“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”.

“Once you understand the EAP, you fall in love with it” – Sally Beck on caring for your team

Sally Beck is the general manager of the Royal Lancaster hotel, London, and a staunch supporter of Hospitality Action. Her hotel has carried HA’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for the past three years. Earlier this week, I spoke to Sally about why she values the programme and what benefits it delivers to her and her team. Here’s what she told me:

“Once you understand the strength of the EAP care programme, you fall in love with it as an employer, because it’s entirely meaningful. It’s a safety net, something that Joe Public doesn’t have. It gives you the ability to call upon tangible help for your team when you can’t help them any further as a business.

We’re a caring employer. For me to pay £5 per employee to access your EAP demonstrates to our team a level of trust that when we say we always care, we genuinely do. We’re investing in the team: our team members feel they’re part of a family.

We’ve been in the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies for the last three years. I would say that being able to demonstrate that we genuinely care about the team and have put something in place to help them as an insurance is part of that. We list it in all our benefits and everyone’s got the leaflets, and we try to reiterate the EAP regularly. It builds trust, and if you haven’t got trust around your team, as a business it’s really hard to ask them to do things.

When I put the EAP in the budget, I put it in as a legitimate business expense for the future, not to be taken out if we have struggles on budgets, because I just don’t think you can give and then take away.

The EAP is part of our wider culture. I’ve got very low turnover here, and high levels of retention and engagement, and the programme is part of that story. I try not to have a blame culture, and I try to develop people as much as possible. People don’t start a job here, they start a career. The EAP is part of the joined-up thinking of being a good employer.

I’ve just recruited 161 people in six months. Were our benefits important in this process? Yes. Was our culture important? Yes. Millennials want to be sure they choose an employer that cares about the working culture and environment.

The EAP has given me a place to go when I know I’ve got team members who are struggling. I can say ‘here, have you tried this?’ If they’ve got debt issues, addiction issues, housing issues or anything else, they’ve got somewhere to go. My team all know about the EAP, but it only comes to the forefront of their minds when they’re in schtuck. That’s when we get out the EAP manual and say ‘take this, have a read. This is here for you, we pay for this for you’.

As a business leader, the EAP has helped me have meaningful conversations about people reducing their work or ending their work positively, rather than ending their career on a capability issue. We’ve started capability workshops, within the wider context of our commitment that we always care about our team’s futures. When you’re having hard discussions about an employee’s capability to work, due to cancer, mental health, disability or whatever, being able to offer flexible working plus EAP support makes that conversation easier. I don’t want to sack someone because they can’t do their job anymore. I want to look at everything I can to help them work as long as they can and as safely as they can, with the right support. The EAP allows us to work in partnership.

Knowing that HA’s care programme is there for team members when I can’t be, is invaluable. It gives me another option. Without it, at times I’d quietly have to say, ‘not my problem, I can’t do any more, as much as I care for you’. That leaves somebody vulnerable – and that doesn’t sit well with me.

And it can help with anything, that’s the joy of it.

It can be debt. We had a young apprentice chef who split up with her boyfriend, got kicked out of her accommodation, and was going to be homeless. The EAP helped her. We had another girl whose mum died and who had to take on the care of her younger siblings because she was the only bread-winner. I put her in touch with HA and again the EAP stepped in. I had a lady who, aged 30, lost her sight for three months. What did she do? She called the EAP.

A young chef recently left us for a job elsewhere, and they ran him into the ground. He wanted to return to the Royal Lancaster, and arrived back here suicidal. I rang HA and said ‘he’s not quite on our books again, yet’. They said, ‘pass him back to us, he’s one of ours’. They picked him up and helped him. He’s still alive today and I’m not sure he would’ve been without HA’s support.

You’ll have all sorts of issues on your team. We are all going to experience some of this stuff, that’s life. Even if you haven’t identified any mental health problems on your team, for example, believe me, they are there.

The EAP goes with my values. It means that I can show that we care and ensures team members get the wraparound support we can’t always provide as an employer.”

We intend to establish our EAP as an industry-standard care programme for UK hospitality. Email me at mlewis@hospitalityaction.org.uk if you’d like to find out how to access the benefits Sally describes.