Hunt Hospitality mental health initiative a “necessity”

11 June, 2020 by Vanessa Cavasinni

A year ago, Hunt Hospitality began a mental health initiative for its employees that subsidises confidential counselling sessions.

The initiative was first established after one of the group’s licensees approached managing director Stephen Hunt, having identified that a few of the younger employees at his pubs seemed to be struggling with depression. He asked Hunt if there was anything that the business could do.

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Hunt spoke to his wife, who has a professional background in mental health, and decided to implement a group-wide initiative. After consulting with several counselling services throughout the Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour regions – where the Hunt Hospitality pubs are based – the group entered into an agreement with NewPsych. Through the initiative, Hunt Hospitality pays for up to three sessions for employees with NewPsych counsellors.

“We went out to all of our teams and said ‘if you guys are finding it difficult, please put your hand up. We have this service that we can provide,’” explained Hunt.

Any employee can use the service, which remains confidential. Hunt Hospitality is simply sent a bill when a session has been used. The only information that is passed on to management is which pub the employee is from, so that if there is a spike in sessions from one venue, management can investigate any underlying issues in that pub.

Hunt has tried to impress upon the team to use the service as needed, and to think of it as going to any other doctor. He also think it’s a good policy for the business, and adds to the productivity of staff. He expects to see more of it throughout the industry soon.

Luke Foster, psychologist and mental health advisor for mental health education program Livin, said poor mental health will affect over half of Australians during their lifetime, therefore costing businesses around $13 billion each year.

“The good news is that for every dollar a business invested in creating a mentally healthy workplace, they get an average return on investment of $2.30 by reducing lost wages, absenteeism and presenteeism,” stated Foster.

“We just think that it’s a necessity now. It’s got to be addressed,” suggested Hunt.

“You’ve got to look at it as if you would any other workplace injury. If you look at it from a holistic point of view, if it helps put someone on the right path either within the industry or outside of it, that’s a victory on our end.”

While the service has been used throughout the last year, Hunt has seen through billing that the service has had a bigger uptake in the last few months, as work shutdowns and the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic have exacerbated mental health issues. As such, Hunt has encouraged the team to use the service now more than ever.

“I did a little send-out to all of our team, a little video to say what we’re up to, to keep them up to speed. I encouraged it – I said go and get help if you need it. It’s tougher than normal and this would be the time when you should utilise it.”