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.

 

The Staff Canteen helps Hospitality Action as it helps build careers …

Support for Hospitality Action comes in all shapes and sizes.

Some people like to skydive, others prefer to ease into a bath full of baked beans. Troy Smith opts for Tough Mudders and other endurance sports. Meanwhile, Denise this summer cycled from London to Paris in memory of her husband, Paul.

Next month, our friends at the Staff Canteen, the UK’s largest online network of professional chefs, are supporting us at the first of a new series of events aiming to celebrate hospitality as a great career choice.

UK hospitality will never resolve its enduring skills shortage until it takes proactive steps to sell itself as a career of choice – and that starts with showcasing why it’s such an amazing sector to work in.

The Staff Canteen Live college tour is taking top chefs back to college in a first step to tackling the chef shortage at grass roots level, by highlighting the many and varied career options available in foodservice. The tour aims to inform students on how to forge a successful career in hospitality. It’s being run in partnership with the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts.

The tour’s first stop is at Westminster Kingsway College, on Monday, 3 December, where students will be able to quiz a panel of chefs comprising Michelin-starred John Williams MBE, Executive Chef at The Ritz; Alyn Williams, Chef Patron of Alyn Williams at The Westbury and The Wild Rabbit; Rob Kennedy, Culinary Director at Compass Group UK and Ireland; Glenn Evans, Head of Food Development at Las Iguanas; and Ruth Hansom, Head Chef at Luton Hoo Hotel.

For John Williams and Ruth, the event will be a trip down memory lane – both studied at Westminster Kingsway.

John is encouraging students to “listen and learn from us as we have been there and done it”.

And Ruth agrees. “It’s important to nurture and encourage young people into the industry”, she says. “It can be tough but it’s also rewarding, which is why it’s important to find the best route for you. It’s key to show young people all the avenues as they are so diverse.”

Mark Morris, Founder of The Staff Canteen, says: “on our panel are some of the most successful chefs working in the industry today. They all began their careers in a very similar environment to the students who join the tour. I hope we communicate that our panel have been successful through hard work; and that all that’s separating the students and them, is a structured career path and a strong work ethic.”

The event will be live-streamed on The Staff Canteen’s Facebook page and YouTube channel from 5pm. It’s the first of four events at colleges around the UK, in the coming months.

If you’d like to get involved in future tour events, email jen@thestaffcanteen.com or call 0330 202 1051.

And what’s in it for HA? The Staff Canteen will be donating £1000 to us on behalf of the chefs on the panel, to reflect the fact that we provide a safety net to catch chefs and other hospitality workers, if they fall.

Thanks, Staff Canteen.

Could 2019 be the year you host an event to support your fellow hospitality people?

An amazing thing happened last Tuesday. Jose Pizarro joined forces with Chris and Jeff Galvin to cook up a storm at a gala fundraising dinner in aid of Hospitality Action at Jose’s eponymous restaurant at the top of Bermonsdey Street.

The result? A wonderfully enjoyable gourmet evening – and £17,000 in the HA kitty to spend on helping hospitality people in difficulty.

A full house of Galvin and Pizarro fans gathered to enjoy a spectacular feast, celebrating the very best of Spanish/French cuisine:

  • Croquettas squid ink with Alioli Jamón Ibérico 100%, 5J, Acorn fed Brochette of Autumn Vegetables
  • Escabeche of Yellow fin Tuna, smoked Aubergine caviar
  • Presa Ibérica 5J , Mushroom and Romesco sauce
  • Saint-Marcellin, Torta del casar
  • Apple tarte Tatin & Normandy crème fraîche.

As well as benefiting from ticket sales, we profited from a live auction, silent auction and £20 prize draw.

At HA, we run a full schedule of fundraising events aimed at generating revenues that we can then disburse as grants. And we’re immensely grateful to everyone who supports these events, which range from cycle challenges to pub quizzes, and from polo days to blue riband chefs’ dinners (check out our Raymond Blanc Dinner in London, next month).

However, we’re never happier than when kind people like Jose, Chris and Jeff reach out and tell us they’re freestyling an event themselves, on our behalf.

Could you have an HA event in you? Would you like to engage with your client base and show them you’re proud to support your own industry charity?

We’d love to hear from you.

Celebrate the Mandarin Oriental team’s big hearts – and share in our good fortune

A wise man once said that “misfortune nobly born is good fortune.”

I quoted Juvenal at the Worshipful Company of Innholders dinner, last week; now I’m referencing Marcus Aurelius. I wonder how you say ‘get me’, in Latin?

When a fire broke out at her hotel this summer, just one week after it had unveiled a multimillion-pound refurbishment, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park GM Amanda Hyndman must have wondered what she had done to deserve such misfortune. That the fire struck two days into Amanda’s stewardship of the hotel only added insult to injury.

“It’s at times like this that you discover the great pride and loyalty the staff have in the hotel,” she told The Caterer at the time. “There has been a real ‘can do’ spirit amongst everyone. The London Fire Brigade has been amazing and we have had tremendous support from our neighbours with hampers arriving from Harrods and hotels such as the Berkeley, Bulgari and  Jumeirah being so incredibly generous.”

