Motivation Theory at Work in the Food Service Industry
America’s love affair with restaurants has never been greater. According to Roy Alonso of the National Restaurant Association, there were over 750,000 locations offering food services of some sort in the United States as of 1997. It is estimated that half of all adults are foodservice patrons on a typical day, and over 43 cents of the consumers food dollar is spent at these establishments. In 1997, sales of restaurants of all types topped $286 billion dollars, and experienced a growth rate of twenty percent. However, all is no t well in the industry. With the national unemployment rate hovering around five percent ? the lowest level since 1973 ? the business of keeping and motivating workers poses a threat to an industry already in the midst of an 150 percent annual turnover rate. In addition, luring quality employees from other markets (such as the health care and retail industries) to fill the nearly four million new jobs that the industry is anticipated to create is a difficult proposition. According to Laura Parsons, director of staffing in North America for Burger King, ?The perception [among possible employees] is that fast food, and the service industry in general, is at the bottom of the barrel. We’re losing employees every day because of this. We have to take steps to become the first employer of choice.?
Thus employee retention through motivation has become one of the focal points of the industry. In fact at the Multi-Unit Food Service Operators Conference held in Los Angeles last year, it was the main topic of discussion, with countless seminars devoted to the subject. Even a cottage industry of ?incentive specialist? firms has sprung up. Numerous methods, techniques, and ideas have been tried, with varying levels of success. However, despite the superficial differences between the techniques, they are all based on the theories of motivation prompted by Abraham Maslow and Frederick Herzberg that have been modified for the industry.
According to the Penguin Dictionary of Psychology, behavior is defined as being purposeful and directed towards some end. That is, it is motivated by someone or something. According to the need theory of motivation, the driving force is the need, and the direction is towards a perceived reward and away from a perceived punishment. Building on this is the Hierarchy of Needs developed by Abraham Maslow in 1954. In summation, the needs of an individual are hierarchical, and the procession up the varying levels of need are successive. For example, a person’s physiological needs must be met before they can progress on to safety needs, affection needs, and so on. Manfred Davidson, a scholar of Maslow’s work and theorist, adds, ?once primary needs are met, they cease to act as drives and are replaced by needs of a higher order. Higher order needs manifest themselves only when this is the case.
Frederick Herzberg presented another major theory of motivation through needs. In 1959, Herzberg and his colleagues asked more than 200 engineers and accountants to describe a job event that caused them extreme satisfaction, and another that caused them extreme dissatisfaction (Herzberg, Mausner and Snyderman, 1967.) He found that factors causing satisfaction dealt with job content, and those causing dissatisfaction descried the job environment. Herzberg called the job content factors motivators and the job environment factors hygiene factors. More striking was his observation that an absence of motivators produced no satisfaction but also no dissatisfaction; it produced a state of neutrality. Also, fulfilling the hygiene factors eliminated dissatisfaction but did not satisfy. The results have come to be known as the Motivation-Hygiene theory or the Dual Factor Theory (Shipley and Kiely, 1988.)
Although these experiments showed the motivating factors present in the workplace for professional and industrial workers, there was little data involving hospitality workers until Kwame Charles and Lincoln Marshall explored the motivational preferences of workers in Caribbean hotels. An interesting point that was determined from the study was that the top motivational factors for workers in this industry differed greatly from their counterparts in earlier surveys. The results showed that the top motivators were good wages and better working conditions. When Simons and Enz replicated this research on American restaurant workers, they found that these workers also considered good wages, working conditions, flexibility, and opportunity to be the top job-related factors.
What the result of these studies showed is that what traditionally motivated industrial and professional employees greatly differs from what motivates restaurant workers. These findings challenge the 40-year-old presumption that money and compensation are not essential motivators (it placed in the top categories in all three industry surveys.) One noticeable phenomenon in all of the studies, however, was that the job factors that were considered to have the greatest motivating power were consistently the least present at the job. For example, industrial workers commonly state that ?interesting and varied work? is an important part of the job, while restaurant and hospitality workers consistently rank ?good wages? first, which indicate the frequency of lower paying positions.
Traditionally, the food service industry has not focused on addressing the needs of employees. With double-digit unemployment, and a large pool of young, inexperienced workers willing to work for lower pay, this was possible for many years, and fueled the growth of the industry to it’s present state. However, with the changing economic situation, many companies, both industry leaders and up-and-comers, are changing the face of the industry to better position itself as a competitive entity in the tumultuous labor market of the late 1990s. For the most part, most methods employed use-varying incentives to meet the specific needs of the employee.
When dealing with younger people and especially people, who are working at their first job, it becomes important to address the ego needs of the employees. With over 70 percent of the industry’s workforce under 25, it is unwise to take any other stance. This issue was recently addressed at the 79th annual National restaurant Association show last summer. Susan Steinbrecher, president of the council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers, outlined several approaches to dealing with the ego issue:
?Supervisors need to choose their words carefully to maintain a level of respect and to exhibit genuine empathy. For example, saying ?thank you for taking the time to meet with me today’ at the start of the meeting can set a respectful tone and facilitate the employee’s acceptance of responsibility.?
