Employee Relations Questions of the Week

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How Can We Maintain New Hire Engagement When Onboarding Remotely?

HR Question:

We recently hired a new team member, and we’re worried about onboarding them when we are all working remotely due to COVID-19. How can we maintain new hire engagement when doing onboarding remotely?

HR Answer:

For some companies, remote onboarding is nothing new. They may have team members across the US, or even internationally, and are familiar with the process of bringing someone on board without ever physically meeting the person. For these companies, they are able to maintain new hire engagement when onboarding remotely because remote work is already built into their culture. But, for the majority of others, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted unprecedented pivots to their day-to-day operations, including adjusting their onboarding plans to a new remote structure.

Many companies prefer in-person onboarding for the opportunity to build casual rapport with their new employees, and to introduce them to the in-office environment. Employees enjoy the opportunity to take new team members out to lunch, introduce them to the rest of the team, and help them acclimate to a new environment. The in-person onboarding creates a sense of immersion, allows the employee to live and breathe within their new environment, and requires the new hire to remain engaged in their day. So how do companies ensure these new employees feel engaged from the moment they sign their letter of employment – even from behind their own computer screen at home?

Engage from the get-go

When you’re onboarding a new employee, it’s more than just paperwork. In the SHRM article  “Virtual Onboarding of Remote Workers More Important Than Ever,” Lianne Vineberg, Founder and Director of Talent & Recruitment at Talent in the 6ix, states that “the No. 1 thing to remember [when onboarding a new employee] is that you’re building a foundation for the new hire to have new relationships in the workplace and helping them to have a voice, which is even more important when they are remote.” Furthermore, employers should strive to make virtual onboarding seamless, dynamic, and informative.

Without the opportunity to physically immerse the new hire into the company culture and environment, it becomes imperative that strong relationships and lines of communication are established early, making them feel comfortable and welcomed.

Consider adding helpful touchpoints to encourage engagement. Once the employment letter is signed, kick off the celebration by sending the new employee a welcome email.  Best practice is for the direct supervisor to send this email, introducing themselves and establishing a relationship. Consider sending the typical welcome packet they would get on day one to their home, giving them an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the company even further.  Encourage the new employee to set up their home office, including tips and tricks from their new team. Ensure all necessary technology is available to help the new employee start their first day at 100%. This could include sending them a laptop or other necessary hardware for work from home.  Send a welcome gift to the new employee’s home – maybe a plant, company swag, or office decorations. It’s the thought that counts.

Embrace the familiar

When onboarding a new employee remotely, there are some steps that won’t change, no matter where someone is working. Many companies have an hour set aside for the new employee to work with HR on benefits, handbook review, and typical onboarding tasks. HR will need to review technology, remote or on-site requirements, make sure that they have the tools that they may need, etc. While these rote tasks don’t accomplish establishing that “welcome to the team” feeling, they present an opportunity for more creative connections – such as chatting with HR as the paperwork is filled out and allowing time to get to know their HR contact.

Start off strong

In their first full week, establish weekly video check-ins around the same time to create a sense of routine and an open line of communication.  Assign a mentor and begin to create 30-, 60-, 90-day development plans. Schedule Zoom meetings with each member of the new employee’s department to allow time for those casual get-to-know-you conversations that would normally happen around the office. According to Miro’s “The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work,” you’ll want to formally introduce them to the team and provide a bit of background on them in advance. Make sure the team understands the new employee’s role. To increase engagement and bring some fun into the day, run some team games or activities virtually involving the new employee to break the ice.

Keep up the momentum

Continue checking in with the new team member to make sure there are no unanswered questions. In their second week, schedule Zoom meetings with other departments.  If the company is small enough, schedule video 1:1 with every employee.  Consider scheduling a virtual lunch with 2 or 3 employees, just to continue building new relationships. Keep these opportunities and events going throughout the first month. Once you reach the one-month anniversary of their first day, celebrate again! Make it a big deal to schedule time to talk through the first month of employment.  Consider this 30-day check-in with their direct supervisor and Human Resources to get two different perspectives.

Onboarding may look a little different right now and the practice may not be exactly the same, but it’s now more important than ever to bring new employees on board in a successful, welcoming, and lasting manner. It’s up to managers to ensure that their team, both new and tenured employees, is moving forward as smoothly as can be expected amid the pandemic. The key is having a clear plan and frequent two-way communication.

Would you like to find out how engaged your employees are? strategic HR inc. can help. We will create a custom survey to mirror your work environment and goals for the business, administer the survey as a neutral third party, and summarize the findings with recommendations for improvement. To learn more about our employee surveyscontact us now.

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How to Handle Political Talk During the Work Day

HR Question:

Since it’s an election year (not to mention one during an unprecedented pandemic), the conversations between my employees are becoming increasingly political. How do I handle this political talk either in the office or with remote workers during office hours?

HR Answer:

It’s natural that conversations amongst team members can quickly turn political – with it being a presidential election year, paired with heightened communication from our local & state leaders due to the pandemic, political topics are at the forefront of many people’s minds! Whether your employees are in your physical office space or communicating during office hours while working remotely, it is likely that politics and the election will become a topic of conversation as employees interact. As these conversations can include polarizing opinions, it is smart for employers to have a strategy for handling political talk at work.

Political discussions in the workplace can have both a positive and negative impact. Political expression in the workplace can contribute to a culture that values diversity of thought and the overall well-being of employees. Friendly political talk can be a team-building skill and a morale-booster, especially when it’s done with compassion and a commitment to respecting differing viewpoints. However, if the political chatter doesn’t come from a place of mutual respect and an interest to learn from different viewpoints, or if it seems to be the only topic of conversation, it can create a negative and unwelcoming atmosphere. If left unaddressed, this could lead to lingering resentment that can affect work relationships and effectiveness. Or worse, some political discussion may lead to hostile comments surrounding gender, race or religious statements that could lead to harassment and discrimination claims.

Should I ban political discussions at work?

It’s probably not realistic to mandate that politics not be discussed at work. Particularly given all that’s going on in our country and the world, it can be hard to avoid the topic – even in a general sense. For example, it’s natural that team members may want to discuss local, state, or federal regulations surrounding social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Imagine having to stifle that conversation every time it arose.

Additionally, banning political discussions may be considered discriminatory to some. According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an employer may not interfere with political speech where there is a “direct nexus between employment-related concerns and the specific issues that are the subject of the advocacy.” The National Council of Nonprofits warns that not-for-profit organizations should be careful to maintain a non-partisan stance when dealing with the election or risk revocation of their tax-exemption status. However, this Business Journals article points out that “private sector employers generally retain the right to maintain a productive and non-hostile working environment.” With all of this in mind, employers can set expectations for behavior that will help to maintain a positive and respectful work environment.

Rather than trying to police every conversation, it may be more beneficial to set expectations for how to have respectful conversations – no matter what the subject. This SHRM article provides great suggestions on how to share political opinions without damaging work relationships. For example, it can be helpful to approach the conversation with an interest in learning from someone’s point of view rather than trying to change their opinion. Recognizing that everyone may not have the skills to do this effectively, consider providing training on how to discuss sensitive subjects and how to approach disagreement in civil and respectful ways.

We recommend that employers provide clear guidelines for how to discuss politics in the workplace and make the policy clear and easily accessible to the employees. This is a prime area to address in your employee handbook.

Ultimately, employers should stress the point that work comes first always. Everyone is still expected to meet their business objectives and to work together in an environment where employees can express themselves in a professional and respectful manner.

Having an employee handbook with policies and procedures that are easy to read and understand can help alleviate a lot of problems in the workplace. Not only do they set the stage for what is deemed inappropriate, but they can also provide guidelines for what is considered acceptable and expected behavior in your organization. strategic HR inc. can create, review, or augment your employee handbook. For more information, you can Request a Handbook Quote or visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help.

 

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How Can I Maintain My Team’s Productivity During COVID-19?

HR Question:

I manage a team who are all now working remotely and struggling to maintain productivity during COVID-19. Our workloads have obviously shifted, and many of my team members have reported feeling like they’re struggling to move forward with their tasks. How can I keep everyone motivated long enough to cross the finish line of returning back to work as we knew it?

HR Answer:

No one really knows when we will return to business “somewhat-as-usual,” and between the constant updates and changes, it can be difficult to maintain a team’s productivity during COVID-19. While we’re all struggling to remain focused during these uncertain times, we’ll share a few ways to motivate, encourage, and even increase productivity while your team is working from home.

Invest in Your Employees

First and foremost, your responsibility as a manager is to ensure that you are staying connected with your employees on a regular basis. To say that your employees, along with yourself, have been shocked by COVID-19 is an understatement. Many team members are concerned about their health and the health of their families, financial uncertainty, and fears of job loss. It can easily pull anyone off the road of productivity and into a world of worry. Now is the time to talk to team members about questions, concerns, and assumptions. Make sure that you’re checking in on them and that they understand that their manager is here to listen, should they need it.

In addition to the importance of you staying connected with your employees, it is also critical that they stay connected with one another. Particularly for teams who were used to working together and seeing one another on a regular basis, they’re accustomed to having quick and easy ways to collaborate with one another. Now that teams are working remotely, it may require a bit of extra effort to make sure that they stay connected and can still have the same efficiencies that they had when working in the same environment. So, encourage your team to use all of the resources they have at their disposal to host virtual meetings and to stay connected with one another.

If you’re struggling to find enough tasks for your team to do (or even struggling with new tasks that your team has not tackled before), a potential solution is to augment their skills through a plethora of learning, training and mentoring opportunities. Provide options for employees to learn a new skill, attend virtual meetings, or complete online training.

To keep your team moving forward on already-established tasks, set short-term goals with each employee and the team as a whole to help maintain productivity during COVID-19. Also, celebrate when milestones are reached – any milestone. Not only does this help move your team and the company forward as a whole, it creates a sense of achievement that is necessary to motivate team members, particularly in a time when frustration or uncertainty can be overwhelming. Thank employees for staying focused in the midst of the toughest of times.

Internal Reflection

Consider using this time to look internally to find projects that you and your team haven’t had the time for, or services that you have been meaning to enhance further. Ask “what have we needed to change?” In an article for Inc. Magazine, Mark Cuban encouraged small business owners and leaders to use this time to check off the “things they wish they could re-do. Now is the time to make those changes.” Ask employees to use this time to work on process improvements within the business to make the business even better when the pace begins to pick up.

Or, should that list of “to-do’s” be shorter than you would like, perhaps it is time to infuse a little creativity! There is the possibility of customers slowly trickling in when your doors re-open. Get your team engaged by brainstorming ways to offer products or services virtually. Do they see any ways that you could diversify your offerings? Get them involved thinking of ways to address customers’ needs during and after this altered business environment. This is a fantastic way to increase further investment in your employees, as it allows them the opportunity to speak their minds, test their creativity, while indicating that their ideas are valuable.

Crossing the Finish Line

We can all agree the “normal” we knew just a month ago will look very different than the “normal” we will find on the horizon. Many of our team members will encounter new anxieties as we begin to introduce the possibility of returning to working in-person. To help them maintain productivity during COVID-19 and beyond, consider what information your team needs to know to reduce anxiety and improve focus.

Make sure that you have clearly communicated your company’s plans. Answer questions like “what measures are the company taking to make sure we’re safe,” “how will we make sure everyone is healthy,” and “what will the workplace look like when this is over?” By laying some fears and concerns to rest, it allows your team to turn their focus to what necessary actions they need to take to continue remaining productive.

In the end, keeping your employees engaged, invested, and in the loop can increase your team’s productivity while getting through the COVID-19 crisis.

During these uncertain times, be sure to check out our Employer’s Resource Guide to the Coronavirus to help you navigate your business through the challenges you are facing. Still have questions? Check out our HR Hotline service! Get a FREE 30-minute introductory consultation – supported by our Senior HR Experts.

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 inc. 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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Coronavirus Absenteeism Pay

Question:

We’re seeing more issues related to the Coronavirus and employee absenteeism. How do we handle pay for salary / exempt employees who are absent from work?

Answer:

There are three scenarios in which you might be concerned with how to handle pay for an exempt employee who is absent from work because of the Coronavirus.

