Business owners often look to the world’s commercial giants who grew from humble beginnings and wonder how they did it. Perhaps the biggest mystery unveils itself when you take a look inside companies like Google and Apple, and the seemingly ludicrous expenses they pour into quirky office spaces and remarkable employee benefits. It leaves many entrepreneurs wondering, “How can they afford it?” But the real question should be: “How can you afford not to?”
The Lifeblood of Business
In his personal blog, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson writes that his favorite night of the year is the Virgin ‘Stars of the Year’ Awards. The event serves as an opportunity to “recognise and reward [his] staff”.
Branson quoted colleague Josh Bayliss in saying that “all of our success and exciting expansion is down to the hard work and excellence of the people we employ. After all, your staff are the lifeblood of your company. At the end of the day, they make all the difference between running a successful business and one that is just run of the mill.”
Let’s get something straight: a company’s success is not solely dependent on its CEO or even board of directors. A successful business is built by the hard work of employees, who together work to produce results that benefit everyone. Simply put, a captain cannot sail a ship without a crew.
Once you remind yourself of this fact, it is a lot easier to see the value in investing into your employees. After all, they are your biggest financial asset.
Investing in Your Biggest Asset
So, how can you invest in employees, and more importantly, how does it benefit your business? Well, let’s take into account the indirect rewards of leading happy employees. To start they are:
- More likely to stick around in the long run, meaning you spend far less time paying recruitment agencies and training new staff.
- Engaged with the work they do, which basically means they work a lot harder, increasing your bottom line profits.
- Likely to tell everyone outside of work about how happy they are, driving new employees and customers to your business.
Every Entrepreneur Can Do This
Happiness, like a river from a mountain, starts at the top and trickles down until it impacts everyone. As a small business owner, as Branson suggests, “Spend more time smiling than frowning and more time praising than criticizing.” Lead by example as a role model for your employees by living out your company values, both on and off-duty.
Perhaps you can’t afford to turn your office into a luxury tree house, like Red Frog Events in Chicago, or give employees unlimited paid vacation days, like Groupon, but every business can find some way (big or small) to invest into employees. Here are three smart ways to get started:
Invest in Facilities
One of the best ways to improve the day-to-day experience of your staff is to improve office facilities. For example, make sure washroom facilities are a genuine pleasure to visit: employees need to feel they can relax, especially if they’re going to be using them two or three times a day.
You should also ensure that the best possible equipment is made available to employees. Working with obsolete technology (e.g. a seven-year-old laptop or faulty elevator that forces employees to take three flights of stairs) increases stress levels and decreases productivity. Make sure your office space is properly maintained, making work as easy as possible.
Invest in People
It is important to show employees that you value them as people, not just assets. Take the Campbell Soup Company’s approach, for example. They offer employee perks including: “100 percent healthcare coverage, free flu shots, healthy cooking lessons, and subsidized costs on healthy meal options in the company cafeteria. Campbell also has on-site fitness centers and day care centers, as well as a full kindergarten program, after school program for kids six to 12 years old, and a lactation room for nursing mothers.” (Source: Business Insider)
Employee perks like this are a sure-fire way to win the hearts of your employees. If you can’t afford to run a day care operation, why not offer compensation for employees who have to enroll their kids in after-school activities?
Also, don’t forget to value the physical well-being of employees. Las Vegas-based online retailer, Zappos hosts on-site Weight Watchers meetings and offers a state-of-the-art fitness facility. Healthy employees have more energy and higher self-esteem, meaning they have the engagement to get things done, and the confidence to make important decisions. Zappos also offer free salads, soups and sandwiches to all of its employees. Free food is always a big winner; after all, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. That goes for ladies too!
Trust Your Staff
One of the best ways to go the extra mile is to back off every once in a while. People take more pride in their work when they have freedom to work autonomously. Valve Software takes puts this ideology into practice by eliminating management roles; Valve has 300 employees but no managers or bosses at all. Every employee is on an even footing. This gives employees the liberty to select what they work on and for how long.
You don’t have to be quite as hands-off as Valve, but the message is clear: employee empowerment works. Forgoing micromanagement fosters a belief that employees are a valued and trusted. As a result, they are more likely to feel a sense of loyalty to your business.
So, the next time you look at the money big brands spend on their employees, remember that it didn’t come after big profits were made. It started from the very beginning, where words of encouragement and small gestures led to long-lasting success.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Kristin Hodgkinson is the digital marketing manager for Direct365, a company who specializes in supporting the workplace when it comes to facility management, supplies and being environmentally friendly. Be it recycling or waste collection, Direct 365 helps businesses of all sizes. Connect with @direct365uk on Twitter.