American fast-food chain Chipotle made headlines last Wednesday when it announced it would be providing updated benefits for its approximately 110,000 employees and the upcoming surge of workers it is planning to hire this year. Over the next few months, Chipotle plans to hire about 19,000 new employees to prepare for its busiest period of the year – from March to May, which famously has been dubbed “burrito season”. Of Chipotle’s current workers, roughly 73 per cent fall within the Ge
the Gen Z age range (those born between 1997 and 2012), a generation of employees that has specific concerns. As Ilene Eskenazi, Chipotle’s chief human resources officer, stated in the company’s press release, “Empowering our talent is embedded in our company’s culture. As we push toward our long-term goal of operating 7,000 restaurants in North America, it’s crucial that we listen to and adapt to the needs of our team members, so they can grow with us.” The new benefits Chipotle has added prioritise financial and mental health, two major areas of concern for Gen Z, a generation that is struggling to adjust to a post-college, post-Covid work environment and is more open about dealing with issues such as depression and anxiety. Chipotle’s new policy add-ons allow workers to: Manage their financial wellness Chipotle’s partnership with SoFi, an American online personal finance company and online bank, will give employees access to the SoFi at Work Dashboard, a leading financial well-being education platform, which includes an assessment of the worker’s current financial outlook, followed by suggestions and tools to improve their situation. Pay off student debt while saving for retirement Using SoFi’s Student Loan Verification (SLV) service, an employee, once eligible for Chipotle’s 401(k) match plan, will have the company match up to 4 per cent of their salary through contributions to their 401(k) if the worker can make eligible student loan payments. The benefit allows employees who qualify to avoid having to choose between paying off student debt or saving for retirement. Through Chipotle’s program, they will now be able to do both. Build credit through high-tech banking Chipotle employees will have access to a premium banking experience from Cred.ai, featuring a high-tech Visa card that offers security features, faster access to paychecks, and Cred.ai’s ‘Credit Optimizer’, which helps build and boost credit scores automatically, even for employees who already have good credit. Access mental health resources Chipotle’s New Employee Assistance Program, SupportLinc, which is powered by CuraLinc Healthcare, focuses on mental and emotional well-being. It includes six free sessions with a licensed counselor or mental health coach, plus tools, resources and community support for legal, financial and family matters. Retailers are struggling to hold on to service workers Chipotle’s new benefits are not solely a humanitarian move on the company’s part, they’re a highly strategic one as well. Like many other facets of the retail industry to have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, employment rates – especially within the service industry, from servers to sales associates – were knocked completely off course. In 2021, 47.8 million workers quit their jobs, followed by 50 million in 2022, before the trend gradually slowed down to 30.5 million in 2023. While some refer to this as The Great Resignation, others call it ‘The Great Reshuffle’. While departure rates remain fairly high, hiring rates, such as those outlined by the US Chamber of Commerce, now outpace them, as many workers have been transitioning to other jobs in search of increased compensation, a strong company culture, or an improved work-life balance. In a hiring period in which retailers, especially those in the leisure and hospitality industry (with a departure rate consistently above 4.5 per cent since July 2021), are struggling to retain service workers, workplace and benefits shifts such as the ones Chipotle is implementing may be the best way to hire and hold on to a stable bank of employees. The future of the service industry While Chipotle’s new benefits are, hopefully, a signal to several retail segments to step up their benefits plan, especially food chains or apparel brands that rely on the work of customer-facing employees, the shift doesn’t necessarily signal long-term stability for service workers. Food chains such as Sweetgreen, Ssense, and even Chipotle itself have been experimenting with automated machinery and AI technology to supplement customer service capabilities. In 2023, Sweetgreen launched the first two locations of its Infinite Kitchen restaurant, with an automated makeline. Bowls move down a conveyor belt with guests’ selections being added along the way. It is an adaptation of the Spyce technology the company acquired in 2021. Last year, Chipotle announced that it was testing a mechanised digital makeline with Hyphen, a food service platform designed to improve business through automated kitchen operations. Using this tech, bowls and salads are created by a system that moves them through a makeline, where ingredients for the order are dispensed automatically. At the 2024 National Retail Federation annual conference, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, stated that he believed AI and similar tech advancements would only be able to mutually enhance the shopping experience for the consumer and benefit the retail workers as well. However, that raises the question: At what point do AI and technological automation stop helping service workers and begin to replace them entirely?