Kitchen stress is a beast.

How come the people working stressful jobs in other industries can go home, take a bath, do some yoga, and recover? Why does the stress of restaurant jobs seem to sit so much deeper, and stick around to cause so many mental and physical problems?

There are a lot of answers to this question, but I think that they fall into three categories:

  1. Employee/job instability

  2. Lack of heathcare/healthy environment/ lifestyle issues

  3. Competition, no real measurement tool for success, fickle, changing industry

I started this post to answer a few questions that I get frequently from people- why is working in kitchens so much more difficult? Why can’t we recover like other people? Why is the rate of addiction and mental health so much higher in this industry? It turned into something longer, and I have decided to split it into 3 parts. At the end, we will discuss ways to make your life easier, better, and less stressful. This week:

  1. Employee/Job Instability.

Employee turnover, never being able to find and keep good employees, high labor costs, human error costs, interpersonal relations, inability to offer upward mobility. This list could go on forever. Let’s be serious here: employees are a big source of stress.

You are responsible for their performance, but you also have to consider the fact that they are human and have needs. You try so hard to get good ones, but you can only pay so much, and you may not have a sous position open to offer someone to get them to stay. They complain and they take long breaks and they steal food and they do drug and they fight among themselves. And then they up and quit one day and leave you in a lurch. Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are lots and lots of great employees in this industry, I am sure you have some working for you right now. But it’s not the good ones that keep you up at night, that are turning your hair grey. It’s the other ones.

How do you not lose your mind over these issues? I would love to hear from you, and will pass on any advice in a later post. We need to find ways to build teams that stick together. We need to show respect, and demonstrate the behavior that we expect. Something that will go a very long way- 86 the gossip, shit talking, and spreading of information behind people’s backs. One thing that you learn very early on in the industry- if someone is willing to talk shit about whoever isn’t present at the time, you know for sure that they are talking about you when you are gone. There is no need for this. As the person in charge, or even as a member of the team, check yourself if you find these things coming out of your mouth. It grows an “us against them” atmosphere that people will not build loyalty towards.  

On the flip side of this, stress can be caused by a lack of job stability for yourself. The industry has notoriously high turnover, and not all of it is from getting fired or disappearing on a bender. Lots of Chefs and cooks always have one eye on the job field, looking out for a better opportunity to come along. It’s seductive to follow new opportunities, especially if they are offering creativity, better pay, more power. But there is something to be said for staying at one place for a while. You can earn benefits and raises. You will learn incredibly important people skills and management skills. Growing with a job over a few years offers you insights into how operations run in the big picture, which can be invaluable knowledge to have if you want to go on to have your own place. I’m sure that everyone here, myself included, has worked for a period at a job that we had already moved on from mentally. Or we saw a job posting for the PERFECT job and now all we can think about is how life would be if we worked there. All the while, not doing 100% in the job we are currently in.

One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received was this: If you want to move up, start by doing the absolute best that you can at the job you currently have.

You can’t do that with one foot out the door.

A hard and fast rule for me these days- don’t look at job postings. I hear a lot from people that they aren’t looking, but they just like to keep an eye on what’s going on around town in terms of turnover and chef shuffles. That is a bad idea. If you want to stay committed to your position, and keep it long term, keep your eyes on your own work.

Join me next week when I will be talking about how lack of healthcare, less than healthy work environments, and lifestyle issues add to the stress of the job. If you would like to know when the next post is out, sign up for emails below.

Laura Mcwilliams