A series of Gallup Polls finds that only about 30% of American workers are engaged at work. That, of course, means that 70% are disengaged. Think about that for a minute…70% of people who go to work every morning aren’t really there. They spend the majority of their waking hours doing something that isn’t meaningful to them, that doesn’t stir their passion or interest.

In a 2010 review, Brent D. Rosso, PhD, and colleagues noted that finding meaning in one’s work has been shown to increase motivation, engagement, empowerment, career development, job satisfaction, individual performance and personal fulfillment, and to decrease absenteeism and stress.” (Research in Organizational Behavior, 2010)

With benefits to an employer like these, it’s clear that when employees experience work as meaningful, they perform much better — yet 70% of American employees aren’t engaged at work, which means they don’t find their situation meaningful. This, then, is your guiding principle to keep your employees: create an environment that gives them an opportunity to find meaning.

Using that as our guiding principle, here are 15 Actionable Employee Retention Strategies:

  1. Set clear goals. Set up goals by the day, by the week, by the month and year to year. Communicate these goals regularly. Make slogans out of them. Post them as friendly reminders. Don’t drop these goals on employees from above, rather find ways to engage your employees with them, even helping create them.
  2. Allow autonomy. Your employees are adults. Adults like to exercise their brains. They like to be trusted. If they know what their job is, what their goals are, they want to do their jobs and accomplish those goals. Let them. Don’t micromanage.
  3. Provide sufficient resources and time. Make certain that the resources and time are sufficient for an employee to do their jobs and accomplish goals. Let them feel the sense of achievement and satisfaction that comes from doing a job well. Yes, commercial kitchens are high-pressure environments, and in a busy restaurant, things can really move fast. Some may not be suited to that environment no matter how many resources you provide, but they will quickly weed themselves out. For those who want to be in this business, in any aspect of it, whether making a gourmet meal, serving tables or busing, be sure they have what they need to do their job and do it well.
  4. Help with the work. That’s right. Jump right in. Not all the time — but every once in a while during those busy moments when you can see your people need an extra pair of hands, roll up your sleeves. Sometimes helping with the work is about showing an employee how they can work more effectively. You can mentor them.
  5. Learn openly from problems and successes. Sometimes the things you do as an owner work, and sometimes they don’t. Acknowledge it when things don’t work as well as you hoped, and learn from both problems and successes. Approach your work like a scientist, observing and making fact-based, result-based decisions. As you model rational, thoughtful behavior, your employees learn to do the same.
  6. Allow a free exchange of ideas. Free exchange is critical, especially in the restaurant business. While your customers enjoy familiarity, they also like new things, surprising things — and there’s always room for better ways of doing things. Provide times and opportunities when employees can brainstorm about particular work-related issues.
  7. Respect your employees. Require that they respect each other. It’s hard to encourage an exchange of ideas unless everyone feels comfortable to share those ideas. Respect is the oil that keeps that creativity machine running smoothly.
  8. Recognize their achievements. When employees meet important goals, recognize them. When employees go above and beyond, recognize them. When employees reach milestones in their personal lives or milestones in their professional development, recognize them. If an employee has some special talent or skill, find a way for them to put it to work for you.
  9. Offer encouragement. Be aware of what’s going on with your employees. If one seems hesitant or uncertain, don’t just ignore that or dismiss it. Offer a word or two of encouragement. It could be just the thing that’s needed to let them take next steps toward growth and satisfaction.
  10. Offer emotional comfort. We all have a bad day or a bad moment now and then. Of course, you’re not there to be a therapist or a mommy, but a hug or a smile at just the right moment means a lot. It will let employees know they are more than an anonymous functionary.
  11. Provide opportunities for affiliation. Find ways to cement valued employees’ relationship to your restaurant and to the industry in general.
  12. Provide opportunities for growth. Do you have a waitress who would like to learn some knife skills? Maybe you’ll be really glad you provided the opportunity one of these days when you’re short-handed. Is there a class that speaks to a employees’ interests that will make them more valuable to the business? Send them.
  13. Provide challenges. We all resist leaving our comfort zone — but when we can rise to a challenge, it feels great! Accomplishing something new, stretching a little and finding success, maybe even finding something we’re really good at or really enjoy that we didn’t know about before? It’s great! Keep your eyes open for ways you can challenge your employees, pushing them to take steps forward, try new things, develop new skills.
  14. Encourage creativity. That means you welcome a free flow of ideas, respect your employees and require them to respect each other, offer autonomy and encouragement.
  15. Plan regular performance reviews. The best way to be sure you and your employees are on the same page is to plan regular, friendly performance reviews. Take in a template for the meeting, and fill it in as you visit together. Be sure you both sign off on the notes. Keep these notes on file, and bring them to the next meeting. Include a conversation about your employee’s goals in each meeting so you can review progress toward them. Make it clear these meetings are a time for employees to share any concerns they have in a non-punitive environment. It’s a time for you to share your concerns about job performance with an employee and set out some measurable objectives to review at your next meeting.

In a restaurant, you’re in an industry where people value good food. Be open to ways your employees can join that special society even if they’re not chefs. Yes, everyone has their own area of responsibility, but it’s good for everyone to have the big picture, to know how to handle more than their own area occasionally — because one of the best ways for employees to feel engaged at work is knowing they are part of a team that values who they are and what they do.

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