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Bullying on the menu

The restaurant business is twice as prone to bullying as other businesses. And apprentices are particularly vulnerable.

Associate professor Gro Ellen Mathisen and Professor Reidar J. Mykletun at the University of Stavanger, Norway, have researched bullying in the restaurant business. They found that a large number of chefs, waiters and apprentices have been bullied at work.

-We've asked 207 employees in 70 Norwegian restaurants how often they've been bullied at work, and how often they've witnessed bullying. In half the restaurants, one or more people have experienced bullying on a daily or weekly basis, according to Mykletun.

The frequency is twice as high as in other businesses. As many as 6.9 percent have said they've been bullied. Witnessing bullying is also common.

- Four percent had witnessed bullying in the work place during the last 6 months. 24 percent had witnessed occasional bullying, says Mathisen.

– Being bullied means being subjected to repeated vicious acts from colleagues or managers over time. It can mean verbal or physical attacks, or being excluded, isolated and gossiped about.

– Being yelled at or denigrated is an example of bullying. Other examples are colleagues withholding information, so that you can't do your job properly, Mathisen explains, and adds sexual harassment to the list.

As many as 12 percent of staff members have experienced at least one such act a week. The number in other businesses is between three and seven percent.

– Apprentices are the most vulnerable. This is particularly unfortunate, since they're in a socialization process where they're meant to learn to work in a kitchen.

– They're learning to become bullies. It's reinforcing the bullying already in the business. They're future chefs, if they don't abandon the kitchen before they get there, the professor explains.

According to Mykletun and Mathisen, the high figures are a problem to the entire sector, not just to top end restaurants, as many believed. In their article, they cite top chef Gordon Ramsey, who claimed that a kitchen needs an assertive and aggressive environment for things to happen.

– We wanted to check if bullying is really a necessary evil. And we found that that's not the case, says Mathisen.

– We found that restaurants with frequent bullying were evaluated as less creative by external reviewers. They scored poorly on creative preparation of food, and on the total dining experience.

– The sector has a young staff, and a lack of mature workers. A lot of people take shortcuts in their career path, and become managers without much experience. Restaurants are also pressured and fast paced environments. The fast pace can make it difficult to plan for the busiest times, says Mathisen.

– Additionally, a kitchen is noisy, humid, cramped and hot, so physical factors can lead to aggression. For conditions in the business to improve, there needs to be more emphasis on environment and management, Mykletun explains.

Silje Stangeland | alfa
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