In today’s economic climate, jobs are hard to come by, companies are stretched thin, and tensions are running high.
“The economy may be getting better, but I still see a lot of stress out there in the workplace,” said Elizabeth R. Lombardo, Ph.D., psychologist, physical therapist and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. “There is survival guilt and employee responsibilities have increased.”
Can small businesses create an inspiring and stress-free environment where employees want to come to work?
Two Leaves and a Bud Tea Co. thinks so. In June, the seven-person company, which is squeezed into small office space in Basalt, Colo., took on the challenge.
“Since we are in a tiny office, it is sort of like a kettle of hot water; it can reach a boiling point quickly,” said Phil Edelstein, marketing director.
In an effort to improve morale, each employee was interviewed. From those conversations, upper management learned that the company was lacking in employee performance feedback, internal communication and clear messaging of its mission and the product in general.
“We took what we learned and arrived at the brand message ‘go there,’” Edelstein said. “Our team has a lot of go-getter energy, so we wanted to take that energy and bring it to life, staring with making our employees inspired and happy to work here.”
The company introduced ‘go there’ days, encouraging employees to do something adventurous outside the office, such as skydive or hike. In addition, the organization now goes on ‘go there’ bonding retreats.
“We also now have monthly education sessions where our CEO teaches us something about tea,” Edelsetin said. “We also streamlined our internal communications, have an office newsletter and we standardized employee reviews.”
How have the changes affected the company’s atmosphere?
“It has only been a few months and we’ve already felt the energy go up in the office,” he said. “People are using their ‘go there’ days and productivity is up. Our communication is a lot better and everyone is feeling really clued in and positive.”
How can other small business owners improve their workplace environment?
Here are seven key tips:
“A lot of companies provide a serenity room,” said Tom Von Deck, owner of Monkey Wisdom Meditation and Yoga, a Prescott, Ariz.-based meditation and stress management training company. “When you allow your employees to take a time out, it boots productivity. The room can be a place for people to decompress.”
“Research shows that when people are part of a cause bigger than themselves, their happiness levels increase,” Lombardo said. “Find a cause about which the office is passionate and do something to help. A sense of meaning and purpose is a powerful motivator and a stress reducer.
“Try to volunteer as a team and then, if you get thank you notes, for example, post them in the office as a reminder. It is a great way to boost morale.”
“Try to open the lines of communication in your company,” Edelstein said. “Find someone who can give honest answers about what is right and wrong in the business. Encourage open dialogue.”
“Develop a wellness program where you have a group fitness instructor come into the office two or three times per week,” Lombardo advised. “Research shows that working out can be as effective in helping to increase happiness as anti-depression medication. Working out as an office will build camaraderie.”
Assign an employee advocate
“A lot of small businesses don’t have a human resources manager,” Edelstein. “It is really important to find someone who can continuously get feedback from employees and see what is going on.”
Create a box
“Have an encouragement box,” Lombardo said. “This is the opposite of a complaint box. When you notice a co-worker doing something good, let them know on a piece of paper and then make a copy and put it into the box. At the end of the month, there can be a drawing where the person who wins gets to wear jeans for a day or have lunch with the CEO.
“Research shows that rewards are better at encouraging positive behavior than punishment is at preventing bad behavior.”
Form a team
“Participate as a team in a sport such as soccer or softball,” Lombardo said. “You can compete against other small businesses. When you have a common goal and are working together, it helps you get stronger. It is a great way to get to know other people and gets people excited and working together on a different level.”
Katie Morell is a Chicago-based freelance writer specializing in small business concerns.