What it Means to be an Employer

Since the pandemic, the rules for keeping employees have changed

Remember in 2020 when everyone discussed the potential of a new normal and that the global pandemic would drastically change things? Welcome to the new normal! That “normal” seems to be constant change and shifting the way things used to be.

Since 2020 in the United States, businesses with employees have struggled to get their arms around what it means to be an employer. An older model of enticing workers with a well-paying job that was steady and secure faded in the ’90s. That led to a different model of bonuses, perks, and emulating being a part of the cool kids’ club but then working yourself half to death for a chance to play ping pong or chill in a sleep pod.

Today that seems to have changed again, with employees having a more profound desire to be part of something bigger than a paycheck. Plus, many people choose not to work instead of having a job, even if they don’t have a steady income. After everyone re-evaluated their use of time during the pandemic, this new mentality flipped the script. Add in our gig economy, and many people have at least one side hustle, and the prospect of hiring and retaining employees is not a task for the faint of heart.

As someone who gets to work with small businesses, I know one of the challenges of growing is finding the help they need and training and keeping those employees. In this article, I want to talk about those two aspects of being an employer – training and retaining.

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First, let me tell you a quick story about a local fast-food restaurant that seems to have a magic formula that has shaped my views on this topic. Restaurants have probably taken the biggest hit from the effects of the pandemic, and rising employee costs and shortages seem to be the most significant obstacles.

Yet throughout the pandemic, there is a Dairy Queen up the street from me that seems to have no problem with employees. We love our Blizzards and even get a pup cup for our dog, so at first, I thought I was just biased. But the experience we have each time is wonderful, and there always seems to be more than enough employees. The employees all work hard and seem to be very happy.

On the flip side of this is a Red Robin right up the street, where their dining room sits mainly empty and the wait for a table is generally over an hour regardless of the time of day you try to go. The reason is that Red Robin doesn’t have enough servers to seat their restaurant fully. At first, I thought, “Well, maybe the ice cream bonus is enough to make everyone happy,” but I know that can’t be true. Maybe Dairy Queen pays their employees a lot more? Their prices have not gone up, so how could they manage to be so out of line with all the other restaurants in the area? I had to find out.

Fortunately, a friend of mine knows the owner and manager of the Dairy Queen. What I discovered was brilliant yet oddly simple once I heard the formula. She treats her employees as if they were her very own children. As young people with school schedules, she is flexible with them and has more employees than similar companies, so they have plenty of help and are not worked to death. She doesn’t coddle or baby them. She sets clear expectations and lets them get the job done based on how they believe it should be done.

She treats everyone fairly and is available for them for more than just the art of making the perfect blizzard. Homework, personal problems, challenges at home, or just as encouragement when needed. They pay a standard wage comparable to other fast-food restaurants. It is a pretty simple formula, and that formula turns her employees into her recruiters. She has a waiting list of these kids’ friends who are eager to join the team when she needs them. The “Mom” formula will not work for everyone, but the idea at its core will. Let’s break it down.


While the Dairy Queen story didn’t specifically talk about their training, I did mention that she allows them to do the job how they see it. And it boils down to her trusting them to get the job done. You have removed all autonomy and fulfillment when you “train” someone by giving them a line-by-line direction list and punishing them for not following the steps exactly. They show up at work as just another cog and can’t wait to clock out.

Training is the first step in employee retention to ensure your employees don’t fall into this trap. When you train someone to educate them to do their best and then trust them to take ownership of that job by setting clear expectations, you now have someone who will look forward to their job. They get to be the masters of their domain and take pride in their work.

But when you train someone by setting them in front of a step-by-step instruction video or telling them to shadow someone else, you set them up for failure. You want to integrate them into the team by educating them on best practices and why those best practices work for your business. Then give them space to learn and grow by allowing for mistakes to happen. Reward the growth and manage the learning curve with checks and balances that everyone is held to, including yourself.


Once they are trained and part of the team, the next step is to ensure they stay around. If you have built that autonomy in training and provided the new employee with a path to mastery, you have the groundwork for success. From there, the job is not to break the chain and don’t give them a reason to find another job. As the Dairy Queen “Mom” showed me, it goes beyond what happens at your place of business. You have to define your core values and personal strengths clearly. Those values and strengths will point you towards how you need to show up for them as an employer.

Maybe your core values and strengths are community and family. You could do things like support them in supporting a cause that’s important to them. Or do things inside your business that remind them they are part of something bigger than themselves. Show your employees how their work impacts your customers.

One important thing not to do is to expect them to be like you. Many business owners have told me that they wish their employees would take more ownership and treat the job as they treat it. That is unrealistic because an employee like that would start their own business. Include them in the processes you want them to emulate and be transparent but don’t expect them to live, eat, sleep, and breathe your business as you do.

As the employer, the most crucial part of retention is to take responsibility for your role. You are not always going to get it right, but it is up to you to be the first to admit that fault. If you constantly have employees you think are lazy or unwilling to go the extra mile, look in the mirror. How have you created an environment that promotes that or puts them in a place where they will not go the extra mile? Nine times out of ten, a system, consequence, or manager drives the employee to do whatever it takes to stay under the radar and collect their paycheck.

If your employee feels like their time is best served covering their own butts, you have created, promoted, or allowed that behavior that will not help your business or that employee. Taking responsibility, even when it does seem like it is your burden to handle, needs to permeate your business. As a business owner, you are responsible, so make the hard decisions, stick by them with integrity, and foster an environment where your employees feel like they are part of the family.

Aaron Montgomery

Aaron Montgomery

Our Success Group

Aaron Montgomery is certified by New York Times best-selling author Jack Canfield as a Success Principles Trainer and has nearly 30 years of experience providing essential support to small businesses. His company, Our Success Group, assists with setting and reaching goals, creating a solid business plan, knowing their numbers for a better pricing strategy, and establishing a customer-focused approach while devising a targeted marketing strategy. He is the author of the business foundation book ‘The FUNdamentals of Business Success.’ He is the Co-Founder of a facilitated 6-month Mastermind collective called Radical Goal-Getters. You can also find him hosting a weekly show called Small Business Saturdays and co-hosting the 2 Regular Guys Podcast.

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