(AP) Boss, my daughter has a soccer game on Thursday, so can I leave early?
With the start of the school year, small business owners will be getting requests from working parents who want time off to attend children's soccer and basketball games and other school events. Not just once, but many times throughout the year.
Owners who want to keep morale up will say OK. But they should also give non-parents the opportunity to leave early for personal reasons.
WHY YOU SHOULD GIVE TIME OFF
For Dave Reeves, "there's nothing more important than family. Work, your career, comes next." So at his company, there's no question that his four employees should take time off for school or family events.
Reeves, president of Reeves Laverdure Public Relations in Boca Raton, Fla., believes that helping staffers take care of their lives will only benefit the business. "If things aren't good at home, they can't be good at the office," he said.
Allowing employees to tend to their children or other personal matters will also help a small business retain good workers. It can also be a good recruiting tool.
"With that loss of a little bit of time, you gain a lot of goodwill," said Rick Gibbs, a senior human resources specialist with Administaff, a Houston-based company that provides HR outsourcing.
Gibbs said that in some states, it may be more than a matter of goodwill, as they have laws that require companies to grant employees time off for family issues. California, for example, requires companies with 25 or more workers in the same location to give parents or guardians time off for school activities such as field trips or team sports.
There can be friction and resentment in companies where parents get time off for sporting and school events, but non-parents feel they can't get the time for things that matter to them. It's important for an owner not to make judgments, for example, saying that child-related requests are reasonable and understandable, but requests from childless workers aren't.
It can also work the other way. Owners who don't have children might not understand that it really is important for a parent to see all three performances of the play that a child is in. Or that an employee might have to take several days off because a child has the flu.
Paula Slotkin remembers what it was like as an employee to have to take vacation days when her young daughters had skating events. She's liberal with time off for the employees of her Woburn, Mass.-based public relations firm, Topaz Partners. "As long as you get your work done, I'm fine," she said.
Slotkin also recognizes that non-parents have events that are important to them. So if a worker unexpectedly gets tickets to a Red Sox game, "I wouldn't ask somebody to pass that up."
Reeves doesn't limit time off to parents, but he doesn't see it as a matter of being fair. He is sensitive to what matters in his staffers' lives.
So when one of his staffers needs to take her dog to the veterinarian, she gets time to do that. "That's her kid," he said.
A few years back, Reeves had a staffer who needed to take time off for Jewish holidays. There was never any question about it. "That's an important part of your life," he told the employee.
GETTING THE WORK DONE
Business owners who are flexible about time off usually find that staffers will get their work done because they appreciate being given the chance to take care of what's important in their lives. Employees will be willing to stay late on other days or catch up with their work at home.
Owners who are worried about employees abusing the privilege shouldn't use that as a reason not to give time off. "You might get burned, but the motivational advantages outweigh the occasional hornet's nest," Gibbs said.
Hiring responsible workers in the first place should head off any problems.
"If you have a mature enough work force, they're not going to take advantage of it," Reeves said. "You're going to know if people are abusing it."
And, Gibbs said, a worker's performance should be a factor in whether he or she can take the time off.
Slotkin points out that in her business, what matters is that clients can reach employees. Cell phones and smart phones take care of that need. "If you're sitting at a hockey rink and take a phone call, you're not really out of touch," she said.
Sometimes an employee's job is such that the work can't be done later. One example is someone who works at a call center. The solution then is for co-workers to pitch in. Chances are, they'll be willing to do so if the work atmosphere is a positive one and every worker knows he or she will also have the opportunity for time off if they need it.