Make the Most of Your Company’s Culture

Your small business’s culture is vital for your business’s success. With a culture that benefits work/life balance, employees will be more productive and feel more grateful to you as a boss. A good company culture also increases employee loyalty, reducing your overall turnover rate.

If you’re not sure where to start or re-strategize on your company’s culture, this guide can help. We broke it down into seven chapters:

  1. Examine your company culture
  2. Leverage your company culture
  3. Leadership is key
  4. Building a strong team
  5. Increasing productivity
  6. Declutter and de-stress
  7. Make the most of your benefits

Examine your company culture

This section was contributed by Deborah Sweeney. Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Twitter @mycorporation.

How often do you reexamine your company culture? According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, 51 percent of the U.S. workforce is not engaged with their jobs. A lack of engagement can lead to a devastating domino effect on businesses, causing high turnover rates, negative feelings in the workplace and, ultimately, muddling the mission associated with your company culture as it puts other values — like money — before its unique vision or team.

Afraid that you’re on a slippery slope to losing your positive company culture? Here are three questions and their solutions to get back on the right track.

1. Are your employees overworked — or underworked?

When examining your overall company culture, you should be able to distinguish whether your employees are overworked, underworked, or potentially a little bit of both. Those that are overworked may suffer from feeling overwhelmed by deadlines and anxiety brought on by heavy workloads. This kind of stress can impact their performance and cause a rise in sick leave, which can lead to disengagement and employee burnout. Meanwhile, professionals have admitted they are bored at work for 10.5 hours each week. This kind of boredom usually means that there isn’t enough for the employee to do or that the workload itself isn’t challenging enough.

What can you do to flip this around?

Admittedly, every workplace goes through busy seasons so it’s not always possible to create light workloads year-round. The best thing to do is to check in with your team and their respective workloads regularly. Delegate work to even out for each member within a specific department and tie in the assignments with their matching skill sets. Offer to help out where you can too, as a self-sacrificing leader tends to inspire employee loyalty and commitment.

2. What does the wellbeing of your team look like?

The weather isn’t the only reason why health declines in the workplace. As I mentioned earlier, employees will often call in sick when faced with the stress of heading into work. Even those that do go in may suffer from symptoms that affect their health like being lethargic or anxious. Disengagement may even cause workers to gradually begin dialing in their duties. Being absent from work is expensive for both the employee and the employer. According to the American Institute of Stress, job related stressors are responsible for over half of the 550 million workdays lost each year.

What can you do to flip this around?

Take the time to have a one-on-one conversation with your employees. Let them know that you have their best interests at heart and want to help out. Some may have deeper health issues that you may realize. Others may be in need of flexible scheduling options in order to better accommodate a healthy work/life balance. Listen to everything your team has to say and work to implement solutions. You may offer your employees gym memberships, initiative a flexible scheduling program or have the entire company unplug over the weekends to eliminate after-hours work stress. Being supportive and listening to what your employees have to say shows how much you value each member and their wellbeing. In turn, employees feel appreciated and that their role matters within the organization.

3. Are you practicing an attitude of gratitude?

Do you say thank you to your team on a regular basis? What about acknowledging their accomplishments? What do you express your attitude of gratitude — that is, if you have one at all?

What can you do to flip this around?

Start by saying thank you. These two words are so craved by employees that 70 percent of workers believe that the more management says them, the more motivation and morale will improve. While you’re giving thanks, take some time to praise the hard work of everyone on your team. Not just a selected few individuals, but everyone. This ensures nobody is left behind and empowers the entire team to continue going above and beyond with their workload. Don’t make any of this a one-time acknowledgment either. Practice your attitude of gratitude year-round to further build up a positive company culture.

Leverage your company culture

It’s a sad fact that the largest companies in an industry or an area have an operating advantage over small businesses. They have the money, the manpower, and often the government backing to compete at a higher level.

But that doesn’t mean the so-called little guys are doomed to get steamrollered by Corporate America. Being small carries some things you can leverage to be a David to their Goliath instead of just a Coyote to their Acme-brand steamroller.

