If you’re reading this on Boxing Day, chances are you’re at your computer because you’re working. And you won’t be alone. More than one in ten small business owners admit that they’re likely to be tackling work projects the day after Christmas, and about the same proportion will work on New Year’s Day, too, research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research has found. Tragically, some say that business matters even encroached on their Christmas Day celebrations. Not very festive, is it?
But why are SME bosses working such long hours? About one in five puts in more than 60 hours every week, when the standard working week is just 37 hours. Many of these entrepreneurs would argue it shows their dedication to their enterprise. But some might say having to work so long means firms aren’t working well. Ask yourself if you’re really being productive. Is it possible to change your working culture to ensure you and your staff work efficiently, without burning yourselves out?
Why small firms work long hours
It’s simple, really. The reason most business owners give for working into the evening, over weekends, and during holidays is because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. Others fret they’ll lose business if they take time off. About a third of SME heads confess they haven’t got staff with the right skills to get jobs done. And it’s older bosses who are the most likely to work overtime, and have such poor definition in their work-life balance.
- SME owners over 55 years of age tend to work almost 13 hours extra on average in a month, according to findings from Everline’s small business tracker.
- Those between 35 and 54 are almost as bad, clocking in more than 12 extra hours on average monthly.
- Younger bosses between 18 and 34 are a little better, working fewer than ten extra hours a month.
Staff training and top skills = better work-life balance
One of the reasons younger business owners appear to be less prone to working insanely long hours is because evidence suggests they’re more inclined to delegate tasks, and also put more time into training staff so they can take more responsibility. Skills lie at the heart of the excessive overtime problem. If you have good people in the company who know what they’re doing, then you’re much more likely to trust them to fulfil their role properly, without your intervention. And, if they really are properly qualified and experienced, then they should be working efficiently as well. But too many SMEs still fail to develop or train their employees, leaving the boss to carry the major burden of everyday business.
- Almost half of staff working in SMEs say they believe their personal development isn’t taken seriously by their employer, a report by breatheHR has found.
- Two-thirds state there’s no development plan for them at all.
Many bosses will blame a lack of training budget, plus a reluctance to pull people out of their day-to-day roles to learn something new. But new skills can be taught within the business cheaply or for free by appointing mentors to inexperienced workers, or organising work shadowing. And the lack of time argument becomes a nonsense if new skills are what’s needed. They won’t materialise out of thin air – people need time to learn to become better.
There’s also the danger that not training staff will negatively affect their motivation and ability to do their job, and possibly tempt them to move employers altogether. All in all, skills development is a necessary investment in your business to make it as efficient, polished, and productive as possible.
Let technology be your friend
In the modern age, technology can speed up processes, and could make your company faster and better at what it does, cutting man hours and costs for you along the way. There are several ways this might be achieved:
- Faster internet. Most businesses use the web as a matter of course. But too many smaller firms hamper their growth and efficiency by having a slow connection and poor tech infrastructure. Again, if money to upgrade your network is a worry, it needn’t be. We’ve told you before about the help the Government is offering SMEs with improving their broadband service through its Growth Voucher programme. Make sure your firm has an internet connection that’s fit for purpose.
- Cloud computing. If you have yet to embrace the wonders of remote computer storage in the cloud, you’re missing a trick. A remarkable number of SMEs still rely on paper processes to maintain records, and accounts. Being able to gain access to files, and financial information kept in the cloud from anywhere through any device will save you time, effort, and money. It could also mean you and your staff could work from home or on the move. Cloud systems also have a vast capacity, so you can store enormous quantities of data, and tackle complex tasks very easily.
- Go mobile. Using mobile devices means you’re not a slave to your desk, and you can be more responsive to customer queries. Staff who work through smartphones and tablets can also collaborate easily and quickly, which could mean winning or maintaining valuable business. This will ensure your team is as productive as possible, and clients are kept happy at all times. And the Government’s recent announcement of a £5 billion investment deal with major mobile providers to improve coverage across the UK will also help, widening access to this type of technology to many rural businesses.
But technology comes with a warning: don’t let it become your master. The purpose of employing these new ways of working is to free up your time, not that you never switch off. Use any new gadgets and software with a degree of discipline. And always ask the same of your workforce.
Don’t forget that, as the head of the business, you determine the culture your employees work in. If you’re a workaholic, it sends a message to them that working long hours is expected and necessary to succeed in your firm. It’s not a healthy habit to perpetuate. Nor is it good for business. If you want a happy, more productive workforce, you’ll need to tackle your own bad ways of working. And, if you do, then this time next year you could be settling down to watch The Great Escape on telly with a turkey sandwich in your hand, rather than juggling paperwork. And, surely, Steve McQueen beats processing invoices any time?
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