The cost of living crisis has already taken its toll on stress levels, so ensure you can offer help where it's needed to keep everyone healthy and happy this winter
It's no good sugar-coating the looming nightmare that is the energy crisis. As operators rebuild their businesses after the Covid-19 pandemic and construct a skilled workforce after Brexit, a perfect storm of geopolitics and climate change mean they are now faced with energy price hikes alongside rises in food costs.
According to The Caterer's recent survey (22 September 2022), some 80% of businesses said they would not be able to pay the increase in energy costs and make a profit. And 61% said they anticipated they may have to permanently close in the next 12 months without further government support, despite the price cap on non-domestic energy bills.
"No business. No job. Bankruptcy," was one respondent's stark comment.
But it isn't just a fiscal burden that employers will be carrying. Some 86% said their energy bills had already had a negative impact on their mental health. One operator summed up the mood of many: "I am extremely anxious for the future and don't see a way out. [I'm] afraid to express my fears as this could lead to the collapse of our business and support from the staff."
An industry in crisis
Mark Lewis, chief executive of industry charity Hospitality Action, says: "The Caterer's research bears out our own experience. There is a clear link between financial hardship and deteriorating mental health and the situation is becoming more acute. In recent weeks we've received calls from pensioners who've already turned the gas off through fear of unsustainable bills; mums and dads losing all hope as they become engulfed by bill after bill; and proprietors contemplating taking their own lives because the responsibility they feel towards their staff is too much to bear.
"Fifty per cent of all grant applications we receive are from families in high-risk debt that places them at risk of homelessness, and 35% of applicants cite deteriorating mental health as part of the reason for asking for support."
Before the energy cap announcement at the end of August, Hospitality Action was seeing a 20% increase in calls to its Employee Assistance Programme and helpline to access support services such as debt management, benefits advice, legal advice, parenting advice, and also counselling support for anxiety, stress and depression. There has also been an increase in calls to its Managerial Adviceline and referrals to its counselling service.
It's a two-fold problem, as the high cost of energy and groceries also takes its toll on employees' home life. Hospitality Action says that some parents have reported that they have missed meals to ensure there is food for their children, and they have avoided using heating and lighting while the children are out of the house to reduce energy bills. Others have fallen victim to high-cost credit and even loan sharks, where knock-on problems include eviction and court action. Any potential crisis in the housing market is likely to drive up residential rents as landlords pass on the burden to tenants.
Poor mental health costs UK businesses up to £56b a year, but aside from the bottom line, employers who show good practice recognise they have a moral commitment, too. A key indicator that someone may be experiencing poor mental health could be changes in appearance, such as loss of weight or weight gain, or not caring about their appearance, such as turning up to work in a creased or unclean uniform.
"Also look out for changes in behaviour, such as becoming increasingly withdrawn, restless and agitated, tearfulness, and reluctance to do the things they might typically do, such as exercise, are all signs that someone is suffering," says Hospitality Action services director Camilla Woods.
"Particularly prevalent in hospitality are signs that someone is leaning on the use of alcohol and recreational drugs, for instance, arriving at work smelling of alcohol or showing changes in their behaviour at work. More obvious signs are absenteeism and lateness."
Employers obviously need mental health support, too, so it is reassuring to know that many organisations and charities are developing targeted strategies to help support both yourself and your staff through the current crisis.
As Simon Blake, chief executive of social enterprise Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England says: "While employers cannot solve all of the issues, they [need to] recognise that financial worries may have an impact on their wellbeing and mental health, and put in place support systems and policies that can help alleviate the cost of living."
He stresses that it is particularly important to create an open culture where everyone knows it is acceptable to talk about wellbeing, financial concerns and mental health in the workplace. Managers have an important role to play in spotting the signs that someone in their team is experiencing increased stress or pressure. "We cannot expect team leaders to have the skills or experience to have these conversations, so training is important," says Blake, adding that MHFA England offers a free online advice hub, My Whole Self MOT, which provides conversation starters to help managers check-in with staff.
One strategy that worked well during the pandemic was to train employees as mental health first-aiders as a part of a holistic, wider mental health and wellbeing policy. This equips them with the skills to spot the signs of a colleague struggling with mental health, to be able to start a non-judgemental conversation with them, and then signpost them to the appropriate support.
