Tag Archive | "employees"

Small-Business Owners Devise Creative Ways to Keep Workers

Samantha Martin’s small-business nightmare typically stalks her on Gchat.

“It will be a Wednesday, and an employee messages, ‘Can we talk today?’” said Ms. Martin, who owns Media Maison, a boutique public relations firm in Manhattan. “They’ll tell me they weren’t looking, but someone approached them,” she said. “In this industry, if another company dangles $5,000 and an opportunity to work on a fashion show, your loyal employee can be out the door.”

Since any departure leaves her 14-person team short-handed for weeks, Ms. Martin tries to be proactive. She meets frequently with individual staff members, helps new employees pay first and last month’s rent, is generous with titles and promotions and offers benefits ranging from educational assistance to a free trip anywhere in the world after three years of employment. Last year’s recipient went to Paris.

“We don’t have a 401(k) and can’t always offer a big salary,” she said. “So I’m forced all the time to think about how to keep key people.”

With a tightening labor market, more entrepreneurs are facing similar challenges. A record number of job openings, with worsening skill shortages and a tendency among young adults toward briefer tenures, is forcing small-business owners to find increasingly creative ways to hold onto their best and brightest.

After rising in recent years, quit rates in private businesses held steady at just less than prerecession levels in 2015. But survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which looks at job openings and labor turnover by size of establishment, suggest that the number of employees voluntarily leaving small companies remains on the rise.

At businesses with fewer than 10 employees, for example, 1.8 million people quit in the five months through May, a 34 percent increase from the same period in 2014, the bureau’s data shows. In companies with 10 to 49 employees, resignations rose by 12 percent year over year, and, in those with 50 to 249 employees, the increase was 9 percent.

In a June 2015 survey by the National Federation of Independent Business, 80 percent of employers reported they had difficulty finding, or could not find, the talent they needed. Even when they do find it, said Holly Wade, director of research for the organization, “issues come into play when small businesses can’t afford some of the bells and whistles bigger employers can.”

Colin Darretta, a former investment banker, knew when he founded WellPath Solutions in New York last year that he could not compete with a Google or Uber on pay. So in seeking engineering talent for his company, which makes customized nutritional products, he bypassed the Ivy League and hired a local developer from App Academy, in New York.

The fact that the candidate had taken a less traditional path, he added, may have made him better suited to a start-up. “Here was a guy who had developed an interest at a later stage and was willing to take a personal risk to pursue it,” Mr. Darretta said. “The key is looking where those big companies aren’t.”

He has also made a point of spending one-on-one time with all 10 staff members and likes to capitalize on their interests. After a recent busy period, he took a star performer and a newly hired engineer, both big video game players, to a “League of Legends” event at Spring Studios.

Another company can still try to steal employees by offering more money, Mr. Darretta said. But the employee “wouldn’t be getting the flexibility and the other stuff,” he added. “A lot of the time, the other stuff is what matters to people, and it doesn’t cost that much.”

Most people who leave a company do not do so for more money. In a 2015 survey of 11,000 employees by the staffing company Randstad USA, the main reason cited for quitting was a lack of a career path or growth opportunities. Nearly half of respondents said work-life balance was the biggest factor motivating them to stay.

For any incentives to work over the long term, employees must be invested in a company and its mission.

Dr. Amy Baxter, an Atlanta physician who founded MMJ Labs in 2006, has six employees with advanced degrees on a shoestring budget. Her company developed Buzzy, a hand-held device that uses cold and vibration to relieve pain from causes as varied as hypodermic needles, carpal tunnel syndrome and plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes.

“We didn’t even get F.D.A. clearance until last year, which makes it all the more amazing that people have stuck with me with no promise of equity,” Dr. Baxter said.

She said flexibility and transparency helped. MMJ Labs’ manufacturing manager spent early years fitting her work hours around an infant daughter’s heart treatment. If Buzzy loses a customer, everyone is involved in figuring out what happened and helping to fix it. Outings like the company’s regular staff dinners and the all-expenses-paid Caribbean cruise that employees and their families took to celebrate selling the first 25,000 units do not hurt either.

