With summer fading, you can feel everyone’s focus turn to fall. The change in season brings about a change in schedules and, if you’re business is like ours, it also changes how you think about staffing.
In past years, it seemed, we could predict the day when the summer sales dip would occur. That helped us plan our schedules accordingly. During the summer, when business was slower, we would use students to fill in the gaps when our regular employees took time off to travel or spend time with their families. Then, when the calendar changed, the college students would leave, the high school students would reduce their hours and the regular crews would take over just as sales returned to their pre-summer levels.
But, this year was a little different. Only one of our shops had a summer downturn, which meant we couldn’t reduce our staffing levels at our two other stores. We also knew four of our regular part timers had graduated high school and, even though they were all planning on attending college locally, they would be cutting way back on their hours after the summer ended.
Because we always try to keep our eyes up to look ahead, we convened a meeting of store managers and our general manager to brainstorm solutions to these staffing issues.
1. Traditional hours filled by our part time crew have to be covered through August;
2. Coverage was needed for crew vacations through August;
3. We needed to identify, hire, and train additional summer help;
4. We needed to also identify, hire, and train part time employees to supplement the fall crew;
5. We had an opening for a part time weekday morning shift at one shop starting in the fall;
6. We had a full time employee going out on maternity leave in the fall and would need to fill her shift – also in the fall.
The discussion centered on how we would tackle these staffing issues while still controlling labor costs and maintaining excellent customer service. We had to staff right so shifts were covered, customers were happy and we didn’t have an overabundance of people which would necessitate eliminating positions.
Our network works very hard to keep employees part of the family, and we have been lucky over the years because our employee turnover was in the single digits, mostly resulting from graduations, pregnancies, or people making a different career choice.
We have been doing this long enough to know that sometimes staffing is a complicated juggling act and all of us have to chip in. But, part of the strategy to ease our situation had to be filling the pipeline with great, new high school kids that we could develop into great crew members. In New Jersey, once a child turns 17 there is flexibility regarding the number of hours they can work during the school year. And, we have worked hard to train and cultivate those workers so we could have them for their senior year and possibly beyond.
Of course, it can be hard to find reliable, hard-working employees, and that is especially true when you’re talking about high school students. Over the years, we have worked with the Guidance Office at the local high schools. With their assistance, we identify good students, with great attendance records, who also have an interest in retail or culinary. The guidance staff has also introduced me to work study programs where seniors earn credit for work. They are allowed to work a greater number of hours per week and, even leave school early on certain days to work the requisite number of hours. In return, you have to provide a regular evaluation of the student’s performance.
“If you’re willing to think outside the box of a traditional workforce pool, you can expand your options and cultivate great employees you can count on for years to come.”
But, high school students can’t help us fill that part time weekday morning shift, which is crucial to accommodating the daily three to four hour rush. Not too many people are willing to work 15–20 hrs a week early in the morning, especially if they have to take a bus or drive too far. And, because it’s an early morning shift, we can’t use the moms we have on staff because they are home getting their families out the door. One solution is to reach out to senior citizens.
We cater many functions at a local community center and independent living center for people 65 and over. We are in the process of meeting with a few seniors who are physically fit, energetic, able to drive, and looking for part time work. They could prep, bake, and clean the dining room during the morning rush which would free up another crew member, or manager, who sometimes steps in to those duties. And, we think hiring a senior would have a positive impact on our shop and foster some community goodwill. We plan on making similar inquiries with local facilities that work with young, developmentally challenged adults to determine if working at a Dunkin’ shop is a good fit for their skills.
Staffing is one of the toughest challenges operators face. But, if you’re willing to think outside the box of a traditional workforce pool, you can expand your options and cultivate great employees you can count on for years to come.