Communications Questions of the Week

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Writing a Winning Employee Newsletter

Question:

I’m trying to improve our old traditional employee newsletter.  What information will help create a communication piece that is effective and meets the needs of all of our employees (onsite, remote, etc.)?  I really want it to be worthwhile.

Answer:

The days of the old employee newsletter have really changed.  With today’s technology, we are able to quickly get information to employees, and solicit input and response quickly with the push of a button. Whichever email marketing platform you choose to use to improve your old traditional paper newsletter, here are a few tips when considering what information to include that will motivate and engage your employees:

  • Seek to make your newsletter not only informational but motivational.  The key to a good newsletter is to make it MOTIVATIONAL, not just full of information.  Use it to motivate your employees and get them engaged.
  • Include information your employees want to see and hear, not just what management wants them to hear.  Don’t know what they want?  ASK!
  • Mix it up.  Make the information informative, provide updates on what is going on.
  • Add live content – links to videos, pictures, or other stories to further engage the reader.
  • Using metrics?  Make them visual and accurate…let employees figure out what they say about company / department performance.
  • Add a social aspect.  Employees like to know what is going on with others in the company – New certification? New degree?  New grand kids?  Let people share the good news in their lives if they wish.
  • Use a “news box” on the home screen where employees log in to the Intranet.  This will allow employees to read it when they are ready, not rushing through it because they have other deadlines to meet.
  • Newsletters should be all about what employees are doing right!  Customer comments on good performance and shout outs to other departments or employees…focus on the positive here.

If executed well, employee newsletters provide an effective way to create employee engagement. In this Ultimate Guide to Creating the Perfect Employee Newsletter,” you will get additional information, tips and examples to help you create a winning employee newsletter!

Bottomline, get your employees involved in the newsletter.  Get your employees to offer content for the newsletter, review your metrics on what they are reading and clicking, and regularly ask your employees for input on what’s beneficial and what’s not.

Communication often seems like a “no-brainer”. You have something to communicate and you just “do it”. But factor in multiple shifts or locations, off-site employees and a multigenerational workforce and you quickly learn that providing adequate communication to everyone you employ isn’t so easy. strategic HR, inc. has years of experience writing for a diverse workforce. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

Multicolored wheel divided into 7 equal sections Recruitment, Training and Development, Benifits and Compensation, Communicating, Employee Relations, Recordkeeping, and Health safety and security with Legal compliance written on the outer edge and company strategy in the center communication is emphasized

English-Only Policies in the Workplace

Question:

My manager is upset because his employees are speaking another language in front of him and he is unable to understand what they are saying.  He wants me to write a English-only policy for the department and I am not comfortable with that.  Is there a legal basis to help back me up to not write this policy?

Answer:

Yes there is!  There are a few instances in which an employer can require employees to only speak English in the workplace, but justification cannot be because the manager feels “left out of the conversation”.  It is possible IF the manager needs to be able to communicate and exchange conversation for completing work, but one must do that with caution.  

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission webpage Immigrants’ Employment Rights Under Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws deals with this topic directly.  In short, according to the EEOC, English-only workplace rules can only be upheld if the company can show business necessity.  For example, if for safety reasons it is imperative that everyone speak the same language – this could be justified.  Other examples when it may be justified to create an English-only rule would be when the individual needs to communicate with others (customers, coworkers, and supervisors) who only speak English and/or for cooperative work assignments when one common language is essential to complete the work effectively and efficiently.

We recommend before jumping into something like this, look at the entire situation.  What is the cause of the issues and can it be solved in another way?  If an English-only policy appears to be required in your workplace, do keep in mind that the EEOC states that a rule requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace at all times, even during lunches and breaks, would rarely be justified.

 

We’ve never heard employees complain that their employer communicates “too much”. Communication is the backbone of a satisfied and productive workforce. However, providing adequate communication to a diverse group of employees who may require differing forms of communication isn’t always easy. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience creating written communication for employees – including employee newsletters. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

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Ramifications to Consider as a Result of a Reduction in Force

Question:

As a result of a Reduction in Force (RIF), we have had to reassign certain tasks to other remaining employees.  What are some ramifications I need to be aware of as a result of doing so?  (i.e. review job descriptions, exempt/non-exempt status, etc.)

Answer:

A Reduction in Force is not pleasant, but sometimes necessary to keep the business running in a positive way.  The RIF not only effects the person being released from their job, but also the remaining employees who may have an impact on their job duties as well.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the definition of a RIF “occurs when changing priorities, budgetary constraints, or other business conditions requires a company to abolish positions.  A RIF can also occur when a position changes so significantly that the employee is no longer able to perform that required duty.”  If an organization is contemplating a RIF or a layoff there are several factors to take into consideration such as reviewing state and federal statutes including the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA).

When considering a RIF follow these basic compliance steps:

  1.    Select the employees for the layoff
  2.    Avoid adverse/disparate impact
  3.    Review federal and state WARN regulations to stay compliant
  4.    Review OWBPA regulations for compliance (for employees over the age of 40 and over)
  5.    Determine severance package and additional services (if any)
  6.    Prepare for the layoff meetings
  7.    Inform remaining workforce of the layoffs

The key is to be prepared with what you are going to say to the employee and review the necessary documents to be sure you are compliant.  The next consideration is to have a plan about who will absorb the exited person’s job tasks.  Consider cross training employees on job tasks to be ready for these unforeseen times and to have coverage in the absence of employees when out of the office for personal reasons.

Be prepared with a plan and look at the strengths and weaknesses of your team so you are not caught off guard!

 

Some communications are not only helpful for employees, but are required by law. Don’t get caught without the proper notices and communication required for your employees. Ask strategic HR, inc. to help you audit your notices and documentation. Visit our Communications page to learn more.

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What Types of Communication Methods Work Best With Employees?

Question:

We are struggling to ensure our communications are being heard by all employees.  What could we be doing wrong?

Answer:

Communication with employees is extremely important.  As much as you communicate, you will likely never be told your business over communicates.  However, we are a society that is on information overload.  We have to cut through that overload to be sure the important messages are heard.

To ensure your employees are hearing your business communications, look at the communication methods you are using as well as the frequency.  Different communication methods reach different individuals better. For example, based on the research for Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR, SCP and Linda Gravett, PhD, SPHR, CEQC’s book Bridging the Generation Gap, you need to use different communications to reach the preferred methods of each generation:

  • Radio Babies (1930 – 1945)      – Face to Face
  • Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964)    – Meetings
  • Generation X (1965 – 1976)      – Email
  • Generation Y (1977 – 1991)       – Text and Email
  • Generation Z (1991 – present)  – Text and Face to Face

Your business communication methods will need to cover multiple medias to ensure you are reaching everyone.  And not everyone hears a message entirely the first time so you’ll need to repeat, repeat, repeat.  Some say three times while others have said nine.  Consider the frequency of your messages and be sure you are sending a critical message using multiple media’s at least three times to ensure your employees do hear it and that they heard it correctly.

You’ll also find employees hear a message if there is interaction.  So, while sharing an update with your employees, be sure to include engagement and action on part of the employee.  This may come in the form of feedback, open discussion, required response, etc.

Finally, the best way to communicate with your employees can be found with your employees.  Ask them what methods they prefer.

 

We’ve never heard employees complain that their employer communicates “too much”. Communication is the backbone of a satisfied and productive workforce.  However, providing adequate communication to a diverse group of employees who may require differing forms of communication isn’t always easy. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience creating written communication for employees—including employee newsletters.  Visit our Communications Page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

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Election Campaign Sparks More Chatter

Question:

As we get closer to the Presidential Election, my employees are talking more and more about it in the workplace. How do I handle this election chatter?

Answer:

Employees spend a large portion of their day in the workplace and many use social media to interact outside of the workplace. During an election year, it is likely that politics and the election will become a talking point for employees as they interact. While the workplace may not be the most ideal place to discuss politics, employers are smart to have a strategy for handling politics at work.

Political discussions in the workplace can have both a positive and negative impact. Political expression in the workplace can contribute to a culture that values the overall well-being of their employees. Friendly political discussion can be a team-building skill and a morale-booster. Employers should pay close attention to their work environment and set an example of acceptance and civility. An employer should provide clear guidelines for how to discuss politics in the workplace and make the policy clear and easily accessible to the employees.

Some political discussion may lead to hostile comments such as gender, race or religious statements could lead to harassment and discrimination claims. Additionally, banning political discussions may be considered discriminatory to some. According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an employer may not interfere with political speech where there is a “direct nexus between employment-related concerns and the specific issues that are the subject of the advocacy.” Employees at private companies do not have a constitutional right to free speech or expression at work, but few organizations have a policy prohibiting political discussion. Not-for-profit companies should be careful to maintain a non-partisan stance when dealing with the election or risk revocation of their tax-exemption status.

