Trading their aprons for scrubs


Laid off restaurant workers find meaning in a caregiving career

black restaurant server femail with apron on and smiling

According to the National Restaurant Association, two-thirds of restaurant employees have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

With millions of tipped restaurant workers laid off, the second shockwave for them is trying to cover expenses with unemployment benefits, as tips don’t factor into the award.

Servers have the opportunity to reevaluate their career path. Many are taking this time to consider a change to an industry that offers a steady paycheck and schedule, benefits and best of all,  a meaningful contribution to the greater good.

Laid off 

When COVID-19 hit, Elizabeth was laid off from her restaurant server position but was lucky enough to find a customer service job at a local drugstore to cover expenses until she found a more meaningful job. She was able to switch gears from the stress of a thankless job to making people happy that they came into the drugstore. She made sure they knew they mattered. She made friends, especially with the elderly. The drugstore’s customers have no idea how instrumental they were in helping her get her life back and learning that meaningful work, as simple as making a customer feel special, is the richest career she could have. 

Finding the perfect job

The six-months she spent working at the drugstore allowed her to refocus her priorities. She identified the part of her career that gave her purpose and joy and began searching for a position that would enable her to follow her passion and make a difference in the lives of others. A year later,  in her new job, she is delighted with the value of her work and that she has a work-life balance.

"Elizabeth is now a caregiver for aging seniors who need help around the house to ensure they continue living independently in their own homes."

You have experience

With today’s multigenerational families living under one roof, often, teens become occasional caregivers for their aging grandparents or parents with disabilities. While teens may not recognize at the time they care for their family, they are learning a valuable profession comprised of compassion and caring. 

Teens who have provided family care have an edge on their peers who have not had the experience. Instead of struggling with what they’re going to do with their lives after graduating high school, they have developed a skill set that any home care agency would deem as invaluable in a new employee. Additionally, they can supplement their knowledge and experience with further education, often provided by the agency.

Is the job worth the paycheck?

Some teens enter the workforce as fast-food workers or cashiers at a discount store. While these positions allow them to earn money and gain independence from their family, they also learn about what meaningful work is simply by learning what they don’t appreciate in a job. While spending eight-hour shifts taking orders or making fries, there’s plenty of time to think about what opportunities for employment might be available for them to pursue that would be meaningful.  

The catalyst for growth

Learning new skills through work is often the catalyst to pursue new opportunities. Take Caitlyn, for example, who worked at an assisted living facility while in high school. She loved listening to the residents’ stories and learning about their lives. At a young age, she was already making a difference in many lives. From this experience, Caitlyn envisioned studying psychology in college with an end goal of becoming a psychiatrist. 

A higher calling

Caitlyn’s experience caring for seniors helped her realize that feeling a genuine connection between her chosen work and a greater life purpose is what she calls meaningful work.

Meaningful work

In 1974, author and historian, Studs Terkel, published a book titled Working, where he interviewed hundreds of people about their work lives. This oral history provides an invaluable look at meaningful work that still rings true today. Although only a handful of those interviewed was happy with their work, those who were, had one thing in common: They had “meaning to their work over and beyond the reward of the paycheck.”

Caregivers are heroes who make a difference in the lives of others every day. Today, many restaurant workers have traded in their aprons for scrubs. Their lives are richer because they are helping others and enjoying a healthy work-life balance.


Helen Bach
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