The big issue – mental health in the workplace

30 July, 2019
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

One in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime.   An increasingly common cause or reason for the worsening of mental health issues is work-related stress,  with those working in certain industries, like catering, seemingly more vulnerable than others.  Emma Saunders, associate with Cripps Pemberton Greenish, explores the issues.

A recent study by mental health charity Mind revealed that almost half of the 44,000 employees surveyed had experienced a mental health issue in their current job.  Only half of those employees had discussed their experience with their employer.  An independent review carried out for the government in 2017 found employers are incurring between £33 billion and £42 billion in mental health related costs,  concluding that the UK workplace faces a significant mental health challenge.

Employers will be all too aware that mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is something they cannot afford to ignore.  In industries like food and drink, where staff shortages are a real and growing problem, providing proper support to employees suffering with mental health problems will be crucial to reduce absenteeism and allow them to be productive members of the workforce.

The nature of the work in the catering and hospitality industries makes workers more vulnerable to work-related mental health problems – due to factors such as long and unsociable hours, stressful conditions, lack of managerial support and low earnings.  The suicide of Anthony Bourdain in 2018 led to others in the hospitality industry sharing their experiences of mental illnesses, a topic that Bourdain had always spoken openly about.  Bourdain’s story also led to other celebrity chefs advocating for mental health awareness – a welcome spotlight on an often taboo issue.

Employers, especially those in the hospitality and catering industries, will already be aware that work-life balance is a crucial factor when it comes to employees’ health and wellbeing.  In 2018, Stuart Ralston, aiming  to encourage his employees to prioritise their mental health, reduced the opening hours of his restaurant in Edinburgh to effectively reduce their working week from five to four days, without asking staff to take a pay cut. Research carried out by Hospitality Action in 2018 revealed that only 9% of employers had offered their employees mental health awareness training and guidance.  Increasing awareness by training employees on the issues surrounding mental health in the catering and hospitality workplaces can help to improve morale, encourage employees to speak more openly about their mental health concerns and will hopefully go at least some way to support those affected.

Although some progress has been made, there is still a long way to go in improving mental health and mental health awareness in the workplace.  Employers in the food service industry should focus on taking proactive steps and implementing suitable measures in a bid to create more open and supportive cultures for their employees.

For more information on any aspect of employment law, contact Emma Saunders on +44 (0)1892 506 025, 

This article first appeared in B&I Catering in July 2019.