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Wooing Top Talent on a Shoestring Four-day workweeks, unlimited vacation time and exercise rituals are among the perks small businesses are offering.

By Laura Putnam Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


To attract top talent, big businesses are now investing heavily in big-ticket items to woo and retain people. Goodies include on-site fitness facilities, top-tier team-building events, on-site clinics, gourmet chefs, customized employee stand-up workstations, giant salaries -- and more.

Related: 5 Inexpensive Ways to Create a Company Culture Like Google's

So, do small businesses with even smaller budgets even stand a chance? What can they possibly do to compete? A lot, it turns out.

If you're a small business, here are some strategies that startups, small businesses and small organizations are already using to attract and retain top talent -- without going broke:

1. A 4-day work week

During a Washington Post interview, Ryan Carson, founder and chief executive of Treehouse, a technology startup based in Portland, Ore., claimed that his company's four-day workweek (mandatory, by the way), was its "amazing ace-up-the sleeve" perquisite and "something that nobody can beat." This offering, Carson said, is what sets Treehouse apart from its big-name competitors, like Google.

2. Unlimited vacation time

Hubspot, a fast-growing technology company based in Cambridge, Mass., offers its employees unlimited vacation time (which employees actually take). At the five-year mark, employees are further rewarded with a month-long sabbatical. These benefits, along with a culture that emphasizes transparency and openness (the company prides itself on its "no-door" policy, a step beyond the "open door" policies seen elsewhere) between employees and leaders at all levels within the company, have helped lead to the company's impressive 85 percent employee-retention rate.

And that's not all: The company is also proud of its programs emphasizing mentorship, learning and giving back.

3. Commitment to learning

IDEO, a design and innovation consulting firm, has built its company around teaching, learning and continual experimentation. Employees are even encouraged to "Fail faster!" To support this culture of learning, staffers are teamed up in "guided mastery" mentorship partnerships. And, not just new employees benefit from these arrangements. In IDEO's view, teaching every employee is key to his or her becoming a "master."

Related: 10 Examples of Companies With Fantastic Cultures

4. Office hours with managers

In most cases, people don't leave their job -- they leave their boss. According to Gallup, the number one reason people leave is that they don't feel valued by their immediate supervisor. Sounds simple, but the best way to address this conundrum is to create systems to promote more interactions between managers and employees. Companies like ClearSlide have found that creating "office hours," a time when employees may freely meet with their managers -- is a great way to build such critical employee-manager relationships.

5. Daily rituals

Employees at the United Way office in in Sioux Falls, S.D., known as Sioux Empire United Way, have been walking together as an office twice a day, a mile each time, for 11 years running! This twice-daily ritual, in which co-workers have become co-walkers, has proven to be a great way to stay in shape and build an awesome culture that retains employees over time.

Another example: The women's fashion company Eileen Fisher has invested in rituals like kicking off every meeting with a moment to reflect, and opportunities to "check in," to build a caring culture. And, at LinkedIn, walking meetings are the norm. All of these daily rituals are great ways to bolster individual well-being and, at the same time, curate a culture that retains top talent.

6. Community outreach

Once a week, Square employees in San Francisco head out to the streets to clean up the neighborhood. This is their #CleanStreets Initiative, a joint partnership between Square and the San Francisco Department of Public Works. In a similar "good works" spirit, Salesforce just recently hit the one million-hour mark: Its employees have donated over a million hours of their time to community service during work time. Providing opportunities for employees to help make the world a better place is a big plus for many top-talent individuals, especially millennials.

7. Culture-building structures

Building a culture that attracts and keeps top talent does not happen by accident. Rather, it requires intentional (and explicit) values and structures that support these values. OFX, formerly OzForex, a foreign exchange company based in Australia, has created a "Good Vibes" Committee in each of its global offices. Each of these committees plans activities that build social connections and goodwill within each office and across the company's global system.

All of these examples require some effort (and persistence), but they don't require a lot of capital. The bottom line is that small businesses really can win the competition for top talent, as some of the best things in life (and work) really do come for free -- or close to it.

Related: How to Retain Millennial Employees Through Workplace Equity

Laura Putnam, author of Workplace Wellness That Works, is the founder and CEO of Motion Infusion, a San Francisco-based well-being training and consulting firm that provides creative solutions in the areas of engagement, behavior change, performance improvement and building healthier, happier and more innovative organizations.

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