Employee Performance

Top 10 Employee Handbook Mistakes

 
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Although most employers at least have an employment handbook, few companies treat it as a priority item. That’s a shame because a handbook presents a wonderful opportunity to communicate with your workforce about your organization’s philosophy, mission, and culture. Companies like Netflix and Nordstrom have demonstrated that handbooks can be effective without being dry and tedious legal documents. But make no mistake, your handbook does have legal ramifications.

A good handbook informs your employees about workplace rules and policies and sets expectations for performance and conduct, which prevents misunderstandings that may lead to disputes. Thoughtful and properly worded policies also may help you with your legal defense if a dispute does arise. On the other hand, a problematic or deficient handbook can hurt your cause more than it helps you. Here are the 10 biggest problems I see with employment handbooks.

WHAT NOT TO DO:

Failing to keep it up to date. I recently reviewed a handbook that contained a policy requiring smokeless ashtrays for employees who want to smoke in the office. I’m not sure in which decade somebody last reviewed the handbook, but I’m guessing hairstyles were a lot bigger then. Laws change. Policies and practices change. The very nature of your workforce and mission may change. Your handbook should reflect your current policies and be compliant with current law. Ideally, you should take a look at your handbook every couple of years.

Believing that one size fits all. I’ve seen a lot of handbooks that look like they’re basically a form downloaded from the Internet or borrowed from another source, such as someone’s former employer. I’m not necessarily knocking forms. You have to start somewhere, and handbooks do have a lot of common elements, so you don’t need to create each one as a unique work of art. But a handbook form that you borrow from somewhere else is almost never going to be exactly right for your situation.

How many employees you have, whether you’re a government contractor, whether you’re a public or private-sector employer, and whether you have a unionized workforce are all things to consider when you’re determining what to include in your handbook. Your particular industry may have workplace issues that don’t arise in other industries. For instance, manufacturers may want to address certain safety issues that wouldn’t be relevant for other employers. Banks may want to include cash-handling protocols. Hospitals may want to address vaccination requirements for employees. Professional groups may want to address licensure requirements.

In addition, your discretionary benefits and attendance policies should be tailored to reflect the practices that make sense for your workplace. You may have an insurance policy that requires certain information to be in your handbook. The list goes on and on. So, sure, start with a form if you like, but don’t think that it will get you all the way to where you need to be.

Failing to include required policies. A lot of what’s in a handbook is discretionary or, at most, recommended. But some policies are required. For instance, if you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and you have a handbook, you have to include an FMLA policy in your handbook.

Being internally inconsistent. A lot of handbooks I’ve seen have a “Frankenstein” quality, meaning they seem to be sort of patched together from various revisions and addendums over the years. It’s great to update your handbook periodically. But when you do, read through the entire thing to make sure the updates are consistent with and don’t contradict, other policies that are already in the handbook. For instance, I’ve seen handbooks with an FMLA policy, an attendance policy, and a paid leave policy that all say different things about how employees should provide notice of absences.

Disregarding state law. Most “form” handbooks you get from the Internet focus on federal law requirements, which is great because compliance with federal law is important. But don’t forget about state and local laws, which may affect the wording of policies on topics ranging from weapons in the workplace, to drug testing, to jury duty, to parental leave—and much more. And if you have employees in more than one state, you may need to have separate versions of your handbook or at least state-specific addendums.

Trying to make a handbook a contract. A handbook is for guidance only. You don’t want your handbook to be a binding agreement, on your company or your employees. Your handbook should expressly state that it isn’t a contract and you may unilaterally revise it at any time. Unfortunately, I’ve seen situations in which employers correctly include such a disclaimer in their handbook but also include things that purport to be binding on employees, such as confidentiality, noncompete, or arbitration agreements. If you want to have a binding agreement with an employee—in other words, a document you can enforce posttermination, outside the employment relationship, through a court or an arbitrator—you should create a separate document that will be executed by the employee apart from the handbook.

Policies not matching practices. I’ve seen some good-looking handbook policies on topics ranging from moonlighting, to accrual of paid leave benefits, to progressive discipline. On paper, the policies are legally compliant and sound awesome. But the problem is, once I begin talking with the employer as we go over the handbook, I realize the company isn’t actually doing what the handbook states it will do. That’s a recipe for disaster.

The main purpose of your handbook is to inform your employees about your policies and procedures and set their expectations. If your practices don’t match your policies, neither purpose is satisfied, your credibility is undermined, and you open yourself up to employment claims.

The reasons an employer’s policies don’t match its practices may vary. Maybe you used to do things that way, but you’ve changed your methods or rules. That’s fine—but you need to change your policies to reflect what you’re actually doing. Or maybe you need to be doing things the way the handbook states you’ll do them for purposes of legal compliance, but some of your supervisors haven’t gotten the message. More on that in a minute.

Failing to get an outside perspective. In addition to periodically conducting an internal review, you should consider getting an outside expert to take a look at your handbook. Experts may provide guidance on legal compliance as well as trending topics that you haven’t previously addressed in your handbook. An outsider may also spot ambiguities or inconsistencies that you’ve failed to see because you’re too close to the verbiage you’ve been working with for years.

Failing to distribute the handbook. A handbook is worthless as a resource for employees unless they have access to it. And a handbook is worthless to mitigate your risks unless you can prove your employees have access to it. Be sure to distribute a revised or new edition of your handbook to all employees, not just to new employees during orientation. And make sure you require employees to acknowledge, in writing or electronically, that they have received or have access to the current version of your handbook.

Failing to train supervisors. Your supervisors should have a good working knowledge of the contents of your handbook. For one thing, your handbook probably repeatedly tells employees to go to their supervisors with questions about policies. That suggestion won’t work out so well if your supervisors have no clue what your policies say. Your handbook can also be a great tool to ensure consistent decision making and treatment of employees by supervisors, which reduces your risk for employment claims. You really need to conduct comprehensive supervisory training at least every couple of years, and reviewing your handbook should always be part of that training.

Bottom Line

I hope this list will inspire some thoughts about handbook review. And of course, if you have questions about your handbook, it’s always best to consult us.


