Out of desperation, a Fort Worth business turned to Twitter to find workers.

Heim Barbecue, which has three locations across Fort Worth and Dallas, issued this plea on the social media platform:

The spicy tweet didn’t lure workers through the doors of the local barbecue chain, though.

 

Although Texas now has more jobs than before the pandemic, according to reporting by The Texas Tribune, the number of people quitting their jobs and vacant job openings remains high.

In December, 4.3 million people quit their jobs, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reflecting the trend of what some experts are calling the “Great Resignation.” The restaurant industry is one that’s hit the hardest. Tarrant County’s restaurant industry had 806 vacancies as of Feb. 26, the highest number next to hospitals, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

Other businesses, like Leaves Book and Tea Shop in the Southside neighborhood of Fort Worth had to close for a day because of a lack of employees to fill a shift, store owner Tina Howard said. They have a small team already, so when one person has to be out, the store has only a short list to choose from, she said in an email. 

“(Closing for a day) hasn’t happened in the past, but largely due to the fact that the worst-case scenario is I can personally go in and work,” Howard wrote. “That’s part of the nature of being a small, locally owned and operated business. However, COVID and the overall labor shortage certainly doesn’t make it any easier.” 

An unprecedented bounce-back of consumer demand is emerging from the pandemic that might have caught many businesses by surprise, said David Allen, the chair for Texas Christian University’s management and leadership department at the Neeley School of Business. 

A “now hiring” sign hangs in the front of local restaurant, Taco Heads. The restaurant’s owner, Sarah Castillo, said hiring is a constant since the pandemic started. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

One method businesses have used is increasing wages, Allen said. But that’s not always an option for a small business. 

“We’re seeing growth in remote work and hybrid work where instead of requiring everyone to come back to the office as soon as we’re able to, like, give people more flexibility in terms of when and where they work,” Allen said. 

EJ Carrion, CEO of Student Success Agency, thinks many workers are looking for remote work. His company has a waitlist for some of its positions, and 125 people applied for one full-time spot. The next generation of workers are seeking the freedom to live and work when they want, he said. 

“I just think you’re having today’s workforce, really valuing … the control of lifestyle and time,” Carrion said. “And so I think that people who can hold young talent would be the people who can provide … that kind of asset and freedom to do so.”

Patrick Massingill, an employee at Leaves Book and Tea Shop, knows a lot of people who have changed jobs because they have choices, he said. A lot of people are looking for good communication with their employer and a sense of being valued, he said. 

“One of the big bonuses working for a small business, honestly, is that you kind of know your boss and you can sort of talk to them about the problems you’re having at work,” Massingill said. “I feel like a lot of bigger companies especially, you feel so alienated from the people who boss you around, but it’s hard to have that sense of your worth as an employee.“

Sarah Castillo, the owner of Taco Heads, agreed employees can easily find another job if they quit. As a result, she said, company culture plays a huge part in keeping workers. That involves showing appreciation for staff coming to work and taking time to get to know employees. Still, she said, sometimes that’s not enough. 

The restaurant has modified its hours to make sure shifts can run, but on some busy days, management still can’t fill all the tables because of being short-staffed. Workers leaving her restaurant affect her, she said. 

“You care so much about these employees and then they leave and then as an owner … I take an emotional beating,” Castillo said.  

Less staff means more work for her employees, Castillo said, which affects morale. At times, getting enough workers at the restaurant involves begging and convincing them they will make a lot of money on busy days, she said. 

“The labor has been high and sells a bit low,” Castillo said. “So, it’s not a good formula for restaurants.” 

Noble Menchaca, a barista at Crude Coffee, recently left another coffee shop to receive better pay. Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Pay is one reason why people are leaving their jobs. Noble Menchaca, a barista at Crude Coffee, left his former job at another coffee shop after he received his first paycheck and realized he wasn’t getting paid fairly. 

Finding another job was relatively easy, he said. He walked into Crude, saw the hiring sign, interviewed and then got a job. He’s noticed the great resignation at his former places of work.

“People would kind of drop like flies,” Menchaca said. 

In 2019,  there were 1.1 million jobs in the food service industry according to data compiled by the Texas Workforce Commission. After restaurants closed down in March and April 2020, the industry lost hundreds of thousands of jobs to slow the spread of COVID-19. Two years later, the industry still hasn’t recovered to pre-pandemic employment levels. 

The hotel and food industry saw the highest percentage of businesses that increased wages and paid bonuses because of the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

“Wages have skyrocketed, which is great to see because we’re really talking about employees who have been on the front lines of the pandemic,” said Kelsey Erickson, the chief public affairs officer for the Texas Restaurant Association.  “We’ve actually seen our average hourly earnings at eating and drinking places increase by their largest 12-month increase on record.”

In February last year, the average hourly wage earnings in the restaurant industry was $14.08. As of February this year, the wage has increased to $16.09, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Experts like Allen at TCU think the high resignation numbers will even out over time as more people go to work. He said he would be watching to see whether the cultural change happening with work will last. 

“There has been a little shift in many people’s values in terms of what they’re looking for from work,” Allen said. “So I think there are more people now who are sort of questioning: ‘What type of work do I want? And what am I willing to do or give up in terms of life, lifestyle, safety, whatever it is?’”

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Seth Bodine

Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....

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