Restaurant workers - who typically earn low wages and have few health benefits - said they were most interested in flu vaccines and tobacco cessation when it came to work-related health care offerings. They were least interested in physical-activity programs, according to a University of Washington study.
Researchers conducted focus groups with 70 servers and owners from restaurants in Seattle. The groups focused on three main topics: smoking cessation, flu vaccines, and physical activity.
Participants revealed the following health barriers and industry concerns:
- The most frequently mentioned barrier to tobacco cessation in restaurants was that smoking breaks are the only way to get a work break in restaurants.
- Although they were interested in reducing the number of smoking breaks, restaurant owners agreed that smoking is a private decision, and asking workers to stop smoking would be intrusive.
- All groups emphasized the physically rigorous nature of restaurant work, and participants thought that health issues other than physical activity were more relevant to the industry.
- When asked to consider offering gym discounts, owners stated that because of high employee turnover they did not have the luxury to invest in something that would provide only long-term health benefits.
- Many noted that the constant exposure to unhealthy food at work was more of an industry barrier to better health than lack of physical activity.
- Participants said restaurants frequently require people to work when sick, while owners said that workers often won't mention when they're sick because they can't afford to miss work.
- A major barrier to flu vaccinations for owners and English-speaking workers was their belief that the vaccinations cause illness.
- Owners and English-speaking workers believed that a flu vaccination should be optional rather than mandatory and that making it mandatory would be inappropriate.
- All participants said the convenience of on-site flu vaccination was the single most important facilitator to increasing vaccinations among restaurant workers.
Findings on Spanish-speaking workers who participated in study varied from English-speaking participants' responses and were somewhat surprising when it came to flu vaccines. While Hispanic populations currently fall behind non-Hispanic white populations in flu vaccination coverage by about 10 percent, Hispanic workers in this study expressed more willingness to get a vaccination than did English-speaking workers. Resistant attitudes were almost nonexistent.
Hispanic workers also said they believed that management does not value them. Researchers note that language, cultural barriers, and discrimination may contribute to the divide between these groups.
"These findings are consistent with research on employer and worker perspectives in low-wage workplaces and suggest that health promotion interventions in restaurants should facilitate communication by providing materials and information in the native languages of all workers and by increasing owner awareness of worker perceptions," the researchers said.