The Silent Side Effect: Mental Health in the Hospitality Industry

May 26, 2021 | 2723 Views

The Silent Side Effect: Mental Health in the Hospitality Industry

Barret Bailey

Director of Training & Development | Black Walnut Cafe

The content for this blog came from the May 6, 2021, Texas Regional Training Forum, hosted by CHART RTF Directors Barret Bailey, Kelly McCutcheon, and Kirstie Johnson. You can also view the recording of the meeting, or scroll down to view in this window.

TX RTF Directors

The 2020 experience holds a lingering effect on our front line. Notably labeled “the pandemic within the pandemic,” adverse mental health symptoms have emerged as a lasting side effect. As Amanda-Rae, Director of Health at Marsh & McLeannan Agency put it,

“By far anxiety has jumped the most [in percentage of adults showing symptoms], and that’s because the sheer storm of COVID has all of the perfect variables – the fear of the unknown, job security, job stability, children’s school life, work life – all of those things.”

  Mental Health by the Numbers

CHART recently hosted a Regional Training Forum, featuring a virtual keynote and panel discussion on the subject of Mental Health in the Hospitality Industry. We were joined by 4 subject matter experts, Serah Morrissey, SPHR, CHART President, Senior Director of Human Resources, InterContinental Hotel MSP Airport; Chef Zia Sheikh, Founder, Restaurant After Hours; Amanda Rae-Garcia, MBA, CHPD, Director of Health Management Consulting, SW Region, Marsh McClennen Agency; and Joel Rivas, Founder & CEO,

 Serah Morrissey, Zia Sheikh, Amanda-Rae Garcia, Joel RivasHere are some of the takeaways and resources from our time together. Zia Sheikh is the Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit Restaurant After Hours. As stated in the organization’s mission,

"We advocate for mental health awareness by being a voice for those suffering in silence. We spread a message of hope and support."

In his powerful keynote, Zia spoke candidly about his story and what we can do to better support those in the hospitality industry. He encouraged us to open up to conversations about mental health.

"By normalizing these conversations, we can begin to start having a better hospitality industry for the next generation."


As hospitality executives and managers, we can start by looking out for certain symptoms (such as those listed below). If you have an employee who shows these symptoms for a day or two, it doesn't necessarily indicate a mental illness or disorder. However, if these symptoms become a pattern, lasting for two to four weeks, you may decide to initiate a conversation about mental health with the employee. Be sure that you are willing to listen to and support them.

  • Sad mood
  • Loss of enjoyment or activities
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Dizziness, panic attacks
  • Sexual misconduct or harassment
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Isolation


As you start the conversation, you should follow the ALGEE action plan. ALGEE Action Plan

Assess for risk of suicide or harm. When you assess the situation, be sure that you are coming from a place of care. Be comfortable to ask the question and to be able to discuss the issues. This may not be easy at first, but if you come from a place of care, you are starting in the right place. When having these conversations, try not to sit across from the employee. Instead, try to sit beside or diagonally from them to make them more comfortable.

Listening non-judgmentally. When someone is comfortable enough to open up and talk to you, you do not want to show judgment about what they have to say. You may not be able to offer the employee the best help in that situation, but that does not mean you should be dismissive of how something may be affecting that employee mentally.

Give reassurance and information. You give relief by taking the time to actively listen to the employee. You are giving him/her the comfort he/she needs at the moment. Help the employee with any information that could provide support.

Encourage appropriate professional help. At the end of this article, we have resources that may help your employees and managers. Be aware of any medical providers or mental health professionals in your area who can help. 

Encourage self-help and other support strategies. Encourage your employees and managers to take time for themselves today! Reach out to any support systems you already have in place. There are communities designed to support our people in the hospitality industry.

Other Ways to Help


Check-in with every person in your charge. How are they? Make this no longer just a greeting question. Ask the question with the expectation of a more in-depth response and be ready to listen. It is also okay to pull people aside and acknowledge they may not be having the best day. If you come from a place of care, they will understand that you are there to help. Normalizing these conversations will allow you to be more comfortable, and your employees will be more comfortable coming to you in challenging situations.

As CHART President Serah Morrissey put it:

“With any conversation, if you’re not sure how to approach someone, always lead with ‘I care about you and I’ve noticed…’ There’s no perfect cookie-cutter way for how to approach people, but if you lead with care and lead with love, they will hear you.”

Open Door Policy

As managers, we always have many different things demanding our attention. However, our employees need to know that we have time for them. If you are busy, be sure to acknowledge that they want to discuss the issue and ask if you can discuss it with them in an hour, or tomorrow, and then adhere to that. Keep your promise and be true to your word.

“If you have a story, and you’re comfortable telling your story, tell your story. That will move mountains. By sharing your personal story, you’re telling somebody else ‘it’s ok.’” – Serah Morrissey

Good Morning & Good Night

Greeting employees can help us understand a person's mental state each day. It does not matter if it is at the beginning or end of a shift. Take the time to give an individual greeting and goodbye. Please do your best to follow up at the end of a shift to see how it went and how they feel. Is there anything we could have done better?

Encourage Breaks

Breaks give your people some time to breathe and grab a bite to eat. Also, if you have a setting where you can have a "family meal" pre-shift, we encourage you to do so. Include FOH and BOH together to help build a more cohesive team and build relationships.

One of the great things about the hospitality industry is we all have a hospitality mindset towards our guests.  We encourage you to extend that mindset to your employees and managers and ask, "How can I best be of service to you right now?"

Thinking of someone you should have a conversation with? Follow Joel Rivas’ advice:

“Normalize the conversation and take the stigma out of it. Everyone can use some therapy. We work in an industry full of givers, whose emotional payoff is serving and making others happy. Let people know it’s okay not to be okay.”

 Thanks for joining us! Click here to view the session recording on YouTube, or scroll down to play the video in this window.

Additional Resources

  1. Employees miss more work due to mental illness than many other chronic health conditions including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, back pain, asthma, and arthritis. To calculate the cost of mental health to your organization and to get an action plan to address behavioral health issues:
  2. A program of the Saint City Culinary Foundation, HEARD is a Texas-based resource dedicated to mental health in the food & beverage industry. They offer telehealthcare and support groups among other resources:
  3. Restaurant After Hours is a 501c3 charitable organization providing mental health support for the hospitality industry. They offer Mental Health First Aid and Support Group Resources, among others. Check them out here:
  4. The topic of CHART's Hospitality Training Magazine Spring Issue is a Spotlight on Mental Health. View the full magazine here, or jump to articles:
    1. Creating a Hospitality Workplace that Supports Mental Wellness
      Serah Morrissey, SPHR, Senior Director of Human Resources, InterContinental Hotel MSP Airport
    2. Turn Pain Into Empowerment by Reframing Your Story—An Exercise to Help Your Team
      Laurie Haynes, Director of Training, Apple American Group, a Division of Flynn Restaurant Group
    3. Resilience 3.0: Guidance Toward a Next Generation of Work-Centric Initiatives
      Dr. Joel Bennett, PhD, MA, CWP, President, Organizational Wellness and Learning Systems (OWLS)
    4. The New Face of Agility [Interview]
      Q & A with Heather Murray, Training & Implementation Manager, Sheetz

Recording of the Texas Regional Training Forum

CHART Community Discussion

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