10 Tips for Hiring Minors This Summer

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It’s that time again, when employers are considering hiring minors for the summer—in camps, restaurants, resorts, swimming pools, and anywhere else business picks up in the warm weather months. There are strict laws pertaining to hiring minors.

The child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) prohibit employers from hiring minors (individuals under the age of 18) to work at dangerous occupations, for an excessive number of hours, and at unsuitable times of the day or night. States also have child labor laws and when state and federal laws differ, the stricter law applies.

Child Labor Laws Are Strict and Detailed

There are separate rules for minors under 18, under 16, and under 14 years of age, both on the number of hours and times of the day and year they may work, as well as the types of work that they are allowed to perform. In addition, there are rules on proof of age, minors driving motor vehicles, minimum wage rates, children working in agriculture, and work under federal contracts.

Severe penalties may be imposed on employers that violate child labor laws. In addition, employers are prohibited from retaliating or otherwise discriminating against an employee who files a complaint or participates in a legal proceeding under the Act.

Do You Need to Pay Your Summer Employees — Or Are They Interns?

Springtime every year, employers begin thinking about hiring summer interns. And the question arises—do we have to pay our interns? Particularly in times when employers have decreased their hiring numbers, summer interns are an attractive option at little or no pay.

Interns cost much less than new hires and employers don’t have to provide interns with benefits. But, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) intern test is strict and hard to pass. If you don’t pass it, then your interns are actually employees and you have to pay them.

According to the DOL, if all of the following six factors are met, an employment relationship does not exist between an intern and the company that sponsors the participant. In such a case, it may be considered an unpaid internship:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment;

  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

If no employment relationship exists, the participants are not subject to the FLSA, and no intern pay is due.

10 Tips to Remember When Hiring Minors This Summer:

Here are some tips for handling your summer hires:

  1. Understand and comply with both federal and state child labor laws and occupational safety and health regulations that apply to your business. Employers must check state law and federal law and comply with the more restrictive law.

  2. Stress safety, particularly among first-line supervisors who have the greatest opportunity to influence teens and their work habits. Work with supervisors and experienced workers to develop an injury and illness prevention program. Train adolescent workers to recognize hazards and use safe work practices.

  3. Assess and eliminate hazards for adolescent workers, such as:

    1. Driving a car or truck

    2. Operating tractors or other heavy equipment

    3. Using power tools

  4. Employers are responsible for verifying the age of their minor employees. Age certificates do not give employers authority to violate any child labor laws. Employers must determine a minor’s age and set his or her job duties and work schedules accordingly and carefully. Also, employers must file the minor employee’s age certificate, keeping it for as long as the minor is employed.

  5. Unless employers are absolutely certain that they are not engaged in interstate commerce, they should assume that they are.

  6. Internships in the for-profit, private sector will most often be viewed as employment by the federal DOL, unless the test described above is met. Interns who qualify as employees rather than trainees typically must be paid at least the minimum wage and overtime compensation for hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

  7. Remember, the federal child labor laws limit the hours and the times of day that minors age 14 and 15 may work. Minors 14 and 15 years of age may be employed outside school hours in a variety of nonmanufacturing and nonhazardous jobs for limited periods of time and under specified conditions. Minors aged 16 and 17 may be employed for unlimited hours in any occupation other than those declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.

  8. Child labor regulations limit the hours and the times of day that minors age 14 and 15 may work to:

    • Outside school hours;

    • No more than 3 hours on a school day, including Fridays;

    • No more than 8 hours on a nonschool day;

    • No more than 18 hours during a week when school is in session;

    • No more than 40 hours during a week when school is not in session;

    • Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.—except between June 1 and Labor day when the evening hour is extended to 9 p.m.

  9. Children under age 14 may not be employed in nonagricultural occupations covered by the FLSA. Permissible employment for such children is limited to work that is exempt from the FLSA, such as delivering newspapers to the consumer and acting. Children may also perform work not covered by the FLSA such as completing minor chores around private homes or casual baby-sitting.

  10. Minors age 15 may work as lifeguards at traditional swimming pools and water amusement parks when such youth have been trained and certified by the American Red Cross, or a similar certifying organization, in aquatics and water safety. The federal child labor provisions require that a 15-year-old must acquire additional certification if he or she is to be employed as a swim instructor.

4 Ways to Take the Bias Out of Performance Reviews

 
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Researchers at Stanford University have recently found that despite a lack of gender differences in objective performance metrics (e.g., grades, fitness scores, or class standing) and decades of equal opportunity efforts, the language used to describe women hurts their advancement opportunities.

It’s not just that women are more often ascribed negative attributes—it’s the words themselves that are also unsettling. The most occurring positive characteristic applied to women is “compassionate.” But it’s followed by a long list of negatives: “inept,” “selfish,” “frivolous,” “passive,” “gossipy,” “vain,” and “temperamental,” to name a few.

The most common attribute for men—“analytical”—reflects a sharp mind and the potential to intelligently lead an organization in the most effective direction. There were only two negatives most commonly attributed to men: “arrogant” and “irresponsible.” The researchers concluded that when people are asked to envision leaders, they still picture men.

Language Is Not Neutral

The words in performance reviews hold power in concrete results, influencing both promotions and layoffs when performance numbers are comparable. Even an “arrogant” leader can still be effective, but an “inept” person is unlikely to be promoted.

Assertiveness is an especially tricky area for women to navigate. The same behaviors tend to be perceived differently depending on whom they come from. Research from Stanford University revealed that aggressive communication styles led to more than twice the amount of negative feedback for women than men. Women were told, “your speaking style is off-putting,” while men received compliments like “tackle” or “drive.” What is positively seen as “assertive” or “confident” in men is perceived as “abrasive” or “aggressive” in women.

Women are often described as “supportive” and “collaborative,” but these gendered skills are less valued in a leader. A collaborative success, even a major one, can still make a woman seem incompetent and can undermine her chances of promotion. While women are also known to show biases in performance evaluation language, the shortage of women in executive positions certainly doesn’t help. Consider that men with the name John alone outnumber all women in the top levels of Fortune 500 companies.

How to Reduce Bias in Your Company

To expand their views of leadership, men and women both need more personal experiences with women as peers and bosses. Begin with these four action steps to reduce gender bias in your company:

Train and educate HR.

