In an industry where it’s not uncommon for turnover to be higher than 100%, keeping employees for a full year is something of a rarity. And retaining talent for 10 years? Well, that’s a full-blown miracle.
The University of Miami Dining Services has a handful of employees who have been with the Coral Gables, Fla., operation for 30 years, and one employee recently retired after 42 years of service. The dining program boasts a turnover rate of 13%, well below the 70% attrition of the hospitality industry at large, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Resident District Manager Michael Ross repeats a common notion about how to keep employees: It’s about investing in associates and making them feel valued. But just how Ross invests in his team is where things get interesting.
Check out how Ross hangs on to staff for years at a time.
Get ahead of the curve
Convincing staff that they should stick around starts with dignity and respect, Ross says. That means fair compensation. Dishwashers at UM Dining Services start at $10 an hour, a couple dollars higher than Florida’s $8.10 minimum wage. Each year, Ross and his team revisit the starting wage to make sure that it still makes sense with current market factors.
Seven years ago, the department rolled out “free” health insurance for its full-time team members. The operation covers the monthly premiums, and workers are only on the hook for co-pays and other minor payments. Staff can take advantage of the health insurance even during the summer, when dining halls are closed.
Offer advancement opportunities at every turn
One of UM Dining Services’ sous chefs has been with the team for 18 years, starting as a dishwasher. He is one of the beneficiaries of the operation’s individualized development plans. “It’s different for every individual,” Ross says. “But if you have the right attitude, approach and personality, we can train you to do anything.”
Every team member goes through a six-week customer service training. Supervisors use the training session to learn about workers’ strengths, passions and opportunities for growth. From there, some team members advance to supervisor training programs. The program puts them on a leadership track and walks them through the managerial duties. Graduates of the program can then take on some administrative tasks, which helps to take some of the weight off managers while giving workers valuable experience, Ross says.
Shut up and listen
Beyond training and compensation, the most important thing operators can do to retain employees is lend an ear, Ross says. “When you listen, you’re able to get ahead of any problems, and your associates feel valued,” he says. Each month, the operation hosts roundtable discussions where staff can air their struggles and suggest operational changes. The meetings never have a topic or theme, so that team members can guide the meeting how they see fit.
Managers ask staff if there’s anything they need in daily shift meetings, and the operation also hosts safety meetings on a monthly basis. “Hear and respond,” Ross says. “Say, 'Yes, I’m taking care of that,' or 'No, we’re not going to take care of that, and here’s why.'”