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How to survive ‘talent wars’: Remember it’s not all about the money

11 Sep 2023

Employers need to dig deep to keep people on their teams, but that doesn’t necessarily have to mean in their pockets. Other perks like flexible working can help with retention too.

The employment market is extremely competitive at the moment, and this is something everyone from employers and recruiters to job seekers and workers knows. Recent Big Tech layoffs have shaken things up and slowed things down slightly, but SMEs and pharma and professional services employers have been able to gain from the glut of talent flooding into the market as a result.

However, for SMEs and start-ups looking to attract – and, more importantly, retain – tech talent in what is still an employee market is challenging. With recent reports highlighting that Irish workers consistently list salary as one of their top priorities, SMEs need to dig deep. Other reports have drawn attention to the struggles Irish workers are facing around the cost of living. It is no surprise that so many workers are clamouring for increases in their paychecks to cover rising costs.

But what about employers that cannot afford to match the salaries offered by some of their competitors? How can they hope to hold on to existing staff? Ifty Nasir, CEO and founder of UK-based equity management platform Vestd told that sometimes remunerating staff is not all about the paycheck.

“News of rising wages is great for workers in the short term, as they are facing higher mortgage and rent payments while everyday costs continue to put a strain on personal finances.

“For businesses though, and particularly for start-ups and SMEs, this creates a significant challenge where they could face missing out on new talent or losing their best staff to competitors in a better position to offer higher salaries,” Nasir warns.

“No one wants to get into a bidding war, so this news should be an important reminder to businesses that they need to offer something else in order to attract and retain the people that will power their success.”

Employers can make changes to company policies that give everyone the best of both worlds, he says. Flexible working, for example, doesn’t cost anything for employers to introduce – if anything, it may reduce overheads – and it enables workers to enjoy a better work-life balance and spend a lot less time and money commuting.

Ifty Nasir headshot

Ifty Nasir. Image: Vestd

Nasir reckons that companies that place high value on giving employees meaningful and “harmonising” benefits can do just as well as their counterparts with bigger budgets. But they have to listen to employees regarding what kind of benefits they want. If they are not in a position to offer the most competitive salaries, Nasir says employers can consider the following remuneration models for staff.

Giving employees a slice of the action

“Giving employees ownership and belonging within a company helps to keep everyone firing towards the same goals,” Nasir says.

“Setting up share and employee ownership schemes not only gives your teams a tangible reward for all their hard work, but also keeps them financially invested in the company’s growth and success. If everything goes to plan, it’s also an opportunity to reward employees with life-changing sums of money.” Nasir’s company Vestd operates in the employee equity space, meaning he has a particular interest in this area.

Offering flexible working

“Flexible working has moved far beyond a nice-to-have and has become an essential consideration for many employees. Whether you choose to be fully remote or implement more flexibility around working hours, a clear and consistent approach makes you stand out as an employer that cares about your staff and their wellbeing.”

Nasir points out that, “Flexible working can lead to increased productivity and greater job satisfaction and could be a more important consideration than salary for many job hunters.”

Writing in a while back, Nataly Kelly of Rebrandly argued that employers should consider adopting a remote-first model in a very carefully considered manner to keep staff happy and productive.

Thinking about wellbeing

“Happiness at work is such an important consideration. No one wants to experience regular feelings of anxiety or stress about their job,” says Nasir. “Burnout is a regular factor behind people starting to look for new opportunities, so employers need to consider how they can support wellbeing before it becomes a major problem.”

Nasir explains that he has implemented some wellbeing measures at his own company to help employees. Currently, Vestd has perks like meditation sessions and a £700 personal development budget. It also regularly circulates what Nasir calls “a happiness questionnaire” to check in with every employee on a weekly basis and highlight areas that need attention. “This all helps people to feel valued and supported, which can often be more fruitful than more money alone,” Nasir believes.

Being transparent about the company’s position

“Getting people more involved in your business’s journey can help them to better understand your objectives, as well as the rewards that could be on offer to them further down the line. Even if you aren’t able to offer salary increases right now, be open and honest about what could be available to employees in the coming months or years, once you have met certain targets,” Nasir recommends.

“Increased productivity comes from employees who feel trusted and empowered that their work is making a difference. Even a small token of appreciation today could go a long way tomorrow.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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