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Morning Briefing for pub, restaurant and food wervice operators

Fri 26th Jul 2019 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Time to talk about mental health, it’s not Kricket, and is prevention better than cure?
Authors: Jamie Campbell, Glynn Davis and Paul Chase

Time to talk about mental health by Jamie Campbell

Mental health and well-being is something I’m deeply passionate about. For too long it has been disregarded and misunderstood but it appears the winds of change are blowing through society.

Mental health has an impact on operators because it’s becoming one of the biggest expenses for businesses in the UK. A recent Thriving At Work report found poor employee mental health and weak support procedures are costing UK businesses between £33bn and £42bn a year. With costs in the hospitality sector continuing to rise and the recruitment and retention challenges still evident, it’s vital employers recognise the importance of the role mental health and well-being plays in their business. Ignoring ways to promote and support it will have a direct impact on your business.

CPL Online, the digital learning and team engagement specialist, recently carried out research in this area to gain insights and tangible data on its impact on hospitality teams. The main aim of the research was to identify – from the perspective of people working in the industry – the key causes of stress, anxiety and frustration that might lead to mental health problems. 

The responses were grouped using thematic analysis and the questionnaire was completed by 200 participants working in a variety of areas in hospitality. More than two-fifths (45%) were office-based with the rest outlet-based, with an even split between manager and team roles.

Causes of stress, anxiety and frustration
The major groups identified were leadership, conflict, workload, training and work-life balance. Let’s look at some of these areas in more detail.

Workload: Almost three-quarters (73%) identified workload as a key cause, explained by high expectations, heavy workload, set deadlines and being understaffed.

Leadership: More than half (54%) identified poor management and culture, communication failure, and feeling undervalued as key causes of stress, anxiety and frustration. Perhaps leaders in any role are more able to have a positive affect on mental health among colleagues and identify and signpost areas of concern. 

It’s worrying, therefore, that leadership is identified as one of the main causes of mental health problems, although this could be tempered by the possibility “management” may carry an unfair burden of blame.

Also significant is the fact that while more than three-quarters (77%) of respondents wouldn’t know where to advise a colleague to go for help in the event of suffering poor mental health, more than two-fifths (41%) would advise talking to a manager.

Work-life balance: Long and late hours and insufficient time off was a key concern for more than two-fifths (41%) of respondents. Noticeably, these areas significantly outweighed respondents’ concerns over salary and finances, which was only noted by 11%.

Many operators have looked to address workload and work-life balance with positive results but could we be doing more to ensure our teams are supported in their roles? The responses identifying leadership were of particular interest. 

Many people who experience mental health problems try to keep their feelings hidden because they are afraid of other people’s responses. Fear of discrimination and feelings of shame are among the top reasons given for not telling colleagues about mental health problems. If there’s already disconnect with leaders and their teams, barriers to communication remain.

It’s important to improve awareness, remove the stigma and provide those in positions of responsibility with the tools to support their colleagues. Training and engagement across a business is a vital first step to creating a culture that promotes mental well-being.
Jamie Campbell is chief commercial officer of CPL Online

It’s not Kricket by Glynn Davis

When David Thompson opened Thai restaurant Nahm in swanky Knightsbridge hotel The Halkin in 2001, there were question marks over an Australian chef cooking Thai food. What could Thompson possibly know about the intricacies of spices in this renowned cuisine and shouldn’t someone born in Thailand head the kitchen?

In fact Thompson knew quite a lot about the cuisine, having spent a number of years living and working in Bangkok before opening a Thai restaurant in Sydney, where his skills were spotted and he was drafted in to open Nahm in London. His knowledge and ability quickly came to the fore and only six months after launch it became the first Thai restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. Thompson has gone on to open further Thai restaurants and has been recognised as one of the best chefs in Asian cuisine.

The question of his nationality posed an interesting question at the time but is one that should be irrelevant today, although I’m not sure it has been totally dismissed. Only recently Will Bowlby and Rik Campbell, founders of three-strong Indian small plates concept Kricket, were asked how two British blokes could create Indian food? The fact Bowlby worked as a chef in India should have quashed any arguments but, even when he’s not in the kitchen, the Kricket team consists of a mixture of nationalities – Middle Eastern, English, Australasian and Indian to name a few.

Although Bowlby and Campbell like to have a balanced team, a minority of people think a white head chef correlates with inferior-quality Indian food. Incredibly, this has led to a small percentage of customers walking out of the restaurant.

This shocking revelation is made all the more odd by the fact dishes served at Kricket and other “new-wave” Indian restaurants focus on plates of food with influences from many different regions. They don’t rigidly stick to a single cuisine as many restaurants have done in the past – and still do.

