With minimum wage pressures and increasing concerns about health, it’s easy to see costs escalate, both in the form of higher paychecks and more safety-related gear. Amid the fear or rising expenses, there’s good news: changes can be made to improve staff wellbeing, and many of them cost little or nothing at all. “When we are, or feel, alone it can impact almost every element of our health,” says Logan Mallory, vice president of Motivosity, an employee engagement software. “A sense of community and inclusion is a key part of being happy at work.”
Find new ways to promote employee wellness. Consider the following strategies to create and maintain a place where staff members can feel a sense of belonging.
Work Together Toward a Common Goal
Boardwalk Pizza, which brings thin-crust pizza to Boston’s South Shore, opened during the pandemic. “Our team is undoubtedly the most important part of our business,” says Donato Frattaroli, Jr., co-founder of Boardwalk Pizza, located just south of Boston. “The five-person team has been working with us for quite some time.” Some of the staff worked together prior to the launch of Boardwalk Pizza, at a different restaurant which shut down during COVID-19. “We believe the longevity stems from cultivating strong relationships with that team and knowing that we are all working together toward the same goal,” Frattaroli, Jr. says. That goal consists of putting out the best possible product to enable the business to keep growing.
Offer Promotional Opportunities
Maintaining a focus on personal development can lead to a more productive, satisfied team. At Tampa Pizza Company, which has three locations in the Tampa, Florida, area, multiple employees have moved from servers to managers or kitchen managers. Staff members can also pursue culinary careers through the restaurant’s sister company, Melina International Trading. For workers who are looking to improve their skills and move up, the chance to climb a career ladder can keep them engaged and motivated.
Carry on Meaningful Conversations
While discussing menus, orders and processes are certainly necessary, there may be opportunities to let chatter expand into deeper matters. “We believe in our team and every day we try to show them that we have their backs,” Frattaroli, Jr. says. “Regarding satisfaction and wellness, it really comes down to communication, observation, empowerment and trust.” When staff works closely together in a team-driven atmosphere, the doors of conversation can open to discuss what’s going on at an individual level.
Creating a space where voices can be heard can be especially impactful as workers wrestle with mental, emotional, and health issues related to the pandemic. “There is depth in our conversations,” Frattaroli, Jr. says. “We get to know the individuals; our employees are more than just a number. We can see if someone is having a tough day from whatever it is they have going on in their lives and truly listen.”
Provide Culinary Variety for Staff
While guests will likely come in and crave the standout pies, staff members who see the same menu day after day might appreciate alternative food options on occasion. “Eating pizza together all the time gets old fast,” says Baron Christopher Hanson, the semi-retired principal of RedBaronUSA, a consulting, coaching and re-branding firm based in North and South Carolina. To shake things up, once or twice a month offer an exchange: the restaurant can send two or three pizzas to a nearby eatery that specializes in a different food segment. The neighboring restaurant can, in turn, deliver meals to the pizzeria. Through the switch, staff members might enjoy a Thai meal, an order of sushi, a barbecue plate or a burger and fries. The arrangement can help boost morale, as employees will likely appreciate the gesture and the chance to broaden their palate.
Let Employees Shine
With a younger generation that is tuned into the digital and connected world, there may be ways to promote the restaurant with their skillset. Better yet, team members typically thrive when they get to put their talents and passion to use. “Find out which employees have a knack for speaking on live radio or TV,” Hanson says. Ask staff members to come up with a catchy YouTube video featuring the restaurant and its menu. Or look for volunteers to put together a costume that can be worn to a local event.
When having employees participate in promotional efforts, an award such as a cash bonus can provide extra incentive. A gift certificate could be given to the best video, or a dollar amount might be rewarded to the costume winner. The friendly competition can be team building, and the result is a dual win: the restaurant can have a new promotional angle, and the winning staff member can take home a prize and a sense of accomplishment.
Take the Time to Hire Right
Amid worker shortages, it can be difficult to find new employees who are a good fit and are ready to make a commitment. “We have seen the negative impacts of hiring the wrong applicant, and how it can negatively affect the team,” Frattaroli, Jr. says. “We work in lockstep with our team to ensure that any new hire has similar values and general ethics.” Asking employees for referrals may provide the chance for staff members to bring in others who share their priorities. Consider awarding employees who refer new hires with a free pizza, free merchandise or a gift certificate.
Putting in the effort to develop a strong team can pay off in several ways. “There are times when we as a group need to rely on one another,” Frattaroli, Jr. says. “Whether it’s longer hours than normal or more stressful shifts, we have been able to lean on each other, which has built an amazing amount of trust.”
While reduced turnover can help control costs, the long-term effect may be the sense of community that workers receive. “To describe these benefits on paper or e-mail is insufficient,” Frattaroli, Jr. says. “It’s something that truly needs to be seen in person—we have a bond with our team that is truly special.”
Rachel Hartman is a freelance writer who covers small business, finance and lifestyle topics.