  1. The business is closed due to excessive absenteeism?
    • Pay the employee if the business is closed for less than a week; if the business is closed for a week or more, and if the employee does not work from home that week, arguably the employer does not have to pay the employee.
    • The best and recommended course is to pay the employee.
  2. The employee is sick from the Coronavirus?
    • Typically if an employee is on FMLA leave, you don’t pay them. However, some companies have policies that provide for pay while employees are sick; in such cases, you must follow that policy and pay the employee.
    • For exempt employees, the rule is to pay them if they are sick. However, employers may make deductions for a full day’s absence due to illness if they have a bona fide plan, policy, or practice that provides compensation for loss of salary as a result of sickness or disability.
  3. The employee’s family member is sick and they have to stay home to provide care?
    • If an employee takes FMLA leave, they most likely would not be paid for the time off.
  4. The employee doesn’t want to come to work to avoid getting the coronavirus?
    • While employees cannot use FMLA in order to stay home and avoid getting ill, it is a good idea to encourage employees that are ill with the coronavirus or are exposed to ill family members to stay home.
    • Because of the severity of this illness and the far reaching effect it is having, businesses should consider creating flexible leave policies for their employees to cover these circumstances.

Under these unusual circumstances, a virus of pandemic proportion causing significant absenteeism, we recommend that you create a sick leave policy specific to the coronavirus. This enables you to “flex” your typical attendance policies to allow for the unusual amounts of absenteeism that you might not otherwise experience and allows you to spell out how absences will be handled.

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Delegation – But I Don’t Want to Give Up Control!

Question:

Help! We are having some major issues with our managers delegating. They are either not delegating at all, therefore stressed, or they are delegating the wrong things to the wrong people. What guidance can I offer them?

Answer:

Delegation can be a tricky thing.  When done right, it helps a manager to be more effective, allows employees to take on additional responsibility and expand their skill sets, and opens the door for additional opportunity for both.  Handled improperly, it can wreak havoc in too many ways to count!   A manager who is unable or unwilling to delegate may not be an effective manager, and they are denying themselves and their employees an opportunity.

Delegation is not without risks and challenges.  Often, we hear, “How do I decide what to delegate?”; “It takes too long to explain it”; “I’ll just do it myself”; or “If someone else does it, it won’t be the way I like it.”  All of these can be overcome with a little preparation.  “Not delegating is straining your brain,”  according to an article on SmallBizTrends.com. “CEOs who delegate have been shown to generate 33% more revenue than CEOs with low delegation skills.”

A key responsibility of managers is to develop their people.  Delegation is a win/win in that area.  The manager is showing a good employee that he/she is trusted with a little extra responsibility, as well as, providing a teaching opportunity for the employee.  Yes, there is a small investment of time on the manager’s part, but it can pay off in the long run.

When delegating, there are a number of factors to consider:

  • Which employee has the skill to complete, or at least the ability to understand, what needs to be done?
  • Who will be impacted by delegating the task?
  • What are the risks of delegating or not delegating?

When a manager is evaluating his/her workload, he/she should consider, “Is this the best use of my time?”  Tasks to delegate may be training a new employee, evaluating status of tasks or following a defined process.  Tasks that should not be delegated include employee coaching/discipline, tasks that have a financial impact or that may require advanced knowledge.

Lastly, some steps of successful delegation that are key include:

  • Define the task
  • Determine the training needs of the individual or team that you’ve selected
  • Explain the “Why” – why is this task important and how does it impact the company?
  • Establish the deliverable and the deadline – set expectations
  • Communicate and check in
  • Provide feedback

As a manager, you can’t do it all, and nor should you.  The ability to delegate is a key skill to have to be an effective manager.  The end result can be a highly functioning team and a more engaged workforce.  A win/win for all.

 

Does your management team have the ability to delegate effectively?  Have they ever been trained on how?  strategic HR can help.  Contact us today to learning more about our training options

 

 

Returning from FMLA to a Different Role

Question:

Can an employee returning from FMLA leave be placed in a different role?

Answer:

Generally not. Upon return from FMLA leave, employees must be restored to the same job or one nearly identical to it with equivalent pay, benefits, and other employment terms and conditions. To be truly equivalent, the job must involve the same or substantially similar duties and responsibilities and require substantially equivalent skill, effort, responsibility, and authority. Equivalent jobs would also have the same premium pay options and overtime opportunities. So, unless you can guarantee that the different role is equivalent to the old one in all these ways, we wouldn’t recommend placing the employee in a different role.

There is, however, a notable exception. Employees on FMLA are not protected from employment actions that would have affected them had they been actively employed with the company at the time. For example, if a substantial decrease in sales required a company to eliminate a set of roles and lay off or transfer those employees, the person on FMLA has no greater right to keep their job than anyone else. In situations like these, where a position has been eliminated while an employee is on a protected leave (of any kind), you should be sure to document your legitimate business reasons for the decision.

Thank you to the HR Pros on our HR Support Center for this question of the week.

 

Having easy to read and understand policies and procedures can help alleviate a lot of problems in the workplace. Not only do they set the stage for what is deemed inappropriate, they can also provide guidelines for what is considered acceptable, and even expected, behavior. strategic HR inc. receives numerous requests to review and rewrite employee handbooks on a regular basis, especially with  federal guideline changes. If you haven’t updated your handbook in the last few years, now may be a good time. For more information on how we can help you with Employee Relations and employee handbooks, please visit our Employee Relations page.

 

Why Is Workplace Monitoring Necessary?

Question: 

I just noticed that there are a number of cameras monitoring me in my workplace.  I’m not sure why I never noticed it before but as I look around, there appears to be a number of “eyes in the sky”.  Is this legal?  It really makes me feel uncomfortable and I can’t believe they stoop so low to make sure I am working.

Answer: 

The types of monitoring that employers are doing these days are numerous.  Video cameras, GPS in cars, worksite/computer monitoring, telephone monitoring, video and audio recording, and wireless communications are just a few of the types of monitoring conducted in the workplace today. As technology expands, monitoring also expands well beyond what we traditionally think of regarding surveillance.  You mention the “eyes in the sky” but have you ever considered that many employers are also reviewing social media accounts, medical / health insurance usage, and biometric screening – just to name a few.  Although the types of monitoring employers do continue to expand, it is definitely not something new.  ABC news estimates that 78% of employers do some type of monitoring in the workplace.

Regardless of the type of monitoring being done, it is important to note that most monitoring is not being done to “watch you” but rather to keep you (and their equipment, their reputation, their company) safe.  There are laws in place both on the federal and state level that limit what types of monitoring can be done.  Society for Human Resources Management provides an informational link to state laws regarding workplace (traditional surveillance) monitoring. Laws surrounding the other types of data monitoring continue to evolve.

Finally, it is important to note that most employers are very clear about monitoring in the workplace.  Review your employee handbook, union contract, staff meeting discussions/memos, or even equipment stickers (computers) for notification that monitoring is being conducted.  If the monitoring is making you feel uncomfortable, speak with your employer.  There is most likely a legitimate reason as to why the monitoring is being conducted, so just ask.  You may just learn that those devices are there to keep you safe and protect you, not for babysitting.

Having easy to read and understand policies and procedures can help alleviate a lot of problems in the workplace. Not only do they set the stage for what is deemed inappropriate, they can also provide guidelines for what is considered acceptable, and even expected, behavior. strategic HR inc. receives numerous requests to review and rewrite employee handbooks on a regular basis, especially with the number of recent federal guideline changes. If you haven’t updated your handbook in the last few years, now may be a good time. For more information on how we can help you with Employee Relations and employee handbooks, please visit our Employee Relations page.

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How to Address Employee Hygiene Issues in the Workplace

Question:

We’ve had some employees complain about a couple of co-workers who have hygiene issues, including body odor.  What is the best way to handle such a sensitive topic?

Answer:

This can definitely be an uncomfortable situation for both the employer and the employee, but it’s important to address it as hygiene issues can negatively impact co-workers, clients and customers.  Here are some important guidelines to follow when addressing this topic:

  • The company should set clear expectations, whether it’s a separate workplace hygiene and grooming policy or somehow incorporate it into your dress code policy.
  • Be aware of your employees’ rights.  For example, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar state laws, employers may be required to make reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious beliefs and practices and for individuals with disabilities unless an accommodation would pose an undue hardship on business operations.  Employers should consider consulting legal counsel when making the undue hardship determination.
  • Never assume you know the cause of the hygiene problem, as it can be caused by a variety of factors, including medical issues, cultural differences, mental health issues, personal problems and poor grooming habits.
  • Meet with the employee in private and keep the conversation brief and confidential. Use this as an opportunity to also reinforce the employee’s positive attributes (hard worker, team player, etc.).
  • Give the employee an opportunity to speak. If the employee indicates the cause of the hygiene issue is a disability or mentions that a religious belief or practice conflicts with your dress and grooming policy, work with the employee to determine an effective reasonable accommodation.
  • Set appropriate expectations and document actions taken. If corrective action is the employee’s responsibility, document the potential consequences of failing to rectify the issue, and set a timeline for resolution and follow-up.

These conversations are never easy, but ignoring issues like these can be detrimental to overall morale if not addressed.

One of the stickiest aspects to human resources management is Employee Relations. Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-employer related issues? strategic HR inc. has years of experience in employment relations. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

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Handling Bullying Complaints in the Workplace

Question:

We have received several complaints from employees and upon investigating they seem to be more bullying than harassment. There doesn’t seem to be any reference to protected status.  How do I handle bullying complaints?

Answer:

Even though bullying may not be legally actionable, it’s no less detrimental to the work environment and morale. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines bullying as “repeated harmful abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage or verbal abuse.” In WBI’s 2017 US Workplace Bullying Survey, 60.3 million US workers have been affected by bullying.

Additionally, the survey results also found:

  • 70% or workplace bullies are men; women are the targets of bullying 65% of the time (coming from both men and other women at an equal rate)
  • 61% of bullying comes from bosses; while 33% comes from coworkers
  • 25% of companies do nothing to resolve bullying
  • 40% of people said that bullying has an adverse impact on their performance at work
  • 22% of employees surveyed said they have had to take time off as a result of being bullied
  • 36% of people leave their job as a result of bullying

(Workplace Bullying Institute, 2017 US Workplace Bullying Survey)

With numbers like these, employers are being remiss if they are not treating bullying as a serious matter. Besides the impact on the employee who is bullied, there are also impacts on those who witness the bullying and others in the work environment. The negativity that often results can create fear, increased stress, low morale and a drop in productivity. Current best practices recommend investigating all complaints, whether bullying or harassment, and addressing bullying in Workplace Harassment training. Bullying should be treated as a performance issue, with potential disciplinary action based upon the serious of nature of the findings. Avoiding workplace harassment and bullying issues, and proactively addressing those that do come up is a significant step towards creating a positive environment, increased engagement, and high employee morale.

Avoiding workplace harassment and bullying is critical to building a culture of engagement and inclusion.

Do difficult situations with employees keep you awake at night? strategic HR inc. understands how conflicts with employees can make or break your day (or a good night’s sleep). Call us when you encounter a difficult situation – we can help coach your managers, suggest solutions or advise you on a specific problem. Learn more about our Employee Relations services by visiting our Employee Relations page.

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Setting Guidelines for Celebrating Halloween in the Workplace

Question:

With Halloween right around the corner, we’d like to allow our employees to wear costumes to celebrate Halloween in the workplace but we are worried it could get out of hand. Do we need to have some kind of guidelines?

Answer:

As you may have seen, some schools have migrated away from celebrating Halloween to having a Fall Harvest celebration.  For some, Halloween represents the celebration of Satan. To others, Halloween is just a fun holiday where we dress up and “trick or treat”.  The real meaning behind Halloween was to wear costumes to ward off ghosts and over time became All Hallows Eve or the day before All Saints Day in honor of the saints.

All that said, the festivities of Halloween can be a fun team and morale boosting event in your office – dressing up, decorating your work station, or sharing treats.  While it still may only be one day, ensuring you set some guidelines for your employees to know what is okay to wear in the workplace on Halloween can help minimize problems.

Awareness: Not everyone may be comfortable in participating in the festivities and some may even find the holiday offensive.  You won’t want to make participation mandatory as it could actually create morale issues. Keep it fun and voluntary.

Culture: The culture of your organization will also impact how you handle the festivities.  How will your customers (i.e. corporate, kids, techie) respond to costumes when they interact with you for the day?

Families: Is this a holiday that would allow you to include your employees’ family? Perhaps it is a chance for the kids to come to work and trick or treat the different workstations or departments. Or maybe you have an evening bonfire with hayrides through a pumpkin patch.

