A qualitative investigation into the experiences of workers in the hospitality sector in Scotland

Chapter Four: Workplace relationships

This chapter looks at how hospitality workers experienced their relationships with co-workers and managers. We found that most hospitality workers reported good relationships with their co-workers and many cited these as a source of job satisfaction and enjoyment. Hospitality workers were more likely, however, to have experienced problems with managers and other senior staff: in the sections below, we show that some workers reported harsh and even bullying treatment from managers, which they cited as a source of stress in the workplace. Many of the chefs and restaurant managers that we interviewed expressed the view that such behaviour was particularly common in restaurant kitchens.

The chapter also shows how some of the hospitality workers in our sample have experienced or witnessed discrimination and harassment from co-workers based on their gender, race and ethnicity, and age. The chapter concludes with a worker story on Amy, who cited negative experiences with managers as a key reason for wanting to leave the hospitality industry.

The themes explored In this chapter address issues relating in particular to experiences of 'respect' and 'fulfilment' at work – two of the five dimensions of fair work as outlined in the Fair Work Convention's Framework.

4.1 Positive relationships with co-workers

Many of our participants reported close relationships with their colleagues, often using the language of friendship or even family to describe the nature of these relationships. The below quotes have been chosen to illustrate how hospitality workers saw these close relationships between colleagues as a source of social support and a significant aspect of their overall job satisfaction and well-being in the workplace:

"Here I found out the kind of colleagues who you can work with them, with, actually we make a good team, we can be a team together and we can understand each other, and we help each other when we need. It's just, this is the reason actually why, which motivates me to stay in this hotel."

Andrei, 30, housekeeping supervisor in a hotel, Stirling

"The main thing that I love about hospitality in general but also this job was my co-workers, they were just lovely, just to work with and just the team dynamic that we have going on…., I mainly worked with women, which is usually my experience in hospitality, and they were all kind of the same age as me. So, we had that connection on, you know, we were still doing university or a lot of us just had graduated. So, we had the same life experiences, which was probably what was important with that, and so sometimes we'd have socials and things, where we would meet up and that also allowed us to bond a bit more… you become very close to your co-workers very quickly, because I think you're just with each other for such a long amount of time, that you do break those barriers very quickly. So, you get to talk about those things and it was always very easy. So, if someone was having a bad day, you would try and be there for them and make sure they feel okay at work."

Kate, 21, undergraduate student and barista in coffee shop, Edinburgh

"I mean I have got to know some of the guys there as well, and they treat me like I am part of the team now. So, I like that it's almost like a social life. My co-workers we get on very well together… Just seeing people and talking to people. I think during covid I really missed people, you can probably tell I am quite … my wife says I am a sociable bugger. So, covid didn't really suit me because I like speaking to people."

Neil, 38, full-time administrator and part-time waiter for events catering company, Glasgow

4.2 Experiences of bullying from managers and senior staff

Many of our participants reported having good relationships with senior staff members, in some cases referring to their managers as 'friends' or even 'like family'. However, other participants cited bad management practices as a major source of stress and dissatisfaction in their workplace, and even as a reason for moving jobs.

István described a former boss to us, for example:

"[I had] a terrible manager, the worst I could imagine. And basically he was bullying staff members, and he was micromanaging and all, yeah, so there was one point when I was thinking about okay, I'm going to leave this job too, because people left the job, one after another, and every week somebody left."

István, 34, head barista in a specialist coffee shop, Edinburgh

Another participant, Caroline, left a job in local pub primarily because of a new manager, whom she felt had a bullying personality, as she told us:

"I know of things that she's done and said to other people. And I've been there when I've actually heard her, that tone that she speaks to people. And I just didn't like it. … You know, you can't speak to people like that."

Caroline, 64, bartender in golf club, Perthshire

By comparison, Jessica explained how a previous manager had created a "toxic environment" at work, ultimately leading to people leaving the bar:

"The old manager we had was very, very difficult, and she was fired for bullying people, so a couple left because she bullied them. Another person was about to leave, and then that's when we all told the boss, this can't keep going on, this is ridiculous, so we lost a few people because of that… it was beginning to get quite a toxic environment, and for such a close-knit team, when that happens, you know, people didn't want to come to work, it was lots of gossiping, yeah, it wasn't a fun period. That was a really stressful time, it was difficult."

