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Small Business Strategies: Starting a workplace wellness program might be easier than you think

Meditation room at Tribe

What can you do in the new year to improve employee morale and productivity without spending a ton of money? Easy answer: start some level of wellness program in your office. If you’ve ever considered doing something like that, this might be the perfect time.

Wellness programs allow you to give employees something they find meaningful without handing out big pay raises. Many small companies froze salary increases last year. In others, employees watched people in their company lose their jobs, and were understandably meek about pushing for their own salary reviews. But don’t think that means they’re not thinking about what they give the company for what they get. A workplace wellness program can be a very good way to let employees know you value their contributions.

Of course, it’s also the beginning of a new year. The perfect time for fresh starts, healthy new habits and lifestyle improvements. Your employees are probably already thinking about what they can do in 2010 to be healthier. A wellness program can help support them in their individual goals. It’s also a powerful way to bring new energy into the workplace.

How do you do it? You don’t have to build a company gym or pay for an on-site spa chef (although you could). Think in terms of providing flexibility (time) or resources (access). You can pick one element of wellness, like fitness or stress management or healthy eating and focus your program around that area. Or you can put together a small smorgasbord of wellness offerings. Here are a few examples:

• Allow employees extra time for lunch two or three days a week so they can fit in a walk or a run. At Tribe, we tell employees they can put up to three hours a week on their time sheets for exercise during the workday. We’ve found that whenever someone manages to fit in a workout or  yoga class during the day, they’re likely to come back to the office with a good idea or solution for something they’re working on. If nothing else, their energy level is higher that when they left.

• Use one of those empty offices for a meditation room. Move the desk out and put a small couch or a comfortable armchair in there instead. Or just put out a few yoga mats or some big floor pillows.  Add a few meditation CDs and a CD player, and you’re good to go. If employees feel comfortable spending 20 minutes meditating in the middle of the day, alone or with a coworker, that can go a long way towards reducing stress levels.

• Put a bowl of fresh fruit in the break room, and stock it weekly. When employees hit that pre-lunch or mid-afternoon slump, being able to skip the vending machine and grab an apple or banana instead can be a highly appreciated perk. Supporting wellness in the office can actually come down to some very simple (and inexpensive) changes.

The biggest thing employees are looking for in a wellness program is a way for the workplace to support them in living a good life. As a business owner, you do that by providing meaningful work and fair compensation. But lately, many companies have been asking employees to work harder without the hope of a big, fat salary increase. Especially in this economic environment, one of the best things you can do for your employees is to provide the flexibility and resources for them to take care of their own health.

Hell Yes to work-life balance, from Judy Martin

img2judy_martin_photoI’ve just discovered Judy Martin, who seems like a kindred spirit in the area of work-life balance. She’s also an Emmy award-winning journalist with 2o years of broadcast news under her belt. You may have seen or heard her on Marketplace Report, National Public Radio, CNBC Business Radio, The World Vision Report or News 12 TV Networks. She now writes and speaks about the merging of the working and living experience. HellYesBookCoverSmall

Judy posted a great review yesterday (follows below) of my “Hell Yes” book in her blog at Work Life Nation: 

Work Life Balance: If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no

“Just say no.” The phrase is arguably one of the most sacred with regard to the eternal quest for work life balance. Now Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, CEO and creative director of ad agency Tribe Inc., takes the phrase a tad deeper in her book, Hell Yes: Two Little Words for a Simpler, Happier Life

Hell Yes is a simple book. It’s shy of a hundred pages, but filled with richly written phrases that directly drive home the premise of the book:  cut to the chase of what truly matters in any given choice. If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no. The book offers a haiku-like take on more conscious steps in the decision making process of daily life, at home and at work.

The wisdom is not necessarily anything you haven’t heard before, but it’s the delivery that catches ones eye and heart. You could pick this book up over and over again for some thought provoking contemplative exercises. I’d like to slip it onto the desk of a few news producers I know. 

Baskin asks this question throughout the book, “Is it a hell yes?” Her responses cover everything from ego, to time management, to food choices and project decisions. As she says, ” This one simple question serves as the sharpest razor, swiftly and completely cutting away anything in the gray area.”

In our changing times, every decision, especially with regard to career and work can have numerous implications down the road. We are constantly faced with change and challenges. Baskin has experience in that area. She is well versed in transition and reinvention as a branding specialist with a cache of national and global clients like UPS, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Chick-fil-A and Porsche. 

