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RIHA Column: Working Towards a Healthier Tomorrow

Dale J. Venturini, President and CEO of Rhode Island Hospitality Industry Association.

Dale J. Venturini, President and CEO of Rhode Island Hospitality Industry Association.

By Dale J. Venturini, President & CEO, RI Hospitality Association

As one of the most heavily regulated in the nation, the hospitality industry was subjected to constant shutdowns and changing operational guidelines throughout the pandemic. It’s no wonder that workers in our industry have suffered tremendous stressors as they navigated working, their own health, caring for families, going to school and other responsibilities.

Rhode Island is no exception and mental health struggles within our industry have become more evident, and so have workers’ expectations for support and understanding from their employers. While symptoms present in a multitude of ways, and at times can be hard to recognize in another person, mental health challenges can be as damaging on an individual as any physical illness.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 80% of over 11,000 survey respondents across 17 different industries agree that work-related stress affects their interpersonal relationships; just 40% agree that their employers invest in developing supportive managers; and a mere 34% agree that their business’ leadership openly discusses mental health.

While in the past it was considered taboo to talk about mental health in the workplace, times are definitely changing, and placing a greater emphasis on employee wellness can help with retention, recruitment, engagement, and company culture — all of which are at the foundation of every positive work environment.

After what we have all collectively gone through these last two-and-a-half years, every business, regardless of industry, can provide meaningful mental health resources for employees. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to addressing mental health concerns. Some workers benefit from therapy and access to good healthcare, while others simply need some time off, or an amended schedule that allows for flexibility. Working with each individual to ensure that his/her needs are being met only strengthens an employee’s commitment to their employer, whereas a blanketed approach only serves to alienate workers who feel that their voices go unheard.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the RI Hospitality Association (RIHA) has pointed its members and the industry’s workers in the direction of many valuable mental health resources, all of which are listed and available on our website, rihospitality.org, and many are free. There, visitors will find links to services that provide telemedicine mental health and medical visits made possible by Teledoc Health, stress management resources provided by Active Minds, support networks like Ben’s Friends, Optum and Crisis Text Line, and much more.

RIHA has also created a number of campaigns and initiatives to help improve the work environment for our industry’s workforce, including the nationally recognized “Please Be Kind” Campaign, which reminds consumers to be courteous and patient with hospitality employees during the ongoing labor shortage.

Although it was launched in 2021, we still encourage our members and Rhode Island-based hospitality businesses to download the items in our “Please Be Kind” Toolkit, including our mental health breakroom poster, and to display that signage to gently remind clients to treat staff with respect.

Since the initial shutdown of our industry in March of 2020, few seem to have made it through the pandemic emotionally unscathed. While things may seem to be returning to normal for most, that is not the reality for everyone. Many still fear the virus, and for those who had a bad case themselves, or who paid the emotional toll of watching a loved one suffer and/or die, the pandemic is still very real.

Please do not suffer in silence. Utilize the resources that are available and be honest about how you are feeling, even if it seems scary. We have all lost enough these past couple of years; we do not need to lose each other, too. Help is available.

A veteran of more than 25 years in the hospitality industry, Venturini is considered by many to be the voice of the industry in the state of Rhode Island. She has been instrumental in improving the industry’s educational and training programs in the state, as well as enhancing the bottom line of the business she represents. Venturini splits her time between the office and the State House, a constant presence for her membership.

 

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