Harassment: Be sure your guidelines to dress up for Halloween at the office include reminding employees of the company harassment policy.  All costumes need to be G rated to minimize hostile or harassment perceptions. Consider sharing with employees what they shouldn’t do (See 5 Rules for Celebrating Halloween at Work). As mentioned in a SHRM article, “according to a national labor and employment law attorney, who says employers could be held liable for problems resulting from Halloween garb that is sexually provocative, carries a political or social message or is just plain inappropriate for workers interacting with colleagues and clients.” Just because it is a holiday does not excuse employees from doing anything in violation of the company harassment policy.

A few tips for celebrating Halloween in the workplace according to this SHRM article include:

  • Communicating costume guidelines in advance including what not to wear
  • Don’t overact, but be sensitive
  • Be sensitive to subtleties
  • Reflect on last Halloween and feedback the company received from employees and customers
  • Consider alternative ways to celebrate
  • Be prepared to discipline if necessary

If you’d like to drive some fun into the work environment, there are many no-cost/low cost ideas to celebrating Halloween in the workplace:

  1. Office Space Decorating – Employees can bring in their unused decorations from home to keep the cost down. Make it a team event by having everyone help decorate the office and then decorating their individual workspace.
  2. Costume Theme – Create a costume theme for everyone to follow may help minimize the inappropriateness (i.e. Disney). Consider having employees donate $5 to wear a costume and donate the money to a local charity.
  3. Potluck lunch – Create a “boo-ffet” for the lunch. Make a sign-up sheet for employees to sign up for the main course, side dish, dessert, cups and napkins.
  4. Pumpkin Carving Contest – This can be a fun competition between departments and teams. Have a fun prize for the winner like a gift card to their favorite lunch place
  5. Collect Halloween candy and donate by sending care packages to the troops.

Did you know that allowing your employees to wear costumes for Halloween may even increase your employee engagement? According to an OC Tanner survey:

  • 73% of those who can dress up at work are highly motivated to contribute to the success of the organization they work for, compared to 58% of those who can’t come to work in costume.
  • 68% of those who can dress up are proud to tell others they work for their organization, compared to 58% of those who can’t.
  • 65% of those who can dress up would recommend their organization to a friend as a good place to work versus 49% of those who can’t.
  • 73% of those who can dress up fully support the values for which their organization stands, versus 58% of those who can’t.

Halloween can be a great excuse to have some fun with co-workers. You just need set some boundaries and be clear on what is crossing the line in celebrating Halloween in the workplace.

At strategic HR inc., we offer a variety of team building and team development programs targeted to help get teams back on track for success. Each program is customized to meet the team’s dynamics and needs. For more information on our Team Effectiveness Programs, click here.

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How Do I Pay Employees After a Natural Disaster?

Question:

What is the standard for paying an employee after a natural disaster (i.e. inclement weather)?

Answer:

When the company closes due to a natural disaster (inclement weather), non-exempt employees (those who are entitled to overtime) need to be paid only for actual hours worked. For non-exempt employees, the company may:

1. Pay the employee for the time, even though they did not work;
2. Require they take the day off unpaid;
3. Require they use any available vacation time or PTO; or
4. Allow employees to choose between taking an unpaid day or using vacation or PTO.

All four options have their merits. We generally recommend option 4, allowing employees the choice of using vacation time or PTO.

When the company closes due to a natural disaster (inclement weather), exempt employees (those ineligible for overtime and generally paid on a salary basis) must be paid their regular salary.

This holds true whether the office closure is for full or partial days. You may, however, require exempt employees to use accrued vacation or PTO during a closure if you have a policy that indicates you will do so or if doing so has been your practice in the past. If your office has closed due to a natural disaster (inclement weather) in the past and you have not required exempt employees to use vacation or PTO, it would be risky to take up that practice now.

When it comes to accrued vacation or PTO, it is safest to give employees advanced notice if there are situations where you will use their accrued hours whether they like it or not. If this is the first time the office has been closed due to weather and you have no policy in place, now is the time to decide how you want to handle these kinds of situations in the future.

For exempt employees who do not have sufficient vacation or PTO to cover the closure, you are still required to provide them with their full regular salary. For example, if your business is closed for two or three days, but an exempt salaried employee worked at another time during the workweek, the full salary must be paid. The only scenario where you will not be required to pay an exempt employee their full salary is if the office is closed for an entire workweek (or if the employee is unable to come in for an entire workweek) and they do no work at all from home.

THANK YOU to the HR Support Center for providing the content for this Question of the Week. The Virtual HR Support Center is a do-it-yourself, always ready, at your fingertips resource for everything Human Resources. This cloud-based product provides 24/7 access to exclusive, industry-leading HR tools and resources. From employee handbooks, job descriptions and other commonly used HR documents, to up-to-the-minute law alerts, state and federal law libraries, and unique training videos, the Virtual HR Support Center will help you effectively manage your HR compliance and employee relations needs. Contact Us to learn how the Virtual HR Support Center can put all the DIY HR tools you need at your fingertips.

 

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When Is a Company Required to Investigate a Harassment Allegation?

Question:

We’ve become aware of an allegation that an employee has been harassed at work, but the employee doesn’t want to file a complaint. Do we need the employee’s consent to investigate a harassment allegation?

Answer:

No. If you or any of your managers become aware that harassment, discrimination, workplace violence, or any other illegal activity has or may have occurred, you are legally required to investigate and take steps to stop the behavior. Knowing about this kind of behavior (and taking insufficient action) can make you liable, so you should investigate a harassment allegation and stop any questionable behavior even if the victim doesn’t want to cooperate.

That said, if the employee merely has a general gripe or complaint that seems to indicate a simple personality conflict, then you may defer to the employee’s wishes on whether to act. Minor conflicts between employees may cause discontent in the workplace, but they don’t obligate you as the employer to investigate and resolve the issue.

THANK YOU to Jenny from our HR Support Center for providing the content for this edition of our Question of the Week.

 

For help with your Employee Relations issues, strategic HR inc.’s Virtual HR Support Center has a wealth of knowledge and advice. The Virtual HR Support Center is a do-it-yourself, always ready, at your fingertips resource for everything Human Resources. This cloud-based product provides 24/7 access to exclusive, industry-leading HR tools and resources. From employee handbooks, job descriptions and other commonly used HR documents, to up-to-the-minute law alerts, state and federal law libraries, and unique training videos, the Virtual HR Support Center will help you effectively manage your HR compliance and employee relations needs. Visit our Virtual HR Support Center to learn how we put all the DIY HR tools you need at your fingertips.

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Benefits of Using Employee Engagement Surveys

Question:

What is an employee engagement survey and why would our company need one?

Answer:

Employee engagement surveys are a great tool to have to help businesses get their employees involved and actively engaged in operations. Basically, it’s a survey that gives employees the opportunity to share their opinions on the business-related issues of their company to help improve business functionality. Surveys are often administered anonymously and cover topics such as operations, benefits, culture and satisfaction to name a few of the more common ones.

  1. The first step in conducting an employee survey is be sure the company is committed to taking action based on the input of the employees and to define what that action will be. Action may include telling employees their recommendations cannot be implemented because of certain factors (i.e. cost, time, resources). Responses will need to be sincere and honest and might include ways for employees to overcome any obstacles presented.
  2. The next step is to plan and construct the survey. There are many online tools and resources to help you create and administer an employee survey. Decide if you will want to have recipients answer questions anonymously. You’ll likely get a larger number of responses and higher quality input by allowing respondents to provide anonymous responses. Using a third party administrator or a highly trusted staff member can be critical to “selling” the anonymity of the survey. If promising secrecy, but sure the survey is conducted with the utmost of confidentiality and explain that in detail to participants.
  3. Finally determine a plan of action for your line of questioning. What are some trouble-spots in your company that you would like to explore and learn more about? Are you having high turnover? An increase in safety problems? Is productivity down or customer complaints up? Or are you trying to get a read on the pulse of your company and it’s culture? Pick the areas you can tackle and target questions that will help you get the information you need to move forward. Don’t tackle too much in one survey or you will lose employee interest and patience. Your questions can be canned or customized to your situation, long or short, choice-based or open-ended. If this is your first survey, we find even the basic questions can be helpful
    • What do you like most about our organization?
    • Why do you come to work every day here rather than for another company?
    • What would you like to see improved at our organization?
    • Would you recommend our organization to a friend as a good place to work? Why or why not?

Once the survey document is complete it’s time to administer the questionnaire. Some great online solutions include SurveyMethods and SurveyMonkey. Both offer various service levels of membership from free to paid access depending on the features you need for your survey. Both allow you to trial these tools to determine what level you need and to see the reporting features provided.

The survey results should help you make improvements and focus on strengths in your organization. You’ll find the feedback from employees will help with developing communications, recruiting techniques, benefits, and more. Employees who operate in the day-to-day of the business tend to have practical suggestions that may not be “huge” or “costly” to implement but can make a big impact. Overall outcomes can include increased safety, productivity, quality, profitability, lower turnover, and higher levels of customer satisfaction. Not to mention that by simply asking employees for their opinions it can heighten their engagement and give them a sense of satisfaction and worth. You’ll see even more value as you repeat the employee survey year after year to assess the improvements.

 

Has your organization become stagnant? Are you experiencing unusual turnover or employee discontent? Often the simple answer is to simply ASK your employees “what’s going on?” strategic HR inc. has worked with many organizations, of all sizes and in various industries, to help diagnosis engagement problems and determine the appropriate course of action. Whether it’s an employee survey, focus group, or face-to-face interviews, strategic HR inc. is your neutral third party solution for finding answers to your questions. Contact us today to find out how we can help you with your particular situation.

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How to Reduce Liability When Serving Alcohol at Holiday Parties

Question:

Is serving alcohol at holiday parties a liability? If so, what can we do to protect ourselves?

Answer:

Yes, alcohol at holiday parties can be a liability. Party-goers who overindulge could cause an accident at or after the party, or they might act in ways that violate your harassment policy.

There are steps you can take to protect both yourself and your employees. Here are some practices you might consider:

Ahead of Time

  • Employers may be liable for employee misconduct and negligence when the employee is acting “in the course and scope of employment,” so make these kinds of events optional and clearly communicate that attendance is neither expected nor required.
  • Don’t plan to have any work-related activities at the event. To further support the non-work nature of the event, hold it off-site and outside of regular business hours, and allow employees to bring a guest.
  • Set expectations around respectful behavior and encourage employees to drink responsibly. Remind employees that company policies, including harassment and other conduct policies, apply at the event.
  • Have a plan to ensure that no minors or visibly intoxicated attendees are served alcohol. If possible, hire professional servers (or hold the event at a staffed facility) who will, as part of their job, politely refuse to serve anyone who they perceive has had enough to drink.

At the Event

  • Provide ample food and non-alcoholic beverages, both for safety reasons and so non-drinkers know you’ve given them consideration.
  • Offer a cash bar where employees purchase the alcohol. This will reduce the likelihood of a claim that the employer provided alcohol directly to employees. It will also reduce consumption.
  • Provide employees with a set number of drink tickets so that each attendee is limited in the number of alcoholic drinks they will be served.
  • Plan for how employees who have been drinking will get home. This may involve providing taxis or public transit options at no cost to the employees, arranging for group transportation, or encouraging employees to designate a driver at the beginning of the event.
  • Even if you don’t plan to provide taxi service, don’t think twice about calling and paying for one if an intoxicated employee has no way home other than driving themselves. To facilitate this, someone from management can be designated to stay until the end and maintain their own sobriety to ensure that everyone gets home safe.
  • The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers additional tips for companies regarding alcohol at holiday parties.

While these steps will not eliminate all the risks, they can help reduce liability and help your employees celebrate the year and their achievements safely and responsibly.

(A special thank you to the HR Pros of the strategic HR inc HR Support Center for sharing this question of the week!)

Employee recognition is just one aspect of Employee Relations, but is vital to maintaining an engaged and productive workforce that is content to continue employment with the company for many years. We love creating no cost/low cost ideas for improving productivity and impacting employee engagement and retention. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can assist you with ideas for improving your productivity and handling other Employee Relations issues.

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Attendance Point System Policy

Question:

We have an attendance point system policy for our nonexempt employees that gives points for each occurrence of absence.  It feels like people have learned to “play” the system, either by missing multiple days in a row (which count as one occurrence) or always missing Mondays or Fridays.  Do you have a suggestion on how to modify our policy so employees can’t take advantage of the system?

Answer:

Sounds like your attendance point system policy is in need of a few updates.  Below are some suggestions that could be implemented to keep your attendance point system policy from being abused.

