'Many chefs who started new wellbeing habits during lockdown are now challenged with sustaining those habits after returning to work'

Ishwariya Rajamohan

Ishwariya Rajamohan

Other 12th September 2020

'Many chefs who started new wellbeing habits during lockdown are now challenged with sustaining those habits after returning to work'

Many chefs who started new wellbeing habits during lockdown are now challenged with sustaining those habits after returning to work. Although there is no dearth of wellbeing resources that can help them achieve that, the obstacle here is not simply a lack of solutions. Two years after I first wrote about work-life balance on The Staff Canteen, I now recognise that in the first instance, we as chefs need to review our very perception of work-life balance.



HOW WILL RETHINKING WORK-LIFE BALANCE HELP?

Work-life balance is a topic that evokes conflicted responses​ ​from all who work in Hospitality. There are chefs who aspire towards a balanced life, but they believe that they cannot aim for it given their gruelling schedules. Our kitchen culture makes them feel guilty for wanting it, and it is not uncommon for many to go to work ignoring the time bomb ticking in some other part of their lives. Another aspect to consider is that they often look to employers to assign perfect rotas and thus ensure that they have enough time to take care of personal needs. 


Also, we do not give it enough weightage as an issue in this industry.​ ​The truth might be that we do not straightaway connect that the problems we face have their roots in a
poor work-life balance: if a chef struggles with an addiction it is probably because he knows no other way of coping with work-related stress between shifts. If another chef develops a serious ailment after neglecting early warning signs, no one attributes her ill-health to being unable or unwilling to take time off to heal her body. 


But rethinking work-life balance -​ its importance and its accessibility​ - will help us look beyond the limitations of our rotas. Chefs can instead look to make the most of their circumstances and not just see it as a ‘nice to have’. This might not instantly make it easy, but at least a balanced life becomes more accessible. Also, when we acknowledge work-life balance to be a legitimate need for our wellbeing, employers can take selective measures to support their staff: even if a 4-day week or a workplace wellness programme is currently beyond their means.



HOW WE CAN REFRAME WORK-LIFE BALANCE FOR HOSPITALITY

These three viewpoints will help us here: 

● PRAGMATISM: ​Work-life balance as a concept is built around the baseline of the regular 9am-5pm, 2-day weekend office job. What we can do is this: accept that our work life exceeds the standard 40 hours and ask ourselves: what should work-life balance look like for chefs? When you think about your own answer to that question, I encourage you to approach it with pragmatism and consider your current schedule, rather than take an idealistic viewpoint. 

● FORGET FEAR/GUILT/PERFECTIONISM: ​Chefs commonly experience either guilt or fear around the topic of work-life balance. They feel guilty about letting either their colleagues or family down when they prioritise one over the other. Or they fear that choosing a balanced life will hamper their career ambitions. For others,
perfectionism could be the issue: they might want to be the perfect parent, but not know where to start in the little time they get to spend with their children. My belief is that these kinds of attitudes (which are perfectly natural to have) get in the way of their attempts to create a balanced life. My invitation to all chefs is to put aside guilt, fear and perfectionism and focus on doing what you can to improve the quality of your life. 

● PROFESSIONALISM: ​As an industry, we need to embrace the fact that nurturing our wellbeing guarantees a win for our work - just like athletes condition themselves for their sport every single day. Viewing it as a question of professionalism is bound to make you a better chef because you are inspired to do all that you can to show up to work whole, rather than fragmented by challenges from neglecting the other parts of your life. Ask yourself: what is one small action that you can take today that will leave you with a feeling of balance?



MAKE FINDING BALANCE YOUR GOAL

The Love Letters to Chefs philosophy asserts that work-life balance should not depend on your rota or how much free time you get. A worthwhile goal is for you to actively try to regain a sense of balance, even on a busy day. Often, this does not require more than making time for the practices that help you feel that sense of balance and groundedness. But I accept that this is not easy. My suggestion to you is to organise your personal to-dos just like you would your work.
But start small. You will not have to make ambitious changes or switch jobs. What you want to get into the habit of is making small adjustments to your habits and routines because these build up over time, leading to the positive change that you seek in your cheflife. 


Our workshops teach you how to find balance at a micro (i.e., in your daily life) and a macro level (in your overall life) and teach you a simple strategy so you can achieve that. You will see how balance is so much more accessible when approached through this framework. And the emphasis in our training is always choosing what works for you, without imposing any wellbeing practices on you. 


To conclude, I want to add that the most important step after changing your perception of work-life balance is to translate that knowledge into action, so that you get to see that idea in practice in your own life. Our culture might not yet emphasise our entitlement to a good quality of life, but there is nothing stopping you from doing what little you can everyday to achieve that end. 


(Ishwariya Rajamohan founded Love Letters to Chefs with a vision of a better quality of life for every chef. The platform offers workshops and resources that help busy chefs enjoy more balance in their lives. Visit the website (loveletterstochefs.com) to find out more about ​her work​ and sign up (tinyurl.com/balance-for-chefs) for the upcoming Create Your #BetterCheflife workshop on the 21st of September, 2020.) 


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