Multiple research has indicated a direct relationship between employee wellbeing and productivity. Happy and healthy employees lead to higher productivity. The reverse is also true – employees battling mental difficulties are more likely to yield poor performance.

However, employee wellbeing has been a touchy issue in the tourism sector, as the industry grapples with historic employee turnover and staff shortages

For this reason, key industry players have circled back to employee wellbeing to curb losing their workforce to other industries. Hosco supports this movement, and hosted a panel discussion in October 2023 with two experts, Dr. Stefano Borzillo and Natalie Boudou, to explore a three-pronged wellbeing strategy for the hospitality industry. 

Dr. Stefano is an Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at EHL, and obtained his Ph.D. in Organisational Behaviour from the University of Geneva. Natalie is an author, consultant, coach, and facilitator, who works with a wide range of corporate and international organisations.

This article shares their insights on how hospitality employers can build a wellbeing strategy for their employees. Feel free to watch the webinar replay (only available in English) or read the summary below!

What is the Current State of Employee Wellbeing? 

According to stats shared in the presentation, the current state of health and wellbeing is as follows: 

  • 78% of employees state the pandemic severely affected their mental health
  • 3 out of 5 employees say they are exhausted by end of day, as per a 2021 TUC study
  • 1 in 4 workers in the US say their job is negatively impacting their mental health, according to a 2022 Gallup study
  • 40% of workers admit making flawed decisions since the start of the pandemic.

Causes of poor employee wellbeing include: 

  • Longer working hours, exacerbated by hybrid/remote work-employees staying connected well beyond working hours
  • Hybrid or remote work has also disconnected people from their colleagues
  • Excessive workloads, often with fewer resources
  • Job insecurities, which has seen employees put on short-term contracts or in a freelancing arrangement
  • Ever-changing technology, and the need to adapt to new ways of working

Integrating health and wellbeing initiatives is not just the right thing to do, but it can also make hiring hospitality staff a breeze. According to Natalie, “younger generations coming into the workplace have different expectations from the older generations — they want to know that their health is valued, and they will choose an employer for that reason.”


What is the Level of Burnout in the Hospitality Industry? 

Burnout induced by long working hours has been pointed out as one of the major causes of employee turnover in the hotel industry. The following statistics demonstrate the level of burnout in the sector: 

  • 62% do not think the hospitality sector takes care of its employees
  • 74% have experienced verbal abuse from a customer
  • 24% require medical or psychological help
  • 10% of employees had received training to support health and wellbeing or access to mentoring, health champions, or mental health first-aiders.

    While some companies are now integrating wellness programs into their perks, more still needs to be done. COVID-19 may have been a blessing in disguise, which, according to Stefano, “raised awareness of the fact that companies need to increasingly invest resources in individual, team, and collective well-being.”
    😄→ Looking to help your employees manage burnout? Read 3 ways to prevent burnout in the hospitality workplace.

A Three-Tiered Approach to An Employee Wellbeing Strategy

The following three-tiered approach, also referred to as the three levels of responsibility for wellbeing in the workplace, is a great method according to Natalie. 

  • Level 1. Employee: Initiatives that focus on individual employee wellbeing, such as wellness perks.
  • Level 2. Leadership and team: Initiatives such as reskilling managers to enable them to support their team members and build safe, empathetic teams, which is crucial for individual and team wellbeing.
  • Level 3. Organisational: There are a number of organisational factors that will impact the healthy culture and wellbeing of an organisation, such as workload, psychological safety, support, communication, and recognition.

A systemic approach to wellbeing that focuses on these three levels will work best, states Natalie. “When you want to build a caring environment to improve employee health and well-being, the best approach is not to treat well-being as a standalone subject but to see it as a subject that crosses over and touches on all aspects of the organisation, such as (DEI) or (ESG). 

The following four steps can be adopted by travel and leisure employers to enhance employee wellbeing:

1. Conduct a situational and needs assessment: Assess what's working well for the company in terms of health and wellbeing and where there might be need for change. You can do this through strategies such as: 
  • Culture assessments
  • Individual tests
  • Surveys
  • Focus groups discussion
  • Interviews

2. Strategic development of the program: After data collection and analysis, put together a strategic program that is going to be linked to the business rationale, and to the performance objectives of the company.
3. Implementation and management: Roll out health and wellbeing initiatives across the organisation. The roadmap will have objectives shaped around organisational plans on how well-being is going to be promoted amongst the staff, such as training initiatives for both employees and managers.
4. Measure and review: Wellbeing strategies are not cast in stone. They need to be measured from time to time in order to compare where you are with your employee wellbeing strategy.


😄→ The cost of living crisis can lead to higher stress levels amongst your hotel staff. Find out how to support them during these challenging times


Wellbeing Strategy: Questions and Answers with the Panellists

Is Stress Bad for You?

