Eight tips to help colleges retain staff over Christmas

28 Nov 2021, 6:49

We’re seeing an increase in the number of colleges poaching staff, writes Jenny Arrowsmith

The past 18 months have been incredibly challenging for colleges, and it’s perhaps no surprise that many colleges are now facing further disruption, with staff choosing to leave the profession.

This is especially the case in the post-Christmas period, when lots of people start thinking about new roles.

So here are some tips for creating a better place to work:

1. Agree pay levels with other colleges

Some specialist teachers are in high demand and we’re seeing an increase in the numbers of colleges that are poaching staff. This is done by offering them higher salaries, temporary supplements or more attractive benefit packages. 

In reality, this is not sustainable for the colleges that poach them. Budgets are tight, and if money is used to pay some teachers more than anticipated, where are they going to make up the shortfall? 

So some organisations have used their senior networking groups to raise concerns about pay inflation in hard-to-recruit roles. Together, they have reached informal agreements not to increase salaries beyond a set level with other colleges operating in the same area.

2. Give people the chance to be honest 

If you’re seeing an exodus of people from your workplace, do you know why they are leaving? Is it about pay? 

Or are they unhappy with other elements of their working environment, their workload or the culture of the organisation? 

You won’t know the answers to these questions unless you ask. Exit interviews are useful, but not everyone is willing to be honest during a face-to-face interview about their reasons for leaving. 

So it can be helpful to ask them to complete a short survey as well (or instead of) having a meeting.

3. Conduct effective employee surveys

Conducting regular surveys throughout the year is a good way to take the pulse of your organisation and may help you to identify and resolve issues at an early stage. 

Staff will usually only answer surveys honestly if a) their responses are confidential; b) you don’t ask too many questions and concentrate on the important stuff; and c) they have faith that the organisation will actually listen to what they say.

4. ‘Re-brand’ yourself

This is about promoting what you can offer to staff beyond their basic salary and tapping into the psychology of what people are looking for from a job. 

What does your school or college offer that others don’t? Being known as an organisation that genuinely cares about its staff and puts their welfare first will be an attractive selling point for many teachers and support staff. 

5. Invest in training

Make sure that your staff know how you can help them improve their skills and progress within your organisation. 

Upskilling staff through training and development courses will help them to keep up to date with new approaches and the skills required in their role.

6. Upskill line managers

Line managers have an important role in setting the tone of the organisation. Some are naturally good at handling people and having difficult conversations, but many aren’t. 

If you help them to improve they will be better placed to deal with issues promptly, and minimise the risk of problems escalating or festering.

7. Improve your recruitment process

Make sure that your recruitment process is efficient and friendly. If it isn’t, candidates may be put off working for you and may turn down your offer if they already have another one on the table. 

Good candidates are always in high demand and will often have more than one job offer to consider.

8. Get your contracts right

It’s also sensible to review your contracts of employment, particularly if you haven’t reviewed them in a while. How much notice do employees have to give if they want to leave? Can you increase this? 

It’s also worth thinking about whether you should include restrictive covenants in the contracts of employment of your senior leadership and management teams. 

While usually you won’t be able to prevent them working for someone else, you may be able to stop them from poaching other members of staff when they leave.

Good luck!

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