Employee Personal Issues Can Affect a Small Business’ Bottom-Line

Small businesses are often adversely affected by situations occurring in employees’ personal lives.  An employee’s personal distractions frequently result in decreased productivity on the job, and frequently smaller companies are affected at a much higher level than would be a larger firm due to the smaller firms’ dependence on each and every employee – there are typically no ‘extra bodies’ in a small business.

This being the case, it is critical that a small business owner take every step they can to put in place programs that will help employees  prevent and/or overcome every possible personal distraction that they are able.

Recently, one area that is distracting alot of small business employees is the issue of identity theft.  Therefore, we at Strategic Growth Concepts sought information from an expert on the steps a small business owner can take to aid their employees and keep company productivity high.  The following is an article provided by that expert, Tracy Katz of Identity Theft Consultants. who will provide information about their Identity Theft service.

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Identify theft is the fastest growing crime in America.  Over 252.2 million people have had their Social Security numbers stolen and their personal information compromised by databases getting hacked since January 2005. 

There are five main areas of Identity Theft, including:

  • Driver’s License
  • Social Security Numbers
  • Medical Information
  • Character / Criminal Actions
  • Financial Transactions.

The amount of time an average victim spends clearing their name and restoring their identity is 600 hours and $1500, in addition to any losses they may have suffered prior to being able to get the situation resolved.

As a small business owner, those 600 lost hours can easily affect your company’s bottom-line since typically your employee will have to spend time during working hours contacting companies to restore their identity.  Additionally, they may have to leave work early, or not come in at all so they can take additional steps to resolve the situation.  And when they are at work, they’re stressed and distracted by the chaos that is occurring their personal life and the problems they are experiencing as a result of being an Identity Theft victim.

In many cases, victims of Identity Theft will require legal asistance to help them resolve the situation and the resulting challenges which may occur; another expense that they can likely ill afford when they have already been victimized.  However, Identity Theft Consultants has come up with a solution.  Their Identity Theft service will protect your employees and drastically reduce the employee hours required to restore their identity.  Licensed investigators will work to correct damage caused by the Identity Theft.  The program will allow the employee to stay focused on their work, yet confident that their personal issues are being resolved in the hands of experts.

If your firm would like to know more about how you can help your employees avoid becoming a victim of Identity Theft, or would like to provide them with access to the Identity Theft service should they ever have a need, please feel free to contact Tracy Katz at Tracy@IDTheftConsultants.net .

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Motivate Employees with ‘Flexible Fridays’

As with many small business owners, I belong to a number of online social networks including Twitter and Facebook.  I frequently review postings from other members to identify interesting information that I believe will be of value to my target customer, small business owners. 

In reviewing some recent Twitter postings, I came across one from Amy Nichols the CEO of the franchise organization, Dogtopia.  Her posting regarding the ‘Flexible Fridays’ program at her company struck me as a concept that other business owners might have interest in using in these days of high gas prices, long commutes and 60-hour work weeks. Therefore, I asked Amy if she would write an article to share her program with our readers.  The resulting article is below.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (By the way, as a former D.C. area resident myself, I can absolutely attest to the traffic difficulties Amy discusses in her article; I assure you, I would have been thrilled to have an employer who believed in ‘Flexible Friday’s’ when I lived there!)

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Flexible Fridays

Washington, D.C. is known as our nation’s capital, but it also has another national moniker, that of one of the worst cities for traffic in the country.  Forbes ranked us in the Top 3 Worst Traffic Cities with the likes of Los Angeles and San Francisco. http://bit.ly/ForbesWorstCitiesForTraffic

Commuting in our area is grueling, and after leaving the “rat race” seven years ago to start my own business, I thought I had found a way to truly control the time I spend in my car.  I opened a doggie daycare, Dogtopia, just seven miles from my house.  Our business hours had me commuting outside of the most congested periods of the day, and I felt that I had solved the problem.  No longer would I be subjected to hours of wasted time in my car.  Until I decided to expand the business, that is.

