These days, everyone is talking about mental health in the workplace, and with good reason. 2020 was branded the most “stressful year ever” by mental health experts and employees around the globe, and a year on, keeping everyone happy, motivated and productive remains no small feat. 

As hospitality talent grapples with shifting goalposts and evolving work dynamics during the global pandemic, mental health issues such as uncertainty, anxiety and burnout are rife, and the onus is on employers to do more to support mental health in the workplace. 

Thankfully, growing awareness of the importance of promoting good mental health at work is reducing stigma, and people managers can now find a wealth of tools at their disposal to support employees suffering from mental health issues. 

Good mental health at work and good management are two sides of the same coin, and human resources managers can take a preventative stance by promoting wellbeing, work-life balance and communication… if they can spot the signs before they reach a tipping point.


Keeping mental health top of mind

Mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness. According to the World Health Organization, “mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

It sounds straightforward enough, but throw a pandemic and its associated anxiety, uncertainty and avatars into the mix, and it’s little surprise that employees are struggling to achieve balance. 

According to a recent study from Mental Health America, most employees are experiencing the early signs of burnout. A huge 83% feel emotionally drained from their work, and almost 9 in 10 employees report that their workplace stress affects their mental health.

It may seem like a tricky issue to approach – let alone tackle – but with insight, empathy and communication, there’s a lot hospitality employers and human resources managers can do to help employees maintain or restore good mental health.


Making “mental” less taboo

The first step to helping employees suffering from mental health issues is to create a safe environment where everyone can talk about how they feel. However busy a hospitality company may be, employees should feel that they have the time and space to speak openly about how they feel.

Davida Ginter, CEO of Enkindle Global, mental health advocate, and author of Burning Out Won’t Get You There advises people managers to schedule regular check-ins with employees to share their successes and struggles – work related or otherwise – and receive mutual support. 

Caring is sharing – managers can weave these conversations into regular team meetings, and rather than merely moderating, can actively participate or even get the ball rolling. It’s vital to get past “How are you” to “What do you need?” and make sharing thoughts, feelings and fears a normal part of working life.

As Ginter says, “It’s not an interview; it’s a dialogue. And that dialogue should be ongoing.”


Supporting mental health at work 

Actively supporting mental health in the workplace says a lot about a company. Employees and candidates are increasingly drawn to companies that take their mental and emotional wellbeing seriously. 

A 2020 McKinsey report found that 91% of employees feel that their employers should care about their emotional health and 85% claim that behavioral health benefits are important when evaluating a new job. 

The report highlights the case of Lenny Mendonca, former chief economic and business advisor to California governor Gavin Newsom, who publicly opened up about his own struggle with mental health, which eventually led to his resignation after he “told myself and my team that we all have to operate at 120%… which meant 80-hour work weeks and barely sleeping.” 

Mendonca is a firm believer in providing employees with support and mentoring rather than dishing out deadlines and summoning super-heroes.

People managers can help counter mental health issues by placing trained professionals or counsellor within a company, or by giving employees access to an external service. Developing an internal mentorship program, where longer-standing team members support and share experiences with newcomers, can help both sides to feel seen, heard and less alone.

Address mental health one-on-one

Supporting mental health at work starts with spotting tell-tale signs and then taking decisive action to address employees’ needs. Mental health issues often affect employees’ relationships with their managers, colleagues and customers. Taking the time to support individual employees can exponentially improve the wellbeing and morale of the whole team. 

Hospitality people managers can drill down to ensure that an employee is in a role that fulfills their aspirations and optimizes their strengths, and include the employee in decisions that affect him or her, to build trust and nurture collaboration.

People managers can also boost an employee’s self-esteem and self-worth by inviting them to teach colleagues about something they’re passionate about – within or beyond their professional field. Encouraging employees to undertake training and personal development is also a great way to promote good mental health in the workplace, while raising your profile as a manager that sees, hears, and cares.

Focusing on employee wellbeing can lift the morale of the whole company, including managers and new hires. As a people manager, you can identify the signs early and take action to minimize the negative effects of fatigue, frustration and burnout, and emerge with an even stronger bond with your employees. 

Are you ready to improve mental health in your workplace? Do you suspect one or more of your employees is suffering from mental health issues? Take this quick quiz to see if you can recognize the signs.