Communications Questions of the Week

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Why Do I Need An Employee Handbook?

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HR Question:

Why do I need an Employee Handbook? Are they required?

HR Answer:

While it is not a requirement to have an employee handbook, having one can be an effective tool for you to communicate expectations throughout your organization. The employee handbook can be a quick reference for commonly asked questions such as “When am I eligible for vacation?” or “How do I call in sick?” Beyond communication with employees, a well-crafted employee handbook can provide many benefits to your organization.

Benefits For Employees

Orientation and Onboarding

For new employees, the handbook serves as an important introduction to your company. In addition to explaining work rules and expectations, it introduces new employees to the vision, values, and mission of your organization. An employee handbook can be a roadmap during orientation to help new employees get onboarded more quickly and reduce misunderstandings.

Organizational Culture

Your employee handbook is also an introduction to your company culture. The way that policies are phrased – such as expected working hours and location(s), ways to submit PTO requests or time off, how to communicate family/personal crises should they come up, etc. – can speak to your organization’s flexibility, inclusiveness, open-mindedness, or work-life balance expectations. Drafting policies that promote and reward desired behaviors (and perhaps, even explain the reasons behind them) can help nurture a healthy workplace culture.

Benefits For Employers

Protection for Employers

The employee handbook serves as a legal statement of policy on behalf of the employer. When signed by both the employee and employer, it can stand as evidence that not only were expectations communicated, but they were also agreed to as a requirement of working within the organization. For example, including anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, as well as bystander reporting requirements and complaint filing procedures, can provide guidance and protection for both employees and the employer should difficult situations arise.

An employee handbook can also clearly communicate the organization’s right to end employment based on performance, reorganization, financial downturn, or any other reason (commonly known as an “employment-at-will” statement). Without this, an employee may claim that an employment contract was made through other means of communication. Having a clear at-will-employment statement in the handbook may provide some protection from these types of claims.

It is critical for your handbook to be constructed properly for it to provide protection versus risk. Therefore, we highly recommend having your legal counsel review your handbook to ensure that it provides optimal protection for your organization.

HR Compliance

Your employee handbook can be used to meet the requirements of federal, state, and local laws. For example, federal law requires employers who are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to inform employees of their FMLA rights. If FMLA applies to your organization, an employee handbook provides an opportunity to inform employees of their rights, your internal processes, and answer any frequently asked questions that come up when addressing FMLA needs.

In addition, businesses that have employees across states, cities, and towns may have to comply with the laws in those work locations. Creating state handbook policy addendums for different states or jurisdictions can help the organization in communicating these requirements.

Consistency in Work Rules

An employee handbook formalizes the company’s policies on workplace matters, ideally encouraging a fair and consistent workplace. Managers can refer back to the handbook as a guide when it comes to discipline, internal processes, expectations, or review policies to ensure consistent treatment for each employee.

Including policies such as a progressive disciplinary policy can inform managers and employees of the company’s expectations on how disciplinary issues will be handled, providing a sense of trust and reducing confusion in challenging situations.

Additional Considerations

Evaluating Policies and Communicating Changes

Maintaining company policies in an employee handbook provides an opportunity to examine your policies for contradictory, illegal, or outdated rules. Annual revisions to your handbook will encourage you to identify policy changes that should be made based on company goals, new laws, court rulings, and industry standards.

As with any HR policy revision, it is important to communicate the changes to employees. As a best practice, many organizations require employee signatures verifying that they have received the revised handbook.

Yes – Your Handbook Can Be Used Against You

An employee handbook is significant for what it includes, as well as what it does not include. It should provide policy direction, flexibility when necessary, and a clear outline of practices that your organization can follow consistently.

It is also essential not to include things in the handbook that you are NOT doing. For example, if your handbook indicates that you plan to review employee performance every year, but you haven’t reviewed anyone in over five years, then it would be important to review and revise that statement to reflect the practices you actually follow.

Ensure Your Handbook Is Customized For YOU

Be cautious of handbook templates or copying another organization’s handbook. Avoid including policies that do not apply to your company such as policies for companies with over 50 employees because you think you might be over 50 employees within the next 3 years. Also, make sure you have your attorney review your handbook to ensure they are comfortable defending you, should something ever go to court, based on what is written in the handbook.

Wondering if you’re up to date on policy trends? Learn more about the Top 5 Employee Handbook Policies to Include this Year.


Thank you to Colleen Mahoney, PHR, HR Business Advisor, for contributing to this week’s HR Question of the Week.

Don’t have a handbook and not sure where to begin? Concerned that your current handbook is outdated? Don’t worry. Strategic HR Business Advisors can help you to create or revise your handbook to ensure that it serves as a meaningful communication tool helping to protect your employees and your business. To learn more, request a free handbook consultation today.

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What Are Stay Interviews and What Questions Should I Ask?

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HR Question:

Can you explain stay interviews – what are they? How should we use them and what should we ask?

HR Answer:

Not to be confused with exit interviews (meant for seeking to understand why departing employees are leaving), stay interviews are a great tool to understand why your employees choose to stay with your organization. They can also help to uncover potential areas of concern that may cause employees to leave if not addressed. Conducting stay interviews shows that you care about employees’ experiences and gives you the opportunity to make changes to retain your most valuable asset – your employees.

Who should participate?

Start with your end goal in mind. Consider why you’re conducting stay interviews and what you want to learn. This will help to determine who should participate. Some organizations may choose to focus on a particular department, a company location, or high performers. Others choose to conduct company-wide stay interviews. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer here.

Choosing Stay Interview Questions

Stay interviews typically consist of five to six questions, with at least one question that is quantifiable (i.e., rating satisfaction using a 5 or 7-point Likert scale) while leaving the others open-ended. The quantifiable questions provide a quick way to measure and easily report on employees’ attitudes, opinions, or perceptions of an aspect of work or the work environment. We recommend following quantifiable questions with asking why they chose their answer for additional insight.

Sample quantifiable questions:

  • Would you recommend working here to a friend?
  • Do you have the resources that you need to do your job effectively?
  • Do you have clear goals and objectives?
  • How happy are you to come to work every day? (Use a 5-point answer scale)

On the other hand, open-ended questions dig deeper into your employees’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences. These answers can reveal themes of what is going well and shed light on what can be improved to encourage employees to stay.

Sample open-ended questions:

  • What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
  • What do you like most or least about working here?
  • What are your favorite aspects of your job? Least favorite?
  • If you could change something about your job, what would that be?
  • What would make your job more satisfying?
  • How do you like to be recognized or rewarded?
  • What skills/talents are you not currently using at work?
  • How can we best support your learning and development?
  • What motivates (or demotivates) you?
  • What might tempt you to leave?
  • What can your manager do more of or less of to best support you?

Choose your questions carefully to ensure they help you to learn what you really want to know. It is okay to go into this process with some assumptions about what is and is not going well. The right questions can help you tease out whether your assumptions are correct. Sometimes addressing the “elephant in the room” is exactly what needs to be done. In other situations, the right questions can reveal issues that you weren’t even aware existed.

Selecting the Best Approach

Once you’ve identified who you want to include in the process and what you want to ask, your next steps are to determine the where, when, and how.


