Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Dunster Grille - Employee Priorities

At the beginning of the spring semester of 2019, my co-manager and I consulted with our House Administrator and our Grille Tutor during our monthly finance meeting and realized that we needed to make some changes to our staffing in order to avoid losing a significant amount of money. Though our employees and customers generally seemed to be happy, it was clear that the House was concerned about our finances, and we were advised to cut back on employee hours to save money. Whereas before we had been open from 9:00pm-1:00am on weekdays and 10:00pm-2:00am on weekends with two employees on each shift, we began to be open from 10:00pm-12:30am on weekdays and 10:30pm-2:00am on weekends with one employee on weekdays and two employees on weekends.

These changes seemed to be poorly received by our employees, and my co-manager and I were initially very skeptical of these reforms. In order to gauge the popularity of these changes as well as to gauge opinion from our workers, I developed an optionally anonymous feedback survey for employees. In the end, I received 9 responses out of roughly 15 active employees, a 60% response rate.
When looking at the data, it's clear that the hour changes were mostly neutrally received, with some vague positive feelings toward the weekend shift changes and mixed reviews on the weekday shift changes. What is also clear, however, is that about half of employees feel that shifts are too late in the evening. From my own experience working shifts at the grille, I know how disruptive the late hours can be to a person's sleep schedule, especially with classes that start at 9:00am or 10:30am. When we shortened shifts, much of the shortening happened at the beginning of the shift rather than at the end, but our employees might have been better served by having earlier shifts.
Employees seemed to have mixed views on the one person shifts on weekdays, with four out of nine indicating positive or very positive views but three out of nine indicating negative views. This survey was distributed during our slowest month (February), and I expect this approval to have diminished significantly in the past few months as employees who were working solo shifts became overwhelmed on busy nights. Indeed, though a large majority indicated positive feelings about working at the grille, these overwhelming shifts became quite frequent throughout April and would probably have inspired less positive feelings today. Over the past month, many of our employees refused to sign up for shifts in the past month, explicitly citing the overwhelming nature of working an unpredictably busy shift alone. During the fall semester, we only had to close a total of two days due to staffing issues. During the spring semester, we had to close thirteen days due to staffing issues. In an effort to help offset the unpopularity of one person shifts, we raised employee wages on weekday shifts from $13/hr to $14/hr, but this has done little to improve morale. Many nights, either I or my co-manager would get called down to help an overwhelmed employee stave off a rush of people, sometimes for up to an hour.

Employee morale is critical for ensuring the success of the grille as a space for fostering community, and if the grille isn't open, we can't make any money. For this reason, employee morale and expectations must be set clearly early on in the year to ensure the health of the grille. 

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