Ultimately, employers should stress the point that work comes first always and maintain a work environment where employees can express themselves in a professional and efficient manner.

 

Communication often seems like a “no-brainer”. You have something to say and you just “say it”. However hearing and listening are two different functions. HOW you communicate is often as important as WHAT you communicate when it comes to getting results! Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience preparing communications for a variety of audiences and topics. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

 

 

 

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Improving the Flow of Communication

Question:

Until recently I thought we did a good job of communicating with our employees, but now I’m getting blind-sided with issues that I had no idea were brewing and it is obviously affecting productivity. How can I improve the flow of communication?

Answer:

As you have learned, the role of communication in the workplace is vital. We often take communicating with employees for granted, while communicating with our customers, vendors and stakeholders often takes center stage. A complaint I often hear is that management communicates to employees, but there is no two-way communication back – the employees aren’t sharing information upward to management. Sometimes it’s because employees don’t want to appear as if like they can’t do their job or are incompetent. Employees also might think that they won’t be listened to – they aren’t high enough in the hierarchy for their suggestions or complaints to matter.

What’s the problem? You might want to create a small survey to find out what’s happening in your company to cause the recent communication conflict. Maybe it’s only a few isolated incidences or it could be something bigger. It will help you determine if there are any obvious quick fixes. If a survey is not an option right now, you might also ask yourself if management is doing anything out of the norm that might be causing the new communication problems. Have you recently added or changed management? Could the new managers have a different communication style from a previous manager? Do managers actively listen when an employee has a problem? Is criticism the first reaction to a question? How management reacts to employee communication will determine how open the communication remains.

How To Fix It? You need to take steps to make sure employees know that their opinions, suggestions and questions are extremely important and are welcomed. If you haven’t already, provide your employees with easy ways to communicate with management and then communicate what they are. If there have been recent changes, employees might not know how to communicate (or to whom), so spelling that out first is important. Two-way communication takes trust, so if that trust has been destroyed (or was never present) you’ll need to do some work to get the trust factor built up between your employees and management. It will take some time and effort, so don’t be discouraged.

Are you frustrated by complaints that you don’t provide enough communication, even though you feel you are sharing more than enough? Communicating with your workforce can seem be tough – factor in multiple shifts, various locations, off-site employees and a multi-generational workforce and you quickly learn that providing adequate communication to everyone you employ isn’t so easy. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience formulating communications for a variety of situations. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with your tough communication problems.

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Office Communication: Email Etiquette

Question:

I LOVE email but it can get out of hand.  Many times in our office when a message goes out to the team, everyone “responds to all” causing massive amounts of email that aren’t always necessary.  How can I help my staff understand a bit of ‘email etiquette’ and is it really necessary to train them on something so basic?  What should I do?

Answer:

Email communication can be very helpful in organizations but it can also be very detrimental if it isn’t used appropriately.  Everyone has used email to ask and respond to questions, give their opinion, and to just generally communicate a message but that doesn’t mean everyone uses it well.  Although it seems fairly intuitive – type a message and send it – it’s not always that easy, as you have found out.

As with all communication, your team members need to learn what is appropriate to send in an email. Some things are just better left to a personal conversation between two or a few people. Maybe it’s an issue that needs to be addressed in a team meeting, where everyone can weigh in, versus email. Maybe it’s a more personal issue that doesn’t need to be aired to the whole group. In either case setting guidelines for what should be communicated and to who can help.

Another issue that almost everyone is familiar with is the inability of email to convey feelings. It is easy for someone to misconstrue the nature or intent of an email because the voice inflections, facial cues and emotional intonations are not present. Therefore it’s very difficult to send an email that contains bad news or even good news as the intent might get lost in translation. A suggestion that emails of this nature not be sent is a good way to avoid bruised feelings and escalation of issues in the workplace. And be sure to remind employees that typing in ALL CAPS is taboo – it connotes “yelling” (yes, it still happens).

It may be time to have a short (30 minute or less) email training session. Call it a Communication Review and talk with your team about how communication needs to be handled. Set up a game plan – a communications plan that outlines what items need to be handled in an open forum, versus what things can be discussed via email. And if you don’t already have one, it might be a good time to create a social media policy as well.

Do you need help with communications? Do you need policies and procedures or job descriptions written? Thinking about starting a company newsletter or needing to create recruitment materials? Strategic HR, inc. can help. Visit our Communications page to learn more.

 

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Social Media for Internal Communications

Question:

Social media is everywhere and a part of everyone’s lives.  Is it a good idea to use social media as part of the company’s communication program for employees?

Answer:

Absolutely!  Whether it is used as an internal blog or forum, livecasting, or even video sharing – using social media for internal communications has a number of benefits.

Social media will allow you to have “real time” conversations with employees.  It also allows everyone to participate in the communications and provide quick, immediate feedback.  It opens up a world of opportunity by allowing employees to interact with one another, become more creative, learn from others, and even connect with potential customers and employees in a non-threatening environment.  Social media also allows employees to feel more “connected”.  If you have a company that has multiple locations, you may not always have the time to interact with those at other sites…social media allows that to happen.

A few sample tools organizations reporting using in house, include:

  • Yammer
  • Huddle
  • Oogwave
  • Enterprise 2.0
  • Podio
  • Hyperoffice
  • Campfire

In this litigious world, there are of course risks.  IT security and loss of productivity are concerns that all companies have but in most instances the benefits outweigh the concerns.  Use social media to your advantage and engage your employees and others in your company and your brand…it will be worth it.

Communication often seems like a “no-brainer”. You have something to communicate and you just “do it”. But factor in multiple shifts or locations, off-site employees and a multigenerational workforce and you quickly learn that providing adequate communication to everyone you employ isn’t so easy. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience writing for a diverse workforce; we even have a marketing/communications specialist on staff. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

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Total Rewards Statements

Question:

I’ve always heard that Total Rewards Statements were a great tool to provide to employees the ones I have seen seem very difficult to understand.  How can I provide a Total Reward Statement that is valuable, easy to understand, and will help my employees truly understand what their total compensation is?

Answer:

While knocking off socks is a lofty goal, a well-designed total rewards statement can have that level of positive impact. When an employee with a $50,000 base wage sees their actual total compensation (pay + benefits) is closer to $71,000, it can be a socks-knocking experience.

The power of a total rewards statement comes from the personal and detailed picture it gives employees of the full value of their work. In addition to pay and benefits, total rewards statements can also convey the value of non-monetary rewards such as work-life balance, opportunities for growth, and a great company culture.

A Brilliant Total Rewards Statement has Pizzazz
If your total rewards statements are cold, boring, or greeted with skepticism, these five tips can help give them some zing:

1. Put Employees First
Think not what a total rewards statement can do for your company . . . but what it can do for individual employees. Put your company’s strategic goals on the shelf for the moment, and get a clear vision of how your statements can help employees. When you put employees first, your statements will ultimately also yield the greatest return for your company.

2. Deliver Statements with Fanfare
Print, online, PDF, microsites—there are many options for formatting and delivering your statements. One consideration is paramount: how many of your employees will actually see their statement? How many spouses will see it?

Your statements may be masterpieces of design and marvels of technology, but if employees don’t rip open the envelope or login to view them, they’re utterly worthless.

Let employees know their statements are coming. Give managers advance notice, and reinforce the message—a job with your company is much more than just a paycheck! Consider tying the release of the statements to a special event. Include employee testimonials to heighten interest. If you deliver online statements, think about how you can encourage employees to view their statements and share them with spouses.

3. Make it Personal
Tell employees a story that’s all about them. The more personalized a total rewards statement, the more powerful its message will be. Put the value of total compensation front and center. Provide helpful information about benefits coverage and retirement savings. Use variable text to eliminate generalities so that every piece of information is relevant to the recipient.

In addition, tell your company’s story. Brand statements so they are unmistakably your own. Communicate what makes your company a great place to work, and why employees should choose to stay. Keeping quiet and letting employees draw their own conclusions is a disservice to both the company and employees.

4. Happiness is a Total Rewards Statement
By their very nature, total rewards statements send an upbeat message that the company values employees, respects them, and is focused on rewarding and retaining them. Leave the somber tone and legal language to the SPDs. Use color and graphics to create a friendly tone. Show pride in your company, your employees, and the work you do together to serve customers.

5. Don’t Get Cold Feet
Total rewards programs represent substantial investments in employees’ well-being. They are key factors for job satisfaction and retention. In a survey by WorldatWork, HR professionals judged total rewards statements to be the single most effective method for communicating the employee value proposition. So make a bold statement! Tell your company’s total rewards story with pride, and socks-knocking pizzazz.

