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34 Posts authored by: SBC Team

By Erin O'Donnell.

 

SuccessionPlan_Body.jpgMore than six out of 10 small business owners have no succession plan in place. That means they don't know what's going to happen to their company when they are no longer running it, according to a recent survey of 500 small business owners by Securian Financial Services.

 

Succession planning for your business is just as important as having a will for your family. Without it, your company's future, assets, and legacy are at risk.

 

What happens when the founder retires, or is disabled or dies? Planning today for these situations will ensure that your partners, employees, clients, and other stakeholders are not left at loose ends.

 

We spoke with Larry Grypp, president of the University of Cincinnati’s Goering Center for Family and Private Business, about the importance of a succession plan and what it should include. Read below for his recommendations:

 

First steps

Grypp says founders should be planning for their exit from the beginning. "Most people have done some thinking about it, but very few have a really organized, comprehensive plan," Grypp says.

 

Ideally, business owners should have the plan in place two to 10 years before they want to exit, to achieve a good transition, Grypp says. According to the Securian study, 33 percent of owners planned to sell to a third party, 25 percent expect to close up shop, 20 percent plan to transfer to a family member, and 20 percent plan to sell to a partner or key employee.

 

Choosing a successor

Succession plans should address both company ownership and leadership: who will make decisions and carry on the firm's vision and strategy. Many, but not all, family businesses are still taken over by the founder's children, other next-generation relatives, or a trusted employee.

 

Grypp recommends that businesses find an objective facilitator. Someone without an emotional stake will be able to guide conversations such as how the purchase will be financed, what the terms of the buyout will be, and how to transition from one leader to another. This could be an attorney, a business specialist, or someone else in your industry that has made a successful transition.

 

SuccessionPlan_PQ.jpgThe facilitator can also help determine whether the chosen successor is ready and capable of taking the reins. "If the founder's retirement is dependent on that business doing well after they leave, they want to make sure that the next generation has the ability to run the company competently," Grypp says.

 

Selling the business

If there is no successor inside the family or company, a small business can position itself to sell to a strategic buyer. Look for a competitor who would find value in acquiring your company. Another option is finding an investor. But be wary of pursuing investment if your company is very small, or highly dependent on you as the face of the business or the main point of contact for customers. An investor probably won't want the difficult task of finding a new leader who can fill your shoes.

 

Alternatively, you can set up an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan), which gives your workers shares in the company trust. According to the National Center for Employee Ownership, ESOPs are often used to buy the departing owner's shares. According to the site,  "The company can make tax-deductible cash contributions to the ESOP to buy out an owner's shares, or it can have the ESOP borrow money to buy the shares."

 

Value your company correctly

It's critical to determine the true worth of your company, Grypp says. Bring in a valuation expert and work closely with your accountant to get an accurate financial picture to ensure a fair sale or buyout price.

 

Communicate the plan

Who should be the first to know? Will you hold meetings or issue a press release? Decide how and when you will tell family members, partners, employees, vendors, clients—and possibly legislators and regulators—about the plans for transitioning your company's ownership and leadership.

 

A succession plan should be a living document that is periodically reviewed to make sure it fits the company's current needs. Just like a personal will, a business succession plan should clearly define the owner's intentions for the future and leave nothing to chance.

 

 

Bank of America, N.A. engages with Touchpoint Media Inc. to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Touchpoint Media Inc. is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Touchpoint Media Inc. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

 

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©2017 Bank of America Corporation

Hiring talent is an ever-present challenge filled with nuances and complexities – whether you’re running a brand new start-up seeking the best talent to grow your business, or you’re a well-established small business owner experiencing exponential growth. This Bank of America Small Business Social Series Hangout is a panel discussion on small business hiring, moderated by Carol Roth from CNBC. Join panelists Jon Dowst (Bank of America Small Business Executive), Stephanie Bevegni (LinkedIn Small Business Content Lead) and Steve Strauss (USA TODAY Business Columnist) as they guide you through tips and strategies for navigating the hiring process, helping you to attract skilled and experienced candidates that have the highest potential for making substantial contributions to your company.

 

Employees and Fraud.jpgEvery year, employee fraud costs businesses of all sizes billions of dollars. And the smaller your company is, the more vulnerable you may be. Learn how to avoid theft from within and protect your small business with our new guide.

 

Download the guide "Fraud Prevention: Employees and Fraud" today!


Mythbuster-thumb.jpgThink a business retirement plan is not affordable or will take too much of your time?  Think you don’t need a business retirement plan to attract and retain employees, or that you can put off planning your own retirement?  Get the facts about small business retirement plans and dispel these and other common myths.

 

Click here to learn more about Small Business Retirement Plan Myths.

Talent-Thumb.gifA healthy work/life balance and a positive company culture are two of the leading attributes prospects look for. But did you know that growing businesses can provide these benefits just as well – if not better – than larger corporations? Find out how in “Attracting and Retaining Top Talent,” the first guide in our “Leveling the Playing Field Against Larger Corporations” series.

 

Click here to download the PDF guide "Attracting and Retaining Top Talent"

 

 

Click here to read all four of the Leveling the Playing Field Against Larger Corporations guides.

