5 employee retention strategies for small businesses and how to implement them

What keeps good employees at a business? Bonuses and benefits, sure. But what it really comes down to is leadership. 

We sat down with team members from Square Pie Guys, Persnickety Prints, and Scentcerely Yours to get their thoughts on what makes a great place to work. 

Take their insights — and these tips for putting them into action — to revamp your retention plan and give your team what they really need

1. Celebrate customer appreciation 

Small business owners know that getting recognition and appreciation from customers is important to teams — and how they feel about their jobs. 

What they said

“Feeling that my work has been noticed and appreciated is most important to me.”

Rachel, Scentcerely Yours

“Being appreciated for the work I’m doing is something that’s really important to me. Our owner Shari does a really good job at showcasing how customers respond and how the things we do make a difference. That’s why I’ve stayed here so long. It’s really empowering for me.” 

— Olivia, Persnickety Prints

“When a customer appreciates and acknowledges my help and recommendations, it’s a rewarding feeling.”

Ari, Scentcerely Yours

How to do it 

Make it a point to go through online customer reviews on a weekly basis and share the best ones with your team. Read them as a group and recognize the individual employees that were called out by a customer, or send them a Homebase Shout Out on the messenger app to congratulate — and celebrate — a job well done.  

2. Keep a good workplace vibe 

One thing every employee we interviewed can agree on: It’s all about the atmosphere. 

What they said

“We have a very relaxed atmosphere. Of course, sometimes are stressful, but it’s always felt like a safe place for me to come, be myself, and interact with my coworkers.”

Olivia, Persnickety Prints

“In terms of workplace happiness, the environment matters to me most. A healthy work environment ensures happy employees and customers. A good relationship between my coworkers and myself enables me to enjoy coming to work every day.”

Cameo, Square Pie Guys

“The overall environment is very important. Scentcerely Yours owners Susi and Rob always compliment us and take time to thank us at the end of our shift. They also point out things they notice we’re excelling at. Those little things in the way that they communicate with the employees makes the difference.”

 — Melissa, Scentcerely Yours

How to do it 

The most important step in building a positive work environment is talking to your team. You might even consider conducting an anonymous survey to understand what a positive work environment means to them. 

Like Melissa said, highlighting good work and even giving a simple “thank you” at the end of every shift goes a long way. Onboarding new employees with this in mind can help reduce employee turnover by setting that standard from the get-go.

 

3. Trust their abilities for better team retention

What employees want is to feel like you trust them to get the job done. 

What they said

“Feeling trusted by my employer that I’m doing a good job and have the company in my best interest is a big deal. If they trust my opinion and include me in brainstorming, decision making, and development, each day is fresh and exciting. It’s nice being a part of the success of the company.

Rachel, Scentcerely Yours

“I like having the ability to collaborate with my managers instead of them trying to take over without consulting anybody. Even though I’m not necessarily a manager, I still get to give my input and they care about my opinion.” 

— Olivia, Scentcerely Yours

“Feeling trusted by my employer that I’m doing a good job and have the company in my best interest is a big deal.” 

How to do it 

Your team cares about the success of your business, too. So include them in your decisions. Hold weekly meetings to share what’s going on and conduct brainstorming sessions for new projects or challenges. Implementing their suggestions and ideas will show that you value their participation and opinions. This can also show which employees are willing to take initiative, maybe revealing some hidden top talent.  

4. Provide flexibility in the workplace

A work/life balance is often a necessity for small business employees. 

What they said

“I have two small kids at home, so one of the biggest things for me is having the ability to be available when my kids need me. Susi and Rob knew that my family is my priority from day one, and they’ve been very supportive. Knowing that I have some flexibility built into my schedule when it’s needed is so important to me.”

Melissa, Scentcerely Yours

“I’m in school right now, so it’s crucial for my employer to work around my class schedule and easily remember what my availability is.”

Katie, Scentcerely Yours

How to do it

When hiring employees, get a concrete idea of what kind of flexibility they’ll need in their schedules. Then, consider those needs in your scheduling practices. With Homebase scheduling, employees can easily input their availability, allowing you to track who can work when and make smarter decisions when building out shifts. Make sure to check in with employees periodically to make sure their needs are being met, this can help avoid unwanted no-shows and increase company culture

 

5. Be authentic

To teams, the best leaders are the ones willing to put the effort in. 

What they said

“It’s an absolute must to work for a company that genuinely cares for their team and not only talks the talk but walks the walk.”

Cameo, Square Pie Guys

“Excellent leaders working together with their team. And there really isn’t anything here that Susie and Rob are not willing to do themselves.”

Melissa, Scentcerely Yours

How to do it

Get into the trenches with your team when they need it. 

It’s also important to “practice what you preach.” If one of your values is to give back to the community, make sure you’re making an effort to do it. This builds trust. And when your team sees you living your values, they’ll be inspired to live them, too. 

Other things to consider for higher employee retention:

In the post-pandemic world, with what’s been called the great resignation in full effect, businesses are learning the hard way what employees want. In order to keep employees, employers must listen. Job satisfaction can be as important as any other facet of your business, especially considering the recent mass resignations. Offering a competitive salary or benefits package is no longer enough. Employee well-being needs to be tended to as much as a business’s profitability because we are learning; it’s one that feeds the other. Implementing the tips above can help reduce high turnover rates, but it is up to the business owners to maintain employee happiness and keep a finger on the pulse of workplace culture.

Summing it up 

Strong leadership is critical to keeping your employees around. Financial perks and benefits are always welcomed, of course. But a lack of encouragement, appreciation, and authenticity will leave your team looking elsewhere.

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