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Best Companies, Attracting & Retaining Talent session at Best Companies Live Q1 2022 event
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Attracting & Retaining Talent: Standing out in a crowded market

With the ‘great resignation’ seeing more employees than ever choose to move on from their roles, just what is the best tactic for recruiting and retaining talent in the current climate?

Here, we review the highlights from this session during February’s Best Companies Live, where we heard from the organisations that are leading the way in their approach to catching the eye of the jobseeker, through to unique onboarding practices and how they are adopting new, innovative ways of engaging and developing employees to ensure they are a creating a workplace culture that people don’t want to leave. If you would prefer to watch the full session, please click the video above.

Attracting – and keeping hold of – good people has become one of the most challenging issues of the last two years.

The pandemic has triggered the ‘Great Resignation’ where, according to reports, UK businesses have been hit by rising numbers of staff leaving their jobs voluntarily during 2021, leaving employers facing rising vacancies and a battle to fill them in 2022.

Many organisations are taking to social media, using bespoke marketing campaigns, or putting lucrative financial referral schemes in place to generate interest along with their more traditional channels. In fact, some 75% of the organisations that surveyed by Best Companies in the first quarter of 2022 offer their employees a referral programme with a financial incentive.

But it's becoming increasingly hard for organisations to differentiate themselves in a very busy market. So, what does it take to lead the way in catching the eye of the job seeker, and how do you create a workplace culture that people don’t want to leave?

“Identifying and tapping into the talent pool”

For Rachel Woodcock, Head of People at independent restaurant group, Hickory’s Smokehouse, the last two years have created a surge in interest in roles at the hospitality company – and now, she says, is the time to capitalise on people’s interest.

“Currently, our application numbers are up 315%, a clear indication that people are looking for new opportunities. The last two years have given people time to reflect on what they want from the next stages of their lives, and we’ve benefitted from that. We’ve now got to identify the talent by using the tools that are available to us – and there’s certainly a lot of talent out there” she explained.

Woodcock and her team have worked tirelessly to create a workplace culture that prioritises wellbeing – something that, historically, has not been associated with the hospitality industry’s stereotypical image of long shifts and late nights. She explained that a focus on wellbeing has been pivotal to their talent strategy – both attracting and keeping hold of it.

“We’ve really put our wellbeing support plan at the forefront so that everyone is aware of it,” she explained.

“We have an Employee Assistant Helpline, 24/7 counselling, and wellbeing workshops for all new managers and team members. We purposely use the word ‘wellbeing’, as opposed to mental health, as it incorporates many more factors than just that one thing. It’s about giving people the ownership and accountability for their own wellbeing.”

In terms of the numbers – Hickory’s has recruited some 574 people over the last year, a 31% increase on its overall headcount.

This, Woodcock believes, is thanks to a combination of daring to recruit whilst others were letting people go – and in doing so instilling a faith and confidence in the group’s future – and, crucially, a refreshing approach to work/life balance that helps open a career in hospitality for those who didn’t think it was possible.

“Work/life balance is a main focus of our interviews,” she explained. “It's a key focus for us and we really take the time to understand what our candidates want. As a result, we’ve got our first ever Monday-to-Friday manager, which is something you’d never normally hear of in hospitality, but we flexed to be able to provide that work/life balance and it’s definitely paid off.”

“Flexibility is really important”

Creating a flexible work/life balance is also something that resonates with Saira Demmer, CEO of specialist recruitment firm, SF Recruitment Group.

Demmer believes that since the Covid-19 pandemic, employees have realised they have the power to demand more from a potential employer – particularly when it comes to flexibility.

“It is something that employers are much more willing to accommodate now, and that trend is something that I think is very much here to stay,” she explained.

And this is something that SF Group embraces with its own recruitment and retention strategy, having adjusted its model to put the employee firmly at the forefront, something that has seen an increase in staff numbers by 30%.

“The big change was switching in the last couple of years to an employee centric model,” Demmer said.

“And what that means for us is that not only do we have an employee ownership structure where every individual has a real stake in the business – and the sense of purpose and belonging that comes with that – but also, we have put a real focus on individual autonomy. This means people can choose their hours – we allow them to work wherever, whenever, however.”

She continued: “Is it at home? Is it a mixture of both? Is it somewhere completely different? We give them the autonomy to choose what’s needed at that moment in their lives to make things work for them. We really have given that onus to everybody to choose how, when, and the way that they work to make their job as fulfilling as possible.”

“Work/life balance is probably a lot more important for me now”

From the perspective of the employee, Jack Caldwell, a full-stack web developer at e-commerce business, EKM, work/life balance has never meant more than it does currently.

“The pandemic allowed opportunities for remote working, and that was a huge change,” he explained. “Our organisation introduced a remote working policy and having this work/life balance is probably a lot more important for me now than it was when I started working 10 years ago, not least because I’ve got a wife and a daughter. Having the support from my company to spend as much time with them as possible has been a huge thing for me.”

But when it came to choosing EKM in the first place, just over two years ago, it was the organisation’s promotion of its culture, as well as the opportunities for development, that attracted him.

“When I came across EKM and went to their careers page, it was immediately obvious that a lot of the cultural values that they have resonated with me, specifically things to do with them having a learning culture, they want you to improve as an employee or improve your own personal skills,” Caldwell explained.

“And that was something that was really important to me and really stood out. They also have a really impressive working space, something the likes of which you wouldn’t normally see outside London, or even Silicone Valley, and I thought that was really cool, being located in Preston.”

“We’ve learnt so much along the way”

For Alison Payne, People Director at food manufacturer, COOK, offering personal growth and development opportunities is also key – and is at the heart of the organisation’s recruitment and retention strategy.

However, the firm has taken a different approach to tapping into the talent pool, going to great lengths to ensure that opportunities are offered to those who may be struggling to find or get into work.

“We have a scheme called Raw Talent,” she explained. “It was formalised in 2014 and the idea is that we take raw talent and get them ready for work. We reach out to various partners, traditionally it was our local prisons, with the intention of helping and supporting people with barriers to long term employment to come into our workplace. Since it started, we’ve recruited over 100 people, and we’ve revised the scheme and started it again.”

Payne explained that the recruits are offered support, training, and trial shifts, and lastly, after an interview, most get offered a position. But how has the scheme helped COOK as an organisation, not only to fill vacancies, but with its overall HR direction?

“It's been really successful,” Payne explained. “It’s helped us learn about mental health resilience, how to buddy new starters, how to treat people the same as everyone else, and the extra support everyone [in the business] needs at the start of the programme. Let's just say it's helped us in attracting and retaining everybody at COOK and we've learnt so much along the way.”

To enjoy this session in full, see the full recording here.

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