Rita Verderber is founder and President of Insight Benefit Communications Inc. Her company has been creating sock-knockin’ total rewards statements for over 19 years. You can reach her at rita@insightben.com.

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Starting An Employee Newsletter

Question:

My CEO would like HR to publish an employee newsletter. What should I include in the newsletter?

Answer:

The first question I would ask is ‘what is the purpose of the newsletter?’ Why does your CEO think a newsletter is needed and what is the goal? You will select topics and include articles that reinforce that purpose. The second question to ask is ‘what would your employees feel is valuable to them?’ Be sure to sprinkle in topics that are of particular interest to your readers. A short survey or focus group can help you determine what topics would be of interest to your employees. A good balance of the two will help make sure you are communicating what management needs while keeping the interest of your readers. For example, if the sole purpose of the newsletter is to communicate benefits to employees, your newsletter will incorporate the needed benefits information in addition to other related topics of interest that might engage your employees, such as wellness as it relates to benefits.

Once you determine the overarching purpose of the newsletter you’ll need to develop a newsletter calendar, to schedule out the different issues and topics, and can start to curate content. You’ll want to include company-related information as well as general or industry-wide information. The articles can be internally written and/or used with permission from other sources. It’s always a great idea to enlist writing help from your employees. One final tip, while the purpose may be to share company ‘news’ be sure to keep the newsletter engaging and provide some interesting and perhaps unique value to readers. If your employees can always count on reading something fun or unique in your newsletter they are more likely to read it and absorb the company news as well.

We’ve never heard employees complain that their employer communicates “too much”. Communication is the backbone of a satisfied and productive workforce. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience creating written communication for employees – including employee newsletters. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

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Gauging Employee Engagement

Question:

What is an Employee Engagement Survey and why would I need one?

Answer:

An employee engagement survey measures things like how passionate employees are about their work, how proud they are to tell people where they work, if they believe in the mission of the organization, and if they feel their work is valued and their talents are utilized. It has been shown that engaged employees (those that are absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work – they love their jobs) are more productive and creative on the job. Unfortunately, only about 30% of employees are actually engaged – with another 50% disengaged, meaning they are basically just along for the ride.

But an even more startling statistic shares that approximately 20% of employees are “actively disengaged” – these are employees that often dislike their job and/or employer and may even undermine performance. While disengaged employees just get through their day, adding little to the organization and flying under the radar, actively disengaged employees ‘act out’ their disengagement and lack of job satisfaction with destructive results, decreasing productivity for themselves and others around them. They become a cancer in the organization (aka the bad apple ruining the bunch). A Gallup study estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy half a trillion dollars a year.

So whether you’re trying to improve engagement, or eliminate disengagement, it’s important to know where your organization stands, because you can’t solve a problem you don’t know about and ignoring disengagement is costly.

Typically, employee engagement is measured through an employee engagement survey distributed throughout the organization. The content of employee engagement surveys is different from a regular employee survey because engagement measures much more than just happiness or satisfaction. Engagement survey questions generally ask employees to rate their agreement with statements such as:

  • I would recommend this company to a friend
  • My talents are well utilized
  • I believe in the mission of the organization
  • My work is recognized and valued
  • I have a sense of my career path

Additionally, reporting for employee engagement is sophisticated primarily because managers need to identify engagement issues or successes to pinpoint where they are in the organization. Managers can then drill down into the data, so they can quickly see pockets of high or low engagement. This allows them to discover whether something is pervasive or localized to a specific group and will aid them in fixing problems and creating a stronger and more engaged workforce.

Now that the economy is improving and dissatisfied employees are more apt to change jobs, it may be a good time to measure your employee engagement. An actively disengaged employee can wreak havoc on your high performance employees – negatively impacting their satisfaction and in some cases causing your best employees to leave. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience writing surveys for satisfaction, engagement and performance needs. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

 

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Creating A Communications Plan

Question:

What should go into a communications plan and why do we need one?

Answer:

Although it may seem like a daunting task, a well-defined communications plan is definitely worth the effort. A written communications plan will give your day-to-day work a focus, help set priorities, provide a sense of order and control, protect against last-minute demands, and, quite simply, provide peace of mind.

What Is a Communications Plan? A communications plan puts in writing your objectives, audiences, timetable, tools, budget and evaluation and covers all communications including written, spoken, and electronic interactions with your audiences. While it is a ‘living’ document and subject to updates, the best time to develop your overall plan is while preparing your annual budgeting or during your organizational planning process.

How to Develop the Plan? Consider getting information for your plan from your mission statement, a communication audit (see below), customer surveys and focus groups, input from advisors and consultants, and discussions with employees. Once your data is assembled you can start writing your plan; be sure to include the following:

  1. Audit: Conduct a research-communications audit evaluating your current communications. Determine what communication activity every employee is doing, what each is designed to achieve, and the effectiveness of each activity.
  2. Objectives: Based on your audit, define your overall objectives, such as: centralization of communication efforts, visibility for the company, increased employee teamwork, improved employee retention and recruitment, etc.
  3. Audience: List all the audiences that your company might want to contact, attempt to influence, or serve (i.e., customers, non-customers, competitors, subcontractors, employees, prospective employees, federal, regional, and local governments, the media, etc.).
  4. Tools: Decide what tools will be used to accomplish the stated goals.
  5. Costs: In order to select among the options available, develop cost estimates for each approach.
  6. Timetable: Establish a timetable by separating objectives into logical time periods (quarterly, monthly, weekly, etc.).
  7. Measurement: Build into your plan a method for measuring results.

Developing a written communications plan will take effort; however, once in place, the written plan will bring a semblance of order to what can often be a chaotic task and makes future adjustments and strategies much easier to implement.

Communication often seems like a “no-brainer”. You have something to communicate and you just “do it”. But factor in multiple audiences, a multitude of media and many channels for providing and sharing information and you quickly learn that providing targeted communication in today’s world isn’t so easy. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience writing for a diverse audience; we even have a marketing/communications specialist on staff. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

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Communication During the Holidays

Question:

I’m concerned about productivity during and after the holidays. How can I communicate my expectations in a friendly yet forceful manner?

Answer:

It’s a wonderful time of the year — shopping for gifts, decorating our homes, baking, traveling to be with family. Stress can also increase for many people during the holidays with the overall added pressures. It is no wonder that employees become very distracted during the holiday season, and for  managers, it is a particularly difficult time to keep your staff on task. Occupied with additional activities during the holidays, your employees may drop activities, like prospecting and networking.
There is no excuse for being unproductive just because the holidays are coming up. It is critical that you communicate to all employees that your business should strive to finish 2013 on a high note. The following are some tips that could motivate your staff during this time of year:

  • Tie bonuses to results – Showing a direct correlation between achieving goals and receiving rewards can improve productivity. Find a fun way to encourage competition while keeping everyone focused.
  • Communicate expectations clearly – Be sure to plan ahead and cover your bases before everyone goes on vacation. A clear plan of action helps keep everyone on task and will ensure who is responsible for what.
  • Focus less on hours and more on results – Emphasize the importance of work quality versus quantity. Help your staff set targets and find efficient ways to achieve them.
  • Allow staff to work from home – Consider allowing employees to work remotely some days instead of just giving them time off. Trusting your employees with this flexibility should result in a less stressed workforce.
  • Communicate more frequently with employees – Rather than having long meetings consider quick passing conversations in the hall or even touching base via texts, emails, etc. This lets employees know you you’re aware of what they’re doing and discourages them from slacking off.

If you take the time to communicate clearly and bring your staff together in a positive, results-oriented way, you’ll be spreading good cheer instead of being a “Bah Humbug”.

Communication often seems like a “no-brainer”. You have something to say and you just “say it”. However hearing and listening are two different functions. HOW you communicate is often as important as WHAT you communicate when it comes to getting results! Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience preparing communications for a variety of audiences and topics. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

Multicolored wheel divided into 7 equal sections Recruitment, Training and Development, Benifits and Compensation, Communicating, Employee Relations, Recordkeeping, and Health safety and security with Legal compliance written on the outer edge and company strategy in the center communication is emphasized

Accessing Social Security Statements

Question:

Is it true you will no longer get your Social Security Statement via mail?

Answer:

Correct, on May 1 Social Security unveiled www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount, which gives people access to their social security earnings online. You will need to go to this website and create an account. Accessing your account online will allow you to view your Social Security Statement information as well as manage your Medicare information (if you are currently drawing Medicare), including:

  • Obtain your Medicare benefit verification letter,
  • Check Medicare benefit and payment information and earnings record,
  • Change your address and phone number,
  • Start or change your Medicare direct deposit information,
  • Review estimates of your retirement, disability and survivor benefits,
  • Check your Social Security earnings record,
  • View the estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes you’ve paid.

Be sure to access this site and check this information each year for accuracy.

