Employee Satisfaction and Running a Successful Business
"Great" doesn't always mean "good." The Great Resignation of 2020 was not good at all. The mysterious phenomenon of quiet quitting followed shortly after. Employees, particularly younger workers, displayed their dissatisfaction at work by doing the bare minimum required. What happened to employee engagement with their work? What happened to job satisfaction?
Small business success has always depended on employee retention. Small businesses cannot survive high employee turnover. The cost of retraining new hires and starting over with a new crop of workers prevents smaller companies from realizing any profit. Today's online workplace means that dissatisfied workers can tell any future workers to avoid the business when recruiters come calling.
What should small business owners do to attract and retain top talent and avoid quiet quitting or outright resignations? It turns out that keeping employees is no different now than it ever was. All employers and human resources departments need to do is listen to what workers tell them.
FindLaw's Managing Employees section has more information for small business owners.
Listening to Your Employees
The internet is full of listicles by unhappy employees describing their awful bosses. Although some are fabricated or exaggerated, many share similar themes. One of the most common is a simple lack of communication. Small businesses cannot afford a company culture of secrecy or opacity. Nothing ruins employee morale like feeling ignored or treated as commodities.
Employers can assess their employee experience with employee surveys, suggestion boxes, and regular performance reviews that allow employees to offer feedback on how they feel the business is doing.
If you or your HR professionals are not listening to what employees are saying, you may miss important factors that could affect your bottom line. Your workers are the ones on the front lines, so to speak. They hear what customers say and know what the work environment is like.
Discrimination and Harassment Complaints
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires all small businesses to maintain employee records for at least one year. Businesses with more than 15 employees must follow at least some of the federal anti-discrimination laws. State laws are often more restrictive.
Workplace discrimination and harassment create a toxic work environment. Even workers not directly involved report feeling increased tension at work. A strong discrimination policy before issues arise helps defuse some of these issues before they become problems.
State and federal regulations require employers to have:
- Hiring practices that minimize hiring bias (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964)
- Pay federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher (Fair Labor Standards Act)
- Reasonably accommodate religious practices, disabilities, and pregnancy (Americans with Disabilities Act and related legislation)
- Policies which address all claims of discrimination, harassment, and unfair treatment (EEO and related laws)
Creating anti-discrimination policies is one thing, but adhering to them is another. Management sets the tone for your workplace. If you ensure that equality and fairness are core company values, your employees will follow suit.
Leadership and the Importance of Management
The old adage "Employees don't quit their jobs, they quit their bosses," is still true. More specifically, employee performance mirrors treatment. If employers tell workers they're "keys to our success!" but don't give them the attention they believe they deserve, employees won't listen.
Forbes notes that workers are more likely to stay at a job if:
- They have career development opportunities and a chance for growth within the company
- There is a good work-life balance. Workers today are acutely aware of the need to care for their mental health as well as their physical well-being.
- They know their company is financially secure and their own position is safe
Employees are willing to stay where they are if they are happy with their workplace, their co-workers, and the compensation they're receiving. After the isolation of the lockdown, the camaraderie of the office is another benefit.
However, workers are more likely to leave, even in an uncertain economy, if:
- Bullying, harassment, or discrimination is unchecked or ignored by management
- Employee benefits are uncompetitive or insufficient
- Management seems indifferent or contemptuous to employee concerns over childcare, commute times, or lack of opportunity
It may be that in small companies, advancement opportunities are rare and time off for the kids' soccer games is hard to grant. Managers and business owners can take time to explain things to employees. They can explore alternatives such as flex time and hour-sharing rather than saying no.
Work Schedule Flexibility
During the pandemic, many businesses used the remote office system, where employees stayed home and worked via computer. Not all companies can handle remote work, of course, but most businesses and even light industrial companies can restructure their work policies to avoid employee burnout and improve morale.
