The hospitality industry has been built on the concept of a military style work ethic. And it’s come to be known as a high-pressure environment that brings out the sweat and tears of some of the strongest.
But in recent years, there’s been a change in hospitality that has seen a shift in attitudes, perceptions, and expectations. So, is a positive change finally coming to an industry that for so long, prided itself on the idea of the grind?
For centuries, it’s been known that chefs work long, unsocial hours, usually on low wages and in hot, cramped kitchens. But despite this, it was a lifestyle that was accepted by everyone working within the industry.
These working conditions usually led to tired, anxious, frustrated chefs, who were overworked, leaving them feeling burnt out. Global research found that 74% of chefs have felt sleep deprived to the point of exhaustion when working in the kitchen; while one in four admitted to having suffered from physical abuse.
This long-serving acceptance of standard has now had a flow-on effect, leaving the industry with one of the lowest retention rates than any other, globally. But over the last couple of years, there’s been a shift in society, partly due to changing values after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking with Kraft Heinz Foodservice, chef Emma Evans admitted the perception of the overall industry has shifted. “There used to be a lot of glorifying the grind,” she said. “It used to be cool and like a badge of honour to not have had any sleep the night before but that's not a thing anymore. No one thinks it's cool to not get any sleep, in fact it's actually cool to say, ‘oh I went away for three days and went to the beach and hung out with my family’.”
Echoing Emma’s comments, chef and restaurateur Sebastian Pasinetti added to Kraft Heinz Foodservice that “people are now not willing to work for below minimum wage anymore or have their boundaries exploited or their healthy work life balance put into jeopardy.”
Most recently, Sebastian has opened Minds en Place, a Melbourne-based hospitality consultancy hub, that provides hospitality businesses the tools and education they need to make the workplace safe for all staff. The Minds en Place team audits business and uses the information gathered to identify areas for improvement through tailored diversity, equity, and inclusion training workshops according to business needs and budget.
Since the pandemic, many of us have been addressing what’s right, what’s wrong and what needs to change to benefit them, financially, mentally, and physically. This has left many hospitality venues to look at their business models and make positive changes.
While objectives still come down to making a profit, many businesses now aim to retain their staff by bringing in changes that put their health and wellbeing first, after many have found that happy, content workers lead to increased productivity and subsequently, profitability.
So how is the hospitality industry changing and is the positive shift here for good?
The idea of a four-day work week has been around for years, with many corporate companies trialing it before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In Iceland, about 85% of the country works a four-day week, while Belgium recently announced that workers can opt for four 10-hour days.
Since the world started to open again, more businesses began implementing the new work week, including hospitality venues across the world. So, does a shorter work week lend itself to happier employees?
According to new research, one in three Australians have admitted they would leave their current job for one that offered a four-day working week in search of better work-life balance. Employees have also said that the new work week has had a positive impact on their mental health.
Chef Emma said the concept has allowed staff to have time off to enjoy life’s “simple things like getting outside,” something that’s rare for chefs. “I've always worked in places where you leave work, but you don't really leave work… suppliers will call you and you must be available. But it’s very different having three days off,” she said.
“Despite them not always being consecutive days off, having three days off feels like you’re actually taking a break instead of just recovering from what’s a very taxing and busy job.” Chef Emma went on to add that the new work style also gives staff the option to have days off other than the standard Monday and Tuesday.
“Nobody in hospitality ever takes a day off except for Monday and Tuesday when everything is closed,” she said. “So, it’s nice to be able to potentially take off a Friday or a Sunday when something is open and you can go and see what other people are doing and enjoy hospitality that isn’t your own business.”
Though, it’s not just the staff who have been benefiting from the new three-day weekend, but restaurants as well. According to recent reports, businesses that operate a four-day work week have seen an increase productivity, as well as drops in absenteeism and turnover.
After implementing a four-day work week at his former workplace, long-time chef Kasper Christensen admitted to Kraft Heinz Foodservice that staff input increased as they had time to reset each week. “It completely changed how much people were putting into their work, the output became a lot better. They weren’t that tired anymore and people started coming in earlier. It completely changed how they looked at being at work.”
So, if you’re interested in implementing a four-day work week at your venue, you need to be smart with roster patterns. Take the time to assess the schedule to make sure not everyone has the same day off and that everyone has the same opportunity to work a four-day week.
It’s important however to remember that while a four-day work week may be liked and welcomed by one employee, others may not be interested. This could pose a risk for your business as the 10-hour workdays could potentially drive away great staff who have children, have long commutes, or have other commitments that don’t allow them to work extended hours.