Speakers2.jpg4 Easy Strategies to Get Ahead of the Curve, Straight from the Experts

 

Click here to view webinar replay


The verdict is in and the ACA has been given the green light by the White House to take effect, with more than 6 million Americans having signed up for Obamacare. As an entrepreneur and executive, your ability to manage payroll and benefits costs, maintain your talent pool and mitigate exposure to non-compliance risks is paramount for your success.


IN THIS WEBINAR REPLAY, YOU’LL:

  • Learn how business owners and HR executives are positioning themselves to ensure compliance with the abundance of vague, indirect and unclear, healthcare laws minted by the ACA
  • Discover ways to manage costs of small group coverage more effectively 
  • Begin leveraging the new financial model created by the ACA, and gain understanding of your responsibilities as an employer
  • Gain an overview of employer reporting obligations now required by the ACA to the IRS, employees and other key parties


Click here to view webinar replay

Health-Care-Accounts.jpgHealth care is a bottom-line issue for employers. Traditional health benefits programs often entail a one-size-fits-all approach and fail to engage employees in their own health care decisions and, most important for plan sponsors, the cost impact of their decisions. Yet HSAs are putting the power in employees’ hands as they realize that they may get to keep more money in their pockets, enjoy potential tax benefits, and save for medical costs in retirement as well.


For more information, click here to read our White Paper titled "Health Savings Accounts: A bright spot in the health care cost challenge".


White-in-article.jpgby Reed Richardson

 

For the New Year, the implementation of the 2010 health care reform law continues apace. And with the arrival of 2012 there are some new (and some old) provisions that small businesses should consider when both planning for the upcoming year and filing taxes for the prior one. (To review a broad list of the health care reform changes, check out the Small Business section of the Healthcare.gov website.)

 

Small Business Health Care Tax Credit

For small businesses that already provide health coverage to their employees, the tax credit provision in the new health care law could lighten their burden by tens of thousands of dollars this spring. For tax year 2011—as was the case for the prior year and the next two years as well—the law allows qualifying small businesses to claim a tax credit of up to 35 percent of the employer-paid health care premiums. To qualify, a business must have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees, pay an average annual salary of less than $50,000, and cover at least half of the cost of their employees’ health care premiums. (For a few basic examples, check out the IRS’s small business tax credit scenarios. To plug in more specific details, use the NFIB’s Health Insurance Reform tax credit calculator.)


Pull-Quote-Tall.pngThis credit may be a welcome, but unexpected, windfall, as many small businesses don’t realize that they’re eligible to claim it. In fact, fully a year after the new health care law’s passage, a March 2011 survey discovered that 57 percent of small businesses weren’t aware of its tax credit provisions. And because many small businesses may have overlooked claiming the credit last year, there’s an opportunity to get that cash back by amending their 2010 filings.


However, the health care credit offers other potential benefits for this tax year, as well as tax years past and future. “Even if you are a small business employer who did not owe tax during the year, you can carry the credit back or forward to other tax years,” the IRS points out on its health care tax credit fact sheet. In addition, since the tax credit only covers up to 35 percent of the premiums paid by the employer, “eligible” small businesses can still claim a business expense deduction for the premiums in excess of the credit. That’s both a credit and a deduction for employee premium payments.”

Of course, you should seek the services of a qualified tax professional if you are interested in the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit.

 

State Insurance Exchanges

Small businesses that have recently dropped health care coverage for their employees or have been priced out of offering it altogether may have some new alternatives in 2012. As part of the ongoing implementation of the new health care reform law, all states are mandated to establish non-profit or state-run health insurance exchanges that are specifically geared serve individuals and businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Though, according to the law, these new SHOP exchanges (Small Business Health Options Programs) need not be until in place until 2014, 13 states had already established exchanges by the end of 2011 and seven more states either have legislation pending or ongoing plans in the works. (To view the progress of these exchanges state-by-state, check out this online map from the Kaiser Family Foundation.)


The advantage of these exchanges is that they let smaller consumers pool their resources together to increase their buying power and lower their premiums. This is a particularly important pain point for small businesses, which were hit hardest by the past decade’s dramatic increases in health insurance premiums.


In addition to affording more choices and lowering the cost threshold of health care coverage, these exchanges offer valuable back-office benefits. “[M]ost small employers—particularly those with fewer than 10 employees, which comprise 80 percent of American small businesses—have no human resources department,” a recent Small Business Majority study points out. “Exchanges may provide a variety of administrative services that can help small businesses cope with the administrative work of providing health benefits and address their other human resources needs.”


Thanks to these appealing aspects, early interest in these exchanges has been positive. A recent survey of small businesses in New York, for example, found that 84 percent of respondents rated the description of a SHOP exchange as a “good idea.” Another nationwide study, conducted by Small Business Majority, discovered that 33 percent of companies who do not currently offer insurance would be more likely to add it thanks to the options provided by exchanges. Likewise, 31 percent of those small businesses that already offer health care coverage said they would continue to do so because of the presence of exchanges.


Health Insurance Rate Review and Premium Rebates

As of September 2011, health insurers are now required to alert consumers when they plan to increase annual premium rates by more than an average of 10 percent. Part of these new rate review rules includes a stipulation that health insurers must provide a transparent justification for these increases, which either state or federal officials will then scrutinize for “reasonableness.” So far, almost every state has launched some form of a premium review mechanism—through the end of 2011, 44 states and the District of Columbia had least one insurance market subject to rate review. (To check out proposed insurance premium increases by state or by insurance provider, go to the Healthcare.gov’s rate review search tool.)


