Angela Le, B.S. Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida. Michael J. DiStaso, M.S. Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida. Wheeler H. Nakahara, M.S. Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Central Florida.
The purpose of this research was to examine hospitality employees’ worries about guest vaccination status, and its impact on mental health. Additionally, we tested the extent to which concern about personal COVID-19 exposure mediated the relationship between worry about guest vaccination status and mental health.
Hypothesis 1: Employees’ worry about guest vaccination status will be negatively related to mental health.
Hypothesis 2: The negative relationship between employees’ worry about guest vaccination status and mental health is mediated by the employees’ worry about personal risk of COVID-19 exposure, such that worry about guest vaccination status is positively related to employees’ worry about personal risk of exposure, which in turn negatively predicts mental health.
COVID-19 vaccination rates are increasing in the U.S. throughout 2021 (CDC, 2021). The effectiveness against infection of the available vaccines range between 72% and 95% (Yale Medicine, 2021). However, with the politicization of the vaccine, many distrust its effects (Russonello, 2021). Therefore, in hospitality work, there is some ambiguity in face-to-face service interactions about the vaccination status of guests. As such, hospitality workers who are returning to work may worry about disease exposure when interacting with guests (Rosemberg et al., 2021).
The pandemic has had significant effects on the mental health of employees throughout the world (Pfefferbaum & North, 2020). In a recent study on psychological tolls on employees, 69% of tourism and hospitality workers reported symptoms severe enough to suggest they could be suffering from symptoms of PTSD (Chen, 2020). As worrying is linked to poor mental health (Brosschot et al., 2006), it is possible that worrying about guest vaccination status partly explains the impact of COVID-19 on hospitality workers’ mental health. Additionally, because exposure to COVID-19 puts workers’ physical health at risk alongside the risk of bringing illness to their home, we hypothesize that some of this effect is due to worrying about personal risk of COVID-19 exposure.
Participants were Prolific.com workers who completed a short survey if they were previously employed in the hospitality industry. Participants were eligible for the study if they were currently laid off or furloughed from their hospitality job due to COVID-19 at the time of data collection. In total, the analyses included 219 laid-off or furloughed hospitality workers from various sectors (56.4% food service, 14.1% lodging, 28.7% other). A summary of our measures is provided in Table 1.
Descriptive statistics, variable inter-correlations, and internal consistency reliabilities are displayed in Table 2. In support of Hypothesis 1, we found that concern about guest vaccination status was negatively related to concern about COVID-19 exposure (i.e., a total effect; b = -.21, SE = .05, p <.01). Hypothesis 2 was supported, as there was an indirect effect of worry about guest vaccination status on mental health through worry about personal COVID-19 exposure (b = -.06, SE = .03, 95%CI [-.11,-.01]). While accounting for worry about personal COVID-19 exposure, there was still a direct effect of concern about guest vaccination status on mental health (b = -.14, SE = .05, 95%CI[-.25, -.04]). Therefore, evidence suggests that worry about guest vaccination status-mental health relationship was partially mediated (see Figure 1).
Strengths of this study include the timeliness of the research; we measured a specific domain of worry (worry related to guest vaccination status), and we examined the extent to which concerns about one’s own health helped explain the relationship between worry over guest vaccination status and mental health. Limitations include cross-sectional self-reported data. Additionally, we only examined one potential mechanism explaining the effect of worry about guest vaccination status on mental health.
In practice, hospitality decision-makers can prioritize employees’ mental health by ensuring safety from COVID-19 exposure. For example, in situations where customers must interact face-to-face with workers, companies could consider: (a) requiring customers to provide proof of vaccination before visiting or (b) proof of a negative COVID-19 test if they do not want to be vaccinated. Anecdotally, these notions are currently under debate within the U.S. hospitality industry (Davis, 2021), but there are international examples of success emerging where proof of vaccination and proof of negative COVID-19 testing may be beneficial to regaining employee and consumer trust (Jasper, Whitley, & Chrepa, 2021; Walker, 2021). By enforcing safety policies, hospitality organizations would be recognizing the adverse effect that COVID-19 exposure has on their returning workers and prioritize the safety of their staff.
This study found that hospitality employees’ worry about COVID-19 exposure partially mediated the relationship between worry about guest vaccination status and mental health. Employees who were more concerned about guest vaccination had worsened mental health, and some of this effect was explained by worry about COVID-19 exposure. Future researchers should investigate other variables that explain the relationship between worrying about vaccination status and mental health, such as concern about policy enforcement.