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At last, back to work, AGAIN

At last, back to work, AGAIN

Well here we go, back to work after a long break, here we go again after a second or even third lockdown. The staff will be coming back to work anxious, stressed, and worried about so many things. How do you start telling them to feel comfortable about returning to your workplace?

Leaders have got to take on the leadership role. Some team members will be very worried about coming back to work, however let’s consider the stresses and strains they have coped with over the past couple of weeks and months or even a year for some; this is no mean feat. Several may have lost loved ones, the strain of home-life with the family, stress sharing cramped space and often a very busy shared house, some have been coping with homeschooling; so much has been going on in each individual’s life and as a leader we have to look after them and treat them as individuals.

The person they were when they left the business to go on furlough, part time or intermittent working is not necessarily the person that you will have back in your workplace when you reopen.

Let’s just consider the routine they may be having to deal with. They will not have been coping with the late nights, they haven’t had to be on their feet all day and deal with the pressure of guests and a busy service. It’s going to take time, allowing them to get back into the swing of things and you will need to be there to help them each step of the way.

Remember they are going to have customers to deal with who also have had to deal with their own circumstances during this pandemic. I wonder how teams will cope in servicing them and understanding the stresses and pressures customers have also had when they return to the bars, restaurants and hotels. Leaders will play a vital role in helping their teams in considering their own pressure and stress, and that of the customers.

The next few weeks and months will be vital to bring the staff back in small groups. Perhaps consider creating outdoor staff meetings, walks in the park, pre-training which can it be done outdoors or is it a social get together online to get things back to the routine that they will probably have forgotten about.

Think carefully about the words you use when you welcome your teams back, don’t just say – “How are you or how have you been?”

I think we have to consider asking subtler but important questions like “Do you want a coffee, how about a cup of tea and a chat because we haven’t done that for a while!” or it might be “Did you sleep well?” because, they could’ve been lying awake worried about returning to work. I think that asking questions about their well-being at this stage is vital. For example “What did you have for lunch? What did you have to eat last night?” Or even “when did you last eat?” By considering these more specific questions, it shows that you are human, but more than that it shows that you care and that’s what the hospitality industry is about, caring for others.

Perhaps you could suggest that colleagues have a dry run at the commute depending how far they stay from the business, suggest to them to get into the routine of walking to the station, get the train, maybe meet up with a team member.  Also get into routine of setting the alarm clock at the appropriate time when they need to get up to get back on shift.  Many of these people haven’t worked for nearly a year so it’s no fault of their own that we need to refresh their knowledge of the business and the work routines that are a distant memory.

Will teams remember the many items on the drinks list, cocktails list and menus, as staff come back they may find it very unsettling perhaps how quiet it is, do they remember the busy periods, the buzz that they were used to on a Friday or Saturday night.   We need to prepare them for the fact that it will be different, we know we are working with reduced numbers of guests, social distancing, temperature checks taken at the door, track and trace, changes in hygiene practices. It is so important that they are adaptable and flexible in the approach to work systems and routines.

This is also a time that the managers and the owners of the business can reflect and consider the way to move forward. Could we be issuing rotas with more notice?; could we have four day weeks, ensuring all staff get a decent amount of down time in their week?; could you start offering at least one weekend in four off to enjoy the celebrations that the families may want to have when they can get back together.

Leadership teams may need to ensure they are open and accessible to offering support to staff, whilst also ensuring that they look after and support themselves/others within these leadership teams. Leaders have also been through this pandemic and cannot be expected to be up and ready to go straight away either.

As an industry during the pandemic, we have lost many of our staff to retail perhaps or even the care sector. I would hope however that when hospitality reopens, as it is about to in a few months, the great and well-trained valuable staff will remember the amazing times they had in the fun industry and return back to join their team to offer amazing service with wonderful wines with outstanding local food in the bars, restaurants and hotels.

This is the time that we can make the industry change for the better. During the last few weeks, we have seen the Hotelier’s Charter launched, this can encourage businesses to comply with itsvalues to make it the career of choice. We should also be considering the scheduling of their shift patterns. Let’s reframe the business so it is not just a job that you do while at university or at college. Let’s make it the career of choice, with all the benefits that we offer, the industry needs to shout about the positives, to change the old reputation that still exists.

The sector has probably been the most resilient of industries during this past 12 months. There are so many success stories of how businesses have adapted to offer takeaways or deliveries, cocktails to go, etc. Things that we would never have considered in the restaurants and bars 2 or 3 years ago, but to keep people in jobs and to keep people busy and to look after their health and mental well-being the businesses have pivoted and produced fantastic opportunities to keep staff in employment.

Let’s be honest the first thing everybody will want to do, once lockdown is over, will be one of three things- visit a pub, go to a restaurant, or stay in a hotel. The industry is going to open up with a bang and we could become too busy to soon if we are not prepared, so now is the time, over this next few weeks and months to be ready, so let’s get ready and go!


Gordon McIntyre, Chairman, Hospitality Health