Mental Health in the Restaurant Industry

Topics: Small Business

Summary: Mental Illness in the restaurant industry is a growing concern for employers. Find out what affects mental health in the workplace and learn what restaurant owners can do to provide a supportive work environment for the staff.

What Affects Mental Health in the Workplace?

The National Institute of Mental Health defines mental illness as a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder that can vary in impact from mild to severe impairment. More serious mental health issues can substantially interfere with or limit major life activities. As of 2020, an estimated 52.9 million adults aged 18 or older suffered from mental illness in the United States. This number represents one in five adults.

Mental health issues can affect all aspects of an individual’s daily life, including the workplace. Job performance and productivity could suffer, along with how engaged one is in their work and how they communicate with other employees.

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Stressful work environments, meeting deadlines, negative relationships with coworkers, dealing with angry customers and worrying about job performance are just a few elements that could impact employee mental health. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that twelve billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety and that these conditions cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, employee mental health became top of mind. In the early days of the pandemic, many workers experienced higher-than-average stress levels, worried about their physical health and finances, and many also felt a lack of support from their employers. Regardless of whether they were frontline employees or working remotely, burnout became a common reality.

Mental Health and Workers’ Compensation Claims

The pandemic isn’t the only factor to focus on when it comes to the overall well-being of workers. Following a workplace accident, it’s common for an injured worker to experience depression and anxiety, even in an otherwise mentally-stable individual. Worrying about returning to work successfully, maintaining finances and returning to a normal routine were the top reasons for injured employees’ depression.

Even minor injuries can negatively affect an employee’s mental health and significantly impact a workers’ compensation claim duration. And until recently, most employers were focused solely on treating the physical injuries incurred during a workplace accident. However, even once an employee is healed from their physical injuries, they may not be mentally prepared to return to the workforce. These feelings can lead to further stress and possible re-injury. This is why workers’ compensation programs have now shifted to focus on whole-person wellness to consider the injured worker’s physical health, mental health, and social environments to create individualized treatment plans that ensure a successful return to the workplace.

Why is the Hospitality Industry Stressful?

restaurant worker experiencing mental health stress

Employees in certain industries may experience stress at higher levels than others. For example, the CDC states that over 20 million healthcare workers in the United States are at risk for mental health conditions due to challenging work environments.

Healthcare is often at the top of the list as an extremely stressful career, but the restaurant and hospitality industries are close behind. These industries are fast-paced and often come with long shifts that may not allow ample time for breaks. Additionally, the staff must focus on serving or helping their customers first, usually putting their own needs last, to ensure they receive a good tip, as most of their income often comes from customer tips.

The restaurant industry employs 14.5 million workers, representing 10% of the entire workforce in the United States. The 2022 AmTrust Restaurant Risk Report found that 2021 had the highest number of mental stress claims on record. These claims are due in part to the pandemic’s toll on the industry, but the declining mental health of restaurant workers has been a growing concern over the last several years.

Common stressors restaurant industry workers deal with include issues such as:

An Inconsistent Income

Tips are usually the main source of income for many restaurant workers. This means on a good shift, employees’ hourly earnings can be much higher than the minimum wage, but on a slow day, they could wonder how they might pay all their bills that month.

Lack of Benefits

Often, restaurant owners or managers create the schedule in a manner that leaves many employees without the option of health insurance coverage or retirement savings. Without benefits, employees must pay for healthcare coverage out of pocket, which is often more costly than company-provided coverage.

Irregular Work Schedules

Working in a restaurant involves long hours and shifts that can go late into the night. Many employees want to work during the busiest times to ensure they are seated the most tables as possible to get as many tips as they can. Weekends are obviously the most coveted shifts, when the rest of the working world has time off to enjoy a meal out. Additionally, cooks and kitchen staff report in early to start food prep or stay far into the evening to clean up. These unusual hours make it challenging for restaurant employees to enjoy a “normal” life with family and friends.

High Turnover Rates

The restaurant industry is plagued with high employee turnover. And those who quit often do not provide any notice. This leads to the remaining staff needing to take on even more shifts to cover for the employee who left, which can result in a tired worker making mistakes that could easily lead to accidents or injuries.

Overall High Stress of Job Duties

An experienced server understands that the quality of the service they provide can greatly impact their income. Servers must balance multiple tables at once, while cooks need to prepare a variety of dishes as the tickets roll in. Add in demanding customers, and it’s easy to see the toll these stressors can have on mental health.

How to Support and Improve Mental Health in the Restaurant Industry

Hospitality employees are prone to exhaustion, sleep disorders, depression and substance abuse. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) reports that the restaurant industry is the most at risk for illicit drug use and substance abuse disorders, with 17% of workers diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder.

There are measures restaurant owners and employers can take to help reduce the risk of mental health issues among their employees. One way is offering health insurance that can help alleviate the worry of encountering a large medical bill that could ruin them financially. Even better, ensure the coverage provides mental health resources so employees can access therapy services when needed.

Providing paid time off can also be a huge benefit to restaurant employees. Knowing they have the time to recover from an illness, take care of a loved one or even go on a small getaway can help alleviate a great deal of stress.

Communication is always key when it comes to ensuring your restaurant staff is happy and healthy. Owners should regularly check in with employees and offer time to listen to any concerns they may have about their job duties.

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AmTrust Supports Our Restaurant Insureds

Restaurants are a key business class for AmTrust, and our restaurant coverage is designed with flexibility in mind. We can help protect your organization from the unique risks it faces. From workers’ compensation to our customizable businessowners policy, we can provide the restaurant insurance your business needs to thrive. Contact us to learn more.

Download your copy of the 2022 AmTrust Restaurant Risk Report today.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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