An Inverness hotel director is hopeful that the hospitality industry can remain resilient during a difficult year ahead, as employers strive to prioritise the mental well-being of their workers.

For Victoria Erasmus of The Glen Mhor, working alongside her team during the height of Covid was an eye-opening experience as pressure mounted on staff.

“The big problem we had when things started to open back up after lockdown was that guests still expected the same level of service and experience that they had in 2019,” she explained.

“They didn’t want to be told that we had to keep up social distancing or that things might take a little longer because we had to manage our rota so that as few of our staff as possible were mixing.

“Instead, they wanted to be able to forget about everything else that was happening in the world.

“Not just with us, but across the sector, staff were experiencing a lot of abuse and I hate to say that the hostility lasted for a good few years.”

The Herald: Pictured: Glen Mhor Hotel director Victoria Erasmus (centre) celebrates the 4 Star rating with Operations Manager Deirdre Lee (left) and Executive Chef Andrew Lee (right)Pictured: Glen Mhor Hotel director Victoria Erasmus (centre) celebrates the 4 Star rating with Operations Manager Deirdre Lee (left) and Executive Chef Andrew Lee (right) (Image: Glen Mhor Hotel)

READ MORE: Hospitality industry faces 'most challenging conditions since the mid-90s'

Not only had staff returned to a work environment completely different to the one they had left behind just a few months previously, they now worried that they could be risking passing on the virus to loved ones by interacting with customers every day.

It was then that Ms Erasmus made the decision to employ a specialist HR manager as well as mental health first aiders.

“We had to really think about the kind of business that we wanted to be and how to achieve that.

“Before we could make any bigger changes, the health and mental well-being of our staff had to come first.

“It’s difficult as an employer to know how much focus to put on the custodial aspects of work because we still need to maintain a viable business that is making money.

“But I always come back to the fact that unless you have the right people with you, you’re going nowhere, so it’s important to invest in your team.”

In the North of Scotland, where the summer tourist season can mean make or break for a business, staff shortages have been widely reported in the wake of Brexit.

In an effort to retain team members, The Glen Mhor works to ensure its employees know they are valued by providing staff meals, offering a Real Living Wage or even simply being mindful of travel arrangements when drafting rotas.

Well aware of the issues facing the region Ms Erasmus said: “It can be difficult in the Highlands because you’re hammered during the summertime and then find that it’s a lot quieter in the winter.

“It’s not necessarily that there’s a shortage of staff, but that there’s a shortage of skilled staff.

“Then there’s not a lot of accommodation available for workers, and because of the cost of living crisis renting can put a lot of financial pressure on young people.

“We’re seeing a lot of the older generation turning to hospitality work as a second job to top them up.

“That’s great for us, but we know that it's coming out of a need, rather than a desire, to join the industry.”

Despite a challenging time for the sector across Scotland, Ms Erasmus is eager to dispel the idea that a career in hospitality means resigning yourself to gruelling working conditions with little reward.

“Although it’s often thought of as a student or part-time job, the opportunities available within the hospitality industry are phenomenal,” she said.

“There’s space for inclusivity, flexible working, and apprenticeships that are hugely beneficial for training and development.

“The sector is crying out for skilled workers, and if you’re willing to put the effort in then it offers a transferrable skillset that can be used anywhere in the world.

“There’s the potential to earn a fantastic wage, and I’m hopeful that more people will start to view it as a viable career.”

This positive outlook falls in line with the Wellness Charter set out by Hospitality Health, a Scottish charity first established in 2018 to offer industry-specific support for workers.

The Herald: Pictured: Hospitality Health chairman, Gordon McIntryrePictured: Hospitality Health chairman, Gordon McIntryre (Image: supplied)

READ MORE: The charity working to avert a mental health crisis in Scottish hospitality

Much of the charity’s time is dedicated to training mental health first aiders as well as sign-posting practical support and non-judgemental advice for those who are experiencing addiction, depression or anxiety.

However, the board of trustees also seeks to reward employers who are making positive changes in the workplace.

Founder Gordon McIntyre has praised the steps that The Glen Mhor has taken in the years since Covid and hopes that others will realise how crucial prioritising the mental well-being of workers will be in the coming months as the cost of living crisis tightens its grip.

Preparing for what lies ahead, Ms Erasmus said: “The next year is going to be tough, and there will be difficult decisions to be made.

“But you can’t live in fear, and I’d rather be optimistic instead of focusing on the doom and gloom.

“I’m a great believer in a solution-led approach and if nothing else, I can make sure that our employees are looked after.

“The only way to ensure development in your business is to address the elephant in the room, which is the well-being of your staff.

“It’s not an overnight fix, but the benefits we’ve seen are huge.”

For more information on Hospitality Health click here.