Stay interviews can be conducted in person or virtually. Keep in mind that it is important to maintain privacy and confidentiality when selecting where to host the conversations. If conducted in person, be sure to select a location that is private and away from where others could overhear the conversation.


If you use five to six questions, they typically can be completed in less than thirty minutes. You can consider conducting stay interviews once a year or more frequently, depending on your needs.

Establishing Trust

It is essential to establish a feeling of psychological safety and trust so that employees feel comfortable being honest and open in sharing information. It is best for the data collection to be anonymous with results reported in summarized themes that are not traceable back to specific individuals. There should be no worry of retribution for sharing their thoughts and opinions. As a result, you’ll want to choose your interviewer(s) carefully.

Many organizations choose to have stay interviews conducted by independent outsourced experts who can guide them through the entire process of participant selection and question development, as well as conducting the interviews and providing follow-up data reports and recommended actions. Independent consultants can apply an unbiased approach throughout the entire process. This often leads to more robust data and action plans as employees are more willing to open up and talk.

The Key to Productive Stay Interviews

Hopefully, it goes without saying that you must go into this process prepared to react to what you learn. Employees are typically excited to have their voices heard. They will be anxious to see what you do with the information they have shared. It would be quite ironic if a lack of acknowledgment of their feedback would lead to employees feeling devalued and choosing to leave.

At the same time, it is unrealistic, and in most cases unnecessary, to address every concern that is raised. There will inevitably be outlier comments in the information collection process that only apply to one specific person or don’t seem to be significant for the broader good of your organization.

Be Transparent

You can position the process for success with clear and transparent communication from beginning to end. Well in advance of the stay interviews, make sure that you have communicated your intentions of conducting the interviews, why you are doing them, and the expected timing of the interviews. Particularly if you are using outsourced HR experts to facilitate the interviews, be sure that employees know who these folks are and what to expect.

In addition, manage employees’ expectations on the front end and throughout the process regarding how you plan to handle what is learned. It is fair and reasonable to say that you don’t expect to be able to solve all of the concerns that may be shared, but you are committed to learning from their perspectives and making some improvements.

Showing that you are committed to listening and taking action to strengthen your organizational culture will go a long way in increasing your employee engagement and their desire to stay.

Thank you to Melinda Canino, MS, Sr. HR Communications Advisor, and Alisa Fedders, MA, SPHR, Manager of Business Advisors, for contributing to this HR Question of the Week.

Are you left wondering why employees choose to stay or leave your organization? Our experts at Strategic HR Business Advisors can design and conduct independent, unbiased stay or exit interviews as well as employee surveys, pulse surveys, and more to assess employee satisfaction and engagement. Learn more about how we can help on our HR Communications page or simply contact us today!

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Designing a Modern Dress Code for Today’s Workplace

Dress Code Policy on a Clipboard

HR Question:

We’re taking a look at revising our dress code policy. We want to balance today’s increasingly casual approach while still asking our team members to look professional. How can we create a modern dress code policy?

HR Answer:

In today’s modern workplace, the concept of dress code has evolved to reflect a more relaxed and individualistic approach. Many companies have moved away from the traditional suit, skirt, button-down, formal shoes, tie, etc. combinations that were common in the past. One of the main reasons for this shift is the changing nature of work itself.

Many jobs today are more creative and require a more individualistic approach. This means that employees are encouraged to express themselves through their clothing choices, as long as it is appropriate for the workplace. Additionally, as younger generations gain a larger presence in today’s workforce, employers have recognized the need to allow for personal expression through clothing and accessories with a lean toward a more casual dress code to attract and retain top talent.

Designing a dress code for the modern workforce is an important task and requires a delicate balance between creating a professional and inclusive environment. Here are some steps to consider when designing a dress code:

Identify your Dress Code Requirements

First, identify the requirements of your workplace, including the nature of the work, the industry, workplace safety, and the expectations of the customers or clients. It might help to categorize your approach in typical dress code categories that most individuals are familiar with, such as business casual, casual, smart casual, company attire/uniform, and business attire.

For those unfamiliar with those guidelines, providing examples is your best route to clearly outline expectations. For example, you could provide images or descriptions of appropriate attire and accessories. These examples will guide the type of attire that is appropriate for your workplace.

If the nature of an employee’s work and who they interact with varies daily (i.e., Are they customer-facing all of the time? Some of the time? Not at all?), that may result in the expectations for their level of dress to change from day to day depending on these factors. So if your dress expectations do vary, we recommend that you clarify this in your dress code policy to help employees navigate through this appropriately.

Make Sure It’s Inclusive

It’s important to balance the need for professionalism with the desire (or need, in some cases) for individual expression, respect for other cultures, and/or the way individuals identify. For example, establishing expectations or limits around how someone wears their hair could limit someone’s ability to abide by their religious beliefs or could discriminate against race-based hairstyles. The C.R.O.W.N. Act was passed for this very reason.

Creating an inclusive dress code should also factor in gender identity. Avoid gender-specific language and instead use gender-neutral language, such as “employees should wear professional attire, such as a suit and tie or skirt and blazer” instead of “men should wear a suit and tie.”

Be Flexible & Seek Feedback

Flexibility is key when designing a dress code that is inclusive of all genders. Consider allowing employees to choose from a range of acceptable attire options, rather than prescribing a specific dress code. If your organization maintains a uniform (ideally, one that can be considered gender-neutral), consider allowing employees to express themselves through accessories or subtle variations in attire, while still maintaining an appropriate level of professionalism.

Finally, seek feedback from employees to ensure that the dress code is meeting their needs and is inclusive of all genders. Encourage open communication and consider making adjustments as needed.

Overall, designing a dress code for the modern workforce requires a thoughtful and inclusive approach that balances professionalism and individual expression. While there are still certain expectations and guidelines that should be followed, employees are encouraged to express themselves through their clothing choices. By understanding your workplace culture and asking employees to dress appropriately for their positions, you can help them find and maintain a healthy balance between professionalism and self-expression.


Thanks to Cassie Whitehouse, M.Ed., Senior HR Business Advisor, for contributing to this edition of the HR Question of the Week! 

Trying to find ways to create inclusive policies? Want to build a welcoming environment, but not sure how to develop policies and procedures that reflect that? Our team at Strategic HR can help you create policies and procedures that clearly lay out your expectations of your employees while creating a flexible and inclusive environment. Contact us today or learn more about how Strategic HR can help you remain compliant, avoid unnecessary obstacles, and increase employee trust, engagement, and satisfaction through HR Communications.

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Tips For How To Have Difficult Conversations With Employees

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HR Question:

Each time I take on a new role managing staff, I find myself needing to have difficult conversations with employees about sensitive issues. I’ve had to deal with hygiene issues, someone who wore too much perfume, and even someone who wore an unsightly shirt every single day. What is the best way to deal with these issues and talk with employees about these sensitive topics that are impacting others?

HR Answer:

Most business leaders will tell you that having difficult conversations with employees is one of the most challenging aspects of their leadership position. Whether it’s a team member with a notable hygiene issue or a co-worker with an exceptionally sensitive sense of smell, these interpersonal issues are disruptive to business, and we all wish they would just disappear!

