How Injecting Empathy Into Your Shift Scheduling Can Help Attract and Retain Employees Through Worker Shortages

With dining restrictions lifting and restaurants’ busy season upon us, employers are ramping up hiring in order to meet the demand of the summer. Even with the recent uptick in employment, restaurants are facing a major worker shortage, and many are struggling to keep their doors fully open with limited staffing. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey in late May, an average of 50.2 percent of small businesses in accommodations and food service reported that their operating capacity was affected by the availability of employees. 

Many factors play into why restaurants are struggling to find workers right now. Some blame the federal stimulus payments and unemployment benefits for disincentivizing unemployed workers. Caring for children or other family members is also keeping potential workers at home. Some workers are still reluctant to work in-person due to COVID concerns, and others have left the restaurant business for better paying jobs. Pandemic-induced immigration restrictions have also challenged businesses’ ability to employ foreign guest workers. 

However, there are a number of ways to help offset these struggles and not only fill restaurant positions, but improve culture and employee wellbeing in the long run. When I Work serves tens of thousands of restaurants; here are some of our best tips on how putting employees’ needs first in your scheduling strategy can help retain and attract employees during this crucial hiring time and beyond.

Use Scheduling Software 

With shift workers so scarce right now, it’s important to take extra steps to retain the employees you already have. Adding a technology solution to handle scheduling and team communication benefits both employers and employees. 

Managers will spend minutes, rather than hours, building out and assigning shifts. At the same time, workforce software simplifies everyday tasks for employees, like checking their schedule, swapping or adding extra shifts, requesting time off, or logging time. Since most restaurant workers aren’t working in front of a computer, opt for a platform with a mobile app, so employees can easily have their schedule right at their fingertips.

One common complaint from restaurant employees is a lack of control and knowledge of their work schedule. They often don’t feel heard by managers when it comes to shifts, making it hard to balance work and other life priorities. By adding scheduling software, businesses can demonstrate that they are listening to their workers, prioritizing employee needs, and giving workers more control over their work lives.

Implement Flexible Scheduling 

When employees have more control over their schedules, they’re happier, less stressed and more valued by their employer. A key way to foster these outcomes further and give employees even more autonomy over their work is by integrating flexible scheduling into your business.

A flexible self-scheduling model allows team members to choose what shifts they want to work versus a manager assigning shifts. Flexible scheduling gives control to the employees and in turn allows them the time to plan around for other life commitments, like vacations, child care and family time. As a result, the schedule truly becomes a collaboration between employees and managers and puts workers’ needs at the forefront.

Plus, surveys show that flexibility is an increasingly key factor for hourly workers. In a recent survey by MyWorkChoice and Workplace Intelligence, 78 percent of hourly workers said flexibility at work ranged from slightly to very important to them, and 18 percent reported that a lack of flexibility was the leading reason why they left a job. Emphasizing flexible scheduling in a job description and during interviews may put your restaurant a step ahead of the competition with potential candidates. 

There are benefits for employers too. Not only does this model demonstrate empathy for employees, it also saves managers time mapping out schedules and makes businesses more agile to accommodate last-minute changes. In 2020, When I Work saw flexible scheduling grow 10-fold among its customers. 

The easiest and quickest way to incorporate a flexible schedule is to use a workforce management software. A manager creates a schedule based on anticipated demand in the coming weeks and then sends the schedule to their employees. When new shifts are available, employees can pick the shifts they’d like to work, and only see the roles they have the right credentials for.

Aim for Predictive Scheduling

An unpredictable schedule can be an incredible source of stress for hourly employees and can contribute to poor employee health, burnout and more. A predictive schedule can mean many things, but here are some key factors to consider that will likely appeal to potential and current employees:

  • Allow employees to request a schedule that works for them (Flexible scheduling is a great way to do this.)
  • Ensure employees receive significant advanced notice of new shifts, preferably at least one to two weeks’ notice
  • Eliminate “clopening” shifts, where the same employee closes the business and works an opening shift the next day 

Predictive scheduling is also becoming the law — known as Fair Workweek Laws — in many cities, including in San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago, and is likely to continue to grow across the country. 

Even if you aren’t in a state with Fair Workweek Laws, choosing predictability is a great way to help ensure employee wellbeing. According to the Aspen Institute, 43 percent of hourly workers reported having less than one-week advance notice of their schedule. At the same time, studies have shown that hourly employees who receive less than a week’s notice are more likely to be in poor or fair health compared to those who receive their schedules with more notice.

On the other hand, a recent study of Seattle’s Secure Scheduling Ordinance (implemented in 2017) found that not only do Seattle hourly workers have more stable schedules, their job satisfaction increased by eight percentage points, sleep quality improved by 11 percent, and reported happiness grew by six percent.

A labor shortage isn't easy for any business owner or operator to manage, especially in this industry. While it might be tough to recruit and retain quality employees right now, it is not impossible. When I Work has repeatedly found that an empathetic work environment that puts employees first is key to surviving and thriving during industry upheaval.

Workforce management software and flexible and predictive scheduling models offer restaurants great tools to demonstrate to employees that they are valued. A workplace that emphasizes that it wants workers to be happier and healthier is a business that will stand out to potential new employees and instill loyalty in its current workforce.