s just a small part of what we do. We help people with all sorts of problems, from all types of business, in all spheres of hospitality.

Mitchell’s generosity of spirit and willingness to act as an ambassador for HA was a crucial development. He debunked the myth, once and for all, that HA is for other people.

A social whirl for a good cause …  

Principal patron, Jason Atherton had already been running Social Sunday for three years, when I joined HA. The summer fundraising initiative across his London restaurants was his way of supporting the charity, and had already raised many tens of thousands of pounds for us.

This year, Jason and I drew a line in the sand: from 2018 onwards, we agreed, Social Sunday would be opened up to the whole industry. Our vision was to establish a date in the hospitality calendar when the industry looks to itself, and looks after its own.

The response was heart-warming. From Leith to Land’s End, hospitality operators concocted their own ways to support Social Sunday. In the end, more than 50 businesses across the country took part, raising a huge amount of money in then process.

In 2019, Jason and I plan to go nuclear with Social Sunday. Watch this space.

The mental health imperative 

In May, we marked Mental Health Awareness Week  by hosting an event at the Royal Lancaster London, to shine a light on the issue of stress in the hospitality workplace. Research conducted before the event suggested that a worrying 80% of hospitality professionals regard their job as stressful sometimes or most of the time, while 51% – over half! – described their job as being stressful most or all of the time.

The event and its ripples across social media proved – as if proof were needed – that there’s a ticking mental health time bomb under UK hospitality.

On World Mental Health Day in October, two Michelin-starred chef Sat Bains blogged for us and set a lofty goal:

“Beyond our four walls, we are fortunate to have Hospitality Action to support people in our industry through the hardest of times. Together with HA, we can break the stigmas that stop so many people asking for help and create an environment where people feel they have both the support of their line manager or a friendly ear at the end of HA’s action line.”

Amen to that, Sat. This’ll be a clear goal for us next year.

The need for help never goes away … 

Like the magic porridge pot in the children’s tale, the HA in-tray never seems to get any emptier. This winter, the delays around universal credit payments and the continuing fear, uncertainty and doubt around Brexit have sparked a steep rise in requests for support from HA.

Into 2019, we’ll move Heaven and Earth to help as many people as we can – but we’ll need your support in this. I look forward to working with you next year, to make UK hospitality a happier, healthier and more nourishing place.

Meanwhile, Happy Christmas from the whole HA team.

SME alert: the business case for subscribing to HA’s employee care programme

I’ve outlined the value our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) delivers subscribing clients previously, on this blog.

Our EAP provides employers with a means to increase their teams’ well-being, morale and performance. It offers a comprehensive suite of benefits that takes a holistic approach to employee welfare, providing specialist, independent and confidential advice, support and assistance, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

I know what you’re thinking. Comprehensive support of your whole team – that’s got to be expensive, right?

Actually, no. Far from it, in fact. Subscribing to our EAP costs just £5 per employee per year, with a base threshold of £250, which we apply to cover set-up costs.

In other words, any hospitality SME with up to 50 team members pays just £250 to keep their workforce happy, healthy, engaged and work-ready for a full year.

Beside all the philanthropic, emotional reasons for wishing to subscribe, there are clear business reasons for doing so.

Taking into account the agency cost of hiring a full-time employee, if buying into our care programme stops just one team-member from leaving, you’ve already more than recouped your return on investment.

The same cold logic applies when it comes to staff absences. If our EAP can keep just one member of staff at work for a few days rather than off dealing with a personal problem, so saving you the cost of temporary cover, again you’ve more than covered your initial outlay.

I’d urge you to look at our EAP, not as a ‘nice to have’ a cost to the business, but as a means of boosting productivity and profitability.

Update: Mitchell tells his own story of confidence rediscovered and hurdles negotiated …

Back in April, I posted a blog titled Recovery through Positivity: how HA helped get Le Manoir’s Mitchell Collier back on track.

The blog described how two dents to his self-esteem and a serious health scare had left Mitchell’s confidence at rock bottom – before Hospitality Action stepped in to help.

Mitchell’s story is an inspiring example of how enlightened employers can support their workforces by adopting our Employee Assistance Programme. The blog got massive traction on social media – so much so, that we asked Mitchell if we could make a video of his story.

Top man that he is, he immediately said yes. Thanks Mitchell, you’re a star.

Is the health and wellbeing of your team and the success of your business worth £5 per head per year? If so, email me at mlewis@hospitalityaction.org.uk or call me on 07919 324978. We’d love to help you.

Happy teams and the halo effect: how our EAP can help hospitality suppliers, too

More and more operators are catching on to the value of Hospitality Action’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). At just £5 per team-member per year to support the health, happiness and work-readiness of their workforce, why wouldn’t they?

But did you know our EAP isn’t tailored exclusively for operators – that we also offer it to suppliers of products and services into the hospitality market?

