Investing in Your Employees: Startup Edition

The numbers don't lie. According to a recent Gallup poll, a whopping 85% of the general public does not like their job. This combination of those who are simply not engaged and those who are actively disengaged should be an eye-opener to you as the leader of a startup.

How do you keep your people from falling on the wrong side of this statistic? Following the guidelines, you can encourage autonomy and self-directed productivity and develop a fully engaged workforce of happy, healthy employees.

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Access and adaptability - two hallmarks of great startup culture

Make sure your people have access to the decision-making process from day one. This encourages them to engage with leadership and develop new ideas since they know they'll be listened to. This, in turn, leads to more employee investment in the company, the product, and by extension, the customers.

Adaptability means you take seriously the suggestions and input your people are offering. It also means you're willing and able to pivot when the evidence points to the need for a course correction. Regarding employee morale, this flexibility shows them you're listening, supporting their autonomy, and not so full of yourself that you can't admit when a change is needed.

These are easy investments since they won't cost you anything besides your time and attention. By monitoring your behavior, you impact employee morale and increase their sense of well-being at work.

Invest in their overall well-beingit will pay dividends

Yes, this point means the standard things like having an onsite gym or providing healthy snacks in the break room, but there's more to well-being that needs to be considered. First, you need to understand that turnover is one of the quickest ways to demoralize a workforce, not to mention one of the most expensive drains on a startup.

You know the situation, you hire a batch of developers, train them, and set them loose. Then in two months, a couple of them leave. And in six months, several more jump ship. What's going on? They've found a company that better understands their needs, and they've voted with their feet.

Overall well-being also needs to encompass things like the mental health of your people. Maybe you can offer something like monthly visits by a wellness coach who can work with folks to develop good work-life balance practices. Or even something seemingly simple as removing the onsite dry cleaning to show that you don't expect them to live at the office.

Don't tell them what to do

This may sound counterintuitive. After all, you are the boss. Try asking better questions instead. This extremely powerful tool is borrowed from the coaching realm, and the coaches, in turn, got it from psychology. It shows that people are far more likely to stay engaged when the motivation for their actions comes from within themselves rather than from an external source (like an angry boss, for example).

When you ask powerful questions, your people will realize they know the answers. From there, they will understand that when it comes to doing their jobs, they can take the reins and build the widget or write the softwareto your specsusing their plans.

Without having to be told.

And the best part is they'll do this without further prompting from you—all that from the simple idea of asking the right questions. Slow down and ask yourself how much this could benefit your business now.

Empower your people

This one's big, so big it probably calls for a separate post at a later date. Today, we want to zero in on career empowerment in the startup setting. This begins with the ability mentioned above to ask the right questions. More importantly, this involves shutting up and listening to the answers. 

By asking your people where they see their careers taking them, then NOT offering suggestions but staying quiet to listen to their answers, they will feel empowered to explore the routes they see available in their current setting within your startup. And the sense of empowerment your questions foster is the primary reason they'll want to stay on the team.

The obvious side effect of this process is lower turnover. Since your people feel good about you and the company and are happily exploring ways to expand their skill set right there, they won't get the itch to look elsewhere. And lower turnover is good for morale, productivity, and the bottom line.

An extension of this tenet is to risk sounding trite by paraphrasing Gandhi, "Be the employee you want to see in your company." As we've already covered, simply telling others what you want them to do is not motivating. Telling them to do something, then letting them see you do something else entirely, is not only not motivating but also downright disheartening. Not to mention a quick way to see your turnover numbers spike.

What IS motivating and heartening is seeing the boss doing precisely what they're being asked to do. Whether this means seeing you come in late one day because you had an event at your kid's school or working out in the gym another day, this proves that not only are you one of them, but you understand their lives. You show everybody that you're in the same situation, trying to balance work and home life. That you have that same 10 pounds you'd dearly love to drop. Or that you, too, need that vacation when the time comes.

What all this boils down to is building your employer brand from the inside

You'll also gain an army of brand ambassadors by creating happy, healthy employees. These happy people will talk you and your company up with their friends, possibly encouraging them to seek employment with you (further cutting costs by eliminating the need for recruitment outreach).

Follow these tips for investing in your employees, and before you know it, attrition will fall, morale will jump, and you'll have a workforce that's super engaged with your business with people who love their jobs. All that with minimal financial input or risk. And what better return on investment could a young startup ask for?

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Jesse hails from Seattle, WA. When he's not creating great content or staring at his laptop screen waiting for inspiration, he's probably walking in the trees somewhere in the foothills of the nearby Cascade Mountains.

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