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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 26th Oct 2018 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Improving mental health in hospitality, the mechanics of organic, climate becoming hard to stomach
Authors: Chris Edger, Ann Elliott and Glynn Davis

Improving mental health in hospitality by Chris Edger 

Are we facing a mental health epidemic in the UK and, if we are, how should hospitality companies respond to this serious challenge? According to government research the UK workplace lost a record amount of hours in 2016 due to time off caused by stress, anxiety and depression. At a societal level there is certainly a growing narrative around mental health levels in general, with its prevalence highlighted and spoken about by several high-profile people. 

Shocking research has highlighted an increase in self-harm among teenagers and a record number of suicides among males under 45. Whether the evidence around mental health issues is becoming a self-fulfilling narrative or is a serious by-product of the times in which we live, the fact is many agencies and politicians are beginning to highlight it as a serious social problem and something that is inevitably tipping into the workplace.  

Where does hospitality sit in terms of mental health and well-being? First, hospitality is a youthful industry that relies on a great deal of younger labour – almost one-third (29%) are aged under 21 – and a group that has been identified as particularly susceptible to mental health and well-being issues. 

Second, this is a round-the-clock profession that places a high degree of stress on its youthful front-line service providers and middle managers to produce exceptional results despite frequently scarce resources and comparatively poor rates of pay and benefits. 

Third, severe cost headwinds, overcapacity, scarcity of skilled labour and digital interlopers have ramped up demands and pressures on staff at all levels in the sector. Indeed, recent research by Code Careers found 90% of hospitality staff have experienced or witnessed abuse in the workplace, concluding the industry has a “long way to go in terms of addressing mental and well-being issues”. 

Although getting a handle on the true scale of mental health issues in the sector is difficult – given levels of recording, disclosure and confidentiality – it is reasonable to assume, given its workforce profile and drift towards hard management and “lean” HR practices, that addressing well-being will become a more urgent priority in the future. 

So how can the hospitality industry improve the mental health and well-being of its employees? Back in the day, the industry largely consisted of six or seven hospitality titans – Bass, Allied, Scottish & Newcastle et al – that traced their roots to their founding fathers and prided themselves on paternalistic “cradle to grave” personnel policies and practices. Grand institutions of the “beerage”, they looked after their employees. 

Towards the end, their philosophy was widely ridiculed by outsiders such as financiers, analysts and corporate raiders for fostering inertia, inflexibility and mediocrity – but these companies were loved by their employees! Those days – for good or bad – have gone. Ownership structures, product and brand portfolios, business models and philosophies have changed. 

We cannot return to the past but what can we learn from it? It is my contention that to improve or address mental health and well-being, hospitality companies should focus on three things – care, control and culture.        

Sincere care
The first thing hospitality must do to counteract this growing problem is to make demonstrably greater effort towards increasing the welfare and happiness of its employees by exercising sincere care for their well-being. Why? Too many operators in this sector pay lip service to caring for their employees, declaring people are their greatest asset but exacting inhumane demands in terms of workload, attendance and productivity – especially in kitchens. This creates high levels of absenteeism and turnover caused by burnout and stress. 

Good operators should demonstrate sincere care for the well-being of their staff by enforcing humane work-life balance regimes through fair rostering, flexible work practices, reasonable time off and generous holiday provision. Benefits that increase employee physical fitness such as gym discounts and access to confidential counselling will further augment the feeling among employees that the organisation is genuinely concerned and interested in their well-being.

Personal control
The second thing hospitality needs to do is substitute excessive micro-management brought on by modern management techniques, with greater latitude for personal control and self-expression among employees. Extreme managerialism that results in tight task monitoring and control and a lack of influence at the workplace increases feelings of helplessness, stress and unhappiness. 

So what should enlightened operators do? Increasing levels of “task clarity” and letting people get on with it signals confidence in their workers’ abilities. Empowering staff to resolve customer problems without deferring to higher authorities grows levels of trust. Employees will feel happier they have higher levels of personal control over their circumstances and grateful the company respects their judgement and contributions. 

