Nationwide staffing shortage takes toll on high school employees

Bradyn Johnson | The Chronicle

Senior Irene Kannath works on a drive-thru order at Dunkin’ during a rush.

As “help wanted” signs have become a fixture in businesses nationwide, many local establishments have had to alter their traditional practices to find employees.

When the world entered into the COVID-19 Pandemic, it consequently entered into a workforce shortage. As a result, companies around Mason have struggled to fully staff their businesses, leaving the few employees that were left with an immense amount of work to do.

With current staffing difficulties, it is tough for resilient high school-aged employees to want to continue working. Senior Irene Kannath said that she often finds herself struggling with working longer shifts, training multiple people and taking on manager-like responsibilities while working at Dunkin’.

“[Last year] I was working every other day, because it was so understaffed, and I needed to be there,” Kannath said. “I’d go to work, and I wouldn’t leave until eight.”

As a result of being at work from the second school ended until closing time, it was stressful for Kannath to manage other commitments such as schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Kannath said that working around the clock had a direct impact on her and that she could easily attribute these pitfalls to her work schedule.

“My grades were definitely going down because of work,” Kannath said. “I didn’t have time to study or do my homework until the middle of school the next day.”

Instead of having time to complete her homework, Kannath was at Dunkin’ training many teens and adults on tea or pouring coffee, as well as teaching them how to close and open the shop. Kannath not only had to teach herself the procedures of the building, but also became responsible for the education of all of the new employees as well.

The shortage of employees restricted employers from hiring at a competitive level. Kannath said that, since her Dunkin’ location was severely understaffed, her manager was forced to hire anyone they could in order to help fill the holes in the schedule.

“Dunkin’ was hiring anyone because we were so understaffed,” Kannath said. ”They only had a total of two to three people working, instead of the regular number of seven or eight.”

Low staffing issues are not due to lack of exposure, but lack of applications themselves. Thus, companies and their employees are being forced to work harder in order to run their locations due to the lack of new and consistent hires.

As companies continue struggling to staff, they are depending more upon their workers to help them find potential employees. Senior Marissa Riehm works at Half Day Cafe and said that her company went so far as to offer checks if they referenced a new hire.

“We ended up having a $100 bonus if you hired someone,” Riehm said. “They really needed people, so they could give those incentives.”

Riehm also said that Half Day Cafe not only gave incentives to their employees, but they also needed to advertise a lot more than in previous years. This consisted of making large printed signs to put outside the shop and endorsing Half Day Cafe by posting different things on social media.

“We had little paper signs that were always on our front host stand, we even had business cards that said ‘now hiring’,” Riehm said. “I would also post on my story to see if anyone wanted to work [at Half Day Cafe].”

Many local establishments have had to change their regular practices, whether it be how they hire, how they advertise, or how they work to retain their employees and customers. Brett Johnson, owner of the local restaurant Empanadas Aqui, said that he sees these issues first-hand, usually on a daily basis.

“We were very busy when we first opened,” Johnson said. “You could see the day that COVID-19 hit…there was no one in here at all.”

With the continued effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the amount of hardship on staff and customers did not go unnoticed. Johnson said that oftentimes, new hires will easily get tired of their positions, which results in challenges in the workplace.

“It’s easy to recognize the burnouts,” Johnson said. “You see it in people’s faces, even now, you see it in people’s faces that they are just tired. It’s not an easy industry to begin with, but then couple that with people having to work twice as hard to make up for the fact that there’s no one next to them working.”

Even with the lack of staff, Johnson refuses to lower his expectations on the type of employees that he will hire, ensuring that his restaurant is filled with honest and trustworthy workers that fulfill his restaurant’s mission.

“We look for the same thing every time,” Johnson said. “Just because there is a need, doesn’t mean we reduce our standards to fill it.”

Photo contributed by Bradyn Johnson