In most instances, small businesses are on a constant quest to cut costs. Since cash flow can be a real problem, rampant expenses can absolutely cripple small businesses. It might seem strange, then, to suggest that small businesses spend money on services and accommodations that even Fortune 500 companies can’t afford for their employees.
Employees of small businesses are cut from a different cloth than their conglomerate counterparts. Nurture them, and they will produce extraordinary results. It might cost a little extra money, but consider it an investment. Not only that, but it will almost assuredly reduce employee turnover, one of the huge hidden costs of running a business.
1. Gym accommodations
If I could open a gym inside the office, I probably would. But since we’re limited by space (and budget), we’ve taken the next best action. We don’t pay for our employees’ gym memberships; that would put considerable strain on our budget and make it difficult to undertake other employee initiatives. We’ve taken three measures, however, to encourage our employees to exercise.
Group memberships. Small businesses can typically cut deals with local gyms. If you go in and talk to a manager, you can probably get a discounted rate for your employees. It might cost you some money up front, or you might need to agree to sponsorships and other arrangements, but it’s typically worth the trade-off.
Extended lunch. It’s tough to work out and eat lunch in an hour, even if the gym is nearby. Any employee who signs up for a membership and wants to work out during lunch hours can take a 90-minute break. That gives them enough time to exercise, shower, and eat lunch before coming back to work.
Laundry service. The problem with working out during lunch is, what do you do with your sweaty gym clothes? They can become rank if you leave them in a gym bag all afternoon. We’ve installed a clothes hamper (by the bathroom, not in the break room). Employees can dump their gym clothes in there, and we take them to a laundromat twice a week. It costs a little, but it makes lunchtime workouts so much more convenient, therefore leading to higher participation.
A massage is one of those things that you always want, and sometimes need, but rarely splurge for. Yet they can be incredibly refreshing. I’m not aware of any studies linking massages to worker productivity, but anecdotal evidence suggests there is a correlation.
Massages needn’t get overly expensive, especially for smaller companies. It’s not like you’re getting your employees weekly hour deep-tissue massages. Just 15 minutes will suffice. While rates will vary, you can typically get this done for around $20 per employee. Interested employees can typically get a discounted rate for an hour-long massage if they’d like one (not not in the office, of course).
Of all the amenities we’ve started offering employees, this one is easily the most popular. Every Wednesday afternoon we have someone come in and ease everyone’s tensions. It makes for a much more productive Thursday and Friday than we’ve ever realized.
3. Weekly lunches
Catered lunches for companies is nothing new. Many small businesses do it, often partnering with local eateries for catered Friday lunches. Three weeks out of the lunch we do this. Problem is, most of our employees just take the food and bring it back to their desks. Sure, they appreciate it, but there’s no real bonding experience from it.
One Friday a month, we take everyone out to eat at a local eatery. All we ask is that the exercisers skip that one day, so we can all sit around a table and enjoy a good meal.
This is different than lunch in the office, because it gives people a chance to talk after sitting silently all week. The casual environment allows people to open up in a way they might not inside the office walls — which is exactly why ownership and management typically don’t go on these lunches. It’s for the employees. Let them have their time together without management listening in.
4. Afternoon naps
If there is so much research supporting the idea that midday naps increase productivity, then why aren’t more companies jumping on that bandwagon? The answer is the same as so many other similar questions: big corporations stand to lose the most when making such a change. It leaves them open to criticism and the perception that they’re lazy. This is where small companies can really take advantage.
We don’t have a set nap time, nor do we have the facilities for our employees to take simultaneous naps. We don’t even believe that our employees need naps every day. But some nights you just don’t get enough sleep. At that point, a nap can pay dividends. So we took a small room in the office and put in a decent, but not super comfy, couch. If an employee needs 20 minutes, he can take it — knowing that she needs to be back at her desk 20 minutes later.
Yes, that’s 20 minutes of work not done. But if the employee will be unproductive after lunch without the nap, it’s more of a time investment. If they’re going to get 30 minutes of work done in an afternoon without a nap, but 90 minutes if they take a 20-minute nap, well, the decision becomes obvious. What’s better is that this costs us essentially nothing.
Not all small businesses should emulate the policies we’ve mentioned. Each company has its own values and standards. Every company should allow these kinds of experiments. Small businesses are nimble and can therefore do things that their larger competitors cannot. They should take advantage in ways like this.