According to mental health charity Mind, approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Mind also says that while the overall number of people with mental health problems has not changed significantly in recent years, it appears that how people cope with them is getting worse, as the number of people who self-harm or have suicidal thoughts is increasing.
A survey of chefs by the Unite union reported that 51% said they suffer from depression due to being overworked, and nearly a third (27%) said they drink alcohol to get them through their shift.
59% consider themselves to have a mental health problem now and 71% had experienced a mental health problem at some point. Of these, 51% had sought help or advice for it, but 56% said their employer was not aware of their mental health problem.
Mental health issues in the hospitality sector are a widespread problem and a lack of support from employers in the workplace. People with mental health problems are struggling to speak openly to their employers about their illnesses.
When asked if they felt there was a stigma surrounding mental health, a clear majority says yes (70%) – a disappointing statistic.
Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, said: “It’s worrying to see such high levels of stress and poor mental health within the hospitality industry. It’s even more concerning that so few people are seeking help, or opening up to their employers about it, probably because of the perceived stigma surrounding mental health. Staff struggling in silence are unlikely to be getting the support they need, and this can make things worse.
“Employees living with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace, but may need additional support. If your mental health problem meets the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010 – in that it has a substantial, adverse, and long-term effect on normal day-to-day activities – you need to tell your employer about it.
They then have a duty to make reasonable adjustments, which could include anything from changes to working hours, roles and responsibilities, to providing quiet rooms and regular breaks, for example.”
A helping hand at work
When asked what support employees and operators would like to receive from their employers and the wider industry, the answers flooded in with a few recurring themes: more investment in staffing; incentives and rewards; access to counselling; and better training. Hospitality Action research earlier this year found that only 17% of managers and 9% of employees had been offered mental health awareness training in their workplace.
“Offering things like flexible working hours, employee assistance programmes and regular catch-ups with managers sends a message to employees that their contribution is valued,” said Mamo.
Many just asked for empathy and understanding, open dialogue and for employers to follow through on resolving issues when employees confide in them. Positively, some said that all of these things were in place and they did feel they were able to speak openly with their employer.
Although 26% of respondents said their employer would be understanding if they needed time off for stress or mental health, when asked if their employer invests in their mental health, just 18% answered ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’.
Several business owners pointed out that they themselves are under so much pressure and asked for more support from government and local authorities – particularly for small, independent businesses – to help them support their employees.
“Some employers don’t know where to start when it comes to promoting good mental health at work,” said Mamo. “That’s why Mind, with support from the Royal Foundation, Heads Together and 11 other organisations has recently created a free Mental Health at Work ‘gateway’. This UK-wide portal allows employers and employees to access a range of information, advice, resources and training.”
Added Mamo: “You need to create an open and positive culture when talking about mental health. To date, nearly 850 employers have shown their commitment to tackling the causes of poor mental health at work by signing the Time to Change pledge.” Time to Change is a movement which is campaigning for greater acceptance of mental health issues at work.
While the hospitality industry does not necessarily cause mental health issues, more than half of our survey respondents cited long working hours (56%), unreasonable work demands (54%) and a high-pressure working environment (53%) as having an adverse impact, all of which are characteristic of hospitality and can exacerbate existing issues.
This issue offers examples and suggestions of what businesses can do to support their employees’ mental health, as well as professionals sharing their stories of dealing with mental health problems.
While the survey shows that there has been some improvement over the past six years, it also shows more can be done to ensure momentum keeps moving in the right direction to make hospitality a more welcoming, inclusive environment for those with mental health issues.
Further help
Mental Health at Work
Time to Change
Hospitality Action