There isn't an industry in the U.S. that has escaped staffing issues over the last couple of pandemic years, but restaurants have been hit particularly hard with hospitality workers quitting in droves. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 810,000 hotel and restaurant workers left their jobs in March 2022, for a quit rate of 6.1%. That’s higher than any other industry the Bureau tracked.
Yes, hospitality workers are quitting like never before and — sometimes — choosing not to return (for reasons running from continued worries about coronavirus exposure to dissatisfaction with relatively low wages to the sustained stress of working in an understaffed industry). But there are things you can do to address staffing issues in restaurants. In particular, restaurant leaders need to look at how to motivate Gen Z employees (born 1997-2012) and what motivates millennial workers (born 1981-1996).
Why focus on Gen Z and millennials?
The majority of workers in the service industry are young, with millennials making up about 49% of restaurant workers, according to Business Insider's review. And 82% of Gen Zers' first jobs are in restaurants according to a study by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.
When tackling staffing issues in your restaurant, you also need to address what these two generations look for when searching for a job — and how to keep them there long-term. Hiring a new worker can cost thousands of dollars and eat up time you could be spending in support of current employees or bettering your restaurant.
Related: 6 ways to set your restaurant apart to attract great employees
What do younger generations want in a job?
While much has been said about how younger generations want a workplace that provides meaning and aligns with their values, a recent study by global firm Deloitte found that one thing topped all other concerns for millennials — money, especially when it came to sticking around at the job.
According to Deloitte's Global Millennial Survey, the greatest source of dissatisfaction for millennials is pay, and that was true even before the pandemic turned everything upside down. Deloitte concludes that attracting drivers with factors such as culture and social purpose may not work as well to retain drivers: "For now, it seems that alongside culture, values and social impact, the value of the paycheck is not to be discounted."
Of course, it can be helpful to offer more pay than other comparable restaurants in your area to attract employees, but setting up an incentivized retention system that financially rewards employees for sticking around can help you not just hire employees, but also retain them. You might consider a monetary bonus program after a certain length of time\of service, increasing employer contributions to healthcare as time with the company increases, or building in additional paid time off after certain anniversary milestones.
2. Lifestyle and happiness
A generation ago, being unhappy on the job was considered more of a feature of work than a flaw. Not so anymore. New research by Randstad has found that Gen Z and millennials would rather be unemployed than unhappy. The survey found that 56% of 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed would rather quit a job than work somewhere that prevented them from enjoying their lives. Both groups put lifestyle and happiness as a top priority in their work. Want to motivate Gen Z and millennials alike? Prioritize their happiness.
Consider incorporating ideas like these to promote a work-life balance:
- Employee-friendly scheduling. This could look different for every employee. A parent with school kids might want different hours than a ski bum looking to maximize winter powder time.
- Easy time-off request process. Employees appreciate knowing that they can take breaks when something important in their life crops up (can't-miss concert, kid's recital, etc.).
- Prioritize two days off in a row. While it may not be important for every team member, giving your employees their days off in a row can help them return to work rested.
Additionally, investing in employee growth and learning can help increase job satisfaction, whether that means teaming a new employee with a long timer as a mentor, or scheduling regular training sessions so your restaurant employees feel like they're learning on the job and growing with the company.
Don’t overlook the importance of restaurant management systems that are easy to use and built on up-to-date technology, like hand-held point-of-sale devices. This type of technology not only eases the day-to-day workload, but will keep tech-savvy younger generations happy.
What motivates millennial workers? Hint: They’re not just working for their days off. Millennials want their days on to count for something too, according to a recent Gallup study on millennials in the workforce. Feeling a greater sense of purpose wasn’t a top priority in a job for previous generations, but the tides have changed.
In the Randstad survey above, 43% of Gen Z and millennials said they wouldn't choose an employer with social and environmental values that differed from their own. And 41% said that they wouldn't work in an establishment where diversity and inclusion weren’t promoted.
You and your staff can get involved in your community in all kinds of ways, like sponsoring local kids sports teams and donating money to area schools and foundations. Hosting food drives, donating excess food to an area food bank, or donating a percentage of sales to organizations that are important to you and your employees can help to boost the feeling that your restaurant isn't just about making money. Supporting efforts that keep money in the community and lift others up can go a long way with young generations.
Why work so hard to get and retain the younger worker?
At the end of the day, employees who feel valued by their team members and management are more likely to stay at a job than those who feel underappreciated. And, since Gen Z workers and millennials want to feel like their employer values what they do, being keyed into social issues is a good way to attract them as workers. Remember, you're contending with a generation that wants it all and isn't afraid to quit a job that falls short of those expectations.