Ask any business manager what is their biggest headache and the odds are they will say people - as in employees.

Many operational issues can be resolved by establishing standards, policies or best practices, but handling people is very different. Even though unemployment and underemployment remain high, finding and retaining qualified people remains a challenge.

A major part of the problem is cultural. Over time, people's attitudes about jobs and work have changed. The jobless numbers from the recent recession never approached the figures of the 1930s.

That's not to say that there has not been serious dislocations, but many of the social safety nets that exist today were nonexistent in the 1930s, or even the 1960s. Generation X believes that work is just one part of their lives - it must fit into other facets of their lifestyle, such as single parenting, caring for a parent or a passion for travel.

Since it is unlikely you will find employees who share your passion for the business, how does a business get the right people and retain them?

It starts with realistic expectations and an in-depth interview. Go beyond their titles and credentials. Start by asking the questions that will reveal if the person has the attitude and work values that match the culture of your business.

Have they ever worked in a small business? How have they resolved customer complaints? Do they have limitations on hours and days? The interview is the time to explain your expectations and to expose potential shortfalls.

The second part of the equation is retention, and this where small businesses have an edge over larger firms.

Because most federal and state employee regulations do not apply to part-timers or firms that employ less than 50 people, special arrangements can be made to accommodate key employee needs.

Of course, everyone wants a bigger paycheck, but many employees will trade compensation for a position that complements their outside demands and lifestyle.

Don't be afraid to try different benefit options to keep your most valuable employees.

Ralph Hershberger is president of SCORE Southern Arizona, a nonprofit group that offers free small-business counseling and mentoring by appointment at several locations. For more information, go to, send email to or call 505-3636.