Mental health continues to be a taboo subject within hospitality, according to exclusive research conducted as part of our Open Minds campaign, with problems widespread in an industry slow to respond
Mental health is a widespread problem in the hospitality industry, but a lack of support in the workplace means it continues to be a taboo subject, with sufferers struggling to speak openly to their employers about their illness.
These are the findings of Caterer and Hotelkeeper's exclusive research into the stigma of mental health issues in the hospitality industry, conducted as part of our Open Minds campaign.
The online survey, which was completed by more than 100 hospitality professionals, found that some 90% of the industry believes there is a stigma surrounding mental health in the sector.
However, despite the vast majority agreeing that there was a problem, responses suggest work environments in the industry are not open enough as employees do not feel they can talk about their mental health at work.
With one in four people experiencing a mental health problem every year, according to mental health charity Mind, which has supported the Open Minds campaign, it is highly likely the majority of employees have a co-worker who has suffered. However, half of respondents said they did not know if anyone they worked with was affected by a mental illness, with a fifth (21%) saying they suspected there was but could not be sure.
Meanwhile, half of respondents who admitted to having taken time off work owing to mental health problems said they were either quite unlikely or very unlikely to explain the real reason behind their absence to their employer, with only a third happy to confide in their boss. Moreover, of those who admitted to having a mental health problem, more than half (54%) said their employer was unaware of their illness.
The statistics suggested that employees are scared to talk about their mental health in the workplace and are afraid of being open and honest.
Commenting on the results, Penny Moore, chief executive of Hospitality Action, said they clearly demonstrated that there was a very real issue regarding mental health in the hospitality industry.
"Employers have a duty of care to their staff - both physically and mentally and these problems need to be addressed. In an industry that is demanding and stressful there needs to be much greater awareness of these issues and a proactive approach to supporting individuals," she said.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, added: "An open work culture, where employees feel they can talk about their mental health and receive the support they need, is paramount for the wellbeing and productivity of a workforce.
"This survey clearly shows that many hospitality businesses are a very long way off achieving this. A staggering 90% of employees felt mental health stigma existed in their workplace. Employers must respond and realise this is happening in their businesses and taking a very real toll on their employees," Farmer said.
Nearly half (43%) of respondents said they felt the issue of mental health is more widespread in hospitality than in other sectors. While little can be done, in many cases, about the industry's high-pressured work environment and long working hours, there is more scope for improvements to be made to other contributory factors - such as unreasonable work demands and difficult working relationships with bosses and colleagues.
"In an industry where staff are a business's most valuable asset, all employers must change their attitudes towards mental health problems at work," said Farmer.
"Making your working environment more mentally healthy doesn't need to cost the earth. Simple, practical changes can have big results - such as giving staff the chance to take a break in the day or to talk about work pressures. Some businesses are already seeing this approach pay off, reducing sickness absence, cutting costs and having a committed workforce."
Moore added: "Hospitality Action recognises that these problems are prevalent and has launched a counselling support scheme that can be accessed by anyone earning under £30,000. Offering up to four one-to-one sessions, employers should be making their staff aware that this scheme is available and encouraging a more open and honest dialogue with their teams."
By Kerstin Kühn
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