Story by Elise Godwin, who is currently working at Lady Lola bar and the Cherubino Cellar Door while running her private cocktail business, The Backyard Bartenders. Follow Elise @onewaytripper
We’ve all been there before; it’s the end of a long shift and we’re on the dreaded “clo-pen” (that’s a close followed by an open the next day). We’re sitting at the bar staring at the bottom of our empty glass having an internal battle with our minds, ‘Do I stay for one more or do I go home?’.
We’re all very aware of the vicious cycle in our industry; long, irregular hours and late nights, stressful conditions, lack of quality sleep, chronic fatigue, suppressing emotions, being underpaid, feeling undervalued and disrespected, dealing with difficult people, bullying and sexual harassment, using alcohol and drugs as a vice, poor nutrition and more often than not, even poorer choices. The list goes on and the cycle continues until something has to give and unfortunately for some of us, that something is our mental health. While in the past, conversations about mental health in our industry have been few and far between, now we’re finally starting to speak up and boy do we have a lot to say.
As hospitality workers, we’ve all got a little people pleaser in us wanting to do well, make everyone happy and show them a good time, even if it means putting our need to pee aside to serve that one last customer. Many of us draw our energy from others; when people are shit to us we feel down, when people are happy we relish in their joy and feel uplifted ourselves. Hospitality is an outlet for our personable nature, high energy and creativity. We’re passionate about what we do, we’re hard workers and team players. . Yet, unfortunately over time the industry has developed a sub-current of taking advantage of these very qualities and in turn has created a negative culture of sucking it up and working so hard to the point of burn out. Especially now with added pressures of COVID-19; everyone is under the pump. If you’re not constantly in and out of lockdowns facing uncertainty of whether or not you’ll open the doors again, you’re struggling to operate a venue that’s three times as busy with half the amount of staff.
So now more than ever there is an increasing demand for support that exceeds opening hours. It’s up to businesses to implement official policies and support services for encouraging a positive work culture, especially for serious issues such as workplace bullying, sexual harassment and mental health as it provides a framework to respond. Recognizing there’s an issue is the first step that we as individuals need to take and developing the skills to deal with issues in a healthy, constructive way is the biggest part of the battle. Lachlan Howarth (General Manager at Sneakers & Jeans in Perth) established a Staff Wellness Program that introduces employees to alternative philosophies and practices outside of the work environment. Activities are fully funded by the company, held once a month and based around movement, mindfulness or connection and aim to encourage, empower and stimulate healthy choices for mind, body and soul. Lobo Plantation and its bars have access to a psychologist, financial support and life coaching and staff can put in requests for programs and work on things to launch for the whole team. Overall, wellness programs can really improve morale, encourage staff retention, benefit the bottom line as well as mitigate the mental and physical toll that comes with working in the industry.
We all need a safe space to be able to speak up about our needs so it’s beneficial to have empathetic and approachable managers and mentors that we feel comfortable coming to when there’s an issue. Unfortunately in this industry, too often people get promoted without having the correct leadership or management skills. Are you a manager that is able to recognize the learning styles of your employees? Are you available to provide support to a staff member who is struggling with their mental health? Having the right people in management and providing support and training for managers is key to the success of running a team and a business and while setting personal and work boundaries is a lesson we must all learn, having managers and owners that respect those boundaries is even more important.
Learning new skills is part of every job, so its important to offer training and professional development opportunities that go beyond product knowledge such as leadership and communication skills, learning how to run different aspects of the business or running events. Operating groups such as Swillhouse and The Speakeasy Group provide mentorship programs that guide and educate staff to up skill and grow towards their career goals.
“Implement the “no bitching about work” at Staffies rule – coz toxic negativity can be a real downer on the workplace vibe. Staffies are for asking your workmates about their lives outside of work and venting about Sharons and Karens.”
But you don’t have to have a huge budget to make an impact, simple things such as clear procedures, job descriptions and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) as well as having regular check-ins and performance reviews can help communicate expectations, review progress and identify areas for improvement, which in turn is a bonus for our growth. Even offering staff incentives for in-house competitions that are rewarded with prizes other than alcohol such as massage vouchers or gym memberships can have a positive influence or encouraging team bonding activities outside of the bar.
Providing opportunities for growth, learning and connection can really inspire employees, give them a sense of purpose and direction and a reason to stick around.
Most of us are fully aware of what we can do help ourselves. It’s all those things that we know we should be doing like exercising, sleeping more and eating healthier but ultimately we choose not to because, Tequila! It may take practise and a little dedication to form new habits and routines but it certainly pays off, and while you’re probably sitting there thinking “I don’t have the time or energy to this stuff”, MAKE TIME.
Tips for better Mental Health
Plan your Week – dedicate 30 minutes for a hot date with your diary; enter your work shifts, exercise, food shopping and meal prep, life admin, family + friends, etc.
Life Admin – we’re not like our office friends who have access to a computer for 8 hours a days so we can really struggle with things like paying bills, managing our finances and general life planning. Set aside even just 20 minutes a week to keep on top of things.
