Bill Marvin

The Restaurant Doctor

Turnover has traditionally been a concern to most foodservice operators and most have addressed it in one way or another. A few have re-examined their management styles and put new emphasis on team-building activities. But it seems that many operators have stayed with business as usual and lamented that "you just can't get good people anymore" or that "these young kids just don't want to work." Amid this hand-wringing and chest-beating, the revolving door continues to turn, perpetuating the low morale and slipshod service that so often accompanies turnover.

The reason that most approaches to turnover are only slightly effective is that turnover is not the problem, it is just a symptom of the problem. The simple truth is that your staff leaves because they do not want to hang out with you! If you can find out where the irritations lie, you can start to do something about them.

If turnover is a worry in your operation, the underlying causes are probably not what you think they are. If you knew the real reasons that people leave, you would already be on top of them. Don't think you are alone in this predicament; we all have blind spots. The trick lies in getting beyond our thoughts of how we think things are or how we want them to be and get to the underlying truth.

An inexpensive but very effective way to find out what it is really like to work in your company and keep a finger on the organization's pulse is to conduct exit interviews whenever a staff member leaves. The exit interview process is important whether the departure was their idea or the company's.

Think about it. Smart operators regularly ask their guests how they could do a better job the next time because that sort of feedback, however stinging, provides insights that can help the operation improve. Similarly, why not ask departing staff members what changes would make your company a more pleasant place to work?

The problem is that workers are most likely to be leaving because of something management did, something management allowed to happen, or because management did not listen to them. If people felt the company did not listen to them while they worked there, they probably won't feel like telling you much when they leave. Still, the feedback is essential.

If you want to get to the truth, you may need someone outside the company who is "safe" to talk to and who will respect the confidentiality of the departing worker. In large multi-unit companies, the personnel department can often handle this function effectively. Most operators, however, have to find another way.

One possibility might be to hire someone on an "as needed" basis to interview departing staff members. The most effective interviewer will be someone the staff did not have regular contact with during a typical workday. Perhaps you know of a retiree in the area or perhaps a former worker who resigned to raise a family. Often these people would like a little social contact and a few extra dollars.

The advantage of one-on-one exit interviews is that they are more personal and a skillful interviewer can often get past the departing person's natural defensiveness to uncover the real reasons behind their decision to leave. The disadvantages are that not all interviewers are effective and the personal interview approach requires coordinating the departing worker's schedule with the availability of the interviewer.

Another alternative is to use blind exit questionnaires. These are survey forms given to departing staff members, a sample of which is included. When the ex-employee completes the form and sends it to an impartial third party, the intermediary group sends them a $5 reward. Don't expect anyone, especially departing foodservice workers, to do anything for free! The intermediary protects the confidentiality of the information source and forwards the completed questionnaires back to the company for review.

Figuring a cost of only $10 per questionnaire (half of which is returned to the staff member), this arrangement can be very cost-effective, especially when compared with the costs of turnover. It saves you the need to add another person to your payroll and avoids the schedule coordination required with one-on-one interviews.

The disadvantage of the blind approach is that you lose the ability for follow-up questions and clarification of answers. Still, any valid information on what it is really like to work for you will shine some light into the blind spots and start to steer you in the direction of necessary operational improvements. In researching this approach to exit interviewing, I did not find an organization that was providing this service to the industry . . . so I started one!

I developed an exit interview questionnaire for Hospitality Service Group, a third-party intermediary that collects and forwards survey results from departing staff members. In addition to 40 pieces of ranked information, the form also asks a few more open-ended questions.

I acknowledge that it takes courage to actively ask for the truth like this and perhaps you will leave yourself open to a few cheap shots. But in the process, you will start to see how people feel about working for you and that can make all the difference. Remember that the working environment that causes your staff to want to stay is the same sort of environment that causes your guests to want to return. You don't have to be bad to get better. Good luck!

for more information contact:
Bill Marvin, The Restaurant Doctor™
(585) 606-0000

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