Evaluate Your PolicyWe all want regular attendance from all employees because it has a direct impact on the productivity and success of a business.  Sometimes what we create initially doesn’t always play out when implemented.  Start by re-evaluating your policy and asking:

  1. What is the purpose of the policy, and
  2. What is the end result that it should accomplish? 
  3. How specific is your policy?
  4. Does it cover the most common infractions (i.e. tardiness, early leave, excused absences, unexcused absences, no call/no show)?

In some cases a vague policy can give you flexibility, but it also can leave you in a lurch if someone takes advantage of it.  Making a specific policy will help you manage expectations in the long-run.  But, don’t get so specific you don’t have any wiggle room for the unexpected exception or even reprimand.

Require a Doctor’s Note: If an employee misses multiple days, require them to bring in a doctor’s excuse if they want the days to count as only one occurrence.  If they do not provide a doctor’s slip (for themselves or a family member), the absence counts as an occurrence for each day missed.  One caveat for these types of circumstances…don’t forget about FMLA (if applicable).

Add Specific Disciplinary Language: Review the verbiage of your policy and add or modify the verbiage to include some leniency for disciplinary action for attendance issues outside of the point system.  Language such as: When an employee exhibits a pattern of absences (consistently missing a specific day of the week or the day before or after holidays or scheduled vacations) the performance is unacceptable.  The Company can, at its sole discretion, address these absences outside of the point policy as performance discipline.  Adding language similar to this may be able to help those individuals taking advantage of the program.

The Bottom Line: An attendance policy should be strict enough to allow the employer to discipline those employees whose absences cause problems, yet flexible enough that the employer does not have to terminate good employees who are absent infrequently.

 

Having easy to read and understand policies and procedures can help alleviate a lot of problems in the workplace. Not only do they set the stage for what is deemed inappropriate, they can also provide guidelines for what is considered acceptable, and even expected, behavior. Strategic HR, inc. receives numerous requests to review and rewrite employee handbooks on a regular basis, especially with the number of recent federal guideline changes. If you haven’t updated your handbook in the last few years, now may be a good time. For more information on how we can help you with your employee handbook, please visit our Employee Relations page.

 

 

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What are the Essentials of a Good Employee Relations Campaign?

Question:

We all hear that good employee relations is essential but what does that really mean? How do I know that our company is doing a good job?

Answer:

Well, the biggest focus employers should have with employee relations is to make sure you have actually thought through an employee relations strategy and “have a plan”. No, it doesn’t have to be incredibly formal but it should be at least thought through with intentional actions and not just “winging it”.  

B2C’s article Why Strong Employee/Employer Relationship is Important and How to Achieve This?  notes that having a good employee relations campaign reaps a lot of benefits for your business. The three most advantageous are Productivity, Employee Loyalty, and Conflict Reduction.

A good employee relations strategy focuses on:

  • Creating a positive culture, and
  • Everything you have to do to make that happen.

A good strategy isn’t:

  • JUST about communication.  
  • JUST about being the most flexible.  
  • JUST about paying the most.  

Rather, it is a collection of actions contributing to a culture that it is ideal. Companies with a good employee relations philosophy, focus less on managing complaints and more on determining the root cause of issues. Work backwards from the problem and try to find where issues are stemming from and work with employees to solve that problem.  

As a lead in HR you should be keeping some type of track of complaints from employees to allow you to look for trends such as:

  • What do you keep seeing surface?
  • Is it attendance related?
  • Is it pointing toward one department?  
  • Is it a communication issue surrounding a policy?  

Look beyond the complaint and looks towards trends and issues that are causing the complaints. Using this root cause analysis and address those issues will result in less complaints needing investigated in the long run. Use your metrics and keep track of your success. You are bound to see a reduced number of complaints and a quicker time to resolve those complaints.

 

Having good employee relations is key to effectively managing (and retaining) your workforce. Employees want to feel valued and may not perform up to standards, or stick around very long, if they don’t feel they are needed. Strategic HR, inc. understands the value of your workforce and having good Employee Relations. We’ve helped companies create reward and recognition programs and have coached managers on providing support and mentoring to their employees. Learn how we can help you with your Employee Relations needs by visiting our Employee Relations page.

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Employee Engagement Ideas To Fit Any Budget

Question:

What are some fun and interesting ways to encourage employee engagement with my team that do not take tons of time or money?

Answer:

We spend so much of our time with our co-workers every week, and it is important to keep things exciting and to maintain open communication among the teams. Creating an engaging workforce isn’t just copying what other organizations do. We’d all love to be Disney or Southwest, but what they do fits their culture. Creating employee engagement with your employees will even vary from employee to employee.

A few ideas that don’t take a lot of time or money include:

  • Promoting a collaborative work environment where each employee on the team takes the time to compliment each other on their accomplishments.
  • “Shout Outs” in an employee newsletter to congratulate or thank another employee.
  • Recognizing an employee that embodied a company value each week.
  • Creating a kudos board in your break room.
  • Taking team photos at random and display them on a wall in the office.
  • Celebrating special milestones as they pass for each employee, showing them special recognition.
  • Ensuring all employees have all of the resources they need to do their job. Providing the proper tools means more time for them to do great work.  
  • Getting out of the office and be social from time to time. Whether it is going out for happy hour or playing a game of soccer on a sunny day, it can really improve morale and strengthen the team.
  • Doing volunteer work together. This is a great team building activity.
  • Doing a team art project that requires the team work together to create one large piece of art to display in the office, that embodies the values of your organization.
  • Allowing your employees time to work on personal projects and to collaborate during the day. This can lead to new innovations and establish a space for creativity and exchange.
  • Quantum Workplace also gives 10 Low-Cost Employee Engagement Ideas that will fit just about any organization or budget.

The list could go on and on. The key is getting to know your employees even by asking simple questions like “What do you like most about working here; or What could we do different to make this an even better place to work?”

The important thing is to make employee engagement an ongoing project, set goals and clear objectives, make it fun and engaging, and monitor your progress regularly to see what’s working.

 

Would you like to find out how engaged your employees are? strategic HR inc. can help. We will create a custom survey to mirror your work environment and goals for the business, administer the survey as a neutral third party, and summarize the findings with recommendations for improvement. To learn more about our employee surveys, contact us now.

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Mandatory Retirement: Is It Legal?

Question:

Our company has a mandatory retirement and requires our employees to retire at age 67.  We don’t discriminate….everyone is required to retire.  I just had someone “push back” when I started discussing their retirement saying I was being discriminatory.  I told them everyone is asked to leave at age 67, is that a problem?

Answer:

Well….it definitely could be.  Mandatory retirement is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act UNLESS there is a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ) or they are age 65 and are a “Bona Fide Executive” or in a “High Policymaking Position”.

BFOQ’s are hard to prove.  Employers are required to first show that the duties are necessary for the job, AND then show that the individual’s age prohibits them from doing that qualification safely and/or efficiently.  It is hard to provide and most roles that have been able to do this include roles in public safety or public transportation.  

The next two defensible reasons are a little easier to prove.  To summarize: A “Bona Fide Executive” (defined by the EEOC) is someone who:

  • Manages the company or organization or a subdivision of the company or organization,
  • Directs the work of at least two other employees,
  • Has the authority to hire or terminate other employees or has significant influence in such decision,
  • Has and uses discretionary authorities, and
  • Spends no more than 20 percent of his or her work time on activities unrelated to the activities required herein (40 percent for retail or service companies).

A “High Policymaker” (defined by the EEOC) is someone who is a top level employee (and not a Bona Fide Executive) but who plays a significant role in developing and implementing corporate policy.

If you can show that the individual fits one of those categories, you could consider mandatory retirement for the individual.  It is important, however, to challenge the “thought’ of mandatory retirement for employees, even if they are defensible.  Age is just that….an age.  There are 75 year olds ‘outperforming’ 35 year olds all of the time.  Age should not be a defining factor in most instances of retention.  Be sure you are doing the right thing, for the right reasons, when considering such a policy.

For definitions and specifics of these allowances, click here.

 

One of the stickiest aspects to human resources management is Employee Relations. Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-employer related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

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Is It Important to Use Consensual Relationship Agreements?

HR Question:

We just found out that two of our employees are in a romantic relationship and we don’t currently utilize consensual relationship agreements. Although they’re not in a supervisor/subordinate relationship, should we still be concerned? What should we do?

HR Answer:

Although romantic relationships in the workplace are quite common, you do have reasons for concern about employees dating.

Of course, the #1 fear for most employers is the risk of a sexual harassment lawsuit.  The difficulty for the employer is proving that a relationship is consensual.  The best approach is to first meet with both employees independently and determine whether there is any possibility that the agreement is not consensual. In particular, you should:

  • Make sure that the employee understands the company’s sexual harassment policy;
  • Emphasize to your employee that they will not be retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment;
  • Explain the procedure for reporting sexual harassment; and
  • Document the employee’s file with a summary of the interview.

Assuming that the relationship is indeed consensual, a great tool is to require the employees to enter a “Consensual Relationship Agreement.”   The agreement, signed by both employees and management, provides that the employees will not allow the relationship to interfere with or impact the work environment, and also confirms and documents that the relationship is consensual and voluntary.  It is highly encouraged that the employer attach a copy of the company’s sexual harassment policy to the agreement to prove that the employee was aware of the sexual harassment policy and had the opportunity to report any inappropriate conduct by the other employee.  If done properly, a consensual relationship agreement will make it more difficult for an employee to claim that the relationship was “unwelcome.” In addition, the agreement will create a question about why the employee did not seek to stop the harassment by reporting it to management.

Consensual Relationship Agreements can be an important tool in managing the risk of sexual harassment claims; however, they must be created and administered with care.

Unsure what “Consensual Relationship Agreements” looks like? If you subscribe to our Virtual HR Solutions, you can access a sample of this agreement along with other HR-related policies, forms, checklists, toolkits, and more.  As a Virtual HR Solutions subscriber, you have 24/7 access to these easily customizable self-service tools.  Contact us for a free demo.

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Are Holiday Gifts, Prizes or Parties Taxable Wages?

Question:

Are holiday gifts, prizes or parties taxable wages?

Answer:

With the holiday season approaching, organizations may find that individuals or groups who benefit from the organization’s services, desire to make year-end gifts to the organization’s employees for their loyal service.

Employee gifts in the form of cash or gift certificates/coupons, regardless of the amount, are always treated by the Internal Revenue Service as W-2 “wages” subject to withholding taxes. In the case of a gift certificate or coupon, the tax applies to the face value of the certificate/coupon.

An exception to this rule, known as de minimis fringe benefits that an employer gives to its employees, are not subject to income or payroll taxes. A de minimis fringe benefit is any property or service the value of which (after taking into account the frequency with which similar fringes are provided by the employer to its employees) is so small (typically under $50.00) as to make accounting for it unreasonable or administratively impracticable.

Disclaimer: The information in this Q&A is for general information purposes only. Tax issues are complicated and every situation is different, so you should consult your tax advisor or finance department before you do anything that could be a tax liability for employees or which might affect the deductibility of an employee gift.

Having good employee relations is key to effectively managing (and retaining) your workforce. Employees want to feel valued and may not perform up to standards, or stick around very long, if they don’t feel they are needed. Strategic HR, inc. understands the value of your workforce and having good Employee Relations. We’ve helped companies create reward and recognition programs and have coached managers on providing support and mentoring to their employees. Learn how we can help you with your Employee Relations needs by visiting our Employee Relations page.

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Holiday Swap

Question:

A few employees have approached me and asked if they could “swap” holidays.  They don’t observe Christmas and would prefer to work on that day and take another day off.  Do other employers do this?  What should I think about if I allow it?

Answer:

According to a recent article by SHRM,  only 18% of employers allow for such a holiday swap.  In the survey, the majority of employers report paying premiums for employees working on the scheduled holiday rather than allowing to holiday swap. The biggest problem with such a swap is for employers who are fully closed on the holiday.  It is next to impossible to swap the day if the entire plant is closed on Christmas and the employee wants to work.  If the plant is open, it is advised to allow for the flexibility, if you can provide it.

Be sure to document the swap and be clear on the reason.  Is it a religious accommodation?  If you allow it, be sure you are ready to open the door to other people AND to other holidays.  You may be surprised at what holidays you are asked to swap in the future.

Having policies and procedures that are easy to read and understand can help alleviate a lot of problems in the workplace. Not only do they set the stage for what is deemed inappropriate, they can also provide guidelines for what is considered acceptable, and even expected, behavior. Strategic HR, inc. receives numerous requests to review and rewrite employee handbooks on a regular basis, especially with the number of recent federal guideline changes. If you haven’t updated your handbook in the last few years, now may be a good time. For more information on how we can help you with Employee Relations and employee handbooks, please visit our Employee Relations page.

