Tag Archives: work-life balance

5 Tips: How to Increase Employee Engagement with Workplace Wellness Programs

The key to a successful workplace wellness program is employee engagement. The reverse is also true. That is, one way to increase employee engagement is a successful wellness program.

Yesterday we were in a client’s break room, waiting for a meeting room to open up , and I noticed several flyers on the bulletin board about various wellness offerings. I was surprised by my initial reaction, which was, “Who would sign up for those?”

Why did they strike me as loser offerings? Because they seemed preachy and goody-goody and completely devoid of anything fun. One sounded like the school nurse was going to take you through a lecture on the five food groups. I’m not suggesting that wellness should be a barrel of laughs, but a good program creates energy and involvement. The more employees you can get to participate, the stronger your program will be.

An effective wellness program will do more than just increase productivity because people feel better and have more energy. It also gives co-workers a chance to do something together that’s unrelated to their usual work roles. It equals the playing field, so to speak, in a way that lets junior employees spend some time on an equal footing with those who rank above them in the company hieirarchy. It will also build relationships between people in different departments, which helps smooth the way to better teamwork and increased collaboration.

So how do you create a wellness program with plenty of employee engagement? Here are five tips:

1. Ask the employees what they want. Particularly in a small company, you can solicit input from the group. You can do a survey, if you want, but it might be easier just to ask people about their wellness concerns. Are they looking for ways to find time for exercise? Do they really wish they could quit smoking? Are they trying to eat healthier?

2. Get their help in constructing the program. Give some influential employees ownership of developing the program. If the group wants a yoga class at lunch, let an employee track down a good yoga instructor willing to do a class in the conference room. If they’re interested in a buddy-system diet, let an employee research South Beach vs. The Zone vs. WeightWatchers.

3. Make sure management joins in. The top level people in the company need to suit up and show up. If you give the impression that the boss is too busy for exercise, for example, employees might interpret the fitness program as something meant only for those who aren’t as serious about their work. Besides making it clear that you’re committed to wellness, it adds extra motivation for participation, at least by those employees who want more chances to rub shoulders with the boss.

4. Add an element of competition. Put together a contest with some level of cash prize, or a free day off, or something employees will see as worth their while. Look for a way to compete that doesn’t automatically give an advantage to the fittest among the group. For instance, instead of a contest to see who can bench press the most weight, compete on who can complete three workouts a week for the most weeks.

5. Create a collaborative goal. If your group tends to get a little too competitive, choose a goal they work towards together. Maybe after the employees collectively walk or run 10,000 miles, the company donates $1,000 to a worthy cause. Or let the collaborative goal benefit the employees more directly. After they lose so many pounds as a group, you’ll hire a massage therapist to give chair massages on Friday afternoon.

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Can you cut your payroll and still keep employees happy?

Most small businesses have already done some belt tightening this year. We’ve trimmed dead wood, become a more lean machine, and every other metaphor you can apply to spending less money. Still, when we see our final projections of where our year-end financials will end up, we might  wonder if we should cut a little more.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder of the Center for Work-Life Policy, wrote in the New York Times this weekend about a creative approach to cutting costs by trading employees money for time. She cites the example of KMPG, the giant accounting firm, and their solution to cutting payroll costs without losing star talent. They presented 11,000 employees with a Chinese menu of choices: work a four-day week and take a 20% pay reduction; take a short sabbatical while earning 30 percent of their base salary; both of those options; or neither of those options, retaining their regular salary for their standard work week. Over 80% of them chose one of the flex options.

Hewlett points out that because KPMG positioned these options as “a strategic response to the downturn, rather than a ‘benefit’ for working mothers, it has gone some distance to legitimizing flex time. Taking this option has become an honored choice — a way to save jobs. As a result, overloaded men as well as overloaded women have felt free to vary their schedules.”

I’ve seen one small company try a flawed version of this plan with disastrous results. Faced with the need to reduce payroll and loathe to eliminate jobs, the business owner asked everyone in the company to take a 15 percent pay cut, assuring them that she was taking the same reduction in salary. She hoped they would see this as a good way to help all their coworkers keep their jobs.

