Four quick-service hourly workers joined Kathleen Wood, president and COO of Raising Cane’s, in a discussion of unit-level operations yesterday at People Report’s first QSR Workforce Symposium held in Las Colinas, Texas. Wood served as the panel’s moderator, directing the conversation toward the challenges, needs, and concerns of unit-level quick-service employees

The session, titled “The Not So Secret Life,” immediately followed a presentation by Dr. Jerry Newman, author of My Secret Life on the McJob: Lessons in Leadership Guaranteed to Supersize Any Management Style.

Though none were beyond their early twenties, the four panelists ranged in age and job experience. Similar themes did emerge, however, in their responses to questions regarding recruitment and retention.

Most common was the need for respect and recognition from their supervisors, a sentiment Newman also expressed in his presentation. “Compensation cannot overcome culture,” said Newman.

Austin, a 17-year-old Little Caesars’s employee from Wylie, Texas, brought that point home when asked if he would rather be paid well or treated by his managers. “Treated well,” he replied. “The money will come.”

Kyle, a recent University of Texas at Austin graduate and shift manager at Texas’s first Raising Cane’s store, said enthusiastic leaders with a clear vision are what keep him passionate about his brand. “We have a motto at Cane’s,” he explained to the audience of 140 quick-service and hospitality executives. “It’s ‘recognize, reward, and respect.’”

When asked how quick-serves might best go about rewarding employees, the panel offered several suggestions including cash. “As a college student,” said Erika, a veteran Whataburger employee who started with the brand at 16, “any amount of cash is a good thing.”

Other approved incentives? Personal emails, team parties, and free meals. “It’s about fun,” said Austin. “My main concern is whether this place is fun or not.”

But good times aren’t all young hourly employees are looking for from their employers. The benefits offered by Whataburger attracted Chris, a 17-year-old who says he’s looking forward to competing in—and winning—the 2008 Whatagames. “Whataburger has a 401-K for hourly workers and offers health benefits,” Chris said. “At 17, I don’t need much more than that.”