On Benefit and Bonuses, or How I Let Down My Only Employee

The following is a guest post from Jenny Schmitt, founder of CloudSpark.

I’ve had the same boss for nearly seven years now. In that time, I’ve had one pay raise, I’ve worked nights, weekends, holidays and compromised on vacations and family time. To be fair, my boss isn’t a complete dictator, I did get maternity leave twice (both times were unpaid of course) and I do have some flexibility in my hours and how I complete my work.

But this year, this year I want more. I want a better boss.

As a solo PR pro, I find that I’m the hardest boss I’ve ever had and yet, I’ve invested very little in defining how I will reward myself as an employee. When I worked at agencies and managed teams, I made sure my team got bonuses (if possible) and I made sure benefits extended beyond the employee handbook. We took afternoons off and went to the movies. Or we took a longer lunch out to someplace new. Or we took a cooking class for a creative break. I constantly looked for small ways to reward good work and encourage creative thinking. Now that I’m managing the team of me (and sometimes “we” when I have virtual partners) I realize I’ve let down my only employee. And this year, I’m changing the benefits and bonuses that I’ve too-long ignored. How?

1. A full rate review.
In seven years, I’ve raised my rates once. Despite winning awards, despite gaining top-notch industry knowledge, and despite gaining expertise, I never took more than a cursory look at my compensation. (Disclosure: Kellye Crane and I author the Show Me the Money! Series on the Solo PR PRO member site, it’s all about setting rates and financially succeeding as a solo PR pro.)

2. Investing in a monthly creative break.
Once a month, I’m taking work time off for a creative break. The only rule to this one is that it can’t be professional development; it has to be completely unrelated to work. For example, take a horseback riding lesson, go see a movie, take a cooking class, go to the aquarium or a museum. Whatever it is, it’s scheduled time away from traditional work hours and it’s an endeavor that is meant to wake up the right side of my brain.

3. Defining new boundaries of when I’ll work.
This one is more difficult because the office is a mere 15-second commute. I’ve committed to no more client (read: billable) work on the weekends and to at least two laptop-free nights each week. No more Skype-ing with clients who happen to see I’m there in the evening hours, no more promises to have something by the next morning when the assignment comes in after 3:30pm. Someone smarter than me called this “setting boundaries.” I’m only surprised it took me this long to set them.

4. Building in vacation days and holidays.
I’m at a point in my career where if I worked for a traditional company, I would qualify for four weeks of vacation a year (if not more). So this year, I’m taking four weeks off. I’m setting aside a week in the Spring, two weeks in the Summer, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s as real vacation days (e.g. no laptop, no conference calls, no quick client calls). I’m also going to take traditional holidays, days in previous years I looked at as bonus days to “catch up on work,” like Memorial Day, July 4th, the day after Thanksgiving. And if I’m feeling radical, I might just take Columbus Day too. I’ll be sure to communicate it in advance with clients and assure that they understand these are times I’ll be unavailable.

It might seem like a short list, but it’s a start. To define the benefits and bonuses for the year ahead is to redefine the value I give to myself as an employee. And that, is certainly a start to being the better boss I want.

What’s your boss going to do for you this year?

Jenny Schmitt is a veteran public relations and marketing professional and sought-after conference and keynote speaker. Nearly seven years ago, she founded CloudSpark, an award-winning Atlanta-based strategic communications company. Jenny brings a solid foundation of business strategy development, communication expertise and marketing experience to match a client’s immediate needs or their long-term vision. She serves on the board of PRSA Georgia and the Atlanta chapter of Women in Sports and Events.

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