As an entrepreneur who is used to marching to your own tune, dealing with employees may seem like a daunting task. There are a couple of approaches that you can take.
You can adopt the "entrepreneur as god" axiom. This entails you ruling your employees by fear and intimidation, making all important decisions by yourself, and not allowing input from anyone if it doesn't resemble "yes, sir" or "Yes, ma'am." Select this road, and you'll wonder why turnover is high, your productivity is low, and your service lags behind those of your competitors.
Or you can actually choose to invest in your employees. This means trying to keep workplace morale high, communicating often with your workers, and giving them incentives to remain in your employ. This path leads to strong corporate loyalty, high productivity, and a workforce who is willing to go the extra mile for your company.
So how exactly do you invest in your employees? Here are some suggestions:
Give them value or your time. Allocate a portion of your operating budget and/or profits to incentives and benefits for your employees. Matching 401(k) funds or profit sharing bonuses will build long-term loyalty. If you can't afford that, seemingly small things like free sodas in the refrigerator or regular catered lunches will make workers feel appreciated.
But if you don't have room in your budget for these kinds of perks, then make it a point to increase your face time with your workforce. Sit down informally with them once a week over coffee and let them air their concerns. Even that will go a long way toward improving company morale.
Factor your employees into every decision. Let's face it: there are probably several ways you can cut costs by reducing or eliminating things that make your employees' lives better. So when it comes time to make a choice, don't always let the bottom line win out. This means trying every possible way to keep your staff on your payroll in tough times – from job-sharing to moving them to contract status. Your workers will take note.
Solicit opinions and act on them. It's true that "surveying" your employees is hard work. But it's the best way to determine what they need to make their jobs easier. Not only should you ask them questions, but you should act on the answers. Nothing reduces morale faster than asking what workers think and then ignoring their suggestions.
If you can't implement a certain proposal, be sure to state why so your employees understand that you aren't just blowing them off. And make sure to listen to their feedback – it can provide great insight into your relationships with your suppliers and customers.
Be consistent. Practice what you preach. If you extol the virtues of frugality right after you've taken a four-hour lunch at a high-end restaurant with business partners, your integrity ratings will plummet. And it's hard to get your employees' trust if they think you're a hypocrite.
It's a cliché, but it's true: take care of your employees and they'll take care of you. And a relatively small investment in your workforce can pay dividends in the long run.