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Balancing Work and Life in Hospitality.

August 28, 2017


As the hospitality industry moves towards 2020 and both Millennials and Generation Z begin to make up the majority of the work force, work life balance is increasingly becoming a hot topic for HR departments and board rooms up and down the country. 


Weekends and long hours are par-for-the-course in the hospitality industry – with trading days typically reaching 14 hours, what can be done to improve life for our burgeoning workforce?


Having been in the business for thirty years, working alongside my brother and sister we have built Buzzworks into one of Scotland’s largest independent restaurant and bar companies, operating ten venues throughout Ayrshire and beyond. We fully acknowledge the input our fantastic team has had in our successes.


We are a people focused business and believe in investing in our 500 staff members, having been in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work for In The UK for the last two years. 


People are our best asset and Buzzworks knows that work life balance is important within the industry, as our staff tell us.





At Buzzworks we conduct a confidential survey of our staff every six months and have been doing so for the last four years. In each and every survey, work life balance is always in the top three areas of importance. It’s not just an Ayrshire trend - we take part in a national hospitality survey every year too and guess what? Work life balance consistently appears in the top three areas of importance across the industry too.


Hospitality must be seen as an attractive long term career with development opportunities, good pay, job security and great conditions – not, as my guidance teacher once told me to do ‘until I got a real job’. 


It’s a fantastic industry to work in and I am as passionate as ever about the sharp end of the business – that final three feet between the server and the customer.


However by its definition, the hospitality industry operates at its busiest when the majority of the public are not working – at night and at weekends. Some may see this as unsociable and there is a subsequent demand to be off at these times.


Getting started in this business was tough and today’s prospective and highly mobile work force will not put up the kind of working week expectations that I, or many of you would have faced when beginning our careers within the industry. 


This brings its own problems and recruitment can be a challenge - especially for chefs - so we must rethink the macho attitudes of the past, where a 90 hour week and a 16 hour shift were a badge of honour.


We lose far too many great individuals from the industry due to a poor work life balance, so we need to get this right.


To make Scottish hospitality the best it can be, we must take a fresh approach to address this key issue. 





Controversially, I feel strongly that it’s not 40 hours a week with every week night and weekend off.


We all know people who do the ‘Monday to Friday, 9 to 5’, but their work life balance is poor due to always checking emails, taking calls or simply having their head in a laptop. They may be outside working hours, but their mind is still clocked on.


In my opinion, it is about being focused and productive whilst on the clock and giving all your energy to your family, friends and pastimes outside of the workplace. It’s all about the demands of the job not overwhelming your ability to enjoy life.





What can we do?  What is best practice?  


There isn’t a definitive answer, especially in this demanding and ever-changing industry, but I can share some of the ways we have addressed the issue within our own work force, with positive results.


We embarked on our work life balance project a year ago, driven by our staff surveys and a feeling that something had to be done to make both Buzzworks and the industry in general a better place to work.


Over a period of three months we held various focus groups and brainstorming sessions and came up with the following six actions.



We reduced the standard working week by two hours with no loss of pay. There is a business cost associated with this, but we feel that a shorter working week is the only way for the industry to go. Buzzworks is happy to sacrifice some short-term profit for long-term gain, with reduced staff turnover, lower recruitment costs, lower training costs and ultimately better service to the customer.



This option is available for our full-time people. It does generally mean longer working hours across the four days; however it allows three days off together, which people value hugely. They are able to spend quality time away from the workplace and return feeling fresh and ready to go.



We understand that it’s important for people to spend time with their friends and family who don’t work in hospitality, so we have pledged 12 weekends off per year and only ask our full-time staff to do three nights per week.  



The clear message from our people was that time off was more important than money, so we have capped overtime. Due to the nature of the business, from time to time some of our people will have to work extra to cover illness, spikes in business and staff shortages, however any hours worked over an agreed limit is paid back in time off. 



A hot topic amongst our focus groups, the big issue was not being able to plan ahead, especially if rotas were not published until the Sunday evening for that week. We are now committed to work schedules being available at least two weeks in advance, so that our people can plan their time off.



Lastly, we have given every one of our 500 staff an opportunity to request regular time off to do something important to them. Our ‘Love Life Form’ let’s our people request regular time off every week to do regular activities that are important to them and enhance their lives.  Whether it’s taking the kids to school each Friday, playing golf every Thursday morning or having a date night with your partner each week, we do everything we can to honour reasonable requests. 





We ask a lot from our people, but I would like to think that with small changes like those above, we can have a happy and engaged work force not just in Buzzworks but across a vibrant, modern Scottish hospitality sector which is seen as a credible career choice. 


Hopefully we can spark some debate on what the best way forward can be for the Scottish hospitality industry, so that we not only attract talented people, but retain and push them on to be the best in the business.


Who knows – maybe one day the guidance teacher might even encourage you to work in hospitality.


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