Service with a Smile: Mental Health in Catering Employees

Catering is a demanding sector when it comes to employment, and staff are often under a lot of pressure to ensure that each customer has the best possible experience at a venue. There’s currently lots of technology and equipment in the catering industry that makes our jobs that little bit easier, with kitchen lifts and tablets to take orders, however it’s still a high-pressure working environment.

The long working hours and little respite can become an issue of wellbeing for many employees.  Research by Mind reported that 45 percent of workers felt that they are expected to cope with work stress in silence, and 31 per cent felt that they couldn’t openly talk to their line manager if they felt stressed.

Here, we’ll identify key sources of stress, and how they can be remedied within a catering workplace. 

What Is Stress?

Symptoms of stress can be hugely diverse and numerous. It is the body’s reaction to pressures and changes which can result in physical, emotional, and mental stress. The stress hormone cortisol is released which puts us in fight or flight mode, where we feel overwhelmed for a period of time. Stress can of course be a normal part of life and can often be useful in small amounts for helping us get motivated to accomplish tasks efficiently, even boosting memory. 

We might feel stressed if we’re giving a speech to many people or about to take a test, which afterwards subsides, and we return to feeling normal with no adverse health effects. However, too much stress can be detrimental to us, causing us to not feel like ourselves and unable to cope. Symptoms of too much stress include:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Chest pain
  • Body aches and pains
  • Irritability
  • Frequent colds
  • Insomnia
  • Low energy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Anger
  • Feeling depressed

What matters is how you handle feeling stressed. The best approach to take is to try to acknowledge and understand symptoms, reduce stress, and perhaps seek help.

Would You Like a Smile with That?

If you work in the catering industry, you’re probably no stranger to the high stress environment it can bring: demanding customers, busy bars, carrying food out, endless cleaning. There’s a lack of control working in this industry, particularly with working long hours on weekends, busy festive periods that we’d prefer to spend with our families, often expected to work at short notice, and interference with our personal and social lives.

Workers in the catering industry can also suffer stress over worrying about money — with some employers paying poorly, employers being contracted to work zero-hour contracts, and tips being taken. The additional stress of finances on top of working hard in a high stress environment will be a key cause of stress.

Catering stress will affect morale and productivity as well as more sick days being taken, putting further strain on short notice shifts. So, what can be done to help manage stress?

Reducing Levels of Stress

Additional research by Perkbox, an organisation that focuses on employee satisfaction, found that 64 percent of hospitality workplaces don’t offer any solutions to alleviate feelings of stress. With more strategies implemented to improve the working environment, both the employers and business will flourish.

Firstly, from looking at the statistics mentioned in this article, it’s important that a dialogue is opened in the catering sector, with managers meeting staff one-to-one to create a supportive environment. Trying to reduce the stigma around stress and encouraging staff to come forward with any problems they’re having will help create a network of help and trust. Happy employees are hardworking employees!

A lot of young transitional workers are in the catering industry, so there aren’t many benefits such as health insurance. What many employers don’t know about is employee assistance programmes — affordable, effective forms of stress counselling to help support workers’ health and wellbeing. If as an employer you’re unsure about how to deal with supporting your workers, contact Mind or Samaritans for free advice.