Wellness at Work in the Kitchen - Let's meet it head on!

By Johnny Harvey posted 23-05-2018 17:44


This blog comes from Head Chef Johnny Harvey, who has recently experienced 'the other side' , working in an office job on internship (with Chef Network!) and finds himself comparing life in the kitchen with a Mon-Fri office environment, which brings up some big questions about job satisfaction and workplace wellness... and some painful memories.

Working 9-5

I am currently a 4th-year student in Culinary Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and as part of the course, I am partaking in an internship with the Chef Network. In the beginning, I was unsure as to what to expect, as I would be completely out of my comfort zone but I listened and learned how marketers spoke to not only each other but to other clients also. This proved to be a real eye (and ear) opener to me; they were confident, offering up new innovative ideas and always displayed a real can-do approach. They all seemed so happy in their positions, I found this a welcome relief.

Coming from a culinary background, I had become accustomed to listening to people complain about their jobs, their wages, their miserable lives in general. Perhaps this was part of the reason that chefs are seeking to leave the industry to pursue other careers; it really made me think about how important wellness in the workplace and job satisfaction are to a happy work-life balance. Is this area seen as a major issue for other chefs? Is it a big driver as to why chefs are leaving the industry? I was intrigued; could this be the scenario I have been looking for? My Monday to Friday job, where everyone appears to be happy, where they dine out for lunch every day or am I been blindly led by this new scenario that I find myself in.

We have a responsibility

As I embarked on my Internship with the Chef Network I wondered what I would get out of this experience. Top of the agenda today was an engagement with my supervisors to discuss promoting physical and mental wellbeing in the workplace. The conversation quickly turned to why are chefs perceived to be unhappy in their jobs? And what are the measures that can be put in place to deal with issues? Could our industry really ever adopt the kind of measures put in place by the likes of Google or Fit Bit, offering staff the opportunity to unwind during the working day in special relaxation areas? I could not see this being well-received during a busy service, however, we as an industry have the responsibility to try to change and promote wellness in the workplace in whatever way we can and to offer chefs a viable work-life balance that may improve their job satisfaction and ultimately improve staff retention.

Before it's too late

It all takes me back to a faithful morning of May 5th 2011, my boss, “Tony”, who lived alone and spent as much time as possible distancing himself from the team. I suppose he did that to establish boundaries. He had been suffering from depression, brought on by substance and alcohol abuse and topped off by crippling gambling debts. It was a combination of all three that had led him to end his life. Still, seven years on I wonder was there anything I could have done to stop this tragedy from taking place.

Having researched this topic for this blog, I noticed that most stories related to stress and wellness in our industry are about people telling the story of their after they have already hit rock bottom. I would love to see us as an industry becoming more proactive, identifying ways that we can improve the levels of happiness within our industry before it reaches crisis point and these matters spiral out of control.

What will we do, what will you do

So this issue of wellness is close to my heart. Chef Network is looking at ways that we can tackle this and one part of that will be practical workshops on Wellness at Work for chefs, which I believe are vitally important. We also need to talk about this, bring it out in the open and make it culturally acceptable in our industry to recognise the importance of wellness and the fact that “Your health is your wealth”.

We must look after ourselves but also look after and mind those around us because otherwise, you might never notice their suffering until it is too late. I don’t have all of the answers, so I ask you, chefs have you ever experienced issues or incidents like I have? Personally or with a colleague, was there anything that you did to overcome the problem? What can be done to alleviate this huge problem in our industry before it’s too late? I don’t see this problem going away anytime soon, so let’s meet it head-on before it is too late.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Will you join the discussion in the community forum and tell us about your experiences and ways you have tackled these issues or ideas you have for positive change?




25-05-2018 16:17

Great blog. Thank you for sharing.

24-05-2018 10:24

Very well written piece and an area that I also feel needs to be addressed.   Sorry for the loss of your friend,  i've had colleagues go down a similiar  road but without the tragic ending but who knows how things would have panned out had they stayed within the industry we all seem to both love and hate. 
Did I try help them out? Unfortunately I didn't, I jumped on board for the wild ride of perceived feeling of freedom and release.

23-05-2018 21:37

Very sorry to hear about your friend. It is all too common place today, as an industry we need to take a hard look at how we can try work to bring this problem under control. Very good blog looking forward to the next!

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