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3 tips for fostering employee engagement

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Every restaurant battles an array of daily operational challenges, but there is one underlying issue threatening organizations of all sizes: the increasingly competitive hourly labor market. According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry is projected to add 1.7 million jobs over the next 10 years.

With rising wages and ample job opportunities, employees have more job options available to consider if their current employer isn╒t providing them with what they need. According a recent study release by WorkJam, 34 percent of service companies (restaurants included) report a quarterly turnover rate of at least 26 percent for hourly staff. On top of this,-one third of employers feel this rate has grown in the past two years.

As restaurant workers continue to forego their current jobs for positions that offer higher pay and a better work environment, restaurants must rethink their workforce management strategies and place an increased emphasis on fostering employee engagement.

Here are three ways restaurants can foster employee engagement to build employee job satisfaction and retain their hourly talent:

1. Do away with outdated scheduling practices. Restaurant workers╒ disengagement can be attributed, in part, to the industry╒s reliance on outdated scheduling practices. Despite advancements in workforce management solutions, many restaurant managers continue to rely on paper charts and Excel spreadsheets that only capture business inputs and fail to account for employee shift preferences. As a result, workers struggle to balance their personal and professional commitments.

Restaurants can eliminate these pains by embracing technology that simplifies schedule creation for managers and aligns employees╒ shift preferences with business demands. Adopting a tool that integrates hourly workers╒ shift availability with forecasted traffic allows restaurants to create schedules that cater to everyone╒s needs all while boosting employee engagement. In addition, restaurants should look for tools that give employees more control over their schedules, either by allowing them to pick certain shifts or manage shift swaps with coworkers directly.

2. Encourage employee feedback. Feedback between managers and their employees tends to be a one-way street, with managers conducting evaluations and providing staff reviews. While this can be a valuable way to inform hourly workers on areas they need to improve, this process fails to give employees a voice or the opportunity to ask questions.

If restaurants want to engage hourly workers, they must implement a streamlined communication process that allows all voices to be heard while keeping the administrative burden low. To do this, restaurants should offer an accessible channel for employees to anonymously express their questions, comments and concerns. A digital platform can help hourly workers feel more empowered to contribute their thoughts and ideas. And with more employee insight, restaurants can develop a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses from the eyes of their front line.

3. Dive into digital training. Training programs are a staple for nurturing employees and developing customer service skills, but many restaurants╒ training programs are stuck in the past. In an attempt to reduce costs and save time, restaurants often reuse paper training manuals and onboarding materials, or in some cases, have new recruits shadow experienced employees. While in-person training can help strengthen staff relationships, it can also lead to inconsistent practices among workers or across restaurant locations.

As employees increasingly demand more technology, restaurants should complement in-person training with training materials stored online or in mobile applications to allow hourly workers to be the architects of their own professional development experiences. Rather than solely rely on manual training processes, restaurants should instead offer a variety of methods to get new employees up to speed when menu changes are made or line processes get updated. Integrating technology will also help managers gain a deeper understanding of their employees╒ growth, as well as grant them instant knowledge of workers who have completed selected sessions and earned badges.

As the labor market shrinks and restaurant job openings widen, hourly workers have more power than ever before, but restaurants can give themselves an edge in this increasingly competitive market by investing in employee-centric management practices. Providing scheduling flexibility, encouraging feedback and leveraging on-site training with digital resources will help both managers and employees reap the benefits of a happier, more engaged workforce.

Steven Kramer is c.e.o. and co-founder of WorkJam, and has more than 20 years of executive leadership experience driving business results and developing disruptive technologies for the retail industry.

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