Sarah Kauss: Why a pay bump isn’t the answer to employee happiness

June 1, 2015, 3:30 PM UTC
Photograph by Patrick James Miller for Fortune

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “How do you keep your best employees?” is by Sarah Kauss, CEO and founder of S’well.

The business world is fluid. Employees stay. Employees go. Sometimes even the most determined efforts to create loyalty and engage high-potential talent can fail due to extenuating circumstances out of our control. While as leaders and business owners we can’t always match a salary request or keep our teams from having to work overtime, we do have the power to build a culture of opportunity that keeps star talent motivated, inspired, and a part of our team for the long haul. Opportunity can touch a variety of aspects on the job and off, but these three areas are what I have found deliver the most star-staying power:

Develop a culture of learning
At S’well our goal is for everyone to have a career path. This means that they know what their role is and where it can lead. They feel supported yet challenged to take on new and exciting tasks. We present opportunities for team members to change positions, take on new roles, titles, and even switch departments as they learn what they like or don’t like in their current position.

Changing positions is not only beneficial for the company in adapting to employees needs and desires, but it also allows for the creation of versatile players and cross training. Employees learn something new, continue to grow with the company, and have the opportunity to see how their role impacts others.

Create a culture of fun
Most employees at small companies wear many hats and work extremely hard to get their jobs done. Keeping the mood light and having a sense of humor in the work environment allows for more freedom of expression, creativity, and laughter. It encourages communication and entices well-rounded individuals who are seeking more than a paycheck to stay. Whether it be weekly happy hours or recreational team outings, it is important to foster interactions outside of the business to grow and evolve the company culture.

Getting involved in philanthropic activity is another opportunity to have fun and share ‘outside time’ together. At S’well, we’ve found pleasure in volunteering as a team at City Harvest, a program dedicated to rescuing vegetables for the needy from nearby green markets. Consider what you can do to make the office more interesting and your employees more engaged. Maybe it’s letting junior staff pick the happy hour special or the music on the sound system? Or perhaps it’s adding a game day to your quarterly team building activities? Find what best connects your team.

Execute a culture imbued with purpose
Every person within the company should understand the purpose of his or her job and how it supports the overall infrastructure, business goals, and philosophy of the company. Cross-training, as mentioned above, is a perfect example of helping instill purpose, but it is also important for leaders to give voice to purpose. Explain how every job is vital to the overall product and customer experience. If your business goal is to have your brand be a category leader, you need to be able to communicate from the receptionist to the COO how that role helps build the brand. A

t the end of the day, we are selling a beverage bottle at S’well, but what our customers are really buying into is the fun and the magic that every one of our employees puts into their work each day. Find what’s going to inspire your employees to be their best selves, build a sense of loyalty, and ultimately a purpose in being a part of the team. As Virgin Group founder Richard Branson once said, “A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.” And while not every job or task has built in creativity, a strong culture that presents a roadmap of opportunity can be your ticket to maintaining a team of stars.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: How do you keep your best employees?

The one perk that will guarantee employee happiness by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.

The secret to holding on to your best employees by Amit Srivastav, president of Infinite.

3 ways to prevent your employees from quitting by Niraj Shah, CEO of Wayfair.

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