Employees rely on their employers for more than just a paycheck. Employers are often an important source of information about a variety of topics. Providing adequate communication, for both work-related and non-work-related issues, is not only helpful for employees, but a valuable benefit (and potential retention tool). Let us help you with your employee communications. Visit our Communications page to learn more.

Multicolored wheel divided into 7 equal sections Recruitment, Training and Development, Benifits and Compensation, Communicating, Employee Relations, Recordkeeping, and Health safety and security with Legal compliance written on the outer edge and company strategy in the center communication is emphasized

Say Less Listen More

Question:

What is the best way to coach my managers to prepare for performance reviews?

Answer:

Start by telling managers not to over-prepare. The tendency is for them to have everything scripted out, with reams of notes, so nothing is forgotten and their points are all made. This sets the stage for a one-sided conversation with the manager talking and the employee becoming disengaged.

Instead, ask your managers to develop some meaningful and open-ended questions for the employee to answer. Yes, that’s right, have them ask the employee questions. A performance review isn’t a time to lecture an employee on what they did wrong, or right, over the past six-, nine-, or 12-months. In fact, the employee should already know. If the manager isn’t providing on-the-spot and actionable feedback when something (desired or undesired) occurs they’re missing an opportunity for change and development. The point of asking questions during a review is to involve the employee in the conversation otherwise it’s not a conversation, it’s a lecture and the employee will not come away with anything constructive or actionable. In fact they may become defensive and not hear a thing that is being said, helpful or not.

Remind your managers to keep the feedback short. Smaller pieces of information are more easily absorbed than long diatribes. Keeping the conversation focused on communication versus lecture allows the employee to better remember and act on smaller pieces of information and they won’t feel overwhelmed.

In addition to providing areas for improvement, be sure to have the manager ask the employee for their thoughts on developing their performance or adding value to the company. Remember we learn things in a variety of ways – seeing, doing, writing and hearing; we use all of our senses. By talking out loud we actually internalize what we hear and it helps us learn. If the employee has the opportunity to vocalize their own goals, talents and shortcomings they will have a clearer understanding of their needs and what they need to do for improvement or job satisfaction moving forward.

Performance reviews are a vital point of communication with employees. But often we communicate better by listening than by talking. Are you making the most of this opportunity to interact with your employees? If you’re not sure, we can help. Strategic HR, inc. is well-versed in employee communications, including prepping and training your managers for a variety of difficult employee interactions. Visit our Communications page to learn more about how we can assist you with better communication.

 

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What is the P3 Initiative?

Question:

What is the Department of Labor’s “P3 Initiative”?

Answer:

The purpose of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) P3 Initiative, introduced in 2011, was to require employers to “take full ownership” over their adherence to DOL requirements and promote openness and transparency when it comes to the health and safety of employees. The goal of the program is to have employers “find and fix” violations, ensuring compliance with safety, wage and anti-discrimination laws, before an investigator comes into the workplace. In other words, the burden is on employers to obey the law, not on the DOL to “catch” employers in a violation.

P3 refers to Plan / Prevent / Protect and applies to those employers who are covered under the Wage and Hour Division (WHD), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and/or the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA). P3 requires obligated employers to:

  • Plan – develop written plans for identifying and fixing violations
  • Prevent – implement the plans and create processes to implement the overall  strategy
  • Protect – test the processes regularly with designated compliance employees to ensure they are working

It is expected that the finer details of the P3 Initiative will be announced sometime in 2013. Stay tuned.

Is your head spinning? Too many new Labor Law to keep up with? Let strategic HR, inc. assist you with navigating the employment law minefield. We can help you with any of your Legal Compliance needs. Please visit our Compliance page for more information or feel free to call us if you have a specific question or need.

Multicolored wheel divided into 7 equal sections Recruitment, Training and Development, Benifits and Compensation, Communicating, Employee Relations, Recordkeeping, and Health safety and security with Legal compliance written on the outer edge and company strategy in the center, recruitment is emphasized

Applicant Follow Up

Question:

When I post a job, I get 400 applicants…Do I really need to follow up with every person who applied for the job?

Answer:

Well, you could just ignore them. Talk with the applicable ones, select your candidates and choose your new hire – DONE. But you may just have alienated 399 potential customers. And in the marketing world, it’s like the old Faberge shampoo commercial where one person tells two friends, and they tell two friends and so on, and so onwell, you get the picture. Today that concept is called viral marketing and when the viral message is bad it’s like a deadly virus spreading out of control. And like a virus, there is no easy fix – you just wait it out and hope it doesn’t get worse.

Appropriate follow-up and closure is essential to creating a satisfying recruiting process. Not every applicant will win one of your job openings, but that doesn’t mean that they all should have bad feelings about employment with your company. We spend a lot of time and money on marketing and advertising in an effort to create a good consumer image about our products and services. It’s a shame that a company will obliterate all that hard work and expense with a small misstep like ignoring a job applicant.

Simply put the recruitment process IS closely linked to customer relations and customer satisfaction. Becoming an employer of choice is no easy task. But effective customer relations, with would-be employees or would-be customers, are fairly easy in today’s technological world. Most of those 400 resumes you received came through email or online. You probably have email addresses for 98% of the applicants you received. It just makes sense then that you utilize email as your communication tool.

When an applicant sends their resume make sure they receive an acknowledgement thanking them for their interest. This can often be accomplished with an auto-reply email; while it’s not personalized warm and fuzzy, it does let the applicant know that their resume has reached your hands. Likewise, when the position is filled, send out another mass-email letting all applicants know the position is no longer available. Providing closure will let the applicants know to move on, and in some cases, free up your staff from continual follow-up with applicants wanting to know their status.

Remember today’s employment market is tough on both sides. Making connections and keeping up relations will be key to connecting with passive candidates for future openings. And you just never know who will tell someone about your job opening or company, good or bad.

Recruitment is a critical HR function. Strategic HR, inc. knows that finding and keeping talented employees is the key to company survival. That’s why our Talent consultants utilize a variety of resources to help clients source, screen and select the best candidates and employees. Please visit our Recruitment page for more information on how we can help you effectively and efficiently find your next employee.

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Preparing for Health Care Reform

Question:

The Health Care Reform Buzz Is Growing. Are You Prepared?

Answer:

The buzz about Health Care Reform is starting to grow, and your employees are paying attention.

Time magazine’s “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us” is about to become its best-selling cover issue in two years. Time even summarized the challenges in a terrific infographic, for those who don’t have the attention span to read the 35-page article. CNN’s broadcast of the award-winning documentary, “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare,” was followed by a 30-minute discussion moderated by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on how Americans can cut through the red tape to save money and increase their access to health care.

Media coverage will continue to grow as we near the 2014 effective date for individual mandates, exchanges and so forth. On one hand, the increased coverage is a good thing. It increases awareness and spurs important conversations. On the other hand, mixed messages from various sources can, and will be, confusing.

It’s important that you prepare now. You’ll need to help your employees to navigate through the information and understand how the upcoming changes will specifically impact them. The following are a few suggestions to consider:

Dedicate a portion of your benefits website to health care reform so employees have a centralized spot to access accurate information. To build awareness, promote the site throughout the year in all the benefits communications you post or distribute.

  • Create easy-to-understand definitions for common terms such as exchanges, individual mandate, affordable coverage, essential health benefits and premium subsidies.
  • Post frequently asked questions and update them as new decisions are made or guidelines are issued. You’ll also need to frequently update the FAQs in response to employees’ questions as they near the enrollment process.
  • Be VERY clear about your company’s coverage options for 2014 and the choices employees can make. For example, will you allow employees to qualify for a subsidy or not? If not, better tell them as soon as possible to avoid misunderstandings. Disgruntled employees can do a lot of damage to the image of your benefits program.

Unlike past years when health care reform changes were pretty minimal, 2014 will be a big year. You can’t wait until annual enrollment to communicate your company’s decisions. Start now to create your communication tools and resources, then add materials throughout the year. The important thing is to be clear, concise and straightforward. If you don’t have all the information or decisions at this point, say so. But promise you will update the site as information becomes available.

There’s no doubt that the health care buzz will be loud and confusing at times. But it will also be your opportunity to stand out as a reliable and trusted resource for your employees.

A special thanks to Elizabeth Borton, President of Write On Target, for sharing her expertise with us.  Sign-up on her website at to receive future communication blogs at www.writetarget.com. Or, you can contact her with questions at EBorton@WriteTarget.com or  937.436.4565 at extension 28.

Nothing is more important to your employees than their Benefits. Make sure your employees get the information they need in a timely, concise and complete manner by communicating effectively. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience writing for a targeted audience and creating communication plans that aim to accommodate a variety of communication styles. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

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Should I be worrying about employee retention?