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Employee Exit Interview Solutions

Question:

We try to do exit interviews with our employees when they leave but we either get no response or very poor information with just yes / no responses.  What can I do to try and get better responses from employees leaving so I can take a serious look at our cause of turnover, etc.?

Answer:

Well done exit interviews can provide valuable information regarding turnover within an organization.  The information obtained can assist with retention and can even identify concerns regarding supervision.  These meetings also allow for a last-chance discussion and assure that the employee leaves on the best terms avoiding potential claims or even ‘bad-press’ for the organization.

Even with all of these positives for the organizations, getting departing employees to participate (and see any benefit of it from their perspective) can sometimes be difficult.  In most instances these employees have checked out and aren’t willing to share information with the departing company.  Many employees aren’t interested in drudging up old issues or criticizing the organization in their moments before departure.  Doing so could jeopardize a good reference letter or even create issues with coworkers later in their careers.

For all of these reasons, it is important to push for these valuable pieces of information.  A few suggestions on how to get the information include:

  • Make sure the employees understand why you are asking for the information and what will be done with it.
  • Consider using a neutral third-party to get the information to allow for confidentiality.
  • Consider waiting for a period of time after the individual departs to get the exit interview data (3 to 6 months) after there is some emotional distance from the job.

Using some of these suggestions may help to improve not only your response rate but the value of the data you obtain. For more information on why you are asking, what to ask and what to do with the data.

Did you know that most employees leave their jobs because of their managers, not their employers? Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-manager related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in managing employment relations and coaching employees, and managers, on how to resolve conflicts. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

 

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Being Charged for Constructive Discharge

Question: 

I just received a claim from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission indicating a charge for constructive discharge.  What does this mean?  The employee resigned, I’m not sure what I’m being charged with.

Answer:

According to the EEOC, Constructive Discharge is when an employee feels forced to resign because the employer (or those in the workplace) have made the work environment so intolerable that a reasonable person would not be able to stay working.  Constructive discharge alone is not grounds for a lawsuit alone, but it does open the door for a claim of discrimination and a resulting charge.

Some examples of constructive discharge are very obvious and employers should quickly be able to identify illegal activities making employees uncomfortable (verbal or physical threats for example).  Other constructive discharge claims show less obvious conduct such as:

  • Consistently assigning undesirable shifts or job duties,
  • Treating the employee poorly in general, or
  • Making a job difficult by withholding necessary information to do their job.

These three less obvious examples unfortunately happen all too often and we don’t realize it. It is important for HR, owners, and managers to be aware and of how actions could be perceived.

Do difficult situations with employees keep you awake at night? strategic HR inc. understands how conflicts with employees can make or break your day (or a good night’s sleep). Call us when you encounter a difficult situation – we can help coach your managers, suggest solutions or advise you on a specific problem. Learn more about our Employee Relations services by visiting our Employee Relations page.

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Inappropriate Employee Behavior Outside of Work: What Can I Do?

Question:

Employees have come to me upset because a group of employees got “a little crazy” at a recent industry conference.  The employees complaining shared that they felt like it made the company look bad since they had name tags on that included the company name.  What can I do about this?  Can I talk with them about their behavior?

Answer:

Yes, it would be an appropriate conversation with the group of employees to remind them of professional behavior when they are representing the company.  Proudly wearing the company name on their name tag, they are still seen as representatives of the company, where clients and even possibly future recruits may have witnessed this behavior leaving an unfavorable impression.

As employers, we are very limited on what we can do regarding employee’s behavior outside of work.  However, similar to social media, we do have the right to protect the company interests.  If not already in place, it would be suggested to implement a Code of Conduct or Employee Ethics policy.  This policy would state the company’s expectations of appropriate behavior from employees, even outside of work.  The company can even go as far as to put restrictions on wearing company logoed clothing / hats outside of work.  There are obvious downsides to this from a marketing perspective but when negative behavior takes the leading role, you don’t want the company name associated with it.  Policies such as these provide a notice of expectation and allows the company to take disciplinary action if they feel it is necessary.  Finally, be sure to frequently remind employees that when they are wearing anything with the company name of it, they are a representative of the company.  If they wish to over-do-it in public, that is their choice, just don’t do it in our uniform.

One of the most difficult aspects of human resources management is dealing with people. Are you getting inundated with complaints about managers or employees that take you away from more pressing matters? Are you looking for an on-going solution to combat these issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

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Working Together Effectively After A Harassment Investigation

HR Question:

I have an employee that filed a complaint against their supervisor for alleged harassment.  An investigation has been completed and it was determined that there was not harassment and the issue was resolved.  I am very concerned about the employee and their supervisor being able to work effectively together in the future.  What can I do to help them move forward after this situation?

HR Answer:

That is definitely a delicate situation and one that many organizations and employees must overcome at one time or another.  It may seem easy in many instances to simply separate the two and move them to separate departments, but that is not always the best solution.  Some other options to consider may be:

Coaching the Manager

Whether this manager did anything wrong or not, they will need one-on-one coaching and guidance on how to build and repair the relationship with the individual and possibly others in the department.  The manager will need to work to regain credibility with the individual and the rest of the department.

Team Building for Groups

This can be in different forms.  Team Building (you know…the rah rah kind to be build awareness and trust) or Team Development which is more about learning about others and their strengths.  Both are great, but the latter helps us to work together as a team and appreciate others and their differences.  You know…that annoying team member who blurts out everything they are thinking?  Well…there is value in that.  Team Development helps us understand that there is value in differences and also helps Mr./Mrs. Annoying understand how their actions can be irritating to others.  All good lessons for the team.

Impactful de-brief after the investigation

How you communicate the results of the investigation to both parties can help or hurt the situation moving forward.  Clearly dealing with the issues at hand and helping each person understand the behaviors and reactions and how to deal with them in the future (if they continue) is essential.  Secondly, they must be sure to focus on the business at hand and understand who to speak with if things get uncomfortable.  Until the dust settles, you may want to suggest they have a witness around when talking.  Communication will be key, and that is challenging when your feelings are hurt.

Shake Out

Unfortunately, we’ve also seen many instances like this and the person claiming the harassment just elects to leave.  This will depend on their reaction to the outcome and how strongly they felt you found AND how valuable they are for you to prevent this.

Regardless of what route you take, it will be essential to have open and clear communications with all parties in an effort to move past the situation.

At strategic HR Inc., we offer a variety of team building and team development programs targeted to help get teams back on track for success. Each program is customized to meet the team’s dynamics and needs. For more information on our Team Effectiveness Programs, click here.

 

 

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Establishing a Uniform Policy

Question:

What are the pros and cons I should consider before establishing a uniform policy?

Answer:

Today, millions of employees wear corporate uniforms in the workplace.  Whether it is to clearly exhibit a company logo, make it easier for customers to identify employees, or to develop a sense of unity among the staff, they have become increasingly prevalent in the workplace.  Of course there are pros and cons to requiring this in the workplace and when considering implementing such a policy.  Before you leap, consider these pros and cons.

Pros:

• Gets the employee into a professional mindset before starting his or her shift, thus improving employee performance. 

• Employees are able to be easily identified by customers and other staff members.  Some workplaces have different uniforms for the different levels of staff members making it easier to distinguish between those with specific responsibilities (managers, trainees, etc).

• Advertising: Uniforms give companies a chance to market their brand on clothing that employees wear; especially if the job requires employees to go out in public.   

• Makes the employees feel like they are a part of a team which promotes good workplace morale. 

Cons:

• Employee opposition: Some employees may not approve of the uniforms.  This could affect job performance if he or she is not comfortable in the uniform.   

• Expensive: The cost of supplying your employees can get pricey, especially if different uniforms are required for different seasons and asking employees to pay for them can be an employment deterrent.

• Advertising:  In direct opposition to this being a “pro”, employees wearing uniform outside of business hours displaying poor behavior is not good advertising to have.

Whatever way you go, uniforms have pros and cons.  Consider the pros and the cons before implementation.  You may wish to offer a ‘compromise’.  Consider a uniform that gives employees a chance to express their individuality, while still having a standard.  For example, Target allows employees to wear their choice of an appropriate solid red top with khakis.  This shows that the company appreciates the individual, while still maintaining a collective identity for its employees. 

Having easy to read and understand policies and procedures can help alleviate a lot of problems in the workplace. Not only do they set the stage for what is deemed inappropriate, they can also provide guidelines for what is considered acceptable, and even expected, behavior. strategic HR inc. receives numerous requests to review and rewrite employee handbooks on a regular basis, especially with the number of recent federal guideline changes. If you haven’t updated your handbook in the last few years, now may be a good time. For more information on how we can help you with Employee Relations and employee handbooks, please visit our Employee Relations page.

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Making A Drug Free Workplace Exception

Question:

We recently acquired a company. We are a drug free workplace and conducted drug screens across the entire workforce for the new company. One employee did not pass, however, he was a top performer and highly recommended by the management of the company we acquired. Our policy does say failure to pass the drug screen could result in ‘discipline up to and including termination’. Can we make an exception? If so, what do we need to do?

Answer:

Yes – it is fine to make an exception, but it is important to document that exception!! Plus, you’ll want to let the employee know you are giving him a second chance and encourage him to visit your EAP or a rehabilitation service. You will likely want to test the employee again but keep in mind it does take awhile to get certain drugs out of the body. It would be a good idea to wait at least 60 or even 90 days before retesting.

Do difficult situations with employees keep you awake at night? Strategic HR, inc. understands how conflicts with employees can make or break your day (or a good night’s sleep). Call us when you encounter a difficult situation – we can help coach your managers, suggest solutions or advise you on a specific problem. Learn more about our Employee Relations services by visiting our Employee Relations page.

 

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Preventing A Hostile Environment

Question:

We’re hearing a lot about hostile work environments and bullying. What can we do to prevent a hostile work environment and harassment claims?

Answer:

Recent court decisions illustrate the need for employers to elevate all types of harassment to the list of important workplace issues. It is virtually impossible for employers to monitor or control all communications or workplace conduct especially with the increase in popularity of social networking sites (like Facebook or Twitter) and activities (blogging, etc.). However, there are some practical suggestions for preventing hostile work environment claims.

  • Anti-Harassment Policy. Implement a policy that prohibits sexual harassment and harassment based on other protected classifications. It should specifically list the other protected classifications, including examples of the type of conduct that is prohibited by managers, supervisors, employees, customers, and third parties. Update your electronic communications policy to reflect new technological trends as well.
  • Complaint Procedure. The policy must include a complaint procedure that provides for more than one option for filing a complaint so that an employee does not have to complain to a supervisor or other person who may be involved in the harassment. The policy should also contain a strong “anti-retaliation” statement, so employees will not hesitate to file a complaint and will feel confident in using the procedure.
  • Distribution and Communication. Employers should distribute and communicate the policy to all employees, and the employees should be given an opportunity to ask questions. Each employee should be required to sign a verification acknowledging that the policy has been read and understood.
  • Education. In addition to providing the employees the policy during their orientation, it is also helpful to provide periodic refresher information.
  • Supervisor Training. Managers and supervisors are relied upon to be the “eyes and ears” of the company in case inappropriate conduct is taking place, so employers should carefully select individuals for these positions who will treat employees fairly and avoid inappropriate conduct. It is critical that supervisors receive additional training to educate them about their important role in preventing harassment in the workplace.  Consider prohibiting management from “friending” other employees.
  • Investigating a Complaint. Upon receipt of a complaint of harassment or when an employer has reason to believe that a potentially harassing situation has occurred, the employer must act promptly. The employer must investigate all complaints completely and objectively. Of course, the employee making a complaint should be notified as to the outcome of the investigation once a final decision has been made.
  • Taking Appropriate Action. If the investigation results in a finding that harassment occurred, action must be taken so that the harassment is eliminated and does not reoccur. This may consist of disciplinary action including discharge, or other corrective action such as training.

You can never be 100% certain that a hostile situation won’t ever occur, but by putting the proper policies in place you can be sure that you are doing everything possible to help prevent it.

Having easy to read and understand policies and procedures can help alleviate a lot of problems in the workplace. Not only do they set the stage for what is deemed inappropriate, they can also provide guidelines for what is considered acceptable, and even expected, behavior. Strategic HR, inc. receives numerous requests to review and rewrite employee handbooks on a regular basis, especially with the number of recent federal guideline changes. If you haven’t updated your handbook in the last few years, now may be a good time. For more information on how we can help you with Employee Relations and employee handbooks, please visit our Employee Relations page.

