Real business story

How to foster staff loyalty in a constantly shifting job market

With the working life dramatically upended by a turbulent couple of years and the war for talent hotting up, more employees than ever are looking to make a move. Here’s how SME owners can improve staff loyalty.
Staff loyalty

How loyal are your staff? According to recruitment specialists MRL, a remarkable 42 per cent of UK workers say that despite being in employment, they are currently looking for a new role. Another finding from the survey might explain this figure – nearly two thirds of respondents (62 per cent) revealed that they currently do not feel as if their job is secure.

Simon Roderick leads a team of six at specialist financial services recruitment consultancy Framsearch. He’s proud of the fact that many of his team have been with the firm for six or seven years. “I'm not sure any company purposely goes out to create loyalty,” he said. “Loyalty to me sometimes sounds like something that the mafia requires! I think it’s really about hiring people with similar values, even if they have different life experiences. You develop loyalty with things such as transparency and treating each other with dignity and respect and reminding each other that we’re experts in what we do.”

Changing with the times

The pandemic has increased people’s desire for flexibility from their employers and for working practices that can accommodate particular needs, according to Andrew Jones, CEO at Agility in Mind, a business agility transformation consultancy.

“Anyone who insists on office-based work in a specific location is constraining themselves,” he believes. “All businesses should keep in mind that people are not resources, and they should not be treated with a one-size-fits-all policy. The pandemic, and the era of flexible working it ushered in, led many to discover that they can live fuller and more complete lives outside the office. They can retain their interest and ambitions in the workplace but also feel as if their employer respects their life beyond those things.”

For Alex Hattingh, chief people officer at HR software, payroll and benefits platform Employment Hero, as well as flexibility, a clear career path with training and skills development is an essential part of the loyalty toolkit. “Helping your employees along their career path is very important,” she commented. “A lot of the time, employees will leave a business if they feel that they have no future. They’ll look elsewhere for a promotion. You want to make sure your employees are aware of exactly where their job is going within the business, as nurturing their growth and development will help to increase engagement, boost productivity and potentially save time, money and your staff turnover.”

Tom Bourlet of the Stag Company, which organises stag events, agrees. “The company has always put a lot of effort into ensuring that there’s a passage upwards for people who want to progress in their career, while we’ve also run an in-depth level of training so people can learn how to perform tasks of a more senior level – so they can develop,” he explained.

But simple team bonding, especially when so many team members have been working remotely, has also helped. “This could consist of something formal like an escape rooms or a virtual cocktail making event. Or it something a bit more silly, like a doughnut cooking championship for National Doughnut day. We always try to run something fun and exciting each and every week,” said Tom. “We have a number of activity days, so our team can learn more about the activities we sell. Our team has been involved in bubble football, cocktail making, binocular football, paintballing, quad biking and plenty more activities.”

Workplace perks

Employees in smaller companies are often there for a reason, to feel like they are part of a tighter-knit group

Not all about money

Although salary alone is not necessarily a means of ensuring loyalty, there are other financial incentives available to business leaders, according to Thomas Dalby, head of employer solutions at Haines Watts, a firm of chartered accountants and business advisors.

“While a lot of businesses make the mistake of treating employee share schemes as something of an afterthought, candidates in the jobs market see them as a differentiating factor between employers, as incentive plans can offer very valuable rewards,” he said. “For the employer, a properly structured share plan should have both no immediate cash flow implications and act as a very effective pair of golden handcuffs – the employee has to stay the course to realise any benefit from the plan.”

As a business owner, if you’re able to grant qualifying enterprise management incentives (EMI) options or use one of the other statutory tax-advantaged share schemes (TASS), you can provide your employees with valuable rewards in a very cost-effective way, according to Thomas, factoring in income tax, NIC and corporation tax reliefs it can cost an employer as little as 90p to put £1 in an employee’s pocket. A cash bonus, by comparison, costs an employer up to £1.77 to give an employee £1 of net benefit.

More generally, the new virtual world of work requires business leaders to work harder at connecting with their people emotionally to encourage loyalty, Jerry Brand, CEO at business operating technology platform zupTech, has discovered.

“We’ve learned through leaning into deeper conversations with our teams, that even though some individuals are struggling with the move towards remote working, there are those who will avoid saying anything, perhaps because they are embarrassed or are worried about making a fuss,” he said. “This kind of thing can then conclude with them potentially leaving the business, in search of a more physical office environment, even though talking about this kind of issue can often be resolved. It’s important that we continue to talk more to our people and to dig deeper into potential worries before they escalate.”

SMEs rarely have the kind of HR support that larger firms enjoy. On top of this the scramble to recover from the effects of coronavirus and lockdown have seen many smaller businesses running to keep still. The danger is that business leaders fail to notice that their staff are developing itchy feet.

However, creating a mix of measures from the practical such as share schemes and bonuses plus training and career development opportunities to the softer initiatives such as regular contact and catch-ups with staff in a way that fits with their personalities and working practices will help to improve loyalty.

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Key takeaways

Whether you like it or not, the way workplaces look and feel has changed for good. Putting your head in the sand is not the way forward.

While smaller businesses don't have big cash reserves to boost salaries, each have the benefit of treating staff like individuals and tailoring retention efforts.

You don't need to reinvent the wheel in one day. Starting small with simple engagement efforts will help build momentum and set the groundwork for bigger changes.