Five Tips to Prioritize Staff Well-Being

With 71% of restaurants experiencing a labor shortage this year, staff well-being is top of mind for business owners and managers — and it’s equally top of mind for their staffs.

When team members feel fulfilled and supported in their work, it leads to better customer experiences, to higher employee retention, and it can be a strong driver for recruiting efforts. Employees who feel taken care of by their employers are more motivated to contribute to the success of the business and more likely to stick around for the long term.

On our podcast, Talking Squarely, we spoke with three business owners about how they’ve taken action to support their employees through the pandemic and beyond. Here are four tips to prioritize the well-being of your staff.

1. Become a listener

If you want to be successful in meeting the needs of your staff, it’s important to involve them in the process. Ask your employees directly about their needs, their wants, and their goals — and listen to their feedback to understand their perspective.

Rather than wait until an annual performance review, connect with your team members frequently as part of the day-to-day. For Tony Vu, owner of MaMang restaurant in Flint, Michigan, staying connected to his staff in the height of the pandemic was key to retaining top team members. “When we shut down, my first move was to make sure my employees were okay financially,” he shared with us on Talking Squarely. “I was constantly talking to everyone. In the end, I think that’s why they’re still here.”

Informal check-ins are a good way to tap into your employees’ feelings and needs, but it’s also important to create a formal space for team members to voice their thoughts. Tony Vu shares that when returning to work after the shutdowns, he scheduled meetings with the leaders on his team to ask what he could do to support them. “We shared our power with them. They were able to chart how they wanted to work and how they wanted the company to work.”

2. Be willing to flex.

Listening is only effective when it’s followed by action. When you take the time to listen to your employees’ feedback and needs, be open to acting on that information. This may mean creating more flexibility in your scheduling, investing in resources that support your employees, or changing processes. After speaking with leadership at his restaurant, Vu’s management team decided to change the number of weekdays the business is open based on employee feedback.

Avani Modi Sarkar, who co-owns Modi Toys, a direct-to-consumer Hindu-inspired children’s toy company, listened to her employees’ concerns about returning to the office in the pandemic. She took action to invest in resources to protect her team’s health, to prioritize safety in the office, and to ease employee concerns about returning to in-person work.

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3. Communicate clearly and frequently.

While it’s important to listen to your employees’ needs, it’s equally important to make it easy for them to understand what you need and expect from them. Communicating clearly with your team about workplace expectations, feedback, and praise can make a major impact on staff well-being.

Krista Abel, owner of Dream Home Images, a luxury real-estate marketing company in Santa Cruz, California, found that her relationships with her employees improved by “really stating what I need from people. When I communicate it clearly, they come through for me.”

Keep in mind that communication shouldn’t happen through only one channel. Think about catering to your team demographics, particularly in multigenerational workplaces, where some staff members may be more receptive to in-person discussions or phone calls and others may be more comfortable communicating via email, messaging apps, or other digital channels.

4. Invest in areas that make a personal impact.

When your employees can feel and see that you are investing in them, they are more likely to invest in you. Think about ways that your business can invest in your employees’ success, such as by offering training opportunities and professional development to support their career growth and job satisfaction. This could also mean investing in new systems or resources to give them what they need to thrive in their jobs.

Think outside the box about what can make an impact for your team’s unique needs or circumstances. Amid the pandemic and wildfires devastating their area, Krista Abel’s company created an emergency fund to aid team members in need of assistance. This fund secured the company’s ability to continue paying their staff in the event of a shutdown and allowed them to support employees in more personal ways. The emergency fund helped one team member find a new apartment and helped another team member access a new mode of transportation when their car broke down.

Abel says that another creative way her company paid attention to and invested in staff well-being was by renting an office space in downtown Santa Cruz. “We live in the Bay Area, where apartments can be tiny, and being stuck inside can be maddening,” she says. The area is also prone to frequent power outages. Her company’s downtown office gave employees a place to go for a change of scenery. “If your power goes out or you just need a place to hang out or walk, we have one for you.”

5. Treating staff well-being as a success metric

Think of employee wellness as a measure of success for your business — because it is. Tony Vu says that this mental shift made a huge difference for his restaurant. “Instead of looking at the bottom line with [regard to] finances, we started looking at the bottom line in terms of happiness.” While revenue and profit margins are always going to be important, remember that employee wellness and satisfaction contribute directly to your profitability and sustainability. 

Create channels for your team members to voice their needs and feedback, and find ways to take action on that feedback. Communicate clearly about expectations, business decisions, and processes so employees understand what’s expected of them and can meet those expectations. Invest in meaningful ways that impact the lives of your team members. And empower your team with tools, such as Square Shifts, that let employees manage their schedules and view their hours and pay in real time.

Above all, approach staff well-being as a must-have, because without your staff the business cannot operate. As Tony Vu put it, “It’s easy to get used to saying ‘It’s my business,’ but at the end of the day, it’s our business.”