Furlough has ended, however we need to care more for the wellbeing of our employees.
The hospitality industry has never experienced a time like this. Furlough ended on 30th September and I am sure it will bring with it an Autumn of discontent. When it was made available by the government, it was welcomed by the hospitality industry. When the industry closed down, it provided employers with the ability to retain their staff in preparation for the reopening.
We have now reached the end of the road and it is hitting the industry with a bang. However the big hit has already happened. The well-being and mental health of the staff in the sector has been pushed considerably in the past 18 months. When industry closed, staff were concerned for their future, would they be made redundant, or stay employed. Anxiety levels went through the roof and HR teams worked hard to support staff in the business to help stay mentally strong. We heard several stories of where individuals were so stressed they considered taking their own life. Furlough helped support the financial strain and many employers made up the difference to allow staff to receive a full pay.
The next concern and where anxiety returned, was when staff were invited back off furlough and to return to their work, often to a very different job that they had left months before. The stress and anxiety was about how well they would perform at the new role, as the new guidelines that had to be followed were complicated along with new induction training required. Staff concerns were also about would they keep their job, what would the future hold?
Following reopening, businesses were delighted to welcome back customers, however they were not expecting the behaviour displayed by many of them, their impatience, verbal abuse and disrespect for the staff was completely new and created further problems for staff wellbeing.
There has never been a time in the industry that staff have needed mental health support more. The charity Hospitality Health was set up 3 years ago primarily to support staff with addictions (alcohol, drug & gambling), and to try to get employers to create a better culture for their people. During the lockdown the support the charity offered was in great demand, for wellbeing and resilience advice, offering staff direction and support, funding Mental Health First Aid training and certification. The charity has grown in demand so much that to do it justice, Gordon McIntyre (founding chairman), has decided to retire from his full time job as the Associate Dean at City of Glasgow College, to spend more time growing the charity and providing the time that it needs to stay on top of the requests it is receiving.
Staff working in the sector are now stressed with the staff shortage and the strain it is putting on them working without full staffing levels in place, this is causing operators to change their opening hours. Several now are only open 4 days a week, allowing staff 3 days off, or only open for dinner, where they used to provide lunch service. It is all to protect the employed staff’s wellbeing. As furlough ends so does another lifeline to the industry, the 5% VAT charge is increased, before later reverting back to 20%, this will bring further pressures to owners and managers, who have had a cushion providing extra cash flow to the business.
So with Furlough ending on the 30th September, it will not create a dramatic change for businesses within the hospitality sector, unfortunately the damage has already been done. There are very few staff within the industry still on furlough, (some employed in sales and the events sector), the majority came back to work, when the sector re-opened. The problem it is now facing is that of a staff shortage. Owners and managers are finding solutions to ensure that the staff they have are not becoming burnt out, they need to focus on retention now!