How to attract talent as a small business

How can small businesses recognise and respond to shifting expectations in order to ensure they attract leading talent?

Millennials, and their more junior demographic ‘Generation Z’, have become increasingly significant for businesses not only because they differ considerably to any generation before them in terms of their approach to work, but also because they outnumber almost all previous age groups. In fact, Millennials are set to make up 50 per cent of the global workforce by 2020, according to PwC’s ‘Millennials at work’ research. These younger generations are renowned for challenging engrained ideas about the nature of work, and are redefining employees’ expectations of their employer. To attract talent in this band means understanding what those of this generation want.

Routinely characterised by their instinctive affinity with technology, Millennials are the first generation to be recognised as ‘digitally native’. This status immediately sets them apart from previous generations, the young professionals currently in, or entering the workplace are arguably the first to do so with a better grasp of crucial business tools than some of their senior colleagues. However it doesn’t mean that young professionals’ expectations of their employer revolve entirely around technology. They are also drawn towards companies who recognise the importance of the workplace, company culture, and the tools to enable them to work effectively and productively. So how can small businesses recognise and respond to these shifting expectations in order to ensure they attract talent of an industry-leading nature?

Embrace personalisation to attract talent

The younger generations are known for the level of emphasis they put on their own personal goals. From their desire to progress quickly within an organisation to their willingness to move on if they don’t feel their expectations are being met. At times criticised for being ‘disloyal’, these professionals are reluctant to compromise on their own personal goals, and want to feel their output and efforts are recognised. As a result, employers need to have an increasingly focused and personalised approach to attracting and, more importantly, retaining talent.

For most young professionals fast, reliable, and innovative technology is a prerequisite of almost any modern workplace. Offering employees the opportunity to work with technology that they use in a personal capacity can be seen as a real benefit. Many millennials are used to working on a Mac as opposed to a PC, or vice versa. By personalising their technology offering, or giving them the opportunity bring their own device from home, businesses can help to attract young professionals.

This is where the nature of small businesses give them a real advantage. In larger organisations with more rigid structures, decisions about fundamental aspects of the workplace involve various stages of approval and authorisation to diverge from standard procurement procedures. While they are still likely to encounter some challenges, SMEs have the opportunity to personalise the workplace experience far more freely than larger organisations, and the ability to meet employees’ expectations more successfully.

Champion smarter working

The astonishingly quick evolution of technology over the last two decades has had a profound influence on the way in which we work, and impacted the workplace immeasurably. The unprecedented emphasis that young employees place on a ‘personalised’ workplace, means that many talented professionals will naturally gravitate towards companies which show a real understanding of the benefits of smarter working. Businesses which recognise that young professionals want to be assessed on output rather than hours spent in the office will no doubt be looked upon favourably by potential candidates.

In reality, there is little other than tradition in the way of companies offering employees the opportunity to work flexibly. The technology needed to facilitate agile working is readily available. Progressive companies looking to attract top talent will utilise this technology to the best of their ability to ensure employees are able to work in a place, and at a time, that allows them to be most productive. While some companies might be hesitant to allow employees to work away from the office, or outside of traditional office hours, you only have to look to forward thinking global companies such as Mediacom and Farfetch to realise that discounting workplace traditions can be incredibly attractive to young professionals.

Create a collaborative culture to attract talent

Younger workers are becoming ever more adverse to rigid corporate structures and fixed hierarchies. They are confident, eager to progress, and accustomed to having a great deal of information at their fingertips. Cultures founded on closed doors and fixed structures will put off talented individuals, who look for open collaborative environments and constant streams of communication.

According to a study conducted by global HR specialist Randstad, 38 per cent of Gen Z and Millennials say the top workplace attribute that enables them work productively is the ability to collaborate in the workplace. So in order to attract leading talent, small businesses, which naturally tend to have more flat structures, should showcase their open cultures and collaborative values right from the start of the hiring process.

Related: What motivates Generation Z?

The youngest two generations in the workplace are profoundly different to those before them. It is clear that the business most likely to succeed in attracting industry-leading talent are the ones who not only recognise this fact, but respond and adapt to young professionals’ expectations. There is no ‘cookie cutter’ approach when it comes millennials in the workplace, however small businesses, which are innovative at their core, certainly have the ability to adapt and evolve in order to attract industry leading talent.

Regardless of their long term goals, companies that leverage innovative technology, strive to personalise their workplace experience, champion smarter working and create cultures which align with key millennial values are most likely to succeed with these new generations.

Jason Downes is managing director of Powwownow.

Further reading on managing staff and how to attract talent

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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