Natalie Marsh talks to Bedsonline and parent company Hotelbeds as part of Travel Weekly’s Mental Health Matters series
My team were normally out interacting with travel agents on a daily basis. Then, all of a sudden, they’re working from home five days a week,” recalls Rebecca Brett, regional manager at Bedsonline, thinking back to March 2020.
Travel companies across the industry had never experienced a crisis like Covid-19 before. As Brett puts it: “We’ve had ash clouds and terrorist attacks, but this was completely different; you were not allowed to leave your home.”
Now, more than a year on, with constantly changing travel regulations, the travel industry faces no shortage of challenges.
Combine these with worries such as financial support, lockdowns and separation from family and friends, and it’s understandable why many people’s mental resilience has been pushed to new limits.
Research from the Mental Health Foundation in March 2020 found 62% of adults felt anxious or worried over a two-week period. And at the end of April 2020, one in three of those in work worried about losing their job.
While the foundation’s research since shows anxiety due to pandemic-related stress has fallen slightly, feelings of loneliness have not returned to pre-lockdown levels.
If you, or someone you know, has been affected by a mental health issue and are seeking help or advice, contact Samaritans free of charge on 116 123
When Covid hit, Bedsonline, the trade-only accommodation and activities provider, switched “seamlessly” to remote working, says Brett. But the wellbeing of herself and her team of six across the UK and Ireland was her priority. Regular morning meetings and quizzes were held, with colleagues’ children encouraged to get involved.
“It was important the team understood ‘it’s OK, this is not normal’,” Brett says, acknowledging the difficulties faced with home-schooling and the blurred lines between home and work life.
“The business understood and made it very clear from the start: people first,” she says. “We need to make sure everyone’s OK.”
The pandemic has thrown the issue of our physical health into the spotlight, with statistics of Covid-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths in the news daily. But symptoms of poor mental health have also been increasing.
Brett noticed isolation was a major issue people had to contend with. “For people that had been going out and interacting on a daily basis, social interaction came to a halt,” she says. “And there’s the pressure of thinking ‘how long is this going to go on? How is this going to affect me financially? What’s the future going to look like?’”
With about 100 offices in more than 60 countries when Covid hit, Bedsonline’s parent company Hotelbeds doubled down on its global wellbeing initiatives, which focus on physical, mental and social wellbeing.
The company runs a wellbeing week and each month new pieces of content focus on physical, mental and social wellbeing. So far, more than 84,000 hours of wellbeing content has been consumed.
“Wellbeing week was something that we did pre-Covid,” says Luke Tulleken, who works on Hotelbeds’ culture and engagement team in Palma. “We kicked it up a gear once Covid hit and we realised we would all be working remotely.”
A host of online courses were introduced, from yoga to a drop-in session with a psychologist, team quizzes and other online events.
“We encourage people to go on these almost self-reflective journeys to help figure out what’s important in their life,” says Tulleken. “We want to encourage the work-life balance and find one that works for you.”
Mental health advice is also signposted, with the firm directing staff to helplines and resources to find the help they need.
And the company operates a People Leaders’ Forum, to give managers the chance to share best practice when it comes to wellbeing.
“As leaders you’re expected to have the answers for your team,” says Brett. “But sometimes you need to bounce ideas off other people. We’re human too. And it’s actually really interesting to go aside with your peers in another part of the world.”
Speaking to people has been one of the most-suggested ways of coping with anxieties in the past year.
While Brett’s team at Bedsonline talk on a regular basis, they’ve been praised for taking this further and reaching out to their agent partners.
“I said to the team, ‘we need to make sure we’re doing what we can to support our agent partners because they’re going through the same things you are’,” Brett explains.
“It was a simple case of picking up the phone and saying ‘how are you?’ A lot of agents went, ‘oh, actually not good’,” she remembers. “We offered as much advice and help as we could.”
If you would like to contribute to Travel Weekly’s Mental Health Matters series, or to nominate someone who has been a Ray of Sunshine, email: email@example.com
Mental health lessons can be learnt from the pandemic, says Brett, who hopes people won’t revert to old habits.
“Be kind isn’t just a hashtag,” she emphasises. “It’s something we absolutely need to remember.
“We need to be kind to each other because we’ve all gone through it. When volumes start to come back, and businesses start to make money and grow at the rates they were hoping to pre-Covid, it’s the people that got them there. That’s the thing we absolutely need to remember as a business.”
Tulleken echoes that sentiment: “Empathy is something we mustn’t lose. We’ve all been very understanding when it comes to family commitments.
“People are far more understanding of health and personal issues now. That’s something we mustn’t lose.”
Ray of sunshine – Sam Fisher, Bedsonline
Each month, Travel Weekly will feature an individual who has gone above and beyond to keep morale up among colleagues and business partners. Our first Ray of Sunshine is Sam Fisher, key account manager for the north at Bedsonline
I was having calls with my top agents still. Some days it was just a call like, ‘Are you OK? Are you managing?’” says Sam.
“I knew at the time it was as important for me as it was for them. I needed that little lift as well.
“It’s only now, 12 months on, when people say, ‘You know what, Sam, you don’t realise the importance you had being there every day or every week or fortnight.’
“I’m a very positive person. I ran call centres for many years before doing this role and my biggest thing was always to wake up in the morning and do a team talk to get people motivated.
“Working remotely, I’m not seeing any travel agents, so you still kind of have to do that in the mirror in the morning. Every morning I get up, put my clothes on, face on, lashes on – every single day without fail. And that’s my team talk, like, ‘Come on Sam, you can do this, you’ve got this.’
“My son really struggled when he went back to school in September, so I’d say to him every day, ‘You need to tell me how you’re feeling,’ and I’d just talk with him each day.
“There are so many people that have spoken out and said ‘I’m really struggling’.”
Regional manager Rebecca Brett says: “Sam is always, always so positive. We all have our down days, but she’s always positive.
“You could have a really bad day, talk to her and all of a sudden feel 10 times better. She talks with her agents constantly to make sure they feel OK. She’s sent flowers and treats, just to say, ‘You’re not on your own, we’re here, can we help?’
“She’s always there going ‘what can I do to help?’ That’s not something you can teach; it’s inherently there within you.
“She is a little ray of sunshine and I know when she speaks to people they come away feeling so much better than when they picked the phone up. That speaks volumes.”