Question:

Should I really be worried about employee retention during economic downturns when unemployment numbers are so high?

Answer:

YES!!!

It is still a shock to the system when we give presentations to HR professionals and small business owners and ask “what are you doing about retention?” and we get these looks like “retention” why would I need to do anything about retention? And there is always someone in the crowd that announces out loud “we are all just lucky to even HAVE jobs”. Dare we repeat the recent survey results by the Harvard Business review that found 25% of the top performers at companies are saying that they plan to leave their companies within the next year?

Do you find that hard to believe? Better start believing itit is a reality! We’ve had a number of managers call and report it is already happening to them. To make matters worse, managers feel their hands are tied because their companies are taking the defensive position ”let them quit and try to find another job someplace else”. Guess what? They didand, the ones leaving WERE the top performers! Can you afford to lose your best employees?

So, to ask again “what are you doing about retention?” Yes, some people may be lucky to have a job, but in other cases YOU are lucky you have them as employees. It’s time to start treating your employees in a manner that shows they are indeed valuable. Your business may not be in the position to reinstate the salary you had to cut, give the raise you put off, or offer the 401k match you eliminated, but can you do some things to improve the work environment? Easy things, such as:

  • Providing recognition for sticking with the company during these rough times.
  • Sharing the plan of where an employee fits into the big picture going forward.
  • Seeking the opinions of employees when it comes to helping the company move forward and grow.
  • Setting and sharing some milestones for what it may take before an employee can see an increase in salary again.
  • Asking what is important to the employee that keeps him/her at your company.
  • Determining if you have the right people managing the employees to keep everyone motivated and excited about being a part of the company going forward.
  • Doing things that differentiate between the good employees and the mediocre employees to show that it matters.

Turnover is expensive. It can cost your business as much as 50 – 150% of the annual salary of your lost employee. Can you afford that as your business recovers? What are you doing to manage your employees in the current economy to avoid losing your star performers?

Are daily HR issues interfering with your ability to focus on the strategic matters of your company? Do you find yourself at odds with the directives of the leadership team? Strategic HR, inc. knows how integral human resources is to the health of your organization and can assist you with HR strategy needs. Visit our HR Strategy page to learn how we can assist you with your strategy and help align your goals. 

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Unleashing Employee Potential Through Competency-Based Job Descriptions

by Linda Gravett, PhD, SPHR

How many times have you heard statements like these from your employees?

“I have no idea what my official job duties are.” 
“My job description mainly says ‘other duties as assigned’.” 
“I’m evaluated on things that aren’t even in my job description.”

If you’ve heard these complaints much too often, perhaps the time is right for your organization to develop competency-based job descriptions.

A competency-based job description has one significant feature that traditional job descriptions do not possess. In addition to listing duties assigned to a position, the skills and behaviors required to successfully perform these duties is also included. This feature does the following:

  • Enables recruiters to fully describe job requirements
  • Helps supervisors adequately explain areas for improvement during reviews
  • Lets employees understand skills they must acquire if they’re interested in other positions within the organization

Here’s how competency-based job descriptions are used on a practical basis:

Employees are often told that communication skills are important. Does that mean written, verbal, body language, or all of the above? An example of communications competency components that I’ve helped one of my clients identify is:

Communications

  1. Negotiating – dealing with others in order to reach an agreement or solution; for example, consensus building
  2. Persuading – dealing with others in order to influence them toward some action or point of view; for example, recommending an innovative solution to a problem
  3. Instructing – expanding knowledge or skills enhancement, in either a formal or informal setting
  4. Interviewing – conducting interviews directed toward some specific objective; for example, interviewing job applicants
  5. Routine Information Exchange – giving or receiving job-related information
  6. Public Speaking – making formal presentations before internal or external audiences
  7. Writing – writing and editing concise, clear letters, reports, articles, or e-mails
  8. Effective Listening – actively engaging in conversations in order to clearly understand others’ message and intent

Employees are often advised how important it is to be a “team player.” The supervisor may have a definition of a “team player” in mind that is vastly different from that of the direct reports he or she supervises. This was the case with another client who developed this set of statements to describe teamwork:

Teamwork and Collaboration

  1. Establishing Rapport – establishing and maintaining a good rapport and cooperative working relationship with all members of the organization
  2. Taking Initiative – showing flexibility in joining ad hoc teams and taking on extra responsibilities when required
  3. Choosing Communication Methods – effectively selecting the appropriate communication method to fit the situation
  4. Involving Others – involving coworkers and direct reports by sharing information through reports, meeting, or presentations
  5. Soliciting Input – asking for input from others through reports, meetings, or presentations
  6. Respecting Others – treating others with respect, regardless of position or function
  7. Influencing – using relationships to influence others to take risks for the good of the overall organization
  8. Facilitating Brainstorming – initiating brainstorming sessions when required to ensure that team members are invested in team activities and decisions

I don’t recommend that an organization use a “canned” approach toward developing competencies. Your organization’s Mission and Vision statements are the starting point to develop competency-based job descriptions. Why does your organization exist? How does your organization want to do business in three years? five years? What skills and behaviors must your employees have in order to successfully carry out the Mission and Vision? I advocate the company leadership taking time out to address these questions, with the input of Human Resources, to determine the unique set of competencies the organization requires.

I believe you’ll discover that a core set of competencies will be required organization wide. For example, one of my clients concluded that Communications, Teamwork and Collaboration, Research Skills, Innovation, Problem Solving, Coaching, Developing Goals and Objectives, and Leadership were all required to some degree. As an employee moves to the manager and executive level, the scope, impact, and level of sophistication increase. One size (job description) does not fit all.

For my clients that are now using competency-based job descriptions, there have been some clear advantages and some implementation challenges. The advantages are:

  1. Lower turnover because of better matches between applicants and jobs
  2. Less ambiguity during performance reviews because supervisors can provide more concrete examples of expectations
  3. More clarity about skill sets required for career development throughout the organization

Change is not easy to accept, even when the change will be beneficial to individuals and the organization. Some supervisors prefer room for subjectivity in hiring and promoting decisions. It’s so much easier to check a box for “Initiative” and “Dependability” than to think about specific behaviors and how those behaviors demonstrate competency. Those same supervisors, however, desire much more specificity when their review time rolls around!

I recommend that cross-functional, multi-level focus groups work together to develop the competency components – following the leadership’s articulation of the core competencies required for the organization to survive and thrive. I’ve found that this promotes buy-in and encourages employees to start developing a new language to describe how work gets done.

If you decide to move toward competency-based job descriptions, don’t forget to revise your performance reviews so they’re parallel. The competencies and their components on each individual’s job description should reappear on the performance review. Employees that I’ve talked with really appreciate the consistency!

Dr. Linda Gravett, PhD, SPHR is with Gravett & Associates (www.Gravett.com). If you have any questions or wish to share your comments with Linda, you can contact her at Linda@Gravett.com.

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Communicating with Numbers: Measuring Employee Performance

by Linda Gravett, PhD, SPHR

I think it’s safe to say that performance evaluation meetings are often dreaded by both managers and their direct reports.  Part of the reason is that it’s difficult for managers to be objective during the performance evaluation process, and direct reports perceive the process to be uneven and inconsistent.  Yet, in order to recruit and retain today’s workforce, our organizations must effectively evaluate employee performance.

To make the process even more difficult, there are definite challenges that we’re faced with in the new millennium in order to ensure our organizations remain productive and viable.  Customers seem to always want “better, faster, cheaper”.  This means that our workforce must have the ability to consistently deliver a quality product or service.  Technology is advancing at warp speed.  Our challenge is to foster a workforce environment of continuous learning to keep up with this technology. Workforce demographics are shifting.  A growing Hispanic workforce, for example, results in HR professionals being required to be bi-lingual or hire effective interpreters to make sure our message is clearly understood.  Lastly, we need to link performance measures with business needs.  An accountant coming out of college today and into your organization has an important question:  “What does my role have to do with the company’s mission and vision?”

In this article, I’d like to focus on ways to effectively measure employee performance by assessing not just efficiency or traits but the skills, knowledge and competencies that support your organization’s viability in a systemic, meaningful way.

The first step is convincing line managers of the importance of performance reviews in relationship to the organization’s success.  We don’t simply conduct performance evaluations as a “feel good” activity for employees.  (That’s a good thing, because if that were the case, we’d be failing miserably!)  Research shows that there’s a direct and positive correlation between effective performance feedback and productivity.  If we provide clear, concrete feedback to employees about how their role supports the mission, vision and objectives of the organization, we’re more likely to have employees who act in a way that adds value; that is, by enhancing customer satisfaction.