But Dr. Baxter says she believes the main reason her original hires are still with her is their belief in the product and the ethics of the company, including the fact that the device is reusable and in keeping with the company’s concern for the environment. “If I made Buzzy disposable, some employees wouldn’t stay with me,” she said.

Knowing what really matters to employees, personally and professionally, can be critical to retention, human resources specialists say, and easy to learn in a small business.

When Brandon Baker and his wife, Carmela, founded Loveletter Cakeshop on Fifth Avenue two years ago, they knew they would be making wedding cakes for a affluent clientele where there is little room for error. So as soon as they realize they have an exceptional employee, Mr. Baker sits down with him or her to discuss career aspirations and creative interests so he can assign responsibilities accordingly.

“Sometimes just the act of asking is enough,” Mr. Baker said. “When you find talent you have to nurture it.”

This can be challenging as an organization grows. Proxibid, which bills itself as the largest online marketplace for high-value items (like tractor-trailers and classic cars), has expanded to 167 employees since its start in 2001. Ryan Downs, the chief executive, also faces the dual challenge of finding young talent and luring it to Omaha, where the company is based. To do that, he says he has worked hard to maintain an open culture that offers opportunities for advancement.

He credits this with helping him retain the company’s top engineers when software developers have never been more in demand, or recruiters more aggressive. “You’re not going to stop recruiters coming around,” he said. “But if you give a technical person cutting-edge stuff to work on, we’ve found you can overcome other companies’ irrational prices.”

Michael Mulligan, a senior software engineer, who has been at Proxibid four and a half years, agrees. He says that although he hears from one or two recruiters every week, it would be difficult to match the opportunities of his current position, or the voice he has in the direction of the company. Proxibid, he added, also gets the culture right, with outings, support and companywide recognition of individual success.

“For me, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “At other places, it was like I was just a number. I know it sounds cheesy, but this is the first company I’ve come to that truly seems to care if their employees are happy.”

Unfortunately, in the rush to serve customers and clients, communication can quickly fall by the wayside even when small-business owners know better.

David Niu, a serial entrepreneur, learned this the hard way when he was running BuddyTV. In 2012, a top employee quit, seemingly out of the blue. Frustrated and burned out, Mr. Niu took a break from the company. “It caught me off guard,” he said. “I kept thinking, if I had better tools maybe I could have prevented it.”

That led Mr. Niu to create Tinypulse to help other employers get a grip on retention issues. Tinypulse, which is based in Seattle, and similar companies like Culture Amp and BlackbookHR allow managers to solicit anonymous feedback from employees. This often provides an early warning that workers are unhappy. Today more than 500 companies use Tinypulse alone, the company said.

Other small-business owners still rely on the old-fashioned way of keeping tabs. At her public relations firm, Ms. Martin says she talks to her employees constantly and has them keep her cellphone number on speed dial. Most recently, she gave the people who have been with her the longest a share in her business.

“How many under-30-year-olds get to say they own something?” Ms. Martin asked. “But when you do find someone who is amazing and treats your business like their own you want to reward that.”

Her approach seems to be working. Ross Garner, the senior account executive she sent on a 10-day vacation to Paris last year, said he still could not get over the gesture. “Stuff like that,” he said, “makes you want to work at 110 percent for somebody.”

This article was written by Kathleen Murray and published in The New York Times.

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4 Ways to Balance Running Your Business With Building Your Culture

As a long-time entrepreneur, I’ve always set my autopilot mode on growing the business. Startups especially are filled with the stresses that go along with a new business — and understandably so, as determination and tenacity usually mean the difference between succeeding and failing.

But as the number of staff grows from 10 to 100, the way we operate as entrepreneurs starts to change. While driving the business forward will always be a priority, we begin to see the importance of company culture. People want to work for a successful business, but they’ll ultimately stay because of the workplace environment. Shifting gears from business owner to culture nurturer might not come naturally and can be challenging.

Nurturing your culture takes a bit more effort than just having a beer truck roll into the parking lot on Friday afternoon, reports Entrepreneur. This effort demands a constant drumbeat and continuity. At CoreDial, we shaped our business culture around entrepreneurship, innovation, accountability and candidness, and to achieve those goals, I had to learn that there is no easy approach to fostering a company culture. It takes time. But if done right, it can be incredibly rewarding.

