The phrase ‘small business’ brings to mind a little company that’s optimistic and valiant, yet cosy. A small team of workers, perhaps bonded by family ties or friendship before they started, banding together to offer a friendly, personal service and take on the big boys of business – all under the leadership of an understanding boss, who overflows with goodwill and compassion, while simultaneously bursting with fresh ideas, energy and business acumen…
The pressures of small business
OK, let’s cut the background music and get rid of the soft lighting, because often, that’s not the reality. Small business employees may have to handle a lot of responsibility due to the small size of the business, and the pressure can be huge.
Working in a small team can be intense and there’s often little metaphorical or literal space to separate you from colleagues you don’t get on with. Plus, some small business owners are much better at running a business than being a boss.
Luckily, the 2018 Employee Sentiment Poll from Investors in People provides some insight into how you can keep your employees happy.
Flexibility was one of the top three things that workers liked most about their current job, so consider how you could offer more flexibility to your employees. Of course, practicality has to be a consideration. You can’t offer an evening shift to an employee if their work involves interaction with clients or fellow employees who work 9-5, and if they will be at your business premises by themselves in the evenings, there are energy costs and security to consider.
However, if you can offer some degree of flexibility in hours and an option to sometimes work from home, your employees will thank you for it. It can make handling family and household commitments easier and less stressful. Nobody wants to use weeks of annual leave waiting for the RAC, the washing machine repair company, large deliveries and that 3 p.m. appointment for little Jimmy to have the cast removed from his leg.
Build a good team
Another top three pick for things workers like most: a good team. Ensure you listen to your employees’ grumbles and stay aware. Is everyone pulling their weight? Is there subtle or not-so-subtle harassment or bullying going on?
Ensure your expectations of everyone are the same and that you and any other staff with positions of authority are treating employees fairly. Look for ways to bring the team together and new recruits that will best complement your existing staff.
Make work enjoyable
Enjoyable work was the other top three entry for things workers like most and it topped the table of characteristics that employees look for in a new job.
If you run a plumbing company and one of your employees decides they hate everything about being a plumber and want to become a vet instead, there’s not much you can do about it.
However, it’s worth asking your employees what parts of their job they do and don’t enjoy, and then pinpointing the reasons. They may be things you can fix. To break it down to its simplest level, if you employ two brilliant plumbers and one loves fixing boilers while the other excels at fitting bathrooms, you’re more likely to retain them if you try to allocate them the work they enjoy wherever possible. It will also help them gain expertise. On the flipside, though, you need to ensure your staff are competent at whatever they may be asked to do.
Pay a fair wage
Their pay was the thing that most respondents liked least about their current job, and the second biggest reason for current unhappiness in their role. The amount you can afford to pay employees obviously depends on your business performance and profit, and minimum and living wage laws are ensuring more realistic minimum rates.
However, being paid minimum wage can be demoralising. Whatever you can afford to pay, make sure your pay scheme is transparent and fair, and that it reflects more than just one factor, i.e. not just qualifications or length of service or experience.
Be a good manager
The top grievance among respondents was poor management. Management is a skill within itself, and there’s no shame in getting yourself some training in this area – it’s far more shameful not to care how well you manage your employees, or to believe you were born the perfect manager!
The third biggest grievance after poor management and pay was not feeling valued, so a final bonus tip is to ensure your employees know how much you appreciate them and their work. This should ideally go beyond a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ – take a tip from good teaching practices and make your praise specific.
“Great job on that quote, John, it was very thorough” or “Thanks for getting that report to me so quickly, Mandy,” lets John and Mandy know you’re taking notice of what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and the effort they’re putting in.
Don’t we all feel better for knowing that what we do is noticed and appreciated?