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Investing in your employees: a business case

For many small business owners, the idea of ‘investing in employees’ is a worrying prospect, conjuring images of big purchases of pool tables or video games, significant financial bonuses, exciting company holiday parties, and all sorts of benefits associated with large multinational organisations. 

However, investing in your employees actually offers you as the employer great opportunities:  the chance to get to know your employees well, to think creatively and to become a uniquely attractive and compelling employer in an ever-more competitive market for talent. 

Consider your current workforce. Here are a few points to launch your thinking:

 Why do your current employees work for you? Is it the salary, the type of work and product generated in your organisation, the people already on staff, and activities you hold?
 Why have employees left your business in the past? 

 How do you reward them for their regular work and for extra jobs well done?
 What is meaningful to your employees? What do they value in their professional and personal lives? 
 And what do you want or need to happen in your business – perhaps greater productivity, a higher profile, and possibly less staff turnover?

It doesn’t cost a lot to invest in your employees and still reap greater return on investment (ROI) that you might have ever imagined. Even in the world of work, a little means a lot.

In the words of Guy Hayward, award-winning CEO of financial recruitment agency Goodman Masson, the basics of what people want at work are simple: “tools and infrastructure to do a great job, opportunity to develop professionally, being well and correctly rewarded, and to work in an environment they want to be part of and don’t want to leave”.

Actually, the most significant investment you can make in your staff is arguably the easiest, and it should be your first investment (after hiring them, of course!): listening to them. Medium-to-large organisations might distribute surveys to their employees to ‘take the temperature’ and gauge general and individual feeling amongst the workforce. But with a small business comes the luxury of having a smaller number of employees, who can be tapped individually or in a group to speak, perhaps over a cup of tea, to discuss their lives, their work, and how the two fit together, as well as their aspirations and their values. If your company currently offers no or limited ‘perks’, you might even ask what would be meaningful additions, making a genuine difference to their quality of work environment or outside of work.

For instance, a current workplace trend is to offer flexible working, which can mean starting the workday earlier or later than the standard time, or working the equivalent of five workdays in four days of longer hours, or performing one’s work remotely. The different variations of flexible working generally appeal to workers who have caring responsibilities, long commutes, are pursuing educational goals, or have hobbies and interests that demand time. Flexible working is also attractive to people who don’t want fulltime work or have long-term or chronic health conditions that might require a gentler pace. Additional time to do whatever is very valuable today – and depending on your business’s circumstances, could cost little to provide, yet win an employee’s gratitude and loyalty.  

In O.C. Tanner’s 2018 Global Culture Report, ‘peak employee experiences’ were highlighted as “the key to a thriving workplace culture…in which employees are connected to purpose, accomplishment and one another.” This indicates that large financial expenditures are not required, but instead a focus should be placed on qualitative attributes. An example given was of how employees at one company celebrated a colleague’s five-year work anniversary by sharing their anecdotes, poems and stories of what it was like to work with her. Add to this simple event refreshments and a brief comment from you, the owner – and this is a priceless investment in an employee who will remember the experience for a long time.

Other low-cost but big value investments in the employees of a small business could include: giving them work time to take an online tutorial on a subject that interests them and relates to their work as part of professional development on, say, YouTube; birthdays off; holding a ‘bring your dog to work’ day; hosting a company bake-off; or feasting on a lunch buffet of items made by all the staff.

Most of all, keep in mind that top investments in your staff cost the least: saying ‘thank you’, ‘well done’, ‘We’re so glad you’re part of the team’. And the underestimated investment here? In the next generation of small business owners, who will have learnt from the best.