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Small Necessities Laws

Question:

What is the Small Necessities Leave Act and should I be concerned about it?

Answer:

The Small Necessities Leave Act (SNLA) gives employees the right to take leave for family obligations providing a limited number of hours annually, covering specific activities that are not included under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – such as for parents to attend school-related events and activities for their children. The hours of leave allowed under the SNLA is in addition to the 12 weeks leave allowed under the FMLA. Additionally, the hours do not need to be taken all at once, but can be taken intermittently, as long as it does not exceed the allowed maximum as mandated by the state.

Only a small number of states offer SNLA, these include:

  • California – 40 hours
  • DC – 24 hours
  • Illinois – 8 hours
  • Louisiana – 16 hours
  • Massachusetts – 24 hours
  • Minnesota – 16 hours
  • North Carolina – 4 hours
  • Rhode Island – 10 hours
  • Vermont – 12 hours
  • Nevada makes it unlawful to terminate an employee for using leave to attend a child’s school-related activities.

To be eligible for the SNLA an employee must have been employed with employer for at least 12 months, having actually worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12 months with that employer, and be employed at a company with 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

SNLA can be taken to:

  • Participate in school activities directly related to the educational advancement of the employee’s child(ren), such as for parent-teacher conferences or interviewing for a new school.
  • Accompany the child(ren) of the employee to routine medical or dental appointments, such as checkups or vaccinations.
  • Accompany an elderly relative of the employee to routine medical or dental appointments or appointments for other professional services related to the elder’s care, such as interviewing at nursing homes or group homes.

The employee must give seven days’ notice of intent to take such a leave if the leave is foreseeable. If the need for the leave is not foreseeable, the employee must give notice as soon as practicable. Leave can be calendar or fiscal year.

The SNLA leave is generally unpaid leave but, similar to the FMLA, employees may use accrued paid time and have the leave paid or the employer may require that the employee use such accrued time.

One of the stickiest aspects to human resources management is Employee Relations. Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-employer related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

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Measuring Change Impact on Performance

Question:

What’s the impact of changes such as employee relations strategies, policies, and practices on organizational performance?

Answer:

The core answer to your question is that organizations that identify the appropriate employee relations strategies, policies, and practices WILL have ONLY a positive impact on their performance. These are the organizations that we already see named as “best places to work” or “employer of choice”. They’ve realized the benefit and competitive advantage that these changes can have to the overall success of their organization.

Below is a list of some of the key changes observed in organizational strategies over the years:

  • Heightened sensitivity to age differences in terms of recruiting, employee development, and employee relations policies.
  • More flexibility in work structure and policies such as dress code, telecommuting, and flexible hours.
  • Tailored rewards and recognition, especially in consideration of differences across generations.
  • Increased front-line supervisory training and development.

Changing workforce demographics have driven the need for organizational change across the U.S. More women are entering, and staying in, the workforce and now comprise about 58% of the total workforce in our country. We now have five generations in the workforce, with medical technology allowing older workers to be healthy enough to stay well past the historical age 65 should they choose to do so. These generations are very different with regard to their motivations and interests. Cultural diversity is also growing in organizations across the country because technology has made us all global. In short, employee relations policies and strategies have had to evolve to take these demographic changes into account.

Results we’ve observed in our client organizations include enhanced recruiting capability in a highly competitive environment; retention of high-performing employees; and increased and sustained profitability driven by engaged, highly motivated workers. 

We’ve found that companies are becoming very creative when it comes to offering rewards and recognition targeted at retaining their best and brightest employees. Concierge services such as dry cleaning have been highly successful as perks that entice employees of all ages to continue their employment. Posting jobs online on sites that cater to different age groups has become a critical approach towards obtaining a recruiting advantage. In short, companies that are willing to be innovative in terms of recruitment and retention strategies have reaped the result of finding and keeping excellent employees who in turn drive profits. What works for one organization does not necessarily work for every organization. It’s important to figure out what your employees want and need that will help your organization reap the results.

Employee recognition is just one aspect of Employee Relations. In a nutshell, Employee Relations is all about how employers interact with employees to help them remain an engaged and productive employee that is content to continue employment with the company for many years. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can assist you with the Employee Relations issues you may have.

 

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Workplace Bullying

Question:

One of our employees is complaining that they are being bullied by a senior manager. What do we do or how should I coach the employee to handle the situation?

Answer:

Unfortunately, there is no law protecting an employee against bullying, UNLESS it turns into a hostile work environment protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1967, and various other pieces of legislation. This would be the case, for example, if the senior manager is ONLY bullying female employees.

Bullying comes in many different forms – yelling, screaming, or using profanity, to more subtle manipulation or sabotaging of someone’s work. Like harassment, employees are encouraged to address the inappropriateness or uncomfortable feeling created by the behavior with the individual doing the bullying, of course maintaining their own level of professionalism. If that is ineffective and nothing changes, employees need to go to Human Resources.

HR then needs to decide if the culture is one to handle the situation directly with the manager or work with the manager’s boss to address. While this area has little legal support, some experts do recommend investigation of bullying complaints, if nothing else, to support a position of zero tolerance and promoting a positive work environment.

Unfortunately, bullying, even verbal yelling and/or abuse, will result in low morale for the employee and everyone else exposed to the bullying, which ultimately impacts productivity. It can cause stellar employees to leave for a better work environment. And, it could lead to a lawsuit for hostile work environment.

If the manager isn’t willing to change, your organization needs to decide to either take action or allow the situation play out and deal with the consequences.

During this week spotlighting “Freedom from Workplace Bullies”, let your employees know you support efforts to create a bully-free workplace.

Did you know that most employees leave their jobs because of their managers, not their employers? Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-manager related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in managing employment relations and coaching employees, and managers, on how to resolve conflicts. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

 

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What is competency mapping?

Question:

My company is undertaking a Job Evaluation exercise along with competency mapping. Competency mapping is an area which has been least explored in India. What can you tell me about it?

Answer:

Competency Mapping is a process of identifying key competencies for an organization and/or a job and incorporating those competencies throughout the various processes (i.e. job evaluation, training, recruitment) of the organization. A competency is defined as a behavior (i.e. communication, leadership) rather than a skill or ability.

The steps involved in competency mapping with an end result of job evaluation include the following:

  1. Conduct a job analysis by asking incumbents to complete a position information questionnaire (PIQ). The PIQ can be provided for incumbents to complete, or you can conduct one-on-one interviews using the PIQ as a guide. The primary goal is to gather from incumbents what they feel are the key behaviors necessary to perform their respective jobs.
  2. Using the results of the job analysis, you are ready to develop a competency based job description. This is developed by carefully analyzing the input from the represented group of incumbents and converting it to standard competencies.
  3. With a competency based job description, you are on your way to begin mapping the competencies throughout your HR processes. The competencies of the respective job description become your factors for assessment on the performance evaluation. Using competencies will help guide you to perform more objective evaluations based on displayed or not displayed behaviors.
  4. Taking the competency mapping one step further, you can use the results of your evaluation to identify in what competencies individuals need additional development or training. This will help you focus your training needs on the goals of the position and company and help your employees develop toward the ultimate success of the organization.

To help you with the implementation of these steps and to learn more about competency mapping, we recommend further reading the following resources:

The Art and Science of Competency Models: Pinpointing Critical Success Factors in Organizations by Richard Lepsinger, Anntoinette D. Lucia

Building Robust Competencies: Linking Human Resource Systems to Organizational Strategies by Paul C. Green

Human Resources Champion by David Ulrich

With the recovering economy are you worried your top performers will soon be leaving for a new and different opportunity? Are you looking for a retention method that will ALSO bolster your productivity levels and bottom line? Let strategic HR inc. help create and implement the perfect retention strategy via training and development. We have the expertise to conduct a Needs Assessment, Job Analysis, revamp your aging Job Descriptions and/or to recommend training options for your staff. Visit our Training & Development page to learn how we can help you implement a successful training session.

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How do we deal with employee body odor?

Question:

We have an employee with strong body odor and other staff feel it is making them ill at work. How do we address such a sensitive topic?

Answer:

Addressing personal care issues that affect others at work can be difficult conversations to have. Keep in mind the offending employee may not be aware that they have an odor problem, they may have a medical condition, or it may be the result of customs or cultures. Regardless, to keep harmony among your staff the situation needs to be addressed in a sensitive manner.

Be sure to take the employee to a private area to speak. It is also important to be clear in the reason for the conversation, but also be sensitive to the embarrassment it might cause the employee to have such a personal a discussion with their manager or human resources. The most direct route is best. State the problem, “It has been brought to my attention that you have a strong body odor”, and ask a follow up question to allow them the opportunity to share any possible reasons for the situation, “Do you have a health condition or a custom that might be contributing to excessive body odor?” If a health condition is present you will need to determine if there is an issue under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) that will need to be accommodated in some way. If the cause is determined to be due to hygiene issues, the employee should be coached to work on their hygiene, focusing on the connection to the health and well being of themselves and others around them. If there is a company policy addressing appearance and cleanliness, this can be referenced as a guideline for the employee to follow and to emphasize the connection of the discussion to company policy versus a personal attack.

In any case, be considerate and handle the issue with discretion. This can be one of the toughest HR conversations you may have and in most instances it is just as hard for the receiver.

Having healthy employees is a key reason for developing a company wellness program, but also give consideration to the cost savings. Not only does a healthy workforce impact costs related to ever increasing health care expenses, but also impacts other expenses that are being trimmed as the economy necessitates a tightening of the belt in all areas of the company. Visit our Health, Safety & Security page to learn how we can assist you with issues surrounding the health and safety of your workforce.

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Impact Of Miscarriage On Leave

Question:

We had an employee request, and was granted, maternity leave under our leave policy.  After the leave was granted, she had a miscarriage. How should this impact the maternity leave and how long should we allow her to be out?

Answer:

From a legal perspective, maternity leave falls under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows eligible employees 12 weeks of job protected leave for the birth, adoption or placement of a child, the employee’s own serious health condition, or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. The above circumstance would most likely qualify as leave taken for the employee’s own serious health condition. To be covered, you will need to have the employee obtain certification from her health care provider. The length of time she takes for leave, up to the 12 weeks, may largely be determined by when her doctor releases her. Other benefit programs that may come into play in this situation could be short term disability and your Employee Assistance Plan, if you have either of these in place.

Be sure to review your Maternity Leave Policy to make sure it is in compliance with FMLA regulations. The Department of Labor (www.dol.gov) offers guidance for managing FMLA claims and our team at strategic HR inc. can also assist you with this and other compliance questions.

One of the stickiest aspects of human resources management is Employee Relations. Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-employer related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations and can help coach you through challenging employee relation issues. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

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Should I be worrying about employee retention?

Question:

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

Answer:

YES!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Performance Management: The Individual Strategic Plan

by Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR

Performance management has become an ever-increasing critical tool to success for businesses. Within the last year we have experienced both a booming economy as well as a recession; a historically low unemployment rate combined with massive layoffs and business closings. But the bottom line to all of this is people! AND, we are human and as such are typically much more productive when we have clear goals, expectations, and feedback.

“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where-” said Alice

“Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

     – from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

If you have had the opportunity to attend one of my strategic planning sessions, you’ve seen me use this quote in reference to developing a company or department’s strategic plan. But, a strategic plan is a waste of time and effort if it does not get communicated and tied to the performance of all employees through Individual Strategic Plans. Whether this is a formal process or informal process depends a great deal on your particular organization.

Let’s start with the informal process… If your organization can effectively communicate and link the strategic goals of the organization to each individual’s goals AND regularly provide feedback to an employee, then you may be able to succeed without a formal performance management tool. Even with an informal process, you will need to develop a system with specific checkpoints to be sure the communication is constant and two-way to ensure that the employee is on-track and getting both positive and constructive feedback in a timely manner.

If the world were perfect, I would encourage everyone to use an informal process; however, time seems to get the best of us. Without a formal process, goals are unclear at best, and feedback is rare. To facilitate a process that is successful for both the employee and the organization, a formal performance management system can “work for you.” A well-designed performance management system should make your job easier not more cumbersome.