Jessica, 38, wine bar manager, Glasgow

In another example, Andrei reported leaving a job in a hotel due to a critical manager and supervisor, who he felt had behaved in a bullying manner:

"[In my old job] the supervisor and the manager, even if I do my job, 100 percent, they found all the time something to say, all the time, it was like creepy… They tried to make me feel like inferior, [like] they are someone and I am nothing." Andrei, 30, housekeeping supervisor in a hotel, Stirling

The quotes above reflects that workers in our sample often changed jobs within the hospitality industry. We identified a number of different factors leading to a high turnover, such as relationships with supervisors, working conditions, hours and pay. One of the most common themes was that workers often used it as a strategy to deal with bad treatment, such as the examples above where Caroline, Jessica and Andrei left due to bullying and toxic working environments. Similarly, Timea moved jobs when she experienced sexual harassment.

Other hospitality workers told us that their managers, while often good-tempered and friendly, could still on occasion react harshly and impatiently to situations in a way that often felt demoralising and unfair. For example, Andrew, a student who worked part-time in a coffee shop in Edinburgh, described two occasions to us when his manager – with whom he said he had basically a good relationship – had lost his temper with him, once for checking his phone and once for making a mistake with an order. Similarly, Benci, a chef, described having excellent relationships with his head chef and sous chef, despite an incident when he first started training with them when they shouted at him to the extent that he was considering leaving his job altogether – this story is also explored in the sections on training in Chapter Six.

In another example, Lutsi described how she was reprimanded and threatened by her manager for taking a sick day, despite rarely ever taking time off and despite their usually good relationship:

"I was supervisor [in this coffee shop] I was doing loads of paperwork because [my] manager is actually dyslexic…And I'm doing loads of paperwork, don't mind it, but sometimes she had bit of temper....I almost never take a day off sick, [only] one time I had a bad allergic reaction, I went to hospital, I went from hospital to work, and was like I'm feeling quite okay, I can do it. But I was sick soon after that, called in sick and she told me, if I find out you're going to job interview instead of coming to work, you're going to get fired and never get work anywhere."

Lutsi, 41, barista in coffee shop, Aberdeen

4.3. Agency workers

It is worth noting that agency workers could face a particular set of challenges with management, especially given that they were often expected to adjust quickly to new conditions and workplaces. Agency workers and permanent employees also told us that agency workers – as temporary staff – were often seen as less good at or invested in their jobs, making them more likely to be treated harshly by managers. For example, Alistair, a student who works in events catering, described how he had a different manager with every shift, given that managers were always employees of the venues where he was sent by the agency. He described how his enjoyment of his work depended to a great extent on how well he was treated by these managers, some of whom were patient and courteous, while others were "snappy" and irritable:

"[My] mental health [is affected] during the shifts, it depends if the manager is nice and actually cares about their employees, the other day, the manager was really nice, so, it really did improve the whole shift and everyone actually praised her at the end, it was like, thank you so much, you made it just so much nicer. Then you get [managers] who don't really tell you what they want you to do and then expect me to be doing the stuff they haven't told you to do. Then they are quite snappy, saying, you should be doing something, and then we don't know what to do, because we don't often work in that venue or something like that. I think a lot of the people that work at these venues are full time, they do get a bit annoyed with agency staff, particularly if they haven't been trained for that place."

Alistair, 20, undergraduate student and part-time waiter in events catering, Edinburgh

In another example, Jamie, a security guard who was sent to different venues regularly by an agency, identified venue managers as the worst aspect of his job. In this case, it seemed that a lack of clear hierarchy and division of labour between himself and managers often resulted in tensions between the two:

"Some [bar managers] are worse than the punters, some of them really are worse than the customers....[they try] to tell me my job, they'll try and tell you well you shouldn't have done that, don't try to tell me how to put someone out, I've been doing it since I was fifteen…:I don't like someone getting involved because they add petrol to it, we were trying to talk it down and the bar manager's trying to get us just to drag him out and you're like no …we're our own boss, they try to be your boss but you're like you just get on with your work and we'll get on with ours, you know what I mean."

Jamie, 38, NHS assistant porter and part-time doorman/security guard, Glasgow

4.4. Experiences of physical and verbal abuse in restaurants

Many of our participants who worked in restaurants, either as waiting staff or as junior chefs, told us that senior chefs were particularly likely to engage in verbally abusive behaviours in the workplace, such as shouting, swearing and insulting junior members of staff. For example, Alek, a chef, told us that he had frequently experienced this sort of verbal abuse in kitchens, which he attributed, in part, to the stress of the kitchen environment:

"I think it's the environment… it's learned behaviour I would say you know. Yes so they just put that behaviour in the kitchen and they find the weak people and they just react because it is a hard job, hard work and people are tired, they need to react, like overreact somehow and usually they do on the people they have close. So the co-workers you know."

