Other lines of defense
Hendrick agrees that layers of open communication, beyond a single HR professional, should be built into a company’s structure. “You should have several avenues, at least two—and if you are a larger organization, maybe three or four,” she says. Avenues include anonymous hotlines, ethics websites, direct supervisors, an HR professional, and even someone above HR, Hendrick says, so employees always feel they have somewhere they can go. “Less significant actions, even if they don’t rise to the level of legal sexual harassment, can cause problems if left unaddressed,” Hendrick says.
Check in and be involved
“The most important thing is to be in touch and connected [with employees],” Borkum says. This can be achieved through weekly meetings or scheduling regular office hours a week, “where, if someone wants to come in and sit and chat with you, they don’t feel that is inappropriate, because it has been made clear that that is available to them,” she says. “We’re always having conversations about how people are feeling in the work environment.”
David says the same: “Be involved in your bar or restaurant, make sure [your] staff feels comfortable talking to you. No one is saying be best friends with everyone, but building a relationship based on compassion is key.”
Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, which has nearly 50 locations, tries to conduct as many “stay” interviews with employees as possible. Executive team members, as well as regional and unit managers, regularly sit down and speak with top performers to ask what attracted them to the company, what they like about it, and why they choose to stay. The brand also conducts exit interviews with people who leave voluntarily. “We just want to know what we are doing well and what we can do better,” says Charles Blankenship, Firebirds’ senior vice president of human resources.
Leaders who check in and make themselves available to employees help to cultivate a culture of dignity and respect, says Anderson of the National Restaurant Association. “When a health inspector shows up at your door to give an inspection, everyone shouldn’t be running and scrambling to wipe the tables. We operate for an ‘A’ every single day. When it comes to how we treat team members and staff, we operate to treat them with respect and courtesy every single day, because, when we do that, they excel, we help people become what they want to be, and they treat our customers each other exceptionally well.”
Train and coach
To be proactive about harassment of all forms, it is crucial to train staff regularly and actively coach them if they step out of line in the workplace.
Ideally, training is done in person, says Hendrick, and conducted by a third party, whether that be an employment counsel like herself or through an HR consulting group. The best results, she says, will be elicited from someone who is highly experienced with this type of training and ready to address questions from scenarios that may arise during the session. “[In an effective session,] you’ll see examples of actions that maybe people in the past would think is a funny situation, but now they’re realizing how that can lead to some very unhappy employees and a culture that really is not the best to make everyone successful,” Hendrick says.
Firebirds has three designated professionals on its HR team dedicated to training team members on-location and developing materials for employees to consume digitally. “We’ve evolved over the course of 17 years from big, fat binders full of paper to electronic or digital learning, which is really designed toward today’s learner,” Blankenship says. These short pieces of micro-learning that can be consumed on personal digital devices like tablets or phones help retain and attract employees, Blankenship says. “It’s what our base of employees has requested over the years.” In-person training can’t be replaced in this line of work, he says, but these digital learning options make a nice supplement.
Technology training platforms make it easier for smaller operators to access resources, as well. Blankenship has worked with compliance courses sourced through the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers in the past and is considering a suite provided by Paycom.