By Jeremy Vercoe
Mental health in the workplace has previously been relatively taboo, and it's only been in recent years that there has been increased public discussion
Within the hospitality industry, the safety of employees and guests is of paramount importance and, naturally, at the forefront of discussion across the industry at the moment. However, something which is less widely discussed, and can often be overlooked, is the role of mental health and wellbeing when it comes to team safety and overall wellbeing, including physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs.
Mental health in the workplace has previously been relatively taboo, and it’s only been in recent years that there has been increased public discussion around this important topic. However, in the wake of covid-19, these discussions have, in many cases, taken a backseat – at a time when it’s arguably more important than ever before.
Drops in the overall mental health of employees are being seen across the world, but for markets such as the UAE, with such a high expat population, this prolonged period of uncertainty, and in many cases job insecurity and redundancies, is causing many employers to experience a further decline in employee tenacity.
This is worrying, not only for the mental health of the individuals involved, of course, but for employers more broadly: the hospitality industry is a people industry, where each employee embodies the company they work for, more so than in any other industry and therefore, the overall wellbeing of each employee truly matters to the spirit of the hospitality industry.
With a high number of residents being forced to repatriate on account of the current pandemic, many are also experiencing the additional loss of their expat support networks, in addition to wavering job security, concerns for the health of family members in their home countries and, in some cases, apprehension that it wouldn’t even be possible to repatriate in the event of illness or redundancy, due to travel restrictions.
The overwhelming increase in uncertainties has placed many in a state of ‘survival’ mode, with heightened levels of anxiety negatively impacting mental health and quickly leading to burnout.
As responsible businesses, employers have a duty of care to protect and support an employee’s mental health, with a healthy workforce contributing to positive output and productivity and therefore fostering the success of the business, including enhancement in staff rapport and an overall enhanced guest experience. Rather than waiting for periods of stress and anxiety to pass, there are effective and proactive routes employers can take to support their staff and their holistic wellbeing.
Different methods may work in different workplaces, depending on the workforce dynamic and levels of social interaction: anything from a ‘buddy system’, to a more formal training and development program designed to establish trust, positivity and mental wellbeing among team members and management can be effective tools to promote holistic wellness in the workplace.
The first step lies with the development of methods for identifying at-risk employees, as early identification and intervention is particularly important. It’s also crucial that the topic of workplace mental health is normalised, and that there is a universal drive to reduce stigmas around the topic. This can be done by inviting an open forum of communication among employees and promoting the importance of positive mental health as a key value of the business.
It’s then a joint responsibility amongst all those within the business to exercise any implemented policies and make use of training resources and support systems. With many companies retraining employees around covid-19 protocols, now is an opportune time to simultaneously implement robust holistic health practices.
In doing so, employers pave the way for a trusting environment built upon camaraderie and mutual respect, which helps to position the company as a responsible employer and leads to increased employee engagement, and a positive mindset and work ethic. For the hospitality industry, this translates to greater service delivery for customers, which will also aid in reducing churn and attrition.
In the UAE, there are several avenues available for residents which HR teams can use as part of their resource tools, including the ‘Mental Support Line’ which has been recently launched by the UAE National Programme for Happiness and Wellbeing; and the ‘ReacHer’ service from Al Manal Humanitarian Initiative which is a support service specifically for women.
With schools set to reopen in September, we may see a rise in arrivals back into the Middle East in the coming weeks. This may potentially lead to increased levels of anxiety and feelings of general overwhelm due to another disruption to routine, with some people also being temporarily split from family members once again. This may result in additional support requirements from employers, including re-boarding programmes, but these individuals will particularly benefit from being welcomed back into supportive and open cultures which promote wellbeing.
Business leaders will set the tone for their workplaces, being responsible for fostering a trusting environment which welcomes open communication and exercising due care. Not only will this work in positioning employers as responsible, and therefore more attractive workplaces, the positive and collaborate work environment will resonate amongst guests who will sense the cohesive and positive atmosphere, simultaneously resulting in greater employee engagement, increased service delivery standards and an overall reduction of employee churn.
Of course, the prevention of exposure to covid-19 amongst staff and guests is of utmost importance, but workplace mental health can’t take a backseat to a pandemic. In fact, it only amplifies the significance of supporting employees and each other in a holistic way and aids in the robust nature of a workplace as we enter a new era for hospitality.