Employment law

How to attract and retain staff

How to attract and retain staff, image of a freelancer at a job interview | Crunch


    If you’re struggling to recruit and keep good staff and freelancers, it might be time to take a look at your recruitment process to see if there are any improvements you could make.

    A study of employee turnover suggested that, between the lost output of losing a staff member and physically recruiting a new worker, the average cost of replacing staff sat at £11,000 per person. That figures could be anywhere between £40,000 to £100,000 for senior staff members. Yikes.

    Staff are an expensive investment, but they’re also your biggest asset. The way you treat your staff has a direct effect on their productivity - get the whole picture right, and your business can flourish.

    Hiring your first employee guide

    Job adverts

    A job advert might well be the first time someone has encountered your company. That means it’s an advert not only for the role you’re looking to fill but the business as a whole. Making sure you’re happy with the way you’re presenting yourself is a key component of any job advert.

    Job descriptions and person specifications should be concise and well-defined to help you identify which applicants are best suited to your needs. Make sure your adverts are asking the right questions of your candidates and gives them a reason to want to come and work for your company. If you’re not getting many applicants, or if the ones that are coming forward aren’t what you’re looking for, review your ad and consider whether you’re advertising in the most appropriate places.

    Finally, when you recruit staff, you need to make sure you’re recruiting them under the correct employment status, complete with their appropriate employment rights. Your job adverts must not be discriminatory (on race, age, sex, or physical fitness grounds).

    Salary levels and benefits

    Let’s not make any bones about it – when we open a job advert, our eyes are more than likely travelling between the location and the wages before anything else. If you’re not offering a competitive wage or an enticing roster of benefits, you’re setting yourself up for a fall.

    Ultimately, salaries and benefits are a great motivator, and you have to know how to strike the best balance. Paying slightly more may attract better candidates that need less intensive management, but will it keep them motivated in the long-term? Perhaps pay is less important than flexible working hours or holiday time. Every role you advertise will be different, so keep an open mind.

    Look around at the industry norms – are you matching them, surpassing them, falling short? What about training? Can you offer in-house training, and how attractive can you make it sound? No-one wants to think they’ll turn up on day one, take their seat and be left to figure it all themselves, after all.

    If you’re hiring a freelancer or a contractor, you’ll need to be sure you’re treating them properly. It’s easier than you might think to just leave them to their own devices and focus more on your full-time employees, but that’s not going to reap many benefits in the long run. Communicate with them – let them know what you’re expecting from them, offer them the support they need, integrate them into your team (as much as freelancers can be) and, above all else, pay them on time.

    Application form and admin

    So, the advert is almost ready to go. Only one thing remains – how are you judging their suitability for the role? Is a CV enough to give you the information you need, or might an application form or a practical task offer the insight you’re looking for?

    Consider the skills you’re looking for and judge each application carefully. Ask your hopefuls to explain why they think they’re a fit and what they can offer – do the answers match up with the qualities you asked for in your advert?

    You’ll also need a process in place to judge these applications. Who’s responsible for receiving, shortlisting and responding to them? You could always try to streamline the process by dividing those jobs among other people, or should you handle it all yourself? You know what you’re looking for, after all. Be mindful of complying with GDPR legislation by making sure all the job applicants have access to a copy of your Job Applicant Privacy Notice.


    The applications are pouring in and it’s time to start drawing up a shortlist of candidates. Some employers like to shortlist people with scores beside them – perhaps a 1-10 scale, where anyone who falls in the 7-10 bracket is interview quality. Of course, the parameters of any scale or scoring system will depend on how many people apply. If you get 100 applicants and 50 of them are in your 7-10 bracket, maybe you only need to look at the 9-10’s.

    It’s usually recommended that at least two people compile the shortlist. Bouncing ideas and concerns off one another will help hammer out an effective, clear and concise list of candidates. Any more than two and you’re entering “too many cooks” territory, so don’t go overboard when asking for opinions.

    One trap employers fall into is shortlisting people based on the people who are already in your company. You need to be sure you’re not shortlisting people just because they’re like the people who already work for you – what’s the point in bringing someone in if they’re only offering the same skill sets and personality traits you have already? New employees are a chance to change and shake-up your team, so look out for applicants with skills your current crop lacks, or that can complement what you have without being a direct copy.


    Now that your shortlist is brimming with talent, it’s time to get down to brass tacks. Interviews can be tricky for both interviewer and interviewee, so you need to consider how you can mitigate the concerns, fears and traps they sometimes contain.

