Mental Health Report: Mental health and the night-time industry

What is mental health?

Mental health is a good state of psychological, emotional and social wellbeing. Having good mental health means you can cope with life and engage actively and positively with the world around you.

There is a significant difference between mental health problems and mental illness. Mental health issues often occur as a result of everyday stresses and, in some cases, inability to cope without additional help and support.

Mental illness is generally characterised by a “combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others” (WHO). 

Increasing awareness of these definitions and normalising mental health issues is the first step to destigmatising mental health.

The night-time industry and mental health

There are millions of night-time industry workers in the UK, including:

  • Traditional night-time bar, pub and club workers
  • Chefs and hospitality professionals
  • Those who work night shifts such as doctors

It’s easy to forget that the night-time industry impacts people starting work early, as well as those starting work late at night. Those starting work in the early hours, such as cleaners, face many of the same issues.

Anyone can suffer from mental health problems, regardless of work-related stress or personal issues. However, workers in the night-time industry face a very specific set of challenges.

Night-time challenges

One of the main issues is working hours. Shift work often incorporates long hours, irregular shift patterns and night work. This leads to sleep deprivation and disruption, as employees can’t adjust to a regular pattern of rest. Owners and managers must assist their employees by planning effectively, ensuring regular shift patterns where possible. Including employees in the rota planning and asking their views is another positive way to make staff feel involved and in control over their own work / life balance.

Night-time workers also need a safe way to get into work. Those working during the day have extensive public transport options which just aren’t available at night. The lack of night transport is justified by the lack of customers shopping / drinking / carrying out day-to-day tasks at night, but doesn’t take into account the thousands of night-time workers relying on poor public transport options to get home. This can lead to high levels of stress and mental health problems, including financial stress, as workers must rely on more expensive forms of transport such as their own cars (including parking charges) and taxis.

Lack of support and safe spaces

The main difference between those working at night and those at work during the day is the general lack of day-to-day services and support. Night workers don’t have access to external safe spaces such as coffee shops, supermarkets or retail stores. This means many breaktimes and lunches are spent “on the shop floor”.

The night-time industry can be stressful, energetic and demanding. Therefore it’s important for employees to have access to a breakout provision, a safe space for staff to relax and refresh before they return to work. This space would also help employees to wind down and destress at the end of a shift, to ensure they don’t take the worries of work home with them.

Destigmatising mental health

Mental ill health is still a stigma, with many feeling uncomfortable discussing their mental health difficulties openly and honestly.

The flippant use of words such as ‘mental’ and ‘crazy’ in our day to day language is also particularly damaging, further enforcing the negative stigma that mental ill health is something to be viewed negatively or with disdain. Encouraging open dialogue around mental health and the early symptoms will help to ensure all employees approach the subject sensitively.

Workplace workshops

Vocational exposure to mental health awareness and employee engagement will help to ensure staff at every level of the business are supported.

NTIA are working with to develop a series of countrywide workshops to raise awareness of mental health in the industry. These workshops will discuss what issues staff face and what specific stresses they’re exposed to in the workplace. They will provide staff with coping mechanisms and strategies to achieve a better work / life balance.

Industry-wide change

As well as implementing change on an individual and business level, there is a need to create change across the whole industry.

Jack Williamson, of Music and You, is known for his commitment to raising awareness of mental health and wellbeing. The business worked on the Live Live initiative with Lewis Capaldi. Every ticket included a 50p charge to help fund a team at each venue. The support includes ‘escape spaces’ throughout the gigs and access to a qualified support team both before and during the gig to help ease anxiety and answer any questions.

Music and You are now working with the NTIA to develop and magnify this idea further, potentially rolling out the idea across festivals and other large music venues. Even smaller venues such as pubs and restaurants could benefit from on-site safe spaces. While in its infancy, the idea could have the potential to change the industry for the better. Not only does the additional support and assistance help those with mental health problems, it also aims to normalise the issue and ensures everyone within the industry feels included and cared about. This, naturally, leads to more open and honest conversations about mental health and people feel more generally supported and considered.

Mental health is just as important as physical health

If an employee had flu, or had a broken bone, they wouldn’t think twice about taking time off work to recover and heal. They would feel able to discuss their illness openly with their colleagues and employer.

