Help Wanted: How Small Businesses Can Compete for Workers
As the saying goes, good help is hard to find, but the pandemic is making it even harder for small businesses to compete in a market where job seekers have options and big companies are rolling out higher starting wages and more generous benefits. Half of small business owners in the U.S. report that it’s harder to find qualified workers than it was a year ago and almost a third have open roles they have not been able to fill for three months or more, according to a CNBC/Momentive Small Business Survey.
The uptick in business is good and more small business owners surveyed expect revenue to grow over the next twelve months. At the same time, the employment crunch is leading to rising wage costs, backlogs on orders and significant time and resource investments in recruiting, hiring and training new employees.
Small businesses can’t always compete with major corporations on wages and benefits. But there are advantages you have over large employers and getting creative in terms of a total compensation package can help you attract people who may be especially well suited to an entrepreneurial work environment. Consider these points to make the sale.
- Widen your funnel. Large companies often have complicated rules for who can fulfill a certain role, including requirements for specific degrees or certifications. Instead of locking yourself into hard and fast rules, look at each role and each candidate and determine whether the talent matches the need, regardless of other criteria. For example, Mark Zuckerberg would not be eligible for your entry-level programming job if having a bachelor’s degree is a hiring requirement. Also consider retired workers and those returning after an absence who may not get the consideration they deserve from large companies.
- Get really flexible. The same agility small businesses leverage to respond quickly to changing market conditions can help you adapt to changing employee needs. With big companies being more open now to flexible and remote work arrangements, you may have to flex even more to compete. Could you allow employees to set their own hours within a generous time frame? Could working parents break up their day so they are available to get kids off to school and again to greet them later in the day? Talk with prospective employees about ways to make it easier for them to say yes to your offer.
- Share your culture. Your recruitment and hiring process should show prospective employees what it’s really like to work with you and advantages you offer over larger companies. For example, decisions likely get made more quickly in your small business, employees may be able to work directly with you or other company leaders and feel at the center of the action, and the vibe may be more like a family where everyone pulls together. Whatever makes your company special, share it.
- Provide autonomy. Many workers crave greater control over how they do their work. As long as you can establish strong systems for monitoring performance, can you allow employees to craft their job description in a way that capitalizes on their strengths and interests while still meeting expectations?
- Create buy-in. Even without perks like stock options, you can help employees buy in to your company’s success by making sure they profit when you do. That could mean bonuses for landing new business, providing exceptional customer service or contributing to meeting shared goals. It could also mean well-defined salary bumps for continued service or benefits like use of a company vehicle or other resources.
- Give team members a voice. What many people seek most at work is a sense of purpose and the feeling that they are contributing to something bigger. Make sure employees understand your company’s core values and mission and then give them a chance to help shape how you get there. It can be tough for entrepreneurs to share power because your business is your baby, but building loyalty also means providing opportunities for employees to provide feedback and share ideas.
- Prioritize safety. Feeling that they work in a safe and healthy environment is especially important in luring employees back to work. In a small business, you are likely better positioned to customize your approach to address the needs of specific team members. Addressing COVID concerns may be especially important for recruiting older workers who are at greater risk of serious infection.
- Talk about stability. Although potential employees may view a job with a large company as more secure than signing up with a small business, that may not actually be true. Of course, no organization can guarantee ongoing employment, but if you’ve never laid off a team member, or went to great lengths to keep staff during the pandemic, share that story. Even during the height of the pandemic, small businesses actually laid off a smaller portion of their workforces than big companies did (7% vs. 9%) according to reporting in The Washington Post.
Large companies have scope and resources you can’t match. But you have unique advantages too — from providing more of a high-touch working experience to greater opportunities for individual impact. You make the rules so go ahead and make ones that work best for you, your business and your current and future team members.