Happy employees are more productive employees and tend to have less disciplinary issues. Workplaces that report high employee morale tend to have lower turnover rates – something that is essential to a successful small business. In fact, high turnover can be devastating to a small business just starting out. Many owner-operated shops or services have a special story to tell and a unique niche in their field. Happy employees who have worked with the company for a long time can tell that story, embrace your brand, and be an asset to building customer loyalty.
However, many workplaces large and small report that low employee morale is one of their top worries about the condition of their company. To put numbers behind this, 47% of people actively looking for new positions say company culture is the main reason they want to leave. A positive company culture can improve workplace morale and help retain top talent. There are several ways small businesses can improve employee morale and avoid managerial pitfalls. Most of these boil down to respect and transparency, but here are more actionable ways you can improve your employees’ job satisfaction.
Give Your Employees a Sense of Purpose
Having a sense of purpose in the workplace goes beyond simply liking your job. During the hiring process, screen for potential employees who believe in your business’s mission or philosophy toward your service. There is an old saying regarding hiring people to “hire for personality and train the skills.” Unless you need a highly specific skill set from someone that can hit the ground running with minimal training, hiring employees who share your passion can go a long way to making them ambassadors to your customers.
When employees feel their work matters, they have an incentive within themselves to work harder, find better ways to help the company increase business or save money, and echo your own values to your customers. Having a sense of purpose is intrinsic to all people, and when your staff feels like they are individually vital to your company, it shows.
Celebrating milestones in your business with your employees gives them a sense of investment and contribution to your business’s success. For example, you may choose to have a small party to celebrate having the 1000th customer, set sales goals and have rewards for reaching them, or host a small company picnic after a year in business.
Other accomplishments can be celebrated about the individual worker and can include the company as a whole. If an employee received a great guest comment, made a major sale, or is celebrating a workplace anniversary, be sure to single out their accomplishments and successes.
Be Flexible About Scheduling
Although your small business may be a 24-hour job for you, that’s not always the case for your employees. Be sure to understand they have lives and passions and may need time off to take care of “life stuff.” Flexible time-off policies are one thing many workers agree adds to their overall job satisfaction. In fact, 56% of employees say additional PTO would make them more loyal to an organization. PTO, or paid time off, can accumulate based on the number of hours an employee works and can be used flexibly, as either sick time or vacation. Having this flexibility allows employees to bank vacation time, have days off in case of illnesses, and avoid having to disclose certain health conditions that they’d feel uncomfortable talking to their boss about.
PTO can also be a reward for reaching certain business goals. For example, set a sales goal and reward the top seller with an additional PTO day and everyone on the team half a day for reaching these goals. This may mean that you’ll have to cover some additional shifts, but it’s also a perk that many enjoy that doesn’t pull money directly out of pocket.
Along with usable vacation and sick times, flexible schedules are important to your employees. Allowing people to telecommute, come in earlier or leave earlier on certain days to accommodate childcare or kids’ activities, or switching shifts with ease is something that many people value. While you still need bodies to run the business, some types of jobs may allow flexible scheduling. Telecommuting may work well for IT professionals, or remotely working for someone in an outside sales position may offer flexibility that many employees value.
You may also want to consider longer lunches, allowing your staff to take a break and recharge. Encourage a meaningful lunch break, especially if you’re near somewhere that employees can walk for a quick bite or a cup of coffee. Research demonstrates that getting away from the office instead of taking a break in the same place that you work can have a positive effect on creativity and energy.
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Changes
Small businesses by their very nature should be open to change and flux, especially during the first year of business. Employees who have a background of working in your industry may offer tips that were successful for previous employers that you, too, can utilize for success. Being open to suggestions from your employees not only gives them a sense of value, but it can also help you run your business better.
Train Positive Attitudes
This one may be a bit trickier. Training attitude can also mean encouraging positive behavior and having consequences for bad behavior. A staff with a positive attitude often starts with the hiring process, but it’s important to be aware that people can change their attitude and outlook over time.
