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

Chapter Nine: Conclusion

This conclusion summarises the findings of the research according to the Fair Work Convention's 2016 Framework, which defines fair work as work that offers individuals security, fulfilment, respect, voice and opportunity.


Our research highlights a number of challenges relating to the security of workers in the hospitality industry in Scotland. These challenges centre around working hours and pay. The research found that, in many cases, these challenges have been worsened by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing staff shortages in the industry. Furthermore, the research has shown how certain workers – such as migrant workers and workers in rural locations – often face a unique set of challenges in relation to security at work.

Working hours

Our research has provided examples of hospitality workers facing the following challenges in relation to their working arrangements:

Some of those hospitality workers who could not rely on a set number of hours per week reported experiencing financial insecurity as a result. Others reported depending on alternative sources of income, such as from additional jobs or from family members.

Many of these hospitality workers also reported experiences of personal and social hardship, resulting from an inability to rest adequately and to invest time in social and family relationships and valued past-times outside work. This could be a product both of working long and anti-social hours or of working unpredictable hours.


The report has identified mixed experiences relating to pay among hospitality workers, ranging from fairly straightforward and positive experiences to experiences of exploitation and illegal practice. In particular, the report provides examples of hospitality workers who reported the following experiences:

Hospitality workers who had had these experiences – or who felt that they were commonplace in the industry – often took it upon themselves to monitor their own pay and any other benefits regularly in order to ensure their accuracy.

The research also explored perceptions of fairness around pay among workers. It provides examples of hospitality workers who deemed their pay to be unfair, typically because they were performing tasks and responsibilities above their pay grades, or because they had skills and experience which they felt were not being adequately acknowledged by their employers.

The impact on security of COVID-19, staff shortages, and the cost-of-living crisis

The hospitality workers in our sample reported the following impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, of ongoing staff shortages, and of the cost of living crisis:

It is worth noting, however, that some workers also reported observations that pay and working conditions were slowly improving in the sector as employers tried to recruit and retain staff.

Migrant workers

Some, but not all, of the migrant workers that we interviewed reported feeling that they were more vulnerable to experiences of insecurity and exploitation than Scottish workers. They attributed this, in part, to the attitude of some employers whom they believed treated migrants as 'easy targets' for exploitation. At the same time, these workers also attributed the problem to their own inability to advocate for themselves, particularly if they did not speak good English or were unaware of industry norms and laws.

Rural workers

Workers in rural areas in our sample expressed a number of concerns relating to their ability to feel secure in their work and in their home lives, including:

Implications of findings

In conclusion, many of the hospitality workers in our sample faced a number of challenges relating to their security in work. However, this was not the case for everyone we interviewed and, moreover, the nature and extent of these challenges varied between different workers. Based on our initial findings, we recommend that further research based on larger, representative sample, for instance through an online survey, should be conducted in order to explore the following questions:

We also recommend that the Fair Work Convention's hospitality inquiry and/or further research considers the following issues:


Our research identified three key areas where hospitality workers were most likely to experience fulfilment in their work. These were:

Relationships with customers and co-workers

Relationships with customers were a particular source of fulfilment for hospitality workers, typically providing workers with a sense of enjoyment and engagement, as well as meaning and purpose in their work. Workers also reported that relationships with co-workers were a source of fulfilment at work. As the section below on 'respect' explores, however, both relationships with customers and with co-workers could simultaneously be sources of tension and stress for workers, particularly when they were subject to abusive or difficult behaviour. The research did not include a thorough exploration of the nature and types of support by employers offered to hospitality workers in these areas.

Training and skills

Our research identified mixed experiences in relation to skill development. Many of our research participants, particularly those working in front-facing customer roles such as bartending or food service, described feeling little need or desire to develop their skills and talents in the industry. For this group, fulfilment at work came largely from daily interactions with customers and co-workers. By contrast, we also spoke to workers – particularly chefs, those working with specialist produce such as wine or coffee, and managers – for whom the ability to develop their skills and expertise was central to their fulfilment at work. In these cases, employers played a significant role in either providing directly or facilitating training and thus in ensuring their employees' fulfilment at work.

Implications of findings

Given the emphasis that our research participants placed on their relationships with customers and co-workers, it is worth exploring further what support workers receive from employers in these areas. The Hospitality Inquiry and/or further research could usefully consider the following:

Further research could also usefully explore the 'training gap' we have provisionally identified between different types of workers in the hospitality industry. This could ascertain whether a similar 'gap' between different types of workers in expectations and wishes around training can be identified in a larger, more representative sample of hospitality workers. Similarly, the Hospitality Inquiry should consider the implications of this potential 'training gap' for fair work practices in the sector.


Our research identified a number of challenges faced by hospitality workers relating to experiences of respect at work. Many of these are explored in the section above on 'security', such as experiences of working long and/or anti-social hours, and experiences of precarious working conditions, which threaten workers' ability to invest in their social and personal lives outside work. Other challenges relating to respect include:

Physical and mental challenges at work

The research identified a number of physical and mental challenges commonly experienced by hospitality workers, including:

Lack of breaks

Crucially, many of the hospitality workers in our sample reported frequently missing breaks or being unable to take breaks when they needed them, both of which could make them more likely to struggle with these physical and mental challenges.

