Focus On Employees’ Work-life Balance

In an era when employees seek a “work-life balance”—which, on the surface, would seem to be an oxymoron in the restaurant industry—restaurants should not be looking for a new type of manager to lead employees, but rather training managers to adapt to a new way of thinking. They need to be more talent-focused than outcome-focused. The restaurant industry relies on the attitudes, the skills and the talents of its workforce, and a successful manager will see that talent pool as a valuable asset and a competitive advantage. Here are five tips managers can employ to be more effective in this area:

1. In a restaurant business with multiple locations, managers of the individual locations have a huge impact on the engagement and motivation of employees.

At one point, Starbucks was expanding so rapidly it was constantly moving managers from one location to another. But the company learned quickly that keeping a manager at the location for a few additional months actually had a big impact on the development and the engagement of the employees at that location because the manager was able to groom a successor from within. It also sent the message to the employees that they were important and that the manager was interested in developing their skills.

2. To some, work-life balance simply means the ability of a person to connect his life to the goals of the organization he works for.

You need to find employees who are not only going to become quick learners of all aspects of the business—from foodservice to maintenance to purchasing to marketing to finance and all the rest—but they must see that what they are doing connects with what the organization is trying to achieve. The industry needs to do a much better job of communicating, “Here’s what we’re trying to achieve, here’s our strategy, here’s how we’re trying to be different in the marketplace and here’s your role in that larger agenda.”  A manager who can communicate a company’s overarching goals down to a more operational “What does that mean to me as an individual employee?” is worth his or her weight in gold.

3. A supervisor can’t manage today’s employees through fear and intimidation, because that supervisor is not going to be on the job 24/7.

Today’s supervisors must manage through values, goals and empowerment. Hire the right kind of people, and let them buy into why it’s important to deliver top-notch quality service, to keep the restaurant clean and to keep the kitchen sparkling.

4. Restaurants that empower their employees to make suggestions for cost savings have achieved success.

For one thing, this taps into the latent need of employees who want to contribute to the overall success of the company. But those employees who are closest to the front lines also are the ones constantly interacting with your customers. That interaction is the moment of truth, and these employees quickly learn what works and what doesn’t, what needs to be changed, and what should stay the same.

So it’s important to create mechanisms within a culture that encourage suggestions, ideas and input from the frontline people whose work-life balance needs tilt in the direction of feeling they can make a valuable contribution to the overall success of the company.

5. It’s important for managers to learn from their employees what work-life balance actually means for them.

To the single parent, it is the flexibility needed to care for a sick child. For the two working parents or individuals trying to go to school at night, it means something different. Good managers find out what work-life balance means to their individual employees, they don’t try to define it for them.

Managers often find themselves caught between the employee with legitimate issues and the pressures from above dealing with costs, operations and margins. But I’ve found that most employees want to work hard and that the more managers become sensitive to the larger issues of these employees, the more likely they will get an engaged employee. Instead of looking just at what it costs to provide work-life balance flexibility, the industry should look closely at the payoff of providing it in terms of repeat customers, customer and employee retention, larger average checks, and better referrals on the hotel side. It’s good business.

Dr. Miguel A. Quinones is a member of the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business faculty in Dallas.

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