JRoss Hospitality Recruiters talk mental health

By Rob Fisher, JRoss Hospitality Recruiters

In this time of great uncertainty, as many struggle to maintain and retain their footing career-wise it’s important to check in with one another and initiate a conversation around mental health. Research has shown that a proactive approach to mental health awareness within the workplace is generally more effective than a reactive one. Initiating an open dialogue within the workplace about this often stigmatized topic can lead to more efficient remedial care and ultimately, prevent the problems from arising. 

Starbucks is a prime example of a leading hospitality firm that has taken a proactive and humanistic approach to prioritizing workplace mental health. The company recently announced the launch of its ‘Mental Health Fundamentals’ — a mental health training course for Assistant Managers and above. This program builds on the company’s 2016 increase in their mental health benefits to $5,000/year for each employee working over 20 hrs/week and their 2019 pledge to “de-stigmatize mental health needs … by providing ongoing training to 12,000 store managers, and by making a mental wellness app avail-able to employees in the U.S. and Canada.” 

Managers and chefs in restaurants and hotels are under great stress as they work to ensure the safety of their teams and guests while still maintaining viable businesses under pandemic health regulations. Front of house and culinary staff have to deal with unusual circumstances and frustrated guests as they worry about their own personal safety. And head office teams have had to learn to work remotely, without the social aspect and connection provided by an office environment. Restaurants Canada recently cited research showing 63 per cent of chefs worldwide suffer from depression and 74 per cent of foodservice staff feel sleep-deprived to the point of exhaustion. In addition to dealing with the direct effects of mental health issues, these individuals have further concerns – Mental Health Works has found there is an average 50 per cent drop in family income when the family’s primary income earner is diagnosed with a mental illness. 

The human aspects of these mental health issues directly impact the business. The Canadian Mental Health Commission reported mental health costs of over $50 billion drain Canadian companies every year due to absenteeism, employee turnover, and ‘presenteeism’ — a term that refers to workers attending work while unfit to do so. The benefits of proactively addressing them are significant – a study conducted last year by Deloitte found that Canadian companies that invest in preventive programs and measurable initiatives to tackle mental health issues among their employees enjoy significantly better financial results than those who don’t. The potential benefits of placing mental health awareness high on the priority list can have long lasting effects for a hospitality firm. 

So how can restaurants, hotels and other hospitality organizations create a landscape that encourages an open narrative around mental health? 

As a recruitment agency working with and placing hospitality leaders, we understand the importance of good leadership and a collaborative dynamic in the industry. We understand that some of the issues hospitality firms are facing today — a significant portion of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic — can be mitigated by building a thoughtful team, one that understands the advantages of a holistic and humanistic approach to business. To establish a good team there needs to be high levels of trust within a company, for with trust comes open communication, which is vital for maintaining high levels of workplace morale. 

Below are some strategies we’ve seen followed to proactively address the challenges of workplace mental health concerns:

  • Treating Mental Health as a Workplace Health and Safety Obligation: Mental health is a workplace issue – it’s unrealistic to expect employees to park their mental health struggles at the office door and leave them there until closing. And it should be prioritized as seriously as physical hazards. The first step employers can take to combat this problem is to prioritize the creation of a healthy work environment. This commitment to the wellbeing of the work team should be paramount and will be most effectively implemented from the top down, with strong and compassionate leaders acting as navigators.
  • Taking a Holistic Approach to Leadership: Management should lead by example, adopting healthy work practices and modelling appropriate workplace behaviours for the benefit of the whole team. Initiatives like mental health policies for the organization overall will help support this leadership. The proactive nature of this method means that your restaurant or hotel is prepared when an issue arises, rather than scrabbling to deal with the unforeseen issue without the appropriate tools. Ensuring that managers are well trained on how to identify mental heath ‘red flags’ and that they understand the level of sensitivity needed when broaching the subject is important. Encouraging employees to speak out if they see or are experiencing hazards that may impact their wellbeing is just as beneficial. Even something as simple as enforcing breaks among front-of-house and culinary team members sets a tone for the workplace. Generally, creating a safe and trustworthy environment, where good mental health is valued and mental illness is de-stigmatized, will deliver great benefits to both individual team members and the organization as a whole.
  • Starting the Conversation: A recent poll of over 400 management, front-of-house and back-of house workers showed 79 per cent of respondents kept their mental health issues to themselves and tried not to let it show. Numbers also showed that 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health problem every year. As employers, it can be difficult to broach the topic with an employee for fear of it being misinterpreted or having the potential to exacerbate the issue. Approaching the topic with sincerity and a genuine concern for the other’s wellbeing is far more beneficial than an authoritative approach. A simple question like “I’ve noticed a change in demeanor, are you okay?” could be enough to open a thoughtful dialogue between employee and employer. A proactive, humanistic approach to management will benefit the employee/employer relationship hugely in relation to workplace mental health concerns.

Canadian hospitality firms are under immense pressure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, there is an increased need to ensure that your team feels supported and heard. Going forward, mental health will have to be treated with the same care as physical health and safety. 

During this trying time and into the future, we’re ready to support the hospitality industry in any way we can. To that end, we’ve included a link to the Canadian Association for Mental Health website as a starting point for further exploration: http://www.camh.ca/. 

To learn more on this and other hospitality trends and insights you can check out our website.

Written by Rob Fisher and Jessica Finch.

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As Canada’s leading Hospitality Recruiters, JRoss Hospitality Recruiters is helping great brands hire exceptional leaders. With extensive hospitality operations and search experience, JRoss helps hotels, restaurants, travel & tourism, seniors living and other hospitality organizations recruit great leaders across Canada from offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

As a co-founder of JRoss Hospitality Recruiters, Rob has spent 15 years helping build Canada’s leading hospitality recruiting firm. His extensive experience in business systems has allowed him to be an invaluable advisor and resource for the delivery team as they have filled hundreds of leadership roles in the Hospitality industry across Canada.