Featured in Feast, issue 40- October 2019 – Big Issue Feature
Hospitality is a famously pressurised industry. Tensions boiling over, antisocial hours and hot-headed chefs… the restaurant kitchen is a simmering cliché of stress. A restaurant kitchen will serve a thousand deadlines on a plate every week, each time searching for perfection and that special customer experience.
We customers are demanding and quick to complain. As a restaurant or hotel owner, you’re a bad day away from snarky TripAdvisor review. Margins are tight and expectations high. At the same time, national campaigns tell us it’s ‘time to talk’ to each other on common conditions like stress, anxiety and depression, and that it is ‘ok not to be ok.’ It’s enough to make you need a lie down – but there’s no time for that!
So how do our chefs, workers and owners strike a healthy balance between performance, perfection and the practicalities of being a human? From Norwich Market to Stoke Mill, how do our county’s chefs and servers cope?
Andy Rudd is co-owner and chef patron at Stoke Mill. He and wife Shuna are dedicated to their business but actively manage their work life balance – making time for family, holidays and planning conversations with his business partner.
‘A positive and professional attitude helps overcome busy periods. Sunday to Tuesday is family time – family dinners and time to clear our heads. Golf for me and the gym for Shuna, and we cherish holidays dearly.
‘We have helped many of our staff through tough times; some at work and some out of work. We try to create a family atmosphere so we are there to help and support them.’
Richard Hughes from the Assembly House and Cookery School is also trying to build a positive mental health culture among his 80 staff.
‘The days of 60-70 hour working all hours are gone,’ Richard says in a video blog for Norfolk campaigners, Equal Lives. Many thrive on stress, he says, but there are options for those that don’t. ‘If they feel like coping with just a couple of five-hour shifts, that’s fine.’
Richard also acknowledges the overriding need for a positive customer experience. Poor mental health has to be hidden from diners.
‘Customers are not interested in how you are feeling. You can have a bad day but you cannot let that impact on the customer. We also offer less pressurised roles such as housekeeping or the cookery school.’
I’m pleased to hear this. The law says employers should make reasonable adjustments based on mental health. And workplaces that manage stress certainly benefit with lower staff turnover, greater loyalty and better performance.
Nid Bushell owns, runs and chefs the fusion noodle bar Fresh, on Norwich Market. By learning to enjoy the stress and obstacles, she takes a mindful approach to her work.
‘Managing my own mental health while developing and building my business is a constant balance. Just like exercising physically, it takes continuous effort. While I’m constantly ‘doing and planning,’ it’s easy to forget that ‘being’ is most essential for balance. If I’m not doing that, my business suffers.’
There are moral reasons to get this right. Behind the serving hatch are sons, daughters, dads, nieces and uncles. We all have a right to work well.
Work can also play a part in our recovery. Life isn’t a field of flowers we skip through to and from work. Research shows non-work factors (families, finances, grief, loneliness) play a major role in 90 percent of people’s stress. Work really can hold people together when times are tough.
We’re human. From time to time pressures build, we feel unwell and we need support. Meditation works for some, medication for others. Therapy can be life-changing. Good work, like good food, is good for us.
Although we’re all supposed to be thriving with the perfect work-life balance, it can be hard to accept when we’re not well and speak up. And get the conversation going among staff – show them this article, ask what they think. And don’t worry – they don’t want you to be their therapist. But they do need you to listen and take them seriously. The sooner someone listens, the sooner we can help ourselves towards recovery. So here’s to those who look out for the mental health of their people – and themselves. You matter too!
Tom Oxley works with employers to help employees through reviews and training, and runs www.bamboomentalhealth.co.uk
Tom’s tips for a well workforce…
• Take stress seriously – your staff will last longer and perform better
• Make it safe to speak up – owners should role model good health
• Manage people properly – team meetings, catch-ups and ask about life outside of work
• Take proper time off – time out of the performance zone reduces illness
• Help your people – there are legal, moral and business reasons to do so
Where to get help
• The PilotLight campaign is aimed at professional kitchens and the hospitality sector. See www.pilotlightcampaign.co.uk for resources for hospitality employers and employees.
• Hospitality Action – a benevolent organisation for hospitality sector employees. It operates a confidential assistance line open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Employees should call: 0808 802 0282 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. (Feast Norfolk supports Hospitality Action East Anglia).
• Wellbeing for Norfolk and Suffolk is a good portal if you are feeling stressed, anxious and depressed. www.wellbeingnands.co.uk
• 12th Man helps men talk more openly about mental health. It encourages talking via activities from tattoos to scooters. See www.12th-man.org.uk.