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The Opportunity Small Businesses Have To Truly Support People
I believe that being successful means having a balance of success stories across the many areas of your life. You can't truly be considered successful in your business life if your home life is in shambles. - Zig Ziglar
No matter how you slice it, there is a problem when you have to start discussing the concept of work/life balance. You've got people on both sides of the issue, some like Danielle who defy the boundaries of balance and others like Nigel who believe we can make it work with the right systems in place. CNN even made this great calculator to help you find the right balance in your life. (Please read that last bit with a healthy dose of sarcasm.)
Frankly, most jobs don't support families. In the entrepreneurial space, so many people are pursuing self-employment because the companies they have been working for simply don't support their goals, least of all as parents. Mothers are encouraged to take as little maternity leave as possible, and fathers are lucky to get any leave - and that's only at the most progressive of organizations.
It's an interesting paradox because not supporting workers as they shift into a new phase in their lives is inherently bad for the company.
Encouraging moms to return to work before they are fully recovered from labor, which takes 4-6 weeks assuming no complications, doesn't do anyone any favors. However, many mothers are pressured to go back sooner because they can't afford to take time off - even though they are often paying for daycare upon reentering the workforce. (Fun fact: Did you know the U.S. is one of only four countries with no national law mandating paid time off for new parents?)
Consider this: If the true end of all action is human flourishing, what are companies thinking when they deny parents the time they need to have great families and be great employees? It's a failed concept from the start, because businesses exist because it's easier for us to work in groups to achieve common goals. Interestingly, identifying these shared common goals and values is one of the best ways to determine if a company is a good fit for your optimal work/life balance.
For instance, I started working at Productive Flourishing January 16th. As exciting for me as that is, it's not a big deal - until you consider that my new baby boy was due February 29th. That's a major area where real values can surface and in a hurry.
At any normal job, I would have been discriminated against, despite laws making that illegal. You don't hire the pregnant mom who wants a successful career and a family. You either want young singles who don't have any obligations other than work or women done having kids returning to the workforce. This is a paradigm shift from the status quo idea that, especially as women, we can either be good parents or successful workers. (Justine Musk makes a great argument here that men are less likely to have this problem.)
In small businesses, we have so many opportunities. We have an opportunity to have great work environments that are also productive. We can create businesses that are flexible. We can shift directions on a dime. Big corps can't do that.
Charlie says to make a better people machine, you have to think about the people in the machine. Businesses should serve people; if people are serving businesses, it's backwards.
I know many of you who read PF are reaching the point in your businesses that you've either entered the solo-plus model (where your business is you, plus some outsourced work) or a principled small company (where your business has a handful of employees). As an owner-executive, you have an incredible chance to do business your way and support the social changes you believe in.
Do you believe everyone should have healthcare? You can make it happen. Enough paid leave so you can stay home with your kids when they're sick and not worry about paying the mortgage? Find a way.
These are big financial investments, but if you want to keep the right people in your company, this is the way to do it. Take care of your people, and they are going to take care of you. That's the beauty of principled small businesses.
So how can you, as a business owner, support your people? Figure out what it will take, and make a commitment to yourself, your people, and your business.