CAROLYN Creswell started Carman's Fine Foods 18 years ago after purchasing her boss's company for just $1,000. Slowly, she's built up the business to a successful health food manufacturer and now exports to retailers across the world.
But Creswell says she's able to keep her business going by providing a relaxed working atmosphere for her staff, complete with perks like a free car wash and even an office "nanny".
Rather than having workers slack off, Creswell says this atmosphere allows her staff to work to contribute their best work.
How did Carman's Fine Foods begin?
I bought the business when I was 18 for $1,000 and have very slowly built it up over the past 17 years. Back then I didn't even have a bank account or a name, and then as time has progressed it's gotten bigger. We now export to 26 countries, including the US, and we do a lot of work with airlines.
You like to create a relaxed atmosphere at work. How do you do that?
I like to give people autonomy in their role so they can balance it out. If they need to go to a school sports day, they can, and they can make it up later or however they want. I'm all about results rather than hours on the clock.
What kind of perks do you offer?
As for perks, there is certainly an atmosphere about the office here. We have an office nanny, she makes hot drinks, checks if there are jobs to do, prepares and orders lunches, and we all make sure to sit down together and eat lunch.
We do the quiz out of the Herald Sun, the nanny or office manager will tidy everything up and take care of everything, and then on Friday we supply lunch for everybody and have a work-in-progress type meeting. Employees can have their cars washed every fortnight, there are lots of fruit baskets and so on and people can really help themselves.
You also ask two very specific questions every week, don't you?
The two questions are, "on a scale of one to 10, how stressed are you?" and "how many emails are in your inbox?" It gives people a sense of how everyone is feeling, and it usually comes out that if someone is stressed, someone who has finished a lot of their work can help them out with something. It helps balance stress.
Why the emphasis on this type of atmosphere?
I want to treat people how I would like to be treated myself. I think a happy workforce is a productive workforce, and people work harder in this type of environment. They want to dedicate themselves to the common good of the company. We really have no staff turnover, because of all this, and I think it's a wonderful work environment.
Some businesses might say that would create a slack atmosphere
None of this is related to being slack, this is related to giving the business everything that you can get done. Instead of having my people queue for lunch, or whatever, we can have someone prepare it and bring it to them so they can focus on what they are doing best.
The stuff I've talked about, it doesn't cost huge amounts of money. The other thing we do is that if you have less than 10 emails in your inbox on a Friday afternoon, you can leave two hours early. That doesn't cost anything, it makes people get their work done.
Why not just give them more work to do?
People think they can get their pound of flesh by how hard they work staff, but productivity is all about keeping people motivated and happy. You can create greater long-term productivity and dedication to your business if you have people who love working there.
Does this mean you have to hire a specific type of person who thrives in this atmosphere?
I really think it's about attitude. I hire people due to their attitudes. I can teach skills, but it's often extremely hard to change a person's attitude.
It's confronting for people when they start working here, they get a bit thrown off by the autonomy. It is hard at the start, but once you get used to it, I'm just amazed at the good ideas people have and how much passion people have for what we're doing. It's not having to put up with slackers, we don't put up with substandard attitudes, it's about using the environment to work to your best.
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