Foot Pain, Restaurant Jobs, and HR

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For those of you that don’t already know me, my name is Molly. To make a long story short, I went from teaching high school making $35,000 a year with great benefits, to moving to North Carolina and making no money, thus begging for employment. I was a job-seeker for quite a while. A long while. Then I got desperate.

I went from having no jobs, to having four jobs. Name a job, I probably worked it. But this is not about that.

I waited tables and bartended for almost eight years and when I quit my last job in a restaurant I told myself I’d never work in a restaurant again. Well, then I was unemployed didn’t have any money and didn’t have a choice. I was already working retail but $8/hour wasn’t cutting it… so I got a job waiting tables and food running at a local restaurant and taproom.

And now I remember why I quit the restaurant industry. Sure, the money can be good… sometimes… depending. But is the sweat, blood, tears, cheap customers, complaints, and body aches really worth it?

Needless to say, after working an 18 hour day at two to three jobs (in a day), when I come home, my back, my neck, and my feet HURT. So badly sometimes that once I sit down on the couch I literally can’t get up to walk to my bedroom to go to sleep, so I just sleep on my couch to avoid the pain.

It’s bad.

And because I’m a twitter-holic, I tweeted about my pain one night and actually got a response. I was contacted by the National Restaurant Association and was asked to sit in and represent “the employee” on a conference call (paid, mind you) with “the employers” – i.e. CEO’s, VP’s, and HR directors of national restaurant and retail chains to talk about the effects these types of service-industry-where-you’re-on-your-feet-all-day jobs can have on retention, morale, productivity, etc. Since it was paid, and I was curious, I agreed to sit in on the conference.

I was honest, candid, and extremely upfront about my situation and my feelings about the pain that many workers in the service industry face. Am I making a hasty generalization? Maybe. Do all people in the service industry feel the way I do? Maybe. But suddenly I was given the chance to voice my frustrations about working in retail and working in restaurants to the people who RUN the companies I work for.

If you work in a restaurant as a server or food runner, odds are your shifts are long, tiring, and the chance of you getting a break to sit down, eat something, or even go to the bathroom are slim to none. I know there are nights when I’m working that I literally have to keep from going pee for like six hours because there are nachos in the window and table 35 is gonna be PISSED if those nachos aren’t piping hot.

Yet, as I spoke of my experiences, the suits offered nothing but, “Well, what about the “shoes for crews” program?” Uh, those things aren’t comfortable, and frankly, they look like they’re best suited for geriatric purposes.

Next the suits offered better flooring or more comfortable “floor mats.” Seriously? Are you kidding me? Because every restaurant manager wants to uproot their flooring to make their servers making $2.13 an hour more comfortable. Because the flooring is clearly the issue.

And then I heard it, the dreaded acronym: ROI. One particular Director of HR for a particular restaurant chain said, “Yes, so we invest this money in making our people more “comfortable,” but what is the return on investment (ROI)?”

I suddenly felt that my position was no longer important. Sure, you invest time and money in your employees, but should you see them as candidates for a good ROI?

When I think of ROI I think of money spent on advertising dollars and good marketing, not employee morale and well-being.

In the end, what is the priority? Money or employee happiness? Do they go hand in hand? If your employees are uncomfortable, in pain, and unhappy at work, what should be done about it?

Sure, when I am working long days and my feet/back/neck/phalange/left elbow are hurting, do I stop working? No. Am I less productive? Probably. Because heck, my body hates me at that moment. But I suck it up, I don’t complain, and I keep delivering plates of warm garlic fries.

In a time where so many of us are going back to laborious jobs and are stepping away from the cubicle, because we were laid off from the cubicle, is it alright to just deal? Should a priority be placed on employee comfort, benefit, and wellness? I hadn’t really thought of it until I heard a suit say to me, “Well, frankly, I feel it’s better for the employer to be reactive instead of proactive in this situation.”

Hm.

It’s hard for me to say if I’ve formulated 100% of my opinion on this yet – because of course pain and stress go hand in hand with labor-intensive-stand-on-your-feet-all-day jobs… but does that mean we have to “suffer”? (Of course I’m exaggerating this a bit, but I’m just trying to drive home the point.)

So I want to know: Should employees who are on their feet all day just deal with it because it’s associated with the job? Does that make it okay? Who should “deal” with it? When a new employee is hired, should management be transparent and prepare them for the physical aspects of the job? And what’s more important, comfort or safety? Is it possible for them to be synonymous without looking like a 95 year old playing shuffleboard?

And until that decision is made, I’m going to keep running food, making minimum wage, soaking my feet when I get home, and hustling. Because if you just sit back and wait for “it” to come to you, trust me, it almost never will.

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