Employee Relations Questions of the Week

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Six Ways to Encourage Employees to Set Work/Life Boundaries

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HR Question:

Our entire team would love to find a better balance with work/life boundaries, but it’s tough to find a place to start. What are some ways to encourage employees to set work/life boundaries?

HR Answer:

Most everyone knows what the “hustle” is. It’s been a part of work culture since the early 19th century, when the word was first used to mean “gumption” or “hard work.” Depending on the context, hustle may be a virtue, the antithesis of laziness, or a necessity, the extra effort one must perform to overcome bad luck, oppression, or structural barriers.

In this line of thinking, if you can’t get ahead, it’s your own fault, and you just need to work harder. You can be or do anything you want, as long as you’re willing to put in the effort. It’s what we tell our kids so they can achieve the “American Dream”—you’ve got to work hard to get good grades to get into an elite school to get a lucrative job. In the workplace, hustle means showing how dedicated you are to the organization by being the hardest worker. You’re the first one in the office and the last one to leave. You take calls and check email while on vacation. Even when you’re sick, you’re reachable.

Sometimes all that hard work pays off. Some go-getters get promotions and raises. But success stories notwithstanding, burning the midnight oil doesn’t actually increase productivity. In 2019, CNBC shared a Stanford survey showing that “productivity per hour decline(s) sharply when a person works more than 50 hours a week.”

But hustle can hasten burnout. A 2018 Deloitte survey showed that 77% of employees have experienced burnout in the workplace and nearly 70% of them feel like their employer isn’t doing enough to prevent it. Among the leading causes cited were working long hours or over weekends and having to meet unrealistic expectations.

How to Establish Work/Life Boundaries

If you’ve conducted job interviews recently, you probably know that many job seekers today have little love for hustle culture. Instead, they want the freedom at work to set boundaries so getting their jobs done doesn’t encroach on their lives outside of work. This makes good business sense too. According to Harvard Business Review, when employers support work-life balance, they promote productivity, reduce turnover, improve employee health, and boost diversity.

If you want to encourage better work and home boundaries for your employees but are wondering how to go about it, we have some tips to get you started:

Start at the top.

Encourage your managers to come and go at reasonable times and take days off. Discourage making calls or sending emails after regular working hours. Ensure that leaders are taking breaks throughout the day and are encouraging their employees to do so as well.

Focus on outcomes.

If possible, set substantive goals with your employees rather than focusing on the number of hours they’re working. Train managers how to evaluate performance based on objective measurements of productivity and efficiency. It’s the good work that matters, not the time spent at a workstation, the number of keystrokes logged, or the appearance of busyness. Added bonus: your managers will be better able to manage their time and set healthy boundaries around their work if they don’t feel compelled to monitor their direct reports’ every working moment.

Ensure proper staffing and workload.

Set expectations around the amount of work each employee should be able to complete in a standard workday. Share those expectations with the team and get their input on what a reasonable workload should look like and whether they’re feeling underworked or overworked. If you’re understaffed, you may need to assign extra work to employees, but make sure no one’s plate gets so full they’re at risk of burnout. Reward the extra effort and watch for signs of low morale.

Be flexible.

As you are able, give employees the ability to flex their schedule to take care of personal business during the workday without jumping through a lot of hoops. Use a shared calendar so everyone knows who is available and when. If your workplace has a variety of shifts, consider offering employees the ability to work hours across different shifts to find flexibility.

Revisit paid time off (PTO) options.

Review what you currently offer and dig into why you have the PTO plans you do. Make sure you’re offering at least as much as your competitors (if at all possible). In addition to paid time off for vacation and illness, consider offering paid time off for specific activities like volunteering.

Talk with your employees. Ask them how they feel about their workload, whether they currently have healthy work/life boundaries, and what would help them better attend to their personal obligations. Survey them about what’s causing them the most stress at work and what work-related matters may be keeping them up at night. Keep an open discussion going.

You can learn more about good management practices, preventing burnout, PTO, and other topics discussed here on the platform.

Special thanks to our HR Support Center for providing this edition of our HR Question of the Week.

If your organization is struggling with burnout and low morale, Strategic HR can help you to understand what’s going wrong and identify the necessary steps to increase employee engagement and retention. Contact us to help re-engage and re-energize your team!

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What Questions Should I Ask During An Exit Interview?

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HR Question:

We’ve decided to start conducting exit interviews but aren’t sure of the right questions to ask. What are some key questions to ask during an exit interview?

HR Answer:

Exit interviews are an important part of the employee life cycle. These interviews, conducted after an employee has formally turned in their resignation and is in their last few days of employment with your organization, allow you to get feedback to examine and potentially improve processes, expectations, and experiences within the company. While typically conducted with an employee who is leaving on their own terms for another opportunity, you can also conduct exit interviews with those employees who are relocating, retiring, or leaving for personal reasons.

Take the time to discuss topics such as pay and benefits, team culture and expectations, and reasons why someone may have felt prompted to search for opportunities elsewhere. The answers to these questions can help you develop strategies for your HR processes. Plus, this feedback is critical to reducing turnover and creating an environment your employees want to work for. You can’t fix what you don’t know, and you won’t know unless you ask. Preparing ahead of time can allow you to ask focused questions that will lead to the necessary answers.

How to prepare for an Exit Interview

The first step in conducting an effective exit interview is to ask yourself what you are hoping to accomplish by talking to the exiting employee. Are there areas or blind spots that they may be able to shed light on or provide additional insight into? This opportunity will allow you to gather feedback that current and remaining employees may be too hesitant to share.

You may have some suspicions as to the underlying reason(s) for employees’ departures, so this can be an opportunity to test out your hypotheses. For example, you may be concerned that your salary ranges are not up to date with your market and industry, and you are lagging behind your competitors. Or is the employee leaving because of a manager, supervisor, or co-worker? Do you want to look at your culture to see if it promotes teamwork, accountability, and appreciation?

Additionally, be prepared to see the organization through this individual’s lens. They may not have had the best experience, or perhaps they felt consistently frustrated by certain elements. As a result, be prepared to listen to their feedback (and potential negative approach) with an impartial ear and an eye looking for potential opportunities for improvement.

What questions should I ask?

After determining the why, start creating questions that will get you the information you are seeking. Of course, there are many questions that you could ask, so we recommend you identify a set of questions that can be discussed in a reasonable amount of time. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Were you looking for a job (and if so, what made you decide to start looking)?
    Because of the current job market, many employers pursue passive job seekers and provide the employee with a terrific employment opportunity. If the individual was actively applying for new roles, this might help get to the root of why they wanted to leave.
  2. What caused you to accept the position?
    This is where the interviewer can get to a key differentiator between their organization and their competition. More pay, better benefits, remote work, work culture, toxic manager, etc. may be reasons why the offer made couldn’t be refused.
  3. Did your manager meet your expectations for providing appropriate direction, support, and leadership?
    It is often said that people leave a manager, not a job. If their expectations weren’t met, ask probing questions to understand why. This can shed light on any supervision and leadership issues that may need to be addressed.
  4. How can our company improve our training and/or onboarding process?
    For those newer to your company, this question allows you to determine how the employee felt about their first few months in your organization and if they feel they received sufficient training to do their job. If the employee has been with your organization for a longer time period, be sure to clarify that their suggestions can also come from their experience or role in training and onboarding processes as well.
  5. What, if anything, would you have changed about your job?
    A good follow-up question to this one is “if that change were implemented, would you return to work here?” Again, this question can get to the root cause of the turnover, and if the departing employee feels strongly enough about the company to consider returning at a future time. Remember that boomerang employees can be an asset to your organization as they can return re-energized and more engaged, so keep that door open when it’s appropriate to do so.
  6. Would you refer a friend or family member to work here?
    This question can give you additional information about the culture of the organization. If the answer is “yes, but not in my department,” follow-up questions may again reveal issues that should be addressed.

