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Tabytha Cunningham and Charlotte Farrell | 10th March 2022

Recruitment, retention and employee engagement: best practice for HR


Tabytha Cunningham and Charlotte Farrell | 10th March 2022

Recruitment, retention and employee engagement: best practice for HR

There is real pressure on staffing with a mixture of the fallout from Brexit, COVID-19 and the “Great Resignation”. Many staff have been re-evaluating their lives and work life balances and decided that it is the right time for a career change, retirement or simply just a new challenge. Recruitment has therefore been a real problem.

In the current climate it is important that employers ensure they have best practice in place for recruitment, to attract the best candidates, and ensure that they continue to engage and retain employees within the business, to minimise staff turnover.

Click on a Chapter below to take you straight to that Chapter or scroll on to read the whole article. There is also the opportunity to download this guide to read later at the bottom of the page.


Chapter 1 : Recruitment process steps

1.1 – Pre-recruitment checks
1.2 – Right to work checks
1.3 – Recruitment after Brexit
1.4 – Navigating the new points system
1.5 – Contracts and Staff Handbooks

Chapter 2 : Employee engagement and retention strategies

2.1 – Onboarding
2.2 – Managing performance
2.3 – Communication
2.4 – Training and development
2.5 – Succession planning
2.6 – Effective leadership
2.7 – Flexible working arrangements
2.8 – Work-life balance
2.9 – Recognition
2.10 – Reward
2.11 – The role of well-being in employee retention

Chapter 1 : Recruitment process steps

Recruitment process steps banner

Step 1: Identify the role and job description

The first stage to a successful recruitment process is identifying what you are looking for. You will need to have a detailed understanding of the role you are looking to fill. This should then form a detailed job description, setting out the requirements of the role and any planned goals for the position.

Early focus on the role requirements helps to ensure that you comply with your employment obligations. Employers must ensure that they do not discriminate during the recruitment process. You must carefully consider your recruitment process to ensure that this is compliant. This starts with your job advertisements, ensuring that they are focused on the actual requirements of the role.

Step 2: Identify your key requirements and person specification

This then also leads on to your person specification and the key requirements that you advertise.

You must be careful in the language that you use to avoid inadvertent indirect discrimination, for example, asking for a “recent graduate” or someone that is “highly experienced” where this is not a genuine requirement. If you are specifying certain criteria as essential ensure these are closely linked to the role.

You should also consider where you advertise and who will be responsible for identifying potentially suitable candidates for interview.

Step 3: Your selection process

You should consider how you can ensure your selection process is objective, for example, using a panel of interviewers rather than an individual, and using set interview questions can be helpful. As well as assessing the candidates suitability, they will also be using the interview process to assess your organisation. Ensuring questions are well prepared and appropriate for the role ensure the right impression.

Once you get to the interview stage, it is important that you do not ask candidates about protected characteristics, for example, whether they are married or have or plan to have children. You should also not normally ask any questions regarding health or disability except in very limited circumstances, for example where you are finding out whether they may need reasonable adjustments to the selection process.

Step 4: Managing data during recruitment

Since the introduction of the GDPR you need to consider carefully how you manage job applicant data. This personal data should only be kept as long as necessary for the recruitment process – usually no more than 6 months after the recruitment closes.

You should consider how you can securely delete data once this is no longer required, for example, using a central portal for candidate documents, rather than circulating documents to various managers via email, is recommended.

You will need to have an appropriate job applicant privacy notice setting out your compliance with GDPR requirements which is provided to all job applicants, usually on your website. This will set out how you will process job applicants personal data, for example, how long this will be retained after the recruitment process, and how you will deal with reference requests. If you wish to keep a candidates details on file for future recruitment opportunities, you will need to ensure that this is kept only with their agreement.

Pre-recruitment checks

Once you have chosen your successful candidate you will need to confirm the offer in writing, subject to satisfactory completion of your pre-employment checks.

As a minimum most employers will wish to take two employment references. References can be essential to check that your candidate’s employment history is genuine and a reference from their previous organisation can confirm this for you. As most employers now provide standard references stating dates of employment and role only, you may also wish to take personal references.

