I was talking to a fellow business owner the other week and he was bemoaning the fact that he couldn't afford to put a decent employee benefits package together. "It's so difficult to compete with the big guys when they have their gym memberships, private healthcare and big employee engagement programmes." I asked him what he did to engage his employees - he said "well nothing - as I've said, I can't really afford it."
This surprised me. I'm not going to pretend I am some great benevolent employer but there are lots of small things a business can do to make their employees feel valued and engaged. For one thing we always buy a birthday present and a card for our staff, we buy ice creams when it's hot; we are really flexible when it comes to people needing to come in late or leave early and when our four graduates passed their induction we bought them chocolate Olympic medals. We also invited then all to dinner the day before they started so we could all get to know each other.
We close for Christmas week and give away a few extra days of holiday rather then making staff take it out of their allowance. We also give staff £50 when they join to buy a picture for our meeting room - so that there's a bit of everyone's personality in there - as well as something to remember people by if they leave.
We try and empower staff as much as possible - our 'fantastic four' grads who joined us in May are working together on a specific business initiative for us - it's totally their project and they have really taken ownership of it. And when we decided to recruit four grads we left the first stages of the recruitment process completely to our managers ( even though I was itching to see the CVs).