Staff represent a major investment for you and your business, and your success depends in large part on their abilities and efforts. Many business owners have a somewhat negative take on employees – after all, they take a huge chunk of the business’s revenue and can cause all sorts of problems when they get things wrong, go off sick or have difficulties with their work. They can’t be programmed like a computer to do exactly what you want, and they have lives outside work that can affect their performance. They also take up a lot of time and energy which you might feel would be better spent attending to the work of the business. If you’ve found yourself thinking any of these thoughts, what you need is not to get rid of your staff, but to find ways of getting the best out of them so you maximize your return on staffing investment.

Pay and benefits

Even people who are lucky enough to have careers that are a calling expect to get paid for their work. It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy being a teacher or a nurse, you still need to make a living. Those whose work is less of a vocation may feel that they work for the sole purpose of earning enough to live their lives, so they go through the motions and do their work every day with the single goal of getting their paycheck. Faced with these realities, as an employer you need to understand the role that a salary has in keeping your staff happy. If you pay the lowest rates and staff work the longest hours out of any restaurant in your city, your retention rates and the quality of your job applicants will be correspondingly affected. If you can’t justify paying the best wages, you can include perks and benefits as part of your package, and these can attract people who are interested in, say, a subsidized gym membership, because they would be paying for one out of their salary anyway.

There are many different options for providing staff perks, and they need not be prohibitively expensive. Often you can simply do a swap with another business – your staff get access to local sports facilities,and you provide the sports club with at-cost printing for their team strips. The only other way to keep staff satisfied is to improve the working environment so that it is as welcoming and comfortable as possible.

Physical environment

Whether your staff are on their feet in a store, standing in a production line, or sat at a desk all day, the environment in which they are working will have a significant impact on their wellbeing. You will have a responsibility to keep noise and dust below regulated levels, to provide safety equipment and to ensure staff have access to the tools and resources they need for their job.

Don’t stop there, though. Think about how you can make the environment more pleasant, by redecorating, putting up pictures or installing potted plants, having a comfortable rest area with a full range of facilities for making drinks and snacks, and installing water coolers if you don’t already have them. Imagine your workspace is an extension of your home. What can you do to make it comfortable and a pleasant place to be, within the constraints of any legislation you may be subject to? You can ask your staff what they would like to enhance the environment or visit companies that have made an effort to improve their workspaces. Start with the basics of desks, chairs and machinery. Is everything fit for purpose, do the chairs all have multiple adjustments so the user can set them up in the ideal position, is everything accessible, well-stocked and well-looked after? Do any of your staff need alternative furniture arrangements, such as the use of a kneeling chair or a standing desk?

Don’t say no for the sake of it

If someone in your warehouse told you they work better if they can listen to music, would you consider this as an option, or would you immediately dismiss the notion because that’s not how things should be done? When you make decisions like these, the best approach is to listen to what your staff say, and agree to a trial period. During the trial you monitor the productivity levels of the staff concerned and assess whether they are right and they do get more done, whether the quality of their work is affected, whether any of their colleagues are affected and if there are any issues caused by the trial that no-one had foreseen. Once you have gathered enough data on which to base a decision, you can be confident that it will be the best one for the employee and for the business. If you can see that listening to music has a negative effect on people and productivity, you can justify your decision based on the facts. Staff will be far more respecting of a decision that has been made following an assessment rather than having their wishes dismissed out of hand.

Ethics

You might not have considered how your personal and business ethics affect your staff, but a demonstration of your attitude to global issues and local concerns provides them with evidence as to your character and intentions. Whether you personally believe in the science of climate change, many of your staff may have environmental concerns, so running effective recycling programs and doing everything you can to avoid waste and pollution is good for your image as well as your business.

Investing in green technologies shows that you take wider issues seriously and have compassion and as the science evolves these technologies become much more cost-effective. You can actually save by going solar, in addition to your image being enhanced. Being fair in business, not flouting laws or exploiting anyone or anything, and using environmentally friendly products and services will all demonstrate to your staff and the wider world that you care about important issues and you aren’t just another soulless corporate money grabber.

Management

The way you manage staff is one of the primary factors in their success and fulfillment. If you only speak to people when they’ve made a mistake or to ask for another coffee, they will feel undervalued and fail to perform as well as they could. If on the other hand you greet them every day, make an effort to find out about them and ask after their families, they will warm to you and be more likely to want to work hard for you.

Staff work best when they feel they can come to you with any problems, issues or queries, and they know you will do what you can to help. Being a nice boss is a far more effective way of getting the best out of people than ruling by fear. If your staff don’t like you but are afraid of you, they will do what they have to and no more, but if they like and respect you they will do the best job they can and go the extra mile for you. This doesn’t mean you have to have an open-door policy and sit around chatting over coffee with your staff every day. You have important work to do, and you must be able to dedicate yourself to your important tasks that are essential for the operation of the business. Being a doormat that people can come and moan to whenever they want will not earn you respect, in fact, you may end up being exploited and you certainly won’t be getting your own work done.

The middle path is the best one, where you make yourself available at certain times, or invite staff to email you about a problem before making an appointment to see you. In order to be respected, staff need to be aware of how hard you work and what an effort you put into the business, so they will then appreciate the time you make for them. You should also make time to hear their ideas and contributions, for two reasons. First, they may well have some very good ideas, because they are on the shop floor and see how everything works at close quarters. Secondly, feeling that you are being heard and taken seriously is essential for healthy self-esteem, meaning your employees will be far more content to work for someone who has time for their input.

It makes sense to look after your staff, not just by adhering to statutes regarding employment rights and pay, but by caring for them and nurturing them so that they enjoy their job and give of their best. With the right combination of reasonable pay and benefits, and an environment that is pleasant to work in, you will have set the foundations for good employee relations. If you can back that up with excellent management standards and demonstrable ethical values, you should have very happy and productive staff.