How to Retain BOH (Back of the House) Restaurant Employees

While the front of house is the face of a restaurant, back of house (BOH) employees contribute to the restaurant’s heart and soul. Oftentimes, though, these employees are overlooked unless an issue arises. In a recruiting market that is hard pressed to find reliable and experienced BOH staff, we are taking a deeper dive into how restaurants can invest more in BOH employees and break down some of the common barriers that restrict communication or cause employees to seek other opportunities.

1. Create a culture of inclusion, not just diversity, in your BOH team.

Many BOH teams are diverse from an ethnic or racial makeup, but there is a significant lack of inclusion from a linguistic, cultural, or gendered perspective. Think about the makeup of your restaurant’s team…

  • What is the preferred language of the majority of your line level employees in BOH?
  • Do you have a manager that speaks that language (if other than English) on your BOH team, or the management team in general for that matter?
  • What is the gender makeup of your BOH team?

These simple questions can help you recognize if there are unintentional barriers that prevent your employees from feeling like an integral part of your team. Being aware of the discrepancies between management and line level staff is the first step to making a change.

Management should be advocates for line level staff, and in part that means understanding the struggles your team faces. For example, reprimanding an employee for not calling off in an appropriate manner for a shift, might lead to frustration if they couldn’t understand the written policy because it was only available in English. Similarly, if your daily banter includes gendered “locker room talk,” female line cooks might feel they are not in an environment where women are respected. Once you identify areas for improvement, you can work to ensure a level playing field for all employees.

2. Promote work life balance initiatives for your BOH team.

On prep teams especially, we often see employees who work multiple jobs or consistently work overtime. Employees who are tired or overworked are more likely to injure themselves or experience other side effects of burnout. For employees with longer tenure, the cost of offering five days of vacation per year, for example, will potentially cost less than the payout of a worker’s compensation claim.

Survey your management teams to see what perks or benefits employees might appreciate, and then follow through. When employees see that you are willing to invest in them as people, not just as worker bees, then you might notice a happier environment buzzing in the back.

3. Offer leadership development programs.

The intention of such a program would be two-fold. First, the technical skill-set that leads to a chef being recognized and promoted to their leadership position does not always include managerial soft skills (cue Hell’s Kitchen clip with Gordon Ramsay berating a new chef). Soft skills are the je ne sais quoi that allow a manager to connect with and coach employees, deal with sticky personnel situations that may arise, and ultimately protect the restaurant from liability. However, these skills can also be learned with some assistance and continued coaching. Partner with your StratEx HR Consultant to create a training program that is engaging and relatable for your BOH leaders.

Additionally, this program could be expanded to help loyal, long-term employees grow beyond a prep or line cook role into a leadership role. Chances are that there is at least one prep cook in your BOH for multiple years who never calls off, works multiple jobs, and whom all the staff respect. Why not invest further in that individual? Let them know that there is an opportunity that would allow them to focus their energies at one restaurant, and turn that respect into teamwork. This is also a great potential solution to the challenges of representation that were previously addressed.

4. Acknowledge the importance of mental health.

This is often the silent disability that we do not recognize in any workplace until employees reach a breaking point. Chances are that there is at least one prep cook in your BOH who has been there for multiple years, never calls off, works multiple jobs, and all the staff respect. Hands down, looking at the past year, mental health represents the largest number of ADA situations I have encountered with my clients. In restaurants especially, the long, late hours and fast paced environment can lead to a high stress atmosphere. This stress can lead to or exacerbate any number of problems: alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, and anxiety, to name a few. The biggest struggle I see facing management is how to discuss these issues in an open, productive way without crossing the line and getting too involved in employees’ personal lives. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, chefs share how they have been able to cope with these struggles personally, as well as provide resources for their employees to tackle these illnesses in a healthy manner rather than turning to substance abuse or ignoring their feelings.

Employee Assistance Programs are also an amazing way to contribute to your employees’ lives without asking anything additional of them. EAPs provide free anonymous counseling services, along with helpful resources for a variety of other health and work/life balance items. This benefit typically costs a few dollars per employee for the entire year!! If you do not have this type of program set up, I highly recommend looking into it. Oftentimes, you can negotiate this to being included with carriers that you already use for other benefits as well.

