It may be just over a year since we were first introduced to COVID-19 but the stress of living with a pandemic has not disappeared.
The prospect of extended lockdowns continues to loom large over the nation, and vaccinations, (while advancing), have a way to go before they offer significant protection to both public health and the economy from the fast-evolving virus.
With the Prime Minister last week announcing a four-phase reopening scheme to bring Australia back to normality, a skerrick of hope has blossomed in many hearts. Finally, there is a path forward. An uncertain one perhaps, but at least we have a vague outline of when we can get back to the sort of normal we once took for granted.
And yet, we know the ramifications for some industries will be far further reaching than just a couple of years.
While many knowledge workers may have been freed from the tyranny of the office, with their work tools — an internet connection and a computer — easily transported to anywhere around the country, those who work in location-based services such as hospitality, travel, tourism, retail, the arts, entertainment, and sports and recreation are still suffering greatly as a result of ongoing, strict and unpredictable public health measures.
Hospitality businesses and workers in particular have done it hard. Already faced with heavily reduced income and a myriad of other challenges such as retaining employees, the rising cost of daily consumables and having to cope with seasonal demands and downturns (to name but a few), hundreds of restaurants and cafes have been forced to close over the last year as extended local closures and strict border closures have stymied new migrants, holiday workers and international students, who tend to work in the sector.
For an industry that employs approximately 851,000 people (accounting for 6.5% of the total workforce) the uncertainty and closures have left thousands of people in financially insecure situations. Such situations are a key contributor to mental ill-health, which can sometimes lead to the development of anxiety, depression and other dire consequences.
As certain sectors are recovering better than expected, recent ABS figures show the hospitality industry continues to be most affected by payroll job losses over the COVID-19 period with only two out of three jobs regained after early pandemic losses.
The most recent lockdowns nationally have pushed some to the brink of their mental health coping strategies. The uncertainty of projected short lockdowns that stretch to weeks and months — with patron limits still impacting venues for further longer periods of time — has taken its toll on businesses and workers.
Hospitality employers and employees continue to live on a knife’s edge, unsure of when they may next be out of work. It makes it very hard to plan forward personally and financially, and the subsequent flow on for the hospitality community is the serious effect on mental health and wellbeing.
Over recent years, the deaths of several high-profile celebrity chefs — both in Australia and overseas — have shone a light on the mental health issues plaguing the hospitality sector. As a result, the industry has taken a long, hard look at its culture to try and find a way forward in an already precarious and stressful environment.
While it can be a highly rewarding and social career path, more support both financially and health-oriented must be directed towards helping the hospitality sector progress out of this COVID storm.
As the rest of the world slowly moves forward, restaurants and venues — which are all about the people-facing, customer experience and working in teams to create a pleasant vibe — will not be able to return to their former success unless federal and state government work together to quickly open Australia safely (while putting together a specialist mental health and financial support package in the meantime).
As for hospitality businesses and the workers themselves, I hope they can find a way to invest in their mental health and wellbeing. In addition to Clipboard, there are various support groups and programs available to help or simply offer some advice at the darkest time facing the industry in 100 years.
A healthy mindset is key to surviving and prospering in our industry, and in the current circumstances, keeping connected with others and investing in yourself, both mind and body, will help give you the foundation and belief to get through this and look forward to the future.