The purpose of the appraisal process is multi-dimensional.  Certainly, this process can be used to determine salary increases and promotions.  In addition, this process can appraise performance relative to one’s job duties.  One of the biggest complaints I hear from employees is that their job description and performance evaluation are two completely different entities.  The duties they were hired to do bear no resemblance to the duties for which they’re evaluated.  If you’d like to see a sample of a parallel job description and performance appraisal instrument, email Dr. Linda Gravett at Linda@Gravett.com.  The appraisal process is also a means to open the lines of communication about the organizational needs, the individual’s areas of growth required to support those needs, and metrics that describe success.

To successfully conduct performance evaluation meetings that meet the needs described above, there are some specific competencies that line managers and HR need to acquire. Communication skills, the balance between active listening and talking, are the most critical. Next, goal setting using “SMART” goals is a must  (Specific – Measurable – Achievable – Realistic – Time Sensitive).  A third competency is the ability to provide constructive feedback; i.e., feedback that is objective, clear, and specific.  The last competency that is critical is the ability to select appropriate metrics and apply them consistently across employees.

In terms of measures, I want to caution against setting simply efficiency measures without also setting effectiveness measures.  When I was new to the field of HR, my job required me to do quite a bit of recruiting.  My boss really pushed getting applicants in the door, conducting the interviews and testing, and then making quick decisions.  I learned to do this in a way that was definitely efficient; however, over the long term, my decisions, and the decisions of others doing the recruiting, were not always the right decisions.  Some of the new hires weren’t the best fit for the department or the organization.  Over time I learned that a better test for recruitment became the quality of new hires and their retention.

During the reporting period, I believe we need to ensure that employees not only have the willingness to do the job but we need to ensure that they have the ability and means to do the work as well.  I can decide I’d like to move one of my office walls out five feet and be very motivated (willingness) to do so.  If I try to walk up and shove the wall five feet, I’ll fail because I don’t have the ability (architectural knowledge) or the means (equipment to actually move the wall).  I encourage you to think about whether you’ve provided employees with a workplace environment that’s conducive to employees doing their best work as well as the resources they need to do their work.  Otherwise, performance evaluations will be meaningless.

Let’s get down to a real issue with performance evaluations – the numbers dilemma.  There is a widespread perception that numbers are subjective.  For instance, people ask me often, “just who is Likert, and why is that scale used so often?”  Some supervisors are “tough graders” who don’t believe anyone is deserving of an outstanding rating.  Lastly, there’s simply not enough clarity around examples of competencies or skills.  What does “communications skills” look like exactly?!

For the above reasons, I’ve found that competency-based job descriptions and parallel evaluations are especially useful because they describe behaviors that successfully encompass, for instance, communications skills.  If an employee always demonstrates the behaviors established for success with this competency, he or she can be rated “outstanding” or 5 on a scale of 1 to 5, for example.  If an employee almost always demonstrates the described behaviors, their rating can be “very good” or 4 on a scale of 1 to 5.  Obviously, there needs to be a “meeting of the minds” across managers around descriptions of the competencies that lead to success in your organization, and you can help guide them through this important discussion.  Start with the strategic objectives of your company.  In order to achieve them, what competencies will be required across your organization?  These are the competencies that should make up your performance evaluation instrument!

Dr. Linda Gravett, Ph.D, SPHR is with Gravett & Associates (www.Gravett.com). If you have questions or comments on this article, you can contact Linda at Linda@Gravett.com.

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Employment Posters

Question:

What Federal and State employment posters must I have (specifically for Kentucky and Ohio) in order to be in compliance?

Answer:

There are different Federal and State regulations when it come to posting required information for your employees. To be in compliance you can either download and print the posters for free or you may wish to purchase a laminated version from a poster compliance company for a charge. Using either version you will meet the compliance requirements as long as you have them posted where employees can view them. Below are some links listing requirements for Federal and State (Ohio and Kentucky) posters.

Some communications are not only helpful for employees, but are required by law. Don’t get caught without the proper notices and communication required for your employees. Ask strategic HR, inc. to help you audit your notices and documentation. Visit our Communications page to learn more.

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Annual Enrollment Communications

Question:

As we prepare for our annual enrollment materials, how should we plan to communicate in order for our efforts to be successful?

Answer:

A recent study conducted by the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America shows that you better use more than one form of communication. Guardian’s study, Benefits & Behavior: Spotlight on the Benefits of an Employee-Centric Enrollment Experience found the following:

  • 70 percent of employees who could receive enrollment information in their preferred channel said they were confident in their benefit selections versus 57 percent of those who did not.
  • Workers want to receive benefits communications through multiple channels. In fact, 20 percent would like six or more options.
  • 80 percent seek the ease and convenience of online enrollment so they can enroll where and when they choose. Nine in 10 workers who enrolled online were very satisfied with the experience.
  • Employees who could get information and enroll through the channel they prefer are more likely to make more informed enrollment decisions, have a higher perceived value of their benefits and ultimately feel more satisfied with their benefits.
  • Benefits satisfaction leads to greater loyalty and retention.

What can you do to ensure adequate communication?

  • Use multiple channels to deliver your enrollment messages (e.g. online, email, text messages, manager speaking points, electronic message boards, video, group meetings, posters, home mailings, webinars, apps and social media). You have a lot of options at your fingertips. Think outside the box and get creative. Be sure to include channels that will reach the spouse, a key decision maker during enrollment.
  • Make sure your enrollment messaging is clear, concise and consistent across all channels. Stick with three key points that you want to get across and hit them in every communication.
  • If you do not have a benefits site on the internet, create one so the information is accessible by computer, smartphones or tablets. We’ve designed sites that house the annual enrollment information as well as a customized plan comparison tool. Once employees are prepared, they simply click on a link to take them to the enrollment transaction site. The benefits site is then updated and used throughout the year for new hires.
  • Ask your employees which channels they prefer. You can add this question to your post-enrollment surveys.

Sadly, the Guardian study found that 63 percent of employers think their benefit communications are ineffective and 6 in 10 workers agree. What would your employees say? Remember, you may be the employer, but employees hold the remote in today’s multimedia world. Use multiple channels and your messages will get through.

A special thanks to Elizabeth Borton, President of Write On Target, for sharing her expertise with us.  Sign-up on her website to receive future communication blogs at www.writetarget.com. Or, you can contact her with questions at EBorton@WriteTarget.com or  937.436.4565 at extension 28.

Nothing is more important to your employees than their Benefits. Make sure your employees get the information they need in a timely, concise and complete manner by communicating effectively. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience writing for a targeted audience and creating communication plans that aim to accommodate a variety of communication styles. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

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Summary of Benefits Coverage

Question:

It sounds like the Health Care Reform is requiring employers to distribute Summary of Benefits Coverage documents for plan years beginning September 23. What do I need to know?

Answer:

You are right!  Starting September 23, the Accountable Care Act (aka Health Care Reform) requires employers to distribute the new Summary of Benefits Coverage (SBC’s) documents.

At first glance, the SBC’s seem like an easy task to check off your to-do list. Most health care vendors are filling in the government-designed templates for their clients. All you have to do is hang them on your site or mail to employees. Easy, right?

Well, not so fast.

Since we create and maintain Summary Plan Descriptions for our clients, many have asked us to review the SBC documents sent to them by their vendors. We have found some vendors are providing base documents, but are not including the specific nuances designed into the plans.

When you get your SBC’s, closely check some of the following areas:

  • Penalties: If you have penalty fees, e.g. for not pre-certifying a hospital stay, the fees need to be in the Limits and Exceptions box on the same line where the coverage is listed.
  • Limitations: If your plan has unique limitation amounts, e.g. for speech and physical therapy or home health and hospice service, make sure they are listed correctly, again on the same line where the coverage is listed.
  • Prescription carve outs: If your prescription coverage is carved out from your medical plan, your medical vendor probably won’t complete that section. You will need to complete that part of the template and ask your prescription vendor to review it for accuracy.

For the initial year, the Department of Labor has indicated it wants to work with plans to get to compliance and is not focusing on imposing penalties. Therefore, you might not be concerned about meeting every regulation spelled out in the government’s 15-page instructions. However, keep in mind that you will probably pick up the same document next year, so it would probably be worth the time and effort to get it as accurate and complete as possible. As is true with most benefits and HR communications, the devil is in the details.

A special thanks to Elizabeth Borton, President of Write On Target, for sharing her expertise with us.  Sign-up on her website at to receive future communication blogs at www.writetarget.com. Or, you can contact her with questions at EBorton@WriteTarget.com or  937.436.4565 at extension 28.

Are you hesitant when it comes to navigating federally mandated rules and regulations? Strategic HR, inc. understands your uncertainty. Ask us for assistance for any of your benefits and compensation needs. Please visit our Benefits & Compensation page for more information on any of these services.

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Improve Employee Communication

Question:

It seems like employees don’t listen to us when we communicate. What can we do to improve our communications to employees?

