How Shake Shack transforms jobs into careers by prioritizing employee fulfillment

Posted on: January 24, 2023Updated on: April 18, 2024By: Maliyah Bernard

There’s an important human story to tell about the last few years in the workplace that many can relate to: people have been reflecting deeply on their sense of purpose and the role work plays in their lives.

Over 50% of employees say the pandemic has made them question their day-to-day jobs and they’re now looking to contribute more to society. Not enough support from employers has also become an employment dealbreaker—leaving huge gaps in the education sector where the number of teachers transitioning out of the field is reaching crisis levels.

However, the importance of self-actualization—especially at work—isn’t new. For over 25 years, Jenifer Calcamuggi, Director of Learning and Talent Development at Shake Shack has dedicated her career to creating learning experiences that make an impact and inspire others to reach their full potential. She joined JD Dillon on “In The Know” recently to share how Shake Shack centers resilience, well-being and fulfillment (and the right support from HQ) to transform jobs into careers for its employees. 

Here are 3 key takeaways from their discussion.

People Stacking Hands

1. Stay focused on the individual

The mass exodus of employees across industries has set off alarm bells that fundamental employee needs are going unmet. And Shake Shack is listening.

“We’re all individuals. Many of us have figured out by now that we want more balance and flexibility in our lives, says Calcamuggi. “We want the opportunity to bring our whole authentic selves to work.” 

She also points out that the time of having a job for life is long gone, especially for Millennials, who are looking for a better salary, improved work-life balance and access to training, among other must-haves, as they take on new roles. Whereas some view hourly jobs as temporary, others see them as intentional stepping stones in the journey to the career they’re building. By recognizing employees as whole people with different motivations for coming to work every day, you can step into the shoes of your employees to learn what they actually need to feel more comfortable and confident—and then do the work to address these needs in a meaningful way.

2. A team is only as good as its leader

Is the path to success as clear as it could be? Changing priorities in the workplace mean employees need to clearly see the opportunities to perform and grow—and that should be set up from the top. 

“We’re now in an era where there is a life of jobs and employers need to create the vision and opportunities so employees can understand what’s next,” says Calcamuggi. “Thriving on-the-job right now is a direct reflection of your leader and the employee experience as a whole.”

People also want to come to work and feel valued so their contributions have purpose and are connected to the brand’s success. Leaders play an important part in making that happen—especially within frontline industries like foodservice where there are countless paths team members can take.

Calcamuggi explains her approach: “At Shake Shack, we have a program that’s called Stepping Up, and it’s a career progression map that all of our hourly workers begin at onboarding. It really demonstrates what’s needed to advance every single step of the way.”

The employee experience is especially dependent on having good leaders but don’t forget they’re the ones who are feeling burned out and overburdened. They need to be trained and supported, too.

“We also launched a Shift Up program at the end of 2020,” shares Calcamuggi, “which focuses on our shift managers and gives them an opportunity to advance and have more leadership-based skills.”

3. Live out your values and remember that learning happens everywhere

If you don’t know what your brand stands for, employees won’t either. 

“Since Shake Shack began in 2001 as a hot dog cart, our mission to ‘Stand for something good’ has been our driving force in all of the decisions we make as a company.”

It’s one thing to have a north star when it comes to motivation but another to show a real commitment to your brand’s corporate values and social responsibilities. And employees want to see the receipts to evaluate if their priorities align.

“Since the pandemic, one thing that we learned and now place an even stronger emphasis on is diversity, equity and inclusion. Not just as an afterthought, but a core thought in all of our workplace programmings,” says Calcamuggi.

“It’s also really important that everyone has a voice,” she continues. “To progress, we need to hear and understand the experiences of our team. All In is our formalized diversity, equity and inclusion program and it focuses on elevating differentiated voices, eliminating barriers and providing an opportunity for all team members to grow and thrive. We remain committed to that and released our annual ‘Stand for Something Good’ report to keep us transparent and accountable to our progress.”

A large, distributed workforce comes with lots of challenges—but also many unique talents and skills that should be meaningfully leveraged to address those challenges. Creating deep, substantial connections, offering clear career opportunities and leading with empathy help to make work more fulfilling. This rings especially true for educators who may represent a fitting resource stream after leaving their traditional classroom roles. 

“Learning happens everywhere and someone needs to facilitate it. Why not educators that are the most passionate about learning? There are so many transferrable skills that teachers have, from effective communication to time management to balancing multiple projects at once.”

“There’s an opportunity to train these teachers to help build courses and lead programming. We should be looking at their skills, assessing their credibility and, most importantly, understanding how they can fit into the culture at your company—because that’s what’s most important.”

For more insights about how to encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work and help pave the way for career success, catch up on the full episode of “In The Know”.

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Maliyah Bernard

Maliyah Bernard is an academic writer turned content writer. As a former frontline worker, she loves writing about all the ways organizations can support these essential workers smarter.

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