According to McKinsey & Co.’s 2015 Women in the Workplace study, 70% of men view gender diversity as important, but only 12% believe women have fewer opportunities for advancement. And 13% believe their own chances are hindered when these programs are in place.

It takes more than a PowerPoint® presentation to unpack these biases because managers will assume that they aren’t guilty of them. They have to consciously learn how to correct these unconscious biases. Ongoing training ensures that new hires don’t fall through the gaps and that established employees continue to build understanding.

Pay close attention to what training strategies are most effective with your teams, and make adjustments depending on your people’s awareness and willingness to change viewpoints. Even when biases are deliberate, training can still work to adjust behavior, which can lead to changing attitudes.

Use concrete, consistent performance metrics.

Review your performance evaluation metrics to make sure they exclude personality judgments that don’t directly correlate with a job. Someone’s “approachability” or “humor” is difficult to tie to job performance. Focus on verbs instead of adjectives. If you can’t provide concrete examples of how a trait affected someone’s work, it doesn’t belong on a performance review.

Shifting away from subjective review methods to fact-based feedback can reduce opportunities for negative perceptions. If someone in HR conducts the review, make sure he or she understands which skills are most important for the job and that all criteria are tied to concrete performance metrics.

Adopt 360-degree reviews.

Even in a perfect world, a single manager can’t be expected to provide a complete picture of an employee’s performance. Getting feedback from more than one source helps identify biases by including more objective data in the review process. A diversity of opinions minimizes the power of an individual’s comments and elicits the most relevant information.

These 360-degree reviews may also give women the opportunity to get feedback from other women, which can be vital to their ability to thrive in a given role and improve their skills and work habits in order to move up in a company.

These reviews should include chances for anonymous feedback. With the opportunity to submit feedback anonymously, women—and other protected groups—can point out inequalities so managers can identify them (if they are unintentional) and correct them. Keeping feedback anonymous makes sure every voice is equally heard without the fear of repercussions.

Track and share feedback or data.

Employees should be able to access their performance data. When workers know how they’re perceived, they can identify and report their concerns to management. Transparency combined with data builds trust that managers will be held accountable for feedback—and that any who block women (or any other demographic) from advancing will be identified so the behavior can be stopped.

The catch-22 that women experience is troublesome not only for them but also for companies; holding women back in their careers holds companies back, too, because they miss out on half the population’s potential. Correcting this bias requires awareness and action at all levels.

-HRDA


Women Excelling in the Workplace

 
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We are living in an era where women’s workplace concerns can no longer be ignored. While many companies have diversity and inclusion initiatives in place to help address some of the issues their workers may face, women still confront a number of hurdles that affect their career trajectory. HR departments able to create strategies to help address these issues will undoubtedly make an impact on the future of work for all women.

Where Are All the Leaders?

First, businesses must immediately address the lack of women in top leadership positions, especially women who have proven their abilities throughout their career. Unfortunately, the C-suite in the majority of companies still lacks female leaders. In the U.S., women hold only 10% of top leadership positions, and only 5.1% of CEO positions are women. This is unnatural, as women are, indeed, capable of successfully leading companies.

Addressing this issue will create a major positive shift for the business world and for future generations. Just imagine how a young girl’s mind is opened to a whole new world of possibilities simply by seeing what other women have achieved!

Societal Constraints Can Hold Women Back

Both men and women deal with societal constraints, but women tend to face those that prevent them from succeeding in their careers. Women may feel that owning their successes is equivalent to bragging and fear this may cause unnecessary tension with others on their team. Unfortunately, by not owning their wins, others may never know what they’ve accomplished.

Imposter syndrome can also be problematic for women. Imposter syndrome is the phenomenon in which people do not believe their accomplishments are due to talent or skills. Many women may feel that they aren’t qualified or knowledgeable enough to hold their current positions. A study by Hewlett-Packard found that women only applied to positions if they fulfilled 100% of the qualifications. Men felt they only needed 60% to feel confident enough to apply. This self-doubt and lack of confidence may prevent women from applying to positions they may be perfect for. It can also damper their ability to shine in their current positions or hold them back from advancing to managerial or leadership roles.

In addition to these internalized issues, women also face larger societal issues that force them to choose between excelling in their career and focusing on their family/home life. Career interruptions such as a birth, adoption, or the need to take care of an aging parent affect women more often than men. In a survey conducted by Pew Research, 4 out of 10 women had taken significant time off to attend to these roles. While these issues can also affect men, women tend to be impacted by them more often. According to a recent UN Women report on gender equality, women still carry three times the amount of unpaid housework and child care than their male counterparts. This household labor can divert their energy and focus away from work, preventing them from taking on larger tasks or more responsibilities at their jobs.

Women and girls may not feel they can achieve their dreams because of the glass ceiling. This can cause them to aim low. When my daughter was young, I noticed that most of the girls in her class, when asked what they wanted to be, tended to choose support positions, such as dental assistant instead of dentist. While support positions are important and valuable, these roles are more often filled by women. The Department of Labor shows that the most common occupations for women are secretaries/administrative assistants, nurses, and teachers. This is a historical trend that has not been challenged enough. Whether this has to do with a lack of female leadership role models or unconscious bias that hinders girls and women from sensing that they should aim high, it must be addressed. Women should not feel they cannot hold professional positions, and society should not assume support positions are naturally women’s work.

Shifting the Culture

What can HR do to help shift the workplace culture?

  • Acknowledge that women still struggle with a lack of role models in leadership positions. If your workplace does not have women in roles at all levels, then there is a problem. There are qualified women out there who are capable of leading their divisions and their companies.

  • Mentor others. Mentorship is crucial for women, especially in historically male-dominated industries. Women benefit from building supportive networks that allow them to offer either formal or informal mentoring. HR can help cultivate a work culture that supports women helping one another succeed in the workplace. Building a culture of mentorship, whether formal or informal, should be a priority.

  • HR departments must encourage leaders and managers to empower women to take the ball and run with it. Some women enjoy a challenge that proves their capabilities to you, but some will not. Those who aim high will excel. Give them the chance to do so!

