6 tips for holding onto your best people
In the current employment market, top employees may be harder to attract. But are you doing everything you can to retain the ones you have?

This is a question more businesses are asking. Candidates are spoiled for choice and competition for talent is getting tougher, especially for small business owners who may lack the deep pockets of the bigger end of town.

But there are ways to increase retention in 2023. We’ve asked two small business owners with a strong retention track record to share their tips. Here are six ideas to get you started.

  1. Get serious about flexibility
    Business advisory firm SEIVA employs 27 people and was awarded 13th Best Workplace 2022 in the small business catergory by Great Place to Work®. SEIVA Managing Director Brent Szalay says flexibility is in the company’s DNA.

    “There are two days each week when we encourage everyone to come into the office – that’s when we organise workshops, training and some meetings that benefit from face-to-face collaboration,” he says. “On the other days, people can choose to work from where they want.

    “We’re also flexible with the hours that people work,” adds Szalay. “We’re focused on the quality of the output rather than the hours. It’s about trusting and empowering our people to let each other know what’s going on and ensuring that we maintain high standards of work and productivity, no matter when or where we work.”
  1. Be creative with work perks
    Competitive salaries are a must in the current market, but people are also attracted to extra perks.

    Applejack Hospitality operates nine venues across Sydney and employs just under 300 people. Its Group Director of P&C, Matt Jenkins, says the company aims to provide perks that make employees feel valued.

    As an example, staff are given credit through a mobile app based on their length of tenure with the business. This credit can be spent at any of the company’s venues.

    “Every night the managers in each venue also nominate a front-of-house or a kitchen staff member who went over and above in their role for that particular evening,” says Jenkins. “At the end of the month, each venue looks at the nominations and chooses the ‘Unicorn of the Month’, who gets $100 on their Applejack app.”

    It can be useful to think of ways your business could offer unique perks to your staff to recognise loyalty or good work.
  1. Champion employee wellbeing
    Both Applejack and SEIVA have invested in employee assistance programs to provide staff with free, anonymous counselling services.

    “It’s a really affordable way for small businesses to support their employee wellbeing,” says Szalay. “We pay an annual fee and it’s a great investment.”

    SEIVA also holds regular one-on-one wellbeing meetings with employees.

    “These are not about the work but about the person,” says Szalay. “We also send a wellbeing pulses to employees each week with a few questions about how they are feeling about work and their personal lives so that we can use that feedback to improve anything if required. It gives us an extra layer of insight into how people are doing.”
  1. Foster trust and transparency
    People view job security as a high priority, especially during times of uncertainty. Szalay says fostering an environment of trust and transparency can help to promote a sense of security.

    “We ensure we have a safe environment for everybody to contribute to. We want everyone to speak up so we can continually improve, learn and grow,” says Szalay.

    “People know that they won’t be judged or that their views won’t be shot down. We make it very clear from day one that we don't mind what you don't know. We want you to contribute anything that you have, because we are all supportive and working in the same direction. Building trust is a clear focus for us.”
  1. Walk the talk on career development
    Industries like hospitality are often seen as transitory for workers, but Applejack aims to help employees explore rewarding, long-term career options.

    “There’s no reason why we can’t help to develop our people while they’re on that path of discovering what they want to do,” says Jenkins. “We want to create a fun and engaging workplace where, if people decide to explore where their career could go in the hospitality industry, hopefully they choose to explore that with us.”

    Jenkins says management experience is open to anyone who wants it.

    “We offer secondments where someone might do a month’s worth of management training while another manager is on annual leave, so they can get their first crack at seeing what management is all about before really diving in.”

    SEIVA is also committing to career development and progression.

    “We have career vision boards for everybody that set out where they want to be in three years and how we can help them get there,” says Szalay. “It includes the things that motivate them and the skills that need to be developed. Then we put a plan in place that’s crystal clear and that everyone can be accountable to.”
  1. Enable two-way communication
    People are more likely to stay with a company where they feel valued. One way to achieve this is to listen to their views and to share information about your business.

    “Applejack holds regular development days to hear from all staff,” says Jenkins. “They know our business from the inside, so it’s important to give them an opportunity to share their ideas.

    “We also keep everyone informed of how the business is tracking and I think this was especially important during COVID lockdowns. We didn’t have all the answers, but our priority was to be honest and open with everyone.”

In a candidate-short market, retention strategies are more valuable than ever. Businesses of all sizes are considering ways keep their valuable talent and fend off the competition. While money matters, you can give them many other reasons to stay.

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