The restaurant industry has never been a leader in dealing with employee mental health issues; we spend most of our time dealing with guest issues and resolving them. It is a lot to take on, monitoring staff members’ mental conditions and running a restaurant. This move out of the COVID-19 episode requires healthy restaurant organizations to acknowledge and address, that we have some unique challenges in managing guest and employee mental health issues.

Certainly, from an employee’s side, you would want to have great communication with your team about any issues they are having so that you can, if possible, assist them. The first action is to address it with your staff, that you recognize that many of them could be struggling with the move back to normal life flows, and to assign someone qualified to speak to about any issues they are dealing with. This usually defaults to “speak to your supervisor” if you have an issue. The problem with that is a restaurant supervisor probably is not qualified to deal with these issues. Finding a local resource where you can send your staff to discuss any mental health issues at no cost to them, is the best option. You are assisting and directing them towards a resource which is very valuable in showing your team that you have recognized and set up a way to help them.

The issues are real. Health experts have predicted a “tsunami of psychiatric illness” in the aftermath of the pandemic. Many people who could have continued operating normally pre-COVID have been put under severe stress and are emerging with issues not previously recognized. After the quarantine period, people are experiencing emotional disturbance, irritability, insomnia, depression, and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Some people found COVID isolation comfortable and do not want to be forced back to normal daily existence. Many people have reevaluated their life and are making significant changes after re-emerging from the pandemic, not willing to go back to the life cycle that they were living before.

Long term, these issues can continue for a few months to several years before individuals are able to get back into a normal life cycle. You must identify that your staff is struggling and have a resource to send them to. Long-term impacts are expected to show in anxiety, anger, depression, alcohol, and drug abuse. Health experts note the phenomenon known as Hikikomori which is a withdrawal from social activities and can be heightened by economic and social crisis during the pandemic. Those that suffered a COVID hospitalization have even more far-reaching challenges than the issues mentioned above.

Unemployment, insecure job situation, and lower socioeconomic status can be part of the recipe for future psychiatric issues. That list describes almost everyone from ownership to staff in the restaurant business during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 experience is being referred to as a “Black Swan Event.” The metaphor describes an event that comes as a surprise has a significant impact, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact. That is what we are dealing with and it is going to affect the way we run our restaurants if we don’t recognize and acknowledge the aftereffects.

Create a communication path in your restaurant group, have a professional resource to use, do not just tough it out as we have all been trained to do in our industry. If we can assist you in creating a strategy for your business, please connect with us.

About the Author

Jean Hagan, PrincipalJean Hagan
Restaurant, Hospitality
Jean has owned, operated, and consulted in the restaurant industry for more than 30 years. During that time, she worked with a well-known national chain; owned a food and beverage company that operated multiple restaurants, bars, and event spaces in the Squaw Valley area; and became the president, CEO, CFO, and shareholder of one of the highest-grossing restaurants in California. Today, Jean is Principal and leads the Restaurant Operations Consulting practice at KROST. » Full Bio