  • Acknowledge that “having it all” is very difficult for both women and men to achieve but even more so for women. This is a much larger societal issue, but women should be allowed to feel that focusing on their career is not detrimental to their families. According to Pew Research, 95% of married men with children under 5 are currently in the workforce, while only 62% of married women with children under 5 are. I predict this pain point to be a major factor that changes the way businesses address policies related to child care, parental leave, flexibility, and work/life harmony.

  • Treat women and men equally in the hiring process and in the workplace. This should go without saying, but we need to acknowledge that this is still an issue.

Human Resources has the ability to create the culture of your workplace. By focusing on and addressing these issues, both your business and society in general will benefit from the positive changes they bring. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “the future depends on what you do today.” If we want to build a better future, one that is more gender balanced, we need to start now.


The Misplaced Fear of Training a Replacement

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In organizations in any country across all industries, there has been a fear of teaching a subordinate or a junior staff member the ins and outs of one’s job. This apprehension is based predominantly on a fear that the person being trained will take the job of the person doing the training.

“Why should I train my replacement?” the logic goes. It’s an understandable concern, especially when the dynamic involves a senior staff member training someone younger and who is paid less. But it is logic that is often flawed. Here we take a look at why this may be.

The Threat Is Overblown

Even if you train someone new on how to do your job, it’s not likely that he or she would be able to replace you after a short onboarding period. One reason is that this new hire would simply lack your hands-on experience. And if you truly believe that your company’s motivation is to continually cycle out existing staff in favor of younger, cheaper replacements, that might not be the best company to work for anyway.

The Downside of Being Irreplaceable

Being “irreplaceable” gives employees a feeling of intense job security, and that’s comforting. But what many people in this position fail to realize is that being irreplaceable can act as a huge anchor on one’s career. If your boss thinks that there is nobody who can step into your shoes and do what you’re doing today, how can he or she promote you to a new position?

Help Your Manager Promote You

“Too many leaders don’t get it, but their own growth depends on helping others grow,” says Executive Coach and Consultant Michael Pollock. “Just as you have your own personal strategy for career advancement, you should be training your successors so that your move upwards can be supported by a loyal and well-trained replacement, fully equipped to step into your shoes.”

Rather than seeing someone training to do one’s job as a potential threat, employees should consider this a possible opportunity. A big challenge for many managers when making staffing and promotion decisions is how to fill the role and responsibilities of the person being promoted. Moreover, successfully training someone to be competent to take on your job is a sign to managers that you have management potential.

Many employees are overly protective of their knowledge and are resistant to training new employees they may perceive as potential threats. This not only harms the organization but can hinder an employee’s own chances for career advancement.


How to Offer Child Care as a Workplace Perk

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According to research, 85% of parents say they wish their employer offered childcare benefits; almost two-thirds of parents—and 83% of Millennials—say they’d leave one job for another if it offered better family-care benefits; and two-thirds of parents said childcare costs have influenced their overall career decisions.

What’s more, the lack of access to affordable child care and paid leave costs the United States at least $28.9 billion in wages, and American businesses lose tens of billions of dollars annually in care-related costs—costs associated with loss of productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover.

If you’re interested in offering or enhancing your childcare benefits for your employees, you should consider taking the actions listed below.

Provide Flexible Paid Time Off

Parents often need to take unexpected time off to care for a sick child or make last-minute arrangements to pick up a child from day care or school when emergencies arise. Sometimes, a child’s usual after-school arrangements suddenly change because of a bus or car malfunction, and new parents need time off to care for a newborn until the child is old enough for day care. So, be sure to offer parents plenty of paid time off to handle these situations and more if and when they occur.

Work With and Around School and Daycare Schedules

When blizzards hit and school is suddenly canceled or classes are dismissed early, parents need to be able to adapt to these schedules. By aligning work and meeting schedules with those of school and daycare and allowing parents to have schedules that coincide with their children’s, parents wouldn’t have to call out or leave work early.

Offer Flexible Spending Accounts

If you provide flexible spending accounts for medical reasons, offer them for childcare reasons, too, and contribute a small portion of funds to these accounts.

Make Backup and Summer Child Care Available

Provide employees with reliable emergency child care, such as in-home nanny services, if they need to travel last minute for work. During summer vacations, offer employees summertime child care and discounts or prepaid vouchers for summer camps while children are out of school.

Extend Discount Programs

If you can’t offer your employees on-site child care or day care, provide discounts or prepaid vouchers to local daycare providers. Also offer discounts or vouchers for things like maternity apparel, diapers, bottles, clothes, toys, etc.

Give Childcare Benefits To All

Mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents should all be extended the same childcare benefits. As you work on offering child care as a workplace perk, consider doing one more of the things listed above if you want your efforts to be effective.

How to Stimulate Ethical Behavior in the Workplace

 
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Unethical behavior in the workplace costs businesses a lot of money, integrity, and marketable clout.

According to research, unethical business practices were on the rise a few years ago and might have gotten worse, but 56% of Americans will stop buying goods and services from brands they think are unethical, and many will actively support brands they view as ethical. Additionally, 48% of consumers consider employee treatment when determining whether a company is ethical.

So, if you want to stimulate ethical behavior in your workplace, you should consider doing the following.

Develop and Document Standards and Policies

Put clear, ethical standards and policies employees and leaders should abide by in writing, and have the employees and leaders sign the guideline documents to ensure they read and understand the information. Also, include how violations of the guidelines will be handled, including repercussions, and how employees can report them.

Foster and Enforce Standards and Policies

Continue to enforce your ethical standards and policies once they are documented and implemented to ensure they are followed and taken seriously, and be clear and specific about how these policies will be enforced and what may happen if an employee violates one of the standards, such as being handed a written warning or getting suspended.

Start at the Top

Begin with your leaders and executives to stimulate ethical behavior across the workplace, and make sure they are on board with developing, implementing, and enforcing your ethical standards and policies. These same leaders should also be held accountable for their ethical behavior, just as their subordinates are. Leaders and managers need to lead by example in following ethical practices if the policies are to be fully effective.

Provide Ethics Training

Because some common business practices are technically unethical, all employees should receive ethics training so they know how to confidently identify and avoid unethical behavior, as well as are empowered with knowledge on how to handle inappropriate interactions.

Support and Protect Employees

Make sure that you provide an anonymous means of reporting unethical behaviors and that those who do report such actions will be protected from retaliation that would prevent them from speaking up.

