Employee Work/Life Balance and How Small Businesses Can Use to Their Advantage

Discover tips, ideas, benefits, advantages and the importance of employee work life balance strategies, policy, programs and activities for small business companies.

Work and life balance means something different to everyone. Businesses that value work and life balance have a culture where they believe a person’s time outside of work is just as valuable as their time spent at the office. Many companies say their number one goal is work and life balance for their employees but most of the time we hear candidates who are job hunting say the reason they are looking to leave is for more work and life balance.

In 2015 my company was acquired and my role was part of the redundancy of two companies merging together. I was pregnant at the time and decided now was as good of a time as any to stay home with my three little girls.

Prior to staying home, I had enjoyed great work and life balance. So great in fact, I was spoiled. I could make my schedule work for me and my family, while still doing engaging human resource work for my company. I knew when I decided to head back to the workforce last year, that work life balance was top on my list. With three kids under seven who needed shuffled to and from school, practices, and dance etc.… and a husband with a job that was demanding of time, I knew that it was necessary for me to find a place to settle that would help me keep some sanity. Working with Acacia HR Solutions enabled me to do just that.

One of the advantages of being a small business, is that you can create an environment that is different than your competitors and one that fits your vision. At Acacia HR Solutions, we make our own hours and as long as the work is getting done and we are supporting our clients, it doesn’t really matter if you are doing your day job at Starbucks or after the kids go to bed.

So here are my work and life balance tips for small businesses and how to use it to you your advantage:

Work and Life Balance as a Recruitment Tool

Maybe you can’t offer top wages or top benefits at your small business, but studies show employees would forgo a higher salary or benefits to have work and life balance. If your employees have grueling commutes to work, let them pick day each week they can work from home. Make sure to put guidelines around it like what is expected while they are working from home, such as what kind of availability they must have (i.e. be online by 9am each day).

If you aren’t ready to go the remote route, even just allowing employees to have flexibility to leave early get to their kids soccer game or come in late to take the dog to the groomer is beneficial to people.

When you are discussing your culture during the recruitment process, be sure to include work life balance as a perk. Sell it by making it prominent in your job posting. Woo top-notch candidates by placing this information in a values section posting not hidden at the very bottom. If you have it… flaunt it!

Work and Life Balance as an Engagement Tool

There is a direct correlation between commitment and engaged employees. Employees who are committed to the cause are more engaged and vice versa.

Want to know the secret to making employees feel committed and engaged to your business? Give them flexibility and autonomy to do their tasks and also take care of their home and personal responsibilities. I guarantee you that those employees will be the ones to do whatever it takes to grow your small business when it’s an all hands-in kind of day or week.

Today’s workforce is multi-generational and millennials aren’t the only generation looking for work and life balance. Find out what drives your employee engagement both in and outside of work. Then use that to create programs to engage employees and keep them committed to your small business when you need them the most.

Work and Life Balance as a Productivity Tool

Heard the early bird gets the worm? Or the term night owl? Well people have different productivity levels throughout the day. One time I enrolled in a productivity training and we charted and mapped out when we felt the most productive in the day. I ebbed and flowed. I had two hours in the am, pm and evening where I would just churn out lots of great stuff. But there were also times where I just struggled to concentrate.

So, what did I learn?

To schedule my high value tasks during those peak productive hours and do the menial tasks or ones that didn’t require a lot of thought during my non-peak productive hours. What does this mean for small businesses? Figure out when and how your employees want to work and allow them the flexibility to work during their productive hours. There also may be times that they need to work during crunch time, but if the payoff is some flexibility later when the task is complete they will work more productively to get the job done.

So in conclusion, don’t just think of work and life balance as another Human Resource buzzword. Find a way to make it work for your small business whether you use it as a recruiting tool, an engagement tool or a productivity booster, heck or even all of the above. What is important is that you take a look at your business and figure out what and how you can support more work and life balance for your employees and the rewards will come along.

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Don’t Bring Down the Cheer with These Holiday Office Infractions

Make sure you don't bring down the cheer with these holiday office infractions

The holidays are a great way to get your employees together and reflect on all that was accomplished during the year and look towards the future. Businesses can use the holidays as a way to unite your workforce and celebrate cultural differences. You’ve made it through another year together as co-workers- whether it was good or not so great, but you are a team.

