Bakers Journal

Editor’s Letter: Staffing struggles and strategies

March 2, 2023
By Colleen Cross

I’ve noticed many bakeries and cafés taking a break in January. A well-deserved and much-needed break, I hardly need add.

Nowhere is this more evident than on social media. Some of you let your customers and followers know you were catching up on time with family. No doubt some took a trip long postponed. Others pointed out their staff needed a break.

This is worth highlighting. Understandably, there’s been so much emphasis on finding good people – definitely the number 1 issue right now among owners, operators and managers. With the stress of running a busy bakery, it can be easy to forget that team members need time off too.

It’s a balancing act, trying to support, appreciate and be fair to longtime team members, while trying to welcome and train new faces. And it’s good for the public, including potential future employees, to see that you value and look after your team. 

Most operators we’ve talked with lately are struggling to keep reliable staff in place. If they are not struggling, they feel lucky to have enough staff and are count their blessings. 

For those holding on to their good staff, we’d love to know your secret and if it’s sustainable for your business. Are you hiring temporary foreign workers, hiring mature workers, near a school with a ready supply of student part-timers? Are you learning to delegate or doing more of the work yourself at the risk of burning out? 

Are you cutting down on your operating hours? Fewer (possibly more desirable/bearable) hours makes shifts easier to cover off – manageable. And while there is always the risk of losing customers inconvenienced by the change in hours, constant and engaging communication will keep your loyal customers in the loop and help them adjust and appreciate you.

Are you bringing in the robots as servers for your dining room? Digital kiosks for your quick service? Chatbots to upsell to your online orderers?

Are you raising hourly rates or salaries for managers, considering moving to a living wage structure? Offering health benefits, more paid time off, meals or other perks?

Do you support employees’ mental health by encouraging time off when needed? Are you actively taking steps to make your bakery more diverse, equitable and inclusive?

Can your staff find time to take culinary training through part-time or continuing studies? Do you encourage them to build their kitchen, business and leadership skills? Do you serve as a mentor or identify a mentor for employees who have ambitions beyond their current position?

Do you highlight the ways in which the skills they demonstrate in their work for you will be transferable to other workplaces and areas of their lives?

Well-structured training is an often overlooked way to make your workplace more appealing and sustainable, as we learned in a recent webinar (see page 34). Everyone needs to train staff but how much thought have you given to how you bring on new employees, promote existing people and handle training issues? Do you have a physical booklet or online manual in place? Are there levels of advancement through your business? Do you use videos to demonstrate techniques? 

These questions are meant as a list of ideas to help spark conversations and help you feel less helpless in the face of a tough labour market. You are just one person and you can’t do it all. Wishing you all prosperity and balance in 2023! 


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