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Helping Hands for the Holidays

Helping Hands for the Holidays

Addiction and abuse increase during the holidays. Show your team you care

It’s well known that alcohol and drug abuse and addiction run rampant in the restaurant and bar industries. A study released by George Mason University in 2017 showed that 53 percent of respondents said they knew someone at work with a substance abuse problem. And that number likely increases during the winter holidays.

“It’s a more stressful time, and people are busier and want to work more hours to make more money,” says Dr. Stephen Taylor, M.D., MPH and chief medical director, behavioral at Pathway Healthcare in Birmingham, Ala. “It’s also a time a lot of people have painful memories that happened around the holidays. There’s a confluence of factors that can bring on stress during the holidays.”

Taylor discusses while the holidays tend to bring out more of a festive atmosphere, that time becomes more difficult for people who abstain from alcohol or drugs. He explains restaurant owners or managers can actively create an atmosphere that says it’s OK for staff not only to ask for help, but to ask people if they need assistance.

“This is an opportunity to help somebody with a potentially deadly disease,” Taylor says, stressing addiction is an illness and shouldn’t be stigmatized. “You can then have a healthier employee and decrease the amount of turnover. So why not help them get the help they need?”

One way to decrease a party atmosphere with your staff is to add spirit-free cocktails to your menu to relieve that burden for someone feeling pressure to drink. You can also stop offering a “shift drink” at the end of the night as Ray-Scott Miller, owner of Fine & Dandy in Jackson, Miss., has done.

Miller, who says he is an addict, but no longer drinks or takes drugs, has also been in therapy since childhood, so he can see the signs when someone on his team is having an issue, which may increase during the holidays because we’re spending—or not spending—time with family.

“If I see someone who is talented and hardworking, but there’s something blocking them from achieving their best self, I’m going to help them in any way I can,” Miller says. “I’m a firm believer the right kind of therapy works, real-work therapy.”

For Jason Vincent, chef/partner at Giant and Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar in Chicago, he and his partners decided early on to create a safe space for their employees to be able to come to them and talk about any issues. He says the holidays add pressure, so they all need to take care of each other.

“You have to ask people if they’re OK and ask questions in a non-invasive way,” Vincent advises. “If it’s going to make it better for the person, what am I risking? There’s a difference between people and business and you must, in a respectful way, ask someone if they’re OK, recommend a therapist, offer to drive them home. Be a human being before potentially costing them something they can’t get back.”

And that’s great advice for any time of the year, not just during the holidays.


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