Recruiting and retaining staff: How to develop employees and cut turnover rates

By Peter Ruddick

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Recruitment, Employment

Helping staff develop and climb the career ladder can keep them happy and keep staff retention levels high
Helping staff develop and climb the career ladder can keep them happy and keep staff retention levels high
Advertising in all the right places and whittling down prospective candidates for a job can seem wasted if you are forced to dig out the job description again after only a few months. So how can you ensure staff development supports the recruitment process in the hospitality sector with noted low levels of staff retention?

According to the 2011 People 1st State of the Nation report the hospitality industry has a staff turnover rate of 23 per cent, down from 31 per cent in 2009. With many posts in the industry filled with student and temporary workers it isn’t easy to reverse this trend.

Miles Quest at the British Hospitality Association says high staff turnover isn’t necessarily bad. “Some turnover is highly desirable because it makes room for fresh blood.  If they leave to better themselves, that’s good turnover.  If staff leave because they are totally disaffected with their employer, then that’s bad.”

High staff turnover can also be costly. People 1st estimates around £33m a year is lost in the industry on on-going recruitment. Good staff retention can also improve operational performance and customer satisfaction.

Start early

More people leave in the first few weeks of a new job than at any other time so it is key to avoid the ‘induction crisis’ and ensure employees feel like they are entering a structured environment with clear ideas of what they are expected to learn and when.

“If you took a job somewhere and you joined a team and everyone in that team is fairly new you can imagine some of the conversations that take place out of management hearing - for example: ‘I’m not going to stay that long, it is a bit of a mess this place, it is badly organised’ - those first impressions really matter,” Mike Williams, group director of people and development at Malmaison and Hotel du Vin, explains.

At Williams’ company staff take a short survey after the first 12 weeks to make sure the correct programme for new starters has been followed. Food and beverage employees in the organisation also take a written and practical test before they can ‘graduate’.


Sometimes the simplest answers remain the best and nothing beats regular informal conversations with your staff.

According to Chris Penn, general manager of the Flemings Hotel in London’s Mayfair, “Regular one-to-ones rather than waiting for a six month appraisal to discuss performance and development,” are best when it comes to formal communication.

Keeping your staff talking is just one part of a two-way process. It is just as important to communicate how the business is performing as a whole, especially if staff are insecure about the future in difficult economic times.

Cat Smith is the head of resourcing at Spirit Pub Company where staff turnover has dropped by around 50 per cent. “We have got a fantastic communication platform in place now whereby we can communicate directly with our team players about everything that is going on in the business whether that is our business strategy or somebody successfully going for an internal promotion or a new menu launch in a different brand to the one they are working in.”

Central to the idea behind communicating how the business is operating is making employees feel engaged. Heston Blumenthal thinks this is crucial in restaurants.

“The old-fashioned way of a chef holding onto everything doesn't give longevity. I still never really understand the fact that most people go into cooking because of the passion so when you get in a kitchen why run it like an army kitchen? You should allow that creativity through.”

Room to grow

“Employers that don’t invest in staff training - not just at induction but as a core part of each employee’s career development, and look at other ways of motivating and engaging staff - are going to suffer from higher levels of turnover,” Suzy Jackson, executive director of the Hospitality Guild, explains.

When it comes to offering training the individual and personal approach can yield the best results. Employees should feel like they are in control as Smith explains. “We have just launched a ‘training tree’ which is an interactive development website where a team player can go and see every development intervention that is available for them. What we don’t do is a ‘one-size-fits-all’.” For example Spirit employees can take language courses to improve customer service and career prospects.

Though this sort of programme is easier for large companies many of the best training schemes can develop from an idea at a single site. For smaller operators ‘train the trainer’ courses are also available as well as training grants and external courses provided by organisations such as the BII.

Spotting talent

As Ruth Jackson, head of HR at Whitbread’s Premier Inns restaurants, points out, giving staff a chance to grow is about more than just encouraging them to go for a promotion.

“Not everybody wants to progress and be promoted and end up being chief executive of Whitbread. Most people do want the opportunity to feel like they are still learning and developing within the role that they do by helping others develop or having other areas they look after and to feel like they are still contributing,” she said.

However employers, like Blumenthal, that do actively employ from within can benefit from greater staff retention and a stronger team.

At Malmaison and Hotel du Vin performance appraisals are used to identify staff with high potential. “We sift them into Shooting Stars, Shining Stars and Rising Stars – the handful of Shooting Stars are the people we think can go all the way up, Shining Stars are the people we think are ready for promotion and then Rising Stars are people who have been recognised for doing a great job and need training to progress further,” Williams explains.

Just rewards

Both Smith and Ruth Jackson point out rewards and incentives are never enough to increase staff retention but they do play a key part in creating a happy work force. They do not have to be promotions, wage bumps, bonuses or financial incentives to succeed as a simple ‘congratulations’ on a job well done can have a big impact.

At T.G.I. Friday’s all employees from the very bottom to UK managing director Karen Forrester earn badges for going above and beyond the call of duty. Last year for the company’s 25th​ anniversary all staff got a scratchcard with a guaranteed prize of anything from a crate of beer to a holiday.

Where T.G.I. Friday’s have also succeeded is encouraging staff with potential who might not be considering a career in the sector to rethink and as Mo Yassin, general manager at the Leicester Square site says, retaining staff should be a key objective for any hospitality business. “We invest copious amounts of time, effort, energy, emotional energy and money in hiring and training these people. They are the ones who deliver the fantastic growth. It really is counter-productive to not have it as one of your biggest pillars of success.”

Top tips on retaining and developing staff

  • Employ the right candidate:​ Getting the application and selection process correct is half the battle with retaining staff so check out the first two pieces of our recruitment feature.
  • Start early: ​Have a structured induction programme in place with set goals for employees to achieve and a ‘graduation’ or completion procedure to assess and reward development.
  • Communicate:​ Talk regularly to your staff both formally and informally, communicate what the business is doing as a whole and carry out staff surveys – the Guoman and Thistle hotel group use Market Force to carry out an employee-wide survey twice a year to give insight into employee engagement.
  • Develop and train: ​Make sure paths exist for development either career progression or personal development and training. Allow ideas for training to come from the floor up as well as from the management down. Research the various options available for training to be outsourced.
  • Consider eLearning: ​Many organisations are now turning to eLearning solutions as a convenient and cost effective way to train their employees. This type of learning allows individuals to undertake training at time suitable to the business. Various accredited courses are also available through William Reed’s division WR eLearning​.
  • Talent spot:​ Regularly appraise staff to assess which employees have the potential to develop in the organisation and give the best and most driven employees the room to step up the ladder.
  • Offer Rewards:​ Don’t underestimate the power of rewards and incentives as part of a wider programme on staff retention.

And don’t forget:

  • If staff do decide to leave ahead of when is expected make sure a full exit interview is carried out, preferably by someone other than their direct line manager, to learn what can be changed for next time.

 Read all the instalments in our Recruitment feature here​.

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1 comment

retaining staff

Posted by karen morton,

When a new employee starts it is important to make them feel welcome and giving time make sure that the first day is memorable for all the right reasons goes along way. the induction process has to be efficient but it also needs to be personal and in my training experience this would appear to be lacking in many cases.

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