July 3, 2013

Businesses thrive by giving workers reasons to stay

Clients of law firm Johnston, Allison & Hord value that many of the same attorneys and staff have worked with them for decades.

Clients of law firm Johnston, Allison & Hord value that many of the same attorneys and staff have worked with them for decades.

Not surprisingly, that kind of longevity doesn’t happen by accident. It takes time, effort and money to create a work environment that begets low employee turnover.

But it’s well worth it, said Darrell Shealy, managing partner of the 101-year-old Charlotte firm.

Because despite the stress of the job, it’d be hard to leave a business that gives employees $100 gas cards for their commutes in the throes of the recession. One that gives flowers, pedicures or gift cards on holidays and employee’s annual work anniversaries. One that throws a catered staff-appreciation party on the second floor balcony with a skyline view a half-dozen times a year.

The flashy perks of multi-billion-dollar corporations, such as Apple and Google, have publicly married the relationship between employees’ satisfaction and productivity. But whether a company employs thousands or a handful, workforce retention and engagement can directly affect margins.

Here’s one reason: Vacancies deal a blow to productivity, said John Bennett, a professor in Queens University’s McColl School of Business and the director of the school’s master’s program for executive coaching.

Add the often-lengthy process of recruiting, hiring and training an employee, and you’ve lost and invested a substantial amount of time and money before the new hire even contributes. Bennett said studies estimate that some businesses spend nearly the equivalent of that annual salary before the new hire starts producing.

But even without a vacancy, businesses can lose when employees are disengaged, or mentally “checked out,” he said.

“Whether they’re making $20,000, $50,000 or $1 million a year, all of that adds up,” Bennett said. “So it’s important for us to have fully engaged, competent people doing the right things in the right ways with the right resources.”

So while small business owners might not have the revenue to offer free shuttle services and gourmet chefs for three meals a day, some entrepreneurs have found their own ways to boost morale. And they’re attesting that perks — big or small — pay big dividends.

There’s no one-size-fits-all model for perks, experts say, so it’s important for business owners to discover what appeals most to their employees, such as tickets to a ballgame or a gym or game room on site.

Perks are great, said Les Hudson, a professor of strategic management in the McColl School of Business, but they’re just a facet of a larger goal: to make employees feel wanted and appreciated. One free way to boost morale is to ask for employees’ advice, Hudson said. But, he added, “you have to be prepared to really examine what they’re telling you. Because if you don’t … you seem insincere. And that can do more damage.”

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