RailStaff: Time to Talk Retention

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13 March 2017

Time to Talk Retention

What happens when you pick up the phone to cancel a premium TV subscription or phone contract? You’re put through to someone in sales who offers to match or better any enticing packages you’ve found online. Often this will work, customers will stay and companies will retain the business - for a while at least.

Peter Schofield, Chairman

The same approach is often applied to staff retention. When an employee reveals a desire to leave, the company’s instinct is to offer more money. Many will accept the pay rise and stay but, in a lot of cases, it won’t have addressed the issues that drove them to the decision in the first place. For these people, it will only be a temporary fix and they will be on the market within a few months.

This cycle is repeated time and again, negatively impacting on productivity and leading to further wage inflation in a sector that is already facing a known skills deficit. 

The risk posed to the rail industry of an engineering skills shortage is well known, but the benefits to companies of having more rigorous retention policies in place to keep hold of the best talent are less well understood.

Put the bonnet up 

‘The years of under-investment in infrastructure that everybody knows about is probably secondary to the under-investment in talent - not only in training but in understanding the new dynamics,’ said Peter Schofield, chairman of recruitment and talent specialists Ford & Stanley.

The perception that the rail industry offers jobs for life has also changed. This, coupled with the skills shortage, puts those with in-demand skills in a strong position. They are consumers of employment opportunities and, like all consumers, they have choice, said Peter. Throughout his career, Peter has seen companies struggle to understand this and subsequently pay the price. This can be evident by the lack of staff engagement or high turnover.

‘Salary is easy to think about. It’s easy for an employer to put right. They have to put the proverbial bonnet up and look at their organisation through the eyes of the people they seek to retain,’ said Peter, who went on to add, ‘Raising the salary has not dealt with the root issue. People take the pay rise but within 12 months 77 per cent of the people who accept a counter offer will be back on the jobs market because the real reasons behind them leaving have not been addressed.’

Broadly speaking, the rail industry is pretty good at understanding its staff and what motivates them, said Peter, but he believes there are simple things that all companies can introduce to improve how they engage with their people.

Overworked and undervalued

‘Number one, recruit the right people in the first place,’ says Peter. But even with the right people, there are all kinds of reasons why people can fall out of love with their job. Many will say they feel overworked and undervalued, but there can be many other reasons. It could be they feel there is no opportunity to progress, a lack of training or a perceived lack of vision among management.

The issue for employers is that they rarely hear the real feelings of their employees. People often fear being ostracised by management or see little chance of anything changing even if they do speak up. Says Peter, ‘Employers only pick up on it the day the resignation goes in; if at all due to the leaver’s fear of burning bridges.’

Mental ill-health in the workplace is another serious issue affecting staff retention and turnover. Over the course of the last 12 months it has really come into focus. At the beginning of March, the Institute of Directors launched its own initiative to prompt industry leaders to take action.

Ford & Stanley is in its ninth year of pioneering practical solutions to the issue. Its GENIUS service helps a number of rail employers to engage with and retain their staff, as Peter explains.

‘In 2008, we saw a big surge in mental health related staff churn, much of which could have been avoided if employees were supported in the right way. Our lead performance coach was having great success in the sports sector working with footballers and golfers, so we decided to develop those techniques into a service which supports people in commerce and industry.

‘It’s about mental coaching. On the sports side of our business, we don’t talk to clients about how to swing a golf club or kick a football, it’s about giving them a competitive edge by getting their mental approach right, dealing with their self-doubts or whatever is keeping them off their ‘A Game’. A 45-minute conversation at the right time with a professional coach can save a company thousands of pounds in re-recruitment costs, lost knowledge and project momentum.’

Ford & Stanley’s clients have reported a substantial return on investment in terms of better staff engagement and retention, suggesting that - rather than creating unnecessary wage inflation through salary increases - it could be time for the industry to take a smarter approach. 


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