Many employers now also check candidates’ social media accounts. Whilst this can be helpful for certain roles, for example where they will be representing the organisation, caution should be exercised before doing so. Firstly, this amounts to processing the candidates personal data, so if you intend to do so, this should be clearly set out in your job applicant privacy notice. Secondly, be mindful that there could be an inference of discrimination if you withdraw a job offer after viewing an employee’s social media accounts, for example if this reveals they have a particularly protected characteristic.

Once an offer of employment has been made it is possible to carry out pre-employment health checks, for example to ascertain whether the employee requires any adjustments to carry out the role. Again, the employer needs to comply with data protection requirements when doing so. Information about an individual’s health falls under special categories of data in the GDPR. The employer will need to demonstrate it has a legal ground to process this information and should explain this in its job applicant privacy notice.

Job applicants are also protected from discrimination and therefore an employer must be mindful of potential discrimination claims if it is considering withdrawing a job offer due to information disclosed in pre-employment health checks.

For some roles, it may also be appropriate for the employer to carry out disclosure and barring checks to ensure that the employee does not have a criminal record that would prevent them from conducting the role. Again, criminal records information is sensitive personal data and therefore employers must ensure that they have a legal ground to process this information before doing so. This is usually limited to where such a check is legally required due to the nature of the role, for example it involves working with children or vulnerable adults.

Right to work checks

Prior to employment you must carry out a right to work check on all prospective employees to ensure that they have the legal right to work in the UK. Right to work checks must be conducted before the employee starts work.

Recruitment after Brexit

Existing EU nationals in the UK who have obtained settled or pre-settled status as part of the Brexit transitional arrangements can continue to work in the UK, and switch employer without restriction.

Individuals in the UK on a family visa can also work for UK employers.

Otherwise, in order to employ EU nationals who have not gained settled or pre-settled status, or other non-UK nationals who do not have an existing right to work in the UK and aren’t in the UK on a family visa, employers will be required to hold a sponsor licence.

Guidance on navigating new points system

All EU citizens in the UK by 31 December 2020 have an unlimited right to work in the UK.

As long as they have settled or pre-settled status by the 30 June 2021 they can change employer as they wish and you can hire them, subject to completing your right to work checks. You will not require a sponsor licence or need to do anything further to hire these employees, other than your normal right to work checks.

Individuals in the UK on  spousal or family visa can also work for UK employers under the terms of those visas without additional approvals.

However, if your new employee came to the UK after 1 January 2021, or is currently living abroad then they will need to be sponsored under the new points based system to work for you.

To sponsor a worker the employer must hold a sponsor licence. Any employer can apply to become a sponsor via an online application on the UKVI website. You will be required to complete an online application form and then provide specified supporting documents. UKVI will expect you to demonstrate that you are a reputable, genuine business that will uphold the high immigration standards expected of sponsors. The application process normally takes 8 weeks to consider each application and fees apply.

The Home Office has strict rules about the types of jobs that can be sponsored and the salaries that must be paid.

Once you are a sponsor, you need to identify whether the role you want to recruit to is eligible for sponsorship and that the salary level and terms you are proposing meet the set requirements. There are two key lists to consider.

The first is the skilled worker eligible occupations. This is the list of jobs that it is possible for employers to sponsor. If a job is not on this list, it is not eligible for a skilled worker visa.

The second list is the shortage occupation list. This list shows the roles on the eligible occupations list that are particularly needed/where there is a shortage. It is easier to demonstrate the need for a visa for these roles and some of the requirements are relaxed slightly, for example a lower rate of pay might apply. For some shortage occupations in health care, some fees are also waived.

Even if you have identified an eligible role, you can only sponsor a worker in that role if you are paying them the salary threshold. Each eligible role has a set going rate and general minimum salary thresholds also apply. You can check the eligible salary for each role online.

Once you have identified a role is suitable for sponsorship, you can apply via the sponsorship management system for a certificate of sponsorship for the role. The individual candidate then uses that certificate of sponsorship to support their own application for skilled worker visa.

