Creating a Small Business Culture that Works

Written by Jessica Moser, Senior Vice President of Small Business Solutions at MetLife.

Even if the U.S. economy has begun to slow down, many small business owners are still planning to expand their operations and increase staff, according to the most recent MetLife & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index. As unemployment remains low, your efforts to staff up could run into the reality of competing with larger firms. But even if faced with their potentially higher salaries, small businesses have culture on their side.

The culture of every small business is unique, and 90 percent of employees say workplace culture is important, according to MetLife’s 17th annual Employee Benefit Trends Study. Job seekers often say they prefer to work for smaller employers. One of the reasons is the family feel found at many small businesses.

A “work family” doesn’t mean your colleagues will help out with your laundry (sorry!), but it does mean that as employees tend to wear many hats in a small business, they have the opportunity to get to know their co-workers in a broader way than in a larger business – their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes.

For small business owners looking to attract and retain the best talent, leading with a work family culture can help attract scarce job candidates. Here are a few ideas:

  • Recognize the whole person: Make the effort to recognize your employees as individuals, not just workers. Employees value employers that recognize their “whole selves,” which includes everything from their unique values, backgrounds, and talents, to their perspectives on the workplace. Employers can connect on a more personal level by asking for feedback on communication, rather than interact with everyone the same way. And, unlike large firms whose annual surveys take weeks of data-crunching to act on, small businesses can react quickly on more immediate feedback.
  • Value values: People find purpose from their work in many ways, but everyone wants to feel valued and appreciated. This can run from recognizing individuals for achievements and hard work, to soliciting feedback regularly, to providing a benefits package that gives them a greater safety net when life throws them a curveball.
  • Put family first – work family, that is: No one is a better brand ambassador for your business than the people who make it run every day. Enlist your current employees to share your content – including job postings. Recruiting in the age of social media takes a social-media mindset – people trust recommendations from friends and family more than ads. So, make sure your firm’s social-media presence reflects your work family. Show what a great place to work really looks like, whether it’s pictures of what goes on at your job day to day, or if it’s birthday celebrations and group volunteer activities. To check how your work culture compares to some small businesses who are doing it right, see our Portraits of the American Work Family.

Lead with your values and put those values into action: you’ll find you can attract and retain the best.