How fostering a safety culture can reduce turnover and improve the bottom line.

If you’ve ever been in a staffing crunch, you know that minimizing turnover is vital to the success of a restaurant, but what you may not realize is that one big factor affecting employee engagement could be safety. While there are many factors that are part of job satisfaction, whether employees feel safe in the workplace is a key concern. Even when safety doesn’t directly contribute to turnover, it can be a leading cause behind absences, which hurt everyone in the store, and low engagement.

The reverse is also true, as turnover and engagement affect safety when employees cut corners to make up for absent coworkers or unhappy employees don’t pay as much attention as they should.

“Often times, what builds into a general decay of a restaurant operation is that they struggle with retaining employees because of turnover,” says Mike Keeler, a restaurant safety strategist with more than 30 years of experience in industry safety and security leadership. “Then turnover breeds more turnover. Then when you have so many new employees that can’t keep up or don’t know how to work safely, you have safety issues, customer satisfaction issues, and order accuracy becomes an issue.”

Investing time and energy into workplace safety can help create a more engaged workforce. Keeler shares tips for improving safety culture.

1. Watch Your Language

Fostering a culture that values safe work practices starts with small steps, including changing the language you use to talk about safety issues. Keeler recommends that brands refrain from calling safety incidents “accidents” because that term makes them sound unpreventable and depersonalizes the events.

“Try to get the operators to think in terms of injuries, not accidents,” he says. “It’s someone’s mother, son, or husband that is putting away the truck delivery and twists his back wrong, and he and his whole family are impacted.”

By keeping the focus on how injuries impact people, it helps operators and employees stay focused on creating a safe workplace that they want to come back to and sends a message that employees are valued.

2. Focus on Behaviors

When it comes to day-to-day operations, one of the best ways to engage team members in safety topics is by focusing on actions. For example, though a brand might be focused on reducing the risk of burns, employees may not care or understand until they understand the specific preventative steps they should be taking.

“Focusing on behaviors helps get people in the habit of doing everything correctly when it comes to safety,” Keeler says. “You can establish the habit by focusing on it for a period of time so that every time we need something from a higher shelf, we get the ladder.”

Instead of simply telling employees to think about burns, help them build habits by focusing on specific actions and reinforcing them. Teach employees to wait for oil to cool before they shuttle it and refresh them on that action over time. That way, when the restaurant is busy and employees are focused on getting the job done, they will remember to slow down and do the task the safe way.

3. Recognize Safe Behaviors

Making employees feel that safe behaviors are important to your organization is fundamental to fostering a safety culture. While giving feedback to employees who demonstrate unsafe behaviors is important, recognizing employees for safe actions is equally important and can actually lead to stronger workplace engagement.

“A lot of people believe in the power of recognition, and I am certainly one of those,” Keeler says. “It’s a critical piece of culture in the restaurant.”

For example, Keeler recommends recognition programs in which employees can earn tangible items, such as pins for their hats for safe behaviors, or maybe, if the crew goes a whole week using the right safety tools, the manager brings coffee and donuts for the team. Not only will these steps promote safe behaviors, which may rub off on other employees, but they also make employees feel valued and like their hard work is being noticed. This in turn leads to long-term safety habits.

“A little recognition can mean so much to employees,” Keeler says. “That repetitive behavior that breeds a safety culture over time, and, as the team meets goals, that recognition can be moved from a week, to a month, three months, and then you have a habit.”

4. Eliminate Risks

In addition to fostering a safety culture, removing the potential for injury is another big way to not only reduce safety incidents, but also to keep your team more engaged. When employees go in to work knowing that they might be injured, they are more likely to be dissatisfied with their jobs.

“I have kids, and when I send them to work, I want to know that they will come home in the same state, and it’s the same for employees,” Keeler says. “No one wants to go to work thinking they will be injured, whether it’s because a fryer is broken or they might be shuttling oil and slip and fall.”

By proactively addressing these safety concerns and automating processes you reduce the risk of injury. Oil management systems, for example, reduce the risk of burns associated with hot oil and back strains and slip and fall incidents from moving large tubs of oil.

By making safety a priority and improving engagement, brands can keep employees happy and improve retention. This will help make your restaurant a great place to work and will encourage employees to stay longer, which will reduce turnover and improve the bottom line.

For more information, visit Restaurant Technologies.

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