A new ranking of the 100 best places for millennials to work—and hence stay in those jobs—puts Arby’s on the list at No. 58. The only other limited-service restaurant operation to make the cut is MOD Pizza, at No. 18 (Texas Roadhouse and The Cheesecake Factory are the lone finishers among full-service concepts on the Fortune magazine roster).
A few years ago, even a regular paycheck seemed like an iffy proposition for working in the Arby’s system. The brand had been neglected and allowed to drift, sapping its financial strength, energy and morale. It was not a business on the move.
How, in the midst of an ambitious and successful turnaround, did the chain of 3,300 mostly franchised units recast itself as an employer of choice? How did it foster an experience that encourages millennials in particular to join the chain and stay for awhile?
Here are some of the approaches Arby’s brainstormed to boost recruitment and retention of both unit-level and support center corporate employees, as recounted by Melissa Strait, the onetime crewmember turned chief people officer.
1. A day with the CEO
“Our CEO and I spend a full day with every new [support services] team member, saying who we are and what we believe,” says Strait. The meet-and-greet puts the new hires in impressive company, making them feel special, and also provides a demonstration of how Arby’s values and cultural attributes permeate the organization from the top down. It’s known internally as Traditions.
The new hires are met as a group, but there’s time for one-on-one interaction. “We have dinner with them,” Strait explains. “It’s a great way to connect.”
Traditions sessions are convened about once a quarter. A similar program is provided for new field operations hires, but those gatherings are led by ops leaders.
Turnover within the support services and field operations group was 7% as of June.
2. A half-day invigorator
Every crewmember in the system, from franchised stores and corporate operations alike, participates in Brand Champ, a half-day education program intended to put everyone on the same mission, even if the paths are different. Toward that end, participants are taught how to set goals, not only in their jobs but also for their lives or careers outside of the business.
“We spend about half the time talking about goal setting,” says Strait. Half of Arby’s crewmembers are under age 25. “This is where they’re starting their work life. We think it’s important to help them to start setting goals for the rest of their lives.”
Earlier this summer, the message of starting out right in life moved one participant to surprise his fiance, another crewmember in attendance, by asking her during a break to marry him.
After three years, about 170,000 Arby’s team members have participated in Brand Champ. All 80,000 of the chain’s team members will do so this year, according to headquarters.
The effectiveness of such an extensive indoctrination in a company’s principles is underscored by research. Among restaurant employers who provide less than four hours of orientation, turnover averages 106.3%, according to the research firm TDn2K. The rate is 96.4% for companies that provide at least a four-hour program.
Arby’s says it’s below the norm.
3. Constant reaffirmation of a wider perspective
Arby’s isn’t unique among restaurant chains in articulating its values, the principles that guide the operation and essentially serve as its conscience. But in the sandwich chain’s case, “There are six values for how to be successful for work and for life,” says Strait.
Even more of a differentiator, she says, is the number of ways Arby’s has blazed “to say what they are and to show we deliver on them,” including the Brand Champ program. They are not just six aspirations posted in the break room.
4. Be genuine
Anyone familiar with millennials’ sensibilities would agree they’re looking for “a meaningful purpose, to make a difference, to grow and learn,” says Strait. Arby’s was very careful to capture what the brand and its culture genuinely are like, instead of slipping into aspirational thinking. “It’s really easy to live our values because it’s really who we are,” she says.