5. Eliminating harassment.

I think we’ve all read enough horror stories over the past year in relation to how the #MeToo movement has affected the restaurant world. Mario Batali, Ken Friedman, John Besh, the list goes on and on. So while sexual harassment based on a male taking advantage of female is definitely a pervasive issue in the restaurant world, I also want to draw attention to types of harassment that do not get enough attention in the BOH, such as harassment based on sexual orientation or pregnancy. The culture of machismo can also be extended to isolate employees who do not fit traditional gender identities, or to intimidate those dealing with temporary physical restrictions from staying around.

The two must-haves when it comes to creating a proactive defense are to have a written handbook policy and conduct an annual mandatory supervisor training on the topics. However, the expulsion of harassment and discrimination goes beyond a proactive defense. Employees can recognize the difference between a company trying to cover their risk versus actually caring about a complaint that they have. In order to give an employee who is reporting a complaint, full freedom of expression, consider utilizing your HRC as a third-party investigator or adding HR Rescue to your services. While we will not give employees false pretenses about their complaints remaining completely confidential, they might feel more comfortable speaking initially about an emotionally charged situation with someone that they do not have to see on a daily basis. You also then have a neutral third party to back up any action that you ultimately see fit to course correct.

While these items are directed at the BOH, you will see the positive trickle effect of these actions on the rest of your restaurant. Maybe even use your BOH as a test kitchen for some of these initiatives to see if they are worth adding to the restaurant menu. Either way, you do not want to be the restaurant group that misses out on jumping forward with the times!

If you are interested in exploring any of these points further, please reach out to your StratEx HR Consultant to launch a spring initiative. Or if you are not yet familiar with our HR offerings, let your sales representative know if you are interested in a risk evaluation or HR project work.

Must-do HR Updates for 2018

(Note: This post was written in conjunction with Emily Quinn, StratEx’s HR Practice Leader.)

It’s almost time to say: Happy New Year! And with the new year comes our annual list of “Must-do” HR updates for a successful and friction-free year. Please read through our 2018 HR recommendations and implement them wherever they apply to you.

Review your Handbooks

With the New Year comes changes to legislation and specific legal updates at the federal, state and local level. Make sure to revise any updated policies or procedures in your handbook in order to remain compliant in the coming year.

Update Labor Law Posters

If there have been major updates since the last time you ordered labor law posters, you should order new federal and state labor law posters for 2018. This will ensure all new and applicable labor law notices are posted for your employees’ reference. Check out this link for more details about posters and how to order them.

ACA Reporting Deadlines

If you were an Applicable Large Employer in calendar year 2017 (50 or more full time/full time equivalent employees) you are required to report in 2018. Make sure you have a plan in place for issuing and filing 1094/5-C forms.

StratEx offers ACA reporting services. Please reach out to your HR Account Manager with any further questions on this subject.

If you are not using StratEx for reporting, as of right now, the deadline for filing has not been extended as it has been the past few years. So for now, plan for the January 31st deadline to have the 1095-Cs distributed to employees.

Implement Sick & Family Leave Legislation

Several states, cities and counties will have new paid sick or family leave legislation go into effect starting in 2018. A few specific ones to call out:

  • Washington and Vermont on the state level have passed sick leave for 1/1/18
  • New York has passed Paid Family Leave for 1/1/18
  • California has implemented an unpaid Parental Leave for small employers (separate from Paid Family Leave)
  • Rhode Island has passed sick leave for 7/1/18

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to your HR Account Manager regarding which state and local leave laws may be affecting your location(s) and/or your business.

Conduct an I-9 Audit

With increased focus on immigration compliance, the new year is great time to review for any mistakes from the past year and guard your company against costly fines. Your HR Account Manager can assist both with audit best practices and proactive training to prevent further errors.

Review your Pay Practices

Many states have been passing Equal Pay laws over the past few months, and we anticipate that this trend will continue. Some states, such as Massachusetts and California, prohibit employers from asking about an applicant’s salary history.

Hedge your potential liability here by reviewing your current pay structures and your application materials.

If you’re wondering where your states falls in all of this, reach out to your HR Account Manager.

Prepare for EEO-1 Reporting Updates

The proposed requirements to add salary data have been put on pause. However, the reporting deadline extension of March 31, 2018 is still being respected. If you are required to submit EEO reporting, start reviewing your data. There are several reports in eStratEx to assist you in identifying any gaps. Please reach out to your Service Team or HR Account Manager for any questions on these.

