Employee burnout is, without a doubt, one of the top business news items of the year. In a recent report from employee benefits provider The Hartford, 61 percent of U.S. workers said they were experiencing burnout at work, including 68 percent of women and 52 percent of men. With the ongoing stress of the pandemic, The Great Resignation and now the holiday season underway, restaurant operators should make reducing employee burnout a business priority.

With symptoms that can be the same as other mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, burnout is often more than just a one-person issue. It’s an organizational problem that affects every part of your business. From lost employee productivity and turnover to an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in health care costs, burnout can wreak havoc on your bottom line.

However, the other side of the story is much different. Compared to employees who are burned out and disengaged, happy employees are 20 percent more productive and can increase sales by 37 percent.

How to address burnout

No matter how much your employees like their jobs, they’re going to struggle once they begin to experience burnout. This is especially true in our pandemic-weary world where, in a recent Limeade survey, over half (52 percent) of respondents in food service/hospitality indicated that burnout was their primary motivation for leaving their previous job. Equally worrying is a Joblist survey that showed 58 percent of restaurant and hotel employees plan to quit their jobs by the end of 2021.

Fortunately, there are actions quick-service restaurant operators can take to address burnout, help individuals who are struggling, and retain employees, such as:

  • Talking and listening to employees may seem like soft skills that are merely nice to have in a manager. But according to research by Gallup, employees who have a manager who is always willing to listen to their work-related problems are 62 percent less likely to feel burned out.
  • Challenging behavior from customers is at an all-time high, and your frontline workers may not have the knowledge or skill to deal with it. Equip these mission-critical employees with conflict resolution techniques that can calm tempers and restore order.
  • Try to accommodate all your employees’ work-related concerns, especially when it comes to scheduling around the holidays. Check in one-on-one with employees if you think they might be struggling during this busy time of year.
  • Because employee burnout is directly connected with mental health, it’s imperative to provide your workers with resources and education on how to deal with personal and work issues, and how to cope with stress. Managers should be trained on what to look for in employees who might need some help or encouragement.


Avoid just-in-time scheduling

Writing work schedules in the quick service industry has almost always been an ordeal for managers, which is one reason why many workers learn what their hours will be just a couple of days before a new shift schedule starts. It has been proven, however, that the unpredictability brought about by ‘”just-in-time scheduling” can have long-term negative impact on hourly workers, from destabilized income to the ability to arrange childcare, attend school or pick up a second job. Having little control over managing work vs. life schedules can be a major contributing factor to employee burnout.

This problem has caught the attention of lawmakers across the country and is leading a growing number of cities and states to mandate what’s known as predictive scheduling. As the term implies, predictive scheduling (also known as Fair Workweek ordinances) requires businesses to give hourly employees their schedules with a reasonable amount of lead time, usually two weeks, and employers are penalized for last-minute schedule changes.

To date, several cities, including San Francisco, New York City, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, and one state, Oregon, have implemented predictive scheduling laws. To get ahead of legislation, forward-thinking operators, who also want to minimize the risk of employee burnout, are adopting a similar staffing system known as flexible self-scheduling.

Leverage the power of flexible self-scheduling

In using the practice, managers first create shifts, preferably using a workforce management software, based on customer traffic and other factors relevant to the business. Employees receive an alert when new shifts are available and can sign into an app to select the hours they want. They also can use the app to communicate with each other and trade shifts as desired. (Managers can assign shifts that still need to be filled later, after employees have selected what they want, and certain self-scheduling platforms also allow managers to set limits on employees so that they don’t rack up overtime.)

An important employer benefit of flexible self-scheduling is when employees choose their own schedules, they’re more likely to show up. No-shows happen for many reasons, including scheduling conflicts, a desire to avoid working with specific people, and illness. Self-scheduling allows employees to swap and trade shifts to keep these obstacles from factoring in.

Flexible self-scheduling can go a long way to helping employees avoid burnout because it allows them to choose shifts that fit their lives based on their personal schedules, the hours they can physically handle working, qualifications or other considerations. What’s more, research shows that the association between work schedule flexibility and employee happiness is actually stronger among hourly workers than salaried workers.

The benefits of flexible self-scheduling for both employers and employees are real and have been experienced, not only in day-to-day operation, but in operation during stressful times—like the holidays—during a pandemic.

We can’t completely eliminate employee burnout in the quick service industry, but there are steps you can take to mitigate it. The key is to continually stay aware of these issues and work to prevent and manage them effectively, so that in the end it doesn’t scorch your employees or your business.

Martin Hartshorne is CEO of When I Work, a market leader in hourly workforce management that provides a fully integrated scheduling, time tracking, and team messaging solution to more than 200,000 workplaces.

Employee Management, Outside Insights, Restaurant Operations, Story