A key part of this rate increase review is a new medical loss ratio rule, which stipulates that insurers must spend at least 80 percent of all premiums collected from individual or small business health plans directly on health care services. “Starting in 2012,” the Healthcare.gov site explains, “an insurer that does not spend enough on health care or quality-improving activities must give a rebate to people enrolled in the plan or the small business that purchased it.”


Annual reports detailing these premium expenses will begin to be posted on the Healthcare.gov website this summer, so small businesses should be able to find out by August 1, 2012 if they have money coming back to them. Any medical loss ratio (MLR) rebates that result from these disclosures may come as a credit toward the employer’s next premium payment, a direct refund check, or a reimbursement to the credit card account used for payment. And these rebates could add up to a substantial sum—initial Department of Health and Human Services estimates put the 2012 MLR rebate total at anywhere from $600 million to $1.4 billion.

 

New Annual Coverage Limits

Thanks to the new health care reform law, lifetime coverage limits were eliminated on any plan issued after September 2010, but annual health care coverage limits are still being phased out. As of September 2011, any new policy issued had an annual coverage limit of no less than $1.25 million. This annual coverage limit will rise to a minimum of $2 million a year next September and then be completely phased out 15 months later, on January 1, 2014. However, because the law continues to allow for lifetime and annual limits on “grandfathered” health policies and on health benefits not deemed “essential,” it’s best to double-check with one’s insurer to know which limits do or do not apply.

White-in-article-square.pngby Reed Richardson.

 

Ask almost any small business owner about health insurance costs and they’re likely to tell you the same thing. Were Ben Franklin around today, he would have to amend his famous quote “Nothing is certain but death and taxes” to include one more inevitable fact of life: health insurance premium increases.

 

Pull-Quote-Tall.pngIndeed, the recent figures can be eye-watering. Between 2001 and 2011, health premiums increased 113 percent across all business sizes in the United States, according to a recent Employer Health Benefits study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And on average, health care premiums now run to $15,073 per year, nearly $11,000 of which is covered by the employer. So, it’s perhaps no surprise that health benefit participation rates dropped dramatically among the smallest businesses over that same 10-year period, from 58 percent to 48 percent.

 

All of which begs the question: Facing such rising costs, why would any small business still offer health care to its employees?  

There’s more than just one affirmative answer to this question, however, so, below, we’ve broken out three good business reasons an entrepreneur would want to provide health benefits to his or her employees.

 

1. Health benefits help in recruiting good talent

One of the biggest challenges facing any small business is attracting quality employees. But for many job candidates, a company that doesn’t offer health benefits becomes an untenable option.

A recent HealthPass survey of small business owners in New York state discovered that most small business owners acknowledge this fact. It found that three out of four of those surveyed—including 65 percent of those who don’t provide insurance—agreed that offering health care benefits helps attract quality employees.

“Small business owners are in a Catch-22,” explained Sure Payroll President Michael Alter in a recent survey. “Even though it is increasingly difficult to offer healthcare benefits, a company that offers little or no healthcare benefits is likely to put up an instant red flag for potential talent.”

And the results from that SurePayroll survey bear this out. In it, 20 percent of the small business owners surveyed said they could recall at least one instance when a prospective hire refused a job offer because of a lack of healthcare benefits.

 

2. Health benefits build stronger loyalty in current employees

Mark Hodesh, owner of Downtown Home and Garden in Ann Arbor, Michigan knows all about the rising cost of health care premiums. Since 1999, he says the premium payments for his company’s 12 employees have risen more than 300 percent. Yet, he remains committed to keeping health benefits as well as paying a majority—75 percent—of the premiums for his employees.

“We’re a 100-year-old downtown business,” he says. “We’re able to compete with the big box stores thanks to having a knowledgeable and stable workforce. But you don’t keep better people if they’re afraid they might lose the equity in their house during a bad weekend at the emergency room.”

In fact, a March 2011 Met Life Employee Benefits survey found that many employers underestimate the correlation between employee loyalty and health benefits. It noted that, for 60% of employees, company benefits were “an important reason why I remain with my employer.” (Forty percent of the survey’s respondents worked at companies with fewer than 50 employees.) What’s more, 74 percent of all employees said health benefits, in particular, were an extremely important factor in maintaining their company loyalty; that figure was a mere five percentage points behind the top reason, salary/wages.

 

3. Health benefits make employees and, in turn, employers more productive

In a way, it makes intuitive sense. If workers have better access to a health plan, like one offered where they work, they’re more likely to get the care they need and avoid prolonged job absences that can arise from neglected health issues.

“[R]research shows that companies with successful [health and productivity] programs are linked to improved business outcomes, including reductions in lost time, improved employee effectiveness, lower medical trends and, ultimately, superior financial returns.” That’s according to a 2009/2010 TowersWatson report that studied health benefits programs at larger companies. In the study’s findings, companies with the most effective health and productivity programs achieved 11 percent more revenue per employee, delivered 28 percent higher shareholder returns and had lower medical trends and fewer absences per employee.

