Mental health in hospitality: How to help a colleague who is struggling

Mental health awareness has come a long way, but many of us remain unsure how to step in before a team member hits crisis point. In practical terms, what can managers and colleagues do to look after each other? 

Members of the #FairKitchens community share their advice from personal experience:

Be direct if you’ve noticed something’s up

“When I was struggling, my colleague Jane approached me directly saying ‘You’re not okay, what’s going on?’ This made me feel I couldn’t shy away from answering honestly. We ask ‘how are you doing?’ all the time and it’s too easy to give a flippant response and keep ignoring what’s going on. If there are changes in someone’s normal behaviour, realise they may be acting out of character for a reason.

“Every now and then teams should stop to look at what’s going on with themselves and each other. Another thing management could do is lead by example. If a GM shares their own mental health challenges others may feel more comfortable coming forward.” 

Mitch Collier, Reception Manager

Encourage seeking outside help

“For most, anxiety and depression shows itself in the way people hold themselves, their ability to communicate, the way they talk. Or they’re looking down a lot and giving short answers, not wanting to engage in conversation. These are the times you want to ask open-ended questions. Stuff they can’t just say a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to. And then you need to really listen.”

“Don’t try and diagnose their problems. Just say ‘ok’ and ask ‘what can we at work do to help?’ Try and encourage them to seek outside help. We’re chefs, so don’t try to be a therapist if you’re not one – it doesn’t help.”

Chef Doug Sanham, co-founder of Pilotlight

Keep up regular check ins 

“When I was a manager I used to sit down every three months to check in with them and ask ‘are you well’. A lot of the other managers questioned why I did this and I just wanted my team to know that I care about them and that I am here and to give them the opportunity to bring up any issues. I have heard through people that I know who still work there that they’ve now implemented more regular meetings to keep the communication flowing.

“A lot of people don’t speak out about their struggles because they're not aware that the situation they're in is not normal. If we stand up against that mentality where struggling is expected and go ‘actually that’s not normal, that’s not right’ the voice of change becomes very powerful.” 

Evie May, owner of Heart Street Vegan

For more advice on how to open up a conversation if you’re concerned about someone’s mental health check out this resource from Pilotlight