Restaurant Employee Burnout: Don’t Let It Flame Out Your Career
What is Restaurant Employee Burnout?
We’ve all experienced those days — the ones where we’re sluggish and unenthusiastic about the tasks on our plate. For the lucky ones, those days pass, but for others, occupational burnout can be a severe problem. This burnout is a specific type of job-related stress with far-reaching consequences. It should come as little surprise that this exhaustion particularly applies to those who work in volatile and stressful environments like restaurants and hospitality.
Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, the co-founder of MedAlertHelp.org, sees patients frequently complain of occupational burnout.
“Many people think burnout and tiredness are the same things,” he says. “The main difference between being tired and being burned out is that burned out people feel emotionally drained, a loss of interest and motivation. They feel resentful, helpless, and cynical. Their confidence levels seriously drop, and they feel like they’ve nothing else to give.”
Why Does Restaurant Employee Burnout Happen?
Stuart Reb Donald, sous chef at Mobile, Alabama’s Fairhope Market and co-host of “Sip & Chew with Mike and Stu” on FM Talk 1065, knows burnout. He’s experienced it in the past and present. He feels many factors are leading to restaurant industry burnout, including the work hours, stressful and possibly dangerous work environments and lack of pay and benefits.
“Burnout among chefs is skyrocketing right now,” he says. “The reward to risk ratio doesn’t add up.”
Donald took five years off from the restaurant industry but was miserable working in a cubicle. While he has rough moments now, he’s making moves to find work-life balance.
“That was 15 years ago, but I’m tired and beat up now. I want to spend time with my family. That’s why I made a move to the grocery. It’s a better quality of life.”
Sarah Taylor of High-Speed Training, who spent more than a decade in the restaurant industry, also stresses finding a work-life balance and knowing yourself and your limitations.
“Jobs with progressive companies who offer good working hours and good pay are like gold dust – if you find one, hang on to it,” Taylor says. “If not, don’t break yourself trying to meet every demand made of you because it simply isn’t worth it. The industry needs to change to better support its employees. In the meantime, recognize your limits, take a break if you need to, and make the most of your existing support network. If your current business isn’t offering those things, it may be time to look elsewhere.”
How Can You Combat Restaurant Employee Burnout?
Though restaurant employee burnout can feel like a rampant scourge, especially during high-traffic times of the year, there are ways to recognize when it’s happening. By paying attention to a few key details, you can minimize the effects of burnout, for you and your staff.
Listen to Your Body
Bryn Butolph serves as manager of Nicky Rottens, a family-owned bar, and restaurant in Coronado, California. He’s also the president and co-founder of Eat Clean Meal Prep and understands pinciples like mindfulness, and the need for taking time to turn off.
“One of my daily rules is that I listen to my body. I know how hard I can push myself, so I need to recognize when I need a break, when I need sleep, or when I need to unwind and spend time with the family. Work can wait, it’ll be there when I’m energized and ready to focus on it. Taking a day off to do what you want, sleeping in occasionally, taking last-minute vacations – this is all okay, as long as you work hard and have your systems in place.”
Strategic Staffing and Scheduling
Dr. Djordjevic’s advice for restaurant managers includes being careful about scheduling shifts and making sure the business is not understaffed. In practice, these should help those employees who may be burning out.
“Employees who experience burnout should make sure they take regular vacations, talk with family and friends, and socialize with coworkers. Limiting contact with negative people will decrease the negative feelings, and communicating with an employer about it can reduce the symptoms of burnout. However, if a person feels like there’s no way out, or that any of the methods help talking with a therapist is the best option.
Loving Your Work
Pablo Solomon grew up working in family restaurants tackling practically every role, operated a historic inn for more than a decade and now runs a design business. He also has advanced degrees in social psychology and was a state-certified vocational counselor.
Solomon offers a wealth of advice to combat burnout in addition to the obvious, like treating restaurant workers with respect and providing fair wages and benefits.
- Each person entering the restaurant business must enjoy the work. It’s not for some people. For others, it’s a perfect way to work and go to college, start a sideline business, work on their art/music, meet a wide range of interesting people, etc. You must be honest with yourself and with your employer.
- Over the years, I’ve learned through experience and observation that it works best to have workers put in more days in a row and then have more days off in a row.
- Often your workers will go through a tough time–divorce, a death in the family, a sick child, etc. The more you can help your people through these rough spills, the more loyal they will be to you.
Set Strong Boundaries
However, he cautions the need for setting boundaries. “You must have rules and demand honesty, being drug/alcohol-free, and not bringing personal problems to work. You must not tolerate employees with negative attitudes, who undermine the cohesiveness of your group, etc. It is worth the effort to find good employees and to do what you can to keep them.”
With 29 years in the industry, Chef Eric LeVine, executive chef, 317 Main Street, hasn’t personally experienced burnout. He’s seen others fo through it though, to the point of lethargy and even mental and physical pain.
For LeVine, prioritizing physical and mental fitness practices are vital to creating a healthy mindset to combat burnout and keep his passion for the industry burning.
“Find and make time for yourself,” he advises. “If you don’t, your body will not surpass your busy schedule, and you’ll start to lose focus. Even though I’m working seven days a week with 12-18-hour days, I make sure to spend at least an hour at the gym daily. It can be as simple as walking the treadmill or lifting weights. It’s something to break up the day, push the body, and make sure I stay sharp for my team and customers.”
Want to learn more strategies and techniques for staying sane in the fast-paced restaurant environment? Read our article The Mindful Restaurant: Finding Calm in the Chaos.
About the Author
Barbara Castiglia is the Executive Editor at Modern Restaurant Management, an online magazine that focuses on news relevant to independent and multi-unit restaurateurs. In her 30-year career as a writer and editor, she’s covered the restaurant, commercial real estate and computer industries and written articles on virtually every topic! She co-authored a series of comic books with a forensic science theme and has written a plethora of press releases, whitepapers, and bylines.