I’m sure we’ve all seen the many adverts that have been on TV recently on the subject of mental health. Add into the mix the focus given to it by Princes William and Harry, World Mental Health Day and storylines on TV soaps, and it’s no surprise that we are becoming more aware of the issues.
I was talking to an industry colleague recently and she was sharing her view that for a happy life we need three types of good health: mental, physical and financial. I think that’s a really good point because if any of those are out of kilter the problems start, which can have a knock-on effect with the other two. So, what can we do to help our teams achieve all three?
In terms of mental health, I was interested to read recently that hotel group Valor Hospitality has introduced a wellbeing strategy in response to stress in the industry. The initiative is led by the directors and sees every hotel have a minimum of one fully qualified mental health first aider, trained to spot the signs of someone who may be struggling. Its HR director, Moira Laird, made a very good point when she said: “In the hospitality industry, we are so good at looking after other people that we sometimes forget to look after ourselves.”
I agree with this – we take the stress we work under as ‘just part of life in hospitality’, but we also need to remember that not everyone handles it as well. Some stress is good for us and pushes us to achieve more than we could have imagined; but when it is pushed too far, it can be pretty damaging too. I think the mental health first aider initiative is a great idea, but it has to be professionally trained in and supported at the top. You can’t do something like that as a sales bid initiative and not follow it through fully and carefully.
In terms of the physical side, how many companies offer health screening, or reduced rate screening, for all employees? It may not be financially feasible to offer it free to all employees, but a reduced rate that they can pay for themselves or have deducted from pay may be an option.
How many companies have negotiated national health club rates that all employees can take advantage of, or have joined the Government Cycle to Work schemes whereby employees can get great deals on bikes and the cost is deducted from their pay? Do many companies encourage employees to join in charity fundraising challenges like 5k or 10k runs or cycling by paying for or contributing towards the entry fees? There are many things that can be done to encourage improved physical health.
For financial help, paying as much as you can afford is a good first step, and the more we can persuade our clients to adopt living wage rates for lower paid staff the better. We’re a low margin industry that has been squeezed more and more in recent years, so it’s right that this burden is shared with clients because, after all, the teams are working on their behalf and they often set the contract budgets. Employee assistance programmes, like the excellent one that Hospitality Action provides, also go some way to provide our team members with help and advice on how to deal with financial issues when they hit hard times.
On a slightly different tangent, I have covered our collective responsibility to our customers’ healthy eating in several Badger articles over the years. To recap, I think we shouldn’t be living in a nanny state, but at the same time most of us recognise that we do have a responsibility to cook using as healthy ingredients and methods as possible and provide the info that customers need to make their own balanced diet decisions.
I saw recently that a caterer that specialises in detox and healthy food was now targeting the corporate sector because they felt there is a gap in the market. I wish them luck but I’m not so sure about that. I can’t think of any contract caterer that doesn’t have healthy eating on its agenda, and tools in its kit bag, to introduce it at any site where it there is a serious desire to do so… ‘serious desire’ being the key words here!
We can all give examples, I’m sure, where we’ve been told that healthy eating is a priority for the customers on site… but the reality through the tills is that they want it there as an option but won’t necessarily buy it… and they won’t take the less healthy stuff off their menus either because they don’t want to be ‘nannyed’. It’s a fine line to tread but I don’t see many clients opting for a ‘detox/healthy’-only option for their staff catering. I would say that as long as we caterers have that option available within our portfolio of offers, we should still be able to provide even the most niche clients with what they want.
It’s getting close to the somewhat unhealthy and stressful festive season and a new year that will doubtless be full of life-changing pledges. What can you do to support your team members and customers to make positive change in their lives?