From the July 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Most full-time employees spend more of their waking hours at work than at home, and it's natural that they'll want a work space that reflects their own personalities. But is that practical?

The answer is yes--if it's done in moderation. "If employees work in an area where they feel comfortable, they'll be more productive," says B.J. Miller, owner of Visions Design Group in Johnson City, Tennessee, and the national spokesperson for the American Soci-ety of Interior Designers. "But personalization of work areas is hard to control."

Miller believes excessive amounts of personal items--including desk toys, knickknacks, pictures and plants--can create clutter that hinders productivity, distracts other workers and has a negative impact on your company's image. "There are other ways to make a person comfortable in their work space that allow everyone around them to be comfortable, too," she says. Some suggestions:

  • Provide customizable screen-saver programs for computers to display personal photographs. They not only clear the picture frames from desks but are also fairly easy to change.
  • Decide on a style for office artwork, but allow employees to select the specific posters or prints to be used in their areas. "It allows choice yet provides continuity," says Miller.
  • Set clear policies, and apply them uniformly. A good time to create a policy is when you're moving or redecorating, Miller says. But you may want to write something into your employee manual sooner to avoid problems you may have in the meantime.

Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 12 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.

Takeout

Give your employees the gift of convenience: payroll deduction.

Creating a payroll-deduction program can provide your employees with a convenient way to both save and spend--and may even keep them around longer. Why? Because in today's business environment, convenience is king. A gesture on your part that saves employees time and trouble won't be forgotten.

You can use payroll deductions for deposits into savings and investment plans, or to pay for traditional benefits such as group health, life or disability insurance. You can also offer your employees the convenience of using payroll deductions for automobile and home-owners insurance, loan payments, prepaid legal services, and even mortgage payments. Certain benefits, such as 401(k) plans and flexible spending plans that allow employees to pay for such things as child care and medical expenses with pretax dollars, are designed to function within a payroll-deduction structure.

According to Robert Stevens, president of Workforce Solutions Inc., a professional employer organization in Salt Lake City, employers have a variety of options for setting up a payroll-deduction program. If you outsource your benefits program, the company that administers it should be able to handle payroll deductions. Your company's insurance agent can help you deduct homeowners and automobile insurance. And check with your bank: Stevens says most banks can easily handle fund transfers.

Don't Buy It

Office-supply scams are still big business.

Small businesses are being bilked out of millions of dollars each year by bogus office-supply firms. To protect yourself, know your rights. You don't have to pay for supplies or services you didn't order, even if you use them. Assign designated buyers, keep a record of purchases, and always check documentation. Finally, train your staff to be aware of potential scams and to avoid becoming victims. The three most popular scams to look out for:

  • The phony invoice, which involves a bogus firm billing your business inflated prices for unordered merchandise.
  • The pretender, in which the scam artist pretends to be a supplier you use regularly or have used before.
  • The gift horse, where the scammer tricks an employee into accepting a gift, which is followed by unordered merchandise and an invoice showing the employee's name.

For more information on office-supply scams, contact the Federal Trade Commission at (202) FTC-HELP or visit the commission's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov

Contact Sources

Visions Design Group, (423) 282-2728, bjmiller@xtn.net

Workforce Solutions Inc., (888) 974-7200, bob@wkforce.com