How SMEs can stay competitive in the battle for talent

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

By Nicola Downing, below, CEO, Ricoh Europe

Long gone are the days when a generous holiday allowance was enough to tempt workers to stay in their jobs. Today’s workforce is much more demanding – and rightly so. According to our latest research, work-life balance and employee experience closely follow salary as reasons to stay with an employer. At the same time, unprecedented inflation and price rises are driving up operational costs and squeezing budgets. Resource constraints and an increasingly demanding talent pool mean that many SMEs are struggling to compete for the best talent.

With almost half (44%) of European workers reporting they are ready to change jobs if the ‘right offer’ came along, SMEs can’t afford to drop the ball. But how can they retain those who make the biggest impact?

Go beyond the offer of flexibility

As governments debate legislation cementing the right to request flexible work, the direction of travel is clear: businesses unable to support flexible working will struggle to remain competitive.

But to be truly attractive to employees, SMEs need to do more than just offer flexible working. Flexible working must be entrenched into an organisation, via a robust future-proof strategy that is underpinned by the right technology to support employees regardless of where they work. Video conferencing tools, collaboration platforms, desk management, and wayfinding technology are imperative to support employees with flexible working patterns.

Ultimately, without a tangible and accessible flexible working offering, SMEs risk their workforce turning elsewhere.

Alleviate administrative burdens

There is clear appetite among workers for business leaders to free up their time for more valuable activities. Almost two thirds (64%) agree their work satisfaction would increase if they spent more time on creative tasks.

If businesses want to stay competitive, they must remove roadblocks to productivity and creativity by releasing workers from unrewarding tasks. By automating laborious workflows, employers create time for more fulfilling and purposeful work which improves engagement, makes employees feel more valued, and boosts workforce morale.

Our research also found that companies that implemented software for manual task automation boosted productivity by 14%, opening up the door for financial gain, too.

To put it simply, the automation of tedious admin is a clear solution to keeping employees engaged. As such, SMEs must deploy the right tools to make this possible.

Prioritise employee experience

Poor workplace technology can easily undermine employee experience. Even seemingly simple steps, such as ensuring employees have the right equipment to collaborate can damage the employee experience. Our research also found that 44% of employees do not currently have communication technology that facilitates seamless communication with remote colleagues.

Investing in the right technology is crucial for businesses looking to thrive and grow in an increasingly competitive talent market. It is also an essential building block in the creation of an employee-centric workplace that people want to be a part of.

Establishing a genuine and strong connection with colleagues is paramount – it’s one of the many things in the corporate world that is said by many but effectively done by few. Regular company-wide meetings, mental health and wellbeing resources, actionable staff surveys, and an inclusive culture must be the cornerstones. One of the simplest yet most important requirements is for leaders to communicate openly. In an era where colleagues are encouraged to bring their true selves to work, leaders must set the tone and remain forever authentic. This is key to establishing an environment where everyone can achieve a sense of fulfilment through work.

Looking ahead

Faced with an increasingly competitive market, and pressure from employees who are seeking both security and more creativity at work, SMEs must turn their attention to how they can better support their workforce.

Facilitating flexible work, fast-tracking automation and prioritising employee experience should be core priorities. Putting people at the centre is the vital first step – the rest will follow.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024