The Biggest Problem Small Businesses Still Have With Their Employees

employee problem

What’s the biggest problem you have with your employees? Is it retaining them, motivating them or keeping them from wasting half the day on Facebook? None of the above. If you’re like most small business owners, the biggest employee problem you have is finding good ones in the first place.

In a recent survey by Robert Half, 60 percent of small business owners report the biggest challenge they face in hiring or managing staff is simply finding skilled workers to do the job. (The second-biggest concern—maintaining employee morale and productivity—was far behind, cited by only 19 percent of respondents.)

It’s hard to believe finding staff is still a problem in a marketplace where so many people are still unemployed, underemployed or looking to switch jobs. What gives? Some workers have been out of the work force so long that their skills have atrophied. Others, even those with jobs, haven’t kept up with the rapid pace of workplace change.

But for many small businesses, the problem is not the kind of workers that are out there, but the way they approach hiring. Big companies have huge HR divisions, established brands and clear-cut pathways for employee advancement. For small companies, the brand recognition is likely not there, the recruiting staff probably isn’t in place, and the advantages of working at an entrepreneurial business may not be readily apparent.

How can you get around these hurdles?

3 Tips that Could Help You Find the Employees You Need

Emphasize the Benefits of Working at Your Business

You may not have all the perks of a big corporation, but focus on what you do offer. Promote your company culture on your business website, in your want ads and in interviews. Is your company a fun, casual place to work? Is there lots of room to “wear different hats” and work with many different departments?

Job seekers value the ability to gain new skills without having to jump through corporate hoops—so focus on how employees at your company have the chance to really make a difference, even at the entry level.

Don’t be shy about “selling” your company—that’s what it takes to make your business stand out as a potential employer.

Recruit in the Right Places

Don’t just place want ads on mass job boards like Small businesses will generally get better results from more targeted recruiting efforts, such as industry-specific or local job boards.

Use social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to announce your job openings and drive interested parties to your website to get more information and apply. Use LinkedIn to advertise, tap into your connections to uncover leads on qualified candidates, and check out industry groups to find people who display leadership and experience in the fields where you’re looking to hire.  Even if they’re not actively seeking jobs, they might be interested in your opportunity.

Last, but not least, spread the word among informal networks like friends, family and people at your church or temple.

Bring in the Pros

If you’re hiring for a key position or need to bring someone on board quickly, hiring a recruiting firm could be worth your time. Make sure to look for a recruiter who is familiar with your industry and also works with lots of small companies. Get referrals and opinions from other business owners who have used the recruiter, and always weigh the benefits against the cost.

Another option: Look into temporary staffing agencies.

These days, staffing services aren’t only for assistants—you can hire a CMO, CFO or other C-level employee through a staffing agency. This gives you the option to “test drive” a candidate whose skills have been vetted by the agency. If you like what you see, you can offer them a permanent position.

Try these tactics and you’ll boost your chances of finally finding the perfect employee—one with the skills and experience you need.

Employee Problems Photo via Shutterstock


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

20 Reactions
  1. Great point, a lot of small businesses do not have the right recruiting tools and miss out on great employees. Having an HR department could do some good.

  2. Finding an employee with the right skills is more often the problem. Often the applicant is so eager to get the position that they’ll tell you they can do anything. However, companies need smart interviews and perhaps even tests to make sure the person is actually able to do what they say.

  3. I’m surprised it’s that challenging hiring staff for small businesses, especially in the current climate where there’s more likely to be more qualified people who are unemployed.

    Great tips though. Useful regardless of whether a small business is struggling to find staff or not. Seems like a good thing to implement regardless. I think the first tip might also help a small business appreciate/realise how dope they are.

  4. As for me, what matters is not only the benefits but also the people. I want to work for a company that feels like a family instead of a competitive social ladder. For me, that’s too rigid. It still depends on the employee because some people prefer more competitive companies where they can soar higher.

  5. This is where the probation period applies. If the newcomer is so keen to get employed and bluffing his way through despite not having the skills, then he won’t get confirmed beyond the probationary months. Getting along with fellow colleagues is also important.

  6. Great advice for hiring for small businesses, definitely will keep this in mind. Thanks!

  7. We also have to make sure the employee really knows what he is looking for and what responsibilities he expects to possess over the time he is in the business. This is because it’s not always he has no skill at all, but his skills may not fit for a certain position he thinks he can handle. Thanks for the heads up, Rieva!

  8. Not surprising – so many businesses are looking for X degree, Y amount of years of experience, Z amount of years of experience in a very specific field – instead of looking for the person with the right skills and fit for the job. Hard to feel bad when these businesses are certainly weeding out hundreds of qualified applicants, only to hire someone they end up unhappy with.

  9. I think the issue is finding qualified employees who are going to stick around for awhile. Small business owners can’t afford to be in a hire-train, hire-train cycle.

  10. If I am a small business owner, I would like to take help of a good recruiting agency rather than opening a new department in my company to pick employees. Established recruiting agencies can surely pick the best and qualified employee for you meeting all your requirements. So thinking of the time and trouble, a reputable recruiting agency can be a better option for any small business owners to find a right candidate for the vacant position.

  11. I agree Alamin. Using a staffing agency or recruiter can save a lot of time

  12. Rieva: In order to employ the right employee, the employer has to be able to understand why he or she is working at the company at the first place. It all come down to core values, virtues and business philosophy.

  13. Yes Martin, I can’t disagree. But too often small business owners don’t communicate their core beliefs or even their missions very well.

  14. Many small businesses have the mind set that unemployment is high therefore I can buy great talent cheap. Great talent cheap never hangs around.
    I also hear so many small business owners looking for someone to bring them to the next level. The business owner needs to have a good idea what that next level should look like. Once you have that figured out you have the metrics to determine if that candidate fits your bill.

  15. I agree that great talent dont come cheap but small businesses really give unknowns an opportunity to shine the problem lies in finding someone that can deliver in a small businesses even those without the expected quslifications efforts and results are clearly visible. The problem with a small business is it doesnot often have the budget for huge mistakes and just as a good person can immediately increase its effectiveness and profits a bad person just might kill it it a very short time period