How to attract and retain Gen Z employees


Jobs are a revolving door in the fast food industry, and the pandemic has only made it worse. Staff shortages in recent years have resulted in lost productivity, forced restaurants to reduce their hours of operation and left them with no choice but to limit their service options. In 2021, a whopping 86.3% of accommodation and food service workers quitting their jobs.

Most fast food brands employ people under the age of 25. Attracting a younger workforce can be particularly difficult; there is little wiggle room in terms of salaries and it is often hot and unglamorous work. For this reason, it is imperative to know how to tap into the new generation which already represents more than 12% of the country’s workforce.

As a manager at Wendy’s for five years and a member of Gen Z myself, I’ve learned that recruiting and retaining young talent is as much about making them feel valued as it is offering incentives. In my experience, simple, small, and thoughtful changes can yield big results. This is one of the reasons my location had the lowest sales in 2021 out of three dozen stores in the Pacific Northwest.

Here are some ways to attract and retain Gen Z workers.

Offer referral bonuses

This simple incentive paid off. At the height of the pandemic, many fast food restaurants began offering referral and retention bonuses. Chipotle, for example, offered $200 for a crew member recommendation and up to $750 for a general manager.

Offering referral bonuses can help encourage employees to choose your company over the competition. And there’s an added bonus of being able to work with their friends — a win/win!

Promote flexible hours

The pandemic has shifted many jobs to become remote first, which only makes it harder to recruit for in-person positions. We’ve learned that offering flexible hours can significantly help attract younger employees who can juggle school and sports.

Placing students on furlough so they can come back during vacations and breaks and commit to multiple shifts can actually make a huge difference when turnover is high. As someone who has been scheduling our employees for over a year, I’ll admit that flexible schedules can make it more difficult, but it still more than makes up for the lack of staff.

You can also post open shifts online and let employees choose the shift that works best for them on a first-come, first-served basis and let them chat with each other.

Promoting a safe and fun work culture

Establishing a positive work culture cannot be overstated. People of all ages have a choice of where they want to spend their time, so unless you create a positive environment, employees will find another place to work.

Creating that ideal work environment starts at the top, so make sure your managers foster a safe and friendly atmosphere. Training is also particularly important; when someone is trained properly, they will feel more confident, which will help them succeed. It requires patience and positive reinforcement, even when times are really busy.

Remember that for many Gen Z employees, this may be their first job. Offering a little more guidance, patience, and kindness will go a long way. If you give them a mundane task, explain why that task is so important to the health of the business. Understanding their overall role in the system reduces friction and promotes a sense of accountability.

Be creative about how to motivate

In some cases, offering a competitive salary can be difficult, so you need to think outside the box. Some of the things you can do to motivate employees are really quite simple and cost effective.

For example, at the Wendy’s store that I manage, we have a live drive-thru speed leaderboard at the various locations in our franchise, and we try to be the fastest store at the top of the leaderboard. While it may seem simple, this healthy competition has created a sense of camaraderie among our employees, making something potentially tedious fun. (It also increased our speed times behind the wheel!)

I also distribute Wendy’s pins to employees who go above and beyond. Employees can put these pins on their hats to show the recognition they have received to their colleagues and customers. Again, something small can make someone feel valued.

Ultimately, your employees are your biggest investment. Over the next few years, many of my Gen Z colleagues will enter the workforce. Spending a little extra time to train and support us is worth it in the long run.


Stephanie Massart is a manager at Wendy’s in Washington State and a marketing consultant at Zenput, the leading transaction execution platform for multi-unit restaurants, convenience stores and grocers. Zenput is used in over 60,000 locations in over 100 countries by top brands including Domino’s, Chipotle, PF Chang’s, Five Guys, KFC, Smart & Final and Global.


About Author

Comments are closed.