HR · 23 March 2016

Keep them sweet: Why offering the right incentives could be crucial to staff retention

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Startups should talk to staff about the incentives they really want

For small business owners, ensuring employees remain happy and incentivised may be low on the frequently lengthy list of daily priorities, but they shouldn’t be.

The preoccupations of starting a new business generally means that it’s “all hands on deck” for workers most of the time, unlike in larger companies, where management teams are more likely to consider employee wellbeing when drumming up ways to boost productivity.

But with a new study from business services firm Direct 365 revealing that 61 per cent of the UK workforce believe they do not receive enough incentives from their employer, and with 17 per cent admitting to having looked for a change in career due to lack of appreciation, it may be high time that small firms and startups think about employee work perks from day one.

If in need of inspiration, small firms could look to what some much larger companies offer staff. Google – that globally recognisable tech giant – is perhaps the best known for offering workers an impressive array of stimuli to ensure their continued service.

It’s easy to think that for “Googlers”, everything’s free. At the company’s worldwide headquarters in California, free lunch, snacks and beer are just the beginning. The company’s legions of tech aficionados also enjoy free rock-climbing, yoga, child care, car washing, massages and a $12,000 annual reimbursement for their children’s school fees. “The goal is to strip away everything that gets’ in our employees’ way,” executive chairman Eric Schmidt once explained.

Netflix too is a fast-growing global company with a famously innovative approach to incentivising workers. There are no official working hours of any kind at Netflix. So long as staff members complete their work, they are free to punch in and punch out any time they like. “We realised we should focus on what people get done, not on how many days are worked. We don’t measure people on how much they are in the office,” the Netflix career website reads.

Popular US shoe-selling website Zappos goes one step further and incentivises staff by showing them the bonding and uplifting powers of giving. Each month, employees receive allowances of $50 to award to a deserving colleague. Zappos’ top brass then reviews the top recipients and the winner gets gifts and a coveted parking spot as well as a ticker-tape parade in the office and a special cape to wear!

Whilst these firms provide good examples of companies going above and beyond for staff, such extreme employee incentives may not be necessary. For owners of smaller firms, simply listening to the needs of workers and acknowledging their specific requirements can make a lot of difference.

Direct 365’s head of digital Phil Turner believes that the benefits of implementing employee incentives cannot be overlooked, for firms of any size. “It sounds so basic, but the best way to find out what your employees want is to ask them. Just talk to them and you’ll likely find that they will tell you, and that the same things will crop up regularly.

When asked what incentives were most desirable, 35 per cent of staff at UK small businesses said they’d like to see the introduction of flexible working, whilst 27 per cent wanted a company car. Gym membership was considered the best possible incentive for 14 per cent of employees, and six per cent said they’d opt for child care vouchers.

Turner went on to say: “Much more thought needs to be put into considering exactly what employees themselves need.  Companies tend to behave like ostriches when dealing with employee benefits, with heads stuck in the sand, believing that extreme benefits can make up for other shortcomings. The truth is that they aren’t necessarily offering perks employees want.”

So, to ensure staff retention and job satisfaction, small business owners should focus on the practical incentives that employees really want.

Why financial incentives could be what workers are really after.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

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