Member blog: Alexa Stewart, Senior Associate Director, Cirkle

By Berenice, Thursday 8 October 2020

This Saturday, 10th October, marks World Mental Health Day, an international date designed to put a focus on mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma. I have witnessed first-hand the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on the mental health of people I know and love, with some suffering for the first time, and those with existing problems finding their symptoms and experiences worsening.

Against the back drop of a fast-paced environment, mental health and wellbeing within the hospitality industry has often been a concern. The Royal Society for Public Health highlighted in their 2019 ‘Service With(out) a Smile’ report, that one in five hospitality workers suffer from work-related mental health issues, a report that was commissioned during a time before the additional pressures of COVID-19 were fully felt.

We know that the fallout from the pandemic is putting an immense strain on the hospitality job market. In August, UKHospitality highlighted the true scale of the crisis, suggesting that over three-quarters of UK hospitality businesses were at risk of insolvency. The impact of this pressure on employees working in the sector is devastating. The Caterer recently reported on a survey by Core Recruitment and Purple Cubed, revealing that 97% of respondents felt their overall wellbeing had been adversely affected by recent events. Alarmingly, 64% said their employers were offering no additional support to help them cope and according to Mind UK, 54% of employers said they'd like to do more to help, but didn’t have the right tools in place. 

In many cases, employers are having to make tough decisions in a bid to balance business performance with protecting staff wellbeing. When the Help Out to Eat Out scheme was launched in August, a local pub near me, took the decision to retract themselves from the scheme after witnessing the additional pressure from an influx of impatient customers that was having an adverse effect on their staff’s ability to do their jobs properly, and their overall mental wellbeing. It seems the commitment we collectively made to ‘be kinder’ earlier in the year, hadn’t necessarily been at the forefront of customers’ minds, as they impatiently queued for a table on a Monday – Wednesday during August.

I am fortunate enough to work for a business where the positive mental health of our people has remained a focus for many years. In 2018, Cirkle PR signed the Time to Change Pledge, committing to raise awareness of mental health within our agency as well as the wider PR industry, reducing historic stigma and encouraging our teams to talk openly about their own mental health in a safe environment. Throughout COVID-19, communicating with our teams regularly, understanding their experiences and struggles and being able adapt accordingly with agility, we hope has helped provide a strong support network which everyone can access. The sense of camaraderie has been powerful to watch and whilst we all acknowledge this is a thoroughly challenging time, I have been overwhelmed by my colleagues’ resilience and attitude, and their ability to talk openly about their experiences. I am hugely proud to work for a company which puts such important issues at the heart of its business and would urge others to think about similar ways to keep their teams focused and feeling positive during these unusual times.

For such a sociable industry, the inability to get together is tough on us all. So finding a way to maintain connections and share experiences is very important.  I know Arena has been supporting its members to do this whilst their physical events are on ‘pause’ through its Friday Focus newsletters and Ask Arena webinars.

Hospitality Action has created a wellbeing hub – which collates the best advice to help navigate these uncertain times and connect individuals with organisations who can help. Visit to find out more. Keep safe everyone.