Fostering Employee Health and Wellbeing

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As the foodservice industry seeks to mitigate the effects of labour challenges, some employers are implementing employer-driven health-and-wellness initiatives aimed at creating more appealing workplace environments and boosting retention.

Some larger companies, such as Starbucks, have made commitments to supporting employees’ overall wellness through initiatives such as offering mental-health services. But, for many others — especially smaller businesses — such initiatives are yet to become top priorities.

“Most food-and-beverage businesses, especially small to medium size, don’t even have an HR person, let alone a department, to deal with these kinds of things,” acknowledges Hassel Aviles, co-founder of Not 9 to 5 — a Toronto-based community-driven organization striving to normalize the conversation around mental health and addiction for workers in the food-and-beverage industry.

As an industry consultant and industry alum — as founder of Toronto Underground Market (TUM) and co-creator of La Carnita — Aviles admits that striking the right balance when setting out to implement health-and-wellness programs can be a challenge. But, she and Not 9 to 5 co-founder Ariel Coplan (chef at Thoroughbred Food and Drink) have found that even small steps can make an impact. “One of the biggest things was just [creating] the awareness that you’re allowed to take mental health days — that kind of support from a workplace goes so far,” Aviles explains.

Another key step is examining the business’ culture around alcohol. “It’s almost become a norm to have a post-shift drink…There’s a lot of places that will even reward staff with a drink or discounts [on alcohol],” says Aviles. “Not creating that kind of culture goes a long way.”

Attitudes about alcohol and substance use are just one example of the harmful mentalities ingrained into the foodservice industry. There is also a common habit of glorifying team members willing to push themselves and work crazy hours.

Encouraging a healthy work-life balance can be impactful in an industry where burnout is prevalent. This can be achieved through simple steps, such as a regular newsletter on the topic, or by implementing policies that prevent overworking. For example, Coplan ensures that Thoroughbred’s staff don’t work more than four days in a row.

Simply providing a list of resources that employees can call on can also help, Aviles stresses. “It’s important to recognize it’s going to take time; we’re trying to move past archaic principles that have been passed down from our mentors, industry leaders and our predecessors that we looked up to and admired,” says Aviles. “There’s going to be resistance, but things are starting to shift.”

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