What I particularly like about the book is Baksin’s brevity.  In our sensory overloaded society,  it’s refreshing to be able to just pick up a book, hit any page – and get a shot of know-how, to make the day go a little easier. It should be required reading for anyone trying to merge ones work life journey in a more positive way.

Small Business Strategies: Creating workplace wellness programs

Guy in suit meditatingYou know that your employees will be more productive if they’re well, but how do you put that into action? If you’re not a huge corporation, you may think you can’t afford a wellness program, but there are plenty of things you can do to create an environment that supports healthy living.

Wellness programs are also great for your office culture. Not only does such a program reinforce the idea that your company is somewhere people live healthy, balanced lives, it also can be powerful for building relationships among your staff. Doing something together that’s not work related, like a yoga class or a fitness contest, takes the corporate  hierarchy out of the equation and lets employees relate to each other outside their job functions.

As the boss, it’s important for you to participate as well. Not only does that speak volumes about your commitment to wellness, it also allows your staff to interact with you in ways that don’t involve you being the top dog. So put on those running shorts and put your ego aside. And remember, it’s okay if some of your employees can run faster than you. 

Here are some ways you can promote wellness in your company, at a range of price points:

1. Keep fresh fruit in the break room. Or any sort of healthy snacks. When employees feel a little blood sugar slump, it will be easy for them to grab something that won’t make them crash again later.

2. Start a lunchtime walking group. Or an after work running group. This can be a casual employee-led group. You don’t need to hire an instructor. (Although you may want employees to sign a waiver acknowledging responsibility for any potential injuries.)

3. Give wellness hours. Allow employees to take an extended lunch once or twice a week for exercise. Or to take an hour during the day, whenever their schedules allow. At Tribe, we allow everyone to put up to 5 hours a week of wellness hours on their timesheet. This gives them the idea that it’s okay to work out during the workday, but they very rarely use more than an hour or so of wellness time a week.

4. Set aside a meditation room. This can be an empty office, or you could let the conference room be used for meditation, when it’s  not needed for meetings. At Tribe, we  have a small office containing nothing but a couch and a CD player. Two or three people will often do a short meditation after lunch. I once asked a friend to come in and lead a lunchtime meditation lesson, but Tribe folks also use a lot of guided meditations on CDs.

5. Sponsor a yoga class. We used to do Yoga Fridays at lunch, which meant anybody who had time piled in a car and drove to the nearest yoga studio. Occasionally, I’d treat everyone to a company-paid class, but most times we all paid our own way. The important thing is that they didn’t have to feel guilty about that company-sanctioned two-hour lunch.

6. Spring for a massage. This is especially appreciated in the midst of a busy season. You can offer a gift certificate for a massage to one employee who deserves it, like after pulling off a particularly challenging project, or you could have a massage therapist come in and do 10-minute chair massages for the whole group. 

7. Establish a company fitness competition. We do this every year at Tribe, and it’s created some significant changes in a few employee’s lives. Our fitness competition lasts for 12 weeks and starts in February, right about when we’ve all abandoned our New Year’s resolutions. If you’re interested in setting up a similar plan, you might find some helpful ideas in my blog titled “How to launch a workplace fitness competition.”

Small Business Strategies: How many hours should you work?

woman clockFirst things first. Don’t buy into that myth that all entrepreneurs have to work 24/7 to make a go of it. I mean, you can if you want. But I know a whole lot of successful business owners who never did.

On the other hand, Timothy Ferriss may underestimate what it takes for most people. His bestselling “4-Hour Workweek” suggests that you should be able to join what he calls the new rich with less than an hour’s effort a day.

For most of us, the right-sized workweek lies somewhere in between. I’m a fan of the high tide-low tide approach. I can handle the occasional high water mark of long days for a week or two or three at a time. But only if those stretches are broken by weeks of lighter work loads and shorter hours. The more tired I get, the longer the recovery period to get me back at the top of my game. 

You have to consider what it costs the company for you to work long hours. I’m not talking about dollars so much as what it costs in terms of your ability to lead. If you work too hard for too long, you’ll find yourself depleted and exhausted. Wouldn’t it be better for the company to have you refreshed and energized? Does your company’s success depend on the hours you work or the quality of your ideas, relationships and vision?

