Absence and well-being: challenges and opportunities for the catering sector | modern restaurant management

Our previous articles in MRM have focused on medical plan strategies for restaurants, how to build attractive workforce plans, and manage those inherent costs. This article focuses on current trends in free time space and employee wellness. In addition to cost considerations, efforts to structure these types of benefits are complicated by compliance requirements and the challenge of communicating and promoting a positive employee experience. As a result, many restaurants have not seen the value of adding such programs. Yet, in the race for talent, could these types of benefits programs help you differentiate your benefits package?

Time Away Benefits

The current employee-focused market, complicated by COVID and the Great Resignation, has led many restaurants to expand their time-off benefits. Programs can range from extended paid leave for management groups to parental leave for crews. Today, since the competition for a candidate is not just the restaurant around the corner, but may be the fulfillment center across town or a non-local employer offering work-from-home positions , paid vacation is a way to differentiate your benefit offerings. As these perks become more prevalent, applicants begin to seek them out.

Given higher turnover rates in restaurants, coupled with health and safety issues highlighted by the pandemic, one area of ​​differentiation may be offering paid sick leave or improving mandatory sick/disability leave. state or local. The advantage of this type of program is that it will have less financial impact compared to vacation and full paid leave (PTO) plans because the latter create a liability on the balance sheet.

Additionally, due to the spotlight COVID has placed on caregiving and the challenges faced by working caregivers, many employers have expanded permitted uses of sick leave to cover caregiving, recognizing the need balance work with caring for their families. It also helps organizations be seen as “family friendly” and an “employer of choice” when trying to attract and retain talent. Finally, since sick leave is accrued based on hours worked, there is less risk that the benefit will be perceived as an unfair offer.


I recently walked into a restaurant and overheard a manager say to an employee entering his shift, “Thank you for showing up to work!” Today’s workforce is exhausted. At work, pressure can come from COVID, a lack of staff, or rude customers. Outside of work, pressure may be due to caregiving concerns or academic or financial pressures. All of these factors can have a negative impact on overall mental health.

To holistically improve employee well-being, it is important to focus on the individual components of well-being: emotional, social, physical and financial. While having an overall wellness strategy is the most effective, implementing or even leveraging an existing employee assistance program (EAP) is a good first step. Many EAPs often have built-in programs to help the different pillars of wellness. While it’s cheap on a PEPM basis, in the restaurant space the challenge is who it’s offered to. For example, employers can choose to offer EAP programs only to medical enrollees, full-time employees, or all full-time and part-time employees who have been with the company for 90 days. While expanding eligibility for these programs has an impact on costs, cheaper plans may have limited commitment. A 2020 study in the Harvard Business Review estimated that depression costs American businesses $44 billion a year in lost productivity1, so failing to address your employees’ mental health can be costly.

In addition to wellness and EAP programs, in an effort to expand the reasons covered in sick leave policies, employers are also allowing sick time to be used for mental health needs instead of covering only physical ailments.


While it’s easy to debate the value of time and well-being benefits, legislative and compliance considerations compel many restaurateurs to take action. Mandatory absence and leave programs have exploded in recent years at the national and local levels. As of January 2022, nine states and the District of Columbia have adopted Paid Family Leave (PFL) programs and at the time of this writing, PFL legislation has been proposed in eleven more states. Additionally, many states and cities continue to modify existing sick/safety leave laws due to COVID.

Since the restaurant industry is often multi-state, this adds a significant burden to day-to-day administration. While some employers continue to manage leave in-house, many employers are using third-party providers and administrators (TPAs) in the leave administration space to help them with absences, which improves their ability to keep abreast of changing regulatory requirements and stay compliant.

Employee experience

The ROI of improving benefits is wasted if employees don’t understand what is being provided. When it comes to leave, it is critical to the employee experience to ensure that the interplay of employer practices and applicable leave legislation is clearly communicated to employees when an employee will be on leave. leave. This communication should include eligibility, eligible leave events, covered leave relationships, and benefit provisions, such as benefit amounts, benefit durations, waiting periods, and employee protection. employment and the general provisions for the continuation of benefits. For work-related injuries and short-term disabilities, policies should also include return-to-work guidelines. This is a challenge for restaurants as the benefits may differ for managers and team and employees frequently change roles and locations. Frequent regulatory changes and the challenge of delivering an accurate, employee-centric message necessitate regular review and updating of policies and procedures.

What’s a restaurant to do?

We have identified four main themes in the absence and leave room for your reflection:

  1. Time Away Benefits – Employees demand (and expect) these types of benefits. Consider being a leader in this space rather than a follower, this could also help with recruitment and retention.
  2. Wellbeing – While there is a cost to delivering these programs, focusing on employee mental health and wellbeing can lead to less absenteeism and presenteeism, which positively impacts your bottom line.
  3. Compliance – Absence rules change frequently; restaurateurs must keep abreast of the rules and develop administrative solutions
  4. Employee Experience – While consistent leave management is one aspect of compliance, it also improves the employee experience when a leave occurs. Additionally, properly communicating and educating employees about their rights and benefits contributes to a better leave experience, during what is usually a stressful time.

About Imogene T. Bishop

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