6 ways to keep your staff happy and engaged on a small-business budget

Professionals sitting on a table talking and laughing.

Read time: 5 minutes 

When you own a small business, it can be tough to match larger employers when it comes to pay and benefits. So how can you retain your best employees in a competitive climate on a small-business budget—without pricing yourself out of business?

By shining in the intangibles, like job satisfaction, growth potential and an enjoyable work atmosphere. Here are several suggestions for affordable ways to keep your small business’s staff happy and around for the long term. 

1. Create an engaging culture

Engaging cultures start at the top and are built on open communication, respect, recognition and clarity for all on how each individual is essential to the success of the business. Make it a point to meet with each employee on a regular basis to ask how they’re doing, ask about any challenges they’re facing and find out what can be done to help them achieve their career goals. Listen carefully, stay transparent, honestly acknowledge what they say to you and act on feedback when possible—or explain why it’s not possible at the moment. Make a habit of recognizing team members publicly for their hard work and contributions.

(Bonus tip: Consider forming a culture committee with employee representatives from each department to help ensure that your business culture is one that truly represents and includes everyone.)

2. Give your team the chance to recognize each other

In addition to your recognition, why not assemble a kit your employees can use to thank and praise each other for their hard work? The items in the kit don’t have to be elaborate. Thank-you cards, stickers, fun small trophies from the dollar store, coupons you and the team can create (e.g., “Use of the VIP parking spot for the day” or “Leave work one hour early”), $5 gift cards, candy bars, and a dry-erase or bulletin board where thank-yous can be posted for everyone to see are a good and inexpensive start.

3. Offer a flexible schedule

One of the most lasting effects of the pandemic is its impact on the workforce, which now feels empowered to request time for that no-longer-mythical concept of work-life balance…or they’ll find an employer who will provide it. Everyone has obligations that don’t always blend nicely with work schedules—and everyone deserves time to fulfill them. If your employees can work remotely, consider allowing them a day or two a week to work from home. If you’re not a remote-type business, there are still a number of options you could consider to help take the burden off your employees and their families, such as staggered or reduced schedules, shorter workweeks or extra paid personal days.

4. Encourage community involvement

Many of us have charities or causes that are dear to our hearts—especially Millennial and Gen Z workers, who are focused on living their values at home and at work. Give your team yet another reason to be proud of their workplace by giving back to your community. An annual (paid) day that enables employees to work with their individual causes, or a whole-team day spent working with Habitat for Humanity or helping out at local community events, sends a strong message that you want to make a difference, too.

5. Offer options for professional development

Give your team a chance to grow, get up to date with the latest technology or make it easier for them to move into positions of more responsibility with the ability to access professional development options. A number of online learning platforms, such as LinkedIn Learning, Skillshare, Alison, Udemy and Coursera, offer reasonably priced courses that make it affordable for you to offer your employees an online learning subsidy.

6. Celebrate important days

Since some employers don’t make a habit of remembering employee birthdays, separate yourself from the pack by commemorating days that are important to your employees—birthdays, employment milestones like anniversaries—with a greeting card, a bag of candy, a special certificate or a gift card. Everyone loves to feel appreciated on their special days.


When employees are unhappy, their work suffers, which means your business suffers. When you prioritize your employees’ experience, you help improve every aspect of your business, from employee retention to productivity to customer service. Even if you’re unable to pay top dollar, ideas like the ones above can help you keep your team engaged, smiling and proud to work for a small business that walks the walk—right alongside each member of the team.