Staff retention problems? Time to rethink your recruitment process

Posted on Jul 3rd, 2017 | Employment law

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 2014 study found that the average cost of replacing a member of staff when they leave is more than £30,000, with two main factors making up the cost:

  • Lost output while the replacement employee becomes productive (on average it takes 12-24 weeks in smaller companies to reach optimum productivity)
  • Physically recruiting and absorbing a new worker, including advertising costs and agency fees, time to do interviews and admin, and hiring temporary replacements.

As a small business owner, you have control of every aspect of how your business operates. The way you treat your staff has a direct effect on their productivity – and on your own profitability and effectiveness. Staff are an expensive investment, but they’re also your biggest asset. Get the whole picture right (hopefully at the first attempt!) and your business can flourish.

Fed up of the nine to five? Find out more about working for yourself.

Some areas of your recruitment process you can look to review are:

Job adverts

  • Is the style of your advert right for your company, and does it represent how you want to appear?
  • Is the job description/person specification tight enough to indicate what you absolutely need in candidates (which you can use to shortlist)?
  • Does the advert ask the right questions to attract the right candidates, and does it enthuse them about the company?
  • Where do you advertise, and is this the most appropriate place?
  • Are you recruiting staff with the correct employment status and giving them their full employment rights?

Salary levels and benefits

  • Are you offering the right benefits to motivate the type of staff you employ?
  • Is the salary level correct? Paying slightly more may attract better candidates that need less intensive management (but will it keep them motivated in the long term?). Or is pay less important than time off (offer more holiday) or work-life balance (allow flexible working)?
  • What training is attractive to candidates and crucial for you?
  • What is your industry norm for benefits, and can you do better?
  • If you’re employing freelancers or contractors, do you treat them well, properly communicate with them about their project, and pay them on time? Integrate them into your team and ensure the rest of your staff know what the freelancer is there to do. Read our advice on working well with freelancers here.

Application form and admin

  • Is a CV enough? An application form may be a better tool to shortlist with – as long as the form captures everything you need from candidates before the interview
  • Consider what skills and qualities you’re looking for carefully. Ask them to explain why they’re a good fit for your company
  • Who’s responsible for receiving applications, shortlisting, and generating replies/invites/feedback/rejections? Can this be streamlined i.e. bits of the job given to other people, or automated to save you time?


  • Do you have a shortlisting sheet to consistently ‘score’ candidates? If so, how many people do the shortlisting? Two people is usually recommended
  • On average, how many people do you shortlist – is this too much or not enough?
  • Don’t recruit in your or your teams’ own image. Consider candidates with slightly different skills that you or your team currently lack, as they may complement and enhance existing skills.


  • Are there any tests you could carry out (not necessarily practical ones) to test things like attitude, flexibility, or how they align with your values?
  • The recruitment process isn’t just about assessing candidates; it’s about selling your company. Ensure you tell them of the highlights of your organisation and the job itself. First impressions are crucial, so consider how you stand out against your competitors
  • Consider what impression the interview and location give the candidates (i.e. avoid interruptions, make sure you’re running on time). The location doesn’t have to be your office/premises
  • If appropriate, do you give them a quick tour of your premises/introduce them to others when they come for interview to gauge their interest and enthusiasm?
  • Make sure you don’t ask questions that are illegal! You can’t ask discriminatory questions at the interview about age, retirement, relationship status, having children (now or in the future), disability, health, weight, race, religion, sex or sexuality
  • Do you ask them for their feedback at the end of the interview and ask if they’re still interested in the job?

Job offers, contracts and handbooks

  • Are they up to date and legally compliant?
  • Do they cover everything your business needs staff to know (your obligations and theirs)?
  • Do you nominate one person to do each new starters’ induction? Are they the right person?
  • Do you need a ‘buddy’ system for new starters (some staff enjoy this strategy)?

Probationary Reviews And Appraisals

  • How often do you do these? Every month or just at the end of the probationary period? A quick monthly review is better to solve any problems quickly
  • Are you using the right format and providing a meaningful system for all those involved (rather than just box ticking/form filling boredom)?

Management and communication

  • Are you setting out clear responsibilities, goals and objectives for staff and freelancers? Are these being reviewed regularly enough?
  • Are you doing enough to recognise good work? In a 2014 survey by a recruitment website, more than 58% of British workers didn’t believe they were thanked enough at work. Over half said this made them feel unappreciated and 41% said they felt demotivated as a result
  • Are you sharing your business’ plans, challenges and opportunities? Do employees have the opportunity to provide feedback about their work and share their own ideas for improvement in all aspects of your business?


  • Do you conduct exit interviews?
  • What are the reasons people give for leaving? Is there a consistent (honest) theme? Staff don’t usually leave because of pay alone – they leave because they dislike their boss, colleagues, job or employer, or perhaps for better career and development prospects, or their work-life balance.

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.

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Written by Lesley Furber

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