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By Emma Gaywood, principal HR assistant at VHR Global Technical Recruitment


With the cost of recruiting one employee costing business owners an average of £30,000, retention is crucial for small businesses to grow and succeed.

Here are four ways business leaders can increase employee engagement at a low cost to permanently improve retention.

  1. Onboarding programme

A dedicated onboarding plan is often missed out by employers, but it’s the first step in a positive employee experience, and completely free to implement. Start as you mean to go on: engage your new staff and keep them engaged from their very first day. Create an onboarding plan that’s tailored to the person and the role they have joined. Consider the following elements of the plan:

  • Stakeholders – Who will your new starter need to meet, to establish relationships and find out the key information they’ll need for their job and role in the company? These key contacts will be colleagues, suppliers, clients, users, beneficiaries and industry bodies, as well as those who will be working in their direct teams. Arrange the meetings for them and introduce them to these key connections.
  • Objectives – Ensure your new starter is aware and on board with exactly what is expected of them. Their own personal expectations and goals should match those of the first few months in this role, to ensure their activities and therefore results are aligned with company goals. Agree on a method for tracking and measuring success (without micro-managing) so that the worker knows how they’re performing and feels reassured of your continued support and recognition.
  • Development – Set out opportunities for development and continually reinforce these throughout the first few months of the new starter’s job. Keep track of the skills and experience that they’ve expressed interest in learning and use these to create a tailored Person Development Plan, with SMART objectives and methods of measurement.
  1. Employee benefits & rewards system

A little recognition can go a long way. Employees who feel appreciated and valued, not just by their direct managers or executive leadership but by the company as a whole, will be far more likely to remain with their employer.

Employee engagement programmes recognise, reward and connect with staff. These programmes can be scaled from 10 employees to thousands. Free benefits such as flexible working hours and remote working schedules allow individuals much-needed work-life balance, and casual dress codes allow further flexibility. Low-cost engagement initiatives could include fresh fruit deliveries, monthly lunches, company social events, cinema tickets and employee discounts. Many programmes such as Cycle to Work Schemes, pensions and childcare vouchers are subsidised by the government, and can have a dramatically positive effect on the life of an individual.

  1. Learning & development

One in three people would leave a job they enjoyed if it did not provide opportunities for personal or professional development. Development can mean different things for different people: for example, some employees will want to complete vocational or Academic qualifications in their field, some want to build their confidence through public speaking skills, and others want to improve soft skills like communication. No matter how big or small a company, and whatever job function or level of seniority, each employee can create and benefit from their own Personal Development Plan.

This continuously updated document is created in partnership with the employee and sets out all learning needs and work objectives for the next 6-12 months – balanced between the individual’s career plan and the business needs – so that the individual is aware of exactly how their career will be progressing in both the short- and long-term.

Learning & Development training options can be very cost-effective for small businesses. Many technical skills such as website coding, SEO, social media and design skills using software such as Adobe Suite and can be learned online for a small cost or for free. Intensive training programmes for specific management teams can save money by training multiple staff members at once, and courses in communication, time-keeping and organisation will improve employee retention and productivity in the long-term. Mentoring by more senior employees can provide free in-house coaching and support for those at the earlier stages of their career, and again builds string relationships within the company.

  1. Communication

The old saying ‘people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers’ is still true today: ineffective management and poor relationships with line managers are amongst the top reasons that employees decide to leave their jobs.

Communication is the most integral part of an employee-manager relationship. Weekly 1-2-1 meetings provide a dedicated time and place for individuals to connect with their manager face-to-face and get support on problems and challenges. There are many things that individuals won’t feel comfortable discussing in the open office environment, such as personal health or family problems; without private discussion time with managers, employees will be left to deal with the negative effects of these problems, such as lack of concentration, drops in productivity or poor mental health, on their own. These sessions should also cover the employee’s Personal Development Plan and identify any potential roadblocks preventing them from progressing.