A career in the hospitality industry as a bartender, barista, or chef can be a fun and immensely rewarding experience. It’s a fast-paced and socially driven industry that can often feel more like a party than a job. Flexible hours, tips, staff meals, and a knock-off drink (or five) after your shift.
Sounds like fun doesn’t it?
Everyone loves a party.
What do you do when the party becomes your job?
For many folks in hospo, this is the reality. You work while your customers are out having a good time and are often expected to participate yourself. Even if you’re still on the clock. This is all part of providing an exceptional customer experience and can indeed be fun. However, it can be emotionally exhausting to maintain the illusion that you’re enjoying yourself, when internally, you may be drained and wishing you were anywhere else.
If we take a closer look behind the bar, further blemishes appear. The reality of the situation is that many hospo workers are being stretched to their limits. They’re frequently expected to work late and may need to skip out on a break if it’s an especially busy service.
The social culture of hospitality work can be equally problematic and is compounded by the insulated nature of the industry. Most people you will have the opportunity to socialise with will also work in hospitality, which often means that you will be asked out for a drink after your shift. One drink turns into five, and inevitably, home time is pushed from midnight to sunrise. Gradually, this ritual becomes normalised and you may start to notice that you’re not feeling as healthy as you once did.
Conditions such as these can have a serious impact on our mental and physical health if they remain unchecked. Especially if you’re new to the industry, and are as impressionable as I was.
Before I started working in psychology, I was a full-time bartender and faced many of these difficulties personally, over the course of my 8-year tenure in the industry. For the most part it was an amazing experience. However, I definitely could have used some help when it came to maintaining a healthy work-life balance and making sure that I looked after myself properly on the job.
So, why is it so hard to stay healthy in hospo?
Your sleep quality can suffer
Most people are privy to the fact that a job in hospitality can involve early mornings, late nights, or both. As well as a roster that can change more suddenly than the weather on a typical Melbourne afternoon. Unfortunately, this kind of inconsistent shift work can have a negative impact on the quality of our sleep and can disrupt our circadian rhythm. This lack of regular, quality sleep can have a disastrous impact on our mood and vitality over the course of the day.
To rebound from the tiredness that this lifestyle causes, many hospo workers turn to substances such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and other drugs to make it through their shifts. Naturally, this too can have a detrimental impact on sleep and overall health.
It’s basically a bandaid for a bullet-would…
You can fall out of sync with the rest of the world
The weekly schedule of a hospo worker is a far cry from that of your typical nine to fiver. This can be a welcome change at first. However, it comes with a number of significant downsides. Most notably, you don’t really get a weekend anymore, at least, not in the same way that you may have been used to.
For most of us, Friday and Saturday symbolise a break from our responsibilities and a chance for some much needed R & R. The opposite is true for those in hospitality, as these days represent the busiest and most stressful time of the week. Hence the disappearance of the traditional weekend.
It’s not all bad news though. If you’re lucky, you might get two days off in a row on a Monday or Tuesday – an interlude referred to as the “hospo weekend” by those in the industry. This is okay, but realistically, it’s a poor substitute for the real deal and can make you miss out on a lot of social events in the “outside world”.
In many ways, hospo feels like Opposite Land. You live and work in a way that’s out of sync with the rest of the world and may start to feel a little disconnected as a result. It becomes harder to catch up with non-industry friends and family on their days off, you can rarely attend weekend events, and eventually, the invitations may just stop coming.
The party can wear you down
We mentioned previously that hospo can feel like a bit of a party sometimes. This is definitely one of the more positive aspects of the job, but unfortunately, you can definitely have too much of a good thing. Obviously, it can be fun to head out after your shift or to do a team shot of tequila every once in a while. But if this becomes a daily occurrence, you may start to wear yourself down.
It’s normal to let off steam in hospo, as everyone needs to decompress after a busy day. However, the “go hard or go home” mentality that exists in certain pockets of the industry really isn’t helpful for anyone. In these circles, it can be standard practice to drink like a fish, smoke like a chimney, and take more drugs than Hunter S. Thompson.
This is the part of the industry that you don’t really hear about unless you’ve been there and experienced it yourself. It’s not in the induction manual, it’s not in the media, and hopefully, it’s not in the job description on SEEK.
While it may be difficult to make healthy choices in a culture like this, it’s definitely not impossible. Initially, you may raise a few eyebrows by going home immediately after your shift or by turning down a shot every once in a while. But ultimately, people will come to respect your decision and may even follow the positive example that you’ve committed to.
How can you improve your mental health if you work in hospo?
If you feel like your mental or physical health has declined since you started working in hospitality , you’re not alone. The work can be incredibly demanding – physically and mentally – and it’s perfectly normal to feel a little bit burnt out or overwhelmed from time to time.
To keep yourself on an even keel, you may consider putting some healthy boundaries or self-care routines in place for yourself.
By making some small and realistic adjustments to your daily habits, you may notice that these feelings subside and you start to feel a bit more like yourself again.
However, if these feelings have been around for a while and don’t seem to be going away, it might be time to reach out to your GP for professional support and guidance.
Additionally, if you would just like to talk to somebody who understands, you can reach out to Mind Up for hospitality-focused mental health support.