Award-winning restaurant orders healthy attitude to mental health

Last year, the much-loved head chef of premier dining venue, Watermill Tavern, committed suicide. Whilst the owner/director of the restaurant knew about her chef’s depression, Karen never thought he would end his life.

This was a life-changing moment for Karen and her team, and from that day forward she made a conscious decision to create a mentally healthy workplace for her award-winning new dining venue, Cataract on Paterson.

“I’m a progressive employer. I have an open-door policy where my team can call me 24/7 to talk openly and freely about their work and personal concerns—and, importantly, their mental health. I also promote positive affirmations on the kitchen walls,” she says.

“We all go through a rough patch at some point in time and need help; people with a mental illness should not be made feel isolated or fear asking for some support”.

Floyd, Employment Liaison Officer (ELO) at the Launceston office of WISE Employment, approached Karen to help her with her staffing needs. Three WISE Employment job seekers have been successfully placed and the most recent is Christian Faulkner, who has a well-managed mental illness.

Christian is a well-liked member of the team and often punctuates the stress of the busy kitchen crew by singing songs!

“Disability is not an issue” when you have a positive work attitude

Having started work a few months ago as a kitchen-hand, Christian is known as the “gun in the kitchen”, bringing a very positive attitude to work and so much energy to the team, says Karen.

“When Floyd was presenting candidates to me for the kitchen-hand role, I was looking for someone who would fit in with the personality of the business, has the right attitude and fits in well with the team. I don’t ask about whether or not the person has a disability. Christian was perfect for the job and he really wanted to work. Disability is not an issue.”

The match has worked well on both sides, with Christian thoroughly enjoying his job at Cataract on Paterson. “Not all workplaces are the same as what Karen has set up,” Christian says. “It’s a great team and I love working here.” He points to Karen’s enthusiasm to “give credit where credit is due” as a great motivator in the workplace.

“If a person with a mental illness is capable of working, then there shouldn’t be a problem,” he adds. “We need more employers like Karen at Cataract on Paterson, if a person with a mental illness is capable they can come in and do the job.”

Employment support to employers and job seekers makes all the difference

Floyd’s support and advice has also been invaluable. “The day I met him he said, ‘Right, I’ve got a job for you’!” Christian says.

Floyd’s attitude as a WISE Employment ELO is to actually take the disability out of the picture. “My main aim is to dispel myths about disability. People with disabilities can excel in a supportive and caring environment,” he says. “I disregarded Christian’s mental illness and looked at his skill-set—which was strong. He had worked in very busy environments and he was more than capable of doing what was required.”

“Floyd did a great job,” Karen adds. “He ensured Christian and the other WISE Employment job seekers were ‘job ready’ on day one. He explained the expectations for their jobs and provided them with uniforms. He also participated in our induction job training with the new staff.”

Floyd visits the dining venue weekly to ensure both Karen and her new staff are all going well.  “Floyd’s available any time to help us—not matter what help we need—you would never get this support from a normal recruitment agency,” Karen says. “We also have the back-up employment support from WISE Employment if we need help.”

Karen feels that many people who have a mental illness can’t be “themselves” in many workplaces. Part of Karen’s mentally healthy workplace philosophy is to enable her team to be who they are and to be open about their mental health.

More business owners should consider employing people who have a mental illness

Cataract on Paterson recently won two Tasmanian hospitality awards and was a finalist in the National Hospitality Awards for Best Marketed Australian restaurant and Hospitality Employee of the Year 2014.

On the edge of the Launceston CBD, Cataract on Paterson highlights Tasmania’s renowned food products. Karen proudly supports Tasmanian farmers by sourcing produce used in the restaurant from a variety of local producers and farm gate outlets.

Her attitude to environmental sustainability and best practice has, rather organically, extended the way she deals with her much-valued “team of absolute stars”, including Christian.

Her message to other businesses is not to be afraid of people who have a mental illness—“it’s ironic that people who have the flu aren’t feared!” she says. “More business owners should consider employing people who have a mental illness because, quite simply, they can do the job and do it exceptionally well.”


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