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In Today's Tight Labor Market, You Can't Afford to Have Unhappy Employees Here are three ways to attract and keep happy small-business employees.

By Brenda Mullins Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Amid all the ups and downs, sweat and tears, entrepreneurs find great happiness in their work. After all, they are often pursuing a passion or dream and finding personal fulfillment in their work. But, does this happiness carry over to their employees?

Related: Basecamp Co-Founder and CEO Jason Fried Explains How to Make Work Less Crazy

To gain a better understanding of employee perceptions about working for small businesses, the 2018 Aflac Small Business Happiness Report surveyed 1,000 U.S. small-business employees on their overall satisfaction and happiness at work. The results revealed 91 percent of small-business employees feel satisfied working at a small business. Another 87 percent say they prefer the small business employment experience to the large business experience.

While this is good news for small-business owners, in today's historically tight labor market, employers cannot afford to rest on their laurels when it comes to employee satisfaction. The latest U.S. Department of Labor report shows the number of job openings dwarfs the total number of workers looking for jobs, indicating a competitive hiring field and an environment where employees may be swept away by new opportunities.

However, small-business owners can continue to set themselves apart and attract and retain happy talent in a few critical ways.

1. Do not skimp on benefits.

It is no secret that health insurance is an expensive and often complicated benefit for small businesses to offer. However, more than half of employees listed health insurance as the most important benefit that affects their job satisfaction, according to a recent Clutch study. By offering health insurance, employers demonstrate that they care about the well-being of their employees. While the rising cost of major medical insurance continues to be a challenge for all businesses, employers can help their work forces manage costs by offering a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA), health advocacy services and other voluntary benefits like hospital and critical illness insurance.

Related: How to Make Your Best Employees Stay at Your Company

For small businesses that cannot always compete salary-wise with their larger counterparts, beefing up benefits can be one way to attract and retain talent. In fact, four in five employees prefer benefits or perks to a pay raise, according to statistics gathered by SCORE. Extra benefits like a flexible work schedule and work-from-home options are examples of some cost-effective perks to consider.

2. Show employees they are valued.

Unlike larger companies, small businesses have a unique amount of control when it comes to creating a company culture that makes employees feel like they belong. Businesses that create a family-like feel in the office and recognize the work of their employees will benefit from a happier and more loyal workforce. Gallup found that employees who feel adequately recognized are half as likely as those who do not to say they will quit in the next year. Business owners should take the time to deliver regular feedback to employees and recognize their contributions to the company's success.

3. Provide mentorship opportunities.

A key opportunity for improvement within small business is providing more opportunity for advancement and mentoring. Only 4 percent of small-business employees said their employer offers any type of formal mentorship program, and nearly half (46 percent) said that their employer provides no opportunities for advancement, according to the Aflac Small Business Happiness Report. Business leaders should try to provide less-experienced workers with the opportunities and tools to connect with and learn from more experienced team members. These mentors and business leaders should make an effort to understand employees' career goals and what they want to accomplish in their current role and at the company. This information can be used to create individual road maps for each employee's career and, ultimately, help them see a long-term future with your company.

Related: Investing in Your Employees Is the Smartest Business Decision You Can Make

Additionally, do not be afraid to look beyond your company's own walls for additional opportunities or connections that you can share with your workers. For example, sending employees to outside training courses or workshops, professional industry association events and local networking events gives employees the opportunity to learn from others in the field. Not only do employees receive additional support, advice and information, but they also serve as ambassadors for the business, which can, in turn, lead to new business.

By demonstrating to your employees that you care about their well-being and career development, small businesses will not only create a positive work environment, but they will also earn their employees' loyalty. And that is certainly something to be happy about.

Brenda Mullins

VP of Human Resources and Chief People Officer at Aflac

Brenda Mullins is VP of HR and chief people officer at Aflac. She is responsible for core human resources functions in the U.S. for Aflac’s 5,000-plus employees and developed the framework for expanding Aflac’s diversity efforts through recruitment, retention, relationships, reinforcement and recognition.

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