For a long time, the harsh working conditions, long hours of restaurant work were assumed to be unavoidable. Work-life balance may appear to some to be an oxymoron, yet it is feasible to have both (Yes, it certainly is!).
The key is to attempt to intentionally find some moments of balance, and as we learned from this article, by taking conscious actions for self-care and spending time with loved ones. This World Heath Day, we spoke with hospitality leaders in Singapore on how they combine work and life in their everyday lives.
“My work has always been an important aspect of my life, but it shouldn’t be the only thing that defines me. When you love the work you do, it can be hard to draw boundaries between work and life, but we should never let it get in the way of our relationships. Regardless of our roles, there is no such thing as a 9-6 role in the hospitality and F&B industry. Our industry is so dynamic, everything can change with the drop of a hat, and we have to be ready.
In my younger days, I experienced harsh burnout as well as panic attacks which affected my relationships and the people around me.
Having a work-life balance takes discipline and effort. It has to be intentional, so you don’t get trapped in an unhealthy cycle.
I started with small day to day adjustments. I am eating better, making an effort to eat with friends or family, investing in sleeping better, setting non-negotiable exercise periods throughout the week, and setting a fixed date night with my significant other. I then work around this schedule and allow myself some late nights without compromising my relationships. Another way to find balance is knowing when to say no to social events or life-consuming matters that don’t serve you, this, I feel comes with some age and experience.
It’s also extremely important to find time with yourself. Understanding your behavioural patterns, triggers, and recognising your own emotions will help you better manage your stress and the way you react to tough situations. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the capacity to look after others.
Trust you have people out there who love and support you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them when you’re having a hard time because you think you might be a burden. We all need support from time to time.”
Michele Chang, Group Head Marketing and Communications, Les Amis Group
“Work life balance is very important both mentally and physically. Usually, I will put on my earphones and listen to some music and do some stretches as I am standing all day long. The music helps me phase-out and allows me to be more mindful. I also do Wordle, a word game app, to help me focus on something else. Also, eating regularly and hydrating is very important for work-life balance.”
Patrick Leano, Executive Chef, Burnt Ends
“I’ve always been in restaurant ops, and I used to be a serious workaholic. This was a terrible combination. I didn’t realise what effects it would have on me until I became a mother. Working long days, I didn’t spend much time with my two boys when they were younger and my parents brought them up. I didn’t see them much as they were usually asleep when I got home. It was a serious wake-up call when my eldest son didn’t see me for some time and didn’t want to be held by me.
I realise I was not being present as a mother, nor was I a good role model when I used to hear how friends and colleagues made an effort to spend time with their family and kids. It weighed heavily on me, but it was not a difficult decision to make. I decided to make it a point to stop work by 8 pm daily to give my time and attention to my family. Also, moving from active ops to corporate ops has allowed me to focus and spend more time with family and friends.
Though many people are career-minded and work very hard to achieve their goals, it is equally as important for them to spend quality time with family while finding time to take care of their wellbeing.
Only when you make an effort to love yourself, you will be able to share that love with others.
I feel that everyone copes differently, and we must learn to manage our stress in healthy ways. What works for me might not work for others. I used to take frequent holiday trips, at least two to three a year, to relax, see the world and gain a new perspective on life. During the last two years, when we couldn’t travel, I picked up baking and other courses.”
Betty Wong, COO, Les Amis Group
“Family, work and social life can all be enjoyed if you manage your time well and strategically.
Thankfully, my restaurant’s operation time allows me to spend quality time with my kids by sending and fetching them to and from school. I manage the schedule by ensuring my teammates are rested well and ready for operations at any given time.
I usually cycle in the morning after sending my son to school. During that short 1.5 hours ride, I get to be by myself and unwind by taking in the scenery and also help maintain my health. We need our alone time to recollect daily past experiences and analyse our thought processes.
Family, work and social life can all be enjoyed if you manage your time well and strategically.
I write down my challenges faced in my daily life and seek advice from my soul mate on how to better manage my daily life.”
Ashwan Suppiah, General Manager, Marguerite
“If I am really honest, my work is my life. Both my girlfriend and my kids are my only link to remaining sane. I wouldn’t call it balance but instead the lifeboats on which I climb whenever I can. However, more often than not, I am the one who has to steer the lifeboat and keep it stable. My work then gives me the avenue to be a sponge and soak up as much positive energy I get from our guests and colleagues to balance things out. I suppose both work and family can be double-edged swords, it’s what you choose to get out of them.
