Work-life balance. Flex-time. Job-sharing. Summer hours. Perhaps these buzzwords help explain why you started your own business in the first place: You grew tired of operating on someone else’s unyielding clock. As your small enterprise grows, it’s important to remember how stifling that was and to avoid re-creating it for your employees. Eight out of ten American workers today say they want more flexibility on the job, and offering it can help your business thrive, whether you manage two people or twenty.
“The best-in-class business sustainability cultures can be summarized in two words: open and flexible,” notes Julie Urlaub, founder of the Taiga Company, a consulting firm that specializes in sustainability. Urlaub adds that aligning employee wants and needs with business interests creates additional value, from cost savings to increased employee engagement.
Allowing staffers to keep flexible hours instead of sticking to a traditional 9-to-5 schedule can benefit small businesses in myriad ways, including:
- Increased productivity. “When you give employees something they value, they are more likely to go above and beyond for the company,” says Amy Gallo, who writes for CEB Views. “[This] leads to increased discretionary effort, such as helping others with heavy workloads, offering to take on additional responsibilities, and looking for ways to do their job more effectively.” Highly engaged workers expend nearly six times as much effort as their non-engaged peers. Also, staggering employee schedules allows businesses to stay open longer and serve more customers.
- Lower overhead. Allowing employees to work at home even part of the time can cut down on how much a small business spends on everything—administrative costs, office supplies, utility bills, etc. Having fewer people working onsite also makes a smaller office possible: less square footage equals lower rent.
- Less paid time off. Alternative work schedules reduce stress by allowing employees to avoid rush-hour traffic, work around family needs (and emergencies), and get personal errands done. Businesses that allow flexibility report less absenteeism, fewer late employees, and less use of sick leave, say transit authorities like the District of Columbia Department of Transportation. They point out that fewer trips to the office and less time spent sitting in traffic cuts down on carbon emissions, too.
- Better recruiting and retention. By offering flexible scheduling, “a small business can gain a competitive advantage over its larger, deeper-pocketed counterparts,” writes Colleen DeBaise, who advises entrepreneurs on how to better balances their lives. The expense of buying equipment — such as a laptop or cell phone — is often minimal compared with the cost of replacing valued employees who may quit if they can’t arrange an alternative setup.
“In the future, flexibility won’t be a program, a policy, a benefit, or a perk,” say the researchers at the Families and Work Institute. “It will become the way we work.”
Do you allow your employees to work flexible hours? How has it made your small business more sustainable? Please share your experiences in the Comments field below.