Creating a Hospitality Workplace that Supports Mental Wellness

Creating a Hospitality Workplace that Supports Mental Wellness
May 10, 2021 Susan Diepen

Creating a Hospitality Workplace that Supports Mental Wellness

Serah Morrissey, SPHR

Senior Director of Human Resources, InterContinental Hotel MSP Airport
Board President, Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART)


Mental health IS health. This topic is so very important to me.

I have been walking with Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since 1998. For this reason, I am a vocal and active advocate for mental health parity, awareness, and stopping the stigma that surrounds mental health.

“Mental illness is not something that precludes people from being successful, from being happy, or from being a complete person. It is one facet of who I am. It is not my entire story.”

In hospitality, we know all too well the pressures of our industry. For those of us in the hotel world, the operation never stops; the doors never close until we are sold, torn down, or foreclosed upon. The daily realities of our business include odd hours, unpredictable schedules, low wages, lack of full benefits, and requirements to always “be on.”

Even as trainers, we often teach our team members that they are on “stage” – to leave problems and personal issues at the door. But as whole people, we can’t just pick and choose which piece of us to leave at the door.

Here are some of my go-to strategies, initiatives, checklists, and resources to create a safe and supportive work environment for your employees’ mental health:

Key Strategies

  • Create and commit to a culture in which your team’s jobs are meaningful
  • Increase awareness
  • Train leadership
  • Encourage work/life balance (especially when people are using work to avoid issues in their personal life)
  • Develop mental health policies (e.g. anti-discrimination policies, stigma prevention)
  • Provide resources

Depression and anxiety disorders are the leading cause of ill health and disability across the globe.

Service workers are more susceptible to developing and succumbing to mental illness.

Service workers have higher rates of substance abuse disorders than any other sector.

Specific Initiatives

We implemented these at InterContinental Hotel, largely with ideas from, which is almost like a solution-in-a-box:

Activity: You Get the Best/Worst From Me When

This is an eye-opening free-write activity that can open up a whole lot of conversation and insight for how we can best support our individual employees.

Organizational Assessment Tool

This is a great benchmark, and a reminder of where you are at and that we have further to go.

Mental Health Crisis Response Plan

We have a bloodborne pathogen response plan, a bomb threat response plan, and a severe weather response plan. We need to have one for this issue. Right now, ours is “call Serah,” but we are working toward a more formal process!

Passive Communication

As loud, open, and direct as I am, there is still a stigma. People are ashamed and embarrassed, and often times don’t know how to identify what they are feeling. Having a place for “passive communication,” such as a board in a breakroom, helps ease the stigma.

Based on how often we reprint the posted resources, we can tell that the word is getting out there to our teams. Putting the information in other languages, and taking cultural sensitivities into consideration, are best practices.

Our industry is very adversely impacted by lack of awareness of mental illness and available resources. I believe we are in the midst of a second pandemic of mental illness. As a person with PTSD, I recognize that we are in a time of prolonged trauma that will continue to need to be addressed in the coming months and years.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are only as good as they are used, and shared, and made available. I hope you find this information helpful, and know that you too can make a difference.

Helpful Checklists

What to Notice

Anxiety and depression are the two most common mental illness diagnoses. Contrary to popular belief, depression is not crying and staying in bed all day. Most of us can’t afford to do that, so we are at work, we are in our community, and we are at our kids’ activities. We are walking with this, and it looks different for everyone.


  • Excessive worrying
  • Feeling agitated
  • On edge/restless
  • Fatigue
  • Difficult concentrating
  • Trouble falling/staying asleep
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Irrational fears
  • Disproportionate reactions


  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Appetite/weight changes
  • Helpless/hopeless feelings
  • Loss of energy
  • Anger
  • Self-loathing
  • Unexplained pain
  • Reckless behavior: gambling, substance abuse, reckless driving

Key Resources

National Alliance on Mental Illness

NAMI provides advocacy, education, support, and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives.

  • Local chapters
  • Resources for families and care-givers
  • Advocacy and fundraising
  • Free education and training

Center for Workplace Mental Health

  • Organizational assessment
  • Working Well Toolkit – best practices
  • Infographics
  • Mental health calculators

Red Cross Online

Psychological First Aid, Supporting Yourself and Others During Covid-19

Anxiety & Depression Association of America

  • Self-assessment form to download and take to the doctor
  • ‘Find a Therapist’ tool
  • Online peer-to-peer support group
  • Also has screenings for: PTSD, Phobias, Panic Disorder, OCD

It’s a relief most times to have a name for what you are experiencing.”