“Good help is hard to find.” We have all heard that saying for as long as we can remember. Yet through all of the years and generations it remains true. Changing times and technological advancements have transformed the ways we go about finding staff, but one thing has not changed: the need to retain your best employees.

Today’s workplace presents a myriad of challenges that employers never encountered even a decade ago. Labor costs are skyrocketing throughout the country due to drastic increases in minimum wages. Competition among restaurants for top-notch staff is at an all-time high. Social media constantly presents a “grass is greener over here” scenario to our staff. And whatever the reason may be, there is an undeniable difference between the millennial work ethic and that of previous generations. So when we finally find great staff members, how do we retain them over the long term?

If every restaurateur in your market is a “good guy to work for,” then what sets you apart?  We don’t want those great staff members leaving us to go work down the street. Those kitchens are hot, just like yours. Dinner service is a crazy and hectic time in those restaurants, just like yours. Our business does not offer six-figure, feet-up-on-the-desk, three-martini-lunch types of jobs. Thus, it is imperative that you do everything in your power to make those great staff members eternally satisfied so that they never develop a wandering eye and seek employment with one of your many competitors. So let’s examine a few ways in which you can stand out from the crowd of employers.

  1. Show them the money. When it comes to retaining your best employees, let’s take the most obvious problem first. Are you the stingy Uncle Scrooge that wants to get away with paying everyone minimum wage? If so, then do not be surprised if your retention rates are very low. You get what you pay for! There are still skilled and conscientious staff members out there. If you pay these people an appropriate, decent wage they are less likely to look elsewhere for more money. Take into consideration the stress and hassle of seeking and finding a good, reliable person to replace that staffer who left you for a better-paying job. When you finally find that person, is it not worth a dollar or two an hour more to ensure that they will always be happy with their level of compensation and stay with you? Food for thought.

Related: 5 ways to reduce employee turnover at your restaurant

2. Manage your own expectations. You built your business from the ground up. You put your own hard-earned money into it. You worked countless hours to build the business to where it is today. Truly great staff will treat your business as if it were their own, but they will never have the same level of dedication that you, the owner, has. If every staff member had your same level of commitment, they would not be staff members. They would be owners, partners, or general managers. Your expectations of staff members need to be realistic. Browbeating them because they are not exactly like you will defeat the goal of retention.

To retain your best employees, make sure to accommodate their need for flexibility in their schedules. Remember: They have lives outside the restaurant even if you don’t!

3. Be flexible. Like it or not, many staff members have more going on in their lives than just working at your restaurant. School schedules, family responsibilities, and many other obligations matter to them. Being considerate to their needs can go a long way. To retain your best employees, consider the idea of creating set schedules for people so they can comfortably attend to the other commitments they have in their lives. If your employee never has to worry about getting coverage for that Tuesday dinner shift so she can make it to her Chemistry 101 class, she will appreciate you, as her employer, and her job a lot more—and will be less likely to look elsewhere for employment.

4. Build a sense of camaraderie. Your staff members aren’t punching the old time clock down in the coal mine. Don’t make them feel like worker drones—treat them as integral members of the team. Try making the staff lunch or dinner with a pizza or two. Consider providing a uniform shirt or two to staff members. Even when they don’t work for you anymore, they will still break out that shirt from time to time. By building this sense of camaraderie, you will create a network of brand ambassadors.

Related: How I went out of business: The hard lessons of failure

Do you regularly post on social media? Your customers are probably tired of seeing your old face on there. Invite your vibrant young staff members to be included in your restaurant’s social media posts. It will liven up your feed, and they will feel like part of the team. People go to tryouts and bend over backwards trying to get onto different teams. Welcome your staff on to your “team.” Once they are there, they will be less likely to abandon that team, and you will be able to retain your best employees.

5. Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T. That’s right, Aretha. This is a big one, yet it gets overlooked way too often. You might say that you respect your staff, but do you show it? If you have the attitude of, “They work for me, and I give them a paycheck,” don’t be surprised if retention is low. We all go through those periods when we desperately need a good staff, and we’d kill to have one. But what about the good times? Do we truly appreciate our people then—when everything’s going smoothly and the money’s pouring in—and remember how much it stunk before they were there?

Take a moment EVERY DAY and thank your people individually. Look them in the eye. Shake their hand. Give them your heartfelt thanks and appreciation for their hard work and contribution to the team. This applies to all generations. Everyone appreciates positive recognition and reaffirmation. Something as simple as this can make you that “good guy to work for.” Creating that feeling of respect and appreciation among your crew will make them less likely to look elsewhere for greener pastures.

And that is the point. As we try to retain our best employees in today’s difficult labor market, we need to remember why people leave. They are not retiring. They are looking for better options. There are a lot of brown pastures out there. Be that greener pasture, and your people will not be motivated to look elsewhere. Retaining your best employees can be difficult, but in many cases, you are the problem, not the staff. Take the time. Put forth the effort. Your people will appreciate you, and the bad times will be fewer and further between once you’ve created—and retained—a top-quality staff.

Michael Androw is the owner of E&D Pizza Company in Avon, Connecticut.


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