Hold on to who you’ve got

It is perhaps the biggest problem facing owners and managers at present. It has been bad for years and COVID only made it worse. The problem is staff. Not just getting people with the appropriate skills but holding on to them. Staff retention in hospitality is the worst amongst all Australian industries with a turnover rate close to 20% per annum. While we work hard to make the best and most attractive workplace, it is sometimes important to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand what makes the people who work for, and with us, tick.​

The biggest cause of staff turnover is pay. If an employee feels like they aren’t being paid for the work they are doing, that some other staff members are being paid more, or there is another similar job elsewhere with more dollars attached, many people will walk. Keeping wages competitive is one way to keep staff, but there are many other actions we can take to keep the best people on your team. 

New recruits will walk when there are unclear job expectations. If a new worker finds themselves in a different world compared to the one described during the hiring process they will become disengaged and unhappy. According to a recent Gallup report, just 15% of employees are actively engaged, 54% are disengaged and the rest are unhappy. During the interview process make sure you actively and accurately describe the working conditions, pay, leave and job description. While it is great to have a valuable person signing on, it is essential they are going to be the right person for the job. This also means they are the right fit. They need to have the right qualifications and experience. Chefs and managers walk when they are promoted too quickly or moved into a position they are not trained to work in. Same with new staff. They need to have the right training, qualifications and experience to be the square peg to fit that square hole. 

Longer-term staff career pathways should be transparent and obvious. If a staff member can see a well-trodden path from busboy to room manager to a senior position, then they are more likely to stay on board. Also, employment enrichment can be used as a retention tool. It can be a cost to business but so is hiring and training new staff. It could be a trip to a food grower for the kitchen team or a visit to a local brewery for the bar staff. Some big restaurants offer overseas tours of Michelin restaurants when chefs reach the five-year mark. Constant expert training and industry events help create career recognition and give employees a sense of purpose and identity within the industry. 

A bad manager is something to be on the lookout for. While the bad manager may work well with superiors, they may not have the skills or training to handle the team under them. Conflict may go unresolved and tensions may build over small matters such as roster hours and weekend work. Stats show that hospo businesses with employee feedback hold staff longer. This could be as complicated as a feedback form or as casual as asking staff how everyone is getting along. 

Flexibility is something that can work both ways. Casual staff can love the ability to ask for certain days if that suits an employer, but when rosters are sporadic and don’t fit a pattern people can feel put out. Again, the days that are to be worked should be outlined when discussing job expectations. 

Not all things go to plan. So clear communications are essential to making sure staff know of any changes in working hours, conditions, expectations, management etc. Knowledge is power but being kept in the dark is disempowering. A knowledge vacuum is when speculation and destructive gossip develop in a business – so keep staff informed. 

Not all staff are fit for purpose so it’s good to have strategies and policies to let staff go per industrial laws. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch, so let them go as quickly as possible. When good staff depart it’s important to recognise their service with some public display of recognition so all staff can see that hard work is rewarded. 

The best recipe for happy staff is a positive and enjoyable workplace run by motivated and reasonable owners and managers. That is sometimes a big order, but this is a business about making people happy to be serving good food and drink.

As seen in Summer 23/24

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Bidfood Australias appetiser 2023 year in review magazine includes australias best bar and how to handle the press. The magazine frontpage image features a dusted rim cocktail topped with half a green jalapeño on a vivid canary yellow table cloth.