As a business owner, I have had mixed feeling about employees. On one hand, I can’t accomplish the goals that I set without their help. On the other hand, I’ve experienced all manner of drama and have wondered if it was all worth it. I have often felt like a parent, mediating disagreements, giving advice about job related matters AND personal matters and of course, having to discipline. The parallels between being a small business owner and being a parent are nearly identical. It should come as no surprise, really, since most small businesses have a pretty tight team. And like every tight team you get to know everything about everyone, just like a family.

Running a small business is a microcosm of life. There is risk, problem solving, relationships (good and bad), joy, sorrow, victory and defeat. As the owner or member of the management team, you are responsible for the successes and get to own the failures . Except the only true failure is if you repeat the mistake(s). Failure in a business is the way you learn what works and what doesn’t work. A favorite quote of mine is from Thomas Edison. It took him 10,000 failures to finally find the one correct combination that created a working light bulb. He said, “I did not fail! I just found 10,000 ways that did not work.” But I digress, this post is about employees.

Millennial group at work

One of the biggest challenges facing small business owners is the conundrum of how to hire and retain millennials. If you are from my generation, Generation X, then the millennial generation can often leave you scratching your head in confusion. My approach used to be “I’m the boss…you do what I say,” and internally I figured if they didn’t get into line, I’d just find someone else. What I learned was this is fundamentally the wrong way to look at it. I’ve come to realize that Gen X and millennials just look at things in a profoundly different way. These differences are real and there is a ton of data that discusses the difference. It really boils down to technology in my opinion.

Gen X’ers were born just on the cusp of world changing technology and we’ve had to learn to use it and integrate it into our lives. Millennials were practically born with cell phones and tablets in their hands and cannot imagine a world without technology. They’ve also grown up in an incredibly stable economy and had very little want. This changes the way they think. It’s not bad…it’s just different. If you’re interested, Survey Monkey did a study that compares Gen X to Millennials. Check it out, I found it very interesting.

Without employees, a company would cease to function. Unless you’re a one person operation, you need your employees. It is important not to take them for granted. If you clicked on the link above comparing Gen X to Millennials, then you know that they are unafraid to change jobs and may change jobs up to 20 times in their lifetime. That is a staggering statistic. The carrot and stick approach to employee management just doesn’t work with them. So, it’s important to understand what inspires and motivates them. One of the greatest motivating factors for millennials is to feel valued and to feel that their contribution truly matters. More important than a paycheck, they need to make connections in the workplace or they will move on. As a business owner, one of the most costly expenses in terms of both time and money is employee turnover. In the past, most Gen X owners and managers viewed employees as just another tool in the tool box, ranked somewhere below the product(s) they were selling. This has shifted, for the most part, but many Gen X’ers still don’t see employees for what they really are: their companies biggest asset. As a matter of fact, the skill of employees accounts for 85% of a companies assets. Employee capability and expertise can determine how fast your organization grows.


1. Award Your Employees For Their Hard Work

This is a trophy generation. Embrace it because it works. One of the most important ways that you can make your employees feel appreciated is by giving them awards. Whether it’s for their years of service or to mark an important occasion or to acknowledge their commitment to the organization, an award is something that will help them realize that you see their contributions as meaningful.

It could be as simple as giving them a “high-five” to acknowledge that you value what they’ve accomplished.

2. Take Time To Boost Employee Morale

It requires effort, I know, but high morale has proven to lead to higher productivity which adds to the bottom line. Even if there was no financial incentive, having happy employees just makes work so much more enjoyable. There are many different ways to boost morale so find the method that has the most meaning to you and your team. Circling back to my earlier comment, if an employee might have 20 different jobs, it’s worthwhile to create a work environment that doesn’t make them want to leave YOUR job. Be creative…they will appreciate the effort and the result.

3. Listen To Your Employee’s Concerns

If you want your team members to feel like their contributions are valued and matter, then you have to listen to their concerns about their work environment. This means that if someone feels like they are overloaded then you should take it seriously and see what you can do. If someone feels under-appreciated, then it is important to understand why they feel that way and do what you can to change the way they feel.

It’s critical that you communicate with your team as often as necessary so that they feel comfortable coming to management when and if an issue arises. If they feel like they will be heard, they are much more likely to bring it to your attention before it escalates which contributes to a much more efficient work space.

4. Have A Safe Work Environment

Sexual harassment is in the news a lot and should be taken very seriously, but sexual harassment is not the only type of harassment in the workplace. Taking all complaints of harassment seriously and taking action is extremely important if you want to gain employee trust and show them that you really do value what they do.

It is common, especially in a small business environment, to brush aside complaints about harassment, especially if the harassment could be viewed as workers letting off steam. You should not give in to the temptation to try to brush it aside or sweep it under the rug because it shows that you really don’t care or that you favor one employee or group over another. An important thing to consider: you may have legal obligations to follow through and if you don’t, you could be opening up yourself to legal action.

By 2025, millennials will make up about 75% of the global workforce. These employees of today and of the future want a compelling work environment that provides a great experience. These individuals are talented, tech-savvy and have high work-life expectations. They want to know that they’ll be positioned for success. An organization that ignores the realities of today’s work force expectations does so at its’ own peril.

Those employees that do not feel that your organization (and YOU as the boss ) have their best interests in mind will explore other options. Even the hardest working employees will start to look for new jobs quickly if their current employer doesn’t deliver the experiences that they are looking for. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group which controls more than 400 companies said it best: “Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business. It’s as simple as that.”

Categories: Team


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