How to tackle employee turnover and retain your staff

23 November 2016 by
How to tackle employee turnover and retain your staff

When you've got the right team, you'd be mad to let them go, right? But as turnover figures for the industry show, it's not that easy. Rosalind Mullen spoke to some of the country's best employers to glean their top tips on staff retention

Retaining your staff has never been more important. As well as the disruption and expense of replacing and retraining staff on a regular basis, the uncertainty around Brexit means it's possible that there may be a less reliable stream of work-ready candidates arriving from the EU in the next few years. A recent report by hospitality skills and workforce development charity People 1st underlines why complacency is not an option.

Peachy keen Gastropub company Peach Pubs, which employs 500 people across its 18-strong portfolio, has implemented a number of staff-retention initiatives - although the first thing talent manager Nicolette Glashan points out is that Peach never uses the word "staff".

"Everyone is a team member. We make sure it is inclusive right from the beginning," she says. Indeed, the induction is a crucial step in engaging its people. Peach offers personalised inductions where recruits meet directors and their development path is explained to them, right up to what they would need to achieve to become a partner. "That moment is so important because so often in hospitality people can be thrown in at the deep end," says Glashan.

Giving employees incentives to stay is not rocket science, but Peach certainly doesn't skimp. In addition to funded training and inspiration days away, benefits include Peach Pounds to spend in its pubs, eight shifts over

five days with extra shift allowances, childcare vouchers and a long- and short-term bonus structure (dependent on the role). Fun is an element, too, with an annual team-only festival. To recognise high achievers, there

is an annual Peach Summerhouse, where 50 employees are rewarded with a trip away.

This year it was Prague and it included training in and sampling of the new Czech beers being introduced to the pubs. Nevertheless, a few years ago Peach identified that retention of junior front of house staff was not great. These staff tend to be transient - travellers or students staying an average of six to nine months. In 2014, to encourage them to see hospitality as a valid career choice, Peach introduced the Master Peach programme,

which offers additional training and a career pathway. From here, they can take on more responsibilities and become part of a league of Master Peaches, who are expected to deliver 5% above their pub's average weekly score.

The knock-on effect has been to drive up retention across all levels. Junior staff now stay an average of 12 months and Master Peaches stay an average of 18 months, with some 50% of those being promoted to management positions.

To date, nine assistant managers and six deputy managers have come through the Master Peach programme and Glashan predicts several will become general managers. In 2017 Glashan plans to introduce Peach

Pathway, a development tool with online and classroom training modules and access to mentoring that will enable employees to take control of how quickly they progress.

Lancaster listens Another professional with a track record in retaining people is Aideen Whelehan, HR manager at the 416-room Lancaster London hotel and winner of the 2015 Hotel Catey Human Resources Manager of the Year award. Staff turnover is 20% at the hotel, which ranked 72 in The Times Top 100 Best Companies to Work, and internal surveys show that engagement scores have increased year-on-year.

Whelehan distils much of her success down to simply finding out what keeps people interested: "Young employees enjoy learning new things, so it's key to keep the training fresh and relevant," she says. "We hold discussions about what type of training people want and listen to feedback. Our team members can become trainers within our training model and gain the skills to create their own training sessions. We find that in most cases our younger employees enjoy this challenge."

As well as strengthening internal communication through one-to-one meetings between team members and managers, she makes use of the hotel's internal consultative committee to understand what young employees want and need. One member from each department attends the meetings to air their ideas and ask managers questions. Any good business ideas are then rewarded at the monthly Team Teas.

Whelehan also emphasise the importance of creating a well-bonded team: "We work hard to ensure our young employees are taken care of and given clear goals. Our social committee meets regularly to organise fun ways for our teams to socialise and get to know each other outside work," she says. Looking at the bigger picture, Whelehan believes HR teams have a crucial role in showing young people why hospitality can be a rewarding career. "To open doors of opportunity, it is important that young people understand what goes on both in their department and other departments at other levels," she says.

The hotel achieves this in a number of ways including 'back to the floor', where managers work alongside frontline staff. This creates an opportunity for dialogue and is a more relaxed way for employees to find out how they could move up the ranks. The training team also introduced a 'learning week', where departments held 20-minute workshops open to all to explain their functions and roles.

