Helping hospitality staff return to very different workplaces

Lisa Woodman
Lisa Woodman

Hospitality PR Professional

As the coronavirus lockdown has been lifted, many working in the hospitality industry might be feeling anxious or overwhelmed about returning to work. Last summer, Beckett Frith asked Lisa Woodman, a hospitality PR professional, to share her experiences of the pandemic and offer advice to those still feeling its effects – and her words are still hugely relevant today.

1) What have people in the hospitality industry been thinking and feeling over the past few months?

‘Why me?’ will likely have been a common ask heard from many team members during lockdown. These questions range from ‘why am I being furloughed​Supporting the mental health of furloughed workers during the coronavirus outbreak PDF This PDF guide from the City Mental Health Alliance offers some advice on what organisations can do to help support the mental health of their furloughed workforce.Free By: City Mental Health Alliance View resource and not my colleagues?’ to ‘why am I working and my colleagues are being paid to stay at home?’ through to ‘why am I feeling low​Managing anxiety during the coronavirus crisis Website Education Support have put together a series of resources to help teachers and educators to cope with feelings of anxiety caused by the COVID-19 crisis.Free By: Education Support View resource when others aren’t?’ It has created many situations whereby team members have fed back feelings of reduced morale and feeling isolated.

Organisations have had to ensure high risk individuals – such as those with mental or physical health​Complexities and challenges: working with multiple health conditions PDF This report explores the impact of managing multiple health conditions, both for the individual and the employer.Free By: The Work Foundation View resource concerns – and those returning to work are fully supported where nervousness may have been assumed and identified. As we know, mental health can be hidden, and so communication remains key between organisations, line managers and team members throughout.

The loss of purpose, social status and daily engagement has been huge for many workers, and organisations have needed to act on their feet and respond quickly and sensitively. It’s crucial that this approach is something within an organisation’s DNA, rather than just a knee jerk reaction to the pandemic.

Those on furlough may have lacked that crucial recognition and comradery

2) ‘Identity’ is tied to job roles in hospitality – how do you think those furloughed have been affected because of this?

This is something particularly important in operational roles, where face-to-face engagement and interaction forms the bulk of the job description and what makes the industry so outstanding.  The hospitality industry has always promoted award-winning internal recognition programmes, such as awards, events and reward schemes.

During this time, those on furlough may have lacked that crucial recognition and comradery in a physical setting. Getting this back on track is key. The importance of increasing self-worth and purpose we hope will be top of the agenda for many organisations.

A barman inspects a bottle of wine.

3) As the lockdown has been lifted, how do you think people are feeling? What precautions do organisations need to take to protect staff mentally as well as physically?

A feeling of apprehension​Managing feelings about lockdown easing Web page As the UK begins to lift its lockdown, many people are returning to their usual places of work. This page from Mind explores what you might be feeling about the lockdown lifting, and offers ways to help you manage these changes.Free By: Mind View resource is to be expected; be it contemplating the daily commute on the tube and train for the first time, or feeling like the ‘new kid at school’ after potentially prolonged periods of absence or furlough. We would hope, at the very best, for a feeling of nervous excitement and that businesses are readying themselves to welcome back team members in the same way they are approaching the re-opening programmes for guests. In many ways, the return to the workplace is similar to on-boarding (recruitment), and we would hope to see organisations tailoring the programmes for this very reason – team members will be rejoining very different businesses, after all.

Internal comms has seen itself rise in appreciation and importance

Hearing from the leaders within the business is key. Internal comms has seen itself rise in appreciation and importance on the list of internal functions during the lockdown. Adapting town-hall programmes – which all employees can attend – with a ‘welcome back’ agenda can be used to explain the journey the management teams have been on to create new ways of working, and how physical and mental health will be at the top of the priority list. In these meetings, you can explain your new processes and provide support materials.  Enabling team members to ask open questions in safe environment will be encouraged even more than before.

A chef prepares food in a hotel kitchen.

5) What about staff who work in business support, such as HR staff? Will they be needing additional help during this difficult time?

Our support service team members have been busy keeping the business and operational teams running throughout this time, in some instances on reduced pay while other team members have been furloughed or made redundant. Not only are they dealing with an increased workload, but also highly pressurised environments including the loss of colleagues, redundancies, and commercial teams managing coinciding re-opening programmes. The pressure​Making decisions under pressure Web page This web page from the NHS is designed to help team leaders working in healthcare to understand the impact of difficult decision-making while under pressure, and offers ways you can help to ease that strain.Free By: NHS England and NHS Improvement View resource is well and truly on. Now, more than ever, pulling together as one will be crucial in order to create new ways of working within a newly evolved hospitality sector.

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