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As the Labor Crisis Continues, Restaurant Show Panelist Says ‘Put People First’

Session offers food for thought on what employees want in a job—and why they sometimes leave
James Griffin and Marissa Tunon
James Griffin (left) and Marissa Tunon | Photograph by WGB Staff

As businesses continue to struggle with the labor crisis issues, James Griffin, professor at Johnson & Wales University's College of Hospitality Management, said companies have to put people first. “Our hope is that you leave [this session] with an awareness of a movement towards putting people first,” he said during a May 24 session on "Understanding and Finding Solutions to the Persistent Labor Crisis in Foodservice" at the National Restaurant Association Show.

Griffin was joined by Marissa Tunon, chef de cuisine for Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres, and together they offered insights into what employees want in a job—as well as why they sometimes leave. 

They cited data underscoring what is most important to employees: opportunity for growth, career progression and promotion, and the opportunity to be trained and learn new skills. The culture of the organization, as well as the way it treats people, were also the highest in terms of what’s most important. Among Generation Z, 32% said opportunities for growth is important, followed by 25% who cited training and development and 25% who said a positive work culture.

Other findings explained why employees have left the foodservice industry, including higher pay in other industries (28%); needed consistent schedule/income (23%); lack of professional development and promotion opportunities (17%); work hours—late nights, weekends, holidays (16%); and work environment/company culture (15%).

“Some of us older folks that have been in this business so long … that they’ve been conditioned to do the wrong thing. … We have to listen to people to change how we behave,” Griffin said.

Tunon talked about some of the challenges that she faces in the restaurant industry, one being that her staff is burned out. She said hiring staff is the biggest challenge and that at the restaurant, they are currently operating with 70% of the staff that they need (with hourly staff working about 55 hours per week).

Most workers (49%) are found through employee referrals, (additional data revealed), with 32% using websites/job boards to find new hires. Tunon said that having great benefits, competitive pay and a good environment are essential to attracting and retaining employees.

The speakers closed out the session by offering three tactics that could help in dealing with the labor crisis: track data to improve work culture (make people the No. 1 priority); talk to people (invest in career progression and learn where employees want to go professionally); and start listening (focus on retention, learn what inspires people to stay with organizations, and establish a culture of continuous improvement).



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