How better working practices can impact on your business

Establishing a balance between work and private lives is now ever more important for employees, and all these factors impact on how smaller businesses run themselves.

With this in mind, how can smaller businesses adjust their working practices to stay on top of the changing needs of today’s workforce?

Gather feedback and empower people
Finding out what matters most to staff is important, if small businesses are to engage and motivate their workforce. Employers should ask for feedback from staff on how they work best and give them control over their work. Doing so can empower employees to examine how to carry out their jobs more effectively. This could be done by setting up a suggestion box for employees to find ways in which their own work could be simplified, or by encouraging staff to bring their own devices to work to improve efficiency. By providing employees with the option of making changes to their day-to-day working practices, you can help motivate employees and can help create a long term culture of trust with minimal cost.

Gathering feedback is also useful to gauge how employees feel about their workplace, and can help to ascertain any pressure points which may cause them to feel stressed or unsupported. Employee Assistance Programmes can offer additional help to individuals, such as counselling, and are offered with Group Income Protection policies.

Give employees the option of working flexibly
To get the best from people, smaller businesses need to think about ways of working which fit in with both their needs and the company’s. In today’s working environment, giving employees a level of choice in how, when and where they work can be seen as a benefit in itself. For instance, helping out an employee with dependents by giving them flexibility to work from home or carry out work during flexible hours is a way of demonstrating trust and reducing the conflict between an employee’s work and personal life.

The right to request flexible working is now a law, so companies need to address the needs of their workforce and make appropriate preparations in order to stay ahead. This can be achieved by taking advantage of what new technology can offer, and building the flexibility into workplace culture and the space itself. However, be aware of how this affects employee’s expectations around working hours. An ‘always on’ culture can actually hinder productivity and lead to increased stress levels.

Find new ways of developing staff
In today’s multi-generational workforce, companies can get into a rut of assuming the older workers must take on the role of educating younger generations. This can be demotivating for more experienced employees, as they may feel they have stopped learning at work. Providing equal opportunities for all employees to develop at work is crucial for boosting employee motivation and retaining top talent. Equally, it’s important to remember that not all staff may be as ambitious as we might want them to be. Line managers should gauge how employees would like to progress and, if relevant, give them the opportunities to do so. This can range from providing staff with coaching and mentoring opportunities to learning new skills to help them develop their current role. You might also want to consider offering the option of job swaps and paid work experience to let employees explore other areas of the company they are interested in.

Looking ahead to 2015, now is the perfect time to think about how to implement new working practices that address the needs of today’s more diverse workforce. It will also make a difference to the company’s reputation in the long run, as offering employees these opportunities is a useful way for smaller businesses to compete for the best talent with larger firms, who may be able to offer higher base salaries. Providing employees with the option of taking on more responsibility for their work and career development, and allowing them flexibility around how and when they work are all ways to help a small business become a forward-thinking company of the future.

By Peter O’Donnell, CEO of Unum UK