I recently attended a session at the TDn2K Global Best Practices conference entitled Focus on Labor. The panel discussion gave excellent insight into the major labor trends that are impacting the restaurant industry, including the importance of positive employee relations.
As a labor/employment attorney and HR professional, it occurred to me that the labor issues facing the restaurant industry aren’t unique. Employees want to be treated with dignity and respect, and they want to know that their issues are heard and swiftly resolved.
What has changed is that employees no longer believe they need to advocate for themselves. There are two significant changes that I think led to this change. First, employees have witnessed the power of social media. They’ve seen it overthrow dictators during the Arab Spring. They’ve also observed how social media can powerfully influence consumers’ attitude towards your brand.
Another factor that didn’t exist just a few years ago is crowdsourcing. Opinions are crowdsourced (Trip Advisor, Yelp). So is pay information (Pay Scale) and attitudes towards employers (GlassDoor).
This leads to an interesting dynamic in the workforce. If individuals can’t get their information redressed by a manager, they’ll seek to get it by collective action. This is especially true with younger workers who believe that there’s power in the collective that they can tap into. This is true. But while they may think of it as crowdsourcing a complaint, they’re probably involved in behavior that, under the National Labor Relations Act, falls under concerted protected activity. You probably already know that that the National Labor Relations Act covers your employees’ concerted protected activity even if they are not represented by a union. But your employees are probably unaware of this, and may not understand the ramifications of concerted protected activity, unionization, or collective bargaining.
Here are 10 leadership behaviors you should implement to foster positive employee relations:
1. Carefully select employees
Don’t just evaluate candidates for skills. Consider the candidate’s values as well by asking questions about how they handled peer and management interactions at other jobs. If you want to formalize this evaluation, there are some excellent values assessments on the market that can help you create a perfect candidate profile.
2. Quickly build relationships with new employees
Go beyond traditional onboarding and make sure that the employee’s new manager builds a strong relationship with the employee. This means learning about the employee’s family, interests, professional goals, and other aspirations. This is also the chance for the manager to explain expectations, remove barriers of communication, and explain how conflicts are resolved at the restaurant.
3. Distribute focused, credible communications
In order to build trust with your employees, you need to have regular, focused communications with your employees. Don’t forget that it’s 2015, and corporate-speak is officially dead. Your communications should be raw, real, and relevant. Don’t just disseminate data. Instead, tell compelling stories with memorable endings.
4. A leadership style that’s approachable and available
An engaging, accessible, and approachable leader is one of your most valuable assets. Your hourly employees will be comfortable approaching the leader with issues on a one-on-one basis, which is exactly what you want. On the other hand, if your district or regional leaders only interact with your restaurant managers, your employees won’t even know who they are or their role in the organization. Instead of going to them to appeal a decision they will turn to a lawyer, the EEOC, or a union.
5. Trustworthy and consistent leadership
Consistent decisions help employees predict what the leader will decide to do if a situation is appealed to them. This foreknowledge will build trust. Your leaders should be vulnerable enough for people to know them on a human level and not just as a corporate suit.
6. Employee advocacy isn’t just an HR function
Every organization makes its share of mistakes. Great organizations recognize the unintended consequences that occur when mistakes happen and rapidly change them to make sure employees aren’t negatively impacted. But let’s take this to a higher level. True employee advocacy means proactively taking care of your people. This could be as simple as stockpiling supplies before a storm for employee use, or even just texting your employees after a storm passes to make sure they’re OK.
7. Make sure changes are equitable and fair
If you make a change, be sure that you can communicate a compelling business reason for it. Otherwise managers will become transparent and blame “corporate”. When this happens, “corporate” becomes a faceless, nameless entity and the only association your employee has with it is their employee ID number. Passion and commitment go by the wayside.
8. Recognition for a job well done
Recognition doesn’t have to be wrapped around a complicated program. A simple thank you is often enough, especially when it’s said sincerely and often. When someone first starts a job, their first thought is, “How am I doing?” Make sure your managers continue to give them feedback throughout their employment, and not just when it’s time for performance reviews or when performance deteriorates to the point that documentation is required. Feedback should never be a surprise. If an employee does well, recognize them publicly. If they need coaching, do it privately.
9. Involve employees in test programs and decisions
There's nothing more valuable than asking employees for their input on process and policy changes before they're made. This is really a double whammy: you'll get valuable input and identify blindspots, and you'll also have employees who will help with change management during the implementation process.
10. Have fun and celebrate
Make work as fun and engaging as possible. You may already hold contests to boost productivity and safety. Celebrate monthly diversity initiatives and kooky industry-events. We're already looking forward to National Chocolate Day and No Diet Day here at HR Virtuoso
There’s an old saying among labor lawyers: you get the union you deserve.
Put these fundamentals in to practice and you’ll do more than avoid union organization. You’ll see a reduction in turnover, an influx of candidate referrals from employees, greater customer satisfaction, and potentially a bigger profit margin.