Supporting Employee Mental Health and Wellness

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From the Tap: Musings from the Taprooms Committee

As the owner of a (very) small business, like many of you, I am faced with daily challenges of ownership and operations, sometimes single-handedly, at our brewery and taproom, Lake Anne Brew House in Reston, Virginia. While our staff of 18 amazing individuals makes our business tick, and often feels more like a family than a workforce, we do occasionally find ourselves searching for resources to support our team and their mental and physical wellbeing.

The past two years have been nothing short of overwhelming for many. Between pivoting our business models, openings and closures, a global pandemic, and general illness and wellness, stress across the brewing industry is anything but uncommon. Recently, our industry has also increasingly (and thankfully) opened its eyes to social and mental health and wellness issues, substance abuse, discrimination, and other incredibly important topics. By bringing awareness to and shedding light on what were once considered “taboo” subjects, we afford ourselves the opportunity to become more educated, supportive, and open to creating a better and more healthy environment for ourselves and our co-workers.

In this past month’s Taprooms Committee meeting, we spent our open forum time discussing just this. Below is what a few of your representatives shared.

At Switchyard Brewing Company in Bloomington, Indiana, Kurtis Cummings is fortunate to have a wife and business partner, Kristin, who is a licensed mental health counselor. Her training as such provides a unique perspective, and has allowed for training with their management team on recognizing signs and ways to regularly check in with staff, with a focus on empowering them to help or step in when a concern is recognized. In Indiana, the Indiana Restaurant Association has been lobbying to give access to healthcare for all small businesses, and recently Kurtis learned about a program from the National Restaurant Association (NRA) that gives them the ability to pay $7/month per employee for access to a program providing free telemedicine visits, mental health resources, and dermatology. What an incredible thing for a very small business to be able to provide for their team!

As most of our businesses are small, we may not have the ability to provide full benefit packages for health and mental health to our employees. Likewise, many small businesses may not employ a dedicated HR person or department to provide support. When an employee is facing challenges, a program like this, along with other shared resources like those already provided by the Brewers Association, are a great start to providing employees the support they may need, while also educating employers on how to be better and more supportive leaders.

Brewers Association Mental Health Resources:

At South Lake Brewing Company (SLBC) in South Lake Tahoe, California, Nicole Smith agrees that providing some type of healthcare for her employees is important, including for mental health. She knows that checking in with her employees on a quarterly basis, one-on-one, is essential too, including asking them how they de-stress. SLBC intentionally provides two days off in a row to all of their employees regularly to make sure they have the time to commit to their own personal health. Nicole also recommends regularly re-evaluating company policies related to free or discounted alcohol. After recently losing a friend to alcohol-related illness, she admits that she has started to reconsider some of their policies relating to responsible product consumption by staff.

Additional resource: Establishing the Right Policy for Staff Drinking

Jack Dyer notes that at Topa Topa Brewing Company in Ventura, California employees are encouraged to take time off, and that Topa Topa offers a floating mental health day as part of their standard benefits package. In addition, flex time is built into their production crew’s schedule, along with a variety of other incentives to help avoid folks feeling overworked. Topa’s production manager and brewmaster are very aware of the potential for burnout, and make sure to keep staff morale and wellbeing on their radar. “More often than not,” says Jack, “Our brewery production floor is quiet on Friday afternoons, a good sign that folks are able to achieve some level of work-life balance.” In addition, Topa Topa has continuously communicated, especially throughout the pandemic, that they are here for their employees. When taproom staff was largely furloughed from work during the shut-downs, Jack made an effort to call each of them weekly to check in and make sure they had all that they needed. According to Jack, “This action uncovered a few folks who actually did need assistance in some way, shape, or form. I think it also pulled our team together and reinforced one of our company’s core values, community spirit.”

In addition to our committee discussion, we received some feedback from other members in response to our recent post in the Taprooms Forum.

Dan Haff of Crooked Label Brewing Company (What a great name … I can only imagine the story that must go along with that!) in Monroe, Washington replied that one thing he had made a point of doing throughout the pandemic was to ask “specific questions.” In lieu of a more general “Are you ok?”-type question, he asks employees more pointed things like, “Do you have gas money? Do you need groceries? Do you need an extra day off?” By doing so, he is able to get real answers and provide direct support, while also making sure his employees know that he cares and can provide things they may not otherwise be willing to ask for. His role as a brewery owner is, in his words, “about more than just making good beer … Although, that (also) is very important!”

Rachel Bell from Hopkins Brewing Company in Salt Lake City, Utah indicated that one thing she does for her taproom staff is check in regularly and privately, to see how they are each doing. More effective in her mind than just sending out a group message or email saying, “Let us know if you have any serious concerns or need to talk,” she made a point to sit with each employee to listen to them as individual people. By doing so, she finds that she also gains good feedback and ideas for the business. And in addition to insights on how her employees are feeling, she notes that it makes employees feel valued and heard. She recommends this practice outside of COVID-19 times as well “because you really do get a lot of great insight to what’s going on in your taproom, and, when employees feel valued, they are generally happier at work and will be a cheerleader for your brewery.” In Rachel’s words, “Everybody wins.”

What have you seen in your employees these past months and years, and how has the mental health of your team held out? Have you sought resources for mental and physical health awareness, or had to deal with a mental, social, or physical health concerns at your brewery? The Taprooms Committee would love to hear your stories. By speaking openly and sharing our experiences and resources relating to mental health and wellbeing, we can better support others in our industry, as well as ourselves and our own teams.