Expert Topic The Benefits of Recognizing and Helping Employee Mental Health

The last several years have taken a toll on everyone. The pandemic stressed out and stretched people thin. Unrest at home and around the world bombards news feeds, and economic factors are constantly top of mind. There is a lot of worry to go around, but often it feels like a personal burden.

For those in the hospitality industry, especially those who work around alcohol, there can be added pressures.

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Having a strong team that is looking out for each other is important. Having ownership that is also on the lookout and willing to listen and action items is critical. Over the last several years many breweries have been working with brewery employees to have regular access to counseling. This is for both for personal and workplace health.

What these brewers have learned is that offering checkups and check-ins outside of larger or sudden problems can have a positive effect on the company.

There have also been beer initiatives to address towards mental health and safety. Previously there was the “Things We Don’t Say IPA” that benefitted Hope For the Day. Organizers say it was “created to help shift how we approach mental health by encouraging people to talk about their experiences and to demonstrate the importance of asking for help when we need it.”

More recently there has been the 988 Beer Initiative, started by O.H.S.O. brewing in Arizona. It’s working to help breakdown barriers and bring suicide prevention to the forefront of conversations.

Melissa Romano, the co-owner of Lake Anne Brewhouse of Reston, Virginia is a Taproom Brewers Representative Board Member for the Brewers Association.

She has chronicled meetings that have focused around the topic of mental health and wellness on the BA website and previously offered these two resources are good starting points for brewing professionals looking to dive deeper into the topics: This 2020 CBC Online seminar: The Things We Don’t Say: Mental Health Education for Craft Brewers and this 2019 Craft Brewers Conference seminar: Mental Health in the Craft Beer Industry.

She spoke with All About Beer Editor John Holl about her own journey to learn more about offering mental health services and supporting workers at the brewery. While she was fast to point out that she is not an expert in the topic, she has demonstrated a eagerness to learn how to best approach and help with situations. It’s a roadmap for other owners who are also working hard to figure out what is best for everyone and individuals in uncertain times.

Melissa Romano: I have certainly made it a priority for myself and our and our staff. But haven’t done anything larger in the industry than that. At the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC), over the past couple of years, we’ve seen this trend in awareness about mental health issues. And certainly, I would say, just since the pandemic, those seminars at the CDC wind up being some of the most highly attended and that says something. I think there are a lot of people thinking about mental health since post pandemic times. We all had a challenging and continue to have a challenging few years here. And I think it affected our industry a lot. Those that were able to stay open and stay afloat, that took a toll on personal and mental health and wellness and there was a ripple effect that went beyond just businesses. It went into families and into communities and watching other people struggle is sometimes as hard as struggling yourself. Unfortunately there was a lot of opportunity for mental health related issues to come to the surface, even for those who maybe never experienced anxiety, or stress or any of those things before. We noticed it with our staff, I noticed it with myself, certainly hard work to make it through those times.

I worry that the folks that that struggle the most with either mental health or physical health issues are the ones that don’t have that support. So, I think from an ownership perspective, or from a management perspective, in our business, I think it’s just really important to have the kind of relationships where you can provide that kind of support. To be available to recognize when someone needs a day off or to recognize when it’s not the right time for them to be behind the bar.

John Holl: It can be tough in the industry to find coverage or to have folks take a day off, but the importance of addressing issues and getting people health breaks, it sounds to me in doing that the good outweighs the inconvenience for the larger business. Is that fair?

Melissa Romano: I think it’s absolutely fair. It’s a challenge too because if you have to tell someone to take a day off or if they say they need a day off for any reason, it usually falls, for the small businesses, on the owner or management to have to cover. So, there is a compounding effect as well. There is a responsibility to be a caregiver for that person, but it puts a small business owner into a tricky position. I don’t have a solution for that. But it’s something we actually struggle with in our business.

John Holl: Do you that having addressed this you’re doing the right thing? Are the folks you’re encouraging to take breaks come back happier, or appreciate the help? Has there been a tangible benefit to doing the right thing?

Melissa Romano: More so than just directing someone to take time off, it’s the willingness or the ability to not question when somebody needs time off. Or to not limit the amount of time someone might need to take. I think we a lenient policy with scheduling. So, I don’t believe our staff takes advantage of it. I can’t say we’ve had a situation where there used to be push back, and now people are happier, because they can take a day off because it sort of rolls with our structure to have that flexibility kind of baked in.

John Holl: As an owner where would you like to put your thought your effort into future steps in this arena?

Melissa Romano: It is on my very long task, just to put together a series of meaningful workshops. For my staff and for our community. Awareness is again, for me, way more prevalent than anyone ever realized. And as a result, my goal would be to try to put together more opportunities or trying to provide more opportunities for folks to be able to just come together and have conversations and get and gain support from peers in community. You know, just being together with others, to talk about it.

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