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  1. Business

As economy improves, small businesses work hard to keep best employees

NEW YORK — People are quitting their jobs at a faster clip, and that's pushing small-business owners to work harder to hold onto top talent.

Andrea Bisconti, owner of a Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Willoughby, Ohio, has experienced the challenge firsthand. When Kellie Love, a top instructor there who brings in more than a quarter of the studio's revenue, said she was planning to leave to start a business of her own, Bisconti decided to act.

"My most terrible fantasy was I would see students walk out the door in droves and I would be scrambling," Bisconti says.

As the economy and job market improve, keeping the best employees is becoming vital for small businesses. The Labor Department reported that more than 2.5 million people quit their jobs in July, up from 2.3 million a year earlier.

The trend is expected to continue. Thirty-eight percent of workers plan to change employers in the next five years, according to a 2014 survey by the management consultancy Hay Group, up from 30 percent in 2010.

Bisconti figured out a way to keep Love. They are negotiating to make her a business partner.

At FutureAdvisor, head of recruiting Chris Nicholson polled the investment advisory company's 30 employees about why they stay. Most said it was the positive atmosphere created by the San Francisco company's owners. They mentor staffers, set realistic goals and promote a healthy balance between work and their personal lives, Nicholson says.

"If the top management has their heads screwed on straight, the whole organization that grows out around them is going to be in a lot better shape," Nicholson says.

Owners and human resources consultants say most people don't leave a job solely because of pay unless another employer offers them so much money they can't refuse. Job satisfaction is more important for many employees. But pay can be an issue at companies that slashed salaries during the recession, says David Lewis, president of OperationsInc, a human resources provider in Norwalk, Conn. And workers at many of those businesses had to take on additional responsibilities as jobs were cut. They're still carrying a heavy workload.

"At some point, it's no longer sustainable to give people 2 or 3 percent increases on a base salary you've already reduced in some cases by 20 percent in 2009," Lewis says.