1. Speed of execution

In a big company, any idea has to get pitched to a middle manager, then run by an executive, and finally, usually checked through the legal team. After that, you have endless meetings of liaising with marketing, brainstorming with the engineers and putting your heads together to proactively think outside the box every step of the way.

In your small business, the idea often happens in the same room with all the important decision makers. There’s no bureaucracy to run the process through, and roles are flexible enough to put the ball in the hands of the people with the most passion.

Upgrade for the win by streamlining even this simple process. When the Next Big Thing hits your company, point to the best, most enthusiastic person for that job and give (reasonable) blanket permission to make it happen.

2. Us vs Them

In a big company, operations are subdivided by department, division, executive territories and often wide swaths of geography. Too often, the general attitude is of Accounting vs. Executive, Tech Support vs. Marketing, or even Mr. Carlson’s people vs. Ms. Tan’s.

In your small business, most people see everybody else every day. You celebrate the good times together, and the bad times can create a siege mentality bonding. Great things can happen in a business where “Everybody Knows Your Name.”

Upgrade for the win by naming an “Opposing Team” for each quarter. Teams do best when they have somebody to rival, whether that enemy is a competitor, a seasonally slow quarter or the variables expense budget.

3. Celebrate oddness

In a big company, quirk falls to the wayside as the demands of corporate general appeal force people to normalize offerings, message and personality. Starbucks is fine, but it can’t compete with the friendly funkiness of your corner independent java stop.

In your small business, you matter to your top clients because you have a specific enough draw and brand that you’re a part of the community. You don’t need to worry about offending demographic groups A and C, because you serve B and serve them well.

Upgrade for the win by being active in the community you serve. Whether it’s snowboarding, board games or board meeting catering, get on the social media groups and go to the local meetups. Have your finger on the pulse and make the “cool kids” smile at the mention of your brand.

4. Everyone pitching in

In a big company, every wheel has a dozen cogs and each person does one thing. Entire departments are devoted to one set of tasks, and cross-training rarely happens. It’s necessary when dealing with operations of that size, but it’s limiting both to customer service and flawless execution.

In your small business, even if there are specific and precise job descriptions, half the office has more than one job and chances are almost everybody has some cross training. In the long term, this means better communication and more empathy among team members because people have a better understanding of each other’s jobs. It helps even more in sudden emergencies since all hands are able to pitch in where needed.

Upgrade for the win by formalizing this and offering bonuses of one kind or another for people who specifically and competently master somebody else’s job.

5. Be transparent

In a big company, it’s tough to give the public the full transparency they deserve. Even if legal and PR and HR all say it’s all right to tell the whole truth, it can be tough to track down somebody who knows it. That’s why people don’t trust Corporate America.

In your small business, the face of the company is often the face of the owner. He or she can be online, communicating directly, and with passion about the industry, local events and the details of the company. When it’s time to say something important – apologizing for a mistake or announcing big news. For example, your followers will believe you because of your history of openness and transparency.

Upgrade for the win by leveraging this wholesale in your social media presence. Transparent social engagement will win nine times out of ten, and the more you embrace it the better your company will perform online.

Leadership and charisma

Building your charisma

Many small business owners tend to be charismatic people – they’re charming, they’re magnetic, they’re inspiring, and they tend to know how to “make friends and influence people,” as the classic self-help book said.

Small business owners are often great, charismatics leaders because of their interpersonal skills – they know how to make people feel comfortable and win people’s confidence and trust. But what is the real “root” of charisma? Is charisma something that can be learned? Or is it just something that is inherent (you’re either born with it or you’re not)?

Some research from the University of Queensland suggests that charisma isn’t an isolated occurrence. It’s connected to people’s overall brainpower and style of thinking. According to a study of intelligence tests and personality tests, people who answered test questions quicker tended to be perceived as being more charismatic – regardless of all other factors. This means that charismatic people – aside from knowing how to tell jokes or create emotional connections – often know how to think fast.