With that being said, office holidays are a lot like family gatherings, they are either loved or despised. As someone who used to organize company events, I noticed throughout my career that as much as the holidays bring us together, they can also divide and create morale issues in the office especially if year after year individuals feel left out. So, if you want to celebrate the holidays at your business, remember a few of these tips to help keep it a truly upbeat time of year.

Be Mindful of everyone’s workload.
While some departments are spending their days taking two-hour lunches and counting down the minutes to 5pm, not everyone is able to do that. Many departments have clients to attend to and projects to launch despite the holidays. Before scheduling anything like an office wide party, make sure that you are doing it when the majority of people are not bogged down trying to meet a deadline. People feel stressed out enough around the holidays, and making it so they feel they have to attend a party at the worst possible time, when they really don’t have the time to do it, won’t make it fun, it will add to their stress. While you can’t plan for everyone’s schedule, trying to make sure you know of any big department initiatives going on beforehand, so you can include more people in the holiday fun. And if you can’t find any time to celebrate, then put it off until January.

Don’t forget about your remote employees.
Whenever I would go and submit our events budget to the Senior Leadership staff, we would always talk about what we were going to do for our remote staff during the holidays. Would we invite them in? Usually not feasible because we were watching travel costs at the end of the year… or would we send them a small gift basket or gift card for lunch. It never failed, every time I would have at least one Senior Leader question why we were doing something for the remote employees at all.

“They have it easy! They get to work from home in their pajamas.”

“They don’t have a long commute to the basement.”

While remote employees may have a lax dress code or short commute, that doesn’t mean they have it easier than anyone else—ah but that’s a post for another day. For remote employees, the holidays can make them isolated or not a valued part of the team. That can really bring down the morale of a team.

Remote employees are likely trudging through their list of to dos, unbeknownst to them others are taking long lunches or lingering at the coffee station talking about their holiday plans. And while there are many perks to working from home, one of the most challenging aspects of it is feeling including as part of a team. If you let your onsite team off early for the day to do some shopping, or allow them to take a long lunch, extend that offer to your remote employees during the holiday season too.

Make Sure your Leadership Staff is Still Present
No one expect the CEO to be working the day after Christmas, but that doesn’t mean the entire leadership team should be MIA during that time. And if you are the business leader and are working the day after Christmas hats off to you!

Most businesses have expectations that departments need to have appropriate coverage during the holidays, so make sure that you also have some leadership team members around too. First, there may still need to be decisions made by Leadership that week. Second, if you want bad morale, allow all the leadership team to be off enjoying their time off or available only by phone in an emergency but none of the other employees. Just remember, actions speak louder than words.

Remember Christmas isn’t the only holiday going on.
The neat thing about the holiday season is that there are so many different holidays that employees celebrate and many different ways they celebrate it. Maybe they celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanza or maybe they do St. Nicholas Day instead of Christmas. In fact, some people choose not to celebrate any holidays and businesses should be mindful of that and respect their wishes if they don’t want to attend a specific event. If you let your employees off early on Christmas Eve but that employee would rather get off on New Year’s Eve, be flexible. At the end of the day, today’s workforce is diverse and that’s a great thing to have, so embrace it and find different ways to help your employees celebrate this special time of year.

Don’t forget to Pay Your Employees’ Holiday Pay Correctly
Okay- seems like a no brainer, but people get distracted during the holidays with all the hustle and bustle of trying to get everything done beforehand, things can and will get goofed up from time to time. But employees need paid correctly no matter what. One way to ensure everyone is paid correctly is go through every possible scenario that could happen and sure you have proper backup. If you need a person that can cut a manual check or a Senior Leader can only sign a check, make sure you have coverage. Remember actions speak louder than words.

And finally, if you aren’t sure if you are paying Holiday Pay Correctly, check out our post from earlier in the year on How to Calculate Holiday Pay Correct. If something gets mixed up, the holidays are not a time to short people pay and fix it later. People are depending on their checks more so this time of year.

Hope you enjoy this special time with your teams. We certainly appreciate our readers. Happy Holidays to all from the Acacia HR Solutions Team!

