Small business owners have always been keenly aware of how important employees are to their company’s success. Recently, though, the pivotal role of attracting and retaining engaged and satisfied employees has arguably become the top priority of businesses of all sizes.

Indeed, in its recent “State of the Workplace Study,”[1] the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) surveyed both employers and employees and found that maintaining employee morale and engagement is the top challenge facing companies.

It’s a challenge well worth solving. In fact, a wealth of research over decades has made it clear that job satisfaction – which is defined as the extent to which an employee likes their job – leads to greater productivity, less burnout, and lower turnover.[2] Employee satisfaction is especially important for small business owners today because demand for workers remains high,[3] which makes it hard to hold onto your most impactful employees.

The question, then, is what can small business owners do to keep their employees satisfied and engaged? Here are four ways:

Don’t let work become monotonous - It may sound counterintuitive, but workers are more satisfied when their jobs are complex[4] enough to demand a range of skills. Complexity appeals to our need to feel competent, independent and gratified in our work. With that in mind, ensure employees have tasks requiring problem-solving and collaboration rather than monotonous repetition. One way to ensure that employees land in sufficiently demanding positions is to allow rotations so that workers get exposed to a wide range of jobs. Depending on what your company does, continuous job rotation could be a way to defend against the danger of job dissatisfaction that arises when a job involves doing the same thing every day.

Tamp down work stress - Some aspects of work inevitably elevate worker stress. Tight deadlines and demanding customers are unavoidable. While small business owners can’t eliminate all work-related stress, they can do a lot to reduce the unnecessary stress that leads to employee dissatisfaction. For instance, some large companies are eliminating the stress and distraction of receiving work emails after hours.[5] This can be done by having IT cease to route work emails after work hours. Business owners can also reduce stress by eliminating confusion about work responsibilities or simply asking employees to do too much, which contributes to dissatisfaction.

Solicit feedback - Even the most intuitive business owner can’t know what employees like and dislike about their jobs. The only way to know is to ask workers for suggestions about improving their jobs using suggestion boxes and online tools. But don’t solicit feedback unless you plan on taking it seriously. A rise in goodwill and job satisfaction can follow if employees see you are serious about hearing and acting on their concerns. This doesn’t mean you have to respond to each suggestion and criticism. But it requires business owners to be transparent about what they are hearing from employees and provide a clear explanation about how they respond.

Pay is significant - but isn’t everything Financial compensation is essential to all workers and undoubtedly contributes to job satisfaction. But there are plenty of other contributors to satisfaction, including flexibility for employees to work at home and to take time off to care for family members or attend school events. Once you find out what matters to your employees – maybe money is the main priority for some while others appreciate a subsidized gym membership – you can devise a pay and benefits package that uniquely satisfies each employee.