The employment challenge for start-ups and small business

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The other evening I was speaking to a woman who ran three toy shops in different shopping centres but threw in the towel and closed all her shops because of labour problems.

As attitudes and mindsets changed in the external environment, she said that even staff who had been with her for many years just didn’t work as hard as they used to in the past. For example, when deliveries needed to be made on Friday afternoons they wouldn’t be keen to do them, saying that the work could be done on Monday. This presented a problem for her because she could not stock her stalls with specials for weekend customers.

Another woman business owner recounted her experience with training up semiskilled staff for a landscaping business. She also eventually closed or business because she would train up the semiskilled staff only to find that they would leave after six months, required constant supervision and were unreliable, not rocking up for work. All of this jeopardised work contracts with with homeowners and businesses.

It’s difficult to know exactly the perspective of the staff who look for jobs with small businesses but the common complaints are that the work is hard, the hours are long and the rewards are just not there. Small business owners have difficulties in providing employees with the same working environment as those in big companies. Staff working for small businesses often see their jobs as merely stepping stones to something better elsewhere.

When you look at labour from the government’s perspective, then the protection of workers’ interests is paramount. They have seen so much exploitation of workers that they place sometimes onerous conditions on employment. Bashing business also gets votes.

Yet there are many small businesses who attract and keep employees and have worked out a way to ensure that they get the best from their employees. Some small businesses I know have kept their staff for many years. When you speak to their staff you will year that they are happy where they work because of their fair treatment and that they share in the rewards of the business.

What then should small start-up or existing businesses which want to grow or expand do when it comes to hiring their first employee or additional employees?

Apart from the normal requirements of legislation, where possible it would make sense for you to get the assistance of someone who has previously worked in the recruitment and selection business. Many people who previously worked in human resources management are available as consultants.

If you’re going to do the recruiting and selection yourself, you’d need to make sure that you have a clear and definite job description, reference checking and a set of questions that you can apply to all the candidates to help you manage the process.

One big service that start-ups and small businesses can do for their local communities is to hire locally. Many of the larger businesses hire staff from outside the community and give scant attention to developing local people. Small businesses can give a leg up to graduates and school leavers who need to get their first toe in the door and have something reasonably substantial for their CVs. Though many will say it doesn’t matter who you employ, local people still put a value on patronising small businesses that support the local community with employment.

The challenge for the small business with hiring young people is to offer growth opportunities and good prospects otherwise you will lose the benefit of training them and keeping them in your business. But young people also want a variety of experience and you need to anticipate this.

Even though attitudes towards work may have changed, the optimistic business owner spends time with employees to get to know them and their aspirations, probe gently for any problems and try to motivate and reward in the long-term interests of your business.

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