Are you worried about your best employees leaving your small business? If so, you’re not alone. Building and hanging onto a team of hardworking employees is a worry that most business owners share. Do you know how to keep your top talent in the new year and beyond?

To shed some light on the highly-discussed topic of employee engagement and retention, we decided to do some sleuthing. Our first-hand research consisted of asking over 700 experts a series of engagement and retention-related survey questions. We asked a mix of business owners, employees, CEOs, directors, and managers about what employees want.

Want to see what they had to say?

How to keep your top talent

As an employer, you don’t have complete control over which employees stay and go. A worker may need to move out-of-state, leave the workforce, or scale back to a part-time position elsewhere.

With so many things outside of your control, it’s important that you do what you can to keep your top talent when it is in your control.

Simply put, you don’t want to lose top talent because employees are disgruntled with your business.

If you want to hang onto your star employees, a good rule of thumb is to start by:

  1. Offering the best non-traditional benefits you can
  2. Measuring engagement among your workforce
  3. Keeping an eye out for disengagement red flags
  4. Avoiding common reasons for disengagement and turnover

infographic showing survey results for how to keep your top talent

1. Offer the best non-traditional benefits you can

As a small business owner, you might be concerned about having the funds to compete with big corporations. But when it comes to benefits, the best ones might not have to cost you an arm and a leg.

Sure, traditional benefits like health insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off are relatively standard (and basic). So to find out what else employees want, we decided to go beyond these benefits.

According to our sources, the most coveted non-traditional employee benefit isn’t expensive. And, it’s not tangible. What is it?

It’s flexibility. Flexible hours, to be exact. Our survey found that a whopping 62.2% selected flexible hours as the best non-traditional employee benefit.

Who knew that something so simple could mean so much to so many workers? If you’ve been paying attention to workplace trends, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you.

If you can’t offer your employees flexible work schedules, don’t panic. Our survey found that these other non-traditional benefits are also pretty popular:

  • Remote work (24.3%)
  • Wellness benefits (5.4%)
  • Bonuses (5.4%)
  • Education assistance (2.7%)

So, are you in the market for benefits that can help retain your employees? If so, you may want to consider implementing one or more of the above benefits.

2. Measure engagement among your workforce

Your next task is to measure employee engagement. How are you doing when it comes to keeping your employees happy and engaged?

We asked our survey participants two questions relating to measuring employee engagement:

  1. How do you check-in with your employees?
  2. How often do you check-in with your employees?

Let’s tackle the first one: How do you check-in with your employees? An important step of measuring employee engagement is talking with your workers.

When asked about the best way to check-in with employees, the clear winner was conducting 1:1s. Our survey found that 78.9% of respondents said 1:1s, 7.9% said surveys, 5.3% said standups, 5.3% said performance reviews, and 2.6% said department meetings. None of the survey respondents thought emails were a good way to check in with employees.

So, how often should managers touch base with employees? Here’s what our survey found:

  • 50% of respondents said once per week
  • 28.9% of respondents said once per month
  • 13.2% of respondents said twice per month
  • 5.3% of respondents said quarterly
  • 2.6% of respondents said semi-annually

If you have the means to, consider conducting 1:1s with your employees once per week. That way, you can meet privately in an informal setting and nip problems in the bud.

3. Keep an eye out for disengagement red flags

Even your best, most engaged employees can get disheartened from time to time. But if consistent, unaddressed disengagement is on the horizon, you may struggle to keep your top talent.

As an employer, you should be on the lookout for disengagement red flags. So, what are the top things to keep an eye out for?

If your employees are disengaged and possibly thinking about leaving, you may notice these red flags:

  • A dip in productivity (31.6%)
  • Increased absenteeism (31.6%)
  • Sudden lack of enthusiasm (31.6%)
  • Frequent breaks (5.3%)

4. Avoid these common reasons for disengagement and turnover

Now here’s the part you really want to know … what does it all come down to? What drives employees to disengagement and quitting?