Alek felt, however, that things had improved in recent years, as restaurants were aware of the need to retain staff:

"[Bad treatment] was so common you know. It was common but it is changing because people stop to work as chefs because they don't like to be treated that way and they start to realise that you can just go to grocery store and work there for similar money and much less stress. No one is going to scream at you, just going to need to do your things."

Alek, 35, chef, Glasgow

By comparison, Alistair, who worked as a waiter for an agency doing events catering, told us how he had once burnt his fingers, because he was being shouted at by a chef:

"The chefs sometimes [get] snappy with you. Once, the plates are very hot, so you have to deal with napkins and stuff, and then my napkins got covered in gravy once, and then they were just shouting at me to go, go, go, but obviously, I didn't want to burn my fingers, and ended up burning my fingers because of that."

Alistair, 20, undergraduate student and part-time waiter in events catering, Edinburgh

The most stark examples that we heard of verbal and physical abuse in restaurants were described to us by Tony, who recounted numerous examples of such behaviour, particularly throughout the 1990s and 2000s. He noted that he himself had participated in what he saw as this 'culture' of bad treatment in the restaurant industry. Like Alek, however, he also felt that things had improved in recent years:

"I got sat on top of one of a [hot] cooker, because I burnt something....The chef sat me on top of it, to teach me a lesson. I got locked in a fridge for an hour; I got sent for the glass hammers and the tartan paint and all that kind of nonsense…. This was, what, the early 2000s. So, it was still the screaming and shouting and the threats of violence….all the other nonsense that went with it…. Like if I was to meet somebody in the street that worked in hospitality, we'd speak to each other in a completely different way, where you can verbally abuse people… And it wasn't always clean. Any time a new member of staff started, who was younger, you'd say: 'Listen, you're going to have to behave yourselves until we see what they can tolerate.'.. A lot of the time… they thought this was fantastic, the way we just spoke to each other and swore at each other and shouted at each other and ... . I used to be a shouter, and stamping my feet and slamming doors, and all that kind of nonsense…"

Tony, 54, Glasgow, restaurant manager

4.5. Experiences of sexual harassment from co-workers

Three of our participants reported incidences of sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour at work: one participant, Tímea, had experienced this personally from the head chef in the restaurant where she worked. She described it to us as follows:

"I was working there for three weeks and the actual head chef there he was sexually trying to harass me and because he had my number, because he was the head chef, he started to send inappropriate messages as well and it was… I needed to block him and leave the place."

Tímea, 45, chef, rural location

Tímea told us that she did not feel confident in reporting the incident, choosing instead to leave her work and find another job instead (for Tímea's full story, see Chapter Two).

Ana, a native-Spanish speaker, described two co-workers who were routinely offensive towards women:

"I have two colleagues, they're both Spanish, and they try to dominate in the kitchen, I understand because they speak Spanish, but they talk shit, they are vulgar against women, the things they do to women, because others don't understand, well I understand."

Ana, 36, housekeeper and waitress in hotel, Edinburgh (interview translated from Spanish to English)

Another worker, Lutsi, had not experienced harassment herself but had witnessed a co-worker harassing the "younger" female employees. He was eventually fired for this reason, although Lutsi felt that the situation could have been dealt with better by the company by providing both training on sexual harassment, and by providing better channels for making confidential complaints:

"It's a big company as well, so they should have like a helpline or something. Like in that case, because that guy wasn't supervisor, and he wasn't manager. It was the girls getting together and [telling on him eventually]. But it could have been better."

Lutsi, 41, barista in coffee shop in Aberdeen

4.6. Experiences of racism and discrimination from co-workers

In our sample, we interviewed 15 hospitality workers who had migrated to Scotland as adults. The most common complaint among these workers, particularly among eastern European workers, was that they were more vulnerable to being exploited by employers in terms of pay and conditions (see Chapter Two). Some also complained of experiencing racism and prejudice, both from customers (see section and from co-workers or managers. For example, as explored in the worker story in Chapter Two, Tímea told us that she had experienced "racism [and] sexism very often" in the hospitality industry. She gave the example of a former boss who "made jokes at our expense" and referred to her as "Friday" after a slave character in Robinson Crusoe.