For those growing a business, here are four key lessons I learned about how to achieve a balance between running a business and building a company culture.

1Learn to play games at work.

Accepting that the office is a place for more than just hard work was difficult. The best example comes from when we moved to a bigger office, which included a game room. As a team, we wanted to create an environment where employees enjoyed coming to work and were challenged to bring their A game every day, but could still appreciate fun perks without feeling a sense of entitlement.

I myself wanted to some informal space where employees could recharge their engines, catch up with fellow employees, relax and just get to know one other better. The goal was to create a friendly environment, but I had to ask myself, “Will team members take advantage of the situation, or will this ultimately help workplace productivity?” And I honestly wasn’t sure of the answer.

For example, I saw employees playing when there was lots of work to be done. And I admit that I found it hard at first to strike a balance, but our “games” goal turned out to be a great success. Letting the team know it was okay to blow off steam or take a breath created more team bonding and camaraderie, which went a long way to creating a friendlier and more creative environment.

And that in turn ultimately increased overall productivity for our business. I first had to see the bigger picture of how to make a larger team happy outside of their daily tasks.

2. Learn to host meetings that matter.

No one likes meetings, and making meetings productive can be a challenge. As entrepreneurs, we want our employees to communicate, collaborate and share their thoughts and ideas openly. However we also want to keep meetings focused, and ensure we are efficient and effective with our time.

At CoreDial, I’ve found that adopting the Agile process, with stand-upScrum meetings, works very well for the software and engineering teams. The Scrum meeting style forces attendees to stand up, share what they did yesterday and what they’ll do today and discuss any issues or challenges they face in their work. Standing up is important. I found that it helps teams get to the point and get moving.

For other departments, meeting efficiency comes down to basic time and meeting management. Get there on time, have an agenda, include the right key stakeholders, and get to the point. We promote a culture of candidness, which encourages people to speak freely. The key is to remind people that as long as they are professional and respectful, anyone should be able to say anything without fear of speaking out of turn.

We quash politics whenever we see or hear signs of it. Having a politics-free environment is empowering for every team member, but to achieve this goal does take the leadership team reminding staffers of the fact that they can and should speak up.

3. Learn to listen from the bottom up.

When the business is only 10 people, it is easy to know and stay in touch with everyone. As the business grows, however, it gets harder and harder to be in front of everyone, everyday. The challenge is to stay connected with employees across the business, and to listen to their needs. To accomplish this has entailed looking at how we hire new people and what kind of support we can put in place.

While, in the past, we focused on bringing top talent into the business — people who could do their jobs well — we now look for people that can also nurture young talent and shape a positive environment for them. Mentoring is a really important tool for business culture. It goes beyond just training each employee.

Mentoring can be a tool for listening and developing the business in a way that meets the needs of existing staff, as well as those of millennials, who are new to the working environment and have a variety of different experiences and expectations. It is important to have trusted advisors and mentors, but you also need a mechanism for listening from the bottom up.

A positive corporate culture isn’t just about keeping great workers, it’s also about developing them and providing them with opportunities for continued professional growth.

4. Learn to practice your culture everyday.

A business takes small steps that grow in importance as it adds employees. Most companies start out with an entrepreneurial spirit at its core, and that is critical to building an awesome company, with a compelling product or service.

But if your business experiences rapid growth, sometimes that entrepreneurial spirit can fizzle out. It takes an ongoing commitment from all levels of leadership and a bit of hard work to make sure that entrepreneurship becomes part of how all employees operate. It can get lost when only one-off events occur. The key is consistency.

I’ve learned that success in building a business culture means regularly meeting with employees at all levels, making the effort to organize activities, communicating openly and recognizing contributions on a monthly basis. We have a committee dedicated to this goal, and we are all challenged to contribute.

The payoff is new ideas, happier employees and better products and services for our customers. And that’s worth the effort even if it isn’t easy.

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Learn to Identify Resume Red Flags and Green Lights

“Reviewing resumes is an art, not a science,” says Cathleen Faerber, managing director at search firm Wellesley Group Inc. in Buffalo Grove. Ms. Faerber and Lori Kleiman, managing director at HR Topics in Glenview, tell how to spot red flags and green lights in that pile of resumes, reported Chicago Business.


