How to Attract and Retain Talented Employees with a Top Benefits Package
October 12, 2021
At a glance:
- Competition is hot: The labor market is more competitive than ever, as more employees leave their current positions to seek higher-paying, growth-focused opportunities.
- Stand out in the market: Employers can separate themselves from the crowd and attract the best employees by leveling up their employee benefits packages and perks.
- Get an expert’s perspective: Partner with an experienced, third-party business advisor to identify weaknesses in your benefits program and make improvements that encourage candidates to choose you first.
The full story:
Unexpected layoffs, school closings with scarce childcare options — these are just a few of the many hardships American workers have had to grapple with during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the upside is that workers are now benefiting from valuable leverage in the labor market. Many employees are leaving their current positions to seek higher-paying opportunities, while others are utilizing extended unemployment benefits while planning their next career move.
To retain and attract the best possible talent, employers need to step up their game in the form of more attractive benefits and perks. This is particularly imperative for owners in the retail, franchise and hospitality industries, which often deal with high turnover.
Below, we speak to several industry players and get their perspective on the benefit enhancements businesses should consider making to stay competitive in the post-pandemic world.
Popular benefit offerings
“It’s no secret that we’re in the middle of a big labor shortage,” says Steve Gibson, founder and CEO of TalentServed, a national executive search firm that helps hospitality, food service, consumer goods and consumer services businesses build leadership teams. “Though it’s happening across a wide variety of industries, restaurants and hospitality businesses are among the most affected.”
To stay competitive in this tight labor market, businesses need to focus intently on employee attraction and retention and consider what they can provide to make top talent want to stay. According to Ryan Turner, a partner at Unsukay, a prominent restaurant group based out of Atlanta, businesses need to look inward. “If you’re a restaurateur, for instance, you need to look in the mirror and evaluate what you’re doing well and not so well to make sure you’re creating an employment and a guest experience people want to be a part of.”
Here are a few benefit options that Turner, Gibson and other industry leaders have implemented to stand out from the crowd:
Work/life balance, caregiving and personal time: “Quality of life and paid time off are hugely important to employees, especially in the middle of this pandemic,” says Gibson. He explains that many of the businesses he works with have implemented or amped up their PTO packages to include multiple weeks of time off and bereavement and parental leave, among other options.
This is an approach that Ryan Pernice, founder of RO Hospitality, which manages three restaurants in Georgia, has embraced wholeheartedly. Full-time employees of RO Hospitality enjoy a full suite of benefits, including “healthcare (medical, vision and dental), 401(k) savings opportunities, free life insurance, parental leave, paid sick leave, bereavement pay and even pet bereavement pay,” Pernice explains. RO Hospitality recently expanded those offerings to even more employees by lowering the definition of “full time” from 30 hours to 25 hours per week and changed its PTO structure to offer more paid days off to employees sooner.
Gibson says many of his clients have also expanded their benefits to include caregiving support, particularly in response to the financial, emotional and mental strains placed on caregivers’ shoulders by the pandemic. “All of this speaks to quality of life — more employers in our industry are offering benefits that don’t necessarily pertain to professional life, but they show that both priorities can coexist to improve employees’ happiness and peace of mind.”
Total well-being: During the pandemic, four in 10 U.S. adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, up from one in 10 adults who reported those symptoms from January–June 2019.
In response to these statistics, many employers have instituted mental health and wellness programs for their employees’ benefit, including free telehealth counseling hotlines, life coaching, applications focused on mindfulness and meditation, and more. Gibson brings up the example of one client that transitioned from the tech world to food service and has brought with it some key influences regarding health and wellness benefits. “The business actually offers its employees access to a nutritional coach to help them build a healthy lifestyle,” promising long-term, positive benefits both inside and outside the work environment.
Pay increases and investments in training: With wage inflation outpacing government regulations around wages, employers are embracing more competitive compensation to help attract and retain talented employees. Turner sees these increases as a reflection of running a premier business.
“At [our restaurants], we go to great lengths to curate high-quality ingredients and to retain and attract high-quality people,” he says. “We recently raised our internal minimum wage and did commensurate raises across the board.” Turner says paying employees higher wages is just the tip of creating an environment in which team members can grow and thrive. “We’re constantly challenging ourselves to create a better working experience. Are our employees learning? How well are we training and teaching? Great food and drink are becoming ubiquitous. What differentiates the restaurants that sustain or thrive is the hospitality and service, and that starts internally.”
Competitive compensation packages: Since the onset of the pandemic, many restaurants and hospitality businesses have seen a mass exodus of talented leaders from executive-level groups. Some executives have chosen to leave the industry altogether and transfer their skills to new sectors.
Gibson says that one of the biggest keys to retaining top execs is offering competitive and attractive compensation packages. He describes a client that is searching for a chief operating officer to help take its restaurant concept national. In addition to offering a higher-than-standard salary, the client is also offering an equity position. “From an industry perspective, this is a different and new approach, especially for a more local restaurateur. But because the client is offering this extra incentive, they’re getting great candidates,” he says. “That may not be the case if they weren’t offering this equity opportunity.”
Spreading the word
Of course, competitive benefits, compensation offerings and perks aren’t enough on their own; businesses should also continually measure the impact of their efforts and invest time and effort into promoting benefits both internally and externally.
For Pernice, continual and consistent communication is key. From one-on-one conversations to company e-blasts to social media, RO Hospitality uses multiple mediums to communicate about employee benefits to its wider audience. “Our social media has been a great way to maintain the drumbeat of constant communication,” he says. “We’ve found success in sharing this messaging in our customer-facing e-newsletters, too. This has been a good way to widen our network, and our guests like hearing about all the ways their support, in turn, supports our employees.”
Social media has also proven to be a great communication medium for Ellen Yin, founder and co-owner of High Street Hospitality Group, which operates some of the country’s most prominent restaurants and bars. High Street uses its social pages to highlight staff members and share insights on how their careers have progressed and thrived with the company. She says this is a subtle yet personal way to show potential applicants what successful, long-term careers in hospitality can look like, especially for younger candidates.
A final note: building an impactful management team
Aside from employee benefits, it’s also important to invest in the quality of your management team. According to McKinsey & Company, 86% of employees say their relationships with management drive their workplace satisfaction.
With the year coming to an end, now is a good time to take stock of your management team members and evaluate their effectiveness. Employee surveys and one-on-one interviews with employees are great methods you can use to measure your management team’s performance and gather important, on-the-ground feedback. These tools are valuable because they give your employees a voice in the process and help solidify “buy-in” when it comes to evaluation or performance improvement (especially if those efforts involve the replacement and hiring of new management team members).
The bottom line
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us invaluable lessons about the importance of balance and what truly matters most in both life and the workplace. As a business owner, you only stand to benefit from providing your employees with more options to improve their own quality of life and create a stress-free, enjoyable and safe work environment.
If you need help evaluating your current benefits package and identifying areas of improvement, Aprio’s Retail, Franchise and Hospitality team is here to help.
 Nirmita Panchal, Rabah Kamal, Cynthia Cox and Rachel Garfield, “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use,” Kaiser Family Foundation, February 10, 2021, accessed July 13, 2021.
 McKinsey & Company, “The boss factor: Making the world a better place through workplace relationships,” McKinsey Quarterly, September 22, 2020, accessed July 13, 2021.
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About the Author
Tommy is the partner-in-charge of Aprio's Retail, Franchise and Hospitality group. His practice focuses on small and mid-sized retail, franchise and hospitality companies and real estate firms. Tommy has expertise in corporate structuring arrangements, multi-state and international tax planning, and corporate and individual tax mitigation.