It didn’t work that way. Morale plummeted and some of her best talent jumped ship. Months later, when she was able to reinstate full salaries, she didn’t score any points with her staff because the damage was already done.

The crucial elements of cutting payroll while retaining employees are 1) giving them something back, i.e. time, in exchange for giving up some of their salary, and 2) giving them the choice of making that trade or not. Asking employees to help suck up your losses by getting paid less for the same work week is only going to hurt the company in the long run.

The thing about being an entrepreneur is that you have the potential to make a lot of money in good years. You also have the potential to lose money in the bad ones. We all willingly take that risk, but it’s not fair to expect our employees to share in the down side. On the other hand, in 2010 or 2011, when we see year-end projections that show us closing the year with gobs of money, we’ll benefit nicely from the upside of that risk-reward ratio.

Friday Afternoon Feng Shui Ritual

photoHow do you like to end the work week? I have this thing about clearing everything off my desk and either filing or tossing all the stuff stacked on my credenza. Then I wipe it all down to remove the week’s accumulated coffee circles and other debris.

Our Feng Shui consultant got me started on this, years ago. She said it was important to clear out all the old energy of the week, to make things ready for a fresh week to come. She advocated the use of Clorox Wipes, and suggested leaving a blank pad of paper square in the center of your work space to signal to the universe that you’re open to receive more business.

I swear, I think this weekly ritual helps. I love coming back to my office Monday morning and seeing that wide-open expanse of uncluttered desk space. And somehow, it lets me leave Friday afternoon feeling like I’ve got everything squared away, with no loose ends hanging.

Lately though, I’ve started to notice  how action-packed that 4:00 to 5:00 PM hour is in the social media world. Tweets are flying back and forth, Follow Friday is in full force, people are posting on Facebook, checking their LinkedIn account. Twitter, particularly, is like a weekly 60-minute cocktail party you don’t want to miss. Maybe it’s people killing that last hour of the week when they feel like they should be at their desk, even though they’re not about to start something new that close to the weekend bell.

So either I’ve got to start my little OCD clutter-clearing ritual a little earlier, or I’ll miss some of the fun online. What do you guys do to close out the work week? And what’s your must-click time of the day or week on social media?

Participate in the Slow Movement – via Social Media

snail“The best way to survive and thrive in the fast-paced modern world is not to speed up but to slow down,” says Carl Honoré, author of “In Praise of Slowness,” and key instigator of the revolutionary Slow Movement. Honoré  believes we’ve become addicted to speed. The tell-tale symptoms of this addiction are  “when you feel tired all the time and like you’re just going through the motions, getting through the many things on your To-Do list but not engaging with them deeply or enjoying them very much. You feel like you’re racing through your life instead of actually living it.”

What’s wrong with speed? Nothing, according to Honoré, who admits he actually loves speed. The trick, he says, is to blend fast and slow, to do whatever you’re doing at the right speed. That, he says, is where you’ll find yourself more deeply engaged and enjoying your days more.

Are social media and the slow movement mutually exclusive? Honoré mentions that social networks can tempt us to rush relationships and that when people claim to have thousands of friends on Facebook, it devalues the concept of friendship. True, but social media can also help us be more engaged with our friends, industry peers and the world at large.

Consider the many authentic and meaningful moments you share with others each day on social networks. The technology is fast, but the interactions can be slow, in the sense that, for those few moments, we are completely focused on the person or people we’re addressing online. We’re as engaged as if we were sitting across the table looking each other in the eye.

To keep your social media slow, think quality over quantity. Instead of following thousands of people on Twitter (or trying to get thousands to follow you), narrow it down to a smaller number of people with whom you truly share interests (or sense of humor. For instance, I always want to know what @Shitmydadsays is up to.) On Facebook, after the first few months of catching up with people you haven’t heard from in years, you might hide the updates of many you know less well, so you can better keep up with the core group of people who are most important to you. And on LinkedIn, although it’s nice to have tons of contacts in a wide variety of industries and roles, it helps if they’re people you truly consider trusted contacts. Before you invite someone to connect, ask yourself, “Is this someone I’d feel comfortable picking up the phone to ask, “Do you know someone who such-and-such?'” Also, think about participating more fully in LinkedIn groups that are good fits with your particular niche topics.

