As one of the largest and most diverse generations, Gen Z’s entrance into the workforce has tremendous potential to shape how the foodservice industry attracts and retains talent. According to the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) most recent statistics, 63 percent of adults have worked in the restaurant industry, making it the nation’s training ground. This is a prime opportunity for partners like The Coca-Cola Company to make a difference in the growth and development of the next generation of frontline workers.
While labor turnover within the foodservice industry continues to be an ongoing issue, the pressure of high turnover rates on operating margins has grown too great for any one company or brand to ignore—or combat alone. In fact, 62 percent of restaurant operators said their restaurant couldn’t support customer demand with the number of people employed.1 Healthy business depends on a healthy industry, and an industry-wide issue calls for an industry-wide approach.
As a strategic partner to more than 1,700 customers across 500,000 outlets in the foodservice and on-premise categories—from single-unit operations to national brands—we at The Coca-Cola Company have a broad understanding of the challenges plaguing the industry. The No. 1 issue we hear from our customers is retaining an engaged workforce, particularly among frontline workers. According to Gallup, 70 percent of the variance in frontline employee engagement and performance is attributed entirely to frontline managers.
So where should those in foodservice start to look for solutions? The next generation of leaders and managers: Gen Z.
Through our research at Coca-Cola, we know that success truly matters to this generation. They are enterprising, embrace challenges and are eager to learn new skills. Gen Z values a collaborative work environment where employers offer robust training, leadership programs and a focus on diversity. We know wages will always be a driving factor in employee retention, regardless of generation. Yet Gen Z values career growth and workplace culture just as much, if not more.
The key to solving turnover will depend on how well companies consider these generational attributes when hiring and developing their teams. The reality is most employees don’t leave companies; they leave managers. And what’s more, Gen Z is starting to step into those management roles. Owner-operators who start cultivating strong leadership behaviors and build better opportunities for growth among their emerging frontline managers will not only improve morale and retention among their teams, but also reposition foodservice as a promising career and industry of choice for a growing Gen Z workforce.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Management training programs can be expensive. They are often too technically focused and seldom tailored to different learning preferences, particularly those of digitally native Gen Z employees. Couple those issues with the lack of time frontline workers have to devote to additional training, and the problem seems insurmountable.
By providing free, accessible solutions like Coca-Cola Leader Lab, The Coca-Cola Company can serve the foodservice industry across the spectrum of business models. Coca-Cola Leader Lab is a leadership development program that focuses on aspiring Gen Z leaders. The program equips participants with the key leadership skills and frameworks they need to build their career and can provide brands a meaningful way to grow the frontline individuals directly responsible for driving their customer loyalty.
Our system operations support more than 854,000 jobs across many sectors of the U.S. economy, according to our recent economic impact analysis. Many of these include frontline workers across foodservice, on-premises and retail.
By collectively developing the future of frontline management, we believe we can address one of the industry’s most persistent issues and create a path forward that transcends any one brand and measurably improves the health of the entire foodservice industry and beyond.
Dagmar Boggs is the President of Foodservice and On-Premise, North America Operating Unit for The Coca-Cola Company. Her team recently launched Coca-Cola Leader Lab—a free leadership development program for frontline workers with actionable, “bingeable” video modules to develop people-leaders by giving them the skills they need to grow in their careers and help others grow in theirs.