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How to Keep Employees in Your SME

The success of any small or medium enterprise is largely dependant on having great employees. In today’s highly mobile job market, workers expect more than just a pay packet at the end of the week. Even happy workers will often be tempted by the benefits of working somewhere else. Losing a good employee hurts more in a smaller business. Reports regularly show that the average cost of replacing an employee sits at around 20% of the employee’s annual salary, although this figure jumps to as much as 213% for highly specialised positions. Not only is there the cost of losing someone, but you also risk stressing out remaining employees who have to work harder to carry the load until a new hire is up and running.

When you retain your employees and continue developing them, you’re giving yourself the best chance at creating momentum to expand your business. To help you retain your employees, we’ve put together a list of things you can do to foster engagement and loyalty. These projects have the added benefit of improving your company culture, which will boost morale and overall productivity.  

Get creative with benefits

You’re probably competing against other companies that can afford to spend more on wages. However, most employees will look at the whole package when deciding where to work. These days, there are plenty of non-monetary benefits in high demand. Consider offering flexible working schedules – if you don’t absolutely need your staff there at the same time each day then let them work the hours that suit them best. Work from home days are also very appealing to most people. What about free breakfast or lunch? Provide healthy food and snacks – your staff will love it! Other ideas include early marks on Fridays, casual clothes days and early marks as rewards for high performance.

Show your appreciation

Recognition goes a long way towards improving employee engagement. Even just a simple acknowledgement in front of the team can give an employee a sense of pride and value. Try creating a recognition program, like employee of the month. Certificates and prizes work well too. Prizes don’t have to be monetary. You could use things like half days, work from home days etc. Ensure that the majority of your feedback to staff is recognition for a job well done.


Gamification is about turning business operations into games, to increase fun and a sense of achievement in the workplace. It’s a great way to get better results while improving morale! You can gamify anything, from taking calls to serving customers or performing basic admin tasks. Employees will get a kick out of performing tasks to watch themselves improve their ranking on a leaderboard. It’s a smart way to get people excited about coming to work! There are a tonne of apps to help you create a game for your workplace.  Check out this link for more info and ideas.

Strengthen connections

Meaningful relationships matter. Foster real connections amongst your employees by organising opportunities for socialising. This can be as easy as joint lunches and celebrating people’s birthdays. Other great ideas include teambuilding events and catch ups outside of the office. Try holding friendly competitions where staff work in teams. Actually liking the people they work with can do wonders for employee engagement and motivation.

Hold performance evaluations

People like knowing what is expected of them and how they are tracking. Having performance evaluations sends a message that your employee’s growth and development are important to you. You should have a comprehensive job description for each role that you revisit each year. Go over it with your employee and ask them if it’s an accurate reflection of the actual job. You can then use this to review the performance of your employee. You can let them know how they are doing in completing the required duties. Praise them for what they are doing well and note some areas to focus on improving. Set goals for the future that include personal and professional growth. Make sure your employee knows what they need to do to grow in their role. Show them a clear path via personal and professional development to a brighter future.

Involve staff in business decisions

Everyone wants to feel important. It’s easy to get bored in a role where you just follow the instructions that are handed down to you. When an employee is aligned with you in trying to achieve a goal, they’ll be more engaged with the work they’re doing. Make sure that employees are on board with your vision from the start. Then get them involved in making important decisions. Hold employee brainstorming sessions whenever you undertake a new project. As you grow, you can even hold thinktank sessions and ask them to come up with innovative ways to take your business to the next level. You’ll increase engagement and probably get some good ideas to boot.

Pay More

It seems obvious but it’s worth mentioning. Polls regularly find that pay raises and annual bonuses are the best way to keep employees. If you can afford it then it’s worth considering. Obviously, many small businesses find that they don’t have the extra money necessary to make these increases. If that’s the case than there are plenty of other ways to reward your employees. You could give them time off or pay for an annual team outing. Even shouting everyone lunch every couple of months will be appreciated.

Invest in Training

Everyone is interested in their own future. The employer who organises training for employees is demonstrating commitment to their personal and professional growth. This will be seen as a benefit to their long-term career goals, and a valuable addition to their resume. The obvious added benefit is that you get staff with higher levels of expertise and knowledge. It’s a win-win situation!

Make them feel heard

Everyone wants to feel heard. It’s important to ask your employees for regular feedback and suggestions for the business. By doing this you are showing them that they matter. It allows you to stay on top of any issues they are having at work, before it gets to the point where they want to leave. A good option is to take each employee for a coffee or lunch on you every couple of months (or more often). This is a good chance to reconnect on a personal level too. You can find out what’s happening in their lives, and what they see for themselves moving forward. By aligning professional development opportunities with personal goals you’ll have a better much chance of employee engagement.


Work hard to retain your existing employees – it’s worth it. By improving retention and engagement you’ll have higher morale and productivity. Plus you can put all your efforts into strengthening and expanding the business, rather than recruiting and training new hires.