The people who cater to our every whim in bars, restaurants and hotels often work long hours on their feet (or chained to a desk) to ensure that we are looked after and have a good, and happy, experience. Perhaps it’s no surprise that hospitality industry employees are prone to burnout.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes burnout as an occupational phenomenon, not a medical condition but a “syndrome as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

Going the extra mile is part of the job, but all of those miles can end up being exhausting. In the hotel business, receptionists, cleaners, doormen, porters, chefs, waitrons, managers, concierge services, and more, work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that guests enjoy their stay at any good hotel. The hotel industry never sleeps to ensure that every guest has a peaceful night’s rest.

Guy Stehlik, CEO of South African-based hospitality company BON Hotels, has worked in every sphere of the industry – having grown up in the hotels his father managed and starting out working as a bellboy from just seven years old.

Stehlik, a self-confessed “hotel brat”, has acquired a lifetime of industry knowledge working for prominent hotel groups including the Hyatt Group (South Africa’s first international hotel group) and Protea Hotel Group before founding BON Hotels.

“Hotel employees, including those who work in management and in head office, spend long days and nights pretty constantly on the go. We often sacrifice downtime, quality time with our families and valuable holidays to be on top of our game at work. This combined with a variety of workplace stresses can leave you susceptible to exhaustion,” he says.  Furthermore, the hospitality industry is particularly susceptible to alcohol and drug abuse, which has a huge role in further undermining our wellbeing and exacerbating the health and physical wellbeing of our staff.

We are definitely not doing remotely enough to address the drug and alcohol abuse which is so rampant throughout our industry; we have a responsibility for this to be a top priority at our businesses, but we are falling radically short. Lives are constantly being lost, performance is being undermined and careers are not reaching their potential as a result.

“The world is waking up to the importance of being aware of and addressing mental health concerns. At all levels, from management to floor workers, we have to be able to recognise the symptoms of occupational burnout.”

The WHO lists these symptoms as feeling depleted or exhausted, having an increased mental distance or feelings of negativity towards your job, and reduced professional efficacy.

What can hospitality industry employees do to prevent burning out?

Also speaking from his own in-depth industry experience, Group Operations Director of BON Hotels Pieter van Eck explains that people in upper levels of hotel management need to keep an eye on those working below them. Likewise, all employees should look out for signs of burnout in themselves and each other.

A study by Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) found that 15% of South Africans are absent from work every day, with only one in three being physically ill. This absenteeism reportedly loses businesses between R12 billion and R16 billion annually.

“Those experiencing burnout might not recognise it themselves, or be willing to admit it to their co-workers. There is a stigma around mental illness and a common misconception that it means you aren’t up to the task of performing effectively,” says Van Eck.

“But there are steps you can take to combat work-related stress and fatigue. You have to prioritise your health and focus on finding a good work life balance. Employers can also help facilitate this. It’s important to be able to have an open dialogue around these kinds of issues.”

The good news is that companies focusing on workplace wellness is a rising trend. One recent report by The RAND Corporation in the United States determined that more than 80% of companies in the country (those with teams upwards of 50 people) offered their employees corporate wellness benefits. And many South African businesses are following suit.

Stehlik advises a holistic approach to self-care: looking after your personal health, prioritising time for your own interests outside of the workplace and planning quality time with loved ones to maintain strong relationships.

“Things like being sure to drink enough water throughout the day might seem very obvious, but we often forget to stop and drink some water when we are running around looking after other people’s needs,” says Stehlik.  Companies with head offices should encourage their staff to go to gym during lunch time too!

“Likewise, you need to make sure you are putting enough nutrients into your body. It seems so simple, but the quickest, easiest energy-boosting snack on the go isn’t always the healthiest option. Not to mention the fact that a quick sugar boost leads to your energy crashing shortly after.”

On a similar note, many studies have shown that regular exercise boosts energy. It might be the last thing you feel like doing after a long shift, but it also releases endorphins which make you happier, helps to relieve stress and anxiety and generally keeps you stronger and healthier. It can even help you sleep better and a good night’s sleep can go a long way towards improving your day at work.

Stehlik says: “Our jobs revolve around catering for the needs of guests, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. You have to find a balance to perform at your best without becoming exhausted. You have to look after yourself to be able to look after others – easier said than done”,  he says.


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