Recruiting and retaining good staff can be a challenge, particularly when you have a start-up business. Here bakers and other experts relate their experience and advice on attracting and keeping the best employees.

The perfect premises, products and equipment won’t count for much if your business doesn’t have the right staff. Recruiting, training and retaining employees can be time-consuming and fraught with difficulties, but is high up on the list of the most important element of running your own business.

It is understandable why a new operator – possibly under cash flow pressure – would attempt to trade with minimal staffing.

Mark Sheath of Jengers Bakery says he realised, soon after starting out, that it was not possible to run the business and bake at night. “As the business has grown, we have employed further team members to alleviate the pressure on me,” he explains.

Bexhill Farm Kitchen also underestimated staffing requirements. “We bought a run-down business and didn’t anticipate the rapid increase in customers to the point it rose. We found ourselves understaffed,” explains founder Lee Smith.

It’s a view echoed by Linda Kianfar of Foodhaven, producer of the white sourdough declared Britain’s Best Loaf in this year’s competition.

“I underestimated staffing requirements – and how hard it is to find good staff who are prepared to work hard and long hours in order to succeed,” she adds.

Leo Campbell, co-founder of Oxford-based healthy baking business Modern Baker, explains that although his business didn’t underestimate the number of staff required, there was an element of trial and error in developing the workforce. “Because we were a classic start-up and in an industry where we had no previous experience, we didn’t know exactly what skills or roles we would need back then to build a wellness brand,” he adds.

Even taking on an existing business with staff in place doesn’t mean you’re not going to quickly find yourself in a position of having to recruit, as discovered by Martin Hunt of Joe’s Bakery in Bristol. He entered the trade by acquiring a small back-street bakery that already had two full-time and one part-time baker. Although Hunt had plenty of food production and business knowledge, he had no bakery experience and knew he was taking a risk.

“The bakers all left within a month or so and I was in trouble,” he explains. “I battled on, recruited two new bakers by paying top-dollar. They were both fantastic bakers and I learnt a huge amount from them.”

On the flipside of underestimating staff requirements is running a business with too many, and employment adviser Acas says the first step in recruiting is understanding if someone is needed, whether the role will be seasonal and whether flexible hours could help you manage peaks and troughs (see panel above).

Once requirements are decided, the next decision to be made – if the role is in production – is whether to seek previous bakery experience. There are two sides to that argument, suggests Chris Young, organiser of the Real Bread Campaign.

“In some cases ‘I’ve worked at bakery X’ will be taken as a good sign that the candidate might well be ready to hit the ground running,” he says. “In others, experience might make a recruiter wary of a baker who’ll need to ‘unlearn’ methods and attitudes that aren’t right in the new job.”

Kianfar at Foodhaven and Hunt of Joe’s Bakery are both in the camp that prefer previous bakery experience.

“For production workers we always look for bakery experience, although we try to be flexible in the amount/type of bakery experience,” explains Hunt. “In the past we have tried using chefs who want to be bakers, but they never seem able to successfully make the transition.”

Modern Baker, which specialises in clean-label and yeast-free goods, seeks production staff who understand natural fermentation, and prefer those who have been trained by The School of Artisan Food.

Hunt has previously recruited staff from a specialist bakery college, but says a drop in availability of such training means the nearest bakery course to his Bristol-based business is 90 miles away in Birmingham. This is also the reason Hunt can no longer offer apprenticeships, he adds, having previous employed a “steady stream”.

Foodhaven does not currently offer apprenticeships, but plans to explore this in future, as does Modern Baker.

“We have just started looking into this as there’s rarely anything better than home-grown talent, over time,” says Campbell.

When it comes to advertising a job, many businesses find local channels – including social media and posting notices up in their own shops – are effective. Generally, the nature of bakery work means a business wants local staff.

“We occasionally put a notice in the window for staff, but mostly it’s from walk-in enquiries,” says Smith at Bexhill Farm Kitchen, while Sheath at Jengers Bakery finds word of mouth and recommendations from existing staff good recruitment tools.

Recruitment has changed radically in the past few years, adds Hunt. “Newspaper classified ads have become expensive and largely ineffective and these days we tend to rely on word of mouth, a poster in the shop window and social media such as Twitter and Facebook,” he says. “Over the past few years this has proved surprisingly effective – and very inexpensive!”

The Real Bread Campaign suggests the use of specialist media including British Baker and the Campaign’s magazine, forum and newsletter.

Having been through the process of finding and recruiting the right person for a job, you want to ensure they stay with your business. This, suggest many bakery businesses, is essentially a matter of treating them with respect and loyalty, and hoping it is returned.

Foodhaven says it encourages staff loyalty by paying well, investing time in training, and implementing bonus schemes based on hitting realistic targets.

“We communicate all the time with staff and have regular company social events,” says Kianfar. “We congratulate success in all areas of service and production.”

Jengers Bakery rewards its team with a wide range of activities, including a curry night, afternoon tea, bowling and a karaoke party. “We always have a Christmas party and always put a voucher or cash in at Christmas,” adds Sheath. “For birthdays we always get a card and gift.”

Hunt at Joe’s Bakery explains that its strategy is to treat its staff as ‘craftsmen’ rather than ‘factory workers’.

“We allow them to work largely unsupervised, but with a close eye on product quality,” he adds. “The same generally applies to senior shop staff, but we find that less experienced shop assistants do require higher levels of supervision.”

“Our bakers are well-paid compared to most other local bakers but are expected to work hard and maintain high levels of both quality and productivity.”

Paying a fair wage is a big contributor to employee satisfaction – as is making sure they get paid what they are owed in a timely fashion. But running a payroll can be a complicated process (see panel above).

