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Mental Health at Work

Mental health isn’t the easiest topic to deal with, but it’s becoming increasingly important to be mindful of your staff’s wellbeing at work as part of your duty of care. Especially with hospitality beginning to reopen across the UK and staff returning to work after nearly a year of furlough, as there’s likely to be many employees harbouring some kind of anxiety, whether it’s a concern over catching coronavirus, organising childcare or even simply wondering if they’re still up to the task. 

While Covid has put a greater spotlight on mental health, it’s fair to say that it’s been an underlying issue within the industry way before the pandemic struck. Industry charity Hospitality Action carried out a survey last year, which showed that 68% of respondents felt that their workforce had become more stressful in the last few years and that 60% of people have experienced a mental health problem at some point during their career.

Strangely, Covid has become a great leveller when it comes to the issue of mental health within the workplace, bringing it to the attention of some who may have brushed it off before. 

Jeremy Gibson, marketing director at Hospitality Action, explains: “Business owners who may have been a bit more cynical about their role in mental health conversations are now beginning to recognise it and are starting to have the conversation with their staff because they have experienced some form of existential worry during the Covid crisis, either for their business, their livelihood or family members. We’re hoping that the industry will come back with a much more open mind towards having these conversations.”

So what can you do to help your staff with their mental health and well-being, whether it’s facing anxieties brought on as a result of Covid or more long-term personal issues?

Firstly, it’s important to recognise the fact that some staff may be struggling with a return to work. Some team members may be a bit nervous and they might not want to admit it to you for fear of losing shifts. So make it as easy as possible for them to return by being flexible. Take into account childcare or family requirements for example. And look for signs that they may be struggling. 

Signs that a friend or a colleague might be struggling

  • Changes in behaviour, mood or how they interact with colleagues – more tearful, angry, hopeless, overwhelmed, moody, withdrawn or manic
  • Changes in motivation, work performance and output
  • Struggles to concentrate or make decisions
  • Changes in appearance – weight gain or loss, appearing tired or unwell
  • Loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed
  • Frequent lateness, complaints of disrupted sleep
  • Increase in drinking, smoking or changes in appetite
  • Increased absence or frequent illness.
  • Sleeping more than usual or inability to sleep.

Source: Hospitality Action

At the same time, don’t think you can take on every problem yourself as it’s highly unlikely you’ll have the life experience to address every issue. You might, for example, be able to help with reassuring a staff member who feels anxious about returning to work but are you well-equipped to handle something more serious like depression.

With this in mind, a really useful resource can be signing up for an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). There are plenty available from companies like AXA, Bupa and Insight Healthcare and for a nominal fee, staff receive complete wraparound care that gives access to things like counselling, addiction therapy, debt and legal advice, as well as family and career support. As an example, Hospitality Action charges £5.70 per employee per year – that’s a lot of support for less than the cost of a coffee and a sandwich.

Also, within most EAPs is a management referral so you can coach a manager to be a go-to person for anyone struggling with their mental health. Jeremy explains how this can have a dual purpose. “There’s a tendency that if someone comes to you with a problem, your instinct is to solve it,” he says. “And that’s not always the right thing to do. So a managerial referral provides a service that gives managers support to support employees but it’s also great for managers who might have the same anxieties and the same troubles that their staff do. It’s a service that currently we’re seeing an increased uptake for.”

Another thing you should do regularly is check-in with staff by having frequent staff meetings in which you create a comfortable environment conducive to talking about mental health and well-being. Carrying out surveys amongst your team is another great way to identify what issues are bubbling under the surface so you can tackle them before they blow up. 

The main thing is not to be afraid of having the conversation and, remember, if you can encourage staff to speak up, you can get them help. The sooner you do that, the quicker you can get your team on track, which can have major implications for your business. 

EAPA, the trade association of EAP providers, carried out a survey earlier this year that revealed that the return on investment on every pound spent on an EAP is about £7.27. The reason being that if you’ve got a workforce who can talk to you about their issues and, in turn, you address them, then absenteeism, people not turning up, staff just leaving the job without warning all go down as do associated recruitment costs. 

Hospitality Action’s Jeremy knows exactly how important having the right team dynamic is in hospitality, adding: “Some businesses spend years building a great team. If somebody’s struggling, it can be really difficult to keep that momentum up. It’s more important than ever to make sure that the team is firing on all cylinders and that staff are happy and want to be at work. Having mental health conversations and the right support available is going to make that more likely to happen.”

So why not use this opportunity to reset both your business and your approach to mental health and, in turn, establish the kind of business you want to run. If you can lead from the front and be open about the challenges you face then you are going to engender a culture of openness through the team. 

If you can be more mindful of the issues your staff might be facing, you’ll have a more successful workforce and, ultimately, a more successful business. 

  • Levels of absence from stress have risen by 113% since March 2019, according to a study of data from absence management platform e-days.
  • The average number of people taking leave because of stress is up by 74%.
  • Asked whether they would prefer extra money or time for themselves, 62% of employees said they would take an additional day off each year.

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