One Way to Solve Food & Beverage’s Labor Issues

Sept. 22, 2021
I think I’ve single-handedly figured out one way to solve the food and beverage industry’s labor issues. It comes down to one simple word with extraordinary implications.

I think I’ve single-handedly figured out one way to solve the food and beverage industry’s labor issues. Actually, this could probably solve the entire country’s labor issues, but I’m trying to start small.

Care & Handling

In Dave Fusaro’s editorial this month, he mentioned something that really jumped out at me: 

While there are a lot of married and near-retirement people like me, you probably have some young, single people, too. How will they learn from the more experienced folks? How will they get mentored? Look out for signs of loneliness or mental health issues.

That last sentence is the kicker: Look out for the people you work with.

A company and its products, brands, or services are nothing without the people who work tirelessly to make things come to life. Companies are made up of people. Real people. People with families, friends, loved ones and lives outside of the factory or office.

People are not commodities. We’re not something exchangeable on the Board of Trade; we’re not predictable nor are we as forecastable as pundits would like you to believe. I think that’s why no one economist can accurately predict the how, when, or why of the labor market right now. They’ve forgotten the one simple rule of humanity: People aren’t things.

Sickness & Health

I’ve heard and read a lot of speculation around why it’s so hard to find labor right now.

“People would rather collect unemployment” is a big one. There’s plenty of data out there to prove that removing the COVID-related unemployment benefits—like several states have—had no impact on the unemployment rate in those states. I’ve also heard “People are lazy,” “People are unmotivated,” and “People just don’t feel like working.” I call BS on those.

The realities of the labor situation are that most people aren’t willing to put their lives on the line for a job that wouldn’t care if they lived or died. Judging by all of articles we’ve written about overtime-related strikes, or job-induced illness and/or deaths in the last year, it’s no wonder people aren’t jumping at these jobs. When learning that managers had ‘death pools’ last year—betting on how many people would die of COVID—I felt rage on behalf of the people who had died. When we’ve talked about companies whose production line men and women are on strike because of working conditions, I feel angry that these companies have put their profits over their people.

COVID may have changed the landscape of how we work, but it didn’t change the reality that we’re human beings with complex emotions and needs. Whether they're at the executive level or are sweeping the plant floor, most people want to feel a connection to what they do; they want to feel like they matter. I have yet to meet a person who wants to feel like a cog in a wheel and I most certainly haven’t met anyone that willingly signs up to be treated like crap on a daily basis.

All of this brings me to how we can solve a major problem in the labor issue in the food & beverage industry: Care

A simple word with extraordinary implications. Care about the people who work with you or for you. Exercise compassion, especially now. Bonuses are lovely (and usually helpful), but when was the last time you actually checked-in on a colleague and actually cared about how they were? Hiring managers: when was the last time you told a job candidate you enjoyed their answer to a question? Managers, Directors, and Vice Presidents: When was the last time you checked in on the mental health of the individual people on your team? Even more important, when was the last time you lent an ear to a stressed out or lonely direct report?

Before you roll your eyes or think this is too 'woo woo' for you, think about it: are you more or less likely to want to perform well if the company you work for feels invested in your well-being?

I can guarantee you the companies that have the best retention rates exercise the principle of caring about their team members. There’s obviously more to the labor issue than showing the new intern you’re actively listening to what’s stressing them out, but I think a lot of companies have lost sight of this seemingly simple exercise. Find your compassion and get in touch with your empathy. You’ll be shocked at how productive your current teams will become once they find out you’re invested in their happiness. And productive, happy teams are ones that encourage more talent to join.

I’m challenging Food & Beverage companies to show up for their employees and to show they care. Call it a Care Challenge. Who’s on board? Who’s with me? Who’s going to commit and see how it impacts your organization?