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Let's focus on retention

By Kris Hall, Founder of The Burnt Chef Project

At the start of 2021 I had planned to write a blog calling 2021 the year for retention. Unfortunately I didn’t end up publishing it but I feel now, 12 months on, it's even more relevant today than it was back in January 2021.

If you are a business owner or manager in hospitality today, you know only too well the recruitment and resource crisis we currently find ourselves in. Let’s start by putting some data together on this subject so that this doesn’t just become the ramblings of a passionate advocate of the hospitality career:


I’ve pulled a number of stats from various reports throughout this article from across the globe to help reinforce the importance of putting people and workplace wellbeing first. A study by Deputy in December 2020 detailed findings from a 2018 online YouGov survey of more than 1,000 employees within the hospitality Great British hospitality sector detailed that:

The UK hospitality sector is the third biggest private sector employer in the UK with more than 2.9 million employees and according to the Deputy report, the UK hospitality sector has a staff retention rate of 70% which is well below the national average of 85% when compared to other sectors. This means that three out of ten workers employed in the sector will leave their role within the first 12 months.

The report states that those figures equated to hospitality staff turnover of rates of 30% percent which is double that of the UK average of 15%. An article written in America’s 7 Shifts Magazine said that the turnover rate for quick service restaurants is nearer to 123% with an average tenure of just 56 days. This means that the number of team members who leave in one year outnumbers the average number of staff in the entire restaurant. That’s like replacing 31 employees when your average workforce size for the year is 25.

Over the last 24 months The Burnt Chef Project has worked with businesses in the UK and have found that the figures aren’t too dissimilar with turnover rates in some cases in excess of 135%. These figures have remained largely unchanged over the last 2 - 3 years.

The cost of Turnover and poor workplace wellbeing:

Net operating profits within an average restaurant business can be anywhere between 3 -5% (The Average Restaurant Profit Margin and How to Increase Yours ( When we start to look at the rising costs associated with turnover ranging as much as £/$ 5,864 per employee (Cornell Hospitality Report/The Burnt Chef Project data) it’s an area that any business owner or leader needs to be more aware of and take steps to reduce.

A report in 2015 by People1st revealed the high turnover rates in hospitality lead to skill gaps that leave hospitality businesses 58% less productive per employee than those in other sectors like manufacturing.

A report conducted in partnership with The Burnt Chef Project by Peopleful showed that presenteeism, the inverse of productivity, showed higher than average and accounted for 18.8% of those surveyed. The report showed that there is an estimated £500 lost per person, per month, as a result of presenteeism which further indicates one of the biggest long-term risks to both individuals and businesses in our sector is staff wellbeing and addressing the stigma surrounding mental health and workplace wellbeing.

These stats make for interesting reading and there will be some people out there who chalk this down to being “just the way things are within hospitality”. However, there are many low-cost preventative measures that can, and should, be implemented. There is a great opportunity to improve retention provided we understand the reasons behind it.

Getting to the Root Cause

The good news is that 62% of the 1006 employees surveyed in the Deputy report showed that those who currently work in the hospitality leisure sector believe it's possible to have a long career in the sector however the report shows quite interesting stats namely that:

  • 63% said that they would be less likely to leave if they had better paying benefits

  • 55% said that more control over work life and shift patterns were required

  • 52% said more stable income and guaranteed hours

  • 42% said better career prospects and training

To further support these stats The Burnt Chef Project’s “All Hands on Deck Survey” which finished in July 2021 and was designed to explore the issues around staffing within the hospitality sector showed that majority of the 2,143 respondents when asked what changes would improve recruitment and retention in hospitality, said, ”feeling valued”. Unsociable and unpredictable hours were a barrier to one in five, whilst salary and stressful working environments were also frequently cited barriers (one third).

With stats like these, it may be difficult to see the wood for the trees but realistically if we were to implement strategies to increase retention by just 5% the sector would reduce the number of departing employees by over 225,000 and businesses would see operating profits gradually increase as productivity, cultures and health of their team improves (Deputy).
Steps to Improve Retention:

Whilst pay has begun to increase within hospitality, we need to start looking beyond monetary benefits to tackle other barriers to retention. Here are some simple things that you can do to build a structure that is conducive to reducing turnover and improving workplace wellbeing within your business:

Stop any contact out of working hours

One of the biggest reasons we hear, during our training sessions, for elevated stress and dissatisfaction results from being contacted outside of normal working hours. With many businesses increasingly using communication tools such as WhatsApp for business communication it means that often it’s difficult to fully ‘switch off’ after a busy shift or week.

