“Right now, the more I work, the less I make per hour. I make less money per hour than I did when I was an hourly worker, and that’s really depressing.
I’m an executive chef working at a cafe in a tech company in Seattle. My contract is with a hospitality group that was hired by the tech company, and I’ve been there for a year. My salary is $56K, and I’m not paid for overtime. Typically, I work a minimum of 50 hours a week, but over the last six months, I’ve been working 60-65 hours a week.
It’s not that anyone has specifically told me that I need to work overtime, but there are no longer enough people to complete the work, and so I end up just having to do it, and that’s kind of across the board for all the managers. My employer (and a lot of other large employers) cap the number of hourly workers and force salaried workers to undergo the excess work in order to manage the rising cost of food and the consumer demand for lower prices.
It’s been a very stressful six months, and a lot of people have quit. There is also a hiring freeze, and I’ve been asked to be more creative with my labor budget. It is a struggle every day to get the job done with the number of people I have on staff, and there are open positions that we have been unable to backfill. That means you have people like me, an executive chef who technically has a contract stating that I’m an administrator, yet I spend at least 6 hours of my day making sandwiches and prepping food, which should be done by an hourly worker (whom I should supervise). Because I’m taking on that production, I don’t get to my administrative duties until much later and have to stay late into the evening or take my work home.
If I don’t meet my labor budget, I would get passed up for a raise and upper management would come into my unit and micromanage. When that happens, it’s very disruptive and frustrating for the whole team because they give feedback like “do better,” but they don’t provide any concrete solutions. If I continually did not meet my labor budget, I would be given the option to leave the company or be demoted to an hourly line cook position, which I have seen happen to a few of my colleagues.
I suppose I could just not meet the expectations of my job, but it’s a struggle for me to do that. It really shouldn’t be set up this way, though. You can never get to the end of the work, so at a certain point, I meet my threshold and give up.
In the times that I’ve stayed and worked a 17 hour day to complete a project or task, the reward for being successful is to be given more work. At some point, it’s a better survival strategy to fly under the radar and work at approximately 70% capacity and hope that no one asks you to give more. And if you do, you only go up to 100% capacity and are thus not overextending yourself. That’s an unfortunate position to be in because I don’t want to engage with my employer in an inauthentic way. But just to protect myself, I feel like that’s where I’m at. I see it in my coworkers as well, that people just kind of give up and check out because they feel there’s no path to success.
It’s really hard to motivate people because of these issues. I’m forced to convince my staff that they have to do all these things that are kind of a ridiculous ask. Work harder. Do more, you know. I have to tell them they need to do this because the tech company we work for needs the money? It just rings false. I can’t even say it with a straight face. There is a lot of resentment from the hourly staff, and rightfully so.
If I was working overtime and got paid appropriately, it would be worth it. Instead, there’s a level of frustration I feel now because I’m not compensated fairly. If the law changed and I were paid for my overtime hours, I think they would put less expectation on managers to work overtime because they wouldn’t want to pay for it.
Not having to work all those hours would change everything. I would be able to recover and be more present in my life. I feel like they take a lot of my time that should rightfully be mine. I work really hard to stay connected to my friends and my partner, but I don’t have a lot left when I get home. It pretty much wipes me out for the week and takes most of the vitality from my life. I’m a really hard worker, and I love to be at work and to be productive and successful in that space, but it shouldn’t take over every other aspect of my life, which I feel it does at this point. It takes a toll on my mental health, which makes me less social. I connect less with other people. The people I connect with are my coworkers, but it’s almost a trauma bond that we’re all in together, and while they are all wonderful, I can’t say those are healthy relationships.
I really love managing people and building teams, but at this point I’ve accepted that I need to leave the restaurant industry. I got into the industry because I love food, but now I care more about labor rights. I think the industry doesn’t address systemic issues in a way that some of the other unionized trades do. Also, I don’t know that consumers fully understand how much work we are doing and how little we are paid for our work and overtime, especially salaried workers. They go to pay for their food, and they are upset that it costs more. I don’t know that the average consumer thinks about how their demands for lower prices impacts the workers, but there is a lack of empathy for the people on the other side and the fact that they aren’t making enough money to live.”
— E., Executive Chef
— Eric, food & beverage manager