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"Burnout" in the Hospitality Sector

Austin Chegini
2 Nov 2020

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. A campaign designed to raise awareness around the taboos and issues faced by those suffering from mental health-related illnesses. Did you know the hospitality sector has the highest occurrence of employee burnout? 1 in 7 employees will experience a stress-related illness, with many leaving the profession entirely. Why is this? And what can we do about it?

What is the issue?

Stress can manifest itself in a number of different ways. There are the physical symptoms such as trouble sleeping, headaches, and raised blood pressure. It can emotionally affect us, causing anxiety and depression which in turn can create behavioral changes. Dependence on drugs and alcohol is a common coping mechanism employed to distract from the daily grind. Chronic stress in the workplace is a serious issue and it needs to be addressed.

Hospitality workers are most at risk due to the environmental factors associated with the job. Long unsociable hours don't allow for an adequate work-life balance. The low pay/high-stress dynamic often has a bearing on damaging mental health. Pair that with tight schedules, split shifts, understaffing, high expectations, and hot hostile working environments, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Chef Jamie Lumsden says “The thing is about kitchens is that they are usually the sort of environment where chefs like me, are taught to ‘man up’ and ‘get on with it’”. This is certainly the case for many workers where a macho mentality can set an unpleasant precedent for kitchen interactions.

The need to act as an "alpha" and not show weakness only attributes to the struggle felt by those affected. It is an image perpetuated by TV chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White, both notorious for their kitchen management style. Creating such a hostile working environment is a breeding ground for dissatisfaction and contempt.

Jason Atherton, a Michelin starred chef and hospitality action trustee, noted that "bullying still needs to be addressed" within the sector, but it had improved "a million percent." However, it’s not just the individual who is at risk. Many business suffer as a direct result of chronic stress. A poor working environment can lead to high staff turnover. The cost of hiring and training new staff can be a costly experience, especially if it is a common occurrence.

High absenteeism is also a prominent issue amongst employers, with sick days costing UK businesses up £29bn a year. While many days are taken due to genuine cases of ill health, low morale and lack of motivation account for many of these false claims.

Acknowledging the problem

Firstly it’s imperative that management take steps to acknowledge the dangers of stress in the workplace and make a commitment to stamping it out and reducing it where possible. This is often as simple as establishing communication channels with employees. Encouraging a positive work environment where the staff is able to approach management with issues without fear of retribution is halfway to tackling the issue.

The more practical elements such as providing adequate staffing may not be so easy to fix right away but setting the wheels in motion will certainly help. Providing employees with a sense of autonomy, perhaps influence over shift patterns or input on menu design, can all add to a sense of accountability which is proven to create a happier work environment.

Acknowledging your staff's efforts will let them know you appreciate their hard work and can do wonders for motivation. A sense of well being in the workplace goes a long way in improving productivity, so a simple reward or incentive scheme may boost more than just morale.

On a personal level, there are ways to manage the stress and reduce the likelihood of a "burn out." Despite the awkward hours it is important to eat healthily, exercise, and get enough rest as these are the determining factors on how susceptible you are to suffering ill health.

If you’re feeling stressed and unsupported in the workplace it’s important to speak out as the physical and mental dangers are very real. Everyone from the head chef to the kitchen porter has a responsibility to contribute to a welcoming and supportive workspace. It is through this support network we can be more productive, happier, and potentially save lives.