The Absence of Workplace Wellness in Food Services and Hotels

Workplace wellness has become a priority in several industries and offices. From corporations to startup environments, employees often enjoy perks such as napping areas, free gym passes, unlimited vacation time and more. 

There are several categories of workplace wellness, some of which have been compared to the wellness practices of different cultures. One, based on different types of self-care, becomes flimsy if values are not maintained, according to Entrepreneur. [1] 

“In the Maori culture, there is a holistic approach to wellbeing known as ‘te whare tapa whā’ or, the four cornerstones of the house – being mental, physical, spiritual, and family health. When one cornerstone crumbles, the foundation of the house collapses. The health of a business is built on the same model, where each cornerstone takes care of the other. It can easily be thrown off balance when at its core; workers are not satisfied only with each cornerstone.”

Wellness programs are sometimes based on a traditional holistic approach. On the flipside, some workplace wellness trends are detrimental to employee health, according to Entrepreneur.[1]

“HR initiatives like Friday night knock-off drinks, or table tennis at lunchtime are fun for sure, but mistaking such workplace perks for workplace wellness will put your organisation on the hedonic treadmill unless your foundations are rock solid. Even the most talented HR teams can’t fix a toxic office environment with office perks.” 

Sometimes workplace wellness initiatives work, but other times they don’t. What some forget is that many workplaces completely neglect these practices, offering a salary with little protection against internal dangers. When these employees aren’t afforded a workplace that values their health and right to safety, they have no choice but to advocate for themselves, or quit their jobs completely. 

Unfortunately, this is a regular occurrence in the food services and hotel industries. Here are three major workplace wellness issues that many service industry employees currently experience. 

Sexual Harassment in Hotels 

Last July, more than 40 workers alleged they were sexually harassed while working at Vancouver’s Rosewood Hotel Georgia. As a result, they went on strike to petition against inappropriate treatment. They, along with employees at four other major Vancouver hotels, had completed a survey that showed the prevalence of maltreatment in the industry, according to the CBC.

“More than two-thirds of female workers surveyed at Vancouver’s Rosewood Hotel Georgia say they have experienced at least one form of sexual harassment from guests, according to a new survey from the union representing hotel workers. [2]  “Ninety-eight per cent of the respondents were women and most had roles that involved direct interaction with guests, including servers and housekeepers. The survey consisted of eight questions covering guest behaviour, employee training and management response to sexual harassment by guests. Some of the behaviour cited included guests answering the door naked or exposing themselves, making unwelcome sexual comments, and showing sexual texts or pictures.”

This type of abuse and lack of workplace wellness is not isolated to Vancouver’s hotels. It has become so common in New Jersey that on June 11 this year, a bill was created in an effort to protect hotel staff against assault and harassment. Bill S.2986, “…requires hotel employers to provide a “panic button” device to employees who are assigned to work in a guest room without coworkers present. If the device is activated, an appropriate staff member, such as a manager, security officer or supervisor, must respond immediately to the worker’s location. Employees who believe they are in danger are allowed to stop working and leave the area immediately to await assistance.”[3]

It is yet to be determined if this tool will decrease harassment or if  mental health professionals will be provided to aid victims in recovering from any resulting trauma. 

Falling Behind in Wellness Within Food Services

When offices fail to implement quality wellness policies, governmental authorities can encourage improvements. To help instigate change, Alberta Health Services highlights tools that workplaces can use to further workplace wellness. Through their publication, Healthy Eating Resources for Workplaces the organization suggests that workplaces provide kitchen space, including a microwave, to facilitate wellness. It also suggests placing healthy snacks into vending machines. [4]

Alberta Health Service’s guidelines give workplaces a common sense blueprint for improved wellness. However, the simplicity of such begs the question of how far behind some companies are. Beyond governmental recommendations, it is questionable as to whether or not workplace leaders, who are comfortable with old norms, are willing to implement change. 

High Heels in Food Services 

For years, women have been pressured to wear high heels in food services in order to comply with mandatory and/or unwritten rules. This is the case across many industries wherein women are sexualized by wearing clothing that men don’t — even at the expense of their own health. The issue, however, has become a point of focus in the restaurant industry specifically. 

In 2017, this forced dress code came to the attention of Canadian politicians who said that wearing mandatory high heels was a violation of human rights. A Winnipeg waitress, Allison Ferry, highlighted the health problems caused by working in a restaurant. [5]

“It affects your whole body because you’re carrying these heavy trays, you’re bending in weird positions, you have to pick stuff up. Hips, feet, everything,” said Ferry. As a result of complying with mandatory heels, “Her toenails detached, a bone in her foot painfully misaligned, her hips and shoulders ached.”[5]

Although it is now illegal for restaurants to make heels mandatory, the question remains as to whether women will wear them because of society’s unreasonable beauty standards. 

In the absence of workplace wellness policies, the future looks grim for those working in hotels and food services. It is not just a matter of this particular omission, but that safety standards and even human rights are being ignored. When resources such as panic buttons are offered for hotel workers, they are touted as the best solution, although there is little evidence to show they effectively safeguard workers. 

Workplace wellness policies have been forgotten in some workplaces, therefore it’s crucial that they’re placed where they are needed the most. And when private enterprise fails to implement quality wellness practices, it falls to governments to actively develop required improvements. 

Cited Works
1 Thompson, Ben. “The Fundamentals of Workplace Wellness.” Entrepreneur, July 30, 2019. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/337460.
2 Migdal, Alex. “Union Survey Reveals High Rate of Sexual Harassment at Vancouver Hotels.” CBC News, September 5, 2019. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/hotel-georgia-union-survey-1.5270867.
3 “New NJ Law Mandates Panic Buttons for Hotel Housekeepers.” Safety Health Magazine, July 8, 2019. https://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/18618-new-nj-law-mandates-panic-buttons-for-hotel-housekeepers.
4 “Healthy Eating Resources for Workplaces.” Alberta Health Services. https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/info/nutrition/if-nfs-hee-he-resources-for-workplaces.pdf.
5 Moore, Dene. “How High Heels Became a Political Issue in Canada.” Vice, March 16, 2017. https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/ez8mwn/how-high-heels-became-a-political-issue-in-canada.
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Tulika Seth

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