The dialogue around mental health issues has become more constructive, but hoteliers need to be aware of the potential signs and avenues available for help, which they themselves might require.
LONDON—Mental health issues in hotel employees cannot always be immediate recognized, and anyone suffering with the symptoms needs a personalized treatment and counseling plan, according to sources.
Even owners and executives can overlook their own mental well-being when leading a hotel business.
Speaking at a recent Independent Hotel Show panel titled “Breaking the taboo,” Jeremy Gibson, marketing director of charity Hospitality Action, said one in four people will experience mental health distress at some stage of their lives. The key is learning to spot employees who are struggling and offering the right support as early as possible while maintaining balance for that employee, he said.
“It requires a structured approach, and a gentle lead-in,” Gibson said. “Employers need not to be afraid to ask employees if they are OK, and if not, to get professional help, and employees often think they are a failure if they speak up.”
Gibson shared another practical reason for providing adequate care to employees.
“We are not exactly awash with people wanting to be in the hospitality industry, so we have to look after each other,” he said.
Giovanna Grossi, founder of hospitality education and training consultancy Sauce Intelligence, said she became aware of changes to her mental health after a series of harrowing episodes and the responsibility on her shoulders of caring for loved ones.
“I helped run the family business. I was the first person in, and the last to leave, so I did not realize what mental health was despite the two people who my family bought the business from both committing suicide,” Grossi said.
Mitchell Collier, duty manager and part of the opening team at the 54-room Belmond Cadogan Hotel, said his hotel career came to an abrupt halt when he was diagnosed with cancer, which occurred just after a personal relationship ended.
Both Collier and Grossi said they sought to return to work to re-establish a sense of routine in their lowest moments.
The panel agreed that employees struggling with mental health conditions require professional help and the acknowledgement of colleagues and managers. Both Grossi and Collier experienced that firsthand.
“I did not want to put my hand up and say I cannot cope,” Grossi said. “I returned to work one week after (my partner) died, I went straight to work, which was a mistake. I thought I had to be there for my team.
“My boss was great but perhaps not one for chatting, so I felt I was a failure. My HR manager was great, but the occupational health services were dreadful.”
Grossi said the turning point was when counselling was arranged, a process that “gave me tools that I have carried with me ever since.”
Collier said the little details make all the difference.
“I received a lovely letter from a hotelier saying that mental health awareness now is mentioned during each induction process,” he said.
Gibson said time off for mental health recovery cannot be viewed just as a transitional period in an employee’s life.
“If people have had an incident and come back to work, that is not the end of it,” he said. “You are not the same person, and you need to constantly come back to check in on them. Grief also might manifest itself a long time after the experience.”
Constant check-ins can only be beneficial to maintaining an employee’s well-being, he added.
“No one has (been hurt) as the result of someone asking if someone else is OK, but also it must be realized hoteliers are not health or wellness professionals,” Gibson said. “The message should be ‘We’ll tackle this together.’”
Panelists said the hospitality industry has taken huge steps in mental health, and awareness is so much better in the media.
“There is available support where line manager does not need to be involved, although often there is an ability to do so,” Gibson said.
Grossi cited a few examples of small gestures that can make a world of difference.
“It can be as simple as one-on-one conversations, the small things, even allowing a day off, just to go to hospital with a loved one,” Grossi said.
Thankfully, the conversation around mental health is changing, Collier said.
“The culture is often that many believe the employer is the last person you can or should talk to, but the more these conversation are had, the easier it will all become,” he said.
Gibson said there is help and advice for managers to spot things that might lead to larger problems down the road.
“Has someone changed their appearance, for example,” he said.
There might be the occasional employee who realizes he can take advantage of such a scenario, but panelists said that is rare.
“You will always have someone who tries to pull that card, but, again, with the industry struggling in terms of staffing, employers have to look after their staff even more than they have done,” Grossi said.