As the global pandemic continues unabated, hospitality is still being buffeted by its impact, with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of staff on furlough or facing redundancy.
Chris Mumford, the founder of Cervus Leadership Consulting and Head of Leadership Services at HoCoSo who moderated the session, said some in the industry are “working harder than ever before and are approaching the risk of burnout.”
“Stress is fairly pervasive in the current climate,” Mumford said, noting that with increased uncertainty and isolation, anxiety levels are rising, “leading to an increase in mental health issues.”
“We ran a quick survey with most of the participants at director or in a leadership capacity within the hospitality space and found that over two-thirds of respondents are feeling highly stressed and, in some cases, incredibly stressed.”
So how are leaders caring for their teams and addressing their mental wellbeing? The session heard from two industry leaders with differing approaches.
Jannes Soerensen, General Manager of The Beaumont in London, said that he and his management team had tried to keep staff up-to-date about developments, even if it meant at times sharing bad news via staff assemblies and town halls, as well as a private group on Facebook’s Workplace.
“In general, we’ve been incredibly open with the team and not hiding any hard messages or insecurities, and we’ve built trust through that. Now we’re in a place where people say we’ll get through this together. That has given people a sense of certainty and relief in a really uncertain time.”
Soerensen also spoke of the need for the top executives to live the ‘leadership culture’ of the organisation, rather than pay lip-service in meetings. “You can have as many standards, programmes, hotlines, meetings, all of that, but if your leadership team doesn’t get it and they don’t live it, it doesn’t work.”
Hoteliers traditionally work their way up through the industry, perhaps starting out as a receptionist on the way to being a GM, but they may not have the qualifications to be a “people leader.” He said he exercises, and went swimming before the pandemic, every day, as it’s important to show staff that “well-being is well-living.”
The other guest speaker, Mathias Saleborn, Managing Director EMEA & APAC at BridgeStreet, told the session there had been a ‘culture shift’ at his organisation, with employees front and centre of the business. Since March, he said, “all we’ve been doing is concentrate on the well-being of our people.”
And perhaps that’s an approach that leaders in the hospitality industry should be adopting, given the job insecurity and financial concerns currently experienced by many in the sector.
“There’s no single silver bullet that’s going to work for everybody,” said HoCoSo chairman Jonathan Humphries. “It’s actually all of us finding our own individual path as leaders that’s going to work for our teams in the right way.”
“I sensed quite early on that staff were quite lost and unsure,” Saleborn said. “Businesses historically have never been allowed to show emotion or talk about things outside our comfort zone.” So, Claudia Roth, founder of Soul Luxury, created a programme called ‘wellbeing at work’ bringing to her clients a diverse range of wellbeing experts to facilitate conversations and experiences on a range of topics including fear and anxiety.
“To talk about fear and anxiety openly with your colleagues and, as a leader, share your vulnerability, I got very emotional during these calls because what we went through was very powerful,” Saleborn said. “But we, as leaders, need to show that side of ourselves.”
Roth, who also took part in the HoCoSo Connect session, said it was important “to create conversations where people are actually allowed to confront their feelings and emotions to know that we’re not alone, and fear is is everywhere right now. Once we know that we are not alone, there is a comfort in it. The moment we embrace vulnerability means we’re in a place of courage.”
When the session opened up to other participants, John Wagner, co-founder of Cycas Hospitality which has a portfolio of extended-stay and full-service hotels in Europe, said guests’ negative feedback regarding communication about health measures had also induced stress. “We’re going overboard to communicate but it’s stress-producing because we’re being criticized and it hurts us.”
Wagner said the negative guest feedback was “befuddling” but staff they shouldn’t take it personally. “You figure out a way how to get through it without internalizing it and allowing it to be detrimental to your health, but address it more constructively, so focusing on action rather than emotions and feelings.”
Covid-19 is a “Greek tragedy of epic proportions,” said Sean Worker, Managing Director of T5 Strategies, adding that it was ironic that “this is possibly the first time we’ve ever had conversations about wellbeing to this level globally.” He added that we’re now seeing the “reshuffle of everything – how we think about management and how we work with each other.”
“If we can move this forward in a positive way, maybe we can help people and businesses cope better,” HoCoSO chairman Humphries said, wrapping up the session. “Ultimately that may help get the hospitality industry back on track again.
A message from the HoCoSo leadership team:
Like many of you, we have worked through numerous seismic events during our careers and we are total believers in the power of collective thinking in navigating uncertainty. At the start of this year, HoCoSo labelled 2020 as our Year of Community. We didn’t realise then how important this ethos would be. As we watched from Europe as much of China’s hotel market was shut down in a matter of weeks, we reflected on the Chinese character for crisis 危机, the literal translation of which is danger + opportunity. So we launched HoCoSo CONNECT, to focus on opportunity; to work on solutions; and to support each other. Our Weekly Forum series brings together a focused group of industry leaders to debate what is happening and to find solutions. We are motivated by a sense of community, responsibility and urgency.
Join our HoCoSo CONNECT community on Linkedin and take part in the discussion.
About the Author – Stuart Pallister
After working as a television journalist in Asia and Europe for nearly 20 years for mainly CNBC and Asia Business News, BBC Radio and TV, European Business News, and McKinsey, Stuart switched to digital content development at INSEAD business school and the National University of Singapore. He then headed the Academic Editorial Content at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne and launched its knowledge platform Hospitality Insights by EHL.
HoCoSo are advisors with a difference.
We create tailor-made and innovative solutions for clients’ hospitality-led projects by bringing together the optimum team of sector specialists.
Jonathan Humphries, Chairman and Owner of HoCoSo, and his direct team specialize in the extended-stay, co-living, and hotel-alternatives hospitality market; luxury, lifestyle and boutique hotels; and resort developments in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Our strengths lie in the following core services:
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