The COVID-19 pandemic, and the disruption it has caused, may have slowed the pace of recruitment, and limited the number of people switching jobs, but this pause won’t last forever.


In January, research from recruitment firm REED found that the majority of UK workers are not put off looking for jobs this year and are, on the whole, optimistic about their prospects. Over half (59%) said they continued to seek new opportunities, with over two thirds (70%) willing to take a pay cut or work in a new sector to secure a job and over half (53%) open to moving a different part of the country to find the right role.


With the COVID-19 vaccination programme rolling out, the economy will soon be opening up and, one can expect, that there will be a lot of pent-up demand among those looking to leave their job. This means that businesses who have not treated their employees well or have failed to recognise their contributions could lose top talent soon.


With this in mind, the question for businesses becomes: how you can retain and attract top talent? We caught up with Danni Rush, Chief Customer Officer at Virgin Incentives and Virgin Experience Days to explore.


The importance of retaining talent


Keeping existing employees happy to commit and grow within a business should be the core aim of any HR team.


Failing to do so could create a high turnover. In terms of creating a thriving workplace culture, the continual change of personnel and the difficulties in forming long-lasting team bonds can be a serious obstacle. In financial terms, high staff turnover costs companies money on recruitment and training. And in business terms, a high staff turnover could put off clients, who may tire of having to deal with new faces so often.


This is an issue that business leaders recognise and some have sought to address. For instance, Phoenix Group recently introduced five more days of emergency leave for their employees, Greene King launched an employee support fund which, in the past, distributed £650,000 in grants to employees facing hardship, and PwC has announced that all employees will receive performance-related raises despite the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.


However, not all businesses have taken pro-active steps to retain talent. Our recent whitepaper, which surveyed 2,000 employees across the UK, found that 22% of employees have never received a reward from their employer. No birthday gifts, no extra days off, no Christmas hampers or boxes of chocolates. Nothing.


These statistics should be setting off alarm bells when you consider that a separate study found that 66% of employees would resign if they felt unappreciated, rising to 76% among millennials.


To put it simply: businesses that don’t invest in policies or schemes to reward and retain talent could be facing staff shortages and instability at the exact time when a steady ship is most required.


How to set up a reward and recognition programme 


Setting up a reward and recognition programme is one-way businesses can retain and attract talent.


These rewards don’t have to be pricey, challenging, or complicated. They just have to be worthwhile, thoughtful, and ultimately make the workplace as attractive as possible to existing employees and future ones.


Often businesses opt for financial and non-financial rewards, which is a perfectly fine route to go down but can quickly become expensive. For example, if you awarded £100 one year as a bonus, then your employees are likely to expect the same or more next year, thus sending you into a spiral of expectation which may not be sustainable.


Equally, while a monetary approach might suit some, it’s unlikely to drive the type of long-lasting positive sentiment you need to retain and attract talent. Cash rewards are often incorporated into the paycheck and, from the employee’s perspective, can easily be forgotten.


Why businesses should use non-cash rewards in reward and recognition schemes


Alternatively, non-cash rewards including vouchers or gift cards – such as the Virgin Experience Days Gift Card – offer employees discounts on a wide variety of brands and restaurants, giving them and their employers a great deal of flexibility.


By adopting this approach businesses are acknowledging that one size doesn’t fit all and are making sure that each employee’s reward package works for them.


Furthermore, non-cash rewards could be used on virtual experiences or team-building exercises that can be enjoyed during or after lockdown restrictions – such as virtual wine tasting or home baking classes. In these troubling times, everyone is looking for a source of entertainment in the evening and by running events such as these you are boosting team morale and bonding, which will give employees a greater incentive to stay.


The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented level of disruption for businesses and, understandably, employee recognition and reward has slipped off the agenda. However, this cannot become a long-term trend. Businesses that fail to reward and recognise their employees through either a financial or non-financial scheme will lose and struggle to attract top talent, which will impact company culture, finances, and businesses stability.