That doesn’t mean social media can take the place of face-to-face. Admittedly, it’s not the same as making time to take someone to lunch, or stopping by the house to visit. But social media is a tool, just like the telephone. We’ve all learned to get off the phone fast when it’s a telemarketer, and have all had long, relaxed conversations with people we love. In and of itself, social media is not fast or slow; it’s how you use it.

Home office: Open in case of medical emergency

SwingEven if you have fabulous office space and enjoy going in every morning to be surrounded by your crackerjack staff, it’s not a bad idea to maintain a functional home office as well. I worked from a home office for the first several years after starting Tribe, and learned this week how lucky I was that I kept it largely intact after we leased real office space.

I’ve spent this week in that home office, thanks to the swine flu. I came down with it Monday night, my fever broke Tuesday night, and I thought staying out of the office for 24 hours after my temperature returned to normal would be a gracious plenty of time to stay away.

However, my entire staff voted to keep me home for the rest of the week, and then assigned my business partner the task of talking me into that. Nobody wants to catch H1N1. We also have two pregnant employees. One of them went in for her weekly check up and when she mentioned that her boss had the swine flu, the doctor went ape. Apparently, pregnant women are at elevated risk for complications with this virus.

So I set up shop in my old home office, where the wireless still works, the printer still works, my cell phone gets a good signal and the coffee machine is just a few steps away. I opened up all the windows, let the dog settle in at my feet and then I got down to business. I’ve kept up with the constant flurry of email. I’ve worked undisturbed for long stretches. And when I needed to touch base on projects with people in the office, we did it by phone or iChat.

Yesterday was such a gorgeous sunny fall day that I spent the afternoon on the deck with my laptop. I could hear the birds singing, feel the breeze in the trees, enjoy the rich colors of the potted mums waiting to be planted. Midway through, I took a break to walk up to the school to collect our fourth grader. Sam started in on homework and I got back to my work. Later, I could see him out of the corner of my eye on his homemade bag swing, figuring out ways to use a ladder to make the swing go higher and further. Once in awhile, I’d respond to a “Mama, watch this” request.

It’s a nice way to work. I might miss my home office on Monday.

Building a good place to work. Not Utopia.

Tribe studioIn a market where good jobs are at a premium, it’s been surprising that so many of our recent job applicants have been strikingly unprofessional. Actually, self-focused might be a better description. Confused, maybe, about the way business works.

My small company is in the process of interviewing for a new staff accountant. At Tribe, as in most ad agencies, that’s the position that truly requires a buttoned-up personality.  The writers and art directors and other creative types here can get away with being a little flaky or free spirits, but not the person we’re trusting to add up the money and pay the bills.

We had one highly recommended applicant decline a phone interview because she was “busy running errands all day.” Another spent much of her interview explaining how she really needed a company that understood where she was in her life and “what she needed in terms of life balance.”

It’s true; Tribe does support work-life balance. Our company purpose is To Make Life Better, and part of that is supporting our employees in enjoying better lives. We generally don’t work long hours or weekends, we bring in a company-paid healthy lunch several days a week and we have a meditation room that gets a good bit of use. We host an annual company fitness competition and allow employees to use up to five work hours a week for exercise. In the spirit of balance, we also keep wine and beer cooling in the fridge and will often share a late afternoon sip of something as we’re finishing up work.

But that often seems to be misinterpreted by outsiders to mean that work comes second. It doesn’t. Tribe is a business. The first obligation of any business is to make money. If a company doesn’t make money, it won’t be in business for long. If it goes out of business, all those employees have to go, too. (And having a job remains a pretty important part of that coveted work-life balance thing.)

