Think your job is tough? Try to be the assistant manager

In the hierarchy of difficult to fill positions, the assistant manager is at the top.

The role, long seen as a thankless but necessary stepping stone to higher-paying managerial jobs in industries like retail and hospitality, has lost even more appeal during the pandemic.

This makes it harder for restaurants and other businesses to fulfill a critical role at a time when a broader labor shortage is complicating America’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

“This job is particularly seen as thankless, overworked and underpaid, period,” said Danny Stoller, co-founder of Square Pie Guys, a small, upscale pizza chain in the San Bay area. Francisco.

Mr Stoller said he had listed a deputy general manager open in November 2020 and had not received any applications from a qualified candidate for 10 months, despite increasing the annual salary from $ 55,000 to 70 $ 000. About two months ago, he stepped down and reconfigured the role of CEO. Applications have exploded and the company recently extended an offer to one candidate. “I think there is a branding element involved,” he said.

When it comes to finding deputy directors, says Danny Stoller, co-founder of Square Pie Guys, “I think there’s a branding element involved.”

Being an assistant manager has had a less than stellar reputation for years. The hours are long and the pay is not necessarily much better than lower level jobs, as executives are often not paid for the overtime they work.

During the Covid pandemic, employers struggled to retain hourly workers, leaving assistant managers to focus more on subordinate duties while finding time for their managerial duties. Meanwhile, fewer frontline workers want to jump into this role, data shows, especially in the restaurant industry.

On the job search site, the share of all jobs seeking assistant managers increased 1.6% from October 2019 to October of this year. But job seekers’ interest in these ads, as measured by the change in the percentage of ad clicks, fell 21% over the same period. This has led to a 29% increase in what Indeed calls the talent mismatch, or the difference between employers ‘demand for workers to fill certain positions and job seekers’ interest in those jobs.

While many people who leave frontline hospitality jobs to join the first rung of management miss overtime and tips, some who make the leap earn big pay increases, said Matt Sigelman, chief executive of the labor market analysis firm Emsi Burning Glass. . It can be hard work, he said, “but on the other hand, you’re on the train. So if people choose not to participate, they are missing out on that ticket for upward mobility. ”

Kathryn Yarbrough was attending college in 2014 while working as a waiter at an Italian restaurant in Georgia. Eventually, she was working so many hours that she dropped out of school.

“I still think it was maybe the worst decision I could have made, but at that point I was part of a team and they were really counting on me,” she said. “It was like, ‘We take care of each other here, we support each other.’ I really liked it. ”

Hoping for promotion, she took on more positions and responsibilities. When a position of executive assistant opened up, she accepted it. But she said she was continually asked to cover shifts for servers, hosts and dishwashers who didn’t show up, sometimes without additional pay. She juggled tasks like handling customer complaints, taking an inventory of food and supplies, answering phones and fixing broken equipment, she said, all while earning $ 75 for a shift scheduled to last five hours which often extended to seven or nine hours. without additional remuneration.

“I had nightmares about my job. I felt sick sitting in the parking lot looking at the building. It was so stressful, ”said Ms. Yarbrough, 33. “I realized that at every step I was making compromises. ”

She submitted her two-week notice last March, giving up her hope of being promoted to general manager, shortly after a friend told her about vacancies at the toy company where he works. Ms. Yarbrough now earns $ 16 an hour inspecting minifigures.

“I drive to my new job so that I don’t have to be successful at my old job,” says Yarbrough. “Sometimes I feel like I’m still recovering.”

Alleged violations of federal overtime regulations often involve the role of deputy manager, as the work often overlaps pay and hourly duties, said Justin Swartz, attorney at Outten & Golden LLP who represents the workers. Assistant managers are often paid at or slightly above the federal minimum wage threshold of $ 684 per week, exempting them from overtime rules. Mr Swartz said he has received more calls from assistant managers regarding alleged overtime violations during the pandemic, as staff shortages lead to more people in such roles to handle tasks normally performed by managers. hourly employees.

Under federal labor law, workers exempt from overtime are generally eligible for overtime if the majority of their time is spent on tasks paid by the hour, among other factors. The problem of overtime violations for assistant managers is common not only in restaurants, Mr. Swartz added, but also in retail, bank branches and other front-line industries.

Tiffany Palliser quit her job as an assistant manager at Panera Bread and now works from home as a call center representative.


Matthew Palliser

“When you take someone who spent 70% of their time on exempt work and 30% on hourly work, that person can be properly classified as exempt,” Mr. Swartz said. “But then you flip that and due to a labor shortage they spend 70% of their time lining up at the counter, flipping burgers or stocking shelves, and only 30% of the time. their time to manage. Now their main duty has changed.

These trends were evident before the current staff shortage, which has left employers with more than 11 million openings, while only 7.4 million workers are looking for jobs.

The US economy created just 210,000 jobs in November, the smallest monthly gain of the year as employers face a persistent shortage of available workers. The unemployment rate fell to 4.2% and average wages rose 4.8% from the previous year.

Tiffany Palliser accepted an entry-level position at a Panera Bread restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Shortly after high school, and landed a promotion to assistant principal after three years. “Once you get into that role, you’re like, ‘Great, one more step. I can continue, ”she said. As the main breadwinner to her family of four, including two young children, she looked forward to a CEO role and the increase that would come with it.

She quickly became disillusioned, working 60 hours a week for a salary that never exceeded $ 40,000 a year, with no bonus for her overtime. If she worked less than her scheduled 45 hours, her employer cut her pay, she said. She spent most of her time filling hourly shifts, she said, with few managerial duties other than ordering and picking up supplies. “My husband and I used to talk, I would say I was a glorified cashier or a glorified line cook,” she said. She stayed a few more years hoping for a promotion that never came.

In August 2019, Covelli Enterprises Inc., the franchisee who owned the location of Ms Palliser and about 260 others, agreed to pay $ 4.6 million to settle claims that it failed to pay the assistant managers. for overtime.


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Covelli did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations and Panera Bread declined to comment.

Now Ms. Palliser, 31, works from home as a call center representative, earning $ 12 an hour. Her husband, who previously raised their two children to support his wife’s goal of moving up the restaurant management ladder, also works for a call center company. “Our idea was that I was progressing,” she said, “I was going to be the CEO, and obviously it didn’t work.”

The American workforce is changing rapidly. In August, 4.3 million workers left their jobs, what many call “the big resignation”. Here’s a look at where workers are going and why. Photo illustration: Liz Ornitz / WSJ

Write to Lauren Weber at [email protected]

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