The general manager of the 85-bedroom Hari hotel in London's Belgravia talks to Katherine Price about what he has been doing to look after his team's mental health as well as his own.
How are you looking after the mental health of your staff?
My biggest concern throughout has been the team. We thrive on the social aspect of our work and our engagement with one another and our guests. Sitting at home for months can be so destructive, therefore we have stood by three key principles.
First: immediate, open and honest communication. When the government has made announcements, we have been able to inform our team of our response without delay. It can be so frustrating that bigger organisations allow their structure of decision-making to keep people dangling for days or weeks.
Second: mind stimulation. We are running virtual fitness classes, online training such as cocktail and wine appreciation, and more social activities. Next up we have a Zoom escape room.
Finally, there is no shame – if anyone is feeling down, there is someone to talk to. After the summer lockdown, I sat down with every member of the team individually on their return to talk about how we could help with their transition back to work.
How are you addressing staff's individual needs?
We brought everyone into the hotel at the end of the summer lockdown for a day of preparation for reopening. We went through our new safety procedures and how social distancing would work. We introduced a new menu and had a tasting. It was the most uplifting and emotional day for everyone in a very positive way. There was a mood of optimism and genuine relief to be back.
There were, of course, some concerns, but I believe we listened and responded with practical advice. Sitting down and talking with each individual was essential – it was important to me that everyone knew that their mental welfare is top of my list.
Besides being open to listening, we also subscribe to Hospitality Action's Employee Assistance Programme and encourage our team to use that as a port of call.
Have you had to make any redundancies? Are you accounting for the impact this may have on the mental health of colleagues?
With low occupancies forecast and eventually proven, once we reopened it was necessary to make some redundancies. We had built the most fantastic team and it did break my heart to have to go through any kind of dismantling process.
It was imperative that we were respectful and compassionate. This was going to cause a lot of anxiety and we needed to be prompt and open in our communication. Those who were at risk were guided individually through the process, and during consultations we listened to team ideas and adapted some of our proposals accordingly.
We were conscious of the mental health impact and looked into options for even temporary employment in local retail, which was booming. We offered support with CVs and job finding and I genuinely feel that those who left us felt they had been treated with dignity. I hope that in the future some will return.
The hospitality industry has been criticised for its toll on the mental health of its workers – do you think this is changing? What do we as a sector need to do better?
I think we have got so much better, but after a year of devastation, there is a huge strain on resources. We all need to be mindful of the oncoming pressure to our teams, particularly if business is inconsistent to begin with and then eventually ramps up to previous levels.
This is going to be a dramatic year and we could eventually boom into the new Roaring Twenties. Our people need to be supported; we must reinvest as soon as we can and reassure everyone that good times in all aspects will return. A collaborative workplace with a sense of resolve and pride will take the team to greater success. Hospitality still has work to do to take down any sense of guilt or shame when it comes to mental health. After what we have been through, businesses large and small need to make these conversations more natural and a priority.
What do you do to look after your own mental wellbeing?
I am fortunate that I am an upbeat person whose glass is not half-full – it's overflowing! I have been through crises before and it is at times like these that I am so thankful for family and friends.
I also work in a business where I am given reassurance and confidence, so it is vital that as a leader I pass that down. I love cooking and lockdown has been an opportunity to keep stimulated and learning – albeit I cooked for my caretaking team in the hotel and they all thought that they had Covid as they couldn't taste anything.
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