Here are a few reasons why quick-thinking people tend to be more charismatic:

1. Charisma is based (in part) on being one step ahead.

Think about the charismatic people you know. They tend to be mentally agile and always “one step ahead” of the conversation. They know how to take the conversation in exciting new directions. Professor William von Hippel, one of the authors of the study, was quoted as saying, “Charismatic people tend to be quick on their feet. They say things that you find compelling but that you don’t expect. They come back with an entertaining answer or a surprising association, and you never quite know what will happen next.”

2. There is a fine line between “average” and “fast” thinking.

In the study, people were invited to give answers to common knowledge questions, such as “What’s the name of a precious gem?” The test was designed not to test people’s overall knowledge – after all, there are lots of different precious gems, from diamonds to rubies to emeralds – but to test the speed of people’s responses.

The “fast thinker” survey respondents who were rated as most “charismatic” tended to answer their test questions in only 400 milliseconds, compared to 900 milliseconds for the “slow” thinkers. This seems like a tiny amount of time, but it shows a real difference in people’s overall processing speed. Charismatic people tend to not necessarily be the people who know all the names of all the precious gems – instead, they’re the people who are decisive and focused enough to quickly give a response.

3. Fast thinking + Social situations = Charisma

Another factor in charisma, according to the study, is that when people are in social situations, whether it’s working the room at a party or just having casual conversations with friends, our minds are working in complex ways and there is a subtle social pressure on us to respond and engage – and these social situations tend to reward fast thinking. Charismatic people know how to keep conversations going. They know what to say at just the right time with no awkward pauses. Social situations are some of the most complex situations for human beings, and charismatic, fast-thinking people know how to navigate them.

If you’re introverted

This section was contributed by Deborah Sweeney. Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Twitter @mycorporation.

For years, the CEO stereotype has been depicted as more extroverted than introverted. Whenever these figures are portrayed in the media, they’re often viewed as charismatic, able to command a room and armed with a laundry list of accomplishments that touch everything in their lives from an Ivy League education to previous successful work experiences.

But that mythical narrative is starting to change. Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported that a new study called the CEO Genome Project revealed that the most successful chief executive officers are much more likely to be introverts. What’s more, introverted leaders may have more traits in common with extroverts than you’d think. Here’s a look at how these traits can enable them to leave behind their mark.

1. Identify key employees that will compliment you.

I’m a CEO who also identifies as an introvert. I prefer to work quietly, focus on the task at hand and not be engaged in constant conversation. Consider your behavior in the workplace and then surround yourself with employees that will compliment you. If getting everyone motivated is something you struggle with a bit, make sure your employees can help get the team moving in your direction. Trust me — it’s wise to do this irrespective of your personality.

2. Embrace change.

The CEO Genome Project uncovered four management traits that ultimately make CEOs successful including reliable performances, reaching out to stakeholders, making quick decisions with confidence and being adaptable to change. Being open to adapting in the workplace ties in with the concept of growth versus fixed mindsets. A fixed mindset is one where the leader believes that you’re either born with “it” or you don’t have it. On the flip side of the coin, growth mindsets are open to expanding their knowledge through learning to further finesse natural and new abilities alike. Change can be tough but see it as an opportunity to discover more about your business, the team members around you and yourself. Then, embrace it.

3. Work hard at being a good communicator.

As I mentioned above, one of the traits of successful CEOs includes reaching out to stakeholders. This requires taking initiative and learning how to best communicate with a variety of personalities. Learning and working hard at being a good communicator is a must for both introverted and extroverted leaders!

The best way to go about doing this is to learn by listening to others. Consider the best ways to communicate with your team according to their needs and personalities and offer a wide variety of avenues for reaching out to you too.

Aside from simply learning how to communicate with others, you might it’s helpful to leverage feedback from your team to find out what you can be a bit better at. Every leader has a shortcoming (or two) of their own, but if you hope to grow, you might be able to find success in your style and leadership approach by learning and training yourself to overcome your weak spots.

