“Fasten your oxygen mask before assisting others” is an all-too-familiar instruction that many of us tune out when waiting for our flight to take off. But this sage advice can not only save you in an emergency, it can save you in life and as an entrepreneur. You need to take care of yourself first so that you can take care of your family, employees and clients. If you feel overwhelmed in your business, read this first to learn how to reduce some of the stress in your life. It’s also helpful to get a refresher on the law of diminishing returns to make sure that the additional work you’re doing is actually creating a better outcome for your business.
Once you can manage your own stress, you can lead by example to create a less stressful work environment for your employees. For additional help, here are a few of my own insights based on my 20-plus years as an entrepreneur and small business advisor:
1. Set clear goals for your employees.
It's important to be transparent about the goals of the business and how job roles support these goals. This gives employees peace of mind because they know what they need to focus on and why. I recommend that you establish three to five strategic goals at the start of each year. Be sure to involve your employees in developing these goals so they buy into them and feel part of the process.
There are free easy-to-use templates available to help guide you. Once you have your business goals, each employee should develop their own 3 to 5 individual goals. They should ladder up to the company goals and be measurable. This helps them understand how what they do on a daily basis aligns with the company’s objectives.
2. Offer a flexible work environment.
Keeping employees is the most important thing you can do. If not, you can lose thousands of dollars for every employee who leaves due to lost productivity and the cost of finding and training a new employee. But for many small business owners, it can be difficult to stay competitive with pay. But pay isn’t everything. Many people are looking for a purposeful mission at the place they work. Others want a flexible work environment that helps reduce some of the other pressures in their lives. So when you can't compete on pay, look for other creative ways to keep employees happy. For example, if employees have children, be open to letting them come into the office early and leave early to pick their children up after school. You can also be flexible about letting employees work from home by having the right technology in place that facilitates remote work.
To attract millennials to your business, it’s important that you offer “work-life” integration. This means that work is task and effort oriented. So if they work at 2 a.m. rather than 3 p.m., it’s not monitored as long as their work is completed by specific deadlines. This flexibility allows them to continue to enjoy the things they want to do -- whether that’s attending their kids’ games or participating in hobbies -- and still achieve what they need to for the business.
3. Share your profits.
So often employees see money coming in and don't feel like they are getting their fair share. If your business is profitable, look at ways that you can reward employees when the business does well. This could mean creating a profit sharing plan where they get a percentage of the profits or a quarterly bonus. And even if your business doesn't have a lot of extra cash, you can be generous in other meaningful ways. For example, at one of my businesses, I used to close down the office for the day and take the staff to a spa and lunch as a celebration. This was something that the employees looked forward to and worked to earn.
Related: How Successful People Manage Stress
4. Discourage multitasking.
Multitasking makes it hard for the brain to focus. In fact, new research shows that multitasking drains the energy reserves of your brain. It uses up the oxygenated glucose in the brain, which is the same fuel that your brain needs to focus. In fact, every time you are interrupted it also takes about 23 minutes for you to regain focus according to Gloria Mark, a professor in the department of informatics at the University of California, Irvine. So the best way to get meaningful input and work product from your employees is to discourage them from multitasking. You can do this by asking them not to bring laptops or phones to meetings. You can also encourage them to post and respect “do not disturb signs” on their desks or on their messenger app when they are focusing on an activity. You can also recommend that employees take a 15-minute break every few hours.
Research shows that this short break helps our brains recharge so that we can better focus on the next activity. The best way to make this happen is to lead by example. Make sure you are fully present at meetings -- not looking at your phone or laptop -- so you can make clear decisions. You can also shorten meetings to 15 to 20 minutes. Then give yourself 10 minutes between meetings to catch up. This way you and your employees don’t feel stressed about emails piling up.
5. Encourage employees to move their bodies.
The mind can’t work at an optimal level without the body. Just like you block off your calendar for work, it's important to block off 30 to 60 minutes each day to move your body. So encourage employees to take time from their day to exercise at the gym, take a walking lunch or meeting or try a yoga class. You’ll find that your employees will work smarter, and have greater focus and clarity of thought. I often teach a yoga class at lunch. Many of the employees who attend my class tell me how they return to their desks with a renewed sense of energy and creativity. Others say that they can solve issues that weren't able to solve before taking that mental reprieve. Physical activity such as yoga and running is also a good way for employees to learn how to pace themselves at work.