Rebuild & Reinspire Hospitality Recruitment Summit | Session 2: Retain

Welcome to the Rebuild & Reinspire Hospitality Recruitment Summit, a virtual event comprising three sessions that directly address the ongoing staffing crisis in the hospitality industry.

In the second session, Tom Howes, Product & Service Design Lead at Harri, met with Ann Elliott, Founder of Ann Elliott Hospitality Consultancy, Adam Harwood, Head of Learning and Development at D&D London, Ceri Gott, People and Performance Director at Hawksmoor, and Hayley Connor, Head of People and Learning at Brewhouse & Kitchen to discuss how to retain employees during the pandemic.

Below, we share some of the highlights from the session, where our panel described their experiences, ideas, and solutions to retain staff. A must-read for those building a retention strategy.

Designing the employee experience

Our very own Tom Howes kicked off the afternoon with an intriguing presentation, during which he talked about the dreaded 90-day employee retention problem and its impact on organisations.

The presentation included a survey showing, 43% of workers said their job description wasn’t accurate, and cited this as one of the reasons they left within the first 90 days. What’s more, XpertHR found that 60% of people don’t read their employee handbook, so it’s obvious that we need to think differently about how we connect with our teams.

“Today’s session is all about retaining, holding on to what we have,” said Tom, “and for that to happen, we have to set the right expectations.”

But the question is: how do businesses achieve this in today’s uncertain world?

Setting expectations from the outset

Whether they’re returning staff or brand-new hires, hospitality operators need to set clear expectations with all of their employees.

Adam Harwood from D&D London believes this should take place before the onboarding process even begins, by creating transparent job descriptions and ensuring candidates understand their responsibilities right from the start.

He also acknowledged the importance of balance, explaining that you don’t want to put people off applying for a role, “you’re going into an industry that’s going to be tough and you need to be resilient.”

Hayley Connor, Head of People and Learning at Brewhouse & Kitchen, echoed this statement, pointing out that setting expectations during the interview stage is crucial. She also highlighted the need to discuss career paths early on, explaining that while hospitality is a fantastic sector to work in, it’s certainly not a walk in the park –- something we, and the other panelists, agreed with.

Although some may not want to stay in hospitality forever, what you learn during your time in the industry will benefit you in any role. Hayley added, “it does give you those life skills, especially when it comes to dealing with people.” All the more reason to communicate this from the very beginning.

Putting mental health on the agenda

It goes without saying that if operators want to retain their staff, mental health needs to be at the top of the agenda. With that in mind, the panelists discussed what they’re currently doing to tackle mental health in the workplace.

Hayley explained how different people need different advice and support, “we were really focused on communication throughout all of the lockdowns on an individual basis. That’s something we don’t want to stop now just because we’re all back at work. We don’t want the conversation about mental health to quieten, we want it to keep going.”

The rest of the panel completely agreed, with Adam noting that while recruitment and hiring is a priority for operators, mental health should still be high on the agenda. Like many organisations across the country, Adam and his team have been coming up with innovative ways to recognise and reward their long-service employees.

Meanwhile, Ceri Gott said that at Hawksmoor, they have also been looking into reintroducing a welfare budget for the workforce, something they’d usually only do over Christmas.

Moving forward with digital communication

When it comes to managing mental health in the workplace and retaining your employees, effective communication is vital. Ceri Gott made a great point, saying that in an industry like hospitality, not everyone is on email. As such, her team has been using technologies like Facebook to interact with all members of the company.

“We really focused on communications,” said Ceri, “there was so much uncertainty last year and for a lot of us, we couldn’t give the certainty that we would usually give. So we focused on being open and transparent.” She also noted the importance of building a community and keeping people together, while ensuring personal problems are dealt with.

Adam has adopted a similar platform to communicate with his team. Over time, it’s become a central hub for collaboration and sharing expertise across the business and presented opportunities for the future.

Adapting to flexible working

The demand for flexible work is no longer a trend; it’s quickly becoming the new normal. Ann Elliott rightly pointed out that many people, particularly students, no longer want to commit to working unsociable hours — which could extend across the entire population. For the already hard-hit industry, this is extremely concerning to hear.

That being said, many businesses, including Brewhouse & Kitchen, are already beginning to trial a four-day week to see how it could work with their teams. After all, you won’t know unless you try.

Yet it’s also important to consider that not everyone wants to work a four-day week. Some may prefer 60 to 70-hour weeks. Here, communication is key. Don’t paint everyone with the same brush. Treat your workforce as individuals, listen, and adapt accordingly.

Adam acknowledged that although implementing a flexible work approach may be difficult due to recruitment challenges, it’s certainly high on the agenda. While Ceri highlighted that there’s always been a lot of flexibility in the hospitality industry, even more so through the current support offered by the Job Retention Scheme.

It seems the real problem will be continuing to meet employee expectations when the scheme ends and things return to normal. And this is an issue that many operators will need to tackle in the coming months.

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