Neil Pattison: Why mental health and wellbeing must be on the agenda

Behind their warm smiles and friendly demeanors, hospitality workers are often rushed off their feet. From busy lunch hours to non-stop weekends and all the excitement of the festive season, employees can feel the strain. While being under pressure is a normal part of life, becoming overwhelmed by stress can lead to mental health problems or make existing problems worse.

Each year in the UK, about half a million people suffer from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, according to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), although the scale is believed to be far greater with unreported cases making up the majority. Education, human health and social work activities and public administration and defence were named as the industries with higher than average stress rates, and in 2017-18, work-related stress, depression and anxiety resulted in the loss of more than 15.4 million days.

Attitudes to mental health and wellbeing in the workplace are slowing changing and we greatly welcome programmes such as Public Health England’s major mental health campaign, Every Mind Matters. However, we recognise that there is still a taboo attached to mental health issues and many people remaining suffering in the dark. That is why it is imperative that we all work together – employees and employers side-by-side – to end the stigma about speaking out and seeking help.

Whether it’s work that’s causing mental health issues or aggravating it, businesses have a responsibility to protect and promote the mental wellbeing of their staff, and equip workplaces with the awareness, knowledge and resources to safeguard employees against situations that could result in a mental health crisis. While many in the hospitality industry are already aware of the challenges, we’re starting to see more employers putting in place wellbeing policies to combat the very real impact of today’s pressures on employees.

Earlier this year, we collaborated with Hospitality Action to identify steps employers could take to improve the mental health of their employees. These recommendations – which could be applied across all industries – included providing multi-level awareness and training interventions such as talks, workshops and courses aimed at self-care and team development; educating people on how to better manage working hours and their workload; and upskilling staff to enable confident and competent conversations with employees showing health difficulties.

One of the most crucial lessons we took away from Hospitality Action’s research findings was changing language patterns to reduce the stigma around mental health and create the conditions and situations where it’s OK to say you’re not feeling OK. Driving these changes through values and culture must come from all levels but especially the top – where leaders should set the tone and lead by example.

We’re calling on all employers to start conversations about mental wellbeing in the workplace, encourage employees to share their thoughts and feelings when they’re stressed, and provide advice, tips and support on how to get help. Creating a culture of openness, acceptance and support is the foundation of a comprehensive mental health and well-being strategy and it is crucial in ensuring employees receive the help they need as soon as possible.

For example, Marriott Hotels has introduced new initiatives focusing on mental health, healthy eating, exercise and financial wellbeing. This rounded approach is already having a hugely positive impact on its employees and the company as a whole, with absence days reduced by 45 per cent year on year and a decline of 51 per cent in company sick pay. Soho House & Co has also developed its mental health offering, training more than 30 Mental Health First Aiders to ensure staff are better equipped to support each other’s wellbeing and deal with emergencies onsite.

These companies are a shining example of the positive work that is already being done by many within the sector and could easily be replicated across other industries to aid employee wellbeing, productivity and retention rates.

One in four people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point in their life, and there is a strong chance it will affect their work or be the result of their work. That is why employers must recognise this issue and stand behind their employees. Most of us spend more than the usual eight hours a day, five days a week at work – so it’s vital we receive the support we need.

Mental health is not an issue that people should have to tackle alone, and employers can play a key role in providing support to workers to boost their mental wellbeing.