How to Keep Good Employees in Bad Times

Struggling small businesses have to contend with more than lost sales. They have to prevent employees from heading out the door. While self-preservation is the name of the game for most workers, there are things small business owners can do to prevent a mass exodus.

“The goal is to make employees feel loyal to the company,” says Alyssa Gregory,’s Guide to Small Business Information. “The more valued the employees feel the more they feel like making a positive impact.”

Don’t give just one or two employees keys to the entire castle, but instead spread duties out among all the workers.

“To have that key kind of person walk out the door can be very damaging,” says Jeanne Yocum, founder of the blog Succeeding in Small Business. “It can take a small business longer to recover from that loss.” If your business has one of those indispensable employees, Yocum says do what is feasibly possible to make them stay.

According to small business experts, the best course of action when your business is struggling is to be open as possible about the situation with employees. By making employees a big part of finding a solution, it not only breeds loyalty but good ideas about how to fix the problem. After all the employees are the ones dealing with customers day in and day out and often are the ones that have the best solutions. Yocum says it’s a smart idea to embrace an open book policy where the employees have access to the company’s financial books.

“Many companies, not just small businesses, use that as a standard practice so people really know what’s going on and are motivated to come up with ideas to help find a solution,” says Yocum.

While it pays to be upfront with employees, you also have to be careful how you convey the situation. You don’t want to frighten them into leaving with offhanded comments about the struggling business.  Anita Campbell, Chief Executive of Small Business Trends, says to be clear about the situation but not spread too much doom and gloom.  “If you are just offhand about having a bad year they will read into a lot more than you intended,” says Campbell.

Since small businesses are on a tight budget -- and even more so when the business is struggling -- throwing more money at an employee to make them stay probably isn’t an option. But the business owner can offer them perks like flex time, the ability to work at home and even spot awards for a job well done. Simply saying thank you and making the employee feel valued will go a long way in making them stay come crunch time.

“The biggest thing is having your employees feel like they are invaluable to your business and are more than just a cog in the wheel,” says Gregory. “When they feel like they are valued it makes a big difference.”

Unlike in a large company where the CEO has little interaction with many of the employees, small business owners usually interact with their employees on a daily basis – which can be good for business.

After all, if the employees actually like who they work for they may be less inclined to jump ship when the going gets tough.

“Recent surveys and studies show that working conditions and the relationship between managers and the staff are factors in why employees stay,” says Campbell.