You’ve heard it all before – “your most valuable resource is your workforce.” But what does that mean? How should that change how you treat your employees? We spoke to Wendy Giuffre, president and principal consultant at Calgary HR consultancy Wendy Ellen, to find out what small businesses get wrong about human resources, and what they need to get right.

First and foremost, you need rules “One of the reasons I love providing services to small businesses is the fact that they can be flexible and not have to be as rigid when it comes to how they treat employees,” Giuffre says. “But I think there needs to be a baseline policy. If there isn’t a baseline to begin with, all of the sudden you’re a 20-person shop and your compensation is all over the place, and you’ve got different vacation schedules and work arrangements. I think people in small business want to be flexible, and that’s great, but there needs to be a baseline policy.”


Aim for “policy-lite” “When we go into small businesses, we don’t come out with a 100-page policy manual,” she says. “You might come out with a 30-page handbook that has the key things like what the work philosophy is, what the work day looks like. It’s more casually written. There’s not a lot of, ‘Get approval from Manager A or Manager B.’ It’s trying to create this environment where there are some simple guidelines on how we’re going to work together. I have some clients who have rigid requirements around regulatory issues, work attire, strict hours, etc. because of the type of business they’re in. That doesn’t work for everybody, but it all starts the same way: having that conversation about what the business need is and what the environment should look like.”


Nail the basics “There are certain legislative-like policies that you should make sure your employees are aware of – things around privacy, confidentiality, those kinds of things,” she says. But the other thing is, you want to have a discussion around what you want the workday to look like. What do you want your vacation policy to be – two weeks? Unlimited? Do you want people working from home? It comes back to what the culture is. And, of course, you have to work with what your business needs are. “If you’re in the service industry, for example, you need people available certain hours of the day,” Giuffre says.


HR is changing and will continue to change, but not that much. “I don’t think the needs of small businesses have changed,” Giuffre says, “but I think the freedoms of small businesses have changed because of technology. The response to small businesses’ needs have changed. Part of that is generational. I think small businesses that really try to honour the work ethic and knowledge that our new generations have, and try to work with that instead of bringing conflict to it, are going to be much more successful.”


Then get into the weeds “A lot of small businesses have already had these discussions,” Giuffre says. “But then they don’t have policies in place to enhance that culture or back it up. They may want it to look or feel like something but they don’t have the nuts and bolts in place to support that. [Then] start to make some decisions around those. What’s the physicality of the job? Are work hours flexible? Get some of those decisions in place, and then [HR consultants] take that and write policy around that.”