How to reduce stress at work—and not take it home

Published in FSD Update

Dana Moran, Managing Editor

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Foodservice directors spend a lot of time taking care of other people, whether it’s K-12 students who aren’t always eating enough at home, malnourished patients back for return visits or employees squabbling among themselves. That kind of pressure can weigh heavily—and come home from work. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America finds that 83% of men and 72% of women say stress at work carries over into their personal lives, and 50% call staff management their main culprit for workplace stress.

“Stress is very difficult in our world, and work-life balance is very much a struggle,” says Lynne Brown, senior director of the self-operated foodservice program at Geisinger Health System in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. She recently added an essential oil diffuser to her office to combat day-to-day pressures; various atomized oils have the potential to calm or relieve stress, she says. FSD’s 2015 Big Picture report, the most recent study available, also found that 43% of workplaces offer stress management programs in addition to traditional health insurance.

Tulsa, Okla.-based Billy Sims Barbecue counts equal time at home and at work among its core values—and makes sure to communicate this, even when demand is up around the holidays, Ryan Gray, director of operations, told Restaurant Business magazine, FoodService Director’s sister publication. Normally, the chain tries to maintain a 45-hour workweek for managers. But when slammed by the higher-than-normal catering demand during the holidays, corporate trainers are made available to step in and help with managerial tasks.

The struggles of workplace stress ring especially true coming into the planning months for the holidays, when everyone from cooks to servers to student employees will want extra time off. “During the last quarter, my stress level—as well as any owner-operator—is up 40 if not 50%,” Amanda Niel, co-owner of Easy Bistro & Bar in Chattanooga, Tenn., told RB. She keeps a calendar where staffers can see who has put in for time off. About three weeks before the holidays, she sends an email inviting requests (generally first come, first served, but tenure also is a factor) and letting staff know which days already are blocked off. She sends another email when she can no longer accept any more requests.

When end-of-day stress makes it too tough to focus, Brown heads for home, making and eating dinner with her family and walking the dog before jumping back on her computer to finish email and projects. But, she says, it’s important to have a defined stopping point.

“I make a conscious decision to leave work out of my mind after 9 p.m.,” she says. “I take time to do what I need for myself and take care of me.”

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