Sloppiness. Typos and half-baked thoughts are “the first thing I look for,” Ms. Faerber says. “You question the person’s communication skills if they can’t construct a thought and put it on paper.”

Stagnation. “If someone’s been at the same company for 15 years, I want to see that they’ve been promoted,” Ms. Kleiman says. “But if they’ve been a customer service rep for 15 years, you’re probably getting someone who’s complacent.”

A hop-scotch career path. Times have changed and people no longer stay in jobs for years on end. Still, “when you see successive job changes from day one of their career, that’s a red flag,” Ms. Faerber says.

The applicant lives way out of state. Relocating to Chicago from Detroit or Milwaukee is one thing; from Miami or Seattle, quite another. “They’d have to explain why in the cover letter,” Ms. Kleiman says.

Geographic job-hopping. “Are they chasing the dream and that’s why they’re moving all over?” Ms. Kleiman says. “That’s a big red flag.”


Short and sweet. “I’m absolutely crazy about one-page resumes,” Ms. Kleiman says.

Foreign-language skills. “You might not need them today, but you never know,” Ms. Kleiman says.

Steady career progression. “Someone whose job titles show progression of promotion, at the same or different companies—they’re constantly tapped and they’re interested in going to the next level,” Ms. Kleiman says.

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Former Dealership Employee to Serve 15 Months for Embezzlement

A Newport woman is going to federal prison for 15 months for her part in a $368,000 embezzlement scheme, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Vermont said Monday, reported Burlington Free Press.

Manon Cote, 47, had admitted to committing forgery between January 2007 and January 9, 2012 in connection with the money stolen from DeLaBruere’s Auto Sales, Inc., court records show.

Cote embezzled the money between 2006 and 2012 while serving as the office manager for the new and used car and truck dealership in Newport, the investigation by the U.S. Secret Service and state police showed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Waples said Cote took the money primarily by stealing cash from the daily receipts she was responsible for depositing into the company’s account at the Community National Bank.

Cote tried to cover up the thefts by writing company checks to unauthorized persons in amounts equal to the sum of cash she was stealing, then depositing the checks back into the company bank account, officials said.

Cote used without authority the signature stamp of the sole owner Gilles DeLaBruere to issue those checks, the indictment said.

“Cote stole additional company funds by improperly issuing checks to herself; by using company funds to pay personal loans; and by using the company credit card for personal reasons,” Waples said in a news release. Among the personal purchases was a laptop computer

Senior Federal Judge J. Garvan Murtha, presiding in Brattleboro, told Cote that once discharged from prison that she will be on supervised release for three years.

Murtha broke down the restitution: $267,785 to DeLaBruere’s Auto Service as the first priority until paid in full, $50,360 to Sentry Insurance and $50,000 to Zurich American Insurance.

The judge waived interest on the restitution.

Murtha told Cote to surrender Nov. 18 to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He said he would recommend she serve her sentence at the minimum security satellite camp at the federal prison in Danbury, Conn.

A federal grand jury in Burlington returned a three-count indictment on March 21, 2013, charging Cote with mail and wire fraud and forging checks of an organization, officials said.

Two fraud counts were dismissed Monday as part of the plea bargain. Cote pleaded guilty to the forgery charge last October. Her sentencing was scheduled five times before it was held Monday.

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Today’s Most Satisfied Employees Demand These 4 Things

The employee landscape is changing, and with it has come new needs, desires and areas of importance for employees. This means employee development is no longer just about career development, but also goal alignment, non-monetary offerings, and simply, opportunities to prove themselves, reported Entrepreneur.

A quarter of employees would be more satisfied at work if they were given more opportunities to do what they do best, according to a 2013 study by BlessingWhite, and 5 percent directly said career development opportunities and training would increase their satisfaction.

As a leader, it’s critical to keep up with these changes and start investing time into employee development. Here are some ways I’ve been able to do it:

1. Place more importance on non-monetary motivators. Beyond money, things such as career growth and even professional inter-office relationships are extremely big motivators of satisfaction and engagement. The BlessingWhite study found that 25 percent of employees believed they would be more satisfied with their job if they had a better relationship with their manager.

