You can't just add "engagement" to your cart when you order from vendors, though. Lasting relationships take work and trust on both sides. You hold up your end of the deal by providing long-term benefits to employees, and employees reciprocate by engaging fully with their work.
Factors like your mission and values affect employee engagement rates, but they're second to security and stability. Offerings like a small-business 401(k) or unlimited paid leave demonstrate to employees that you care about them and are willing to invest in their future.
If you want workers' best efforts, you can't just put out some Ping-Pong tables and call it a day. You have to be willing to go out on a financial limb for them.
Why Employers Have to Act First
Why should you, the person who's already taken the risk of founding the business, step up again? Because it's to your benefit.
Employees who feel trusted by their employers perform better. Those who experience constant pressure to re-earn their stripes suffer from stress and burnout at higher rates than their peers.
Demonstrating trust to employees starts with action, not words. You can't tell your employees how much you trust them, then turn around and make them fight for a day off. If you fail to give them the financial resources to plan ahead, you can't blame them for short-term thinking.
Remember, your employees dictate your company's success or failure. If you wait around for them to prove their worth before rewarding them with long-term security, you risk your own future. You could drive away people who would've been stars but felt forced to leave for more immediate needs.
As much as founders want to see an entrepreneurial mindset in their employees, people who don't start their own companies avoid that path for a reason: They're unable to withstand the risks, financially or otherwise.
Because of that disparity, employers must make the first move if they want the best for (and from) their teams.
Making the Right Moves
To employees, benefits are a big deal. Paid health insurance protects them from illness and bankruptcy. Retirement account contributions help them plan for old age.
Encourage tenure on your team by:
1. Going big
A 3 percent 401(k) match or high-deductible health care plan may be enough to keep employees from grumbling, but they don't say "stick with me." Workers compare benefits as well as salaries when evaluating job offers.
Research what similar employers in your area are offering. If you know that nearby agencies give two weeks of paid time off per year, for example, would it blow your budget to bump your policy to three weeks? Probably not to the degree that turnover costs could.
2. Setting up a vesting schedule
An easy way to tweak your existing benefits to promote retention? Add a vesting clause.
Vesting schedules dictate when workers receive ownership over perks like stock options and employer-matched retirement funds. They can be set to vest immediately, over time, or all at once after a specified period of service.
Graded schedules increase employees' ownership percentage as their tenure increases. If they leave before the "100 percent" mark, they only get to keep the vested percentage of employer contributions.
Cliff schedules, on the other hand, are all-or-nothing. After two years of service, for example, employees on a cliff schedule go from getting nothing to the whole amount when they exit.
3. Contracting an adviser
Access to personalized advice is a perk in and of itself. Consider retaining a financial consultant to help your team members choose between benefits options, rebalance their portfolios, and plan for the future.
Relationships are sticky. Someone who's spent 10 years working with the same benefits adviser is going to think twice before trying to do it all himself.
Realize that employees may be afraid to tell your company's benefits adviser the whole story. Emphasize the adviser's fiduciary status: They're legally obligated to give advice that's in the best interest of those they serve.
4. Surprising them with extras
When times are good, you give employees bonuses. Treat your benefits the same way: Consider upping your HSA contributions or 401(k) match when you can.
A surprise here and there sends a message to employees: You never know when you'll get something extra. The result is a "FOMO" effect, every bit as magnetic as vacation snaps on social media.
When workers feel secure and appreciated, both sides win. Use long-term benefits to give them a sense of stability, and they'll build your business a foundation that's every bit as strong.