In January 2020, just before the pandemic, the Michigan leisure and hospitality industry employed about 434,000 workers. In April of that year, their numbers dropped to 193,500 when restaurants across the state closed for personal catering during Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s order to stay home. As of December, this workforce was about 378,000 ─ a drop of 56,000 workers compared to the pre-pandemic level. Winslow estimated that 3,000 Michigan restaurants closed during the pandemic.

Employment website Really recently on the list more than 13,000 job openings in restaurants across Michigan, from dishwashers and kitchen staff at published rates of $ 14 to $ 18 per hour to servers with profits in some cases $ 150 a day and above.

Given this staffing gap, Winslow said the mental health problems faced by restaurant and residential workers are of “paramount” importance to the industry, which before the pandemic brought in about $ 40 billion in annual revenue.

“For workers, it’s a combination of exhaustion, trying to make up for additional change,” he said. “It’s frustrating to deal with the customer base of restaurant visitors who were less tolerant of the workforce, and bring that out to restaurant workers.”

Winslow said he wasn’t sure how many Michigan restaurants provide mental health counseling, but noted that MRLA offers links to free resources which include support groups and mental health techniques.

But at The Mitten Cameron Thompson is grateful to be working in a restaurant where you can get advice.

For the past four years, the 28-year-old Thompson has gone from chef to head chef, where he juggles a variety of tasks and oversees more than a dozen workers.

The pandemic brought new stress to his work ─ tried to squeeze more out of the redundant staff, worried about the effects of the coronavirus ─ on top of personal problems when he was dealing with the deaths of his mother and father. Sometimes he felt that the demands of his work overshadowed the rest of his life.

So Thompson took advantage of the restaurant’s offer, where he said he found “a better balance between life and work.”

Like others in the restaurant, Thompson said it also made him feel more valuable as an employee ─ what he heard from others.

“People who went (for consultations) are really committed to this place,” he said. “It makes people feel more invested.”

Even before the 2015 pandemic, restaurant and hotel workers were at the top or near it among the major sectors of employment on behavioral health. analysis found that American housing and catering workers had the highest rates of drug-related disorders at 16.9 percent and illicit drug use at 19.1 percent.

The pandemic ─ followed by restaurant closures, layoffs, partial opening and rules of social distancing, as well as intense exchanges with customers ─ only added pressure on restaurant workers.

At the local fast food restaurant Chick-fil-A in Grand Rapids, management staff heard over the past year the concerns of some staff, many of whom are schoolchildren, who make up 60 per cent of the staff there.

“They’ve already felt the stress of the pandemic, the uncertainty at school,” said Bridge Jordan Bate, the restaurant’s director of talent.

“For several months we had several conversations about the mental health problems (and) of team members who are forced to take time off due to stress and anxiety.”

Late last year, the restaurant contracted with Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, a mental health agency in Kent to provide advice to its employees covered by a coverage known as the Employee Assistance Plan. It provides employees with five free mental health counseling sessions a year, in addition to one free legal counseling session and on care for the elderly.

“The reception was good. They know there is someone to talk to, ”Bette said.

Pine Rest also offers mental health crisis management for employers involved, as one official told of a recent session at the Grand Rapids restaurant.

“I sat down and became available,” recalls Joel Arnold, Pine Rest program manager.

“They came one after another. There was financial stress ─ one person said that I used to earn $ 1,000 a week and now I earn $ 300. There was anxiety because of conflicts with customers, about alcohol use – people said, “I drink too much?”

Arnold said the session lasted six hours.

“They couldn’t believe the restaurant cared about it,” Arnold said.

At The Mitten, nine of the restaurant’s 75 employees accepted an offer of a free consultation in 2021, said Brendan Kelly, owner of The Well Being, a mental health center in Grand Rapids that provides advice to its employees.

Kelly said these workers cause many of the same problems as those from any profession. But he said some are also coping with conflicts unique to their work today.

“While most of The Mitten’s customers are wonderful, they encounter people who are sometimes quite unpleasant. I have heard reports that employees are being spat at, ”he said. “It’s awful ─ there’s a part of our population that’s very angry.”

To make it available to the restaurant, Kelly said he agreed to provide price advice.

“We don’t make money on The Mitten. Every dollar that comes in goes directly to our therapists. I am happy to do it, ”he said.

But Kelly he knows of very few individual restaurants in Michigan with plans like The Mitten.

“I think it’s extremely unusual,” he said.

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