It’s human nature to want to avoid that which we find unpleasant, and most of us would rather have a root canal than have a discussion about another person’s body odor. Great leaders understand that avoidance fosters a culture where issues are allowed to become toxic and spread, potentially impacting the entire team. To truly create change, it is important to be sensitive to the concerns of the individuals involved and handle the difficult conversation with a calm professional demeanor.

Build Trust From the Beginning

The best preparation begins long before the sensitive problem even occurs! Building trusting relationships with your team members early on will make difficult conversations less awkward and more productive.

One way to build trust and establish open lines of communication with your employees is to hold frequent and regularly scheduled one-on-one conversations with them. As an additional benefit, maintaining regular communication with your team members may allow you an opportunity to identify potential areas for concern and proactively address these situations before they escalate into a more serious problem.

How to Prepare for Difficult Conversations with Employees

When a sensitive problem does occur and a tough conversation is warranted, you should address the issue promptly, yet also take the time to fully evaluate the situation and properly prepare for the conversation. Review the details and facts as you are aware of them with the understanding that there is likely more to the story that you will need to uncover in your discussion with the employee.

Also, find the right words to tactfully address the concerns that have been raised and brainstorm potential responses and solutions ahead of the meeting. Approach the conversation from a place of empathy and avoid making assumptions as to the root of the problem.

Suggestions on how to have a respectful and productive discussion:

  1. Make sure the employee knows it is not a disciplinary meeting but rather a coaching conversation.
  2. Meet with the employee in a private location without interruptions where you can explain the problem and how it affects the workplace. Have items such as water and facial tissues available if needed.
  3. Allow the employee to lead the conversation which may result in an apology, learning they were not aware of the situation, or possibly a personal discussion as to why the person is having the issue.
  4. Be open to the possibility that the employee may have a disability or religious or cultural factors that are impacting the situation at hand (hygiene, for example).
  5. If they aren’t readily forthcoming in your conversation, try to understand the root of the issue by gently guiding them and allowing them plenty of time to open up.
  6. Holding the meeting at the end of the day may be best as it will allow the employee to leave immediately afterward.
  7. Be compassionate and focus on the company’s future expectations.
  8. Emotions may run high. If it seems the employee is struggling with the information, allow the employee time to process the information on their own. Offer to have a follow up meeting to continue the discussion once they have had time to think about it.

Don’t Fall Into These Complaint Pitfalls

While it is vital for managers to proactively address these issues, it is also important to do so without jumping to conclusions. It must be noted that it is not always the subject of the complaint that needs to be addressed. Be careful when handling issues to ensure that there is validity to the complaint and that it wasn’t a result of one overly sensitive employee, or worse yet – a bully.

Additionally, don’t allow employees to play what Marlene Chism calls “Power of Attorney” by bringing complaints on behalf of others. Ensure that complaints are brought to you by the party involved and avoid falling into secret conversations and gossip with complainers.

You may also find that negative employees can spread negativity resulting in a detrimental impact on the morale, productivity, and profitability of your team. Sometimes the difficult conversation needs to be with the chronic complainer who may allow their own personality flaws to lead to frequent complaints about their co-workers.

Although having difficult conversations with your employees is not likely to be your favorite part of your job, they can be critical to ensure the productivity, health, and well-being of your team. If you can go into the uncomfortable discussions with a professional and development-focused approach, often you can solve issues while also building trust and respect with your employees.

Thank you to Colleen Mahoney, PHR for contributing to this HR Question of the Week.


Communication often seems like a “no-brainer,” until you have a difficult or complex message to deliver. HOW you communicate is often as important as WHAT you communicate when it comes to getting results! Strategic HR has years of experience preparing HR communications for a variety of audiences and topics. Visit our HR Communications page to learn how we can assist you with your HR communications needs.

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How Can You Teach a Manager to be a Good Listener?

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HR Question:

I’ve received a couple of complaints about one of our managers because he is quick to jump to conclusions and doesn’t listen well to his team. I want to provide him with some coaching on active listening. Can you offer suggestions on how to teach him to be a good listener?

HR Answer:

How many times have you walked away from a conversation with someone, whether it was your boss, co-worker, friend, or family member, saying “they just don’t listen to what I am saying!”? This is a common frustration for many, and it happens for a variety of reasons. Whatever the reason, it causes dissatisfaction and can lead to hurt feelings or feelings of distrust.

Listening is a leadership skill that is rarely taught, yet it is a critical one for managers. And listening is getting more challenging in the world of remote employees, remote customers, and remote meetings. In more than thirty leadership and HR articles published on our website alone, listening is cited as an important component in the advice, training, or program being recommended. So, as you look to provide active listening coaching, you want to help the manager to understand both why it is important and how to become a better listener.

Why Listening Skills Matter

The ability to make others feel valued for their contributions to a project, a team, or an organization as a whole is a reflection of an effective leader. Being a good listener and ensuring that employees feel heard is essential in developing trust, respect, and loyalty.

In a recent Fast Company article discussing the science behind how to become a better listener, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at Columbia University, shared that “how well and frequently you listen to others is a better predictor of your leadership potential than your actual intelligence or personality.” He also shared that people who are good at listening are better performers, have a high level of well-being, and have more meaningful and fulfilling relationships.

So, it doesn’t matter if someone is the smartest person in the room… if they’re not a good listener, they will struggle to develop the relationships that are necessary to be a great leader and manager.

How to Improve Listening Skills

How can someone become a better listener? Both Fast Company and the Harvard Business Review dive into science-based, specific steps on how to become a better listener. To break down their suggestions to the barest components, both sources recommend these basic essential steps:

  1. Be Quiet
  2. Listen
  3. Repeat

Sounds easy, right? But what do each of those steps really entail? To implement them correctly, you must:

  • Focus all of your attention on the other person. Stop what you are doing with your computer, phone, or even distracting thoughts from a previous conversation running through your head. Use all of your senses to focus on what the person in front of you (in person or on-screen) is saying.
  • Use non-verbal cues to communicate that you are listening, like making eye contact and nodding your head. Also, pay attention to the speaker’s non-verbal clues to see if they are congruent with the words they are saying.
  • Remain calm and control any emotional response you have to what they are saying. Allow them to finish their statements before you say anything in response, and do not plan your response in your head while they are still talking. Listen to everything they have to say first.
  • Restate the last few words they said, and clarify what you believe they were saying. Ask follow-up questions. If the person’s words do not match the non-verbal signs the speaker is giving, carefully inquire about the differences.
  • Finally, make sure you understand why they shared this message with you, and if you do not, then ask. A good listener seeks to understand the speaker’s intent, i.e., were they just venting, were they sharing an accomplishment and they need praise, or do they expect you to take some action as a result of what they shared?

Active Listening Enhances Your Professional and Personal Life

It takes practice to be a good listener. It may come more naturally for some than others, but it is a skill that everyone can develop. As you work on finetuning the skill, ask for feedback about how well you listen… and listen to the response! Listening is a skill that will not only enhance your communication and leadership at work, but it’s valuable in your personal life as well. Working on your active listening skills will be time well spent – your employees, friends, and family will appreciate your efforts.

