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Running a business

What small business workers really want from their employers

Nearly half of small business owners maintain that hiring skilled workers is getting harder, according to 2022 QuickBooks data. Another 39% say it’s difficult to retain the workers they already have.

To combat these hiring and retention challenges, one in five small business owners say they’re increasing the starting pay for new employees and 49% say they plan to increase the pay for current workers at the next opportunity. The majority of small businesses (75%) say they now offer basic employee benefits, including paid annual leave, sick leave, and health insurance.

These are all moves in the right direction. After all, a new survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Intuit QuickBooks found that 27% of employees who do not have basic benefits plan to leave their current jobs (compared to only 18% of those who receive at least some benefits). And one in three small business workers feel they are not paid enough for the work they do.

Only 18% of employees who receive at least some basic benefits plan to leave their current jobs (compared to 27% who don’t have basic benefits).

Even so, it can be difficult for small businesses to compete with the deep pockets of larger corporations when it comes to employee salaries and benefits packages. Small business workers are less likely to have supplementary benefits like a retirement plan, dental or vision coverage, or life insurance. And 17% of small business workers report working more than one job to compensate for their lower income.

But The Harris Poll survey found that small businesses don’t have to compete with pay and benefits alone. Small business owners can make up the difference by offering small business benefits that employees simply won’t find at larger corporations.

How small businesses can attract and retain top talent

Small businesses can leverage low-cost employee benefits that are harder to come by in larger companies. The Harris Poll found that, beyond pay and basic benefits, small business workers care about things like work/life balance, growth opportunities, and a company culture that aligns with their personal values. If small businesses can pay employees enough and provide basic employee benefits, these additional benefits can play a key role in attracting and retaining talent:

48% of small business workers value flexible work hours

1. Flexible work hours

Nearly half of small business workers (48%) selected flexible work hours as a top three aspect they value about their jobs. Employers who offer flexible schedules, remote work opportunities, and a work/life balance can offset some of the salary and benefit limitations.

2. Personalised recognition

Small business workers want to be more than just a cog in the big machine. Small tokens of appreciation, like gift cards, for a job well done can go a long way. More than 1 in 4 employees (28%) say this type of recognition is extremely valuable.

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3. A focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

According to The Harris Poll, DEI is especially important for women in the workforce. The survey found that women especially value an environment where employees are treated fairly and professionally.

42% of small business employees value work that gives them a sense of purpose.

4. A sense of purpose

More than 2 in 5 small business workers (42%) say they value work that gives them a sense of purpose and fulfilment. So, they look for jobs that relate to their passions and align with their values.

74% of women prioritize supporting local businesses compared to 65% of men

5. Community support

Most employees (67%) agree that supporting small businesses is a priority for their community, according to The Harris Poll. Women especially are prioritising supporting small and local businesses 74% of women compared to 65% of men.

44% of employees who work multiple jobs dream of starting their own business someday.

6. Training to become an entrepreneur

Roughly 1 in 4 small business workers say they want to start their own business someday and that number jumps to 44% for employees who work multiple jobs. Working for a small business gives these hopeful entrepreneurs the skills and confidence they need to succeed as a business owner. Small business workers have the unique opportunity to wear many hats and learn many positions within the business. At the end of the day, more than half of these future entrepreneurs (55%) say working for a small business inspired them to follow their dreams.

31% of small business workers want more career advancement opportunities

7. Career growth opportunities

Small business workers crave career growth opportunities just as much as they crave health insurance benefits and paid annual leave – if not more. While 23% of small business workers expressed disappointment in their current benefits package, 31% said the lack of career advancement opportunities was most disappointing. But small businesses have the ability to offer growth opportunities that employees would be hard-pressed to find in larger corporations. Small business workers often have direct access to senior leadership, the ability to move quickly on new ideas, and can develop a true sense of ownership in the business.

Small businesses have what it takes

Finding and retaining top talent continues to be a challenge for small business owners - and it’s not going to get easier. Today’s employees expect competitive pay and benefit packages, but small businesses may find it difficult to compete with larger corporations with deeper pockets. By offering employees what they really want, things like flexible schedules, a strong company culture built on DEI, and the tools to grow and scale their careers, small businesses can fill the gap left by lower salaries and smaller benefit packages.


This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll from 8 - 18 June 2022 among 1,507 individuals in the United States who were aged 18+, currently employed, and who had been in one of their jobs for at least three months or more. Sampling was done with the goal of representativeness among this population, and weighting was completed to bring the final data into line with the population. This online survey was not based on a probability sample, and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error could be calculated.

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