And of course—what can you, as the employer, do to stop it?

The vast majority of survey respondents said that disengagement and turnover had nothing to do with money. Instead, it has to do with career development and trajectory, flexibility, and company culture.

Here are the results for the biggest reason for disengagement and turnover:

  • Lack of employee development (29.7%)
  • Insufficient work-life balance (24.3%)
  • Lack of career trajectory (21.6%)
  • Poor interoffice relationships (18.9%)
  • Low wages (5.4%)

Don’t let these common problems cause you to lose out on your top talent. Instead, encourage employee development, promote work-life balance, outline future career opportunities, and help foster employee relationships. And of course, conduct industry research to make sure you set fair wages for your staff.

Actionable advice on engaging employees

We asked our survey respondents for their top piece of advice on how to best engage employees.

Here were some of the best answers we received, broken up by category…

On creating an appealing work environment

John Rampton, Founder and CEO of Calendar, provides the following tip:

“I would have to say team-building activities are the best way to engage employees. For example, my team and I do a team lunch together once a week, and everyone is very engaged and excited about it.”

Megan McMullin, Customer Support Representative at Meet Edgar, suggests to:

“Give them the tools and guidance they need, but do not micromanage. Determine success with results rather than hours in the office.”

Nicole Reyhle, Founder of RetailMinded.com, says:

“Employees spend a great deal of their lives working, therefore it’s important for employers and managers alike to help create working environments that are mindful, welcoming, and efficient in their efforts.”

Stefan Debois, CEO of Survey Anyplace, says:

“Look for employee benefits that are important for the employees but relatively easy for you to implement. For example, we hire some seats in a satellite coworking office close to where a number of our employees live, so they have to travel less.”

Brayn Wills, Knowledge Management Manager at ProProfs, advises employers to:

“Give your employees a vibrant, healthy, collaborative, and growth-focused work environment to keep them engaged.”

Nissar Ahamed, Founder/CEO of CareerMetis.com, says:

“Do not be afraid to have candid feedback with your team. Be honest but professional in your communications—they will appreciate it.”

On showing them the big picture

Gina Curtis, Recruiting Manager/Career Coach at JMJ Phillip Executive Search, believes:

“It’s important to practice being transparent with your employees. Being transparent with your team helps them understand how their job is helping the company achieve its goals, which allows them to feel like they are part of something bigger.”

Dario Supan, Content Strategist at Point Visible, says:

“Encourage employees to be proactive, and reward them when they are. For people working on seemingly menial jobs, try to show them how their work actually impacts your company’s bottom line so they know that what they do makes a difference.”

Tony Mastri, Digital Marketing Manager at MARION Integrated Marketing, says to:

“Help employees feel like they have an active and fluid role in the bigger picture of the company. If the company goals are kept in a black box and employees are only delegated tactical jobs without understanding how their work is contributing, frustration and burnout is on the horizon.”

Emily Lazration, Content Marketing Specialist at CoverWallet, says:

“One of CoverWallet’s pillars for success is transparency. Our employees are engaged because everyone understands what’s going on at every level of the company and what’s being done to make sure we grow and continue to make things even better.”

Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful, advises to:

“Make a point of understanding why your employee is here in the first place. The simple answer is always money, but there are always more complicated answers, too. Finding out the reasons can help you create a work environment that is designed to keep employees happy and satisfied.”

On fostering communication

Meredith Wood, VP of Marketing at Fundera, believes:

“Weekly 1:1 meetings are a great tool to keep employees engaged. It creates a regular space where managers and employees can talk openly and provide timely feedback.”

Robert Moutal, Director of Client Happiness and Co-Founder of Clarity Wave, says to:

“Survey employees regularly and let them be part of the solution to help the company grow.”

