Falling on the last weekend of November, Small Business Saturday is the "shop small" holiday - the nationwide effort that's received shoutouts over the years from civic leaders, Congress and even the White House to encourage holiday shoppers to patronize small retailers and support their local economies.
Non-retail small businesses may not have their own day, but they still need loyal and satisfied customers. And for that to happen, they need loyal and satisfied employees. You can have a world-class product or service, but if the person offering it is disengaged, burned out or poorly informed, clients will vote with their feet.
Alas, workplace happiness is sometimes hard to find in this economy. COVID-19 hit small businesses hard, and millions of employees were laid off in 2020. Those who kept their jobs or returned to the workforce are now quitting in record numbers, an exodus known the Great Resignation. Many are simply exhausted: In a recent Robert Half survey of workers across the country, 44% said they're more burned out on the job today than they were the year before.
If you are a small business employer, here are a few ways to brighten your employees' experience and remind them why working for a small business can be so fulfilling.
1. Upgrade your flexible working schedules
Hybrid and remote work options are now considered an expectation, not a perk or a privilege, among many workers. If you've resisted the idea of allowing employees to work from home at least part of the time, it might be time to reconsider. Give some thought on how you can put in place and manage a remote team, as well as the communication tools and training that employees would need to succeed.
If your business model can't support a hybrid or remote workforce, then consider what other flexible work arrangements you can offer. Flex time, which allows workers to determine the start and finish times of their shifts, is one popular alternative. A small adjustment in hours can make a commute smoother, a school pick-up less rushed - and an employee happier.
2. Benchmark salaries
Competitive pay is critical to employee morale - and retaining a loyal workforce. To make sure your payscale is at the market rate or higher, do your research and determine what your competition is offering. Most likely, at least some of your employees already are.
The 2022 Salary Guide from Robert Half reports national average starting salaries for hundreds of positions. The guide's Salary Calculator can localize the figures for your area. Regularly benchmarking your salaries and making adjustments can prompt employees to feel they are being fairly compensated, keeping staff retention and morale high.
3. Get creative with perks and recognition
Perks are those extra frills that help distinguish you from your competitors in the minds of your employees and show appreciation for their hard work. You don't have to reach for extravagance when creativity can be just as effective. A monthly subscription to a popular entertainment streaming service, a subsidized gym membership, or an office- or home-delivered lunch on the last Friday of the month are all modest investments that can bring a smile to a worker's face.
An employee recognition program is a way to spotlight staff for specific achievements. Whether it singles out the accomplishments of one worker or an entire team, public recognition for a job very well done should be a part of any workplace culture. Help your employees feel like they make an impact rather than just serving as another cog in the wheel with a daily grind.
4. Kick-start training and development
If staff training has fallen by the wayside these past couple of years, your employees may feel stuck in their career because they're learning nothing new. That kind of frustration can drive workers to look for opportunities elsewhere. To keep morale high and valued workers on the payroll, talk to individuals about their career goals and discuss strategies to help them advance toward them. Keep in mind that professional development is a win-win. Here are a few ideas:
5. Embrace your smallness
For the truly industrious employee, one who's willing to give up their evenings or weekends to study, reimbursement for college tuition or professional certification fees is a golden ticket. If that's out of line with your budget, then look into more affordable group memberships at LinkedIn Learning or other e-learning training sites.
No matter the size of your business, cross-training is a smart practice. Training staff in roles not typically assigned to them gives employees the opportunity to gain skills and experience as well as an inside look at roles they might be eyeing but are uncertain whether they want to pursue. And it gives your organization the backup it might need when someone is out for an extended time.
Sometimes the best resource is just down the hall. Ask your most seasoned employees to share their knowledge with colleagues, either through organized training sessions or continuous mentoring. If you can, give them a bonus or some other reward for the extra work.
Many consumers are passionately loyal to small businesses. They value the personalized service, uniqueness and community roots these companies display. That smallness, that intimacy, should be reinforced as part of your company culture.
Your team members already know how to make a client's day, whether it's a prompt and tailored response for a service request or simply remembering the client's first name when they interact. If a customer is delighted, make sure all of your team hears about it. Praise people when they accomplish something a bigger firm would struggle to handle. Instill pride in your staff by reminding them why a small business is a great place to work.
6. Understand managers' critical role
Don't underestimate what you can do as a manager to improve morale. By and large, workplace culture is an organic, amorphous order of attitudes, practices and values. It can't be codified, nor can it be created and imposed by a firm's leadership. But company policies and your personal behavior can influence and help shape the culture and how employees build on it.
Demonstrate support, inclusivity and empathy through your own actions. Give your employees a sense of empowerment. When workers can make decisions, either on their own or with minimal direction, they will feel more invested in their roles and the jobs they do.
Remember that high percentage of workers mentioned earlier in this article who say they're more burned out today than the year before? Don't let your employees slide into that unsettling stat. Instead, loudly and repeatedly promote a healthy work-life balance. If an individual or team is struggling to meet an important deadline, either bring in contract professionals to help, or put aside your own work and pitch in yourself.
A manager's role is even more important in a hybrid environment than it used to be when everyone was in the office. You'll need to check in more often to show your remote team you're there for them and get a feel for how they're faring when you're not just a walk across the workspace.
There's no one-size-fits-all approach to building morale at small businesses. What works for a small legal practice might not fly at an accounting firm or boutique marketing agency. But you can start by showing your team your appreciation, respecting their needs and limits, and offering them engaging, worthwhile work.