    Are there any tests you could carry out to test an interviewee’s attitude, flexibility, or how they align with your values? Situational questions such as “How would you respond if the following issue arose at work?” can be a good indicator.

    Remember, the recruitment process isn’t just about assessing candidates; it’s about selling your company. Ensure you highlight the benefits of working for the company and the job itself. Offer them a drink, don’t probe or unsettle them, and treat them like the decent human being they surely are. First impressions are crucial, for both sides – consider how you stand out against your competitors and the sort of mark you make on them.

    Consider, also, what impression the interview location offers the candidate. If you’re conducting your interview in a pub when your office is just around the corner, are you giving off the right impression? If you are using your company’s offices for the interview, is the room neat and tidy, well lit and pleasant to be in?

    If you’ve got the opportunity, a quick tour of the premises wouldn’t go amiss, either. Introduce them to the members of the team they’ll be working with and gauge their interest – of course, there’ll be some shyness as they wander around an unfamiliar location populated entirely by strangers, but do they like what they see?

    There are also a number of legal considerations that you’ll need to recognise. You can’t ask discriminatory questions at the interview about age, retirement, relationships, having children (whether now or in the future), disability, health, weight, race, religion, sex or sexuality.

    Finally, you can ask them for their feedback on the interview and their opinions on the place now they’ve had the tour. Gauge their interest in the job and see how they’re feeling about the prospect of joining you all.

    Job offers, contracts and handbooks

    Your first concern with job offers, contracts and handbooks is making sure they’re all up to date and legally compliant. You don’t want to have gone through all the hard work of finding your perfect candidate and make a colossal blunder just before it’s all said and done.

    Do they cover everything your business needs your staff to know about, i.e. your obligations to them and theirs to you?

    When it comes to inductions, it can be useful to assign a “buddy” to your new employee to help them get up speed. Some staff enjoy this strategy, and others find it a little stifling. Will it work here, or do you perhaps nominate someone to host an induction meeting? These questions will largely be answered by the role your newcomer is filling and the staff you already have at your disposal.

    Probationary reviews and appraisals

    A probationary period usually lasts three months. Those 12 weeks offer you the chance to test or observe your new employee’s ability and suitability for a new role. These usually end with a summary of how the employer thinks they’ve done, what they’ve done well and what they need to work on.Some employers prefer to host probationary reviews throughout the probation period. Are you holding your meetings at the end of the three months only, or at the end of each month? Will the latter offer your new employee more support and guidance, or is it better to give them some space?You also need to be sure you’re offering the right format for these probationary meetings or appraisals. Are you giving them the chance to review their time here, too?

    Management and communication

    You need to be clear what the responsibilities, goals and objectives are for your staff or freelancers/contractors. Are they reachable targets? Are you reviewing these regularly?

    One of the main reasons employees leave companies is a feeling of under-appreciation. Are you recognising their work, congratulating them for their achievements and showing them some gratitude? A survey in 2014 found that 58% of British workers didn’t believe they were thanked enough at work – over half claimed it made them feel unappreciated, and 41% said they felt demotivated as a result.

    You also need to remember the importance of sharing information with your employees: plans for the future growth and development of the business, the challenges you’re overcoming and the opportunities you’re taking advantage of. Employees want to know that they’re working for a company that’s developing and pushing on – stagnation isn’t motivational. Are you giving employees the opportunity to raise their concerns and suggestions, too? Their feedback could improve aspects of the business you hadn’t even thought of.

    Departures and debrief

    It’s inevitable that people will leave your company eventually – nothing lasts forever, after all. But why are they leaving? Are you conducting exit interviews to gauge their reasons for leaving? Sometimes they’re leaving for unavoidable reasons – they just need a change of scenery, they’re moving cities or chasing a dream career. Sometimes they’ve been offered more money and greater benefits. Sometimes they’ve fallen out with their manager or no longer feel the company is serving their interests.

    If money was the problem, perhaps your wages are no longer competitive. If they’ve lost faith in your business model, perhaps it’s time to reconsider the direction your company is heading in. There are lessons to be learned no matter what the reason.

    Look for patterns and common themes. If everyone is reporting an issue with the same colleagues or line manager, or that wages aren’t as competitive as they should be, the problems are clear. Hear them out, fix what you can, and learn what lessons you can to benefit the rest of your employees.

    If you are an employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issues then talk to Lesley at The HR Kiosk – a Human Resources Consultancy for small businesses – our fees are low to reflect the pressures on small businesses and you can hire us for as much time as you need.

    Please note that the advice given on this website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.