Professional Comment

Mental Health in Hospitality: The Hidden Cost of Unaddressed Employee Wellbeing – Is AI a Solution?

By Sarah Baldry, VP of People at Wysa (

The hospitality industry has alarmingly high rates of mental health issues in the UK, with individuals in this field significantly more likely to suffer from mental health problems compared to other sectors. The Institute of Hospitality reports that 4 out of 5 hospitality professionals report having experienced at least one mental health issue during their career. Our own research reveals that a third of employees across the UK have symptoms of anxiety and/or depression that warrant clinical investigation. This indicates a looming crisis of mental health in the hospitality industry and beyond.

It’s evident that numerous workplace stressors in hospitality, such as erratic work schedules, prolonged working hours, the pressure of customer service, and often lower pay compared to average, contribute to poor mental health. The hospitality industry also faces unique challenges, including the prevalence of temporary contracts, the pressure to provide outstanding customer service, and the impact of customer feedback on job security. These factors exacerbate the mental health issues faced by the workforce.

At the same time employers in this sector often find themselves unprepared to address employee mental health, possibly due to inadequate training and awareness among senior leaders, as well as uncertainty about their responsibility in managing these issues and fear of legal ramifications.

In hospitality, mental health issues pose a significant risk. Employees might experience depression or anxiety, leading to decreased motivation and potentially reaching a crisis point. The consequences of unaddressed mental health issues are far-reaching, affecting not just the employees but also their colleagues and customers. Mistakes due to mental health struggles can lead to accidents and injuries, impacting the quality of service and resulting in potential legal and financial repercussions for employers.

The economic impact of unaddressed mental health issues is substantial, costing an average of £455 per employee annually in absenteeism, lost productivity, and staff turnover. For a sector as vast as hospitality, this translates into billions in aggregated costs.

To mitigate these risks, the hospitality industry must take proactive steps to address mental health. Typically we look at cultural changes and preventative wellness, which includes training managers to recognize and respond to signs of mental distress, creating a culture that encourages employees to seek help, and providing access to mental health resources.

We need to look at policy and protection. There’s currently no mandate to document suicides or mental health risks as workplace incidents. Whereas it seems abundantly clear that these are very real concerns that the working environment exacerbates, and such are issues that need addressing in a structured and systematic way.

That takes time, and action is needed now. As well as cultural shifts and wellness activities we need an approach that addresses mental health support in a robust way, doesn’t require people to recognize their symptoms, and that alleviates the pressure on managers to monitor every individual. This is where technology can come in. Digital health technology, such as AI-based mental health apps, can offer anonymous, accessible support, helping to reduce stigma and provide immediate assistance. They provide in the moment assistance – essential when working long shifts or abnormal hours, such as is common in hospitality.

They provide SOS tools that immediately direct an individual to resources and support they need when facing crisis. And the best are clinically validated, rooted in evidence that they work, acting as an AI bridge between preventative wellbeing and crisis escalation. Implementing such technology, in tandem with a comprehensive approach to mental health that involves the entire industry, can significantly impact employee wellbeing. They are scalable and flexible, meaning that workers in both small and large companies, at whatever level, can benefit from support. And employees want them – 81% of those we spoke to said they would prefer to engage with a clinically validated mental health app than Human Resources. Because as much as we like to think otherwise, stigma and fear still exists.

The hospitality industry must recognize that addressing mental health is not only something a moral imperative but also a strategic necessity. Integrating advanced digital health solutions like AI mental health apps with an overarching organizational commitment can transform the industry’s approach to mental health, enhancing both employee wellbeing and operational efficiency. The cost of inaction is too high, both in terms of human suffering and economic loss. It’s time for the hospitality industry to embrace innovation and make mental health a priority for its sustained success.