Consider taking the steps above to stimulate a more ethical and profitable workplace.


Helping Employees Deal with Toxic Customers

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Anyone who has worked in customer service knows that some customers can be extremely difficult, demanding, and even toxic. These customers can be abusive to customer service staff.

They aren’t necessarily bad people, but such customers may take advantage of their relative power over your employees to bully or vent frustration where it isn’t necessarily deserved. Or they may simply be unaware that their behavior toward your staff is inappropriate.

Whatever the reason, these interactions can wear down your customer service staff, whether it’s a one-off situation or a consistent experience. It’s important as a manager to help your employees cope with toxic customers to avoid burnout, high turnover, and poor morale.

Make Sure They Don’t Take It Personally

First and foremost, it’s crucial to help your staff separate the professional from the personal. Customers may complain about your company’s product or service, but employees need to know that this feedback isn’t a reflection on them personally.Even if customers do make personal attacks, employees need to know how to transition from personal to professional and shrug off attempts by customers to make the issue all about them.

Let Them Vent

In an article for Inc. on toxic cultures generally, Shane Atchison offers some advice applicable to dealing with toxic customers: “Managers have to make a safe zone where people can speak their minds,” Atchison writes. “Above all, don’t fake it and pretend the situation is normal. That’s the surest road to allowing a bad culture to erode yours.”Sometimes simply talking about problems with customers can be extremely therapeutic.

Empathize

Beyond simply letting employees vent, take the time to really hear and understand their concerns. That’s important not only to ensure that employees feel their concerns have been heard but also to the organization—there are valuable lessons to be gleaned from any feedback received, however negative or misplaced.

Have Their Back

The adage that “the customer is always right” only holds true to a point. If a customer is being truly abusive and unreasonable, having your employees’ back is essential. Make it clear to employees and customers that a certain level of respect is expected when dealing with your customer service staff.

Customer service positions can be extremely stressful, and they are often filled by relatively low-paid staff in entry-level positions. These employees are particularly susceptible to turnover.

Even if they don’t leave the company, employees dealing with toxic customers can bring down morale—their own and that of their coworkers—and start to burn out, leading to lower productivity. A good manager should take steps to alleviate this stress as much as possible.


Should You Implement a 4-Day Workweek?

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Modern-day employees claim they want a better work/life balance and more flexible work schedules; one such flexible schedule is a 4-day workweek, during which employees work 35 to 40 hours in 4 days instead of the traditional 5 day workweek. Recently, 66% of workers polled stated that they want a compressed 4-day workweek to fulfill this work/life balance, but only 17% of their employers offered one. Why aren’t employers offering a 4-day workweek, and should they?

You’ll want to consider the following pros and cons in determining whether to offer a 4-day workweek to your employees.

Pros

Improves employee productivity. Sometimes, employees hang around at work simply because they have a certain schedule, though they may not necessarily be productive or accomplishing much, which costs organizations money. However, when employees work a compressed schedule, they learn to effectively manage their time and get more done in a shorter time frame.

Increases employee satisfaction. Employees who have compressed schedules are more satisfied with their jobs and employers because they are more capable of achieving work/life balance and, therefore, are less stressed, tired, and preoccupied when they come to work.

Lessens environmental impacts. If employers didn’t have to stay open 5 days a week, they could save on costs related to their buildings’ electricity, occupancy, maintenance, heating and cooling, office supplies, etc.

Cons

Employers might lose overtime hours. Most employees are already putting in well over 40 hours a week and want to put in extra hours to remain competitive in their fields. With a compressed workweek, employers might miss out on hours that salaried employees are already currently putting in or hours that they want to put in in the future.

Not all industries can participate. Not all employers would be able to implement a 4-day workweek without hiring more employees, as some industries must be open 24/7 for emergencies or around-the- clock business (i.e., emergency rooms, hotels, etc.).

There are costly risks. Employers might end up having to spend money on a new schedule implementation that doesn’t work and is more expensive, and they won’t know if their employees will be able to handle current workloads in fewer days or if they’ll need to hire additional staff until they actually begin the new 4-day workweek.

The Wild-Card Factor: Customer Satisfaction

In some cases, a compressed workweek could offer a business’s customers extended contact hours 4 days a week, but some customers might not like being able to contact a company only 4 days a week. So, an organization must evaluate its industry and whether it has enough staff to ensure customer- related concerns are always covered to determine whether a 4-day work schedule is the right fit. In summary, if you’re considering implementing a 4-day workweek, weigh the pros and cons listed above, as well as your organization’s staffing requirements and industry.

The Role of the Manager - Avoiding Litigation Landmines

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Employment law litigation has exploded over the last five years: one in five managers will find themselves in litigation at some time in their lifetimes. Avoiding Litigation Landmines teaches your managers how to keep from becoming one of them. The best way to diffuse a lawsuit is not to get involved in one. 

Managers not only learn how to avoid these litigation landmines, but how to turn them into positive tools for unlocking the potential of the individuals within their work force. 

As many companies know all too well, addressing disputes with current and former employees means diverting time and money from more important endeavors, such as customer service, product development and strategic planning, not to mention day-to-day operations.

Addressing employment issues proactively (instead of re-actively) allows employers to maintain peace in the workplace and focus on running their business, without the distraction of litigation.

 Who should attend this session?

  • Team members on succession planning to become leaders

  • Managers or group leaders looking to expand their skills beyond the technical

  • Managers who have not been through any formal leadership education

  • Experienced supervisors who are seeking a leadership boost

We offer BOTH On-Site and Off-Site Options. 

We can come to your business location and conduct training for any size group. 

For smaller groups, HR Advisors offers once a month classroom style training for individuals or newly hired employees who need training.

Upcoming Classes at HR Advisors Location:

March 22nd, 2019 at 1:00 p.m.

 Cost: $75.00 per person

 Approximately 1 1/2 hour interactive presentation.

Limited Seating Available, Call To Reserve Your Seat Now!

For more complete information  on any of the services offered above please contact ana@hradvisors.com or call us 949.497.7329.

15 Easy Ways To Recognize & Reward Your Employees

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Now more than ever, employers are seeing how important it is to keep their staff happy and motivated at work. It just makes good business sense – satisfied, engaged employees work harder, produce better work and stick around longer. 