Answer:

Back in the late 70’s, my first boss at an ad agency used to refer to the “95% Factor,” meaning that 95% of the time when you are communicating with people, they are only thinking of how the information will impact them. Today, folks refer to it as WIIFM or “what’s in it for me.”

Makes sense. You’re probably thinking that same question right now.

So here’s my HR communication tip for the week: use the 95% Factor to get results by doing the following:

  • Use the second person, not third. Don’t speak from the company’s perspective; take the employee’s point of view. Talk about how “you” can access and use your benefits or how “your” performance impacts your pay.
  • Be specific. Focus your communications more on the “what” and “how” and not so much on the “why.” The more specific you are about the actions you want employees to take, the better results you’ll get. It also helps if you can target your communications to specific audiences so folks only get the messages that apply to them. (The last thing you want to do is make people work to figure it out.) Plus, if you can be specific about the personal impact to employees, they will pay closer attention. For example, instead of saying “you can save thousands by switching to this plan,” create versions based on current plan enrollment to say “what would you do with an extra $2,050?”. Believe me, the second version will get more attention.
  • Keep it simple. Not only should you write from the employee’s point of view, you should speak their language. Avoid acronyms and other benefits “geek speak.” Try to write on about a 5th to 7th grade level by keeping sentences short and avoiding words with multiple syllables. Not because your audience isn’t smart enough to understand higher reading levels, but because they only have seconds to scan for the 95% Factor information.
  • Make it relatable. People make decisions based on emotions, then justify with facts. To make an emotional connection, your communications need to be relatable. Use photos or images of folks like your employees. If they are blue collar, don’t use the infamous conference room shot of a bunch of models in slick suits. Show folks who get their hands dirty. When you are trying to explain a complex issue, use examples or stories to illustrate your point. People relate much better to stories of “people like me” than they do to charts.

When creating your HR communications, keep this in mind: whenever employees see or hear any message, all they want to know is three things:

  1. What’s this about?
  2. How’s it impact me?
  3. What do I have to do?

Answer those questions, and you’ll have met the 95% Factor 100% of the time.

Note to AP Stylebook geeks: I realize percent is supposed to be spelled out. I used the symbol on purpose.

A special thanks to Elizabeth Borton, President of Write on Target, for sharing her expertise with us.  Sign-up on her website at to receive future communication blogs at www.writetarget.com.  Or, you can contact her with questions at EBorton@WriteTarget.com or  937.436.4565, ext 28.

Multicolored wheel divided into 7 equal sections Recruitment, Training and Development, Benifits and Compensation, Communicating, Employee Relations, Recordkeeping, and Health safety and security with Legal compliance written on the outer edge and company strategy in the center communication is emphasized

Company Communications

Question:

How can I increase communication and interaction within my organization?

Answer:

Highly effective companies tend to use social media for communication with their employees. While this is not a tool for every company, social media can be an effective and inexpensive way to keep employees informed and to maintain a steady flow of information among departments and other locations. Companies with well informed employees tend to have higher productivity and more engaged employees.

To make social media a success for your company you will need to have policies in place to govern the use of it and create a way to measure success. Many companies can’t figure out how to measure social media or determine its cost effectiveness. This is not surprising since it is difficult to determine a measurable cost savings. When measuring social media you will need to create a strategy for how you plan to use it and what goals you are hoping to achieve. Your measure of success will depend on whether specific goals are met; not a dollar savings.

Social media is very effective for sharing and obtaining feedback, networking, collaboration between teams or departments, and publishing or sharing communication pieces. Some companies are even utilizing the gaming aspect of social media to help communicate or educate employees on topics, such as wellness initiatives, via texting games.

Keep in mind if you decide to utilize social media with your employees, it takes time to adopt certain forms of media. Younger employees who likely already use social media for personal use may grasp it quickly while older employees may have more difficulty embracing the tools. Whatever you do be patient while employees figure out the best uses for social media in the workplace. Give them some time to embrace it and then see what creative ideas they have for using it.

Are you frustrated by complaints that you don’t provide enough communication, even though you feel you are sharing more than enough? Communicating with your workforce can seem be tough – factor in multiple shifts, various locations, off-site employees and a multi-generational workforce and you quickly learn that providing adequate communication to everyone you employ isn’t so easy. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience formulating communications for a variety of situations. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with your tough communication problems.

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Revised Federal Posters

Question:

What can you tell me about the new Federal Posters that are rumored to be required?

Answer:

UPDATE: It was a done deal, but was rescinded at the last minute. Stay tuned for updates to this on-again-off-again regulation.

It’s a done deal! Originally required to be in place by November 14, 2011 delays have pushed the posting date to April 30, 2012. At that time most private sector employers will be required to post a notice advising their employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. This new posting is mandatory regardless of an employer’s union status and applies to most companies. Those exempt include agricultural, railroad or airline employers, and the U.S. Postal Service.

As with other notices of workplace rights, this notice should be posted where employees will easily see it. If you already have a poster you must replace it with the new version. If you communicate these notices via an internal network or other electronic portal, a link to the notice should be made available to employees. While the new rule has no record-keeping or reporting requirements, noncompliance will be treated as an unfair labor practice and may be used in a lawsuit.

You can obtain a free copy of the notice by visiting www.nlrb.gov/poster. They can also be obtained from any NLRB office. Visit the NLRB.gov website for more detailed information on the notice.

Some communications are not only helpful for employees, but are compulsory by law. Don’t get caught without the proper notices and communication required for your employees. Ask strategic HR, inc. to help you audit your notices and documentation. Visit our Communications page to learn more.

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Employee Newsletter – Planning

Question:

My CEO wants HR to start producing an employee newsletter. How do I start?

Answer:

This is a huge undertaking – but one that is surmountable with the proper planning. To get started you need to outline your plan by determining the following:

Objective: Why are you doing this? What is the newsletter’s objective – internal communication, entertainment or to promote the culture, inspire others and impact morale? Don’t try to mix business communications, such as sharing changes to policies and procedures, with other types of communications – it’s best to keep them separate.

Audience: Who is your target reader? Is this for internal employees only or will you share with clients, customers or vendors? Is it only for corporate employees, a specific department or the entire company. Know who will see the publication and create content accordingly.

Frequency: How often will you publish? Can you sustain a monthly newsletter? Would it be better to attempt a quarterly option? Be realistic on how much effort you can put into a regular publication or find others that can help provide content.

Format: What medium will be used? Will this be in print, sent via email, published online or readable via the company intranet? This will impact cost and resources needed.

Name: What will it be called? Does your publication have a name, dictated by others? If not, how will this be determined? Does it need to be branded to match other company brands? Is it supporting a new employment brand?

Design: What will your newsletter look like? The format may dictate this as may your organization’s branding requirements.

These are some things to think about before you begin writing your very first word. But you will find if you have a goal and a purpose for your newsletter it will be much easier down the road to decide what to write about and include in your publication.

We’ve never heard employees complain that their employer communicates “too much”. Communication is the backbone of a satisfied and productive workforce. However, providing adequate communication to a diverse group of employees who may require differing forms of communication isn’t always easy. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience creating written communication for employees – including employee newsletters. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

 

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Exit Interviews

Question:

We have an exit interview that asks why employees are leaving the company, but it just doesn’t seem to be helpful. Any suggestions?

Answer:

My first question to you would be why are you asking? Is it sheer curiosity? Are you looking for trends; do you suspect a problem that needs addressing? The survey rule-of-thumb is to never ask anything that you don’t intend to tackle or report. If you think there is a problem and you need data to substantiate future actions, then make sure you ask questions that will help verify your suspicions.

Are you losing employees to a competitor and need to make your company more competitive to decrease turnover – then ask questions that pinpoint how you can increase retention.

My next question would then be what are you asking? The responses you get need to be quantifiable and actionable. If you are getting a random statement from each terminating employee it can be impossible to track let alone report to others in any actionable format. So be sure your exit interview questions ask for responses that can be compared for reporting purposes and can help you spot a trend or identify a need for intervention.

Instead of asking “why are you leaving?”, provide statements that require the employee to rank or rate their responses. For example:

  • In order of importance please rank why you are leaving: salary, benefits, paid time off, job responsibilities, supervisor, co-workers…
  • Please rate your satisfaction with the following: salary, benefits, PTO…

Finally, what are you doing with the data? If it sits in a drawer then it isn’t helpful. Asking more detailed questions in a way that allows you to compare responses and report accordingly will make the data more useful. Tracking responses over a period of time may show patterns of behavior that reflect the economy, changes in management, policy or responsibility, or shifts in morale; many of which can be impacted by human resources.

