Lost in crisis: mental wellness of travel and tourism staff

An intense focus on business survival during this unusual crisis has caused a critical issue to be overlooked – and that is the mental state of travel and tourism workers and professionals as they endure fears of job security and stresses of a difficult business environment.

  • Mental well-being of staff neglected as companies struggle with survival
  • Stress of job insecurity, loss of colleagues and business performance can impact all ranks
  • Solutions include frequent conversations, training, fitness activities

An intense focus on business survival during this unusual crisis has caused a critical issue to be overlooked – and that is the mental state of travel and tourism workers and professionals as they endure fears of job security and stresses of a difficult business environment.

Andrew Chan, founder & CEO, ACI HR Solutions, told TTG Asia that not enough attention is being paid to managing staff’s mental state, and the risk of companies not doing so is the eventual price of compromised productivity.

However, Chan acknowledged that focusing on staff’s mental well-being was a tough thing to do as travel and tourism businesses are in “an unusual situation that is best described as the SARS crisis and GFC (the global financial crisis in 2007-2009) rolled into one”.

“Company leaders are being hit constantly with bad news on a daily basis, and it is a tough time to be a CEO, CFO and CHRO at the moment. Every company is scrambling and doing the best they can to avoid redundancies and minimise pay cuts while watching the bottom line. As you can imagine, staff’s mental well-being may not sit particularly high on an organisation’s agenda now,” Chan said.

But as companies work through the human resource aspect of their coping strategy, starting from clearing 2019 leave to enforcing unpaid leave and “making salary sacrifices”, Chan said staff would realise that a redundancy decision might be next on the cards.

He explained that the experience of this process is stressful for employees across the board.

“I worry particularly for the middle management. CEO, CFOs certainly have their stresses, but mid-management personnel who are managing a team is often the messenger. If they did not go through GFC before, they haven’t had the experience of retrenchment. When they suddenly get the directives from the main office to, say, chose 50 per cent of their team to let go, the pressure of that task is going to be immense,” Chan explained.

He added that mental care must be provided for displaced staff as well as those who got to keep their jobs.

“Those who aren’t retrenched are seeing colleagues they’ve worked with for years, and even, decades being let go. That is a heavy burden for them. It then affects productivity in the organisation because those who remain may have to do the work of two or three people in a stressful environment,” Chan said.

Chan: neglecting staff’s mental well-being compromises productivity

Prescription for the heart and mind
When asked what companies should do to help staff cope mentally, Chan said it could be a simple gesture of checking in on how they are feeling.

Chan also suggested sending staff for training so that they keep busy and maintain a positive mindset as work dwindles, and to provide transition support to displaced staff so they will not feel lost.

“Many displaced staff have not had to apply for a job in a very long time, and may not even have an updated CV. They may not even remember how a job interview is like. So, an organisation needs to look into providing that support for their displaced employees – to show them what needs to be done when applying for a job, how long the process will likely take, and help them set mini goals that they can work towards,” Chan said.

“Unfortunately, I see a lot of companies just say, ‘We are really sorry, here is your severance package, good luck’.

As the crisis deepens, Chan said organisations might need to “call in professionals to guide them” on providing mental care.

“In a few months’ time, we may see real tragedies. Recently, the German health minister committed suicide under great stress of having to deal with this health crisis. This is how intense the pressure is,” Chan warned.

Case in point: X-trekkers Adventure Consultant
When Khamisah Salamat, a product specialist with Singapore-based boutique active tour agency, X-trekkers Adventure Consultant, found out that her employer had chosen to send her for a series of courses during the crisis, a huge load was lifted off her shoulders.

Khamisah has been signed up for nine courses, covering occupational first aid, usage of Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint programmes, digital applications, service innovations and more.

“I started on my fifth course on Monday (April 6). These courses have been so fulfilling. But nothing beats knowing that my employer is investing in my personal growth during this challenging period, and that helps to lift my spirits and morale,” she remarked, adding that through the courses, she has been able to make new friends who are potential customers for when travel confidence returns.

Yeo Ching Khee, founder and director of X-trekkers Adventure Consultant, told TTG Asia that Khamisah will also be assured of continued employment as the courses are subsidised by the government under the condition that the staff remains on the payroll for the next six months.

“This crisis is likely to be a long one, and we have to find ways to think and act positively,” said Yeo.

Case in point: Accor
As the largest global hotel operator that employs over 150,000 employees across Asia-Pacific – half of the company’s worldwide operations at 300,000 – Accor takes a serious stance on staff welfare. Several mindful programmes and outlets that support mental, physical and emotional well-being are made available to its employees.

“At a time when our industry and our group is undergoing an unprecedented crisis, caring for our employees’ physical and mental well-being counts now more than ever before,” remarked Gaynor Reid, vice president communications & CSR, Asia Pacific, Accor.

Accor’s work in this area “is a step towards enabling our employees to deal with an increasingly stressful world”, Reid said, adding that emotional well-being still has a stigma attached to it.

In various parts of Asia-Pacific, such as Australia and India, Accor has established 24-hour helplines to help employees through dark, stressful moments.

In Australia, physical and mental wellness is cared for through a partnership with Lifeworks that has produced the new Lifeworks – Total Wellbeing App as well as various online resources, such as complimentary fitness programmes for self-isolation periods and Covid-19 webinars on Emotional Wellbeing and Talking to Your Children about Covid-19.

Accor Academy in Greater China runs a Keeping a Positive Mindset programme to instill hope in and boost the morale of its staff.

In India, the Accor Employee Wellbeing and Assistance Programme has been helping employees remain calm under pressure, be better prepared to deal with difficult situations and relationships, and support them to achieve resolution of personal/professional issues.

In Thailand, Accor’s Corporate Wellness Programme channels daily fitness challenges to team members and have them record their participation on video, which is then posted on a closed Heartists Facebook group. The programme has been particularly useful in keeping team spirit and the team moving during the ongoing lockdown.

These programmes join the company’s recent move to establish a €70 million (US$76 million) ALL Heartist Fund to assist its most vulnerable staff, partners and medical workers impacted by Covid-19.

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