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Mental Health Matters

by Charlotte Anderson | Nov 07, 2019
Exploring the prevalence of mental health issues amongst hospitality workers

In recent years, the conversation surrounding mental health has intensified; there now exists awareness days and weeks with the specific aim of encouraging people to unlock a conversation which has been traditionally and notoriously stigmatised.

According to mental health charity Mind, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime; a shocking statistic by any standards. Though perhaps more shocking is that the increase in conversation hasn’t resulted in a reduction of people suffering with mental health problems; in fact, the number of people who self-harm or who have suicidal thoughts has increased.

A survey conducted by trade union, Unite found that over two thirds of London chefs believe that the long-hours, synonymous with professional kitchens are damaging to both workers’ physical and mental health. Of those surveyed, 14% claimed to spend in excess of 60 hours a week in the kitchen. Perhaps not surprisingly, 51% of those surveyed said they suffer with depression due to being overworked, while 27% said they drink alcohol in order to see them through a shift.

Ben Taylor, owner and head chef at Little Blackwood told us that in his experience of working alongside chefs experiencing mental health problems, the problem isn’t quite as simple as long hours leading to a decline in health. In his opinion, the leading factor is paradoxically, the coping mechanisms so frequently employed by those in the industry:

“When you’ve worked a 16-hour day and you’ve got to be back in work in 8 hours, not only are you wired from the day but you’ve got to shake that feeling and get to sleep fast, or else your whole week is ruined – so people drink to switch off or use something that instead will keep them going and going.”

With 1 in 8 people in the UK working in the food industry, it’s clear that action needs to be taken in order to turn the tide. Hospitality Action, the charity for the hospitality industry provides self-help and wellbeing information for business owners and employees in the industry. With over 100 years’ experience in the industry, their initial mission was to help people suffering as a result of “reverses of fortune, to which we are all liable” and they’ve been true to their word in the many years since lapsed. In 2018 alone, Hospitality Action spent £902,305 on 4,330 people; a large majority of which went towards grants for issues raising from life changing illnesses to drug and alcohol addiction.

How can you support mental wellbeing in your business?

It’s inevitable that we’ll all experience periods of both good and bad mental health but there are certain steps you can take as a business owner to facilitate mental wellbeing in your employees:

Training – Ensuring your staff have the correct training for their role isn’t just about ticking a box; it helps your team member to feel competent and confident in their role. We’re not just talking the official training you get with NCASS membership either. Making sure you take the time to show a new staff member the ropes, make proper introductions and clearly explain their responsibilities/what is expected of them in their new role, will go a long way in alleviating any anxiety they may have about their new position. Not providing your staff with adequate training means setting them up for failure.

Sufficient staff – Ensuring you have ample staff to cover your business’ needs is crucial in preventing both you and your staff from becoming overworked. It also means you have a much greater chance of achieving a good work/life balance.

Build a brand you’re proud of – Don’t make business decisions that you’re not passionate about – if you’re enthusiastic about something then you’ll be far more inclined to keep going when things get tough.

How can we help you?

Our main aim is to always support our members, whether it’s in the systems we’ve created or the questions we’ve answered, nothing is more important to us than supporting you at every stage of your journey. There are of course all the quantifiable things like training, Primary Authority and Connect; all of which have been created and acquired with a view to supporting and safeguarding our members, but there’s also the intangible…

All NCASS members have a dedicated account manager whom they can always call upon for support – whether you want to know whether to trade at an event, you’ve got questions about an inspection or you’ve had a bad month where profits (and spirits) are down, we know we’re stronger together and that’s why two of our core values are family and support.

How can you look after your own mental wellbeing?

In addition to our dedicated account managers, we also have a Business Support Helpline which members can access for free should they need advice on such things as employment law, contracts, VAT etc.

Our Account Managers are on the frontline at NCASS every day, so we sat down with Membership Team Leader, Naelah and she shared her go-to advice for ensuring a business owners’ good mental health:

Staff – We know finding good staff is easier said than done, but they’re an important investment so if you find them, then treat them well and hold on to them. Needless to say, high staff turnover is an added stress.

Remain objective – We really do get it – when you’re running your own business everything feels personal but maintaining objective and rational where possible will cause much less distress when things go awry.

Don’t underestimate yourself – Establishing your own business is incredibly tough but you’ve come this far for a reason (and that reason is you’ve got what it takes!) Believe in yourself.

Network – One of the things we love most about this industry is the sense of community. Building a network of likeminded people who you can lean on, is indispensable.

Don’t take shortcuts – Whether it’s due to time and/or cost, shortcuts are never a good idea and more than often, will make things more difficult in the long run. Playing the long game always pays off.

Need to talk? On the NHS website, you’ll find lots of useful numbers for charities and organisations with dedicated mental health helplines. And while we’re not experts in mental health, we do know what we’re talking about when it comes to the industry and we’re here Monday-Thursday 9-5:30 and Friday 9-5 on 0121 603 2524.


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