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Finding the Best Benefits Broker for Your Small Business

Finding the Best Benefits Broker for Your Small Business

Somewhere along my career I fell into benefits. I say that because most people don’t sign up to be in Human Resources to spend their Autumn combing through spreadsheets and meeting with the CFOs to have sometimes difficult conversations about the renewals. They also probably never dreamed they would be staying at the office late on Christmas Eve loading payroll deduction files or New Years Eve data entering Vision Enrollments. These are just a couple of examples of what I dealt with in the early part of my career prior to innovations in technology and before I realized the true power of a competent benefit broker and what they can bring to an organization.

Small businesses don’t have the time to get multiple benefit quotes let alone dive into their plan’s experience ratio, but they should. As a small business it’s also hard to play the numbers game when it comes to keeping costs down, and you can be stuck paying higher premiums because of one bad claim. If fact, many businesses big and small, just keep staying in the same plan year over year because it’s easier administratively, but little do they know their networks are lacking or employees don’t value the benefit or believe it’s too costly.

That is where benefit brokers can come in and help your small business manage the ins and the outs of your plan. You want a broker who understands that you are a small business and what risks you are able to take. You also what someone that provides more than the basic services of renewals, because let’s face it, benefits are so much more complex than they were even 5 years ago. It’s a constantly changing environment and the right broker can help steer you through the storm. So let’s get started on how you can go about and get the best benefit broker.

Get Referrals
Get referrals from your Human Resource network on who they would recommend for a benefit broker. I have worked with two of the largest US benefit brokerage firms but one got the job done a lot better than the other, and I sing their praises every chance I get. I have also worked with smaller brokerage firms, and where they might not have had as many bells and whistles as a larger firm, they had top notch customer service and resolved our employees benefit issues quickly and were more able to tailor their approach to our business needs.

When looking for referrals, try to get a mix of large and small brokerage firms. There are pros and cons to both. A smaller firm may have great customer service but lacks the ability to help you work through benefit strategy. Maybe a larger firm might lack in customer service but have a bigger toolbox of services they can offer. Regardless your network can tell you what they like the best and what is missing from their broker relationship.

Know What Services You Need
When you are searching for a benefits broker it’s important to know exactly what services they will provide. I have worked in the past with two of the larger US benefit brokerage firms. While both firms committed to us that they would help with our benefit renewals, compliance needs and plan administration, only one of those would go the extra mile and assisted us with our other human resource strategy needs.

A broker can help you with so much more than just benefits but only if you pick the right one for your needs. A broker can help you with Affordable Care Act and ERISA compliance as well as taking some of the administrative requirements off your plate. They can assist you in drafting open enrollment communications or help put together financial spreadsheets and premium scenarios. A good broker should also have strong relationships with your carriers and can help you solve insurance issues for your employees.

Know What Comprehensive Solutions They Can Offer
This seems easy enough, but many times benefit solutions you thought were included may be extra or the broker is a smaller firm and just offers compliance help etc… It’s important to understand how the broker will meet your needs. Ask questions like:

How many clients do they service per Account Representative?
Are they able to offer coverage from multiple carriers?
Are they employee centric?
How will they keep your small business up to date on compliance related needs?
As you grow how can they assist?

In my previous life we worked extensively with our brokers to look at our overall benefit strategy. We met with them quarterly to go over our plan performance but also, they would ask us questions about what we wanted to do in the next year and then help provide human resource solutions and ideas for us. They helped us get quotes on anything from human resource technologies to other benefit related services that could enhance our overall employee benefit strategy.

Remember You are the Client
The top brokers are instrumental in helping their clients look and think outside of the box. They take a partnership approach and want your business to succeed as much as you. It’s important to know when you have outgrown your benefit broker.

As your small business grows so will your needs. You may need more services and guidance around compliance than they are capable of handling. Or maybe some of the ideas they have are not aligned with your business needs. Regardless, if you are not getting the service level that you need then, it might be time to start the process again and start looking for a new broker. It can be hard if you have been with a group for awhile but in the end you are paying for their services and so you are client and they need to meet your needs.

Just remember as your wrap up your annual open enrollment period, a good broker will keep you compliant and give your a few quotes but a great broker will help you execute your benefit strategy. There is no one size fits all approach, but having brokers that are business partners will help take some of that burden off of you because let’s face it, you have other things to worry about.

