A friend of mine owns a highly successful business, but while she is raking in client after client, her employees are consistently walking out the door. Every time I visit her office, I notice a newly vacated desk and am introduced to yet another new employee.
What is wrong with this picture?
Turns out, employee turnover is a common problem for small business owners. Due to a lack of leadership training and a heads-down business mentality, owners can often miss the needs and concerns of employees.
Here are a few ways to slow down the proverbial revolving door:
Think back to your childhood. If you had a micromanaging parent, you know what I’m talking about. I remember being asked to clean the bathroom and sweating as my mother intensely watched over my shoulder as I scrubbed the toilet bowl. Not a good feeling... and it’s the same in business.
“Just let people do their jobs,” says Vivian Scott, a Seattle-based certified mediator and author of Conflict Resolution for Dummies. “If you are going to be a micromanager and do everything, be a one-man show.”
This is easier said than done. As a business owner, you want everything done right and it can be difficult to let go. But according to Scott, micromanaging is the number one reason people leave their jobs.
How can you stop micromanaging?
“Take 30 minutes and have a one-on-one with an employee,” she advises. “Ask them how things are going and really listen. Work with them to allow them more autonomy in their role.”
Open the lines of communication
Confusion causes distress, period. If you’ve recently traded in your Mercedes E-Class for a 1989 Oldsmobile, your employees are going to notice and start worrying about the security of their jobs.
“When people start to feel like they don’t know what is going on, they will start looking around for something else,” says Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions, an HR consultancy based in Northampton, Mass. “Keep the lines of communication open in good and bad times.
“If you are struggling, just explain to everyone that the company is going through a rough patch, but you have faith that things will be ok.”
According to Scott, it is also important to talk openly with your employees when someone is fired or leaves the company.
“They will fill in the information they don’t know, so it is best to be upfront,” Scott says. “Bring people into a conference room and talk about job satisfaction. Get weigh-in from employees.”
Examine your hiring process
Lets say you need to hire someone right now. You put out an ad and receive a boatload of responses and think, ‘Yay—this will be easy!’
Wait a minute.
“Take your time to find the right person and try not to feel rushed,” Scott said.
According to Scott, the first step in effective hiring is to be open and honest about the job description, including the lack or inclusion of benefits, etc.
“Don’t oversell or undersell the job,” she says. “The better you can define it, the more likely you will find the person who wants the job.”
Next, ask open-ended questions during the interview.
“Ask questions that start with ‘what’ and ‘how’ as opposed to creating questions that illicit 'yes' or 'no' answers,” she advises. “Ask something like, ‘what does job satisfaction look like to you?’ or ‘how do you know this position is a fit for you?’”
During the question and answer process, “give real life examples; instead of some weird, made up thing; and ask the person how they would handle a specific situation,” Scott says.
Once someone is hired, make sure you’ve clearly documented policies and job descriptions. A finite document will help employees understand their role more clearly should there be a problem in the future.
Invest in professional development
Job stagnation can lead to boredom, which can quickly turn into job dissatisfaction.
“You really need to continue developing people,” says Chinsky Matuson. “Very few people want to stay exactly where they are.”
If you’re worried about the cost of a professional development seminar, start small.
“One way to develop employees cheaply is to give them a gift certificate to Amazon and ask them to buy a book related to your business,” she suggests.
It always feels great to get a pat on the back, especially when it is unexpected.
“Bring your staff in for an impromptu meeting and point out unpredictable thank yous,” Scott says. “If your sales are up, make sure to also thank the receptionist for their part in the process. Praise can go a long way in employee satisfaction.”
Katie Morell is Chicago-based writer and frequent OPEN Forum contributor. She regularly contributes business, feature and travel articles to national and regional publications.