Not to mention, in this tight labor market, companies are having to go the extra mile to hang on to their best employees. With unemployment at a near record low and more open positions than candidates to fill them, replacing departing employees can be an overwhelming challenge.

Getting Them To Stay

Instead of taking their chances in the war for talent, many companies are opting to focus on ways to convince their best employees to stay put. And the keys to that endeavor? Rewards and recognition.

Now, we’re not talking about the occasional “good job” or free donuts in the breakroom – workers today want much more than that. To really feel connected to their companies, employees need constant feedback and specific recognition for their hard work. They want enjoyable, well thought out rewards programs that show they’re valued – anything less could push them right out the door.

Survey after survey has shown that while raises and bonuses are good motivators, recognition and rewards are even more powerful. Money only goes so far if employees are miserable at work every day. It’s a revamp of company culture that’ll really make employees feel appreciated and get them to stay.

Recognition The Right Way

The great thing about recognition is it costs nothing and takes very little time to let employees know they’re doing excellent work. When used appropriately, praise allows staff to know what exactly they’re doing right – so they can keep doing it — and that management has noticed and appreciated all their effort.

But believe it or not, there are some common mistakes that can make recognition ineffective. Praising employees too much or being nonspecific won’t be helpful.

Here are some key strategies for managers who want to boost their recognition efforts.

  1. Thank employees after completing a particularly difficult or tedious assignment. It may seem insignificant, but a “thank you” can really go a long way. Employees aren’t often thanked in the workplace, because the effort they put in can just seem like part of their job. Turn this around and show your appreciation when you notice someone working longer days to finish a tough project or going out of their way to help a team member.

  2. Be specific in your praise. While the sentiment behind “good job” is nice, it won’t be that useful to your employees. It’s important to let them know specifically what they did that made you happy with their work, so they can do it again. For example, if they always turn in quality work on time, praise them for being reliable and always hitting deadlines.

  3. Recognize your people in the moment. Praise loses some of its meaning if you wait a while to let an employee know they performed well. Immediate feedback is always the most effective. When you see workers going above and beyond, let them know right then and there you appreciate what they’re doing. This way, they’re more likely to remember exactly what they did and repeat the performance.

  4. Don’t use praise too frequently. The effect of recognition will wear off quickly if you start complimenting employees on everything they do. To avoid this, it’s a good idea to save your praise for truly excellent work. This could also inspire good employees to become even better.

  5. Use trust to recognize employees. Nothing tells employees you’re pleased with their performance like trusting them with more responsibility. This is a very tangible way to show your employees they’ve done excellent work and they’re valued members of the team.

  6. Encourage employees to recognize each other. Praise from managers isn’t the only thing employees crave. Compliments from co-workers can also go a long way. By encouraging your staff to recognize each other, camaraderie and trust will naturally start to form.

  7. Host an awards ceremony. Here’s a more fun spin on employee recognition: make it into an event. Giving out personalized awards will highlight everyone’s strengths and let employees know what their colleagues have accomplished.

  8. Recognize accomplishments outside of work. A great touch to any recognition program is celebrating employees’ achievements outside of the workplace. By congratulating your people on milestones like birthdays, getting married or having a baby, you’ll create a caring and supportive work environment.

Rewards People Want

While employee recognition is a big part of boosting engagement and motivation, rewards are just as important. Encouraging and organizing fun activities for your employees can drastically reduce burnout and boredom at work.

Better yet, rewards programs don’t have to be expensive or flashy to be effective. Little perks or quick activities can be enough to give employees some much needed time to relax and recharge.

Here are some simple, effective rewards any employer can implement:

  1. Flex time. This is one of the hottest perks right now and can cost employers little to no money to implement. If your employees’ jobs can be done remotely, letting them work from home occasionally will be much appreciated. If workers have to be in the office to do their jobs, consider allowing flexible hours. Letting people have control over their work schedules will make things like personal appointments and childcare a lot easier.

  2. Added vacation time. Another much appreciated reward is more PTO. If a flex time benefit isn’t an option, giving employees an extra vacation day or two can help when they need to take time off for errands and appointments, allowing more time for an actual vacation. It’s important that with added PTO comes encouragement from management to use it, as many employees are reluctant to actually take time off. Some companies get creative with vacation time, too. Jade Palmieri, HR generalist at Millington Bank, started a program which gives employees extra PTO specifically to use for volunteering. This allows employees to be excused from work in order to help a cause they feel passionate about.

  3. Organized social events. What employee wouldn’t love to take a break for an hour or so and chit chat with co-workers? Putting together a party, lunch or happy hour is a great, simple way to get people out of the office and socializing with each other. Events like these will give employees some time to recharge and strengthen relationships between team members.

  4. On-site relaxation. Getting employees out of the office for a break isn’t something you can do every day, so it’s a good idea to have a designated space for unwinding. It can be as simple as a room with some couches and snacks, as long as it’s a place employees can go when they need to get away from their desks for a few minutes. Employers willing to spend more might consider bringing yoga instructors or masseuses into the office to really help employees relax.

  5. Bring your dog to work day. Another popular, low-cost perk right now is pet-friendly workplaces. Allowing employees to bring their furry friends into the office can help everyone de-stress. This can also be helpful to workers who can’t find a pet sitter.

  6. Wellness activities. Physically active, healthy employees are usually happier ones. While there are a lot of fancy, costly wellness programs out there, it doesn’t take much to get people moving. Doing quick exercises every day or encouraging walks around the building can be enough to get your employees feeling better, both mentally and physically.

  7. Fun and games. Another go-to stress reliever is in-office games. It can be something simple like busting out Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit on a Friday afternoon, or something more complex, like a company field day.

Managing Different Generations in the Workplace

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As the economy continues to grow and the job market becomes increasingly robust, many employers around the country are probably starting to get antsy, wondering how they can entice their best employees to stick around instead of looking for a bump in pay or responsibilities elsewhere. Building employee loyalty can be a tough task for managers, but it’s something they can’t afford to ignore, as competition for skilled talent grows fiercer every day.

