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Leisure Sector Series event review: Attracting, Retaining and Managing Talent

23 May 2019

Attracting and retaining talent can be a tough challenge in the leisure sector, where the average labour turnover rate is thought to be as high as 31%, costing the sector a reported £272m annually.

In the first of a series of leisure sector events, Kuits gathered a panel of experts to discuss how businesses in the leisure and hospitality industry are creating a competitive advantage by investing in their teams to drive performance and retention rates, whilst protecting their revenue against risks such as competitor poaching. In the audience were representatives from a variety of leisure operators from across Manchester and the region.

The event was chaired by Kuits partner and head of employment Kevin McKenna. Advising on all aspects of employment law and providing HR and employee guidance, Kevin works closely with a number of the firm’s leisure clients including bars, restaurants and health clubs.

The panel for the event was:

  • Peter Kinsella, co-founder of Catalonian deli, restaurant and bar Lunya, with restaurants based in Liverpool and Manchester. Alongside his wife Elaine, the couple have developed Lunya into the largest Spanish online food and drink store in the UK.
  • Lyndsay Jones, head of people and talent for The Alchemist Bars & Restaurant, with 15 locations and 900 employees across the UK. The company has featured in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to work for in the last three years.
  • Mairi Probin, employee engagement specialist who established the Employee Engagement function at Iceland Foods and led them to the title of Sunday Times Best Big Company to work for in 2012 and 2014.

The panel on recruitment:

Peter Kinsella: “Strength of recruitment can heavily depend on what bars and restaurants have just closed in the area, and you have to move quickly to secure staff from those places. We have seen that word of mouth works best for filling the more junior posts.

“Unfortunately the lack of a professional attitude from workers in the sector is rife, sometimes you can have eight interviews lined up and only one person will show and sometimes you will get all eight. If you turn up one minute late for an interview with us we will cancel it, punctuality is key for us and sets the tone for what you will be like as an employee.”

Lyndsay Jones: “The Alchemist has seen the same issue as Lunya with no-shows for interviews. We have started offering time-slots rather than specific interview times, for example we may give a four-hour window and tell candidates that whenever they arrive during that time that there will always be somebody to interview them straight away. People in the sector work odd times and offering them flexibility gives them more control, they don’t live rigid lives and so we try and cater for their needs. We tend to offer jobs for junior roles based on personality and fit, as we know we can train them to obtain the necessary skills.

“We have also started to offer currency of kindness, which is where our staff can take a day of every month to go and work voluntary for a charity. This attracts millennials who are looking for more than just a financial incentive to work for us, and it’s had a hugely positive impact on our recruitment drive. We have a saying that we offer a third place for people; staff have their home life, their work life and we like to offer somewhere else. Somewhere they can be themselves, such as volunteering for the less fortunate, with no outside pressure. We also offer birthdays off and also the day after, understanding that working unconventional hours means that just giving staff their birthday off may offer no value to them.”

Mairi Probin: “Listen to the people, that’s always the first step – what do they want?

“Recruitment can be demographic-specific. How do you find and attract people who are happy elsewhere? One idea is to look for good service when going about your everyday life and think, would that person be a good fit for our business? Perhaps offer them a card and the opportunity to talk to you at a future time.

“Some businesses when recruiting have difficulty attracting people and some have difficulty attracting good people. Identifying problems in your recruitment and where you can improve is key.”

The panel on staff retention:

Peter Kinsella: “Our overall spend on salaries has gone up 30% in five years. This is linked to the rise in the national living wage and covers all our staff, not just those in junior roles. We try and get our staff onto salaried contracts rather than hourly rates, currently we have a fifty-fifty split.

“We find it is always human reasons why people stay with us and why they decide to leave. If your culture is strong, that comes from the leadership at the top of the business, and if your culture is poor that also comes from the leadership at the top of the business.”

Lyndsay Jones: “We have started doing exit interviews for all our staff to understand the reasons why they are leaving. For hourly staff, this is a simple online survey and can be completed anonymously. For the amount of people that say pay is an issue, the same amount of people say it isn’t, so it cancels itself out. We find that relocation is the main reason for people leaving the business.

“The Alchemist have 900 staff. The average age of chefs is 30 and they are the lowest turnover of our staff. The average age of our floor staff is 20-22 and they have the highest turnover within the business.”

“We have started to think outside the box when looking to retain chefs. The Alchemist has started chef apprenticeships, giving them a promise that if they progress through the 12 months they will be a chef at the end. We are offering skills for life. Even if they leave after their training it creates good will for the brand; in future years we hope they will look back fondly on The Alchemist as the place that gave them an opportunity and a start. The provider we have partnered with will do all training on site and not at a college, this is what apprentices want. We currently have five across some of our more established sites, we hope to double that to ten next year.”

Mairi Probin: “In such a broad sector, pay isn’t enough for people. 43% of those working in the leisure and hospitality industry want flexibility in their roles and 96% are less likely to leave if they have training and development opportunities. If staff have role models and are encouraged that the leisure sector is professional and can have a career path they are more likely to stay.

“You can build that package to show people you care for them and their future which creates loyalty, or alternatively you can encourage them by saying ‘you may only be here two years but give us your best’.”

The panel on developing and managing talent:

Peter Kinsella: “90% of our managers are promoted from within. This is something we are looking to address and lower, because internal promotions can lead to a loss of focus and sometimes it needs a fresh pair of eyes. You can tend to keep people because of the human element, and you can over perceive a person’s skills by overfamiliarity with them.”

Lyndsay Jones: “I would suggest getting to know your local market. We are currently expanding into new areas and although we may relocate some people internally within the business, we won’t drop an entire team in, we will recruit people in from the area and mix it up. They will bring with them local knowledge, what works well, what doesn’t, and a key insight into that place.

“We want to stop talent bottlenecks, some people may want to stay in the same role for their entire career and will be satisfied with that, others will want to progress and we don’t want to stifle that ambition. Pay is not the biggest motivator as to whether people are content in their roles or not.

“We have changed our appraisal system to quarterly rather than annually, with conversations looking ahead to the next three months. We ask questions of them such as do they get bored when it’s a quieter period, or are the scared of progression if they have not put themselves forwards for opportunities.”

Mairi Probin: “It can make it easier for managers to hold people back in their roles who might want to progress within other areas of the business because it might create a headache for them if they move elsewhere.

“Bringing in people into management roles externally can create resentment as some staff who have been there for a period of time may think it is their right to be promoted, even if they don’t have the requisite skills.”

Kuits’ next Leisure Series event, entitled The Changing Landscape of Leisure, will be held on Tuesday 25th June at Cloudwater Brew Co (Brewery Tap Room) in Manchester, for more information and to book a place please click HERE.


About the Series

Kuits are leisure specialists, advising hundreds of bars, restaurants, health clubs, hotels and other businesses in this booming sector across the UK.

Seminars are hosted twice a year and aim to bring together leisure management teams in order to learn, network and share expertise.

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