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Lighting a fire under restaurant leaders about employee burnout
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Irritability. Impatience. Super-sensitivity. All are signs your employee might be experiencing on-the-job burnout. Here's why restaurant leaders should not only care about this workforce issue, but do something about it.

employee burnout can be a big contributor to any QSR's employee "revolving door." (Photo: iStock)

The Mayo Clinic defines job burnout as "a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity." At a time when restaurant employees are as precious as any rare gem, the fact that employee burnout is especially prevalent in the restaurant industry should be a concern worth taking action around for restaurant leaders.

A notoriously high turnover rate and the demanding atmosphere of just about any restaurant are just some of the factors that contribute to restaurant and bar employees reporting an overwhelming feeling of stress and exhaustion. The events of the past year have only exacerbated the challenges of working in the hospitality industry. Employees have had to shift job functions and pick up heavier workloads to stay afloat resulting in increased rates of burnout.

Burnout by the numbers

A 2019 study by human resources outsourcing services provider, Paychex, found that 80.3% of employees in foodservice and hospitality reported feeling burned out by their workloads. So if — as the National Restaurant Association reported — there were 12.5 million restaurant industry employees nationally at the end of last year, that would mean about 10 million of them might be experiencing on-the-job burnout. Additionally, 42.9% of employees experiencing burnout, according to Paychex, cope with this problem by searching for a new job, further contributing to unstable work environments and an even higher industry turnover rate.

Signs something or someone's burning out

Poor mental health can negatively affect an employee's performance, engagement with coworkers, physical capability and daily functioning on the job. Recognizing the signs of employee burnout can help restaurant employers address and prevent burnout.

Common warning signs of burnout include:

Exhaustion, like worn-out expressions or frequent illness.

Impatience or irritability, a when that one-time easygoing employee becoming unfriendly toward co-workers or customers.

Higher sensitivity, as when an employee becomes more emotional and even pushes back when constructive feedback is provided.

Increased absences, which can be a sign of an employee who is finding it tough just to get out of bed or who is feeling ill due to his or her level of stress.

Increased mistakes or accidents, particularly from those employees who are typically detail-oriented.

Preventing burnout

During this critical moment in the restaurant industry when pressures are seemingly coming from all sides and the number of employees at a given store is often running desperately low, it's important that leaders not only recognize but also help alleviate burnout among staff. That means, it's important for restaurateurs to educate themselves and their managerial staff on the signs of burnout in order to maintain a productive team.

A great place for leadership to start, in this respect, is by creating a positive and open workplace environment. Employees who feel that their manager is empathetic, transparent and willing to listen are more likely to come forward when they start to feel burned out. Some additional tactics that are simple, but can have a significant impact on employee mental health and include regular team check-ins, scheduled breaks and a paid time-off allowance.

Additionally, when applicable, offering resources to further education or internal growth opportunities for employees can also reduce the risk of burnout by giving staff a greater sense of purpose and gratification in their roles.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has made it challenging to manage employee workload in the restaurant industry due to limited staff and the adopted 'all-hands-on-deck' mentality that currently permeates the restaurant environment. However, leadership that is aware of each employee's responsibilities is more likely to help their teams better balance workload and prevent burnout.

It's important to stay in front of employees who are showing signs of burnout to help them overcome obstacles and work through the challenges. Burnout is often overlooked in the hospitality industry, but with the right resources and protocol in place, leadership can easily help combat burnout and promote the wellbeing of their employees.

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