Avoiding a Destructive Work Culture

Mental health is just as important as physical health when it comes to working in a restaurant.  Restaurants need workers who can handle long shifts, repetitive work, and compartmentalize stress effectively. But, the onus for these qualities is not solely on the workers. Managers need to be aware of how their restaurant’s work culture affects the well-being of their workers. Specifically when it comes to addressing mental health issues and workplace rituals.

Unlike other industries where work-life balance is essential, the restaurant industry still derives some of its fame from its brutalizing culture. Part of this is because television shows like Kitchen Nightmares, Iron Chef, and Chopped—to an extent—profile chefs and restaurant owners who say work is their only passion in life.  Yes, passion is a key to success in the industry. However, not everyone is tailor made to work seven days a week for months on end. Expecting all of your workers to conform to this ridiculous ideal will breed a Sisyphean culture. Restaurants are made for communities to enjoy. They are inclusive spaces for customers, and should be for workers as well.

The aforementioned characteristics of popular restaurant culture are just a few examples of the ancestral machismo which pervades in many restaurants. Those who speak up about their mental health issues or personal problems are sometimes viewed as weak. This is the culture that managers must be most aware of and work hardest to eliminate from their restaurant. One way to do this is to train every person on a restaurant’s leadership team to be approachable. Workers should never feel stigmatized for coming to you about a problem, especially if that problem is their mental health. Otherwise, many employees turn to the other destructive part of restaurant culture—partying.

Partying is a workplace ritual in many restaurants which is often synonymous with team-building. According to one study by the University of Maine, “Workplace rituals symbolically represent an organization’s culture. They are used as a learning mechanism for employees to discover the organizational culture and its underlying core values.”  But, when workers feel that they cannot express any problems they may have with their team, partying can quickly devolve to self-medicating. Instead of resolving any issues a worker may face, partying allows them an avenue by which to suppress their problems. One psychological study performed by Daniel Wegner showed that people who tend to use psychological suppression to create a more ideal mental state are far more susceptible to those behaviors and thoughts under suppression. Thus, workers who do not have the avenues to express their problems are far more likely to suffer from those problems at work, thereby degrading the fabric of the team.

Many restaurants are beginning to realize how important properly addressing mental health and workplace culture is for the success of the business. Larger restaurants are adopting maternity leave programs and paid time off for their employees. Some have even begun to offer mental health counseling through employee assistance plans. Making sure these issues are addressed will make a difference in your restaurant.


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