MHFA England has responded to the crisis by launching a new internationally accredited course with inclusion and equity at its core. As well as being able to signpost people to the right help, the course includes a framework to support the first-aider by giving them access to an MHFAiders Support app. This allows learners to tap into the larger MHFAiders community, with opportunities for ongoing learning as well as resources for managing their own self-care and accessing 24/7 support.
Evan Judge, senior health, safety and environment manager at foodservice giant Compass Group UK & Ireland is one of the first to complete the new training: "Having worked with MHFA England to introduce more than 160 MHFAiders into our business, we are continuing to expand our network of frontline mental health support."
Non-alcoholic beer brand Lucky Saint has similarly partnered with MHFA England to train most of its staff. It has gone on to appoint Harry Corin, an MHFA England instructor and ambassador, as an in-house mental health champion, and is now providing training in MHFA skills for a number of other operators, such as Hawksmoor, Wahaca, Pizza Pilgrims and Honest Burgers.
Hospitality Action has also introduced mental health first-aid training (NHS England-certified and valid for three years) and the cost of living crisis has prompted it to add more targeted support services. Notably, it has launched webinar training on how best to support your mental health during the crisis as well as enhancing its range of financial wellbeing training webinars.
"We've added a new section on our website focusing on the support we and other organisations can provide to households during the cost of living crisis, as well as information on current energy scams doing the rounds and the dangers of borrowing money from loan sharks," says Woods.
To meet the demands for financial support, it has also launched an emergency fundraising campaign to bolster its grants programme. "This campaign is an opportunity for us to shine a light on the mental health impact of poverty. Any gift is gratefully received and can be donated via our website," says Woods.
So, without doubt, the next few months will be challenging for the hospitality sector, but the message from Blake at MHFA England is that working together and looking after each other is a positive way forward. "I am in no doubt that starting with the ‘how' and not the ‘if' will benefit employers', employees' and organisations' wellbeing throughout the coming months," he says.
Top tips on self-care from Craig Prentice at mum
- Understand what the word "wellbeing" actually means – there are seven types of wellbeing: emotional, intellectual, physical, social, environmental, financial and spiritual.
- Think about your wellbeing and consider ways of improving in each of these areas.
- Baby steps are good: surround yourself with like-minded and positive people who understand you. Knowing who can speak to (and when) is also important.
- Look after yourself before you start supporting others – it's easy to rush to help others who are in need and then neglect yourself as a result.
- Be aware of what makes you feel the way you do and take steps to reduce or remove things that make you feel or behave negatively – environments, people, news and social media are all great examples.
- Live in the present as much as possible.
Craig Prentice is founder and director of hospitality talent partner mum and founder of walkforwellbeing.org in support of Hospitality Action
Where to get help
Hospitality Action provides a free and confidential helpline (0808 802 0282) 24/7 with in-the-moment mental health support and signposts callers to additional sources of help. In addition to its grants programme, its website provides guidance on sources of financial support. The charity also offers an Employee Assistance Programme.
Mental Health First Aid England
Mental Health First Aid England offers Royal Society of Public Health-accredited mental health first aider training. Click here to find out more about training MHFAiders
A number of charities can provide practical and emotional support if an employee fears they are in danger of losing their home, including:
Only a Pavement Away: onlyapavementaway.co.uk
Citizens Advice: www.citizensadvice.org.uk
Financial help and guides on how to manage during the energy crisis are available through a number of charities and organisations, including:
Hospitality Action offers financial grants to those who are eligible: www.hospitalityaction.org.uk/get-help
Charity Turn2us offers a benefits calculator to help people find out which welfare benefits they might be entitled to and a Grants Search to identify charitable funds: www.turn2us.org.uk
Step Change offers expert debt advice and fee-free debt management to help tackle debts, as well as guides on coping with the current crisis: www.stepchange.org
Citizens Advice can help people to navigate the benefits system: www.citizensadvice.org.uk
The Trussell Trust helps those in need to access food banks: www.trusselltrust.org/get-help
In an emergency
Those who are feeling suicidal, distressed or just need to talk to someone should call:
The Samaritans for free on 116 123
Visit Mind at www.mind.org.uk for an A-Z guide
Or text Shout on 85258