As a small business owner or manager, you’re probably used to asking whether your customers are happy — but what about your employees?

The past couple of years has put unsavory working conditions under a spotlight, with millions of workers pushing for better pay, better benefits, and a better work-life balance. And in 2021, hailed as the year of the Great Resignation, 24 million people quit their jobs between April and November alone (compared to the 36.3 million people who quit their job in all of 2020).

Unhappy employees are a particularly big problem for small businesses since it’s a lot harder to hire and train new people when you’re not working with extensive resources. It’s also true that the less happy your employees are, the less invested they are in seeing your business succeed — meaning reduced morale and productivity, among other things.

What can you do? We’re sharing some helpful tips for identifying unhappy employees and — even more importantly — turning things around to create a positive work environment that puts the well-being of your staff first for the betterment of your business. Here’s what to know. 

Why Are So Many Employees Unhappy Right Now?

The stats don’t lie: people are quitting their jobs at an alarming rate, and it’s leaving many businesses in the lurch as they struggle to fill empty positions while keeping their operations up and running.

There are a number of reasons why so many people are calling it quits. The big one, of course, is low pay coupled with high expectations, which, if you care enough to be here reading this, you’re hopefully not guilty of yourself. There’s also the fact that the pandemic opened up the doors to remote work for a huge chunk of the workforce, and many people are reluctant (if not outright unwilling) to return to how things were before.

There is a myriad of other reasons why an employee might be unhappy enough to leave. What many of them boil down to is a workforce that’s aware that things could be better and that isn’t interested in settling for less — even if that means throwing in the towel and quitting.

The Effect of Unhappy Employees on Small Businesses

We hear a lot about people quitting in droves at large-scale establishments like fast food restaurants and retail stores, but it’s not just big business that’s taking a hit. Small businesses are also losing employees to the Great Resignation, and it can put a serious strain on operations and finances. Hiring, employee onboarding, training, and onboarding new employees is a costly endeavor, particularly when you have to manage with a reduced staff in the meantime. Not to mention that finding qualified talent can be time- and effort-intensive and difficult to juggle when you’ve already got so many balls in the air.

It’s important to remember, though, that no one owes you their labor. It’s your job as a small business owner or manager to prioritize employee happiness and keep an eye on office morale. And if you’re not doing that, it shouldn’t be a surprise when employees express dissatisfaction.

How to Track (and Improve) Employee Happiness

You do performance checks, so why not happiness checks? Use anonymous surveys to gauge employee satisfaction, being sure to ask what’s working, what’s not, and what people want that they aren’t receiving. From there, make targeted decisions about what can be done to improve overall happiness and show your employees the respect and appreciation they deserve.

Every company is different, so it’s important that you customize your solutions to the needs and wants of your employees. And while you’re at it, there are a couple of things that any company can (and should) be doing to boost morale and satisfaction:

  • Look at employee pay and benefits. You want people on your team who love your business as you do, but love won’t pay the bills. Are you paying your employees enough? Are you offering them appropriate benefits? Look into the salary you offer compared against the national average for your industry and location, and make sure that you’re paying enough to warrant employee loyalty.  
  • Check on what other companies are doing. Research companies with happy employees and look for tips and takeaways that you can put to use for your own business. At Bumble, for example, employees were given a one-week mental health break to encourage them to step away from work and enjoy their lives. And at Squarespace, which has an A+ rating for company culture, employees get a work-from-home stipend — plus excellent health insurance coverage.
  • Encourage flexibility. So long as your employees are doing work and doing it well, they should be allowed to have more autonomy over where and when they work. Show your employees that you value their time by giving them flexibility over their schedule and facilitating remote work for those who are interested in it.

Flip the script and let 2022 be the year that puts employees first. Your own employees will appreciate it, and your small business will almost certainly benefit as a result.