To begin developing a system or any new program or initiative, I like to use Development Dimension International’s (DDI) six Checkpoints for Implementation:

  1. OUTCOMES — What results am I looking for?
    • For your performance management system, you’ll need to think about what you hope to gain from the system. For example: increased productivity, improved retention, increased employee morale, and improved communications.
  2. BENEFITS — Why is this important? (Payoff — What’s in it for me?)
    • Both the company and the employee need to know why they are doing this in order to feel ownership for the system. Your organization may see the benefits as some of the outcomes listed above, as well as a method for linking individual performance to the organization’s performance. Individuals may see it as a way to continue to develop and grow with the organization while adding value back to the company. Remember, growth opportunities and meaningful work are two of the top reasons employees leave their jobs.
  3. BARRIERS — What might prevent me from being successful?
    • In order to ensure the success of your system, you need to anticipate any barriers and identify what you will do to prevent or minimize the impact of those barriers. Some examples may be: resistance to change, time constraints, or lack of management support.
  4. SUPPORT — What resources are available?
    • You’ll need to clearly identify what resources or individuals are available to help you develop and implement the system. Once you have identified your resources, you’ll want to include them in the process as much as possible in order to obtain their buy-in and benefit from what they can offer. Some examples of support are: top management, employees, expert consults, other organizations, budget, and customer needs.
  5. APPROACH — What steps must I take to achieve my goals? (Be specific — who, when, duration, etc.)
    • By identifying the outcomes, benefits, barriers, and supports, you will be better able to begin mapping out the approach for developing and implementing your performance management system. Some questions you may want to consider include:
      1. What exactly do you need formalized to help facilitate goal setting, feedback, and documentation?
        • Many times organizations assume performance management is the evaluation at the end of the review period. However, an effective performance management system begins with the development of a performance plan at the BEGINNING of the evaluation period. This performance plan or individual strategic plan is a living document that may need updating throughout the plan year.In general, systems should include both competencies and goals. With most of my clients, we develop a group of core competencies or behaviors that mirror the values of the organization. Plus, we develop individualized goals for each employee that are tied to the goals of the business.There are many canned and customizable systems out there that can help you identify what you want to include in your system. To help you generate ideas, you may want to seek samples from other companies or resources (i.e. Performance Appraisals: A Collection of Samples by SHRM Information Center ~$35.00 or Performance Impact by KnowledgePoint). Be sure any piece of information you include on the form adds value rather than creates work for others. Plus, be sure the form is a tool not a rule!
      2. How often do you need to formally discuss goals and feedback versus informally?
        • Like your business plan, a performance plan is a living document and the goals and feedback should be ongoing and constant. However, it often takes a formal get-together for this to actually happen. If your organization is not one to proactively meet throughout the plan year, then a formal meeting, even if short, should be arranged at least quarterly to ensure an employee is getting timely feedback and still supporting both their individual and the organization’s strategic plan(s). Plus, if you summarize this quarterly meeting your end of the year review will be a breeze.
      3. Who needs to be trained on performance management and coaching?
        • We all could benefit from training on performance management and coaching. Even if you are the best manager, a refresher on performance management simply helps you continuously grow as a proactive manager. Formal training can also help ensure all managers are working with the same set of tools, including assistance with the seeming struggle about how to be a manager and a coach at the same time. Learning what has been successful and not successful with others will help everyone in the organization succeed. 
      4. What will you do to involve both employees and management in the process?
        • Employees and supervisors will not take the time for performance planning and reviews if management does not support it. Management has to realize the value added (i.e. increased productivity, improved morale, retention) of performance management and demonstrate their support of the system to all employees. This may require involving a key management player in the development and implementation of the system.Like management, employees will be more encouraged to take the feedback and direction of performance management seriously if they are involved with the development of the system. To do this, you can either survey employees to identify their needs or include them in a team tasked to evaluate and develop a program. COMMUNICATE!!! 
      5. How will the system be tied to compensation?
        • Of course, any system is going to be much more open and honest when there is little or no connection to pay. The catch is, that you need to have some way to measure employee performance, in order to provide performance based increases. You’ll need to develop a clear philosophy and supporting policy for merit increases. Because this will depend on your budget and values, each organization may have a totally different philosophy and policy on pay increases. By making this policy clear and communicating it up front, the link to compensation will have a better chance of being both objective and effective. 
  6. EVALUATION — How will I know when I’ve reached my goal?
    • Too often this last checkpoint in implementation is skipped. It is very important for you to constantly evaluate your program. Some ways you can do this is through focus groups, employee surveys, or interviewing management. The key is to schedule it and just do it!

Remember, you don’t want your employees feeling like Alice did in Alice in Wonderland. You need to be sure you are communicating the expectations and goals of the organization and tying them to each employee’s Individual Strategic Plan in order to realize success. Whether this is a formal or an informal process doesn’t matter as long as you are doing it!!

Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR, a Senior Human Resources Management Consultant is President of Strategic Human Resources, Inc. (www.strategicHRinc.com). If you have any questions, wish to share your comments, or your organization needs individualized help developing a successful performance management system, you can contact Robin at 513-697-9855 or Robin@strategicHRinc.com for more details.

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Making Performance Appraisals Work

by Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR

Because I was able to attend the annual SHRM Conference in Las Vegas on June 25 – 28, I wanted to share with you some of what I learned from the presentation on “Making Performance Appraisals Work” presented by Dick Grote, President of Grote Consulting Group and author of Discipline Without Punishment.

In Mr. Grote’s opinion, there are basically four phases to performance management:

Phase 1: Performance Planning

Phase 2: Execution

Phase 3: Performance Assessment

Phase 4: Performance Review

The goal of all four phases is to help an organization obtain their mission, vision, and values. These four phases then become a yearly cycle that should include a mid-year review.

In Phase 1, Performance Plan, Mr. Grote discussed two components necessary to effective performance planning: core competencies and measurements. The core competencies are no more than 4 – 6 items that cover basically what the employee does. The measurement piece helps an employee answer “how they know that they have accomplished these items?” Generally, you have four measures for output: quality, quantity, cost, and timeliness. Mr. Grote cautioned us to not be so rigid that we don’t realize an accomplishment that isn’t clearly identified.

In Phase 2, Execution, the employee actually implements the plan identified in Phase 1 with the motivational support of his or her manager. At this point, Mr. Grote asked the participants to think about the job that they enjoyed the most (not necessarily related to their current job/career). Once we had identified that job, he then asked us to determine why it was the most enjoyable. As you can imagine, the answers were very broad but all had a similar theme – recognition, achievement, learning, the work itself, and growth. Not many said that it was job security, benefits, or salary.

Unfortunately, because of time, Mr. Grote’s presentation was cut short and he was unable to elaborate on the third and fourth phases. However, these remaining two phases are as critical to the cycle as the first two. In Phase 3, Performance Assessment, we always recommend that both the employee and the manager separately assess how the employee has performed relative to the goals set in Phase 1. This helps both the employee and manager identify strengths and developmental needs for the next performance plan. With this assessment complete, Phase 4, Performance Review, can begin. It is important for the manager and employee to both share how well the employee has performed. We recommend that the manager be honest about this feedback and document both positive and negative results.

As you can tell, this is a time consuming process but is very critical to the success of an organization. How can you expect your roses or daisies to help your company reach their mission, vision, and values without feedback on what they are doing right and wrong to meet those goals?

Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR, a Senior Human Resources Management Consultant is President of Strategic Human Resources, Inc. (www.strategicHRinc.com). If you have any questions or wish to share your comments or success stories, you may contact Robin at Robin@strategicHRinc.com.

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Employee Engagement…From Beginning to End

By Patti Dunham, MA, MBA, SPHR and Debbie Hatke, MA, SPHR

Employee engagement; we’ve heard the term before and as HR professionals we know and we preach that “happy” employees are “productive” employees. But do we really understand engagement? Have we really tried to truly get employees engaged? Do we recognize, and act on the knowledge, that engagement starts well before the employee gets their first paycheck? Are we doing all that we can in every encounter we have with employees to make engagement a reality?

It goes without saying that human capital is the most important asset of every company. We have seen in a number of studies that employee engagement improves the bottom line in almost every instance and it is well worth all organizational efforts to actively engage employees. Helping employees understand the company’s direction and strategic goals, and the significance of their role in meeting those goals is essential. For employees to be committed to an organization and give 150%, they have to feel they have a stake in the company’s success. 

Engagement occurs when adequately skilled employees are trained and provided with the appropriate information and tools to make level-appropriate decisions and can lead the organization in the direction of meeting its financial and strategic goals. Sound difficult to take on? It really isn’t. As with all huge projects we must undertake, it is important to break it down into more manageable pieces and success will follow. 

Many programs have been created and implemented to introduce the concept of engagement to our employees, but what most of us have failed to do is to start that engagement well before the hire. Integrating employee engagement in the recruitment process is the best way to begin engagement in our organizations and is essential for long term success. Without the “right” hire for the “right” position, many of our other efforts are lost. Getting it right in the beginning is essential. So how do we accomplish this?

 

Creating and communicating an employment brand to employees.

A well integrated recruitment and selection process will help attract the strongest candidates. Employers who are able to quickly respond to candidates, provide them with feedback and find a way to sort through searchable information for those candidates who are not a match for the current position (but may be a match in a few months) are most successful. The ability to contact candidates quickly, and for them to contact you quickly, will allow you engage top talent and start off on the right foot.

 

Engaging On-boarding.

In a 2007 Watson Wyatt survey, employers who considered themselves as having a highly engaged workplace took an average of 35 weeks to bring a new hire up to speed. This compares with 15 weeks for companies that considered themselves to have lower levels of engagement. Is your organization spending time on the right activities when bringing employees on board? In addition to the typical on-boarding items, consider addressing the following.

  • Explain to the employee WHY they were hired – truly WHY. What is their role and how does it fit in the organization? What do successes and failures look like in the role?
  • Share with the new employee what it was about them that made them “the one”. Why did you choose this candidate? Help them understand what you valued in the individual so they can see what skills they have that can be most useful for the company.
  • Provide the employee with a realistic job preview. No sugar-coating, please. New recruits must know the job as it is so they can consider their own skills, personality, and abilities to take on tasks necessary for success.
  • Express your commitment to learning and development for the employee and the organization. Employees who feel employers are interested in helping them meet their personal goals are more loyal and engaged.

Engaging social networking.

Internal social networks can help your employees feel more connected. Many people use Facebook and Twitter to keep up with friends and colleagues outside of work. An internal network that allows the same type of interaction internally will allow employees to share knowledge, experiences, and interests online – a much more appealing way for some generations to interact, yet still allows employees to be involved and a part of the organization.

Employee engagement is essential and impacts your employees from well before employment all the way to resignation and/or retirement. There is a strong correlation between effective recruitment, on-boarding/integration, and the financial performance and success of a company. When addressed thoroughly, essential talent will be drawn to your company and quickly engaged. And once you reap the rewards you will easily see that engaged employees are well worth the effort.

 

Patti Dunham, MA, MBA, SPHR and Debbie Hatke, MA, SPHR are Senior Human Resources Management Consultants with Strategic Human Resources, Inc. (www.strategicHRinc.com). If you have questions or comments about this article, you can contact Debbie at Debbie@strategicHRinc.com and Patti at Patti@strategicHRinc.com.

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Napping in the Workplace

Question:

Should I incorporate napping in the workplace for my employees?  What are the benefits and drawbacks?

Answer:

As more and more companies get on board with wellness programs in the workplace, the trend of employers providing their employees with nap and meditation rooms is increasing.

A 2011 poll of 600 American companies found that six percent of businesses surveyed had employee nap rooms, a one percent increase over the previous year, the National Sleep Foundation reports. Perhaps even more surprising, 34 percent of respondents said their employees are allowed occasional naps at work, with 16 percent of employers offering designated nap areas. These pro-napping policies might be arriving at just the right time: 28 percent of workers admitted that daytime sleepiness impacts their daily duties a few times a month (read more here).

Some well known companies that are “nap friendly” include: NASA, AOL, Google, Ben & Jerry’s, Nike, Zappos, and the US House of Representatives. The benefits of the short power nap are well documented.

Some tips if you’re considering implementing a nap program at your company:

  • Designate specific nap/meditation rooms where employees can go to rest
  • Educate employees on the benefits of taking a 20-30 minute nap and the physical drawbacks of napping for too long
  • Gain management’s support – getting your management on board helps employees to accept and embrace such a program and alleviate negative reactions to others napping
  • Incorporate the nap program into your wellness program
  • It’s all about trust, trust, trust – a program like this will require the company to trust that their employees will not abuse napping privileges

One of the stickiest aspects to human resources management is Employee Relations. Are you having difficulties in your company that stem from employee-employer related issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest HR problems.

