Manage Your BusinessCompany CultureHow small business owners can maximize employee engagement

How small business owners can maximize employee engagement

20 years ago, a disengaged employee wasn’t much to worry about. Sure, they were probably less productive and they might have stirred up some trouble in the break room. But their reach was limited to those around them. Today, we live in the age of instant, viral access. For business owners, that means that one employee video could make you famous overnight. Or, rather, infamous.

Earlier this year, Kyte Baby CEO Ying Liu learned this lesson firsthand when an employee’s sister leaked some of her harsh decisions about parental leave online. Liu probably thought little of the decision at the time it was made, considering that it didn’t violate any legal regulations. But consumers were not happy to hear that a trusted baby brand wasn’t being flexible or generous with their parental policies. 

This isn’t an isolated incident either. We’ve seen similar situations from Clearlink, MillerKnoll, and Cloudflare. Clearly, there’s a much-increased spotlight on business leaders. That means that it’s imperative that employee engagement isn’t just treated like a buzzword. It has to be a serious consideration for businesses of all sizes.

The Right Approach to a Happy Workplace

The good news is that building a healthy, happy workplace is fairly straightforward. If you want to build a workplace that has employees running to the referral inbox instead of the internet, you need to do three things: help them feel safe, help them feel respected, and help them feel valued.

Here’s what that means:

  • Feeling safe: A feeling of security and belonging
  • Feeling respected: A core feeling of dignity and recognition
  • Feeling valued: A feeling of appreciation and worth

Of course, you can’t actually make anyone feel anything. But you can create healthy, balanced conditions that allow people to be productive and prolific. When employees feel that they are safe at work, that their boss respects them, and that they are being valued for their skills and achievements, they produce exceptional results. The kind that any business owner would envy.

One of the most effective ways to create this utopic workplace is to be ruthless in your prioritization. Most business owners thoughtlessly pile on until all of the camels’ backs are broken (and then they call the camels lazy). But smart business owners don’t allow anything to interfere with the success of their people. As a result, they deadhead projects and processes with vigor. If something isn’t working, they don’t allow it to drain the organization. They cut it out or limit it to a pilot experiment until its effectiveness can be shown. And this prioritization shouldn’t be a solo act. When your team understands your stance on productivity, they won’t be shy about sharing ideas to streamline.

A more delicate issue to take on is compensation. No one feels respected or valued when they’re being underpaid. For some reason, there exists a corporate norm of offering below-average pay but expecting above-average work. We must all be careful not to allow this illogical “corporate math” to put our businesses at risk. Instead, savvy business owers need to pick up the most powerful tool available for addressing compensation issues: data. 

You need to have objective, current data for every position within your business. That doesn’t mean that you ask your brother-in-law what he’s paying his salespeople these days. It means using trusted resources like Payscale or ADP for the best information available. The salaries of entry-level positions aren’t the same today as they were when you started out. Don’t fall victim to under-compensation without even knowing you’re doing it.

And it would be remiss to fail to mention the importance of diversity and representation in your business. No one can feel safe in the workplace if they don’t feel like they belong. While you may consider yourself to be welcoming, you may not know how you’re viewed by others. Start by carefully evaluating the representation within the levels of your business. The goal is to, at minimum, have diverse representation that is similar to your customer base. If you make products used by people 34-44, that means that your organization should be no more than 55% white. For many, that means a long, hard look at your hiring practices and leadership pipeline to ensure that you’re truly building an organization with enough diverse perspectives to adequately serve your customers.

Start Where You Are, Do What You Can

There are hundreds of ways that you can build a happy, healthy workplace. But every business (and business owner) is different. What may be possible for some may be out of reach for others. You may not be able to give sizable bonuses, but maybe you can offer better parental leave. The important thing is making a true effort and being open about your changes and mission.

It’s often difficult to start down this path because it can feel like you’re navigating without a roadmap. This isn’t the way business was conducted in the past. And rightfully so. You’re not running a 20th-century business. But very few modern businesses have truly figured out how to improve their culture. Without a role model, these new management techniques feel strange and intimidating. What if they don’t work? What if you trust someone and it backfires? Those are valid worries. But you can’t allow them to hold you back.

It helps to remember that you’re not alone in this. There are so many modern business owners, managers, and leaders reshaping the workforce. Seek them out, even if it’s online, and listen to their stories of success (and sometimes failure). If you keep returning to the core concept of ensuring that people feel safe, respected, and valued, you’ll do just fine.

ASBN Small Business NetworkASBN, from startup to success, we are your go-to resource for small business news, expert advice, information, and event coverage.

While you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for all the latest business news know-how from ASBN.

Robyn L Garrett, CEO of Beamably
Robyn L Garrett, CEO of Beamably
Robyn L Garrett is CEO of Beamably and a top TikTok and Instagram leadership expert, known by millions for witty insights and practical, modern strategies. She is the author of Happy at Work: How to Create a Happy, Engaging Workplace for Today's (and Tomorrow's!) Workforce and Be True to Yourself: The Personal Values Workbook.

Related Articles