Build a strong team

This section was contributed by Hiver. Hiver helps organizations collaborate from their email inboxes. It allows teams to share email conversations and collaborate on sales, hiring, support, project management and operations. Hiver is a small team, solving a large problem for a large number of businesses.

What is a strong team? A team that is driven, where every member plays an equal role, one that shares a strong bond with each other, one in which everyone is learning, growing and satisfied.

If you go on Google and search for tips to run a successful startup, one of the first things to pop-up among those tips is to build a strong team. Good collaboration ensues when the team members are in sync with each other. Strong teams are especially important for startups given the dips and peaks it goes through, especially in the initial phases. Here are a few tips to build such strong teams.

1. Encourage office pranks (not harmful ones of course).

A strong team is where the team members share a strong bond with each other. Though they may seem silly, office pranks are one of the best ways to achieve that. Pranks encourage creative thinking and healthy camaraderie between the team members. It is a great way to break the ice and also get to know people at a personal level.

With their touch of humor, they can help build a creative and vibrant office culture. A fun work environment often results in your employees looking forward to their workday, instead of dragging their feet.  IDEO is one company that encourages pranks in their offices. Of course, there is always a line to draw when it comes to practical jokes.

2. Arrange meetings and lunches with thought leaders in your industry.

A strong team is driven, motivated and yearning to do more, learn more and prove itself. One great way to keep your team motivated is by arranging meetings with thought leaders in your industry. Thought leaders, like Steve Case and Ted Leonsis, usually have a lot of stories to share and insights that only they are privy to. They predict trends, anticipate problems, and analyze solutions. These kinds of interactions will motivate your team to take initiative, gain more knowledge and develop their career.

3. Offer unlimited vacation or unlimited work from home.

It sure isn’t easy to make this work, but you won’t be the first. Many companies like Netflix, Virgin, Prezi already did. Before you misunderstand, this doesn’t mean that employees can take leave for months together regularly and expect a pay from you. It’s just that whenever they feel like they need some time off to recharge themselves, a leave balance won’t stand in their way.

In fact, enabling this sort of flexibility is a way to delegate responsibility to your employees. It’s almost like saying – “There you go, you can take as many leaves as you want. We trust your judgment.” If you select the employees with the right attitude, they won’t take advantage of this benefit and it might also build a sense of self-monitoring in them, a sense of ownership.

4. Give public appreciation for innovative thinking and private appreciation for high performance.

When someone comes up with a great innovative idea, appreciate them publicly and give them the ownership to plan and execute the idea. This will encourage everyone in the team to push themselves to think outside the box.

Once the idea is executed and if the team member did a great job, show your appreciation in private or in the form of a bonus. Publicly appreciating a star performer can cause a rift in the team and before you know it, everyone in the team will try to achieve individual goals instead of team goals.

5. If someone has a new idea, make them in charge of it.

One great way to build up team collaboration is to keep give a chance for everyone to develop leadership skills and team management skills, rather than one leader-like employee dominating the scene all the time. This can give rise to bad and authoritarian team dynamics, which is never good. For instance, when an employee comes up with a brilliant and practical idea, make him/her in charge or the CEO of this idea, from the inception to the execution of the project. Everyone, including the founders, report to this person.

Not only will this technique encourage your employees to come up new innovative ideas, but also encouraging meritocracy will foster healthy team dynamics which is very important to build a cohesive happy team.

Wrapping up

Building a strong team is one of the most important, if not the most, tasks of a startup founder. It starts with choosing the right people for sure, but it is also about you, the founder. You have to make very conscious efforts to build a strong team that is united and will withstand any high-stress situation together.

The toughest thing to do is to create a complete sense ‘WE’ in the team that can and will overpower the sense of ‘I’. This is much harder than it sounds since at some level our natural instinct is to look out for ourselves.

That said, making collaboration and stewardship one of your startup’s core foundational value and repeatedly reinforcing this idea in the minds of your employees through your actions and words can help you weave a cohesive culture.

Increasing productivity

This section was contributed by Dan Scalco. Dan is the founder and Director of Marketing at Digitalux, a digital marketing agency located in Hoboken, New Jersey. Throughout his career, he has helped hundreds of businesses save time, increase leads, and maximize sales.

