Travel bosses ‘must take time for own mental health’

Industry leaders and business owners were warned they must find time to look after their own mental health as they battle the impact of coronavirus.

Speaking in a special Travel Weekly webcast to mark World Mental Health Day, Chris O’Sullivan, head of communications at the Mental Health Foundation, said bosses risk burn-out.

“It’s very important leaders recognise the need to look after their own mental health.

“We know from some of the stories that Travel Weekly has shared that people pour their last ounce of heart and soul into their business for the good of the client and the service they provide.

“Where people put the last ounce of energy into the client or the purpose or the business they leave nothing for themselves.

“I’m not normally a fan of the fit your own oxygen mask before helping others, but it is a uniquely travel reference. I tend to go for you can’t serve from an empty vessel.

“Focusing on the present…is very important and if you can, as a leader, do that it will enable you to have greater clarity on the decisions you need to make on the direction of your business.”

O’Sullivan recommended ‘mindfulness’ as a technique to help focus on what needs to be done in the here and now.

“It’s about creating a space in time to step out of those obligations and return to the present, which enables you then to focus better on the decisions that you may have to have,” he said.

“The risk at the moment, in particular with the overwhelming challenges, is that people burn out. And we know that burned out leaders make less effective decisions in the long run.”

O’Sullivan said he hoped the Covid-19 crisis would help to tackle the stigma of mental health issues as people become more willing to talk and to share their anxieties.

But he also warned about the potential problem of “oversharing” and said the experiences that are shared should be broad-ranging and not just focused on mental health stories.

“It’s well known from research that hearing personal testimony and social contact is the thing that makes the big difference,” he said.

“It’s always amazing when people are prepared to share their stories and it’s very important that people hear not just stories of mental ill health, but stories of recovery.

“One of the things we found, working with business, is that some of the times where it’s most effective is where you have a whole mixture of stories and a very broad range of people sharing.”

But he added: “I also think that we have to be careful in over encouraging people to share to share stories.

“Disclosure is a uniquely personal thing, and not everybody who has an experience of a mental health problem needs to disclose or should disclose.”

O’Sullivan said: “We’ve seen during the pandemic much more permission to share, and the ability to hide distress as the boundaries for many people between work and home have blurred.

“There’s a lot more people who are sharing a lot more and as we go back to working in whichever way we work those disclosures can’t be put back in the box.

“I’m hoping the culture of sharing and being more aware of our colleagues’ personal lives will lead to an environment where mental health and wellbeing check-ins and other things that are cultural carry on and this becomes a real herald for cultural change in relation to mental health in workplaces.”

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