How to Incentivize Employees to Come Back to Work

As summer approaches, Americans are eager as ever to resume their somewhat normal outdoor activities and vacation agendas. But as vaccinated families and friends start reserving hotel rooms, booking flights, and buying tickets to theme parks and sporting events, the hospitality industry is scrambling to find staff to accommodate this influx of customers.  

Restaurants, hotels, resorts, and entertainment venues are experiencing a hiring crisis. They’re seeing a remarkably low number of applicants for high-season positions that they used to fill with hardly any extra effort. 

While the number of job openings is increasing, the number of applicants is not. Workers may be reluctant to return to work for any of the following reasons:

  1. Concerns about the still-present pandemic, their employer’s commitment to safety on the job (i.e., implementing new hygiene protocols, providing vaccinations for staff, etc.), or worries about bringing germs home to immunocompromised family members.
  2. Difficulty finding safe, open, and affordable childcare.
  3. A desire for jobs in more lucrative industries with more stability to withstand another possible shutdown, and/or that offer opportunity for growth and advancement. 
  4. Satisfaction with current unemployment benefits. (As of May 10, unemployed workers must prove that they are actively seeking employment in order to continue receiving these benefits.)

So how can companies incentivize employees to return to work and be better prepared for the summer holiday season?

Make Hiring Easy

Mass hiring events have proven to be a successful way for companies to hire. Applicants can show up during a designated time window, resume in hand, and be interviewed on the spot. 

Some companies are even offering incentives just to apply. A McDonald's in Florida, for example, is giving $50 to applicants who interview, while a local restaurant in Florida is offering 25 Dogecoin to those who apply and interview.

Boost Pay

One of the more obvious ways to entice workers to come back is to increase hourly pay.

Chipotle has increased its starting pay to between $11 and $18 per hour. The restaurant chain also is offering a $200 referral bonus for staff positions and a $750 referral bonus for apprentice or general manager positions. Elsewhere around the country, restaurants are offering new hires signing bonuses worth hundreds of dollars.

On a smaller scale, 5th Street Group—which manages restaurants throughout the Southeast—instituted a “Tip the Kitchen'' initiative, which gives customers the opportunity to tip back-of-house workers. Sonic also added a tipping feature to its drive-in fast-food service.

Boost Benefits

In addition to upping pay, some companies also are expanding benefits. 

Within the past year, Whataburger promoted all general managers and Taco Bell has announced it will award general managers at corporate stores with up to four weeks of accrued vacation time per year. Other benefits businesses can consider include free family passes for theme park employees or coupons for family and friends to dine at the restaurant where the employee works.

Post-pandemic workers will inevitably need more flexibility and leniency from employers when it comes to outside-of-work commitments. For example, employers might offer financial incentives to employees who get vaccinated against COVID-19 and allow time off to get vaccinated or to take care of sick family members. 

Businesses that are requiring employees to be fully vaccinated before returning can offer additional  benefits once they're vaccinated, like store credit to a retail shop, a few days off to recover from any side effects, or cold hard cash.

Show How The Workplace is Safe

Businesses will need to show both new and returning employees how they plan to keep workers safe while in close quarters with each other and with patrons. Examples include sanitization stations at all entry and exit points, enhanced cleaning protocols, floor markers to remind shoppers to social distance, and arrows to facilitate a single-file flow of customers.

Post-pandemic workers may see more duties added to their daily tasks such as increased cleaning, enforcing social distancing and masking, and potentially dealing with unruly customers who don’t follow the rules. As such, workers will most likely want to be compensated for these new duties.

Continue Incentivizing After Hiring 

The pandemic has changed the professional outlook for many, particularly for those whose work abruptly stopped because of it. The temporary pause on such positions ignited a fire in former hourly workers, and they’re not willing to return to the status quo; in order to go back to work, they’re demanding more. They want better working conditions and the opportunity to grow and advance with the company.

To support these aspirations, Chipotle is now offering hourly employees the chance to work their way to general manager status in 3.5 years, at which point they become eligible for “Restaurateur” status and a six-figure salary.

Regardless of how these businesses fill their open positions, they’ll need to remain agile amid former workers’ shifting interests toward more flexible gig work and they'll need to get creative to find ways to keep their rosters full.


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