For additional areas to probe, Glassdoor provides more exit interview questions to consider.

What to do after an Exit Interview

After the exit interview, consider how you will use the data. Are you sharing it with the managers or leadership team, or are you checking the exit interview off your list and storing the information? Look for themes, especially if there is increasing turnover in one department or position. For example, are all of your customer service representatives leaving because they didn’t feel as though they were trained appropriately? Do your departing IT professionals complain about a lack of support from their manager? Use the data from exit interviews to create action plans to address issues and concerns.

Exit interviews can be used as a great tool to target turnover and retention issues. An effective exit interview is also valuable in pinpointing management and cultural challenges in an organization if the data is used appropriately. An alternate strategy is to open lines of communication with employees before they leave by conducting employee surveys or implementing stay interviews to identify and address issues before they choose to exit.

Thank you to Sheryl Fleming, MA, SHRM-SCP, for contributing to this HR Question of the Week.

Do you know why your employees choose to leave your organization? Exit interviews, while time-consuming, can be key tools for better understanding your company’s retention opportunities. Our team at Strategic HR can help you construct and conduct stay and exit interviews to learn more about why employees stay or go. Visit our Employee Relations page or Contact Us to learn how we can lend a hand in your employee retention efforts.

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Could Sabbaticals Be Your Next Retention Tool?

HR Question:

In today’s fast-paced and high-pressure market, it’s difficult to truly disconnect from work. We’ve been trying to find ways to give our team a break to avoid burnout, but sometimes a week of vacation just isn’t enough. Could sabbaticals be the newest tool in our retention toolbox?

HR Answer:

You’re not alone in considering sabbaticals as they seem to be gaining in popularity. According to a recent World at Work survey assessing US organizations ranging in size and industry, 10% of organizations offered paid sabbaticals (up from 7% in 2019), and 29% offered unpaid sabbaticals (up from 16% in 2019). Now, as we’re well into a period with many different names – the Great Reshuffle, the Great Resignation, the Great Re-Evaluation to name a few – sabbaticals may be the unsung hero that benefits both employers and employees alike when it comes to talent retention, supporting good mental health, and strengthening employee engagement and dedication to their work and your organization.

Time to Re-Charge, Re-Energize, and Reconnect

It’s no secret that the first beneficiary of a sabbatical is the employee. Unfortunately, those who do choose to take sabbaticals may often lack the opportunity to properly enjoy them. In fact, The Sabbatical Project reports that nearly two-thirds of those who do take a sabbatical are often forced into them due to traumatic circumstances out of their control – the loss of a family member, health issues, the need to navigate complex or dissolving relationships, etc. Not exactly the most relaxing setting for a rejuvenating and relaxing period of time.

Although a sabbatical can be used to address such issues, it could benefit organizations to promote them for a broader purpose. Employees should be encouraged to consider using a sabbatical as an opportunity to truly disconnect, re-energize, and re-focus if suffering from burnout or fatigue. They can also be used to discover new passions, chase hobbies, and gain the experiences that many may put off until after retirement.

Sabbaticals Benefit the Employer Too

And while a sabbatical, paid or unpaid, can seem like an intimidating amount of time away from the desk for both the employee and the employer, the benefit of a re-energized and re-engaged employee can pay back dividends. Interviews for a Charter and TIME article revealed employees who returned from a sabbatical found themselves more creative, felt greater feelings of loyalty and energy, and brought new ideas to the table.

When considering the cost of having to replace a long-term employee, along with their organizational knowledge, skills, and work relationships built over time, offering a sabbatical as an opportunity to renew and recharge may be far more cost-effective. In addition, offering sabbaticals as part of your benefits package is not only attractive to retain current employees, but can also be a valuable talent acquisition tool to attract new talent.

Your Team Will Benefit From Your Time Away

The longer nature of sabbaticals creates an opportunity for cross-training. As opposed to managing through vacations where you can push a project or a question off “just a few days” until a person returns, sabbaticals present a fantastic opportunity to engage other team members in new and different tasks, departments, and levels of the organization – providing the employer with a built-in opportunity for the career development and growth that ranks high on job seekers’ lists today.

Sabbaticals Don’t Come Without a Cost

It would be a win-win if sabbaticals came without a cost to the employer or employee, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. That’s why it’s important that employers establish their promises and expectations for sabbaticals. How often and for how long can employees be away? Do they need to serve a certain number of years to qualify? How much of their regular pay will they still receive, if any? How does a sabbatical tie into their PTO or other time off categories?

While the cost may not be a surprise, the money saved by creating an attractive workplace, providing necessary mental health benefits, and showing that you’re an organization committed to putting employees’ needs first may very well pay dividends in attracting and retaining valuable talent.

Special thanks to Sammie Kelly for contributing to this HR Question of the Week! 

Providing adequate Benefits and Compensation for your employees is key to the recruitment and retention of a well-performing workforce, and having the right policies in place can make or break a company. Strategic HR Business Advisors can help you structure your benefit and compensation system to meet today’s competitive market. Please visit our Benefits and Compensation page for more information today.

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What Are Employee Pulse Surveys And How Can They Increase Retention?

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HR Question:

We are exploring ways to increase our employee retention and engagement, and someone suggested doing an employee pulse survey. Can you explain what that is and how to best use it to drive engagement?

HR Answer:

It is not surprising to employers that The Great Resignation and a tight labor market have posed formidable challenges to the retention of valued employees. To add to this concern, Gallup reports that only 32% of employees are actively engaged, and an additional 17% of employees are actively disengaged. This begs the question: how can employers work proactively to retain valued employees and spur employee engagement?

One answer may be deceptively simple: ask your employees through a survey! Employee Pulse Surveys can serve as an excellent tool to garner actionable feedback from your employees regarding key issues such as leadership, total rewards, culture, and engagement. Not to be confused with a standard engagement survey, a pulse survey is distinct in a few key ways:

  • Pulse surveys are shorter. Typically only one to five questions, the shorter survey length can help to combat survey fatigue and result in a higher response rate from employees.
  • They’re more frequent. Pulse surveys can be sent out on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. The frequency of data collection makes it easier to see trends develop in real-time and respond accordingly.
  • There’s only one focus. Pulse surveys typically focus on one specific topic. The narrow scope of pulse surveys helps you to collect feedback on critical items in between larger, more complex engagement surveys. Action plans can be developed in a timely manner to tackle any pressing concerns before the feedback becomes outdated.

Creating Pulse Surveys

To implement a pulse survey, first, decide on a topic. Consider focusing on a new initiative rollout or a topic that has been of critical interest to your employees (i.e., compensation, benefit offerings, workplace culture, etc.). Next, choose one to five questions that are tailored to this topic. The questions may primarily entail quick, structured questions (such as a Likert scale, multiple choice, or drop-down), which allow for a more quantitative, structured analysis. You may also want to include one or two open-ended questions, which can provide additional customized insight into your data.

Once the content of the survey is established, you will want to choose a survey tool by which to collect the data. Survey Methods is one of Strategic HR’s favorite tools for data collection, although many platforms serve these purposes. By leveraging a third-party survey administrator, you can ensure that your pulse surveys are administered anonymously to gather the most genuine (and valuable) feedback.

