Spa & wellness

like alcohol or substance abuse, lateness and loss of focus in the workplace.”

Lewis advises hotel bosses to send some team members on mental health first aid training, lay on mindfulness sessions and show their teams they’re welling to create an environment in which they don’t feel stigmatised for struggling with their mental wellbeing. “Lead from the front: we all experience stress and anxiety from time to time, and when a manager or owner is frank about their own experiences, it gives other people the permission to do the same,” he says.

The challenge of defining wellness There is a slight irony here, given that phrases such as ‘mental wellbeing’ and ‘individual welfare’ are well used in hotel spa brochures and meditation workshops. With these kinds of facilities at their disposal, hotels are arguably the best placed hospitality businesses to support their staff emotionally.

“Hotels need to talk to their spas, because all the tools for deflecting negative energy and dealing with anger and emotional issues are there and can really help them,” says ESPA founder Sue Harmsworth, who now sits on the boards of the Global Wellness Institute and the Global Wellness Summit as well as consulting with hotel brands. “You’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes if a spa director leads a morning meditation or some breathwork. Find out your therapist’s skills and start using them.” In recent years, Mandarin Oriental has had a robust colleague wellness programme in place, which delivers a range of guest wellness initiatives to staff, including meditation and mindfulness lessons. The latest is its ‘Inner Strength – Outer Strength’ course, which is divided into physical, mental and character strength. The challenge for both staff and guest wellbeing programmes, according to Harmsworth, is knowing the difference between what she calls ‘light wellness’ – eating a healthy diet, doing some yoga, having a great massage, keeping up with an exercise programme – and when somebody needs greater support. “There’s going to be an over-marketing of wellness, mental health and sleep programmes because everyone is trying to get on the bandwagon,” she says. “As an industry, we’ve got to take it seriously. Many hotels are offering sleep programmes at the moment and I think that can be dangerous if you can’t recognise the signs [of a deeper problem].”

She believes investment in therapist training is going to be crucial, particularly as the emotional impact of the pandemic become clearer. “Spas will have all these things thrown at them – bereavement issues, anxiety issues, mental health issues, resilience issues – and they don’t know how to deal with it any more than cancer,” she says.

Hotel Management International /

Support for hotel employees Together, Healthy Hospo and Hospitality Action cover both bases for staff. The former’s mission is largely preventative. “We’re standing at the top of the cliff trying to stop people from falling off in the first place,” Etherington-Judge explains. This is done through physical workshops and a digital app, both broken down into pillars. There are lessons on sleep, nutrition, exercise, human connection, stress and anxiety. But users can also access business management modules on how to build healthier businesses – for example, writing smart rosters where the health of employees is taken into account.

Hospitality Action agrees that, where possible, problems are best resolved before they become acute, but it also offers a range of resources, including therapy and grants, designed for hospitality employees who are in difficulty or crisis. “I beg every manager to tell their teams about Hospitality Action’s online mental wellbeing resources,” Lewis says. Its current centrepiece is a ‘Lockdown Lessons’ video featuring hospitality staff talking frankly about their own mental health challenges and coping mechanisms. The charity also offers a paid-for Employee Assistance Programme that allows employers to invest in the health and wellbeing of their team members.

When Etherington-Judge was going through therapy after his suicide attempt, he remembers his therapist telling him he should leave the hospitality industry, that it wasn’t the right place for him. But after reading hundreds of stories just like his, he couldn’t stop asking himself what kind of man he would be if he walked away and ignored such a common problem. “Maybe I’ve started to make an impact now,” he says. “Let’s see how far I can take it.” ●


ESPA founder Sue Harmsworth consults hotel brands on their mental health policy.


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