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Why small businesses lose employees in tough economic times

Your top performers matter the most when the chips are down, writes Kay Vittee


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While South Africa’s economy is sitting at a zero percent growth, businesses too have been feeling the brunt, facing financial duress, stagnating growth and a most disconcerting trend: high staff turnover. 

Small businesses battle the war for survival in the market, they still overlook the war for top talent. A factor which has led to most businesses collapsing, and succumbing to competition.

Although it has not been easy for both employers and employees as country has been confronted with the largest volume of protests seen in its history, including: university protests, food prices skyrocketing, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) succumbing to its lowest, the petrol price at its peak, and recently Brexit, the local economy is likely to face an all-time low. 

It is within this context that managing staff is becoming increasingly challenging for local businesses. Not only are they faced with the reality of having to retain talent, but at the same time need to strive to remain competitive within the market place. 

Retaining staff during tough economic times does not have to be a challenge for businesses. In fact, this should be a critical focal point in the business’ daily operations – although many businesses tend to overlook this competitive differentiator during tough times.

"Implementing staff incentive programmes and offering employee benefits not only increases morale but also promotes retention"

During trying economic times with high unemployment rates, business owners often assume that employees will remain loyal to the organisation and not consider moving on to greener pastures. 

However, this assumption could potentially prove detrimental to organisational success. Usually when people feel trapped in their jobs, or feel like they have little to no prospects for better opportunities outside of their present situation, productivity is drastically and negatively impacted. 

The cost of recruiting new staff and the amount of resources invested in training them is just as important as investing time and effort into staff retention initiatives, and businesses that overlook these initiatives, do so at their own peril. 

Below tips on how to retain staff in tough business times:

  • Identify top talent and consistently high performers, should you be required to cut jobs. This will effectively ensure you retain the right staff.  
  • Keep communication consistent and open, and hold regular staff meetings to ensure that staff remain informed, motivated and involved. 
  • It is important for employees to be part of the organisational decision-making process. This will give them a greater sense of control and empower them to make informed work and life decisions. 
  • Always be open to development opportunities and encourage and maintain a culture of self-development. Be aware of, acknowledge and effectively manage daily frustrations and anxieties in the work place. 
  • Implementing staff incentive programmes and offering employee benefits not only increases morale but also promotes retention.
  • Keep abreast of individual goals and achievements and encourage or reward these when necessary.  
  • Share and encourage staff to live the organisation’s vision and mission. The vision and mission should be reflected in every aspect of organisational culture.

About the author: Kay Vittee is the CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions (Pty) Ltd one of South Africa’s leading staffing solutions provider. She’s a business woman holding a Masters in Business Administration, a B.Com (Banking and Economics) and various other financial and marketing qualifications. Kay’s business acumen and success have made her a sought after speaker and thought leader.

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