The success or failure of a business rests in the hands of its most valuable asset - its people. No matter how great the products or services, a business' wellbeing is often shaped by the day-to-day actions and decisions of its employees.
Success hinges on finding the right people. These are the ones whose knowledge, skills, experience and personal qualities match your business needs. Ideally, they'll be hardworking, enthusiastic and committed. Small businesses can't afford to carry dead weight.
You might need advice when recruiting your first employee. The first step is recognising what contribution the role must make to your business. Drawing up a job specification can help you identify what it is that you need doing, and the skills and knowledge required for your new employee to be able to carry out the job.
Your recruitment procedures must be spot on, but this needn't be expensive. Once you know what the role is, and the skills and knowledge needed to do it, you can draw up a person specification and a job advertisement.
The options for advertising your job are many and varied - from local shop windows, job centres or newspapers to specialist online job sites and recruitment agencies. Think about where you are most likely to reach potential, quality candidates, and concentrate your resources there.
You need to be clear what it is you are looking for and what you are offering. Can you provide competitive wages, a stimulating job with prospects and a good working environment? Is the job an entry level role, or are you looking for an established professional?
Ensuring a level playing field for all potential job applicants is a legal requirement, while enabling you to recruit from as wide a talent pool as possible. Interviews must also be free from discrimination.
Knowing you have made a good addition to the team brings immense satisfaction - and many other benefits. Getting it wrong, on the other hand, can be a very costly mistake.
Employment law basics
There are many employment laws, applying to (note that this is not an exhaustive list):
- employment contracts and statements of employment;
- workplace pensions;
- working hours and time off;
- rights for employees with family responsibilities;
- workplace health and safety;
- discipline and grievance procedures;
- firing employees.
Get it wrong and you could end up at an employment tribunal, which can be expensive if you lose, because there are no ceilings on awards. Reckless employer negligence could even lead to a prison term.
To lessen the likelihood of problems, you're advised to get to grips with employment law basics before you take on your first employee. Much of it is simple, common-sense stuff. If you're ever in any doubt, seek professional advice.
Implementing employment policies
Having effective employment policies and a written employment contract (a legal requirement) removes uncertainty. No matter what the circumstance, employees must know what's expected of them and their employer. They must also know what behaviour is unacceptable - and what will happen if they overstep the mark.
You should have employment policies covering:
- working hours and overtime;
- health and safety;
- harassment/victimisation and bullying;
- use of company property and facilities;
- equal opportunities.
It's also advisable to have policies on:
- email, internet and phone use;
- drugs and alcohol abuse;
- if relevant, your dress code.
If your policies are effective, you could have a happy (as well as a very profitable) ship.
Even seasoned business people can find managing employees a challenge. Managing people is complex because people are complex. No two employees are the same: what motivates one employee might not motivate another. While you'll be able to leave some employees to their own devices and be able to trust them and their choices, others will be much more 'high maintenance'.
Schedule regular formal and informal reviews with employees to keep on top of any concerns or complaints, and give positive, constructive feedback.
Being firm but fair is a good starting point, and a quiet word of encouragement or support can work wonders. Good employees need to believe their contribution is valued if they are to stick around.