We make money by doing good work for our clients, over and over again, consistently. We do good work by hiring people who are very, very good at what they do. There is not one person at Tribe who doesn’t perform at an extremely high level. To do that, day after day after day, requires a level of professionalism that doesn’t put business obligations or opportunities second in line to running personal errands.

I hope Tribe is a great place to work. I believe it’s smart business to support our employees in living good lives as well as in doing good work. But Tribe would be a much less satisfying place to work without the passion and dedication that makes us all proud of what we do.

After a baby, is starting a company a better idea than going back to work?

babyMaggie would really rather be at home with her new baby, but went back to her job after a standard maternity leave because she and her husband decided they couldn’t afford for her not to work. Several months into it, she’s figured out that after paying for childcare and other expenses associated with the job, she nets about $300 a month. So, in her words, she’s working “to pay for a couple of tanks of gas and some groceries.”

Is there not a better way to make $300? Maggie is the sister of a friend of mine, and I’ve only met her once or twice, but I can’t quit thinking about her situation. I remember what it was like to have a new baby and be torn away by work. And I loved my work at the time, although I understand Maggie is not crazy about her job. I do know she comes from an entrepreneurial family, so the idea of starting her own business is probably not foreign to her.

What sort of business could she start that would mean limited time away from her baby? We’re not talking about the kind of all-consuming startup that requires 80 hours a week or depends on venture capital to get off the ground. To quit her job, Maggie would only need to create $3,600 a year in net profit. That’s not so hard to do. Let’s look at some hypothetical possibilities, making some huge assumptions about what sorts of skills and talents she might have to offer — and the kinds of things she’d actually enjoy doing.

A good solution would be something she could bill by the hour, for only a handful of hours a week. Let’s say she’s a talented tennis player and could give tennis lessons, or fluent in French and could tutor high school students, or a math whiz and could serve as an SAT coach for kids trying to raise their scores. If she charged $50 an hour, or even $35, she could work a very short week and clear her $300 net, even if she had to pay a babysitter. Although, she also might schedule some of those hours during the weekends when her husband could be with the baby.

Let’s say she’s been keeping the company books on Quickbooks at her current job. So many small businesses use that accounting software, many of which might not be large enough to have a full-time bookkeeper but would like to outsource the accounts payable, accounts receivable and basic financial reports. She could handle the books for one or two small companies by going in just a morning or so a week and come home with that $300 or more.

What about starting a company that would provide something needed by other mothers with young kids? I remember several years ago a  woman in New York had the brilliant idea of an exercise class in Central Park that incorporated baby strollers (and babies) into the fitness routine. Maybe Maggie was a lifeguard and swim instructor in her youth and could start a group swimming class for mothers and babies using her mom’s backyard pool.

One trick to making this plan work would be choosing a business that offers the chance of recurring income from the same clients month after month. In other words, she signs up one student for tennis lessons and sees them once a week for months on end. Or connects with a small business who could use a freelance bookkeeper and continues to do their books until they’re large enough to need someone full time. Otherwise, she’ll need to spend a large amount of her time marketing her services so she can create new clients over and over.

Selling your hours adds up more quickly than selling a thing. Particularly a thing that requires hard costs for materials or equipment.  This is not always true, but I think would be for the types of things I can imagine someone like Maggie selling, like homemade greeting cards (she’s very crafty) or hand sewn baby bonnets or fresh-baked birthday cakes. She would have to sell a whole bunch of any of those to make her $300 each month. If you have a skill or talent that allows you to charge a significant hourly rate, that can be an easier path to doing without a paycheck.

Starting a company as a mompreneur doesn’t have to be complicated. If you don’t need to rent office space or hire employees or buy expensive equipment, the startup doesn’t have to cost much either. This is not meant to be a pushy plug for our products, but the Start Your Own Company application for the iPhone is just .99 and could walk Maggie through the basic steps of launching a business. Or she could try the more comprehensive Start Your Own Company printed deck from Starter Cards, which also includes information on the Launch and Follow-Through phases as well as the Launch phase. Either one could be a simple first step to creating a life-sized business that works for this stage of her life.