Enticements help keep employees long term

score Question:
I'm having a bit of difficultly keeping my employees long term. How can I get them to stick around?

There was a song after World War I that went: "How are you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paris?"

An economist responded to this rhetorical question by saying, "Subsidize them."

A pretty good answer, if you take the question seriously, and one that was followed by the federal government for many years. It's an answer that can be valuable to small businesses as well, when asked about keeping people in the company.

Of course, you don't need to subsidize them the way the government does, but you do have to give them something to get them to stick around. Here are suggestions that can be of value:

  • Pay competitive salaries. Most employees, especially in small businesses, don't pay a lot of attention to benefits and stock-ownership programs. They look at their weekly take-home pay. So if you're not paying what they can get somewhere else, they are enticed to look for greener pastures.

  • Look for little things you can do to make them feel more important. Walk around, talk to them, tell then what a good job they are doing, have a social get-together every couple of months and give out recognition awards. You don't have to spend a lot of money on them; it's the recognition that counts. When the employees feel that you care, they're more likely to be satisfied than when you give them a $20 a week raise and ignore them. They want to do more than just earn a paycheck. They want to come to a company that makes them feel important and wanted.

  • Give them the authority they need to get their jobs done, then get out of their way. Don't micro manage the operations. Sure it feels good, but it's a mistake. People work best when they are in charge and don't have to be concerned about people looking over their shoulder all the time.

    When I say give them authority, I mean that you need to allow them to make decisions, and yes, even make mistakes, without having to worry about getting into trouble with you. If you don't allow people to take a chance and make a mistake, no one will go out on a limb. Everyone will play it safe because they don't want to get in trouble.

    No one is right every time, so you have to be able to let them feel free to make an occasional error. That's part of the learning process.

Take these three ideas - competitive salaries, rewards, and empowerment - and make them part of your daily operating approach. Don't just use them and once you get the desired results drop them. That's what many small-business owners do, and it doesn't work.

People are too smart. Once they realize that you've gone back to your old ways, they go back to their old ways.

If you want hem to change their approach and become more productive, you have to do the same thing. Remember, if you want to keep them "down on the farm," you have to find a way of making it worth their while. And if you can do this, you'll find that it is also of value to your bottom line.

Bill Bryan is a counselor with the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE offers counseling, workshops and seminars on small business operations. You can reach Bryan through SCORE, 515 N Court St. 815-962-0122, for information and appointments.

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