Unilever's #FairKitchens movement puts the mental health of kitchen staff first, says Hazel Detsiny

28 June 2021 by
Unilever's #FairKitchens movement puts the mental health of kitchen staff first, says Hazel Detsiny

Hazel Detsiny, vice-president of food and refreshment away from home at Unilever UK&I, considers how the industry can unite to create a more positive kitchen culture, to retain talent and help recruit for the future.

After a year of turmoil, we're all pleased to see the catering and hospitality industry continuing to get back up and running, and with 2021 set to be the year of the ‘Great British summer staycation', we hope it will be busier than ever before. While the enthusiastic return of customers is music to many ears, it can be a cause of concern to some of the people working in the industry.

We can't escape the fact that recruitment is a challenge right now, with many businesses struggling to find staff. While the pandemic and Brexit have driven some people to leave the sector or switch careers, the fact is that working in a kitchen can be tough and an important factor in career decisions.

Stress levels in the industry were high even before the pandemic. With a sudden surge in business due to pent-up customer demand and an increase in consumer confidence combined with staff shortages, those stress levels could easily climb.

The wellbeing of our teams is more crucial now than ever, so it is important that we retain and recruit talent at this critical time and get our businesses back on their feet.

When do people thrive in the workplace? When they feel valued and respected, work as part of a supportive team, and when they feel motivated and energised. This will also help businesses in the long-term when it comes to staff retention rates, as we know those who are more engaged with work are also more committed to staying in the industry for longer.

We at Unilever started a programme before the pandemic called #FairKitchens. It's a global initiative putting the development and wellbeing of workers at the forefront: something that is more important now than ever.

The #FairKitchens movement is a starting point for conversations about improving working conditions. It's designed to bring together operators from across the globe to share their experiences, values and positive ways of working. We want to encourage as many as we can in our wonderful industry to make sure we are all doing what we can to help people thrive. And simply telling people to improve working conditions isn't useful; showing and inspiring through success stories and peer-to-peer endorsement makes the difference in driving change.

We have had chefs from various sectors, such as Sally Abé, Andy Aston and Ben Purton talking about leadership styles, providing advice on how to recruit, onboard and lead teams in the best way, to keep staff and enable them to thrive.

We want to make improving kitchen culture possible for all, so we have also worked with partners such as Hospitality Action, Hawksmoor and Care UK to create readily available practical resources designed to provide support and inspiration. Assets are available to everyone on our website and social channels, such as a free mental health training series along with practical videos on how to run a ‘Fair Kitchen' and much more.

Celebrating businesses that support the #FairKitchens movement is important to us, and anyone who signs up to ‘become a friend' on the website will have their logo or name added to the page. We're also providing a digital toolkit that includes social assets operators can use to promote their support, as well as physical materials they can print and put around the kitchen to act as a reminder that they are working in a #FairKitchen environment. Our aim is to get 17 million businesses from across the globe involved in the conversation.

Now more than ever, the foodservice industry must stand together to move forward and bring about change for a sustainable future. Let's reflect on our values, as people and communities, and create a healthy and positive kitchen culture that enables its people to thrive. Because this industry will only thrive if people who work in it are thriving too.

Join the #FairKitchens campaign and be part of that change.

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