Creating loyal relationships with first-time work-seekers

Loyalty is key!

In the last edition we looked at how, as an entrepreneur, a key moment in your first business is hiring your first employee. You often choose to hire young, first-time workers because that’s what you can afford. For their part, first-timers are thrilled to be in work. Sounds ideal, right? Sadly, it’s often a formula for employment failure as both you and your employee bring high expectations and a lack of experience to the process. You don’t discuss this with each other so neither party understands the others’ position.

As the business owner, it falls to you to take the lead in creating an atmosphere in which you can grow into a team. Your goal is to create a sense of loyalty in your staff. Doing this requires a level of transparency that may be outside your comfort zone. Here are our top tips on how to create loyalty. 

Put yourself in your employee’s shoes. Yes, this is a difficult enough task at the best of times and even more so when you’re in survival mode as you establish your new business. Taking the time to recognise what your new employee is going through will pay dividends. With the best will in the world, a first-timer who has never worked before is going to come into your business feeling a lot more excited about their salary than about their job. They won’t know what’s expected of them, and they’ll be nervous. You need to recognise this.

As the business owner, it falls to you to take the lead in creating an atmosphere in which you can grow into a team. Your goal is to create a sense of loyalty in your staff.

You are the role model for an employee who has never worked before. They will mirror your behaviour. It’s up to you to understand this and provide clear and consistent direction. Recognise that you’re dealing with a clean slate and that every little thing you write on it will be visible. 

Think of your employees as if they were your customers. You need to communicate your vision clearly, which means not just outlining it but making sure it is really understood. Getting their buy-in has to begin from your first meeting. Get it wrong and they will communicate the wrong thing to outsiders. Get it right and they will become your greatest ambassadors. 

Feedback is essential. You need to talk to each other as often as necessary, and at least at the beginning or the end of every day. Unhappiness on either side can spiral out of control very quickly but if you’re talking to each other regularly you’ll be building trust and need never get to a negative place. Reviews shouldn’t be one-sided. Think about what review your staff would give you, think about the review you want, and act accordingly. Ask them to do the same!


Cash flow is often a problem in new businesses and if you’re having difficulty paying a salary, you need to have a courageous conversation with your employee. There is a delicate balance to be struck here. You want to be transparent but don’t want to scare them off. 

You may have to ask them to take a part-payment for a month or two. This conversation needs to be about how you can help them manage their finances through this patch and how you’re going to work through it together, and how and when you will make it up to them. Cash flow is easy enough to explain and it helps them to know that you don’t want them to leave. If you can get through a moment like this and keep the loyalty and trust of your employee, you want to hang onto this person forever!

It helps employees to understand your challenges and to tell the difference between the internal and external factors that impact a business. These are essential learning and growth moments for a first-time employee and will help them grow into an even more valued role in your company and view their job through your entrepreneurial eyes.

Recognise that you may have a bad moment when you’re not paying yourself but having to pay your employee. This is your business, your dream, and you will ultimately reap the greater reward, so whatever sacrifices you’re making are going to be worth it.

It can be easy for first-time work-seekers to see your business as a stepping stone to something they perceive as better. Building loyalty and trust will ensure that you work together to grow your business into something better as you develop your first employee into your greatest asset.

Harambee has been placing entry-level employees in the SME sector for three years now. From the beginning we recognised the recruitment challenges small companies face; we know it’s a delicate balance between what either party needs. This is why we provide a great deal of guidance, including a free HR Toolkit for SME employers.

Our aim is to power economic growth by helping SMEs to unlock the potential of small business to absorb young talent. Contact us on smeinfo@harambee.co.za or 011 593 0505 for more information.