You can lead by example by focusing on positive accomplishments, rather than dwelling on the negative. Remember to praise publicly and correct privately. Even when you’re dealing with negative issues – and there are plenty in a business’s first and second year – remember to find positivity. Constructive criticism is essential, and a necessary part of operating a business, especially when trying to get employees trained and help them grow. Too much criticism, however, can be taken the wrong way. The lines of communication should always remain open.
To train positive attitudes, you’ll have to determine which specific behaviors you wish to change. For example, an easy way to have more pleasant phone interactions from your employees is to train them to smile when they answer the phone. This makes a voice sound friendlier; in fact, there are three different kinds of smiles that the person on the other end can “hear.” Making a dedicated effort to show genuine enthusiasm for your goods or services goes a long way toward inspiring trust from your customers.
Consider allowing your employees to eat your food, partake of your services, or offer a substantial discount for clothing you sell that they wear to work. Getting your staff’s buy-in by allowing them to enjoy the product they’re selling helps them feel more positively toward the company and build enthusiasm.
Catch your staff doing something right, like when they’ve clearly made a customer’s day or when they’re encouraging one another to perform better. The people that are selected to be trainers can also have a positive effect on the company. Teach your trainers to speak positively even about the more unlikeable aspects of the job. Every position has some downsides, and while they might not be enjoyable, they are essential to a smoothly running business.
There may be other ways to encourage more positive attitudes. Using the theory that one bad apple can spoil the whole bushel, in a similar manner one negative employee can poison the rest of your team. Don’t be afraid to let go of someone who is constantly negative or critical of the business and of other workers. Many times, negative people make it harder for the rest of the team to stand up to them or disagree, so many people just keep their head down and don’t engage. By demonstrating that you aren’t afraid to enforce a positive work environment, you’re demonstrating to your team that you value getting along as a team.
Work Outside the Office as a Team
One thing many small businesses do to build awareness of their brand in the community is sponsor local charities or sports teams, or engage in volunteer work. Consider having a quarterly company volunteer effort. Adopt a highway outside of your business, and encourage other businesses in your office park to join in. Find volunteer opportunities that relate to your company, as well, and offer your expertise by having a complimentary dental check, helping at a local animal shelter, or other types of community service.
Another way to boost employee is to consider a retreat that focuses on team building. It’s a fun way to get off-site and get to know one another better, as well as learn valuable relationship skills and practice team-building exercises.
You may also want to “crowdsource” employee outings, retreats, or volunteer opportunities. For example, if you’re looking for a community enrichment opportunity, whether it’s sponsoring a local sports team or donating time and money, ask your employees. For example, one employee may have a child whose sports team needs a corporate sponsor. Another employee may have a school club that needs donations. Consider volunteering your time or company donations to something that one of your employees is passionate about.
Cultivate an Open-Door Policy
One thing happy employees mention is that they feel valued and appreciated by their managers and owners. Having an open-door policy, where your staff feels comfortable coming to you with questions, comments, and concerns, is invaluable in building a strong company culture and good employee morale. Despite your ability – or inability – to fix the concerns that your employees bring to you, practicing active listening with your staff can make them feel valued and appreciated.
When employees are made aware of what’s going on behind the scenes at your company – both good and bad – they feel more secure in their company and their involvement. Regardless of the ups and downs of your business fluctuations, knowing how your industry cycles is important for employees. Discussing the slower seasons, any cost-cutting measures or different things that affect their livelihood makes a difference in an employee’s ability to perform at a higher level.
Promote From Within
As your business grows, you may have the need for a supervisor or manager in your organization, as well as other specialized positions. Promoting from within is integral to employee retention and motivation, especially since promoting from within shows other employees that you value hard work and effort. When hiring, look for people that may be trainable to transition into a higher level of responsibility in your organization.
While you may not have opportunities for a promotion or pay raises just yet, you may have a chance to cross train your employees into different positions in your company. There are plenty of different skills that, while they aren’t a promotion, provide more flexibility when scheduling employees and allows employees to explore other skills and build their own skill sets.
Whatever tips you choose to implement to increase employee morale in your workplace, remember that positive leadership starts at the top – with you. Small businesses have their own unique set of stressors, but keeping an even temper and not allowing your employees to see you upset or stressed can have a huge impact on whether they embrace your changes and help contribute to a positive workplace.