Today’s changing work environment is only making things more complicated, particularly when it comes to trying to satisfy and meet the expectations of employees across several generations. In 2016, Millennials became the largest generation in the labor force, and as of 2017, there were more than 56 million Millennials either working or looking for work. Following close behind are the nation’s 53 million Gen X’s and 41 million Baby Boomers. All this makes for a crowded workplace where managers need to keep things running smoothly while also exploring new ways to make their employees feel fulfilled and ensure they have a clear vision of their future with the firm.

What Are Some of the Best Strategies for Pursuing This Goal?

 First of all, make everyone feel appreciated. It might seem like the easy answer here is more compensation but cash bonuses aren’t the only way to say “thank you” anymore. As the survey reveals, for Millennials, loyalty is closely tied to a sense of opportunities for career growth. Eighty-six percent of Millennials surveyed said that their company providing career training and development would keep them from leaving their current position. But if that position is lacking in growth opportunities and the potential for leadership development, 67% of Millennials said they would be more likely to leave instead.

Next, employers need to prioritize flexibility when it comes to learning and advancement. This can go a long way toward creating a culture of continuous, lifelong learning, which is only going to become more essential in the workplace as key skills and competencies change and evolve faster every year. Giving employees the freedom to pursue professional development in whatever format and on whatever schedule is most convenient to them is a great approach.

 It’s also in tune with Millennial expectations, given that they consistently rank training and development even higher than cash bonuses on their list of priorities in the workplace. It’s a great way to keep Gen X employees—many of whom are a few decades into their career and likely in management roles at this point from feeling like they’re hitting mid-career plateaus or stagnation.

 Last but certainly not least, encouraging better communication is key. Employees across generations want feedback, but they differ in how they want to receive it. Millennials prefer to get feedback almost constantly while 60% of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers want a less frequent approach and prefer annual or biannual, formalized performance reviews.

Employers also need to make sure that feedback itself is constructive and helpful. With 78% of Gen Xers responding that performance reviews do not yield meaningful growth opportunities and 42% of all employees saying they would grade their employers at a C or below, it’s clear that many managers have work to do to make the review process productive for employees and not just an exercise.

It’s helpful to study this and other data to gain insight into what each specific generation values most so that needs and expectations can be balanced effectively across the workplace. In the end, however, there’s more that unites us than separates us, and every manager would do well to remember that all generations want:

  • To be treated fairly

  • Work that provides personal satisfaction

  • Employers that understand personal lives are important

  • Work that is valued by employers and customers

  • A clear sense of purpose from employers

Keep these tenets—and that focus on employee growth and professional development—in mind and employee loyalty is likely to disappear from your list of management concerns.

 

-MB

Is the Annual Company Holiday Party Still a Thing?

 
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In recent years, many companies have downsized their holiday parties to less lavish affairs or hosted other types of events that replaced the traditional after-hours holiday soiree. The decision whether to host a holiday party may come down to cost or employee interest.

 Moving away from the traditional party "seemed to come along with businesses becoming more budget-conscious in the aftermath of the recession, but it is also consistent with the business trend of focusing on company culture," said Catherine Wragg, senior vice president for human resources at TriNet, headquartered in Dublin, California. "Using that holiday budget to have more meaningful team-building activities throughout the year helps employees engage with the company on a more consistent basis and contribute their time and skills in a way that is focused on building community."

Could a Holiday Party Become A Liability?

One reason companies may choose events other than the traditional party to celebrate the holidays could be the desire to avoid potential liability. An employer could be held responsible for any activities that happen during the party, and some companies have decided the risk may not be worth it.

Employment attorneys agree that holiday parties can be risky for employers. "More bad behavior occurs at company holiday parties than at any other time of year," said Mark F. Kluger, attorney and partner at Kluger Healey LLC in Fairfield, N.J. "The combination of the holiday season, pent-up feelings about co-workers and, most importantly, alcohol often lead to uninhibited behavior ranging from sexual harassment to expressions of intolerance." 

Community Service Projects, Team-Building Trips Might Be Preferable

One way to celebrate the holiday season is to have employees participate in a service project together.

One idea is to distribute toys to underprivileged and needy children in the community. Choosing a local organization to collaborate with to have an impact where employees live and work. When employees end their workday at noon and spend the rest of the day together having a light lunch and wrapping presents for others, it becomes a team-building activity while increasing the holiday spirit. Other community service projects, such as collecting items for a local food pantry or running a mitten and hat drive for a homeless shelter, can also be strong team-building activities during the holiday season.

 Another idea would be to do a "mystery trip" as an alternative to the standard holiday party. Doing a mystery trip opens the door to encourage team building and building relationships among people in the different teams of the company; doing this leads to experiences and memories that will last longer than a cocktail party will.

Employers might want to consider not doing an event at all. According to a TriNet survey, 73 percent of employees would prefer a cash bonus during holiday time, while 51 percent favor having extra paid time off between Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Because December can be a busy time for many people, a traditional holiday party could feel like an obligation to employees.

5 Ways to Improve Performance for Small Teams

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There’s no substitute for great performance. In all industries, from manufacturing to professional services, that businesses that lead ahead of the pack tend to be the ones that emphasize and aim for great performance.

There are several aspects of achieving great performance. Great performance can be achieved on an individual level by one person, by a team of talented people, or by an entire business made up of many small and large teams.

Today, we’ll focus on the second type of performance: team performance. Read on to discover five ways that you can improve the performance of your small team using a selection of human resources management tactics.

1. Make integrating into the team part of your performance appraisals. 

Many people thrive independently but struggle to work as part of a team. This can result in great performance on individual projects but slow, inconsistent results in an environment where communication and teamwork is important.

Instead of focusing solely on individual productivity, make integrating into the team a major priority of your management. It’s not just skills that matter, but also being a good team player and someone that others can depend on.

2. Don’t just focus on team members – focus on the team’s leadership. 

Even a team of top-performers will struggle to achieve its goals without an excellent leader. Does your team have a leader that sets the right goals and keeps members of the team motivated?

Effective leadership means understanding each team member’s role and priorities, then ensuring all team members can work effectively together. It’s important to be just as attentive about leadership as the individual performance of each person.

3. Set goals that can be achieved on an individual and team level. 

Does your team have goals that can be achieved both individually and collectively as a team? The best goals are ones that can be achieved as a team, as well as being able to be broken down into small goals that can be achieved by individuals.

