The importance of employee retention



18 May 2021


The UK has now passed another important milestone on the road to economic recovery, with new sectors unlocking indoor spaces to customers for the first time in many months.

Yet not all business that could reopen have done so. 

Many are still hampered by social distancing requirements which make reopening uneconomic.  And there have also been several stories in the local and national media over the last 24 hours alone of businesses that want to reopen, but just haven’t been able to find the trained staff to enable that to happen.

The problems here largely stem from the length of the pandemic.  Many people have been unable to work for so long that they have had little choice but to retrain and/or start work elsewhere.  And others - particularly those originally from outside of the UK - may have returned home to the financial and emotional support network of their families. 

But whatever the reason, the result is that employers in several sectors - and in particular hotel, hospitality, and the farming industry – are genuinely struggling to find experienced staff despite the significant rise in unemployment and state benefit claimants over the course of the pandemic to date.


This may surprise many readers. 

Jobs in the above sectors are routinely classed by some sections of the media as “low skilled”, and it presumably follows in the minds of many that recruiting for such roles in a period of increased unemployment should be relatively easy. 

But the reality is that there are very few jobs in 21st Century Britain that don’t require at least some skills, experience, training, monitoring, and on-going development.  And some jobs are only available with the successful completion of prior professional qualifications and/or candidate screening too.

And even when a vacancy is quickly filled, there remains a learning-curve during which the recruited employee is unlikely to be working at optimum productivity.  Research from Oxford Economics back in 2014 suggested that this applies to all new hires, but takes much longer for those who have recently been long-term unemployed or economically inactive.  And the truth is that this last category will capture so many of the workforce now returning to the labour market after more than a year of COVID-19 induced inactivity.

Retention is important

So even in a significant economic downturn employers may struggle to recruit themselves quickly out of a staff shortage.  And of course the nation’s better-paid jobs (which often require far more experience and a greater number of professional qualifications too) may be even more difficult to replace quickly.

It follows that employers and their HR professionals need to remain mindful of the need to improve employee retention in the currently difficult economic environment. 

The good news is that employee retention is just so much easier and cheaper to deliver than new recruitment, and minimises business interruption, training costs, and the loss of productivity too.

There are of course many aspects to good retention statics, but one of the keys is to ensure that every single worker feels part of the business, appreciated, and above all well-supported in as many facets of their working and personal lives as possible.

It follows that a regular and effective communications strategy will often help drive home the benefits of working for a company, and will ensure that employees are aware of all the support functions available to them.  And revisiting the Employee Benefits offering to ensure that every facet of that works to the advantage of employee and employer alike is certainly recommended as part of this process.

So I would strongly encourage UK employers to think retention before recruitment in the months immediately ahead.  Of course recruiting quality candidates remains really important for any organisation, but right now retaining talent – regardless of pay-grade – must be the key focus of the day.  And Employee Benefits could and should be a major component of that approach.

For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options. For the latest details on COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision please visit our coronavirus hub.

(Published 18/05/21)

Steve Herbert

Steve Herbert

Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.

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