Hotels Put New Focus on Mental Well-Being of Workers in ‘Always On’ Industry

  • Skift Take
    Hotels realize that thoroughly addressing their employees’ mental health not only helps them retain staff, but goes a long way in cultivating a happy workforce more likely to improve the guest experience.

    Vianel Filpo, general manager at Turks and Caicos Collection, a group of luxury resorts, will never forget the day he found an employee suffering from depression so badly that she was considering taking her own life. 

    It’s hard for guests to imagine anything but paradise when soaking in the turquoise waters of the Atlantic and serenity of Ambergris Cay, a private island. But for those who work there, the feeling of seclusion while being in hospitality, one of the world’s most stressful industries, can sometimes feel like too much to handle. 

    “After Covid, people are more vulnerable, more sensitive, and less patient,” Filpo said about the changing work climate. “I’ve always found that a good work environment is always something that’s reflected in the guest experience, and I have an open-door policy to come talk to me 24/7. But there’s only so much that one person can do.” 

    So Filpo worked with hotel leadership to fly in a mental health professional once or twice a month for face-to-face counseling with employees — confidential sessions that he said have been enormously popular with staff.

    Turks and Caicos Collection leadership is not alone in sharpening its focus on retaining staff when developing a plan for comprehensive benefits. At Crescent Hotels & Resorts, which operates more than 100 properties in the U.S. and Canada, Senior Vice President of People and Culture Julie Farnsworth has expanded the breadth of mental health offerings through an employee assistance plan. Crescent was one of the first hospitality management companies to offer health insurance for its part-time staff, which has helped attract prospective employees. But with coverage plans for mental health varying across destinations, adding services was crucial as business has ramped up.

    “This is a crazy, always ‘on’ industry, it’s busy. And with staff shortages that can lead to more stress and more work, it’s important to recognize the impact that can have on our employees and their families,” Farnsworth said.

    The employee assistance plan’s counseling includes free virtual services in 40 languages as well as flexibility around schedules as well as benefits for employees’ families. Farnsworth said Crescent has seen a strong correlation in the drop in employees using antidepressants and the start of supplementary mental health coverage.

    Farnsworth also believes conversations about hiring and retention in recent years have focused more on benefits than compensation. She believes quality of life and flexibility are more important than ever in contributing to happiness with hotels still struggling with a labor shortage.

    “There’s a reason why people aren’t coming back to hospitality – because they’ve had this ‘aha’ moment to say, ‘I enjoyed having the time with my family, and being able to have some more flexibility,’” Farnsworth said.

    “We have to respond to that and say, OK, we can build that flexibility into life. And yes, you can have a great career in this industry. Just because certain functions weren’t performed at home three years ago doesn’t mean those in certain roles can’t perform them from home now.”

    As a recent report from job search engines Indeed and Glassdoor urges employers to get creative to attract quality candidates, creativity at Marriott International has come in the form of re-envisioning the roles themselves. The company’s new part-time manager structure has increased the pool of available candidates while also offering more options to workers — like those with young children — who otherwise might not have considered a career in hospitality. Ty Breland, Marriott’s chief human resources officer, believes that’s especially important for working mothers they were more likely than employed fathers to put their careers on hold during the pandemic.

    Marriott has also provided online and in-person training to its staff centered on mental health to help leaders recognize and address signs of distress. Breland added the company has also expanded TakeCare, a wellbeing initiative it launched in 2010 to improve physical health, to tackle issues of mental, emotional and financial health.

    So what’s the ultimate end of all of these efforts?

    “Without a doubt, focusing on mental health means that the smiles on employees’ faces are genuine,” said Turks and Caicos Collection’s Filpo. “You can’t fake sincerity.” 

    Photo Credit: A hotel employee happily greeting a guest. Hotel companies are increasingly focusing on improving their workers' mental health.
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