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Wellbeing and working in hospitality starts here

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

If you've worked as a waitress, a chef, front of house or in any events role, this is possibly your normal. But working to your upper limits and coping with a roller-coaster of emotions is far from sustainable. And .. "how do you feel about this?" There is possibly a mix of emotions in there. Annoyance, frustration, hopelessness, but maybe there's ripple of something else? Of exhiliration or even pride? Pride? What's that about?

Hospitality Table Cornwall launched Healthy Hospitality with a day focused on health and wellbeing - ' a new project which is on a mission to a healthier hospitality which starts with you, your team and our planet'.

I talked around Mental Health & Wellbeing, and ran some workshops on wellbeing for your self, your team and your organisation, in the The Lost Gardens of Heligan. The Gardens were 're-awakened in 1990 to become Europe’s largest garden restoration project'. Can we re-awaken a sense of purpose and wellness for Cornwall's hospitality? Embedding wellness into hospitality is about bringing leaders, movers, shakers, changemakers together from kitchen staff, to apprentice hotel managers to resort customer experience teams to collaborate and trailblaze a healthy and sustainable workforce.

The roots and branches of a Healthy and Sustainable Hospitality

The day started with Ramon, MD from the Lost Gardens of Heligan showing his holiday photos of a glacier and the gradual melting of ice each year which had a profound impact it had on him. This illustrated the point that a sense of purpose was integral to him as a person, but also to his work at Heligan. How looking after our planet is the wider picture. The message here is that we must look after ourselves, each other, and our own work ecoystems, or cultures to live 'healthy lives', in every sense.

(image from article on Truro & Penwith College website)

Success does not lead to happiness. Social connections lead to happiness

Interestingly, the biggest indicator of a high life satisfaction score (the social science term for happiness) is social connections, according to a meta-analysis study of over 200 studies on happiness worldwide. According to The Happiness Advantage author, Shawn Anchor, happiness leads to success, and not the other way round. In fact, most studies put happiness as the causal link to high performance and productivity. Why shouldn't you be better at your job if you're happy? It kind of makes sense.

The social aspect of wellbeing is well-documented. From being involved in your local community, to belonging to a religous group, helping out with charity work, or spending quality time with family and friends. Putting connections and wellbeing at the heart of any work culture has to be the norm, not an added extra.

Wellness is a conscious, deliberate choice

There are various understandings of wellbeing or wellness. From wellness being 'a conscious, deliberate process that requires a person to become aware of and make choices for a more satisfying lifestyle" (Google) or "... helping individuals accomplish a well rounded, healthy lifestyle and live a life of value and meaning". Dr Swarbrick, 2012

One thing I still notice though, is how often people or organisations are overwhelmed with the barriers and complexities around wellbeing and how to improve it. Our inherent hypervigilence for danger leads us to a negativity bias. The conversations get stuck around "we can't do that because the kitchen is too small, the hotel hasn't got any cash, my manager isn't up for that, it takes too much time with our busy lives". All extremely valid points, but sticking points nevertheless.

Where it gets interesting is the idea that we can intentionally create happiness and wellbeing by training our minds to be more positive. The neuroplasticity of our brains means that if we regularly think more positively, this becomes our preferred, natural neurological pathway. We rewire ourselves to be more positive. This is where the lens of positive psychology comes in and learning positive habits and thinking rather than focusing on the problems or barriers. Mental health can be seen in the context of depression or anxiety, or as a way of adding better lifestyle choices into our lives.

But back to the hospitality industry. Unsociable hours, being overworked or behaving 'badly' can easily become a badge of honour or initation ceremony for the most dedicated person in the hotel or kitchen. Being overworked, overwhelmed and in many cases, undervalued can lead to depression, isolation or anxiety, toxic cultures of bullying or behaviour that is simply "not the right thing" as people let off steam, or try to cope. Without this culture changing, it can lead to exhaustion and burn out and good people leaving the industry. The ecostystem simply does not support them enough. The 'chefs behaving badly' is a long-held stereotype, but a recent study by Cardiff University of 47 chefs in michelin starred restaurants backed this up.

What the study found, is intentional choices like making kitchens open plan, literally bringing things out into the open had a panoptican effect of where behaviour could be seen rather than hidden. This removes the sense of isolation that provides the conditions, or the culture for a 'parrallel moral universe' where bad behaviour can permeate a workplace. The other finding was the strong sense of camaradie despite difficult conditions.

“It was this feeling of community which enables our chefs to remain highly productive and committed despite the often brutal working conditions they experience"

The study flagged up how the culture at work can sustain us, how our relationships and connections help us to tolerate things that are out of our control, and cope with stressful situations. To be more resilient so our wellbeing isn't brought plummeting down by one picky customer, staff who failed to show up, or the colleague who undermined you infront of everyone when you'd just pulled off a sensation event.

Positivity and Resilience teamed with Compassion is a winning recipe

A positive mindset and resilient staff however, is not enough. We need compassionate orgnisations. Workplaces that show they care. The difference between empathy and compassion is the action bit - the desire to actually do something to stop someone else suffering, rather than just understand or feel their pain.

Becoming a compassionate organisation is an intentional strategy to train managers and leaders to care about the wellbeing of their teams, and in some cases, being accountable for their wellbeing. The evidence is proving that organisations who actively create and measure wellbeing programmes are reaping the benefits of a sustainable workforce who are happy and resilient, as well as being engaged ambassadors for their businesses.

Hospitality already has a head-start as an industry were people regularly socialise with each other outside of work time, and where friendships at created at work. Friendships are forged around having each others' back, and showing you care enough to help them in many small, but powerful ways. Why should it be any different at work?

Wellness has many dimensions

Reminding ourselves to actively look for a new perspective, the healthier, happier and more optimistic point of view can produce a whole new set of choices that simply couldn't be seen before. Collaborating with other venues, or your team is one way to do it, as we tried in the workshops with taster session based on the 'Wellness Wheal' (we're in Cornwall thank you) and adapted for your organisation. No money? Go for a team walk with a photo challenge or natural treasure hunt. No time? Organise a 'Best Employee Socks day'. Organise a financial expert to talk to the team.

“Even the smallest moments of positivity in the workplace can enhance efficiency, motivation, creativity, and productivity.”
The Happiness Advantage

Show random acts of kindness to your staff if they have an ill parent with a beauty treatment where the 'natural scents of herbs and flowers give aromatherapy benefits and smell like bottled sunshine'. A life-enhancing strapline from Made for Organics, another B-Corp company who examplify companies that care about the bigger picture. Who isn't going to feel better after that?

As Tanja's Creative Health workshop showed, a lot can be done with just red onion skins and fallen leaves to restore balance and calm.