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Workplace Tragedy – Sandy Hooks Shooting

Question:

Ever since the shootings last week at Sandy Hook Elementary, there has been non-stop coverage of the events on the news. We have some employees that are understandably very upset to the point of not being able to function at work. What can we do as employers to help ease the fears of our employees after a very public crisis occurs such as the one in Newtown, Connecticut?

Answer:

Our hearts go out to the people of Newtown, Connecticut after a very horrific day last week.

Such a tragic event, that is made so public, can affect many people – the victims, the survivors, the community and the public at large. The degree of impact will vary greatly depending on the individual. You may find that some parents want to check in on their children more frequently this week and may even be anxious about having their children at school. For employees with older children, they will be attempting to manage their child’s anxiety and emotions surrounding the event (as well as their own).

As an employer it is important to recognize your employees’ anxiety. Often by acknowledging our fears and having the ability to speak of them openly we can resolve some of the angst. After a national tragedy occurs, it’s a good idea for the employer to openly acknowledge the event and set forth a plan of action regarding how the event will be handled at work.

  • Start by being aware of possible workplace tensions created by the extra stress. Some employees will be overly sensitive to references of the event while others will have no problems discussing their views openly which could create additional tensions, especially if discussions turn political or religious in nature. Remind employees to be sensitive to individual feelings regarding the event.
  • Let employees know where they can turn if they need someone to talk with or would like to do something as a group to cope. Encourage employees to make use of existing resources such as your employee assistance program, exercise rooms, additional community resources, in-house educational programs and human resources staff. Providing links to online resources is a great idea if you do not have anything internal to offer. Employees need to feel that their families are taken care of and are safe – providing these resources can help employees cope as well as educate them with concepts they can use with their family at home.
  • Decide how you will accept requests for schedule changes or additional breaks to make check-in phone calls with family – flexibility will be important in the first few days following the tragedy. Be aware that the emotions surrounding the event are not easily left at home or at the time clock.

With today’s easy access to 24 hour news it can be difficult for people to move throughout their daily lives and not be reminded of events that are disturbing. Since much of our day is spent at work it only makes sense that how we deal with such events will play out at work, and how we as employers respond to such events with our employees will greatly impact their ability to heal and move on.

The victims, families, rescue personnel, and community of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting will forever be in the thoughts and prayers of strategic HR inc.

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Importance of Diversity

Question:

Why is diversity so important in the workplace?

Answer:

Diversity is important in the workplace for a variety of reasons.  First, let’s take a look at the general definition of diversity in the workplace: having an organization that employs individuals whose ethnicity,  gender, background, experiences, abilities, skills, age, and opinions are varied.

So, why is this so important?  Well, according to UC Berkely in Why Diversity Matters,

There is evidence that managing a diverse work force can contribute to increased staff retention and productivity. It can enhance the organization’s responsiveness to an increasingly diverse world of customers, improve relations with the surrounding community, increase the organization’s ability to cope with change, and expand the creativity of the organization.

In a global marketplace, a company is more likely to be able to meet the needs of its customers and gain access to new markets with a diverse workforce.  Bringing in talent into the workplace whose experience or background pertains to these new markets can be an efficient solution to accessing these markets as different skills, e.g. language or understanding of cultural norms, are often required to break initial barriers to entry.

The Center for American Progress lists the Top 10 Economic Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace as the following:

  1. A diverse workforce drives economic growth.
  2. A diverse workforce can capture a greater share of the consumer market.
  3. Recruiting from a diverse pool of candidates means a more qualified workforce.
  4. A diverse and inclusive workforce helps businesses avoid employee turnover costs.
  5. Diversity fosters a more creative and innovative workforce.
  6. Businesses need to adapt to our changing nation to be competitive in the economic market.
  7. Diversity is a key aspect of entrepreneurialism.
  8. Diversity in business ownership is key to moving our economy forward.
  9. Diversity in the workplace is necessary to create a competitive economy in a globalized world.
  10. Diversity in the boardroom is needed to leverage a company’s full potential.

Finally, diversity in the workplace helps employers comply with legislation that protects individuals from discrimination.  When employers are legally compliant with these laws, the likelihood of employees pursuing legal action due to discriminatory activities by the company decreases (smallbuisness.chron.com, The Importance of Diversity in the Workplace).

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

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Excessive Absenteeism

Question:

I have an employee with excessive absenteeism and tardiness due to her pregnancy. She has been with the company less than eight months. Per her physician’s request she has been asked to stop working and has asked us for a leave of absence for six to eight months.  The company can not afford to hold this position for such a long time. What are our legal obligations?

Answer:

Since each State has different State-specific laws, we’ll address your question from a federal perspective. You should also confirm your obligations with your respective State as they could be more restrictive.

From a federal viewpoint, you should be concerned with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Pregnancy Act. Because this employee has not been employed an entire year, she is not eligible for FMLA protection. The Pregnancy Act only requires that you provide the employee the same treatment provided others with medical disabilities. So, as long as you are treating her equal to other employees with a short-term disability, you do not need to hold her position. The real issue to be addressed is her absence not her pregnancy.

Based on the limited information you have shared, unless your State has different laws, it appears your company has no obligation to hold the position for the employee.

Do difficult situations with employees keep you awake at night? Strategic HR, inc. understands how conflicts with employees can make or break your day (or a good night’s sleep). Call us when you encounter a difficult situation – we can help coach your managers, suggest solutions or advise you on a specific problem. Learn more about our Employee Relations services by visiting our Employee Relations page.

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Just Cause Termination

Question:

Can you terminate a stock room employee for failing to find a piece of needed equipment that he could not locate in the drawer when we had six on hand? He said we didn’t have the part when in fact we did.

Answer:

In an at-will State, an employer can terminate an employee for a bad reason, a good reason, or a silly reason – as long as the reason isn’t against the law. In your situation, the employee displayed either incompetence or inattention to detail and could in fact be fired for this reason alone. The qualifier in this, or in any case of termination, is whether the employee is being discriminated against because of age, race, religion, gender or disability. Each of these factors is covered by protective labor laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Specifically, if employees who are Caucasian, for instance, are not fired for the same offense but only Black men, or Hispanic women, or people over 40 are fired there might be a case of (illegal) discrimination.

The deciding factor in a discrimination case is the answer to the question: was the employee fired for just cause (i.e., not locating a part and perhaps causing a lost customer) or fired solely because of race, color, etc.? To prove a just cause case you better be able to explain who, what, when, where, and why something occurred. Do you know why this person couldn’t find the part? Were they properly trained? Can you prove they were properly trained? Was there an investigation that can show that they knew what they were supposed to do and how to do it but just “didn’t do it”?

Bottom line – do a thorough investigation and make sure you have solid documentation. Without it any reason, or no reason, terminations are more likely to become discrimination lawsuits.

Terminations are one of the most difficult aspects of Human Resources. Even when justified it can be difficult to let someone in the workforce go. When not justified they can be a risky move for any company. Strategic HR, inc. can walk you through a termination, assist with the investigation and provide a third party objective look at each case. Visit our Employee Relations page to see how we can assist you with employment issues.

 

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Dealing With Difficult Employees

Question:

It seems like we are always hearing about a difficult employee or a complaint about a demanding manager. This can really inhibit how successful the team is working together.  Can you offer some suggestions on how to effectively deal with these difficult people?

Answer:

We all have people in our lives who are more challenging to work with than others. There is no one right way to deal with these types of people, but here are some suggestions that can be used depending on the individual circumstances:

  • Remain calm and be respectful – This may sound obvious, but it’s easier said than done; getting worked up serves no purpose. Be respectful and focus on the issue at hand. Keep emotions out of it. If the individual gets personal or derogatory, acknowledge that they are upset and redirect back to the issue at hand.
  • Empathize and get detail – For the demanding person, show them you understand what they are saying, and show you want to work with them.
  • Share your perspective – Talk about what you CAN do. Don’t make excuses, but when appropriate, let them know what possible obstacles you expect to encounter in trying to meet their request.
  • Offer Options – You may not be able to meet the demand exactly, but offer what you can do. Show how this alternative can meet their needs.
  • Escalate if needed – Request that a difficult person allow you the opportunity to resolve the problem. Realize sometimes that escalation is the best solution.
  • Preserve the relationship – Keep the big picture in mind. As easy as it may sound to swear you will never deal with that person again, that may not be realistic.
  • Self examination – Sometimes we have to ask, “Am I the problem?” Take a close look at the situation and ask “Why am I perceiving this person as difficult and demanding?” Could it be that they are just inconvenient for me?

A key underlying theme in all of these tips is solid communication and listening. Employing these skills will help get to the root of the problem. There is no one-size-fits-all method of dealing with challenging people in the workplace. Hopefully these tips can guide you to a positive outcome.

One of the most difficult aspects of human resources management is dealing with people. Are you getting inundated with complaints about managers or employees that take you away from more pressing matters? Are you looking for an on-going solution to combat these issues? Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience in employment relations. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn how we can help you resolve some of your toughest ER problems.

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Requiring Employee Contact Information

Question:

Can my company require our employees to provide their personal cell phone number and home email address?

Answer:

A  follow up question to you might be, why do you need them? If it is for emergency notifications, that is one thing, however if it is for working purposes, you would be better off providing them with a work email or cell phone. With email, it is best to make sure that any work related communications are managed in the secure environment of your company server. Also keep in mind that email or phone calls made outside of work hours to non-exempt employees count as “time worked”. Make sure you are tracking that time and paying overtime accordingly.

Today’s employees are on a constant search for work/life balance; it is a key factor in choosing an employer and, sometimes, the decision to leave. As a job requirement you could most likely require them to provide you with two ways to reach them and then suggest they provide a cell phone number and home email address; but requiring it might be a stretch. As long as they give you a way to reach them during off hours that should suffice.

Recordkeeping is one of the more mundane tasks associated with Human Resources, but is extremely important. Keeping documentation of corrective actions, counseling sessions and performance appraisals are vital to making sure you are being consistent with your disciplinary and performance policies. Strategic HR, inc. has a great online tool that’s affordable, easily downloaded and ready for immediate use. Our Coaching and Counseling toolkit has sample policies and forms to help you with your Counseling needs. Visit our Communications page to learn more.

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How to Handle an Autocratic Manager

Question:

I work for a manager who is a retired, very successful Captain of a submarine for the US Navy. There are 45 people under this manager varying in age from 21-50, and we are losing people from our team left and right due to his autocratic management style. This management style worked very well for him as a Navy Captain, but in the civilian world we don’t know what to do. What can our team do to work together and change this so that we can enjoy coming to work again?

Answer:

Military officers have a distinct “command and control” management style. In the military this type of management style is encouraged and rewarded, so the former Captain is managing in a way that’s familiar and comfortable for him.

Before the manager changes his management style, he has to see that it’s in his best interest to change. Since the old style was effective for him and he knows no other approach, he won’t even consider anything else until and unless he understands his autocratic style is not acceptable in his new environment.

It’s quite possible that this manager won’t hear any constructive criticism from anyone “under” him in the “chain of command.” He may listen to a person he considers a peer and will listen to his immediate supervisor or someone in a higher-level position. For this reason, you should have a representative of the team meet with either the manager’s boss or the top HR person. In sharing the team’s concerns, the representative must be very specific. What is the behavior that’s causing problems? What are specific examples of instances that have caused team members to be dissatisfied or disrespected? Do you know for certain that former employees resigned because of this person? Would they be willing to say this to the manager’s supervisor? Be sure to balance the criticism with areas where the manager is strong, such as his expertise or insights based on experience.

The manager would undoubtedly benefit from one-on-one coaching from a person he respects. If he is to change from his autocratic management style, he needs to have some new skills. The best coach for him would be a seasoned peer that he trusts, his supervisor, a top-level HR person within the organization, or an external consultant.

In the meantime, team members should speak up when the manager is too directive without sharing why he has issued orders or hasn’t asked for input from the team before making decisions that affect the team. Be sure to say why you’re making suggestions or asking questions, i.e. to ensure that the product or service is of excellent quality for customers, etc. Otherwise, the manager may feel that his authority is simply being questioned and this is very threatening for a person with his background and training.

Having good employee relations is key to effectively managing (and retaining) your workforce. Employees want to feel valued and may not perform up to standards, or stick around very long, if they don’t feel they are needed. Strategic HR, inc. understands the value of your workforce and having good Employee Relations. We’ve helped companies create reward and recognition programs and have coached managers on providing support and mentoring to their employees. Learn how we can help you with your employee relations needs by visiting our Employee Relations page.