Understanding Your Results and Taking Action

The next step may arguably be the most important: creating an action plan to address the feedback that your employees have provided. Do you see common themes? Are there concerns that are identified across the board? These items should be identified, prioritized, and addressed individually. Finally, a timeline should be established to include ownership of each task and a target fulfillment date.

Don’t Forget to Follow Up!

If your employees gave their time to share their thoughts, be sure to return the favor by communicating the results of your pulse survey and the corresponding action plan(s) to your employees. This ensures that your employees know that their feedback is informing actionable changes to improve their experience.

By following these steps for thoughtful implementation of pulse surveys, you can show your employees that your organization cares about their experience and is committed to improving it. While labor market woes remain, pulse surveys can help mitigate these challenges to spur employee engagement and commitment to your organization.

Special thanks to Christine McLaughlin for contributing to this edition of our HR Question of the Week! 

Connecting with your workforce can be difficult – factor in multiple shifts, various locations, off-site employees, and a multi-generational workforce, and you quickly learn that checking in with everyone on your team isn’t easy. Strategic HR Business Advisors have years of experience formulating engaging and impactful engagement surveys to better understand your employees’ perspectives, needs, and preferences. Visit our Employee Relations page to learn more.

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Top 3 Reasons Why New Hires Leave… And How to Turn Around Your Turnover!

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HR Question:

We’re struggling with high turnover, and what’s particularly frustrating is to see so many new hires leave. What can we do to retain our new hires?

HR Answer:

We have endured a pandemic and in its wake, US employers are experiencing record-high turnover rates resulting from the “great resignation.” It sounds like your business is in the thick of navigating through this. Like many others, you are probably spending more time and money recruiting, onboarding, and training employees, only to see new hires leave sooner and sooner. It is estimated that 20-40% of new hires leave in their first 90 days. This leaves many employers scratching their heads asking, “Why can’t we keep our new employees?”

When a new hire leaves a position early in their employment, it is typically for one of three reasons:

  1. The job did not turn out to be what they expected
  2. They do not feel a part of the team
  3. The business down the street offered more money

I’ll discuss each of these turnover reasons below and share specific actions you can take to address these issues.

What to do if your new hires leave

When you experience turnover, your first step should be to find out why your employees are leaving. Have HR or someone other than the direct supervisor take a few minutes to reach out and talk to the departing employee. Most people want to express their frustrations, and you can learn a great deal by asking a few prompting questions followed by listening carefully. If an employee left without warning, text them and ask for a brief response with no pressure to provide more than a reason.

When the job is NOT what the employee expected…

Candidates are not typically good interviewers. When coaching people in their career search, I always remind them that they are responsible for interviewing the company as thoroughly as the company is interviewing them. They should have a list of questions for the interviewers that help them evaluate the organization’s culture, work environment, leadership, development, and advancement opportunities. But most importantly, they have to get a clear picture of the job duties to determine if they will enjoy them and have what it takes to be successful in the role. Many candidates are just so nervous they don’t take the time to do their own investigating which can result in new hires leaving.

So what can you do? Help your candidates by filling in these blanks during the interview. Continue to note whether the candidate has questions or has done any research on the company (this says something about the candidates’ preparedness), provide a copy of the job description, and give them a company tour, but go above and beyond this.

Paint a realistic picture of the job and the company for candidates by:

  • Job Shadowing – Have candidates spend time following an employee doing the same/similar job, so they can see first-hand what the job entails.
  • Walking the Job – Walk through the job site with the candidate. Have them talk through what they see, what they would do in this situation, what resources they need, and what questions they have.
  • Providing a Job/Company Presentation – Create a presentation for job candidates with videos of the jobs being performed (or borrow one of the hundreds provided by the Department of Labor’s Careeronestop page) along with pictures of the work environment, your culture, organization structure, compensation programs and benefits, etc. You can use this with groups of candidates when you are hiring multiple people for similar roles.
  • Including Multiple Employees in Interviews – Allow the candidates to speak to multiple employees, including the direct supervisor, members of the team, and another person doing the same/similar job. These company representatives should have prepared information to share about the job and company and be ready to answer candidate questions.

Painting a clear picture of the job will help some candidates self-select out of the applicant pool, but that is what you want. Then you are left with the candidates who have a realistic picture of the job and your organization who WANT to work for you.

When the New Hire Doesn’t Feel Part of the Team…

Think about a time when you walked into a room with a group of people and had a hard time connecting with anyone there. You probably felt like an outsider and wanted to leave the group. This happens more than we want to admit, especially in a new job. When you do not feel “a part” of something, it is very easy to walk away, assuming no one will notice or care when you’re gone. So, it’s not surprising that new hires leave when they don’t feel connected.

Build new employees’ connections with:

  • Daily Check-ins (or at each scheduled shift) – Ask a simple question about their day, a current project, their weekend, technology, who they have met, or what help they need to do their work that day. It doesn’t have to be more than five minutes, but just connecting reminds them that you know they are there. And it doesn’t hurt to tell them that you are glad they are there!
  • Team Mentor/Buddy –  Some organizations use a formal buddy or mentor program, which is very beneficial. If your organization is too small for a formal program, do it informally. Just ask another person to reach out to the new hire at least weekly for the first three months. This person can invite the new hire to join their group for lunch or answer questions that the new employee may not feel comfortable asking their supervisor.
  • Plan for Virtual Employees – Don’t forget your virtual employees, as this can be the most challenging group to keep connected. For some creative ideas, check out this article from Scavify.

When a Competitor Offers More Money…

Budgets will be stretched this year as rising compensation and inflation are big challenges employers are facing. Money is being thrown at applicants in the form of higher hourly rates and salaries, signing bonuses, retention bonuses, performance bonuses, etc. This results in employees jumping (or being recruited) from one employer to the next to get a quick bump in pay. It is easy for competitors to entice new hires to leave when they are not happy with or feel disconnected from the job or the company culture from the start.

Address employee compensation by:

  • Assessing the Market – Learn what current pay rates are for jobs in your industry and location and compensate your employees fairly. If you don’t have the time or expertise to collect and analyze the data, you can reach out to an external compensation & benefits expert to assist in providing benchmark compensation reports for comparison.
  • Offering Competitive Pay That Can be Maintained –  Ensure that higher pay rates/bonuses for new employees DO NOT:
    • Put such a strain on the budget that you will not be able to continue paying that rate or cause you to hire fewer workers than needed therefore making existing employees’ jobs even harder; and/or
    • Create pay inequities with existing staff to cause them to walk away.
  • Showcasing Internal Career Paths – Show new employees what their job will look like in six months, a year, two years, and how their compensation will increase so they have something to work toward.
  • Communicating Your Value – Your recruiting strategy must include the intrinsic value your organization offers (benefits, culture, career path) going beyond compensation. This is the time to develop a Total Compensation Statement if you don’t already have one, and then live up to the hype of what makes your organization great. Check out these fun recruiting videos shared by Builtin to see how they share their messages.

While we will likely continue to see high turnover in the coming year according to economists, there are strategies your organization can take to retain your employees, especially your newest and most vulnerable new hires. A little extra time and money spent in doing these things will save an exorbitant amount spent in turnover.

Thank you to Lorrie Diaz, Senior HR Business Advisor with the Strategic HR Business Advisors team, for contributing to this HR Question of the Week.

If your organization is struggling with high turnover, Strategic HR can help you to understand what’s going wrong and identify the necessary steps to increase employee engagement and retention. Contact Us to turn around your turnover!

