Real business story

Creating a community helped us tackle hospitality’s notorious turnover problem

Few challenges in business are more disruptive and tricky to solve than high staff turnover.
Abdul Muhaimen

Abdul Muhaimen believes that making people feel like part of the family has reduced staff turnover at City Spice

High staff turnover rates create a multitude of problems for businesses. There’s the time and money that leaders need to sink into hiring and onboarding, plus the less tangible impact on things like employee morale and motivation.

A high turnover rate doesn’t just affect those in typical employment either. Many businesses struggle to retain contractors and freelancers who are liable to drop out last minute, wasting time and playing havoc with projects and schedules.

So what’s the solution? We spoke to one business leader who is retaining staff in an industry where high turnover is notorious – hospitality.

Avoiding self-fulfilling prophecies

Abdul Muhaimen manages Indian restaurant City Spice on London’s Brick Lane. High staff turnover is something he’s always had to contend with.

“In the restaurant industry, staff turnover is notoriously high – it’s about 15 per cent on average,” he said.

The casual nature of waiting means that managers don’t have high expectations when it comes to staff sticking around. This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, though – if leaders don’t expect staff to stay, then chances are they won’t put much effort into retaining them.

Create a sense of community

When Abdul first took over as manager, people were joining and then would want to leave after two weeks. This led to communication issues and a lack of camaraderie which, in turn, meant the team didn’t work well together when things got busy.

He’s focused on building up a sense of community with the team ever since.

“We’re a family business and the most important thing we’ve done to reduce staff turnover is to make staff feel like part of the family. We try to make them feel more included – we’ll do pools on the football, for instance. Just things that mean people have something to discuss at work that isn’t about work,” he said.

“For a lot of waiters, they finish their shift and then go home. But we like to arrange activities between the lunch and dinner shift, like taking them bowling or having a communal lunch or something. Anything that helps make them feel part of something and less like a worker.”

All of these activities serve to give staff common ground. It’s something that’s particularly important at City Spice, where the staff demographic is varied – staff ranged from 19 to 56 years-old at one point.

Abdul explained that these activities have additional business benefits too. Spending time with each other outside of the restaurant improves the communication inside, which helps them to avoid stunted service and prevent orders from getting messed up.

“Keeping staff really helps with consistency – and you need consistency to expand, to keep customers coming back,” he said.

Relate pay to prices and demand

Making people feel like part of a family goes a long way in reducing turnover, but sharing business rewards doesn’t hurt either.

After taking over the business, Abdul and owner Abdul Ahad introduced a new wage scheme which means pay increases alongside restaurant prices and demand.

“Staff know that when the business does well, they’ll see the benefits of that in their pay. Then, because they’re satisfied with their job and feel valued, they continue to help improve the restaurant – it’s a cycle,” he said.

In addition to culture and pay improvements, Abdul’s advice for anyone else facing a high staff turnover is to focus more on people’s personality when hiring.

“Focus less on people’s technical abilities and more on their personality. You can teach someone how to, say, clear tables and pour pints, but you can’t teach generosity and warmth. And when someone values their customers like that, you know that they’ll recognise when they’re being valued by the business.”


Top takeaways

If you go into a new hire expecting them to leave, you risk creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Social activities or competitions give staff something to bond over.

If the business is doing well, make sure you’re sharing the rewards with employees.