Blog post

The impact of hospitality work on Mental Health

To mark World Mental Health Day, Yasuhiro Kotera, Academic Lead for Counselling at University of Derby Online Learning, talks about the emotional labour of hospitality work.

By Yasuhiro Kotera - 10 October 2017

The hospitality industry plays a crucial part in the UK economy employing more than two million workers and accounting for 7% of the economy. Despite its importance, this industry is also known for poor mental health. Hospitality workers suffer from severe mental health problems. According to research from job site, 70% of UK hospitality workers reported that they feel overworked, and 45% had sick absence due to mental health problems in their career. In America, hospitality workers were the second most depressed working population of all.

The cost of mental health

In the UK, more than 10 million working days are lost to stress, depression, and anxiety every year, costing more than £10 billion a year to the economy. The UK’s mental health budget in 2015 was approximately £14 billion so you can see how significant a £10 billion cost is.

Ten million working days is also a big number. If one worker works 230 days a year, 10 million working days equates to about 43,000 working years. One worker works about 40-45 years per lifetime. That means around 1,000 working lifetimes are lost due to mental health problems.

Is stress hindering your career?

Although the impact of mental health problems is enormous, many hospitality workers do not seek help for their mental distress. In the CV-Library survey, about half would not talk about it to anybody if they have a mental health problem, and 90% of them believe that susceptibility to stress would hinder their career. 40% believe that their stress comes from the industry’s expectation that stress should be handled by themselves. This attitude toward mental health is an issue because it leaves problems untreated until they become too big.

One of the reasons why people in this industry do not seek help is the shame associated with mental health problems. There is an industry expectation that mental health problems should be treated by the individual. The perception is that failing to do so means they are a failure as a hospitality worker.

High proportion of UK hospitality workers reported high shame about mental health problems

I was the lead researcher on a study at UDOL that investigated attitudes towards mental health problems in hospitality. Our results revealed that a high proportion of UK hospitality workers had high shame with 57-70% of those asked scoring over the midpoint and 49% scoring over the midpoint to negative attitudes in family and community.

We also explored correlations between shame, mental health problems, self-criticism, and self-reassurance. Unsurprisingly they were significantly correlated with each other: if you feel shame about mental health problems, you tend to have strong self-criticism and weak self-reassurance, and you also tend to be mentally distressed.

Lastly, we investigated how much of these problems can be predicted. More than 87% of mental health problems (depression, anxiety, and stress) were predicted by shame, self-criticism and reassurance.

What can we say about mental health from these findings?

Directly targeting mental health problems could take a long time and incur high costs (e.g. psychotherapy, psychopharmacology). Our results indicate that reducing shame and self-criticism or enhancing self-reassurance may be an alternative solution to UK hospitality workers’ poor mental health.

A short educational programme about mental health could teach hospitality workers the prevalence of mental health problems, and the consequences of untreated symptoms or a campaign about mental health may be effective to counter high shame. The research study, Young Adults in the Workplace, reported that a short educational training about mental health helped workers talk about their mental health problems and in the UK, the ‘Time to Change’ social marketing campaign enhanced positive behaviours toward mental health and help-seeking.

Happy family, happy worker

The stronger link of familial shame may be related to hospitality workers’ life-work balance. They have to work long and antisocial hours, so their family life is often compromised. Because of it, they may be sensitive to causing extra burden to their family. A family-related solution may be needed.

Recently, innovative companies such as LinkedIn and Microsoft have actively invited their employees’ family to company events. Research reported that the perception of an employees’ family about the company greatly influences the perception of the employees too (i.e. if your family thinks your company is good, you are more likely to think so too). This type of family event may be useful to hospitality organisations too.

While the hospitality industry takes a crucial role in the UK economy, the mental health of its workers is problematic and needs to be improved urgently, especially as 43% of workers in the industry are foreigners, and the execution of Brexit is around the corner. The emotional impact can be enormous. We hope our findings will be useful to managers and staff in this industry and we will continue researching into mental health at work.

Kotera, Y., Adhikari, P. & Sheffield, D. (2019). Mental health of UK hospitality workers: Shame, self-criticism and self-reassurance. The Service Industries Journal. 

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About the author

Yasu Kotera smiling, sitting at a table in front of tea cups and a jug of water.

Yasuhiro Kotera
Former Academic Lead in Counselling, Psychotherapy and Psychology

Dr Kotera's teaching primarily focused on mental health and research modules including supervision at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.