Employee-Retention Strategies on an SMB Budget

Updated: April 30, 2009

Retaining talent is not easy in a work force that is getting younger, feeling more entitled and changing jobs at the drop of a hat. Employers — especially SMBs (small- to medium-sized businesses) — are finding it more challenging to keep their hard-won employees. SMBs may not be able to compete with large enterprises when it comes to salaries and benefits , but they can leverage other strategies to inspire loyalty and retain their most valuable employees.

Make Team Building More Than a Cliché

One of an SMB's greatest strengths is its human scale; it's not a gigantic, impersonal hive. Within an SMB, it is possible for all workers to know one another to form a truly familial unit. People crave belonging to a tightly knit community, so make that one of your company's strengths.

Host regular social events that build bonds among co-workers. Friday lunches, the occasional happy hour, cookouts and so on help build friendships that talented people will be loathe to leave behind. And remember that while off-the-clock social events may seem like a good idea, employees will appreciate your respecting their personal time by scheduling events during business hours.

Never underestimate the value of free coffee. While you're at it, see if you can afford other small perks around the office, like donuts or bottled water. A fresh coat of paint and some soothing artwork on the office walls can work small wonders for morale. Compared to corporate cubicles, make your office a place where human beings want to work.

Provide Growth Opportunities

In a small company, there is always more work to be done than there are hands to do it. One of the most effective retention strategies is to keep talent constantly challenged with new levels of responsibility. The chance to excel under such pressure is the kind of challenge that good employees want, and they will stay with an employer who provides such opportunities.

Cross-training benefits employees as well as employers. The opportunity to learn new skills keeps employees stimulated and builds their career capital. The employer gets a more flexible team, as well as insurance against a sudden departure or an illness.

Subsidizing continuing education is another retention strategy that every employer can afford to some extent. Employees want to expand their training and expertise, and they appreciate an employer who invests in their improvement.

Respect Employees' Personal Lives

Work/life balance is more important than ever before to today's workers. An employer who respects that desire is hard to leave.

Flextime is one of the most sought-after benefits. Even in a small company, it can be implemented without sacrificing customer service or any other business objective.

Telecommuting is another benefit that is of great interest to modern workers. Part-time work-at-home arrangements can allow workers to take care of sick children or dependent parents. The company's willingness to go this extra mile will be greatly appreciated.

Another option is to offer services that employees would otherwise have to take care of in their free time. Arrange for employees to sign up for on-site car-washing and -detailing services. Discuss hosting Weight Watchers meetings or other such programs in your office. Or offer annual flu shots or cholesterol testing. Oftentimes, your company's health-insurance provider or HR outsourcer — if it uses such a service — can provide insight into local programs that employees appreciate.

There are many ways that SMBs can leverage their special strengths to retain top talent. Don't limit your employees to salary and benefits alone.

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