Following the Brexit vote, it is reported that some 330 000 of non-British workers are considering leaving the UK, with many having already made the move back home. While the impact of these staff shortages on the NHS has been well documented, the changing recruitment landscape is set to negatively affect a number of businesses in Britain, particularly within the hospitality industry. HR managers are having to adapt to these changing demographics, and are starting to place greater emphasis on wellbeing initiatives in order to prevent staff turnover over the coming years.
The recruitment challenges faced by the hospitality sector
The hospitality sector is the fifth largest employer in the UK, employing approximately 4.5 million people. However, maintaining this status may not be easy, especially in the next year. In 2017 just over half of the industry’s workers (53%) were British. With the staff shortages anticipated due to Brexit, this statistic is concerning when you consider that the hospitality sector is anticipated to need to recruit 1.3 million workers by 2024.
Both staff retention and recruitment are just some of the challenges facing the hospitality sector over the coming years, and for an industry that has historically relied upon non-British workers for its success, it is not surprising that 1 in 5 managers have reported a higher level of difficulty in recruiting staff in the last 12 months. In fact, 16% of businesses do not believe that they will fulfill staffing requirements with British workers by next year.
While the statistics paint a relatively bleak picture, there are proactive steps that HR managers and employers can take in order to retain and attract talent. HR policies and strategies that take into account a variety of wellbeing initiatives have been shown to not only have a positive impact on the health and happiness of employees, but also a correlation on the quality of service that hotels and restaurants provide to their customers.
Mental health in the hospitality sector
It is reported that 70% of British hospitality workers feel overworked, and 45% will take time off due to stress at some point in their career. With a persistent narrative surrounding stress and stress-related illnesses that it’s all “part of the job," it can become difficult to change the stigma surrounding mental health struggles brought on by working conditions - particularly when workers simply learn to live with issues such as:
Fatigue: There are a number of causes for fatigue, particularly in businesses where night work is often mandatory, such as hotels. It is widely known that when circadian rhythms are interrupted, sleep during the day becomes extremely difficult.
Furthermore, even in circumstances where night work is not required, long days and physical labour are a feature of many hospitality sectors, which only increases fatigue when adequate rest isn’t given.
Anxiety: In an industry in which pay is often hourly, the fear of financial repercussions from injuries and sick leave can lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety.
Additionally, the daily expectation of potentially dealing with customers who may conduct themselves with rudeness or arrogance can also be a contributing factor to stress for a number of employees.
Depression: A recent study by the Centre for Psychological Research at the University of Derby, suggests that depression amongst hospitality workers can be influenced by a lack of motivation in the workplace, or what they refer to as ‘external motivation.'
In other words, the motivation to work comes not from personal or ‘internal’ interest in the task, but external influences such as “I need to earn money”. This disconnect can not only impact the mental wellbeing of staff, but can also contribute to decreased productivity, absenteeism and high employee turnover.
Effective communication is often the first step
Tackling the complexities of mental health undoubtedly requires effective communication between both employer and employee. However a recent study revealed that 44% of UK hospitality workers would not come to a colleague if they felt they had a mental health problem, and in the case of absenteeism, 38% of workers were afraid to tell their boss that stress and/or mental health was their reason for time taken off work.
Perhaps more surprising is that 90% of hospitality workers believe that being prone to stress and anxiety would affect or hinder their career progression, and 40% believed it was their personal responsibility to deal with any work-related stress or mental health problems. In the most extreme cases, staff members who came forward with serious mental health complaints have, at times, been met with the insinuation that they should resign for the good of the company.
While society, the media and organizations have done much to tackle the stigma of mental health, there are still concerns that by being open about the challenges we all face from time to time, there is still the possibility that it can seriously impact our career and long term financial security.
Creating an environment in which communication between management and staff is actively encouraged is therefore vital for a healthy workplace. Motivating staff to come forward in a secure environment where they feel comfortable to express their views, requests and grievances creates an environment in which workers feel valued, and are better equipped to perform their roles.
The link between physical and mental health
Hospitality is often linked with physical work, including walking long distances, running and carrying in all sorts of conditions. Although the nature of this sort of work cannot be changed, it is important to ensure your staff are physically healthy. For example:
- Frequent wellness checks not only provide employees with an insight into their own health, but allows employers to take proactive steps in order to minimize the risk of absences from work through ill-health.
- Try to ensure that staff take adequate breaks at the appropriate times, and finding cover for the remaining staff, even during peak times.
- If you provide free meals to employees (particularly pertinent in the restaurant sector) try to provide healthy options in order to maintain high levels of performance, productivity and wellbeing.
- Provide adequate equipment and uniform for your staff members for all weather conditions so that they are as comfortable and as safe as possible.
- Providing out of work activities can encourage staff members to lead a healthy lifestyle, while also fostering a sense of unity and team spirit. This might include access to a gym (if available on site), team sports, regular group meditation and/or yoga sessions.
Support and Respect
The psychological effects (https://click.booking.com/features/2018/06/12/prioritising-staff-welfare-hospitality/) of dealing with rude or even discriminatory customers are just some of the challenges faced by employees within the hospitality industry. We’ve all heard the axiom “the customer is always right” and in such a competitive market, it is understandable that companies are highly motivated by customer opinion, and the effect this can have on profits and brand reputation.
As a result there can be a disproportionately high value placed on customers, as opposed to the opinions of staff that are responsible for serving them. However what’s more difficult to quantify is the impact that unhappy employees can have on the overall success of a business, particularly when they feel unsupported.
Unfortunately, 52.2% of hospitality workers have actually considered leaving their place of work due to a lack of support. The constant pressure from managers on their staff to maintain the outward appearance of happiness in the face of all kinds of customer attitudes, increases the feeling of discontent and the lack of a support structure.
However, there are a variety of policies and procedures that if correctly implemented, can ensure that both employers and employees can benefit from an environment that fosters mutual support and respect.
One of the easiest ways to encourage support is through the standardization of procedures concerning customer complaints. By ensuring every member of staff adheres to uniformed company protocols, this can reduce any ambiguity on how a particular situation should be dealt with. This in turn can minimize staff members from feeling undermined by managers in situations that could be deemed subjective.
Creating staff incentives and rewards can also be a great way to engage staff members, increase productivity, and ease any interpersonal tensions at work. By encouraging cooperation where employees work towards a common goal, tensions can gradually be eased through collaboration and teamwork.
Wellbeing isn’t just a legal duty
Employers have a duty of care to their employees, which means that they should take steps in order to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing. However tackling mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress, should not be simply considered as a legal duty; it can be a key factor in building trust between staff and management, reinforcing an organization’s commitment to its employees.
It’s not always easy however, and often requires advice, guidance or training from individuals qualified to deal with complex and often serious issues. In circumstances where you may not have the resources or experience to deal with mental health conditions, it may be advisable to seek external help to ensure your staff have the appropriate level of support they need.
For many, particularly young people about to enter the workplace for the first time, the fast-paced and emotionally-charged environments produced by some hospitality sectors can create a negative stigma surrounding these types of industries. As a result, a growing number of people have decided against a career in hospitality. As society becomes increasingly concerned with the effects of mental health, it seems that a greater understanding of what wellbeing in the workplace truly means may be the key to meeting the growing need for hospitality staff.
Pam Loch is a writer interested in both physical and mental wellbeing in the workplace. Her interests have led her to become the Managing Director of Loch Associates Group, who are experts in Employment Law, HR Management and Health & Safety. She works with both employers and staff to ensure wellbeing in the workplace.