Mental health, wellbeing neglect and having limited family time have always been areas of concern within the hospitality industry. In fact, a survey conducted by R U OK? found that 80% of hospitality workers admitted to being concerned about their mental health.
Another survey revealed that 15% of workers in the food and accommodation industry suffer from clinical depression. The survey also found that the contributing factors included high staff changes, unsociable work hours, dealing with difficult customers, as well as the casualisation of pay.
Recently, it has become evident that the mental health of chefs has started to take a front seat for many businesses. In August 2022, a report found that 82% of hospitality workers admitted to feeling ‘happy or okay’, compared to 67% in November 2021.
This is because many of us have started to adjust our way of thinking and have started to put our health and wellbeing first. This attitude has flowed through to businesses, with many making work-life balance a top priority, something the hospitality industry has never experienced. Research has found that employers who place the wellbeing and resilience of their staff as a priority have seen a 30% increase in productivity, three times greater brand value and four times more profit.
While encouraging staff to focus on their health and wellbeing, especially their mental health, it’s important to remain aware that not everyone is ready to open up and talk about their personal circumstances. The change of acceptance towards being vulnerable and honest may take some time, especially with chefs who have been in the industry for a long time.
In Sebastian’s restaurants, focusing on staff’s mental health has taken center stage. “We do mental health first aid training…we don't have anybody working over a 40-to-45-hours a week and everybody has two consecutive days off,” he explained.
“We also have a traffic light system where staff are encouraged to rate their headspace before the start of any shift. The traffic light system works as red, amber, or green and then depending on what they rate their headspace, we provide support to how their feeling.
“For example, if someone's feeling red, that starts a conversation about ‘are you able to work today? What does that working day look like or is there something I can give you to do to work from home?’ Same as if you're green, the conversation is ‘hey this person may not be feeling the best today or is experiencing mental health struggles, are you able to pick up a bit of extra work around that since you're feeling green?’”
The way we perceive and live our lives has dramatically changed over the last three years. When restaurants closed their doors and customers were too worried to dine out due to the pandemic, many of us were forced to stop and reassess what we wanted in life, what was important and what’s not.
“The interconnectedness of the world, which I suppose is social media, has made the conversation happen,” Chef Emma mentioned. “Today, people are like, ‘yes, I love my job and it's my passion and I thoroughly enjoy it. But I also just would rather live. I would rather live my life; I would rather have a quality of life. And I don't want to have that quality of life after my work life. I want it now while I'm young’.”
Adding to Chef Emma’s comment, Chef Kasper said: “It’s something that’s been a long time coming and COVID has finally shown restaurant owners, head chefs and senior staff that they must do something about it. A lot of people have left the industry and it's made it clear that they must make the industry more livable and that you can't get chefs to work long hours anymore and just expect so much but not give anything back.”
This has left many of us changing the way we live our lives, especially when it comes to our work. Daily routines like work practices, shopping habits and even interpersonal relationships have been altered. This in effect has influenced and changed our behaviour, which has reverberated its effects on the hospitality industry’s business model.
Today, remote working has become commonplace for many and is forecasted to become more than just a passing trend. This means that hospitality venues are now being used as make-shift offices for those looking for a change of work environment.
While this can naturally be seen as a negative, it is actually a great opportunity for venues to capitalise on the trend and adapt their offering to meet the needs and wants of this new customer base. But it’s important to think beyond just your menu.
Why not offer your new audience ample plug sockets, free high-speed WIFI and great coffee? Altering your offering and improving user experience both on the menu and within your venue not only attracts new customers, but it also encourages your staff to try new things, get inspired and seek new opportunities. These are all elements that help contribute to a positive working environment.
Despite the positive changes that are starting to appear across the overall hospitality industry, there’s still a long way to go for the adverse reputation to be lifted. So, it’s important to be realistic, patient, and honest about what you want in the workplace.
One thing everyone can agree on is that change is needed, and it’s being welcomed across not only the country, but also around the globe. "We urgently need to change industry attitudes and behaviours so that cookery is not only seen as an attractive occupation to enter, but also offers a rewarding long-term career in which chefs can flourish and be treated with dignity and respect,” says former chef and researcher, Richard Robinson.
Sebastian echoed these comments, adding: “We've taken away the enjoyment of what the industry used to be. So, scaling it back, having a four-day service week, a day where the staff can all get together and have lunch together or dinner together, these kinds of little things, really empowers people to see the industry in a new light and get excited about it again.”