Tack­ling em­ployee turnover

Small busi­nesses feel the sting more than larger com­pa­nies

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Money - By Joyce M. Rosen­berg As­so­ci­ated Press

NEW YORK — A tight la­bor mar­ket and a shrink­ing pool of ta­lented work­ers make “I’m quit­ting” some of the most dreaded words a small­busi­ness owner can hear.

Staff turnover is a fact of life, but it’s par­tic­u­larly painful at small com­pa­nies com­pet­ing with larger busi­nesses for work­ers. Own­ers must make staff re­ten­tion ef­forts a pri­or­ity — in­clud­ing men­tor­ing or chang­ing work­place poli­cies — and do some soul-search­ing if turnover in­creases.

When five out of 22 staffers left Dash De­sign last year, owner David Ashen un­der­stood that some nat­u­rally wanted to move on to new chal­lenges. But he also dis­cov­ered af­ter talk­ing to em­ploy­ees that they felt the cul­ture in his New York-based in­te­rior de­sign com­pany had changed since he brought in a new busi­ness part­ner. Ashen re­al­ized he needed to help em­ploy­ees feel more con­nected to the busi­ness, and fo­cused on men­tor­ing younger staffers.

“We ask them, where do you want to be in six months or three years, and cre­ate a path to do that. When we failed to do that, peo­ple were less sat­is­fied in their work,” he said. Ashen has also started let­ting work­ers have flex­i­ble sched­ules and bring their dogs to the of­fice.

Many com­pa­nies find that a staff can be sta­ble for some time, and then sev­eral em­ploy­ees leave at once. And with fewer em­ploy­ees, small busi­nesses aren’t as able as big cor­po­ra­tions to shuf­fle as­sign­ments when peo­ple leave.

At The SEO Works, a David Ashen, owner of Dash De­sign in New York, had to learn how to help em­ploy­ees feel more con­nected to his busi­ness.

dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing com­pany in Sh­effield, Bri­tain, five staffers out of 30 left in a short pe­riod last year for a mix of pro­fes­sional and per­sonal rea­sons, manag­ing direc­tor Ben Fos­ter said.

When staffers who are on teams leave, co-work­ers can pitch in while a re­place­ment is hired, Fos­ter said. But when em­ploy­ees who work by them­selves quit, Fos­ter “just had to step up and take on two roles.”

The com­pany has been chang­ing its poli­cies to try to im­prove re­ten­tion, and re­cently also in­tro­duced flex time.

Own­ers find that one big thing they can do is be clear with younger work­ers who want to know whether there’s a chance for them to grow and de­velop new skills. Jeff Rizzo and busi­ness part­ner Matt Ross aim for each of their 10 em­ploy­ees at prod­uct re­view web­site RIZKNOWS to un­der­stand what they need to do to win a pro­mo­tion or a raise.

“If em­ploy­ees do not see a clear ca­reer path or op­por­tu­nity for ad­vance­ment, chances are they’ll look else­where af­ter a year or two,” Rizzo said.

Many of the em­ploy­ees at the Reno, Nev.-based com­pany have been hired straight out of col­lege. Rizzo is philo­soph­i­cal about young peo­ple want­ing to try some­thing new even­tu­ally — but, he said, “we’re go­ing to fight like heck to keep them.”

Com­pa­nies that want to re­duce turnover need to let em­ploy­ees know they’re val­ued and that what they do mat­ters, said Leigh Bran­ham, owner of Keep­ing the Peo­ple, a hu­man re­sources con­sul­tancy.

“Peo­ple want to feel their job is mean­ing­ful,” Bran­ham

said. He sug­gests telling staffers, “I want you to know why you do what you do — and why it’s im­por­tant to this com­pany.”

Em­ploy­ees also need feed­back, and to not have to wait for an anx­i­ety-pro­vok­ing an­nual re­view, said Nina Ve­lasquez, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at North 6th Agency, a pub­lic re­la­tions firm based in New York, with of­fices in Toronto and Boul­der, Colo. North 6th Agency gives its nearly 60 em­ploy­ees monthly feed­back that is in­tended to be part of their train­ing and devel­op­ment.

The com­pany also has a re­wards sys­tem al­low­ing staffers to ac­cu­mu­late points in re­turn for good per­for­mance. The points can be re­deemed for perks, in­clud­ing cash, com­mut­ing passes, gro­ceries and time off.

Small busi­nesses that hire free­lancers, par­tic­u­larly those that don’t of­fer steady work, also strug­gle with turnover. TrivWorks, which runs trivia con­tests for cor­po­rate en­ter­tain­ment and team-build­ing ex­er­cises, uses free­lancers to em­cee and pro­duce 50 to

100 events a year. The events re­quire skills such as run­ning some­thing akin to a game show, and the peo­ple who have them are hard to find, owner David Ja­cob­son said. His ap­proach is to treat th­ese work­ers as if they were em­ploy­ees.

“I pay ex­cel­lent wages, work to ad­vance their ca­reer goals/devel­op­ment, and will ba­si­cally bend over back­ward to keep them happy,” said Ja­cob­son, who is based in Los An­ge­les and also has events in New York.

When staffers say they’re leav­ing, some own­ers will try to per­suade them to stay, of­fer­ing money or ben­e­fits such as flex time and work­ing re­motely. Some­times it works, but Casey Hill, who uses free­lance artists, graphic de­sign­ers and videog­ra­phers for his board game man­u­fac­turer, Hill Gam­ing Co., finds the op­po­site is true.

“By the time staffers in­form you they are leav­ing,

95 per­cent of the time it is too late,” said Hill, whose com­pany is based in Ca­mar­illo, Calif. His sug­ges­tion: Al­ways know what your next step is when a worker leaves. Hill has a team of three or four back­ups, and he also hires peo­ple who have mul­ti­ple skill sets.

“We need to have crosspol­li­na­tion of skills so we don’t have sub­stan­tial down­time on prod­ucts,” he said.

SETH WENIG/AP

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