Mental wellness in hospitality – using my experiences to change the workplace

Jean Ward
Jean Ward

Learning and development partner at Cairn Group

Hospitality can be a fun, fast-paced and exciting industry to work in. But sometimes, that pressure can become too difficult to cope with alone. In this blog, Cairn Group’s Jean Ward shares how she’s using her personal life experiences to improve the wellbeing of her own workplace.

Content warning – this blog mentions an attempted suicide.


The dynamic world of hospitality, with its exhilarating moments, demands, and passion, often hides an underlying issue: the mental well-being of those who drive it. As the echoes of the COVID-19 pandemic linger, spotlighting mental health in the hospitality arena has become paramount.

A recent study by Hospitality Action reveals a concerning statistic: 68% of UK’s hospitality professionals have faced mental health challenges. The industry’s characteristics — late hours, occasional tense interactions, hiring challenges, and often modest pay — unintentionally create a backdrop for heightened stress, anxiety, and burnout.

A waitress sets the table in a restaurant.

At Cairn Group, these challenges are not lost on us. It’s my mission to lead mental health initiatives and support those in our business, drawing from both personal and work-related experiences.

My personal challenges with mental health issues started after giving birth to my first child, when I faced post-natal depression. Since then, anxiety has been a persistent challenge for me, and I’ve also grappled with panic attacks. Therapy and the use of various coping strategies, including conversations with friends, colleagues, and family, have been pivotal in helping me manage my own mental health.

Despite this personal journey, I hadn’t considered advocating for mental health awareness until 2021, when my youngest son attempted to take his own life.

I realised that support is needed earlier

That event changed my view on mental health, highlighting the need for better support systems. I became focused on identifying early signs of mental distress and aiding others facing similar challenges. My goal: prevent more people from suffering like we did.

While interacting with the NHS’s crisis team, I also saw their commitment despite an overwhelming workload. I realised that support is needed earlier to reduce pressure on essential healthcare services. This is where my role and purpose as Learning and Development Partner and my personal life intertwined.

A woman offers a man a comforting touch.

Mental health is complex and has many factors and complexities, but I recognise that the workplace is integral to many people’s mental wellbeing. If businesses can provide early intervention and foster open discussions, we might reduce the incidence of critical care and interventions and support our employees better at all levels.

I wanted to make an impact in my workplace and knew mental health education and support had to be on high on the agenda. Since starting at Cairn Group in 2021, I am proud to have helped develop tools and partnerships that directly support employees and build up a culture of awareness and support.

We encourage candid discussions

Some of these mental health initiatives at Cairn Group include:

  • First Responders for Mental Well-being: We are working towards having experts ready across all our locations to identify signs of mental struggles and extend preliminary help.
  • Training: We ensure our leadership team, including managers and supervisors, is equipped with thorough mental health knowledge and support tools to help their team members.
  • Tools and assistance: Everyone, irrespective of their position, has access to guides and assistance platforms to learn about and gain access to mental health support.
  • Awareness initiatives: With events dedicated to mental health and informal meet-ups, we encourage candid discussions around the topic.
  • Assistance for employees: Our team members are provided complimentary professional mental health consultations through our EAP program.
  • Advertising Able Futures: Able Futures is a nationwide specialist partnership set up to provide the Access to Work Mental Health Support Service on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. It offers extended mental health assistance to our team for up to 9 months for free if needed.
  • Partnership with Mind: By Signing the Mental Health at Work Commitment it ensures that mental health remains high on our agenda.
  • Partnership with Wagestream: Acknowledging the link between financial pressures and mental health, our association with Wagestream provides financial guidance for all team members helping them to talk through financial worries and create meaningful plans to help them be more financially independent in the future.
Bartenders serving cocktails.

Central to these efforts is our guiding principle: it’s ok to not be ok. We’re committed to a work environment defined by trust, understanding, and transparency. It’s vital to stress that everyone, particularly our male counterparts given the alarming rates of male suicides, can feel safe expressing their emotions and there is no stigma or prejudice here.

Through my experiences I have learned you cannot fix everything. Yet, we can provide understanding, comfort, and support to everyone to help combat the stigma and encourage open conversation around struggles and challenges.

Every little effort counts

For hospitality businesses beginning their mental health journey, I suggest:

1. Begin Modestly: Every little effort counts.
2. Engage Everyone: Initiate conversations across the company. Grasp the distinct challenges at every level.
3. Leadership’s Role: It’s vital that the leadership is invested in and promotes mental health programs.
4. Break the taboo, foster openness: Promote a culture were speaking up is encouraged and supported.

Two employees chat over a coffee

Mental health, much like physical health influences our daily well-being and overall quality of life. By openly sharing my personal and professional journeys, I hope not only to shed light on the often-unspoken challenges many face, but also to inspire those in our sector to embrace and prioritise mental health.

It’s essential that we approach this crucial topic with genuine empathy, insight, and proactive measures. Together, by understanding and supporting one another, we can foster a more compassionate and resilient industry for all.

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