Workplace Realities: Recruiting When Your Staff Turnover Exceeds 100%

I’ve lived, worked and managed HR in industries where turnover for certain positions and/or departments exceeded 100%. It’s not fun.

I recently read this article (“Panera losing nearly all workers in fast-food turnover crisis”) about the increasing challenges in the restaurant industry related to turnover and, I must admit, it induced numerous stress-inducing flashbacks.

While the article discusses automation – kiosks for customers and robots back-of-house – the highlights for me were related to the human impact:

  • “The job no one really wants– Experts who have studied the restaurant business for decades and work with national chains are divided over the extent to which fast-food jobs can be made better. Some do not believe there is no formula combining pay, benefits, training and culture that can save the human worker in this sector.”
  • “There are no other job segments in the U.S. that have higher turnover than the fast-food and fast-casual segments of the restaurant industry, according to DiPietro at the University of South Carolina’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management. “Not even retail.””
  • “…the fast-food industry, which faces steep price competition, is handicapped by the inability to raise wages much, as well as its limited career advancement opportunities. It also has little history of offering competitive benefits. Only 14% of all fast-food restaurants offer sick leave, and only 16% offer paid time off.”
  • “She (Rosemary Battchair of HR Studies and International & Comparative Labor at the Cornell School of Industrial Labor Relations) said the labor problems can be solved by methods other than robots, such as chains putting more effort into hiring better managers and treating workers with more respect. That requires companies being willing to give workers more hours and more predictable scheduling. “That is not very costly for HR to invest in. It just takes managers to be frankly more competent and pay more attention to the issue. … Maybe they won’t optimize labor costs to the extent they want to, but it will pay off in lower turnover and more satisfies workers and better operations. That should not be hard problem to fix.””

And, as Batt also pointed out, “Because turnover is getting so serious and because chains have the ability to do the HR analytics, they can begin to cost out turnover and say, ‘This is not a cost we have taken seriously, because historically we were counting on high turnover model as acceptable.'”

All of it. Just all of it. 

A few of the realities I experienced:

  • A mindset that employees are as replaceable as the other supplies and materials used to run the restaurants.
  • The cost of high turnover is anticipated, expected and budgeted for much as the company budgets the cost of replacing xx.x% of the kitchen equipment each fiscal year.
  • Jobs are ALWAYS open and hiring is ONGOING. Of course, when squiring candidates through the recruiting process it’s impossible to discuss specific schedules because the shift, days and availability of hours will change, undoubtedly, before the person even reports for Day 1. This is based, of course, on how many people will either quit or start between now and, oh, two days from now.  
  • Benefits will be offered and touted (tuition reimbursement! flexible schedules!) because there are sufficient qualifiers in place to ensure a minimal number of employees will even get to take advantage of them. (i.e. “tuition reimbursement is available for full-time employees with at least 12 months of continuous service who are enrolled in a curriculum related to their job.”)
  • Annual wage increases of 1.5% – 3% (and on $9 per hour, a 3% increase equals 27 cents) ensure that the INSTANT a competitor starts paying an additional .50 per hour, the staff will practically leave mid-shift and sprint down the street to start a new job.

But…yet…sitting up in the corporate HQs somewhere far, far away from the day-to-day realities of life in the kitchen, HR teams devise catchy tag line and launch compelling CAREER sites even though, let’s face it, most job seekers are not viewing these gigs as ‘careers.’ While some folks may, in fact, start in a restaurant and ‘move up the ladder’ (and there are, certainly, people who work at corporate offices in ‘careers,’) these sites are promoting employment to candidates who are applying for jobs paying anywhere from $7.25 to (maybe, if they’re a ‘manager’ with 10 years experience) $12 per hour. 

So I decided to take a look at what the talent acquisition teams (and the multitudinous employer branding consultants) at limited service restaurants have put together on their various career sites. 

Here’s what I found: 

Panera“Fresh, food, fun work”

Taco Bell Careers“Start with us…stay with us”

McDonald’s Careers“Where you want to be” 

Subway“Careers on the rise” 

Chipotle“The difference is real. Work with the food you love.” 

Burger King“Bring it @ BKC” 

Dunkin’ Donuts“Here today – here to stay” 

Chick-fil-a“Growing together, prospering together” 

Wendy’s“Are you a Wendy’s kind of person?” (“we love to have fun, and hopefully you do too”)

Whataburger“Do work that makes you proud” 

Raising Cane’s“We make fun of work” 

Sonic“This is how we Sonic” (“we encourage and attract wildly creative people”) 

KFC“Join our KFC Family” 

Dairy Queen“Create unbelievable moments in everyday lives” 

Popeyes“You belong at Popeyes” 

Qdoba – “Craveable food. Raveable careers.”

Well…if nothing else, I’ve now got a hankering for some good old-fashioned carbs and sodium delivered in a paper bag. 

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