Personal and health issues can have a major impact on the way people work, resulting in reduced performance, lack of focus and absence. These, in turn, can lead to lost productivity and significant cost to employers. Our care programme offers a raft of benefits, including personal counselling, legal guidance, addiction support, debt advice and a financial well-being service, parenting helpline, elderly care helpline and a whistle-blowing service.

For subscribing suppliers, participation in the scheme is a win-win. It demonstrates a commitment to their team’s physical and mental wellbeing; provides a tool for growing morale and therefore retention; ensures employees are productive and undistracted by issues that might prevent them from focussing fully on their jobs; and enables them to invest in the sustainability of the industry they serve, and whose robust health they depend upon.

Already, we’ve got the likes of ACT Clean, The Caterer, HIT Training and Oranka Juice Solutions onboard as clients. This summer, they’ve been joined by the Country Range Group, who become the first foodservice wholesale buying group to subscribe.

Country Range are no strangers to HA. Last year – their twenty-fifth – they nominated us as their charity of the year and raised an impressive £25,000 in support of us.

Country Range Group Managing Director Coral Rose explains why the group is so supportive of HA: “The charity has a wonderful heritage, it’s genuine and credible, and it’s geared up to supporting the industry we also support in a wide number of ways, from addiction awareness for students right through to companionship for the elderly.

“Last year, to mark our anniversary, we did loads of activities in aid of HA, including a Muddy Maniac challenge and a gala dinner at Hampden Court. We also had a stationary bike installed at our office. Members of the team took it turns to cycle until we’d completed a 1000-mile virtual cycle-ride around all our customers’ locations. The team loved getting involved, which made it great both for team building and for member engagement.”

Creed Foodservice, one of the 12 independent wholesalers that comprise the group, also actively supports HA at events such as our Cotswold Cycle Challenge; and Managing Director Philip de Ternant sits on our Southwest fundraising committee.

Now the Country Range Group has extended its support of HA to include our EAP.

Coral says: “We’d written about the EAP in our customer magazine, Stir It Up, but we thought it was just for end-users. When we became aware it could be applied to wholesalers, we decided to sign up as a group. It represents good value, it allows us to support the industry charity, and it’s a cost-effective way for members to give benefits to their own employees.”

Would you like to safeguard the wellbeing of your workforce and benefit from the halo effect that comes from supporting the industry you serve? Contact us now at eap@hospitalityaction.org.uk.

So what is an employee assistance programme, anyway – and why do you need one?

As well as its grants programme, Golden Friends scheme and range of other products, Hospitality Action runs an Employee Assistance Programme.

A what?

An employee assistance programme, or EAP for short. Not the snappiest title, but don’t let that fool you: our EAP is central to our commitment to helping people who work or have worked in hospitality and find themselves in difficulty or crisis.

HA’s EAP – I prefer to call it an employee care programme – provides employers with a means to increase their teams’ well-being, morale and performance.

It offers a comprehensive suite of benefits that takes a holistic approach to employee welfare, providing specialist, independent and confidential advice, support and assistance, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

Personal and health issues can have a major impact on the way people work, resulting in reduced performance, lack of focus and absence. These, in turn, can lead to lost productivity and significant cost to employers.

Our care programme offers a raft of benefits, including personal counselling, legal guidance, addiction support, debt advice and a financial well-being service, parenting helpline, elderly care helpline and a whistle-blowing service – all for an annual cost of just £5 per employee.

In short, it’s about keeping hospitality people happy, healthy and work-ready.

Uniquely among EAP providers, should financial help be required by any recipients of EAP support, we’re able to point them towards HA’s grant-giving team, for consideration for further support.

For employers, subscribing to our EAP:

  • demonstrates a commitment to their team’s physical and mental wellbeing;
  • provides a tool for driving morale and therefore retention;
  • ensures employees are work-ready and undistracted by issues that prevent them from focussing fully on their jobs;
  • and enables them to support the wider work of their industry charity.

Here’s a blog I wrote recently, in which Sally Beck of the Royal Lancaster Hotel, London, explained to me the reasons why she’s an EAP client. “Once you understand the EAP, you fall in love with it”, she told me.

In order to attract the people it requires to close its skills gap, UK hospitality needs to be able to offer jobseekers meaningful career opportunities, not just salaries. And that means operating against a professional landscape.

By providing a safety net to the market it serves, HA plays an intrinsic role in professionalising the hospitality industry – and our EAP is central to this.

Is the health and wellbeing of your team and the success of your business worth £5 per head per year? If so, give us a shout. We’d love to help you.

So you think you know what Hospitality Action does? Think again.

 

They used to run an advert for the Radio Times on the telly. If you remember it, you’re a fifty-something like me, or older. The pages of the magazine would flick before you, lingering on the week’s best content – “Petula Clark celebrates 50 years of the vote for women! Stewpot takes the Treasure Trail! Why you should never argue with a Sagittarian!” – before an awe-struck reader delivered the pay-off line: “I never knew there was so much in it.”

The Mad Men and Women of the advertising world could easily apply the same creative concept to Hospitality Action.

