‘How to be Idle’, a book by Tom Hodgkinson, editor of the The Idler magazine, is one of a number of titles that addresses that most precious thing: the balance between work and life.
Hodkingson’s advice, although slightly tongue-in-cheek, is that people should take their careers and jobs far less seriously. Instead, they should spend more time relaxing and learn to enjoy simply doing nothing.
Hodgkinson’s theme chimes in with an increasing desire among workforces in all types of business for a better life. No longer are people prepared to work incredibly long hours and devote their life to a career if salary is the only reward. It is a significant shift in sentiment that is markedly different from the powerhouse 1980s, when material possessions and “getting on” were the order of the day.
While no doubt Hodgkinson is onto something, balancing work and life is far from easy to achieve for most owner managers or for staff in growing businesses. The simple truth is that in small companies everyone has to be adaptable and hard-working, because young businesses have to fight their way into a market and offer a better service or product than established competitors.
It is vital that owner managers don’t put the rise of the idler generation down to simple laziness. In fact, the cause is totally different; it is actually about a change in values, even among those who work in careers with traditionally long-hours such as stockbroking, banking, medicine, the law and the media.
As a consequence of this change of values, new firms will have to be more flexible. They should look at the benefits and working conditions that are most likely to appeal to staff and see what they can reasonably offer without distressing the business. One of the key things is developing a positive culture: if the managing director can produce a friendly, co-operative and focused culture where all are genuinely valued and everyone can contribute this is likely to produce the sort of esprit de corps that staff will find hard to leave.
Next, look at other benefits that don’t require hard cash like holidays, flexible working hours or in-house training sessions, all of which are valued by staff and go a long way to securing goodwill.
Owner managers should also lose no opportunity to praise and thank staff for a job well done. It’s amazing how little this is done by bosses, who often believe that the salary is reward alone. A kind word or some public praise where deserved is often of more value than an end of year bonus!
If efficiency can be increased, the benefits should be passed back to employees in holidays and time off, as well as cash in pay packets. Managers must monitor output and hours and ensure that their hardworking staff are not being put upon.
Equally they should organise their own time properly and not thoughtlessly demand “just one more thing” from someone hoping to go home at a reasonable time. I believe it’s every owner manager’s duty to ensure that they know who is busy (and who isn’t) and that everyone has an even workload.
In a small business, if a member of staff is underperforming, this must be tackled immediately because it will soon have a seriously negative impact. Choosing the easy route and reallocating the load onto a more capable and harder-working colleague just isn’t efficient.
It is short-termist and definitely not a permanent solution. It overburdens diligent staff, while failing to tackle the root of the problem, which is why their colleague isn’t performing adequately. If managers can ensure all staff are working efficiently and fairly, enormous amounts of time will be liberated, allowing staff to either reduce their working hours or take longer holidays, or hopefully both.
In sum, staff retention for all businesses comes down to making them feel valued. Remember regular thanks and praise is all it might take to make the difference between keeping staff working loyally and them feeling the need to explore their inner child on a hillside in Wales!