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Mandarin Oriental’s chief commercial officer Joanna Flint talks about the need to customise support for employees’ mental well-being, instead of taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach

Over the past two years, the pandemic—and all its associated economic and social stressors—has helped to “normalise” speaking about mental health and shown how crucial supporting mental health is in helping us to function well in both private and business settings. Implementing a “mentally-well workplace”, where both employee and employer work together closely to create a culture of health and wellbeing for all, is a goal all companies aspire towards to ensure higher productivity, job satisfaction and employee retention.

While the goal is universal, supporting mental health should be a highly personalised process. It’s important to support employees with a toolkit of resources rather than a “one-size-fits-all” solution.

Joining Mandarin Oriental during arguably the most challenging period ever faced by the hospitality industry has taught me much about the broader need for empathy and flexibility, particularly for those on the front line. Here’s what I’ve learned.

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Recognise that every individual is different

We are all out at sea, but in different boats—everyone is experiencing this pandemic in a uniquely personal way. We should avoid jumping to conclusions and assume, for example, that things are OK because someone is smiling, or conversely, assume things are not OK because someone is “detaching” or pulling away.

It’s important to recognise that there are many “realities” in the pandemic, whether it’s a younger team member who’s keen to reconnect with colleagues in the office, those with family commitments who are trying to juggle work and home-schooling, or those who lack the technical infrastructure to work effectively at home.

Protect your people

We have initiated programmes to enhance the comfort, health and safety of our guests and colleagues, such as distributing care packs with masks and other essentials. We’ve also started certifying “Mental Health First-Aiders” in every hotel, who provide team members with on-the-ground resources such as counselling to help them face challenges such as anxiety issues. Whether your company is large or small, a mentally-well culture is driven by the purpose and values of the organisation, rather than just size.

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Tailor solutions to what employees really need

We have a very committed workforce but we’re seeing more requests for flexibility, especially as people re-evaluate their priorities. This can involve exploring discretionary remote work for office workers, co-working, job-sharing or more flexible hours. We’re also working on helping our employees to plug skills gaps across the organisation.

Build resilience

Last January, Mandarin Oriental introduced Inner Strength-Outer Strength, a worldwide series of spa and hotel-based initiatives designed to help people build resilience through uplifting activities like personal training, breathwork and nutritional consultations. Maintaining our overall physical health and immunity through exercise, movement and healthy nutrition is critical during a pandemic, as is cultivating inner strength by taking time for silence, contemplation, and mindfulness.

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Line managers are your first line of defence

Managers are like conductors—they set the tone for work interactions and are ultimately our “first responders” in helping to build a mentally-well work culture. One of the most important attributes for leaders is empathy. People can be afraid of coming forward and sharing how they really feel so it’s key to encourage our leaders to be sensitive and to help their team members feel supported. Human interaction is so important—it’s about being able to have a conversation, grab coffee with a colleague, organise a morning virtual chat, look them in the eye and see if they’re ok.

Re-orient workers as they return to the office

We created a “MOve Back In” re-orientation programme for colleagues returning to the office, which is a play on our MOve In orientation for new employees. It includes mental health modules to address anxiety, which has been understandably quite high during this period. Returning to the office post-pandemic is similar to returning to work after maternity leave—you’re in a very different state of mind. Quite simply, we need to acknowledge the need for flexibility, openness, and empathy.

More broadly, we’re continually looking at ways to stay connected; one of these initiatives has been the introduction of virtual meetups, like town halls. These help all our colleagues—whether they’re working on property or from home—stay clued into what’s happening across the organisation and ensure they feel part of the wider Group.

This has certainly not been an easy period of time and everyone’s lives have been impacted by this pandemic, but the resilience and commitment our team has shown has been an inspiration to me personally and is testament to our team’s unwavering belief in our brand’s guiding principles and commitment to excellence.

Tatler Asia

Joanna Flint is chief commercial officer at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, where she oversees the development and execution of the Group’s commercial strategy while also taking executive responsibility for all aspects of customer experience. Prior to joining the Group, she was Managing Director – Global Partner Business at Google.


This piece is part of a collaboration between Tatler Asia and Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO), a global leadership community of chief executives, which counts more than 30000 members from 142 countries among its members.

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