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Work–life balance is key to career longevity

<p><em><strong>David Flaherty has more than 20 years experience in the hospitality industry. He is a certified cicerone and a former operations manager and beer and spirits director for Hearth restaurant and the Terroir wine bars in New York City. He is currently marketing director for the Washington State Wine Commission and writes about wine, beer and spirits in his blog,<a href="" target="_blank"> Grapes and Grains</a>.</strong></em></p>

david flahertyWorking in restaurants and bars means many demands: Long hours, high levels of stress and physical exhaustion, all while digging deep into the reserves of the well of hospitality to take care of guests. 

Finding a balance between the needs of work and life is the holy grail that eludes many in the business, but it’s key for a long and fruitful career. 

Owners and operators who create a culture that encourages employees to balance work demands with a personal life will find that it leads to more focused and effective team members who will stick around longer and bring a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm to their work. 

“Without balance, long-term success is unsustainable,” said Christian Troy, founder of Indie Wineries, a wine import and distribution company that works with nearly 2,000 on- and off-premise accounts. “The idea that one can be out each night, or that one is always reachable, or completely dialed in at all times on social media — if a person chooses to exist this way, all the time, it will come at the expense of their time for others, other things in their lives, and even for themselves. Oddly, the whole point of being ‘on’ all the time is to be as great a professional as you can be, yet this pursuit will eventually lead to the exact opposite.” 

Troy has found that by compartmentalizing the things he cares about most — family, health, finances, professional and personal endeavors — he ensures he is giving equal weight to each when he plans his time. 

Often in our careers, he said, we feel guilty when we are not working each moment to advance ourselves professionally. But by aggressively using his calendar to slot in both work and non-work events, Troy said he can bring himself fully to each moment without guilt, whether that is work for his company or events with his kids. 

It’s not easy, and requires constant attention, but the benefits are great, he said. He has more mental energy and stamina when he makes time to exercise regularly, and he finds the ability to focus better on what’s right in front of him by simply knowing that he’s scheduled time for working, but also for turning off.

Brian Cronin, a master sommelier based in New York City, spent his career working with top chefs around the country, including Charlie Trotter, Michael Mina and Gary Danko. He has now moved off the restaurant floor and is the national education director for wine importer Palm Bay International. 

“We are in service, so we are constantly giving to others,” Cronin said. “Sometimes this leaves very little time for ourselves, which can quickly lead to burnout.” 

He took on playing guitar and running to blow off steam — he’s completed 14 marathons in the last four years. He, like Troy, doesn’t believe that one just “finds” the time to do things that benefit them as individuals. Time for those things must be made. 

Cronin advised doing even simple things, like going for a short walk in the middle of the day, knowing that when one returns to work, they’ll be more energized and efficient. And when it comes to larger pursuits, he spends extensive time working with his employer to lay out his work responsibilities and personal commitments well in advance, so expectations are managed and clear.

“There is always more work to be done than time to do it, so each day you have to determine when enough is enough,” said Erik McLaughlin, director for Exvere Inc., an investment firm in Seattle. 

McLaughlin specializes in mergers and acquisitions in the alcoholic beverage industry, but he has spent extensive time honing his work ethic in the hospitality industry, having owned and operated three restaurants in Boise, Idaho. In addition to raising four children, McLaughlin coaches little league baseball. He finds that it forces him to find balance with his work and life commitments, as practices and games need to be scheduled in advance. But coaching little league also requires such a high level of focus and attention that he can completely detach from work mentally while he’s coaching. 

“There is no room for both,” he said. “And working with kids, especially other people’s kids, both inspires and forces me to be my best self.” 

Work responsibilities will flow at their own pace, but learning to build strong riverbanks will help you keep balanced when the waters rage. And remember, the head of any organization leads by example, so operators need to take the steps necessary to create a schedule for themselves that reflects their values. 

Troy said that in addition to giving his employees a two-week vacation, he must also be willing to stay open when they report burnout or ask to take time off for important causes or pursuits. 

“I listen to them and work with them to give them as much support as possible, but all the while making sure the work is being honored,” he said. 

Professionalism must be maintained at all times, but so, too, must the understanding that flexibility and compassion with your employees will create bonds that go deeper than the financial.

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