In recent months, the Covid vaccine has become political – and therefore a heated topic of conversation. Across the country, a restaurant’s (or a municipality’s) decision to mandate vaccines for employees and/or guests has resulted in some unpleasant confrontations – between operators and employees and between guests and employees – and all at a time when restaurants are already struggling to attract and retain staff. While some of these confrontations have been difficult to avoid, a restaurant can decrease the likelihood of conflict by taking steps to communicate clearly, and in advance, with employees about vaccine mandates. A recent report from Human Resource Executive provides some tips. It’s most critical to get out in front of the mandate by discussing it with employees, listening to their concerns and providing them with ample lead time to act. If people are resisting, understand their concerns and personalize your communications around them – they may need to hear the message from someone they can more easily relate to. Also appreciate that an employee may have a valid reason to not get a vaccine, so speak to your legal advisor about how to frame communication about that with staff. In advance of a mandate, determine the consequences of not complying – this goes for employees as well as guests – and find gentle ways to communicate about it. Again here, it helps to get out in front of the mandate and avoid surprising a person with a consequence wherever possible. Finally, while President Biden’s rule about vaccine mandates has made this a more urgent topic of conversation at restaurants, try to keep your conversations with employees politically neutral and focused on the well-being of your team, business and the industry overall.
At a time when labor challenges are at an all-time high in the restaurant industry, a number of brands are taking a look at the experience of restaurant work and improving the aspects that need help. One of the areas moving to the forefront right now is employees’ mental health, which has been hit hard during the pandemic. Historically, the restaurant industry has not been known for its focus on employees’ mental health needs – and to be sure, mental health has been a growing concern for employers across industries during the pandemic – but now a number of restaurant brands are trying to change that as a means of attracting and retaining staff. Last fall, Noodles & Company added free in-person and online counseling sessions to its benefits plan. In May, Chipotle, which already offers in-person, phone or virtual visits with a licensed counselor for employees and their families, announced it was also bolstering its support of mental health via a new virtual platform called Strive. A Restaurant Business report says the Strive platform provides one-on-one coaching and support, and according to Chipotle, “gamifies each employee’s wellness experience” by giving them an opportunity to win gift cards and save money on health insurance, among other benefits. While such benefits aren’t widespread across the industry, they may gain momentum as restaurants vie for staff and need to think of creative ways to enhance the working environment for employees. Further, mental health benefits aren’t the only ways restaurants can improve upon a culture that needs a boost. As this Restaurant Dive report indicates, restaurants that have simply communicated clearly and considered employees’ home situations and financial concerns throughout the pandemic have had an easier time retaining people.