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Hanging on to your staff

Written by: Adam Bernstein
Published on: 13 Feb 2024


Image © Nastudio / Adobe Stock

Some employers feel it necessary to throw money at the market to recruit and retain staff. They do so because that is their preferred tactic. They also do it because they can.

Smaller employers, however, are rarely in a position to do the same, and so need to be more savvy.

It is very clear that even now, in an economic downturn, practices are losing staff to employers with deeper pockets who have the financial wherewithal to buy staff loyalty through the pay packet.

This was borne out in a recent report in MoneyWeek. It noted that nearly 90 per cent of small British firms reported they were unable or struggled to counter pay deals from larger competitors.

As a result, to recruit, they need to find other ways of enticing candidates through the door. This is not as hard as might be thought because – and this is a surprise to some – people do not solely join an employer for the money. Rather, they tend to also consider factors that help them personally.

This puts small employers in a better position than they might otherwise expect, as they often have the flexibility to offer exactly what job seekers and on-staff employees want.

First steps

The first point to recognise is that one of the biggest risk periods for staff leaving arises almost as they join because management do not apply care or thought to inductions.

In short, poorly on-boarded employees never properly settle or, if they do, take a long time to feel at home. This period of heightened risk is why wise employers go out of their way to build connections with joiners as soon as possible. To prevent this, a mentorship programme – a buddy system, if you like – where another employee takes a joiner under their wing to guide them around the workplace, its systems and introduce them to others, is essential.

Simple little things, such as regular catch-ups over a cup of tea or lunch, can work wonders, too, in embedding a new recruit within the workplace culture. The goal is to make them feel part of the team straight away.

Consider work-life balance

COVID-19 readjusted our horizons to the point that, subject to earning enough money, we do not want a life that revolves around work; we want time with family and friends, too.

This means that employers who can offer flexibility in working patterns, as well as hybrid and remote working where the role permits, will do well when recruiting and retaining staff.

Of course, employers need to pay more than lip service to this – they need to demonstrate that the commitment to flexibility is genuine.

In practical terms, managers need to ensure staff can manage their workloads effectively and without stress. The best workplace cultures allow staff to speak out if they feel they cannot cope.

Give staff a goal

Staff invariably do not want to stagnate; they want to develop their skills and make themselves more marketable.

This means that an employer with an eye to retention needs to focus on professional development, as employees that feel that they have opportunities to progress are more likely to stay put. Providing them with education and training while also – where at all possible – promoting from within helps matters.

Further, it helps to engage with employees to properly understand what their ambitions are and where they want their careers to look like and end up. The idea is to find out how this might work well for all – employer and employee alike.

Other ways to reward

While the smaller enterprise cannot compete with larger rivals on pay, they can look at alternative and just as effective ways to recognise, and reward, contributions and achievements so staff feel valued.

One option is to publicly recognise performance along with offering small gestures of appreciation: say, a bottle of a favourite wine or extra time off. When done through HMRC’s trivial benefits rule, it means it will not cost the employer as much and the employee will not pay tax on the gift.

Similarly, another option might be to tie up with a local gym to offer discounted membership.

All about communication

Finally, it is important to make sure communication is a key focus of employee retention while recognising this is a two-way process. Building structures through which feedback can be provided to staff allows opportunities to praise good work, and can offer support in areas where room for improvement exists.

Equally, managers should look for feedback from staff, too: one-to-one meetings, 360° appraisals and surveys from employees can all provide valuable intelligence on how staff feel about working at the practice. It follows that for this to work, an open and clear policy about how management respond to such feedback must be in place.


Smaller employers have just as much to offer as their larger counterparts. In fact, it is possible they are more appealing to candidates, as they can be flexible and more personable workplaces, too – where employees can feel like they belong and are part of a family.

Very simply, by bonding with staff and making them feel valued, engaged and part of something bigger than themselves, smaller employers can overcome the need to compete on salary.