I’ve worked in the hospitality industry since I was 14 and whilst I’ve made the occasional attempt to leave to pursue an alternative career, I’ve always come back. It’s an amazing place to work, filled with an energy and excitement I’ve never experienced anywhere else with a misfit cast of international characters who work tirelessly in the pursuit of other peoples happiness. But for all the fun, good times and laughter there’s another side to the industry that we need to stop ignoring and face up to. Whilst the business of hospitality may be in good health, the work can make us sick and we’ve been at risk for a long time.
Long, irregular hours, a high stress work environment, poor nutrition, financial stress from low wages & uncertain pay packets, hard, physical work and easy access to alcohol and drugs all combine to create a checklist of symptoms that can include alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, anxiety, stress, chronic back and joint pain, tennis (shaking) elbow, dermatitis, sleep deprivation and numerous other illness.
A study published in 2015 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the US showed that the hospitality industry has the highest use of illegal drugs in any sector, more than double the average. And it’s on the increase. In the same study, only Heavy Mining and Construction had higher rates of excessive alcohol consumption. Similar studies in Australia & the UK found similar patterns.
Cooks are 1.77 times and bartenders 2.33 times more likely than average to die from alcohol-related disease (source), servers and bartenders rank 2nd & 4th as the most unhappy jobs in America (source) and a 2015 study by the Department of Labor Statistics found bartending the 13th most dangerous job in the US (source), with bartenders more likely to die on the job that police officers.
In April 2016, Benoît Violier, rated by some as the world’s best chef, committed suicide, unable to deal with the stress of maintaining Michelin star status. The bartending community tragically lost leading lights Sasha Petraske, Henry Besant and Gregor de Gruyther, all in their prime and these are just some of the ones that made the media, there are a lot more out there that we don’t hear about.
This is not to say that everyone who works in the industry is sick, unhealthy and suffering from mental health illness and it’s not all bad news either. Alcohol consumption among the industry is actually on the decline, a result of the responsible drinking campaigns championed by alcohol producers. Awareness of mental health illness is on the rise with an increasing number of published articles addressing a variety of health issues and dedicated hospitality charities, such as The Benevolent in the UK and Big Table in the US, are working hard to support workers suffering from a multitude of problems and provide a safety net for when things go wrong.
It doesn’t have to be an unhealthy existence, treat it like a job and not a lifestyle and a few small changes can have a dramatic and positive effect on health and well-being:
- Commit to a regular exercise program. As little as 30 minutes 3 times a week can improve health, mood and add years to your life
- Eat less junk food. Forget about protein, fibre deficiency is one of the biggest problems in our modern diets.
- Cut down on alcohol consumption. Say no to shots, turn ‘staff meetings’ into something non-alcoholic and ask yourself ‘do I really need that after-work drink?’
- Try meditation, yoga or some other practice that helps to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression
- Improve your sleep. Develop a sleep routine, make your bedroom a temple of sleep and leave your phone in the kitchen when you head to bed
- Take up a new hobby outside of the industry to do on your time off.
At the end of the day, we are the only ones responsible for our own health. We can act the victim of circumstance and the unique difficulties of our industry, or we can take action to do something about it now and live healthier and happier lives.