Being on the service front of F&B, we are all actors performing daily to a captive audience. Regardless of what happens, the show must go on.
You must learn to leave your emotions, personal troubles and issues at the door but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Sometimes work can be a good distraction.
My “balance” comes from having “ME TIME” or if not at least being a non-active spectator. Reading novels and books is of great help in keeping my alcohol intake in check and avoiding as much as possible drinking on the job (I’m talking about guests offering me a glass, not becoming one’s own best customer).
Although an iced cold beer does hit the spot once I reach home, I rarely drink otherwise unless invited for a meal.
I love brisk walking alone, especially at night (I sweat less) but lately, I haven’t been able to do much of this. When I do find the time, it helps me clear my mind, put things in perspective and helps me think of solutions may it be work or personal issues. Having time to connect with yourself is important.
I admit I smoke too much, I do not exercise regularly, my eating habits are dreadful and don’t get me started on my sleeping issues… But besides all that, I’m still mentally healthy and am staying positive!”
Philippe Pau, Director, Bistro Du Vin (Concept by Les Amis Group)
“Finding a work-life balance is an intentional choice, and it can start with small steps. Working in a fast-paced industry that is people-oriented, drawing the line between work and personal time is something you have to cultivate. For me, that is to not check emails outside of work. I even move my work email icon to the second page of my phone screen. I tell my staff that they can reach me through Whatsapp only if it is very urgent.
Right now, one of the things I would say is essential is being present. During my days off, spending time with my loved ones and not planning about tomorrow’s work and focusing on them has been rewarding for me. As a leader, I want to make sure that my team members are happy, that they are able to enjoy their work.
By prioritizing my own health – mentally and physically, I am able to take care of my teams.
Self-care is important. Not feeling guilty about taking rest and having self-care is something that I realized only recently.”
“Work-life balance to me means working hard to earn money and having the time to use the money we earn to enjoy our life with the people we love. After a long week over my smoky pits, I enjoy treating myself to delicious food and buying treats to bless my friends and family.
We shouldn’t have to find the time to do the things we want, but we have to make the time. Long hours as a chef can take their toll, so it’s important for me to take the time to hit the gym and sweat it out.
Without this balance, life would be all work and no play, with no one to enjoy it with.
I was overseas for a few years, so now that I’m back, I make it a point to hang out with my family members no matter my schedule. I love bringing my grandma out for movies and meals to give back what she’s given to us when we were younger. I’ve been spending more time with my baby niece (brother’s baby girl, nine months old); seeing her grow older and wiser as a little human being has been rewarding”
Chia Jue Mao, Head Chef and Founder, S’Mao (Concept by Les Amis Group)
“The key is to unplug yourself from work and prioritize rest time. It brings a greater sense of well being. In my chain of restaurants, we practise having two days-off weekly to compensate for our long working hours. Doing this clears your mind, allows room for ideas to emerge, ending up with additional time for effective learning outside the confined space, and having the energy to recharge, resulting in more productive days ahead, which is just as important.
The habits I have cultivated mainly prioritize my health to move further. Regular exercise and taking sufficient supplements help too.
I believe that having quality time with your loved ones is always rewarding as it helps in mitigating the stress factor.
Set aside time weekly to reflect and keep your plan organized along the way. With that, you’re able to engage some personal time, bond with your family, and not compromise work and expectations.”
Johnson Wong, Chef and Founder of Gēn 根 Penang
“What work-life balance means to me? It means being able to find contentment in my day to day life through a state of equilibrium where I can equally prioritise the demands of work and the demands of my personal life.
I genuinely find balance in my day to day life by focusing on my personal life while I am off work or on leave. I only reply to messages or emails that urgently need my response and time. By doing so, I can fully show up for work, feel more at peace, and deliver what is required of me to the best of my capabilities while I am present. The same goes for my personal relationships.
We have first to take care of our own mental health before we can take care of others, especially in a society and in an industry that constantly requires a lot from us as individuals.
Being in an industry where we spend more than 12 hours a day surrounded by people and different energies, I appreciate being able to spend time by myself. Spending time on my own could be as simple as either in silence or listening to podcasts such as Stoic Coffee Break or Ologies, in a conscious effort to reset and find back my balance, especially on rough days. Also, I try to squeeze in a quick hour at the gym on some nights before heading home.”
Tania Ong, Restaurant Manager, LINO Forum (Concept by Les Amis Group)