'If you don't have respect for people below you, you'll never have a successful team around you'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Does working in a large brigade inhibit any efforts to nurture your mental health?

In the ultimate live stream of our Mental Health series in collaboration with The Burnt Chef project, co-founder Kris Hall and TSC editor Cara Houchen spoke to Mark Reynolds, the executive chef of the Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club. 

Mark believes in the importance of discussion and learning to see spot the signs of ill mental health. 

Specifically, he has taken it on himself to navigate doing so when dealing with large teams - like the 225 crew usually working at the Tottenham stadium.

And by virtue of necessity, simple gestures really go a long way.

"Taking 15-20 minutes in the morning to say hello to everyone," he said, "that's my time to dip in to see if anyone is struggling," as well as returning seven or eight times throughout the day to check on progress and monitor whether team members are struggling with their workload.

"It's just taking that time to individually speak to people."

When he was more junior and working as part of such big brigades, he said: "you are just a number, you are there just to do a job and a lot of guys just get hidden away in the corner and forgotten about." 

Radically different to anything any of his superiors would have had then, Mark has the facilities in his office for chefs to come in and talk.

"People laugh at me for having a sofa, but it's about letting people take the time to come and have a chat," the team is also implementing a system whereby they can write down any issues they're facing "because people struggle with talking sometimes."

"Or they can write down how they feel and rip it afterwards, some people feel like they just need to write it down and get it off their chest." 

"I'm not a counsellor, but I'm just an ear to listen to them if they need to." 

Staff members also have access to a 24/7 hotline for signposting to appropriate services as well

To make this work, the initiative has to come from the top and trickle down through the hierarchy.

"If you don't have respect for people below you," he said, "you'll never have a successful team around you."

When he worked at Arsenal for a chef "who ruled with an iron fist," he realised just how destructive this could be.

"You don't realise it at the time, but you lose some good guys if you don't manage them the right way."

What makes a good manager?

At Tottenham, treating your team well isn't just about giving people the right number of working hours, but the right workload; being mindful that the same person doesn't end up doing the same repetitive tasks all the time, and making sure that their pay is always right and on time.

Seeing old practices perpetuated in famed kitchens up and down the country, he said, "it's shocking to be quite honest, and it does go on."

"They'll do a full lunch and dinner service and then they're asked to do a cleandown of the kitchen at two o'clock in the morning, and then expected to be back at seven or eight in the morning. You just can't sustain that." 

"Unfortunately, these guys are burning out young chefs and we're just not keeping them in the industry, it's such a shame." 

How to assess your own mental health?

Though he might not have realised it at the time, the chef recognises that he once had issues with his own mental health, but was too scared to speak up for fear of bullying, which was the standard, or "being pushed out as part of the gang.

But Mark turned a corner when he decided to go to one-to-one therapy. 

"It changed my life if I'm being honest."

"The first two sessions, I broke down, I cried. That's not me," he continued, describing himself as "a strong character." 

"But It gives you a few home truths about what you've done in the past." 

Turning the page

The chef has been supportive of his teams throughout the pandemic, organising one-to-one calls with furloughed and even redundant employees. 

"If I hear work coming up for them, I try and help them get back into work," he said. 

"It's so important to keep in contact with them, because they're at their lowest."

"We spent a lot of time together and it's a big wrench to be taken away from the family." 

In a recent instance, despite the loss it would inflict on his team, he requested that one of his head chefs be made redundant. The chef was from Scotland but living alone in a rented flat in London, on a reduced wage, waiting for work to come back, which didn't sit right with Mark.

"I feel like I did it for the right reasons," he said. 

Will mental health be more central to hospitality post Covid-19?

Committed to his legacy as someone who has helped raise the bar for hospitality workers around the country, Mark has helped develop mentor scheme with the Craft Guild of Chefs,The Burnt Chef project and mental health first aid for hospitality trainer Kelly's Cause.

Wanting to put give their resources to best use during lockdown, he explained, "this wasn't about raising money to feed homeless people," but a drive to support chefs who weren't at work, possibly isolated and in need of advice. 

Chef Chris Galvin is one of the first to sign up to be a mentor, and it is hoped that more prominent chefs follow suit.

Its purpose, he explained, is to help "lost souls out there that aren't sure where they want to go in their career. It's a chance for people to talk openly to their mentors." 

With an eye to helping even the youngest members of the industry, they are also working with Springboard's FutureChef project.

"I didn't realise until I started judging these competitions for 13 to 16 year-olds how much hardship there is out there," he said.

"Some of the parents couldn't even afford the ingredients for their child to come and cook a two-course dish," with schools having to step in to supply food for them.

Perhaps, then, he believes, the industry will be attractive to everyone: those who already work in it, and those who might have been put off by its negative reputation. 

"I was a little bit sheltered from it," he said, "but these kids are having a tough time out there. If we can get in and start supporting these kids and letting them know that support's there, it's a massive part of the sector that we don't really think about or touch." 

Thank you for joining us to watch our mental health discussions in collaboration with The Burnt Chef Project.

You can rewatch previous discussions listed below: 

- Alice Bowyer, executive chef for Butcombe Brewery and great spokesperson for mental health awareness in hospitality

- Adam Simmonds and his insightful account of how he has recognised and addressed his own struggles

- Peter Tofis, an ex-chef and current catering company manager on what led him to leave his role as a chef, but how he continues to advocate better mental health awareness in kitchens

- Andy Lennox, on why managers' mental health should not be left to fall by the wayside

- Luke Holder, whose realisation that he was responsible for poor mental health in his teams has led him and the team at The Lime Wood to turn their approach on its head.

We'd love to hear from you if you have any feedback, thoughts on what we could improve or aspects that we didn't touch on. DM us on our social profiles or leave a comment below!

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 9th December 2020

'If you don't have respect for people below you, you'll never have a successful team around you'