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Specific Ways HR Can Cultivate an Inclusive Workplace

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HR Question:

We’re celebrating the last full week of Black History month, and we want to keep the conversation going. How can our HR department cultivate a more inclusive environment beyond Black History Month?

HR Answer:

While the month of February inspires us to celebrate the successes and recognize the struggles of Black and African American individuals across the US, this focus and spotlight do not have to (and we’d argue should not) be limited to four weeks out of the year. In “The Diversity and Inclusion Revolution,” one of the eight truths the Deloitte Review focuses on is that to create a diverse and welcoming workplace, organizations have to “perform a culture reset, not a tick-the-box program.” Celebrating the work and contributions of Black Americans during one month is not enough to build a diverse culture – rather, it can contribute to a continuous, inclusive facet of a larger and ongoing conversation; one that includes a wide range of abilities, identities, ethnicities, races, and genders.

Studies have shown that increasing the diversity of teams and leadership leads to increased innovation. Additionally, it’s no secret that diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces see higher than average financial performance as well. It is easy to see why cultivating an inclusive workplace is not only the right thing to do; it is also a smart business decision. So as you look for ways for HR to continue to nurture and grow a more inclusive environment beyond February, we offer the following suggestions.

Embrace 3 Pillars of Diversity and Inclusion

After studying the most productive workplaces around the world, Gallup identified three requirements for a diverse and inclusive workplace culture:

  1. Employees are treated with respect
  2. Employees are valued for their strengths
  3. Leaders do what is right

By viewing diversity and inclusion through a broader lens as Gallup has, it opens the door for everyone to see how they can play a role. It’s naturally HR’s role to facilitate open conversations amongst employees, managers, and executives, including facilitating eye-opening and bridge-building conversations about how to understand and respect one another’s differences and the value that these differences can bring to our professional and personal lives.

In addition to having meaningful conversations that foster a respectful and inclusive environment, we recommend that you review your employee handbook to ensure that your policies and practices fully support diversity and inclusion in your organization. For example, do you have a clear path for employees to go to HR should they have concerns about the inclusivity of their workplace?

Provide Training that Meets Employees Where They are in the Journey

As your organization continues to foster a culture of inclusion and belonging for everyone, it’s important that your employees have the tools and common language to talk through related topics and issues together. When it comes to understanding diversity and how we can learn from one another, there is not a lack of potential training and development experiences. No matter where your employees are on this journey, it is important to continue to provide education and opportunities for growth.  If you don’t feel that you are best equipped to educate employees on the subject matter, you may feel inclined to bring in a reputable speaker or training facilitator to optimize the experience.

Look for Ways to Foster a Sense of Belonging

There are many ways that HR can be purposeful in cultivating an inclusive culture. You can look for opportunities throughout the year to recognize important dates or impactful cultural events and help employees to celebrate them. For example, Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday beginning in 2021 – does your organization have plans to celebrate, recognize, or highlight the holiday? Can your employees take time off through established or floating holidays without utilizing their PTO in order to celebrate?

With the goal of creating an inclusive environment, consider providing forums and welcoming spaces for members of various affinity communities to exchange ideas, find mentorships, encourage a sense of belonging, and network. These groups could range from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to LGBTQIA2S+, women, young and emerging professionals, and more. For example, look to GE’s Employee Resource Groups, which exist for the purpose of welcoming “all employees to learn, connect, advocate, and foster a sense of belonging.”

Get Involved in Your Local Community

As the Deloitte Review emphasized, “match the inside and the outside.” Internal efforts to continue the conversations emphasized during Black History month or other diversity and inclusion initiatives can be more effective when matched with external efforts to make a difference in your local community. Look for outside opportunities through community action groups or nonprofit organizations. You could also consider paying employees for their time and efforts contributing to a more inclusive and welcoming society.

As we mentioned, there are countless ways that HR can cultivate an inclusive workplace, so we hope that these suggestions inspire even more ideas for how you can nurture diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in your organization.

Thank you to Mary Mitchell, MBA, SPHR, CHRS; Melinda Canino, MS; and Samantha Osborne Kelly for contributing to this edition of our HR Question of the Week.

Having an inclusive organizational culture that contributes to your organization’s overall success doesn’t happen by accident. It needs to be nurtured. Learn how we can help you to nurture your culture through our employee relations services, or contact us today.

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How Can Managers Assess Their Impact on Retention?

HR Question:

I’ve heard the saying – “people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” I recognize my managers can play a key role in the success of my organization, but how do we assess our manager’s impact on retention in our organization?

HR Answer:

As employers continue to wrestle with the challenges of attracting and hiring staff amid low unemployment numbers and continued COVID concerns, many organizations may feel the pressure to re-invigorate and re-evaluate their engagement and retention strategies in order to keep the talent they have on staff. To do so, companies are looking inward to assess their managers first and foremost.

In her article, 20 Employee Engagement Ideas That Work, Kiely Kuligowski explains that “today’s employees are no longer interested in just showing up, performing their tasks and going home – they want to be invested in and enthusiastic about their work, and to feel connected to and valued by their company.” Unfortunately, further research from Gallup has shown that only 36% of employees feel that sense of “engagement” at work. And to take it a step further, managers can account for up to 70% of the variance in employee engagement and can adversely or positively impact employees’ commitment to their work and the company.

You’re right…we do often hear the saying, “people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” So, in this period of heightened focus on retention, how can companies empower their individual managers to boost employee engagement?

One simple action is to consider incorporating an Engagement Self-Assessment and Action Planning worksheet. By guiding managers through a self-assessment of high-impact engagement drivers, managers have the opportunity to reflect on their contributions to the retention of their employees, while sharing additional ideas and strategies that they may not have incorporated in their management style in the past.

Want a copy of our Manager’s Engagement Self-Assessment Worksheet?

Download it here!

Managers can consider incorporating these high-impact engagement drivers into their management approaches in order to further improve their team’s retention.

Clarify performance expectations

By identifying key performance expectations for individuals, team members can feel confident in knowing how their performance will be assessed. Further, by communicating and reaching an agreement on expectations, employees will feel empowered that they have a say in how their role is measured.

Provide fair and accurate informal feedback

Ongoing feedback, particularly in an informal setting, can help correct and reinforce the behaviors managers need from their employees, without the stress and pressure of a formal review. Keeping it fair and in line with the agreed-upon performance expectations can help remove feelings of discontent or inequity across team members.

Emphasize employee strengths in discussions and performance reviews

For many employees, hearing their individual strengths recognized and emphasized in conversation can be an uplifting and encouraging moment. By consciously identifying and communicating those strengths, it can improve morale while both correcting and reinforcing behavior.

Leverage employee “fit” and motivation

Create an environment that motivates and finds the intersection between what the business needs and the employee’s strengths and interests.

Help build problem-solving capacity and provide solutions to day-to-day challenges

Challenge and coach employees to solve problems. By empowering employees to meet future challenges, managers can help to break down barriers that could prevent success.

Amplify the good and filter the bad

Emotions and tensions are running high. Managers can help to manage the employees’ perception of the company by focusing on what is going right and the positive aspects of the culture. That doesn’t mean ignoring the “bad,” however. Honestly communicate challenges and discuss possible solutions to lean into transparency for your employees.

Connect employees with the organization and its success

Provide context and help communicate how an employee’s work connects to the company goals, and how their hard work contributes to the success of the business.

Instill a performance culture

Hold employees accountable to meet performance expectations; follow up and address any performance issues quickly and fairly.

