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Mental Health at Work: Take Care of Yourself in Hospitality

by | CAREER TIPS

We´re all familiar with the airline safety protocol that tells you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. The point of the advice is clear: if you haven’t taken care of yourself, you won’t be able to help the people around you. The same logic applies to your mental health and personal wellbeing while pursuing a hospitality career.

When you work in hospitality, your main goal is delivering excellent customer service and making sure guests are happy at all times. However, this constant focus on the happiness of others may lead you to overlook your own mental health, and it could end in burnout if you’re not careful.

Hospitality jobs can be incredibly rewarding. They let you connect with many different types of people and provide guests with special experiences they will remember for years to come. 

Working in hospitality can also be incredibly stressful. You can be faced with long hours, rude guests, and low entry-level salaries, all of which can come together to crush your spirits – if you let this happen.

Maintaining your mental health in hospitality isn’t impossible, though. There are things you can do to create a more equitable and supportive workplace where your boss recognizes your hard work, treats you with respect, and compensates you fairly. 

Negotiate a Better Salary

Money can’t buy happiness, but it can help reduce stress and allow you to live a more comfortable life. Working in a job where you feel that you aren’t being paid for your true value is demoralizing and makes it hard to find the motivation to deliver results. 

That’s why it’s extremely important to negotiate a salary that you believe is fair and allows you to focus on your job instead of what’s missing from your paycheck.

Before you start negotiating, it’s important to prepare thoroughly so you can go into the negotiation with confidence and give yourself the best chance to succeed. 

Make a list of concrete accomplishments/results you can use to support your cause, do research to see what the average salaries are like in your market, and make sure that you are doing everything you can to sell yourself and your special skills. This is also a great time to discuss potential career progression and what the next step of your path with the company will be.

Paying close attention to market trends can help you determine the best time to ask for a raise. 

Build Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is an extremely important trait to have when working in the hospitality industry. It’s an industry full of human beings working hard to make other people happy, no matter what, so it’s vital to be able to read and respond to the emotional state of your guests as well as your co-workers.

A high emotional IQ will make you a valuable team member and leader. You will be able to tell when coworkers are having a difficult time and react in a way that shows you care about what they are going through and want to help them succeed. 

“Empathy means you have the ability to sense others’​ feelings; have a desire to understand how they see things; and take an active interest in their concerns,” says Daniel Goleman, the world’s leading expert on emotional intelligence, in his article The 12 Competencies of Emotional Intelligence.

Being empathetic to your coworkers and actively listening to them to better understand their needs or concerns means communication will be more productive – and the team will collaborate better. 

If you are sous chef and one of your chefs de partie comes into work in an uncharacteristically bad mood, you should talk to them to see how they are feeling and what you can do to support them both inside and outside of the kitchen.

People with strong EI are highly adaptable. They are open to change or new ideas and will try to find creative solutions to any problems that may arise. Emotionally intelligent people can also take constructive criticism well and apply it to improve themselves and those around them.

Managers and team members who are emotionally intelligent will help others feel recognized as individuals and create a more equitable working environment. 

Create Equity, Not Equality

Equality may seem like a positive thing, but treating every person in a company the exact same way can flatten out people’s dynamic qualities, and result in them feeling that they don’t have an individual voice or identity. 

Instead of an equal workplace, you should do your best to find a job where worker equity is a core part of the company’s philosophy. 

An equitable working environment recognizes that a company is made up of unique individuals from a variety of cultural, racial, or ethnic backgrounds, and treating them with a one-size-fits-all attitude would undermine the goal of building a cohesive team.

“Equity is harder because it requires more work from the organization and its leaders, but the cost of turnover is higher than the cost to drive great equity,” says Amelia Ransom, senior director of engagement and diversity at Alvara, in an interview with HRTechnologist.

Equity doesn’t only have to come from the management. As an employee, it’s important to understand your teammates’ strengths and weaknesses so you can put them in a position to succeed.

If you are a head receptionist and one of your front desk team members is a bit introverted but highly organized, you should recognize this and assign them the more organizational tasks instead of forcing them to constantly interact with guests. 

Identifying your team’s strengths and being flexible will help you get the most out of each member’s unique set of skills. 

Look After Yourself Outside of Work

Although it’s important to advocate for yourself, build your emotional intelligence, and create equity in your workplace, it’s just as important to take care of yourself in your off time. 

Exercise

Hospitality work often involves long, physically demanding shifts where you are constantly up on your feet moving around and lifting things. The last thing you might want to do outside of work is more exercise, but that would be a mistake that could leave your body aching even more. 

A healthy body will make the more physically demanding parts of the job easier to handle. You don’t have to train for a triathlon but practicing yoga/pilates, riding a bike, or some other form of low impact exercise can help you stay fit and ready for long shifts.

Disconnect and Reconnect

After a long day at work it can be tempting to unwind by sitting in front of the TV and watching something easily digestible, often while scrolling through social media on your phone.

This may be an easy escape from the stresses of the day, but spending so much time on social networks or consuming other forms of internet media can have dire consequences for your mental health.

As we grow more addicted to our mobile devices it’s important to take time to consciously disconnect from social media and reconnect with friends, family, and the world around us.

Maintaining strong personal relationships is one of the keys to sustained happiness, so on days off you should try to spend time with your close friends or loved ones. Having a coffee with your favorite uncle or going on a hike in nature with a good buddy can do a lot to help you keep yourself in a positive mental state.

Eat Well

Working in hospitality burns a lot of energy, both physical and mental. It’s extremely important to give yourself every advantage to succeed during long shifts by ensuring that you are eating a healthy and balanced diet.

It’s tempting to just throw some food in your face before your shift or during break to keep you going but you should be aware of what you’re consuming. Instead of fried or carb-heavy foods, try to eat balanced meals with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables that will provide you with more sustained energy while you’re on the clock. 

If you are given a shift meal from the kitchen, ask the chef for a healthy and hearty dish that will keep you going and help you avoid crashing halfway through the work day. 

Pursue a Passion

For some people, work truly is their passion and they love every second of that daily grind. But for every person like this, there are just as many who are extremely passionate about things outside of their working world. 

Whether it be volunteering at an animal shelter, playing in a band, cooking at home, travelling the world or one of the countless other things that give our lives meaning, it can be incredibly satisfying to find something outside of work which lights a fire inside of you and pursue it as much as you can. 

In a dynamic and high pressure industry like hospitality, there are no perfect solutions for maintaining your mental health. Situations always change, and the methods you use to minimize stress and anxiety as an entry level employee may not be effective as you move up the ladder. You should make it your goal to do what you can to create a healthy and equitable working environment for yourself – and the people you work with.

If you’re looking for further resources on how to manage your mental health and well-being, visiting the WHO resource section is a good place to start.

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