7 Steps to Combat Burnout Leading into the Holidays

Anyone who has been an owner/operator in the food service industry knows that long hours, a fast pace, and never-ending physical demands come with the territory. The approaching holiday season can compound the stressors of an already challenging environment resulting in an overwhelming number of restaurant staff facing chronic stress and fatigue. A 2019 study revealed that 80% of hospitality workers claimed to be burned out—and that was before COVID.

“As an industry, we are down one million employees compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s more important than ever to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of employee burnout,” says Lissa Bowen, chief people and culture officer of Full Course, the restaurant and development group that helps restaurateurs build and innovate their brands. “Employees who are short-tempered, have frequent absences, experience changes in attitude, and display lack of execution skills are at risk, and it is the manager’s responsibility to intervene.”

Despite this arduous climate in the industry, Bowen still believes there are ways to mitigate burnout and create opportunities to sustain positive, optimistic work environments. She offers seven ways for managers and owners to prevent burnout and enjoy their restaurant careers while teaching others to do the same.  

1) Have a family meal before a shift.

Owners/operators can create a high-quality meeting to connect with employees. By asking people how they are doing and what challenges they are facing, management can get the “pulse” of the team. A family meal is a good way to look for symptoms while everyone eats a meal together. “People who feel connected are going to be much more likely to come and tell you when they need a break or are feeling overwhelmed,” says Bowen. 

2) Build an excellent team. 

Based on the organization’s culture and values, owners/operators should onboard people who are optimistic, transparent, and have empathy. “Studies suggest that people who have empathy are armed with more stress-taming abilities. When employees can engage empathy, which is an emotional intelligence competency, they can express genuine concern for another person’s well-being,” explains Bowen. Ultimately, this produces physiological effects that calm people and underpins their long-term sustainability.  

3) Invest in training and development.

Investing in others energizes all who are on the team. “A lot of times, we forget about the happiness quotient of working in restaurants. It can be so fun to be a part of customers’ lives as they celebrate moments like proposals, birthdays, and other special occasions,” says Bowen, adding it can be a gratifying and exciting job when done right.

However, the recipe to create this environment comes from nurturing and growing each employee based on their unique skill set. “When you run a great operation, you pay attention to where employees have above-average skills and invest in that employee to further enhance that area of growth. Ultimately, they become experts in a certain area and begin to feel valued because of continuous learning,” she adds. When managers have efficient, well-executed shifts, it creates an environment of enthusiasm for all where employees feel they are contributing. 

4) Delegate to others.

The best leaders are masters at delegation but learning how to let go can be hard. Sharing responsibilities creates an environment where employees are proud of their work and can claim it as their own. “Part of surrounding yourself with a great team is surrounding yourself with all different kinds of skills, knowledge, and experience. As employees contribute, they feel good about their accomplishments and can prevent burnout

5) Utilize technology and have systems in place.

Managers need to adopt workplace technology that provides support to staff. For example, in scheduling, are managers using technology to create shift schedules to make sure that everyone can work when they are available? Are they using a central tool so that people can request time off and hopefully get their requested time?

In a 2021 survey by 7Shifts, 56% of employees said that flexible scheduling would greatly affect their happiness at work. Additionally, managers can use technology to ensure regular check-ins with employees. “It's hard to burn out when you feel appreciated. Making sure you’re listening to employees’ input and concerns makes them feel valued and creates an environment of optimism,” says Bowen. “However, you have to have a calendar system in place to keep one-on-one meetings a priority in weekly planning.”

6) Create smart schedules.

Managers should be mindful of how they schedule and give consecutive days off to give employees a break. “Particularly in the environment we’re working in currently, managers should be thoughtful about giving people time to recover. Employees are on their feet, they’re moving constantly, so they need to be scheduled so they can return to work refreshed,” notes Bowen.

Furthermore, when contemplating schedules, managers should be strategic and take into consideration what employees are working on particular shifts. Pair veteran, superstar employees with new employees and ask, "Is this team going to work well together?" Also, consider the high- and low-volume times as well as sales projections and base schedules around these to execute the perfect mix for a shift.

7) Take time for yourself.

Committing to self-care strategies is easier said than done, but think about what is done in an airplane emergency. Passengers are instructed to put their oxygen masks on first and then to help others. Yet, leaders often overlook their own mental and physical health. “Many managers need to schedule a specific amount of time on their calendar each day to hold themselves accountable to taking some time to reset,” says Bowen. “Whether its meditation or deep breathing, these tools for self-care are proven to help reduce stress.” 

Bowen knows one multi-unit manager who blocks out 45 minutes for a walk to think about big-picture solutions—this is a great strategy for any leader. There also are apps like Calm for guided meditation and podcasts such as “10% Happier” with Dan Harris for an extra boost. 

Bowen believes there is an appetite for change in the restaurant industry regarding the health and well-being of the employment pool. “Despite setbacks from the pandemic, the restaurant industry can be an exciting place for a career and offers many rewards for learning and growing,” she says. Over 50% of Americans have their first job in the restaurant business, and managers need to be intentional about how they teach young employees to combat burnout.

“Also, creating a positive culture and workplace environment sets the stage for success. It’s important to remember 90% of restaurant managers started as entry-level employees. The people you are training today are going to be the leaders of tomorrow,” Bowen adds.

Lissa Bowen is the Chief People and Culture Officer at Full Course, the restaurant and development group that helps restaurants innovate and build their brands. She has been in the restaurant industry for nearly 30 years and has seen the industry’s hiring, retention, talent, people and culture practices change along the way.


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