Implement OSHA Changes

2017 OSHA Checklist
On November 1, 2017, employers should have:

  • Review your OSHA poster to ensure it is up to date
  • Updated/established reporting procedures
  • Reviewed and revised drug testing policies

Find more details on these requirements here.

2017 Electronic Reporting & Anti-Retaliation Provisions

  • These have been updated to apply to very specific industries.
  • You can read more about this topic and find out if this applies to you on the OSHA website here.

Webinar Recording Available

The new year always includes changes in employment law. Please keep these topics in mind and make updates wherever necessary to keep your company as friction-free as possible. For more detail on these and other exciting HR topics, you’ll want to watch this free webinar that our HR Account Management Team recently put together. It will walk you through some important updates for next year.

If you are a StratEx client and have any questions about these topics, please reach out to your HR Account Manager or your StratEx Service Team.

Ask StratEx HR: Sexual Harassment in the Kitchen

Everyone loves music and dancing, right? Well, after a little alcohol, definitely. But let’s say you’re at work. It’s been a stressful day, and you just “gotta loosen up those chains and dance” (thank you to the Dixie Chicks for understanding). We all need to let loose sometimes, so what could possibly be wrong with an impromptu dance party with your coworkers? Let’s take a look at a submission to one of our StratExperts, Ask StratEx HR, to find out.

Dear StratEx HR,

What a week! I am the defacto HR person for a casual restaurant chain, and I need some serious help!

So here’s what happened… One of our employees, Tiffany, was taking a break with a couple of coworkers in the kitchen. The radio was on and, as it was told to me, “Pony” by Ginuwine came on. Everyone started freaking out because “Omg, this is totally my song!!” Tiffany started to feel the beat a little in her shoulders, and then, she said that she just couldn’t help it, she had to break it down. (Seriously?!) Other coworkers started cheering, and a dance circle formed.

Their supervisor, Ron, came back into the kitchen, and, rather than shutting the party down, he started dancing with Tiffany. Not waltzing or leaving room for the Holy Spirit, if you know what I mean. Some would call it freak dancing, juking, or maybe even bumping and grinding. (If you need a reference point, think of the club scene in Save the Last Dance… you get the idea.) Suddenly, Tiffany started to feel uncomfortable, but didn’t want to be the Debbie Downer of the party. After a few minutes, the break was over, so she went back to work and escaped the situation without drawing attention to herself. This is all according to a conversation that I had with Tiffany this morning, so I have not confirmed this story with anyone else yet.

I cannot handle this drama! What action do I need to take??

Losing my Groove

Dear Losing your Groove,

It sounds like you have had quite the week! While the nitty-gritty details may be unique, this situation is not as out of the box as it may seem (and, in fact, it sounds quite similar to many situations in which StratEx HR has advised our clients). I know that many questions must be running through your head, so I’ve tried to break your action plan down into questions that we typically receive in situations like this.

As her HR Manager, what do you need to consider when Tiffany comes to you the next day to report harassment?

First, as the HR Manager and leader of the investigation, you need to set expectations with Tiffany, including a realistic idea of confidentiality, timeline of the process, and the importance of the integrity of the investigation. She should know that you will be interviewing other witnesses, including the manager she is accusing. This may come as a surprise to her, but the fact of the matter is that these incidents do not exist in a bubble.

While it is best to take action immediately, coordinating these interviews may take some time, so be up front with Tiffany about this. Be sure to ask if she feels comfortable working during the investigation, and if so, schedule her on different shifts from Ron. During this initial discussion, just in case the gravity with which you handle these investigations has not yet set in, you should also include an expectation of integrity as it pertains to the investigation. For example, if Tiffany is also messaging her supervisor on social media during the investigation, then her claim of harassment might be viewed in a different light.

Next, you need to gather statements from all of the witnesses that are available, as well as any other evidence that is available to you. Other evidence could include video footage from a security camera, time records indicating break times, a copy of the schedule, or email communication between parties, to name a few.

Was your sexual harassment policy violated by this supervisor, or is Tiffany at fault for being complicit in the behavior?

pexels-photo-29346One of the main issues we address again and again with harassment is that the intention of the offender does not matter if the conduct is unwelcome, prohibited, and based on a protected category.  So even though Ron may have thought he was being a “cool boss” by joining in, he was, in fact, making Tiffany and potentially others uncomfortable with his actions. Assuming that no other relationship exists outside of work between Tiffany and Ron, it is safe to say that Tiffany may have felt pressured to continue dancing rather than face the intimidating situation of confronting her manager in front of other employees.