Researchers at Wake Forest University report that job flexibility is a key factor in employee loyalty. At the same time, changing up your work routine is difficult. Some unique problems arise with remote or hybrid policies, such as:
- Proximity bias, which is a tendency to doubt or mistrust workers who aren't there
- Technological issues involved in setting up and monitoring remote job sites
- Keeping teams functional despite crossing multiple time zones
Remote work is here to stay. As many as one-third of workers want some remote or hybrid option and will leave their current employment to find it. Small businesses should consider other types of alternative scheduling if remote work is not feasible.
- Remote/hybrid work policies let employees work from home while staying in contact with their office. The benefits for both employer and employee include reduced travel time, increased production, and lower costs. Hybrid scheduling gives employees a chance to come into the office, something many workers find they miss after a few weeks of fully remote work.
- Flex time gives an employee the option to create a schedule that meets their needs within certain limits. For instance, if a worker wants to work an extra hour two days a week to leave early on Friday to pick up their child from daycare, this is preferable to the same worker having to trade shifts or call off every week. Employers must take care that flextime policies are in line with state and federal wage and hour requirements.
- Some types of businesses can use a compressed workweek. The idea of a four-day workweek is appealing to many workers, and if your business can handle that type of schedule, you might consider using it. State overtime laws are a factor here; some states, such as California, have strict laws regarding overtime for more than 40 hours per week and 8 hours per day, except for some jobs, such as fire or police work. A compressed workweek can mesh with flextime.
- In a job-sharing scenario, two workers split a single full-time job into two part-time jobs. Job sharing gives a worker time off without the job itself suffering.
Employees today want the chance to have a life outside work. Employers can help by understanding that a 9-5 schedule is not necessary. Happy employees get more accomplished whenever and wherever they are, even if that means at home on a Saturday afternoon.
Benefits and Bonuses
If you're trying to attract quality employees, you need to offer competitive wages and benefits. Paying the going rate and health insurance may not be enough. Some states have high minimum wages and mandate health insurance coverage under the ACA for almost all businesses. You need to provide something a little better.
Employee engagement surveys over the past decade show that employees want more from their jobs than just a paycheck. The perks and bonuses of offices past—gift cards, branded merchandise, pizza parties—don't work as well today. Getting a pen with the company logo for a job well done is not the reward someone wants after putting in four 70-hour weeks on a project.
What your employees do want is something that makes them feel valued all the time, not just when they put forth a little extra effort. Some of these additional benefits cost nothing except thinking outside the box. They'll pay off in improved retention rates and satisfied employees.
- Wellness support: You don't have to have an on-site fitness center, but you may consider offering interested employees a subsidized membership at the local gym. In-office yoga or even treadmills for coffee breaks can be a big plus for a small office. Create an office culture of health and wellness support.
- Employee assistance programs (EAPs): EAPs help workers having life problems that are affecting their work. These can be anything from financial issues to mental health problems. An EAP may be in-house or use referrals to outside professionals. An EAP is a plus for employers and an incentive for new employees.
- Improved family leave policies: Many of your workers have children. Businesses with over 50 employees must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). There is no reason smaller businesses cannot do the same. Giving parents with young children time off when the kids are sick will make them grateful. It also keeps the kids' flu germs out of the office.
In short, anything a small business owner can do to increase employee satisfaction with their job and create a better work-life balance is a benefit.
No worker wants to stay in the same place for their whole career. They want the chance to learn more about their position, have opportunities for advancement, and be promoted. At the same time, your existing workers want to be sure they're not training up their replacements for a quick downsizing.
Development opportunities should be created between team members. Older workers who want to be mentors or instructors in their field of expertise can pass along valuable information without fear of losing their jobs. Employers must be mindful of regulations like the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prevents terminating employees over 40 based on age. You can avoid these issues with a good hiring policy and open communications between managers and workers.
Getting Legal Help
No single benefit or retention strategy works for every company. If you have legal concerns about a new policy, get advice from an employment law attorney.
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Contact a qualified business attorney to help you prevent and address human resources problems.