Slow down for less stress

20 June 2014
Slow down for less stress

Hospitality may have been known as an industry where overwork and long hours were part of the job, but employers are now realising that happy staff with a work/life balance make better workers. David Harris reports

Do you work too hard? And do you ask others to work too hard for you? For the hospitality business, these are questions with a long pedigree. For as long as anyone can
remember, hotels and restaurants have had to defend themselves against the perception that they paid their staff poorly and worked them to the bone.

But while this may have been true in the past, it is now being put right by a combination of changes to the law and a shift in the culture of what is acceptable.

Malcolm Lewis, managing director of Longueville Manor, the Relais & Chateaux property in Jersey, says the change in working time protection and minimum wages has helped curb the worst excesses, but that it is not always easy for employers to police their staff's enthusiasm for working long hours. This is more true for some roles than others.

This poses a difficulty for hoteliers such as Lewis. Not only does the law have to be obeyed, but sensible employers want their staff to work in a balanced way as it reduces stress and makes them more productive.

Asking for help Stress awareness is a cornerstone of this. The British Hospitality Association has highlighted on its website research by insurance company AXA PPP Healthcare, which indicated that stress levels have doubled in the past four years. This takes a financial as well as a human toll, with bigger employers paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds to cover long-term sick leave.

So managing stress matters, agrees Lewis. One way to look after your employees' welfare is to encourage activities outside work. Longueville's head chef Andrew Baird is passionate about scuba diving as well as cooking, and can often be found diving between preparing lunch and dinner. He has encouraged several of his team to take up the sport and also has a coveted licence from the States of Jersey (the island's governing body) to dive for scallops.

You can't get much more familiar with the provenance of your ingredients than that. In fact, all Longueville staff are encouraged to make use of nearby beaches for football or rounders. An enjoyable lifestyle makes everybody happier.

Where there are particular stress or psychological problems, such as one "exceptionally good" member of staff who suffers from manic depression, Lewis clearly regards doing all the hotel can to help as both the right thing in human terms and in business terms - good staff need to be kept.

A changing industry
But perhaps the clearest indication that hoteliers such as Lewis take working less hard seriously is that they are doing so themselves.

He admits: "There was a time when I worked 15 hours a day seven hours a week." But when he had his youngest daughter 12 years ago, he promised himself he would have a more controlled lifestyle. His formula? "Delegate more and employ people who are better than you. Allow talent to blossom," he says.

As a result, says Lewis, "I am now better for the business than I ever have been."

Many hoteliers agree that the industry is improving in its approach to overwork. Andrew Stembridge, managing director of Chewton Glen and Cliveden, says that the idea
that staff in the industry are overworked is "definitely changing".

He adds: "Previously, yes, it was as if we worked harder than anybody. Now, a lot of other industries work far harder than they used to and hospitality has achieved a much better work/life balance."

Stembridge acknowledges that some of this is down the legislation, but that it goes deeper than that. He adds: "Young people's expectations of a job have changed markedly. At Chewton Glen they either get paid for every hour that they work, or they get time back. People quickly move on if they feel they are being abused."

Like other hotels, Chewton Glen and Cliveden also offer help if work pressures do get on top of staff. They can, for example, call the employee assistance programme helpline run by Hospitality Action (see panel) to discuss any difficulty. They are also encouraged to exercise with a corporate discount arrangement at a nearby leisure centre - in common with other hotels, Chewton Glen's own leisure club is off-limits.

As Stembridge says: "I once went to a nice spa at another hotel, went for a swim, and found myself swimming next to the person who had served me breakfast. To me
that's just not right."


Industry charity Hospitality Action operates one of the best known helplines for staff under pressure at work.

The Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) has helped almost 2,500 people since it was launched in April last year. It offers a wide range of support, including personal counselling, legal help, financial planning and critical incident support. It also offers advice to prospective whistleblowers.The philosophy behind the help service is that small problems are much better if nipped in the bud to stop them escalating.

Many of the issues that come out of overwork are familiar territory for the EAP. Anger management, stress, low mood and depression made up more than a third of
all contacts with the EAP in its first year.

Penny Moore, chief executive of Hospitality Action, says: "As part of a frontline industry, hospitality employees will always face the challenge of working in a pressurised
environment where long hours can be the norm.

"However, with growing support from employers in the industry for Hospitality Action's EAP, many employees now have a 24/7, 365 day a year resource to help them
with any personal and professional problems."


It can be difficult to stop working hard, as chef Simon Whitley discovered when he left a big city hotel and moved to a village. Last summer Whitley left his job as
executive chef at the Hilton Glasgow and moved to run the coffee shop in the village of Killearn, where he has his family home. It was an interesting move for a man whose CV includes being executive chef at the Old Course hotel at St Andrews as well as the same role at Cameron House hotel on Loch Lomond.

Whitley has advised the Scottish Football Association on diet and nutrition, has cooked for the Scottish football team, and has also worked at the Dorchester and the Savoy. But what was, on the face of it, a notable example of downshifting didn't turn out that way at all. Whitley started running a contract catering business for weddings and other events. It generated an annual turnover of £250,000 and is booked for 35 weddings this year. The move may have brought Whitley closer to his family, but his workload has not really lessened. "Frankly, there hasn't been a huge difference in the hours," he says.

And does Whitley think that the hospitality business generally works too hard? "It's a very hard trade. And although it's a lot better than it was, people still put in the hours. It's a lifestyle. You're either made for it or you're not."

And Whitley, it would seem, is made for it - he will shortly leave the coffee shop behind and return to England to take up a senior chef's job in London.


One of the difficulties hospitality businesses have always had with staff hours is not so much that they are long, but that they are anti-social. Few hospitality jobs are 9-5. Janette Scott, human resources director at Gleneagles in Scotland, says this is one reason why the hotel operates an "annualised hours" system.

This means that the resort hotel pays its staff "for every single hour they work", but that they need flexibility to take account of busy days and quiet days. The standard
working week for staff is 39 hours.

But Scott admits that managing the hours can be challenging, as much in persuading people to work less rather than more.

She says: "We do try to manage it because if people burn out or work much more than they should, it costs us money."

Scott echoes others in saying that "chefs are notorious" for overworking, so this is an area that the hotel tries particularly hard to control. Gleneagles also does its best to help staff who are under stress by offering phoneline counselling through Workplace Solutions.

Staff are also allowed to make use of golf, shooting and equestrian activities at the hotel in their time off, but it is not possible for them to use the leisure centre.


Making sure you take regular time off is one of the best ways to avoid stress, says health insurer AXA PPP.

Its top stress avoidance tips are:

1. Be active - physical activity can put you in the right frame of mind to deal with pressure.
2. Take control - there is a solution to most problems.
3. Connect with people - a good support network of colleagues, friends and family can ease troubles and help with a sense of perspective.
4. Set aside time for yourself - the UK works some of the longest hours in Europe. Set aside some nights each week for quality time away from work.
5. Challenge yourself - set yourself goals and challenges, at work or outside, such as learning a new language or sport.
6. Avoid unhealthy habits - don't indulge in too much alcohol, smoking or caffeine.
7. Work smarter rather than harder - manage your time well and prioritise.
8. Be positive - make an effort to look for the good things. Perhaps write down three things at the end of every day that went well.
9. Focus your efforts - accept there may be some things that you can't change and concentrate on what you can.

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