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Study: Hospitality workers' well-being suffered greatly during worst of pandemic

A new study from Washington State University Vancouver shows just how bad the pandemic has been for the well-being of hospitality workers.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — As we get back out to eat or travel, we know many people in the service industry have been through a lot. A new study from Washington State University Vancouver looked at just how bad it was for hospitality workers during the height of the pandemic shutdown.

Researchers surveyed about 600 laid off or fully furloughed employees that didn't earn income in April 2020. They found that 75% perceived the pandemic as a "severe impact event," causing panic and possible symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Of those surveyed, 54% experienced moderate to severe depression.

A couple main reasons for the poor well-being included financial strain and social isolation. The study found it was hardest on women and relative newcomers to the industry.

"They were hit hard by the pandemic, so you see the well-being was pretty poor well-being and many of them may have the symptoms of the post-traumatic stress disorder. So the psychological distress is pretty big,” said Bamboo Chen, assistant professor with WSU's School of Hospitality Business Management.

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Chen was the lead author of the study. He noted that the study found many young hotel and restaurant workers considering a different career path.

“Younger hospitality professionals, they haven't really established their professional identity, so they’re actually more depressed and they have a higher intention to leave the industry,” said Chen.

In April 2020, unemployment in the hospitality industry was at more than 37%. Now it is down to 11% as of last month. And Chen said it’s getting even better now.

“We definitely see from my work, from my emails and contacts, we see more and more jobs opening in hospitality, which is very promising," said Chen. "Compared to one month ago, this is quite different. The summer looks pretty promising for travel and also for the food service, so things are looking up.”  

While there are still challenges related to hesitant job seekers and hospitality businesses trying to fully staff their operations, Chen is hopeful, and he wants to see more people get out and support the hospitality industry and its workers.

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