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Building socially-inclusive workplaces

Ben Bayly with chef3

Ben Bayly (left, with head chef Richard) is one of New Zealand’s top chefs.

Earning accolades in Michelin-starred restaurants in London and Paris, heading restaurants The Grove, Baduzzi and The Grounds, and hosting My Kitchen Rules New Zealand are just some of the highlights of his award-winning career.

Ben is also passionate about the need for social inclusion and greater understanding around mental distress in hospitality – an industry high in stress and low in downtime.

We sat down with Ben, a member of the Restaurant Association’s Wellness Panel, to find out his how he supports those experiencing mental distress in his workplaces.

Q: How does the hospitality industry affect mental health?
A: “It’s no secret that restaurants are high-adrenaline, high-stakes workplaces. The hours are long, it’s highly competitive and with the added pressure of maintaining impeccable customer service, there’s really no room for error.

Add to this a sink-or-swim, dog-eat-dog mentality, and you have a perfect storm of contributors to poor mental health.”

Q: What are the effects on people working in hospitality that you have seen as a result?
A: “Depression and anxiety are rife within hospitality because of time pressures. You have to serve a lot of people in a short amount of time.

I have seen the effects of depression, anxiety and addiction and the impact it has on a person’s ability to function – especially in the pressure-cooker environment of a kitchen.

Bullying in the workplace, especially in hospitality, is also rife.

But I think one of the biggest problems we face, as a country, is the stigma around mental health.”

Q: When was the definitive moment that you realised you wanted to create a more supportive workplace for those who experience mental distress?
A: “When it comes to mental health, depression and anxiety, the penny dropped when I had a young chef called Brody work for me. I didn’t know what was wrong with him, he couldn’t change gears, he wasn’t performing, and was going down every day. I thought it was a performance issue.

We dug deeper, we found Brody suffered from depression, mental health issues and anxiety. I felt terrible about this and we made changes within our restaurant.”

Q: What changes did you make?
A: “I walked in Brody’s shoes, made him feel welcome and valuable, and took the time to talk to him to find out what he was good at. I made changes in the roster that might suit him better, and his performance just skyrocketed.

I get the best out of people by treating everyone as individuals. There’s no square peg, round hole. Everyone is different, and as an employer or boss, you need to treat everyone differently. You need to find out what they want out of life.”

Q: How do you create a workplace that’s inclusive and supportive for those who experience mental distress?
A: “We have a no-dickhead policy here, so our team is fantastic. We’re one big family, we all care for each other, and that’s important in hospitality. We’re all here supporting each other, making sure we’re on the right path in life. We’re human beings serving human beings.

If you’re talking and you know what’s going on in people’s lives, it’s very easy to connect with them, find out what’s going on, and make a plan to help them get better.

Also, having a safe working environment for our staff is paramount. We have a zero tolerance for bullying and a door that’s open at any time.”

Q: What advice would you give to other employers or managers in hospitality?
A: “As an employer, when one of your staff is having mental health issues, the best thing is to listen and to help them form a plan.

Take care of your staff like you'd take care of your customers. You have a big responsibility in their lives and how they turn out, and it's not a responsibility to be taken lightly. If you care about helping them to discover their path, then you'll find out what makes them tick and connect with them.”