When Employees Hold Themselves Hostage

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“So, I've got a question for ya'... It's always tough trying to explain to an employee why they aren't getting put in a position that they want but we feel they aren't the right fit for the business. Doesn't matter is it's age or attitude it's one of those conversations that is double edged. We need some younger bartenders and there are three girls who are ready to quit if they aren't made bartenders but they’re not the people I want behind the bar for various reasons (drama is one of them). The perennial problem.”


Have to first wonder why they are “demanding” bar shifts? Have they been filling in?

Have you been using them to fill holes / good in a pinch but not a perm solution? In other words, is their dissatisfaction and ultimatum the manifestation of a bigger staffing and/or culture issue?

Would also need to know more specifics with regard to their respective histories...but, based on the brief description of the scenario, I’d say that generally speaking: if any member of your staff isn’t happy in the position you want / need them in and you’ve seriously considered putting them in an alternate position - with an open mind - yet still remain convinced that the business is best served by them using their strengths in the position(s) you’ve designated for them; you should make it clear that you appreciate their work and want them to stay in the position you believe they are best suited for - period.

No specifics necessary...or recommended BUT, don’t hesitate to tell them that if they’re going to be happier working in a different position, then you not only understand, but you will help them / do anything they think might help to assist them in finding such an opportunity with another operator in or near town since the one the opportunity they want doesn’t exist for them in your establishment.

Keep the reason why SHORT & SWEET. Something along the lines of:

“We need you playing this position. That’s where we think you’re strongest.”

That’s it. The less said the better. You do not want to get into a back-and-forth or point / counterpoint discussion.

At the end of the day, you should genuinely want your staff to be happy and fulfilled - and you probably do.

Remember, sometimes you’re the only one (or the one who’s best equipped) to encourage your staff to strive for more in life and to do what will make them happy.

I’m sure you know as well as I do that sometimes this industry provides employees with a surrogate family that takes better care of them than their own family does or can...and you may be in that unique position where you’re the only one (or one of a few) to support their aspirations / going after what they want in their life...and I wouldn’t take that lightly.

That being said- offering that kind of support and concern for their well-being / interests should NEVER come at the cost of the business.

I wouldn’t look at it so much as them trying to hold you hostage (because no one holds you hostage) as much as I would look at it as an opportunity to show them that you genuinely care about them and what they want / need to be happy.

In fact, them that- that you want them to be happy with how they’re spending their days and nights.

And if they leave, it may pose a temporary hardship but also an opportunity to refresh and reprogram additional staff and add new energy to the mix.

I think if you approach this in an open, honest and head-on way, you either get their support while you look to hire and train their replacements...or they leave you short-handed. Either way, you win. Not only by taking the higher road and being a decent guy 1st, but by enduring that the people you have working for you are people who want to be there.

If they leave, it’s far better, IMHO, to be short-handed with the right staff that wants to be there vs being fully staffed with people who are toxic...and who will most likely negatively affect guest experiences and/or other employees (especially if they’re “organizing” already).

Don’t hesitate to reach out and share more details.

Josh Sapienza