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Key Workers

Published April 2, 2015 (last updated on June 28, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Content Writer


Key workers are major contributors to a business.

Typically, key workers possess a certain set of skills, knowledge, or expertise, which no other employee in the company has. They may also play a key role in decision-making and claim partial ownership of the business. For these reasons, retaining key workers is vital to the long-term growth and success of businesses.

The term ‘key worker’ is also used to describe an essential service worker. For example, an emergency respondent or an employee involved in the supply, production, or distribution of energy, power, or fuel.

Losing a key worker can be difficult for a business. To minimise loss, it is common for a business to add a restraint clause in the worker’s terms of employment. For example, the key worker may have to give longer notice than usual, or they may be restricted from working for a competitor in the same industry.

What is the role of a key worker?

Key workers often have a greater responsibility than other workers. They may hold a high-level position in management, have partial ownership of the company, or contribute to the business in another way that is perceived as highly valuable. As a result, key employees often receive a higher level of compensation, including extra benefits and incentives.

Most key employees possess a unique set of skills and knowledge, which is usually acquired from further education like a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, postgraduate, or MBA (Master of Business Associates). There are top-level positions that are obtained purely based on experience.

The value of a key worker comes down to the degree of impact they’ve had on your business. Below are a few questions to guide employers in determining the key worker’s impact on the business:

  • Have sales increased since they were brought on board?

  • Has there been substantial market growth?

  • Was there a positive impact on company morale and productivity?

What is a Restraint of Trade?

The purpose of a restraint clause is to impose certain restrictions on an employee after they leave the business. This is usually done for several reasons:

  • Prevent disclosure of trade secrets

  • Prevent a former employee from poaching clients from your business

  • Prevent a former employee from directly competing with your company

  • Protect your intellectual property

The terms of the restraint clause have to be reasonable. Employers are generally allowed to include terms which are in place for the purpose of protecting the business. If the terms go beyond that, the courts may deem the clause as not enforceable.

Given the complexities of a restraint clause, it is advisable to get a legal perspective on the document. A workplace relations expert will be able to detect nuances within the clause and provide insight into whether the courts may find the clause reason and enforceable.

What are employee retention strategies?

Many employers offer financial incentives and bonuses to retain key employees. While this may be effective in the short-term, money is not always the best retention technique.

Below are some alternative techniques, steps and methods that employers can adopt:

  • Know your key players

    Take the time to perform individual assessments of your top players. Which of these employees would have the biggest impact on the business if they were to leave? Once they have been identified, they should be paid close attention to.

  • Identify their core strengths

    Are the key employees working at their full potential? There are instances where the best workers are constrained by their own roles. Review job descriptions of star players and note potential areas where their valuable contributions could be channelled.

  • Encourage feedback and new ideas

    It is necessary that employees have a voice. This can be achieved by having a system in place that makes it easy for employees to provide honest feedback and share new ideas. This will foster a cohesive work environment, making employees feel like a valued part of the business.

  • Beyond compensation

    Key employees should understand pay structures clearly and without ambiguity. This includes how much they earn, when they are paid, and the details of other bonuses and incentives. Refer to the current market value rates to determine the best salary package for your key workers.

  • Frequent recognition

    While greater financial support and bonuses helps to a certain degree to retain key employees, it should not be used as a replacement for regular feedback and recognition. Demonstrating appreciation brings rise to a strong sense of pride and accomplishment.

 Peninsula can advise you on retaining your key workers lawfully. For peace of mind, please call our 24-hour Advice Line now on 1300 651 415.

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