Being a 30-something, middle-class American citizen, it almost goes without saying that I’ve worked in numerous capacities. Examples of jobs I held down include a casual dine-in restaurant, a convenience store, and more recently, a collaborative office space. Every single one of these locations had their own unique layout and culture, some I preferred over others for various reasons. It wasn’t until much later that I learned how much each location impacted me and what could potentially be improved to increase productivity.

Restaurant line worker

When I was first hired at this location, I was not aware of how cramped the “back of the house” was. Line cooks were broken up into stations, which included a “broiler”, a “mid” and a “fry cook.” The work area itself was only about two feet wide, with the cooking equipment placed behind the workers and the heated “holding” area in front of them. Another oven area was located above the grill, where dips and breadsticks were prepared, some of them reaching temperatures in excess of 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Workers were constantly tripping over each other, calling out “behind” or “above” whenever they had to walk by or reach for something from the oven or microwave. I learned of the flaw in this layout one day when I witnessed a scalding bowl of broccoli dip land square on the head and neck of the mid’s assistant. The employee in question suffered first and second degree burns from the incident and immediately went to the hospital.

This, unfortunately, wasn’t an isolated incident. Other issues included:

  • Microwaves being placed too high above the workers’ heads, resulting in similar injuries.
  • Close proximity fryers causing trips and burns.
  • Poorly designed food/condiment setup that resulted in workers continually straining their bodies and bending in unnatural positions.

What could have be done differently

It’s been found that certain factors, such as available space, employee mobility, and ergonomics are instrumental in promoting safety and efficiency. In short, the restaurant lost money by having to foot the bill for the injured employee’s hospital visit and recovery, and the workers had to work extra hours to make up for having one less worker.

I found through research that this restaurant could significantly reduce injury and spills by:

  • Providing an additional two to three feet of walk space directly behind the workers.
  • Place holding ovens and microwaves at hand level to eliminate reaching.
  • Strategically place holding fridges near where the worker would typically stand.

Regardless of whether the operation is new or established, efficiency and safety should be the number one concern when designing the layout for a line restaurant. Burns, cuts, sprains, and strains are common in a kitchen, with more than 56 percent of kitchen workers reporting these types of injuries, as well as long-term musculoskeletal disorders due to repetitive motion and continual bending. So take the extra time to plot out your restaurant design carefully and test drive first to determine if it’s efficient and safe.

Convenience store clerk

Before my kitchen adventures, I worked the graveyard shift in a convenience store. Theft was a rampant problem, notably among employees. One worker even went so far as to assist one customer with the theft of over ten cases of beer. What added to this stigma was the fact that the store was located in a troubled neighborhood rife with drug and gang problems.

After I was hired, I acted as a “mole” and helped management find issues within their own infrastructure. Offending employees were discovered and weeded out, and I helped set up new store policies with the aim of reducing theft. By the time I moved on, theft was reduced by 80 percent, and loss prevention and safety remained the focus going forward.

Promoting safety and loss prevention

Though a significant amount of customer theft occurred at this location, there’s no discounting the debilitating effects that the rampant employee theft had on not only me, but my managers as well. After being made aware of the problem by management, I conducted my investigation and pointed out the red flags as they became apparent. It wasn’t until later that I found out that the majority of these employees not only had criminal backgrounds, but were also not satisfied with their working conditions, creating a dangerous cocktail that could only lead to disaster.

In fact, it’s been found that disgruntled employees steal $50 billion annually from companies due to employee theft, which can largely be attributed to dissatisfaction with their immediate supervisor.

Ways that managers can improve low employee morale is to:

  • Practice clear communication.
  • Recognize hard work.
  • Show trust.
  • Lead by example.

By implementing a zero-tolerance policy on theft and establishing a positive relationship with your employees, the motivation to commit theft goes down, after which the problem with customer theft can be addressed effectively. Being aware, proactive, and positive is a great place for managers to start.

Office worker

Finally, my most recent position was located within an office building, where I toiled endlessly to take notes and refill carafes. Between these tasks, I would collaborate with other thinkers to help them come up with the next great idea for an article for various gaming websites. My immediate team was made up of about four other workers, and we would collaborate throughout the day and return to our individual tasks right afterward.

I found the work fulfilling, especially when I collaborated with my co-workers. The discussions we had would range from in-depth to ridiculous, sometimes in the blink of an eye. However, something as simple as the direction of one’s stance could change the flow of communication, for better or worse.

Why this matters

A collaborative company culture was something that this firm strove for on a daily basis, from team structure to desk placement. As this was more-or-less a “tech” firm, it used layout ideas from other tech firms, such as Facebook and Mozilla, to positively affect worker psychology. Further, they would also have employees take personality assessments and assembled teams based off of those results, assigning them to others who complement them nicely.

Other ways that firms like this one promote collaboration and camaraderie are:

  • Promoting a challenging environment.
  • Create teams from individuals who think differently.
  • Cultivating trust by providing employees the freedom to collaborate and come up with ideas together.

Given my past with countless restaurants and other menial jobs, I was blown away by the slight changes this office environment had on me. Where constant collaboration may not work for all, little things like respect and open-mindedness go a long way in tech companies who promote this type of environment.

To review

No matter what industry you happen to be in, I’ve learned that there’s always room for improvement. Becoming staunch and set in your ways halts innovation. Had I been that restaurant manager, I would have noticed the mounting medical costs due to employee injuries, quickly determined the cause and made the appropriate changes.

Had I been the convenience store manager, I would have taken a more hands-on approach to solving the employee theft problem instead of asking a new hire to do it for me. This could leave a sour taste in the new employee’s mouth, though I personally took it as a compliment. A manager taking charge of the situation is preferred in any case, and it allows them to lead their employees by example.

And finally, had I been the managers at the last firm I worked at, I would have continued to encourage collaboration between team members, and urged my team to continue learning something new every day.

Is there anything you would do differently as a business owner in these industries? Can you offer any valuable insights into any of these industries? Let me know in the comments below!

AvatarRobert Conrad

Robert Conrad is a former student and current father who has worked hard for everything he has. He currently mentors at-risk youth and plays copious amounts of video games in his rare downtime.