How an events company is tackling mental health and wellbeing

Woman working behind bar
Debra Ward is the Managing Director of event management and hospitality company Camm & Hooper. In an industry known for its long hours and tight deadlines, she explains why mental health and employee wellbeing is a key business priority...

In 2007, Debra and her senior team founded Mitie Client Services. The company was named the 45th best small company to work for in The Sunday Times Top 100, and took home the overall Learning and Development Award.

She was named the 2014 Women of Achievement winner by Women in the City and one of the top 10 people in facilities management by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. She is and has always been incredibly passionate about people and culture and sees both as company differentiators.

Last year, Debra joined Camm & Hooper as Managing Director. The event and hospitality business, which was founded five years ago, has 160 team members and a turnover of £11m.

Here, she talks about how the company addresses the areas of employee wellbeing and positive mental health, why colleagues need to support one another and why it’s good to talk...

Why ‘it’s not personal, it’s business’ is the wrong message

At Camm & Hooper we heavily promote employee wellbeing and positive mental health is huge for us. I often hear people say ‘it’s not personal, it’s business’, but for me, that’s entirely wrong. Business is personal and especially for me at the helm of the ship as it were, my work is my everything, my blood, my sweat, occasionally my tears - any time I work is time away from my family, so it certainly is personal. And I’m conscious of the fact this is the same for everyone, not just me as MD of the company.

We need time out to sit, reflect, fine tune and support one another

Culture is a real differentiator for business, and I think if you’re going to lead you need to lead by example. So, I would never expect anyone on my team to do something I wouldn’t do myself. I take pride and passion in what I do, and I expect my entire team to do the same.

I invite the entire leadership team to my home for a team away day to brainstorm our ideas away from site. I want to show my people that they’re part of my life and obviously I’m part of theirs. It’s an open space where people can raise concerns, ask questions and speak freely and I hope that by having it away from the ‘office’ (not an actual office more often than not in our industry) people have the time and freedom to be honest and creative away from the day to day distractions.

We have our curators, Chief Booze Engineer, Executive Head Chef, Learning and Development and People and Culture team, Sales, General Managers, all together to hash things out and to see each other face to face. We’re all human and we all need time out to sit and reflect and fine tune and support one another. This can’t always happen truly and honestly when you try and do these types of meetings in your ‘place of work’.

How technology can improve wellbeing

We also use technology to help us work as a team and to help everyone feel supported. We use a platform called Totem to upload images of what we’re up to, ideas, share praise, and just discuss things. We only launched this five months ago and the uptake has been brilliant.

By centralising and simplifying all of our communication we are quickly addressing queries and working together across teams more, so that everyone is supported in a timely and ongoing way. We also introduced a benefits platform, Perkbox, earlier in the year as well as hosting yoga at one of our venues once a week after listening to our team when we asked how we could support them.

Putting people first

Working in events and hospitality is certainly an exciting environment, but it can also be a challenging environment. The nature of the industry’s landscape means teams often work long hours, to tight deadlines, changing expectations and requirements from clients and increased tightening of margins.

But, for me, it has always been about the people. You won’t have great service without great people. So, my number one job as leader of a forward-thinking and unique events company is to look after my whole team, regardless of role, make sure we are all working to the same vision and we all have a shared understanding of what great service is and the part each of us plays in delivering that.

The restaurant trade in particular is going through a tough time overall. The margins are very small. Service really is the one area that can trump everything else. So, teams need to be equipped to mentally handle whatever is coming their way, and the only way to do this is to prepare them and support them to do the best job they can. 

We all need to pull together, or you risk becoming robotic – and nobody wants robotic service. It doesn’t stand out and it won’t keep people coming back. If you have a team who just clock in and out, then there’s no passion.

The more we care, the more it can wear us down

What we do is high stakes and high adrenaline. There’s fierce competition out there, anti-social hours and the work itself can be gruelling at times. At Camm & Hooper, we’re not regimented in how we approach hospitality. Every client is different so we just all have to be able to adapt quickly. This can, of course be tiresome and take its toll on those who are client facing, as well as those behind the scenes planning and making sure everything ticks along.

Pleasing everyone and providing exceptional service every single day is laborious, but to stay ahead of the game it needs to happen every day and at every event. Often, we find that the more the team care about things, the more they can wear themselves down, so we make sure that our team of curators are indeed a team, there’s never just one person behind an event or even a dinner. It’s a team approach and that’s crucial. A problem shared is a problem halved at the end of the day and that’s reflected on one of our core values – ‘We look after everyone’.

The hospitality industry is such a huge slice of UK PLC, so it’s about time mental health and wellbeing in the sector is tackled head on – there’s a lot of improvement to be made across the board.

Every day is a school day

The one thing I recommend to everyone is to treat every day as a school day. You can always learn, and there’s no set way to do anything ‘right’ – particularly when it comes to wellbeing. We really are all different. Give your people the freedom to look after themselves in the way it suits them and your company, and its customers, will benefit.

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Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace

For 2019, the IoD has re-launched its Mental Health & Wellbeing in the Workplace campaign with a focus on business leaders. To read all the latest content and follow the campaign’s progress, visit their dedicated online hub.