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5 Ways to Make Your Employees Happier and More Productive A more flexible work environment can help maximize productivity and alleviate burnout.

By Dan Schawbel

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More millennials work for small businesses with less than 100 employees than any other company size, according to research from PayScale.com. Five years ago this may have been less consequential, but this year marked the tipping point where millennials now make up more of the work force than any other generation. The future of the work force is here, and its members are more inclined to work in a small business than larger organizations.

In order to understand how macro forces are driving change in the workplace, like the rise of millennials and the expectations that come along with that, Staples Advantage, the business to business division of Staples and WorkforceTrends.com partnered on the Staples Advantage Workplace Index, a new study surveying more than 2,000 American and Canadian workers. The major finding was that more than half of small-business employees report feeling overworked and burnt out, yet 89 percent are still happy at work and motivated to become managers in their respective organizations.

Related: Why Company Culture Is More Important Than Ever

It's no surprise that this data also suggests that small-business employees are working longer hours; a quarter of them spend time working outside of the office and 40 percent work on weekends at least once a month. The research also found that they don't have time to take breaks, they get too much email and they're wasting time in business meetings.

Limited resources and the need to do more with less is a hallmark of small businesses. In many cases, this fast-paced environment and ability to wear multiple hats are a few of the traits that make small businesses so desirable for the new wave of workers. However, it also means that small-business employees are under the constant pressure to manage a growing workload. According to the survey, the "always on" work culture forces employees to complete work they don't have time to do during the day and many have the desire to get ahead for the following day as to eliminate even more burnout.

Related: 10 Life Hacks From a Millennial Millionaire

This research, along with others of its kind, shows that all of our assumptions are true: We are working longer hours than we have previously and we are getting burnt out. However, what makes this bearable and enjoyable is the fact that more often than not they can do this work when and from where they need. Small businesses are known for their more flexible, adaptable work styles. And while technology advancements have certainly perpetuated this "always on" environment, they also enable workers to incorporate work into their personal time, and personal time into traditional work hours, as needed. This flexibility has empowered employees at small companies and enabled them to manage increasingly demanding schedules, both at work and in their personal lives.

As more and more small businesses allow for flexible hours, employees will become happier and more engaged. Here are some ways that small employers can create a more flexible work environment that maximizes productivity and alleviates burnout.

1. Enable flexible work.

In the study, more than a third of small-business employees reported that flexible schedules would increase happiness and minimize burnout. In order to balance the rising demands on both work and personal time, small businesses need to allow employees to work flexible hours and remotely. Small-business employees are not just looking to balance work and personal life, but to have the ability to blend the two together. The underlying force behind flexible schedules is an inherent trust from employers that their employees will get done what they need to get done, in the time frame they need to do it, even if that's not traditional 9 to 5 hours. This means that employees can step away at 11 for a school play, leave early to coach soccer practice or duck out for a doctor's appointment and know they can finish work from home later in the day. This allows people to not only juggle the increase in demands in their work life, but their personal life as well.

Related: Here's What the Future of Work Looks Like to Millennials and Generation Z (Infographic)

2. Encourage employees to step away.

Small businesses need to push employees to take more breaks at work so they can have downtime, network with their fellow employees and some of your best ideas for work come from when you aren't doing work. The research uncovered that almost half of those employed by small businesses don't feel like they can step away from their desk for a break. More than a third of small-business employees acknowledge that if their employers encouraged them to take breaks it would help alleviate burnout. One idea to encourage breaks is to ensure your breakroom is well-stocked and comfortable or provide more compelling incentives like free food, snacks and coffee to encourage employees to step away from their desks.

3. Rethink that email.

The biggest reason why employees are "always on" is because they are constantly connected to email via their smartphone. Small-business employees are getting bombarded with emails around the clock and feel compelled to answer them because they don't want to appear like they are ignoring the sender. About half of small-business employees say they receive too much email, with about one-third of those saying that email overload hurts productivity. In order to have fewer emails answered after work hours, managers should make messages as "urgent" that they want responded to.

Related: Get More Done by Following 'The Productivity Diet' (Infographic)

4. Make meetings actionable.

The work force is overwhelmed with meetings, and most of these meetings are viewed as ineffective. While small-business employees spend less time in meetings than the general worker population, more than a quarter say meetings are inefficient. Instead of having meetings, for the sake of having meetings, have one meeting a week that is structured and actionable. This way, employees have more time to think things through and meetings serve a purpose.

5. Align office space and culture.

The study revealed that small-business employees have a higher tolerance for distractions. Only 41 percent of small-business employees say that a distraction-free environment would increase productivity by 20 to 30 percent, compared to 50 percent of the general worker population. However employees agree across the board that loud coworkers as the top distraction. The research reinforced that office design is a highly individualized proposition. For some company cultures, employees might thrive in open offices where collaboration and open communication are prominent, whereas others may need a bit more quiet, personal space. The fact is, there is no one size fits all approach. Survey your own employees and ask what their preferences are and ensure feedback aligns with your chief business goals, whether that be productivity, engagement, collaboration or creativity. Remember that your aim is to create the right environment for your culture, not to hop on the latest design trend.

Related: Everything You Know About Millennials Is Wrong

Dan Schawbel

Research Director at Future Workplace

Dan Schawbel is a New York Times bestselling author, and the research director at Future Workplace. He's the author of two career books: Promote Yourself and Me 2.0. His next book, Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, will be released in November 2018. Through his companies, he’s conducted dozens of research studies and worked with major brands including American Express, GE, Microsoft, Virgin, IBM, Coca Cola and Oracle. Schawbel produces a free monthly newsletter on workplace trends and career tips.


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