March 21, 2019

Four ways to keep your small business employees engaged and happy

Engagement strategies don’t have to be expensive to be effective. The key is getting to know your employees and understanding what motivates them to achieve at a high level. Here are four ways to keep employees of all generations engaged with your small business.

Small businesses have an advantage over larger companies when it comes to engagement. A Gallup study compared employees from small and large businesses and found that among the former group, 57% of people say they’re “in the highest level of commitment” to their employers. At large firms, that number was only 40.5%. Katie Halbesleben, a doctoral student in sociology at Baylor, was the lead author of a report on the findings, and said the study reaffirms that working for a small and local company is also an important factor that contributes to a worker’s commitment and loyalty.

While all companies should invest in engagement strategies, they don’t have to be expensive to be effective. What’s key is that you master a fundamental part of long-term engagement – getting to know your employees and understanding what motivates them to achieve at a high level. This includes understanding that every demographic group may be different – from their styles of work, attitudes about employment, and long-term career goals.

Here are some tips to keep employees of all generations happy and engaged with your small business.

Have ongoing conversations

It’s well-documented that a key aspect of a successful employee-manager relationship is better and more frequent communication. Employees feel engaged when they feel they’re being heard, not simply talked at. So, make sure you establish two-way and ongoing communication and feedback.

From an employer perspective, the value of continuous feedback is that you can regularly draw upon employee knowledge, insights, and talents.

Start with simple things. Set a regular cadence of one-on-one meetings with your employees. These don’t have to be formal, but are a way to give your employees a voice, hear their ideas, and help them feel connected.

Expand their responsibilities

In a small business, employees often wear multiple hats, and oftentimes, their jobs are not as clearly defined as they would be in a larger organization. It’s not always possible to have a clearly defined path for career growth and development in a small business.

Talk to each of your employees (perhaps during the informal one-on-ones referenced above) to understand what motivates them, what their goals are, and how you can help reach them. For example, provide additional resources, like books or online training to help develop skills in their areas of interest, which they can then apply to future projects.

Assigning more responsibility to your employees is another way to keep them engaged. For example, your employees may feel further motivated if given the opportunity to lead a new project (or aspect of one) when they have previously taken more of a supporting role.

Tell them why they’re important to the business

Mobilizing employees internally starts with having a clear purpose and business goals.

If your employees don’t understand your business goals, they won’t know what they’re working towards. Help them understand what they contribute to the business, and the value they bring with their particular skill set. This also helps to clarify expectations and set priorities – they know what you expect of them, and what they can expect from you.

Clearly communicate your company culture and values, which are tied closely to goals and purpose.

According to Ceridian’s 2018-19 Pulse of Talent, among employees surveyed who say their company practices their stated values, 90% are happy in their job versus 52% who think their companies do not.

Reward and recognize employees for a job well done

Recognizing employees for a job well done is a critical piece of employee engagement, but employers forget about it all the time.

In fact, seven out of 10 employees who reported receiving a form of appreciation from their supervisors said they were happy with their jobs, according to a study cited in Harvard Business Review.

Recognition doesn’t have to be expensive or part of a big, robust program. It’s simply saying thank you – acknowledging employees and recognizing good work when it’s done. Not only does this build engagement, but it also encourages employees to lead by example.

The more personal the recognition, the more you show you understand and appreciate your employees. So, understand your people’s motivators. What are they passionate about? How do they want to be recognized? For example, is it a gift card, note, or verbal acknowledgement?

Related: Rewards that work for your millennial and Gen Z employees

The cost of disengagement

To reinforce the importance of engaging your workforce, think about the flip side of the equation – the cost of disengagement. If you can’t build a strong contingent of loyal, hardworking employees, the pitfalls to your business can be numerous, including higher turnover rates and lower productivity.

Today’s employees are looking for opportunities to innovate, be creative, learn, and grow in every career opportunity. From an employer perspective, make a commitment to engagement by thinking about it differently – as core to company culture, and built into the fabric of your employee experience.

Jessica Cheung-Goldfarb

Jessica Director, Global Strategy at Ceridian and has extensive experience in the Technology and Human Capital Management space having spent over a decade partnering with executives from global organizations to help reimagine the future of work while managing employees from hire to retire. Jessica’s professional experience spans global technology, finance, and professional services sectors.  

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