Holiday season and year-round, show gratitude to employees


A full-time employee spends about 1/3 of their waking hours on the job – in some cases, more time than they get to spend with family and friends. As we head into the holiday season, when important relationships are on everyone’s mind, it’s a perfect time for QSR owners to reflect on the relationships they share with employees and express gratitude in meaningful ways.

Holiday time can be challenging for everyone, but there are reasons it can be especially tough for restaurant staff. They may need to work long hours on weekends or evenings, cutting into family time. Many have front-line, public-facing roles and need to remain positive even when dealing with stressed guests. And of course there is a great deal of economic and social pressure during the holiday – and that can become a burden in its own right.

I’ve worked at and with QSRs for 35 years, from serving customers to my current role as client success manager for Delaget helping owners behind the scenes, and I take the opportunity at this time every year to remind leaders to serve up an extra helping of empathy and gratitude for their staff.


Making “Work Family” Mean Something More

I began this article tallying up the hours workers spend together. That wasn’t meant as a warning – it’s an opportunity! There’s time for employees to get to know each other, to build friendships and mentorships, and yes, to learn how to work well together as a team.

That takes time, and sometimes a little encouragement. That’s where leadership can come in. I always enjoyed it when owners encouraged or even helped organize the kinds of celebrations and recognitions where relationships are built. Pot-luck meals, gift exchanges, a “gratitude jar” where employees can drop notes recognizing each other’s efforts – all of these are easy ways to help build culture, and all owners need to do is grant the time and permission to engage in them.

Of course, ownership can show gratitude in other, more tangible ways as well. Holiday bonuses and gift cards can help ease the financial burden of the holidays. One of my former companies made a tradition of delivering holiday turkeys to employees in person, driving from location to location for a whole day or more. It was a chance for owners and senior leaders to spend a little time with staff and show gratitude in person.

Employers can also recognize the extra challenge of working holiday hours with differential pay, offering a premium wage for shifts during the peak season. It’s a real and meaningful way to show how much you value people and understand their challenges – and that’s how you build a culture where people want to be.


Showing Gratitude All Year Round and Recognizing Diversity

The fall and winter holidays from Thanksgiving to New Years Day are when we tend to have these conversations, given the many holidays that occur during this time. But once I’ve used this season as a chance to start talking about gratitude I like to say – don’t stop!

Gratitude is a way of life. If you start with a gratitude jar during December, keep it going. I know a number of QSR operations (operators) that establish “fun committees” who build culture regularly, either at a companywide level or specific locations with monthly or quarterly activities.

It’s also worth noting that we are a diverse country and the teams working in QSRs reflect that diversity. Not everyone celebrates the same holidays in the same ways. With people working hard all year round, this can be a chance to make showing gratitude an ongoing part of culture.

Some QSRs set up committees at individual restaurants empowered to propose activities around holidays that their employees celebrate. Doing something for Diwali, or Eid, or the Lunar New Year, depending on the makeup of a restaurant’s staff, is a way to have fun all year round and make workers feel seen and valued.


Genuine Gratitude is More Than Gifts

It’s one thing to talk about giving gifts and setting up celebrations. It’s something more to be the kind of owner or manager who makes gratitude a part of how they operate. People value token gestures less than heartfelt ones. Take the time to express real gratitude with personal recognition and a “thank you” as well.

It’s easy to get caught up in an everyday routine. Now is a perfect time for owners and leaders to take a pause and do some self-reflection. What would life be like without your employees? What are the positive things they bring to work every day? Even when dealing with challenges and shortcomings, it can be a chance to remember these are human beings doing their best.

You have the power to change and strengthen your company culture when you act with grace and gratitude. These are the things that can make your business a place people want to come to work every day.


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