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Keeping Small Biz Employee Turnover To A Minimum

by Vivian Scott
January 2011

From Vivian Scott's Conflicts Of InterestBlog

Vivian Scott

Some people may be surprised to learn that even in today’s economy, employee turnover for small businesses is a very real problem. You’d think that people would be clinging to the jobs they have, but that’s not always the case. If you’re a small business owner and would like to keep folks around for longer than a few weeks or months, consider taking a look at what you might be doing to work against yourself. Look at a number of areas for clues to things you could improve.

Start by considering your hiring process. If you’re not able to offer the same wages and benefit packages as larger companies, don’t feel that you need to apologize for it and hire anyone who’s willing to take the job. Over- or under-selling a position only results in hiring the wrong person. If you’re honest about the job and take your time to find someone who wants to do that job (not the fantasy one you’ve created for the interview), he’ll be more apt to stay with you. Make sure you have documented policies in place that clearly outline mission statements, goals, job responsibilities, etc. It’s okay to treat employees in a small company like family, but run your business like a business—even if you have only four employees. You can never go wrong with clear communication.

In the screening process ask really good, open-ended questions that get prospective employees talking. Make a list of the usual yes/no questions you ask and turn them into conversation starters. For example, rather than asking an interviewee if she likes to work with numbers, say something like, “Tell me more about the detail work in your last position.” While you’re at it, give a few real-life examples from your company and ask how she might handle similar situations. Let other employees participate in the interview process. Ask them to concentrate on specific areas for feedback like the person’s skill level or his ability to handle stressful environments. If they have had the opportunity to participate from the get-go, they may be more likely to embrace the person once he’s hired and therefore create an easier training and transition period.

After you’ve taken on employees, let them do their jobs. I often mediate cases for small businesses because too often they’ve taken a committee approach to an individual’s work; causing employees to step on, over, and around each other. If you’ve hired someone to do your marketing, let him do it. Having to wait for a staff meeting to get consensus on the background color of the new brochure or to decide if an ad should be taken out in the industry rag is an easy way to get your marketing guru to run the other way. Ideas from others are great, but he should make (and be responsible for) the final decisions.

Additionally, find ways to praise and reward your staff often. Taking 30 minutes to have a one-on-one with an employee or bringing in a box of doughnuts costs very little and goes a lot way in making employees happy. Have regular staff meetings and make sure to mention what people are doing well. They can’t read your mind, so be specific. I worked with a company once that had a Wall of Fame near the front door on which managers would post positive feedback they’d received from customers and vendors about employees. For a few dollars in frames the worker bees could see on a daily basis how much pride the company took in their contributions.

And, when things aren’t going so well? Address employee problems as soon as they arise. All your employees watch how you handle difficult situations. If you let one person get away with poor behavior, others make a note of that; and those are the types of things that play into job satisfaction. If you’re not comfortable with conflict, get comfortable! (FYI, my book has lots of pointers to help you on that front) Stay committed to seeing a problem through. Tell an employee what to do rather than what to stop.

Finally, if you do have to let someone go or an employee decides to leave, make sure to debrief with the others. Talk about what happened, let people process their emotions, and let them help you build a plan to fix whatever might need fixing.


Vivian Scott is a Professional Certified Mediator and the author of Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies.  She spent many years in the competitive and often stress-filled world of high tech marketing where she realized resolving conflict within the confines of office politics was paramount to success.  Through creative solutions to common conflicts she was able to bring various entities together, both internally and externally, for the betterment of projects and a productive working environment.     

Prior to retiring from Microsoft in 1999 she developed the “America at Work” video series, a six-part program featuring small businesses employing technology in attention-grabbing ways.  “America at Work” aired on the USA Network and received the Silver Screen Award from the International Film and Video Festival for outstanding creativity.   Using discerning negotiation, mediation, and problem-solving skills, she successfully worked with others to co-create “How-to Guides”, “Seminar in a Box”, and even one of the first on-line Guerrilla Marketing books.   

Since her retirement, Ms. Scott has gone on to earn a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences with a concentration in American Studies from the University of Washington.  She completed an extensive practicum with the Dispute Resolution Center of Snohomish & Island Counties where she has mediated numerous cases, helping parties resolve conflict in workplace, family, and other disputes.  Her private mediation practice has handled cases ranging from assisting business partners in ending their relationship to creating a new working environment within a law firm.  Ms. Scott is a member of the Washington Mediation Association and spends a majority of her time advocating embracing peace in a volatile world.   

Her book, Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies, can be found in bookstores, on,, or any number of on-line bookseller sites.    

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