For many SME leaders, staff retention can seem daunting as they strive to compete with larger, more established corporates who are potentially better able to pull the trump-card of a better salary and benefits package.
However, that presupposes that all jobseekers are influenced by only these two factors. In fact, as we discovered from our What Worker’s Want reports, whilst benefits and brand names are important, career progression and development opportunities are vital when it comes to attracting and retaining the best talent.
So, how can SMEs leverage these and other factors to keep hold of their top talent?
1. Create a more communicative management culture
Because of their size, SMEs often find it easier to avoid a closed off “us vs. them” culture, which is sometimes found in larger organisations. This is often because all employees, regardless of seniority, work together. Senior and junior staff are on a first-name basis and there is usually a highly collaborative feel.
But remember, as the adage goes: people leave their managers, not their organisations. Make sure you have the best people managers within your own SME, those who communicate frequently with their employees as opposed to solely in an annual review, who motivate their team and who care about their progression and professional wellbeing. Rather than looking out for number one, people managers should praise their staff but also offer up constructive guidance when needed. After all, strong but personable and communicative managers retain their teams, and this is an attribute money cannot buy.
2. Consistently support your employees in their professional development
Developing your staff is a key retention tool that has the added benefit of helping to overcome skills gaps. Look at the areas in which skill shortages exist within your organisation, and cross reference these with the goals of your employees and the demands of the wider market.
From here, you should be able to plan a strategy for upskilling your staff, something which doesn’t need to be costly. For instance, look at the projects you have coming up. Can a particular employee work on one to expand their skills? Perhaps they could get involved in a bid, research the potential benefit of a new technology or on-board new staff to broaden their experience?
In addition, as I mentioned, there is a smaller gulf between employees and senior leaders within an SME. Would mentoring from senior employees, providing the opportunity to shadow a high performer help more junior employees grow?
Overall, whilst you may not have the training budget of a large corporate, you can utilise the people resources you have within your business to upskill and mentor others, fostering a culture of lifelong learning which your employees want to stay a part of.
3. Promote and encourage a work-life balance
Work-life balance is a priority for many employees. However, this isn’t to say you need to spend a fortune giving everyone a free gym membership. Work-life balance can also come in the form of the option to work remotely or flexible hours.
Work-life balance also stems from the culture of the organisation. Do your senior management team work all weekend or email their employees until all hours of the night? If your management team never switch off, this can trickle down to every member of their team, creating a culture of presenteeism, whereby employees feel they should be seen to be either virtually or physically present, even during downtime. Avoid this downward spiral, and encourage all employees to leave on time, take breaks, and refrain from contacting them outside of work hours.
4. Remember to hire for cultural fit
On the subject of company culture, cultural fit is particularly important within an SME. Employees who don’t fit in with their work culture can have a hugely negative impact on other employees. In addition, some studies have found that cultural fit is one of the main reasons people leave their job. Therefore getting your recruiting strategy on point, hiring for cultural fit and personality, as well as skills, is just another cost efficient way to optimise staff retention.
As you can see, there are various ways in which you, as an SME leader, can provide challenging and exciting work, career development and a strong culture in order to attract and retain top talent. These strategies certainly won’t break your budget, but they will give you a staff retention advantage that money can’t buy.
About this author
Ferdia joined Hays in 2011. With over 6 years' experience, he currently manages the Construction & Property team in Dublin. Ferdia recruits within the Building Services sector in Leinster.