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Keeping ahead of the game

Retaining Top Talent in Hospitality

Recruiting good people is always a step forward, losing talent, however, for any reason can feel like two steps back. It can sap your resources, impact your productivity and directly affect your bottom line. Strong retention is always a good attraction tool. Studies have found that satisfied and engaged employees can be great advocates for your employer brand, both to customers and to future candidates which is a priceless asset in a skills-short and increasingly competitive market. Attracting and recruiting the best talent for your hospitality business is only half the battle, finding ways to keep hold of that talent is an ongoing concern and one which needs to be addressed urgently.

Based around research and part of the ‘What Top Talent Wants’ series, we were delighted to host another fascinating roundtable discussion, ‘Retaining Top Talent’, this time held at the Park Plaza, Westminster Bridge in London. The event was chaired by Sales Manager, Calvern James and attended by HR professionals from great hospitality employers such as The Dorchester Collection, Mitchell’s & Butlers, The Stafford, Mandarin Oriental, Harvey Nichols, Pho, Daylesford Organic and the Dorsett Hotel Group.

One of the first points to be raised was regarding the well-documented skills shortage, particularly concerning chefs. Recruiters continued to be frustrated and new challenges are presenting themselves. There was strong concern around the table regarding the ‘dumbing-down’ of skills-sets, with one  hotel HR Manager explaining that if an agency has asked for a chef-de-partie, the hotel is being sent the equivalent, in skills-terms, of a commis chef and yet they are still expected to pay a chef-de-partie rate. This problem is becoming more prevalent and as a result even more hires are needed to cover the workload. Others around the table are going through similar circumstances and the common knock-on effect of this issue travels down the management tree and is affecting motivation and creating discontent within kitchens and front of house, making retaining the best people increasingly difficult.

The state of the market is allowing younger team members to take unfair advantage of management. They know that employers need them more than the other way around. Some take shifts off without permission, knowing that there will be no repercussions; many foreign workers leave their jobs in the run-up to Christmas only to return and renegotiate a better salary elsewhere in January.

Another issue facing employers is that agencies cannot meet demand. It was noted that there was a time when agencies would be happy for supplied staff to be made permanent providing that the stream was steady. Now, agency fees are so high that this has been made extremely difficult. This also raised the problems experienced with some agency apps. Many can be used as marketing tools to gather information on jobseekers and this can be off-putting to potential hires. These apps can also dilute and even damage employer brands, spoiling the work gone in to creating them, and can again affect retention.

Keeping your employer brand strong takes constant work and making your company’s culture a living thing can go a long way in helping candidates stay with you. There is, however, always room for improvement and hospitality HR teams need to be thinking of new ways to adapt culture to retain staff. For the past 10 years, a leading hotel chain has carried out Employee Engagement surveys based around their concept of the three ‘Cs’, Culture, Career & Communication and their actions around those areas. Each hotel within the group is charged with developing an action plan for their own property, thus enabling the group as a whole to further staff engagement and thereby, retention. The group is quick to respond to the concerns of employees, offering greater flexibility and work/life balance. Within three years, their turnover has reduced from 153% to 70%. It was agreed around the table that it can be seen as if hospitality companies are missing a trick, they are locking the barn door after the horse has bolted. Many companies are eager to showcase their culture to employees, but slower to grow it to retain their top talent.

Some hospitality companies are looking toward other industries for inspiration. One such initiative being adopted is taken from an approach used by airlines where flight crew with contracted hours select their own shift patterns using an online system. This empowers the team to organise the rotas for the week ensuring all hours are covered whist also offering them the flexibility they require.

Rewards and Benefits can also play a big part in your company retaining talent. Team members from a large event management company are given branded poker chips as a reward for a job well done. If anybody gets five chips or more within a six month period, they can win prizes like televisions, headphones and trips abroad. It encourages team members to make the extra effort at work, but also goes a long way in enhancing retention. Many restaurants offer employees an allowance for meals as well as team days out and sports days. We are seeing more well-being programmes being offered by employers, proving very popular and adding to company culture.

It was another fascinating discussion. Things for hospitality employers to remember are to be true to your employer brand. Candidates are increasingly looking for a positive work/life balance, strong career opportunities and the chance of development and training. In our research, 41% of jobseekers say that career development would make them stay with an employer, so it’s good to see that 77% of employers offer learning and development at all levels of their businesses. Good management is always important, but staying ahead of the game is crucial, be proactive, not reactive. Frequent performance reviews and constructive feedback can always be beneficial to your employee retention.

If you would like to attend one our future roundtable discussion, please contact We would love to see you there.