Three Tips for Managing a Healthy Restaurant Workforce

Your restaurant is open and customers are back.  Now, your main challenge may be finding enough employees to handle the surging demand.  Amidst this good news, you should be aware of three hidden pitfalls that could affect your ability to operate safely and with a full complement of staff.  

1. New Employees Have More On-the-Job Injuries

Workers’ compensation data shows an uptick in the number of new employees injured on the job, especially in the hospitality and food service industries. An increase in these injuries could result in higher insurance rates in the long term; in the short term, they disrupt your ability to operate at peak capacity and could negatively impact the morale of all employees.

There are several reasons why new employees may be incurring more injuries: 

  • Poor hiring choices. The hiring process may be rushed, and the wrong person could be chosen for the job. The demand for bodies to do the work may be so great that warning signs are missed, pre-employment testing and qualifying may be overlooked, or the employee might not be the right fit for the job. Hasty hiring choices can lead to faster turnover, operational problems, and potentially more on-the-job injuries. 
  • Inadequate training. Businesses may skimp on the length and depth of training programs in the rush to hire. Some enterprises may not have a formal training program; instead, they may require the new employee to shadow a more experienced colleague. Consequently, the new hires’ knowledge of safety procedures will not exceed what they hear from their mentor, who is busy trying to do his or her job and train.  Even if the company has a more formal training program, the process can still get short shrift as the demands of serving customers take precedence over reinforcing training.  
  • Exhaustion from overwork. Restaurants are struggling to find people in a tight market. The National Restaurant Association reports that while eating and drinking places are gaining more than a million jobs post-pandemic, the industry is still one million jobs short of reaching its pre-pandemic level of 12.3 million. One in four restaurants says they are looking for cooks and line cooks, while 17 percent need servers and seven percent are seeking bartenders, according to an analysis of restaurant job notices. With a surplus of available jobs, workers have more choices, making it more challenging to fill open positions.  Finally, staffing is still impacted by COVID cases, which require infected employees to be off work for as long as two weeks or more. As a result, employees may be asked suddenly to work additional hours. Exhaustion from longer or double shifts can lead to mistakes or carelessness, and accidents can happen. 

The restaurant can help reduce the likelihood of employee injuries, especially with new hires, by following these suggestions:

  • Implementing more in-depth training programs, including written tests asking employees to identify potential hazards and how to avoid them
  • Being thoughtful in the hiring processes and taking the time to find the right person
  • Providing consistent coaching and oversight of new and especially young employees
  • Monitoring employee shifts to ensure that individuals are not endangering themselves with exhaustion. Employers should have a backup plan for unexpected absences and be prepared to reduce hours of operation or close sections of the restaurant if long hours pose a safety hazard.  

2. Workforce Violence Is on the Rise

The likelihood of your operation experiencing disruption due to violent or threatening behavior is greater than ever. While retail workers comprise nine percent of the U.S. workforce, they account for 13 percent of all workplace violence incidents and 27 percent of all workplace homicides, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retail operations are ranked third in the likelihood of experiencing workplace violence victimization, behind law enforcement and mental health professionals. [i]

Mass shootings in restaurants and entertainment venues are happening with increasing frequency. Consumption of alcohol in restaurants and bars can precipitate arguments that get out of hand. Customers can become unruly, and even friendly gatherings can turn volatile. Employees are aware of these dangers and expect their employers to protect them. For example, workers in fast food restaurants have filed lawsuits against their employers, claiming they are not adequately protected from the likelihood of workplace violence. Their suits cite negligence ranging from the facility’s physical design to inadequate training on handling conflicts.  

If a violent situation results in an injury while employees are performing their jobs, it is a workers’ compensation claim. For example, an employee injured by an angry customer would have a workers’ compensation claim, while a worker whose irate spouse followed her to her job site and assaulted her in the parking lot would not.

Preparing for the possibility of workplace violence is, regrettably, a requirement for all businesses today. Designing the restaurant or venue with an eye to safety, access for escape, and worker/customer protection is essential. Training all personnel in conflict de-escalation and procedures to follow in a dangerous situation is mandatory.  

Mental Health Is the New Pandemic

While the COVID public health emergency may be in abeyance, the mental health epidemic is in full swing. Increases in depression, anxiety, and substance abuse during the pandemic brought these conditions to the attention of employers and health care professionals. Young people, many of whom work in restaurants, are especially prone to experience these conditions. They expect their employer will be sensitive to their mental health and supportive of treatment.

When an employee is injured and unable to work, behavioral health issues may complicate their recovery. Depression and anxiety are more likely to develop when an individual is in pain. Workers may also be worried about finances, future employability, and even the ability to return to the life they had previously known. 

Employers today should be aware of signs of emotional and mental distress and know how to broach a discussion with the affected employee. An employee assistance program or a referral source for mental health puts a company a step ahead in supporting its employees’ behavioral health needs. Firms that manage workers’ compensation cases should also have systems to identify emerging mental health problems that may complicate a swift recovery from injury and resources to help the injured worker cope with the situation and move forward. 

Managing your workforce today requires additional vigilance of safety and training, as well as sensitivity to employees’ overall well-being. Applying these recommendations to your own situation can help you avoid injuries, improve operational efficiency, and keep everyone safe and productive. 

[i] “Preparing for Workplace Violence in the Retail and Restaurant Industries,” Marsh Risk Consulting. Copyright © 2015 Marsh LLC