Traits of a Great Employer

Steve Strauss answers the question "What does it take to be a great employer? "

Great Employer imageWhat does it take to be a great employer? Not a good or fine one, but I mean a really great employer?

How does on-site childcare, summer camp for kids, a beauty salon, car cleaning, and a 66,000 square foot gym sound? That’s what you would get if you worked at the software company SAS. And, while amazing perks like that are nice, the real thing SAS offers, and one of the lessons we small business people can take from the annual Fortune list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, is that as a result of these sorts of great perks, people there feel “regarded — seen, attended to and cared for.”

I am wont to tell my small business brothers and sisters that we do not need to reinvent the wheel; there are all sorts of excellent ideas out there that we can cherry-pick to make our businesses better. Figuring out how to be a great employer is one of them.

Here’s how to know if you are a great employer too (or how to become one if you are not):

You feed the whole person: The companies on the Fortune list have many things in common, and one of the ones that really jumped out is that they understand that there is more to the people who work there than work. Your employees have interests and desires that extend far beyond doing a good job for you, and if you can tap into that, they will actually do an even better job for you.

Example: At the Boston Consulting Group, employees are able to work on a variety of social projects that feed their soul. Not only is there a Social Impact Practice initiative at BCG, but the company actually pulled employees from client projects to go to Haiti to provide post-earthquake support.

Unexpected freebies: Google is famously a great place to work, and one reason is that it gives employees things like free food in the cafeteria, a climbing wall and even free laundry. Now, of course most small businesses cannot afford to do anything remotely similar, right?

Or can they?

I bet that there are many different things that you can offer your employees for free if you really think about it. What about having a massage therapist come in for an hour and give everyone 15 minute neck rubs? That may run you $100. How about giving your folks a $10 Starbucks card for no reason? It’s the culture of generosity that is as important as the free perk itself. It engenders loyalty.

Make your office kid-friendly and/or pet-friendly: Here is an easy, affordable policy that you can institute that will definitely kick things up a notch. Many of the businesses on the Fortune list make being a family-friendly company a priority. There are many of these businesses that offer on-site child care and generous family leave polices.

Again, this is an easy thing to copy. Maybe you are afraid that if you open your office up to pets or kids, people will take advantage of it, but I bet the opposite would be true. They would use it when necessary and appreciate that work is about work at a great company like yours. One small business I know lets employees bring in their dogs on Fridays. People love that.

Create a creative, fun culture: Whenever I see profiles of Internet companies, I am always struck but what a fun place to work these companies are. I mean, who wouldn’t want to ride a scooter to a meeting? Aside from catering to the young workers who they employ, I bet these companies also realize that such a culture spurs creativity and makes the long hours more tolerable.

I have noticed a trend recently of small businesses picking up on this idea. It costs little but adds much to put an Xbox in the break room or a basketball hoop in the parking lot.

Don’t pigeonhole people: At the DreamWorks SKG studios, any employee can pitch an idea for a movie to the bosses. In fact, the company encourages it and offers a “Life’s a Pitch” workshop to teach them how best to do it.

Opening up your office to suggestions from employees is just so smart. They are the ones who are on the frontlines, dealing with customers. Having a contest for the best employee suggestion makes people feel wanted and appreciated and also will undoubtedly make your business better.

Bottom line: Almost any of the benefits listed here can be adapted to a small business. Try some that fit your business and see if everyone doesn’t benefit as a result.

Today’s Tip: Maybe my favorite policy I found on the Fortune list came from an investment firm called Robert W. Baird & Co designed to keep bad employees from sticking around. Baird has a “No [Jerks] Rule.”

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About the Author

Steve Strauss HeadshotSteven D. Strauss is a lawyer and writer and is one of the country's leading experts on small business as well as an international business speaker. The best-selling author of 17 books, his latest is the all-new 3rd ed. of The Small Business Bible. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success Powered by Greatland, visit his new website for the self-employed, TheSelfEmployed, follow him on Twitter, and "like" TheSelfEmployed on Facebook. You can e-mail Steve at: sstrauss@mrallbiz.com. © Steven D. Strauss