Thought Leadership

Insights from the Field, results from Interise’s Small Business Panel Survey: (August 2021) Beyond Employment: Things Business Owners Do For Their Employees and Their Communities

Interise’s Small Business Panel Survey has been collecting real-time insights from a diverse group of business owners across the US since early 2020. Roughly each month these brief surveys collect information on things such as changes in revenue and employee count over time, the small business ownership experience, and sentiment on topics important to business owners. The longitudinal panel survey compliments Interise’s program and impact evaluation systems by allowing us to be more flexible, current, and frequent. Below you will find write ups on our two latest panels from May 2021 and July 2021. 

Beyond Employment

The goal of Interise’s August panel was to explore the many different things business owners do for their employees and communities. We know how invaluable small business owners are locally as both employers and providers of goods and services. Interise’s programs primarily focus on capacity building to equip business owners with the knowledge, networks, and know-how needed to take their business to a new level through growth. However, it’s also important to reflect on all the other ways business owners positively impact others that are less directly economic.

Business owners are leaders in their workplaces as well as their communities. In our Annual Assessment survey, we ask recent program graduates if they donate time or money to local organizations. This month’s panel questions took this theme further to get more specific. We asked two simple questions, 1) “Which of the following do you do for your employees?”, and 2) “Which of the following do you do for your community?” They were both multi-select checkboxes with “Other” write-in options.

For Employees

On the employee front, business owners overwhelmingly serve as mentors to staff, with 86% responding they do so. This was by far the most common thing owners reported doing for their employees. Such mentorship likely takes many forms and facilitates important personal and professional growth. More than half of respondents hire young people for part time or internship roles (62%), and encourage staff mentor-mentee working relationships (59%). Respondents identifying as Latinx encourage this staff mentorship more so than white respondents, 67% to 54% respectively. 

Less common activities included hiring military veterans (38%) and providing a formal or informal apprenticeship program (35%). Overall only 17% of respondents reported hiring returning citizens, individuals returning to the workforce from prison or jail. When disaggregated by race, we see a gap here with 29% of Black respondents hiring returning citizens compared with 13% for white respondents. Lastly, 7% overall reported they do none of these things for employees and 6% described something else they do. These things business owners do, among so many others, enable employees to thrive and create opportunities for growth.

When respondents described why they invest in their employees, the most common response category focused on the idea that investment in employees leads to their investment in the business and its growth strategy. Business owners also described how resources strengthen employee performance, and spoke about the personal responsibility of giving back to employees through mentorship.

For the Community

When it comes to engagement with the community, a majority of 55% of business owners support youth programs, and 51% volunteer on local nonprofit boards. Both can be valuable ways to get involved and build relationships in the place a business is located. Thirty-eight percent of respondents support workforce development programs, initiatives designed to equip workers, employers, and the unemployed with the tools and training they need to succeed. 

Other less common activities included supporting senior programs (19%), sponsoring community volunteer days for employees (18%), and teaching or mentoring at a community college or vocational school. More than twice the percentage of Latinx respondents teach or mentor at a community college or vocational school, compared with white respondents, 33% to 16% respectively. Finally, 16% overall reported they do something else for their community and described, and 14% reported they do none of these things. These responses show just some of the many ways business owners invest in their communities.

When respondents wrote about why they invest in their communities, business owners overwhelmingly described a personal responsibility they feel. For example, business owners mentioned things like “Give more than you take,” “Work together for the greater good,” and “I believe in paying it forward.”

There are a variety of reasons why business owners do things for employees and their communities. Whether there is a business case, it’s a moral decision, or both, every time business owners invest in their employees and communities the impact extends beyond themselves and can be profound.