Recruitment and employee retention in tight times

Sylvie Thrush Marsh, Chief Evangelist
By Sylvie Thrush Marsh, Chief Evangelist

It’s become a bit of a cliche to call the past few years "unprecedented times". We’ve been through a lot of change and turbulence, from COVID-19 restrictions and supply chain disruptions to persistent high inflation, skills shortages, and cost of living pressures.

At MyHR, we deal with well over a thousand employers across Australasia and we know how difficult things have been (and continue to be) for many businesses. We have also seen that organisations that pay extra attention to the way they organise and run their business can make it easier to attract good staff and keep the talent they have, even in difficult circumstances.

It’s all about understanding, and successfully communicating, what you have to offer employees and potential employees (often called your Employee Value Proposition, or EVP).

So let's have a look at what you can do to find and retain top talent when your budgets are tight or there’s a ton of competition for skilled people.

What is an Employee Value Proposition?

Your EVP is a fancy-pants HR term for the valuable attributes and features that a business or employer offers its employees. This could be anything from pay, benefits, and career development to flexible work arrangements, a compelling company mission or supportive culture.

These all add up to the reasons why an employee would want to come to work or stay working for the organisation.

Research has confirmed that organisations that have strong EVPs (and deliver on them) perform better financially, have lower employee turnover and more highly engaged team members, and have fewer problems attracting talented people.

The opportunity: Company solutions

Traditionally, not all small to medium-sized enterprises have been good at taking a step back to think about what they offer to attract the right kinds of employees and to retain them. This sort of design thinking does require an investment of time and energy, but it is an investment well worth making.

What you’re really looking for is a couple of convincing reasons why a candidate would choose to work for your business instead of someone else's.

At a broad level, it boils down to a few key things:


Can you compete with your wallet and pay top dollar for talent? This is the most obvious lever to pull, because most people like earning more money, but it’s also the most costly to the business.

If you aren’t able to compete with the highest salaries or wages, perhaps you can offer other benefits or perks, like bonuses or profit sharing (be sure you get legal advice before you do this).

But don’t fret if you are still unable to compete on money or benefits, there are plenty of other things that people are motivated by and will look for in an employer.

Type of work

Is your work really interesting? Do you have projects, products or systems that no-one else in the industry has? Is it technically challenging? Do you have unusual or interesting clients?

Sure, there is often a lot of repetition in many roles (there are only so many ways you can make a coffee or reconcile accounts at the end of the month), but being able to offer unique work or a wide variation of tasks can be compelling to people.

If you do have interesting work or clients that offer it, be sure to talk to candidates about it. People love to hear how working with you will give them access to exciting or different projects or clients.

Development opportunities

Does your business have structured performance reviews and development plans? Are there clear pathways to promotion, leadership and management progression? Do you have respected experts in your business that can act as mentors or coaches to junior staff?

Providing opportunities for growth and development can be a great way to differentiate your company from your competitors. Just be sure to articulate them well, and match any promises with actions.

Culture and team

Team vibe and how people are treated can really make or break a job, especially for people who like interaction and social connection, or those in more transactional roles.

Whether or not you think or talk about it, or even if you like the word “culture” (which certainly is bandied about a lot), every organisation that employs people will have ways of working and team dynamics that affect how people feel about coming to work.

Is the team fun to work with? Do people feel safe, respected, and supported? Do good people get help to shine and is poor performance or toxic behaviour properly addressed? Is there connection within the business, clear communication, and a coherent set of values that people embody?

A strong culture and positive work environment will be a big part of attracting good people and either keeping them or driving them out of the business. So it's important to spend time thinking about what drives your company culture, whether it can be improved, and how it can be articulated to others (inside and outside the business).

Find out more about building your company culture.


This is a really hot topic, especially since the COVID-19 lockdowns. Lifestyle and work-life balance are frequently at the top of employees priorities when looking for a new job, and not everyone is content to sit at the same desk or machine all the time.

Are there opportunities for team members to work remotely some of the time? Do you offer flexible work opportunities, such as reduced hours, flexible schedules, various locations or offices etc? These are all inexpensive ways to make your workplace more attractive to both potential and existing employees.

