How to Overcome Employee Burnout in the Restaurant Industry

By Lissa Bowen, Chief People + Culture Officer for Full Course

The U.S. continues to face unprecedented labor challenges including filling open positions, rising costs and inflation. The restaurant industry has its unique blend of circumstances that add fuel to the fire. Labor challenges, specifically employee burnout, are at an all-time high.

Why is Burnout Happening?

Even before COVID-19, a 2019 study showed that 80% of hospitality employees suffered from burnout. Long hours, demanding work, persistent understaffing and poor work-life balance resulted in increased turnover and absenteeism; however, the unprecedented stress of the pandemic forced restaurants to lay off staff, and the industry has not gained its footing to attract the personnel lost. 

How to Spot Burnout Symptoms

The service industry is unique in that even in the most optimal conditions, restaurants churn at full speed at all times. Stress is constant, and without the resources to manage it, managers may see the following in their employees:

  • Continuous irritability
  • Apathy
  • Cynical attitudes
  • Belief that doing their job doesn’t matter anymore
  • Anxiety
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of motivation
  • Impacts of burnout on business
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, dizziness and insomnia

If restaurant leadership doesn’t address the issues, it leads to poor financial results, decreased employee productivity, dissatisfied guests, higher turnover rates, a more pronounced toxic culture, loss of brand reputation and an overall negative impact on the future of the restaurant industry.   

Solutions to Tackle Burnout

  • Increase happy brain chemicals:  Managers should meet employees where they are and provide what is important to succeed on the job. Most importantly, with burnout, managers must understand the impact of brain chemicals and create situations and experiences to jump-start the happy chemicals: 
  • Dopamine: Reward chemical that kicks in when people try something new or complete tasks
  • Serotonin: Mood stabilizer created by getting sunlight, exercising or eating a healthy diet
  • Oxytocin: Love hormone activated by spending time with friends or doing something nice for someone
  • Endorphins: Relieves pain and is secreted when exercising, meditating or laughing
  • Create psychological safety: When managers include employees in decision-making, are open to feedback and show they are engaged, they create an environment absent of interpersonal fear where employees are more likely to innovate and adapt to change. Committing to regularly scheduled check-ins and having frequent conversations creates passageways for growth. 
  • Promote self-awareness and self-care: Taking care of the body, mind and spirit is at the crux of happiness, productivity and engagement. Managers may assume employees have the necessary tools to achieve self-care, but the better bet is to teach them how to be more successful at self-care. One of the simplest stress-reducing practices involves teaching team members to box breathe, a technique Navy Seals use breathing technique before entering high-pressure situations. It increases oxygen to the brain, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system that releases positive endorphins, reduces heart rate, decreases anxiety and improves focus. Other simple tactics include a step contest to see which employee gets the most steps in two days or having a walking meeting with an employee. 
  • Identify career interests and set goals: All employees are born with innate interests and passions, and it is the manager’s job to help them see where these can take them. Once a quarter, managers should discuss career development and ask employees what they want to learn in the next three months, how this will help their career and what they can do to help with this goal. Managers should then find ways to tie that career development into the employee’s current work, create SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Trackable) and follow up to see what progress has been made and what they need to hit the goals. When people learn to do this early in their careers, they learn accountability, and statistics show that people who set and achieve goals are promoted more frequently. 
  • Communicate core values and provide education for success: Putting restaurant culture at the forefront is paramount. When managers articulate the core values, systems, behaviors and expectations, the employee experience is elevated because they know what the brand is built upon and what it believes in. Continued education is the final ingredient to prevent employee burnout and the foundation of Full Course’s educational mission: cultivating the future of the restaurant industry one leader at a time. Employers must provide restaurant-specific training and resources to be an effective team player. Education grows future leaders from within the company.

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With 67% of restaurants reporting being understaffed, it is important to invest in education and continued development to retain employees and prevent burnout. Offering a culture that is more attractive than that of competitors will prove to be the best investment for future growth and earnings. The power to transform the restaurant industry lies in the hands of those who lead and serve. Leaders who implement these solutions and prioritize the well-being of their teams can be the catalyst for change, setting a positive example for the entire industry.