That does not mean that other infractions against company policy will not come out during the course of an investigation. For example, if it is against your company policy to take a break in the kitchen, then you may need to coach employees during the process of investigating. You will want to balance consistent enforcement of policies with unintentionally scaring employees from reporting incidents due to their fear of being written up.

Should someone lose their job over a seemingly lighthearted interaction?

This is something that needs to be weighed on a scale of severity and pervasiveness. That means attempting to gauge to what extent or how grossly the incident violated the company harassment policy. It also means looking at performance history to see if this is the first time that an incident like this has occurred with this particular manager or if this has been a pattern. Unfortunately, there is no black and white answer here and will vary on a case-by-case basis.

Depending on your determination regarding the severity and pervasiveness, you need to consider if there a chance that employees will be able to move on working effectively in coexistence following this incident. If that manager has lost the respect of the employees, but you do not feel that the incident was severe enough, consider a transfer to another location. Keep in mind, however, that rumors may still spread to other locations. If you move forward with termination, remember that disciplinary action of any type should only be shared with the employee that action concerns. I would, however, recommend following up with Tiffany as the claimant and letting her know that you have taken action as you deemed necessary following the scope of your investigation (again this does not require specific details though).

The final item that you will want to look out for post-resolution is signs of retaliation, which can come from a few different arenas. The most obvious source of retaliation would be from Ron if he continues to work with Tiffany. This could come in the form of negative performance reviews, or even something subtler like scheduling her for the worst shifts. If Ron leaves that location or the company, other managers could even pick up the mantle of his grudge out of fear that Tiffany would report their actions. An unexpected form of retaliation could even come from Tiffany’s coworkers, who now single her out because they miss having a “fun” boss. I recommend squashing any such behavior before it has a chance to escalate, both to protect the company from further liability and to uphold the tenets of your harassment reporting policy.

I hope that this information helps resolve the drama. I’m confident that you will get back into the groove shortly!

StratEx HR (aka Groovemaster)

Violence in the Workplace: Act Don’t React

“We are like a family at the office.”

“We conduct background checks, so we don’t have to worry.”

“That’s so sad, but it will never happen here.”

How often do you hear those phrases at work?

Something that is probably not mentioned: Homicide is currently the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States.

Contrary to what that last statement might have you believe, I am not a “Debbie Downer” type of person. Admittedly, before I started this project, violence in the workplace is not something I thought about. I enjoy going to work every day! I don’t want to imagine something bad taking place here!

Learning that statistic made me realize, however, that it is an issue we all need to be taking seriously. For the “numbers” people who want a little more detail… Out of 4,679 individuals who unfortunately passed away in 2014 due to a work-related injury, 403 of those deaths were homicides. I don’t know about you, but that freaked me out. That number should be zero, not 403!

This is not the Wild Wild West, folks.

So now that we’re on the same page and know the gravity of violence in the workplace, let’s talk about what can actually be done about it.

That number can certainly go down if employers put some definitive processes in place. Like FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Being afraid of talking about violence or its causes will not make it go away, but rather, if you acknowledge the possibility and preemptively do what you can to prevent violence, you can make a difference in your workplace.

After reading many opinions on the topic, I’ve boiled it down to 5 main action items that can help you find some Zen in this kooky world we find ourselves in:

1. Zero Tolerance Policy
wpv-70-percent-no-programWhen is the last time you took a look at your handbook? Maybe when you started your business or when a new HR Director came in? Do you know where the document is saved on your computer? Let’s wipe the dust off and take another look. All handbooks should have a policy that clearly states zero tolerance for violence. Be sure to provide a definition of what your company constitutes as violence. According to the Department of Labor, workplace violence is defined as any sort of act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite. While providing more detail is preferred, especially when it comes to topics of harassment, that would be a great starting point for your handbook.

I would also suggest laying out the reporting process in your handbook, so that employees are familiar with what they should do if they suspect that violence is occurring or may occur. I know that it might seem like common sense that violence or harassment should be reported to a supervisor or human resources manager, but employees might fear retaliation or even provoking the offender. Hammer out your processes, so that if a hammer flies through your door, the wrongdoer will not be surprised that they’re being let go for destruction of company property.