Thank you to Lorrie Diaz, MS, for contributing to this HR Question of the Week.

Carefully choosing the right words and the best approach can make the difference between achieving your goals or having your efforts go awry. Managing your HR Communications doesn’t have to be hard – as long as you have the right tools and training. Learn more about how Strategic HR can help with your HR Communications or contact us about your needs.


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What is an Employee Dashboard? Why is it Important?

HR Question:

What is an Employee Dashboard, why is it important, and what should be included in its design?

HR Answer:

When it comes to keeping employees involved in the dynamics of a company and their own status as team members, the Employee Dashboard plays a vital role. Employee Dashboards are centralized electronic checkpoints where each employee can start their day.  Employee Dashboards, also known as Employee Self-Service (or ESS) portals, typically provide the following features:

  • Updates on company news and developments
  • Links for employees to perform tasks such as personal data changes, benefits enrollment changes, and performance evaluations
  • A way for employees to share ideas and feedback
  • A place to provide recognition for the achievement of individual employee milestones, team accomplishments, and company feats

Many HR professionals use electronic dashboards for tasks such as employee information filing, tracking, and reporting.  However, it is important to think about Employee Dashboards from the employees’ perspective as a resource that helps them each day.

Employee Dashboards can be a powerful resource for workforce communication. Before smartphones and self-service apps became commonplace, employees relied upon low-tech ways to get updates on important information about their jobs, their employment, and their organizations. Companies posted important information in break rooms or beside the time-card clock, or they announced timely updates in daily or weekly huddles or sync-ups.

However, consider all the changes that have been driven by broad and powerful business forces – the COVID pandemic, labor shortages, and supply shortages to name a few. Many employees now work remotely, either full-time or part-time, so using onsite bulletin boards or huddles may not provide employees with the ongoing supply of information needed to keep them engaged.

Why is an Employee Dashboard an Important Resource?

First, think about an Employee Dashboard as a funnel for an employee’s attention.  Today, many employees are not on-site to hear in-person messages.  And even if they are, how well does information get communicated? Is email an effective way to keep information in front of every employee? Unfortunately, it may work for some but not all. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “Self-service tools applied in the right scenarios are paying dividends for HR functions, industry vendors and employees who use the applications.” A place to “check in” every day to see what is going on is a great option for communicating important information. Hence, the Employee Dashboard.

What Should Be Included on an Employee Dashboard?

If you want to have an actively used Employee Dashboard, include the following:

  • Reminders – holidays, deadlines (i.e., deadlines for benefits enrollment, employee surveys, etc.)
  • News updates – quarterly sales or production results, customer testimonials, and organizational changes
  • Recognition – broadly: company or team accomplishments and individually: personal milestones
  • Payroll information – links to the Payroll site for pay stubs, W2’s, personal data changes, etc.
  • Benefits information – links to websites for health insurance carriers, 401k/retirement plan recordkeepers, and other benefits providers
  • Wellness resources – links to sites to provide employee assistance for wellness and perhaps financial, legal, and social and emotional well-being

Employee Dashboard Caveats

To be most effective, the following “design considerations” must be reviewed when building an Employee Dashboard:

  • Security. Employee Dashboards must incorporate security features first and foremost. A careful review to ensure safeguards on electronically stored information and prevention of loss of sensitive personal information must be completed. Thoughtful consideration of identity theft risks and other cyber-crimes is paramount.
  • Ease of access. How easy is it for employees, especially new employees, to log in to this site? Does the Employee Dashboard platform or system allow access by smartphones and home PCs? Make sure that the instructions and, just as important, the “help desk” resources are readily available to assist.
  • Ease of use. Is the Employee Dashboard well organized? When employees arrive on the Home Page, how easy is it to navigate? Are important/critical messages easy to see?  Are links to the most-used data sites easily spotted?
  • Timeliness and Relevance. Is the information current? Information MUST be current and relevant to keep employees engaged. Who will update the dashboard? How will messages be prioritized and sequenced?

Finding an Employee Dashboard System

If your company is using a third-party payroll provider, chances are that they have an Employee Self-Service portal built into their platform, including a pre-designed Employee Dashboard feature.  It may require that you add access to this module to your current services, but sometimes this can be done at little or no additional cost, depending upon the richness of the services that you wish to offer.

Thank you to Terry Wilson, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Senior HR Consultant, for contributing to this edition of our HR Question of the Week! 

Communication often seems like a “no-brainer.” HOW you communicate is often as important as WHAT you communicate when it comes to getting results! Strategic HR 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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Why Do We Celebrate Labor Day?

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HR Question:

While the US recognizes several national holidays throughout the year, it’s easy to get caught up and forget the reason behind the day. So, why do we celebrate Labor Day?

HR Answer:

Its title gives a clue to this holiday’s purpose as many of us understand Labor Day to be a national holiday dedicated to honoring the American workforce. But how and when did this start?

How Labor Day Began

When the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, workers faced abhorrent conditions. Employees were overworked, underpaid, and found themselves working in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions just to make a living. As a result, the first labor unions began to come together, protesting these unsafe and unsanitary environments, as well as the low wages and long hours.

The labor movement of the 1880s-1890s shined a light on the need to improve the lives and working conditions of American workers, as well as the need to recognize how they contributed to the prosperity and success of our country. According to the Department of Labor, the first Labor Day holiday and parade was hosted in New York City in 1882. After this initial celebration, many labor activists and states began to celebrate the holiday in the years that followed until it became a national holiday in 1894.

Celebrating Labor Day – Then and Now

The first Labor Day celebrations were marked with parties with friends and families. These traditions also included a parade to celebrate work and the strength, grit, and value of those who had laid the groundwork for such a holiday.

Many cities have taken on their own traditions, including expanding upon the parades with festivals, large celebrations, and as in Cincinnati, Ohio’s case, large fireworks shows.

On this upcoming Labor Day, we hope you can take the time to safely enjoy your day with family and/or friends, and to take a few moments to reflect on the hard-fought victories for America’s workforce.

Strategic HR is always interested in helping people to achieve their best and fulfill their dreams. If you happen to be looking to enter the workforce, or perhaps looking to explore a new career opportunity, we invite you to explore our clients’ career opportunities or learn more about our Career Coach services. We’d be honored to help you achieve your American dream.

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Do We Have to Provide Employees Time Off to Vote?

HR Question:

We received a request from an employee for time off to vote. My state doesn’t require voting leave, but this employee works in a different state, and we have employees located across the country. What do I need to do here?

HR Answer:

If an employee of yours works in a state with a voting leave law, you will need to comply with that law. Most states require that employers provide at least a few hours of employee time off to vote, and many of those states require some or all of that time to be paid. In New York, for example, all registered voters are allowed to take off as much time as is necessary to enable them to vote and are entitled to be paid for up to three of those hours. You’ll also want to check any applicable voting leave laws for notice requirements and for specifications on when during an employee’s shift the time off should be given. You can find all this information on the HR Support Center by entering “voting leave” in the search bar. Workplace Fairness also has an online interactive tool to allow you to look up voting laws by state.