Good managers already know that workers are more productive when they’re part of a positive company culture, when they’re not bogged down by busy work or red tape and when they’re maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

While these strategies are tried-and-true, they shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all of your productivity-boosting arsenal. Instead, consider these eight unusual tips for taking your team’s productivity to the next level.

1. Fill the office with flowers.

This probably sounds really weird, but there’s a lot of research to back it up. Studies have found that simply looking at flowers can help people feel more energized, think more creatively, problem solve in a more innovative way and feel happier overall, all of which can enhance job performance.

2. Move your office near a green space.

Once you know that exposure to flowers can boost productivity, it probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise that the same is true for exposure to green spaces. Research has found that being around trees and plants in a natural setting can reduce stress, improve mental health and increase creative thinking and problem-solving, all of which translates to greater performance back at work. If you have the ability to give your team members access to green space, do it —and then encourage them to go there.

3. Paint the office yellow.

Research has found that exposure to the color orange can help people concentrate. While you probably don’t want to go overboard and cover the floor, ceilings and walls in the sunny color, an orange wall or orange accents throughout the office just might give your team an extra reason to focus.

4. Invest in quick and healthy meals for your employees.

While you can’t force your employees to eat healthily, you can certainly treat them to healthy meals every once and a while. The best part? It doesn’t have to drain the business bank account. There are a lot of cheap and healthy meal delivery services out there such as Freshly, Eatology and Magic Kitchen that make for great healthy meal options.

5. Encourage employees to look at cat pictures on the internet.

This no doubt goes against every bone in a classically trained manager’s body – but it might actually work. A Japanese study found that looking at pictures of cute animals can lead to a boost in concentration. So, if your team members are working on a big project, it might actually behoove them to browse pictures of kittens, puppies and pygmy goats.

6. Hire an office comedian.

Okay, so this might not in the budget, but if you can find a way to give your employees a reason to laugh on a regular basis, you’ll be doing your company a service. That’s because studies have found that team members who laugh a lot in their workplaces demonstrate increased productivity and greater work performance overall. Even if you can’t host a regular comedy night, cultivating a light-hearted, respectful company culture can help encourage humorous interactions at work.

7. Give employees a mattress stipend.

At this point, there’s enough research on this subject that the connection between high-quality sleep and greater productivity is undeniable. But research has also found that many people are prevented from getting high-quality sleep because they’re trying to doze on a poor-quality mattress. By enabling your employees to upgrade their mattresses, you’ll simultaneously give them a chance to upgrade their workplace productivity and their overall quality of life.

8. Install treadmill desks.

Make sure you have your employees’ consent, of course — no one wants to show up at work only to discover they’re going to be forced to march on a treadmill all day against their will. But team members who relish the thought of squeezing in some exercise while at work will enjoy greater mental alertness and increased productivity. Just know there is an adjustment period: It can take a few months for people to get used to moving while working, but after they acclimate to this new work style they’re likely to see improvements in their job performance.

These strategies might seem wacky, but there’s sound research suggesting that everything from painting the office yellow to filling it with flowers might just be the ticket to boosting your team’s productivity.

Declutter and de-stress

You may not realize how much a cluttered and untidy workspace can contribute to stress and lack of productivity. To help you clear your mind, here are 40 ways to declutter, destress and transform your workspace into a space where you’ll enjoy spending time.

Clear it out.