A few years later we decided it was time to grow Dogtopia.  We had great success with the first dog daycare franchise in Tysons Corner, VA and felt it was time to add a “sister store” in North Bethesda, MD.  The new Maryland store would be only 14 miles from the Tysons Corner location – an easy commute between the two.  Or so we thought.  Apparently, the Wilson Bridge that takes you over the Potomac River and from Virginia into Maryland, had other ideas.

Skip forward a few more years and we are now a growing franchise company with 20 locations across the country.  We also have over 30 employees, six of which are in franchise management and report daily to our North Bethesda location.  The North Bethesda location now houses our national headquarters and training center.  Since we began the business in Virginia, that also happens to be where the majority of our corporate staff  lives, thus the daily undertaking of the Wilson Bridge.  The result, I was back to where I started eight years before and dealing daily with the horrors of DC traffic!

It occurred to me last summer that it would be quite easy to work from home on Fridays, and I felt that I deserved a day free from commuting.  My second thought was that my employees would really enjoy working from home on Fridays.  And if I could do it, why couldn’t everyone on our management team?  They would each save two hours or more in daily commuting time, and could therefore have an earlier start to their weekend and more time with their family.  I even came up with a clever name, “Flexible Fridays.” 

The way the program works, you can work wherever you want, but there are a few rules:

  1. Must be available by phone
  2. Must be online and available in email
  3. Must be on Instant Messenger

 The first two are quite obvious; the third requirement is because even when in the office, I often use IM to communicate with my team.  I might have a quick question while on the phone with a vendor or franchisee and it prevents me from having to yell and/or put the person on hold. 

Our initial ‘Flexible Fridays’ program last Summer worked great!  Knowing they had at least one day per week where they could avoid traffic really improved the outlook of the staff, and I know they appreciated my gesture.  There have been a few frustrations, but the slight inconveniences are more than outweighed by the increased satisfaction felt by my staff.

 This year I decided to once again offer ‘Flexible Fridays’ and so far, so good.  Other times of the year it would not be possible due to franchisee training and other commitments, but it has become a nice Summertime perk, and one that I plan to continue indefinitely.

Managing Virtual Employees

 

By Nipa Shah, June 18, 2009

Nancy is a financial analyst working for a mid-sized company located in the United Kingdom, but she lives in Michigan. She works from home in her pajamas and “meets” her boss once a month via video conference.

She is a virtual employee enjoying one of the perks of working from home and leveraging technology to stay in touch with her boss.

Companies across the globe are leveraging technology to retain resources that no longer have to be located in the same building or even in the same country. It is commonplace to hear of an individual working for a multinational company and having never met another team member.

By creating a virtual workforce, companies have been able to create efficiency, reduce travel and overhead costs, and essentially service the end-customer 24/7. Virtual employees, on the other hand, benefit from having a better work-life balance due to flexibility in working hours and not having to dodge rush hour traffic to be at work at a specific time.

Companies, however, face a common concern when it comes to virtual teams, that of measuring an employee’s productivity. Since the employee is no longer under a manager’s nose per se, managing productivity through “oversight” is impossible. Another concern is keeping an employee motivated and connected to company happenings.

The virtual team requires a shift in managerial and employee behavior. Here are some best practices which can effectively help you manage virtual employees:

Level Set Expectations
Beyond the policy and procedures set up by human resources, be sure to level set your expectations with your virtual employee, in a one-on-one discussion. Specifically state how you’d like him or her to keep in touch, how often, by what means (e-mail, chat, phone), and what deliverables you expect to receive at various times during the week. By level setting expectations in a more personalized manner, you create a better working relationship with your virtual employee and also plan for corrective action in the future.

Trust Employees
This is an important responsibility for a manager even when managing an on-site employee. It is an even more important responsibility when working with a virtual employee. Lack of trust can lead to micromanagement, which is never productive. Refrain from micromanagement in the form of “urgent e-mails” and “urgent voicemail” on a daily basis, which can create friction and unproductive working relationships between manager and employee. Trust the employee to do the work assigned and to turn it around in a reasonable timeframe. Once expectations are set, trust the employee to perform and do the work as assigned.

Provide Tools and Support
Virtual employees may require additional support to ensure their productivity. They could run into technical issues when connecting with a company local area network, or they could have issues sending large files through the firewall. All these issues need to be promptly addressed so that productivity is not impacted. Tools such as a BlackBerry, fax, access to resources and webinars, etc. should be offered to ensure employee can do the job.

