Marketing Matters - The Brexit Effect

The Brexit Effect: I’ve had a number of businesses contact me with questions around Brexit, and particularly with marketing for recruitment and staff retention. Here’s my guide to overcoming the hopefully short-term Brexit impact with less overseas workers coming in and lower training quality with local hires. 

For me, overcoming any recruitment challenge is about two things; being your own PR and marketing expert to attract the right staff in the first place, and having good leadership and staff practices to keep them once you have them. I know that many will be apathetic about yet another mention of Brexit, so while this is a great guide for the current economic fluctuations, I actually believe this is a great guide for recruitment anyway.

As an industry, we are notorious for seeking and recruiting overseas workers who are believed to be harder workers, more loyal and more adept at customer service than their local counterparts. As with any stereotype there is an element of truth in here somewhere, but that’s not to say that you can’t recruit locally, nor than Brexit will mean the demise of our workforce. I am not an expert on the economy, immigration or on Brexit and I can’t tell you how long the Brexit effect with last, nor how large it will be, but what I do believe in is being proactive to minimise risk and being as prepared as possible to capitalise on any opportunities that come our way. They say that luck is when opportunity meets preparedness, which sounds like a pretty good mantra to me. 

So, what can you do to maximise your chance of success? It turns out there’s a lot, and half the time businesses are taking the actions, but they are forgetting to tell current and potential workforces what they are doing!

First focus on retention:

The fastest and most effective way of overcoming the Brexit effect and stabilising your workforce is to focus on keeping the quality staff you have already got. I know that many European employees are worried about their ability to travel and their future right to stay in the UK, but I am a firm believer that it’ll be alright on the night – we’ll find a way of enabling foreign nationals to work in industries where they are needed, because otherwise our economy will falter or even stop. There will however be more competition for the same workers that are staying behind, so you need to make sure you’re retaining them first and foremost. My tips for retention include:

  • Investing: invest in them and invest in their leaders. People that feel appreciated, valued and well managed are more loyal than those that aren’t. Training, performance related pay rises, clear progression plans and good managerial development should definitely be your focus. Approach the local college, university or business hub to see what training is available and how you can get involved, and work with other employers in the area to improve on-the-job training so that employees aren’t poached. Identify how and when your team can progress up the ranks (if they want to), and be clear about the benchmarks and expectations. Make sure you’re also investing in the management team; having good operational skills does not mean you are automatically a good people manager, so don’t forget to train their leader too. If you’re really worried about the investment and retention in the short term, you can always add a payback clause into their contracts so they pay back a percentage of the costs if they leave too quickly after training. 
  • Communicating: It’s no good doing something unless people know you are doing it. Look at how you can communicate any changes, keep your staff in the loop and remember to recognise and acknowledge their good work. 
  • Consulting: It is funny how few businesses and managers meaningful consult their teams before making changes that might affect them. Every team is different so if you have a challenge you need to tackle, consult with them and find out how they would like to resolve it. You might not be able to adopt every idea, but giving employees’ ownership of the ideas helps to get them on board once they are implemented too.

Then turn your attention to attracting the right staff:

Ultimately, you are looking for good, quality staff and it doesn’t really matter whether they come from the local area, the wider country, or from overseas. The main challenge of Brexit is that it may slow or stop the influx of European workers and encourage the outflow of workers who are already here, but it won’t impact the international influx. What’s more every potential worker will have a ‘sweet spot’ for something that helps them to overcome the current uncertainty and join you as an employee. That’s why you need to think through your recruitment process properly. My top tips include: 

  • Evaluate and overcome the challenges. Don’t assume that you know what potential employees are looking for, and don’t be frightened of the cost to attract them because if they’re good, they will repay you threefold. Ask what employees are looking for and what they are uncertain about and then create packages to attract the different audiences. Visa costs and conditions might be one factor; relocation costs another; the language barrier; the costs and time involved in taking a trip home. What can you afford to offer and how can you help to overcome these to support your future workforce? Don’t opt for one size fits all either – different markets might want different things so consider having a ‘package builder’ at your disposal to find the right perks for the right people. 
  • Share and communicate your policies and successes. I’ve met a lot of great employers who struggle to get applicants and half the time it’s because they assume people know how special they are. I bet your website doesn’t have a single page that tells potential employees why they might like to work for you, or tells them how and why you excel? Most don’t, but you can support your recruitment by adding a page that includes your policies and procedures, feedback from current staff, demonstrates clear progression opportunities and recognises those who do well for you. Most businesses view their website as a customer portal, but don’t underestimate the value of supporting your employees too, and if the customers see it, it’ll likely just reinforce your reputation as a great provider anyway.  
  • Consider changing your recruitment policy and practices. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told this is a young person’s industry and while I appreciate there is some truth in this thanks to the antisocial hours and the strain involved in some of the work, there’s plenty that can be done if you can be more flexible about your policies. Career changers, returners to work, boomers, early retirees, all can have a value if you can be flexible enough, and many are happy to work evenings and weekends as long as they get time off elsewhere.  Think about job shares, adapted job descriptions, shorter shifts and adapting different roles to different people to allow you to utilise those who have experience and will work hard, but might not be as physically capable as their younger counterparts.
  • Ask for employee recommendations. Approach friends, ask your employees for introductions, share your passion and love of the industry with local schools and colleges and do what you can to inspire. You never know who might reach you if you ask other people for recommendations!.

Finally, future proof where you can:

  • Train equally. Don’t make the mistake of investing in only your best person, just because you have the most to gain in the short-term. Try to train and upskill across the board so that if you do have someone leave, they don’t leave the rest of your team rudderless because they had the most skills. Try to make sure multiple people have the same skills, and try to rotate people through different roles so that a) they don’t get bored and b) so multiple people have experience in each role. 
  • Automate where you can. We’re a customer service industry and I get that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reduce the demand for resource in certain areas of the business, to reduce the total reliance on staff. What processes can you minimise – adding check-in and door keys via mobile phone for example, or enabling self-check-in, electronic table bookings so people can book themselves on. Anything and everything that can be digitised for those customers who want to make use of them is a great way to free up resource. My fellow article author Deborah Heather included a great piece on a hotel & leisure centre in Jersey who has had to automate due to employee licenses, and there’s a lot that can be learned from that case study!

I’ll leave you with one final point about recruitment strategies: know your local unemployment base figures. Local unemployment figures have a direct impact on the ability to recruit so for example if you have less than 5% unemployment the potential employee pool is smaller locally and you will have to have a really good career path, training and remuneration package and look further afield.  

About Angie Petkovic
Our very own MD Angie, who in her free time is also long term resident to Hotel Owner's very own Agony Aunt panel on all things hospitality and marketing. Writing a quarterly article tackling issues in the industry and offering specialist advice with her 25+ experience, she knows just about all the in's and out's of everything in the leisure industry, reminding hoteliers and sales managers that if there is a will, theres a way!

Read more of Angie's articles on Hotel Owner here...

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