Tui retail boss outlines impact of crisis on agents’ mental health

Tui’s retail director has highlighted the significant impact a social media backlash over refunds and cancellations as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic had on the mental health of staff.

Speaking on a special Travel Weekly Mental Health Matters webcast supported by Deloitte, Belinda Vazquez said the firm had to provide support for thousands of retail staff whose work stopped when the Covid-19 pandemic closed down travel.

And she said that with Tui itself having to become a homeworking organisation overnight, consistent communication with staff was key when the difficult announcement of permanent shop closures was subsequently made.

“In my area of retail you’ve got 4,000 people that suddenly stopped. That in itself was a massive challenge and what I’ve learned is that everyone is unique,” Vazquez said.

“Not having a routine, not having any work to do, and then seeing the outpouring on social media about how people’s holidays have been disrupted and refunds, really impacted colleagues.”

Vazquez, who was herself furloughed for a period, said she struggled to come to terms with the changes as she became a full-time educator for her young children and worried about the future.

And she said she learned that it was important to support those employees who remained in work and those put on furlough very differently.

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“When you were working, in that initial three or four-week period, you were working 150 miles an hour,” she said.

“Your work life impacted on your personal life…you were sat at the kitchen table, and your laptop was open for 15 or 16 hours a day…on highly pressurised calls.

“Those people who were working had unique issues and really needed a lot of different help.”

Reflecting on her own experience of furlough, Vazquez said people were worried about the future of their jobs, the company and welfare of their loved ones and also felt a loss of their sense of purpose.

“All those worries escalate in your head. You realise…that actually the here and now is what counts and getting through each day,” she said.

When Vazquez returned from furlough in June she was faced with announcing the closure of 166 stores.

“What I’d learned is communication and the consistency with which you get those messages out is really king.

“You shouldn’t just be talking to people about what you think they want to hear. You need to step back and think about what they should be hearing.

“When I had to make the closure announcements I was [planning on] focusing on the rationale of why we were doing it, why did we need to do it, what’s the process we go through now?

“Actually, what was more important was what help we could offer people, what support is there that we can help people through this period?

“I changed my whole script and how I announced those closures to our teams based on the fact that that was more important at that time.”

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