Eight employee retention strategies for small business owners

July 10, 2023 | 5 minute read

Maximizing employee retention is one of the best ways to make sure your small business thrives. Unfortunately, staying fully staffed can be challenging in today’s business environment. According to Bank of America’s 2023 Small Business Owner Report, 52% of small businesses say labor shortages are currently impacting their businesses. Of those feeling the brunt, one in five have even lost customers as a result.


What is employee retention?

Employee retention refers to the strategies and processes you can use to hold on to your workers and minimize turnover. Many businesses strive to retain employees by creating a positive workplace culture, promoting engagement, expressing appreciation to employees for their contributions, making sure their pay and benefits are competitive, and promoting a healthy work-life balance.


Why is it important for small businesses to retain their employees?

Retaining employees can help you avoid the disruptions that come when they leave and you must find replacements. You also don’t incur onboarding and training costs if your existing staff stays in place. Replacing employees costs one half to two times their annual salary, meaning that if someone earns $50,000, the cost of replacing that employee is $25,000 to $100,000, according to Gallup.1


Other benefits of employee retention for small business owners include:


  • Higher productivity. When employees leave, it can take a while for their replacements to match their output.
  • Better morale. Staying fully staffed can help you avoid putting pressure on your existing team, which can lead to burnout.
  • A more consistent customer experience. If you’re working with a skeleton crew, customer service and satisfaction may deteriorate.
  • A vibrant culture. Many employees enjoy coming to work because they’ve become friends with their teammates — and if these friends leave, work may be less inviting to them.
  • Better profitability. Thanks to the higher productivity and lower hiring expenses that come with a stable team, many small business owners find that higher retention rates protect profits.


Common reasons employees leave their jobs

Retaining employees starts with being sensitive to their concerns and responding to them before you find yourself in an exit interview. Here are some common reasons employees quit:


  • Compensation/benefits. Low pay was one of the top reasons workers leave their jobs, according to a Pew Research Center survey,2 with 63% of workers who quit a job citing this reason.
  • Lack of opportunities for advancement. In addition, 63% of workers who quit their jobs did so because they felt it was not possible to get ahead at their current job, the Pew Research Center found.
  • Bad managers. A recent Gallup study3 found that the biggest source of burnout was unfair treatment at work, and that the manager’s effect on a workplace was significant in this regard.
  • Not enough flexibility. According to the Pew survey, 45% of employees cited an inability to choose their work schedule as a reason for departure.
  • Overwork. Being overloaded is the top cause of work-related stress, according to one recent poll,4 and can be a big motivation for quitting.
  • Lack of recognition. This can contribute to burnout in many employees, according to a recent survey.5


Eight approaches to improving employee retention

1. A thoughtful, intentional onboarding process

Don’t cut corners when it comes to onboarding new hires. Your process for welcoming and acculturating newbies will set the tone for their experience afterward.


2. Promotions and professional development

Promoting from within shows employees that there are advancement opportunities at the company. Discussing their career goals during regular feedback sessions and providing access to professional development opportunities and coaching can improve not only productivity but also loyalty.


3. Competitive pay and perks

Evaluate pay regularly to make sure you’re offering competitive compensation or other incentives, like bonuses or revenue sharing. You can also offer valued perks, such as remote work options.


4. Public recognition

Being acknowledged for their contributions is a top priority for employees. Regularly showing appreciation of their hard work, whether with a casual comment in a meeting or a formal “employee of the month” award, sends the message that hard work is appreciated.


5. Work-life balance and flexibility

Many employees seek a healthy work-life balance and want managers to respect their lives outside of work. That means making sure there are boundaries to the workday while also offering flexible work schedules.


6. Constant communication and continuous feedback

Employees will have a greater sense of purpose if you keep them in the loop on the business’s key goals and initiatives and how they can play a part. Making time for one-on-one meetings where you discuss short- and long-term goals and provide feedback can deepen your relationship with your team.


7. Diversity, equity and inclusion

Employees that feel accepted and valued as individuals report higher levels of work satisfaction and engagement. Key ways to create an inclusive environment include promoting pay equity, providing career development, acknowledging cultural holidays, and encouraging open communication.


8. Teamwork

Encourage collaboration among your employees and introduce regular team-building activities.


How to calculate your employee retention rate

There’s a simple way you can measure your company’s retention rate for a given period, such as quarterly or annually.


  1. Divide the number of employees who have stayed by the number who were employed at a given time. For instance, let’s say you have 40 employees on January 1. Five team members leave by the end of the first quarter, and 35 have stayed. If you divide 35 by 40 you get 0.875.
  2. Multiply that by 100 and you get an 87.5% retention rate for that quarter.


Trade publications in your industry can give you a sense of what the average retention rate in your industry is, so you know if there’s room for improvement.


Title: How to calculate your employee retention rate. Text: There’s a simple way you can measure your company’s retention rate for a given time period, such as quarterly or annually. Company’s retention rate equals number of employees who have stayed divided by number of employees who were employed multiplied by a hundred.

Bottom line

Retaining the great people on your team takes time and effort, but it is critical to your profits and workplace culture. The good news is that if you make a concerted effort, you won’t have to worry about losing key people when you need them most.

1. Gallup, “The ‘Great Resignation’ is Really the ‘Great Discontent,’” July 22, 2021.

2. Pew Research Center, “Majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 cite low pay, no opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected,” March 9, 2022.

3. Gallup, “State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report,” 2022

4. JobSage, “Survey: More Than 1 in 4 Have Quit a Job Because of Their Mental Health,” April 1, 2022.

5. SimpleTexting, “An Overview of Employee Burnout Statistics & Quit Rates in the U.S.,” May 13, 2022.

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