In the world of work, there is nothing more disheartening than losing a great employee. While you may be able to graciously say “She found a great opportunity” or “I knew I wouldn’t have him long” – the truth is, you wish none of that were true. Having great employees is a big factor in what makes companies of all sizes able to be great. So if you have had the good fortune of hiring one of those “great ones”, how do you ensure that you keep him/her as long as possible?


Fair pay is the minimum requirement for keeping good staff. This, of course, is a challenge for a small business. In order to pay a fair hourly amount, you may need to start with very part-time staff, increasing to half time, ¾ time, etc. Keeping a higher caliber staff will probably require that your pay be at least in line with popular, stable retailers in your area. Otherwise, you will lose a good employee to someone who can simply pay him or her more.

Offer as many benefits as you can – even to your part-time staff. A “benefit” can be something like a 15% discount on purchases from the business or flexible scheduling to some degree or an occasional “early quit” on a beautiful day without financial penalty. You can be creative with benefits. And if you tailor your benefits to fit the needs and interests of your specific employees, they will definitely consider what you have offered a true “benefit” – perhaps worth more than money…and, perhaps, worth staying for.


Good workspace and equipment are close seconds to fair pay and benefits. Again, this is not always easy for a small business. But you might be amazed at how the small “creature comforts” – like an extra pair of scissors or a desktop keyboard tray or a spool rack for the ribbon – will make the job seem so much better. When you are asking someone to work hard, you need to make it as easy as possible for him/her to meet your expectations. Equipment or space problems quickly become frustrating when one deals with them all day long. If your employee is worth keeping, be sure he/she has what is needed to do the work. Not investing in equipment is experienced by the employees as not investing in them. And no one will work very long for someone who doesn’t value him/her enough to make that investment.


It is amazing how infrequently the people we work for ask us this question. And I have yet to meet an employee who didn’t appreciate being asked! “How are you doing” should be asked at two levels – professional and personal.

On the professional level, you want to check in with your staff regularly to see if things are going well for them on the job. Even if you are quite small and working elbow-to-elbow much of the day, you may not really know what your employees are thinking about their work, their achievements day to day, or their challenges. You need to know these things because if there is anything you can do to respond in praise, reassurance or in removing barriers, your good employees will be very appreciative of your efforts. Again, this is a way for you to communicate to your staff that you value them and want them to stay around.

On the personal level, employees appreciate being known. You don’t have to become their “after work friend” or their confidant – but most people who are interested in working in your industry are going to want to be known as people. Knowing the significant things going on in their lives and checking in occasionally will make a difference. The time of long-term loyalty to employers is gone. But there will never be a time when the genuine interest of another person isn’t important and loyalty building in most of us.


You may not own a company large enough to have a corporate ladder to climb. But you need to provide your employees with opportunities to develop themselves professionally, nonetheless. There are several ways to offer development opportunities to staff.

The obvious first way is cross training. If you have basket designers who know nothing about shipping or nothing about ordering inventory, these are things they can be trained to do. You may not want them to do these things on a regular basis and they may not be interested in doing them on a regular basis, but learning something new can be a way to invigorate an employee. The key, of course, is not that you simply say “Would you like to do shipping today?” but rather that you offer to teach the employee about shipping, show them how it is done, discuss with them the issues you face or have faced and how you solved them. As you well know, the things in your industry can be more complex than meets the eye. And giving your staff a fuller training in any area will help them grow professionally and appreciate how important other functions are in your business.

Another professional development route, of course, is outside training. As a bonus, most staff also think of outside training as a “perk” – they get a day away from the shop, with pay, and a chance to increase their skills. Customer service training is always a good place to start. Your local community college or Chamber of Commerce may offer a one day class and these classes are not generally expensive. Look around for opportunities. Of course, an educational conference like Basket Connection is a real treat for staff. This involves a more significant financial commitment on your part but in terms of retention it will likely pay off.

A third development option is one that can be very effective if well done. This option is to increase staff responsibility. If your bookkeeper is doing a good job with payables and receivables, ask if she would like to become involved with you in creating monthly budget reports. If your designers are interested, give them the opportunity to order product or at least to go with you to a gift mart to help choose product. Of course, giving someone more responsibility should not feel like a “dump” if you are trying to offer it as an incentive. Additional responsibility should come with training, support and a lot of appreciation and praise. Your best and brightest staff genuinely like additional responsibility when it is given to them as a compliment and an incentive to stay with the company.


Nothing has more impact on employee retention than having employees participate in the decision-making and forward thinking of the company. This increases an employees sense of “ownership”. This is especially true about any decision or planning that impact the employee’s day-to-day responsibilities. You may think you know best how to address a problem, but if your staff interface with this problem on a daily basis, they are likely to be able to enhance whatever you are thinking. And even if they simply confirm your thoughts, they will feel valued and important for being asked for their opinions.

In addition, you should ask your employees regularly if there is anything that would make their jobs easier. Sometimes staff involved in a task know that they are taking 8 steps to do something that could take only 4 if the task were restructured. But for reasons that are hard to understand, some staff won’t simply tell you this. You need to ask. And if you ask, of course, you have to be willing to take the suggestions seriously. This doesn’t mean that you have to do everything suggested. But you do need to have an open mind when you ask for input.

As the fourth quarter approaches, or any large holiday or large order, let the folks who help you do the work talk with you about how to plan it and get it done as effectively as possible. Your good staff will have ideas and they will respond very positively to your willingness to hear their voices.


One of the most powerful retention tools is so obvious that most employers never think to utilize it. Simply ask your best employees directly “What do I need to do to keep you another year?” My boss asked me this every year during my annual performance evaluation. Although I rarely had an answer because I was very happy on the job, it meant a tremendous amount to me that he always asked. Of course, you don’t have to approach the question during an evaluation time. You can ask it anytime you are feeling the kind appreciation that makes you silently think, “I’m so glad she’s here!”


A braver, but equally important, question to ask your best employees is “How am doing?” That is, “how are things going between you and me, is there anything you wish I would do differently, are you getting from me the things that you need, and do you have any suggestions for things I should work to improve in the way I lead the business?” Asking for this kind of feedback takes a lot of courage. And listening without making excuses is absolutely essential if the staff have the equal courage required to actually give you honest feedback! The way this is connected to retention, of course, is that if you are doing anything that makes your best staff inclined to think about going elsewhere, you really need to know that and change your behavior. This is a tough, but essential, retention tool.


Of course, as in all of life, there are no guarantees. But a good, intentional effort on your part to value your best staff and communicate in a myriad of ways that you want them to stay can make all the difference. Good human resource management isn’t rocket science. But it takes wisdom to know that working hard to keep your best staff is the best thing you can be doing with your time.

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