Connect employees with talented co-workers

Help employees get exposure to other talented employees and build internal networks that help them to learn new skills and perspectives, complete projects, stay informed, and develop new ideas.

Demonstrate a “credible commitment” to employee development

Be sure to follow through on development plans intentions. Use stretch assignments to encourage growth and new skills in your team members – emphasize that growth and development occurs every day, not just through formal training.  Encourage participation in webinars and brown bag sessions.

For more support, download our Manager’s Engagement Self-Assessment Worksheet today!

Do you need more information or training on the strategies outlined in the engagement assessment? We’re happy to help! We can partner with you to bolster your Employee Relations efforts, developing an engagement and retention strategy to help you maintain your most important resource – your people.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should contact their attorney to obtain advice about their particular situation and relevant jurisdiction. This website contains links to other third-party websites. These links are only for the convenience of the reader, user or browser; Strategic HR does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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How Do I Manage a Disrespectful Employee?

HR Question:

I’m supposed to manage a disrespectful employee and we keep butting heads. They don’t seem to want to follow my directions and I get the feeling that they’re not giving me their attention when I’m trying to work with them. How can I manage a subordinate who doesn’t respect me?

HR Answer:

Managing a high-performing, in-sync team at the best of times can be difficult – let alone if you have a subordinate who doesn’t respect you or who is trying to make waves in the team. If you’re finding it difficult to manage a disrespectful employee, there are a few approaches you can take to try to resolve the situation for the better.

First, keep in mind – respect has to be earned. In a perfect world, respect would be earned based on job title alone, but that’s not always the case. If you’re coming into a new role, particularly if you’ve been promoted above others or are making major changes to the dynamic of the workplace, it’s almost a given that you’ll face some resistance. That being said, respect is due in the workplace on the basis of simply the need to create an efficient and welcoming culture.

When faced with a resistant and disrespectful subordinate, the first course of action is to try to understand why there is a lack of respect. Be careful to avoid accusing anything right off the bat, as that can create an even more contentious and disrespectful situation.  Consider approaching the conversation just like a typical feedback or performance discussion.

Build Rapport.

Get to know them on a personal (yet, still professional) level. What do they enjoy doing on the weekend? What’s their favorite TV show? How did they get started with the company? In this role? What challenges are they facing right now, and how can you help them meet those challenges? Show them that you’re willing to “buy in” to their life. By building a rapport with this person, it may help them lower some of their walls in order to have an open, honest, and productive conversation.

Learn about what is driving their behavior.

Are they stressed outside or inside of work? Are they feeling supported? There could be other things that you don’t see that are driving some of these actions and activities, such as family challenges or conflict in their personal life. Don’t assume they don’t respect you – it just may be manifesting itself in ways that feel like disrespect.

Be specific.

When you address the behavior, be specific about the behaviors and incidents, and explain that it makes you feel disrespected. Utilize “I” statements, such as “when I saw that the report was still missing, even after I asked, I felt disrespected.” Draw the attention away from accusing statements and focus on the effects of their actions.

Recognize the situation.

If you do find that the conflict isn’t something external (perhaps they don’t like you, truly don’t respect you, you’re making change, or you’re replacing someone they enjoyed working for), then recognize the change or uncomfortable situation first. Acknowledge how that might make them feel, and give them the space to work through it.

Earn their buy-in.

This step may be difficult, as there could be hurt feelings or lingering frustration, but earning their buy-in can make leaps and bounds out of baby steps. This step might include asking what changes they would like to see, getting their opinion on next steps, or by explaining the approach, your style, and your goals so that they feel that they’ve been “brought into the fold.”

From there, encourage collaboration by giving them credit and pointing out ways they could be successful in the situation. Call on their support, and clearly outline what that looks like (i.e., “I need you to respond within ‘X’ days”).

Document Expectations.

Putting next steps on paper can seem intimidating after overcoming a difficult conversation. But in order to ensure clear communication and avoid micromanaging, it’s important to document these expectations should discipline become necessary now or later. Plus, these documents will be key tools to return to in order to keep you both accountable for moving forward positively.

Sometimes, personalities just clash.

It may simply boil down to a personality conflict, and if that’s the case, that’s okay! Not everyone is expected to get along or spend time together outside of work, but they are expected to work together with respect. If it’s a personality conflict, try to refocus the conversation and goals on work-related tasks and objectives to effectively manage the disrespectful employee. Keep focused on the deliverables in front of you, and limit interaction to respectful and to-the-point conversations.

If all options have been exhausted, it’s time to escalate the situation to another supervisor or another HR professional.


As you continue to cultivate this relationship and others on your team, be fair and consistent with anyone you address – whether or not you have a constructive and positive relationship. Follow through on any promises or changes you say that you will do in order to build trust. Consistency is key in creating a fair workplace.

At the end of the day, your subordinates may not like you – and they may never like you – but at least they will see you as a fair and consistent individual. Over time, as they may see the benefits of working together with you, they will gain respect for you.

Special thanks to Terry Salo for contributing to this edition of our HR Question of the Week!

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 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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How Can We Support Our LGBTQ+ Employees?

HR Question:

As June is Pride Month, many organizations are taking this opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the LGBTQ+ community. But is it enough? How can we support our LGBTQ+ employees?

HR Answer:

A year ago, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that employers may not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment. The decision was a response to three separate cases, all of which were about employment discrimination based on “sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which applies to all employers with 15 or more employees.

Prior to this ruling, there had been debate for decades about the definition of sex under Title VII. Originally, many believed that it meant only that men and women could not be treated differently, based solely on their biological sex. But over the years, the Supreme Court had broadened its interpretation to include certain characteristics or expectations related to sex. During that same time, several circuit courts of appeal ruled that sex did include sexual orientation and gender identity, while others ruled that it did not. The conflict between circuit courts is the primary reason that the Supreme Court decided to hear and rule on these three cases. Many states and localities protected sexual orientation and gender identity before the Supreme Court’s ruling as well.

For a year now we’ve had a definitive answer to this question, but then only for employees of organizations with 15 or more employees. And what those protections actually entail remains somewhat an open question. The Supreme Court’s decision in June 2022 said nothing of restroom use or healthcare benefits for transgender employees, for example.

For LGBTQ employees, discrimination and exclusion persist in the workplace. Pay disparities, harassment, and abusive language are common. It is still rare to find openly LGBTQ+ people in executive leadership positions. According to a Glassdoor study, 43% of LGTBQ employees feel that they are not fully out at work, and 47% believe that being out could hurt their career. In many workplaces, these employees are compelled to spend time, energy, and productivity presenting themselves as straight or cis. Hiding their identities is additional work.

Expectations continue to evolve, however. Almost half of employed Americans say they would not apply to work at a company that does not support its LGBTQ+ employees, and many feel that their own employer could be more supportive.

When LGTBQ+ employees are free to be fully themselves in the workplace, and have the support of their employer and colleagues, they’re better able to do their best work, contribute to their team’s and organization’s success, and thrive in their careers. But when they have to edit their identity in the workplace to avoid abuse, harassment, and adverse employment decisions, their time, energy, and productivity are wasted.

Additional Resources:

If you’re looking to educate yourself and your team during Pride Month (and beyond), consider the following links:

10 Ways to Support LGBTQ Rights During Pride Month.

Pride is More Than a Month: The Role of LGBTQ+ Allies in Business

Five Ways to Create a Culture of Belonging

Special thanks to the HR Support Center for providing this edition of our HR Question of the Week. 

Creating a welcoming and positive organizational culture is imperative to attracting and retaining the talent you need – not to mention critical to your bottom line. Strategic HR can support your culture strategy through employee surveys, identifying retention solutions, developing employee recognition programs, and more. Contact us today!