Joe’s Bakery calculates the number of hours worked by employees and then sends the information off to a payroll bureau that is owned and operated by its accountants.

“Until a few years ago we did the payroll ourselves, but it is now so complicated that we find it much better to let the experts, with the specialist computer software, do the work,” explains Hunt.

Similarly, Foodhaven outsources its payroll processing – sending information to a payroll bureau that calculates all salaries and deductions, and raises all necessary paperwork. The business then posts the information in its accounting software, and makes payments to staff and HMRC based on numbers provided by the payroll bureau.

Jengers Bakery uses a bookkeeper and a separate accountant, with Sheath explaining: “We feel it is worth every penny and try to surround ourselves with experts in their field.”

Which is apt, as surrounding yourself with the best people is what good staffing and recruitment is all about.

Staff recruitment guide

Workplace training, advice and conciliation service provider Acas offers the following guidance:

Your first step should be working out if you really need to hire someone. How long-term is the post likely to be? Is your workflow seasonal or fairly constant?

Also, think about the way your work is organised. Could flexible working, such as staggered hours or overtime, help you manage any peaks and troughs, as well as opening up the role to those who otherwise might not consider it?

Decide how much you will pay, but pay the going rate if you want the best person. Imagine the new employee starting work – will you have time to train and coach them to become an effective employee?

Give thought to precisely who you want for the job by pinpointing key tasks and aims of the role in a job description.

Profile the person best suited to the role and, in order not to discriminate against anyone, focus on: skills & knowledge, experience, aptitudes and personal qualities. Spell out which attributes are essential and which are desirable.

When it comes to advertising, pick at least two methods from among: local schools or colleges, job centres, employment agencies, local newspapers, and online, including social media.Use an application form to get the information you need. The form should only ask for information relevant to the job.

Sift the candidates who best match the job description and person specification. Ideally, this and the interview should be done by two or more people to avoid unintended bias.

Before the interview, make a list of questions you want to ask. Keep all notes, including any made during the interview. It is also advisable to have set questions to probe candidates’ skills and help you measure their answers. During interviews, make sure you ask ‘open-ended’ questions, and do not ask questions that may be considered discriminatory.

Once you’ve decided who you want, send out a job offer letter. Remember, you are now on the verge of entering into an employment contract, a legal arrangement. Set out the job title and the offer; any conditions applying to the offer; terms – including salary, hours, benefits, pension arrangements, holiday entitlement and place of employment; the start date and any probationary period; and what the candidate needs to do to accept the offer, including providing satisfactory references.

Employment obligations: the key ingredients

Advice from Ian Jones, senior associate in the employment team at law firm Blake Morgan:


Recruitment must be fair, without bias and avoid discrimination relating to protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, such as age, disability, gender or race. Employers must establish that individuals have the right to work in the UK.

Section 1 statement

It is a legal requirement to provide an employee with a written statement outlining their employment terms within two months of employment commencing. It must include:  name of employer and employee; date employment starts and any period of continuous employment; pay and interval of payment; hours of work; holiday entitlement and pay; job title/brief description
of work; place of work.

An employer must also notify the employee of the terms relating to absence due to incapacity and sick pay, disciplinary and grievance procedures, pension schemes and notice periods. 


Employers must provide employees with an itemised pay slip, and pay national minimum/living wage hourly rates. Where employers fail to pay the correct rate, HMRC can investigate.


The Working Time Regulations 1998 state that workers are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave (28 days for full-time workers which can include public holidays), but additional holiday may be given in the employment contract.

Sick leave

Although there is no statutory right to receive full pay for sick leave, qualifying employees may be entitled to statutory sick pay of £92.05  a week (limited to 28 weeks for one period of incapacity) if absent from work for at least four consecutive days.

Handling disciplinary and grievance issues

The Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures, available on the Acas website, contains practical advice for employers. 

Pension schemes

Employers must automatically enrol eligible staff into a workplace pension scheme where they earn over £10,000 a year and are between 22 and the state pension age.


Notice is usually required to lawfully terminate an employment contract. The statutory minimum notice period for employees with more than one month’s service is one week for each year of service, up to a maximum of 12 weeks. Contractual notice may be longer.

Payroll Q&A

Nick Levine, head of enterprise at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), answers questions on running a payroll.

What are the key functions of a payroll?

The key functions of a payroll are to calculate how much to pay your employees, relevant deductions from their salary, and any tax payments which need to be paid to HMRC. As well as capturing the personal details of employees, you will also need to provide information such as whether they have a student loan and, where applicable, whether they will want to take advantage of salary sacrifices such as cycle-to-work or childcare vouchers.When taking on a new employee, the bulk of this information can be obtained from their P45. This is a form generated by previous employers, which has to be provided by law.

What are the tasks required to complete a payroll?

The key tasks include calculating the correct salaries to pay employees, alongside taxes owed to HMRC. Once payroll calculations have been completed, these need to be recorded within a company’s accounting records, with payments then needing to be made to individual employees and to HMRC. Payrolls will need to be run on the frequency of when employees are paid. Most companies perform the task monthly, but there are some instances where it will be weekly.

What payments and deductions must be taken into consideration?

Employee net salary (the amount physically paid to them once deductions are made), deductions from employee salaries (student loans, salary sacrifice schemes, income tax, employee national insurance contributions), and employer national insurance contributions (paid by the company).

Is it practical for a small business to run its own payroll?

While payroll is not a particularly value-adding exercise, it is time-consuming and it is important to get it right. Miscalculating or reporting payroll can lead to increased administration, fines and disgruntled employees. Outsourcing payroll is relatively cheap and is a standard tasks for ICAEW accountants to carry out on behalf of their clients.