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David Rose smiling in front of a view over London's skyline

BY Leo Hynett

Culture

Hospitality’s Mental Health Crisis
COVID restrictions may be over, but a new range of challenges are placing hospitality workers’ mental health on the line.

APRIL 27  2022

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A new survey by Censuswide and hospitality marketing firm Flipdish has found that the mental health of hospitality workers is worse now than it was at height of the pandemic.

During the pandemic, huge numbers of hospitality businesses were forced to close or let staff go due to abrupt declines in business. Many people also moved out of the sector by choice, opting for the consistent hours, reliable pay, and a better work-life balance offered by other jobs.

Now that the world is beginning to return to ‘normal’ and England takes steps toward living with covid, demand for the hospitality sector is increasing once again. However, many hospitality venues remain understaffed, leaving the remaining staff to juggle a full workload on a skeleton crew.

 

Management struggles

The pandemic has been incredibly stressful for everyone, and hospitality business owners are no exception:

‘Data from 200 UK hospitality decision-makers reveals that 37% of restaurant owners believe their mental health has been hit badly due to the staff shortage crisis the sector has been facing, with nearly a third (29%) saying it’s the worst their mental wellbeing has ever been.’

Wider surveys of all levels of the sector have revealed a similarly bleak picture as front of house and kitchen staff burn the candle at both ends to pick up the slack left by persistent staff shortages. In one damning report, 100% of survey respondents stated that they don’t receive enough support at work, suggesting that there is a lot more management could be doing to support the mental health of their teams. The first step is creating an environment in which employees feel safe to share that they’re struggling.

The Burnt Chef Project – a non-profit fighting mental health stigma in hospitality – conducted a survey of 1,273 hospitality professionals, which revealed that 4 out of 5 (84%) of respondents had experienced difficulties with their mental health within their career. Despite this prevalence, 46% reported that they would not feel comfortable talking about their health concerns with their colleagues. Not feeling comfortable raising mental health concerns at work seems to be a recurring pattern across the sector, cropping up regularly in surveys from multiple sources.

Kris Hall, the founder of The Burnt Chef Project, highlighted the need to address the root causes of work-related stress in the sector:

‘The wellbeing of hospitality teams has been neglected for far too long, the hospitality sector is the third largest recruiter within the UK employing just over 3.2 million people. Often the hours are long, demanding, often antisocial and workplace environments are hot and noisy.’

Combine these inherent challenges with the ‘low retention rates and resource crisis we find ourselves facing, it’s unsurprising that the workers within the industry are facing high levels of stress.’ Indeed, the challenges brought by the pandemic are only a small part of the picture.

 

New challenges

The end of covid restrictions felt like a light at the end of the tunnel for many in hospitality management, but business rates reverting to 20% and surging energy costs mean that the sector is out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The energy price cap increase of 54% has been a huge blow to household finances, but the situation is even more dire for commercial properties. Commercial properties are not subject to a price cap, meaning that the rates energy companies charge businesses can be increased indefinitely. With energy regulator Ofgem limiting how much residential consumers can be charged, suppliers are passing increased costs on to businesses.

Mix in the new government ruling that restaurants must list calories on their menus and you have the recipe for a very difficult few months. The requirement to list – and consistently adhere to – the number of calories in a dish will add considerable extra work for kitchen staff who will now have to precisely measure ingredients.

 

Hospitality recruitment

Getting more people into the sector will help ease the burden on current staff, but the very public coverage of how tough the sector has been over the past two years is doing little to attract new talent. Long unsociable hours in a high-pressure environment are not very appealing, meaning that hospitality is facing similar recruitment and retention challenges to the healthcare sector.

Some have suggested that, once they have settled in the UK, Ukrainian refugees could help fill open roles in the struggling hospitality sector. However, a sector that is notoriously bad for caring for the mental health of its staff is perhaps not an ideal place for people who have just been through such a traumatic experience.

The sector is slowly beginning to recognise the link between a good working environment and happier staff (and thus greater retention), but change takes time. This is an industry built on high-pressure, long hours, and sky-high expectations where mistakes are rarely tolerated – changing this picture will not happen overnight.

Openly discussing mental health issues in the kitchen will be an integral step towards supporting – and retaining – staff, hopefully leading the sector in a direction that will appeal to new talent in the future.

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