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How to Handle Unemployment Fraud?

HR Question:

Our company is getting unemployment notices for people that have never worked here, or in some cases, people who are still employed.  How should I handle this unemployment fraud?

HR Answer:

The increasing level of unemployment fraud has been a source of frustration for states, employers, and individual employees.  Various US congressional packages providing supplement unemployment relief have provided not only relief for the unemployed, but also an opportunity for criminals to seek ways to attempt to benefit. The US Department of Labor has reported “a surge in fraudulent unemployment claims filed by organized crime rings using stolen identities that were accessed or purchased from past data breaches.”

States that were already overwhelmed by the unexpectedly high levels of unemployment insurance (UI) claims are now having to pursue fraudulent claims to recover benefits that should not have been paid.  Employers’ unemployment rates may increase as a result, and employees find themselves dealing with identity theft concerns.

In this article, we’ll share information and resources that employers and employees can use to understand who are the most likely victims and what to do should they suspect or fall victim to unemployment fraud.

What Can Employers Do?

There are some measures that employers can take to address unemployment fraud. HR professionals should be on alert to scrutinize any notices that they receive from state unemployment administrators to ensure their accuracy. If fraud is suspected, be sure to follow your state’s reporting instructions. Note that some states require both the employee and employer to file reports.

In addition, it’s important to inform your employees about the prevalence of identity theft and unemployment fraud scams that are occurring across the United States. As a proactive measure, consider sharing the information below regarding what employees can do to understand if they might be at risk for unemployment fraud and what to do if they become a victim.

What Can Employees Do?

Employees who have had a fraudulent unemployment claim filed in their name are recommended to refer to the Unemployment Insurance Fraud Consumer Protection Guide from the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Unemployment Insurance Fraud Task Force. This guide explains:

  • Who might be more at risk of becoming a victim
  • Signs that you might have been a victim of a crime
  • Steps to take if you believe you’re an unemployment fraud victim
  • How to protect yourself from becoming a victim
  • Unemployment insurance fraud resources and links for each state

According to the UI Fraud Consumer Protection Guide, if a UI claim has been filed in your name that you did not file, you should:

  1. Report it to your state workforce agency immediately.
  2. If you’re currently working, notify your employer of the fraudulent claim as they may also need to file documentation.
  3. File a complaint using the National Center for Disaster Fraud form or by calling the Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721.

Additionally, employees are encouraged to go to annualcreditreport.com to ensure they have not been a victim of identity theft.  Employees may also want to place a free one-year freeze on their credit by contacting any one of the three nationwide credit reporting bureaus listed below.  When one bureau is notified, they must notify the other two.

Review Cybersecurity Practices

With the rise of unemployment fraud cases using information that was obtained from previous data breaches, it’s important that employers and employees implement good cybersecurity practices. This presents an opportune moment to review how your organization protects personally identifiable information (PII), such as name, address, birth date, social security number, etc. Do you encourage employees to create unique and strong passwords? Do you require two-factor authentication or alternate solutions to increase your cybersecurity? Whatever safety measures you have in place, we recommend that you continue to review them to ensure that you are covering all of the necessary areas and that your employees are following cybersecurity practices consistently.

Special thanks to Cathleen Snyder, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, and Melinda Canino for contributing to this edition of our HR Question of the Week.

Still have questions? Contact our HR experts! Give us a call at 513.697.9855 or email us at Info@strategicHRinc.com

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Can My Employee Take a Vacation While on FMLA Leave?

HR Question:

I currently have an employee who is out on FMLA leave due to their own serious injury.  Multiple employees have come to me sharing the employee’s Facebook post where she is sitting on the beach – clearly on vacation. The employees are upset and demand that she be fired. Can my employee take a vacation while they’re on FMLA leave?  What rights do I have to discipline (or terminate) this employee who I allowed off for her injury – not a two-week vacation?

HR Answer:

Social media can create a myriad of difficult and awkward situations for the workplace, often when it relates to FMLA leave. If employees are friends on Facebook or Instagram, and they see their “recovering” coworker on vacation while they are left “covering” the employee’s workload, it’s easy to see how frustration may set in. As a result, employee trust and morale may fall while you try to determine what – if any – action can be taken.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees to take up to twelve weeks of leave during a twelve-month period due to a serious health condition rendering the employee unable to perform the functions of their position. What is important to note in this situation, however, is that the regulation does not limit the activities of the employee while they are out on the leave. The only requirement is that they stay within the restrictions stated by their physician for the leave and to fulfill the requirements of the company leave policy (documentation, communication, etc.).  So, what is an employer supposed to do in this circumstance?

The most important thing to do in this situation is for HR to determine if the employee’s conduct while on vacation violates the leave claim that has been filed. For example, consider an employee who applied for and was approved for FMLA leave due to their own knee surgery. The reason for the subsequent six weeks off after surgery is a result of their inability to stand for long periods of time and needed time for recovery. This employee could enjoy their recovery while sitting on a beach to the same extent they could be sitting in their living room watching TV. If, however, should pictures surface of the employee taking a jog down the beach or paddle boarding standing up, that is another issue. Employees can recuperate outside of their homes and still stay within the required restrictions. The bottom line is if the employee is meeting the restrictions stated on the approved FMLA leave, and they are not violating any of the company leave policies, then there is really no action that can be taken.

When faced with similar FMLA leave situations, remember to:

  1. Review the medical certification related to the employee’s leave, including treatment plans and restricted activity.
  2. Conduct a complete investigation of the alleged leave violations.
  3. Maintain open communication. Discuss the allegations with the employee to assure you have the entire picture.
  4. Review the policy and apply all policies consistently. Ask yourself:
    • Does your organization restrict travel on approved leaves? Remember – if the company limits travel during approved leaves, do so for EVERYONE, not just those on FMLA.
    • Is the employee following regular communication guidelines as stated in the leave policy?
    • Is the employee providing timely documentation for claim updates or recertifications as required by the policy?
  5. Determine if any action can be taken.

If the leave is being properly used and restrictions are being followed (to the best of your knowledge), there is typically no violation. If they are violating those restrictions and appear to be abusing the leave policy, a full investigation should be launched, possibly by a third party to eliminate bias. Keep in mind that even with pictures, it may be difficult to prove an inappropriate use of the leave. Finally, remember that any decision to take action must be done so with a careful investigation into the alleged activities while taking into consideration all of the medical information as well as the timing of the vacation as it relates to the leave.

Thank you to Patti Dunham, MBA, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP for contributing to this edition of our HR Question of the Week!

Strategic HR has the answers to all of your tough Benefits and Compensation-related questions. Please visit our Benefits & Compensation page for more information or contact us to troubleshoot today.

How to Re-Energize Your Team Through Training & Development

HR Question:

I’m concerned that our employee morale and engagement are waning. How can we re-energize our team through training and development with a limited budget?

HR Answer:

We’ve seen it all around, and you’ve likely felt it yourself – COVID fatigue, Zoom fatigue, general fatigue. Let’s face it – we’re all tired in some way, and we could use a rejuvenation! Your employees are no different. Now is the time for HR professionals to grab their favorite caffeinated beverage and get back to dusting off the basics to re-invigorate employees through training, development, and engagement initiatives.

In its first several months, the pandemic required all organizations to go into crisis management mode quickly developing and implementing training to address the crisis at hand. Now that organizations have completed the critical just-in-time training of new COVID procedures and protocol, leaders can shift their focus back to key activities that may have fallen by the wayside – namely, training and development opportunities for the purpose of enrichment.