Sam Johns, HR Specialist at Resume Genius points to internal processes,

“We conduct in-depth one-on-one interviews with each employee every month to understand why their engagement might be low or high. In those discussions, we talk about their relationships with coworkers and supervisors and try to hone in on what makes a great day or a bad day at work for them.”

Robert Mills, Head of Content at GatherContent, speaks from experience when he says:

“Communication is the absolute key to keeping employees engaged, be it giving constructive feedback, providing clear instructions, and effectively listening, too. Regular scheduled check-ins should provide a safe environment for candid chats about any issues and should end with clear actions as to how those issues will be tended to and hopefully resolved.”

According to Phil Strazzulla, Founder at SelectSoftware Reviews,

“Employees quit their bosses, not their jobs. The best way to engage employees is to have a healthy working relationship between themselves and managers, preferably one fostered by regular structured communication through 1:1’s and feedback surveys.”

Sue Andrews, Business and HR Consultant at KIS Finance, gives the following advice:

“Staff surveys are still one of the most effective measures of gauging engagement, as individuals are often not so candied about their views in a face to face discussion. Supplement full staff surveys with monthly ‘pulse surveys,’ which target a small sample group.”

On prioritizing employee recognition

Matthew Kosinski, Managing Editor at Recruiter.com, believes:

“Employee engagement is a complicated matter, impacted by a variety of different factors. However, I think the factor that delivers the most immediate value is recognition. Employees who toil in obscurity have little reason to care — nobody’s paying attention to them. But when leaders actively check in with employees and recognize their efforts, the employee knows their efforts matter, and that’s huge for engagement.”

Jenny Watkins, Marketing Director at Terryberry, believes:

“A little appreciation goes a long way. Recognizing employees’ contributions is the best way to engage and retain high performing team members.”

Jayson DeMers, CEO of EmailAnalytics, echoes this idea further:

“Recognition is key to employee engagement and retention; people want to feel seen and appreciated. If they feel like just another cog in a machine, they aren’t going to feel connected to their colleagues or employer.”

Alexandra Zamolo, Head of Content Marketing at Beekeeper, suggests employers:

“Provide incentives for a job well done or for brainstorming and thinking outside of the box, which can lead to customer retention and new clients. Get creative with the way you reward your employees; think about gift cards, free lunch for a week, or an extra paid break.”

On lending an ear

Kathleen Krause, Branding Consultant at Squadhelp, says:

“Make sure people understand that their opinions and ideas are important and will be taken into consideration.”

Kristina Proffitt, Content Marketer at Cronofy, says:

“Listen to them. Never assume you know how they’re feeling or what they want—ask, and take their feedback, even if it isn’t what you want to hear.”

Ciara Hautau, Lead Digital Marketing Strategist at Fueled, suggests:

“If you’re invested in your employees, most likely they’ll be invested in you. Take the time to learn about what they want from their role, where they’re looking to grow, and open the floor to any questions/concerns they want to voice.”

On encouraging development and creating career trajectories

Yaniv Masjedi, CMO of Nextiva, says:

“Value their needs. What do they need to grow over the next month, 6 months, and year?”

Dmytro Okunyev, CEO of Chanty Inc., says:

“As a leader, motivate your employees and support their personal and career development. This is often connected with giving them some area of responsibility where they can make their own decisions.”

Halelly Azulay, Founder & CEO of TalentGrow LLC, says:

“Support your employees’ development plans, and don’t limit development strictly to ‘training events’ – development can happen in many informal, easy-to-implement, and inexpensive ways.”

Stewart Dunlop, Content Marketer working with LegalZoom, advises:

“Give them the opportunity to grow and feel that growth. And, give them the opportunity to relax from work and appreciate their work-life balance. “

Lars Herrem, Group Executive Director at Nigel Wright Group, advises:

“Outline a career road map for each role. Employees want clear guidance on how they can progress within their company, as well as targets and goals that would need to be achieved in order to move up the ladder.”

Love our infographic? Share it with your readers!

Let’s get the conversation started. Head on over to our Facebook page to connect!