March 4, 2021 by Jennifer Wesselhoff
"This is not a paradise for our seasonal workers."
That's how business leader John Kenworthy of Flanagan's on Main sums up the emotional and mental state of the servers, cleaning staff, customer service reps, maintenance workers, and so many other members of Park City’s workforce.
Employee stress was an immediate concern when COVID struck, but for all its ramifications, we have yet to address it sufficiently; the need to prioritize during a chaotic emergency has taken its toll.
In a February "Meeting of the Minds" discussion sponsored by CONNECT Summit County, the panel talked about what we can – and should – do about worker mental health. Besides me, the participants were Corey Levy, Vail Resorts Human Resources Manager for Wellness, and John Kenworthy. The panel was facilitated by CONNECT Summit County Board Member Brian Kahn.
John noted that many young resort and Main Street workers have less experience than older colleagues handling or even recognizing emotional stress. They naturally bring these unresolved stresses to work. He believes better relationships between managers and employees would increase employer awareness of the mental health of their workers. "It's about mutual respect, not just work performance," he said.
I could not agree more, and employers can take actions that are not burdensome or pricey. As just a few examples, flex workspace and flex work hours can help employees manage their schedules so that they can use public transportation without worrying about being late.
For thousands of Park City service workers who do not own a vehicle, our transportation infrastructure is a critical resource. Panel participants agree workers who use it often may wind up late or need to budget so much time the system becomes less desirable. Allowing for flexibility or incentivizing employees to utilize transit are best practices for some employers.
Flexibility is only one component of a holistic approach. Though CONNECT Summit County and major employers like Vail have the issue on their radars, reports Levy, they are still at the beginning of defining a solution.
Kenworth adds that Park City's housing prices contribute to a wealth gap that prevents service workers from enjoying Park City amenities many Parkites take for granted. Workers know this and it adds to their sense of separateness and isolation.
COVID has made it harder to form personal connections, magnifying the isolation many young people living away from their families already feel. Long hours contribute to the potential for bad choices and unhealthy relationships. "It's easy to lose mental stability," John Kenworth said. Peers may inadvertently make things worse. "A buddy might want to protect a person who misses a shift because they’re hungover, but that's not always the best thing for them," he added.
The good news is that we have a start on tackling the challenge. Vail Resorts is expanding its employee assistance training sessions from three to six. "We are committed to best practices for our people and the company," Corey Levy said. That includes "Caring for Co-workers" training that teaches workers how to engage with Vail's Employee Assistance Program to help a troubled peer. That's progress.
John Kenworthy endorses the SAFEUTAH app, which provides 24/7 access to counseling for emotional crisis, grief and loss, substance problems, and suicidal behavior. "Employees are ready to use these kinds of mental health resources," he said.
Levy says making sure employees know about these resources should be a priority "if for no other reason than to keep troubled people out of the ER, a tough place to land for mental health.” CONNECT Summit County's Mobile Crisis Outreach Team is a valuable quick response service, operating in Summit and Wasatch Counties from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Night and weekend service would make this even more useful and will require additional community financial support. CONNECT Summit County's Peer Navigation Services quickly guide anyone in need to the most appropriate services: 435-776 HELP; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
There is good work being done. And much to do. Healthy, stable employees have a much greater chance of experiencing the excitement of Park City as residents. A reliable workforce also reduces turnover and training costs for employers.
The Chamber/Bureau is committed to helping employers identify programs that bring wellness practices into the workplace. Our Sustainable Tourism philosophy requires balance and connections – such as between visitors and residents. Helping connect employers and employees is a natural extension. While a holistic approach will take time and commitment, I saw the necessary passion in our February panel.
Setting a new standard for just, respectful and equitable care for all our workers is a mission worthy of Park City's aspirations and values.