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How to support employees with mental health issues

Posted by Ivana Rnjak on Sep 14, 2017 10:11:33 AM

Today is R U OK? Day.

R U OK? is an Australian suicide prevention charity that aims to inspire and empower meaningful connections between people, to create better support networks for everyone. R U OK? Day is an annual day of action, reminding everyone to check in with their friends, family and colleagues.

In 2014, research showed that hospitality is the second most stressful industry in Australia, while in 2015 research in China found the service industry to be more stressful than performing neurosurgery! Now more than ever it is vital that people in leadership roles in the hospitality industry prioritize employee wellbeing.

Around the world, millions of people suffer from mental health issues. A notoriously hard problem to pin down, poor mental health can occur in a multitude of ways, on a broad spectrum of severity. Moreover, episodes might be fleeting or long-lasting, and often occur out of the blue.

Navigating mental health issues can be exhausting, all-encompassing and isolating without a strong support network.

There is still a lingering societal stigma around mental health issues. But 1 in 5 adults in Australia and the US suffer from some form of mental health condition, and it’s time we started openly talking about it – so we can start to build structures of support for those who need them.

Mental health in the workplace

It’s in the best interest of everyone involved in a hospitality business to look after and support employees with mental health issues, for a multitude of reasons.

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Aside from the legal obligations you may have as an employer, creating a supportive work environment that looks after your employees’ mental health and wellbeing also means:

  • Better customer service
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced absenteeism and staff turnover 
  • Stronger team cohesion
  • Better workplace culture


Get to know your team

While mental health issues affect everyone differently, being vigilant about some of the more common warning signs can help you start a dialogue early and ensure that your employees are looked after before the problem escalates.

Getting to know your staff from the get-go is the easiest way to ensure you can spot behavioral changes that may be indicative of a mental health problem. It's possible that your employee may not be comfortable disclosing this to you (or they might not be aware of it).

Talk to your team, take an interest in their life outside of work, ask about their ambitions and plans for the future, find out what they enjoy doing and what they’re passionate about. Not only will this foster a stronger team culture, it will build trust and confidence between you and your employees.

This increases the chance that an employee will share any problems they may be experiencing, while also making you familiar with the personalities, habits and quirks of your team – so if any changes do start to occur, you will spot them early.

Signs of anxiety

Beyondblue lists some of the most common behavioral changes that may indicate an employee is suffering from anxiety:

  • Signs of being restless, tense or on edge
  • Becoming easily overwhelmed or upset
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty meeting deadlines
  • Avoiding workplace activities
  • Appearing apprehensive or worried

Signs of depression

Common signs of depression may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty meeting deadlines or managing multiple tasks
  • Lateness
  • Appearing fatigued
  • Becoming easily angered or frustrated with tasks and people
  • Avoiding colleagues
  • Loss of confidence
  • Appearing unusually emotional or tearful

Look after employee wellbeing

In 2014, research showed that 37.7% of hospitality workers reported that they suffered from stress – making hospitality the second most stressful industry in Australia. Research from China found hospitality employees to be more stressed at work than doctors. While working in the hospitality industry is incredibly rewarding, it comes with its own set of challenges.

The work is physically demanding, sleeping and eating patterns become irregular, and your diet becomes high in caffeine, alcohol and foods high in salt and fat. Customers can be difficult and even dangerous. And because work comes and goes, anxiety about job security is common.

This is why it’s so important to make employee wellbeing a priority in your workplace. While work-related stress is not a clinical health condition, it can be a risk factor for mental health conditions, if it is excessive and long-lasting.

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Pay attention to your workplace: how is everyone performing? Do you need to give someone a weekend off soon? Who has done the close every day this month? Are you giving everyone enough shifts? If not, have you explained why? Be transparent and be empathetic.

Actively foster a culture in your workplace that is inclusive, supportive and free of any negative stigma about mental health issues. Talk openly about it. Let your staff know how they can seek help. Let them know they can talk to you. Ensure you provide assistance and support where necessary.

Work can play a part in the recovery process, by providing structure, financial security, social interaction and a sense of purpose. Employers benefit by reducing employee turnover, saving on rehiring and retraining costs, and nurturing a great workplace culture.

And importantly, be vigilant on shift. If someone looks like they are struggling, make sure they have a breather. If you can see it, so can the customer. You’re better off being flat out for a few minutes than letting an employee be visibly upset in front of a customer.

Don’t forget that as a manager or owner, you have to look after your staff as well as you look after the business – without them, your business won’t run. Ask them how they’re doing and provide help when they need it.


If you or someone you know is struggling, please seek help. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat online here between 7pm and 4am.


If you would like a resource to help your team take care of their physical and mental health, try our course on exercise tips for hospitality workers. Or explore our other blogs on health and wellbeing.

Ivana Rnjak.png Ivana Rnjak is a Content Writer at Typsy. A waitress and bartender in a previous life, Ivana is an aspiring academic with an unwavering love of brunch – no matter what Anthony Bourdain says!


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Topics: Health and wellbeing, Managers