The key is offering options and exploring people’s preferences. Also don’t overlook the fact that there are some employees who like regular schedules, coming to work to be part of a team, and performing their role without too much fanfare.

Getting together as a team (at least some of the time) is also better for collaboration, mentoring, and building relationships and the overall company culture.

Meaning and impact

Employee expectations change with the times, and more and more people, especially younger people, want to know why their work matters, how it makes a difference, and what purpose the organisation serves.

This is usually pretty easy for charities and social enterprises to address, but it can be harder for private businesses.

Sometimes, the answer to "why does my work matter?" is at the individual or team level. Is the job you're recruiting for one that is absolutely critical to the business and the livelihoods of their teammates? Do you solve a tricky problem for your customers?

The answer could also be at the community or business level. Do you help people connect and build stronger relationships? Are you involved in your local community, either directly or through pro bono contributions? Do you provide an essential service? Would your customers struggle to find another supplier if you were to close up shop?

Your employees' work could matter at the industry and "big issue" level too. Does your organisation tackle a problem that no-one else is working on? Are you pushing technology in your field further and driving innovation? Does your work tie into a broader social, political, or economic issue that people care about?

Regardless of why your people's work matters, whether you provide an essential service to your local community or if you're solving world hunger, you can still make it clear to your team why their work is important, with regular internal feedback, connecting customer feedback to your team, and making it clear what the final outcomes of all their hard work are.

Putting the pieces together

Focusing on these key areas will mean you can answer the question: “why should someone choose our job over one with another company?”

When you know that answer, you can play to your strengths while also focusing on any areas that may need improving.

From there, you need to work out how to clearly and convincingly articulate it to people, both within the organisation and outside it. Formalise it in writing, share it with your employees, include it in your recruitment materials, and talk to candidates about it.

This simplifies the recruitment process a lot – you know exactly the “product” you’re taking to market. You’re not trying to be everything to everyone, because you’ve identified your points of advantage or difference, and can appeal to the sorts of people that will fit your business and the role.

Work on ensuring your strategies and systems are sustainable. It’s not about securing one star performer, once. You want to be able to recruit good people whenever you need them and to ensure you retain the talented people that will help the organisation reach its goals.

Ensure your HR practices are solid

Remember, the easiest way to recruit is to not have to in the first place. Some movement in your workforce is normal and bringing in new people with new perspectives and ideas can be great for the business.

But you want to be able to retain your best employees and treat them well, so that they won’t have reason to leave. If you are regularly losing people you would like to keep, it’s really important to understand why they are leaving (exit interviews are great for this). Most of the time, it will be down to one or more of the 6 factors we’ve talked about.

Having good HR practices and processes really helps build a solid foundation for the employment relationship and supports competing for talent in these key areas. So having all your compliance side sorted, whether it’s watertight employment agreements and job descriptions, or clear communication channels. Any slackness in these “hygiene’ areas can lead to employees being uncertain or disengaged down the track, and harm your company culture.

An effective performance review system is critical to your people’s development and your business’, especially if you have a large team. People want to know they are improving, which areas they need to focus on, and that there is a structured path to progression. You also want to know which of your people stand out for greater responsibility or future management opportunities.

If you are competing on salary or wages, you need to have your remuneration reviews in place so you have a good sense of what the market is offering and where your pay levels should be.

Again, it’s all about having all the right pieces in the right places so you can attract top talent and keep them with you to help drive the business.

Get more strategies for retaining skilled people.

Frequently asked questions

Is it illegal to recruit employees from another company?

It’s not against the law to hire (or “poach”) employees from another company, even if they’re a competitor.

However, be careful what the employee that you’re trying to hire has in their employment agreement. If their current employer has included a restraint of trade or non-solicitation clause, the employee may be legally prevented from working for you (or from doing certain kinds of work for you).

Where's the best place to advertise for quality candidates?

There is no complete, one-stop shop, so aim for a wide audience by advertising your vacancy in a variety of places, including social media and the more traditional recruitment avenues like job websites, publications, and boards.

It’s wise to do some research to find out where candidates in your industry are looking; this will help you target your advertising.

Also, be sure to keep a constant eye out for talent - internal as well as external - and build connections and networks so you have a bunch of good candidates to reach out to.

Get answers to more common questions about recruitment.

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