How can small businesses compete in a labour market where so many sectors are struggling to recruit staff? Some large employers are tackling the crisis by throwing money at it, but at small firms spare cash is in short supply.
Still, small businesses do have certain advantages when it comes to recruitment and retention. Firstly, small can be beautiful: people, especially younger generations, increasingly want meaningful roles. It is much easier for small businesses to ensure all staff feel part of the company, with an important part to play, than for larger ones, where employees often feel like tiny cogs. And secondly, smaller employers have much more opportunity to be flexible and nimble.
The key for small firms is to play to these strengths. Can you use your flexibility to streamline recruitment processes so that people are interviewed and offered jobs quickly? Can you offer more flexible types of contract – part-time working, for example, or job shares? And, importantly, can you be flexible on how and where people work? Employees are increasingly keen to work more from home and to arrange their hours to suit them. This may be easier in smaller businesses that don’t have to manage a very large workforce.
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Be imaginative about how you recruit. Traditional advertising can still work, but consider other channels, such as social media. Build links with local schools and colleges, as well as the government’s employment services. Drive word-of-mouth recruitment too. Can you get your staff involved in finding new candidates?
Casting the net more widely may also help. Focus on the personal strengths you’re looking for from employees, rather than their qualifications or experience. Technical knowledge, after all, can be taught. This might help you access a broader range of candidates – staff returning to the workplace after a period of caring, say, or people with disabilities, ex-offenders or refugees.
Your firm’s culture is also vital. Can you offer valuable learning and development opportunities, as well as career development options? Do staff feel their wellbeing is a priority? Is your workplace diverse and inclusive? Don’t answer these questions yourself: staff surveys and independent audits can be an excellent way to find out how people feel about working for you. Then you can make positive changes if required.
Getting this right means you’ll find it easier to retain staff, while happy employees can become ambassadors for your company. They may play that role informally, talking about your business as a good place to work, but also in more formal ways; for instance, getting good ratings on the growing number of websites where staff rank their workplaces can be a useful recruitment tool.
As for pay and benefits, be as competitive as your finances allow – and understand exactly what rivals are paying for staff you might recruit. If you can match that, great, but don’t be afraid to sell the other attractions of working for your business, which may be more important to many candidates. And if you’re struggling with headline rates of pay, there may be other benefits you can explore: everything from discount schemes with local retailers to more generous holiday terms, all of which might help sweeten the deal.
David Prosser is a regular MoneyWeek columnist, writing on small business and entrepreneurship, as well as pensions and other forms of tax-efficient savings and investments. David has been a financial journalist for almost 30 years, specialising initially in personal finance, and then in broader business coverage. He has worked for national newspaper groups including The Financial Times, The Guardian and Observer, Express Newspapers and, most recently, The Independent, where he served for more than three years as business editor.
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