How leaders can prepare for coming changes and retain workers.

Though many hourly employees choose to work in foodservice because they need more flexible schedules than they can find in other fields, this same flexibility has also put strain on workers. Many common practices in restaurants, such as short notice of shifts, on-call scheduling, sending employees home when they are scheduled, and scheduling closing shifts followed by opening shifts, can make it difficult for employees to plan their budgets and schedule childcare or transportation, all of which can lead to increased stress.

The Economic Policy Institute conducted a study on the consequences of irregular work scheduling. The study found that while fewer than 11 percent of workers with “regular” schedules reported that they experienced work-family conflict “often,” 26 percent of irregular and on-call shift workers and 19 percent of those with rotating and split shifts reported this issue.

“There has been a history of hourly workers in this industry not having stable hours, and if you don’t have a commitment on hours, you can’t make a living,” says Jordan Boesch, CEO of 7shifts, a restaurant employee scheduling app. “A 2017 study said the average amount of notice employees received before a shift was 2.4 days. To only be notified of your schedule two days before it makes it hard to plan the rest of your life. Too much flexibility takes advantage of the worker.”

To combat these issues, in 2014, San Francisco passed the first predictive scheduling laws, and many cities and states have passed and debated similar legislation since then. Though the specific regulations included in predictive scheduling legislation vary by region, laws may include any combination of the following: requirements for schedules to be posted within a certain timeframe before a shift; minimum rest periods between shifts; extra pay for scheduling changes; extra pay for cancellations within a certain timeframe; and promises of estimated hours to new employees. Failure to comply with these guidelines can result in large fines and penalty pay owed to workers.

Many of these laws only apply to businesses operating a certain number of locations within the region or managing a certain number of employees. While the legislation may not apply to small chains and independent restaurants yet, many of these other brands might soon comply with these same guidelines for the business benefits they provide. Turnover is high in foodservice, and competition for hourly employees is stiff. Scheduling stress can foster low morale, which can increase employee turnover and harm guest experience, Boesch says.

Additionally, replacing workers who leave can be costly. “I don’t think many employers realize the average cost to the employer is $2,000 to find an employee, post ads, interview, and train them—it’s a huge time sink,” he says. “Unhappy employees are also a risk, because ultimately the quality of restaurant and food and service is a reflection of who works in the restaurant.”

Predictive scheduling policies can actually help increase employee morale and retention. “That’s not something restaurants are thinking about, because they are usually thinking about booking tables,” Boesch says. “But there is a leaky bucket affecting the bottom line, and if you don’t keep good people and treat them the right way, then they will leak out of the bucket.”

Regardless of which region a restaurant operates in, preparing for these changes is crucial. For those operating in states and cities that already have this legislation, learning what is required is crucial.

“Especially in California, New York, and Seattle, spend time reading over regulations and look at how a scheduling tool could help you,” Boesch says. “These are not easy regulations to follow if you’re tracking them manually. For example, in New York, if you can only change 20 percent of a schedule to stay in compliance, that’s hard to keep track of manually. Read up on the regulations and look for a scheduling tool that will give you alerts.”

Scheduling software, such as 7shifts, can give restaurant managers warnings when they make changes to the schedule that are outside of these guidelines. It can also help managers monitor employee overtime and enforce legal break requirements by sending alerts that an employee needs to be relieved. It also keeps scheduling records that will soon be a requirement for many regions. These features give restaurants managers and multi-unit operators peace of mind because they make it easy to comply with legal changes.

“A lot of people get really scared and angry when regulations come into effect, but I wouldn’t get apprehensive about these changes,” Boesch says. “I’d see this as an opportunity to be fair to great workers, treat them in a way they want to be treated, and to deliver a better quality of service. This could be an accelerant to your bottom line.”

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