Other common mistakes Steinbrecher focused on was the assumption of a ?child-parent? posture, as opposed to taking on a mature, unemotional tone. Also, the employee should be asked and not told what the problem is, and should be made to commit to a specific plan of resolution.
Several companies, realizing that the needs of a younger generation (generation ?x? and younger) differ from those of older workers. According to Barbara Kaplan, Director of Human Resources for Friday’s International, parent company of TGIFriday’s, ?You need to provide a work environment that creates freedoms, and not restrictions,? she said. Kaplan plans and provides workers with alternative work arrangements, such as flex scheduling, and provides the employees with leisure activities such as movies and sporting events. Other techniques include finding employees affordable vacations, and most importantly, giving them the keys to a career path. Kaplan stresses that ?companies should develop a network of experts that employees can turn to for career advice and lifestyle goals. They [employers] need to provide the basics for future planning.?
As stressed earlier, the main motivating factor in this industry is the almighty dollar, or some version of other compensation. In fact, according to the National restaurant Association’s data, as of 1997 the average wage of the hourly, non-tipped employee is approaching 46.75 an hour, a rise of over 25 percent over last year and more than $1.60 over the minimum wage. However, some national employers, such as Starbucks, are paying even higher wages, sometimes in excess of eight dollars an hour. In addition, with more incentives appearing in the retail industry, such as bonuses and commissions, the food service industry is quickly partaking measures to keep people from being lured away. Atlanta’s FranCorp , the south’s largest franchiser of Church’s Chicken franchises, and the nation’s largest black-owned food company (with over 250 units) has taken a different approach. According to Carl P. Jackson, president and CEO, new incentives must be undertaken:
?We have started a plan to pay quarterly bonuses to all employees. Although it’s contingent upon sales, it does provide a way for employees to do something more and?will be vital to the team building processes and give them a taste of the business world.?
In addition to salary, fringe benefits, such as medical and dental insurance, paid vacations and 401k plans are becoming important benefits in the industry. With many other sectors offering these incentives, the food service industry has been quick to follow suit. Starbucks has proved itself the leader in this category, providing full medical and dental coverage to part-time employees with a minimal co-payment. In addition, ?partners? (the Starbucks term for an employee) receives 1 week paid vacation after six months, and have the ability to purchase stock options. Many companies have quickly followed suit. Even smaller ioperations have seen benefits as an integral part of the recruitment and retention process. Barbeque Shaq, a Hartford, Connecticut based chain has initiated similar measures, despite having only 22 units. Dave Holberg, president of the company, gave an insight as to why he took on the additional burden:
?In this industry, there are many factors for retention?with an industry-wide turnover rate of about 150 percent, I knew I had to offer more. I found out that 30 percent of those that left said benefits were an issue. Well, my results speak for themselves ? less than 65 percent last year. And the additional expense is justified with a decrease in training expenditures.?
One are where restaurants have excelled in meeting the needs of employees has been in a department that is often overlooked ? that of group needs. There are many aspects to this need, but in general, it can be broken down into two sections: teamwork and belonging. Appealing to belonging needs deals with integrating employees into the fray; essentially, the best way for this to happen is to initiate the process from the beginning, usually in training. The teamwork issue is a bit more difficult. With so many different attitudes, ideas, and motivations, it becomes difficult for the restaurant manager to pull everyone together. However, one way that the industry excels is in the extensive use of games and contests. Contests can develop the teamwork element, build excitement, and boost profits. However, with savvy employees, new approaches have to be used if they are to work. Contests also give management the opportunity to focus improvement issues. For example, Katzinger’s Delicatessen, a deli chain in Ohio, wanted to reduce food costs to below 35 percent. The chain’s management told employees that if the costs could be reduced, they would distribute one-half of the savings among the employees. The plan was wildly successful, with each employee having a great time and earning in excess of 500 dollars. The same concept was later used to develop a customer service related campaign. Another example of this was used by John Spomoar, Jr., president of Norco Food Systems in California. The company was experiencing high levels of tardiness and absenteeism. To help put it in check, he came up with the idea of ?playing poker.? Each employee who arrives on time each day gets to pick a card. Those who are late or who don’t show don’t get a card. At the end of the week, all of the employees who have five cards get to make a poker hand. The winner gets to take home a pot supplied by the company, usually $20 ? 25 dollars. Says Spomar: ?Tardiness dropped by 40 percent, so I guess the possibility of winning, combined with the element of competition jogs them out of bed in the morning.?
The final factor to be discussed is the element of fun, which is a topic that is often forgotten about. If all of the elements are in place, a fun environment can be enough of a motivator to hold people in their job. Barbara Kaplan, a national authority on the industry, states that ?nearly forty percent of those polled state that fun is the top reason they got into this business. We owe to them and ourselves to provide that environment.? If many of the principles of the preceding information are adhered to, the basic needs of the employees can be met, and additional needs can be addressed with a bit of creativity and ingenuity. If programs are developed that ingenuously employ the use of incentives, contests, and competition, and the job is designed to accommodate the worker, one thing will happen ? a cohesive fun environment will ensue.