In this context, companies that show they care for and value their employees are becoming employers of choice. In fact a third of employees would now consider leaving their company if they didn’t feel cared for, making wellbeing and company culture issues businesses simply cannot afford to ignore – particularly SMEs who are more vulnerable to the costs associated with staff turnover. Though these might traditionally be seen as lower priority than sales and profit margins, they are essential to successful recruitment, retention, productivity – and ultimately to the bottom line.
So how can companies show staff they care now and in the future? We believe this encompasses five key principles, which we’ve identified in conversation with a number of the country’s biggest corporate names and most innovative start-ups. These are: 1) a caring culture 2) effective leadership and line management 3) innovative working practices 4) getting the benefits balance right and 5) protecting businesses for the future. Here, we will focus on the first of these, a caring culture.
A reciprocal relationship
The key to a caring culture is making staff feel trusted and enabled. This requires businesses to shift away from paternalism and the assumption that they know what’s best for employees, and instead recognise the personal needs of staff. However, it’s also important to recognise that as with any relationship, it’s reciprocal and needs to work both ways. In order to get the best out of your employees, you need them to feel like they want to work, rather than they have to work.
In practical terms, this means clearly setting out to employees what their responsibilities are and what they can expect from you in return, both in company inductions and regular updates. Ensure that job profiles are up-to-date, accessible and accurately reflect what employees do. Most importantly, link the work employees do to the goals of the company by highlighting where they fit within the organisation and rewarding them for work that has a direct impact on business success – this could be as simple as publically recognising their contribution or something more tangible like giving an extra day of holiday.
A supportive environment
Employees need to feel able to approach their manager or colleagues if they feel pressure at work or at home, so a culture of team support is important. Think about creating a peer-to-peer network in which employees can talk to their colleagues – not necessarily senior – about any problems they have with their workload, for example. Consider who feeds into this group and how feedback is gathered so that you close the loop and action can be taken, rather than it becoming a forum for offloading.
Also think about the times in an employees’ life when they are most vulnerable and will need more support, for example when they start a family or are approaching retirement. For additional support, smaller companies can consider introducing an Employee Assistance Programme, which is not an expensive solution, to provide staff with counselling and advice on family or personal relationship issues, legal problems, health and workplace problems. This can be a particular help to small businesses which won’t necessarily have an HR department or someone with formal training in these areas.
A culture of continuous learning
Caring for staff also means caring about their personal development, so create a culture of continuous learning and development to motivate and engage staff, not just to up-skill them.
For SMEs learning and development has always been harder than for larger businesses with a dedicated budget and an HR department to implement it, but continuous development should be about learning every day – by watching others, by mentoring, and by getting staff to coach one another. Make the central message about giving people the space to trust their own judgement in their jobs and give line managers the freedom to decide how their teams need to be developed.
Get these elements right, and the rewards are great for employer and employee alike. Staff will feel trusted and enabled, and therefore more motivated and loyal, whilst employers will benefit from increased retention and productivity – and all for little or no cost. What’s more, this is an area where SMEs have a distinct advantage over their competitors – they can respond more quickly and nimbly because they have fewer internal processes and in smaller businesses it’s easier to make staff feel cared for as individuals rather than just another cog in the machine. Smaller businesses need to capitalise on this and develop a truly caring culture in order to thrive and grow.
By Peter O’Donnell, CEO of Unum
Image: concept of company culture via Shutterstock