Although Fortune 500 behemoths like Dow Chemical aren’t at risk of being put out of business because of a few years of rising health premiums, they nonetheless watch their costs just as closely as a small company does. So, the possibility of improving employee health while boosting the business’s bottom line makes a robust commitment to health benefits a wise long-term investment, according to Gary Billotti, Dow’s leader for health and human performance.

“We truly focus on efforts that will improve health outcomes, realizing fully that these will then lead to the economic benefits of both reduced health care costs and improved employee engagement and performance,” Billotti explained in the TowersWatson report. “Our efforts are felt at the individual level as well as at the operational and corporate level.”

And in the end, that potential combination of taking care of both employee and business—doing good while also doing well, as it were—may be the most compelling reason of all for offering health benefits.

White-in-article.pngBy Sherron Lumley.

 

How do you find a mentor?  The answer sounds simple: “Just ask.” However, for many people, that is easier said than done. There are different ways to ask someone to be a mentor, but the best way is to be direct, know what it is you want to learn, and then go for it. Many businesses in a variety of industries have barriers to entry that can only be overcome with the help of someone inside the trade.

 

“Respect is a two way street,” says Jay Terry, owner of Custom Metal Specialties in Oregon City, Oregon. Terry has opened his welding shop to younger men and women just starting out, who want to learn the artisanal techniques that go into the decorative metal work he is known for. Some of his protégés have successfully founded their own companies and others continue to learn and work alongside him on both commercial and artistic projects. “As a mentor, you have to respect their abilities, too,” Terry says.

 

Questions.pngWhere can you find a teacher and coach to help show you the ropes of starting and successfully running a small business? SCORE, a nationwide nonprofit association has volunteer mentors in over 60 different industries dedicated to helping small businesses start and grow. In partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE has been helping small business owners find mentors for more than 40 years and has a network of more than 13,000 volunteers who, like Terry, are very experienced in their particular fields and provide business mentorship services at no charge.

 

“What makes a good teacher is patience, tolerance and the ability to convey what you know,” says Terry. When it comes to opening and running a small business, this may include particular trade skills as well as general know-how about setting up the business, establishing business credit, or preparing financial statements.

 

Finding a mentor with the right fit will depend on personality, skills, and the desired outcome of both the mentor and the protégé. “When looking for a mentor, think beyond former bosses and professors. Look to older family members or friends, neighbors, spiritual leaders, community leaders, the networks of your friends and colleagues, or officials of professional or trade associations you belong to,” says Karen Burns for U.S. News and World Report.

 

A small business mentoring relationship, whether formal or informal, is a reciprocal one with something for both parties to gain. Sherry Linder is the owner of Seams to Fit, a consignment business that includes a home decorating store and a women’s clothing shop, known for personable service and high quality. Linder started her business out of a tiny storefront of just 300 square feet, and over the years, it has grown to occupy two large stores with spacious showrooms. Linder’s daughters came to work for Seams to Fit after graduating from college, learning about business ownership, customer relationships, and reciprocating by taking the business online and growing it in a new direction.

 

A friend or family mentoring relationship such as Linder’s is an informal one. “A family member who is mentoring must be capable of maintaining objectivity while being emotionally involved with his or her protégé. Their personal relationship should not distort the value of the advice and counsel,” says Mentoring author, Dr. Curtis Crawford. 

 

What do mentors do, exactly? They give counsel in difficult times, offer encouragement and support, provide sponsorship, expect excellence, and promote visibility and exposure. They nurture creativity, help with growth and development, and act as a role model, say Brad Johnson and Charles Ridley in The Elements of Mentoring. The authors also describe the traits of excellent mentors: exuding warmth, listening actively, showing unconditional regard, embracing humor, not expecting perfection, being trustworthy, and respecting values.

 

Terry says that he finds trust is built over time with people, but he gets a good indication from the kinds of questions that they ask. Indeed, when looking for a mentor, asking questions is the most important way to clarify expectations. The PLU School of Business in Tacoma,Washington, provides a list of questions to ask a potential mentor for those just getting started in a particular field. 

 

Finding and working with a mentor could turn out to be one of the best decisions you ever make for your small business, even if it requires stepping beyond your comfort zone at first. The mentorship relationship, whether a formal or informal arrangement, will evolve and change over time, passing through different seasons, wending a positive path to greater professional achievement.

White-in-article.jpgby Christopher Freeburn.

 

As any small business owner knows, dealing with people is a crucial element of your business’s success. This applies not only to customers or business partners, but to your employees as well. Creating a productive and well-functioning workforce should be a top priority for every small business. Unfortunately, the more employees you hire, the more complicated things get. Even for very small companies, managing personnel can be a very demanding task.

 

Pull-Quote.jpgManaging employees

The simple act of hiring an employee puts your business under all sorts of legal scrutiny. Your business, no matter how small, must contend with a thicket of federal rules governing how you decide between candidates. These include the National Labor Relations Act, the Age Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Different states also have their own hiring regulations, making it imperative that you contact your state’s department of labor to make sure your are in compliance. Similar regulations can apply when terminating employees as well. While very small businesses tend to be exempted from many of these regulations, some apply to businesses of all sizes. Keeping track of the myriad intricacies of employment laws as they apply in your area is a headache that most small business owners would prefer to avoid.

