You head in to the restaurant with high expectations… This is going to be a great shift! When you arrive, you are given the pleasant news that not just one person has called out but, two. Okay no problem, instead of doing what you wanted to do, you get the employee phone number list out, get on the phone and start begging people to come in to cover your call outs. Sometimes you succeed. Sometimes you don’t. Either way, instead of planning your shift, or coaching or training, you spend a considerable amount of time on the phone trying to coax people into coming in to work.
What about those employees who call out 10 minutes before they’re due on? Or, worse yet AFTER their scheduled time? You end up working a position and/or your other employees have to work harder to pick up the slack. Something has to suffer: Employee morale, customer service, product quality, cleanliness, etc. It’s not pretty and it’s one of those things that make a restaurant manager’s job miserable. The good news is you can reduce call outs to a very manageable level and, in many cases, eliminate them entirely!
I am not talking about those employees who are genuinely sick or incapacitated for some reason. No, you know who I mean. After being in this business for a few years, I was fed up with this problem and set out to end it once and for all. It takes effort and some hard calls but, it can be done. I promise. I did it. You too can create a culture of reliability in your restaurant. Here’s how:
When interviewing applicants I always ask this question, “In the last year, about how many times have you called out or missed a scheduled shift? You don’t have to be exact, just, you know, ball park it. Approximately, how many days have you missed for one reason or another?” Usually, you get the eyes looking up at the ceiling while they say, “Hummmm, I don’t know. Maybe 2 or 3?”. Interview over. I’m looking for the person that looks me in the eye and says, “I have never missed a day, ever.” (or something like that).
Don’t settle for less! You might be short on employees (I’ve got plenty to say on this but, will leave that for another article) and be thinking, “Well, I can live with one or two call outs over a year.” Believe me, it will be more, much more.
This is where you nail it home and make it a BIG DEAL! Start off by assuming that all new hires do not know when it is appropriate to call out. I usually say, “Hey, sometimes you’re not sure if you should call out and miss work. The guideline I like to use is, is if my body tells me if I move, I might die, I probably need to stay home. However, if I just don’t “kinda” feel good, or if my head hurts, or if I just don’t feel like going to work, I need to go in or find someone to work for me.”
I go on to tell them exactly how to call in. “No less than 2 hours before your scheduled time. You must talk to only the manager on duty. YOU need to call in, not your mother, uncle or next door neighbor. If at all possible, call another employee and ask if they’ll work for you and let us know so we can approve it. Oh, and if you are sick enough to miss work, you are definitely sick enough to go to a doctor so, please bring in a doctor’s note when you return.”
I also paint a picture of how things are around here if they call out (other employees need to do your job AND theirs, someone has to give up their day off to come in for you, etc).
The Call Out
The phone rings, someone hands it to you and says; “It’s Bob (an employee)”. Bob goes on to tell me what’s wrong with him and why he can’t come in. I listen and very calmly say, “Geez Bob, I’m sorry you’re not feeling well (or whatever the reason is), but, I still need you. You’re due on at 4 o’clock. See you then?” At least half of the time, they show up. That’s better than none of the time, don’t you think? If they still insist that they can’t come in, I ask if there is anyone else they can call to replace them. If not, I remind them to bring in that doctors note. I make sure I write “Called Out” on the schedule to remind them and everyone else (and myself later on) that a rare call out had occurred.
• Documentation: Make sure you have a record of when a call out occurs. Most companies have a form. Use it! It makes life a lot easier down the road if you need to terminate someone for this reason. When you have the employee sign a form, it makes that much more serious.
• The Habitual Call Out: Anyone who has called out more than once over an acceptable period of time (For me? 6 months), needs to know that there are repercussions. I knock a day or two off their schedule for a couple of reasons. 1) They are less likely to call out because they aren’t getting enough hours as it is. 2) I let them know that if they were me, they also would give most of the hours to those that show up every shift. I also let them know that after a few months of dependability, they can earn back their hours. Trust me; they’ll keep reminding you every few weeks of how reliable they’ve been.
• Recognition: After a while, no call outs are the norm and part of the culture. However, in the beginning, you may want to put up a monthly list of those people who have not missed a day in one month, two months, etc. I call it, “The Dependables”.
• Incentives: I’ve never had to do this but, there are companies and individual restaurants that give out pins for reliability. A few I have heard of even put an extra quarter or two in a “Christmas Fund” for every hour worked throughout the year. If the employee misses a day of work for whatever reason, they forfeit the entire months’ worth of extra quarters.
• Flexible Scheduling: Hey, there are far too few benefits for the restaurant employee. Make this one of them. Make sure you have enough employees so that when someone does need off, and they give you advance notice (like before you make the schedule), you can accommodate their request off.
• Other Managers: Make sure all managers working in your restaurant follow the same procedures. Make it a policy that if a manager gets a call out for the next shift (or next day), they need to either find a replacement or work the shift themselves. I guarantee you that they’ll start making it harder to call out or they’ll find a replacement.
• Lower Turnover: A magical side benefit of reduced call outs is lower turnover. Who wants to work in a place where call outs are rampant? Where many shifts are harder than they should be because of insufficient amount of co-workers?
Within a very short period of time, you will have created a beautiful culture of reliability in your restaurant. Call outs will cease to exist or, at the very least be minimized considerably. Your employees will know that when they are scheduled, they need to show up or get someone to work for them. It’s one less thing you need to worry about in this hard, tough business. It’s been said, “If you have enough people and you have enough product and all of your equipment is working, life on your shift will be good!” If you follow these ideas, you will always have enough people on your shift and in your restaurant. It works, and believe me, life is good!