As the struggle to recruit and retain employees intensifies, many organizations, especially large ones, are offering employee perks.  Small businesses than start to question how they will compete for employees with companies that are offering concierge services, free coffee, ping pong tables…….the list goes on.  

First, change your mindset.  What do you hear in that question? It infers you can’t or that you question whether or not you can.  Try reframing it: how do I differentiate myself from these large companies. Sounds better, right?

Second, let’s focus on what is really important to employees and what really causes employees to leave. The studies (here’s one) are consistent — relationship with boss, relationship with coworkers, culture, ability to use their skills, opportunities to development typically top the list.  Note: free food or coffee or other perks are not on the list. AND each of these things are within your control.

What Differentiates You

As a small business, you can be much more agile and flexible than larger organizations.  This allows you to really focus on and influence the things that are more important to retaining employees.  You don’t have to worry about violating corporate policy or how it would impact their pay, etc. Leverage this!!  Not only will you be able to flex to meet the wants and needs of your employees, you will be able to flex to advance your business as well.  

Focus on Building Strong Relationships

You’ve heard the saying “People don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses”.  Let’s focus on building those strong relationships with your employees.  A few tips:

  • Genuinely Care about the Whole Person.  This means not just caring about what the employee does at work or his/her performance — but what’s happening in the employee’s life.  Ask about their weekend plans or how their kids are doing in school. Ask about what they enjoy doing outside of work. Just showing your care and authenticity can be a reason to stay.
  • Listen.  You are not listening to appease them.  You are not listening to solve a problem.  You are not listening while preparing your response.  You are listening to UNDERSTAND. Then follow up with good open ended questions.  (Check out our previous blog on listening).
  • Make Time for Them.  Set up a consistent time to talk with each employee.  Seriously. I have had managers say they don’t need one-on-one meetings, that employees will let them know if they need anything.  Yes, AND it’s important to make sure you are setting time on your schedule to meet with them.  Maybe it’s once a month, once every other week or once a week. Whatever you both decide — but set it up.  Put it on the calendar. Keep that commitment — DON’T CANCEL. This is important and it will make a difference in your relationship.  I promise.

Provide Development Opportunities.  

Employees want to be valued.  They want to be able to use their skills and abilities to the greatest extent possible.  They want to grow and develop. They want you to invest in them.

Spend time with your employees individually to understand their short term and long term career goals, what they enjoy doing, what they would like to do more, etc.  This will help you identify what skills the employee is interested in developing.

This does not necessarily mean that you are paying for training courses or school (although you can). Most learning and development in a work setting is done through on-the-job activities — actually doing something new.   Once you find out what skills employees want to develop, work with them to identify ways they could develop those skills. What additional responsibilities can they take on? It doesn’t need to be a new job but rather additional responsibilities.  What responsibilities can you delegate to them so they can develop and you can focus on more strategic activities?

This is important enough to say again:  the key to doing any of these activities is to WORK WITH the employee to understand where the employee wants to develop and communicate how you feel additional responsibilities and roles will help them develop that skill.  

Focus on the Culture

As a small business, you truly influence the culture.  In talking to managers in small businesses, they know what they want the culture to look like.  It’s important to share that with your employees, then model and reward the behaviors that reinforce that culture.  That’s obvious, right? But here’s the most important part — you need to stop behaviors that violate that culture immediately.  

For example, say you want a family culture in your organization.  You model that by genuinely caring about your employees and encouraging employees to do the same.  Then you have an employee who violates that culture by taking credit for someone else’s work. If you don’t address that behavior immediately, your culture will begin to crumble.  One of my favorite quotes is “culture is as much about what we encourage as what we permit” by Fredrick Backman. Think about that.

Bottom Line: Focus on what is most important to employees.  Spend less time and money looking at perks for employees — and spend that time building relationships with your employees, providing development opportunities and creating a great company culture.  Those will outlast any ‘perk du jour’.

To learn more about how to coach and engage employees, let’s connect! Here’s a link to set up a meeting directly with us: Connect with People Spark

Download the guide: Achieve Your Business Goals Through Your Culture and People Strategies.

Download the guide: Achieve Your Business Goals Through Your Culture and People Strategies.

The success of your business depends on your culture. Therefore, it is critical to establish an intentional culture in your business and build strategies that support and reinforce it. The purpose of this eGuide is to provide a foundation for your business culture and ensure your people strategies and practices are aligned with it. Grab the guide - it’s free!

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