 

Beyond legal issues, the larger your workforce grows, the more complicated it becomes to manage the day-to-day intricacies of salaries, benefits, vacation time, and interpersonal issues, all of which must be juggled in any office. “It’s particularly complicated for small business owners,” says Anna Swigart, president of Small Business Recruiting Solutions, “because they need to keep their attention focused on the ‘big picture’ decisions that chart the company’s course, and it can be hard to do that when you have to spend hours and hours a week filling out benefit forms or dealing with employee conflicts in the office.” And these distractions begin to pile up as the workforce grows. “When you have two or three employees working for you, it’s manageable, but when you have, say, ten or more, the paperwork can be overwhelming.”

 

Hiring a human resources manager

If you find yourself too distracted by employee issues to adequately concentrate on important strategic decisions, it’s time to consider getting help. Instead of trying to do it all yourself, hire a professional to handle all the paperwork, compliance issues, and personnel management issues that are taking up too much of your valuable time.

 

“Small business owners generally don’t like to give up control over any area of their business,” says Swigart. “And that means many wait to hire someone to handle human resource issues until the burden has become too great.” But cost is also a factor, she admits. Although just the paperwork alone generated by 20 employees often justifies hiring a human resources manager, many companies don’t bring one in until the number of employees reaches about 50, since skilled human resources managers usually command anywhere from $45,000 to $70,000 a year in salary. (For more details on HR manager salary payscales based on location and industry, click here.)

 

Outsourcing HR functions

Depending on the size of your company, outsourcing HR functions might be more cost effective. Some HR functions, like payroll or 401(k) management, can be outsourced piecemeal to a variety of firms. Third-party payroll firms typically handle all aspects of your company’s payroll system, including checks, direct deposit, record-keeping, and tax statements, for fees ranging from $50 and up, per pay period.

 

On the other hand, if you want to clear all HR functions off your desk, and are comfortable with another company handling all of your business’s HR functions, then a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) may be the best option for your business. Using a PEO is, in essence, a means of outsourcing your entire workforce. The PEO becomes the employer of record—your business then leases the employees back from the PEO. The benefit of using a PEO is that all HR functions—payroll, hiring, disciplinary actions, regulatory paperwork, benefits, and employee relations—are done by the PEO. “HR outsourcing enables [a small business] to attract and retain quality employees by providing access to a comprehensive employee benefits package, retirement services plan, and training and development programs, having a positive impact on the corporate culture” says A. Steve Arizpe, Executive Vice President, Client Services and Chief Operating Officer at Administaff, one of the leading PEOs.

 

Expect to pay anywhere from $80 to $175 for each employee per month, depending on the PEO. There are a number of nationwide PEOs, including Administaff, ADP TotalSource and TriNet Group, as well as a variety of Internet-based PEO search firms like StaffMarket.com to help satisfy comprehensive as well as piecemeal HR needs. You should choose a PEO based on its expertise in serving businesses operating within your industry, the flexibility of its contracts, its length of time in business and experience working with small businesses, and the range of services it offers. “It is wise to check references, inquire about the range of services and accompanying fees, and confirm that the company is a member of NAPEO,” adds Arizpe. “And the most distinguished PEOs are accredited by the Employer Services Assurance Corporation.”

 

To learn more about how PEOs function, try the NAPEO’s “What is a PEO?” webpage.

To search the ESA database to find an accredited PEO near your small business, click here.

By Christopher Freeburn.

 

Stress is a fact of daily life, especially for small business owners. Starting your own company and managing its growth forces you to deal with a myriad of never-ending problems, make quick decisions, smooth over employee interactions, deal with customers, suppliers, and business partners—not to mention bankers and insurance companies. Some people thrive on stress, using it as tool to propel their performance, but others wither under its strain.

 

The Stressed-Out Workplace

Overworked-PullQuote.pngThere is no question that stress is a major issue in modern society. Indeed, in 1992, the United Nations declared stress the “20th Century epidemic.” In fast-moving modern societies, where every day involves hundreds of complex decisions and constant interruptions, stress-inducing obstacles seem to litter life’s landscape. But nowhere is the rise in stress more evident than in the workplace. A recent study of 2,500 American workers by CareerBuilder.com found that 77 percent feel burned-out at their jobs.

 

Moreover, if ignored, rising stress levels can cause seriously inappropriate employee behavior. A survey of more than 1,300 workers conducted by Caravan Opinion Research found that 13% claimed to have personally committed, or have observed co-workers commit, an act that they would describe as “desk rage”—an angry or destructive outburst in the office—due to anger resulting from the high levels of stress they encountered at work.

 

Causes of stress at work.

Overworked-Story-Image.pngTechnology—much of it meant to reduce labor—has actually just increased the amount of work we can do and, thereby, added additional stress. “Computers and cell phones and email all increased productivity,” says Dave Bowman, human resource expert at TTG Consultants, “but this also means you can do more work in a day, and that you end up expecting to get more work done every day. More importantly, your boss expects you to get more done.”

 

Bowman also says that today’s highly competitive business environment exacerbates the problem. “Companies are paring down their workforces to remain competitive, even as they increase the demands on their employees,” he explains, noting that the job stress is rising at all levels of the workforce. “It’s not just the middle manager, or the executive vice president, that feels stressed,” he adds, “even production line workers and clerical staffs feel it too.” Business owners under the strain of stress can lash out at their employees, become overbearing, and create a hostile workplace.

