Why the pandemic has shone a light on mental health in hospitality

Mental health issues cannot be swept under the carpet, writes Jane Rennie

AS we all know, the hospitality industry is not for the faint hearted. Long, unsociable hours, coupled with a fast-paced environment, are all expected for those working in the industry. While many thrive under such pressure, it is these very factors that can have a detrimental impact on mental health and well-being. When delivering the HIT Scotland Tourism and Hospitality Talent Development programme to over two thousand delegates earlier this year, we saw first-hand the natural inclination for those within the industry to keep issues related to mental health to themselves.

However, the pandemic, which caused entire workforces to be placed on furlough for a significant period, has inadvertently cast a spotlight on this issue. Employees have had time to reflect on their experience of working within the industry and in some cases, as businesses have started to reopen, have reconsidered their career options.

The landscape within the hospitality industry has changed irrevocably. It is experiencing a recruitment crisis as more jobs are advertised, but with fewer experienced people to fill the positions. This has caused additional stresses and strains for managers and leaders within the industry, which in turn, has a knock-on effect on mental health.

As the need for customers and guests through doors has never been greater, there is also a clear need for managers and leaders to create positive working environments. There is a strong link between an upbeat working environment, happy staff, and loyal customers and increased footfall. Put simply, the mental health of employees has never mattered more.

The pandemic has been a wake-up call. Mental health issues cannot just be swept under the carpet, they need to be more openly discussed. I am encouraged by the feedback we’ve received which shows that businesses are aware of the part they need to play in creating an environment for positive change, to make employees realise that they are not struggling alone.

Managers should take the time to be more present with their employees and actively explore ways in which they can encourage staff to come forward and talk about their mental health challenges and issues.

Emotional resilience after a time of such turbulence is hugely important and is something that managers and leaders should aim to cultivate within their employees. Life has changed significantly since the start of the pandemic; employees need to be given time to adjust to new ways of working. It’s equally important that managers can pick up on signs that their staff are not doing so well. Be proactive in seeking feedback and don’t shy away from having challenging conversations.

Likewise, employees should be encouraged to take self-care seriously. People have missed the human connection most of all during the pandemic, but remember that being surrounded by customers and serving them does not equate to a meaningful human moment. Both your physical presence and your full attention are required. Keep communicating. At the end of the day, the happiness of your employees could mean the difference between a successful, thriving business and one that struggles to make ends meet.

Jane Rennie is founder and CEO of the Extraordinary Training Company.