7 ways to improve employee work ethic

By Nate Riggs

Every brand and employer is entitled to several attributes when it comes to employees, said Eric Chester, employee expert, author and keynote speaker of this year's Fast Casual Executive Summit Oct. 13-15 in New Orleans. In his fast-paced and explosive presentation, he told the 140 restaurant operators that they should not settle for anything less than employees who are "excited, driven, responsible, courteous and trustworthy." As a matter of fact, if you can come up with five adjectives that describe the key character traits that you believe would make up your ideal front-line employees, Chester believes you and your brand are entitled to those too.

Generation Why and entitlement on the front lines

Chester, who has spent his career helping leaders learn how to engage the emerging workforce, believes more lenient approaches to parenting, as well as the current structure of the U.S. school system and standardized testing are a few of the culprits driving a sense of entitlement across what he defines as "Generation Why." That sense of entitlement has led to a decreased work ethic, but Chester is confident employers can motivate their employees by following seven strategies.

7 Strategies for building work ethic

1. Always be canvassing. Chester believes that the most important space in your organization is the space that lies between the nose of your front-line employees and your customers. To win this battle, restaurant managers and recruiters need to fill that space with the best employees to buy into the vision of the brand. Managers should:

  • Understand and be able to articulate their ideal employee profile, from lifestyle choices, activities, social circles and even career needs.
  • Understand their market and various ways to identify and reach potential employees.
  • Understand the employee brand promise and how to communicate benefits of that promise to potential employees.
  • Entice high-performing employees to identify others similar to them and communicate the brand promise.

Chester stressed that it's critical to be proactive in creating a pipeline of talent, as opposed to simply hoping for the right applications to land in their laps. Learning what feeds your operation with new candidates and then rewarding those referral sources can combine to help increase the pool of talent that is also a cultural fit for the organization.

2. Go one-on-one. Chester recommended that managers should also work to consistently live in the space between their nose and the noses of their front line employees.

In order to create the relationships needed to entice employee engagement, Chester stressed the recommendation that managers need to know more about their employees than the simple facts related to their working relationship. Understanding the employees' goals, aspirations, needs, home life, social circles and even hobbies can help managers find ways to relate on an individual level in a way that increases trust.

3. Establish a target. Chester believes that if your front-line employees cannot articulate the core values of the business, everything else falls apart. Values have been traditionally built by corporate retreats and shareholders, however Chester believes that this is the wrong approach. Rather, he recommends that core values should be brief, bulleted statements that define the values each employee must hold dear, rather than long, jargon-laden mission statements.

4. Make instruction clearly matter. Chester suggests that consistency in employee expectations is a key factor in successfully igniting the work ethic. Training programs designed around teaching these expectations, the organizational values and what happens when those expectations are not met are critical to success.

5. Make your success their success. Chester argued that for restaurants, it's typically the people that matter the most to our success that we tend to pay the least. Getting creative with public appreciation, incentives and perks and compensation that can be tied to shared goals can help employees develop a sense of achievement, which in turn increases their engagement on the job.

6. Listen, respond and engage. Chester stressed that finding ways to support front-line employee needs on the job is a major factor in employee satisfaction. Restaurant operators and managers should make it an established practice to continuously ask for employee feedback on what will help them deliver better results for the brand and customers. Following through and taking action on their requests is the next, and most important, step.

7. Light the path. Do your employees look at their jobs as dead-end jobs? Chester made the case that your restaurants should not be seen as a job, not only a place to start a career, but also a place to have a career. Operators can achieve this by transparently communicating to front-line employees about the opportunities for growth within the brand and establishing programs that guide high performers along a path that helps them to reach high status, responsibilities and compensation in the organization.

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