By Daniel Stander, an employment lawyer and certified mental health first aider at Vedder Price LLP (www.vedderprice.com)
The hospitality sector can be forgiven for wondering when it will catch a break. After all, the feeling of being in a permanent state of battle since 2020 and facing a cocktail of issues including high energy costs, debt, consumers tightening their budgets and Brexit-related trading problems mean that for many businesses, the start of 2023 is about day-to-day survival.
With warnings being issued by insolvency practitioners that thousands of firms face collapse in 2023, pressure in the sector is immense. It is perhaps no surprise then that with 92% of adults in the UK reporting that their cost of living has increased compared to a year ago, financial pressures and concerns about taking time off work because of deteriorating wellbeing are a recipe for chronic stress levels, and can increase feelings of anxiety, loneliness and isolation, which are key factors for mental ill health.
With that being the case, the question arises as to how employers in the sector can best respond?
Put your own mask on first
It can sometimes be forgotten that business owners face an invidious and often lonely situation in navigating such a difficult period in seeking to keep their workforce and supply chain together. It is essential that employers take steps to safeguard their own mental health and wellbeing in order that they can be in a position to lead by example in supporting their employees. Steps such as joining an active mentoring group and/or engaging a business coach can help with fostering positive and constructive influences. Talking about mental health can be really difficult and if employees see their bosses speaking out about their own experiences, this can help break down stigma and help to create a more inclusive and open work culture.
Create space for conversation
Employers should consider how they can best improve the employee experience in terms of wellbeing provision. It is cost-effective and sensible to hold regular check-ins with employees to allow opportunities for discussions around mental health and wellbeing to develop. A manager may not always know what is best to say, or may feel that they need to “fix” the situation. In reality, most people just want to feel heard and that their needs are approached from a position of empathy.
Spot the warning signs
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” This well-worn cliché has particular salience where mental health is concerned. In order to combat issues of absenteeism and presenteeism leading to high-levels of turnover and potentially costly disputes, employers should acquire the tools to spot the early signs and symptoms of a mental health issue developing, or of an existing condition worsening, so they can provide support and early intervention. This means ensuring that managers receive high quality, tailored and regular training to help an employer discharge its duty of care to ensure the health and safety of its workforce so far as is reasonably practicable.
Signpost available supports
Employers can help demonstrate that they take mental health seriously by ensuring that employees are made aware of where to find wellbeing support information both within the business and via external resources. This includes signposting to confidential advice helplines, which can be a cost-effective yet vital ingredient to provide employees with access to the support they need, when they need it.
Identify what matters to build up resilience
Employers are recommended to identify what actually matters to their employees and in what context they may benefit from extra wellbeing support throughout the employment life cycle. For example, employers should consider whether they can improve their employee experience on pay, including whether it is feasible to allow a proportion of salary be accessed early, or to provide benefits such as discounted gym memberships to give employees a potential outlet to help them build up their resilience.
It is clear that efforts to improve mental health in the sector require a redoubling of efforts in 2023. Employers and employees alike need not face these issues alone.