  1. Start fresh. If you’ve got a mountain of clutter to deal with, set aside time to clear out everything, and then only add back items that you truly need and use.
  2. Get in the habit of putting everything in its place at the end of each day.
  3. Prevent clutter creep; do a “clean sweep” once a month to maintain your cleaned-up space.
  4. Use vertical storage options near and/or above your desk to increase your storage area and to keep things clearly visible. Think above-desk shelving, wall baskets, wall-mounted file folders and wall hooks.
  5. Schedule reminders for yourself to dust your computer monitor, printer and keyboard weekly.
  6. Keep disinfectant cleaning wipes on hand to regularly give your workspace surfaces a quick wipe-down.
  7. Organize unsightly computer/printer cables around your desk with DIY solutions or purchase a system.
  8. Store often-used items and files nearest to you and store less important stuff farther away. Pitch the things you never use.
  9. Keep smaller items in drawer compartments to keep everything from jumbling together.
  10. If you’re a “filer,” set up a simple filing system, then set aside time each day to file or toss.
  11. If you’re a “piler,” get paper holders or decorative boxes to contain only the important papers you want to keep in neat, easily-movable groups. Go through them periodically.
  12. Tame your reading material pile by quickly scan through magazines, tearing out what you want to read and recycling the rest.
  13. Cut down on paper clutter by filing electronically with this nifty app that turns your phone into a scanner.
  14. Enter business cards into your contact system immediately or scan them in, then toss them. Don’t throw them in a drawer to handle later.
  15. Ditch all the sticky notes; instead, keep track of deadlines, details and meetings with a virtual assistant app.
  16. Get “future projects” files off your desk. Create a “pending” email file and/or physical folder for any future projects; you’ll stay organized while containing information in one place away from your desk.
  17. Keep your virtual desktop as clutter-free as the rest of your space with apps.
  18. Resist saving files to your desktop, but if you must, make sure to resave them to their appropriate folders often to avoid confronting a sea of random files every time you boot up.
  19. Move photos and videos to the cloud using free options like Dropbox.
  20. Declutter your smartphone. Dump those apps you once thought were cool, but you never use.

Declutter your inbox.

  1. Unsubscribe to reoccurring email newsletters that you don’t read. This may take a few minutes, but in the long run, it saves the time you’d waste looking at and deleting each one every time they arrive.
  2. Be discriminating about what new email newsletters you sign up for.
  3. Keep your personal and work emails separate.
  4. Create structured folders and apply filters to your emails to keep them organized.
  5. To keep your inbox clear and clutter-free, resist the urge to “flag” emails to handle later – handle now or move it to a “working” folder.
  6. Make it a goal to keep your inbox at zero at the end of each day, using it only as the parking lot for incoming, unread items.
  7. Archive your emails if you’re worried you may need them later.

De-stress your world.

  1. De-stress by applying some Feng Shui principles to your workspace, like arranging your desk for increased productivity (never have your back to the door).
  2. Fill your space with air purifying plants to calm stress and elevate your energy.
  3. When work stress builds up, remember to breathe. Need help? Try Breathe2Relax, an app that guides you through breathing exercises.
  4. Take a break and de-stress any time with the Happify app, which offers games and exercises to overcome negative thoughts, worry and stress.
  5. Give your eyes a break – look away from your computer screen often and rest your eyes on some artwork, a photograph or a plant.
  6. Make sure your desk, keyboard and chair are ergonomically-correct, since sitting in an uncomfortable or awkward position for hours each day can lead to muscle strain, pain and illness.

Make your clutter-free, clean space shine.

  1. Cover bland cubicle surfaces and walls with colorful fabric, wallpaper or tapestries.
  2. Add a mirror or two to a small area, giving the illusion of space.
  3. Bring in a decorative pillow for your chair and a warm throw to cozy it up.
  4. Bring in your favorite coffee mug and a cool coaster to make coffee breaks special.
  5. Use your whiteboard not only to keep organized but also to write motivational messages and encouraging notes to yourself.
  6. Add some cool art to your newly de-cluttered computer desktop background.
  7. Let there be light! Add a lamp for a warmer ambiance or string holiday lights for a festive feel.

Make the most of your benefits

Making your office pet-friendly

Pets really do help people feel better. Studies show that when employees are allowed to bring their pets to work productivity increases, stress levels drop and all-around job satisfaction improves. While inviting pets into your office could make your employees happier, it’s not always the right move. Here are the pros and cons to consider when deciding whether to open your doors to your employees’ furry friends, along with helpful guidelines for writing a formal, effective pet policy.

