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John Coldicutt


Chief Commercial Officer

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Recruitment and retention: How hospitality businesses can stay ahead during post-Brexit anxiety


Brexit will present significant challenges for staff recruitment and retention in the hospitality sector, but despite the uncertainty there are things that employers can do now to prepare for it.

The hospitality sector is well known for its high staff turnover, which is on average around 30% a year, and its dependency on EU workers to fill the many roles in bars, hotels, restaurants and catering.

While the details and implications of Brexit are still unclear, these two factors have the potential to coincide and cause a perfect storm in the sector.

Standing by and waiting for decisions to be made on immigration policies and the rights of foreign workers has the potential to result in some very difficult times ahead.

How big is the problem?

To understand more about the problem, we recently conducted a survey of UK hospitality workers and managers along with The Institute of Hospitality and YouGov.

Our findings suggest that Brexit is likely to make it even harder to find and retain employees with almost one in five managers currently finding staff recruitment harder than this time last year, and 16% projecting that they will struggle to fulfill staffing requirements over the next five years.

This is especially the case in major cities that rely more heavily on European workers, as fewer EU workers are expected to arrive each year and a significant number are considering leaving the UK post Brexit. This will create an expected staff shortage of 60,000 workers per year, according to the British Hospitality Association.

So, what can be done to mitigate this? From our research as well as talking to industry experts who helped us to produce a Brexit Survival Guide, I’ve compiled our top five recommendations to help attract and retain the right staff and proactively take action now to avoid the worst of the fallout.

Five tips for businesses coping with staff shortages

1. Embrace flexibility

Provide workers with more flexibility. Our research suggests that staff are more likely to stay at a workplace that gives them more control over when they work, particularly as many employees balance their shifts with studies, childcare or taking care of relatives.

Despite this, only 9% of employers in hospitality are looking at introducing more flexibility, missing out on the opportunity to introduce more flexible policies to differentiate their business.

Flexibility, however, must always be balanced with customer demand. It is crucial to ensure the right staffing levels for quiet, moderate and busy periods to avoid either employees standing around, or on the flipside, customers walking out due to understaffing. That balance is worth striving for, because it results in the optimal mix of employee happiness, customer satisfaction and profitability.

2. Consider how your career options are perceived

Evaluate how job and promotion prospects within your business are communicated (and perceived) by potential new recruits.

As Mark McCafferty, head of operations at Saga Japanese Restaurants commented, “Brexit has shone a light on the issue of a career in hospitality – how we treat employees, the money they get, the way they are given a career path. We need to be introspective about creating careers for young people. It’s a tough world and I understand why people might not want to join this industry.”

The businesses that will continue to thrive will be the ones that take the opportunity to invest in their people now.

Further to that, Peter Ducker, chief executive of the Institute of Hospitality said: “During their induction, new team members should have their own potential path explained to them, starting from entry-level positions up to senior leadership roles.

“Express that career movement can be lateral as well as upwards. People may start in finance but then move into revenue management or use their experience as a housekeeping supervisor to specialise in HR and recruitment for these roles.”

3. Take a fresh look at recruitment

New approaches to recruitment may also mean that Brexit brings greater diversification in the workplace, with 15% of the managers we surveyed actively looking at recruiting from different demographics, such as older employees or working parents.

Such a move has the potential to create a more welcoming and accessible workplace whilst also taking advantage of a much wider range of experiences and skills that can directly benefit business.

4. Build a positive work culture

Developing the right attitude as a business plays a crucial role in attracting and retaining the right people.

Rupert Power from Sophie’s Steakhouse offered his perspective: “Our recipe for post-Brexit success has been to 1) create an intimate business culture that centers around our core values, 2) hire employees that will thrive in our business culture, 3) develop those people to give them tangible management skills.

“That’s helped us stay competitive in the London hiring market, retain the right kind of talent and open up more locations, staffed by employees that we know and trust.”

5. Get communication right

Communication is always key to delivering the right culture to succeed.

Ensuring employees are given the tools to stay connected with the business, including their co-workers with whom they can swap shifts using their smartphone, can foster a strong team spirit and a feeling of connectedness – perhaps the most powerful key to employee retention.

As conditions get more and more competitive, becoming the ‘employer of choice’ will be vital to business success.

The businesses that will continue to thrive will be the ones that take the opportunity to invest in their people now, upgrading technology to enable better flexibility and communications.

They will be the ones who empower their HR teams to be able to expand their recruitment strategies, proactively communicate opportunities as well as introspectively firming up the right corporate culture.

Leading on the front foot is of paramount importance, as no matter what ends up being agreed over Brexit, it will mean a better functioning business and happier staff.

Want to learn more about this topic? Read Brexit and business planning: do you know who your workers are?

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John Coldicutt

Chief Commercial Officer

Read more from John Coldicutt

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