One of the biggest challenges facing the baking industry today is the widespread worker shortage. Today’s labor force has many choices of where to work, and the tougher environment and longer hours common in a bakery setting has many workers looking elsewhere. In order to better hire and retain workers amid this shortage, bakeries are creating a culture that prioritizes the needs of their employees in a way many haven’t before. 

“The days of punching in a time clock and being a number will cause you to not have people working for you,” said Bill Quigg, More Than a Bakery, Versailles, Ky. “It’s just that straightforward.”

At More Than a Bakery, Mr. Quigg said the focus is on the fulfillment of the whole person. Employees are called family members, and every week Mr. Quigg meets with them to discuss the company’s mission and values.

“In that meeting, I tell them the most valuable thing they can possibly give us is their time,” Mr. Quigg explained. “They can take that time and use it anywhere they want to. Because of that they really value what they’re doing and who they’re working with. If your job doesn’t have purpose, it’s not going to be a good prospect for them or for us long term.”

Employee strikes at large companies like Kellogg Company, Battle Creek, Mich., and Starbucks, Seattle, have made it clear workers expect more from their employers, whether it’s better pay, flexible hours or the right to form a union. The bakeries that succeed are the ones that meet these evolving needs.

For example, after receiving feedback from his employees, Mr. Quigg implemented three-day weekends. However, this required 12-hour shifts, which excludes many subsets of the labor market, such as single parents. To fix this, More Than a Bakery began offering part-time jobs. 

“The part-time job starts after school begins and ends right before school gets out, so that single parents in particular can come and get really nice pay and a job that fits their lifestyle,” Mr. Quigg said. 

More Than a Bakery is in a college town, so Mr. Quigg also implemented a shift that’s on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to accommodate students’ schedules. 

“The key there is listening and being flexible and throwing out all the ideas of how you structure pay, benefits, work schedules,” he said. “All that stuff is up for grabs now, and it never was before.”

This versatility is critical in helping bakeries stack up against competitors like Amazon who have already become more accommodating of workers’ schedules.

“We have two Amazon warehouses in Lexington, and they are very innovative as it relates to on-demand Uber work,” Mr. Quigg explained. “And frankly, that’s made us step up our game. We have to be more aligned with what people want because Amazon will do that as well, and that’s a major competitor for us in the labor department.”

5 Generation Bakers, McKees Rocks, Pa., has made a similar commitment to investing in its workers. President Scott Baker buys lunch for the crew each Friday, enters employees into a $50 raffle if they’re on time for their shift, and offers a loan program to help employees in times of need.

“We’ve lost a couple hundred dollars several times, but that’s not going to stop us from still trying to do what I can to help my employees,” Mr. Baker said. 

The bakery has increased compensation 30% since the pandemic, and Mr. Baker said he doesn’t intend to scale back rates, always making sure he’s paying more than other bakeries in the area. 

More Than a Bakery and 5 Generation Bakers are not alone. Rowdy Brixey, president of Brixey Engineering, said more than 80% of the bakeries he speaks with are boosting pay and expanding benefits to get ahead of employee losses. 

“In the past, we’ve waited until someone knocked on the door and said, ‘Hey, I’m giving my notice,’ and then you addressed it because you could backfill the position a little easier,” he said. “But those days are long gone.”

There is no silver bullet for bakers’ workforce troubles, but those who invest in the fulfillment of their workers will be able to weather the storm.

This article is an excerpt from the May 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Workplace Improvements, click here.