By Lauren Webber

Modern small business owners are some of the busiest, most hard-working people in the world, especially when the business is in its early years. While specifics vary according to industry, service, size and other factors, every small business owner must manage several moving parts at once including development, quality, customer satisfaction, marketing and countless other elements of an efficient company. With so much going on, one of the most important aspects of a successful small business can often be overlooked and undervalued: employee satisfaction. Here’s how to keep the employees happy in your small business.

Unhappy Trend

Unfortunately, employee satisfaction levels are at an all-time low nationwide, at 45 percent. Since the youngest age group (under 25) had the lowest job satisfaction levels (only 35.7 percent), those numbers are likely to get worse. The newest generation of employees generally feels entitled to a high level of job satisfaction– and are therefore more likely to be disappointed– while older employees with lower expectations are leaving the workforce.

While this downward trend may not initially seem alarming to small business owners, it is something they should take notice of, as it is likely to impact them at some point. The level of employee engagement has been a continually hot topic over the last few years, and engagement is clearly linked to productivity, retention, creativity and overall motivation.

Happy employees are more likely to remain engaged, and therefore they are likely to be more productive. One study by economists at the University of Warwick found that employee happiness led to a 12 percent increase in productivity. Conversely, employees who were unhappy in their positions were found to be 10 percent less productive.

What Employees Want

In order to truly understand the concept of employee happiness and how it relates to your business, you need to know what elements are commonly linked to employee satisfaction. While every employee is different and some of these factors may vary according to industry and other aspects, a few consistently important factors include:

  • Job security
  • Benefits — especially health care and retirement
  • Compensation
  • Opportunity to utilize skills and abilities
  • Safe work environment
  • Manager-employee relationships
  • Recognition of job performance
  • Communication to upper management (having their voices heard)
  • Independence and autonomy on the job
  • The actual work itself

How important each aspect is will depend upon your workforce and the individual employee, but most of these are relatively simple elements that a good employee should expect. While the best way to find out what is most important to your employees would be to simply ask them, those with a very large workforce (or a need for analytical data) can benefit from an employee satisfaction survey. There are several templates available online for scientific employee satisfaction surveys, and these can be invaluable tools in for learning more about those whom you employ.

What Not to Do

While it may take some work on your part to discover what steps will make your employees happy, there are several easy ways to make them unhappy that occur in far too many workplaces. If you want to ensure a terrible employee experience:

  • Be misleading or vague about the position
  • Regularly change policies and procedure with little or no notice
  • Make changes to the pay structure
  • Ignore your employees’ requests or achievements
  • Demand unrealistic adherence to rules you do not follow yourself

Talk to your employees, learn how happy they currently are, and find out what can be done to make them even happier. Not only does this make for a significantly more positive and enjoyable work environment, it will also lead to increased productivity and higher overall success.