Pizza on Fire: December 2015
Work-life balance is for everyone
I’ve heard many of my friends use a rather catchy phrase when they talk about their own jobs: the work-life balance. Unlike me – a small business owner – they work for bigger corporations that offer this flexible work option to all of their employees. Most take advantage of it to improve their hectic work schedules and balance their family life.
It’s a trend that is gaining momentum for various reasons, and after much discussion on the topic, I have come to realize that being self-employed and employing others puts us in a unique situation. In addition to managing our own work-life balance, we also must be conscious of what is important to our employees.
Unlike big corporations, small business owners typically employ 10 to 15 people. With the exception of a few, most of them are working part-time hours. These employees are also looking for some sort of flexibility to be able to take care of their other responsibilities. When dealing with a smaller workforce, it could become difficult to agree to and honour specific work arrangements. Many of us try to accommodate.
However, with fewer people to cover essential work hours, the flexibility could be pushed to the limit.
There are a few proactive steps small business owners can take to ensure those who are being hired are the right fit for the business. It’s helpful to ask potential employees what work-life balance means to them. It is a very general term that means different things to different people. Some might say that having evenings free to attend classes would be ideal. Others could say that working on the weekends would not be the best option for them because it collides with their family time. There could be as many answers as there are people looking for work. The important takeaway is that their responses should guide you through the hiring process to select the best candidate for the job.
This might sound like a very basic and, for many employers, odd question to ask. Typically, when we advertise we are looking for new employees, we simply outline our requirements for the job. Very rarely will the job posting include any description of work flexibility. Applicants come in with different work experiences and sooner or later someone is hired. Valuable time and resources are invested to train the new employee. A few months later, this new employee who seemed to be a perfect fit for the job leaves your pizzeria. In such cases, you might not always get a two-week notice. Most likely you will find out the day before that the employee is not returning to work.
Usually the explanation is that they found a new job that offers them exactly what they were looking for. If you didn’t ask the right questions to find out what their expectations were, this should not be a big surprise to you. Many employers then wonder what it is that was missing from the job the employee just left. At this point it is too late, and you are back to advertising a job opening again.
I think the above example is a great illustration of what small business owners frequently must deal with. That is why it is important to ask the work-life balance question early on to understand what the employee is looking for. If we assume that just getting the job and being paid for it is all that people are looking for, then we will never break the cycle. It is true that we cannot control everything, but we can be better prepared when hiring new employees. At the very least, once we have the information, we can understand what is important to each employee. We can have a productive discussion to let them know what aspects of their work-life balance could be accommodated. This would be proactive planning for the future to ensure individuals who fit best into your specific business environment become part of your team.
One of the limitations with making work-life balance a priority at a pizzeria is that employees have to physically be at the location. There is no option for someone to work from home. There are also specific hours and days that employees have to be scheduled to work. With that being said, people who apply for these jobs understand that this is how the business operates. There is room to make small adjustments to accommodate various requests. Someone could ask for flexibility to start work later in the afternoon to be able to pick up kids from school. At the same time, there might be someone who would prefer to work the earlier hours to be able to attend school in the evenings.
Overall, having a conversation about work-life balance with potential employees should help you identify more easily those who are looking for more than you can offer. Ideally, it will help you attract and hire individuals who will work for you for a longer time because it suits their values and priorities.
Tom Stankiewicz has been in the pizza business for more than 15 years. He has been the proprietor of Bondi’s Pizza in London, Ont., since 2000 and is president of the Canadian Pizza Team.
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