On this episode, Ragnar speaks with Wonda Grobbelaar – chef, soft skills training expert, and Ph.D. candidate researching stress in the kitchen. She shares her findings on mental health and automation technology in back-of-house, contributing factors to stress, and recommendations for future-proofing the industry through training and education in emotional intelligence.
Tune in and learn about:
- how different factors like age, gender, and personality type affect stress levels and coping mechanisms;
- how new automation technology and robotics are changing back-of-house teams, and what that may mean for stress on the job;
- how leadership and management training is key to supporting better mental health, and;
- important tips on how managers and employers can improve culture in the kitchen.
Participate in the survey!
Be a part of this important research! Take the short survey to contribute your insights and experience to the study. It should take less than 10 minutes to complete.
You can read Wonda’s recently published paper, When the Next Celebrity Chef Is a Robot, and You Are His Team Mate, How Will You Feel? about automation technology in food production facilities and how robotics as a part of the kitchen brigade affects the mental health of culinary professionals.
“For me, there’s two things that are really important. It doesn’t matter if you are in management—culinary or any management—there are two things that are really valuable.” Listen to the episode to find out, plus Wonda’s tips on how management can better support their staff and reduce stress in back-of-house.
Preliminary findings and more about the study
Chefs working at the same organization can differ in their coping strategies and won’t necessarily respond in the same manner to stress. Personality has been identified as a vital factor in understanding the levels of psychological distress of a chef and if it could be affected by different personality types. A measurement that is often used to determine the personality trait is the Big Five Inventory Test (BFI) The five broad personality traits described by the theory are Neuroticism, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Openness. According to the literature review workers who have higher levels of neuroticism, a personality trait associated with anxiety and depressive symptoms, reported higher levels of stress at work, whereas openness had a more positive stress response including a greater coping flexibility. Agreeableness was associated with higher levels of psychological distress while conscientiousness workers were less stressed.
Further observations included that not only the personality trait of a chef but also other sociodemographic factors such as age and gender could be associated with the psychological distress of a worker. Older educated workers in a manufacturing plant were more stressed than the younger workers with no or very little education, and females tend to be more stressed than their male counterparts. Although previous research studies are limited, some studies could be found related to this topic in different job sectors. However, no study could be found related to chefs and commercial kitchens. To what extent personality traits and socio-demographic factors affect the association between work-related variables and stress levels of a chef remains poorly understood. Therefore, this study aims to focus on the moderating role personality traits could play between work-related variables and psychological stress of a chef.
EQ over IQ: Wonda recommends reading Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman.
For a related podcast topic, listen to Episode 76 on eating disorders. For more on mental health resources and EQ, get started with this article.
Hungry for more? Create your free Worldchefs account for more resources.
About Wonda Grobbelaar
By the time Wonda Grobbelaar was eight years old, she knew that her future lay in the culinary industry and insisted that her mother buy her a chef’s hat and a recipe book. Many years later, as an international award-winning pastry chef, she still has that recipe book –My Eie Kookboek – to remind her of how far she has come.
Originally from Randburg in Gauteng, South Africa, she is now based in Baku, Azerbaijan. There, she is currently Head of Quality Assurance at a well-known higher education center, Western Caspian University. She is also currently developing different types of courses related to the hospitality sector for different universities around the world, as well as writing training manuals for the hospitality industry. Her research is focused on burning matters in the chef’s world and she has published a few journal papers and book chapters related to the food industry.
In 2019, she started her Ph.D. in “Creating Lean Cultures in Back of House Operations”, and hopefully she will graduate in early 2024. Part of her research study includes how robotics will affect the mental health of chefs in a food production facility when they form a part of the team, as well as how socio-demographic factors such as personality, age, and gender could influence the stress levels of a chef.
Her future plans include developing leadership courses for the culinary sector and leading change in the development of curriculums for culinary schools worldwide to prepare students for the future of work. She would also like to apply the knowledge she is gaining during the research to improve the well-being of chefs and design leaner cultures that will be easy to implement in food production facilities. Perhaps if she finds the time, she will also consider writing a cookbook for another generation of aspirational eight-year-old foodies, teaching them skills of the future in culinary arts.
See the latest from Wonda on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.
Special thanks to Wonda for joining us.
World on a Plate is supported by Nestlé Professional and our podcast sponsors.