As employee demands change, small businesses can stand out

career shift

For so long, small businesses and start-ups struggled to compete with the financial might of their larger competitors. Hiring and retaining staff who were being offered more money and flashier perks for the same job at a bigger business was a constant challenge. Today, change is happening. The ‘Great Resignation’ has been less pronounced than in other countries, but the impact is still being felt across Australia, with data showing that 300,000 Aussies resigned from their job in November 2021, a 32 per cent increase compared to February 2020.

Since the onset of the pandemic two years ago, Australia’s workforce has spent time reflecting on what is important. For many, money is no longer the be-all and end-all. Today, people care more about time and autonomy, company culture and values. According to global research, nine in ten workers want control over how and when they work, while LifeWorks Mental Health Index found that 60 per cent of working Australians say flexible work is more important to them than career progression. This shift has the potential to level the playing field for smaller businesses in attracting and retaining talent.

Time is money

The pandemic has been a wake-up call for employees, many of whom realise that they can choose when, where and how they work. Rarely, if ever, have employees had greater say over their careers than they do today. That means that businesses that fail to identify what employees really want will struggle to attract and retain them.

The data shows that many Australians would be willing to forgo a few extra dollars in their paycheck if they had greater control to work from home and split their hours around family commitments or personal passions, rather than working 9-5 from head office. After all, work is something we do rather than somewhere we go, and employers should trust their employees to balance their personal and professional lives.

By offering greater say to employees in how and when they work, you’ll create a more motivated team and a more appealing culture. For small businesses and start-ups, this fundamental shift is good. Small businesses are agile and adaptable, and changes can be fast-tracked and streamlined. With this shift, small businesses can hire people who genuinely want to be part of what you’re doing as part of your larger mission.

Power to the people

At SevenRooms, we recently introduced our “Fresh Start” policy, where every new employee spends their first two weeks of employment as paid leave. We want people to be able to take the time they need to rest and recharge before embarking on a new journey with us. But it’s about more than those two weeks’ leave; it’s about proving from day one that their time is meaningful to us.

This policy might not be something every small business can replicate, but it doesn’t have to be about this one policy. Today there is no rule book on employee empowerment. Whatever your small business does, identify how you can make working for it more meaningful than a simple financial transaction. Where feasible, give them autonomy over how, when and where they work, and demonstrate how valuable they are to you.

The pandemic has had a profound and irreversible impact on the workforce and the way we work. While such significant change can be daunting for small businesses, when it comes to your employee value proposition, treat it as an opportunity to prioritise meaningful, flexible and autonomous relationships. You might never compete in the same arena with bigger competitors to attract talent, but when it comes to what people want today – and what your small business can offer – you might never have to.