How Training and Development Can Help with Retention

Well-designed training and development activities can help employees:

  • Learn and grow in their current role to maximize their performance
  • Develop the skills necessary to prepare for the next level of their career
  • Stay engaged and invested in your company

It’s not surprising that LinkedIn’s recent Workplace Learning Report found 94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development. In order to attract and retain key talent – particularly during times like this when many are feeling tired and disengaged – savvy business leaders will continue to invest in their employees’ training and development. Reaching out and making sure that your employees know that your organization cares about and is committed to fostering their skills and career development can be a valuable retention tool.

Include Your Employees From the Start

If you haven’t already done so, we recommend that you conduct a Training Needs Analysis to identify what types of training would be beneficial for your organization as a whole, in addition to assessing development options for individual employees.

When considering new or unique training and development opportunities, you may find a greater return on investment by asking the employees who will participate in those programs to share their thoughts on what training is needed. Connecting with your team and considering their suggestions for training and development content, as well as their preferred ways to learn, can be a great way to ensure that the training will be on target for what employees want and need. Plus, it can re-engage them in their current positions and stimulate their career growth interests.

Refresh Your Training Messaging

In most cases, much of the training messaging employees have heard over the last several months has been focused on how to get their work accomplished amidst the pandemic – i.e., how to work effectively from home, how to protect yourself should you come into the office, etc. As a result, it’s possible that employees have become desensitized to the tone and messaging surrounding training information. It may feel like something they simply “have to do” rather than something they might actually want to do.

Take this opportunity to re-adjust employee expectations and priorities by shifting your training focus and communication. By placing emphasis on their own growth and development, your new training messaging can offer employees the opportunity to re-engage with your employer brand, help them re-align their goals in a COVID world, and refocus their attention on their own growth and development.

Low-Cost Training and Development Opportunities

A tight budget doesn’t have to be a barrier to ensuring that your employees get the training and development they need to grow and to feel valued. Once you understand the necessary training and development programs to offer, start your search for training resources by reviewing your internal talent. Is there an opportunity for one of your high-performing employees to train their peers on a certain task? Could you further develop an individual’s presentation and leadership skills by empowering them to train others? By tapping your own team members on the shoulder, you may discover opportunities to further both training and development without the need for external sources.

Another opportunity can be using an internal mentoring program. Mentoring is a cost-effective way to develop your workforce by pairing your more experienced employees with the newer, less experienced individuals. This can provide a meaningful learning experience for both regardless if they’re working remotely or on-site. The newer employee can learn job-related skills and strategies, while further immersing themselves in the company culture. The more experienced team member may benefit from the fresh knowledge from a recent graduate or a peer who brings experience from a different organization. Both employees have an opportunity to understand what the other’s goals and aspirations are, building stronger relationships within the team.

For additional low-cost training and development ideas, check out our previous article for suggestions that work well for both remote workers and those on-site.

Employee Rewards That Don’t Break the Bank

Particularly at a time when employee morale and engagement is down, it’s important to look for ways to help employees feel good about the work that they do and the valuable role that they play in your organization. If part of your employee engagement strategy is to offer meaningful training and development opportunities, consider linking those with rewards for those who either step up to provide training or mentoring as well as those who complete training or development milestones.

Obviously, your employee rewards can reach far beyond recognizing those who are involved with training and development. To continue to support and boost morale, explore ways to recognize your staff who go above and beyond. It’s amazing what a difference you can make in someone’s life by simply showing appreciation for their hard work and effort.

As with training, there are plenty of no-cost or low-cost reward options. For example, you could share shout-outs during virtual meetings or in company newsletters, award an extra hour or day of PTO, give gift cards to local businesses, restaurants, or delivery services – all of which can be awarded to shine a spotlight on the good that employees are doing in your organization. Even something as simple as a public “thank you” during team meetings can show an employee that their efforts are noticed, valued, and not merely expected. Better yet – ask your employees how they would like to be rewarded. You can set cost parameters on this if needed, but employees will appreciate the chance to choose rewards that are individualized for them.

Many employees could use a boost right now, and there are no better folks to lead the charge than HR. If you can help to re-energize your employees, not only will they feel better about themselves and the work they’re doing, but you will too.


Thank you to Jeff Rouse, MSOL and Melinda Canino, MS for contributing to this edition of our HR Question of the Week!

Is training your employees a goal for 2021? Get your Training and Development program off to the right start by asking Strategic HR to help. We have the expertise to conduct a Needs Assessment 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 Can We Support a Grieving Employee?

HR Question:

One of our team members has sadly lost a loved one recently. We want to show our love and support, but don’t want to overstep or upset this individual in this tough time. How can we support a grieving employee?

HR Answer:

Everyone experiences grief at some point in their life, and yet for being such a common experience, it’s also one that few of us are fully equipped to navigate when it comes. In part, this is because grief is such an overwhelming and horrible experience. Nothing can prepare you for it. You just have to go through it and get through it. Grief is also a unique experience for each person. Everyone has their own path through its stages, and what helped one person work through their grief may not help another.

To complicate matters, our fast-paced, always-on society isn’t set up to allow time for grief. We’re often pressured to keep our grief private and keep it short. Grief takes us away from our obligations, and our obligations may be impatient for us to return. Households need to be managed. Work needs to be done. Bills need to be paid. Life goes on.

No one can make the grief easy, but there are ways to be supportive and to give people the time and space they need to process their emotions and find healing. Below are some ways that employers and coworkers can support a grieving employee:

Document workflows

Upon hearing of a loved one’s passing, an employee may need to drop everything and leave work immediately, and, in some circumstances, the employee may not be reachable or be able to update you on the status of all their work assignments and projects. With clear, documented workflows set up ahead of time, you can quickly reassign work, and the employee doesn’t need to worry about any urgent or time-sensitive work they left behind. Having documented workflows is also (and more commonly) useful when an employee quits without giving sufficient notice or is sick or injured themselves.

Educate managers and teammates about the grieving process

Grief can take many forms and look different from day to day. Managers and coworkers of a grieving employee may not know what to say (or not to say) or how they should act. Bringing in a grief counselor to talk with employees and educate them about grief can help them support a grieving employee or team member. Grief counseling is also a good idea if employees are grieving the loss of a colleague.

Provide bereavement leave and flexibility upon return

In many cases, people who have lost a close family member have to put their grief on hold so they can make all the calls and decisions that have to be made when someone dies. They may have to make arrangements for the funeral, inform family, friends, schools, and others about the death, and give extra attention to children or other people in the home. It’s a lot. Employers can be a big help here by offering bereavement leave and flexibility when the employee returns.

In the United States, the typical bereavement leave policy is three to seven days, which is rarely enough time to hold a funeral or memorial service, let alone work through the initial pain of a loss. Some companies offer more time off to support a grieving employee. The policy at Facebook, for example, is 20 days of paid time off after the death of an immediate family member.

Of course, providing either paid or unpaid time off is a huge expense, and not every employer can make it work, however much they would like to. Our general recommendation is to offer as much time as you can and communicate with the employee about how much time they feel they need. Some employees may want to come back sooner rather than later because work helps get their minds off the pain. Others may ask for longer because they need more time to heal before they’re able to be fully productive at work.

Understand, too, that grieving employees will have bad days, and grief can come on suddenly, like a ton of bricks. Grieving employees may need extra breaks or need to take a half-day unexpectedly. Letting employees know that they have flexibility after they return can be a big relief.