Employees want to learn and grow with people they respect and who respect them in return. Maintain healthy office relationships by leading by example. If leaders within the organization get along well and openly work together, employees will do the same.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that, while professionalism is important, it is equally important to know your team on a personal level. Make an effort to have fun with your team and initiate conversations about things other than work.

2. Let employees do — and improve upon — what they do best. No matter their role or level, everyone wants to feel like their strengths are appreciated, effectively utilized and built upon. Companies are getting smart about this: A 2014 Bersin by Deloitte study found that, in the last year alone, corporate budgets for training and development have risen by 15 percent.

Whether you actually have one or not, don’t get stuck in the “corner office” rut and forget what truly motivates employees to keep contributing. Give them tools and opportunities that will help them exceed at their specialties, as well as build new ones. Get them outside the office to learn from other people and pick up new ways of doing things.

3. Align employee goals and preferences for a clearer vision. Throughout the company, every employee needs to not only have a good understanding of their personal goals and work preferences, but also of their colleagues’ roles and goals.

When working closely together, employees will naturally learn the work preferences of their team. However, it’s important that leadership learns those and respects them, as well.

Additionally, openly communicate how each role plays into the bigger picture of organizational goals to motivate employees to work harder and more efficiently in their position. This will also encourage employees to help co-workers who may be struggling since they understand how it plays into the big picture.

Constant open communication throughout the company and visual indicators, such as progressive steps to reach an ultimate goal, are great ways to keep everyone aligned in real time.

4. Let serendipitous learning happen. Research has shown that nearly 70 percent of learning happens informally while on the job. Whether it’s from watching others, utilizing various resources or trial by error, this type of serendipitous learning is crucial to employee development.

Encourage this type of development by making employee schedules less rigid and more flexible. Allow time for them to learn their own way and observe the processes that will benefit them. It may be necessary to provide some amount of structure, but keep in mind that employees are more satisfied when they have flexibility in their job conditions.

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The Enormous Cost of Unhappy Employees

Employee engagement has been a hot topic for several years now, but what does it really mean and how do you know if your employees are engaged at work? And, Inc. repots, why does it matter?

Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace reported on employee engagement in more than 140 countries and divided employees into 3 categories:

  • “Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.
  • Not Engaged employees are essentially “checked out.” They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time–but not energy or passion–into their work.
  • Actively Disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.”

It’s easy for us to think the problem lies with others, but the statistics give us a disturbing truth. Through their research, Gallup found that 87% of workers worldwide and 70% of employees in the USA (84% in Canada, 83% in the UK) are either not engaged or actively disengaged. That means that only 30% of US workers are driving their organizations forward.

If you’re one of that 30% (or 16% worldwide), you know how frustrating it is when the majority of your coworkers are less committed to their jobs. In companies with low engagement, this frustration often causes swift turnover of top talent, since these people quickly realize they’re carrying the weight alone.

The costs of low engagement aren’t limited to turnover and recruitment. Gallup found that actively disengaged employees cost the US $450,000,000,000–$550,000,000,000 (that’s hundreds of billions of dollars) per year; that number doesn’t even take into account the “not engaged” employees. (Hello, Congress? We’ve found a way to fix the economy….)

On the other hand, organizations with high employee engagement have significant bonuses in addition to happy employees. The stock value has higher earnings per share, and they experience 22% higher profitability, 21% higher productivity, 10% higher customer engagement, 25-65% lower turnover, 37% lower absenteeism, 28% lower shrinkage (theft), and 48% lower staff safety incidents.

If you’re concerned that your employees may be among the 84% globally who aren’t engaged at work, an easy, evidence-based way to find out is to ask them 12 questions, Gallup’s Q12 survey. (If you want Gallup to tabulate them for you and give you pretty charts and graphs, they’ll be happy to do that.)

If you want to start boosting engagement without asking those questions first, Gallup gave three main ways, based on their research:

  1. Hire talent–the right people for the right jobs;
  2. Nurture their skills–it builds their sense of purpose as well as abilities;
  3. Enhance their wellbeing–in body, mind, emotion, and sense of meaning.

You may not be ready yet to offer nap pods, treadmill desks, and free healthy food to your employees, but every journey to boost employee engagement begins with a single thought.

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