To keep things simple and fair, you might consider implementing a single company policy that meets or exceeds all applicable state requirements. That way there’s no confusion about what your policy is, employees in states without leave requirements won’t feel like they’re being excluded, and everyone in your company will have the opportunity to vote. Some employers even go the extra mile by cancelling all meetings on election day or making that day a paid holiday.

Thank you to our HR Support Center for providing the response to this edition of our HR Question of the Week.

Do you wish your HR Handbook and Job Descriptions would write themselves? Would you like to have 24/7 access to HR forms, checklists, and templates so you don’t have to “recreate the wheel”?  Check out our Virtual HR Solutions to see how we can make “going it alone” not so ALONE! In addition to comprehensive online HR resources & tools, you can also have unlimited access to HR professionals via phone/email/chat.

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How Can I Prevent Tension Between My Remote Team and On-Site Team?

HR Question:

Due to COVID-19, some of my team members are able to work from home. However, I have other team members that I need to be present in the office. This has understandably caused some frustration for those that need to be on-site, as they may feel that the situation is unfair. How can I prevent tension between my remote team and my on-site team members?

HR Answer:

While telework can have many benefits (both actual and perceived), the fact is that it doesn’t work for every type of role. What may be possible for a designer, accountant, sales member, or marketer may not be possible for the office’s receptionist, the engineering team for the building, or essential workers on the front line. This can cause the perception of inequities between the “work-from-home-haves” and the “work-from-home-have-nots,” leading to tension, friction, and frustration. If your work environment is a blend of remote and on-site employees, consider these key actions that an employer can take to help prevent tension between their remote and on-site team.

Prevent Tension By Communicating

First, communication is critical.  For employees whose roles may not allow them to work from home, it’s important they understand why the opportunity cannot be afforded. Equally as important, managers and leaders should make it clear that their willingness to work these essential roles is more than appreciated. This can be done through ongoing communication, manager and leaders going out of their way to recognize team members on a daily basis, or even having those that are working remotely create thank you messages to the essential on-site staff.

Say Thank You

Small acts of gratitude could go a long way as well. For those who are on-site, show your appreciation by providing an occasional lunch or donuts (allowing for social distancing and COVID-19 safety measures) and letting the on-site workers know they are valued. Consider the approach a local Cincinnati waste removal company took to thank their essential workers for working throughout the pandemic. Ensure that managers and leaders are present and actively thanking team members for stepping up.

Educate Your Team

Finally, be sure that you are educating your staff – no matter their role. Educating the essential, on-site workers on how their role contributes to the overall success of the company.  It is also important that any concerns that essential workers may have are addressed to the extent possible. Where there are safety concerns, ensure essential workers and anyone coming on the premises have a clear understanding of the measures that have been put in place to keep them safe. The need for communication and education cannot be overstated.

For those employees who are working from home, educate them on why this opportunity is available. Yes, there are personal benefits, but there are also business reasons that are key to understand as well.  Remote employees need to understand that this privilege is not available to everyone. Often, it’s the work that essential workers do, manufacturing, healthcare, grocery workers, etc. that helps make the remote work possible. Take the opportunity to share the expectations of your remote team, and how their actions will directly contribute to the health of the business, particularly during this trying time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges very few ever expected. With the varying levels of risk that come with working on-site, it’s easy for potential frustrations to occur when some employees are expected in the office while others are not. Prevent tension between your remote and on-site teams with frequent communication, saying thank you often, and educating everyone on the team as the situation develops.

Communication often seems like a “no-brainer.” HOW you communicate is often as important as WHAT you communicate when it comes to getting results! Strategic HR 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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What Should I Consider Before Doing a Reduction in Force?

HR Question:

I may need to restructure my workforce as a result of the downturn in business activity. What should I consider from a fairness and legal standpoint?

HR Answer:

Determining the need for a Reduction in Force (RIF) is a challenging decision to make, but it is sometimes necessary to keep the business running in a positive way. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the definition of a RIF “occurs when changing priorities, budgetary constraints, or other business conditions require a company to abolish positions.”

Before moving forward with a RIF, we recommend that you thoroughly consider all of your options. Some states offer assistance to employers that may help them avert layoffs or receive early intervention to help the workforce impacted by a RIF. For example, Ohio Job and Family Services’ Office of Workforce Development offers a Rapid Response (RR) program that is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. Services may include customized workshops, training, up-skilling, retooling, certifications or skill matching.

If you determine that your organization needs to move forward with a reduction in force, you should use a carefully planned approach. You will need to be aware of and adhere to state and federal regulations to ensure compliance throughout your process. This will help to protect your organization against employment litigation. It is also important to train your management staff on what they can and cannot do in the RIF process. This is a time to go back to the basics when it comes to managing your human resources and protecting your business.

8 Recommended Steps to Follow When Considering a Reduction in Force

1. Select the Employees for the Layoff

It’s important to determine an objective criteria process for your selection process. Consider factors such as criticality of the position to the business, seniority, performance review scores and any corrective action documents that may have been issued. This is the time that accurate and timely employee documentation throughout the year is important as it will play a big part in your selection process.

You will need to remind managers of the importance of using objective criteria in the selection process and not to make decisions based on who they like or dislike. You may also consider having a “no backfill for one year” rule to ensure the RIF is truly necessary and not a way for managers to “clean house.”

Once you have an initial list of employees to be laid off, you should apply steps 2 – 5 below to ensure that you are in compliance with state and federal regulations.

2. Avoid Adverse / Disparate Impact

According to SHRM, adverse or disparate impact refers to “employment practices that appear neutral but have a discriminatory effect on a protected group. Adverse impact may occur in hiring, promotion, training and development, transfer, layoff, and even performance appraisals.” For help in understanding and navigating this, check out SHRM’s toolkit to avoid adverse impact in employment practices.

3. Review Federal and State WARN Regulations

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). WARN offers protection to workers and even communities by requiring employers to provide a 60-day notice in advance of a plant closing or what they deem as a mass layoff.  This Act is only applicable to employers with 100 or more employees.

4. Review ADEA and OWBPA Regulations

You will need to comply with two federal regulations that offer protections based on age: ADEA and OWBPA.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), protects employees 40 years of age and older from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment.

The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA) is an Act that amends the ADEA to clarify the protections given to older individuals in regard to employee benefit plans, and for other purposes.

5. Determine Severance Packages, Benefits Coverage, and Additional Services (if any)

As you develop severance packages, benefits coverage, and any other services that you will offer, you should review the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to ensure compliance. ERISA is a federal law that sets minimum standards for most voluntarily established retirement and health plans in private industry to provide protection for individuals in these plans.

6. Train Supervisors and Managers

These individuals are your first-line of defense (and many times your biggest legal threat) when it comes to employees’ perception of company policies, procedures, and decisions. Although human resources would always like to be the ones to address employee concerns, your front-line managers and supervisors are doing it on a daily basis whether they want to be or not. They should be properly trained on how to handle employee concerns.

