NEW YORK — As the economy improves, small-business owners are eager to get their companies back to where they were before the recession.
But their next meetings need to be with staffers who have waited patiently for the economy to improve and who might already be looking for a new job. As the government's February jobs report showed, companies are creating jobs. And that means workers who have waited in vain for raises and put up with heavier workloads now have options.
Leigh Branham, owner of Keeping the People Inc., an Overland Park, Kan., human-resources consulting firm, says bosses need to sit down now with staffers individually and have honest discussions about how the workers feel about their jobs. If not, small companies might see an exodus of employees, including the ones they want to keep.
"People are worn out from being so productive and doing more with less. They're restless and fatigued and looking for new opportunities," Branham said.
Many employers have had to demand more of staffers and to freeze or cut their pay the past few years. Companies have been strapped for cash. Workers might understand, but given the chance for better conditions someplace else, many are likely to go for it.
Some owners might think that because staffers have hung in there, there's no reason to worry that they'll leave. Branham says that's a mistake.
An owner needs to go into a talk with a staffer prepared to hear painful things about the company, maybe even about the owner. He or she needs to listen with an open mind and take the employee's point of view seriously.
Don't ask a staffer, "What do you want?" and leave it at that. Branham suggests owners start by saying, "I want to hear anything that's a source of dissatisfaction for you. Let's get it out on the table and see if we can address it, because I don't want to lose you."
You also should sketch out your plans for the company and the employee. Ask staffers for their opinions about what they have to offer. Ask for ideas to help the company do better. Be sure this is a true give-and-take.
After the talk, the boss must try to meet the staffer's needs. Some things might be impossible, but if you say, "Let's find a way to make it work," and then follow up with substantive action, you might be able to keep this employee.
Many companies still don't think they're in a position to give raises. Owners should give staffers a sense of what the company — and the employees need to achieve before they can get a raise.
Many staffers will be happy if to get more time off or more flexible schedules. Owners often find that will help a staffer to stay, although a higher salary will tempt someone whose household budget is strained. If possible, give staffers a target date for a raise.