The Cost of Pissed Off Employees, Quantified

In the U.S., 56 percent of workers would rather find another job than be promoted by their company. How many employees, when asked candidly, would honestly recommend their employer as a place to work? A place to eat? And are companies putting as much importance behind these statistics as they do guest satisfaction – or even measuring them at all?

While 90 percent of business owners see employee engagement as vital to their company’s success, only 25 percent have actually implemented an associate engagement program. Many mistakenly believe investing in associate engagement and creating a company culture that encourages team members to excel (programs that inescapably involve training, but also incorporate merit-based systems and employee retention strategies) is an unjustified expense that adds little to a restaurant’s profits.

But in reality this perceived savings results in active associate disengagement and costs U.S. companies as much as $550 billion each year. And it’s through more than the costs of (notoriously high) turnover and training a new employee. Associate engagement affects morale; it affects the guest experience via (sometimes small) mistakes, lack of effort and decreased productivity that add up to a huge check.

Restaurant Associate Engagement Infographic


Active disengagement creates a company culture that fails to impress investors and does not attract guests – both of whom want to be connected to a brand that reflects their personal image. Companies with low associate engagement will find it almost impossible to attract the best talent – those who can improve upon the little mistakes, decreased effort and productivity – for the simple truth that good employees do not want to work with the bad.

Quite simply, associate engagement means more than improved quality of life for team members (although this is an undeniable benefit). It’s about creating a team that believes in – and is knowledgeable about – the brand and the product, is committed to serving the company to the best of their abilities and willing to go that extra mile for an up-sell, to portion correctly and maintain target food costs, to make that one last phone call to secure a sought-after catering contract.


When talking about associate engagement, there are three basic levels: engaged, disengaged and actively disengaged.

  • Engaged Employees: The people who go above and beyond for your guests. They’re the type of team member who is happy to check and see about ingredient substitutions, is familiar enough with your menu to make profitable recommendations to guests and is invested in their training (and assisting other team members) to ensure they perform at their highest and their best.
  • Disengaged Employees: Staff who simply do their job. When asked what dish they recommend, they’ll tell customers “everything on the menu is good” simply because they aren’t invested enough to choose a favorite item.
  • Actively Disengaged Employees: The staff who drive away your customers, whether through bad manners or inappropriate work behavior. Unfortunately, 26 percent of U.S. workers fall into this category.


Before associate engagement can be solved, it must be measured using open, honest assessment of key engagement KPIs. Here are a few prompts to begin that discussion:

Why? Because every team and each associate need something bigger than oneself or one’s position to believe in – a mission, a purpose and a shared sense of purpose to get behind. The mission and vision of a company are the primary drivers of associate engagement – but if placed in a single room and asked why it is they show up to work each day, how many employees in the same company would offer the same answer?

How? Improve your general way of going about things, your everyday life and your company culture – the cumulative collection of knowledge, experiences, beliefs, values, attitudes and objects that define your company, your brand and, consequently, the people working at your restaurants. People want to be proud of where they work – the most successful companies are those that give their associates reason to be.

What? How can you expect your team to deliver success if you haven’t showed them what a job well done looks like? This goes beyond checklists – it involves setting an example. We imagine that if every company judged success based on how they treat their associates, the impact of active disengagement would be far less.

Wow! Where is the “wow!” in your associate engagement program? Take a moment to seriously consider the element of your associate engagement program that has others talking. Are they talking about the things you are doing to improve the quality of life for your team, or about how many employees want to quit? Little moments that show you care make all the difference here. You don’t have to have a waterslide in your break room to let your employees know you care about them personally and professionally and want to help them find success.

The realities of the costs of associate disengagement are painful to confront. They should be. To make any situation better, a company and its leaders first have to be clear on where the business stands and where the company is collectively trying to reach, by conducting a gap analysis, setting priorities and getting quick wins while laying the foundation for the long term.

We’re guessing that if you’ve gotten through this post, you are painfully aware of exactly how much active disengagement could be costing your business, and we’re hoping this can serve as the motivation to reevaluate and address how your company treats its most valuable asset: its associates. Do the right thing for yourself, for your company and for all the people that are part of it.