However, running your own business requires some effort. You can’t expect your company to flourish if you don’t give it the time it needs. Up to a certain point, working hard and being intensely engaged in my work gives me even more energy. But after a few long weeks, I find myself spending more time being reactive to situations and less time proactively planning. If a workweek includes a long day or two of business travel, I know I won’t be my sharpest the next morning. The law of diminishing returns sets in, and I eventually realize I need to back off so I can come back fresh and renewed. Like the tides, it’s a cycle, and develops its own rhythm.

The trick is to recognize that thin line between working too hard and not working hard enough. Only you can know where you hit your stride and where your performance begins to deteriorate. In most cases, it’s not about the hours you put in; it’s about the caliber of work that comes out.

Small Business Strategies: Simple Feng Shui for your office

Guy in suit meditatingMaybe it will increase your financial success and maybe it will just make your office a more pleasant place to work, but a little Feng Shui certainly can’t hurt. At Tribe, we hired a Feng Shui expert to help with our new office when we were in the middle of its design. She nixed a few things I’d planned, like putting the accountant in a tiny office with no windows and cool blue paint in the lobby and common areas. (We made the windowless office a meditation room instead and chose a warm adobe clay color of the lobby walls.) I can’t say if it’s had an impact on Tribe’s success, but I know that when I’m there, I generally feel both relaxed and productive.

Here a few things you can do to add a little Feng Shui to your workplace, whether you work at home or in office space:

1. Make sure your desk is positioned for power. That means you don’t want your back to the door or a hallway. You should be able to see people coming, so that symbolically, you can’t be attacked unawares. You also don’t want your back to a window, which is too exposed and doesn’t offer strong backing behind you.

2. Activate your wealth corner: The far left corner, as viewed from the entrance to your office, is considered your area of wealth, symbolically. Put something green and growing there, like a tall potted plant, or maybe wind chimes, to create movement. Same goes for the far left corner of your desk. Place something there that means financial success to you. In that corner on my desk at home, I keep a paperweight that used to sit on the desk of a friend of mine, who not only enjoyed great wealth, but also used her financial resources to benefit many people. 

3. Activate your helpful friends: The near right corner of your desk, and of your office, symbolizes helpful friends. That’s a great corner of your desk for the phone. If cords and phone jacks make that problematic, try your Rolodex or your Blackberry or a stack of business cards for key contacts. 

4. Choose the power seat in meetings: For a client presentation or any meeting where you’ll want as much power as possible, choose a seat about midway along the side of the conference table, facing the door. Many people assume the head of the table is the power spot, but trust me, the middle of the table puts you in a more powerful position. 

5. Get rid of the clutter: This one is perhaps less interesting than the preceding tips, but it’s hugely important. Do whatever you have to do to keep your surfaces clear of clutter, especially old, inactive clutter. If you’ve got stacks of paper on your credenza for a project you’re actively working on, that’s one thing. Piles of old mail or unread reports or other inactive clutter are surprisingly draining. Get rid of them, and you’ll feel a surge of new energy.

Small Business Strategies: The power of a vacation

Flip flopsWhen you own your own company, it can be very difficult to tear yourself away from the business for any stretch of days long enough to be considered a vacation. But taking a vacation is one of the most responsible things you can do for your company.

This is very tough for us Type A types to believe. We get so wrapped up in the urgency of the day-to-day workings of the company, and sometimes even in our own self-importance. It’s hard to believe the business wouldn’t immediately run adrift the second we take our hand off the tiller. 

When my first agency hit its one-year mark, my business partner and I contemplated a spa trip, both to celebrate the success of our first year and to plan for the next. We just could not imagine being out of the office for the five days the trip would take. We broached the subject with our first employee, who was by that point handling many details that neither of us were much good at anyway. When we asked if she thought that she and our skeleton crew could possibly manage without us that long, she burst out laughing. “I think we can handle it,” Rebecca said drily and turned on her heel to get back to work. 

The thing about getting away from the business for a number of days is that it pulls you out of the mire of details and deadlines. It breaks that ant trail of list making perpetually marching in your head. And eventually, not right away, but when your mind begins to calm, you will find clarity. This is where the power of the vacation lies.

With the distance of time and geography, you provide the space for big ideas to appear. The perspective you gain from stepping back from the business allows you to see both issues and opportunities you hadn’t had time to notice before.