"It was a brilliant way to spread the possibility of moving between departments," says Whelehan. "But, when people are interested in transferring, we give them a cooling-off period to ensure they have made the right choice."

The hotel also works hard to engage staff across all generations. "We have long-service awards, but we also have one-year awards," she says. "We ensure as many people as possible are involved in apprenticeships, training and mentoring to share stories and build relationships, and this helps colleagues of all ages."

Small means nimble Of course, smaller companies don't have as many resources, but what they do benefit from is being able to approach staff retention at a more personal level. Edmund Inkin, joint owner of Eatdrinksleep, the pub and rooms

company behind the Felin Fach Griffin near Brecon and the Gurnard's Head and the Old Coastguard in Cornwall, says: "It's difficult in a small business to get everything right. We don't have the infrastructure or experience

to cover all the bases. But we do have the advantage of being more nimble and certainly more personal in our approach. That kind of thing does matter in an industry where people can go under the radar day after day."

A year ago, recognising the need to invest in staff retention, the company created a fulltime role dedicated to "people". "Apart from allowing the directors to focus their time elsewhere, it has massively improved our attention to detail in every part of an individual's working week, year and career," says Inkin.

The plan for 2017 is to introduce a talent module to identify those employees with the qualities to be future leaders and to then invest in their training and development.

"In a difficult labour market, an hour spent on finding ways to keep your people is much better spent than an hour trying to recruit. Improving retention of the good people has to be a starting point of every hospitality business," says Inkin.

Leading by example Janet Simpson, owner of the Gibbon Bridge hotel in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire, believes that treating staff well is key. She opened the hotel in 1982 with six bedrooms and a bar, and it has grown to 30 bedrooms, a

restaurant and conference and events facilities set in 23 acres.

"My philosophy has always been to pay staff for the hours they work, to treat them well and as I would expect to be treated," says Simpson. "The result of this is that my senior team have been with me for between 20 and 34 years. I never ask anyone to do anything I would not be prepared to do myself and like to think that I lead by example.

"Working this closely together means we have become a family, which is now an ethos that runs through the whole team, from the top to the bottom, whether they have been here for 34 years or three weeks."

However, like many small operators in rural areas, Simpson often finds it hard to recruit the right person in the first place, particularly for general assistant roles in the restaurant, kitchen and housekeeping.

Most are, therefore, recruited from the EU and so she is concerned about the possibility that Brexit will result in immigration restrictions.

"Recruitment for us is made harder by the fact that we are in a rural area, unsupported by public transport. We recently encountered a problem in recruiting chefs, and once again have been forced to look outside the UK. It is frustrating and disappointing that we are unable to recruit apprentices - even those from local catering colleges."

She adds: "We support all ouryoung employees by encouraging them to take NVQs and by paying them a fair wage. Recruitment and retention of older employees has not been a problem - they appreciate what we have to offer here, and we appreciate what they have to offer us," says Simpson.

Recruitment problems aside, a PurpleCubed surveyearlier this year revealed that 60% of staff would recommend Gibbon Bridge as a best place to work. Certainly, a common trait of good employers is that they understand

how to treat their staff well.

They recognise their needs and aspirations and exceed the minimum requirements of an employer in ensuring that everyone who works for them is happy, motivated and working towards their own goals. And this leads to staff retention. It's a win-win situation. This message is reinforced by this year's winner of the Employer of the Year Catey, hotel management company Valor Hospitality Europe. As well as being recognised for "strong people culture, inspiring leadership and consistent business results driven through people engagement", it was singled out for its "clear desire to have employees at the heart of the organisation and to be at the heart of its ambitious growth plans".

The results are tangible. VHE's surveys show engagement scores have risen from 72% to 86% and staff retention rates are below the industry average at more than 72%.

Managing director Brian McCarthy comments: "Valor manages 2,500 employees in the UK, under brands such as IHG and Marriott, but one of our company's successes is that it feels like we are in-house. That for me is where the process works best."

Glashan at Peach sums it up: "Getting the right people at the start is important. The better the recruits you attract, the easier it is to retain them."


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