The Struggle for Top Talent is Real: How Can SME's Attract and Retain the Best Staff?

Updated: Feb 24, 2020

"You’re well advised to go after the cream of the cream … A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.”

This quote sums up Steve Jobs' take on recruitment, which was developed over his many years of managing teams and the thousands of interviews he conducted. It was true then and it's still true now: the employment market has changed though.

It wasn't that long ago that employers could pick and choose from a surplus of candidates for almost every vacancy: the rate of unemployment in the UK in February 2014 was falling, but was still at almost 7%. Latest figures show that unemployment is 3.8% nationally, but there are regions where it's substantially lower. The South West, home of The Recruitment Geeks, has the lowest rate across the whole of the UK at 2.4%!

With figures like that, how can smaller businesses stand out from the crowd and attract any, let alone the best, talent to their teams?

We think we have some ideas that can help.

The Advantage That Smaller Businesses Have

Attracting the best talent is a challenge for any business and while it might seem that bigger companies have every advantage in hiring great talent, the truth is that small business owners may just have the upper hand in many ways. While larger businesses often have deeper pockets when it comes to paying staff salaries, counterintuitively compensation packages are rarely the only, or even primary factor that potential staff are using to decide on their next career move.

As a small business owner, you can use this knowledge to your advantage by ensuring that your business stands out as an attractive employment option: in this case, a little planning definitely goes a long way. So how can your business stand out?

Focus on the positives you can offer

Without a big budget, you'll need to focus in on exactly what your business can offer that staff wouldn't be able to experience in a larger, more bureaucratic organisation.

Be careful though, potential employees are a discerning bunch and can spot false 'benefits' a mile off. We're not talking about the questionable practice of advertising things like Workplace Pensions as a benefit. If the law requires you as an employer to provide something, then it's not really a benefit, it's merely a part of doing business. Similarly, there has been a shift recently to try and create a younger, more energetic feel within offices; companies have installed pool tables, TVs and even bars in their attempts to seem young and fresh. While these are nice perks to have, many of us at The Recruitment Geeks have worked in businesses that offered similar toys and have seen how they often go unused after the initial novelty wears off, which seems to happen extremely quickly.

Below are just some suggested features that smaller employers can offer that potential employees really appreciate. You'll notice that none of them really cost anything, in fact it could be argued that they help improve the bottom line.

  • Greater flexibility in scheduling

  • Closer relationships between team and leadership

  • Room for advancement within the company

  • Increased opportunities to flex and hone skills

  • Less bureaucratic red tape

  • Closer mentoring

  • Sharing in the brand’s growth

In this post we'll just look at how a business can achieve greater flexibility in scheduling.

In 1930 John Maynard Keynes predicted that technological advances would lead to a fifteen hour work week. The UK of 2020 has not even come close to achieving that and some would argue it's gone in the opposite direction. In an age where everyone seems to be connected all the time, constantly juggling work and home, the most attractive thing a company can offer is an enhanced quality of life. Top talent will often accept a lower salary if they can offset this with an increased quality of life.

No one expects to run a business on only fifteen hours a week, but creating a culture in your small business where employees are valued as people will benefit everyone. A great work environment resounds in the business world, and an existing team of happy employees is just about the best thing around to attract talented candidates who value the same balance.

The great news is that fostering a great work-life balance doesn't need to be difficult:

  • Encourage employees to telecommute a set number of days per week or month. This allows them to get their work done on those days when they might otherwise call in sick or when they need to care for a sick child.

  • Promote flexible scheduling, also known as flexitime. This can come in many forms, but essentially allows your employees to help set their work schedule both in and out of the office.

  • Offer restful areas for a quick power nap. Not a believer in napping at work? It’s been shown to increase productivity!

  • Allow employees to bring pets or children to work on occasion.

These relatively small steps can make a massive impact on how your business is perceived and if as an employer, you're concerned about the risk of paying staff to sit at home and watch daytime TV, studies have shown that employees are actually 13 percent more productive when telecommuting than when working in the office!

Best of all, word will spread that you value your employees and before long, that top talent you’re looking for will start looking for you.

The Recruitment Geeks as a business operates flexitime and also offers all staff the chance to work from home when they choose. On any given day there may be more of the team working from home than there is in the office. Critically though, our clients and candidates will never know who is in, who is out or who might even be sat on a beach in Portugal unless it comes up in conversation. The key for us is to use technology effectively and ensure that the business operates smoothly at all times.

In our next post of this series, we'll start to take a look at some of the other factors listed above and show how your business can benefit from implementing them.

If you are struggling to attract the talent you need, remember that The Recruitment Geeks is not just another recruitment company, we're a consultancy and we take that very seriously. Recruitment doesn't exist in a bubble and it's critical to your business' success. Recruitment needs to be baked into your overarching strategy and that's why we don't just offer traditional recruitment services, but can instead offer a strategic and consultative service that can help give you the information that can really help your business to grow in a challenging market.

If you would like to talk about the ways we can help, we'd love to grab a coffee and discuss the challenges you're facing. Great things can happen when you've got a Geek on your side.

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