A good exit interview can positively impact employee relations, retention and turnover within your organization. Asking the right questions and communicating the results is key to positioning an exit interview as a valuable tool. If you need communication advice or assistance “talk” to us, we can help. Visit our Communications page to learn more.

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Do I Need an Employee Handbook?

Question:

Do we really need an employee handbook? We operate in an at-will state, why would I lock myself in with restrictive policies? I have always been told the less I have in writing the better.

Answer:

An Employee Handbook is an effective tool used to communicate policy to employees. For new employees it serves as an introduction to the company and outlines its values and mission statement. It gives the employee a quick reference for commonly asked questions such as “when am I eligible for vacation” or “how do I call in sick”.

Moreover, constructed properly, the Employee Handbook serves as a legal statement of policy on behalf of the employer. The inclusion of certain policies and positions (i.e. an “at-will” statement or a Workplace Harassment policy) may serve as a defense should a company ever find itself in litigation or fighting an unemployment claim. Even though you operate in an at-will state, it is still important that an employer is consistent in the application of its policies. Having those policies in writing and available to all employees helps to ensure they are adhered to and applied consistently.

However, as stated above, being “constructed properly” is the key. An employee handbook is significant for what it includes, as well as what it does not include. Be careful that the wording of policies and statements cannot be construed as creating an implied contract of employment. Avoid statements such as “permanent employees” or promises of “hiring from within”. Use of the word “may” versus “will” also is a vital distinction. A well constructed handbook will actually include the statement “this handbook is not a contract” and a statement reserving the right to make changes. Be sure to only include policies that you are willing to enforce. A stated policy that is ignored may actually work against you in a court of law. Lastly, as with any HR resource, make sure to review your handbook every year to ensure it is up to date and accurate. Make sure you have YOUR attorney review your handbook to ensure he/she is comfortable defending you, should something ever go to court, based on what is written in the handbook.

Do you need help with communications? Do you need policies and procedures or job descriptions written? Thinking about starting a company newsletter or needing to create recruitment materials? Strategic HR, inc. can help. Visit our Communications page to learn more.

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Policies and Procedures – Getting Rid of the Language Barrier

Question:

Am I required to provide my policies and notices to employees in a language other than English?

Answer:

The bottom line answer is “no”, however, the smart answer is “YES”!

It would be next to impossible to enforce policies and procedures if an employer knows its employees cannot read them due to a language barrier. A plaintiff’s attorney would have a field day with any attempt to discipline or terminate a non-English speaking employee that didn’t follow a policy / procedure correctly, arguing that it is unreasonable, unfair, and possibly a violation of Title VII to “discriminate” against employees who cannot speak English, and therefore cannot read the policies / procedures. Additionally, the EEOC might well see this as impermissible national origin discrimination.

If an employer knows that some of its employees are not fluent in English it is advisable that notices are provided in English and the other language to make sure communication is clear. This will ensure that policies, procedures and any other notifications are understood by ALL of your employees and that you are providing non-discriminatory communication.

Bottom line…if your organization has not provided a strong business necessity for employees to only communicate in English in the workplace and you are aware that there are employees who are unable to communicate well in English, it is in your best interest to provide policies and procedures in their native language.

Do you need help with communications? Do you need policies and procedures or job descriptions written? Thinking about starting a company newsletter or needing to create recruitment materials? Strategic HR, inc. can help. Visit our Communications page to learn more.

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Creative Communication

Question:

Like many employers, we often hear from our employees that we don’t communicate enough. What are some creative ways we can communicate effectively with our employees?

Answer:

There is no such thing as too much communication between employer and employees. Fortunately, with today’s technology, there are a lot of communication options that can be utilized. A company newsletter is always a good place to start, particularly if you get employees involved in contributing to it. This is a great way to inform the organization as a whole of news and happenings within the various departments and teams. Remember to include items of interest such as important work-related milestones (i.e. safe work days, anniversaries, promotions) as well as selected personal events (i.e. birthdays, family additions, and anniversaries). This is a good place to recognize employees for good works both on the job and off (i.e. volunteerism). Include an “Employee Spotlight” feature and use this column to highlight a specific accomplishment or recognize an employee simply doing a great job day in and day out. While a company newsletter can be printed, circulating it electronically saves on printing costs and can be accessible to off-site employees. Another suggestion is to utilize a dedicated employee area of the company website to share news. Using this space, everyone has access on demand.

You may also want to consider creating a company blog and then ask for volunteers to contribute postings on a regular basis. Not only is this a great communication source for internal employees, it can also be used as an external branding tool to help brand your employment experience to would-be employees. Have an employee write a blog post on an interesting project they are working on or a training event or trade show they attended. Even the win/loss record of the company softball team can build camaraderie and create external interest in your organization as a great place to work. If you have an internal newsletter, consider spotlighting some of the content on your online blog.
Regardless of the form your new communication medium takes, keep in mind that the content of any company communication needs to be appropriate and non-discriminatory. The format will also set the tone for continued communication. If the tone is casual and fun in nature, remember to use that communication vehicle for lighter topics – not to announce layoffs. Also be mindful of what you choose to share. Remember that anything published online is public and can be accessed and read by anyone who desires to find it.

Communication often seems like a “no-brainer”. You have something to communicate and you just “do it”. But factor in multiple shifts or locations, off-site employees and a multigenerational workforce and you quickly learn that providing adequate communication to everyone you employ isn’t so easy. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience writing for a diverse workforce; we even have a marketing/communications specialist on staff. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

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Creating a Communication Plan

Question:

We are getting ready to roll out a new employee handbook and I’ve been asked to create a Communication Plan. I’m not a marketer, what does such a plan entail?

Answer:

A Communication Plan is simply a roadmap for what and how you will communicate to those that need to know about your new employee handbook. There are some very simple elements you will need to include in your plan.

  1. Start by identifying your goal(s). What is your communication goal and how will you know you are successful?
  2. Determine the objectives; what message are you trying to convey (is there more than one), what are the results you want to achieve, and how can those results be best accomplished.
  3. Identify your audience. Who are you trying to influence, educate or communicate with? What type of communication do they prefer?
  4. Evaluate your current communication vehicles (i.e. newsletters, monthly meetings, email, bulletin boards) and how they are utilized. What tools will you use to communicate your message to your audience – you may need to add new methods of communication to adequately communicate your message. Make a list of the vehicles, their deadlines and the owner (i.e. the deadline for submitting an article to your company newsletter and the name of the editor).
  5. Create a list of tactics and timeframes needed for this plan and identify who is responsible for each step. Remember to use the correct communication vehicle to get the message across to your particular audience (this may require multiple types of communication if your audience is multi-generational). Setting these up in a calendar format makes it easy to stay on top of deadlines and see who is responsible for each item.
  6. Then determine how you will measure if the plan adequately accomplished the goals and objectives stated and provide for a “plan B” should you decide more communication is necessary.

This is a working document and may require revisions or updates as the plan progresses.

Communication often seems like a “no-brainer”. You have something to communicate and you just “do it”. But factor in multiple shifts or locations, off-site employees and a multigenerational workforce and you quickly learn that providing adequate communication to everyone you employ isn’t so easy. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience writing for a diverse workforce; we even have a marketing/communications specialist on staff. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

Multicolored wheel divided into 7 equal sections Recruitment, Training and Development, Benifits and Compensation, Communicating, Employee Relations, Recordkeeping, and Health safety and security with Legal compliance written on the outer edge and company strategy in the center communication is emphasized

Social Media Policy

Question:

Why do I need a social media policy?

Answer:

Whether you need a social media policy or not depends on your company culture, work environment, staff and brand. Some companies may determine, based on these four factors, that they don’t need a policy – whereas another company may find these four factors definitely require them to have a policy. Some of the reasons you may want to have a policy include:

  1. Risk of confidential company information being released
    • Financial data
    • Company strategy
    • Brand or trade secrets
    • Proprietary processes or research
    • Unreleased advertising
    • Client information
  2. Prompting of litigation or legal issues
    • Defamation
    • Plagiarism
  3. Customer Service
    • Disgruntle employee
  4. Use on company time

If you are going to implement a social media policy, it is important to consider what your organization needs to include in such a policy. For a great resource with sample polices visit http://socialmediagovernance.com/policies but be sure you customize your policy to your culture, work environment, staff and brand. And, most importantly, you will need to train your staff on your policy. Many employees won’t just follow a policy on social media without understanding why you have it. A training program with case examples helps provide them with a “why”.

Starting an HR Department, or expanding your HR function, takes foresight and good planning. Strategic HR, inc. has expertise in developing an HR strategy that not only handles the day to day function of HR, but aligns itself with the overall corporate strategy – fundamental to a growing company and critical for good human resources. Visit our HR Services page to use our interactive HR Wheel. By clicking on the sections of the wheel you will learn about the different functions and how we can assist you with developing best practices within each function.