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Are You Looking Out for the Mental Health of Your Hotel Employees?

Hotels take action as service with no smile is on the rise as 4 out of 5 hospitality workers report increased stress from their work

In June of this year, viewers around the world were suddenly, and perhaps unexpectedly, entranced by ‘The Bear’an American comedy-drama television series that follows a young chef as he returns home to Chicago to run his family’s Italian beef sandwich shop after the death of his older brother. The show’s main character, Carmy, comes from a world of fine dining, and returns to his hometown to find his family’s restaurant in relative shambles, riddled with debt, and run by an undeniably unruly and often dysfunctional staff. Since its premiere, the show has received no shortage of critical acclaim and an outpouring of appreciation from viewers who felt an immediate kinship to the tender chaos that the show depicts.

Specifically, the show pulls back the curtain on the high-stress and, at times, highly toxic environments which are a staple of the hospitality industry, and any viewers with a history of working in a kitchen, bar, or hotel seem especially drawn to its storytelling. As described by a reviewer, “The Bear takes a hard look at the restaurant industry while relaying a deep story about family, loss, addiction and mental health.” Throughout each episode, as the show’s characters grapple with their mental health while struggling to navigate hierarchies, establish better systems, and maintain relationships in the face of countless challenges and setbacks, we are all reminded of an ever-important sentiment: employee mental health cannot be ignored. This takeaway rings especially true when considering high-stress environments with reputations for high employee-turnover, such as hotels.

Now, more than ever, the issue of employee mental health has taken center stage within the world of hospitality – a shift that is long overdue if you ask me. According to research from RSPH, four out of five hospitality workers report increased stress from their work, with one out of five listing it as a cause for major mental health concerns. An exorbitantly high turn-over rate has plagued our industry for a long time, after all, with staff members moving from property to property or, in some cases, leaving the industry entirely in an attempt to prioritize their mental health. This should come as no surprise; four in five hospitality workers report experiencing high levels of stress directly related to their jobs, as hospitality work is notoriously difficult, with many staff members working long hours while performing physically challenging tasks. Similar to the uncomfortably tense scenes depicted in The Bear when restaurant staff scrambles to get ready for a dinner rush, hotel workers are constantly working against the clock to turn rooms over and remain a step ahead of guest demands. Unfortunately, the isolated nature of many on-property roles, including maintenance staff and housekeeping, has resulted in a disturbing uptick in assault and harassment incidents that insidiously erode team morale, employee mental health, and brand reputation.

Now, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as hotels look to reinvent their workplace culture and address current labor shortages, it is undeniably imperative to implement policies that support workers’ mental health. Having tools and practices in place that are designed to protect and uplift employees within their roles will not only benefit the staff experience, but will also benefit hotels’ business as a whole.

Leading by Example: Kimpton Hotels

In February of 2022, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants announced a new, first-of-its-kind partnership with online therapy company Talkspace. The new program, which offers 1,000 complimentary video therapy sessions with licensed counselors, aims to make mental health support more accessible for both Kimpton guests and employees. These resources are available to any guest staying at one of the brand’s 60-plus participating properties. Once all free sessions are redeemed, all future Kimpton guests have the option to receive a $100 discount on a TalkSpace plan.

Taking the initiative further for its employees, Kimpton now offers a year-long, complimentary Talkspace subscription to all its 4,000-plus U.S. employees. In an interview detailing the program, Kathleen Reidenbach, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants' chief commercial officer explained that mental health has always been an issue that is important to their brand. “Our founder, Bill Kimpton, openly discussed his struggles with mental health, which inspired our focus on human connection and heartfelt care at our properties,” she explained. “We saw the toll the pandemic has had on people, and we wanted to step up to ensure we’re providing Kimpton employees and travelers with the mental health services and support they need in approachable and accessible ways.”

Similarly, in 2020 Starbucks announced the launch of its ‘Mental Health Fundamentals’ — a mental health training course for Assistant Managers and above. The program builds on the company’s 2016 increase in their mental health benefits to $5000/year for each employee working over 20 hrs/week, and works to “de-stigmatize mental health needs” by providing ongoing training to 12,000 store managers, and by making a mental wellness app available to employees in the U.S. and Canada.

Prioritize Employee Peace of Mind

In a Forbes article published this month, author Matthew Rolnick revealed that Voluntary U.S. employee turnover in 2022 is expected to reach over 37 million people. “This is a 20% increase from pre-pandemic levels,” he writes. “In the last year, nearly half of employees (44%) have searched for new jobs, and 40% have experienced burnout during the pandemic. If businesses believe their most important assets are their employees, supporting employees’ mental health and well-being is critical.”

With this in mind, hoteliers should actively seek out those platforms and programs which empower employee peace of mind by prioritizing on-property safety. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, including the adoption of enhanced policies and staff safety training, as well as the implementation of staff safety platforms/panic buttons. To this effect, the AHLA launched its 5-Star Promise in 2018, which is a voluntary commitment by AHLA members to enhance policies, training, and resources, including employee safety devices, that together are aimed at strengthening safety and security for hotel employees and guests.

The use of panic buttons, in particular, ensures that support is always just a click of a button away. Utilizing a network of BLE/Wi-Fi gateways that continuously gather real-time data from the devices, panic buttons provide accurate location information for any staff member in distress, ensuring they feel secure and supported while on the job.

Train Managers to Detect Emotional Distress

Managers are, in many ways, the eyes and ears of any hotel brand as it relates to workplace culture. With direct access to employees, a key part of the role of any manager or supervisor is advocacy on behalf of their team; especially in the realm of mental health and well-being. With this in mind, it’s critical for hotels to provide their managers with comprehensive emotional intelligence training that teaches them how to create a supportive and inclusive environment and detect any signs of emotional distress or turmoil.

When managers know how to recognize (and, more importantly, respond to) the signs of stress, trauma, and mental health issues, they can improve the staff experience, increase team morale, and reduce turnover and absenteeism.

Provide Mental Health Resources

Taking a page out of Kimpton Hotels’ book, hotel brands should offer employees direct access to mental health resources. This could include specialized healthcare benefits (therapy, etc.), work-life balance policies, or complimentary memberships to services like BetterHelp, Calm, Talkspace, and more. CAMH, the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, has even developed a Workplace Mental Health Playbook for Business Leaders, which provides a “path to more effective solutions and better outcomes for employees and businesses.” In the wake of the pandemic, CAMH also offers a new, pandemic-specific supplemental resource — designed to work hand-in-hand with the existing Playbook — to help businesses support their employees’ mental health through this time and beyond. More importantly, hoteliers should establish an open dialogue with their team(s) to ask for feedback and suggestions in order to offer job-specific, relevant mental health resources that employees will value and utilize.

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