New Study Reveals Just How Unhealthy It Is to Be a Chef

Findings from trade union Unite show that 69 percent of chefs say their stressful work life has had an impact on their mental and physical wellbeing.

Daisy Meager

Avalon Restaurant. Photo via Flickr user Carl R Jr.

You think you've had a long day. You dragged yourself out of bed early to arrive in time to prepare those documents for your boss' breakfast meeting. The only sunlight you saw was during the five-minute round trip to Pret at lunch, before you stuffed down a cheese and pickle baguette while battling emails. And you didn't make it home in time for Corrie for the third day in a row because your desk was more invoices than table. And then the train was delayed … again.

But no matter how stressful your office job may feel, it will likely pale in comparison to that of an overworked chef. A busy line cook will work long, late-night shifts over a steaming stove in a confined space, navigating knives, hot plates, and the endless demands of a frazzled front-of-house team.

Unsurprisingly, such intense working conditions will take their toll. A new survey, carried out by trade union Unite and sent to 265 union members in London, has found that chefs' long working hours are impacting their physical and mental health.

According to Unite, which published the results last week, 44 percent of chefs report working between 48 and 60 hours each week, with 14 percent working in excess of 60 hours each week. Half of kitchen workers revealed that they are regularly expected to stay after their shift had officially ended. And when asked whether they believe that their work hours impacted their health, 69 percent answered yes.

In addition to the physical demands of working in a kitchen, Unite found that poor mental wellbeing is common among chefs. As a result of working such long hours, 51 percent of chefs suffer depression and 78 percent have had an accident or near miss at work due to fatigue. Many chefs reported taking painkillers (56 percent), alcohol (27 percent), and other stimulants (41 percent) to see them through a shift.

Unite aren't the first to highlight the risks associated with restaurant work. Other studies have found that those in the hospitality industry suffer poorer physical and mental health than other professions.

But speaking to MUNCHIES, Dave Turnball, Unite's regional officer, said that he hoped the report would help change the current "work until you drop" culture prevalent in some cheffing circles.

He said: "It is for employers to ensure they create a climate conducive to a safe and healthy work life balance."

We asked Turnball whether he thought there was a similar workplace ethic in kitchens outside London, which is where the survey took place. He said: "This is not just a London problem. It is country-wide. Employers in hotels and restaurants take it for granted that chefs will put in long hours because of their commitment and passion for their profession. Often they expect these hours to be unpaid. But when an issue arises, they accuse the chefs of not managing their hours properly and refuse to take any responsibility."

Next time you have to stay an hour at the office, spare a thought for the kitchen porter washing dishes on a double shift.