MARYLAND HEIGHTS — The next time you go into a McDonald’s, the experience might be subtly different.
If you bring a concern to a manager, she might listen to you with more sensitivity. The employees may be working together with a greater sense of harmony.
The difference is training in a field called emotional intelligence. On Wednesday, at The Heights Community Center in Maryland Heights, emotional intelligence coach Roberta Ann Moore led 30 McDonald’s managers through a workshop about interpersonal relationships — learning how to read and understand the emotions of others.
For much of this year, about 120 managers in the McDonald’s of Metro St. Louis Co-op, a collection of 156-area restaurants, are participating in monthly workshops designed to give them a better understanding of their own emotions and those of their employees and customers.
Moore helps the managers discover how to tolerate stress, feel empathy for their employees and customers, feel better about themselves, be more assertive and more.
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Chris Giarla, one of the three franchise owners who put together the program, said it has already had a measurable impact on the business.
The St. Louis-area restaurants are part of a region that stretches from Missouri to Alabama that includes about 1,200 McDonald’s locations. For the region as a whole, the turnover rate for employees was more than 200% over the past 12 months.
But locally, the turnover rate stood at a much more manageable 155%. The emotional intelligence workshops have only been held since March, but Giarla credited the improvements on them and similar team-building efforts.
The local turnover of managers has also fallen significantly. Giarla said the difference is the way the restaurants treat their people. They call it a “culture of care,” he said.
James Lucas, another franchise owner who arranged the sessions, said, “In the McDonald’s world in the past, it has always been more about managing tasks and then leading people. In today’s world, it’s more about emotions.”
In one exercise held Wednesday, Moore, the coach, divided the participants into groups of five. One told a personal story while the others watched closely to look for clues to the person’s emotional state.
One man noticed that a woman repeated the same words in telling her story, indicating to him that she was frustrated. When a woman fidgeted with her hands, the listeners surmised that she was upset; a raised brow meant one man was happy. When a person telling the story’s voice became louder, it often indicated pride or satisfaction with the story’s conclusion.
Another exercise encouraged the managers to listen more intently to what they are being told. Moore said that when she first began learning about emotional intelligence, she would literally sit on her own hands in order to quell her impulse to interrupt.
Moore, who lives in Clayton, has personal and corporate clients around the country and in at least one other nation.
She customizes her work for each client, though “it would be nice if I could recycle it,” she said.
Moore began her career as an accountant, conducting internal audits at Monsanto. From there she moved into public accounting.
“When you talk to people about their taxes, you hear a lot of stories,” she said. She would hear about marriages, children, divorces and other life-changing events.
“I realized I was in the wrong profession,” she said. So she took her husband’s advice to go back to school and study psychology. She became a licensed therapist.
In that position, “when professionals came in and told their stories, there was a lot of overlap. If they were having trouble communicating at home, they were having trouble communicating at work,” she said.
Terryl Dayton, a store manager with 25 years’ experience, works at the McDonald’s in Maryland Heights. This is the fifth time she has been involved in training to deal with emotions in the workplace.
“(Moore) has definitely dug a little deeper,” Dayton said. “She’s had us go back to childhood traumas, things that would trigger us.”
That exercise led Dayton to an understanding: The way employees relate to her may not necessarily be related to how they feel about her, but may instead be based on their past experience.
The classes have also helped her realize that people in different generations communicate differently. She now works on understanding how to communicate with employees who are half her age and younger.
Lucas, one of the franchise owners, said, “We used to manage food, the product. Now we manage people.”