Some suggestions for supervisor/manager training include:

  • Basic Discrimination Laws: Be sure supervisors and managers are aware of basic discrimination laws. Assist them with increased communication and employee relation skills so they are able to respectfully support company decisions and communicate with employees regarding their concerns or issues.
  • Staying Compliant and Consistent: Ensure managers and supervisors are clearly aware of what they can and cannot do from a legal perspective. Those involved in the employment process should know and document the process used when restructuring or selecting employees for layoff, and then use it – consistently. A clear legally defendable (non-discriminatory) reason when selecting those who will be let go is the most important aspect of restructuring. In addition, managers and supervisors should be guided by human resources to ensure an appropriate message is being delivered when HR isn’t delivering it.
  • How to Maintain Good Documentation:We all know that documentation is essential for a good legal defense, but also remember it can hurt as well. Train your staff on what good documentation looks like and what to avoid. Remind them that everything is subject to review in a lawsuit – employee warnings, performance evaluations, and even those simple notes we write down on a sticky note and throw in their file. Be aware of what you are putting down into writing and make sure it is objective and defendable.

7. Prepare for Reduction in Force Meetings

As you prepare for your layoff meetings, have a clear plan of what is going to be communicated, who is responsible for communicating the message, and how the message will be delivered both to those who are being directly impacted and those who will remain. It can be helpful to think through your anticipated frequently asked questions and prepare answers prior to your meetings.

8. Inform Your Workforce of the Layoffs

As you deliver the news of your reduction in force, remember that the golden rule still stands in employment – treat your employees the way you would like to be treated. Think about how you would prefer to be treated during these tough times when decisions are so difficult. Treat your employees with dignity and respect at all times. Provide notice of the layoff if it is reasonable, and provide some type of outplacement if you are able.

Be sure to listen to your employees as well. Employees are more likely to file a claim against employers when they feel like they are ignored or that their concerns are not addressed. Although your message may not always be what they want to hear – allow them to be heard and feel a part of the process.

Remember also, the RIF not only effects the person being released from his/her job, but also the remaining employees. There can be an emotional toll on those who remain, in addition to the impact it may have on their job duties as well. Be prepared to provide the resources and tools necessary to help your staff to stay engaged and do well through this difficult time of transition.

How to Handle Changes  to Job Responsibilities

Moving forward, your next consideration is to have a plan about who will absorb each exited person’s job tasks. You should determine if this situation requires a long term solution or if you foresee returning to the prior structure again when the budget allows. Job descriptions for those positions affected by the lay-off will need to be reviewed to reflect changes to the responsibilities and functions of the position. Sometimes you may find the change has actually improved the position making it more efficient.

You may also want to consider a salary review for the positions affected. Since some individuals are now performing the functions of multiple positions, is a pay increase warranted and feasible?

Remember, the job description is based upon the position itself, not the individual performing the job. Make sure to get input from all relevant parties – supervisor and employee – when determining the final role of an impacted position.

In addition, we recommend that you consider cross-training employees on job tasks to be ready for these unforeseen times and to have coverage in the absence of employees when they are out of the office for personal reasons.

To ensure your compliance with all federal and state laws and regulations in the process of a reduction in force, we encourage you to consult with your attorney to review your plans before implementation. Be prepared with a plan and look at the strengths and weaknesses of your team so you are not caught off guard!


If your business is considering a reduction in force, the team at Strategic HR is available to help coach you through the process and decisions that will need to be made.  We are here to help you through the tough times – just contact us.

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Why You Should Always Be Networking

I keep hearing “Network! Network! Network!” I already have a full-time position. I thought networking was just for job seekers.

In short, you should always be networking – no matter if you are employed or unemployed.

Let’s begin by defining networking so we are on the same page. According to Merriam-Webster, networking is “The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions specifically the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” Networking is about building professional relationships. Essentially, it’s all about who you know, who they know, and how you might be able to help one another.

We are all busy with our professional and personal lives, so why take the time to network?

  • To meet potential prospects/clients/customers/referrals
  • To build relationships and/or friendships
  • Help spread awareness about your product/service you provide
  • You never know what your next opportunity will bring. Someone may be looking for your unique skill set.
  • Do you like helping others? Pay it forward. You may know someone who is looking for a job.
  • To get/give advice. Effective networking is mutually beneficial to both involved. It should not be a one-way street.

Steps on how to network:

Even when you understand the value and importance of networking and building professional relationships, you might ask yourself, “So where do I begin?” Here are suggestions for how to get started:

  • What sets you apart? What makes you, YOU?! If you are not sure, ask people.
  • Make a list of who you know including family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, managers (present and former), and affiliations/professional associations you are involved with.
  • Identify what your need is. Do you want people to know about your company/service/product? Are you job seeking?
  • Think about the knowledge, skills, and abilities that you can offer to those you’re networking with. Remember- networking should be mutually beneficial. Of course, you may not know exactly how you can help someone until you talk with them about their own interests and needs, but giving some thought to this before meeting them can help generate ideas.

What to do when you attend a networking event:

To ensure that you get the most out of attending a networking event, it can help to do some preparation before you go. Make sure that you take any necessary materials that will help you in making connections, such as business cards, brochures, etc. Think about how you want to introduce yourself. Some people find it helpful to practice a short “elevator pitch” that succinctly explains who you are and what you do.

Here are some suggestions on how to begin, track, and follow up on your networking conversations:

  • A common thing people do when first meeting someone is to ask, “What do you do?” A great way to meet someone is to ask them, “What brought you here today?” That way the person doesn’t feel awkward if they are in a job search.
  • Ask for their business card. Make a note on the back of the card about the conversation and follow-up with them.
  • Connect with them on LinkedIn. Always send a personal note when sending an invitation for the connection. It can be something like, “Hi Joe, we met at the XYZ Event the other night. I really enjoyed our conversation and would like the opportunity to connect with you on LinkedIn to expand my network.” Once the person accepts your LinkedIn invitation, you can follow up with the conversation that you had with next steps.
  • Keep a spreadsheet of the people you’ve met, where you met, a brief description of your conversation, and any next steps.
  • Keep your networking fresh by sending an email or a LinkedIn message saying that you just wanted to say hello and that you were thinking of them. This will go a long way.
  • Always ask the other person how you can help them. Even if there isn’t anything at the present time, there may be an opportunity in the future. Networking is a two-way street and beneficial for both parties.

Where can I find networking meetings/events?

If you are looking for networking and professional development opportunities, Strategic HR has a great list of HR events that are hosted by local and national organizations. Many of the events address topics of interest to a broad audience, so they are not limited to only HR professionals. Eventbrite and Meetup are additional sources you can use to search for networking events based on your interests and preferred geographic location.

Bottom line, you can network wherever you are…at work, at the grocery store, at sporting events, etc. The key is being open to meeting new people and being yourself. If you’ve thought about what you want people to know about you, it’s easier to dive in when networking opportunities present themselves. Remember to share your talents and not just your title. By effectively networking, you will reap the benefits both now and in the future. So always be prepared to network!


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 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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Dealing With Workplace Gossip


Our office struggles with workplace gossip. It tends to breed negativity between our employees and hurts our culture of teamwork. What tips do you have for dealing with employees who love to gossip and complain?