If a skilled worker visa is granted, you will then be required to comply with ongoing sponsorship duties to UKVI, for example, keeping prescribed records and reporting key events, such as the employee failing to attend for work.

This is a complex process and the obligations on sponsors are onerous. For further information regarding becoming a sponsor or applying for a skilled worker visa please contact our Immigration team.

Contracts and Staff Handbooks

You will need to issue the employee with a contract of employment detailing the agreed terms on or before their first day of employment. Ideally this should be provided to the employee and signed in advance of their first day to ensure that you have contractual protection from the start. Please read our guide for further information on contracts of employment.

When you recruit new members of staff you should also provide them with details of all your key policies. These should include:

  • a disciplinary procedure, which should reflect the requirements set out in the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures;
  • a grievance procedure, which should reflect the requirements set out in the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures;
  • an equality and diversity policy, which should set out the employer’s commitment to equality and how it will ensure this in practice. This document and its implementation will often form a key element to an employer’s defence to a discrimination claim;
  • an anti-bullying and harassment policy, which sets out unacceptable treatment and how this will be addressed if it occurs. Again, this document and its implementation will often form a key element to an employer’s defence to a harassment claim;
  • a whistleblowing policy, which confirms how employees should blow the whistle should they become aware of any unlawful practice at work, and the protection provided to whistle-blowers;
  • an anti-bribery and corruption policy: following the introduction of the Bribery Act 2010 it is essential that employers set out the expectations on employees to ensure compliance with this legislation;
  • a Health and Safety policy: this should set out how the employer manages key health and safety issues such as fire drills, accidents and first aid and safe use of equipment; and
  • a data protection policy, which should set out how the business handles personal data.

Most businesses will also need to have additional policies which are specific to their business. This may include policies on family friendly rights, flexible working requests, the use of social media, the use of information and communication systems.

All employees should also be provided with a copy of the Privacy Notice which applies to them setting out how their own personal data will be handled during and after their employment with the business.

As more and more businesses introduce a hybrid working structure or allow employees to work form home on a more regular or permanent basis, we would also recommend that those businesses include a hybrid working policy as part of their standard documents and consider whether specific clauses need to be included in contracts of employment as well.

If you are concerned that your Staff Handbook/Employee Handbook may be out of date or missing key policies, our Employment team would be happy to review and advise on necessary changes for you.

Employee engagement and retention strategies

Employee engagement and retention strategies banner

New research has found that the majority of employers are currently concerned about employee turnover and many are looking at enhancing benefits to attract and retain key talent. We look at the factors that affect employee engagement, retention and best practice.


It is really key that you onboard staff correctly. Make sure you have a set induction process that shows them what they should be doing and how you are going to support them. Remember, it is a worrying time starting a new job and therefore giving people extra support is no bad thing. In particular, if you’re starting a job remotely due to hybrid working or homeworking then more support is needed.

Equally, a robust management process for the first few months of employment helps you as an employer assess their suitability for the job as well as helping the candidate integrate within the organisation. All contracts should include a clear probationary period and regular reviews should take place during that period to monitor performance and any issues which arise. The length of the probationary period will depend on the needs of the business and the work that is being carried out. Normally probationary periods are between 3 and 6 months long, with the option to extend them if any concerns are raised. Remember to diarise the end of that period so you can have a constructive conversation with the employee. It’s also advisable to make sure the contract makes it clear that the probationary period will not end until a decision is communicated to the employee to avoid them automatically passing their probationary period before a conversation takes place.

Managing performance

There are so many reasons why managing performance is important for employee retention:

  • When managers are regularly checking in with employees they have a clear understanding of where they are doing well and where they are struggling. This means problems can be identified and addressed at an early stage before they escalate.
  • Employees that feel that their managers are monitoring performance can be more motivated to succeed as they know their achievements are valued. Effective team management can boost morale and create a common sense of purpose.
  • Good performance management also means that managers are more likely to know their employees longer term goals and motivations. This means that they can work with them to achieve these, reducing the risk of good employees seeking opportunities elsewhere.
  • The risk of failing to manage performance with an individual is that other employees in the team or wider business who are performing well can be demotivated if they feel they are picking up additional work due to colleagues who are not pulling their weight. There is also a risk that bad performance may rub off on other employees.


