The Burnt Chef Project, founded by Kris Hall in 2019, aims to combat the stigma of mental illness by providing hospitality employees with resources and tools to help them survive and thrive. Last year The Burnt Chef Project provided almost 2,500 hours of in-person mental health and financial training in addition to more than 7,000 hours of free online training on subjects like drugs and alcohol, sleep health and nutrition. As a measure of their reach and industry response, their 62 podcast episodes were downloaded in more than 100 countries.
Perhaps most crucially, The Burnt Chef Project also offers immediate help. Their free, confidential, volunteer-driven support service is available 24/7 for hospitality employees who need help with any kind of mental health issue.
Speaking at Breakfast With Champions, at RC Show 2023, Kris had a fireside chat with Jim Taylor from Benchmark Sixty, discussing the dangers of “burnout” and “presenteeism”, conditions that overindex in the hospitality industry and can dramatically impact employee productivity, creativity and innovation.
As Kris explained, mental health is not only a social issue, but a business concern. Mitigating stress can lower the incidence of presenteeism—when staff are physically present at work but not functioning to their full capacity, largely due to poor mental or physical health. Presenteeism can lead to dissatisfaction and resentment and, if unaddressed, can result in employee departure, which is costly and challenging, especially within the current labour market.
In the short term, presenteeism is linked to a rise in errors, which can directly affect customer satisfaction and potentially lead to workplace injuries. In the longer term, it leads to employee turnover, which can be expensive. Replacing an employee can cost $3,000 to $5,000 when you factor in training and ramp-up time. In contrast, staff stability decreases operational costs and tends to lead to greater profitability.
The risk of presenteeism and burnout within the hospitality sector is tremendously high. For years, the overall attitude of the industry has been to tough it out or “soldier through” ill health and personal challenges or crises. That’s another aspect of the industry Hall is trying to change. “Presenteeism is one of the key reasons right now that people aren’t performing at their best.”
One of The Burnt Chef Project’s new and growing initiatives is the Ambassador Scheme, a community of hospitality professionals who have an intimate and ongoing understanding of the unique stressors and pressures of the industry. These international ambassadors offer a peer support network, conducting group chats and personal check-ins, and organizing other events on a continuing basis. There are currently six Canadian Ambassadors, hospitality insiders from Newfoundland to British Columbia. Brandon Clemons is Chief Ambassador, responsible for the Canadian ambassador community, which includes Klark Brockerville, Steven Brochu, Brent Parsons, Jim Taylor and Imrun Texeira.
These Canadian Ambassadors are chefs, entrepreneurs and award-winning culinary professionals. Crucially, they each have a profound and personal understanding of both the mental health needs and consequences of the hospitality industry. They have all put in the extra hours to hone and perfect their skills, and some have experienced addiction or even stepped away from the sector altogether when the pressure became too much. These ambassadors understand the pull of hospitality, and just how deep the passion for service can run. They know from experience how easy it is to let your own mental health go untended while seeing to the needs of others.
The goal of the Canadian Ambassadors is to raise awareness of mental health issues and work to eliminate the associated stigma. Reaching out on The Burnt Chef Project blog and through social media, they aim to educate employees, management, guests and the community at large while raising funds, promoting resources and providing support as experienced veterans committed to improving careers and lives, both inside and beyond the kitchen.
Most of all, the Canadian Ambassadors want to be the change they want to see in the industry by offering empathy, understanding, and practical steps forward. “We bloody love this industry, but we have to actually look at the reality of it,” Kris says. And that means providing the resources, support and training needed to make the entire industry healthier and more sustainable in the long run.
Canadian hospitality workers who’d like to talk to someone about their mental health can text HOME to 741741 to reach out in complete confidence.