Hospitality industry must address its mental health issues – Stephen Jardine

Mitchelin-starred chef Paul Kitching at 21212 restaurant has adjusted the working week to improve the work-life balance of staff (Picture: Jane Barlow)
Mitchelin-starred chef Paul Kitching at 21212 restaurant has adjusted the working week to improve the work-life balance of staff (Picture: Jane Barlow)
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Health of staff in food and drink businesses must be taken seriously, says Stephen Jardine.

This week thousands of delegates gathered in Glasgow for Scotland’s biggest food, drink and hospitality event.

Held every two years, ScotHot is a showcase for the industry and a forum for major issues in the sector. This week, for the first time, that included mental health. A survey for ScotHot of 500 hospitality employees showed 57 per cent reported mental problems including stress, depression and anxiety.

Of those questioned, 41 per cent said the industry had negatively affected their mental health with long hours, lack of work-life balance and the demands of working in a high-pressure environment cited as the three top reasons. Hospitality is never going to be an easy line of work. Serving the public from breakfast to last orders in an industry with tight margins and high expectations is a recipe for stress.

At one time, a tough introduction to the industry was something simply passed down the generations. An apprenticeship was the first step on a career ascent to the point where you were able to dish out the misery yourself. Employers themselves are starting to recognise things have to de different. Chef patrons like Paul Kitching at 21212 and Stuart Ralston at Aizle have adjusted their working weeks to improve the work-life balance for staff.

“This is a tough industry and we thrive on the energy and passion behind our chefs,” Paul said.

“We believe that by reducing our days that this creativity will grow and we will be able to push our menu and dishes to another level.”

Increasing numbers of women in hospitality are also helping to break down behaviours rooted in macho bullying and intolerance. However the biggest change starts right at the beginning. If young chefs expect the industry to be cruel and miserable then that is exactly what it will be. If they expect and demand more, things will need to change.

Last month saw the launch of Hospitality Health, a new charity founded by Gordon McIntyre who is associate dean of hospitality and tourism at the City of Glasgow College. It provides practical advice and support and works with employers to look at how the workplace can be better.

“Hospitality culture needs to change,” said Gordon. “We need to put health and well-being at the top of our agenda and really let staff see that we are taking it seriously. The industry needs to sit up and take notice and if we can get each and every person a little physically and mentally healthier, whilst still maintaining our love and passion for hospitality, things will be so much better.”

The little things can make all the difference. As a student I worked in a restaurant where the staff meal was a can of lager and whatever was left over at the end of the night. If you feed your staff scraps you get what you deserve.

More and more restaurants are now making time for proper, communal staff meals where staff can bond and enjoy good, healthy food. For the young chefs gathered at ScotHot this week, the industry still has some way to go but at least the challenges are now out in the open.