Create an Inclusive Environment
Just because an employee is virtual it doesn’t mean he or she should be isolated from corporate events and happenings. Virtual employees still need to be included in team meetings, conference calls, town hall meetings, and other events so that they feel as if they are part of the corporate culture. 

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The importance of communication cannot be overstated. Even with all the technology in the world, it is important to do more than “staying in touch.” On a regular basis and without micromanaging; keep in touch, ask questions, participate in dialog, provide feedback, ask for feedback, etc.  Do everything necessary to stay in touch with your virtual employee so that you have clear communication.

A virtual workforce can be a blessing for companies and individuals alike. To make it work effectively, everyone involved will need to learn new skills and techniques. A successful virtual workforce can help a company save money and increase efficiency. Implement the above strategies and create a dynamic virtual workforce for your company!

Nipa Shah is president of Jenesys Group, LLC, an online marketing and Internet solutions company, providing technology consulting (with emphasis on offshore management) and online marketing. She is also the founder of the Michigan India Chamber of Commerce. Shah can be reached at nipa@jenesysgroup.com.

What Your Employees Really Mean When They Say… (the hidden message your employees are trying to communicate to you)

Strategic Growth Concepts is pleased to present articles from time-to-time written by Human Resource related experts.  This article is from LaToya M. Palmer, an HR professional with  over 10-years of extensive experience in all aspects of Human Resources. She is President of the Michigan-based consulting firm, Palmer Solutions, LLC., which specializes in innovative HR solutions while also providing creative benefit management and payroll administration services.

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I’ve had many managers come to me and tell me that they are having problems with their employees and they haven’t the faintest idea why.  I love this…okay maybe I really don’t, but humor me.  Any good HR person will use this gem (that’s what I like to call coachable HR moments) to give the greatest advice any human resources professional can give; always listen to what your employees don’t say.  I know you are scratching your head, trust me, the HR Gods are smiling down on you.

Employees can definitely be, let’s say, cryptic in their communications with company management. For example, I had a manager come to me and say that he was having problems with a normally good employee who had come to him and informed him that she was really concerned about a co-worker because she had been missing a lot of days lately. After asking a few more pointed questions, it came out that this “concerned” employee had been picking up the slack.  So do you see the hidden message?  What the employee was really telling the boss was, “My co-worker is not pulling her weight and I’m getting left holding the bag.” Needless to say, the manager hadn’t realized he was adding more work to the “good” employee, and that he wasn’t addressing what appeared to be an attendance problem within his department. Had he been listening more intently to what she wasn’t saying in his earlier conversations with the “good employee”, he would have picked up on the real situation during those earlier conversations.

Here are a couple more “translations” for those of you who haven’t yet mastered the language of Employee Speak.

  1. You’re giving a very simple explanation and instruction to your employees about a decision that was made by you or the Executive Team, and your employee says, “I don’t understand.”  Translation: “I totally disagree with what you’re saying. I am going to continue to say I don’t understand so that when I do the exact opposite of what you’re instructing us to do, I can use my lack of clarity as the reason.”  Action:  You should take this person aside and ensure thru a private conversation that they really “get it” by allowing them to walk through the parts they “don’t understand”, and encouraging them to give voice to their disagreement so that any potential “lack of clarity” is resolved and no longer an issue.
  2. You get a “petition” from your employees stating they want to change something within the company. Translation: Alarm bells should be ringing in your ears!  Your employees are telling you that they don’t feel comfortable coming to management individually to voice their opinions. They only feel comfortable doing so in numbers. This is a ripe climate in an hourly environment for unionization and should not be taken lightlyAction:  There is a communication gap within your organization that needs to be bridged; you should initiate communication between appropriate management and employee representatives as soon as possible to address the reasons that this climate has developed within the organization and work to diffuse the situation to allow for easier communication between the parties in future.

Employees give you “hints” at their “hidden meanings” more often than you realize. It’s imperative for company management, and HR professionals in particular, to listen closely to determine the “real” message that employees are trying to get across in order to prevent problem situations from occurring.