24/06/2015

By Annamarie Petsis Jones, HR director at business energy supplier Opus Energy


People are the driving force behind any business – large or small. However, for smaller businesses it’s vital that talented employees – who will help drive the business forward – are recruited and retained to achieve success.

So, how can small businesses make sure they attract the best employees, and keep hold of them?

Start off with the right fit

To be in a position to fully commit to your employees, it’s important to have recruited employees who are the right fit for your business in the first place.

When I joined my company in 2011, the growth rate was phenomenal – new employees were being brought in at great speed to meet growing customer demand. However, a rushed recruitment process and lack of additional benefits meant employee turnover was high, with 30% of new employees in customer service leaving within a year.

As HR director, it’s my job to discover, understand and support how employees will fit into the organisation’s culture. With this in mind, we changed our approach to focus on attracting candidates that shared our values. Psychometric testing was introduced to match behaviours and attitudes to teams, as well as fun teamwork challenges, such as building a tower to balance an egg. This showed us how candidates would fit into teams and helped to identify those who would emerge as natural leaders. This approach helped us to match each successful candidate to a team and job within which they could excel.

In three years we’ve seen our employee turnover rate improve dramatically, with 60% of our management roles now going to internal candidates.

We also identified there were large numbers of young people within the local community who had little work experience but lots of talent and potential. To provide them with opportunities, we launched our Apprenticeship programme. Apprenticeships are the perfect way to mould employees from the ground up into team members that share your values, and can result in your business gaining an experienced and qualified employee once they complete their training.

Offer more than a pay packet

Once you’ve got the right employees into a business, it’s important to engage them from the word ‘go’. Talented employees expect more than just a month’s wages in return for their hard work, so offering training and benefits that are appealing makes it easier to keep hold of them.

Of course, as a small business you might not be able to offer costly benefits like private health insurance, but often giving employees the opportunity to choose from a range of flexible benefits gives them a sense of autonomy and the ability to choose what’s right for them. For instance, the opportunity for flexible working, or to buy or sell holiday allowance can be offered at relatively little cost to a business.

Training is also important, so employees feel they are developing their skills – especially those that want to progress further. One cost-effective way to do this is to examine the existing skill set within your business and identify people who can pass on their knowledge to others, creating an internal training programme.

Wellbeing at work

Making it your responsibility to consider your employees’ wellbeing is also important – as healthy and happy employees make a productive and effective team. This needn’t be an arduous task. For example, encouraging employees to think of ways to raise money for a chosen charity can help give them the feel-good factor as well as help your local community.

Encouraging a healthy lifestyle can also lead to reduced sickness levels. Small gestures like offering free fruit in your break area or setting team fitness challenges to get employees active can be great fun and deliver results.

Great place to work

If the UK’s small businesses are to attract and retain the best talent to help them grow, then they must offer both a great job, and a great place to work. Thinking more broadly about the overall wellbeing of employees can, in the long-term, create satisfied customers and therefore help boost the bottom line.