Natalie: Stress is important because it helps us perform, grow, and evolve. So stress is really not a dangerous thing. It becomes dangerous when it’s too high, and goes on for too long. That’s when it becomes what we call chronic stress.

Burnout Is a Very Common Term Nowadays. What Is It Exactly?

Natalie: Sometimes it's difficult to know when one is just chronically stressed or when one is actually experiencing what we call burnout. What we know from research now and from the World Health Organization is that burnout consists of three elements– feelings of exhaustion, feelings of isolation from your environment, and feeling ineffective. When those three are together, we say that is burnout.

What Are the Warning Signs With Regard to Burnout?

Natalie: Fatigue and tiredness are two of the first signs of burnout. The other area is cognitive, where you become less focused. You might also experience strong emotions such as hostility or aggression, despair, and sadness. And then, lastly, your behaviour will change. We might see compensatory behaviour; for example, some people will smoke more or drink more or isolate themselves.


What Is the Manager’s Role With Regard to the Wellbeing of Their Team?

Natalie: The manager has a crucial role to play since they are closest to the team. Firstly, they are there to role model wellbeing. The manager is going to set the tone for the way they behave. If they are empathetic, kind, or caring, that's going to set the tone for the whole of the team. They can also, in some instances, have an impact on the way in which work is distributed, help to ensure that resources are available, and ensure that their team is trained.

Stefano: It's the responsibility of the leader to model his or her behaviour, be approachable, and show a form of vulnerability, which doesn't mean you're incompetent.


What Should a Manager Do if They Sense That Someone Is Highly Stressed or Struggling at Work?

Natalie: If you spot a warning sign, you do have a role to play as a manager to understand what's going on. You're not going in as a therapist, but simply as a manager to assess the situation. And the quicker you do that, the more likely it is that you can avoid long term leave for the employee.

Can You Tell Me More About Psychological Safety and How It Has Gained Importance in the Workplace?

Stefano:  Psychological safety is a shared organisational belief people have that it's safe to speak up in a team to express concerns, share failures, and calculated risks without the fear that there would be any negative consequences. Psychological safety releases or contributes to the release of negative stress in the team. 


Is There a Difference Between Trust and Psychological Safety in the Workplace? Could You Please Explain It? 

Stefano: Trust encompasses confidence in someone's reliability, integrity, and competence brought to an organisational level. Trust also involves the expectation that a person or an entity, like an organisation, will act in a predictable and dependable way.

Psychological safety is a specific aspect of trust that pertains to the workplace environment and interactions among team members. Psychological safety can exist in a team, even if the level of trust in the broader organisation is low. It depends on the skills and abilities of the leader and manager, as well as the collaboration of the team members.


How Do Working Hours and Workload Affect Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace?

Natalie:  Research shows that long hours do impact mental health. The hybrid remote way of working is going to be tricky in this area, and leaders have a responsibility to role model and ensure that their staff are not working outside of hours on a regular basis. In terms of workload, there is a duty again on leadership to review strategies and ways in which they can lighten the workload, whether it's through prioritisation or job sharing.

Stefano: Have a system in place that enables you to share information and good practices with other colleagues.  Communities of practice, which are informal networks comprising a group of individuals across teams who are interested in a specific topic. They gather on an informal basis and exchange the problems they have to gain insight and mental support from each other.

What Can Leaders Do to Support Health and Wellbeing in Hybrid Teams, Considering One Has Limited Information on an Employee’s State of Wellbeing?

Stefano: There are four things that help create safety. First, have anonymous polls where you ask people if they agree on something anonymously. Secondly, break online meetings into small breakout rooms that give a small group of people the opportunity to interact in a safer zone. Having an experienced facilitator in online meetings is important because they know how to orchestrate a sense of confidence and comfort for the people who participate. Finally, follow-up online meetings with an email summarising the critical points without naming the people who asked questions.

Should We Prioritise Reducing Stress Coming From the Environment Or Stress Coming From Pure Work Challenges?

Natalie: I don't think you can prioritise stress in one area or another. We have to look at all the triggers, all the root causes of stress, and ensure that we are addressing them.

How Can an Employee Handle Burnout on a Cruise Ship?

Natalie:  One important way of stress reduction and burnout prevention is to find some time to recharge. You need to build in moments during the day when you are in a mindful moment where you can actually be away from all distractions, reconnect with yourself, and recharge. 

How Do You Manage to Keep Your Creativity Sustained in a Stressful and Toxic Environment?

Stefano: There are coping mechanisms or survival mechanisms you might want to use first. And one of them is building your internal network within the company. For example, approach your boss’s boss to talk about the projects that you're working on, and share your expertise. This can improve your image in the company. Secondly, join hospitality recruitment events in the region where you live and network. Lastly, sometimes it's okay just to let go and find work in another division or even a different company. Because what matters at the end of the day is your possibility to grow and your health above all.


🥴  → Looking to better address employee grievances in your hotel business? Access our 8-step grievance procedure manual for handling staff complaints.