HR 101 FOR SME Ireland

How to Attract and Retain Employees?

When you set up your company, the first person you had to rely on was you. It works out well at first – you know your own strengths and weaknesses; you could give yourself a good talking to; and you could work whatever hours you wanted (or didn’t). Your staff’s needs and the company’s needs were in perfect harmony.

A company’s staff is the lifeblood of an organisation. But they’re also a separate challenge. Along with their skills, work ethic and charm; they also bring a set of needs, ambitions, and desires, often completely separate from those of their colleagues. And then they have to work together.

Small and medium businesses don’t get the credit they deserve. Frankly, they are the lifeblood of the Irish economy. They:

• Represent 99% of the companies active and trading in Ireland today

• Hire about 70% of the workforce in Ireland

• Add about 40% of the gross value to the bottom line of the Irish economy.

By their very nature, small and medium businesses have few hands doing much work. As a result, quite often the CEO or founder might become the defacto HR director or head of sales and marketing, or even the person in the kitchen making the tea and coffee. This juggling act might be one of the reasons for human resources getting overlooked. A survey of 600 small and medium businesses carried out in 2015 found that the majority of small firms in Ireland have no HR function. Incredibly:

• 70% of companies that have a staff between one and 10 in number had no HR function.

• 36% of companies that have staff numbers between 10 and 50 also have no HR function.

• 29% of companies with staff numbering between 50 and 250 had no HR function.

And what’s even more astonishing is that 93% of the same companies believe HR plays a crucial role in their business. The main reasons given for not investing in a dedicated HR professional or outsourced HR service were 40% of the time the company said they were too small, and 16% of the time it was about cost. And this is exactly the type of company that we want to speak to. We want to give you some practical advice on how to manage HR if you haven’t reached the conclusion that you need a dedicated person or to outsource it as a service just yet.


Attracting the right talent is both essential and tricky, Hiring is very much a two-way street these days. There are plenty of options for candidates in the jobs market today, and they are evaluating you as you’re analysing them.

How do SMEs compete to attract talent?

First things first, you need to have a very clear job description. Set out exactly why the job exists, what are the key outputs of the job, what are the key performance indicators, and really be very specific on what you’re looking for. Small and medium-sized companies have a unique selling point in that they have a variety of tasks to offer and exposure to the senior team, including exposure to the CEO.

Why is it important to attract the right talent to a small company?

Without the right people, you’re going to have a lack of new ideas coming in. That leads to stagnation. The concept is that people are your most important resource and that you have a competitive advantage if you attract the right people into your company. If you’re not attracting new people in and you don’t have new ideas coming into the company, you’re going to stagnate and you’re not going to be able to keep up with your competition.”

How do you go about attracting talent to your organisation?

You should ensure that you explore all the different methods of recruiting, that you are on social media and that you use LinkedIn and all the methods that are available now. And the other key part is that your company has learning and development opportunities. There should be systems in place where people can develop, that you promote from within, and that should be made really clear to potential candidates at the interview stage.”


How can SMEs retain good staff?

It’s relatively easy. SMEs need to make sure that they have the right systems in place so that staff can develop, learn, get on well with their colleagues and have an overall positive working experience. This may sound like a complex exercise but a lot of it can be achieved with a simple common-sense approach. This can be broken down into three clear areas for employers to consider:


Some of the more expensive activities in Human Resources are related to recruitment and staff training. However, if you spend enough time and money on staff training you should be able to save some resources on recruitment efforts. Problems can arise due to poor-performing managers; it’s not just the staff that needs training: The company’s management may not have effective procedures for addressing grievances or complaints in the office, and as a result, are not dealing with the things that come up on a day-to-day basis.


Another way to boost staff retention and make staff happier is by recognising their achievements and offering performance-based rewards: For example, it could be a small ‘thank you’ by presenting the staff member with a bottle of wine. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated, and it doesn’t have to be expensive, but in the interest of fairness and job satisfaction, there should be a process for rewarding staff for a job well done.

A more formal reward can come through a performance management system that has salary increases and bonus criteria clearly set out against a key performance indicator. If the KPI is met, the reward can be added to the payslip.

If you have a positive working environment and you’re doing the right things, you shouldn’t have an above-normal attrition rate. It’s important that you hold onto people. The poor morale will spread throughout your office, and you will have other people leave if you don’t address the problems.


