Confident grocery story employee standing by the shelves and smiling in supermarket.
It's critical for a business to have a top-notch, loyal staff. Fostering employee loyalty starts with showing loyalty to them. — Getty Images/ jacoblund

As a small business owner, you know the importance of having a top-notch staff by your side. As record numbers of Americans quit their jobs in a trend dubbed the Great Resignation, you might need guidance on how to create an environment where employees are loyal toward your business.

Creating that environment starts with understanding what employee loyalty is and why it matters. Recently, CO— spoke with two small business experts to help pin down this hard-to-define concept.

What is a loyal employee?

“I would describe a loyal employee as an engaged employee who is aligned with the organization’s goals, mission and values,” said Jessica Lambrecht, founder and CEO of The Rise Journey, a company specializing in human resources strategy and organizational culture consulting.

Loyal employees are assets to organizations because they are the most productive and focused employees. “Loyal employees are stronger producers in their roles because they care about the results and outcomes of the organization and support the owners and leaders,” explained Cara Silletto, president and chief retention officer at Magnet Culture, a firm that reduces unnecessary employee turnover for clients across the U.S. “They want to work hard and will typically go the extra mile to help the company reach their goals.”

The staffing shortages caused by the Great Resignation make it especially critical for businesses to reduce employee turnover. “We can no longer shield our staffing problems from our customers like we used to and it is impacting revenue and the bottom line,” said Silletto. “Businesses can’t deliver their products and services at the quality level that customers expect and demand without the stable staffing and expertise needed to perform those functions.”

Both experts agreed that creating loyal employees starts with first showing your loyalty to them. Here are four strategies to get you started.

How to create employee loyalty

Listen to your employees

Get to know your employees and listen to their thoughts and concerns. Let your team know you truly care about them and have their best interest in mind.

“Genuine one-on-one check-ins are critical for keeping up with your people,” said Silletto. “I tend to ask my staff ‘How are you?’ And if they give me a generic answer, then I repeat myself and say, ‘No really, how are you?’ And I just dig a little deeper than the superficial script.”

Regularly ask your team what you can do to better support them. “They will genuinely give you, as their boss, critical feedback to help make you more effective,” said Silletto. “Try not to take it personally. We should all want to continue to grow and learn and be better bosses every single day.”

Tell an employee when they did something well and use your team meetings to give specific callouts for projects well done.

Jessica Lambrecht, founder and CEO of The Rise Journey

Show appreciation

Find ways to let your employees know that you appreciate their work.

“One thing that gets overlooked is just the everyday verbal recognition,” said Lambrecht. “Tell an employee when they did something well and use your team meetings to give specific callouts for projects well done.”

If you have room for it in your budget, financial rewards can also be a great way to acknowledge employees. “Bonuses for meeting certain goals or landing a big customer can be really motivating for people,” said Lambrecht.

Rethink incentives

Traditionally, businesses lay out an employee’s benefits package, paid time off and salary when they first sign on. And they don’t get any raises or new perks until at least a year later. Today’s workers may view that model as outdated.

“The world moves much faster today and there are so many other incentives, opportunities and choices for our workforce,” said Silletto. “I encourage businesses to take the one-year ‘carrot’ and chop it up into ‘baby carrots,’ meaning businesses should roll out smaller, more incremental incentives over that first year or first five years to incentivize people to stay longer and build loyalty.”

While pay increases can certainly be an effective way to retain employees, incentives don’t always have to be monetary.

“It could be that after 90 days you get a mentor, or after six months you get to go to an industry conference or take an online course,” said Silletto. “There are all kinds of opportunities to help people grow and advance in their roles that can also serve as an incentive to stay.”

Offer flexibility

Today’s workforce appreciates and expects a certain level of flexibility. According to a FlexJobs study, 58% of respondents reported a desire to work fully remotely post-pandemic, and 39% preferred a hybrid work environment. Half of the respondents said they would not want to work for a company that lacked flexible work options.

Even if you run a business in which employees must do their jobs on-site, you can probably find ways to offer some level of flexibility.

“Something like [holding] no meetings on Fridays can be a big relief for a lot of people,” said Lambrecht. “Or, offering summer Fridays year-round, when employees can leave work on Fridays at 2 p.m. Sometimes it’s the small things that add up to create that loyal and engaged employee.”

[Read more: 6 Small Business Employee Trends That Are the New Normal]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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