2. Discipline Training and Documentation
What are your standard processes for coaching employees? In any industry, it is a smart idea to have management document performance discussions, especially in regards to coaching conversations. Additionally, train management to communicate misconduct immediately to HR and take the necessary disciplinary action, up to and/or including separation. The final piece to this, which I cannot stress enough, is consistency. I mean this in two ways. First, do not change the standard based on the employee. For example, if you have a 5-minute grace period for timeliness, you cannot write up only one employee for being 2 minutes late. It looks like you are singling them out (and deep down, you might be). Second, make sure to document every incident. If you have an employee who displays performance issues (in concurrence with warning signs, which we will discuss below) and you have documented the incidents, you will be able to separate before a more dramatic incident occurs. If you do not have documentation in place, you might not notice a pattern of behavior, especially if there is supervisor turnover.

3. Open Door Policy
Think of the Three’s Company theme song. How comfortable do your employees feel coming to you about issues? Will they come right up and knock on your door? And if they do, are you ready and available to speak with them? I am not advocating for a lax office structure, as that doesn’t work for every industry and being too lax can lead to other issues. However, employees need to feel comfortable coming forward with issues and know who to contact regarding their concerns. Show that you are never too important to listen to the people who work hard for you day in and day out.

And listening is just the first step; part of acknowledging concerns is investigating them thoroughly. Some of you are probably thinking, “Oh no, if I do that, I am going to turn into a counselor and every little disagreement is going to end up in my office.” If employees know that you are going to investigate issues brought to your attention, most likely they will learn what is important enough to be reported. Maybe the solution is having office hours once a week. Of course, there will always be that one person who takes advantage, but don’t alienate the rest of your employees because of it.

feature_900x55054. Know the Warning Signs
So, I know a lot of HR professionals who received their first degree in Psychology, and the longer I am in the field, the more I understand the correlation. Reading people is a basic piece of our job, and it’s something that I suggest you train your management teams on as well. It is important in terms of gauging morale, sorting out interview truths or lies, and, in this case, recognizing when a threat exists. Here are some of the basic warning signs that someone is violent or might be considering perpetrating violence:

  • Easy to anger
  • Does not interact well with coworkers
  • Resistant to change or direction from leadership
  • Talks about weapons, access to weapons, or even discusses bringing them to work
  • Paranoia, thinks people are out to get him/her
  • Erratic behavior, dramatic mood swings
  • Has a history of violence or making threats
  • Alcohol and/or drug abuse

Now, please do not go on a witch hunt and terminate all employees who have displayed one of these characteristics to one person on one occasion. We do not want to discriminate against an employee because they demonstrate a quality on this list. We should always complete a thorough investigation and follow the discipline guidelines. If an employee seeks assistance or shares information regarding an issue, provide them with any assistance possible in regards to how it affects the working environment and resources for them to utilize outside of the workplace. That being said, keep your employees safe. For example, if an employee has such a severe mental health disorder that they cannot work with others without a visceral reaction, you might be justified in separating that employee. Employers cannot be forced to accommodate a disability if it creates an unsafe workplace for other employees.

5. Safety Action Plan
While all of the above mentioned points could be considered a part of a preventative safety plan, let’s think about what is actually going to occur in your office if a crisis happens. Do you have a point person in charge of safety training and drills? Are your leaders trained in how to recognize escalating situations? Do your employees know where the emergency exits are located? In an office setting, you might want to consider increased security of admittance. In the service industry, as basic as it sounds, you need to be aware of your surroundings and any strange behavior perpetrated by patrons or other non-employees. Put a formal plan in place because you know what happens when you assume…

This is where it might also be helpful to think about internal versus external situations and how you handle the two differently. Internal would mean that the incident is contained to the workplace including the cause or driving factors behind it, such as two employees getting into a fist fight. External would be an incident involving one or more employees that began outside of the workplace, but ends up affecting the workplace. For example, an employee is in an abusive relationship, and after one particularly bad argument, the partner or spouse comes into the workplace to harass the employee. The warning signs and the ways in which you would treat these situations would be different, but you can establish an overarching process that will guide you through both.

I hope that reading this made you feel empowered to breach this topic with your leadership teams and employees. The point is that the danger comes in when we are afraid to have open and honest dialogue about tough workplace issues like violence. Create an environment where employees are happy and can thrive. We all spend too much time at work to not feel safe and fulfilled.