As the U.S. job market springs back to life, small businesses may have a hard time holding on to their best and brightest employees. Those employees may start getting job offers elsewhere or, worse, start actively seeking out new employment opportunities.

How can you keep your star employees happy and situated, when there may be temptations to leave?

1. Understand what they want—and don’t assume it’s more money.

Some employers may assume their best employees want higher pay—and yes, that’s certainly a reason some leave. But don’t assume that is everyone’s reason. A 2013 study by Accenture found the top reasons people leave their jobs include: having responsibilities that don’t match their job description or pay level, uninteresting work, long and inflexible hours, and not feeling valued by their supervisor. Pay is just a piece of the puzzle.

2. Conduct “Stay Interviews.”

You need to know what makes your employees tick, and everyone is different. So, ask them. “Stay interviews”—occasional one-on-one meetings with key employees to understand their professional goals and needs—are a good way to ensure your employees aren’t secretly sending out their resumes.

You need to ask the right questions, though, writes John Sullivan on recruiter network Ere.net. You want to find out what your employees like (and love) about their job, but you also want to uncover what they dislike (or hate) about it. He suggests keeping stay interviews under one hour and asking questions like:

  • What attributes do you like most and least about your current job?
  • If you could redesign your current job into your dream job, how would you redesign it?
  • What could your manager and colleagues do differently to make your job more fulfilling?

3. Offer competitive benefits.

Small businesses benefits packages may not be able to compete with all of the traditional benefits offered by large corporations, but small businesses have the advantage of being able to offer their employees extra, more-personalized perks. These might include a four-week paid sabbatical every five years of employment, flexible scheduling, employee incentive trips, or free snacks in the break room.

Check out this list of seven perks employees love.

4. Lead by example—and show gratitude.

If you want your employees to respect you and love their job, you need to show them respect and appreciation first. “It’s cheap and easy to say thank you to an employee, whether they’re bringing a bit of workplace drama to your attention or solving a long-standing problem within the company,” writes James Parsons, chief marketing officer of AudienceBloom, on Entrepreneur.com. “A verbal thanks, a kind note or an appreciative email can go a long way.”

Make sure you’ve built a culture of respect, where employees feel appreciated and collegial. The opposite can make employees miserable and only send them fleeing.

5. Give your employees advancement opportunities.

Small businesses sometimes lose valuable talent because their employees don’t feel like they have the professional growth opportunities they would have at much larger firms. Small business owners must think about how to create such opportunities for their best employees. That could mean creating new roles or promotional opportunities for them—and letting them know they will have the opportunity to move into those better positions.

The goal of all these steps—regardless of which you take—is to make your key employees’ jobs so perfect that they would find it very hard to walk away.

 

Next Steps:  Imagine a world where your employees show up on time, work smart and deliver results for your small business day in and day out. Not there yet? Sign up for the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter and we’ll send you the best science-backed strategies on managing productive, happy employees—including tips on how to get them to show up on time!