New kids on the block

Houston entrepreneur creates a network to link up with other blockchain professionals

The Houston Blockchain Alliance aims to connect and educate tech professionals in town. Getty Images

Houstonians traveling around the country might covet other cities for their mountain scapes, beaches, or more mild summers, but Mahesh Sashital envied the fact that other major cities had developed networks and organizations focused on connecting and educating tech professionals. Houston, it seems, was late to the party.

So, he decided to make his own blockchain-focused organization, and a few months ago, he launched the Houston Blockchain Alliance.

Sashital, who is the co-founder of Smarterum, a blockchain news site, works from home and says — every once and a while — he needs some "adult talk time" with his fellow tech professionals.

"I thought that I'd start the Houston Blockchain Alliance so that someone like me, who's already in the industry, can find other people working in the industry," he says. "And for other people interested in blockchain can learn more and get up to speed with the technology."

The Houston Blockchain Alliance's goals are two part: to connect and to educate. The group plans to have an event in February, Sashital says, as well as a citywide blockchain conference in the third or fourth quarters of 2019. Sashital also wants to inform those interested on blockchain news and development by providing educational resources and opportunities.

"We plan on having workshops where people can talk about all sorts of aspects of blockchain — there's so much to talk about," he says. "We can have workshops on legal, accounting, technical, business strategy, and more."

Sashital, who's been a developer for the better part of his life, has a bigger, personal goal for the alliance too. He's worked and lived in Houston for 12 years and he says he's noticed that Houston hasn't yet claimed a reputation for being a tech city. It gets beaten out by cities like Austin, which just was announced to be the home of the new Apple campus. But a decade or so ago, Austin didn't have a tech reputation either. The city positioned itself to be that, and now it's Houston's turn, he says.

"We have a whole bunch of tech workers in Houston — but they are all fragmented across the city. We want to change that perception that Houston's not the place to go if you want to do tech work," Sashital says.

"Hopefully the Houston Blockchain Alliance is a small step in that direction."

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Building Houston

 
 

Retaining employees is no easy feat these days. Encouraging a healthy PTO policy can help avoid burnout. Photo courtesy of Joe Aker

As many small businesses continue to operate in a challenging, fast-paced environment, one thing that has arrived at breakneck speed is midyear, along with the summer months. Theoretically, to ensure work-life balance, most employees should have 50 percent of their PTO remaining to use for summer vacations and during the second half of the year. In reality, that is probably not the case given workers are hesitant to use their PTO, leaving approximately five days of unused PTO on the table during 2020 and 2021.

While the pandemic affected PTO usage the last two years, the labor shortage appears to be a major contributor in 2022, which has led to PTO hoarding and increasing levels of employee burnout. Although these factors can be compounded for small business owners because there are fewer employees to handle daily responsibilities, it is imperative for workers to take PTO, returning recharged with a fresh perspective on the tasks at hand.

Many employers might feel caught off guard by the amount of unused PTO that remains, but the good news is there is plenty of time to address the issue. Below are five ways for small business owners to help prevent PTO hoarding and encourage workers to take their allotted time off.

Remind your employees

Midyear is a good time to remind employees about the company’s PTO program, which is typically included in the employee handbook. Employers can share a link to the specific section of the handbook via email, along with key bullet points about the program that should be highlighted. For example, requirements to submit PTO requests in advance to help manage workloads, any blackout dates related to the nature of the business that can affect customer service and maximum number of hours that can be carried over into the new year to avoid losing any PTO hours. While employees are busy juggling numerous professional and personal responsibilities, it can be easy for them to overlook planning for PTO, so a quick reminder can make a big difference as employees and the company prepare for the remainder of 2022.

Leverage summer months

For some companies, the summer months present a great opportunity for workers to use PTO because business is typically slower, many clients also take time off and it might be easier to cover workloads. If leaders explain the situation to workers, they might be more inclined to schedule PTO because they feel encouraged to do so and there is less concern about leaving co-workers to handle heavy workloads. Leveraging the summer months for PTO can be a win-win for employees and the company, as operations continue smoothly and workers enjoy much-needed relaxation.

Stress the health benefits

Leaders should encourage employees to take time off by stressing the importance of taking care of their mental and physical health. A change of scenery away from work helps reduce stress, encourages relaxation and boosts adaptability, which can lead to greater creativity and innovative thinking. If workers do not take time to disconnect and recharge, it can result in low employee morale and decreased performance that may have a snowball effect involving co-workers, departments and family members.

Generate excitement

One way to encourage employees to use their PTO is to generate excitement by developing creative ways to inspire them to plan a getaway or other activities, which can have a positive impact and help prevent hoarding. For instance, organizing a contest on the intranet in which employees share how they used their time off, encouraging employees to vote on the most unique entries and rewarding the top three with gift cards. This activity might inspire others to break their routines and take time for themselves and their families by planning something special with their unused PTO hours.

Lead by example

Small business owners should lead by example and use their PTO hours to recharge, which also sends a clear message to employees that it is okay to take time off. While many owners may feel they cannot take time away from the office, it is critical for them to recharge, especially after two years of heightened stress levels and longer hours. According to a Capital One Business Survey of small business owners, 52% have not taken a vacation in the past year, 42% are currently experiencing burnout or have experienced it within the past month and 44% report having worked more than usual due to employee shortages. Owners who set an example are not only encouraging workers to do the same, but they are also taking care of themselves so they can be better positioned to operate their businesses for ongoing success.

As small business owners continue to navigate the labor shortage, savvy leaders recognize the significance of retaining existing employees, so it behooves them to encourage PTO usage to foster a highly engaged and energized workforce.

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Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Insperity,a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

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