Create major goals, then break them down into sub-goals for individuals or smaller groups to focus on. This gives your team a major goal to work towards, but one that isn’t so large it seems impossible to achieve.

4. Make sure communication between team members is a priority. 

Communication is the key to effective teamwork. When people with different skills can communicate with each other clearly and openly, problems that can otherwise hold progress back are quickly avoided or overcome.

Is your team designed for open, simple communication? Create an environment in which communication is encouraged and you’ll make your entire team much more focused, effective and productive.

5. Keep morale as high as possible by celebrating every achievement. 

It’s important to stay focused on achieving your team’s goals. It’s also important to occasionally step back and view the progress you’ve made in order to keep morale high and team members energized.

When your team achieves a major goal, take a moment to celebrate. Achieving large goals not only helps your team move towards its objective – it also strengthens the ability of each team member to work effectively with their peers.

How to Accurately Appraise Employee Performance in Your Business

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Are you preparing to carry out an employee performance appraisal? Ensuring that all of your company’s employees are performing effectively is one of the most vital aspects of managing a business.

It’s also something that many businesses – particularly small companies without a dedicated HR team – can struggle with. How can you accurately, consistently and fairly appraise and track the performance of your team?

Below, we’ve listed four tips and techniques that you can use to carry out accurate, useful performance appraisals of your business’s employees to ensure your office remains productive, focused and dedicated towards achieving your goals.

Create a standard performance appraisal criteria. 

Many small businesses make the mistake of assessing employees using unique and different criteria. The end result is a performance appraisal that doesn’t provide an actionable, constructive form of advice for employees or managers.

Does your business have a standard performance appraisal criteria? Performance appraisals need to be standardized for all employees, meaning that all people are assessed and appraised using the same criteria.

Standardization prevents employees from feeling that they haven’t been treated fairly in their appraisal. It also makes it easier for your HR team to track employee performance over the long term and view improvement as it occurs.

Understand the goals of a performance appraisal. 

What is the goal of your performance appraisal? Performance appraisals need to do two things: they need to provide a record of performance for managers, and also to provide actionable, helpful information to employees.

Can an employee receive their appraisal and understand which areas they excel in, which require improvement and which key skills make them an important part of the business?

If your performance appraisal system is used to support promotions and salaries, for example, does it accurately assess the criteria required to work out what each employee deserves and is entitled to?

Focus on useful feedback, not surprises.

Many employees fear performance appraisals, with worries of surprising problems and complaints that they may not be aware of. Good performance appraisals should be free of surprises, with employees largely aware of issues before being appraised.

In the most effective workplaces, managers make employees aware of performance issues as soon as possible. This creates immediate change, rather than delaying any progress until the point at which performance appraisals are carried out.

Do your team members understand their performance issues and areas in which an improvement may be required? It’s important to address performance issues if and when they occur and not to leave any long-term issues until appraisal time.

Carry out appraisals frequently and consistently. 

The key to gradual improvement is great tracking. By keeping detailed, consistent records of each of your employees’ performance, you can track improvement over the long term and watch as your business becomes more effective.

Create consistency by carrying out performance appraisals on a regular basis. It’s best to assess performance every six months, although some businesses might be best suited to annual performance reviews and appraisals.

The more consistent your business can be in tracking and appraising its employee performance, the easier you’ll find it to measure long-term performance trends and stay aware of progress.

3 Ways to Provide Actionable, Helpful Feedback That Improves Performance

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Giving helpful, constructive feedback can be surprisingly difficult. While it’s easy for most people to work out how a behavior or process doesn’t work, turning this into a piece of advice that’s actionable and helpful is rarely an easy process.

Despite this, giving feedback is one of the most important aspects of building a great team. Without feedback, it’s impossible to know where and how to improve and put the changes into place that required to develop and get better.

Luckily, it’s possible to provide actionable, helpful feedback to colleagues and team members using a few simple techniques. Apply the three tactics below to give your colleagues and employees helpful feedback that they can use to improve.

1. Make sure your feedback is relevant, timely and specific. 

The best feedback ticks three boxes: it’s highly relevant to the task or situation that’s at hand, it’s delivered at the right moment to help the recipient, and it’s very specific and directly applicable.

Does your feedback meet all three criteria? Many people give great advice that’s not relevant to the situation, or they deliver the right advice at the wrong moment. Lots of great advice is given that’s also too general to put into practice.

Giving relevant, timely and specific advice makes your feedback more valuable than any other messages your team members or employees receive. It gives an employee the chance to directly implement your advice and improve a specific situation.

Before you give advice, make sure that it ticks all of the three boxes above: it’s highly specific, timely and relevant. When all three conditions are met, your feedback is far more likely to have a positive effect on your employees or team members.

2. Be positive, and ensure your feedback has a constructive tone. 

It’s easy to sound overly negative when you give feedback. Because of tone, it’s quite common for people to interpret positive, constructive feedback as an insult or mean, negative statement about their job performance.

Because of this, it’s important to make sure that your feedback is always built to be positive and constructive. Great feedback should give people valuable help, and not feel like it detracts from their abilities or belittles them.

Before you give feedback, think about how you would react if you were the recipient instead of the giver. Would you view it as a helpful piece of actionable advice or as a personal insult or complaint?

Phrasing, tone and word choice can have a huge impact on the way your feedback is received, even if it doesn’t change its content much. Before you give any advice, use the above test to make sure the recipient isn’t likely to misinterpret your feedback.

3. Be consistent, or else your feedback is largely meaningless. 

One of the most common complaints of disgruntled or frustrated employees is that their bosses simply don’t listen to them. When you give inconsistent feedback, it’s extremely difficult for your employees or team members to know what to do.

As written above, great feedback is relevant, timely and specific. It’s also consistent, with great feedback maintaining the same message no matter how or when it ends up being delivered.

If you deliver inconsistent feedback to an employee, it becomes difficult for them to know how to improve. This is particularly true if several people each provide their own contradictory feedback on how a person, task or project could be made better.

When you’re part of a team, ensure you all have the same goals and can deliver the same key messages in your feedback. As an individual, make sure you stick to one message and remain consistent when you offer feedback to your team members.