How small businesses can attract and retain their staff

07 October 2021 Consultancy.com.au 7 min. read

With Australia’s borders closures preventing the arrival of technical and skilled workers from overseas into the country, businesses are now having to battle for available resources and things are about to get tougher for small businesses. Roslyn Newbound, the founder and chief executive officer of Accuratus, shares how small businesses can differentiate themselves in the talent market. 

Many skilled workers are now able to name their price as the employment market heats up. Small businesses, already impacted by lockdowns, are finding it hard to compete against larger firms with bigger budgets.

For local employees, the flexibility of working from home since the beginning of the pandemic has created a resistance to return to pre-Covid-19 work arrangements. Traveling to and from work, paying exorbitant parking fees, and quite simply not being able to balance home and work to meet the growing demands of a busy life is not an attractive option when there are now alternatives available. Businesses, irrespective of size, are losing staff and critical business knowledge at the same time. 

Roslyn Newbound, Chief Executive Officer, Accuratus

The local employee resistance and overseas employee shortage is forecast to be one of the highest business risks, across all industries, in 2022. Business owners and leaders will be keen to recoup lost revenue from 20/21. They run the risk of losing critical internal business skills and knowledge required to support achievement of goals. 

For too long, businesses have ignored the necessity of capturing organisational knowledge, intellectual property and learning in a structured management system. The significant risk of losing key information to a competitor, when an employee leaves or creates their own start-up, is now very real for many businesses. This risk will only increase until the business defines a strategy for retention of people.

While there are some things businesses can do to create a team culture that supports staff retention, in the current environment where budget is an issue, businesses will need to look at other strategies and tactics to retain and attract quality staff without getting caught up in a salary bidding war.

The average wage increase that an employee accepts when taking another job is 15 percent however while salary does play a huge role in employee retention, it’s important to understand that it is not the only factor. 

So how can small businesses increase staff retention and attract new staff? Five possible strategies:

1. Flexible work from home policies

While Covid-19 has changed the way we work, a lot of people wrongly believe everyone will simply return to the office environment once things have settled down. 

The reality is that many people actually like working from home and they prefer this environment. If you have the capacity and capability to offer work from home arrangements for staff moving forward beyond Covid-19, then this is definitely something to implement on a permanent basis.

To set the business and employees up for success, take time to define work processes and agree KPIs with employees – with autonomy comes accountability. By agreeing to work from home on a full-time basis or straddle a combination of working from home and the office arrangements, with the right framework, it can take your business from strength to strength. Fulfilled employees equates to greater pride and productivity in work delivery. 

Further reading: Reinventing the workplace to meet employee expectations

2. Consider value add options in lieu of money

Many people are looking for different ways to grow their wealth and benefit from their long hours of hard work.

Salary sacrifice is often considered to be reserved for big businesses only. In actual fact, any employer can offer salary sacrifice to employees. The advantage is employee salary sacrifice offers the opportunity to increase superannuation contributions and this is an attractive option for people nearing retirement age, buying a new car, paying school fees, and paying health insurance using pre-tax dollars.

Better still, the cost impact to the employer is mainly covering the payroll administration fees. Speak to your accountant and test whether this option might make employment with your business more attractive.

3. Provide mental health support

Mental health support is a huge factor in today’s workforce. Actively support your employees. Increase communication more than you think you need to. Regularly check in on your team members to find out how they are going with work and life in general. 

Surprise them with gifts that support their mental health, ie, flowers, books, vouchers, etc. Praise and thank them for their work. Do something as simple as remember birthdays. It isn’t expensive to give an employee a call to simply say ‘happy birthday’. A call like this sends a clear message to an employee that they are valued. 

Incorporate official mental health days into your leave structure to support them where ever possible.

4. Offer memberships

Reach out and connect with organisations that are able to provide your staff with member benefits at reduced rates. You may even be able to fund these yourself and provide them to your staff as an organisational benefit.

These may include discounted phone plans, gym memberships, weight loss meal packages, health insurance. Organisations are always looking for ways to build their client base and will offer significant incentives to businesses for introducing their staff.

At Accuratus [a business advisory firm] we offer the ‘Accuratus Wellness Package’ to employees who have completed a full financial year with us. It includes great benefits such as paid health insurance, spa days, an extra two days annual leave per annum. This plan was designed to complement our ‘family’ culture at Accuratus. We invest heavily in our people and we want our employees to consider us a long-term employment option.

5. Invest in training

Thanks to the internet, training is actually cheaper and easier than ever.

One of the key complaints of employees is that training promised is never delivered unless the employer sees an immediate return on investment. If there is a line item on the annual budget for training, use it. Training is not just about courses and qualifications; an employee will place great value on being personally mentored by the CEO for one hour per month.

For small business owners who may not have a large budget available right now, dedicating some time to employee development contributes towards business succession planning, employee development and maintaining your finger on the pulse when the team are working remotely.

For formal training, make the effort to find out what options are available and offer them to staff. Where possible, provide them with study time to undertake their course work.

Each of these options can be delivered at relatively little cost for an employer. If there is anything that Covid-19 has done for employers which has offered a silver lining, being able to be creative in identifying solutions which employee engagement and retention is definitely it.