Humanity in the Workplace

Contributed by Carol Dunnigan, SVP, People and CultureCarol Dunnigan

The restaurant industry is notorious for having outrageous turnover.  This causes many operators to become distant and treat staff as transient or temporary.  Why waste the time and effort on employees that are not going to stay anyway?  But did you know that you can improve employee retention by bringing humanity back into the workplace?

Regardless of who you are and where you work, all humans have the same basic emotional needs.  We all need to feel a sense of connection, contribution, recognition, security, and growth. It is important to fill these needs in order to improve employee retention and engagement, which both strongly affect your bottom line.

Employees don’t stay at a particular restaurant because they love the establishment.  Employees stay because of the connections they make with coworkers.  Employees stay because they see that their contributions are appreciated, and that they are making a difference.  Employees stay because they feel secure and see an opportunity for growth.

Below are three easy steps to bring humanity back into your workplace.  Applying these basic rules of humanity will greatly improve the odds that employees will stay in for the long-haul instead of seeing your restaurant as a stepping stone along the way to their next destination.

Build strong relationships with employees. This goes beyond handing out schedules and assigning side work. Have deeper conversations with each employee to be sure they feel a sense of connection to you and your business.  Seek to better understand their life goals and personal goals. The more you help your employees grow personally and professionally, the better they will serve your customers and your business.

For example, if Sam is consistently late talk to him about why this is happening.  Perhaps what you see as laziness is instead the fact that he is caring for an ill family member.  Take the time to understand his situation and see if you can agree upon a schedule that better fits his needs. Sam will surprise you with his performance and loyalty once he feels connected and secure at work. Or, did you know that Ann is attending the local college to get her Food & Beverage degree? Asking her to contribute as a shift leader or help in the back office can help her grow her skills while simultaneously helping your operations.

Create values-based recognition. Sure, we want to reward employees with the highest sales or least amount of absences, but studies show that companies with values-based reward programs have a stronger brand, more productive employees, higher retention, and increased profitability than those that do not.

Remember that employees perform at their best when the y understand the “why”.  Start by defining your company values and making sure that all employees understand these values are the core of the operation by tying them to everyday behaviors.  If customer service is a core value in your restaurant then be sure to recognize employees who demonstrate it every day. A simple “thank you” goes a long way.

Conduct frequent check-ins. Conduct frequent check-ins.  When performance reviews are conducted only annually for the sole purpose of receiving a pay raise, two problems are created.  A) The chance to guide employees toward constant and real-time improvement throughout the year is lost and B) You can’t get an employee to really be listening and trying to learn about what they can do to change or problem solve when they know the meeting is about their salary. It is important to separate the conversations of pay from the conversations about performance. Your workforce’s development is simply too important to let compensation talk bury it.

Bring out the best in your employees by providing feedback as often as possible.  Rewarding good behaviors with a quick “Nancy, thank you for running Brad’s food.  Great teamwork!” take no time, cost no money, and will make Nancy know that their contributions are appreciated.  She (and those around to hear the praise) will begin to repeat those behaviors.  On the flip side, be careful not to publicly scold employees for bad behaviors.  Pull them to the side and privately let them know how you would prefer they handled a situation if you were disappointed.

And lastly, have fun!  There is no rule that the fun must end when the work begins. Laugh together.  Enjoy the journey.