Employee happiness: How SMBs are winning the game – and retaining their best talent!

By Greg Scileppi 22 June 2018

Small businesses form the backbone of the economy. In Europe, 23 million SMBs generate €3.9 trillion in revenue and employ 90 million people.

They often embody some of the most inspiring things about being in business: they serve local needs, drive innovation and are an important source of employment in the private sector.

SMBs can also serve as a template for larger companies looking to increase their employees’ happiness levels and reap the subsequent benefits.

We recently conducted research which showed that the happiest employees work at smaller companies with fewer than 250 employees. In sharp contrast, the least happy workers are at organisations with more than 1,000 employees.

So, what can large firms learn from SMBs about building a happy workplace?

Offering freedom

Smaller businesses have much shorter communication channels than more complex larger organisations. With less bureaucracy and fewer layers there is also more opportunity for employees to operate with a sense of autonomy. For this reason, managerial staff in small businesses tend to offer informal mentorship by providing guidance and frameworks rather than hard and fast rules on activity.

When companies offer guidance without restriction, employees are able to accomplish work how best they see fit. Simple things, such as assuming new responsibilities or trialling a different direction or new approach, make employees feel empowered and grow their confidence and potential. [

Demonstrating influence

The nature of SMBs means every individual contribution has the potential to make an immediate and noticeable difference. Smaller businesses are relying on employees to put forward new ideas, and inspire others to drive growth.

Organisations with management teams that clearly communicate the bigger picture around employee worth and influence, will instil a sense of pride not easily derailed. As such, a new found sense of self-worth will drive employee motivation.

Showing appreciation

Employees have an intrinsic desire to feel appreciated for their hard work and dedication to a company.

Smaller companies tend to be better at acknowledging individual employee’s accomplishments and personal investment in delivering success, which is important in ensuring workers feel valued.

Pride in their organisation

Working for an SMB allows employees to feel like they are contributing to the overall goal of the company, especially when they accomplish something that supports the success of the business and makes them feel good about the company they are working for. By creating a sense of alignment between organisational and employee vision and values businesses can ensure employees benefit from a sense of belonging and pride.

Large firms may be convinced that the comfort of a large corporation with its employee benefits and big budgets breeds happiness at work but it is, in fact, the complete opposite. The happiest employees are found in companies with fewer than 10 people. According to our report, IT’S TIME WE ALL WORK HAPPY: The secrets of the happiest companies and employees, more than two-thirds of employees at organisations with fewer than 10 people say that their work is appropriately recognised and feel appreciated.

Small businesses are winning and clearly doing much of the above right. In a small environment it is easy to witness big wins and know how impactful your contribution has been. This fosters a sense of pride, responsibility and ownership, all of which lead to empowered staff. As a result, employees of small businesses feel a sense of inclusion that is often lost in scaled up environment.

Big companies must take note as senior teams have a duty to be more attentive, and actively listen, when engaging with employees.

Like SMBs, once big companies begin to act-like start-ups, by dedicating more time to improving internal relationships between management and executives, they will see a significant change in how their employees accomplish and influence every day.

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