Many small business owners have members of staff working for them, but very few entrepreneurs have the knowledge and skills required to manage their staff effectively. It’s a job that requires extensive knowledge of human psychology, a degree of empathy, and an awareness of employees’ legal rights and responsibilities. Larger companies have entire departments devoted to personnel management, but for a small business owner the roles of hiring, firing, managing and motivating are all down to them. This can be quite a burden for you, but it’s vital to take it seriously if you want your staff to be as effective and efficient as possible
Rights and responsibilities
As soon as you take on a member of staff, you have responsibilities towards them, and they have certain rights that you must respect. The specific legislation that covers your industry and location may vary, so you need to find out what these rights and responsibilities are. The key areas will be pay, tax, and salary deductions, including any contributions required from the business. Other key areas will be health and safety, which includes topics such as using VDU screens for prolonged periods and supplying any equipment required to make workstations comfortable. Further, you will need to consider employee rights to paid and unpaid leave, maximum working hours, frequency and duration of breaks, and access to facilities for breaks and lunchtimes.
Being a good boss
The days when a boss was seen as someone who had to crack a proverbial whip to get the best from their workers are, hopefully, long gone. Research has shown that positive reinforcement is far more powerful than negative reinforcement. In other words, giving someone positive feedback and encouragement will make them more productive workers than criticism and negative feedback. Using fear to motivate people will work to a degree, in that they will perform a task to avoid punishment, but they will never give you their best work unless you make them feel good about themselves and let them know you appreciate them. It’s also been proven that employees work best when they respect their boss. That means they know they will be treated fairly, listened to, and be involved in relevant communications and decision-making. It also means they know that the highest standards are expected from them, and a good boss will inspire their employees to give of their best.
Managing staff problems
Your employees are people with lives beyond work that can influence how they feel and perform, as well as having their own personalities that may find certain aspects of the workplace difficult to deal with. A good boss should be approachable, so that staff feel they can come to you with any issues that are affecting their work and will be listened to and given assistance and advice, whilst not allowing undue informality to affect the working relationship. If you’re a very good boss, you should be able to spot when a member of staff is having problems or isn’t themselves. Sometimes employees may not be aware of how their performance has dropped, or they may be the kind of person who tries to soldier on rather than talking about their problems. The key to managing these situations is to speak privately with the person concerned and explain that you have noticed a change in their demeanor and that their work isn’t as top-notch as it normally is, which is worrying you. This might be a little more problematic if you have remote staff, however. Skype calls or other VOIP options is a good alternative. For those with staff in countries where Skype is censored by the government, you can help them unblock Skype and other VOIP with a VPN. If you are sympathetic and supportive rather than critical, hopefully, they will open up to you about what’s wrong. Often the act of getting a problem out in the open provides a welcome release for your employee. In some cases, you may be able to offer practical advice and help, or at least some emotional support and assistance at work.
Common staff issues and how to handle them
- Bereavement and relationship breakdown. These are both forms of grief processes, one mourning the death of a loved one or treasured pet, and one mourning the loss of a partner or spouse. That means the person affected could go through stages of disbelief, sadness, anger, guilt, and depression, and you need to be ready to support them through these stages until they come through the process. Being involved in work activities can be a way to divert their attention from the crisis, and may prove helpful in their recovery. Being a supportive and sympathetic presence will be appreciated, and in practical terms, you may want to consider permitting time off for therapy sessions.
- Money worries. One of the most frequent causes of staff distress is having problems with personal finances. It’s often a difficult situation to admit to for the person involved, but there may be ways you can assist them if they open up to you. For instance, you might be able to give them an advance on their salary, offer them more hours, or discuss ways to increase their pay through gaining further qualifications. You can also point them towards useful resources such as debt counseling services, or get them to read this article about ways to manage their debts.
- Staff sickness. There are a few hearty folks who never seem to take a day off sick, but most people will be affected by some kind of debilitating health problem during their life. Obviously, you want to prevent the spread of infections in the workplace and minimize the risks of your staff’s health being compromised. You will have your own views on whether you want staff with colds or flu to still come to work and risk infecting everyone else, or whether they’re better off staying home for a few days. While a mild illness that isn’t too incapacitating shouldn’t be an excuse to miss work, there is an argument that allowing people to rest for several days not only reduces the chance of spreading germs, but will aid their recovery to the extent that they will be more productive when they return than they would have been if they struggled with feeling bad for several weeks.
Without the applicable knowledge and experience, it’s easy to make mistakes with staff management that lead to reduced productivity and an unpleasant working environment. Loss of productivity will affect your bottom line, and who wants to work somewhere that has a negative atmosphere? Learning the basics of staff management will help you avoid these problems in your own business.