Communication is always a good thing, right? Typically, the answer to this is a resounding, “Yes!” However, when break times become a complaint-fest or when employees gather around the water cooler to swipe the latest rumor about a coworker, it becomes unhealthy. This type of behavior needs to be addressed quickly and directly before workplace culture and feelings of teamwork erode.

But what is the difference between “chit-chat” and “gossip” and when should you get involved? Chit-chat is common, it’s the normal, “what did you do over the weekend?” or the “how’s your family?” type of conversations that hopefully lead to a feeling of community and friendship among your employees. We want everyone to feel connected to each other, and to build lasting relationships amongst their peers. We know that this encourages retention and overall happiness in the workplace. However, when “chit-chat” shifts to being about other people’s problems, their poor work ethic, their home life drama, and “why did Susie get the promotion over them?” It very quickly enters the world of workplace gossip and drama.

Marcel Schwantes describes some behaviors employees and managers can take when dealing with workplace gossip, in his article, “9 Ways to Get Rid of Workplace Gossip Immediately.” First of all, leaders can address these issues by communicating expectations to the team that talking behind someone’s back and being negative about others is not acceptable. Managers should reiterate to their employees who they should communicate with if they have a problem, question, concern, or complaint. Typically, this means beginning by voicing that issue with their direct supervisor or their HR Manager. It also may begin with sensitivity or inclusiveness training with frontline employees, so they can understand how their actions and conversations affect one another and impact their productivity and cohesiveness.

Here are some practical strategies to deal with workplace gossip:

  • Communicate proactively with your team. If you are able to share information with them that will enable you to “fill in the gap” with real information instead of leaving them to speculate on their own, it can often head off workplace gossip. It will also encourage trust between you and your employees. However, there are often situations in which you can’t share information or details, and that’s ok. You need to communicate to them that you are working on a solution or looking into their concerns, but unfortunately, you are unable to share details with them at this time.
  • Address the behavior with the offenders. If you overhear gossip, talk to the employees about the negative impact of workplace gossip on each other. Ask them how they would feel if someone was talking about them in the same way. Or if it is more job-related, ask them why they are upset about the situation and what role they may play in it. Ask them what they can do to help the situation. Remind them even if they do not think they have anything nice to say about someone else or nothing in common with the other person, that they both work for the same organization. As Abraham Lincoln said, “I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.”
  • Be a good example. Do not participate in workplace gossip about others or overshare information about employees. It can be tempting to do this, but don’t give in! Managers are held to an even higher standard when it comes to this, and often disciplinary action can be taken against them. “Oversharing” can even lead to potential defamation of character claims, so be on your guard when sharing information about confidential employee issues, including health conditions, reasons for a termination, and other private things that may have been communicated to you in confidence.
  • Exude positivity in your communications. What’s the best way to combat negativity? Being positive. Focus on what is going well in the organization and on the team first, before potentially asking for areas to improve upon. Remember, using an upbeat tone of voice when addressing your employees and coming in every morning with a “go get ‘em” attitude yourself, will eventually rub off on everyone around you.

A final consideration: The NLRA protects an employee’s right to engage in “concerted activity”, which is “when two or more employees take action for their mutual aid or protection regarding terms and conditions of employment.” Be careful when addressing potentially negative “water cooler” gossip that you are not suppressing an employee’s rights under the NLRA. You cannot discipline a non-exempt employee for discussing their pay, working environment, and other conditions of their employment with each other. However, if you overhear something like this, there is nothing wrong with talking to the employee about their concerns directly and hopefully working together on a mutually beneficial solution for the long run.

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 has years of experience creating written communication for employees. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.

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Do We Need to Have a Social Media Policy? If So, What Should We Include?


Do we need to have a social media policy? If so, what should we include?


This is an important question that all companies need to consider. We cannot deny the prevalent use of social media these days. According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, seven in ten Americans (69% of the public) use some type of social media. Although young adults were early social media adopters, this study shows use by older adults has increased in recent years.

The dramatic uptick in social media use has caused many companies to leverage their own social media outlets to engage with customers and the general public. It is safe to say that the majority of your workforce is actively using social media as well.

Determining whether your company needs a social media policy or how you should structure the policy can depend on your company culture, work environment, company branding, and the nature of your business. It’s worth noting that the popularity and frequent use of social media is going to be around for the foreseeable future. All it takes is one misstep by your company or an employee to find yourselves in a public relations fiasco that could damage your brand or company reputation. Are you prepared?

 What is a Social Media Policy?

A social media policy is a set of guidelines that explain your company’s expectations of how the company and its employees should conduct themselves and represent the company online.

Because social media can blur the lines between personal life and work life, many companies have developed a related policy to protect their brand and company reputation online. It can also be used to clarify how their company’s code of ethics and business conduct also apply to content on social media.

What should you include in a Social Media Policy?

There are different ways to approach developing a social media policy, so you’ll want to consider your intended outcome. Here are some things to consider addressing in your policy:

  • Usage and Accounts: What are your expectations of use during work hours? Can employees use company equipment (computers, mobile phones, tablets), company email accounts, duplicate company passwords?
  • Company Representation: Who can officially speak on behalf of the company? How should employees handle situations when commenting on anything related to your organization? (This also presents an opportunity to guide interested employees on how to be effective brand ambassadors and to tout the great features of your company and products.)
  • Confidentiality/Privacy: Clarify what types of company information should not be shared (i.e., trade secrets, financial data, company product plans, client information, etc.)
  • Conduct Standards: Clarify how your company’s code of conduct, ethics standards, and harassment policies apply.
  • Consequences of Breaking Policy: What steps will be taken if employees don’t adhere to the guidelines of the policy?

Use caution before taking disciplinary action against an employee’s use of social media. As the National Labor Standards Board (NLSB) explains, “The National Labor Relations Act [NLRA] protects the rights of employees to act together to address conditions at work, with or without a union. This protection extends to certain work-related conversations conducted on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.” As the NLSB is charged with enforcing the NLRA, it will be helpful for you to be aware of how they have handled social media related cases.

Social Media Policy Resources

There are several resources available to help you in developing a social media policy, but these two may be a good place to start:

  • Hootsuite Blog Article – In addition to providing an overview of different components to consider including in your policy, this article also has links to social media policies from several different organizations ranging from large corporations, health care, government, journalism, and higher education institutions.
  • Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Sample Policy – Provides a sample policy that was ruled lawful by theNLRB in a May 2012 Operations Management Memo.


If you have any doubt whether your employees understand and will meet your expectations on how they should represent your company or the impact that their online behavior can have on your organization, then you should consider developing a social media policy. You should also have a communication plan to ensure that your employees understand the policy and have an opportunity to ask questions.  Keep in mind that social media outlets will continue to grow and evolve over time, so remember to revisit and revise your policy as the social media landscape changes.

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 can help. Visit our Communications page to learn more.

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Creating a Communication Plan for HR Programs

HR Question:

We launched a new employee engagement program at the beginning of the year, and while people were excited at first, I’m afraid people may begin to forget about the program as we get busy in our routines. How do I make sure that this program sticks beyond the first few months of 2019?