Problematic relationships at work

Many of the hospitality workers in our sample reported experiencing distress due to the behaviour of customers and/or co-workers. These difficult experiences included:

Many of the workers in our sample expressed the view that chefs were particularly likely to engage in bullying or abusive behaviours at work, although many also felt that the pressure and pace of many different contexts in the hospitality industry could lead to bullying behaviour by managers.

The impacts on respect of COVID-19 and staff shortages

Some of the hospitality workers in our sample reported that the need to enforce restrictions relating to COVID-19 had increased the incidence of negative experiences with customers. Similarly, many workers also felt that staff shortages had increased pressure and intensity in the workplace, increasing stress levels among staff and, at times, making it harder for workers to take breaks during working hours.

Implications of findings

Given these findings, we recommend that further research should seek to quantify the prevalence of experiences of harassment, bullying and abuse within the sector, and to explore whether certain groups are more likely than others to have these experiences, both in terms of workplace context and demographic characteristics.

Further research could additionally explore the views of employers on these issues and look to map the nature and extent of support offered by employers to their staff.

Similarly, further research could look to survey the types of support offered to workers in order to manage the above-mentioned physical and mental challenges at work and to ascertain how effective workers find this support.

Effective Voice

Our findings on effective voice in the workplace were mixed although, overall, indicate that many hospitality workers face a range of barriers to effective voice in the workplace. Our research particularly focused on workers' own perspectives on such barriers. These included:

Our research also identified examples of structural barriers to effective voice, such as a lack of formal communication channels for dialogue between staff and especially between junior and senior staff members.

Implications of findings

Based on these findings, we recommend that further research among workers and employers seeks to quantify the extent of the following experiences among workers and employers across the industry:

Our findings show that hospitality workers often rely on their ability to advocate for oneself to avoid experiences of exploitation in the industry. We recommend that the inquiry explore, for instance through a nationally-representative survey, to what extent people feel able, knowledgeable and confident to do this, and what characteristics affect this ability. The inquiry could consider how this can be addressed through collective action, for instance through unions or other forms of staff representation, or by designing interventions to equip especially vulnerable individuals with the required knowledge to advocate for themselves.


The report highlights a number of issues relating to the dimension of opportunity, as outlined below.


Our research suggests that many workers value the flexibility afforded to them by working in the hospitality industry, particularly when it allows them to fulfil other responsibilities such as studying, caring for others, or working in other sectors. However, this flexibility can also impinge upon their financial, personal and social security, as suggested by our findings relating to 'security' (see above).


Our research found that low pay, over-work and precarious working hours were typically cited by hospitality workers as a reason for not pursuing progression opportunities within the sector or as a reason for seeing their hospitality work as temporary or secondary to jobs in other sectors. Some hospitality workers additionally reported that they did not wish to pursue progression opportunities as they saw management roles as involving increased physical and mental stress, particularly in terms of administrative duties and in terms of dealing with difficult customers or staff.

At the same time, some of the hospitality workers that we spoke to did see the hospitality industry as offering good opportunities for progression. This was particularly the case among chefs, managers and those working with specialist produce, such as wine or coffee.

Impact on opportunity of COVID-19

Our research suggests that COVID-19 has negatively affected how some workers perceive their future in the hospitality industry, specifically by increasing their concerns about their ability to obtain secure and reliable work within the industry.

Rural workers

Our research highlights that rural workers may face particular challenges that affect their opportunities at work, such as struggles to find adequate housing or childcare.

Implications of findings

Based on these findings, we recommend further research into how COVID-19 has affected how workers perceive their future in the hospitality industry. Furthermore, the inquiry could explore whether there are any learnings from specific areas of the hospitality industry, such as among chefs and managers, that could be applied more widely to improve opportunities for progression.

These conclusions will be considered by the Hospitality Inquiry, established by the Fair Work Convention, an independent body that advises the Scottish Government on advancing fair work for all in Scotland. The inquiry will assess relevant evidence, such as this report, consult stakeholders, identify key issues and actions, consider feasible interventions, and develop recommendations for Ministers and industry.

Two key challenges stand out, based on the findings of this report. First, the ability to advocate for oneself is often seen as vital to avoid experiences of exploitation in the hospitality industry, across all domains of fair work; however self-advocacy requires knowledge of one's rights and confidence to defend them during interactions with employers. An important implication for the Inquiry is to explore in a more systematic way, for instance through a representative survey, to what extent workers know their rights, whether they feel confident in defending them, where their gaps are. Based on this, the Inquiry should consider potential ways to improve the advocacy of workers; firstly by improving their knowledge of fair work and basic employment rights, and secondly by considering and expanding the voice mechanisms that are available to workers in hospitality. This work should consider both individual self-advocacy routes, but also the creation of collective voice mechanisms. Expanding offers of independent support and advice available to hospitality workers is likely to be beneficial. When assessing the availability and effectiveness of voice mechanisms consideration should also be given to vulnerable workers who are less likely to have the knowledge and confidence to advocate for themselves, such as migrant workers.

Second, the research shows that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are central to understanding current experiences of working in the hospitality sector. In particular, staff shortages in the sector are seen mostly as having contributed to a worsening in working conditions, in particular in terms of having to work longer or unwanted hours, feeling under increased pressure in the workplace, and being unable to take adequate breaks. However, staff shortages represent an opportunity to raise standards, as employers seek to recruit and retain more staff. It will be important for the Inquiry to consider how employers in the sector are managing current staff shortages, and how to ensure employers are equipped to address the impacts of staff shortages and making the hospitality sector more attractive, for instance by improving fair work across the different fair work dimensions.