Ours is a complicated story to tell. We offer grants, counselling, family days out, a retiree befriending scheme, addiction awareness seminars and an employee assistance programme. We support people who are about to start work in the industry, people who currently work in the industry, people who have retired from the industry – and their partners and children.

No wonder people are often confused by exactly what Hospitality Action is and what it does.

Someone in the industry recently asked: “HA, that’s the charity for the homeless, right?” And another told me: “you’re the people who help drunk chefs.” Well, yes, yes – and no.

Yes, we help industry professionals unable to pay for a roof over their head. And yes, we support people with a range of addiction challenges. But we do much, much more besides.

Simply put, HA is a force for good. We offer lifelines to people who work or have worked in hospitality and find themselves in difficulty or crisis.

Behind their smiles and their game faces, hospitality professionals are as prone to life’s challenges as we all are – that’s where HA comes in.

We help people set their lives back on track. This might mean funding home adaptations for someone dealing with the onset of a life-changing medical condition. It could mean helping a victim of domestic abuse to start a new life. It could be laying on Golden Friends lunches or teas to keep loneliness at bay for industry retirees. Or it could take the shape of offering crisis support to teams dealing with traumatic events like the London Bridge or Manchester Arena attacks.

Whatever the challenges are that beset the human condition, HA can help overcome them.

See – I bet you never knew there was so much to us?

 

“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”.

Recovery through positivity: how HA helped get Le Manoir’s Mitchell back on track

When you’re young, it’s easy to think you’re indestructible. Your whole life is stretched out before you, the opportunities are endless.

But there are no guarantees in life. No one can know what lies around the corner. Just ask Mitchell Collier, Guest Relations Manager at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. I’ll let Mitchell tell his own story.

“From the age of 14, I knew hospitality was what I wanted to do. I may have been elbow deep in dishwater but I already felt part of something bigger. For me, hospitality isn’t just the service we deliver but the collaboration of people with their own unique traits and skill sets.

“Knowing that I felt destined for a career in hospitality, I began to chase my dream. After two years studying Hospitality Management at Buxton College, I accepted a position at South Lodge Hotel, where I progressed within the Guest Services team. I joined Le Manoir in 2016, with the drive to continue my journey further. Life was good …

“In the Spring of last year, my life turned upside down. Following a decline in my health and several visits to the doctor and to hospital, I was diagnosed with a form of skin cancer, in June.

“The last thing you expect to be doing on your 21st birthday is to be recovering from emergency surgery to remove a cancerous growth. It’s certainly not what I had planned!

“Days before my surgery, I was also informed I’d been unsuccessful in applying for an internal promotion. And, in the same week as my surgery, my partner decided to end our relationship. I felt alone, a failure, and I couldn’t comprehend having been told I had cancer. Despite being an optimistic, positive and joyful person, I couldn’t see light at the end of the tunnel.

“A close friend at work saw my struggle and told me to seek help from Hospitality Action’s Employee Assistance Programme, which our company offers to all staff members. If it wasn’t for her suggestion, I honestly don’t know what position I would be in today. The support and reassurance I got from just one telephone call was the pick-up I needed.

“I was offered six sessions of counselling by Hospitality Action. After a few sessions with the counsellor, I still felt I wasn’t back to my normal self, so after a quick call they agreed on a further six.

“My counselling was to help me come to terms with everything I’d been through. I described it to my counsellor as trying to download a 10GB file with a bandwidth of 1KB. I just wasn’t able to process everything and became stuck with what was going on in my life and how I could move forward. I had all the emotions going on and I just didn’t know where to start with them all.

“On returning to work I found certain situations very difficult to handle. Le Manoir is a bucket-list destination for some people, so I was around guests who’d unfortunately not been so fortunate with their treatment and were coming for a last special occasion. My counsellor was able to teach me techniques to help me process everything a little bit at a time, and to clear my mindset.

“The counselling brought me back to a place I was familiar with. My positive outlook and happy attitude were back, and I felt ready to tackle the challenges that had been thrown at me over the previous three months. I reapplied for the promotion and, with perseverance and support from the counsellor and a fresh outlook, I was promoted to Guest Relations Manager early last November. I then got my all-clear at the end of November, so it really was a great month for me. I go back to the Churchill in Oxford every three months for scans and check-ups to make sure nothing has come back. It’s great to have such attentive after care.

“I am 21, turning 22 in June, but I’ve decided that this year is going to be my 21st birthday revisited, since I didn’t get to celebrate last year while I was recovering from surgery.

“I am so grateful for the support Hospitality Action gave me; and I admire their commitment to supporting individuals struggling in our industry. Without a safety net like the one they provide, I fear my story would have been very different. Everyone will come across struggles in their life and sometimes it’s just a helping hand that makes a big difference.”

Mitchell, more power to you for inviting me to tell your story, and good luck with your recovery. You know where we are, should you need any further support.

Mitchell received our support because Raymond Blanc and his management team at Le Manoir had the foresight and duty of care to subscribe to our employee care programme.

I urge to do the same for your team members, and ensure they remain happy, healthy and work-ready.