Pro: Lower stress, higher productivity

Happier employees do better jobs. Many studies and anecdotal experiences indicate that, in general, pet owners live healthier, happier lives than those without pets. When allowed to bring their pets to work, employees may feel less anxious and be in a better mood, which in turn can result in better performance and improved morale.

Employees with pets on site, particularly dogs, probably get some additional physical activity throughout the day. A quick walk with a dog can also improve mental clarity, emotional outlook and productivity.

Pro: Better work/life balance

Allowing employees to bring pets to work may help them integrate their work and home life, which is often key to increasing job satisfaction. They no longer experience the anxiety of locking their pet in a kennel or leaving the pet in an apartment all day; the stress of working late dissipates, too, when they don’t worry about racing home to feed or walk their pet.

Pro: Popular perk

Bringing a beloved pet to work instead of leaving the little friend home during the day is one of those perks many employees dream of. With this in mind, small businesses that offer a pet-friendly work environment may have a leg up on their competition when it comes to recruiting and retaining employees.

Pro: Improve your image.

A pet-friendly workplace can also contribute to your company’s culture by making your business look open, accepting and friendly.

Con: Not everyone’s a fan.

Many people, animal lovers included, aren’t convinced that bringing pets to work is a good thing. A large number of the population suffers from pet dander allergies and some are fearful of animals, which could make coming to work every day uncomfortable. Also, if your business welcomes customers and vendors into your front office, some may not appreciate pets greeting them at door.

Con: Distractions

Pets in the office can be a distraction. Proponents say this is a positive since they provide needed breaks in the day, but when pets seek attention throughout a busy workday or when employees pay more attention to their beloved animals when there’s work to be done, it can be a negative.

Con: Realities of biology

While the wagging tails and friendly personalities of pets in the office sound charming, it’s important to remember the biological realities of having pets on site: accidents, which can be smelly and offensive; typical pet odors; fleas and ticks; shedding; chewing and other behavioral issues that crop up.

Con: Can we all get along?

Bringing a variety of animals and their distinct personalities together means there’s the potential for disagreements, and some may rub each other the wrong way. When pets in the office don’t get along, it can be a serious situation, so it’s critical to have guidelines in place for those tense moments.

Create a pet policy everyone can live with.

If you’re ready to take the plunge and invite pets into your office, implement clear guidelines to help curb the pitfalls and eliminate issues. Make sure to address these main points as you write your pet policy:

  • If you have a landlord, check to ensure pets are allowed in the building.
  • Determine what restrictions, if any, you will enforce, such as less than 25 pounds, only dogs or only on certain days of the week.
  • Outline mandatory health requirements, including pets, must be current on vaccinations and flea and tick prevention medications.
  • Implement safety and security measures. For example, all pets are to be confined to the owner’s area/cubicle with tethers, safety gates or kennels and be under the owner’s control at all times.
  • Pet-proof your office for both pet and employee safety, including securing electrical cords and covering outlets, removing poisonous plants and securing areas that could be hazardous to pets.
  • Establish an application process that includes any and all the above rules, requirements and restrictions.
  • Make sure your pet has pet insurance, in case of an accident in the workplace.
  • Clearly communicate your pet policy, rules and guidelines to all employees. Make sure everyone understands the process by which they can bring their pet to work.

Save on health insurance

Examining whether health insurance can be applied as a tax write off can help you learn how to save on health insurance.

Health insurance as a tax deduction for businesses

If your company offers its own health insurance plan or a contribution to employee’s health care costs, it can be written off as a business deduction. Tax-deductible benefit plans include:

  • Payments to group health insurance premiums
  • Reimbursements through medical reimbursement plans like Healthcare Reimbursement Plans and Health Reimbursement Arrangements
  • Payments to Health Savings Accounts

Employees also benefit since all of their contributions to these funds are with pre-tax money. They also do not pay taxes on reimbursements that employees accrue from their employers.

You can learn more in IRS Publication 15-B here.

