Restaurant Industry Insights

What Restaurants Are Doing About Employee Burnout

One glance at Google’s “People also ask” section will reveal some of the greatest challenges in the restaurant industry. Here are just a few of the enlightening questions the public is asking:

  • Is working in a restaurant bad for mental health?
  • How stressful is the restaurant industry?
  • What are the long-term effects of working in a restaurant?
  • How do you stay healthy working in a restaurant?

How would you answer those questions? recently reviewed the Glassdoor reviews of over 500 of the largest companies in the U.S. Their findings? Employees in the food service and restaurant industry complain the most about burnout. Their top complaints were long hours, stress, and bad management.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, food service and hospitality also rank number one in illicit drug use and number three in heavy alcohol, surpassed only by the mining and construction industries.

Defining Burnout

Job burnout can be simply defined as an unrelenting stress that eventually wears one down emotionally and physically. According to the Mayo Clinic, it “may involve feeling useless, powerless, and empty.” Eventually, it can affect one’s mental health and physical well-being.

Left unrecognized and unresolved, it can lead to chronic fatigue, anxiety, and even depression. In the workplace, it results in higher absenteeism and turnover rates.

Recognizing & Resolving Employee Burnout

The six major causes of workplace burnout, as reported by the Mayo Clinic, and restaurants’ responses include:

  • Lack of Control: To combat this, restaurants have increasingly adopted flexible scheduling, helping employees feel some control in adopting a better work-life balance.
  • Lack of Clarity: Clarity comes from a good training program and healthy communication. It involves letting staff know what defines doing a “good job” and helping them reach your expectations and their greatest potential.
  • Conflict: No one wants to work in an environment where they feel bullied or constantly at odds with fellow workers or management. Operators are more keenly aware of the importance of transforming toxic workplaces into a productive and caring environment. It comes down to creating inclusive, respectful, and ethical working conditions.
  • Overwhelmed: Unlike office settings where employees can often schedule their day and prioritize, restaurants are hit by an influx of customers. Restaurants help take some of the pressure off employees by increasing staff during peak hours and streamlining their menu, expediting orders and reducing BOH stress. Efficient seating, and reservation and waitlist management, help create the best environment for FOH and the guests they serve.
  • No Support: More restaurants than ever are adding benefits to their compensation package. From gym memberships and meditation courses to covering counseling fees and support for those struggling with addictions, they’re realizing the benefit of supporting one of their most valuable assets.
  • Lack of Work-Life Balance: In the restaurant industry, it’s common to work split shifts, which is the antithesis of work-life balance. Chefs and managers may spend more time at the restaurant than at home. Flexible scheduling and looking for opportunities to provide two consecutive days off contribute immensely to a balanced lifestyle. 

Mental Health in Today’s Society

The American Psychological Association reports the highest rate of mental illness exists for those ages 18 to 34, with 50% affected. That’s half of our youngest adults struggling with mental health challenges. It also represents the majority of the industry’s workforce.

What puts someone at the greatest risk for mental health issues? Long-term stress. Eventually, it can cause the body to start breaking down, from the immune system to the circulatory system, resulting in physical ailments ranging from heart disease to weight gain, sleep disorders, and digestive issues. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 75% of all doctor visits are related to stress.


How does burnout affect employees?

If left unresolved, burnout can lead to loss of energy and, ultimately, extreme fatigue. It results in feelings of inadequacy and emotional instability. Anxiety, loss of enjoyment, increasing irritability, and hopelessness are all potential side effects of employee burnout. At work, it often leads to reduced productivity and mental distancing.

What is the difference between fatigue and burnout?

Burnout usually comes on gradually, only noticeable after the symptoms seriously disrupt feelings of well-being, energy levels, and happiness. The World Health Organization took notice of this growing concern in 2022, changing the definition in its International Classification of Diseases to an occupational phenomenon that comes from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Feeling drained, emotionally depleted, and lethargic are common signs of burnout.

Fatigue can be cured with a good night’s sleep. It’s not accompanied by feelings of hopelessness. Of course, chronic fatigue is a whole different animal. 


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