How to promote mental wellbeing in the pub trade

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Release the pressure: how can hospitality employers promote mental wellbeing in the workplace amid business pressures?
Release the pressure: how can hospitality employers promote mental wellbeing in the workplace amid business pressures?

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Mental health awareness is more prominent than ever, but how can hospitality employers promote mental wellbeing in the workplace amid business pressures?

David Toscano, founder of Cin Cin – a two-restaurant operation in Brighton – says his previous career in law does not compare with the levels of stress he has encountered in two years in the hospitality industry. 

“I came from a professional career and, in 20 years as a lawyer, nobody ever just got up and walked out of their office and did not come back,” he says. “But I have seen chefs do that, as well as having stand-up rows with front-ofhouse service.”

Toscano’s experience of hospitality staff under pressure and at their breaking points is backed up by a report from drinks industry charity The Benevolent. The charity’s report found that publicans and front-of-house staff have significantly poorer mental health than those in office-based and home-based roles.

This disproportion is a result of long hours, insecure contracts, and, for waiters and bar staff, the day-to-day pressures of working in a public-facing role.

Poor mental health

Almost two thirds (62%) of staff surveyed by The Benevolent said fatigue and tiredness from the trade led to their poor mental health.

Pressure derives from the physical weight of the job, Toscano says. “A lot of the stress on people in the hospitality trade is down to physical hours because it is a job where you spend a lot of time on your feet, sometimes in somewhat cramped and hot environments,” he explains.

The Licensed Trade Charity suggests some other stresses that are more common than others to publicans. These include dealing with customers who have alcohol issues, the strain of working long and unsociable hours, getting used to shift patterns and the stress of handling financial pressures. Money worries are highly reflected in the research, with 60% of those surveyed by The Benevolent saying that financial concerns acted as a big trigger for their stress and anxiety.

Further to this, two in 10 respondents said they had dealt with addiction and substance abuse at some point, as a way to cope with work stress.

Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) president Ian Hodson says low pay and zero or minimumhours contracts have had big roles in making life difficult for workers in the industry. “For many BFAWU members, not having guaranteed hours creates significant obstacles when it comes to finding safe, secure decent housing,” he says.

“This is aggravated by poverty pay and high rents. Too often this has led members to suffer from depression and even suicide. Decent employers support and value workers. Ending insecurity and paying a living wage are the actions employers need to take to show they are serious about tackling mental health.”

Prioritising staff wellbeing

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Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, the mental health charity, says it was seeing more hospitality employers prioritise staff wellbeing. “Forward-thinking workplaces recognise that well-supported staff are happier, more productive and loyal, and less likely to take time off sick,” she says.

Flexible working hours, employee assistance programmes and regular catch-ups between managers and individual staff can help all bosses “send a message to employees that their contribution is valued”, Mamo says.

“Additionally, for those working in the hospitality industry, thinking about the physical work environment, promoting a positive working culture and supporting work-life balance are all helpful in improving staff wellbeing,” she adds.

Staff shortages mean keeping within a weekly limit of 45 or even 48 working hours can be a challenge, Toscano explains. “It is a struggle because you lose staff and then it is very hard to replace staff. In the meantime, everyone is making up the gaps for someone who is missing,” he says.

However, Toscano argues a shortage of staff should not mean workers’ well-being should fall by the wayside. “The best we can do is be as vigilant as possible when things are arising,” he says.

Keeping an eye on red flags

Cin Cin uses a scheduling app to organise rotas – the app records hours staff complete in live time. “It gives me live data of how many hours someone is being asked to work each week and whether they will be fatigued at the end of the week, and try to adjust the rota to help with that,” Toscano explains.

“My job as an owner is to try and keep an eye on what the red flags might be and making clear to everybody that works there that they can talk about any of those things,” he adds.

In addition to supporting employees with the pressures of the job and promoting mental wellbeing generally, bosses should also support staff living with mental health problems. For staff members with a mental health problem that 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 – additional support is available.

“They then have a duty to make reasonable adjustments, which could include anything from changes to working hours or roles and responsibilities to providing quiet rooms and regular breaks,” Mamo explains.

A healthy workplace culture

Tackling the stigma attached to mental health difficulties is important for any employer who wants to establish a healthy workplace culture. 

Of the drink industry workers who told The Benevolent they had experienced high levels of stress, anxiety and fatigue during the past year, 40% had never spoken to anyone at their place of work about what they had been going through.

A fear that speaking out would endanger their career prospects was the key reason for workers’ silence.

“Employers should work to create an open and positive culture where talking about mental health is encouraged,” Mamo says. One way to do this is to sign the Time to Change pledge, which commits employers to tackle causes of poor mental health at work.

The Benevolent recommends all new employees are given a mental health tool kit in their starter induction packs. The packs will include information on internal mental health and wellbeing policies, support services available to them, and other relevant information that will help to promote mental wellbeing in the workplace.

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Mental health champions

Another recommendation the charity suggests is to introduce ‘mental health champions’ across all levels of the business. These individuals can help to create an open environment for other members of staff to speak freely about any mental health problems.

For publicans feeling daunted, new schemes have launched this year to help bosses who do not know where to start. Mind, with support from The Royal Foundation, Heads Together and others, has created a free Mental Health at Work ‘gateway’. The UK-wide portal allows employers and employees to access a range of information, advice, resources and training.

Pub bosses can also now receive specialist training on how to help their employees with mental health​, through the Licensed Trade Charity. Charity services manager Carolyn Jenkinson says: “Mental health is no longer a taboo subject and there is a lot operators can do to help staff who need support. We are holding a series of mental health training days across the country in 2019 for pub managers.”

A valuable initiative

The first two events taking place in 2019 are 15 January in Birmingham and 26 February in London, with nine further dates to come throughout the year.

“This valuable initiative will enable them to develop greater knowledge of the most common mental health issues in the workplace and give them the confidence to deal with difficult situations that arise,” Jenkinson says.

Both the LTC and The Benevolent operate free, confidential helplines for publicans concerned about their mental health or that of their staff or colleagues. Through its helpline, the LTC also offers pub and bar workers the option of up to six free counselling sessions to help staff directly with mental health issues.

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