Ep. 53: How a Small Business Owner Can Do More for Their Employees

Learn about what you can do for your employees.

Aside from a regular paycheck, what more can you do for your employees? And can going the extra mile for them really help your business' bottom line? Listen in to hear from brothers and founders of Mr. Tortilla, Ron and Anthony Alcazar. Their approach to business was formed at an early age, while watching their parents work hard with no buy-in. And then we’ll speak with Ludmila Praslova, PhD. Professor of Industrial Organizational Psychology, and author of The Canary Code: A Guide to Neurodiversity, Dignity, and Intersectional Belonging at Work. "Imagine having to walk in shoes that are extremely big or way too small, way too wide, way too narrow," said Ludmila. "That's painful, that's not comfortable, …flexibility just makes sense."

In this episode you’ll hear:

(00:43) Why Mr. Tortilla wanted to take care of their employees

(03:26) How it’s good for business to prioritize a healthy workplace

(04:58) The bare minimum an employer could do for its employee

(06:40) The importance of flexibility and how to implement it into your company

(12:18) How to start a conversation with your employee about their needs

Key Takeaways

1 - There’s a business case for treating your employees well. Feeling safe, accepted, and valued is a part of our core psychological well-being. When employees don’t feel this way they can’t do their best work because they’ll waste  their mental resources on negative feelings. Plus, good morale leads to less turnover.

2 - An employer owes their employees a bare minimum of fair treatment, and financial safety.

3 - A flexible work environment allows employees to work when they’re at their most predictive in a way that works for them. This doesn’t have to come at any cost to the employer and can lead to a healthier life for the worker.

4 - Talk to your employees about what constrains their productivity. Putting up barriers, simply because that’s how things are done unnecessarily makes life hard for some employees who don’t fit the mold.  

5 - Normalize an intake form that asks questions about preferences and needs. This builds trust, which makes for better workplaces.

Episode Transcript


Andrea Marquez: I've heard so often on This is Small Business that connecting with people is a massive part of running a small business. There are customers, suppliers, lenders, the list goes on, but an absolutely integral item on that list is employees. What can you and what should you do for them beyond some of the basic expectations? How do you keep your workplace flexible enough to ensure you're attracting the best people, then enabling them to do their best work.  

I'm Andrea Marquez and This is Small Business, a podcast brought to you by Amazon. Today we'll be talking about how small business owners can create a healthy work culture for their employees. My first guest learned about that at an early age.


Anthony Alcazar: We saw how hard my parents worked their whole lives and they really didn't have much to show for it. They'd dedicated their lives to companies that they helped grow, and at the end of the day, it was just a job and dead edge and that's it.


Andrea Marquez: That's Anthony Alcazar. He and his brother Ron are the founders of Mr. Tortilla, a low-carb tortilla they created in a quest to make Mexican food healthier.


Anthony Alcazar: When me and Ron decided to talk about this business he said, “Listen, let's start a business where we make sure we take care of our employees that can grow with us and are with us and the company grows, they're taken care of.”


Andrea Marquez: So 10% of Mr. Tortilla's net profits go toward employee profit sharing, on top of sharing the wealth. They also wanted their approximately 40 employees to like going to work.


Anthony Alcazar: We said, “When we have our own factory, we want to make sure that the culture is right, that people love to come to work, that people get along, that no bullying happens, and there's just this work environment that people love.” That was super important for us.


Andrea Marquez: It was important to the brothers to differentiate themselves by having a higher quality product. They knew one of the best ways to do that was by having a higher quality workplace. Creating a culture of caring is integral to Mr. Tortilla's brand. It's a simple concept of being nice to their employees, but according to Ludmila Praslova, it goes a lot deeper than that.


Ludmila Praslova: I usually come to it from a human centric perspective where there is an absolute value in affirming the dignity of every human. But I realize that for many people it's also important to understand the business case perspective. From that perspective, when people are felt valued, when we experience the sense of belonging, we are well. It's a core of our psychological wellbeing to feel like we are with people where we can feel safe, accepted and valued. Otherwise, our mental resources are going to be consumed by anxiety, insecurity, looking behind our back, expecting the knife, and we're not going to be our best selves. We're not going to be performing at our best.


Andrea Marquez: Ludmila is a professor of industrial organizational psychology whose work really zeroes in on diversity and inclusion. She's written a book called The Canary Code, A Guide to Neurodiversity, Dignity and Intersectional Belonging at Work. Ludmila, can you tell me a little bit more about the financial benefits of prioritizing a healthy work culture?


Ludmila Praslova: If you have good morale in your organization, if you have employee loyalty, if employees stay, there's a tremendous cost just on notating turnover heading to rehire, retrain, which is extremely expansive. When people work on their best, they are significantly more productive. People who feel like they had input in developing what they do, they are heard, they're valued, also performed significantly better than people who feel like they're cogs in the machine, who have no control and no input into what is going on. When you add this together, it's a multiplication effect of treating people right on human productivity and human involvement. That's even before we get into things like organizational reputation and the word of mouth.


Andrea Marquez: It's true. Customers are more and more concerned about where their products come from, how they're made, and under what conditions the employees are working. That's also the case for prospective employees. It's common to do a bit of digging about the culture, not just around the job you'll be doing. Beyond making people feel valued and heard, what is the minimum responsibility you think that an employer has to an employee?


Ludmila Praslova: There is a bare minimum of social safety where you are treated properly, psychological safety, where you feel like you can participate, and financial safety. As a bare minimum, I think people need to get out of their jobs a life that doesn't hurt. That, unfortunately, doesn't always happen, but life that doesn't hurt means satisfaction of basic needs, appropriate levels of food and housing that doesn't cause suffering. Now, inspiring life is beyond that. When you want people to really be on their best, not just not suffering, but thriving, you really want to be able to give people ability to travel, have vacations, have sabbaticals, time for their creativity, time, and a little bit of financial cushion where they are building their future, where they're feeling confident about their future.