Demonstrating a stoicism that Marcus Aurelius would have applauded, and humbled by the support they received, Amanda and her team quickly decided to turn a negative into a positive.

In days, they had launched FANtastic London, a charitable initiative that aims to thank their local community for its support and care after the fire.

FANtastic London is deploying 400 of the hotel’s workforce to support charities and organisations active or based in the capital, as repairs to the hotel continue. Amanda estimates as much as 40,000 working hours will be donated before the property’s reopening, later this year.

Beneficiaries of the scheme include Walking With The Wounded, Age UK, Thrive Battersea Garden Project, Oxfam, the London Fire Brigade, the Felix Project – and Hospitality Action.

Each week, volunteers Ksenia (pictured with HA’s Astrid Wears-Taylor) and Malin spend a day at our Farringdon office, supporting our fundraising and grant-giving efforts.

And, this week, a crack team of envelope-stuffers will converge on our boardroom to help despatch the Autumn edition of our Golden Friends newsletter.

From a terribly difficult situation, Amanda and her management team have found a way to galvanise their workforce, give them valuable life experiences, and help further the work of many good causes.

It’s been our good fortune at HA to benefit from the altruism shown by the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, and for this we’re hugely grateful.

The hotel’s support of HA continues next Thursday, 20 September, when Amanda and her team host a reception on the Serpentine Solar Boat, Hyde Park, in aid of us.

If you’re free, we’d love you to join us. Tickets are £95 per person. Please email mlewis@hospitalityaction.org.uk if you’d like to help celebrate a noble and philanthropic initiative over a glass or two of fizz.

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.

How Olleco are turning waste oil into a balm for hospitality people in difficulty

Back in February, I write a blog detailing how cooking oil supplier and recycler, Olleco, supports Hospitality Action as part of its wider CSR commitment. 

“Olleco understand that supporting HA creates a virtuous circle”, I wrote. “By supporting our efforts to keep hospitality professionals happy, healthy and work-ready, they are helping build sustainable businesses around the sector – and therefore future-proofing their own business.”

Kate Mortimer, Olleco’s Group Marketing and Communications Manager, told me: “In 2012 we embarked on a journey to find a charity partner who could help us extend our ethos of care. 
Individuals working within the catering and hospitality sector are key to our business. The very people the charity helps are the people that we deal with on a daily basis, delivering cooking oil and collecting organic waste streams.”

Every time Olleco sells cooking oil or collects used oil from its customers it makes a donation to HA. This summer, the total amount the business has donated has reached a staggering £100,000. One hundred thousand shiny pounds!

It’s no exaggeration to say that HA would be unable to help people like Simon Holwell (pictured at the top of this page and featured in the video above), without the support of Olleco and all the other businesses and individuals who tirelessly raise funds for us.

Congratulations on your milestone and thank you from the team at HA and all our beneficiaries.

Would you like to benefit from the virtuous circle of supporting HA? Drop me a line at mlewis@hospitalityaction.org.uk or call me on 07919 324978.

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.

Credit where due: passing on beneficiaries’ thanks to all our supporters

Of the many reasons for choosing a career in hospitality, one of the foremost has to be the pleasure that comes from being thanked for the food, drink, accommodation or service you’ve provided.

At Hospitality Action, we thrive on positive feedback, too. ‘Thank you’ is a powerful phrase, and we’ve collected backloads of thank you notes from people we’ve helped.

Of course, we can only offer the support that elicits this feedback because of the fundraising that underpins our charity. On that basis, the thanks should really go to you, the selfless people who make our work possible.

You know who you are: consider yourselves well and truly thanked for your generosity of spirit. You are changing lives for the better – as you’ll see from the comments below.

“I am in tears as I type. Thank you so much. You saved my life.”

“Thank you very much for your help to save my house and my life, I couldn’t ask a better person for help.”

“With your help, I’m having the best winter. It is the first time I can have heating without worrying about the bill. It’s wonderful. Thank you for the peace and happiness you have given me.”

“To all the wonderful staff at Hospitality Action, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for all your help since losing my job. I don’t know what I would have done without it.

“Thank you for the vouchers for the afternoon tea. I took my mum with me as she supported me through my treatment. After the trauma of last year, it was lovely to be able to relax and have an afternoon out.”

“Thank you so much. I am utterly speechless and eternally grateful.”

“I just wanted to thank you all for the lovely Christmas card and gift card. When I opened it this morning I cried at the generosity and kindness you have shown.”

“Thank you for the adaptations. I applied to other organisations, but they had either run out of funds or we didn’t fit their criteria. You were quick to reply and made us feel less humble for applying. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Please accept our sincere thanks for your generosity. It has made a world of difference. You made this happen: 😊.”

“Just wanted to say thank you so much for my grant. It has helped me a lot with getting my life back on track.”

“Thank you so much. With the help and support of your kind organisation, it is a lot easier to focus on the positives and a bright future.”

“I cannot express in words the gratitude I have for your charity. I’ll never forget that you helped me at my worst point. Not only have you changed and improved my life and situation, you’ve restored something I haven’t had in a very long time: hope.”

“Thank you doesn’t seem like enough, you are all angels and I am forever grateful for your help.”

“Your grant made such a difference to my mental state, which no doubt helped in the healing process.”

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.