Restaurants have not been up against a labor market this unforgiving since Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were still an item and hanging chads were a very big deal. Retention is likely more top of mind than it has been since start of the millennium, and some operators are finding ways to make the most of employees who do decide to leave. “While it’s unfortunate that we’re losing people, on the other hand, the company was important to their path onto something—a stop along the way to someplace else,” says Allison Hosgood, vice president of human resources for fast casual Freebirds World Burrito. “We want them to have a really positive experience and refer friends to work here or even come back.” Check out three ways operators turn exiting employees into an asset.
Get the dirt
One of the most important things to do is ask for feedback from departing staff and learn from it, Hosgood says. To do this, Freebirds’ HR team conducts exit interviews with managers who have given their notice, and about 50% participate. “You need to take the narrative of the exit interviews and turn it into measurable data and show what the trends are,” she says. Although managers can fill out written forms if they cannot be reached by phone, Hosgood says phone interviews often deliver richer responses. Freebirds asks former employees to give written feedback and rate their experience in eight different categories, such as advancement opportunities, communication and work environment.
At la Madeleine French Bakery & Cafe, departing managers are interviewed by a third party instead. “I feel like it provides people with an opportunity to more fully voice their concerns, and they seem freer in their conversations,” says Jeff Erts, senior director of human resources for the 87-unit chain. Timing makes a big difference as well, according to Erts. When exit interviews are scheduled before an employee’s last day, they have a higher rate of participation. The interviews also give staff an opportunity to change their minds. “It does at times make them reconsider whether or not they want to leave, and about 2% to 5% do end up staying,” he says.
End on a positive note
To keep the door open for employees’ return, the Freebirds team lists the positive impacts leaving team members have had on the organization to show support instead of spite. Clear communication of benefits and final pay helps employees remember the chain fondly as well, Hosgood says. Freebirds also encourages store managers to ask if exiting employees need recommendation letters and give out their contact information so the employee can get in touch.
Do things differently
The results of exit interviews shouldn’t live and die in the hands of HR. Erts says it’s important for C-level team members to see the reports. In 2015, quality of life was the No. 1 reason managers were leaving la Madeleine, so the bakery chain launched a campaign to enforce stricter scheduling guidelines. The company devoted more resources to ensuring that every manager gets at least one weekend off each month, and that employees receive a better balance of morning and evening shifts.
This year, the main reason people were leaving Freebirds was pay. As such, the restaurant is considering upping pay for employees in some markets, and to create more consistency, it's better defined roles and set pay ranges.