In another example, Birodh, who had been born and raised in Nepal, described to us both experiences of racism at the hands of customers , as well as his concerns that prejudice was contributing to staff shortages in his restaurant, as local people did not want to accept jobs in an Indian restaurant because of the smell:

"Sometimes they have a problem in finding the staff, front of house staff. Basically, in the Indian kitchen, people don't like, they feel, the smell, so, people are not interested in working in the Indian restaurant, so, quite complicated sometimes. Front of house, yes, but because of the smell of food is more stronger in the Indian kitchen….Yes, it's stronger, the smell, so people are quite, don't like, there is no, people not interested, they have other options, if they are working in a café, but they have, sometimes they have problems with finding work outside….people are not happy like this, working in a strong smell, they feel like when they go out, they smell like curry, curry [chuckling]."

Birodh, 30, chef, Stirling

In a final example, Alek, a chef who felt strongly that he had experienced exploitation over the years because he was from Poland (see section 2.2), told us that he had not experienced racism although he had witnessed this in kitchens he worked in. He described the following incident to us where a manager referred to a co-worker as a "lazy Indian":

"There was a situation… there was an Indian guy who was like slow but he was very good worker and at the end of the day everything was done so I was very happy with him. I never complained… But then the lady heard a few words he is slow and [said] "ah you lazy Indian" which is very, very bad. He felt very attacked and after that he said like he almost started to cry because the way she said that and he actually tried very hard to help and everything and it's like you know the small things, the small words can really hurt you know. So they don't realise that actually they can by these silly jokes …Yes, but not for everyone is a joke and they need to understand like not every culture accepts that kind of jokes. You know like Scottish people are cool with that you know and they joke like that every single situation… But then you need to realise that you work with people from the other countries, and you need to be more aware."

Alek, 35, chef, Glasgow

Workers' Experience of the Hospitality Sector

Worker Profile

Name: Amy

Age: 24

Nationality: Scottish

Work History: Experience as an events worker, stewardess, and as a bartender

Takeaway: Felt that managers and co-workers treated her unfairly because of her young age.

Amy, a 24-year-old woman, had worked in the hospitality sector since leaving school at 18. She had previous experience as an events worker, stewardess, and as a bartender. At the time of the video diary, she was using an app and an agency to find work. In her video diaries, which she completed over six working days, Amy described two negative interactions with her managers. Firstly, she experienced difficulties with the app which she uses to find shifts. On three separate occasions in one week, shift patterns were listed earlier on the employer's work portal and later on hers. This meant she showed up late to work and was sent home earlier than expected. On one occasion, her manager became aggravated and shouted at her:

"I walked in, and the supervisor just kinda shouted at me, and he was like, who are you? And I was like, I'm [Amy] and he started saying that they had me down as like a 6:30 start, instead of a 8:30 start and he's being really aggressive and like wouldn't believe me until I actually opened up the work portal and it said 8:30 on it and he wound his neck back… but it kind of set a precedent for the day."

The uncertainty of her shift arrangements during this week had distressed her as she had planned her week and her finances around these working hours which then turned out to be incorrect. She contested this via the app and was told that she would be paid until her finishing time, as the mix-up had been their fault. She was not convinced, however, that they would do as promised.

Later that week, when working with the agency, she was scheduled to work early on a Sunday morning. However, a lack of public transport at that time made it impossible for her to make it on time for the morning shift. She approached her managers to see if she could be moved to a later shift that same Sunday and was met with a negative response. Interestingly, during this interaction, she felt that her managers were making unfair assumptions about her based on her relatively young age:

"They kind of belittled me about it and I was annoyed and the first thing they asked me they were like, who do you live with? And I said well I stay at home right now and they just had an attitude and they were calling me mollycoddles and stuff like that….So that annoyed me about because… as much as I'd like to do the shift I can't but it was just the way they were speaking to me. It was as if like oh, I've led a sheltered life and I wouldn't, can't get up too early as if I haven't been getting up early at four in the morning for the past week to work there and […] I was made out to be a spoiled brat because I can't get there."

Furthermore, talking generally about her experiences at work, she commented that despite her years of experience in hospitality, she was treated differently at work due to her colleagues' assumptions relating to her age.

"I think the worst thing is because they are a bit older than me and I'm relatively new like to the [venue] that we were working. And even though I've worked with that company for six years, they sort of look down on me a bit, and over explain things to me that I'm very well aware of and I know so that kind of gets to me sometimes because it's like a weird hierarchy. I don't know, it's like, it doesn't matter how long you've worked in that profession. If you're younger than someone, they will automatically assume that you're incapable of doing your job that you've probably been doing just as long as them."

Amy told us that she was not interested in continuing to work in hospitality and gave a variety of reasons for disliking her work, particularly these negative relationships with colleagues and managers, as well as at times with customers. She also told us that she felt physically and mentally drained: physically due to having to stand on her feet throughout her shift and mentally as her role often left her feeling bored, which negatively impacted her mental health.