Springfield, MO

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Opinion: Investing in people is always the best bet

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The holiday season is a time when restaurants and retail stores are at their busiest. For many, this means hiring seasonal employees, a prospect that is becoming more challenging in today’s labor market.

It’s something of a double-edged sword. The good news: The labor market is strong, with unemployment rates at or near record lows across the nation. In November, employers reportedly added nearly 200,000 jobs nationally, and the jobless rate now stands at 3.7%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is great – all of our friends and neighbors have ample employment opportunities, and from a business standpoint, this means more consumers and potential customers.

But from a manager’s standpoint, it also presents a new challenge: recruiting – and retaining – the best employees for your business.

It’s no secret that the robust job market has sparked spot labor shortages throughout the country. This creates an environment where competition for the brightest and best employees is fierce. Business owners owe it to their customers to offer the best value possible, and that begins with providing employees with the sense of fulfillment, ownership and opportunity necessary to empower them as ambassadors to the public.

Businesses have worked to fill the gap in a variety of ways, such as turning to technology and automation or hiring outside firms to assist in recruiting. Others have invested in nontraditional forms of employee outreach. But as tempting as it may be to sign on to the next fancy new trend or direct financial resources to the newest bright and shiny thing in hopes of getting a competitive edge, I suggest trying something else: Invest in people first.

Speaking from my experience as a manager – and as a consumer – it is the front-line employees that are the true faces of a business. It is their sense of ownership and professional fulfillment that ultimately translates into the quality of the product or service you are offering to the public. Remember, you are entrusting your team members with your reputation and brand, and this should be reflected in how they are supported by your organization.

And speaking as an employee who started at Hamra Enterprises as a payroll clerk, a business that supports and encourages its employees will cultivate a sense of fulfillment and belonging that will set them apart from competitors in the labor market. I am talking about more than wages and benefits – although those are important.

There are countless stories of businesses that have gone broke by throwing money at a problem, in hopes of a positive outcome. Rather, it requires spending business resources wisely, where they are needed the most, and with an eye toward building for the future. A few observations:

  • Opportunity is key. We have upper-level managers who were once entry-level, part-time hourly employees. Promoting from within and valuing the talent already on the team – rather than going outside the organization – sends a clear message that quality work and dedication will be rewarded when opportunity arises.
  • Create a culture of ownership. Your employees are part of your team, from the newest entry-level team member to the CEO, and should have the opportunity to provide value and insight. Our corporate charter, a document that outlines the company’s core values and defines who we are, was drafted 100% by employees. Those participating in creating the charter included people working in restaurants, as well as leaders – including the CEO – all working collectively to create a future.
  • Be willing to give a hand up. I’m sure all of us remember the struggles of getting established in that first job, and those of us who work in industries with a number of entry-level employees – many in their first jobs ever – see those challenges daily. Sometimes, as they say, life gets in the way. Establishing programs aimed at assisting team members with child care, homework, tuition, even a first-time home purchase can help ease the burden. Our company’s employee assistance fund was established for this purpose.

Often, this is a mountain almost no one takes on climbing, given the conventional thought is “there’s not much you can do about it.” But our approach has worked – last year we reduced turnover by an average of 65% for our Wendy’s locations in Missouri.

People want – and deserve – respect, dignity and to belong to something that makes a difference and fulfills them. They want to contribute to excellence and to be part of a highly connected team. As leaders or managers, let’s focus our attention and intention on fostering great, highly connected relationships that will have our organizations producing the right results.

Simeon Shelton is president and chief financial officer for Springfield-based Hamra Enterprises LLC. The franchisee of Wendy’s, Panera Bread, Noodles & Co. and Caribou Coffee stores operates nearly 200 locations in 11 states. He can be reached at


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