The reality is cooking today has much more fluidity in terms of style, while people travel more – for work and on holiday – with the result the skills required to cook a specific cuisine are more widely dispersed. To think otherwise is almost as old hat as believing, say, a Chinese restaurant full of Chinese people must be a good Chinese restaurant. I think a lot of other factors need to be taken into consideration before we can take this scenario as being a cast-iron guarantee of high-quality cuisine.

It’s interesting to see the issue of a chef’s suitability to cooking certain foods is rearing its head in the field of vegan and vegetarian cuisine. During a recent chat with Tony Eskander, co-founder of vegan restaurant Slaw, I asked him when he switched to veganism? He hasn’t, and neither has the restaurant’s head chef. This took me by surprise but it shouldn’t have because this is no different to the likes of Thompson and Bowlby serving Thai and Indian food. They mirror the myriad other chefs specialising in another country’s cuisine – and doing a sensational job.

To be able to cook top-notch vegan and vegetarian food simply requires a good chef who chooses to specialise in that area. We could argue their consumption of broader flavours such as meat might enhance their capabilities as a chef.

Either way, to think they have to be non-meat eaters is as ridiculous as insisting a chef cooking Vietnamese food has to originate from that country. With the UK’s impending departure from the EU, it could become the norm for British chefs to cook cuisine from a huge range of other countries.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Is prevention better than cure? by Paul Chase

On the face of it this seems a counter-intuitive question. “Of course it is,” I hear you say, but I think the answer is a little more nuanced than that. It depends what is being prevented, what the cure is and who administers it.

The government has just published a Green Paper entitled Advancing Our Health: Prevention In The 2020s that, as the title suggests, puts prevention at the heart of public health. The paper sets out the government’s ambition to ensure we not only live longer but more of our later years are spent in good health. Not just healthier lives but happier lives too. The paper states: “Health is a shared responsibility and only by working together can we achieve our vision of healthier and happier lives for everyone.” Is health a shared responsibility and is it the job of government to make us “happier” – whatever that may mean?

The heart of the proposition that “health is a shared responsibility” is a big confusion. The government fails to make a distinction between public health problems and private ones – or to apportion responsibility accordingly. This misunderstanding is widespread and most people probably believe if enough people suffer from a particular health issue, that makes it a “public health” issue. Public health is private health writ large.

I want to suggest a public health issue is one that can only be solved by collective action – usually, but not always, action by the State. Everything else is a private health issue. If ill health arises because a country doesn’t have covered sewers, refuse collection or clean drinking water, this can only be solved by collective action from national or local government. Similarly, if society is plagued by diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella, this can only be solved by a mass immunisation programme organised by government or non-government organisations financed by government.

What the new public health movement has done is extend the definition of public health to include lifestyle diseases that arise out of self-regarding behaviour such as smoking, drinking alcohol or eating too much food (or the “wrong food”). However, if you look at what causes older adults to live the most years in ill-health, these lifestyle diseases are way down the list.

The green paper provides a chart that helpfully summarises this and it turns out musculoskeletal diseases, which account for 22.7% of all the years people spend living with disability, top the list. Mental and neurological disorders account for 14% and 9% respectively. The category “other non-communicable diseases”, which includes alcohol-related illnesses, accounts for 5.8% of years spent living with disability. Alcohol misuse on its own accounts for only 2.2% of the years spent living with a long-term health problem in later years – yet these are the ones the “lifestyle police” focus on.

The green paper doesn’t have much to say regarding alcohol. It points out per-capita consumption is falling, particularly among the young, but states: “More than ten million people are drinking at levels above the official guidelines and putting themselves at extra risk.” Of course they are – because the four UK chief medical officers of health gerrymandered the low-risk drinking guidelines down to 14 units a week, thus manufacturing a statistical increase in the number of harmful drinkers. The paper proposes to work with the drinks industry to create more low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks by 2025 and consult on whether to change the definition of an “alcohol-free” drink from one that contains no more than 0.05% ABV to 0.5% ABV. No mention of minimum unit pricing to the chagrin of the health nannies who have done their best to disguise the failure of MUP in Scotland.

The government’s preferred option for delivering this vision comes in the form of taxes such as the sugar levy, which has reduced consumption of sugary pop without a shred of evidence this has reduced obesity. The government acknowledges poor health outcomes are related to poverty but introduces sin taxes that make the poor, poorer. Will we see a more libertarian approach under Boris Johnson with the enthusiastic support of libertarians such as Liz Truss? I suspect they may have bigger fish to fry!
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health

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