Viewpoint: Hospitality must take mental health seriously, says Philip Addison

16 September 2021
Viewpoint: Hospitality must take mental health seriously, says Philip Addison

The industry has a poor reputation for supporting its staff, but a small amount of training can go a long way. Philip Addison explains.

According to a recent survey by the Burnt Chef Project, two-thirds of hospitality employees have experienced three or more instances of poor mental health as a result of their role in the industry. This is not just another Covid statistic; surveys over the past few years have consistently highlighted the prevalence of poor mental health in the sector.

According to the World Health Organization, mental health is a state of well- being in which individuals can realise their potential, cope with the normal pressures of life, work productively and fruitfully and are able to contribute to their community. It's important to distinguish between the day-to-day pressure we all experience and the work-related stress that can arise in response to intense, continuous or prolonged exposure to excessive pressures that can be detrimental to health.

It's important to distinguish between the day-to-day pressure we all experience and work-related stress that can arise in response to intense, continuous or prolonged exposure to excessive pressures

Talking about our mental health is good for our wellbeing. Hospitality staff should be able to discuss the state of their mental health and receive support from their peers and managers. Yet a staggering 83% of staff would not talk to their manager or colleagues unless specifically asked about how they were doing. Only 15% said their company has taken action to reduce stress and anxiety in the workplace.

The top reasons respondents gave for stress or poor mental health were: work-life balance, pressure, poor wages, unpredictable hours, long hours and little mental health support. This may come as no surprise to those working in the sector, but when you consider the greatest risk factor to wellbeing as outlined by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the dangers are clear. They are, in order of greatest risk: bullying, working hours, perceived unfairness, negative relationships, balanced rewards for effort, organisational change, control over own work, poor support networks and work demands.

When asked what training hospitality staff would like to see, 32% said general mental health awareness and 27% said mental health first aid (MHFA). Prior to the pandemic many enlightened organisations were beginning to take action to tackle this issue by training individuals in mental health first aid.

There are three levels of training available: Be Mental Health Aware is a half-day course for all staff; Be a Mental Health Champion is a one-day course for those who want more in-depth knowledge; and Become a Mental Health First Aider is a two-day course that qualifies the individual to carry out the role of a MHFA. Colleagues within an organisation can act as first responders to spot individuals who are experiencing poor mental health, provide a non-judgemental and supportive listening ear and act as a signpost to appropriate professional medical support.

The training to become a MHFA is very practical and can be delivered online in a flexible format or face to face. I have personally trained around 100 hospitality staff this year and the feedback has been extremely positive in terms of significantly improving the knowledge of the delegates and, crucially, giving them more confidence to reach out and support their colleagues.

The larger corporate hospitality businesses have central resources to provide this type of training and other support. However, small businesses have the same challenges and needs surrounding mental health. It's not unusual for an independent restaurant or pub to have 20 staff including part-time. At any one time, around five of these staff members might be experiencing poor mental health.

As a result, we have partnered with Pilot Light and, with the generous support of the Savoy Educational Trust, we are able to offer 50 fully funded places on the MHFA programme for small, independent hospitality businesses.

Get more information of booking a course.

Philip Addison is the founder of Learn Resilence and a mental health first aider

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