Tactical Advice

Operation Employee Loyalty

Ten ways small business owners can keep their best employees from wanting to leave.
This story appears in the June 2007 issue of BizTech Magazine.

Ty Freyvogel is an entrepreneur who has launched and grown numerous successful small businesses over the course of a 35-year career and runs Freyvogel Communications.

Every entrepreneur knows the hectic lifestyle that comes along with starting and running a company. But have you ever considered how this work schedule affects your employees? Employees of small businesses are often asked to go way beyond the call of duty, and they usually do it without receiving huge paychecks. If too many such days come and go without any acknowledgment from you, you can bet your employees will be sending out their resumes all over town.

And because your employees make or break your business, you must keep your best ones around. But not being able to pay hefty salaries doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of plenty of other ways to create happy, loyal employees.

Small business owners might feel at a disadvantage compared with CEOs of large corporations, mainly because of the lack of deep pockets. But that’s not always the case. Because they work closely with their employees instead of being separated by layers of bureaucracy, it is easy for them to get to know their employees well.

Here are 10 things small business owners can do to make workers feel welcome:

Provide Much-Deserved Time Off: Time off doesn’t have to translate to the business being understaffed for the day. There are all kinds of ways to give your staff a little break without slowing the business down, such as closing on Friday afternoons in the summer.

Give Bonuses at Critical Times: Presumably, you work closely with your employees and know a lot about their lives outside of work. Act on this knowledge in ways that benefit them when they need it most. If one of your employees has a new baby or a sick spouse or child, a bonus will help ease the financial burden during these times, and the employee will appreciate your concern.

Be Flexible: Your employees are working hard to make your business the best. The least you can do is be flexible when they have to take unexpected time off or need to work a new schedule. If an employee is having a personal problem, help him create a work schedule that allows him to solve his problem without feeling like he is going to be in trouble with the boss.

Pay Attention to Strengths and Weaknesses: Carefully evaluate where your employees do their best work, and ask them what jobs they feel most comfortable doing. For example, if an employee isn’t a people person, chances are she won’t excel working the front of a store. And you would rather have more someone more personable handling your customers anyway. Keep the lines of communication open. If an employee expresses an interest in being trained for a different job, then get her trained. If your employees feel passionate about their jobs, they are more likely to stick around.

Feed Them: A free meal every now and then is one of the easiest (and most appreciated) perks an employer can provide. It’s a great way for any employer to say thank you after a particularly rough workweek or for a job well done. Another great idea for employers is providing a catered meal for any employee working late. You’ll be surprised how far a full stomach goes in building employee loyalty.

Recognize a Job Well Done: Everyone likes to be told they’ve done a good job on something, especially your employees. Typically, people who are interested in working for small businesses are driven more by recognition than by dollars, so whether you implement an Employee of the Month plaque or simply say, ”Thanks for the great job!” never miss an opportunity to give your employees the recognition they deserve. And when a client compliments an employee’s work, never steal the credit. Be sure to pass the glowing review along to the rightful owner.

Make Them Feel Like Owners: Whether it comes from having a voice in major decisions, being able to work directly with clients or actually owning stock, a sense of employee ownership will go a long way toward instilling loyalty. Nurturing your employees to love your business as much as you do will strengthen your company’s foundation.

Make Sure They Have Everything They Need to Do Their Jobs: Nothing frustrates a high-performing employee more than having to struggle to do his job because he doesn’t have the right hardware or software, or because he must deal with outdated equipment. Be the boss who constantly communicates with employees, and asks them about the tools needed to do their jobs better. Sometimes you’ll be able to take care of it right away; other times it will take awhile. But the simple act of showing you care goes a long way.

Provide Employee Attendance Incentives: Your best employees are likely high performers who come in even when they’re feeling a bit under the weather and will work occasionally on a day off to take care of an emergency. These employees deserve attendance benefits. For example, for every month without an absence, give employees an extra vacation day, a gift certificate, or some kind of bonus. The reward they receive for their perfect attendance will make them happy they worked so hard for you throughout the month.

Help Them Leave If It Isn’t the Right Job for Them: Working in a small business isn’t for everyone. If you notice that one of your employees is struggling or simply isn’t happy, talk with her about whether or not your business is the right place for her. If you collectively decide that it isn’t, help her find a more suitable job. How does helping an employee leave build loyalty? The exiting employee will spread the word about what a great boss you are, and other employees will see that you are a caring and understanding employer, even when someone is ready to move on. Seeing how well you treat other employees, even those on their way out will make others think twice about leaving.

Ty Freyvogel is an entrepreneur who has launched and grown numerous successful small businesses over the course of a 35-year career and runs Freyvogel Communications. He started his first venture in 1975 following graduation from college and a stint as an officer in the U.S. Army, and he recently launched www.makingsenseofyourbusiness.com.

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