There should be limited-to-no reasons that any employee should be contacted about work matters outside of their normal working hours.

In fact, in Belgium, new laws designed to protect workers against overworking and burnout have introduced a “Right to Disconnect” so that Civil Servants have the legal right to ignore calls and messages from their employers outside normal working hours.

Portugal has recently passed new labour laws which include a ban on bosses contacting employees outside of working hours.

Ireland also issued a new code of practice to employers in April 2021 that decreed all employees had a right to switch off from work at the end of the day and not be expected to carry out work-related demands in their free time. This includes any communications with managers or colleagues, and employers cannot penalise workers if they refuse their demands to attend to work matters in their free time.

Introduce Regular 1:1 Reviews

Often reviews in hospitality are met with scepticism and anxiety as they tend to have negative connotations to them. This isn’t because performance reviews are bad, in fact it’s quite the opposite, rather it’s to do with the infrequency and format that they are used in.

Regular reviews can improve retention and workplace wellbeing by:

  • Highlighting training needs. Introducing more frequent reviews, whether formal or informal, can help to better understand the skillset of employees and work with them on career progression.

  • Boosts morale. Everyone likes being told they’re doing a good job. Performance reviews provide the perfect setting to formalise and document praise.

  • Helps with identifying the right employees for promotion. Regular reviews are a great way to better understand the performance of your employees and their suitability for promotion.

  • Supports workforce planning. Frequent reviews with employees as part of a wider performance management strategy can also help with workforce planning.

  • Provides feedback to the manager on ways to improve both workplace and management style.

Regular Training

Training may seem like an added expense but in many cases using training to upskill your workforce will improve their resilience during peak service times as well as dramatically increase self-worth and morale.

Providing managers with training on mental health, diversity, effective communication, coaching and emotional intelligence are also great ways to directly benefit the entire workforce to ensure that it’s both inclusive and conducive to great workplace wellbeing and support.

Stress Risk Assessments

“Stress risk wha….?!” In the UK employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it. The reality is that over 90% of businesses we have spoken to do not realise that this is a legal requirement.

Whilst fulfilling legal duties is paramount in any industry, a stress risk assessment is much more than that and will provide continuous benefits to both business P&L and, equally as important, team wellbeing. As a result, this directly contributes to employee retention.

There are six main areas that can lead to work-related stress if they are not managed properly. These are: demands, control, support, relationships, role and change.

For example, workers may say that they:

  • are not able to cope with the demands of their jobs

  • are unable to control the way they do their work

  • don't receive enough information and support

  • are having trouble with relationships at work, or are being bullied

  • don't fully understand their role and responsibilities

  • are not engaged when a business is undergoing change

Stress affects people differently – what stresses one person may not affect another. Factors like skills and experience, age or disability may all affect whether a worker can cope.

By completing a stress risk assessment you’ll be able to build structures, policies and skills that directly tackle workplace stress and begin to improve the health of the workplace.

For a personalised copy of The Burnt Chef Project Stress Audit please contact us on

Policies and Procedures

In-line with some of the points above it’s critical that business owners and leaders take a zero tolerance approach to any behaviour that leaves a member of their team feeling discriminated against, bullied or isolated.

If you haven’t implemented both training and policies in these areas then now would be a good time to start. By introducing clear policies that all staff are aware of, you are drawing a clear line in the sand and an expectation that negative attitudes and behaviours aren’t to be tolerated within the workplace and providing education as to the impact on both business and the individual.

If you require guidelines on writing mental health policies please do contact us and we can share resources.

In Summary

These are just a few low cost ways in which you can look to improve your retention but it’s important to recognise that this is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s likely to take some time for the full impact of any changes you make within your organisation but the key is consistency, honesty and transparency.

If you have any ways in which you’ve improved your retention or would like to learn more about what we do at The Burnt Chef Project and how we may be able to help you please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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