In this article we discuss the importance of mental health and wellbeing within the hospitality and leisure sector and beyond. 

The UK-based restaurant chain Wahaca has recently been forced to change a policy that obliged its employees to be financially responsible for customer bills when those customers left without paying. 

The incident prompted various news stories on the importance of employee mental health and wellbeing within the hospitality and leisure sector and led to a call for new legislation to be implemented to protect employees from being financially exploited by employers. 

Those in hospitality-related industries should be aware of and respond to these issues. WBD are increasingly helping hospitality clients to horizon spot and are advising on policies and procedures which support business growth while ensuring employees are protected from exploitation. 

A global issue 

Statistics from the mental health charity, Mind, confirm that approximately one in four people in the UK experience mental health problems each year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in 2018 that anxiety and depression disorders were the leading cause of mental health problems across the globe. It has also been reported by Science Daily that hospitality and leisure service workers are more prone to develop such mental illnesses than those who work in non-commission based, salaried industries. 

Appreciation costs nothing

Recent 2019 research undertaken by workplace consultants, Peldon Rose, shows that 80% of workers state that feeling appreciated is important for their happiness and productivity at work. Further 2019 research undertaken by Wrike found that workers are willing to take drastic action for happiness, with four in ten respondents saying that they have taken a pay cut to accept a position that made them happier. 

When employees feel unappreciated at work, productivity and focus decrease. For example, The Caterer conducted a survey in September 2018 that found unreasonable work demands and a high-pressure working environment have an adverse effect on employee productivity, which can further exacerbate existing issues. This can lead to customer complaints and employee absences, resulting in lost productivity and profitability across the business. The risks associated with employee unhappiness are particularly relevant in the service based hospitality industry where unhappiness and lack of appreciation quickly erode reputation and stunt business growth. 

Problems within the industry

Abnormal and unpredictable working hours, low wages, a lack of training, a lack of employee benefits, conflicts with colleagues, high turnover rates, zero hours contracts and the requirement to constantly be alert whilst working all contribute towards hospitality and leisure sector employees being particular at risk of feeling underappreciated and unhappy at work. Any of these factors can make employees feel stressed and unhappy. 

Hospitality Action ran a survey in May 2018 amongst employees within the hospitality sector in which 80% of respondents confirmed that their job is stressful either "sometimes" or "most of the time". Such stress can lead to mental health deterioration, which ultimately can be fatal. 

The unfortunate recent death of the American chef, author and television personality Anthony Bourdain brought shock waves to the hospitality and leisure sector. Anthony seemingly had it all, however he took his own life. His death was a clear indication that much more is needed to be done in terms of mental health awareness within the industry. As Mark Lewis, Chief Executive of Hospitality Action, advised: the loss of Anthony was undoubtedly "a stark and tragic reminder that there remains a lot of work to be done."

A cause for action

It is imperative that hospitality-related organisations implement measures to safeguard employee mental health and wellbeing. 

Businesses can do this by raising awareness of mental health within the workplace and creating an environment where employees feel able to freely discuss any issues without fear of being stigmatised or belittled for doing so. Staff training, appointing mental health first aiders and confidential employee helplines can all help to change the culture within a business to create a happy, supportive and more productive working environment.

Firm-wide prevention measures

All UK offices of Womble Bond Dickinson hold an annual "Mental Health Awareness Week" (MHAW) which aims to remove the stigma attached to mental health issues and enhance awareness of the resources available to WBD people and how we may be able to help our client's businesses. The week entails insights, tips and useful information that can help maintain a healthy mind in and outside of work. For example, the 2019 MHAW involved 'Tea & Talk' sessions with the firm's Mental Health First Aiders, a session on how to combat stress in the workplace and an insightful talk from a spokesperson who has been successful in business while suffering from mental health disorders. 

Hospitality and leisure organisations could also provide employee access to employee assistance programmes (EAP) such as that available within the national charity, Hospitality Action. Hospitality Action's EAP enables employees to access personal counselling, addiction support, debt advice, managerial advice and a whistleblowing service.

Sign spotting

Employers and colleagues need to be able to spot the warning signs of mental ill health. Mood swings, poor work performance, self-harm, changes in eating and/or sleeping habits or unusually energetic behaviour can all be signs that someone may be unwell. The Institute of Hospitality have advised that the best way to deal with such behaviours is for the business to "focus on the person, not the problem, and ask if they need short-term adjustments to their working environment or pattern."

Supporting and collaborating with local charities can also be effective in raising awareness of mental health within the workplace. The Leeds office of Womble Bond Dickinson chose Leeds Mind as its annual charity and took a lead part in organising the first Mental Health Pub Quiz in aid of both Leeds Mind and another health charity called The Market Place. We are proud to say that the quiz raised £25,000. 

Concluding observations

In the super-fast world of hospitality the challenges and opportunities are as diverse as the businesses that make up the sector. Sustaining mental health within hospitality environments can be particularly challenging and increasing numbers of hospitality workers are reporting mental health difficulties. 

Organisations within the sector should ensure their policies and procedures protect not only their businesses, but also safeguard their employees' wellbeing. 

Raising awareness of mental health within the workplace is the first step towards creating a supportive and inclusive working environment. Initiatives such as hosting mental health events, and supporting local charities that raise awareness of the subject can also help facilitate a supportive culture. 

Encouraging your employees to take breaks and recuperate, cultivating human connections, showing empathy, having friendly conversations and any form of kind gesture from an employer can really make a big difference.

Kindness costs nothing. Businesses with happy and appreciated employees report higher growth, profitability and productivity and they find it easier to attract and retain talented and dedicated people. 

WBD's full service team of hospitality experts would be delighted to help with any of your hospitality sector needs. For more information please contact Claire Wilkinson.

"At WBD, we strongly believe that successful businesses have a responsibility to support their local communities. We take health and wellbeing in the workplace seriously and have a range of initiatives in our offices to help our staff have a healthy mind and body. As a firm we work hard to raise awareness around mental health and are committed to supporting staff who suffer from this by giving them vital access to a range of services.

Mark Owen - WBD Partner and Head of the Leeds Office

"Our hospitality team have deep experience in and knowledge of the industry, which enables them to provide valuable insight, innovate solutions and a cost-effective service to our hotel and hospitality clients."

Claire Wilkinson – WBD Partner and Head of Hotels