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Wellbeing in the workplace

You’re having a bad day?

Chef - Time to Talk Day

Imagine for a moment that you own the company you work for, you’re the boss and all those people who help make your business a success depends on you for their livelihoods.  Scary thought isn’t it?

But wait a moment.  You really are their employer and having a bad day isn’t really an option for you because on top of the hundreds of things you have to take care of, you have to make sure that your staff are OK too.

Who’s responsible for wellbeing in your organisation?

Good mental and emotional wellbeing are critical but how do you, as their employer, make sure that they are OK and, more importantly, should responsibility for your employees’ health and wellbeing rest with you?

Recent Mental Health in Hospitality research carried out in late 2018 by The Caterer

Indicated that a high percentage of people in our industry (59%) are suffering from mental health problems right now but 56% stated that their employers were not aware of the situation.  Why is this?  Some reasons given suggest that fear of losing their jobs plays a big role.  Stigmatisation and a lack of support and understanding from colleagues also featured as motives for not being open about health problems.

What can employers do to support their staff? 

Craig Ewan, General Manager of the luxury 4-star Kingsmills Hotel in Scotland has a one word answer…care.

His team of over 180 associates are guided and mentored from day one with a buddy to help them through the bewildering first few weeks. Nothing unusual there but what is unusual is the low drop out rate; staff retention at the hotel is much higher than the industry norm.

Craig’s approach is to look after every member of the team, know their names, chat to them often about things outside of work, family friends, holidays, hobbies.  The management team take a genuine interest and are on the look out for any signs that a team member may have something bothering them.

Putting Health & Wellbeing on the agenda

There is an open door culture that means staff can approach Human Resources, Craig or any of the line managers with concerns.   Staff wellbeing is an agenda item at every weekly, monthly and quarterly management meeting.

Chatting and an open door policy go a long way towards recognising when someone might need some support in the workplace.  However, working patterns in our industry are notoriously challenging and the conversation should be about ways to change these to ensure better mental and emotional wellbeing in the workplace.

This was something Craig and his team looked at, not from a business driven perspective but by putting with staff wellbeing first.   In the kitchen thought was given to working patterns with the recognition that quality time away from the stove is crucial and has a positive business impact on output too.

Make positive changes

Chefs don’t work split shifts, rather a 4 days on, 3 days off, straight shift rota that sees them have 6 consecutive days off every 4 weeks.  It’s the same at the front desk with no split shifts.  The results were interesting and very positive for the business with happy team members, minimal staff turnover and a team that can get away from their workplace for a significant period of time and come back refreshed.

Craig believes that by planning ahead, being organised and communicating well, staff stress can be reduced as they are part of the planning process, know what is happening, when they are off and when peak activity can be expected.

When faced with a team member who is experiencing mental or emotional ill-health working with other organisations is paramount as not every hospitality business has all the answers.

Work with others

For example when team members suffered from serious physical or mental ill health the hotel worked with the NHS and other organisations to ensure that they received the best support possible during their illness.  This is an on-going process and strong links have been forged within the community so that the hotel team know where and how to quickly access the type of support a team member might need.

Hospitality Action has also assisted employees at the hotel through their range of support services that includes the Employee Assistance Programme, designed specifically to assist people working in hospitality by providing independent and confidential advice and support. This resource is available 24/7, 365 days a year.

‘It’s all about the positive spiral’ stated Craig.  ‘We all pull together to support each team member and know them well enough to recognise when something isn’t right. Our ethos is that if we look after our team members’ health and wellbeing properly, they will look after our guests.

 Getting the best from young talent

Health and wellbeing isn’t just an employer’s responsibility.  Gordon McIntyre, Associate Dean for Hospitality and Tourism at City of Glasgow College and Founding Chairman of Scotland’s Hospitality Health charity has responsibility for training the next generation of employees.

Over the past few years he has seen a shift away from ‘any job at any price’ to a market position where potential employees in Scotland are placing a high value on the benefit packages employers are offering.

‘Thank You’

Gordon believes that employers have to work harder to attract and retain staff and make them feel valued.  A simple ‘thank you’ at the end of a long shift or membership of the ‘Young Glasgow Welcomes’ scheme are small steps in that direction.

It might seem unrelated but the working environment and the equipment available can have a significant impact on staff morale and wellbeing.  Who wants to work shifts in an overheated kitchen with broken ventilation or without the right equipment to do their best work?

 Mental Health & Wellbeing First Aiders

Gordon has seen a rise in the number of mental health first aiders within the industry who are trained to spot and understand the symptoms of someone suffering mental or emotional ill health.  Signs might include a team member being very quiet, arriving late for their shift, smelling of alcohol, looking exhausted or changes in normal behaviour patterns.

First Aiders use gentle effective communication and conversation can help try and understand the cause of the stress and offer advice on how best to manage the situation.

The Next Generation

City College Glasgow has a mental health charter supported by an on-site manager and two counsellors. Resilience training is part of the curriculum to help students understand and deal with bad news, setbacks and stress.  It’s not about a cotton wool approach, more about helping students to bounce back at times of crisis and providing them with the mental and emotional tools to stay the course.

Get Some Exercise & Chill out

Gordon is a firm believer in fresh air and exercise and shares his passion with his students and employees.  He believes that getting outside for a walk or spending time in the gym has so many positive benefits for employees, getting them away from the work environment and letting them switch off.  There is real value in chilling out even if only for an hour and that could be something as simple as reading a book.

He’s actively encouraging employers to have a wellbeing champion as part of their teams – someone whose focus is to initiate and deliver activities and events that create a sense of wellbeing and teamwork.

 It’s all about your people

Not all employers have the time for such a people centric approach and there are clear signs already that the flow of potential recruits into the industry from Europe is drying up.  Employers and their management teams have to switch their focus from believing in a limitless pool of talent towards nurturing they ones they have.   The recruitment costs saved could be used to support the wellbeing of existing employees resulting in continuity of service and a happier, and healthier, workplace.

Workplace practices

Employers can take a few simple steps to help their teams stay mentally and emotionally well.

  1. Care – take time to know your employees and be alert to any changes in their behaviour
  2. Put health and well-being on regular team meeting agendas and allow time for discussion
  3. Look at working environments and patterns and see if you can make changes to give employees a great workplace with shifts that allow for proper time away from work. Encourage exercise as a great way to chill out.
  4. Think about training one of your team to become a mental health and wellbeing first aider or wellbeing champion
  5. Work with partner organisations such as Hospitality Action and Hospitality Health in Scotland and implement an Employee Assistance Programme .uk or
  6. Nurture young talent and provide a benefit package that helps to attract and retain the talent that will secure our industry’s future

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