For small business owners who manage to beat the odds and assemble an A-team of employees with the perfect combination of experience, talent, flexibility and commitment to help establish and sustain a successful company, a new challenge is often right around the corner—what former Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley famously termed “the disease of more.”
Competitors cannot wait to poach your people. Key employees may begin to think about opportunities elsewhere, possibly eroding their commitment and undercutting team cohesion.
In all likelihood, team members in this scenario are not simply looking for the largest possible salary; if that were the case, they would never have been successful in a small business setting in the first place. In considering other opportunities, your key employees may simply be looking for a greater sense of stability, or for reassurance that they and their contributions are valued.
If they are not asking for more money, what do your employees want? In my experience as an entrepreneur and small business owner, the following four items are often at the top of the list:
Strategies for dealing with health care costs.
As health care costs continue to rise, employees themselves are bearing more of the burden. Whether or not a small business is in a position to offer a health care plan, employees appreciate supplemental offerings that can help them cope with increased expenses or, even better, avoid them through preventative coaching. Cost-effective options that can help employers in this area include health savings accounts, gym reimbursements and wellness programs such as Weight Watchers. Separate vision, dental and long-term disability programs can also demonstrate an employer’s desire to help employees without breaking the bank.
In the case of a smaller firm I previously owned, some of our employees received health insurance from spouses’ plans while others did not. This made it difficult for us to assemble a group that would have qualified for an employer-sponsored health care plan. In order to help employees that did not have coverage from a spouse’s plan, we provided set subsidies for team members that paid for their own care. This solution, while not perfect, showed employees that we understood and were responsive to their concerns, and—in conjunction with our generous profit-sharing plan—helped to maintain high employee retention levels.
Flexible options for maternity / paternity leave.
The months following the arrival of an employee’s new child can present employers with a valuable opportunity to show their appreciation by providing support through this challenging and important life event. There is no way around it, though: Small businesses generally do not have the depth of resources or personnel to offer the same extensive leave programs that larger companies provide
Still, smaller companies do have options. Maternity and paternity leave can be linked to short-term disability programs that can enable new parents to take a break from work for as little as six weeks or as long as a few months. Beyond that, small businesses can differentiate themselves by hiring temporary personnel or providing cross-training to help other team members pick up some key responsibilities for the person who is out.
Better work / life balance.
This familiar issue affects employees in every type of company today. In many ways, smaller businesses are better positioned to help team members achieve this balance, thanks to founding entrepreneurs’ greater ability to directly influence companies’ culture. In companies that place a cultural premium on respect for team members’ time and personal prerogatives, load-balancing between various employees becomes much easier when one team member needs to attend to their kids or is otherwise “off the playing field.” Small business owners can also develop a culture that values results over face time, in order to allow team members more discretion in how they balance their own priorities.
Support for educational goals.
As student debt burdens become more unmanageable, employees are looking more favorably on companies that can help them get a handle on their existing debt. While some larger companies may be able to assist in this endeavor via direct tuition reimbursement, smaller companies may help by providing their debt-saddled employees with gratis financial planning services. Navigating the waters between saving for retirement and paying down high-interest, inefficient debt is complex, and your employees may find such professional guidance extremely valuable.
Employers can also support employees in their educational goals by reimbursing them for study programs that enhance their value to the business. These could include accreditation programs like the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ designation in the financial services industry or other training courses that give team members a leg up in specific aspects of their current or desired roles.
Finding the right people to craft a winning team can be very difficult for small business owners. Keeping them can be even tougher.
The key element in keeping employees happy in a small business environment is to use the flexibility that a focused, nimble organization affords to ensure that members of your team feel valued and that their concerns are taken seriously.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com on 4/14/16. You may view the article here.