Why prioritising employee wellbeing helps create a stronger brand

As we start this year with another lockdown in the UK, it is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic is taking a toll on more than just our physical health.

Why prioritising employee wellbeing helps create a stronger brand

As we start this year with another lockdown in the UK, it is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic is taking a toll on more than just our physical health. Last year, ONS statistics showed that nearly 20 percent of adults have experienced some form of depression — double the proportion before the pandemic hit – and many experts have highlighted that a winter lockdown makes it even more challenging for maintaining good mental health.

In the hospitality industry, the challenges of the pandemic have been particularly acute. Industry charity Hospitality Action found that only 38 percent of employees felt positive about their future in the hospitality industry and more than 60 percent were stressed about the future. Crucially, over one third of respondents were considering leaving the hospitality industry within a year. 

Covid has undoubtedly made life harder for hospitality employees, bringing new operational and regulatory challenges and significant reductions in senior leadership in many businesses. This leaves already depleted frontline colleagues to navigate a challenging working environment without the strategic compass of some of their senior colleagues. 

Against this backdrop, there has never been a better time for hospitality businesses to invest in employee wellbeing. 

Building a strong culture and strategy 

For some hospitality brands, prioritising mental health as part of their culture and strategy is nothing new. For example, Marriott offers a wellbeing certification programme Takecare Certification which supports the wellbeing and growth of their employees. Mandarin Oriental has a partnership with fitness and wellbeing company Grokker, which offers employees wellness challenges, daily group classes and other activities that increase engagement, improve team morale and boost wellbeing. 

When speaking to Anni Hood, Chief Executive at Well Intelligence, she highlighted how businesses can no longer treat wellbeing as just a trend: “No matter what industry you are a part of, valuing and prioritising wellbeing as a fundamental weave through your brand identity, strategy, operations and delivery has become as necessary as the air you breathe. That means more conscious leadership, reacting to new guest priorities, awareness of employee expectations, social value as a given, technology collaborations for scale and efficiency, policies that reflect societal need and mental health as a primary focus.”

So how can leaders create a strong balance between culture and strategy to bring about a sustainable recovery? 

Driving a sustainable recovery 

The first step is to promote a culture that supports mental wellbeing. Mental health is a personal – and often sensitive – subject, so colleagues will only open up if they feel comfortable to do so. CEOs therefore need to reassure their colleagues that they live their brand values and that it is acceptable and encouraged to be vulnerable. This requires a comprehensive and considered approach which incorporates the expertise of mental health experts and access to personal, confidential support lines. 

There are real business benefits to taking an employee-first approach. As well as increasing stability, confidence and client satisfaction, improving employee mental health can help to reduce colleague turnover – and any subsequent recruitment and related costs – lower rates of absenteeism, prevent brand erosion and increase productivity. Moreover, a proactive wellbeing strategy demonstrates people-first leadership and creates brand ambassadors at a time when evidence of employee wellbeing will be a major consideration for consumers who are deciding where to place their trust. With shifts into direct bookings due to the pandemic, brand positioning must be crystal clear.

So, when it comes to sustaining a colleague wellbeing programme, leaders should consider it a short to medium term investment that provides a long-term gain. For this to work, owners, operators and the C-Suite need to buy into the financial benefits which, requires a redeployment and a preopening scenario in terms of the percentage of revenue allocated to the operating budget in the immediate term.

Managing change through collaboration

It is important to manage change in a collaborative and empathetic style. The best results come from seeking strategic advice that helps to build an inclusive, positive workplace – combining a strategic approach with an understanding of team culture. This is now more vital than ever, with fewer senior leaders to support employees who are being asked to achieve some tough targets under pressure.

At this time of national challenge, leaders must take a look within themselves and re-evaluate their leadership style to ensure they are adaptable, flexible and resilient. This means taking a cooperative and approachable working style that prioritises people as well as profitability and value.  It also means not pretending to have all of the answers – but being open-minded and diligent about finding the right solutions. 

In many ways, the pandemic has been a wake-up call for hospitality businesses to take a more proactive approach to protecting employee mental wellbeing. Strategies to reduce risks to mental health must be deepened and expanded beyond the pandemic, with the emphasis placed as much on prevention as on treatment and cure. 

Ultimately, brands with a strong culture, strategy and purpose at their core thrive because they demonstrate that, even in difficult times, they are living their brand values. The hospitality industry now has a real opportunity to do justice to its brand values and embody its purpose by putting people first in a way that makes a real difference to their lives and to the business.

Alison Styles
Alison Styles

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