When you own a business, one of your greatest assets is undoubtedly your employees. Valuable, talented, and loyal employees can be the ticket to your success. A good employee is difficult to find, and recruiting and training a new employee is time-consuming and expensive. So once you find a great employee, it’s in your best interest to retain her as long as the relationship is mutually beneficial.

Maintaining employee satisfaction can be tricky, and it requires a strong commitment to making it work. Typically, employee satisfaction reflects the overall morale of your company, and low employee satisfaction can drag your business down. Here are some tips that will help you maintain the best possible employee satisfaction:

1. Hire the right employee for the job in the first place

Many small business owners have little exposure to proper interviewing and recruiting techniques. I don’t care how busy you are, it’s worth it to sit down and get some training or coaching on how to identify the right person for the job. Read about creating appropriate job descriptions, get clear on the skills and experience necessary to do the job well, and ask the right behavioral-based interview questions. Check references and look for evidence of previous success in a similar job.

If the candidate has never worked for a small business before, do what you can to mitigate the culture shock. Describe, in detail, a realistic “day in the life” on your team. Have the person shadow you or a team member for a day and speak to others on the team before making the decision to come on board. Working for an entrepreneur is hugely different than working in a corporate environment or other large organization. Make sure the candidate recognizes this. Also, avoid hiring someone just like you – remember, you’re hiring an employee, not a fellow entrepreneur.

2. Give the employee space figuratively and literally

Nobody likes to work for a micro-manager. Micromanaging wastes everyone’s time. When you hire someone, you should be able to entrust that person to accomplish the job expectations. Give up some control so he can work in ways that are most conducive to his personal productivity. Sometimes doing it your way might slow him down or irritate him to the point of frustration. Allowing flex-time, alternative work schedules, and telecommuting when possible can be the number one factor in employee happiness.

Also give the employees a space of their own – a corner of the room, a desk, an office – something to make their own. Encourage employees to personalize the space with pictures, flowers, or whatever makes them smile throughout the day. Also, make sure you allow them some privacy without looking over their shoulders, especially when making necessary personal phone calls. Don’t be the boss that stares with disapproval while your employee takes a quick phone call from her child’s school.

3. Avoid the boring meeting blues

Everyone hates long, drawn-out, boring, and unnecessary meetings. Stop wasting time with your meetings, and you’ll have happier employees across the board. The fewer meetings the better, and the tighter the agenda the better. Of course you have to meet, but be careful strategic about your planning.

You can use a few tricks to get your meetings to run more smoothly. Most importantly , have a set purpose for each meeting and don’t allow too much time to lag without meeting at all. Avoid scheduling meetings first thing in the morning or right after lunch. Meetings immediately before lunch or at the end of the day reduce chit chat, because everyone is anxious to move through the agenda at an efficient pace. Hold conference calls in place of meetings when you can to cut down on disruption. Another way to make sure a meeting is quick is to have attendees remain standing (hey, whatever works!).

4. Keep two-way communication flowing

Make sure you communicate as openly with your employees as possible. Give clear instructions and set expectations so there are no surprises. Address problems quickly, and work to ease anxieties as quickly as you can. Don’t make the mistake of letting rumors and frustrations circulate without speaking to your employees. Keeping your head down and your door shut, especially during times of uncertainty, will cultivate an environment of worry and undermine trust. Also, a little positive reinforcement goes a long way. Take the time to recognize a good job and let your employees know often how much you appreciate them.

Maintaining an open-door policy is key to maintaining employee loyalty and satisfaction in a small business. Sincerely ask for feedback and input, and be open to receiving it. Do your best to address and consider their concerns, and at the very least entertain their suggestions. Don’t patronize them, but let them know you respect their opinions, even if you can’t always meet their specific needs.

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5. Provide opportunities for growth

You might not be able to offer the same type of career advancement that an employee climbing the corporate ladder would experience, but it’s likely you can offer a lot in the way of growth and opportunities. Be careful not to overwork or exploit an employee’s enthusiasm, but allow an ambitious employee work at a higher level on client projects. Provide opportunities to attend conferences, training, or events. If interested, let a standout employee accompany you on business trips to exciting locations. Give employees the chance to step into leadership and truly shine using their greatest talents. If, in your heart, you believe an employee has outgrown the opportunities available in your business, serve as a mentor to help make a career transition. This good will gesture will pay off for both of you.

Sometimes even your best efforts can’t keep an employee satisfied. It may be time for her to move on to another opportunity. So it is important that you do some succession planning and have a strategy in place to fill in the gap. Becoming too dependent on any particular employee is a big mistake, because it can leave you in a bind. Just be prepared for when that day comes, because it might be when you least expect it.


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