'Whilst it's mental health awareness week and we all want to raise these issues, we need to make it more than a flash in the pan. It's a conversation'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

The Burnt Chef project director and founder Kris Hall is incredibly proud of what the non-profit has achieved since he created it two years ago.

In equal measure, he's under no illusions as to how much more needs to be done to break the stigma surrounding mental health in hospitality. 

"It's not that mental health awareness week isn't a good idea," he explained in an interview with The Staff Canteen, "it's just, why wait for one week of the year to talk about something that's so important?"

"You'll get businesses who use this as an opportunity to capitalise on press releases and market and then you won't hear anything from them for an extended period of time," he deplored, and added: "I think the important thing is that - whilst it's mental health awareness week and we all want to raise these issues, I think that we need to make it more than a flash in the pan.

"It's a conversation. This helps raise awareness, but what are we going to do moving forward to address this, how are businesses going to step up to address this topic?"

In the past year, The Burnt Chef project has come a long way to further these discussions, and now has a management training programme, a successful podcast and multiple projects in motion to help destigmatise the issues in the industry.

The Burnt Chef's Support Service has been a success: of the 100 people who have used the helpline in the last three months, 8 callers reported experiencing suicidal thoughts. It's not a stretch to say it might have saved several lives. 

"That is invaluable," Kris said. And that was just the first quarter. The organisation very much intends to keep plugging away at getting the word out that The Burnt Chef project is there to help people when they need it. 

Meanwhile, The Burnt Chef Journal podcast, with guest appearances including Sat BainsClare Smyth, Sam Moody, Oli Marlow and Christian Stevenson aka DJ BBQ, is on 20,000 downloads and counting since it started in the middle of December 2020 - so the message is definitely permeating outwards.

"We're getting a huge response," Kris said, "not just nationally but around the world." 

"We've had people on furlough stacking shelves in Tesco listening to the podcast, saying how enthused it makes them to get back into the industry, back behind the pass and doing what they love doing." 

Hearing people who've been through the same things they have, "suddenly, they've realised that what they're going through, what's unique to them isn't something that only they have been through; it gives them a bit of peace of mind, a bit of camaraderie to let others know that we've all experienced darker days." 

"I don't see it as a marketing tool, I see it more as a lifeline and a tool for inspiration for individuals." 

Understanding the exodus

Another project in the works is a survey for chefs and hospitality workers who have left the industry - pondering what it might take for them to feel they could return. 

"We need to really start looking at ourselves to figure it out," Kris said. 

"Through conversations, we've said it's because of work-life balance or it's because of money, but this will put actual data on it and allow us to be able to say, 'well this is the feedback we've had from the people that have left the industry and the reasons why - and it's time for us to address that." 

There's no standing still at the The Burnt Chef, and Kris' team is also planning a collaboration with a company called Peopleful, which collates data sets from employees within a company - producing a report for the individual, letting them know what they might be struggling with, like high stress, lack of fulfilment or upskilling opportunities and signposting them to the appropriate resources. 

"It also produces a report for businesses owners, to say 'this percentage of staff are experiencing high levels of stress or feeling like they're not skilled enough in certain areas and we can help you to improve these," he explained. 

"This helps improve health and wellbeing within the business, but it allows the business to be sustainable as well," because - as we reach this conclusion time and time again, "ultimately in an industry that operates on such tight margins, by looking at how we improve them, you will not just make your business healthier and increase your profit margins because your team will be more effective, efficient and happier to work, but also you improve their overall wellbeing and overall retention."

"The turnover in hospitality can be between 75 to 100 percent - when you're looking at £5,000 per member of staff to hire, train, set up on payroll and all that and they leave within three months, that's a big area where profits are being hampered." 

"We're trying to educate and help improve those areas." 

Just keep swimming

Between the survey, the collabs, The Burnt Chef Support Service, the training modules, The Burnt Chef Academy App, and an international expansion in the works, he said, "we're looking at highlighting issues and providing solutions to leave it in a happier place than when we got here." 

"I'm absolutely amazed at the work that's been done so far and how the industry's responded," as, when he first launched the project, he expected an altogether different response.

"I thought that I was going to get a massive backlash of people saying 'ah you're a snowflake, this is the way the industry is, just deal with it,' but those who may think that haven't voiced their opinion and there's a lot of people who've gone, 'oh, actually, now that you've pointed it out, it is a little bit archaic in our view and we do need to change and modify our behaviours in a way that benefits the industry." 

"I'm really looking forward to setting a new standard on this particular subject," he continued, and not only that, but "I want to focus on what we can also do that's different. What hasn't been done before, how can we change things in a way that's radical and provides a win-win situation for employers and employees? That might not have been done before." 

"So there's a lot more to come from The Burnt Chef project within the next five years." 

All things considered, he said, "it's great that we're raising awareness for mental health this week, but let's not make it a flash in the pan. It's an epidemic in our industry that we need to address and now is the time to sort it." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 12th May 2021

'Whilst it's mental health awareness week and we all want to raise these issues, we need to make it more than a flash in the pan. It's a conversation'