5 staff management insights from foodservice leaders

Speakers at the Association for Healthcare Foodservice’s recent annual conference offered some compelling thoughts around engaging staff and enhancing their experience. Here’s a selection from this year’s event in Minneapolis.

On building leaders:

Finding the right people that fit your style of thinking and have the right chemistry with your organization is a must, said Tom Thaman, director of food and nutrition at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis. He keeps an eye out for that spark during job interviews, asking applicants why they want the role and to give him an example of a time that they failed and what they learned from it. He does the same among lower-level staff, identifying employees who are “hungry” for the job and have a passion to learn. Fostering that passion also helps, he noted, which can be done by encouraging workers to obtain additional schooling, providing tuition reimbursement and other means.

On staff retention:

The real challenge is keeping the right people on staff once you find them, said Marge Kipe, director of nutrition services at Reading Hospital in Reading, Pa. And beyond merely keeping them in your employ, how do you ensure they stay engaged and energized? To address some of these concerns, her team recently contracted with a company to redo staff scheduling (employees now work four 10-hour days). They also looked at salaries across businesses competing for her staff—not necessarily looking at hospitals, but companies like Walmart—and made adjustments. In the last nine months, her department has gone from about 30 open positions to just four, she said.

On millennial workers:

Take advantage of millennials’ skill set and their tech savvy, Thaman said. As employees, they can be in a bit of a tough spot, he noted, as the mass retirement of boomers is bringing millennials into directorial types of roles at a younger age and without the years of experience their predecessors had. “A lot of [millennials] challenge me, and I’m OK with that,” he said.

On AI in the workplace:

Though there were some complaints when her team introduced Tug robots to deliver meals to patients, not too many folks were concerned that the robots would take jobs away from human applicants, Kipe said. Her team knew labor is truly hard to find in the current market and that adding a 25-mile walk to workers’ daily duties didn’t help. (Trips from the kitchen to patient rooms are about a half-mile, and pre-robots, staff had been completing about 50 of them each day.) Implementing the robot delivery helped cut down on employee fatigue and gives them more time to interact with patients, not just run back and forth with carts, she said.

On course-correcting:

Include your front-line staff when it comes to developing your organization’s voice and mission, said Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, noting that those workers often see the head cook or sous chef as their boss, not the dining director. Bring them into the fold, he said—otherwise “where you think you’re going is not where you’re headed.”

Photograph: Shutterstock

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