At the end of March when everyone had suddenly transitioned to working from home, I wrote about ‘Remote Leading’. Now, four months later, most leaders have successfully adjusted and found ways in which to keep a dispersed workforce engaged and productive. As the epidemic endures however, and with no immediate end in sight, other challenges are coming to the fore. In particular, leaders are having to pay increased attention to their own, as well as to their team’s, wellbeing and mental health.
The potential for increased anxiety and stress is omnipresent. From the conversations I have daily with hospitality executives around the world, most people currently fall into one of the following categories.
- “Working harder than ever” – Those rolling out of bed straight to their desk and jumping from one Zoom call to another through until evening. Not only taking care of their usual workload but now also faced with having to handle the work of furloughed colleagues. Doing all this from home, often with distractions such as home schooling, and being paid 25-50% less than they were in February. Meanwhile they bid farewell to colleagues as the first round of redundancies hits and ponder if they will still be safe when the second wave comes.
- “Busy not being paid” – Those in the supply and consulting ecosystem of the hospitality sector, often self-employed, who have seen business fall off a cliff as their clients’ budgetary constraints resulted in cancelled projects and contracts. Busy occupying their time keeping client relationships alive from home while trying to pivot and find any new source of income.
- “Furloughed” – In a holding pattern, not working, at times bored and lonely, trying to find ways to remain stimulated while wondering if there will actually be a job to return to.
- “Casualty” – Laid off, through no fault of their own, as part of one of the many restructurings which have seen 20+% reductions in corporate headcount among the major multinational hotel groups. Now faced with limited prospects of finding a new job of equivalent level and responsibility in the near future.
- “Operators” – Those back at the front line in operations that either remained open or have opened back up. Now frantically learning and implementing new operating procedures with the added strain of trying to make guests and customers happy within the confines of new health and safety protocols. Most likely having to do more as a result of fewer staff and hoping that business levels recover sufficiently to keep their job safe.
- “Business as usual, almost” – Those gainfully employed and with a manageable workload. Life much as before just without the drudge of a commute and doing it from the comfort of a home office. Have found ways to successfully integrate work and home life and in no rush to return to the office.
The usual concerns we have over health, family, and money are further exacerbated by the general atmosphere of uncertainty in which we are living. Uncertainty and lack of control are key drivers of stress. Furthermore, isolation, lack of personal contact, and the inability to travel have contributed to increased reports of loneliness. Put all this together and, for many, anxiety levels are in danger of skyrocketing and, over time, at risk of leading to serious mental health problems. A survey by mental health charity, Mind, last month reported that, “more than one in five adults (22 per cent) with no previous experience of poor mental health now say that their mental health is poor or very poor.”
As the covid-19 epidemic persists and the accompanying economic crisis bites so will reports from employees of burnout, fatigue, and heightened stress only become more prevalent. Leaders in the hospitality sector have so far, quite rightly, devoted huge levels of attention, time and resources to creating safe environments and wellbeing packages for their consumers. If not already being done, now is the time to dedicate equivalent levels of attention and care to the health of their own workforce.
A good leader will make the effort to understand what their employee is contending with, what their situation is. They will take an interest, show concern and talk about it. The employer attitude of ‘leave your personal life at the door when you come to work’ is now outdated and irrelevant. A strong, high EQ leader will create a culture in which struggles and challenges can be aired and discussed in an open and safe environment. Curiosity about a team member’s habits when it comes to sleep, diet, exercise, screen time and time outdoors are no longer viewed as invasive but can help a leader identify the early signs of employee stress and enable them to take swift action to provide support. This can be as simple as sharing suggestions of tools and resources to help relieve stress or even leading sessions such as meditation, yoga, and mindfulness. This will ultimately help maintain a team’s high levels of resilience and performance.
Involvement of employees in decision making can help team members regain a sense of control. Having them contribute to problem solving and decision making can psychologically reduce feelings of isolation and improve an individual’s sense of purpose.
Additionally, in times of stress the importance of expressing appreciation and gratitude intensifies. Making an effort to recognise, often publicly, an individual’s or team’s efforts can go a long way to further an employee’s sense of self-worth, purpose and engagement.
Finally, the importance of taking a pause cannot be underestimated. A recent poll by Monster found that, “just under half (42%) of workers who are still working from home due to Covid-19 are not planning to take time off/vacation time to decompress.” To maintain a healthy team, a leader should empower employees to decide for themselves and communicate what sort of break they need. For some it might be regular coffee breaks, for others it might be an occasional morning or day off. During these unusual times, in the absence of a staff canteen or water cooler to gather around, it is beneficial to reinforce to employees the importance of creating time and space in which to take a breath and switching off.
As Robert Poynton in his brilliant book, ‘Do Pause’, written pre-Covid, puts it, “The space in our lives is always under pressure. . . ‘Always on’ becomes something to boast of, or aspire to. . . We give high status to busy-ness.”
A pause can be a few seconds, it can be a ten-minute walk around the block, it can be a long weekend in the wilderness. It allows for creativity, reflection, rest and space. Poynton sums it up with, “A life without pause is unhealthy, from the cellular level up. It profoundly affects how we feel. If you don’t stop to think, life will force you to stop and think. At the extreme, the cost is ‘burnout’.
Those hospitality leaders who are able to maintain highly engaged, high performing teams in spite of the challenges all around us will have the welfare of their team members first and foremost in their sights. To succeed in this it is also critical that the leader has his or her own self-care top of mind and is paying the same level of attention to their own personal wellbeing.
Several months into the Covid-19 crisis and with summer here, now is a good moment for leaders to take a pause, however long or short, and to encourage their colleagues to do the same. Kindness to oneself and to those around will generate the positive energy our industry needs to continue weathering the storm.
Have a great summer.