Skip to main content
main content, press tab to continue
Article | Managing Risk

Food and drink labour crisis

Five ways to become an employer of choice

By Sue Newton | February 15, 2022

This insight looks at five ways to become an employer of choice to better recruit and retain staff without resorting to unsustainable wage rises in the food and drink sector.
Risk & Analytics|Risk Management Consulting

Food and farming leaders recently warned that without urgent government intervention, the UK’s food supply chain will sink further into crisis.1 This follows chronic labour shortages in abattoirs, which forced pig farmers to cull healthy stock, a lack of seasonal workers that left fruit and vegetables unpicked earlier this year, and a shortfall of lorry drivers which continues to cause disruption across supply chains.

While some in the food and drink sector have sought to plug worker gaps by increasing wages, particularly in haulage,2 this won’t be an option for many organisations. It may, in fact, prove short-sighted and counter-productive; those seeking new workers via incremental wage bumps may well find the same workers’ heads are turned when their competitors nudge pay rates higher.

In this piece, calling on insights from WTW research into employee experience3 and wellbeing,4 we consider five alternative ways to become an employer of choice, and so help address labour shortages and support your organisation in thriving throughout challenging times.

  1. 01

    Think more widely on worker wellbeing

    Our insight suggests worker wellbeing is one of the key drivers for their loyalty. It’s also been shown that organisations with higher levels of wellbeing achieve better business outcomes, with higher levels of employee engagement, improved revenue, greater customer satisfaction and fewer safety incidents. We think of wellbeing as having four key elements: physical, emotional, social and financial.

    Organisations with higher levels of wellbeing achieve better business outcomes

    Understanding that physical wellbeing encompasses a wide range of factors – from taking appropriate preventive measures around health, managing chronic conditions, to navigating and recovering from an acute illness or unexpected injury, and successfully returning to peak functionality – can help you identify what levers you might pull to support workers’ physical wellbeing, such as accommodating phased returns to work after illness. Such moves might support you in retaining workers, even if they’re able to secure a higher wage elsewhere.

    The same goes for emotional wellbeing, which is about maintaining good mental health, being resilient by managing stress, coping with positive and negative emotional triggers, dealing with life crises and maintaining stability through illness or injury. What support might you be able to offer the worker around these factors to strengthen their loyalty?

  2. 02

    Support financial wellbeing beyond what you pay

    One further element of wellbeing is financial wellbeing. Achieving the state of being financially secure means having the ability to manage budgetary commitments, meet financial goals, protect against risks and save for contingencies or future needs like financial shocks. While the worker’s wages are clearly a fundamental plank of this, food and drink employers can more strongly support financial wellbeing by signposting their staff to benefits or advisory services likely to support overall, and therefore the likelihood of loyalty to your organisation.

  3. 03

    Inspire pride and connection

    WTW research, which looked at the characteristics of workplaces attracting high performance employees, identifies certain ‘hallmarks of excellence’ which could prove useful to consider in the context of recruitment and retention.

Our insight indicates the best companies, in their employees’ eyes, excel by inspiring connection to mission and purpose and engender deep trust in senior leadership. The applicability of this may seem something of a reach in the context of some of the toughest meat processing jobs, for example, but there are opportunities for food and drink manufacturers here. Consider how in the height of the pandemic those involved in processing and getting food to where it needed to be were identified as key workers, essential to the overall pandemic effort. Building messages of pride and mission around potentially undesirable roles can help keep people in them.

Moving onto trust in senior leadership, most organisations will, at some point, have faced worker retention challenges due to issues with management. Training to support better relationships between managers and their teams may go some way to attract and retain workers, while employee surveys will help you understand what matters most to your workers outside of pay, including their expectations around their managers’ behaviours.

  1. 04

    Celebrate success and understand what matters to your workers

    Challenging and sometimes hard-to-fill roles in food and drink manufacturing can sometimes feel wholly transactional between worker and employer. But in the fight for labour, organisations are well-advised to challenge this by steps such as sharing and celebrating stories about personal contributions to morale, productivity or health and safety. This can engender a sense the relationship between worker and employer is more than a straight swap of labour for money.

  2. 05

    Create an environment where workers can be comfortable being themselves

    Social wellbeing is about being connected by understanding how to interact well with others by accepting diversity, being inclusive, knowing how to support and collaborate with others, being able to successfully resolve conflicts and adapting to change. Being connected applies across someone’s family and friends, workplace and the wider community.

    Allowing workers to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work and expecting this to be supported can help differentiate your organisation in a competitive labour market. Might you consider more flexible working policies or shift patterns that recognise the other active concerns in a worker’s life, whether that’s caring responsibilities, creative endeavours, side hustles or grandchildren?

    Sending the signal loud and clear that workers need not abandon other things important to them to work for your organisation can widen the labour pool from which you can call on.

How can WTW help?

For support and advice on managing the risks associated with labour shortages, get in touch.







GB Food and Beverage Leader

Contact us