Any way you look at it, and we absolutely must look at it, there is a ticking timebomb above our country and our industry.
Nothing screams that message more than the results and analysis of TTG’s “Get Travel Talking” survey on the state of the mental wellbeing of our industry, conducted last month.
The 200+ respondents, of which I was one, will, I hope, believe that – despite the anonymity of the survey – their voices will not go unheard. Colleagues from across consortia, agencies, tour operators, DMCs and more have spoken up about what really matters to them, how they really feel and, in some cases, have cried out for help.
This last part is shocking; that there is still the prison in which people become trapped with the feeling that they have nowhere to turn, no one to lean on, no oasis of security, safe place or listening ear that might help make sense of this year’s events.
Time is running out for many and, even with high-profile causes led by well-known sportsmen and women – and even our future king – there seems to have been a collective act of rug-brushing by government, local authorities and the media over the severity of the mental health crisis that is tightening its grip on us.
One respondent summed it up perfectly by commenting that the subject of mental wellbeing in their workplace was “…deemed fashionable, yet management don’t do enough…” and others likening their situation to “mourning a death…” and others “…hoping that the problems would go away…”.
One telling statistic was that nearly three-quarters of the respondents were female. At face value, an easy stat to explain, in that our industry, at least at retail and office levels, has historically been largely dominated by women and, in general, there’s a historical belief that women have better-functioning support structures than men and often feel better about talking through their problems and issues with those closest to them.
It’s a big generalisation, I’ll admit, yet it’s long been apparent that men often simply do not talk about those same problems or issues. We are told to “man up”, and are far less likely, say, to turn to our (small, socially distanced) group of friends in the pub and say “guys, forget the game for a minute, I need to tell you that I’m really struggling with things.” I know. Believe me, I know. It was that same bravado, those same insecurities and that stupid male pride that made me stay silent – and, nearly a year to the day that I am writing this, it nearly led to me making the ultimate decision that can never me un-made.
Men, open up, please. Get help, however you can and whomever it’s through – as long as it works.
I mentioned the government earlier, and with good reason; with no specific minister for the outbound tourism industry in the UK, there has been no understanding whatsoever of how the roulette wheel of Shappsisms has affected businesses up and down the country, and with that those that work within and operate those businesses.
The furlough scheme: widely lauded as a genius stroke buy the Treasury for those in salaried positions. Yet no thought for the thousands of sole traders, company directors and homeworkers that have fallen through the cracks and missed out on the “arms of the government being thrown around the entire country.”
There’s no understanding of the strains that these flip-flopping travel corridor changes and lack of financial support has put on resources, finances, relationships with customers that have taken years to cultivate and, in many cases, the strains on marriages and partnerships across the country.
All of this, being placed on top of a social care sector that has, for years now, been saying that they are severely underfunded, undertrained and simply do not have the resources to cope with the fallout from this new crisis.
Never before have people in this country had, in such large numbers and from across so much of society, the fear of job losses, losing their homes and in many cases the fear and anxiety that comes with not knowing where next week’s food shopping is going to come from.
The results of this survey, along with the personal comments from some saying that “…my mental health has seen a steady deterioration, with no light at the end of a very dark tunnel…” are stark.
Can we blame our government for coronavirus? Absolutely not, and it is absurd to suggest otherwise. What we can do, though, is hold them to account over the response to it and, by shining as enduring a light as that from the top of the Luxor in Las Vegas, ensure that everyone in our fabulous industry is aware that their voices can be heard, their problems listened to, their anxieties calmed, so that if something like the year 2020 ever happens again then the right help is in place for those that need it.
Over a quarter of respondents to the survey said that mental health, or mental wellbeing, was never discussed at work, with more than that reporting that they do not feel it is even on the agenda of those that they work for. This is just not good enough.
There has been plenty released about the good work that some companies and consortia have been doing, however to have over 50 of every 200 travel people to feel that their mental wellbeing is not thought of as important by those that they work for is abhorrent, especially now.
More needs to be done. More care, more engagement, more personality – and not because it might be the “fashionable” thing to do.