The 512 program provided a little bit of hope for managers to continue working through a “dynamic, crazy environment,” Chandler says. Hopdoddy executives knew giving employees just the large bonus would be great, but without time to spend it, the CEO believes the extra pay would not have been worth as much.
Leadership soon realized how transformational the 512 Program could be. Managers can even combine their three weeks of normal vacation with the 28-day sabbatical. Employees also benefit from signing, retention, and referral bonuses outside of the 512 Program.
“At the time, we called it a big, hairy, audacious goal of how can we afford something like that?” Chandler says. “One of our team members in our thoughts session said, ‘How can we afford not to do this?’”
Many of Hopdoddy’s workforce initiatives began years ago, before any of the current pressures existed. For instance, the company created the Hopdoddy Love Fund in 2017 to aid team members disrupted by Hurricane Harvey. Years later, the Love Fund continues to distribute funds to any employees in need.
Chandler advises other restaurant leaders to think about what their team members’ greatest stress points are and ask how they can best address those issues with their current resources. For Hopdoddy, those resources were time and money.
Providing a working wage is critical, but opportunities are important, too. The culture is really what keeps employees from leaving, and for Hopdoddy, that means being open-minded, removing strict procedures, and always taking the high road, Chandler says.
“If their job is putting a wedge in between the way that they want to live their life and the way that they are, well then those companies, those teams, they've got to figure out how to remove that wedge so that people can live the life that they want to live and work and be a productive member of your team,” Chandler says.
The CEO’s goal is simple—provide a transformational work experience that further inspires and propels people in their lives. He knows many employees use Hopdoddy as a stepping stone toward a different career, and the chain is willing to accommodate those dreams with training and education they can use later in life.
Fifteen years from now, Chandler wants to read an article about the next top chief marketing officer or trial lawyer, and see them reference their early job at Hopdoddy, a place they learned how to be a better person and leader. The 512 Program is a reflection of that wish.
“We know that if we do that, and we truly take that investment approach in people, and we teach them life lessons through this crazy industry that we call the restaurant business, they're going to be better off for it,” Chandler says. “Ultimately, we're going to be better off for it."