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Opinion: Why warmth and competence are key traits in employees

These social perceptions can impact job attitudes and turnover intentions

Diego Bufquin is an assistant professor at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, University of Central Florida. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News.   

What’s more important in the restaurant workplace: to be well liked or to be considered competent?

Those who are well liked or perceived as warm are thought to strive to establish close relationships. On the other hand, those perceived as competent are considered to be more autonomous, and have a tendency to lead, dominate and control their environment. 

Which of these two qualities is more important in the workplace, particularly for frontline restaurant employees? A series of research studies by Diego Bufquin, with colleagues from the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida and the University of South Carolina, reveal that restaurant employees tend to view their co-workers and managers either as warm and competent, or as cold and incompetent. 

Job satisfaction and organizational commitment of employees who consider their manager and co-workers warm and competent are significantly higher than those who evaluate them as cold and incompetent. Likewise, employees who feel that they work with a warm and competent manager and co-workers tend to develop lower turnover intentions.

For frontline restaurant employees, it’s more important to work with competent co-workers than with warm ones. Competence more significantly affects employees’ job satisfaction, organizational commitment and turnover intentions.

But for restaurant managers, it’s the other way around. Their perceived warmth has a greater influence on employee job attitudes and turnover intentions than competence. In an ideal world, an employee’s co-workers would be extremely competent, while a manager would strive to establish close relationships with subordinates.

Here are four ways to create an optimal working environment, based on this research:

1. Train managers to be more socially oriented. Managers can be taught techniques to demonstrate to their employees that they care about them and are sincerely concerned about their professional and personal wellbeing. For instance, managers could be taught how to recognize or compliment employees more often, create social gatherings so employees can get to know them on a personal level, and engage employees by asking for their feedback on important operational or professional issues. Managers could also be trained on nonverbal behaviors to better communicate with employees. For example, warmth can be portrayed by “below-the-neck” postures, such as nodding, orienting the body toward the other person, and hand gestures that are relaxed and nonintrusive. 

2. Hire warm and competent personnel. When searching for candidates, a variety of structured and unstructured interviews (behavioral and situational interviews, face-to-face and panel interviews) and psychological tests (The Caliper Profile, The 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire) can be used for restaurants to assess their candidates’ personality and social traits. The 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire includes many traits that resemble warmth (liveliness, social boldness) and competence (dominance, self-reliance). Such personality tests could help operators figure out if a candidate is more socially oriented or more individualistic and task-oriented. 

3. Create a friendly and non-threatening organizational culture. Successful restaurateurs like Danny Meyer understood a long time ago that employees are the most important assets in a restaurant. Meyer says operators should put employees — not customers — first. According to him, employees can only shine in front of customers if they feel good about themselves. Furthermore, when his company, Union Square Hospitality Group, looks for new employees, they hone in on six traits: optimistic warmth, intelligence, work ethic, empathy, self-awareness and integrity. Most of these qualities are specifically related to warm traits.

4. Continually train frontline employees so they can achieve excellence. Service standards and organizational values should be consistently taught to employees and reinforced by managers. Without the development and implementation of quality service standards and a work philosophy that reflects a company’s values, it will be difficult for employees to perform at their best and achieve operational and financial goals. The execution of specific training programs that focus on the tasks that need to be performed, as well as on the development and wellbeing of employees, will significantly improve employees’ attitudes and behaviors at work. As a result, restaurants will benefit from higher customer satisfaction and sales, and from lower turnover rates.

Diego Bufquin is an assistant professor at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, University of Central Florida, where he teaches restaurant and lodging management. Bufquin has degrees from the École Hôtelière de Lausanne, the Glion Institute of Higher Education, Skema Business School and the University of South Carolina. His research focuses on understanding the minds of consumers and employees at restaurants and hotels.

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