MA Leaders Club

Coronavirus pandemic ‘sped up recruitment challenge’

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Employee plan: staffing just one key issue for operators amid reopening (image: Getty/farakos)
Employee plan: staffing just one key issue for operators amid reopening (image: Getty/farakos)

Related tags Training Multi-site pub operators Brewhouse and Kitchen Stonegate

Recruitment was already challenging due to factors such as Brexit, but the coronavirus crisis has escalated matters further according to one operator.

Leading businesses discussed the challenges around retaining and recruiting staff, outlining how they were dealing with it.

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During The Morning Advertiser’s​ recently rebranded MA Leaders Club conference today (Thursday 13 May), Stonegate Group director of HR operations Nina Marshall highlighted the importance of mental health and how the company has kept an eye on the wellbeing of its teams.

“There’s been a lot of talk about mental health issues and furlough masking people’s desire to return to work," she said.

“That is true but the conversation about mental health is becoming quieter because it’s helping being back in the workplace, at all levels, so that’s great.

“Physical return back to work is people are getting used to change their routines, particularly for field based who are on the road five days a week. It’s been very positive.”

When it came to the number of employees the company had lost, Marshall stated the number was lower than predicted.

Background work

She added: “We’ve lost less than we expected. If this percentage plays out of the course of the next wave of sites reopening then I’ll be delighted but a lot of that has been hard work on our behalf to move people around.

“Such as student employees going home and not staying in university towns, we have done a lot of background work to move people into other sites. That has alleviated some of the loss. We have lost people due to Brexit and that’s unavoidable.

“We did a lot to engage our teams through the year and that’s probably gone some way to retain our employees.”

Brewhouse & Kitchen had a high return to work rate (92%) following national lockdowns and closure periods.

Head of people and learning Hayley Connor laid out how the business had strategically reopened and how that impacted staff and customers.

She said: “The difference was at Christmas time we hadn’t built up a team like we usually would over that Christmas period so when we went into the January lockdown we were at a much lower base than in the first lockdown.

“We haven’t opened every single site and the way we have clustered our sites, we have been able to fill in.

“We have seen a massive demand from guests, which his absolutely brilliant but when you’re going into your busiest, record breaking weeks, that’s been different.

“We are continuing to do what we were doing before, keep in touch, regular one to ones to touch base.”

Brexit effect

Connor went on to explain how Brexit has impacted the recruitment side of the business alongside team members leaving the sector altogether.

She added: “Recruitment would have been a challenge without the pandemic, with Brexit, but the outcome has sped up.

“We have seen a displacement of team so where some team were on furlough, they’ve got second jobs and some of them, not all, have decided to stay in retail.

“[For the] European team, which instead of being on furlough, they have migrated back to home to be closer to their families.

“People have reassessed what they want from life and maybe they don’t want the 70 hour weeks any more, they’ve had time to have a think. This has intensified that we need to solve it now.

“While there are challenges out there there’s also a hell of a lot of opportunity for recruitment.”

These comments were echoed by staffing app Stint hospitality operations managing director Karina Coen.

She said: “This has created an opportunity to reach out in a way awe wouldn’t have been able to previously.

“The Stint model is not about solving in a reactive way it is about solving in the planning process. It’s all about that age-old conundrum between work load demand and satisfying it.”

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