Overcoming the challenges of returning to work in hospitality

Lisa Woodman
Lisa Woodman

Hospitality PR Professional

Lisa Woodman, a hospitality PR professional, shares her experiences of finding a new role, tackling impostor syndrome and supporting her team’s mental health as the hospitality sector begins to return to normal.

It’s quite apt that I write this ahead of the launch of Global Inclusion & Wellness Week, which runs alongside Understanding Mental Health throughout October here at IHG Hotels & Resorts.

When I wrote on the subject of how the pandemic affected hospitality workers from a mental health perspective, the potential loss of purpose​Purpose PDF This guide can help you and you colleagues discover your purpose, and ensure you are working towards it every day.Free By: Unilever View resource was a key theme – be it at a corporate, regional or operational role. Whether furloughed, retaining a role but meanwhile carrying out the work of others, or leaving a role – the mental health knock-on effects to an individual’s mindset, in an industry that is all about social interaction, was seen so vastly and at a rate that I personally had never witnessed let alone experienced.

They say; ‘what a difference a day makes’ – imagine a whole year!

Anyone looking to find work during 2020, especially in the hospitality field which was hit harder than most, encountered a real challenge. The need to keep building yourself up for each interview when you knew you were competing with an extremely high level of candidates took a lot of energy for people. I took on a couple of freelance PR projects including the pre-opening programme for a new London hotel and lending a hand to Hospitality Action – grateful to still be a part of the industry I love that was struggling. I knew it wasn’t that easy for everyone.


Talking about it together, no matter how trivial we sometimes felt our anxieties to be, was our saving grace

Eventually I secured a fixed term role in a well-known retail brand’s customer services team, working remotely from home over the Christmas period.

Between the unfamiliarity of a heavily systems-based role, the isolation of remote work​Ten top tips: healthy remote working PDF Working from home can be stressful. These tips for line managers can help you to keep your staff feeling supported when they are not able to come into work.Free By: CIPD View resource – especially over the festive period – and the pressure of needing to respond rapidly to varying situations in a competent fashion, without a physical team around me left me feeling knocked-out. I felt demoralised and deskilled.

I had to take time to reflect, and asked myself: ‘What got me through this period?‘ Whilst my team were all working remotely, we almost all hailed from the hospitality sector. We were not alone in our struggles, we shared the same anxieties, the same doubts.

Talking about it together, no matter how trivial we sometimes felt our anxieties to be, was our saving grace.

The company we were working for, too, was also navigating through an unfamiliar landscape, with its usual well-oiled Christmas operation having to adapt to a world new to us all. They understood how new everything was to us and the strange, disorienting feeling of being inducted remotely​Ways to make video calls less stressful Web page Video calls can be more stressful than a face-to-face chat. This quick guide from Leapers offers tips and hints on reducing anxiety before and during these calls.Free By: Leapers View resource, without the bonds of face-to-face learning. They were supportive and extremely patient.

I was then offered a temporary contract with IHG Hotels & Resorts, a company I had worked for almost 15 years previously, during my formative PR years. The interview process was thorough and along the way I let the same anxieties of the past year convince me I couldn’t possibly be offered the role. Like most in the sector, I’d had so much rejection through 2020.

A woman waits in a cafe.

When I did get the role, I spent a disproportionate time battling the ‘imposter syndrome​Amber Le Bon’s experiences of imposter syndrome Video Amber Le Bon shares her stories of uncomfortable moments in the industry, her anxiety and panic attacks, and of the 'little voice' she sometimes hears telling her she is not meant to be a model.Free By: The Be Well Collective View resource’ monster. That niggling black thought that I would be found out, they’d discover some incompetency or inadequacy and I’d lose the job. This despite zero evidence that I wasn’t performing. On the contrary, the feedback on my work was fantastic. Imposter syndrome had me catastrophising every situation.

When my line manager left, a number of colleagues asked whether I would be applying for the role, but I didn’t feel ready. I had excuses lined up in my head, even though the role fit my skills to a T. ‘If I can’t believe in myself, how can I lead a team?’ I thought.

The unwavering support from management and peers was crucial in reassuring, challenging and finally enabling me to regain my courage and hit the apply button, all this whilst still working remotely. Again, it was the dedication and support of the company (as well as family and friends) who invested in me that got me the role.

All these experiences demonstrate just how challenging it is to start something new and remotely and I am mindful of this as our industry gets back on its feet and people return to a role that may have changed considerably​Coping with change PDF Change in the workplace is often inevitable, but the impact it can have upon employees will differ. This guide helps managers guide their staff through stressful periods of change.Free By: RBS Group View resource, under unfamiliar circumstances.

I just hope that guests and customers will give us a little bit of patience and understanding

Hospitality team members are service oriented, ‘people’s people’ and the impact of not being able to do what they love has cut deeper than can be imagined, especially for the individual. The feelings I have listed above came as a complete surprise to me. Our operational workers continue to be challenged by the ‘new normal’ and I just hope that guests and customers will give us a little bit of patience and understanding in the short run.

The collective global experience of the past 18 months must drive companies, which are ultimately just collections of people, to understand and empathise with the complex challenges employees are likely to encounter when returning to work Transition out of lockdown and the impact on your work As we transition out of lockdown, there is a lot to think about. Organisational psychologist Dr. Jo Yarker shares some principles for staying mentally healthy. View toolkit; nervousness, anxiety and confidence-issues – these are just a few of the feelings likely to be churning away inside. We know that mental health can be invisible from the outside, and communication is critical.

A waitress sets the table in a restaurant.

One positive to draw is that we live in an era when emotional wellbeing and mental health are being discussed more openly​Approaching a sensitive conversation around mental ill health PDF Every conversation a manager has with a colleague who may be experiencing mental ill health will be different. This PDF guide from Acas has tips for managers to think about when approaching such a conversation.Free By: Acas View resource and promoted more widely than ever before so we can hope for a greater understanding in the workplace of sensitivities, anxieties and better know the signs that a colleague might be suffering. I feel extremely thankful to be back at a company which really lives and breathes the importance of mental health wellbeing and also places internal communications at the heart of everything it does.

My workplace has created many initiatives to support the wellbeing of our personal mental health including strengthening our flexible working practices, such as meeting-free Fridays and recharge days to ensure everyone has a chance to take an uninterrupted break. We have introduced mental health specialists in offices, expanded our Employee Assistance Programme​Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) – Supporting good work for UK employers? PDF This report, published by The Work Foundation in association with the Employee Assistance Professionals Association, explains how Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) can be used by employers to seek help on both work and non-work related issues. Free By: The Work Foundation View resource globally to provide access to free mental health resources, including counselling and creating a Family Network for parents and carers and Employee Networks​St Mungo’s Diversity Networks PDF Networks are a great way of connecting staff who have similar experiences and backgrounds. At St Mungo's, there are several different groups offering support and advice.Free By: St Mungo’s View resource so that colleagues can connect with groups of like-minded people.

Meeting up with friends and family again reminds me what social animals we are

Just this month we launched a new mental health learning series designed so that my colleagues from all over the world could join from different time zones. The support I have received since day one I will always be appreciative of.

Finally, I would like to say how fantastic it is to be able to finally eat out in a restaurant, drink in a bar/pub and stay away in a gorgeous hotel overnight. Meeting up with friends and family again reminds me what social animals we are and how wonderful it is to be reconnected.

It makes me appreciate all of my hospitality colleagues who are working so very hard, often in difficult circumstances, to give us all the best guest experience possible.

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