What about SOCIAL sustainability?

There is always so much talk about sustainability and the hundreds of different meanings to the word but foremost, sustainability is looked at in an environmental standpoint; how are we going to live in a sustainable manner without depleting our natural resources, how is my business going to live in a sustainable manner without depleting our natural resources, how can we reduce waste to become more “sustainable” etc… but what about the question “How can I personally live in a sustainable manner that does not deplete my own personal resources and energy? i.e. leading a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

This question is huge in our beloved food and service industry where often we ourselves are last on the priority list.  The guest trumps all and as a result, sometimes we may find ourselves working over 11 hour days!  We are at work when most people are at play; this can make it difficult to lead a “normal” life and find what everyone needs – balance.

In my opinion, social sustainability and employee wellbeing needs to be just as high on the priority list as guest experience, costs, labour etc.  Just think about the high turnover our industry sees.

A common topic of conversation seems to be the fact that trying to attract and keep loyal hard working individuals in this industry is very difficult.  We lose passionate, intelligent, outgoing individuals everyday to other industries, who have recognized that social sustainability is important; balanced lifestyles are important.  Other industries have even started poaching our key people for all of these skills! They can’t help but be a more attractive option to those of us working 50+ hours a week in a high stress environment.

Most of our shifts fall right over the lunch and dinner rushes on “overs”, leaving us only the few hours when we get up and few hours before going to bed to have our balanced life. So there goes another one, off to the fantasy land of Monday to Friday, 9-5 where you get SEVEN evenings off and TWO full days off! That’s 9 slots of free time in a week.  In our industry, we may only get 5 or 6 slots, and often it’s hard to have 2 days off in a row.

However we do get variety everyday, get to eat fantastic food, learn about wine and beer, talk to different and exciting people everyday AND don’t have to sit in a cubicle…that I am thankful for!  Wait? Our industry sounds pretty fantastic!  If we create an attractive lifestyle too we could have the best of both worlds.  Why do we even work 5 days in a week?  Has anyone really sat back and thought about this? If we are working 10 hours a day, could we not work 4 days in a week?  Then our week would be balanced right there with almost as much time off as time at work.  We have the luxury of NOT being tied to the 9-5, Monday to Friday work week.  We don’t need to be there to correspond with the other 9-5ers… so why do we even need to be there 5 days?  It’s tough work constantly catering to others, and putting the guest first and it’s draining.  Three days off would allow people to replenish their energy banks and feel refreshed when returning back to work.  Now I’m not naïve enough to believe this could happen over night, it’s going to take time and maybe some baby steps along the way.  Perhaps the 4 day work week could happen every other week, or it could rotate between managers at first.  Bottom line is this can happen, one way or another.  Social sustainability just needs to be part of the plan.  Our human resources are just as important as our natural resources.

Good people with passion and energy to do this business seem to be dwindling just like our precious metals.  We need to figure out a way that staff are happy and healthy because we all know what that translates to… happy customers and a happy bottom line.   Keeping our workforce refreshed, passionate and inspired is so important.  I don’t know exactly how to execute that quite yet but I know there’s a way, just like there’s a way to reduce our waste, to reduce our water and energy consumption and so much more.

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