So why is mental health so different?

Currently, many members of staff don’t feel able to take time off work due to mental ill health, leading to problems escalating and becoming much more serious (in a similar way that running on a broken leg would make the initial injury much worse!

Affecting your business’s bottom line

It’s simple – mental health problems within a staff team cost your business money. Either members of staff take time off work because of mental health problems, or they don’t return to work at all. The cost of recruiting and retaining staff can be significant, especially in the night-time industry where staff turnover is naturally quite high.

The solution is in the prevention

A place of work should nurture an environment of recuperation and support. Employees should feel able to discuss their mental health with colleagues and management, unafraid and unashamed of being judged or treated differently. Unfortunately, it’s a sad fact that many businesses simply do not have this culture, which leads to an environment of bottling things up and ultimately making a mental health problem much worse.

Ultimately, facilitating a positive workplace culture will save your business money and time spent recruiting and training new talent. Look after your people and they will stay loyal to your business.

Driving culture from the top down

Venue owners and senior management must understand the importance of looking after your mental health in order for the whole company culture to shift.

Directors and managers should review their absence management and determine actually how many working days were lost due to mental health issues, and how many might have been avoided by implementing a wellbeing programme or employee mental health support.

It’s important for all managers in the night-time industry to talk to their employees. Distributing anonymous surveys or asking for staff feedback will help to ascertain where employees need the most support. Owners and managers should then start to use this feedback to make a positive change.  

Wellbeing providers such as We Are Wellbeing can mentor and coach management to help them not only improve their own mental health, but enable them to confidently support others too.

Ultimately the whole team works together to deliver a service to a customer – so the whole team should work together to change the stigma attached to mental health problems. This includes casual, temporary, flexible and permanent staff members at every level of the business.

Talking is a sign of strength, not weakness

Many people, particularly those working in the night-time industry, feel a need to constantly mask how they feel. Night-time workers often put on a front in order to serve customers with a smile. There’s an expectation to mask problems or difficult professional and personal circumstances in order to complete the job effectively.

Despite potentially being faced with abuse and violence, night-time workers are always expected to remain professional. There is a general viewpoint that employees should ‘toughen up’ and crack on with the job, but this is a damaging mindset and should be heavily discouraged in the workplace. The viewpoint that talking about your struggles is weak needs to be completely revaluated. In fact, sharing experiences and being open about a personal and difficult subject takes great strength.

Of course, it’s not just about talking. It’s about listening, too. Take time to speak to colleagues and actively listen to their side of the conversation, engaging them in an open discussion and asking relevant questions to demonstrate you are empathising with their situation.

Further help and resources

NTIA is working with CPL Online to deliver online seminars and training courses, which can be shared with both employers and their staff. This will help to engage members of staff who might otherwise be unwilling or disengaged with long on-site training sessions or workshops. The online training offers a fresh new way to involve all employees.

The industry is ever evolving, with mental health now a key priority amongst the industry. Brighton Music Conference became one of the first music conferences to offer Mental Health First Aid Awareness Training for those working in the industry. This is a great step and will help night-time industry managers and employees spot signs and symptoms of mental ill health. It also enables people to have confidence to have important, open dialogue with colleagues in order to offer help and support.

Management should also be confident sign-posting staff to seek additional professional help from services such as Mind.

Further help is also available from the following organisations

  • Hospitality Action

An exclusive Employee Assistance Programme is available to help employees manage their work / life balance and mental health.

  • Licensed Trade Charity

Provides support for employees of the licensed drinks trade, including mental health support.

  • Help Musicians

Offers extra support to musicians, including a support line and additional resources.

With nearly 70% of musicians struggling with depression, talking about mental health has never been more important in the music community.

See more information here:

With nearly 70% of musicians struggling with depression, talking about mental health has never been more important in the music community.

  • We Are Wellbeing

A workplace wellbeing provider, offering a range of services to businesses including the night-time industry.

Whatever amount of help and support is available, mental health and wellbeing has to start internally. Individuals must be aware of their own health and wellbeing in order to more effectively enable them to help those around them.

Are you dedicated to improving your wellbeing? Download our wellbeing pack and start your wellbeing journey today.