Amid the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the restaurant industry, Chipotle Mexican Grill has continued its expansion and internal growth. The fast-casual restaurant headquartered in Newport Beach, California, and led by CEO Brian Niccol is continuing to hire as it incorporates in its employee culture a focus on benefits, training, and diversity and inclusion.
Coast to Coast Career Day is Chipotle's first national hiring event of 2021, launched Jan. 14 with the goal of hiring 15,000 new team members for its locations across the U.S., Restaurant Dive reported. About 200 new restaurant locations are also planned for the near future.
"If you look at the top five responsibilities of every one of our restaurant general managers, the number one responsibility is hiring and onboarding new people," Chipotle Chief Diversity, Inclusion and People Officer Marissa Andrada told HR Dive in an interview. "What we're doing from a national standpoint is really accelerating their ability to do it all in one day, and fill a lot of the needs now because we have them."
While interviews have been typically conducted virtually, Chipotle developed a method for inviting candidates into the restaurants for the hiring event using safety protocols and social distancing, she said. Seeing and understanding what the work entails is part of Chipotle's culture, which is why it was important for the interview to take place at a restaurant, Andrada said.
"Both food safety and an overall cultural wellness, I think, positioned us well to make sure that we are taking care of our people, especially in uncertain times," Andrada said. Wellness practices include advanced air filtration systems in restaurants and hand sanitizers for the guests, she said. The restaurant had managed an outbreak of food poisoning at multiple locations in 2016, forcing the company to close to train employees at its locations across the country.
Boosting benefits and digital growth
Companies with a good combination of benefits and effective employee wellness programs will be better able to manage and recover from the impact of the pandemic, according to experts.
In March, Chipotle enhanced its paid parental leave program. But prior to the pandemic, in 2019, the company announced the addition of mental healthcare programs to its benefits that would offer employees and their family members access to healthcare experts regardless of whether they participated in the company's medical plan.
Benefits also included opportunities for education for employees. Chipotle began assisting employees and their families to pursue their GED or English as a second language certification in 2019, Andrada said. The same year, a tuition reimbursement benefit, which allows eligible workers to receive up to $5,250 each year in reimbursed tuition, was expanded to include a debt-free degree program. A key part of retention is a focus on education and career development, according to a 2019 survey commissioned by Instructure.
Chipotle's growth amid the pandemic can also be attributed to a business model that incorporates more sales through digital platforms, Andrada said. The company announced last summer plans to hire 10,000 workers to support digital growth, in addition to the 8,000 new hires the chain made following a May hiring campaign. The pandemic "certainly did accelerate the access to our business via digital and we were ready for it," Andrada said. In Q3 2020, Chipotle's digital sales grew $776.4 million, Restaurant Dive reported.
In Q1 of 2020, the company paid out quarterly bonuses for general managers and field leaders, Andrada said; the company also has a feature that allows crew members to earn bonuses based on performance of individual stores. In addition, Chipotle, "layered in assistance pay to kind of close the gap on wages for employees during pandemic time," she added.
Training and creating a diverse talent pipeline
Although Chipotle was not exempt from workplace challenges in 2020, by the end of the year, almost 11,000 internal promotions took place, according to the company; and more than 70% of Chipotle's general managers are a result of internal promotions, advancing through the brand's established career path.
"Our commitment to training is very detailed," Andrada said. When crew members join the company, they are provided with a training guide for every management level at the restaurant, she said. As an employee works through the training plan and demonstrates they've learned the required skills, there's a sign-off process by a supervisor, she explained. "What I've learned getting to know our employees is that it's the role of our general manager inspiring confidence in others, that they can be more than a crew member," Andrada said.
As the pandemic continues, a focus on diversity and inclusion is essential to retaining diverse talent and their trust, experts advised. "A commitment to diversity within management has been part of the journey that I've been on since 2018, as well as ensuring that there is diversity at every level, starting at the top," Andrada said. The momentum exists at the restaurant level as 70% of Chipotle's workforce is diverse and can choose their path to move up in the organization, she said.
In 2018, when Chipotle made the decision to close its restaurant support center in Denver and "put a stake in the ground in Newport Beach," some employees did not want to relocate, Andrada said; "We had to quickly hire an almost entirely new restaurant support center." Chipotle partnered with a network of women and minority owned boutique search firms to find employees. "When you have that diversity network, I think that only inspires and encourages more diversity," she said.
Chipotle was named a top company for diversity by Comparably, a culture and compensation data platform, based on anonymous feedback from employees of color throughout 2020. Chipotle announced in September it plans to continually review internal diversity data to identify areas in need of greater focus and create "strategic plans to address those areas through hiring, development and employee resource groups (ERGs)."
The company has also made a commitment to increasing diversity in senior leadership, Andrada said. But it's the company's values that support inclusion, she added. In 2018, Chipotle formalized its values based on feedback from employees, not leadership mandates, and it's the ERGs that help "create community across our various locations," Andrada said — a key aspect to keeping people engaged, even during a pandemic.