Andrea Marquez: As a creative myself, one of the things I value the most in wherever I'm working is a flexibility to be able to do my job and do it very well, but also have the time to have a life and pursue my career interests. I think even outside of work, those feed the work that I'm doing anyways. It's all interconnected and it allows my mind to be a little more at peace and I'm a little more happy. That's what flexibility and creativity does for me. Why it's important to me. Why do you think it's important to organizations on a larger scale?


Ludmila Praslova: Well, absolutely. Imagine having to walk in shoes that are extremely big or way too small, way too wide, way too narrow. That's painful, that's not comfortable, right? Why would we force someone to work in ways that hurt them and doesn't allow them to perform their best? Flexibility just makes sense.


Andrea Marquez: What does that look like?


Ludmila Praslova: Some people work best in 25 minutes, little break, 25 minutes, another little break, the Pomodoro way, for example. Other people need three to four hours of uninterrupted time to concentrate and be on their best. Why would you force someone into someone else's working reason? It's just like forcing someone to wear shoes that are completely nowhere close and expect them to perform well and run a marathon and win. They're not going to win if they're not supported in working in a way that supports them in their best. Doing work that is aligned with who we are, being able to maybe creatively tailor our responsibilities for job crafting and having flexibility in our schedule and where we work, not because it's a win, but because it actually makes us work better.


Andrea Marquez: If we're talking to a small business owner who's like, “Great, I'm on board. I want to do this.” How do they implement this into their small business?


Ludmila Praslova: It is going to depend on what your business goals are, what kind of skills you want. A more general answer is think about what you are trying to define your own business goals and then be open to more than one way that people can help you achieve that goal. Because sometimes we're stuck in this assumption that this is how I work and this is the only way to work. Just openness to the fact that there are many ways to get from point A to point B, and different people work best in different ways. That's a very good starting point. Then brainstorm with your people. You hired someone, maybe you just have one part-time employee, talk to that person. How can you bring out the best and what will help them to achieve? How can we just remove artificial constraints on their productivity? When you have your second and third employees talk to them what will help them to be on their best.


Andrea Marquez: Artificial constraints, that's such a great way of putting it. It's so important to reassess how we do things and wh. y Anthony Alcazar talks here about how they reassessed their hiring practices.


Anthony Alcazar: I knew what equal opportunity employment was, but I never really felt it. When I started going into retailers, different stores, I saw what equal opportunity employment meant, everybody. I saw adults with special needs be employed and how happy they were to work. I got the chance to get to know them and I told Ron, “This is what we have to do. We want to do this.” They're part of our team, a core part of our team. They do exceptionally well. They just needed an opportunity and they've excelled.


Andrea Marquez: That's a win-win situation and Ludmila expands on it.


Ludmila Praslova: Why would you leave out a huge percent of the population and a huge talent pool? Not hiring people who have some kind of difference doesn't make sense because most organizations accommodate the needs of parents without any kind of issues. Working students have needs and most organizations say, “Okay, we'll accommodate your schedule.” Just think about it as how do we enable their best performance. Then you stop thinking about, let's say, accommodations is something special that you do for people, but you are simply enabling humans to do their best work. Just like you allow parents to pick up their kids or students to take their tests.

I think we need a little bit of mindset adjustment. If you need to have quiet place to work because you need to concentrate, it just makes sense because you're going to do your best work. If someone needs instructions in writing and that is going to help them perform their best, why not? It's just a performance enabler. That's what those people understand and that's what allows them to create winning and high performing organizations.


Andrea Marquez: How do you go about having that conversation around what an employee needs? Do you start with the new hires or is it during the application process? What's the best way to do it?


Ludmila Praslova: If you have flexibility in onboarding and do you also get to know your people and to say, “How do you work best? Do you need a long period of time to concentrate or do you work in short spurts of time?” Really make a default across all people who work for you without singling anyone out. That is something that normalizes human differences and allows everyone to work on their best. You can build trust by allowing everyone to say, “Okay, this is what I need to perform on my best,” without even requiring them to disclose. Then if you build that trust, people might be much more comfortable also bringing those specific needs and differences to the manager's attention.


Andrea Marquez: Trust is always so integral, and Ron and Anthony showed us how to put all of that into action because if there's one thing I learned today, it's that healthy workplaces can often happen through minor adjustments.


Anthony Alcazar: One important thing is that we always have raffles every other week, and so we have prizes we give to our employees. We have a weekly meal where we vote, “You guys want pupusas? Do you guys want mole,” and we'll bring in for the employees.


Andrea Marquez: I love that. Who doesn't want some mole or pupusas? That was a lot of great information, so much to take in at one time, but don't worry, we've taken notes for you. You can find them at smallbusiness. amazon/ podcasts.

I hate to blow on our own horn, but we've had some great reviews come in lately and I wanted to share this one with you, Josh949 of somewhere in the great US of A wrote, “I love the podcast format. It tells small business stories while focusing on a main business topic. Andrea also does a great job summarizing the key takeaways at the end.” Thank you so much, Josh949. I really do appreciate it. I'd love to hear what you think. Please make sure to leave a review on Apple Podcasts. It's easier to do it through your phone or send us an email at thisissmallbusiness@ amazon. com.  

That's it for this episode of This Is Small Business, brought to You by Amazon. Make sure to subscribe and tell your friends about us by sending them a link to this episode. Until next time, I'm your host, Andrea Marquez, Hasta luego and thanks for listening. This is Small Business is brought to you by Amazon with technical and story production by JAR Audio.


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