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Is Stress Killing Your Staff?

Posted by on in September 2016 Editions
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KarashiIt’s the Japanese word for working oneself to death.  Whether you realize it or not, some of your bartenders may be committing karoshi on a nightly basis.

A nine-year study recently published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine cited bartenders as having a higher risk of heart attack due to job-related stress than the 243 other occupations reviewed. California Occupational Mortality, a report compiled at the University of California at Davis, found that the heaviest drinkers by occupation were bartenders for men and waitresses for women.

Stress is generated when challenge exceeds abilities — a regular occurrence behind the bar. Bartending is a job replete with stress. Bartenders work in a highly visible, pressure-packed environment. They must simultaneously meet management’s expectations and satisfy customers’ demands. When the operation gets busy, your bartenders are routinely hard pressed, given far more work than time to complete it.

The net effect of stress on your bartenders and the business is costly. It is a leading cause of burn-out, absenteeism, substance abuse, and internal theft. Stressed employees are less productive and increasingly more dissatisfied with their job and quality of performance. Stress can torque even the calmest of personality types into an edgy, ragged mass of nerves. Worse, stress increases heart rate, makes muscles tense and causes the physiology to work harder. Generally stress increases fatigue and emotional exhaustion. 

There are many ways to help alleviate the stress on your bartending staff:

Avoid under-scheduling and leaving bartenders to fend for themselves short-handed behind the bar. Sure, your staff may appear to be keeping up with demand, but at what cost? Look to schedule a bar back on busy shifts to allow bartenders to focus on productive use of their time. The slight increase in payroll should be more than offset by increased sales.

Unless there are extraordinary circumstances, don’t let bartenders work double shifts or too many consecutive shifts without time off. Whether they appreciate it or not, the cumulative effect of working long stints behind the bar can be debilitating. Stresses build like steam in a pressure-cooker until something gives. Usually at that point the result is harmful to their health, job stability, or both.

Solicit your bartenders’ input on decisions affecting the beverage operation and act upon them. One of the largest sources of stress is the sense of lack of control. In a recent USA Today poll, dignity rather than financial compensation was rated by employees as a more significant motivator for job satisfaction and performance. Dignity is the result of respect, accountability and empowerment.

Create a positive working environment. Do your bartenders feel that they have your support? Are you an effective communicator and make clear what you expect of your staff? Work to be flexible in your demands and deadlines, rather than creating “my way or the highway” relationships. Are you an effective listener? Catch your employees doing things right and acknowledge their efforts.

Providing your staff with challenges, and stimulating their motivation and drive is a means of increasing feelings of purpose and self-worth. Do you have an on-premise product and sales training program in place? Is advancement a viable source of motivation for your employees? Do you have any incentive programs or sales contests in place for servers? Do you work with your staff on how to maximize gratuities or better manage their cash income? 

Actively encourage your bartenders to foster outside interests or continue their education. A secure and stable individual is less apt to be ravaged by the effects of stress than someone in a more precarious situation or frame of mind. People who stay in good physical condition are less prone to be negatively affected by stress. They have better stamina and usually have a healthier and more positive self-image. Likewise, a sound diet, good eating habits and reduced caffeine intake are important stress-inhibiters.

Create a team attitude among bartenders. Competitiveness creates internal stress. Back-stabbing, bickering and gossip undermine the sense that everyone on the staff is looking to accomplish the same objective, what ever it takes to get the job done right. Look to quickly defuse conflict. Likely sources of friction are work schedules, division of tips, and who’s responsible for specific opening or closing procedures.

Training reduces stress by allowing the staff to be confident in their knowledge and skills. Make sure your staff is operating from the same page of the playbook and are confident in their abilities. Is everyone making drinks the same way and charging the same prices? Along with reducing collective stress, sales and service should also improve.

The last thing employees need is to be concerned about are the actions of management. Trust and respect are essential to both being an effective manager and creating a healthy working environment. Avoid any appearance of impropriety.

Make sure bartenders reconcile their own cash drawers at closing and stay clear of their tip jars.

Avoid the “teacher’s pet” syndrome. Managers who treat some employees preferentially heap loads of unnecessary stress on the others as it usually affects their pocketbooks. Inequitable or inconsistent discipline affects employees similarly. 

As most bartenders will attest, managing an income based primarily on cash is challenging, and finances are often a major cause of stress. Encourage your staff to put some of their earnings aside as savings and to develop a monthly budget to help them live within their means. By all means advise your employees to declare all of their tips to IRS. Not only will they be fulfilling their legal obligations, thereby alleviating a source of stress, declaring a higher gross income will help them when they attempt to qualify for a bank or auto loan, or a host of other income-related items. 

Help your bartenders keep hold of their sense of humor. The ability to laugh and not take things too seriously are time-proven stress-busters. Make light of the anxiety-producing aspects of the job and your bartenders will begin to follow suit. Make it mandatory for all employees to read Dave Barry or Gary Larson before each shift. It’s unlikely they’ll explode from stress if they’re too amused to be bothered.