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How Do I Keep My Employees Longer?

In this advice column, we tackle industry challenges.

Q. We have a great restaurant, but I feel like I’m treading water every time an employee quits and it’s time to train new people. Recently, one of my favorite hires put in her two weeks notice. How do I keep my employees longer?

A. You’re not alone. Being a restaurant or retail employer is tricky, because sometimes your most resourceful workers are also ones who move quickly through the ranks, sometimes hopping to other jobs or industries. Employee retention in the restaurant and retail world hovers around 40%, with some estimates as high as 63%. And the cost of hiring and training a replacement can sometimes cost about 2 months of a typical worker’s pay.

But there are things you can do to slow down the revolving door.

First, put think like a customer. Remember how great it feels when the waitress at your favorite restaurant seats you at a special table for four when you’re only two, or how many times you’ve recommended a store based on the time a clerk allowed you to pay the next day when you forgot your wallet?

Researchers find that allowing employees some discretion in how they solve problems and interact with customers gives them a sense of ownership, which leads to job satisfaction and lower turnover.

That’s not to say you can’t have policies employees need to stick to. Customers depend on consistency, and some of that comes with having a certain “way” of doing things. But clients become regulars because they feel taken care of, and you should allow room for a server’s personal touch within the rules of a restaurant.

Along those lines, let your best employees know there’s a future for them at your establishment. Maybe they’ve thought of leaving, but would change their mind if a promotion were on the table. Providing a path of upward mobility — and talking openly about it — can improve morale and reduce turnover.

And what happens when employees do leave, and they can’t be convinced otherwise? Your work isn’t over. Do what big corporations do and schedule an exit interview before the employee leaves for good. Even a 20-minute coffee meeting can be enlightening — ask your employee in a nonjudgmental way why she is leaving and if there’s anything about the workplace that could be improved.

Gathering this type of intelligence is the key to a successful business, and because of the hectic pace of restaurants and retail, too few employers do it.

Finally, offer flexibility in employee’s schedules. Some estimates say a third of restaurant employees are in school. Many have second jobs, not to mention the demands of transit time and family life. The more an employee’s schedule can seamlessly fit into the rest of her life, the less apt she is to change.

It’s not a zero-sum game: employees’ and managers’ schedules need not be at odds, given the right tools.

Solutions like Sling help both employers and employees seamlessly integrate schedules and communicate with one another.

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