Village culture
The third thing hospitality companies need to do is propagate more of a village than a corporate-style culture. Some hospitality companies – once one gets beyond the vacuous rhetoric – are depressing places to work and are impersonal, hierarchical, detached and devoid of real meaning. Leadership – crushed by the challenges that confront them – hide in head office, trashing their service culture by imposing draconian short-term solutions. 

However, leaders don’t have to succumb to this approach. Take Simon Longbottom and his team at Stonegate Pub Company. They have created a village culture that has bound people together in the most adverse circumstances to create a compelling tribal vision and purpose to restore the UK’s pub heritage and fashioning great progression and development opportunities at all levels (Albert’s Theory of Progression). 

Informal relationships and networks are strengthened through leadership visibility, recognition and celebration. People help one another out. It is a company people are proud of and love to work for. The result is a business that has seriously outperformed its competitive set! 

As in other sectors and the rest of society, hospitality is confronted by a serious mental health and well-being challenge. Companies that fail to react to this challenge will experience increased absenteeism, high staff turnover, declining service quality and severe reputational damage. 

By ramping up efforts to demonstrate and exercise sincere care through work-life balance policies, increasing levels of personal control and self-expression by empowering staff to rectify irksome problems, and creating a village culture with real tribal meaning, purpose, togetherness and progression opportunities, hospitality companies can make their people feel more valued, respected and loved. This, in turn, will enhance their feelings of happiness and well-being and go some way to improving mental health levels. 
Professor Chris Edger is a leadership author, speaker and coach and co-author of Inspirational Leadership with Tony Hughes

The mechanics of organic Ann Elliott 

An article in The Times earlier this week stated: “People who eat organic food are 25% less likely to get cancer, according to a study of almost 70,000 volunteers. Researchers say pesticides in conventional fruit and vegetables can cause cancer, suggesting ‘going organic’ helps prevent the disease.

“Previous studies have failed to find any convincing evidence that organic foods protect against disease or are more nutritious. Now researchers at Paris University have questioned 69,000 people about their diet and followed them for an average of five years, during which 1,340 of them developed cancer.

“The one-quarter of people who ate the most organic food were 25% less likely to get cancer than the quarter who ate the least, even after adjusting for age, class and other health conditions, according to results in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

“The risk of breast cancer after the menopause was 34% lower in the organic eaters involved in the study, while the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of cancer, was 86% lower.”

I couldn’t believe those figures and found them astonishing. The food debate, though, has tended recently to be about food miles, sustainability, provenance, vegan and vegetarianism – not about going organic, which appears to have dropped off the consumer debate agenda. While all these issues are incredibly important, as far as I know no-one has said any of them has such a profound positive effect on preventing cancer as eating organic food.

Is this something our sector needs to take more notice of or will consumers reject the price increase that inevitably follows when buying organic? My organic chicken at the weekend was twice as expensive as a non-organic one but didn’t, in all honesty, taste any different. However, that and the article failed to make me stop to consider what additional expenditure I was prepared to tolerate to be 25% less likely to have cancer.

Following the Times article we ran a survey with OnePulse of more than 1,000 consumers and asked them what they thought about the issue.

Almost one-third (31%) of consumers we surveyed said they believe it’s important for meat and vegetables to be organic when dining out. That’s quite a high percentage. This belief is much more important for those with plant-based diets, with almost half (49%) thinking it’s important for restaurants to serve organic meat and vegetables. In our survey, 14% of consumers said they were more likely to visit a restaurant if they knew it served organic food, rising to 19% of 18 to 24-year-olds. However, 16% don’t believe it’s important at all.

Three-fifths (60%) of respondents believe eating organic food in general is important, while almost three-quarters (72%) of consumers believe eating organic food has some sort of health benefit. However, almost one-third (32%) are unsure of what these health benefits are and almost one-fifth (18%) aren’t 100% sure what organic food is. 

Only 12% believe eating organic meat can prevent cancer, while 14% believe eating organic vegetables can prevent cancer. So there is a general feeling organic is good for you but a general lack of understanding about the concept of organic or what the precise benefits are.

