Tackling Mental Health & Wellbeing in the Hospitality Industry

Mental health and well-being is a huge concern for the hospitality industry. Tackling it is not just the right thing to do, but would benefit the industry in the longer term. Sean Wheeler BEM shares his advice on some of the initiatives hospitality businesses can champion during these challenging times.
Tackling mental health in hospitality industry

Why do you think that so few businesses have a Mental Health and Wellbeing champion?

Sadly pre-pandemic, my view is that many leaders (not all) tended to focus on the job or task that needed to be done to maintain financial performance and didn’t really consider the persons needs who were doing the job or task. Overall there tended to be a much more reactive approach to dealing with mental health and wellbeing and both were only really considered as a possible root cause when business performance dropped. The following stats support this:

  • UK workdays lost to stress had increased by 24% over the last six years, yet only 39% of UK managers believe that senior management are committed to employee health (Simply Health UK).
  • 12.8m days pa are lost to workplace ill health (HSE)

It’s taken the pandemic for employers to realise there is a mental health & wellbeing issue and they need more empathy, possibly as they have experienced the same anxiety as their people have during this time. There is also a realisation that it is a focused, motivated and engaged workforce that makes the difference to the success of any business (just look at the NHS during the pandemic). The challenges we face will continue for some time. Businesses realise they need to take a more proactive approach to supporting their people through this time, so that they are able to deliver the service, quality and reassurance that guests want and expect. The figures are hard to ignore:

  • Over half of adults in the UK (53%) say Covid-19 has affected their well-being and 47% report high levels of anxiety (ONS).
  • 1 in 4 People in the UK will experience a mental health problem at some point each year. (NHS)

In your experience, what are the key things that employers should consider when devising an employee Mental Health and Wellbeing agenda and what initiatives would you recommend introducing as a absolute minimum requirement?

Talk to your people, whether it’s over coffee or in 1-2-1’s when they first come back to work, and regularly thereafter. Find out how they are doing, how they and their families are coping and what challenges they are all still facing. Show you care about them as people and not just as someone to do tasks. Be as flexible as you can with hours worked and rotas as they try to manage home and work life during this time.

Employers should recognise that in the eyes of the guests, your people are your brand. How motivated and engaged they are represents you and the success of the business.

Lead from the front and be transparent and honest with communication. Situations and plans are likely to have to change daily – be up front about this with your people, so they feel you are all in this together and together will get through it.

Keep your people in the loop with any guest or business concerns, the best solutions are often found by those closest to the issue. Involve them in finding solutions, and trust them to take ownership.

Regularly ask a simple question: ” What can we do to make your job easier this week?” Listen, and try to fix the issues raised, or work them out together.

In addition to Covid-19 safety precautions and retraining, make sure you also offer emotional support. You might do this by signing up to some of the great services available out there. Some are free, some have a small per person fee, but it pays for itself if you can reduce days absent and improve productivity. Some of these services include:

  • Hospitality Action – Employee Assistance Programme – enables the employer & colleague to get confidential support on a number of mental health and well being issues https://www.hospitalityaction.org.uk/
  • Wellbee a new tool recently launched. Its a great tool for self-assessment to help people find the right solution for them so provides tailored support wellbe.co
  • Now Pause also another new selfcare tool, they also have a series of podcasts for people to listen to, to help relax them before service nowpause.org

A happy, healthy employee is going to be more productive, creative, enthusiastic and team-oriented than an unhappy, unwell, absent one.

Are you able to provide a couple of examples of businesses/brands that, in your view, have been highly proactive, and what benefits do you see for them and their employees?

Hospitality Action EAP is a tool that’s widely used by many good employers. It has done a great job, looking at ways they can help businesses and employees during these unprecedented times. Dorchester Collection have continued to have a great holistic approach to wellbeing, including emotional & financial wellbeing.


Sean Wheeler | mental health & wellbeing in hospitality industry

Sean Wheeler BEM

People & Culture Consultant

Sean Wheeler has spent over 40 years in the hospitality industry, growing up through the ranks to senior Operational or Human Resource roles. The brands he has helped grow by having a strong people & guest service culture include TGI Fridays, All Bar One, Vintage Inns, Browns Restaurants, Malmaison & Hotel du Vin, The Dorchester, Coworth Park & 45 Park Lane, Principal Hotels and Kimpton & Regent Hotels.

He is an Acorn winner, has achieved numerous ‘best places to work’ accolades, as well as the Catey HRD of the Year and CIPD award for talent management. In 2012 The Dorchester Collection UK won a prestigious Catey award for HR team of the Year and another for Catey Employer of the Year in 2015.

Sean was one of the founders of the Acorn Scholarship, chairs the UK People 1st Employer Accreditation Panel, working with The AA to develop talent of the future in catering colleges across the UK. He sits on the Hospitality Action London board and also chairs the Thames Valley Positive Support HIV charity across Berkshire and Hampshire, having been involved since 1993, he was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 2019 birthday honours list, In November 2019, Sean was also presented with the Outstanding Contribution to Hospitality Award at The Hotel Cateys.