Restaurant training programs can be designed for inclusion, safety in the #MeToo era
Creating a comfortable, professional, and respectful workplace is vital to fostering an environment that promotes productivity and idea generation in any industry. Today, particularly with the rise of the #MeToo Movement, employers and companies must consider the way in which an employee may feel threatened, anxious, or disrespected. The restaurant industry has faced several issues in this department, whether it be sexual harassment or underpaying workers. Everyone with a leadership position should be well-equipped to deal with the challenges that come with running a multifaceted and diverse business. Acknowledging the issues only scratches the surface.
To make a real change, strategies that make an impact and have a wide reach are essential to prevent future trouble and save costs that could arise from lawsuits and bad publicity.
One thing that is clear is that the role that leadership plays in fostering an inclusive environment will affect and trickle down to the rest of the employees. Leaders must have a vision and implement his or her values into the company. Simma Lieberman, president of Simma Lieberman Associates, asks CEOs questions like, “are you setting an example of inclusion by your behavior?” and, “what systems and processes are in place to make everyone feel appreciated and valued?”
Creating interactive and tailored training sessions that follow the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, is also a necessity according to Margo Wolf O’Donnell, partner and co-chair of the Labor and Employment Practice Group at Benesch. “Effective training programs should address what is acceptable and also what is not acceptable in the workplace in terms of communication. Having a third party, such as an employment attorney or consultant, conduct a live anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training can help prevent future claims and demonstrates the commitment of your company to keeping your workplace free of unfair treatment,” explained O’Donnell. “It also is a good idea to have separate trainings for managers and employees so that all levels of the workplace understand their rights and responsibilities.”
The restaurant industry has its fair share of mishaps and professionalism issues. In an environment that can be more informal than most, it can be harder to set boundaries and firmly understand what behaviors could be uncomfortable for some. However, “Even informal workplaces need to have policies and procedures for reporting complaints,” emphasized O’Donnell.
“Training and restaurant policies should explicitly state that employees can report their complaints to multiple individuals and identify who those individuals are. That way, if the manager or other designated individual is accused, the complainant still has a means of fully and truthfully reporting his or her complaint.” Having the option to file reports anonymously can also help encourage employees to speak up, although it may make an investigation harder to solve at the same time.
“It’s very effective to hold listening circles where people have opportunities to share stories, get to know each other, and give feedback to managers,” said Lieberman. “At first, they need to be facilitated by someone who is trained in leading these circles, but later on, employees themselves can be trained until the sessions become organic. Besides helping to break individual biases, they also help people learn new ways to solve problems, share challenges and best practices in serving customers, and make it easier for employees to get better at their jobs.”
These methods are especially effective if employees are willing to listen to one another and be respectful, which can be challenging if some people hold strong biases against others. To remove these biases and teach sensitivity, Lieberman suggests that “the organization and each unit needs to be a part of an ecosystem or culture of inclusion, so when people go through training, it’s aligned with the values and practices of the rest of the organization… Show [employees] concrete examples of how those biases and behaviors impact the business, and their ability to do their jobs. It’s not an overnight change but must be ongoing.”
Given the increase in awareness about workplace issues over the past several months, the most important change to make is to increase and encourage free and respectful dialogue that leaders are receptive to and willing to act on. Those working in Human Resources, as well as others in leadership positions, must know what to do when a complaint arises and work to swiftly and professionally resolve it.
To create a workplace culture that is welcoming of all genders, races, and ethnicities, employers must set a standard and continue to maintain that standard at the highest level. Educating people by engaging in constructive discussion is a more effective way to initiate change. Punishing employees by firing them or using their mistakes as an example can lower company morale and make people feel more uncomfortable. No change happens overnight but identifying the problems is the first step towards a healthier work environment.
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