So what characteristics do you feel are important in a benefit broker?

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Myers Briggs Team Building Workshop Exercises: Team Dynamics & the Struggle that an Imbalance in Personality Type Creates

Learn about Myers Briggs team building workshop exercises & MTBI group activities.

One of the biggest “a-ha” moments that happens when I am facilitating a Myers Briggs team building workshop activity is the moment when I have participants sign their name on the grid in the box associated with their personality type. It is an “a-ha” moment for several different reasons. First, it allows participants to see who is like them in type and explains why some individuals get along so well with one another. Second, it allows participants to see who is the complete opposite in type and explains where there could be conflict. Third, and most importantly for this post, it shows where the team has imbalances or gaps that could explain some of the struggles the team has a whole.

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is a tool developed from the personality theory developed originally by Carl Jung. Jung’s theory proposed that individuals seemingly random personality traits are not random but a part of an innate preference. Individuals who take the Myers Briggs Type Indicator find out their four letter personality type. These four letters indicate how an individual gains their energy, how they take in information, how they make decisions and how they organize their world. Understanding a co-worker’s personality type in these main areas can improve communication and overall teamwork.

Because our work is focused in the startup and small business space, the resulting grid after a team has signed the box corresponding to their type often has a few gaps on it. There are sixteen types. Often the teams I am working with do not have 16 team members. It would be an anomaly to have every type represented and evenly distributed, even with larger teams. Gaps or uneven distribution aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but they can be very telling.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

In my most recent workshop with a small business team of 14 individuals, there were 11 extroverts and 3 introverts. Being an introvert myself, I immediately sympathized with the introverts on the team. Once we talked through the differences between introverts and extroverts, several of the extroverts expressed how they now understood why certain team members acted the way they did in meetings. Others even apologized to the introverts for “likely driving them crazy with all the talk”.

Over the summer, I conducted a workshop for a team of 7. All 7 personality types ended with a P (perceiving). When it comes to deadlines, this type reports doing their best work at the last minute. That thrill of knowing that a deadline is looming cranks up their creativity and makes them more productive. The problem for this team is that their work required steps. One step could not be completed until the one before it finished. One employee could not start on their process, until the employee who owned the step before them completed their work. Until now, they had all viewed the final deadline as their deadline which meant everyone was running around the day before trying to get everything done. Their lack of a J (judging) type on the team who might have realized that deadlines needed to be incremental (as that is the way they like to work) had meant a ton of missed deadlines for this group. They thought it was a system problem or a product problem. What they really had was a personality gap.

Each individual on a team works in a way that is comfortable for them. This is why two people can have the same job but go about it in vastly different ways. If they are both accomplishing their goals then neither way is better. For this reason, leaders who try to force all employees to work in a manner that is best for that leader, struggle. It is always more productive to meet people where they are then force them into a way of working that is uncomfortable.

When you have personality gaps on a team, the team may be lacking the strength that the personality brings. My example of the team of 7 above is a perfect example of this. When those gaps exist leaders need to know how to tap into the talents of the team to fill that gap. They can also be more deliberate about hiring to a personality strength in the future. That isn’t to say hire to an exact Myers Briggs type, but the strength that the type brings.

Understanding the personality type of teams helps leaders to know how to best deal with each individual. It also highlights where the team has innate strengths based on personality which allows them to exploit those strengths to the fullest. Finally, understanding personality type helps a leader identify gaps or areas of imbalance and set a course to correct those areas through employee development or in the hiring process.

I’ve used Myers Briggs in this post because I am a certified Myers Briggs consultant and use it in my team building exercises and MTBI personality based workshops. It would be irresponsible of me to say that it is the only tool out there that allows leaders to understand personality type or that you even need a tool. Even if I do think they can help tremendously, I know they aren’t necessary for team improvement. The bigger picture is that leaders should take stock of the personalities around them and note the strengths, weaknesses and the differences between how each one prefers to work. Taking the time to study these things will only make the leader better. It will ensure that he or she knows how to lead each person as an individual and then together as a team.

It is much more effective than forcing all employees into one way of thinking or working. More effective and more productive.

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