 

Dealing with workplace stress

Here are some steps to deal with stress before it becomes a costly problem for you or your business:

 

Better time management – A considerable amount of office stress results from allocating too much time to less important things and then facing a rapidly approaching deadline on an important project. Prioritize projects and schedule them accordingly. Daily to-do lists help clarify time frames.

 

Deal with employee conflicts – A festering dispute between employees will poison an office and increase stress for everyone there. Create an open atmosphere where employees can discuss any problems they are encountering with you and try to resolve them through communication, if possible. Remove problem employees at once.

 

Organize the office – Make certain that you and your employees have all the equipment they need readily at hand, and that the office workspace is kept orderly. A lack of proper equipment or a constant need to find needed materials can increase stress and frustration. Time spent looking for materials is time taken away from meeting deadlines.

 

Delegating responsibility – Trying to do too much is often as bad as trying to do too little—and it is the trap into which many small business owners often fall. To paraphrase Nancy Reagan, learn to just say “no.”

 

Put down the coffee – Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol all boost stress levels. Replace the office coffee maker with a water cooler, or non-caffeinated beverages. Quit smoking, and encourage your employees to do so, too. Moderate alcohol consumption.

 

Avoid unrealistic expectations – Set realistic goals for yourself and your employees. Expecting too much in too short a time only sets the stage for stress and failure. When offering your services to others, it’s often best to promise less than you can deliver, and then deliver more than you promised.

 

Get away from work – Work is very important to many people, especially small businesspeople, who have often staked their financial future on the success of their businesses. Still, no one can be all work all the time. Make sure you have some time every day that is free from the pressing concerns of your business. Make sure your employees have adequate breaks.

 

Reduce distractions – Cell phones and email have their place, and serve important functions. But they can also be constant distractions. You almost certainly don’t have to answer every email or phone call as soon as they come in, and especially not when you are trying to get things done. Dealing with constant interruptions diverts your focus and increases stress. Set aside a specific time during the day to return phone calls and email.

 

Stay healthy – Nothing will increase stress like trying to work if you’re too tired. Make sure you are getting sufficient sleep. Eating correctly and getting enough exercise will make you feel better, which in itself can help you reduce stress—as well as mitigating potentially high blood pressure and boosting your immune system.

By Christopher Freeburn.

 

Employee-productivity-in-article.pngKeeping your employees motivated and productive is an important goal for any small business owner. Not only will highly motivated and happy employees do more work, but their motivation can also boost your business in other ways. In fact, the smaller your business, the more crucial it is that your employees are happy at their jobs. In smaller workplaces, individual employees have a greater impact on the overall business because each employee does so much. Additionally, your employees’ attitude toward their jobs and your business will likely be perceived by your customers, who will then form opinions about your business based on their interaction with your personnel.

 

Pull-Quote.pngIn their book, Motivating Employees, authors Anne Bruce and James S. Pepitone write:   “Your goal as manager should be to help your employees identify their welfare with that of the organization. When that happens they will naturally feel motivated to work hard –– because it’s in their best interest to do so.” Ignoring employee concerns, or behaving as if they don’t count, will only demoralize your staff. “For example, if you are secretive and refuse to provide employees with the tools they believe they need, it’s natural for employees to interpret that as a sign that you don’t care about them, which leads them to care less about the company, which hurts their performance.”

 

Motivated employees provide tangible benefits to your business. If your employees are enthusiastic and well motivated, your customers are surely going to notice that. Upbeat employees contribute to a positive image of your business. They are also much more likely to interact well with customers and be attentive to their needs. Downbeat or bored-looking employees, on the other hand, are less likely to provide a positive experience for the customer and can cost you repeat business, Pepitone adds.

 

So how do you keep your employees happy and well motivated?

 

1. Listen.  Perhaps the simplest way to keep your employees happy is to make them feel like they matter to you. “One of the biggest complaints people often have with their employers is that they feel that no one listens to them,” says Dr. Joanne Sujansky, founder and CEO of KeyGroup, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. “Employees often have a perspective on the day-to-day operation of your business that you may not.” Let your employees know that they can come to you with suggestions and observations and that you will hear them out. That means listening attentively without interrupting. You don’t have to agree with them, but giving their views a fair hearing will go a long way toward making them feel like part of a team.

 

You should also encourage employee input. Actively solicit their opinions. This lets them know that their opinions are important to you and that you value their advice. Employee input can be particularly useful for you as the business owner when trying to set goals or move the business in a different direction. Your employees may have a better grasp of the difficulties they will face when tackling a new task than you do and may be able to point out ways of saving time and money you hadn’t considered

 

2.  Reward performance. People who work hard enjoy seeing some recognition of their effort. When an employee accomplishes a difficult task, or performs beyond expectation, it’s a good idea for an employer—especially a small business owner—to take note of that performance. The reward can be anything from a private pat on the back or a boost in pay to a more public thank you or the bestowing of an award or reward, but the key element is to let the employee know that his contribution has been noticed and appreciated.

 

Beyond simple praise, you may want to consider offering specific rewards—small monetary bonuses, additional vacation time, etc.—to employees who achieve predetermined performance targets. Bonuses and gifts can act as a strong motivator and can foster a healthy competition among employees.