The pandemic forced businesses to embrace new ways of communicating with employees. It also helped underscore the importance of good workplace communication.

Good day to day communication within your organisation is essential. This should be two way, with employees knowing that they are expected and encouraged to bring up concerns and to ask for help and managers making it clear that they are available to support where needed. The dialogue should be continuous – with employees being provided feedback as and when they complete tasks and having the opportunity to provide their input into key decisions. Manages should be looking for opportunities to pro-actively connect with each member of their team on a regular basis to get a sense of their challenges and job satisfaction.

Training and development

Part of your managers work to provide continuous feedback and have an ongoing dialogue with employees is to identify areas for their personal development. As the pandemic has shown upskilling and the ability to take on new tasks is more key than ever. When you identify opportunities to train employees, you are allowing them to grow within your businesses rather than feeling the need to seek these opportunities elsewhere. Ensure that you both provide training opportunities and the time for employees to utilise these – it’s no use providing lengthy training courses if you don’t adjust employee’s day to day workloads to allow them to attend.

Succession planning

When you are looking at training, don’t forget about succession planning. This can be a great opportunity to give your valued employees a clear idea of their path within the business. Assigning employees a mentor within the business can equally be a great tool to help identify opportunities, with newer employees’ benefiting from others experience.

Effective Leadership

It’s a common expression that “employees quit bosses, not jobs”. Investing in your managers to ensure that they are able to lead effectively and solve, rather than create, problems is key. Problems at work cited by employees can range from micromanagement, making an employee feel incompetent and unvalued, to no management, meaning employee issues are left to fester and high performing employees are expected to cover for those that are struggling without additional recognition.

Managers should receive regular training and support to ensure that they can manage their teams effectively, and have the time and resources to do so.

Flexible working arrangements

Flexible working has always ranked highly when employees have been asked what benefits help to retain them in the business. Following the pandemic, the ability to work flexibly is now being seen as a given, rather than an extra. Promoting your commitment to flexible working and/or hybrid working can be a key tool in attracting applicants. Employees who are supported to work flexibly in a way that works for them are more likely to stay within the business. Consider how you can support employees, for example identifying job share opportunities and listening carefully to any alternative working arrangements put forward by your employees. If you are not sure how it might work in practice, a trial period can be a good way of testing out the arrangement before deciding whether it is something that could be feasible long term.

Work-life balance

Tied in to flexible working is the work-life balance. This is often cited as a key factor by employees for leaving a role. This can also become a perpetual problem. If a business is unable to quickly replace one employee that leaves, the burden on other members of the team increases and in turn they may be likely to leave. More and more we are recognising the importance of good mental health at work. A healthy work life balance is essential to job satisfaction. Ensuring that employees are allowed time to switch off, to take holidays, and to prioritise their personal life where appropriate never goes unappreciated by employees. This also reduces levels of sickness absence.

Regularly reviewing each employee’s workload, to ensure that this is challenging, but manageable, is essential.


Each organisation should ensure that their employees feel appreciated for the work they do, particularly where they are going above and beyond. You need to consider how you thank your employees for their commitment. This can vary from a simple thank you from their manager, or a recognition of the hours they have put in, to formal recognition systems where employees can be nominated to receive benefits or rewards.


Of course, reward and benefits are also a key factor. In the current climate it is important that you ensure that your benefits package is competitive. Equally you should keep your existing employees’ salaries under review – employees are less likely to be tempted to move elsewhere if they can achieve similar pay in their current role.

The role of well-being in employee retention

All of the above factors predominantly feed into employee wellbeing. Employee wellbeing is proven to boost both productivity and business performance. When employees’ needs are met they feel more valued. When they are feeling well and supported their decision making improves and they are able to perform to their potential. When an organisation has a good reputation in the market for well-being, this can also boost their recruitment potential.

There are now a wide variety of perks which employers can provide to support employees’ well-being, from access to mental health support platforms and mental health first aiders, to free yoga sessions, reduced gym memberships or free fruit in the office. However, more important is how the business communicates with and supports employees day to day.

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