Recruit and retain top talent on a bootstrap budget

If you’re a start-up or small business, how can you put together an attractive employee package to appeal to top talent – graduate and experienced? 

Businesses are increasingly finding they have to do more with less, and we all know that recruiting the best talent is hard at the best of times, and even harder when you haven’t got a big budget to throw at the problem.

However, remember talent isn’t just looking for money – there are plenty of other things you can put on that job description other than the dreaded ‘competitive salary’. Retaining talent is extremely valuable, and arguably, a harder thing to achieve – with smaller budgets, it can be a huge challenge. Here’s some top tips to get you started on building a business talent will want to join and love to stay at.

When you are an employer it’s easy to forget about the costs your employees bear for coming into work. Our annual research shows the cost of having a job takes 16% of the average workers income – and that this is rising – up 20% since 2013. The biggest cost, we found, was commuting, followed by childcare and then food and drink.

Help your employees get a little bit more out of life
With commuting costing on average £1,087 per year, are you able to launch a flexible working policy or enable employees to work one day a week at home? Make sure the business is covered e.g. the office isn’t completely empty on Fridays for example, and ensure employees know they can’t use their days to multitask looking after children and working – but give them flexibility so they can be on-hand to pick up from school or swimming, go to a midday yoga class or take the dog for an afternoon walk. One day not having to face the daily commute can give employees a change of scene, a chance to concentrate without the distractions of the office and give them back the time they would usually spend travelling that day.

This can also save your business money in terms of not needing as many desks each day, reducing your overheads. If you are looking to expand but don’t have quite the space, switching to a hotdesking policy could provide a win/win situation.

Trust your employee
As well as working from home, enable your people to have control over their working day. Don’t clock them in and out unless your business really requires it: yes, a receptionist does need to be there when they say they will be, but no later. A back office worker can come in late and make up the time – or even better – shift to focusing on task completion, not hours worked. You could even help alleviate travel costs by allowing some people to travel off peak – start earlier and finish earlier, or start later to finish later.

Don’t be stingy with paid time off
Offer generous holiday across the ranks. There’s very little point being stingy with paid time off: you employees will be as productive, if not more so, on 30 days as they will on 22 and will still get the job done (if they are the top talent you are hiring for).

You can also consider offering life event leave – so if someone becomes a grandparent, for example, you can either gift them some leave, or even get creative and allow them to share maternity or paternity leave with the parents. This is a way to walk the talk when it comes to being family friendly.

Partner with other local businesses and be creative with benefits. You could negotiate with a local gym to offer free or great value gym memberships, for example.

You can also offer discounts, cashback and other deals to your employees for little to no cost with solutions like Lifeworks – which also provides an employee directory and recognition based on peer recommendations.

Nourish your employees – body and soul
Allow learning and development – give each person a small budget to spend or invest in a training course for the whole team on something they can all use, like presenting, working styles, strengths or leadership skills.

Put in shower facilities to encourage your employees to commute in a more active way. They will be more productive, less stressed and fitter as a result.

Put a toaster and kettle in a shared area and supply nutritious snacks and essentials like fruit, bread for toasting and spreads. No need to leave the office for a quick bite, saving them money on snacks – and this small investment can pay dividends in culture and cohesion among staff.


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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK