Staying mindful of your employees’ peace of mind
 
Staying mindful of your employees’ peace of mind
20 SEPTEMBER 2017 7:17 AM

One CEO’s response to an employee’s mental health day shows why the workplace needs to put more of a focus on caring for staff. 

While it’s a challenging reality, it’s vital that employers understand that stress and anxiety can arise in the workplace.

Even today, there is a stigma around the topic of mental health, and employees are fearful to open up about their personal issues and concerns. In an industry wrought with high turnover, long hours and high stress, one humane approach to ensuring a healthy working environment is to look out for each other’s mental health.

The only way to combat a stigma that surrounds mental health is by creating a culture that promotes acceptance and transparency.

When a web developer in Ann Arbor, Michigan, tweeted a screenshot of her email conversation with her CEO earlier this summer, she was shocked when it went viral. She had sent an email to her team saying that she’d be out of the office for a few days to focus on her mental health. The next morning, she woke up to a reply from her CEO, stating that he could “not believe that this is not a standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all, and thank you for helping cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”

The post now has well over 16,000 retweets, 45,000 likes, and has helped spark discussions about mental health. The response, overwhelmingly, has been that the employee is lucky to have such an understanding boss.

As a small business owner, I proudly promote an open-door policy in my hotels. Larger companies, of course, have mechanisms, outlets and professionals in place that can serve as an employee sounding board. But for those of us who manage as hands-on operators, it is noticeable when an employee is not attending punctually or performing optimally. That’s when, from the top, we know it’s important to take a deeper look and allow the employee an opportunity to simply talk. Perhaps there’s something behind the scenes we don’t know about, and a kind conversation can lead to solutions.

Senior leaders who take a stand and are quick to speak up about mental health advocacy set the tone for the rest of the organization. We live and work in stressful times and conditions. In our industry, the rank-and-file employees from room attendant to front-desk clerk, in the tireless role of pleasing guests and serving others, find stressful situations at any unexpected moment. Operators who strive to generate revenue to meet owners’ goals, march on with the stresses of leading teams of employees while striving to exceed expectations of asset managers and owners. And for employees who find themselves working at hotels that can be bought, sold or change hands, the pressures of new bosses and directions can take a physical and mental toll.

Stresses at the front desk, for example, are abundant today—and all come with the ultimate goal of ensuring our guests have a smooth, happy and memorable stay. A reservation isn’t booked properly by the third party; a guest emphatically insists on earning points despite having not booked direct; the guest believes they booked one room type but in reality booked another: All of these guest stresses can transfer directly to the desk agent. From there, the anxiety often builds.

On the other hand, when an employee chronically arrives late, for example, isn’t it wiser to sit down with that individual and try to understand why? Rather than simply writing up the tardiness, maybe a simple shift of a schedule to accommodate an employee’s stressful personal life and set of responsibilities can serve as the solution. I’ve found in my hotels that over the years, nearly 80% of the time, personal life stresses and issues that carry into the workplace are legitimate and require the comfort of knowing that their employer simply cares.

Looking out for our employees proves beneficial for a healthy and consistent labor pool. The empathy and compassion that can be encouraged when employees, at all level of guest contact, are supported will also result in financial gains. It is undoubtedly more cost effective to take care of employees and retain stability and consistency, than to discourage or avoid the conversation and recognition of your employees’ mental health. And more importantly, it’s just the right thing to do as a human being.

Hospitality employers, as well as human resource departments, must learn to create a safe space for employees to talk about these challenges. Companies who invest in their employees’ health tend to produce more engaged and satisfied workers which, in turn, increases productivity levels.

In an industry in which associates are expected to cover a shift or work a double due to call outs or even work overnight, we must show appreciation while also displaying awareness of the need for an open-dialogue work culture. We should promote an atmosphere in which speaking about mental exhaustion and health is accepted. Openness conveys to tenured employees and emerging leaders that your hotel or hospitality company has a culture that cares.

Of course, a mutual understanding is necessary for a successful, trusting work environment. Promoting open conversation and trust is a step in the right direction. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that only 17% of the U.S. population is functioning at optimal mental health, and that one in five people experience a diagnosable mental health condition at any given time.

Creating an open dialogue can make the lodging industry—and your business—stronger. Discussions should garner respect among associates and help to create a healthier work environment.

Allen Fusco is owner and operator of both ANABRA Associates and Plainview Associates, which operate the Holiday Inn Express Horseheads, New York and the Holiday Inn in Elmira, New York, respectively. Allen serves as the 2017 Chair of the IHG Owners Association and can be contacted at allen.fusco@ihgowners.org.

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