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Nearly every bar or restaurant I walk past these days has a help-wanted sign in the window. The pre-pandemic labor force isn't there to fill these positions. The reasons for this shortage vary. During "The Great Pause" many of our industry family reassessed their professional life and decided to pursue a different career. Some fear working in an industry that requires close contact with other people during this pandemic. Others left the industry because they were working in toxic and stressful environments.

While we can't prevent (and should be supportive of) members of our industry family from moving on to pursue a different path, or ask someone to come back to a job where they don't feel safe, we can prevent toxic work environments. Our industry is stressful. Most of the time it is unnecessarily stressful. Here are a few ways to provide a positive work environment, and reduce stressors for our teams.

Make sure your training programs are comprehensive.

Every great restaurant starts with great training programs. If the training program for your serving staff is a couple of pages explaining your dishes and a quick tour of the POS system, you're going to fail at providing a positive work environment, as well as great service for your guests. When you're training a new employee, have them spend time with each position in the restaurant to understand how that position operates throughout a shift making each shift more efficient. Training doesn't stop once they've completed their last test. When you encounter a scenario, write down what happened, how it was handled, and what the outcome was. Walkthrough the situation with your staff at your next meeting or line-up to help mentally prepare them for how to handle such situations in the future. There are several great services out there, such as Trainual, that can help you get started on preparing comprehensive training manuals. Or use online resources such as BarSmarts to help train your staff and keep track of each employee's progress.

Listen to your employees' suggestions.

Your employees are in the trenches every shift armed only with the tools and procedures you gave them. When they come to you with a suggestion on how to make a task more efficient or asking for a tool that will make the job easier, listen to them. By listening to your employees, you provide them with a sense of ownership in their work as well as reduce the stress caused by the current task. Listening to their suggestions also reduces the stress and anxiety that comes from feeling helpless or trapped. Not every suggestion will be plausible, and some won't make sense financially. In those situations, explain to your staff why it can't be implemented. Listening to your employees is one of the best and easiest ways to create a positive culture around your establishment.

Spend time with your staff.

Pre-shift meals are a great way to get everyone starting each shift on a positive note. Bringing your entire team together for a shared meal creates a sense of well-being and comradery. Sit down with your staff and be a part of the team. Listen to them and share your stories. Pre-shift meals don't need to be elaborate or expensive, but the investment will pay off.

Don't discipline your staff in front of the rest of the team.

Even in the best of hospitality work cultures, employees will bend or break the rules. The point of professional discipline is to identify and correct a behavior that is not in line with procedures, culture, or safety guidelines. It is intended to embarrass your employees or assert your authority over your staff. Disciplining an employee in front of your staff will only serve to build pockets of employees that resent your management and lead to a toxic work environment. If an employee steps out of line, call them into the office with another member of your management or supervisory team, identify the issue, explain why it is an issue, and identify how to correct the behavior. If the employee is unable to correct the behavior, it may be in the best interest of the team and the culture of your establishment to let them go.

Stay positive & take time for yourself.

Your staff will feed off of your energy. If you come to work every day with a bad attitude, your staff will begin to feel the same. You are the one who sets the tone of your culture. Just like you don't want a server who is having a bad day to go to a table and display that to your guests, you don't want to display that to your staff. Never be afraid to take a day off if you need it. You are a very important resource in your establishment. Burning out will not do you, your staff, or your guests any good. Take time for yourself.

Investing in your culture is an absolute must if you want to run a successful bar or restaurant that patrons like to frequent. While the above list is just a few ideas on how to accomplish that goal, take time to research and plan out other ways to continue building on this foundation.