The current labor shortage is a strange phenomenon. According to the experts, there are millions of jobs available, but not enough workers to fill them. Now, along with supply chain disruptions and chip shortages, businesses of all sizes must deal with an absence of workers to keep their businesses running smoothly.

It’s particularly worrisome for smaller businesses, since they typically lack the financial resources to compete with large corporations for salaries. Lots of possible reasons have been proffered to account for the shortage of workers, including the stimulus checks and generous unemployment checks that were handed out. But whether or note you subscribe to the theory that government subsidized “free money” is to blame or something else, the fact is that small business owners need to know how to compete for the best employees.

Teach Employees to Value Non-Monetary Compensation

If you can’t compete with large corporations as far as paychecks, then you need to offer value in other areas. The challenge is that many people think that money is the end-all. Too many people are willing to jump jobs in exchange for a larger paycheck, only to find that their quality of life suffers. Your job, then, is to educate your existing employees and your job candidates about the value of non-monetary compensation. This could start with a conversation about quality of life. Ask employees and candidates what they want out of a job; out of life. Most will talk about money, of course, but digging a little deeper will yield different answers, like more time with family or more freedom. Once you have answers like these, you can start to formulate ways to compete for the best employees that won’t completely empty the till.

Think Opportunity

Get into the mindset of offering opportunities to your employees and candidates. Every person likes to be appreciated for what they bring to the table. That’s why employees respond to praise. Bosses hand out trophies, employee-of-the-month awards and close-up parking spaces to reward hard work and success. They do this because it’s been shown to motivate employees to do better, and not just the “award-winning” employee, either. Other employees get inspired to compete so they can win the prize next time.

Opportunities can come in many forms. They can come in the form of awards and commendations. But a potentially more powerful opportunity that you could offer is the opportunity for expression, creativity and advancement. Work is more enjoyable when employees have a chance to do what they’re good at, learn something new or to have a fighting chance to do better at their job than they even thought possible for themselves.

Examples of Creating Opportunity in the Workplace

Opportunities can exist in any kind of workplace. So whether you run a drive-thru eatery, a gas station off a highway, a copy place or a digital marketing agency, you’ll be able to implement the following ideas, and others like them, with just a few tweaks:

• Let employees create menu items. Imagine the pride an employee would feel if you let them create a brand new menu item, complete with a recipe that your staff has to follow.

• Let employees sell their own handicrafts in your store. Do you have employees who are “makers”? Let them display their items near the cash register and, of course, keep all their earnings.

• Teach employees how to operate all the tech. Don’t hold employees back simply because their job isn’t front-facing. Let everyone have a turn using the software, the ice cream machine, the lottery machine, etc. You might just find that the person you hired to stock shelves is more of a people person than the cashier you hired.

• Give classes. As a small business owner, you know a lot of things that you take for granted. You probably know how to apply for a small business loan. You know the difference between a P&L statement and an income statement. If it’s appropriate, why not give short little business classes to your employees? These can be little 15-minute classes in the morning or after work. Those who are interested can attend and learn something they might be able to use someday.

• Let employees come up with incentive plans. Who else knows more about what kinds of incentives would work than the employees themselves? Have employees work out all the details, from conception to implementation.

Remember, the key word is opportunity. Don’t force employees to take part in any of this. Otherwise, it becomes a burden they have to do, instead of something they might want to do. And when you have these opportunities in place, you can pitch them to your job candidates so they can see that you offer something that [probably] no other employer will give them.

Make the Work Environment Fun and Enjoyable

Unless you’re born with a silver spoon in your mouth, everyone has to work. And that work usually entails long hours spent away from home, away from family. They say that if a you can find a job you love, then it will never feel like work. Why not create that sort of environment in your workplace? Why not make it as enjoyable a place to be as possible? You don’t have to have raucous laughter, but it’s possible to run a business where it’s fun to work and pleasant to be in. For instance, let employees chatter with one another as long as customers are being helped. Provide stools or chairs for employees behind registers and counters. Hang humorous cartoons in the break room. Bring in free pizza on Fridays and donuts on Mondays. Play cool, upbeat music that both employees and customers will like. Decorate a little. Hang white twinkle lights in some areas instead of drab office lights.

Hopefully, you get the idea that there are ways to compete for the best employees that don’t involve large paychecks. If you do these things, you’ll almost certainly see an uptick in employee retention and new job applicants.