Can't Give Raises This Year? Try Training Instead

Want happy, loyal employees but can't swing raises? Research shows that training offers as much job satisfaction as a big raise.
Contributing Writer,
August 24, 2012

Let me share a not-so-secret “secret” with you—your employees are frustrated. You’ve been asking them to do more with less for the past few years, and you likely haven’t been able to reward them with sizable raises or bonuses for their efforts. Numerous surveys have indicated once the job market opens up, most American workers will seek new employment. So, is there anything you can do to keep your best employees? Yes—train them.

In fact, continued training and professional development is high on the list of “wants” by American workers. According to one study released earlier this year, employer-provided training increases employees’ job satisfaction as much as getting a 17.7 percent raise.

Chances are you can implement a training program in your small business. Here are some steps to take.

Assess your business’s needs. What skills do your employees have? What do they want to learn? What skills does your business need that are lacking? Identifying gaps shouldn’t be difficult; most small businesses have too little time and resources to handle everything they’d like to do. Whether it’s learning to become a social media maven or improving Excel spreadsheet skills, figure out what would help your business and who is best suited to and most interested in learning it.

Find out where to get training. There are many options for no- or low-cost training, including having employees train each other; finding online courses, seminars or webinars; checking out local community college, job training or adult education programs; and tapping the resources of your industry association. Use your networks, social and otherwise, to ask business owners in your community what training resources they’ve used and how it’s worked for them.

Keep an open mind. Don’t assume that your older workers aren’t interested in honing their tech skills or that younger ones need no help with, say, social media. Don’t assume women don’t want to learn tech stuff or men don’t want to learn marketing. Don’t assume the only person who wants to learn coding is already in your IT department—maybe your marketing person craves to code so she can understand your business Website in more depth. The best way to find out what people want to do is to ask them.

Understand individual learning styles. People learn differently, so the same training methods won’t work for everyone. While some workers may do great with a self-guided, online tutorial, others need hands-on help from a live person they can talk to. Some may learn better in groups with a leader, while others will learn best going solo at their own pace. Take different people’s learning styles into account as you plan your training.

Use proven tactics. A recent report, The Science of Training and Development in Organizations: What Matters in Practice, examined a lot of the research on the science of training and suggests:

  • Look at training as a holistic system, not an isolated event. What takes place before and after training is as important as the training itself.
  • Provide structure and guidance, while also letting trainees make decisions about how they want to learn.
  • To make learning “stick,” training should repeat tasks.
  • Behavioral role modeling—that is, watching someone else do the task—can help trainees learn.
  • After training, give employees a chance to apply what they learned to their jobs and give feedback on their progress.

Reward successful training. Many small-business owners worry that training their employees just makes them more desirable hires for other companies. And in fact, a study reported in The Wall Street Journal found that on-the-job training made employees more loyal to their employers only if they saw chances for advancement at the company. However, the study notes that “advancement” doesn't necessarily mean promotions or raises. It could also include job rotation, lateral moves, new assignments or even mentoring. The lesson? Once employees complete training, make sure they have some way to use what they’ve learned—whether by getting new assignments, handling more responsibility or even training others. (Of course, once you can afford it, a raise wouldn’t hurt, either.)

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