The office culture in any given small business is one of a kind. Part of the romanticism, in fact, of starting a small business, or working for one, is that the constricting rules that apply in the corporate world don’t necessarily apply in the small business. Dress code is often thrown out the window, e-mail etiquette is all but absent, and communication is frequently casual and friendly, instead of formal and rigid.
However, the lax atmosphere of many small businesses often leads its employees to get more comfortable than they should, which can be counter-productive at best, and actively harmful at worst.
One of the most common abuses of small business protocol is tardiness. Employees think that because the office is so cool, so hip — and most important, so forgiving — they can stretch their arrival time, sometimes up to an hour.
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While your small business may not run on the same clock as a large, corporate firm, you can’t afford an hour of missed work from your employees. At the same time, you might not want to take severe action, either because it doesn’t fit with your management style, or because you haven’t ever done it before.
The important thing to remember is that just because you run a small business doesn’t mean that you can’t have rules. It just means that you have to find a way to enforce your rules that fits in with your business culture. Here are some tips:
1. Have Rules. This might seem like an unusual rule, but you’d be surprised to find out how many small businesses never even take the time to lay out rules for things like tardiness and absenteeism. If you don’t have any rules, get with any other executive officers in your company, and decide on some. Then make the rules known to your employees. It’s not a sin to have rules, or to expect your employees to show up on time. The basic fact is that most people will take advantage of the fact that there aren’t any rules, even if they’re only doing it subconsciously.
2. Nip Behavior in the Bud. What frequently happens in small businesses is that a manager waits until the behavior is out of control before she takes action, often too harshly considering that she never brought it up before. When you notice an employee is late, approach them about it. You can make it “unofficial” but stress that being late doesn’t fit in to the company’s culture. It’s always a good strategy to balance a criticism with a compliment, so a comment on the employee’s great work as of late, followed by a light warning would be ideal. Remember, it’s not about making someone feel guilty. Their behavior will change or it will not. Your job is to remind that what your work place is all about and giving them the choice to reform themselves to fit in.
3. Take Action. If an employee continues to be late, take disciplinary action. The worst thing you can do is make empty threats. If you tell an employee that her salary will be affected if the tardiness continues, cut her salary if the tardiness continues. It’s as simple as that. Action will always speak louder than words. So find a disciplinary model that works, and stick to it.
Learning how to manage your employees and find the right balance between trendy office culture and formality is difficult, but with time and practice, it will get a lot easier, and you’ll find that if you let your employees know the rules — and then enforce them — they will follow them.
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