Of course, this clarity doesn’t come right away. For me, at least, my mind churns as busily as ever for the first few days of a vacation. I sit on the beach thinking of things I need to make sure people back at the office remember to do, or hike in the desert hills with accounting numbers banging around in my head. But eventually, the salt water or the desert air do their trick. 

Most of the really smart business ideas I’ve ever had occurred to me on vacation, in a moment of stillness toward the end of the trip. I was staring out at the ocean in the early days of Tribe when I realized I could never make the income I wanted with only my own billable hours, at least not without working many more hours a week than I wanted. A few weeks after that vacation, I had six or eight freelancers working on client projects, and I was billing all their hours with a nice markup. Jennifer and I were sitting at the pool towards the end of one of our Arizona trips when we realized it was time for Tribe to get real office space, to collect all our home-office people in one location. That decision was huge to Tribe’s ability to grow, and to serve our Fortune 500 clients who were becoming increasingly less tolerant of trying to track us down in our virtual world. I was sitting on the beach on a family vacation a few months later when I realized it made a whole lot more sense to get a loan from our bank for the office build-out instead of trying to pay that out of cash flow. That decision gave us financial flexibility that made all the difference one tough slow summer. 

The hard part is trusting that it will happen. As the days of vacation trail behind me, I almost always think it’s not working. I somehow expect that my mind will immediately stop its usual racket the minute I’m out of the office. It takes time. It takes hikes in the mountains or runs on the beach, it takes long nights of good sleep and leisurely afternoon naps, it takes reading a few books, having some good meals, sitting on the porch for cocktails with people I love. 

Then suddenly, the big picture or the new idea or the instant clarity floats up out of nowhere. Often, it’s something that is so clearly the right thing, it later seems obvious. You just never saw it before. And likely would never have seen it, if you hadn’t taken the time to slow down for a few days.

Therein likes the power of vacation.

Seven reasons business ownership can be better for your life balance

cyclistMany professionals, particularly women, in high-level corporate positions find themselves opting out of their shot at the corner office because of the wear and tear on their life balance and family time. But entrepreneurship can be a way to have more flexibility and control over your time, while still pulling in a big income. Here are seven reasons I recommend that frustrated corporate folks don’t opt out, but opt to own.

1.  Location, Location, Location. Owning your own company gives you the option of working at home. Even if you lease office space, you might decide to work from home a few days a week or in the afternoons when the kids get out of school.

2. Owning Your Calendar. Rather than being at the beck and call of all those corporate meetings called by somebody else, you have control of your calendar. If you want to be at the school play on Wednesday, you can schedule that client meeting for Thursday.

 3. Being There For Your Kids. Show me a mother with a boss and I’ll show you someone who feels guilty when her children need her during the workday. When you own your own company, you don’t have to apologize when your kid is sick – you just rearrange your schedule to be at home.

 4. The Company Evolving With Your Kids.  While your kids are very young, you might prefer to work from home. Once they’re in school most of the day, you might want to lease office space but leave work in time to meet the school bus. And when they hit those tumultuous teenage years, you might want to be around the house a little more in the afternoons. A business owner often has the freedom to accommodate his or her kids’ changing needs.

5. Time For Outside Interests. Believe it or not, many entrepreneurs manage to take up time-consuming activities solely for their own enjoyment, like training for a triathlon or competing in horse shows. Although more and more corporate employers are growing more flexible about scheduling a work week around parenting responsibilities, you’d be hard pressed to find one who’ll give you afternoons off for long bike rides or a horse show two hours away.

6. The Luxury of Support. As a business owner, you can build in support from your staff. Employees in small, closely held companies often cover many functions of a personal assistant, or even a back-up family member. It’s not unusual for small business owners to have an assistant who’s willing to run out to carpool when they’re stuck across town in a client meeting, or who’ll pick up groceries for the soccer team dinner when the boss runs out of time.

 7: Perks Aplenty. Business owners also are able to offer themselves all kinds of extras your corporate boss might not. You might have your company lease or buy you a company car. You can write off any travel that can be justified as a business expense. You can plan your annual management meeting at your favorite spa resort. Running the show gives you the opportunity to invest company money in what’s important to you – whether it’s bringing in healthy lunches or a massage therapist to keep your crew performing well during stressful times. Or hiring yourself an executive coach and a crackerjack assistant.