Health insurance as a tax deduction for self-employed individuals

Most self-employed individuals can deduct their health insurance premiums through the line 29 deduction on the 1040 return. Your business income must show a profit and you cannot be eligible for employer-provided insurance.

Health insurance tax credits for businesses

Smaller businesses may qualify for health insurance tax credits as part of the Affordable Care Act. To earn a tax credit, your company must meet the following criteria:

  • Company has less than 25 full-time employees who earn less than $51,600 per year
  • Company offers a group health insurance policy that covers at least 50 percent of premium costs
  • Company purchases the policy through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace (if it’s available in your state). The SHOP Marketplace was designed to make it easier for small businesses to offer medical and dental insurance to employees.

This new small business tax credit is worth up to 50 percent of a business’ contribution toward their employees’ premium costs. It’s highest for small businesses that have fewer than 10 employees – the smaller the business, the bigger the credit.

In order to claim your credit, file Form 8941: Credit for Small Employer Health Insurance Premiums with the IRS.

Health insurance tax credits for employees

Tax credits are also available for employees who purchase health insurance on their own and can substantially lower the cost of insurance.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Purchase a policy available on your state’s online marketplace (like
  • Meet certain income limits: The tax credits are available to households with income of up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Not be eligible for employer-sponsored health plans
  • Not be eligible for a government-sponsored health plan

While the tax credits only apply to certain individuals or businesses in specific situations, taking the time to learn the rules can help your business understand how to save on health insurance. The government knows that a healthier workforce is more productive, and these new provisions will help you achieve this goal.

Make retirement easy on you and your business

Offering a retirement plan through your small business helps make your business more competitive when it comes to attracting and keeping good employees and there are a lot of great tax benefits that come along with it, it also helps you be prepared for your retirement plan in the future.

1. Ask key questions.

To find the retirement plan that fits your business best and will not only help secure your future but that of your employees as well you need to ask yourself a few questions first:

  • What is your biggest priority, maximizing employee contributions or simple administration?
  • Do you have, or will you have, “common law employees”?
  • Do you want your employees to be able to contribute their own money too?

These questions will help you determine which type of retirement plan will allot you the best benefits in the future.

Before choosing a plan, you need to decide the overall point of the plan:

  • What do you want to accomplish by implementing this plan so early on in your business plan?
  • What’s important for you as a small business owner? To maximize tax advantages, reward loyal employees or something else?
  • The answer to all of these questions depends on your overall retirement goal.

2. Consider your options.

When it comes to retirement plans for small businesses you basically have four main options to consider that all offer different characteristics, so it is best to do your research and decided which plan works best for your business specifically. Make sure you choose a plan that fits your business’ needs so as to avoid making mistakes and missing out on important benefits.

  • 401(k). Usually, a 401(k) works better for larger businesses because they cost more to set up and maintain, but depending on how many employees you have and how your business operates, this could work well for you. A 401(k) is a tax-qualified, contribution account that gathers your retirement saving contributions (which are sometimes proportionately matched by an employer) and deducted from the employee’s paycheck before taxation.
  • Self-employed 401(k) plan. The same as a regular 401(k) except it offers the most generous contributions limits, and it only works for those with no “common law” employees.
  • Simple IRA. This is for small businesses with less than 100 employees and the employer who received a tax deduction funds it.
  • SEP –IRA. This is for self-employed individuals and small business owners who wish to be the only ones contributing to a retirement plan and the donations are tax deductible.

3. Make a decision.

Making the right decision for your business will take a lot of thought. You need to look forward and imagine where you want your company to be in the next 10 to 20 years to decide which kind of coverage is right for you. Most small business owners tend to go with Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), or defined benefit plants, but that doesn’t mean yours has to.

No matter what age you are at, retirement always seems as if it is a long way away. If you don’t start preparing yourself and your business now for your retirement plans, however, you could end up staying in the workforce a lot longer than you want to.

With good benefits, great perks and strong leadership, you’ll be able to improve your employee efficiency, which in turn can help your business’s overall bottom line. If you’re just starting your business or if you haven’t updated your company’s culture in a while, it’s time to (re)strategize.

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