Embrace the differences: How SMEs can keep staff happy

James Malia
James Malia

Many small businesses feel like they can’t compete with larger organisations when it comes to the benefits, salaries and facilities they offer. For lots of employees, it’s about finding the right work-life balance and a job that fits their lifestyle as well as supports it.

Generally speaking, smaller firms tend to be more flexible and less bureaucratic than larger companies, which is why they are such popular places to work. In fact, six out of 10 private sector employees in the UK are now employed by SMEs.

Small business owners should therefore embrace these differences and actively promote them. A great way for SMEs to reinforce these advantages is to design and implement a well thought out employee benefits package that shows how much the business understands and values its workforce.

How benefits can support employee lifestyles

In the last few years there has been a move towards more flexible working, employee empowerment and better recognition for employees’ contribution to the business. In order to implement a benefits package that reflects this change, SMEs need to understand what type of environment their employees want.

For some it will be a relaxed office culture with a less formal dress code, a bring-your-pet-to-work policy, or an office that is located closer to home so they can cycle to work or pop home for lunch. Others, such as working parents, might want flexitime so they can drop off and pick up their children from school, or the ability to work from home if their child is unwell. These may sound like unusual employee benefits, but simple perks like these can often make a big difference to an individual’s general well-being.

However, in order to implement this kind of scheme, business owners need to engage with their staff to find out what drives them and what causes them additional – and avoidable – stress. Once employers are aware of these challenges, their benefits packages can be directly linked to the personal development and aspirations of the individuals they employ.

Benefits such as personalised development programmes and employer-funded pension contributions are examples of benefits that address an employee’s broader needs or lifestyle. For those looking to lead a healthier lifestyle, cycle-to-work schemes, discounted gym memberships, or even a simple fruit bowl in the office tend to be very popular.

Offering childcare vouchers as a salary sacrifice benefit for working parents can also be hugely valuable. Childcare is one of the biggest financial burdens on UK families, so helping parents to save money is a great way of supporting employees and their families.

Accommodating differences

Most workforces are very diverse, so different benefits will be relevant to different employees at different times. As such, success will depend upon understanding what to offer different individuals and when.

By offering a range of flexible benefits, employees will be able to choose the benefit that is most relevant for them at a particular time. For example, parents or prospective parents may value childcare support, but a more financially conscious employee may prefer a more generous pension contribution.

Above all else, employees working for small businesses want to feel part of the business and valued. For these smaller businesses, it is therefore a mistake to try to compete or mimic the big firm culture. Employees who choose to work for SMEs don't normally expect big cash bonuses or flashy cars; they just want to feel supported and appreciated.

SMEs can achieve this goal by implementing the right benefits, for the right people, at the right time. Business owners should therefore aim to develop an employee benefits strategy that complements the desired lifestyles of their employees– rather than attempting to replicate the corporate culture of big businesses.

James Malia is Director of Employee Benefits at Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services