Seventy percent of small businesses struggle to find and retain skilled talent, according to the 2018 Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Summit report. To do so, some businesses are putting a greater emphasis on company culture and offering unique perks, in addition to traditional benefits packages, to make their teams feel valued. These perks don't have to cost a lot. The key is to identify what matters to your employees and prospects.

Create a distinct company culture

On their first day of work, new employees at SmugMug are transformed into an alter-ego of their choice by a professional makeup artist. Then, they pose for a photo for the company's online gallery. It is a fun exercise, but it's also symbolic. The photo management and sharing platform calls its customer service team "support heroes" to recognize how seriously it takes that aspect of its business.

 And that's not where the superhero theme ends. The company's conference rooms are named after superhero hangouts, like the Batcave and Daily Planet. When new superhero movies debut, the company rents out a local theatre and invites employees and their families for a screening.

Scott Kinzie, vice president of marketing and business development at SmugMug, says that most employees join the company because they love photography and the arts. The superhero makeover and theming celebrate individuality and brings "SmugMug's creative, family-oriented, geeky artist culture to life." This culture helps to attract and retain passionate people.

To apply this to your own business, identify your company's core values. What matters to you and the people you hire? The SmugMug team values creativity, art, and strong customer service. A legal office, for example, might identify trust and diligence as core pillars. Document your values, discuss them during the recruitment process, and hang them on your office walls. They are the foundation of your culture.    

Recognize employees in a unique and special manner

Everlaw, a technology company that develops cloud-based eDiscovery software for legal professionals, knows that small gestures can go a long way. It developed Fist Bump, an internal-only website where employees can give each other virtual fist bumps. Team members log in to see the "bumps of praise" their colleagues are giving and receiving, says Clair Lee, human resources manager at Everlaw. The kudos can be for major milestones or small achievements.

People want to work at a place where they can have an impact, and where that impact will be recognized, explains Lee. With Fist Bump, "low-key good deeds that might've gone unnoticed get a shout-out," and that means a lot to employees. It is also a fun way "to foster a culture of gratitude and collaboration." Lee believes the program contributes to the team's enthusiasm and high satisfaction. It also helped to earn Everlaw a spot on Inc.'s Best Workplaces 2018.  

You don't need to build a new website to make your employees feel valued. To help create a culture of recognition, train your managers to recognize small victories, such as meeting a deadline or stepping up to help a teammate. When possible, recognize these accomplishments publicly--at a team meeting, for example. To make it easy for employees to recognize each other, consider placing a small box with comments cards somewhere central and allowing people to anonymously provide "shout-outs" for a job well done. You can read the comments at the end of the week to boost morale. Just be clear on the purpose of the program--to build people up, not air grievances--that way comments stay positive.    

Offer flexible options, like extra paid-time off

To make his employees feel special, Rob Basso, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Associated Human Capital Management, gives them the day off on their birthday along with a $25 gift card to a local gas station. It's a simple gesture, but Basso says it means a lot to his employees. During the hiring process, the HR manager goes through all of the company benefits, big and small. Prospects are always amazed by the idea of getting their birthday off from work, says Basso.

Basso also allots everyone a paid half-day a month to volunteer at the charity of their choice. These initiatives play a significant role in creating a positive culture, boosting morale, and generating word-of-mouth buzz about the company, which makes it easier to recruit. "All offers we extended in the last 18 months were accepted, and we feel these perks played a big role in that," says Basso, adding that retention has also improved since rolling out these perks.

Although small perks are not intended to replace traditional benefits, they can go a long way in creating a highly desired work environment. To get the most from creative ideas like these, choose perks that reflect your employees' needs and align with your culture, and be sure to communicate them during the recruitment process.

Published on: Jul 10, 2018