Goal Setting – write a list of things to improve and work on one thing at a time. It does wonders for your psyche to tick things off a list!
Get support – get a friend or workmate on board with one of your goals for encouragement to make it more fun and accountable
Move your body – there’s no point dragging yourself out of bed for something you dread. Find a form of exercise you like and don’t be afraid to change it up. Try rock climbing, ocean swimming or mountain biking, you know fun shit that makes you wanna go pro.
Commute to work – if you can ride your bike or walk, you can kill two birds with one stone!
Spend time in nature – you don’t need to be a hippie to know that nature is healing. Have a nap under a tree and recharge your batteries
Improve sleep – Sleep is your friend and you should be getting about 6-10 hours a night. Sleep Specialist Sarah Hull says it’s important to maintain a sleep routine, no matter what time of day you’re going to sleep and suggests focusing on 3 things that help get your body and mind ready for sleep: a dark room with no natural light, a cool space and white noise. Try not to eat or drink alcohol 2-3 hours before bed, otherwise your body spends most of the night trying to digest and burn things off instead of resting.
Mindfulness practices – to relive stress and physical and mental tension. Things like stretching before/after you shift, yoga, breath work and simple meditation
Eating healthy – it’s a given that on weekends, you’re going to indulge in some greasier food than normal, so try to eat better for the rest of the week. Spend a few hours a week meal prepping and try jam some serious vegetables into your favourite recipes (coz you don’t make friends with salad!). You’re basically an athlete now and you need to fuel your body like one. If you struggle with getting in proper meals, get on the smoothie train so you can at least have a decent serve of protein and nutrients on the daily.
Get creative or learn something new – play music, draw, paint, listen to podcasts what ever floats your boat and switches your mind off work
Cut down on the booze – let’s face it, Dry July is great but its pretty hard when you’re like a kid in a candy shop (Kudos to those that have had success). Take baby steps. Try having an AFD (alcohol free day) 2-3 days a week and increase from there. You’ll sleep better and have way more energy.
Connect – Spend time with people outside of the industry as it puts things into perspective, yes there’s a world outside of fat washing and barrel aging. It empowers you to engage in different activities and conversations.
Implement the “no bitching about work” at Staffies rule – coz toxic negativity can be a real downer on the workplace vibe. Staffies are for asking your workmates about their lives outside of work and venting about Sharons and Karens.
Professional Development – if you’re serious about this industry, think about your development and opportunities for growth. Keep learning and studying. Are there any training courses you can do? What’s the next step for you and how do you get there? If you don’t have a goal to work towards it can really bring you down and make you feel like you’re in a rut.
Reach out – it’s okay to not be okay and there are plenty of people around you that are happy to help, share their experience and point you in the right direction. If you’re struggling go see your Doctor and get a Mental Health Care Plan which gives you up to 20 rebates for psychological services per calendar year.
Connect with like-minded people and causes in (or outside of) the industry. It’s important to remember why you’re here in this life and a good way to get some inspiration is to surround yourself with people that inspire you. Caitlyn Selkirk from Women in Hospitality says “There are many different tribes within the hospitality community, find the tribe that supports you, makes you feel good and puts the effort in to spend time with you”.
The more we normalise the conversations around mental health, the more we realise we’re not alone and we can reach out and help each other, which is what this industry does best. Remember to be kind and supportive of each other, everyone is fighting their own battle, everyone has a story and sadly almost everyone in this industry suffers, or has suffered from, a mental health issue.
Fortunately there are so many initiatives out there paving the way for powerful and impactful change. At the end of June, Darielle Asch from The Wanderlust Age hosted the first Mental Health in Hospitality Summit in WA that featured experienced speakers, mental health and wellbeing professionals and a panel of hospitality legends speaking to a room of over one hundred hospitality staff. The stories shared were touching and real, the energy in the room was infectious and the conversations about the real life struggles we face in our industry were supported.
At the end of the day, we’re passionate people people, we work hard and we care. Unfortunately the industry culture has not been kind to us. Yes, we choose this line of work, but no, it shouldn’t be detrimental to our health and wellbeing. Staff are the key to any hospitality business. If you don’t have good staff in a good mood, good luck having a good vibe. When the staff are happy and feel valued and supported, the positivity will beam out of their faces like your annoying friend who’s newly discovered self-help books. Everyone will notice that the staff are happy and there’s a positive work culture in the venue, and that’s something that we can all can benefit from.
Elise started out as a Marine Scientist but she rediscovered her passion for hospitality whilst travelling the world and living in London and Vancouver. Since returning to Australia, she’s on a path to make a positive impact and is a huge advocate for education and training, empowering women, environmental sustainability, personal development and wellness within the industry. Elise spent the last three years running the bar, cocktail program & events at Strange Company, Fremantle but has since moved to the south west of WA and is working at Lady Lola bar and the Cherubino Cellar Door while running her private cocktail business, The Backyard Bartenders and connecting with like minded people in the industry.