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17 Jun 2024

Industry leaders on the importance of physical health and looking after our teams

Industry leaders on the importance of physical health and looking after our teams

Craig Prentice, Founder & Director of hospitality talent partner mum, Creator of Walk for Wellbeing and Patron of Hospitality Action, sums up some of the key takeaways from a panel discussion at HRC 2024 all about the importance of safeguarding the physical health of hospitality teams. 

Hospitality is a fun, fast-paced industry. But, as anyone working on the ground will tell you, it’s not always conducive to a healthy lifestyle – from long hours in high-pressure environments, to irregular sleeping and eating patterns, to alcohol-focused relaxing and socialising, it can be tricky to strike the right balance when it comes to physical health.

For this year’s Vision Stage at Hotel, Restaurant & Catering 2024, mum curated a panel discussion about ‘Looking After Our Teams: The Importance of Physical Health’. Recorded live, this insightful podcast relays the conversation between moderator Gemma Meale, Director of People at White Rabbit Projects; and panellists Sabrina Gidda, consultant and chef; Meimi Sanchez, then Global Senior Brand Manager at The Blend; David Carry, CEO of Track Record Coaching; and Dorothea Jones, DEI Consultant.

Touching on everything from nutrition, physical exercise and sleep to the correlation between physical and mental health and how to create a positive workplace culture, it was a fascinating discussion. But if you missed it, don’t worry – here are our key takeaways from the session.

Physical health is a strategic imperative

As Sabrina Gidda highlighted, wellness and self-care is often seen as indulgent rather than necessary – it’s up to business leadership to change that narrative. “In order for me to run my business, be present for my family, I have to look after myself,” she explained. “Otherwise, no one in that infrastructure wins.” 

With every business looking after the pounds and the pence, health initiatives can get sidelined. But, as David Carry pointed out, better physical and mental health leads to fewer absences from work and better performance at work – both of which positively impact a business’ bottom line. Demonstrating this return will help leaders consider initiatives as an investment and a competitive advantage, rather than an overhead.

There’s a difference between pressure and stress

Many hospitalitarians thrive and do our best work in fast-paced, intense environments – as Carry said, pressure can actually be a performance advantage. “Everyone has an optimum performance point where you've got loads of stress and pressure, but it's actually a really good thing,” he explained. “But then there's this tipping point where it all of a sudden goes into the red, and if you stay there too long you become burnt out.” To equip our teams to deal with high levels of pressure without suffering, businesses must put in place infrastructure, mechanisms and training so pressure doesn’t turn into stress.

With that said, most hospitality organisations know when their busiest periods are likely to be, and when they’ll need to ask a bit more of their teams. Carry likens these periods to being challenged in the gym, which feels okay because you understand there’s a greater purpose. Planning for busy periods and building in time off for your team to rest, recover and recharge creates a sense of intention, motivating your teams to rally when you need it most.

Get the basics right

There are a few things we can all do – and encourage our teams to do – that are quick wins for our physical health, even when we’re time-limited. Like practising breathing properly so your body has the oxygen it needs to function properly. Remembering to stay hydrated. Practising better nutrition. And the big one: getting enough rest and sleep. 

Hospitality leadership teams have a responsibility to, at the very least, make sure they’re not getting in the way of these basic needs – for example, by making sure your teams have plenty of time to eat, regular access to water, and the opportunity to recuperate and recharge between shifts. 

Even better is actively encouraging these behaviours to help create new habits. Carry talked about 15-minute “micro-recoveries”, which could be anything from going for a walk, doing a breathing exercise, changing your surroundings so you can “stare at the horizon rather than staring at a screen”, or even taking a nap! Ultimately, these opportunities help your team give their best performance for longer throughout the day.

Exercise has benefits besides fitness

Meimi Sanchez talked about a 12-week kickboxing programme she helped create – as well as improving their fitness, many participants reported the programme positively impacted their ability to sleep better, their desire to eat better and stay more hydrated, and even their performance at work. “It's not just about introducing exercise,” she explained. “It's what those new habits do for your physical and mental wellbeing… and obviously there are massive benefits as employers.”

But, as Sabrina Gidda pointed out, physical health “isn’t a one-size-fits-all, prescriptive thing.” Get to know your team and their needs, so you can support their physical health in a way that works for them. While some people might respond well to kickboxing because of its high-energy, competitive nature, others might prefer the collaborative spirit of five-a-side football, the more relaxing pace of yoga, or the simple pleasure of going for a walk in the sunshine. What’s important is making time to do something for yourself, whether that’s a sport, activity, or something else entirely.

Acknowledge and empower individuality

Dorothea Jones pointed out that for everyone to be able to bring our best selves to work, we need to focus on individuality and inclusivity. “Rather than being neurotypical or neurodivergent, I think we’re all different neurotypes”, she explained. Rather than a one-size-fits-all solutions, consider what each of your team members needs – that might be uninterrupted 90-minute slots for focused work, wearing headphones to prevent overstimulation, walking meetings, flexible hours to avoid commuting in rush hour, or even something as simple as you understanding “no” is a whole sentence (no reason or justification necessary). 

What’s crucial is taking the lead from your team, and making sure initiatives are accessible. As Carry explained, “we realised very early on that all this stuff has to be done by people, not to people – as soon as you start trying to lecture people or put on lunchtime yogas or whatever, it’s very unlikely that it's going to be well received.” Instead, she said, focus on creating a supportive environment and let people choose whether they want to be part of it. This way, people see work as a way to enhance their life, rather than getting in the way of the life they want. 

Create role models in your leadership team

If you’re trying to encourage better physical health in your team, it’s crucial your leadership team act as examples to follow. To combat burnout culture, which leads to poor physical and mental health, it’s important your C-suite engage with physical health initiatives to show doing so can be compatible with professional success. (That means no emailing at 3am when you’re trying to promote better sleep!)

Carry suggests embedding habits into your identity can help you and others see yourself as the person you want to be, which means you’re more likely to act like that person. For example, saying “I don’t drink” or “I train like an athlete” sets a stronger example than “I try really hard not to drink” or “ I do my best to get to the gym three times a week”. This simple switch can have a very different impact on both yourself and those around you.

mum believes people deserve to be looked after properly, which is why they take a human approach to hiring – because they want to make hospitality and recruitment better places to be. Want help finding your next role or hire? Get in touch.



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