5 Ways for Small Businesses to Keep Staff Happy

5 Ways for Small Businesses to Keep Staff Happy

Employee engagement experts, Best Companies, explain how to build a loyal workforce

By Jonathan Austin

Employees are the most important asset for any company, and this rings particularly true for smaller businesses.

Maintaining long-term happiness amongst your workforce can be the difference between keeping them for a few months and keeping them for years. For many companies, their first instinct when attempting to appease unhappy staff is to increase salaries, but that isn’t always the best option.

They say that money can’t buy happiness, and although we all want to be comfortable financially, this old cliché tends to be accurate. Keeping your people happy, motivated and working hard for you doesn’t automatically translate to paying them the highest possible salary.

In fact, blindly hiking their pay can be quite the opposite of a grand gesture. People need to feel valued and challenged in their roles, and while few would reject a pay rise, job satisfaction can be valued far more than financial remuneration.

Pay rise
Pay rise:

Sounds great, but is it really the way to keep employees in the long term?

To give you a little inspiration, Jonathan Austin, Founder and CEO of employee engagement specialists Best Companies, gives 5 simple ways for small businesses everywhere to keep staff happy.

1. Open and honest communication

One of the highest contributors to employee engagement and happiness is open, honest and transparent communication. Although pay and benefits have an important role to play in a person’s job, what appears to be a higher priority is knowing exactly what is happening in the company.

Don’t forget that communication is a 2-way street; your employees should get the chance to bring their issues up with you and know that you'll listen to them, support them and then act accordingly. And vice versa, upper management should do everything they can to ensure changes and important business news are well communicated through the ranks.

The wonderful thing about transparent communication is that it'll cost you nothing, in monetary terms, but it'll require a certain amount of hard work from the management teams. If this isn’t something that you've explored before, make sure everyone involved is committed, from the directors to executives, as this is something that'll require a full team input.

Companies that decide to embark on the engagement journey show they are willing to embrace openness and honesty; leaders are making a commitment to listen to staff and act on what they tell them.

Best Companies

2. Encourage development and progression

Many employees don’t just want a job; they want a career. Somewhere they can stay and grow, learn and develop their skills. Of course, salary reviews and promotions are likely to be part of your business plan anyway, but make sure you emphasize how important it is to you, as it'll certainly be important to them.

If you don’t already, brainstorm some ideas that could lead to employee development, which could be anything from a designated day of the week to watch webinars, or an informal book club.

In terms of progression, set aside time for your managers to sit down with each member of their team and map out their path to a promotion. This could include setting specific tasks or goals to accomplish over set periods of time, giving them a clear indication of where they'll be in the company in the near future.

You'll find that this works wonders for their motivation and ensures that none of your employees get downtrodden. Just be sure to practice what you preach and reward those who deserve it.

3. Prioritize the work-life balance

You may think your employees are happy with their work-life balance, but how do you know for sure? As their employer, it's essential that you ensure members of your teams aren’t taking their work home with them or becoming unnecessarily stressed out, as this could have a drastic effect on their personal life.

Make changes if you feel employees are under too much pressure, simply by letting them know that you are available to help or change processes. An example of an easy way to improve work-life balance is to ban employees from eating lunch at their desk by ensuring that they get that full designated hour away to relax and clear their minds. Even a short break can work wonders!

Work-life balance
Work-life balance:

Don't expect employees to take work home in the evenings.

4. Ask for input

We mentioned earlier about employees being part of the bigger picture, so why not go a step further? In addition to keeping them informed and up to date about goings-on in the company, you can always find little ways to get them involved in the business. This can range from asking for their advice and input on wider problems that the business may be facing, or opening up a suggestion box that you look through once a month.

People could suggest anything from more internal development to a ping pong table; let them go wild! The point is that they get involved and feel part of the bigger picture.

Despite the click-baiting contrarians, Gallup and others have a solid body of research that shows that engagement is the antecedent of service, quality, sales, profits and ultimately shareholder value.

Kevin Cruse, entrepreneur and contributor to Forbes.com

5. Show true appreciation

Introducing a culture of appreciation may seem so simple, but it can go a long way towards keeping people’s spirits up. This doesn’t have to be anything huge; we’re not asking you to take everyone on an all-expenses paid trip abroad!

But think about small thank-yous that would make you feel valued, such as a little post-it note on their desk, buying bacon and sausage sandwiches for the office one Friday morning, or give someone a half day if they’ve smashed through a particularly difficult task.

If you'd like to know who some of the UK's best employers are, then visit The Sunday Times annual list, which is based on business awards by Best Companies.


Jonathan Austin also provides advice on how small businesses should introduce the National Living Wage to employees.