Inspired by an event I went to last year, I decided to write about my experiences within hospitality and how it affected my mental health..
Situated at Takk’s newest establishment at University Green, Suppers by Sonali held a wonderful night of openly talking about mental health awareness whilst raising money for Tommy’s, a charity that funds research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth. The night included a panel of people who work within hospitality, openly talking about how the industry has affected their mental health and how they have taken action to help their own members of staff, providing mental health services for them.
A wide range of subjects were covered, including:
- Official “mental health day off” (separate from holidays or sick days) that employees could cash in when they needed them
- Allowing staff to “time out” when things were starting to get on top of them so they could wind down for 5/10 mins and come back to work
- Checking in on those you are working with, including noticing differences in their behaviour and making sure that you’re there to “share the load” if they need to, providing them with mental health support
A number of apps were recommended, aiding in maintaining better mental health.
Mental health and social media are strongly linked, so taking steps to spend less time on it is detrimental to your health.
I have a blog post all about how social media affected my mental health negatively.
The apps mentioned were:
- Headspace: A guided meditation app
- Calm: An app focused on sleep, meditation and relaxation
- Insight Timer: A guided mediation app with added discussion groups
- Silent Mode: Breath-work training and meditation
Another tip was also to use Instagram’s in-app settings to monitor how long you are on the app, you can even add an alarm once you have gone over your set time.
This can be done by:
- Going on your profile
- Selecting “settings”
- Then “your activity”
- Followed by “set daily reminder”
This can be helpful as social media can be a large source of negativity for a lot of people, plus its always good to disconnect sometimes!
MY HOSPITALITY EXPERIENCE
I’ve worked in hospitality for around 6 years in total, including working as a waitress, a kitchen assistant and a barista.
Over the years I’ve experienced long hours without breaks, customers set on bringing you to tears and managers who see you as nothing but a cog in the system.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot of positive experiences too, but as we are talking about mental health I shall only be talking about the more negative ones in this post.
What I will be talking about will be based on my own experiences within the industry and the seven years I have been in it.
Some people may have had nicer experiences.
Working long shifts with little to no break is something to be expected.
Oftentimes I was expected to work 10-12 hour shifts, usually with just a 30 minute break.
That break usually consisted of me waiting for my food (luckily the place I’m referencing in this example provided us with food) and then eating it, very rarely leaving me time to get outside and have some fresh air.
We also weren’t allowed to take the food elsewhere, so I had to sit amongst customers to eat my dinner.
This meant I never truly got a break from the noise and would usually still have customers asking me to serve them.
During these long shifts that are also usually physically enduring, include rushing around trying to serve as many people as possible, sometimes even carrying very heavy things (like tubs filled with glass) or maybe even running up and down stairs depending on the establishment.
Another common thing in hospitality is for staff to be expected to do a “closing shift” and then an “opening shift” the following day.
This usually enabled you to maybe get a microwave meal and go straight to bed, ready for getting up early and starting the process all over again.
I also can’t count the amount of times that I have felt like I couldn’t leave work when my shift ended as it’s been incredibly busy and I have felt like I would let my team down if I didn’t stay until it had died down.
Some can be wonderful people that truly put a smile on your face, but sadly some can be so traumatising that you still remember them years later.
I’ve had people scream, yes scream, at me for the smallest of things, including their food not arriving 5 minutes after ordering it.
I remember this time when a tall man stood up and squared up to me because his food hadn’t arrived 10 minutes after ordering it.
His wife and friends watched and smiled.
I’ve also been grabbed by customers when they have wanted me to serve them, even whilst I have been serving someone else.
There was another time that I’ll never forget.
I was stuck at the till serving a large queue of people, and there was a woman stood in a separate queue that was for entering the restaurant.
There was one table next to me that was empty but needed cleaning but I was busy serving people at the till.
I had no idea where my friends were, so I was the only person that both she and I could see.
Regardless of how busy I clearly was, she screamed at me for not cleaning that table when she was clearly waiting and proceeded to walk away whilst saying I treated her badly, all of this whilst the guy I was serving was shouting at me for his contactless card not working.
There was another instance where the place I was working at had their food hygiene rating drop from a 5 to a 2, which made some of the local news.
A few days after, this a man walked into the restaurant just to have a go at me and my friend about it.
Two waiters have enough power over a restaurant and how it’s run, right?
It turned out he wasn’t even coming in to eat, he just wanted to come in and hurl abuse at some minimum wage employees.
Another time a man was paying for his bill and he still owed me 50p.