If you have staff that are receiving training, progressing in their roles and being rewarded by

meeting their KPIs it is natural for them to be in contention for promotion. All upcoming opportunities should be made available to staff in the first instance. This way, they will feel there are opportunities to advance within the company. But equally, they should understand why there is a need for new talent. Once they’ve gone through the interview process and been unsuccessful, it’s important to communicate what needs improvement and how they can try to prevent shortcomings with some further training. Essentially, poor morale leads to higher costs: You have all the relationships that are lost that your staff have built up with clients or customers. When they leave, there’s a lack of knowledge, a loss of experience, a loss of learning, and the relationship loss, which is quite key.


Assuming you’ve hired a good team and you have systems in place for compliance and morale,

your staff will need somewhere to work. While lots of workers and employers are in favour of open plans, some studies have shown that cellular or cubical-style offices can lead to less distraction, reduction in noise, and less likelihood of passing an illness that may result in an absence. Regardless of the physical space or what your floor plan looks like, it’s the culture within your workplace that’s even more important than the layout. It only takes one disagreeable personality to upset the balance in your office.

How does the working environment impact staff performance?

What you really want is for your working environment to impact staff performance in a positive way. This comes down to the culture within the company and how things are done. In most places, you can tell what the culture is like very early on. What companies want to do is to ensure that they have a positive working environment and that anything negative is nipped in the bud early. A negative culture can develop because there hasn’t been a good management system and leaders haven’t led by example. What you often find then is a toxic culture developing, leading to a wave of complaints and, consequently, poor morale in the workplace.

It’s important for a manager to lead by example and ensure that they behave as they want others to behave, that they speak to people in a respectful way, make sure that people know what exactly their job role is and how they fit into the team. If there is any sort of issue or complaint, there should an open environment so that you can give your feedback. It is also imperative to have a mechanism whereby people can speak to somebody if there’s a problem and that everyone understands there are consequences for poor behaviour.

How does a great working environment benefit the business?

Essentially, any working environment is a bunch of people in the same place trying to get along. You need to ensure that people feel comfortable enough to be able to do their job properly and they get along with each other from a professional point of view. Putting a staff charter in place is a helpful way to communicate to everybody about the environment you are trying to create. It can turn into a collaborative group exercise where – rather than saying ‘this behaviour is unacceptable’ – you ask the employees what works for them, and what they expect when they come to work every day. Your staff will feel more empowered because they feel like they’ve contributed to this charter and how the company is supposed to function.


Dealing with workplace difficulties can be a tricky business. On an ongoing basis, there may always be a staff issue that you have to take care of. From a compliance and legislation perspective, it’s important to have your core procedures in place. The key is that you deal with the issue, you deal with it quickly and you have an informal approach.

What steps should be taken in the event of a complaint?

The most important thing is to deal with the complaint straight away. Quite often a staff member has spoken to their manager or spoken to their supervisor, they may have spoken to other people and nobody has dealt with it. This may be because they either don’t want to or don’t know how to address the issue.

The first thing to do is to put some sort of a timescale in place and get back to the person. Then try implementing an informal process and see if can it be resolved. And more than likely the staff member will be happy to do that.

The easiest way to deal with conflicts or complaints is informal. This means no escalation and no written reports; nothing like that until you really explored every possibility to deal with it unceremoniously in the first instance. If it’s a case of staff complaining about each other, the relationship will stay intact if you find an informal way to deal with it and have a successful outcome that benefits the parties. Meet with the person, explore what the issues are, agree on an outcome, record what you’ve spoken about, review it and meet again. This simple process should resolve conflicts most of the time. If not, there’s a formal mechanism within your grievance procedure.

So how does dealing with the issue of tricky staff benefit the business?

It’s important to deal with tricky staff, internal complaints or anything along those lines because you want to reduce conflict within the business, and you want to have a positive working environment. That’s why it’s so important to deal with it quickly and deal with it responsibly, and lead by example. Staff need to know that they’re supported if there is a problem in the workplace and that people are dealt with in a fair way.

How can an SME ensure that workplace conflicts and complaints are kept to a minimum?

There are three ways. Firstly, work on awareness:

One: Ensure that your staff are aware of what the expectations are and what’s acceptable in the workplace and what isn’t acceptable.

Two: Establish staff charters earlier on. This is a useful way of mapping out what you expect from your staff members. It’s important to ensure that that happens at the induction stage, to set out not only the job description and specifications but also the behaviours that are acceptable and unacceptable.

And finally, have a system in place to deal with complaints if they come up.


HR is an ongoing investment for companies that want to be competitive, avoid legal action and enjoy their work. Your staff are an investment: With the right attention to detail early on, they will – like any good investment – flourish and grow in value.

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