HR Answer:

As we become more settled in our routines past the holidays, school breaks and weather interruptions, any new or improved policies that were put into place at the beginning of the year may be beginning to lose their sheen. It can be difficult to continue to reiterate new programs or campaigns, but in order to ensure the success of an initiative, extended communication and emphasis is important. It will be important to create an ongoing communication plan that continues to engage and energize your team to continue to invest in the company’s growth.

Whether it’s changes in benefits, or an employee engagement program, it’s important to continue to involve your leaders and team members to create a successful communication plan. When you’re doing so, make sure your messages and the benefits of your employees’ involvement are tailored to their needs and wants.

But when you remind your team of these plans is where it can get a little tricky. As HubSpot detailed in their report “Delivering Effective Internal Communications: Delivering ROI through Employee Engagement”, there is no “one size fits all” option for timing. While “when it becomes relevant” may be too vague of an option. Your communication plan will need to consider:

  • When do you want to emphasize actions that are in-line with the company’s values?
  • When do you think questions will arise?
  • When will people need this information?

The more frequent these moments are, the more frequent you will need to remind them of the policy or initiative.

Who is going to be in charge of sharing this information, especially when things get busy or bogged down? Upper management and thought leaders may be the ones to first introduce the programs, but your managers and supervisors will most likely be the ones implementing the initiatives on a day-to-day basis. Make sure you’re earning their buy-in as well to create a comprehensive and successful communication plan, as they’re going to be the ones fielding questions, engaging employees, and reminding them of how this program will weave into their daily practices.

You next need to consider where or how you will share that information. Your communication plan for new or continuing programs, consider the various highways that information can travel on, and cater your style to those highways. In an article discussing new benefit roll-outs, cited several different avenues of communicating a new initiative:

  • Social Media – this wouldn’t be the place to detail each and every detail of a program, but the highlights or exciting aspects (if not confidential) would draw in individuals.
  • Printed materials – in this case, you have information that can be documented, recalled, and quickly disseminated. It can be redistributed during times of peak action (i.e. open enrollment) or posted for everyone to review. Should you have a multi-cultural workforce, it’s best to have several versions of those materials in the different languages necessary.
  • Web-Based Portal – whether it’s something like BambooHR, Paylocity, SharePoint, or simply Google Drive, having a web-based point of access for all employees can let them explore the information further.
  • In-person – having informational meetings is a great way to get the information out all at once, while answering questions that several individuals may have at the same time.

It can be tough to introduce new programs, let alone earn the buy-in of the entire company while you do so. It all starts with a well mapped out communication plan in order to create an effective and established program. Don’t be afraid to ask for questions, send out reminders, and have check ins to make sure that this program is working for you and your employees. And if you need some help, don’t hesitate to call us at (513) 697-9855!

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 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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Writing a Winning Employee Newsletter


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.


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 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.

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English-Only Policies in the Workplace


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?


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 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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What Types of Communication Methods Work Best With Employees?


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


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 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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Improving the Flow of Communication


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?


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 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


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?


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 can help. Visit our Communications page to learn more.


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What is the Value of Job Descriptions?

HR Question:

Do I really need job descriptions for my employees? Are they legally required? We have a small staff and everyone has to be willing to do everything. What is the value of having job descriptions?

HR Answer:

No, job descriptions are not legally required documents, however, they can help your employees (and their supervisors) to understand their responsibilities and how their roles contribute to the mission of your organization. They are also an important part of compliance and, when written well, can help to protect your organization should you face employment law disputes.

To achieve optimal performance, it’s important that your employees understand the scope of their responsibilities. Job descriptions help to define a job by determining and documenting the responsibilities of the position and the physical requirements of the job. This document is not a “how-to” or a procedure outline (which can change frequently), but rather it should capture what individuals are accountable for in their job.

Job descriptions add value because they:

  • Provide a clear picture of the job to applicants applying for the position
  • Help current employees to understand what they are accountable for
  • Serve as a helpful tool for supervisors to coach employees on how to improve performance
  • Help to determine appropriate salary levels for a position based on the expectations, education, and experience requirements for the role
  • Allow individuals to evaluate the physical requirements necessary for the position and what the work environment is like (i.e., Does it require heavy lifting? Is it a “desk job”? Does it involve frequent travel, evenings, or on-call availability, etc.)
  • Allow organizations to determine if an employee can perform the physical functions of a job or if an accommodation could be made for those applying for a job (or coming back from a medical leave or workers’ compensation leave, for example)

Getting Started: What to Include in a Job Description

If you’re beginning the process of creating job descriptions, it can be helpful to conduct a job analysis to understand the necessary tasks and responsibilities for the position and how the job is performed by employees at your organization.

Common components of a job description include:

  • Job Title
  • Reporting Structure: Role the position reports to and role(s) the position supervises, if applicable
  • FLSA Classification
  • Date of Job Description Creation / Revision
  • Job Summary: It is helpful to provide a brief, general overview of the position.
  • Essential Job Duties/Function: Describe the duties that must be performed in the job. Focus on the function of the job rather than the means used to achieve that function. It helps to identify the required outcomes of the job tasks rather than describing the tasks themselves.
  • Physical Demands/Requirements
  • Work Environment
  • Minimum and Preferred Requirements
  • Disclaimer: Explains the job description isn’t designed to list every responsibility and is subject to change.
  • Acknowledgement/Signatures of Incumbent and Supervisor

For additional components to consider, see this step-by-step guide provided by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). We also recommend that you consult your legal counsel for guidance to ensure your job descriptions are appropriate for your organization and legally compliant.

Out of Date Job Descriptions Pose a Risk

It is important for your job descriptions to be kept up to date, otherwise they can potentially cause more harm than good when it comes to providing legal compliance support. However, when written well, the positive aspects of a job description outweigh the negatives and can provide you with documentation on the job requirements and support actions that you may have taken. Therefore, whenever your organization goes through significant changes or the nature of your work or specific jobs shift, be sure to revisit and revise your job descriptions accordingly.

An Easy Way to Keep Job Descriptions Updated

If finding the time to revise your team’s job descriptions feels like a daunting task in and of itself, consider addressing them one at a time. An easy way to work updates into your routine is to have supervisors take a few minutes during the performance review process to work with each employee to make any necessary updates their job descriptions. Approaching the updates one at a time during your reviews can help to make the process more manageable.

Job descriptions are too important to fall to the bottom of the “wish list.” When done correctly, they serve a multitude of functions. However, we understand busy workloads often relegate job descriptions to a “when time permits” activity. If you are putting off creating or revising your job descriptions due to a lack of time or staff, contact us. Dare we say it’s “in our job description” to help!

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Social Media for Internal Communications


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?


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 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


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?


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

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Starting An Employee Newsletter


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


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 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


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


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 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


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


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 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


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


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 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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Should I be worrying about employee retention?


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



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 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:


  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 ( If you have any questions or wish to share your comments with Linda, you can contact her at

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Summary of Benefits Coverage


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?


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 Or, you can contact her with questions at or  937.436.4565 at extension 28.

Are you hesitant when it comes to navigating federally mandated rules and regulations? Strategic HR 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


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


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  Or, you can contact her with questions at or  937.436.4565, ext 28.

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Employee Newsletter – Planning


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


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 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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Creating a Communication Plan

HR 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?

HR 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 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.