 

3.  Provide adequate feedback. Make sure your employees know how they are doing, both overall and on specific tasks. Periodic performance reviews are a great way to keep employees aware of what is expected of them and how well they are meeting those requirements. Prompt feedback also avoids unpleasant surprises. If an employee is failing to adequately perform their duties for months, he or she will be unhappy if it is only brought to their attention when the problem has reached the point where you are considering letting them go.

 

 

4.  Be fair. Treat your employees in a consistent manner. That means refraining from chewing out one employee for something you’d barely mention to another. Unequal treatment breeds resentment inside a workplace, both against employees who are deemed the boss’s “favorites” and the employer or owner as well. Resentful employees will not be motivated to help your business, and especially resentful employees might even be tempted to sabotage the company. Treat every employee in a professional manner. While you may want to praise employees publicly, discipline them privately.

 

5. Remove problem employees. Nothing can kill office morale faster than employees who consistently fail to do their job properly—loading additional work on other employees—or who behave badly in the office. Abusive or discriminatory behavior in the workplace should be addressed immediately and firmly, before it creates an uncomfortable work environment for your other employees. Let your employees know what is and what is not acceptable behavior in the workplace and then be consistent in enforcing those rules. “You wouldn’t let a weed grow in your garden,” says Sujansky. “Don’t let one grow in your business".

healthcare White-in article.pngA number of facts indicate that small businesses are burdened more by the current healthcare system than large businesses. Fewer than half of firms with under 10 employees offer health insurance at all, according to a recent Council of Economic Advisors Report. In these cases, individual employees are left to purchase private insurance, which can cost in the range of hundreds of dollars per month for an individual to over a thousand dollars for a family. Small companies with more than 50 employees -- which are required by law to provide health insurance for their employees -- pay 18% higher premiums and have administrative costs that are three to four times higher than large businesses’. This can cut into small business profits and the competitiveness of the salaries they can offer.

 

President Obama has said that the “Affordable Healthcare Act” will take eight years to implement fully, but some of the earliest benefits will go to small businesses. In fact, it is predicted that small firms’ healthcare costs will decrease by as much as 30 percent over time. Small businesses would be wise to seek counsel from financial advisors and attorneys in navigating through the current 2,000-page plan, which is still evolving. The following primer on the latest developments should provide insight into how to proceed in the short term:

 

Insurance Exchange Program

An innovative development is the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), which will comprise state-run insurance exchanges where individuals and small businesses of up to 100 employees can shop. Rates promise to be less than half of current individual rates, since risks and administrative costs will be shared by all exchange participants and small businesses will have increased negotiating power. Although it will take until 2014 for the details of this federally mandated bill to be worked out by the states, more than 25 million individuals will eventually benefit.

 

The exchange program will be of particular value to lower-wage workers, who are prevalent in many service industries, as they may qualify for federal subsidies. Contrastively, employees with adjusted gross family incomes of more than $80,000 cannot receive the subsidies and would have to pay out of pocket for premiums that can cost more than $15,000 a year.

 

CoveraHealthcare-Pull-Quote2.pngge for Pre-Existing Conditions

By 2014, insurance companies will be prohibited from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions. Additionally, they will not be able to continue the practice of charging higher rates to companies with more sick employees. Small businesses are at particular risk from this practice, since even one employee with a major illness can significantly impact their insurance rates. Insurance companies have also been curtailed in their ability to rescind coverage and to enforce lifetime limits on coverage for specific treatments, including psychotherapy, orthodontic and chiropractic care. In the interim, a temporary high-risk pool has been established to allow uninsured people with serious medical conditions to purchase insurance at affordable rates.

 

Tax Implications

Small businesses would be wise to look, not only at health insurance rates but, at the potential tax ramifications of their healthcare choices. Companies that pay more than half of the cost of employee’s health benefits and have fewer than 46 employees who earn less than $50,000 a year are eligible to receive a tax credit equal to 35% of their premiums from now through 2013. From 2014 to 2016, the credit, which is applied against income taxes rather than employment taxes, will increase to 50%. Although companies with no taxable profits for the year cannot claim the tax credit, the benefit can be carried forward 20 years as a general business tax credit. Therefore, it is estimated that the tax credit will eventually have a positive impact on more then 3.5 million businesses and save businesses more than $40 million by 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

 

Secondly, there is another hidden tax benefit to small businesses: The cost of providing medical treatment to 32 million uninsured people has been equivalent to an additional $1,000 tax on every insurance premium. When the national healthcare plan reaches more of the uninsured, that hidden cost should disappear.

 

One negative possibility to bear in mind: Small businesses deciding whether to apply for the tax credit should analyze whether the reporting costs of disclosing employees’ health benefits on their W2 forms will be prohibitively burdensome. For guidance about eligibility and risks/benefits, visit the IRS’s website (www.irs.gov), or “New Guidance” from the U.S. Department of Treasury.

 

“Pay or Play” Dilemma

Healthcare legislation doesn’t force employers with 50 or more employees to offer health insurance. However, the decision to withhold coverage can come with a price.  Every employee who ends up finding health care coverage through the state-run healthcare exchange will cost their company a $2,000 fine. Since the average per-employee healthcare cost is $9,000, however, some companies might opt to pay the penalties instead. Another hidden risk small companies should watch out for is whether they will be required to purchase expensive add-ons to basic benefit packages.

