10 Free Things Business Owners Can Do Now to Engage and Retain Talent

Jul 5, 2022

According to a recent Wall Street Journal survey, small businesses are losing confidence in the United States’ economy, with 57% bracing for economic conditions to worsen in the next 12 months. Among the challenges of inflation, supply chain issues, rising interest rates and labor shortages is the need to also hold on to your best people while larger companies and certain industries ramp up their recruitment efforts. While investing in your employees’ experience might seem costly, many of the things that a worker is looking for right now—excluding increased wages—do not have to cost you a thing, just a little time and effort.

Let’s begin by considering what employees want from an employer today. We track all the major employee engagement/satisfaction surveys annually along with our own survey data to develop an annual list of “What Your Employees Want from Work.” Right now your employees care about the following:


  • Doing something meaningful at work
  • Working in a company that values performance through feedback, recognition and accountability
  • Being part of a team that values, respects and includes them
  • Knowing their mental well-being is a priority for their employer
  • Being developed and knowing their career matters
  • Having flexibility in their schedule and where they work
  • Working for a company that values their opinion and ideas
  • Working for a manager who cares about them

While there are many ways to impact each of the areas that employees (and managers) value, we want to provide small business owners with our top 10 things that can help make your people feel good, perform better and want to stay. The best part is it won’t cost you a thing, other than a little time and thoughtfulness.

1. Have a conversation every week with your team about who made a difference that week and how. Create an expectation that everyone every week needs to be able to share when they made a real difference to someone else, whether at work or outside of it. It is important to get people to recognize that they make a difference.

2. Empower your people to make decisions. One of the advantages that a small business has is that everyone needs to be comfortable working on their own and making decisions in the moment. So when an employee or manager comes to you with a question, turn it back around by asking, “What do you want to do?”

3. Observe your people at work and give them feedback on how they can improve and excel. Many small business owners often find themselves working on the front line or alongside their employees, but they do so without the focus on observing how those around them are doing. You have to create some time to work and observe so you can see how your team is doing and offer them timely, specific and thoughtful feedback.

4. Recognize your best performers in a meaningful way. We often talk about “Say, Write, Do” when it comes to recognition. This means that you should consider different ways to recognize your people. You can say it as long as it’s genuine and specific. You can write a note, card or email that indicates some effort. You can do things that matter to your employees like doing a task they might not like, spending time with them to talk about their career or giving an hour or two back to them of company time to do whatever they want. The most important thing is that it means something to them.

5. Create time during work for people to connect or celebrate something or someone. Host an extra-long coffee break or lunch where people can just be social while still at work. Try to avoid only having social events after work that encroach on personal time.

6. Destigmatize struggling with mental health by being transparent and open about your own challenges. We have to stop hiding our weaknesses or thinking that what happens outside of work does not impact the way we work. It is important to demonstrate more empathy toward your team and the easiest way to do this is to start by being honest with yourself and open to your team.

7. Schedule time to work alongside your managers or employees and teach them something new. We often advise executives or owners that their No. 1 job is to make themselves dispensable and that the true test of their leadership is to see what happens when they are not around. By sharing your expertise and giving feedback you create the best development opportunity for your people.

8. Have an open discussion with members of your team on what, if any, part of their work could be done away from work. Unfortunately, some jobs have no flexibility but for those that do, create an agreement about the amount of time those tasks take, when they need to be done and where an employee will get them done. Making an effort when possible to create a hybrid work environment is no longer a nice option but a necessary business strategy.

9. Have objectives for the business and share them with everyone in the business. Be open about what you are trying to achieve financially, with customers and in terms of the employee experience. Expect everyone to contribute ideas to improve the business and help you reach your objectives.

10. Get to know your people. Take time every month to sit and focus on how people are doing rather than what people are doing. Know the passions and priorities of your workers so you understand what is important to them and you can inquire about them whenever possible.

We know it is not easy right now, so we hope these simple ideas will help, if nothing else, to remind you that to create a great experience for your employees, you just need to focus on the right things, which are not necessarily the most expensive things.

By Shane Green