As I felt at the weekend, cost is a big issue with 42% of people believing organic food is too expensive for them to eat regularly at the moment but one-quarter (25%) of respondents believe they would eat more organic food in the future, rising to 30% of those from London and the south east. 

It is a growing trend, with almost one-fifth (19%) of people eating more plant-based meals than they did a year ago. London and the south east is driving this trend, with one-quarter (25%) eating more plant-based meals.

Has offering organic food and vegetables on a menu become imperative for operators considering the potential health benefits? The evidence would suggest no. My sense is it has become important for operators to have many more vegan and vegetarian dishes on their menus but for now they don’t have to be organic. I do think, however, this will become increasingly important for us all in years to come as we become much more educated on how eating the right foods can help our physical, mental and emotional well-being.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector –

Climate becoming hard to stomach by Glynn Davis 

Philippines-headquartered quick service restaurant chain Jollibee hit the UK market at the weekend when its first outlet opened in London’s Earls Court. The company announced it has high expectations for its proposition, which has fried chicken dish Chickenjoy as its flagship product.

This opening reminded me of the time I was invited to dine at the first – tiny – unit of another fried chicken specialist that appeared in the same stretch of road in the capital. Its owners also forecast they would make a big splash in the UK with an offer that had proved a big success in its homeland, South Africa.

All I recall from this complimentary dinner of half a Portuguese-style peri-peri chicken and fries was I was left in a stupor from the portion size and heat. The waitress could see I was in no state to move anywhere fast and suggested I sit there as long as required to recover. A few weeks later she would have been pushing me out the door to re-use the table because the restaurant became a sensation and today there are about 340 Nando’s outlets in the UK.

The reported 18-hour queues outside Jollibee’s on opening day suggest it might have the potential to enjoy the same trajectory as Nando’s. Except there might be one thing that works against it compared with 25 years ago when its South African counterpart landed on these shores.

I’m talking about the tougher climate for running foodservice businesses in the UK and the difficulty securing financially viable properties. Among those finding life tough was Villandry, which was a pioneer of the hybrid retail/consume-on-premise model but called in administrators in August after citing a doubling of rent at its site in Great Portland Street.

This was followed by Scandinavian restaurant chain Rök closing its debut unit in Shoreditch this month and curtailing plans to open a further central London site. Its owners cited rising rates and operational costs and said they would concentrate solely on their remaining north London restaurant.

In Manchester, it came as a shock when Living Ventures recently announced the closure of its flagship venue Manchester House as well as Artisan. It was the same story as in London, with rising costs and high rents blamed. These closures come amidst rising staff and produce costs but we could also mention Brexit, which is making recruitment even tougher. The upshot is these factors all combine to create what is probably the perfect storm swirling around the industry.

But hold on, some further factors aren’t exactly helping including the continued high level of competition in the market, which is being driven by the constant stream of launches. In Manchester there has been a net increase in restaurants of almost 35% from five years ago, according to CGA. The newcomers will invariably include people who are willing to pay nose-bleeding high rents as a result of inexperience and sacks of easy money raised through crowdfunding.

Finally, there is another kick in the teeth for some businesses – the barriers to trading being enforced by certain local councils. This is particularly acute in the capital, where London Union closed its Hawker Union site in Wood Green after less than three months citing the council as “deliberately difficult” and making it “not worth the hassle” to keep the business going.

Likewise, Temper’s Neil Rankin has railed against the “suffocating restrictions” placed on his operations by councils focused “more on residents and property investors than local businesses”. This has resulted in him only being allowed to serve drinks to people who are dining, having to adhere to midnight curfews at weekends, and being unable to offer delivery from his Covent Garden site.

So while UK consumers work out whether they can handle Jollibee’s Jolly Spaghetti concoction – described as fresh noodles topped with meaty spaghetti sauce, hotdog slices and creamy grated cheese – will see how well the company can stomach the UK’s current harsh trading climate as it looks to expand.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

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