January 15, 2019

10 ways small businesses can attract and retain great employees

A woman stretches on the ground. A woman stretches on the ground.

If you’re a small business owner struggling to hire quality employees and keep them satisfied, engaged and motivated, you’re not alone.

According to the Business Development Bank of Canada, 39% of Canadian small and mid-sized businesses are already having difficulty finding new employees. What’s more, the problem will not improve for at least a decade because the baby boomer generation is retiring.1

So how do you compete and succeed against other employers, large and small, in a very competitive job market? Jodi Kasten, the managing director of the job search site Indeed.com, advises employers to be very specific about what qualifications, level of education and certifications they’re looking for in potential employees.

She also recommends including information about company culture in job postings. "Lots of times people are selecting jobs not just based on salary and benefits, but also, 'what's it like to work at that company?'"2

Here are some ways you can tell prospects what it’s like to work at your small business.

1. Promote work-life balance

Even the best job won’t keep employees if there isn’t quality of life to go with it. What does your company offer that others may not? Is there an easier commute? Great recreation and entertainment opportunities? Affordable home prices and cost of living? It can make as much of a difference to job seekers as how much a position pays or where it’s located. According to a survey from HR consultancy Ceridian HCM Inc., when it comes to workers who’d been offered a new job in the past year, 68% considered location the most important factor, followed by salary and work-life balance at 66% each. 3

2. Offer competitive pay

Too many small businesses determine what they pay employees by looking at their budget. Instead, they should determine in the marketplace, what employees in a specific job are making, then base salaries on being competitive.

3. Offer flexibility

Often, small businesses can offer flexibility that larger companies can’t, such as allowing people to bring pets to work, options to occasionally work from home or more convenient hours of work.

4. Offer competitive benefits

If someone is choosing between multiple job opportunities, they’ll likely choose the one that includes group benefits such as life, medical and dental insurance coverage over one that doesn’t. In fact, when choosing an employer, research from HR services provider Randstad found that a competitive salary and employee benefits (64%) tops the list as the most important factor for Canadian workers.4

5. Play up your perks

While some big companies have a cafeteria or fitness centre, small businesses may need to be more creative with the perks they provide. Talk up your small team atmosphere, free staff snacks or lunches, casual dress days or team sports events. Look for opportunities to offer employees discounts to nearby gyms or transit passes.

6. Point a path to advancement

While some people are looking for the particular job you’re offering, many may also be looking for a position that’s a stepping stone to a successful future. Show how the present job can build new skills and could lead to more responsibility and corresponding increases in salary. Explain how your small business looks to promote from within first. Talk about your career performance process and how it tracks goals and accomplishments.

7. Institute incentive programs

There are lots of ways to reward employees to join and stay with your business. A small business can offer a profit sharing program or an annual company-paid retreat. Some might also be able to offer an annual bonus for performance, or a signing bonus to join initially and stay for a specific period. Contests for free tickets or additional vacation days could excite employees too.

8. Tout training and development

Another way to show potential employees their future with your company is to provide education and skill-building opportunities. This could be through tuition reimbursement for college or university courses. Such training could also offer employees the chance to wear more than one hat in a small business environment, which can expand your employees’ horizons in your company. Small businesses could also tout a mentorship or coaching opportunity with someone in a senior position to pass on wisdom and experience.

9. Conduct exit and stay interviews

Many businesses ask employees who decide to work elsewhere why they’re leaving. But it’s also valuable for you to understand why employees joined your company in the first place and choose to keep working for you. Ask them what would make them leave, and what you could change or improve. This information can help you decide what is most important to new hires and your current staff.

10. Communicate how you communicate

Convey your business’s mission and your company’s value proposition. Talk about regular touchpoints, meetings and planning sessions. Show the methods, tools and technology your employees and managers use to stay connected. According to Mercer Canada, an effective communication strategy has the power to boost employee engagement, build internal awareness, drive performance, retain talent, and even make your workforce more open to change.5


1Canadian businesses struggling with labour shortages: new BDC studyOpens a new website in a new window, BDC, September 2018

2 Jessica Chin, Small Businesses In Canada Have The Hardest Time Filling These Jobs, According to Indeed.comOpens a new website in a new window, Huffington Post, March 28, 2018

3 Location tops salary when employees consider job offers: surveyOpens a new website in a new window, Benefits Canada, Oct. 9, 2018

4 Do Canadian employers know what turns job seekers on?Opens a new website in a new window, Randstad Canada, April 27, 2017

5 Employee communication: are you getting through?Opens a new website in a new window, Mercer Canada, 2018

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