Offer mental health care

It’s likely that grieving employees will need therapy to help them process the loss and work through their emotions, but regular sessions with a therapist can quickly become costly. Providing health insurance that covers mental health care can help ease this financial burden. An Employee Assistance Program may also be beneficial.

What happens if one of your employees passes away?

Download our Guide to Handling the Death of an Employee and be prepared for the unthinkable.

Reach out to offer support, but be mindful of decision fatigue

People experiencing a loss need support, but they may not know what support they need or be able to answer if asked. Decision fatigue is very common immediately after a death. Even a question like, “What can we bring over for dinner?” can be stressful to answer.

One option here is to simply let a grieving employee know that you’re there for them and that they can reach out if they need anything. Another option is to make decisions yourself about what support you give. For example, if you want to provide the employee with a gift card to a restaurant, you could select the restaurant yourself instead of asking the employee which restaurant they’d prefer (just be sure to take the possibility of food allergies into consideration). Both of these options let the employee know that you care about them without adding to the decisions they have to make and the stress they’re feeling.

Be aware of triggers and PTSD

If the death was particularly sudden, unexpected, or traumatic, the employee may at times unexpectedly reexperience the horror, panic, stress, and fear they felt at the time of the event. In some cases, the employee may be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. If any of this occurs, give the employee time and space to process their emotions.

Also, don’t be hard on yourself if something you say triggers a response. There’s no way to anticipate all of the words and images that could be triggering, and even if you know the details of the death, it’s simply not reasonable to expect that you’ll remember those details in every moment that you’re speaking. Don’t worry if you say the “wrong thing.” The important thing is to be aware that a grieving employee may feel the need to step away and to show understanding and compassion in those moments.

Special thanks to our HR Support Center for providing this edition of our HR Question of the Week. 

Do you wish you could just pick up the phone and easily get expert HR advice to help you tackle your human resources questions and challenges? You can! With our Virtual HR On-Demand Solution, you have unlimited access to HR professionals via phone/email/chat, in addition to 24/7 self-service online HR tools and resources. Check out our Virtual HR Solutions to see how we can make “going it alone” not so ALONE! 

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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 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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What Should I Consider Before Doing a Reduction in Force?

HR Question:

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

HR Answer:

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

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

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

8 Recommended Steps to Follow When Considering a Reduction in Force

1. Select the Employees for the Layoff

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

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

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

2. Avoid Adverse / Disparate Impact

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

3. Review Federal and State WARN Regulations

If an organization is contemplating a RIF or a layoff, there are several factors to take into consideration such as reviewing state and federal statutes, including the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN). WARN offers protection to workers and even communities by requiring employers to provide a 60-day notice in advance of a plant closing or what they deem as a mass layoff.  This Act is only applicable to employers with 100 or more employees.

4. Review ADEA and OWBPA Regulations

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

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

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

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

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

6. Train Supervisors and Managers

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

Some suggestions for supervisor/manager training include:

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

7. Prepare for Reduction in Force Meetings

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

8. Inform Your Workforce of the Layoffs

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

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

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

How to Handle Changes  to Job Responsibilities

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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?


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



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Returning from FMLA to a Different Role


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


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 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.


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Why Is Workplace Monitoring Necessary?


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.


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 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

HR Question:

We’ve had some complaints about employee hygiene issues, including body odor.  What is the best way to handle such a sensitive topic?

HR Answer:

This can definitely be an uncomfortable situation for both the employer and the employee, but it’s important to address employee hygiene issues because they 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 employee hygiene issues 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 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


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?


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 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

HR 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?

HR 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). 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 celebrate 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, 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. Learn more about our Team Building and Development Solutions, or contact us.

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How Do I Pay Employees After a Natural Disaster?


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


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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Benefits of Using Employee Engagement Surveys


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


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 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 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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Attendance Point System Policy


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?


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 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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Employee Engagement Ideas To Fit Any Budget


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


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 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?

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Updated June 2022

HR Question:

Our company has mandatory retirement requiring our employees to retire at age 67. We don’t discriminate…everyone is required to retire. I 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?

HR Answer:

Well…it has the potential to be a problem. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) typically prohibits what they call “involuntary retirement” or in this case “mandatory retirement.” Requiring retirement is viewed as an involuntary termination and can lead to charges of age discrimination. As with most areas of human resources, there are exceptions. We will highlight a few exceptions below and share some points to consider moving forward.

Is Age a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification?

There are general exceptions if you can prove age is a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ) necessary to perform the duties of the position. To do this, employers are required to first show that the duties are necessary for the job. Secondarily, employers must show that the individual’s age prohibits them from performing the qualifications safely and/or efficiently. Typically, the issue of safety is paramount in this decision-making.

Typically, BFOQ is hard to prove. The majority of roles that have been able to meet this qualification and require mandatory retirement include roles in public safety or public transportation. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration currently mandates that airline pilots in multi-crew operations must retire at age 65 although there is current consideration for increasing this age to 67.

Is the employee a “Bona Fide Executive” or “High Policy Maker”?

The ADEA specifically defines an allowance for mandatory retirement for those deemed a “Bona Fide Executive” or “High Policy Maker.” These two defensible reasons are a little easier to prove and are clearly defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

A “Bona Fide Executive” as 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 decisions;
  • 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).

The EEOC defines a “High Policymaker” as someone who is a top-level employee (and not a Bona Fide Executive) 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. We also recommend that you consult your legal counsel in your decision-making process.

Consider the Benefits of a Multigenerational Workforce

Overall, it is important to analyze and challenge the idea of mandatory retirement for employees, even if the reasons you are considering it are defensible. Age is simply that – an age. Today, we have five generations in the workforce working side by side. Each generation brings a unique perspective and value to the work. Consider what this multigenerational approach can bring to your workplace.

From a litigation risk perspective, it is also important to note that there continues to be an increase in age-related discrimination claims. In a recent Kiplinger article, it is reported that 78% of older workers reported seeing or experiencing age discrimination on the job. For additional guidance on protecting your organization against age discrimination charges, see this article from the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM).

Employers need to value the work of all employees, and 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 any policy that is based on age.

Thank you to Patti Dunham, MBA, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP for updating this HR Question of the Week.

Strategic HR knows that keeping abreast of legal compliance issues can be daunting, especially when the laws keep changing. We can help you stay compliant by fielding your questions and offering resources to help you identify and mitigate compliance issues. Visit our Legal Compliance Services to learn about our auditing services which can help you identify trouble spots in your HR function.

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Is it Important to Use Consensual Relationship Agreements?

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Updated February 2022

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 one another.

With the evolution of the #MeToo era, many employers found themselves re-examining (or creating) policies to mitigate the threat of sexual harassment claims – such claims being one of the top fears for many employers. Inter-workplace romances can be difficult for a myriad of reasons; one of them 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.” These kinds of agreements can vary by industry and size of the organization, says the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Those employed at midsize and large organizations were more likely to say they were required to report such romances (27 percent at both) than those at small employers (16 percent).”

A “Consensual Relationship 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?


Are holiday gifts, prizes or parties taxable wages?


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 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


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?


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 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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Being Charged for Constructive Discharge


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.


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 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?


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?


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 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, 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


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


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.


• 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. 


• 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 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


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?


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 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


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


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 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


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


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 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


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


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


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?


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 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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How do we deal with employee body odor?


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?


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


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?


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 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 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?


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Excessive Absenteeism


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?


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 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


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.


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 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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7 Tips On How To Deal With Difficult People At Work

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Requiring Employee Contact Information


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


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 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


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?


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 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.