Celebrating the people behind British small businesses

What your employees really want: the low-down

Staffing can be a tricky business. We’ve talked before about hiring and firing – but what is the elusive secret to keeping your staff happy once they’re installed in the office?

Great news for small business owners – a recent study by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) found that what employees really want  is responsibility, recognition, and friendly colleagues – not giant paychecks, impressive bonuses, and head-spinning benefits. Here are some of the key takeaways from the survey, and why they’re great for small business owners…

Workmates are important

Amazingly, the study found that eight out of ten Brits would turn down a job that paid them more if it meant they were in a workplace where they didn’t get on with their colleagues. This isn’t that surprising when you consider how much of our lives we spend at work – being around cheerful and friendly people can make a huge difference.

Why this is great for the small business owner

It makes sense that the bigger the company and the more people work within it, the more chance there is of personalities rubbing the wrong way – cue costly HR mediations, procedures, and gossip at the water-cooler. Small businesses put more emphasis on hiring people who’ll be a pleasant part of a close-knit team, as there’s no room for bitchiness or backstabbing – everybody has to get along. Working in a small team can also help your team grow much closer, ensuring that they’re not just colleagues, but friends too. Plus, employees crying in the bathroom because Lisa from Sales was laughing at their new haircut = lost productivity. Not cool.

How to keep your staff happy

Apart from picking ace candidates to begin with, invest time and money in ensuring your team bond. Nights out, trips away, or even a cheeky beer in the office of a Friday afternoon will all work towards making your staff feel like pals, both boosting morale in your business and ensuring that everybody works together effectively.

Less pressure, please

In today’s stressful job market, it might not surprise you to learn that a third of employees had left a job, despite it being well-paid, because they didn’t feel it was worth the pressure.

Why this is great for the small business owner

Let’s face it, small businesses can be stressful – when you’re working for a start-up the hours can be long, there are too many things to do and not enough people to do it and you don’t have the job security that bigger businesses do. However, working in a small business (hopefully) means that the lines of communication are more open than at big companies – if you’re working side by side with your boss, it’s easier to have a quiet word about how stressed you’re feeling, and discuss with your team how you can improve the situation.

How to keep your staff happy

Make sure you have an ‘open door’ policy, where employees can come to you with any troubles or worries about the job, and keep an eye on your team’s stress levels – if you’re a business owner it can be easy to get too caught up in the business. Putting a wellbeing policy in place can help too – anything from providing free stress apps and fresh fruit to getting in a yoga expert at lunchtime for some relaxing classes. Which brings us nicely to the next point…

Get flexible

Now the immediate terror of the recession has passed – a time when everyone clung grimly to their jobs, working whatever hours were required – employees are starting to remember the importance of a work-life balance. And this is a good thing, because employees who work all hours have a nasty habit of burning out. Over a quarter of people polled confessed they had turned down a promotion or better job opportunity because it would have meant less time with their family. Work to live, not the other way round!

Why this is good for small business owners

In a small company, you have a flexibility that bigger companies often don’t – you know everyone who works for you, you know the demands of the work, and so you know what working arrangements are feasible for your employees. This means that arranging flexible working might be easier for you (and agreeing for an employee to go part-time can even save you money!)

How to keep your staff happy

Make flexible working part of your company policy. If it’s impractical to give everyone all the flexible working they want (as it well might be!), find a way to compromise – could employees work a set amount of days a month flexibly? Could they start or finish at a different time?

Responsibility and recognition

These two factors topped the poll as the things that employees felt were most important, above friendly colleagues, good pay, and a pleasant work environment.

Why this is good for small business owners

Praising your employees and letting them know they’ve done a great job is one of the most effective ways of keeping your staff happy, as the survey confirms – and it’s totally free, which is brilliant (unless you decide to show your gratitude for their excellent work by buying them, say, a pony). It also helps keep your working atmosphere positive and your employees productive – valued employees are happy employees.

How to keep your staff happy

It’s simple – if they do a good job, tell them. If they consistently do a good job, promote them, or put them on a project where they have more responsibility. Small gifts, in-house awards, and even an act such as buying brownies for the whole office after they’ve pulled off an important project, all contribute towards making staff feel valued and wanted. In order to ensure you do this consistently, you could even dedicate five minutes to it once a week – or even once a month – in regular meetings, where people who have achieved are praised and encouraged.

Do you agree with these survey results? Let us know in the comments below!