Small businesses across the world look at corporate juggernauts like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon and realize that they face a similar challenge: the arms race for top talent.
A strong job market, a generation of candidates interested in more than just a steady job and a paycheck, and competitors flushed with seemingly limitless resources (willing to do whatever it takes to land whoever they want) forces startups and small businesses to work harder and smarter than ever to attract the best of the best.
So, how can you take on the big boys and build a world-class workforce? Follow these simple steps and you will be able to compete with any company out there.
1. Understand your audience
As the American workforce becomes increasingly less “gray,” companies need to hone in on the audience of greatest importance to them: millennials.
According to a Brookings study, millennials will make up as much as 75 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2025. Millennials cite Google, Apple and Facebook as the most desirable companies to work for, so clearly these coveted companies have figured out the right formula.
2. Company culture counts
A Harvard Business Review study on “Why People Quit Their Jobs” cited the oldest (and most obvious to many of us) reason in the books: they don’t like their boss. A separate Gallup survey found that half of those polled left their jobs primarily “to get away from their manager.”
In my career, I have witnessed bad managers chase talented employees away from companies that, on paper, appeared to be desirable. I have also witnessed bad employees disrupt a positive work environment and threaten to undermine an otherwise sterling corporate culture.
One bad apple can truly spoil the bunch, so it is critical to ensure that every member of the organization is a team player capable of living up to the vision, mission and values of the company and able to mesh well with others.
Millennials in particular prize companies that possess values they admire and offer both an environment and work that they enjoy. The Brookings study on millennial preferences found that 63 percent of millennials want their employer to contribute to social or ethical causes they felt were important, compared to roughly half of older Gen Xers and Boomers who felt similarly. And almost two-thirds of millennials would rather make $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job they don’t.
Beyond building a team comprised fully of high-quality people, companies can establish a fun and desirable culture by catering to the intrinsic needs of their employees.
In-office amenities like ping pong and foosball tables or arcade machines can help employees de-stress and work more productively and happily. Hosting happy hours and other social events also serve as a way to make employees feel more comfortable at work and with their peers.
3. Offer unique employee perks
Among the most attractive aspects of working for companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are the employee benefits beyond traditional offerings like healthcare and retirement plans.
When I was student body president in junior high school, I learned firsthand how impactful free food can be to win the support of your constituents, a lesson I carried me with as president of the Business Scholars Society in college (e.g., we offered free food at every event).
At the end of the day, if people love food and free things, what is better than free food? Stock your office kitchen, offer snacks (e.g., we have a popcorn machine) and bring in or take your team out for free meals. We have found company barbecues to be especially impactful. Everyone on the team gets to socialize in a fun, relaxed setting and enjoys free food. Fortunately, one of our interns this summer was the founder of his high school grilling club.
Just like free food, mandatory time off and vacation stipends will be extremely well-received. Adobe goes as far as shutting its offices down for two weeks a year — one week in December and a week over the summer, while Airbnb provides employees a $2,000 travel stipend.
If your business can’t afford such generous benefits, offer what you can. For example, allow employees to leave early or work from home on days they would like to (and when it isn’t otherwise disruptive). This is an easy way to build goodwill.
Even when benefits apply to limited audiences within the organization, they can be impactful company-wide if they position the employer as thoughtful, sensitive and caring. Clearly, no company has a monopoly on creativity or thoughtfulness. Smaller companies should be better able to implement creative benefits than large corporations, as they are not as stymied by internal politics and bureaucratic hurdles.
4. Optimize your office space
Companies of all sizes–across all industries–with varying budgets prioritize investing in employee wellness by furnishing offices with ergonomic office chairs, desks and workstations.
Ergonomics, the study of one’s efficiency and health in their working environment, has exploded in popularity and application over the last quarter century. When you provide ergonomic office furniture to your team it is a fail-safe way to ensure they are more efficient and comfortable.
As the founder and chairman of an office furniture company, I have seen the impact firsthand. By providing lumbar support, ergonomic chairs specifically target posture to increase employee health and productivity.
Meanwhile, sit-to-stand desks are especially popular among millennials. They not only improve the health of your back but help you burn calories throughout the day and counteract lethargy.
Beyond ensuring that your employees are seated in ergonomic furniture, optimize your office and focus on aesthetics. People prefer uplifting, positive environments to atmospheres that are drab, dull and depressing, so incorporate fun colors, interactive and/or chalkboard walls, natural greenspaces and fun decor.
While they have received some backlash of late, open plan offices have been and remain popular. They can enhance communication between management and staff, while propelling increased collaboration between employees across different departments.
5. Focus on the family
According to a recent National Journal-Allstate Heartland Monitor Poll, relative to baby boomers, millennials place a greater value on work-life balance and spending quality time with friends and family. In fact, over 80 perfect of the millennials surveyed consider a good work and life balance and enjoying quality time with family necessary for a good life.
Many millennials are young parents and plan to have children in the near future. To cater to familial needs companies are increasingly offering free childcare in the office or reimbursements for outside childcare expenses in addition to generous maternity and paternity leave options.
While providing a year of paid leave and delving into female fertility may be territory many businesses simply cannot enter, all employers should provide an accommodative environment that allows employees to live a healthy, balanced life–without having to trade off having a family in lieu of building a successful career.
Millennials appreciate those who genuinely care about their well-being as people (not merely as workers). Companies that are truly caring, kind and compassionate can show their love in many different ways.
This article has been edited.