 

However, there are other factors besides absolute costs that should be taken into consideration. These include attracting and retaining top employees, and the overall impact of healthcare reform on the economy.

 

Enhancing Employee Retention

Right now, some talented and experienced job candidates may focus their search efforts on large businesses because they can’t afford to take a job without health insurance. While their career trajectories, autonomy and even their salaries might be more generous at small companies, the cash flow challenges presented by purchasing private health insurance can scare many viable candidates away. The same challenge could also deter entrepreneurial individuals from starting their own small businesses. By contrast, being willing and able to offer health insurance as part of a compensation package can help small businesses attract their first-choice candidates.

 

Deficit Reduction for All

When all aspects of the healthcare act are implemented, the federal deficit will be reduced by an expected $119 billion, according to a February 2011 report from the Congressional Budget Office. The speculation is that costs will be cut through increasing the use of electronic medical records, minimizing administrative costs; and rewarding medical providers for positive outcomes versus number of billed procedures. Additionally, in the period between 2014 and 2019, the economy will get a boost through the fact that “cumulative personal healthcare spending would increase 2 % compared with status quo projections primarily as a result of increased utilization by the newly insured,” according to a February 2010 study by non-profit research organization RAND Health.

 

The impact of the Affordable Healthcare Act is yet to be seen; however, based on the facts the short-term impact looks promising. For more details on the Affordable Healthcare Act, you can visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website at healthcare.gov.

By Max BerryWhite-in-article.jpg

 

When money and time are tight, assisting with your employees’ continuing education may seem like little more than a nice idea: one of those potentially rewarding but ultimately non-essential strategies you’ll employ once your bottom line is a bit healthier. But in a service-based economy that thrives on innovation—and with young people bringing more advanced education to the work force than ever before—refreshing the education of your own employees begins to seem less like an option than a necessity.

 

A team advantage

 

When it comes to the quality of your product or service, the benefits of having a knowledgeable staff, abreast of all the latest trends and strategies in your industry, are obvious. But continuing education for employees can mean less stress for managers as well. “The advantages [of continuing education] are clear,” says Mayralisa Arbelo, founder of Florida-based business education consulting firm Global Business and Education Consultants. “You’re empowering your staff, you’re improving morale, and you’re saving money in the long run because you don’t have to outsource.”

 

Additional training may be an especially good idea ahead of the implementation of a new program or technology in your business. The more someone on your staff already knows about advancements in your field, the more you save on outside consultants and instructors.

 

A deeply and diversely trained staff will also be a benefit in the case of an upper level employee leaving the firm. “Someone might leave and you won’t have [the type of employee] you need to fill the position,” says Arbelo. That is, unless you encourage your employees to seek additional cross training, especially for tasks that may be beyond the parameters of their current positions. This way, you’ll already have a pool of qualified candidates on hand and, best of all, you won’t have to devote valuable time and resources to an outside search.

 

“You have to be able to diversify your skill set to be employable in this society,” says Arbelo. That logic is as applicable to a company as it is to a single employee. The more you and your staff know about advancements in your field, the more innovative and useful a service you’ll be able to provide potential clients. Publicize any additional degree of expertise or new level of certification you and your staff attain. Doing so will bolster client confidence and position your firm on the cutting edge of your field.

 

The logistics of learning

 

There are, of course, logistical concerns that come along with continuing education. First, there is the question of access. Community colleges, technical schools, and industry associations frequently offer continuing education courses, but it will be difficult to persuade your employees to take one if the classroom is miles away. Thankfully, distance learning makes scheduling classes around work simple and saves employees the time of an extra commute. Most online courses only require six to ten hours a week that can be completed any time of day.

 

“Ease of access is key,” says Arbelo of online courses. “They’re so automated and well packaged. Employees can work [classes] into their work day or their own time during the evening.” This also means they won’t have to miss work in order to continue their education.

 

Then there is the matter of cost. Many one-time continuing education courses are offered through community colleges and trade schools for less than $100. For a longer, more involved course of study, including textbooks and course materials, costs will naturally be greater.

 

Tuition reimbursement is a common practice among business owners who want to encourage continuing education and in most cases it can quickly more than pay for itself, especially in the case of a manager enrolling one employee in a continuing education course, who can then teach what he or she has learned to the rest of the staff. “It’s a win-win if one person goes and does the training, then passes the knowledge along [to other employees],” says Arbelo. “It’s common practice.”

 

If an employee has a real desire to continue his or her training, and presents the idea to you, offering to at least split the cost is an excellent way to both applaud his or her initiative and engender loyalty.

 

Flight risk?

 

Of course, there is always the danger that, as your employees become more knowledgeable, they will also become more desirable to the competition. Covering the costs of a training course for someone looking to invest their knowledge back in the company is one thing. Doing so for someone who may already have a foot out the door is another. “Sure that’s possible,” says Arbelo. “But the question is, what are you willing to do to retain them?”

 

As it turns out, simply giving your staff the chance to continue their training may go a long way towards doing just that. In a recent study conducted by national staffing firm Spherion Atlantic Enterprises LLC, 61% of respondents receiving additional training reported that they were likely to stay with their current employer for at least the next five years.

 

Besides, any employee with the drive to continue their education was valuable to begin with, and would be a desirable prospect no matter what. Continued training will only make them more of what they already were.

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