7 Surefire Ways to Boost Employee Engagement and Morale

Many employers use the term "employee engagement," but they are doing a lackluster job at actually accomplishing it. Why is it important? The ability to encourage employers to take a step back and channel their energy on strengthening employee relationships can change the norm, atmosphere, and culture of restaurant, resulting in higher productivity and an increase in revenue.

However, employment engagement doesn't necessarily begin with the employee — it starts with you, the leader. Recently, my team and I helped one of our clients boost productivity by synergizing morale at work, and here are seven things we found to help you increase the levels of engagement within your establishment.

1. Hire traits and behaviors.

Employee engagement starts with you. Just because a candidate for a position has the education and experience doesn't guarantee performance. Personality also plays a large role. During the hiring process, the candidate’s traits should be heavily taken into consideration. By doing this, you'll ensure the longevity of an engaged work environment. In general, ensuring that everyone has the same attitude is fairly easy when it starts from the interviewing process, but what happens if your goal is to change the attitudes of current employee?

A major problem that kills engagement amongst employees is other employees. One way to prevent these “problem people” from disturbing others is by creating social contracts. These contracts will act as an agreement on how coworkers should interact with one another. If these guidelines don't work, as a leader, you must identify the problem people, explain why their behavior isn't tolerated, and help them if they need it (e.g. sensitivity training, management training, anger management). If they don't  seem to be showing any signs of improvement, it's in your best interest to fire them, seeing that they disrupt the work environment and prevent other employees from being productive.

2.  Reward and say thank you.

A simple thank you can often be overlooked. By showing gratitude for a job well done every once in a while, it'll not only motivate that employee to continue doing a good job, but it will also motivate their peers. Regularly thanking your employees lets them know that you're paying attention to their work.

However, it's important that as a leader you let them know why they're getting rewarded. Giving rewards is beneficial to you only if it's clear what is being rewarded. What should be rewarded are actions and initiatives taken that reinforce employee expectations, such as being on time for work and high performance. Rewards don't always have to be cash-related. They could be a longer lunch break, or verbally saying it will suffice. Essentially, it's important to let your employees know that you're aware of their work and that they matter.

3. Let your employees know their input is valuable.

Everyone likes knowing that their ideas mean something. So, how can you let your employees know that their opinions are valid when it comes to decisions at work? Actually hear them out.

Many workplaces may have suggestion boxes, but often times, those ideas are overlooked or not looked at — at all. One way to ensure that all of your employees ideas are heard is by holding frequent brainstorming sessions. These sessions should provide a space that's nonjudgmental, where your employees can be open-minded and let their ideas flow. An ideal time would be a minute or two to rally before a lunch rush or as a recap of the day at the end of a night shift.

As a leader, you should encourage the ideas no matter how big or small, because when you show them that what they say has value, it’ll make them feel more invested in the company. Furthermore, you should have a mental open door policy. By showing you welcome your employees’ opinions and ideas, it takes away the division between you and your employees and gets rid of the “you versus them” mentality.

4. Streamline workflow.

Leaders need to kick the “It's always been done that way” mentality to the curb and start being more critical of the systems used in the restaurant. Slow decision-making and confusing approval procedures put a strain on communication and engagement. Reduce overly-complicated processes.

By streamlining their work, employees will have a more enjoyable and more effective environment, and will ultimately be more productive and confident in their decisions. Reducing the complexity of certain systems — while retaining your quality of food and service — also allows employees to see that changes can be made, and quickly. This will push the idea that your establishment is constantly looking to improve.

5. Focus on collaboration and working together.

It's one thing for the manager to be engaged with their employees, but it's definitely important for the employees to be engaged with one another. Often times, the employees who are the least engaged are the ones who are relatively shy. To get these individuals more involved, you need to make sure that they feel comfortable. One way to ensure that employees know each other is by playing an icebreaker during your prep meeting or operate on a nickname basis (if agreed upon).

If you’re working in the corporate aspect of a restaurant brand, and if you still can’t combat shyness using the techniques mentioned above or similar, use technology to your advantage. Technology is an easy fix to engagement and collaborative problems alike. This is beneficial because no matter how shy or disconnected from other employees this individual is, this platform allows them to stay in their comfort zone, thus allowing all employees the opportunity to share their ideas and provide input. Gamifications  would be a great starting tool.

In addition, encouraging collaboration doesn't always mean through work. If the end goal is to get employees to be more engaged with one another, try getting them to collaborate on a simple task like a celebration, such as staff birthdays or holiday parties at the restaurant. By doing non-related work tasks with coworkers, it'll allow them to work on their team building skills in a different situation.

6. Clarify goals and responsibilities.

Every employee has his or her own responsibilities. However, not having a clear role contributes to falling engagement levels. Think of this: As an employee, you want to try to do the best job you can on your given tasks, however, if you're not sure what those are, you'll feel as though you're walking through a minefield. The employee doesn't want to make a wrong move, so they’ll probably play it safe and not take a risk in figuring out what they're responsible for. This situation eliminates personal growth and engagement.

It’s simple. A staff member won’t be engaged if they have no clue on what they're supposed to be doing. Ways to prevent this foggy cloud from hovering over your employees is by making sure you’re all on the same page. If you're explaining a new role, make sure you’re delegating and explaining the roles in as much detail and as thoroughly as possible. Although it may seem like a waste of time, in the end, it’ll be what improves the service at your establishment, because if everyone knows exactly what they're doing, they'll be engaged and have less questions to ask you.

7. Create a unique office environment.

In general, your work environment should fit the establishment's values, so if one of the values is to keep employees happy and engaged, changing up the work environment every so often wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Since employees spend most of their time at work, it can be incredibly draining. But there are simple things you can do to make the workday a bit more tolerable.

For instance, put up artwork, or brighten the lighting. Why not add some candy at the front and back of the house or some new flowers to add some livelihood to your restaurant? If all else fails, simply ask your staff what changes they want to see on the floor or in the kitchen. Moreover, the environment in the restaurant doesn’t necessarily only mean décor.

Why not put that extra money in the budget to good use? You can use to fund celebrations for staff birthdays or accomplishments once in a while. These parties will allow controlled opportunities for staff to separate themselves from the rush of the day at the restaurant and allow them to socialize with their coworkers. Basically, by creating a unique and stress-free environment, it’ll promote engagement.

Employee engagement starts with you, the employer. By taking simple initiatives every now and then, it’ll certainly pay off in the future. By ensuring, that your employees feel valued, are comfortable, well-acquainted with their fellow staff members, it’ll make the levels of engagement in your restaurant skyrocket. Ultimately, as a leader, your job is to create a team, not followers.