Perhaps, like me, you really do not have a clear understanding of what to expect when we leave the EU. If you do, then do please tell. I am sure your insights would help bring about some much needed peace of mind in our sector, which currently seems to be characterised by uncertainty.
It is not only business owners who are experiencing uncertainty at the moment but also many foreign workers who have made their home in our country and are beginning to fear for their future. Will they be allowed to stay in the UK post-Brexit? Will they require visas to continue working here? And how welcome will they be made to feel? These are just some of the concerns being faced by the foreign-born nationals who have become the backbone of our industry.
Irrespective of how you voted in the referendum, one would hope we can all agree that without foreign workers horticulture and garden retail would suffer. But what can we do? Collectively we need to be lobbying for immigration rules that do not inhibit the flow of much needed workers into this country and ensure that schemes set up such as the now defunct SAWS (Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme) are effective and fit for purpose.
While individually we cannot affect Government policy, if you own a business you can at least start putting in some preparation now, just in case you may find it difficult to source workers in the future. Essentially this means you should develop a human resources strategy, the aim of which is to ensure that you have enough of the right sort of labour at the right time of the year, at the right cost to you.
The strategy process should start with thinking about how much labour you actually require. Can
you reduce the labour content by mechanising some processes? Perhaps you can outsource some activities to specialist companies. A typical example of this is outsourcing bookkeeping or social media marketing.
You should also make sure that your processes are efficient and all your staff are working smart. Could your staff benefit from training in time management skills? This, if implemented, will eventually save valuable labour content, but you may need to offer incentives to get your staff on board with the concept.
It definitely should be seen as a "working smarter, not harder" issue if you are going to encourage better time management. So, you have looked at your current labour pool and made sure that efficiencies are maximised.
The next step is to make sure that you keep hold of those staff who are currently working for you.
Ensuring that they are well motivated, properly appreciated and rewarded for their efforts is a priority, as too is ensuring that they feel involved in the organisation and that their contribution is valued. Along with better staff retention, this should also automatically improve your productivity and customer service. As Sir Richard Branson has observed: "I have always believed that the way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers, and that people flourish when they are praised."
Communication here is key, and paying attention to the details and individuality of your employees.
People like to feel acknowledged and known in more detail than just having their name read off their staff badge. Of course, staff do leave on occasion, and if that is the case then it is always good practice to carry
out an exit interview with them. Keeping this open and honest will provide you with invaluable information about how you can retain your employees in the future.
It might also sharpen your mind if you calculate the rate at which employees leave your business each year. This is simply done by adding the number of employees you have at the beginning of the year to the number you have at the end of the year. Divide by two to find the average number of employees, then divide the number of employees who have left during the year by the average number of employees to find the employee turnover rate. The figure you obtain might surprise you, but more of a surprise will be how much it is costing you.
Using one of the widely available tools on the internet will help you to identify the true cost of employee turnover. It is staggering how much it costs in management time alone to recruit, so surely if we can reduce the rate at which employees leave then we stand a chance of reducing some costs in the business.
How can you keep them happier? Google employees apparently get unlimited free massages, free childcare and places to nap as needed during their shifts. Not perhaps something practically or economically viable for many of our businesses, but perhaps we do need to start thinking a bit more outside the box to both recruit and retain staff.
Competing for staff
In my experience, many companies simply fail to sell themselves to prospective employees. In an economy where there is low unemployment, employers need to compete for good workers, so make sure that you sell your workplace as an attractive one in which to work — and this is not just about wages.
Feeling appreciated, praised and recognised for contributions, as well as feeling energised, well led and part of a successful growing organisation that offers progress and security, have all been shown to be important to employees. So think about how you can sell yourself to prospective employees and then make sure that the reality matches your sales message.
The next stage is to update internal documents. Job descriptions and personnel specification, sample adverts and employment contracts should all be regularly reviewed so that you can move quickly when you need to recruit, and if all these seem daunting then of course one can always consider outsourcing to a specialist human resources company or consultant.
I think we do now need a much wider and visionary approach to human resources if we as a sector are going to recruit and retain good staff after Brexit, and this will mean attracting staff with the same passion and focus we spend on attracting customers.
We also need to inspire a new generation of workers, perhaps by offering work experience, sponsored positions and short- or long-term internships to local schools and colleges. Try it and you may be able to inspire young people to work in our wonderful industry, and of course in the long run to work for you.
Perhaps the best place to start, however, is to make sure people feel that it is worth working for you.
Neville Stein is managing director of business consultancy Ovation