Is your company a place where people actually want to work? That question has obviously become front and center since “The Great Resignation” began wreaking havoc on the US workforce in 2021.
Indeed, gone are the days of whip-cracking bosses, inflexible hours, subsistence-level wages and workers’ fear of getting fired – they’ve shown that they’d rather quit at the mere threat of being terminated, as the Dept. of Labor’s most recent Quit Rates have shown. In fact, workers have shown that they’re less tolerant than ever before of toxic workplaces.
A recent Pew Research Center study revealed “Feeling Disrespected at Work” as one of the major reasons workers are quitting in droves. As a small business owner, you probably can’t afford to compete with your larger competitors when it comes to salary, so you’re going to have to compensate by offering a strong company culture, among other things.
What is Company Culture?
Offering a strong company culture is crucial in today’s challenging hiring climate, but it’s an opaque term and involves a lot of different elements. Defining your company’s workplace culture starts with a simple question: “If I were an employee of this company, would I be happy working here?”
When answering this question, consider several key factors:
- Do workers feel comfortable offering suggestions to upper management?
- Do workers feel like they are being listened to?
- Is there room for advancement and innovation?
- Do the company’s workers share similar values and behaviors?
- Does upper management show empathy for employees’ needs?
- Does the workplace offer an amiable and respectful environment, starting with the boss?
- Do your employees feel appreciated? Are they rewarded for going ‘above and beyond’?
Those are just a handful of questions that need to be answered if you are going to ensure that your small business offers a culture that will attract workers, even if you can’t afford to match the salaries being offered by your larger competitors. While the task may seem daunting at first, here are a few steps you can take to make your business’ culture standout:
#1 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)
This sounds like a complicated term, but it really isn’t. A DEI policy means that your workforce represents different races and ethnicities, genders, sexual orientation, religions, ages, experience and abilities. You may think this doesn’t apply to small businesses, but you’d be wrong. Job searchers are increasingly demanding that prospective employers have a DEI policy in place.
Having a DEI policy can benefit you in many ways – it allows you to hire younger, less experienced employees to train and start at a lower base salary than normal. It also gives opportunities to people of color that may not have seen them previously, and allows work for people who may have disabilities but are able to work in a high functioning manner. These people, thankful for the opportunities you are giving them, are often eager to work hard and get ahead. Plus, you’re letting the world know that your company believes in a diverse workforce.
#2 Listen to Learn, Learn to Listen
One of the advantages that you have over your large competitors is that big companies often tend to treat
workers like numbers, leaving employees feeling as if that their voices go unheard by the company’s senior managers. After all, do you really believe that Amazon’s CEO, Andy Jassy, knows the names of any of the employees in the company’s warehouses, or that Elon Musk knows the names of anyone who works on the factory floors of Tesla? That’s one of your biggest advantages as a small business owner: employees have access to you – the boss – which enables them to be heard. Listen intently to your employees’ needs.
Whether your employee has a suggestion to improve your business or has a pressing family issue and needs to readjust their hours as a result, the fact that you’re there for them and are willing to listen and consider what they have to say will go a long way in keeping your employees loyal to your business, as it will make them feel that they are truly contributing.
#3 Birds of a Feather…
Your company culture can be boosted by the mere fact that your employees get along with one another. A single worker who is difficult to deal with can easily cause a hostile work environment, especially in a small business with 20 or fewer employees. Employees that become “work friends” will lead to more productivity and greater cooperation among your staff, so it’s important to make sure they have personalities that will encourage that. You don’t want someone who’s naturally an introvert having to deal with co-workers who are extroverts, for example.
Therefore, when you’re interviewing job candidates, it’s important to try to assess their personalities. Try asking questions such as “Describe a stressful work situation and how you handled it,” or “What hobbies or sports are you involved in outside of work?” Also, in as much as you can, try to discourage talk of politics in the office, as that can often be divisive.
#4 Be Human
Nobody wants to work for a boss who is inflexible, short-tempered and cold. While you don’t have to be best friends with your employees, it is important to take some interest in how they are personally doing and showing empathy when they have a personal matter they must deal with. Be flexible with scheduling when an employee needs to take a day off for a personal matter.
Ask questions such as “how was your weekend?” on Monday mornings. Also, if an employee makes a mistake, it’s important not to scream at them (no one likes being yelled at), rather, simply correct them and offer solutions on how to avoid the mistake in the future. Being personable and friendly will go a long way in making your office more pleasant and attracting workers.
#5 Show Some Appreciation
Employees will be more productive when they know they will be rewarded for their efforts and/or they know they will be able to reach professional goals. You don’t have to establish performance-based incentives, if an employee goes above and beyond to make a sale or exceeds a production quota, for example, it’s important to recognize those efforts with a small check, free dinner, gift certificate, etc.
Remember, it’s not so much what you give them, it’s the fact that they know they are being appreciated. Giving your employees cash bonuses if your business has an especially strong quarter or year will also go a long way in getting people to want to work for your company.
#6 Have Some Fun
If your employees are working especially hard, it’s okay to treat them to a fun activity. This could mean having a contest to see who has the best vacation photos, or a company-wide scavenger hunt. Perhaps you take half-a-day on Fridays for cocktail hour, take them to see a movie or another fun event. It doesn’t have to be done on a weekly basis, but it does further show them that you appreciate their efforts. Make sure to post your activities on social media to show prospective employees that your company is a good place to work.
#7 Your Company is NOT Family
While the age-old practice of calling your workforce “family” may be well-intentioned, it’s actually insulting to workers, especially in the midst of “The Great Resignation.” Employees have collectively stated over the past year that they want more pay and better work environments, and they know that they are usually “at-will” employees, meaning that they can be terminated at any time for any reason – that isn’t what a typical family does.
As such, employees feel insulted when you refer to workers as family, because you’re implying that their company should be just as important to them as their families. The thing is, your family isn’t going to lay you off when business is slow, and your company isn’t going to love and support you unconditionally when times are tough. Employees know this. It will serve you far better to call your company a “good” or “pleasant” place to work. Advertise your strengths as an employer instead of claiming that your company is family.
You Have the Advantage
If you feel discouraged about competing with larger companies for workers, just remember that, as a small business, you have the advantage since you have fewer employees – the CEO of a large company won’t get to know many of the workers, but you can. You have the ability to be more flexible and personable with your employees by creating a great company culture, therefore giving you a distinct advantage over your larger counterparts.