Work-life and flexible-work policies are fast becoming important elements of a company strategy to attract and retain prized talent, alongside salaries and benefits. And setting ground rules for yourself as an owner is key to your own well-being.
Done well, rules and regs can be instrumental in creating positive workplaces that enable both employees and employers to thrive. But effectively balancing the wishes of employees and the needs of the business can be tricky. In this week’s installment of the “Get a Life” series, our panel experts and entrepreneurs explains how to design your work-life policies. Read below to see how they answer our third question:
Should small-business owners create specific ground rules or formal work-life programs or initiatives? How do they decide what to offer — summer Fridays off, flexible hours, remote work, workshops or workouts?
In one word, YES! Work-life programs are great for recruiting, retention and company culture, and they’re often low-cost. Casual policies allowing flexibility as needed or with manager approval may seem like an easy way to test work-life options, but it can ultimately backfire. Employees get confused about what options they have, managers find it difficult to stay on top of everything, and people often perceive unfairness, enabling jealousies to start.
To make flexible work options clear and useful for both employees and the company, small businesses should do their due diligence and then create formalized programs. The first step is to assess your goals, the needs and wants of workers, and what options will work best for everyone involved. Some questions management needs to answer to build a successful program are:
- What types of flexible work will integrate within our workplace culture and our worker’s needs? Options: full or partial telecommuting, flexible schedules, part-time options, summer Fridays off, job sharing. Conducting a survey of employees can really help to pinpoint what they most need.
- Which roles should be eligible for what types of flexibility? Customer-facing roles may need to be in the office to meet clients, but people who work mostly on a computer or by phone may be able to work from home some percentage of time.
- What are our main goals? Examples: increase productivity, reduce turnover, improve employee satisfaction and morale, reduce real-estate costs, be “green.”
- What training can we provide managers? Proactive communication, time management and creating clear understanding of goals and milestones are all “best practice” management skills that become more important when managing flexible workers.
Answering these questions will help a small business to craft a customized, effective flexible-work program that supports business goals, the bottom line and the team.
As the economy continues to improve, the competition for employees is heating up — and it will only get harder to find and keep qualified staff. That’s why offering employees perks, such as summer Fridays, flex time, remote work or yoga classes, is becoming more popular.
One mistake small business owners often make is not asking their staff what they want and, instead, they offer benefits that sound good, but don’t fit the needs of their employees. For instance, flex time and remote work rank high with Gen Y workers, especially as the older Millennials are starting to have families.
Of course, the perks you offer need to fit your business. Some things to think about:
If your business slows down in August, why not offer summer Fridays? You’ll also save on utility costs, which is an extra bonus.
If you’re worried about offering remote-work opportunities to your staff, you can start slow by allowing them to work one or two days a week from home. Create a schedule and stick to it. Also make sure employees have ways to stay in touch with you and one another.
Creating specific work-life initiatives is optional for most small businesses, but I’ve found that it is a good idea to make sure employees understand what is expected of them and that any initiatives are clearly related to the business and fairly enforced throughout the company.
My firm, Human Potential Consultants (HPC), took extra care prior to implementing work-life initiatives to protect the company against legal claims by ensuring our expectations were clear for all employees. We had to address the fact that our business model requires employees be in the office during business hours and did not allow for flexible schedules, telecommuting or job sharing. Still, we wanted to try to address our employees’ work-life needs.
In light of these concerns, HPC carefully selected initiatives that would allow us to create a family-friendly and gender-neutral work environment. As I mentioned last week, if there is a need, employees may attend to family matters during work hours, and we have a “no work outside the office” policy. We also have “Fresh Start Fridays,” when employees wear agreed upon colors signaling the upcoming week they will start anew. And finally, the company’s structured processes and systems ensure work doesn’t pile up while an employee is on vacation. As a result, HPC enjoys happy, productive employees.
Having workplace policies that benefit employees’ professional and personal development is not just the nice thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. Attracting and retaining a quality team takes more than just competitive salaries. I find that benefits above and beyond the norm are really what make our team feel appreciated and happy, and ultimately more productive.
At Francis Financial, we focus on healthy habits, professional development and personal growth. I think it is important to have initiatives that focus on the different parts of my teams’ lives, offering options that encourage well-rounded development. A few of the incentives we offer are:
- Daily office workouts and a bi-weekly boot camp with our fantastic personal trainer, weekly healthy-snack Tuesdays and monthly massage days.
- Monthly continuing-education programs, such as webinars, teleclasses and conferences focused on wealth management and divorce financial planning
- Monthly live trainings to support healthy living such as nutrition, communication, stress reduction and time management
- Quarterly team-building retreats that support individual and company development and goals
- Monthly work-from-home days, along with 10 additional days to use throughout the year to support work-life balance
I recommend creating a detailed outline in your employee manual and reviewing it with your staff periodically to ensure everyone is on the same page and that benefits aren’t abused.
Decisions that impact the work-life balance of your employees are monumentally important, and no one program works for every single employee. It’s important to recognize that each person has a different approach, technique and strategy when it comes to striving for balance. It’s not one size fits all.
Don’t be afraid to ask your employees directly what they value most and, if you notice that something you offer isn’t helping your team, don’t be afraid to pivot and try something new.
Think outside the typical benefits like flexible hours and health stipends. It could be as simple and inexpensive as starting a company lunchtime running group, or turning one of the conference rooms into a quiet space where employees can regroup for a few minutes during the hectic day. The important thing is to keep your finger on the pulse of how people are working and be open minded and creative when making decisions on what kinds of benefits to provide.
To keep and retain good talent, it is critical to know what is important and valued by your employees and, in some cases, customize a solution for individual people.
For example, one of our employees is an aspiring musician and usually performs on Thursday nights. It was important to him to have Fridays off, but he also needed a certain amount of hours to guarantee a minimum monthly income for his family. We built a four-day work week for him with the flexibility for him to work Fridays for extra hours.
My advice would be to get input from your employees first so you can create a program that is desired. This is a win-win in that it creates an added value for them and increases the loyalty factor for the business owner.