He proceeded to look me in the eye and tell me he could pay in “other ways”.
Other friends and loved ones of mine have mentioned instances where they have been groped, motor-boated (yes, seriously..) and verbally abused.
All of this starts a chain of thoughts in your mind, which can very quickly snowball.
For me I went from feeling like a human to feeling like an object; someone to be at everyone’s beck and call and to be hurled abuse at.
I didn’t become immune to the hurt the abuse can bring, I just became used to it and even got into the mindset of feeling like I must deserve it.
Being understaffed is incredibly common, to the point where we usually commented in shock when we are actually working a shift staffed properly.
Thanks to being understaffed, we were usually expected to do the work of 2/3 people.
This left us to feel physically and mentally drained.
Sadly, however, by getting through these types of shifts, you prove to the people of power that it is in fact “do-able” and usually results in more understaffed shifts.
Being pushed to these limits, however, does not result in a good quality service.
It usually means that either food will come out late, of poorer quality or customers may not be served as quickly as they should.
Personally I feel that putting a bit more money into hospitality staffing solutions will result in a better service and happiness level all-round.
Yes your outgoings will be increased, but surely that’s worth it so as to not get bad reviews online and a bad reputation?
Whether you like it or not, your members of staff talk.
If they are not getting treated properly they will make sure those around them know it.
Word of mouth, despite the social age we are in, will always be the most powerful form of communication, good or bad.
Establishments have to decide is mental health important to them?
Is the welfare of their staff important to them or do profits mean more?
Despite how well you have worked or how hard a shift you have endured, oftentimes you are never thanked for your contribution.
This would always leave you ending your shift feeling unappreciated.
Sometimes you may be graced with a manager who has let power get to them and therefore will result in you being spoken down to.
Sometimes this meant possibly being ridiculed or patronised, sometimes even screamed at, even for little things.
I remember once an old manager screamed at me in front of a restaurant full of customers because I didn’t know how our new ordering system worked, because I couldn’t come to the last minute unpaid teaching session he held the day before.
I was so embarrassed that I contemplated just grabbing my coat and bag and walking out right then.
However, I needed the money to pay my bills.
This same manager also used to change the rota the night before, so you could be thinking that the next day was a day off and have everything planned for it, then just before you go to sleep find out that you’re now on an opening shift.
Regardless of your plans, you were expected to turn up that next day.
The work/life balance in hospitality can be so detrimental to our mental health and often results in burnout, physically and mentally destroying the person until they have no choice but to call in sick (which will be unpaid no-doubt as most hospitality jobs are on zero-hour contracts!).
Mental health and hospitality isn’t spoken about enough and we really need to eradicate mental health stigma.
Together we can start working towards better mental health facilities and better mental help in general.
MY MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
My years in hospitality left me with crippling anxiety at one point, resulting in me only being able to cope with working one day a week.
My mental health issues were the worst they had ever been.
Even then, it would hit midway through the week and I wouldn’t be able to get thoughts of work out of my head, the insomnia would kick in and my heart would start palpitating.
I would have nightmares of a never ending queue, a beeping Deliveroo machine and a ringing phone with nobody else around to help me.
It felt like even when I wasn’t at work, my mind still was.
I was going to work expecting to be shouted at, expecting to do something wrong and expecting to be rushed off my feet for the time I was there.
Even today, lots of noise seems to partially deafen me (as in I just can’t differentiate the noises, everything becomes a blur), loud noises seriously spook me and busy periods leave me caving in on myself silently.
I seriously believe everyone should be forced to work in hospitality at some point in their lives.
It teaches you a lot and helps you grow as a person, but it can also very easily destroy you with lasting effects.
I truly believe that “mental health days” should be official, yes some people may abuse them to just have a day off, but that’s only going to screw them over in the long run.
Perhaps 5-7 “mental health days” a year could be cashed in when needed, no questions asked.
Should they be paid or unpaid? I’m really not sure.
However, I think just working for a company that has this in place would make me happier to come to work as I know that the company cares about me as a person and that in itself would take a lot of pressure off me to know that I could just request such a day off and I don’t have to create an excuse of feeling sick etc.
Very often people will witness a person’s behaviour decline and either somehow take it personally or won’t question what may be causing that change in behaviour.
I truly feel that people need to be more observant and ask people if they are okay or if they need someone to talk to, perhaps even putting in steps that may help that person on the path to feeling happier.
Obviously as there’s nothing really in place regarding the work place and mental health, a lot of things need to be discussed, but I truly believe nights like the one I attended last year are a great starting point for making a change within the industry.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post.
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