By Jonathan Mercer, HR whizz and East London publican

I’ve been speaking with a lot of people in Management roles lately, and the consensus? It’s tough out there. From struggling to fill vacancies to watching the big boys flaunt fancy perks, it’s a real mixed bag. Ever heard of bosses telling their staff to “bundle up” instead of turning on the heating? Yeah, we’ve seen some wild stuff. So let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of keeping your team happy without breaking the bank:
It’s about time we all get with the times.The industry is changing for the better. As the sign in Spitalfields’ Golden Heart infamously said, “Stand Still & Rot”, and for far too long our industry has been managed and governed well below the standards of other sectors. According to UKHospitality, in January this year, the British Beer and Pub Association and the British Institute of Innkeeping:
  • There are currently 200,000 vacancies in the hospitality sector.
  • It’s estimated that is currently 10% of the sector.
  • A survey of over 350 businesses found that all had vacancies.
  • 84% lack front-of-house personnel, 67% non-head chefs and 36% kitchen porters.
  • Around 33% also have vacancies for managerial roles.
Obviously, this is a fucking nightmare. But what can we do to combat this, as business leaders?


No amount of benefits are going to make your team happy if the basics aren’t in place. It might seem obvious, but in the craziness of running a business you can sometimes forget about the nitty gritty. These are the foundations that are going to set the tone, so that the benefits are the icing on the cake that really provide value to your teams:

Develop Your Must Do’s

This is the stuff you can’t afford to ignore. Safeguarding? Policies? Health and Safety? Sexual Harassment Training and knowledge? And let’s not forget about TRONC and service standards. It’s all about keeping things running smoothly. Oh, and don’t even get me started on MAT & PAT and leave entitlements. It’s not the glamourous stuff, but it’s the backbone of your operation. And, if you’re feeling lost, there’s always resources like tax relief schemes to lend a helping hand.

Employee Development

It’s just not done enough. We don’t want people to just show up and then leave – we’re talking about levelling up your teams and giving them growth. From courses on workplace equality to mastering conflict management, it’s all about giving your team the tools they need to succeed. And hey, who wouldn’t want to brush up on their wine knowledge or get hands-on with butchering skills? Investing in your people and watching them flourish is not only gratifying, it also saves you money by lowering your staff turnover, and improves your industry reputation which makes it easier to hire when they do eventually leave. It’s win-win.

Are You Benchmarking?

In this fast-paced world of UK hospitality, staying ahead of the game is crucial – but when times are tough, it can feel hard just to keep up. Remember – benchmarking is not just about crunching numbers, it’s about keeping your crew buzzing and your business booming. By making sure your wages are on par with industry standards, you’re not just keeping your top talent happy – you’re creating a vibe that keeps ’em coming back for more by showing that you fundamentally value them. And let’s not forget about fairness – everyone deserves their slice of the pie. Benchmarking is well easy to do. Look at glassdoor, what other businesses are doing, speak with the Living Wage Foundation or use Croner, if you want to get really fancy with it.


Employee Assistance Programmes

For just £1.20 per employee a year, you can tap into some serious support. Think legal advice, financial smarts, and even therapy sessions to keep your squad thriving. And guess what? Big names like Bupa, Health Assured, and Perkbox are in on the action, offering top-notch EAPs that won’t cost loads. BHSF is a belter, these programmes offer Legal, financial and management support as well as some offering up to 8 CBT or therapy sessions.

Quid Pro Quo

In your venue, you have SO many customers who will have a unique skillset that you could benefit from. With this in mind, why not exchange tabs for a Yoga class, learning how to DJ, or a life drawing, or some other activity which means at very little cost, you’ll get your team more experience, or a team building exercise. Even just linking up with other venues in which all staff can benefit with reciprocal discounts.

Employee Perks

You have to store your employee’s data somewhere safe, by law and to comply with all the GDPR shite that’s going round. Systems which are built to do that, such as Charlie HR & SAGEHR, have built in employee perks programmes, with discounts on everything from cinema trips to supermarket shopping to holidays. If you’re going to electronically store data such as contracts and personal information, why not add in a Perks programme at no extra cost?

And finally… Getting them out there

One of the big questions that I am always asked is about ​​how to effectively communicate those benefits to your team? They get lost in translation, people just don’t pay attention or they have a huge launch, and then are just forgotten. Here’s a few tips on how to communicate them:

​​1. **Interactive Workshops**: interactive workshops or lunch-and-learns where your team can get down to brass tacks and learn about company benefits. No frills, just straightforward info served up with a side of engaging activities.

2. **Storytelling Sessions**: Share real-life tales or testimonials from colleagues who’ve experienced the benefits firsthand. No need for Hollywood drama – just genuine stories that resonate with the team.

3. **Video Campaigns**: Whip up video content that gives employees the lowdown on company benefits. Keep it simple and to the point, with a touch of personality to keep things interesting.

4. **Peer-to-Peer Mentoring**: Pair up new recruits with seasoned pros who can show them the ropes when it comes to navigating company benefits. It’s like having a trusted friend to guide you through the maze of benefit options.

5. **Wellness Challenges**: Get your team moving with wellness challenges designed to promote healthy habits. From fitness challenges to nutrition goals, these challenges are all about keeping it real and practical.

6. **Recognition Events**: Host low-key events to recognise employees who’ve made the most of company benefits. No red carpets or fancy speeches – just a simple nod of appreciation for those who’ve taken full advantage of what’s on offer.

7. **Customized Communications**: Tailor benefit communications to suit different employee needs and preferences. No need for flashy graphics or over-the-top language – just clear, concise info that gets the job done.

8. **Surprise Rewards**: Treat your team to unexpected rewards or perks tied to their favorite benefits. It’s a simple gesture that shows you’re paying attention and appreciate their hard work.

Lastly, remember that communication is a dialogue, not a monologue. Encourage feedback and questions from your team. Being receptive to their concerns fosters a culture of openness and trust.

With these strategies in place, you’ll ensure that your team is well-informed and empowered to make the most of the benefits you offer. I know these steps won’t solve all our problems overnight. But it’s a start, isn’t it? And who knows; If things go our way, we’ll make it through to the other side! For more info, get in touch; jonathan@thesainthr.co.uk.

About Jonny:

Merce grew up in pubs and clubs in Merseyside, and cut his teeth in Northern institutions and hospitality. He’s worked throughout North America and Europe as global HR director for various retail brands and also runs a HR consultancy alongside the Tiny Dancer Group which owns The Prince Arthur in London Fields and The Plough in Homerton. 

The back story… Two mates walk into a barbershop and buy a pub. Not quite, but almost. Emma and Merce met after Merce walked into her barbershop in desperate need of a haircut before a date. From there, they became famous friends, sharing the lifelong dream of owning a pub. After two years of failed attempts, the pair opened The Plough, E9 in 2019. Rather than continuing the gentrification of Hackney with yet another location for a bottomless brunch and £8 pints, their aim was to bring a lost community pub back to life. With the success of The Plough under their belt, The Prince Arthur in London Fields (Emma and Merce’s ‘dream pub’) came up for grabs. In late January 2020 it opened its doors to the public again at the hands of Tiny Dancer Group.

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