A good working model puts in place a strategy for growth and success. Then comes the implementation, where we work and juggle the elements in the strategy grow our business through its working life, the ups and downs of success and setback. How many businesses consider their workforce juggling and growing their families through their homelife with equal successes and setbacks? How many businesses take a holistic view and plan for the practicalities of balancing life and business? Are we as businesses failing to reach our full potential because we do not provide sufficient flexibility for our workforce?
Through the life of both business and family there is one common denominator, people. In this piece I ask business how can we grow our businesses by capitalising on the changing motivations of our people?
Do we live to work? Or do we work to live?
There comes a point in each of our careers when we ask this question. For many women in business this comes at the point when they start their families. There is an atrophy which affects my industry, floristry and the flower trade, following the birth of children. A large proportion of staff do not return the industry.
So I asked myself how do I retain and motivate my team to be part of my business when their career and life motivations have changed? How do I retain this asset to our business to achieve long term growth?
The answer is to understand the needs of staff to make work meet their needs and provide flexible working patterns for women and indeed men to help them balance a commitment to work with a commitment to family.
Working with flexibility to our staff who have to balance their childcare commitments with their need to work is an valuable to the business in three ways.
1. Staff retention.
Providing a flexible pattern in the return to work has allowed us to long term to retain all of our staff.
2. Engenders flexibility to the business’ needs.
Understanding and working to put in place flexibility when required pays back to staff being flexible to the needs of the business when required
3. Uplift in morale and teamwork.
The team understand the pressures of balancing and work to help out and cover when required, willingly, because they understand and empathize.
Where you stand depends on where you sit
This was arguable the cornerstone feminist mantra. Perhaps business needs to think on this. This is not to plug into a neo-feminist debate, running a successful business is not about this. It is often about overcoming hurdles and finding way to meet the demands of the business and client base in a given period of time.
Maybe we need to take a step back and look at the practicalities in the lives of our staff in working and bringing up a family and plan to be flexible around them to benefit both parties.
How many working families rely on parents and extended families for childcare in order to allow them to get to work?
How much money does it cost your business in lost days because of problems in childcare?
I am not talking about when the kids may be sick and absolutely need to be at home with a parent. What I am talking about is those times perhaps in school holidays when there is just no-one, or when the a key team member has had an argument with the ex, who then has reneged on taking the kids on the agreed day. This is the reality for many working parents, and as such, it is the reality for the business that childcare comes first.
What is the policy of the business for flexible working on these occasions?
What duties, or workloads can be specifically put in place for this?
How can you make this work in your business?
Fail to plan and you plan to fail.
Without an understanding and a clear policy in place for flexible working with and around childcare, what are you saying to your staff about how you value them as individuals? Do you value what they are having to juggle in their life? Because you expect them to value what they do at work. And in turn how will they ultimately value your business?
As business owners it is very easy to get caught up in what the business needs. Are you on a five or six or seven day week? What are our business hours? What are the deadlines and targets we need to meet? We all ask these questions of our business on a day to day basis.
How many of us ask whether in meeting these needs we actually overstretch the capabilities of our team to meet these needs and ultimately cost the business long term. Because if we overstretch our staff, they will ask these questions, Can I manage to keep this up? What effect is this having on my family? Can I get a job elsewhere? If the answer to the final question is yes, then you have lost a valuable member of the team.
In order to successfully grow the business would it not be worth taking a step back to examine how the primary and most finite resource any business has, the workforce, can sustainably achieve and therefore grow the business. By creating a working model that factors this in the business will be able to work with its staff for mutual benefit and growth.
When we have our business head on we are sitting in one place, yet each of us at some point sits in the seat of or workforce balancing the pressures of our homelife. Let us sit in the latter for a while with our business head on. You never know it may be a good place to sit.
About the author
Elizabeth McKenna is Managing Director of Elizabeth McKenna Flowers and Lizzie’s Bundles.
She also starred in the latest series of the BBC’s The Apprentice, coming fourth and narrowly missing out on a place in the final.