How Do You Keep Employees When you Can’t Pay What They’re Worth?

Many small businesses struggle to hold onto good employees because they are unable to match the salaries and benefit packages large companies can offer. For some – not all – employees, take home pay is not the defining matter. There are quality of life issues which may overcome a lower wage.

Keys to Employee Retention:

More Flexible Schedules

For a family with children, people caring for relatives, or dealing with other personal situations, the ability to work hours other than 9 to 5, or work shorter hours, may prove an important benefit.

The most obvious is allowing employees with children to work during school hours and making some accommodation for the balance of a full time schedule. Child care is expensive and good child care not easy to find, so the saving to the employee is significant.

Some employees may be able to work from home for all or part of their hours. Some may prefer a ten hour/four day work week over the more conventional eight hour/five day schedule. Ask them.

More Time Off

One key employee of my acquaintance asked for – and received – thirteen weeks of vacation per year. That may be more than you can offer, but expanded vacation (even without pay) may be a key determinent for some people. For those with serious outside interests, whether it be NASCAR racing, archeological digs, or writing the Great American Novel, more time to pursue those passions may be the clincher.

Consider Hiring Older People

Every year millions of Baby boomers with expertise in every conceivable area enter retirement. For many, the prospect of not working is frightening, for some it’s just boring. Most of this group aren’t looking for a forty hour workweek with a big paycheck, but they are looking for opportunities to use their experience. The older worker may represent a unique opportunity to acquire skilled staff at a bargain rate.

Share the Profits

Some people will stay if they believe they will be rewarded for outstanding work, even if it isn’t going to happen this year. Look at the Silicon Valley model back in the 90’s when thousands of staffers worked long hours for little pay on the promise of future rewards. (And some were rewarded very handsomely.) Whether you give the employee a share of profits, a piece of the company (be very cautious about this), or some other future promise of a payout, it may be enough to keep them interested.

Promote Them

This may sound counterintuitive if you can’t offer a substantial increase in pay, but smart people are always building their resumes and a title which indicates more responsibility could keep them – at least for a while.

Smaller companies may also suffer from the perception that there are few paths for advancement. There is no Human Resources with a list of available job openings in the company and there may be only one “boss” and s/he owns the company.

If you have a clear vision for your company’s future, and are able to articulate that vision and sell it to your people, they will help you achieve it because they buy into their own future with the company.


Make Their Work Lives Better

Would having an office make him or her happy? Would they respond to receiving more recognition for their work? Would more – or less – business travel be appealing? It could be an employee feels ready for more responsibility or would work better under a different manager. The key is to talk to the employee or employees in question. Be honest: “We can’t pay what XYZ Corporation is offering, but maybe we can accommodate you in other ways. What accommodation would cause you to stay?”

In one of my consulting jobs two employees told me they were leaving because the workplace was such a mess they found it a daily annoyance. Now that is an easy and inexpensive fix, but no one had thought to ask.

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