Comment: Wellness can boost the bottom line

Sara Maude, managing director of The Mind Solution, who held senior HR roles for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, says now is the time for the travel industry to invest in employees’ mental health

The travel industry turns dreams into reality.

For those who work in the travel industry, it gets under your skin. It’s a lot more than discounts, the travel industry represents a desire to milk every magical moment life has to offer, visit places that make your heart sing and leave memories forever engraved into your mind and soul.

So, imagine the double whammy created when the travel industry ground to a halt worldwide in March. Dreams, freedom, escape, excitement, time to disconnect and recharge taken away overnight. And, the amazing people who make all that happen left grounded.

Added to that are the people who rely on the travel industry to keep the wheels turning; from hotels to tour guides… the list is endless.

When the industry does return back to life, we would be foolish to assume that, when it comes to the mental health of the people who serve the industry, all is well again.

The long-term effect of lockdown on people’s mental health is yet to be fully realised. However, where one in four people were already affected by mental health in the UK, it’s reasonable to assume this figure has increased with the impact of Covid-19. And it’s likely that those who were already suffering have experienced even greater challenges with their mental health.

We know psychologically that we gain great meaning and purpose from our work, so when we have the vast majority of an industry unable to work, living in isolation, with no government support, no light at the end of the tunnel, many facing redundancy, it’s going to impact even the most resilient of employees.

While the future of the industry is still unstable, employers can take positive steps to putting the heart and soul back into their workforce with well thought-out mental health and wellbeing strategies to support staff in the short, medium and long term.

Given the impact of Covid-19 on operating profits, it can be a challenge for HR leaders to meet employees’ health and wellbeing needs when budgets are tight.

That’s why we would encourage any spend on mental health and wellbeing to be built into a business case. The good news is that for every £1 invested in wellbeing in the workplace, there is a £4 return on investment.

You are looking for a win-win here – mental health and wellbeing programmes that support your people, and also make commercial business sense. However, the mental health spectrum is so vast, it can be a difficult to know where to start, where is going to create the biggest impact and even knowing what your employees need.

As any HR Director will know, the best place to start is with data – HR data; risk registers; customer complaints; key performance indicators; private medical costs, and so on.

The data paints a picture that will enable you to identify red flags, risks, where people are stretched, where operations and delivery are compromised, and where quick wins can be had.

When it comes to mental health, you may have to read between the lines as sickness absence isn’t always a key indicator, especially if its low. Therefore, use the data to create a bird’s eye picture.

Identify the priorities; you don’t have to achieve everything overnight and, financially, it may not be viable to do that. Use the data to identify short, medium and long term priorities; what you actually need, and why.

Often the best place to start with mental health and wellbeing is getting the basics right.

You can measure your wellbeing in just the same way you measure the performance of your business, revenue, passenger numbers, yield and so on. The same should always apply when investing in wellbeing initiatives.

Mental health makes good business when you can show tangibly what difference any investment has made to the health of your workforce, and how this creates a ripple effect into sales, customer satisfaction, reduced number of complaints, engagement and so on.

While we have some way to go before the travel industry returns to its former glory, now is the time to invest in the people that make it what it is.

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