Thursday, December 18, 2014

Merry Christmas from the NLRB!

And a stocking stuffer from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was a very busy group of little elves this past week, wrapping up a couple of pretty gifts for labor, while simultaneously dumping coal into the stockings of businesses. Since earlier this year, when the board got slapped by the Supreme Court, invalidating many of their decisions due to illegally appointed members (see here ) it’s been chugging along in reaffirming many of those decisions and revisiting yet others. Which is the case with this past week’s gifts.

The board issued its final expedited election rules. Often referred to as the "quickie" election rules, or better yet, the "ambush" election rules, they allow for union representation elections to be conducted in 10 to 21 days following the filing of a petition by a union.  Currently, elections normally take 6 to 8 weeks, which allows employers to respond to union organizing efforts and fully inform employees of all sides of the issue. The final rule pretty much guts employer rights and their ability to respond in any substantive way to a union organizing effort. In addition, it requires employers to give union organizers personal information about their workers including home addresses, telephone numbers, shift schedules, work locations, and, where available, e-mail addresses. See Littler’s article here.

In the same week, the board reversed a long-standing rule in reference to an employer’s right to control its own property. In the 2007 Register Guard decision the board ruled that employees have no statutory right to use their employers’ e-mail systems for union organizing purposes. On December 11th,  the board reversed, in Purple Communications Inc., 361 NLRB No. 126 (2014). You can read more about this decision here. So, now businesses have no right to control how their own property and systems are used.

Well now, aren’t they generous! Conventional wisdom says that both decisions will most likely be challenged – again – in court.

Let’s hope the courts are a little more generous to business, as one was several days ago, giving us our stocking stuffer: EEOC Must Disclose its Own Background Check Policy. In suing BMW, the EEOC says the company’s background checking policy was discriminatory. BMW asked the court to compel the EEOC to disclose its own policy. The EEOC felt their policy was "irrelevant" to the case. The court disagreed, forcing the EEOC to fork it over.

Ahhhh, the holidays! I wonder what we’ll get for New Year’s.

Well, try to enjoy yourself anyway. Don’t embarrass yourself at the office holiday party; don’t let a co-worker drink and drive and never, ever give your boss a fruitcake. Seriously, those things are evil.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Does it Cost to Hire/Fire that Employee?

More than you’d think…..

When the need to send an employee on his way (or chooses to leave), and then replace him comes about, the various people involved often have pieces of the cost picture but don’t think about the whole cost. The hiring manager may think about the lost productivity while the position is vacant or even the cost associated with other staff taking over the workload until you rehire. HR may think about the cost of recruitment, hiring, screening and onboarding that new hire.

It’s important for everyone to have and understand all the pieces – the whole picture – in order to truly understand the costs, both hard and soft, when either a bad hire is made and must be corrected, or a good employee is not retained. This is a metric referred to in aggregate as the cost-per-hire, and is calculated as the sum of these costs divided by the number of hires. But looking at the cost of even a single instance is instructive, and even eye-opening.

It’s estimated that the cost of a new hire is 1.5 times to 3 times the salary of the position being hired. Let’s break it down.

The Cost of a Vacant Position
Calculate the cost of the people who fill in while the position is vacant. This is either the wages, or a portion of the wages of existing employees performing the duties of the vacant position, or the cost of a temporary. Be sure to factor in any overtime costs.

The cost of lost productivity could be a minimum of 50% of the prior employee’s comp and benefits cost for each week the position is vacant, even if there are people doing the work. You’d use 100% if the position is completely vacant for any period of time.

Factor in the cost of the manager who has to figure out what work remains, and plan how to cover that work until a replacement is hired.

Often forgotten in this mix is the cost of lost knowledge, skills and contacts that the former employee is taking out the door. This can be significant, even if considered a "soft" cost. Try to put a dollar amount on it. Comparing it to lost productivity, a fair estimate may be 50% of the person's annual salary for one year of employment, adding 10% for each year after that. Think about all the institutional knowledge you’ve gained, the contacts you made and think about how valuable that is to your company.

Add the cost of things like unemployment insurance premiums and the time needed to prepare for an unemployment hearing, or the cost of a third party to handle that process for you.

The Cost of Lost Productivity
While your new hire is learning the ropes, she’s not fully productive, yet. After initial training is provided, the employee is probably contributing at a 25% productivity level for the first few weeks. The cost is 75% of the new employee’s salary during that period. During the next few months, the employee is contributing at about a 50% productivity level. That cost is then 50% of salary during that period. During the next 4 to 6 month period the employee reaches 75% productivity. Add in the cost of supervisors and co-workers spending time on bringing the new employee up to speed. The new employee doesn’t really reach full productivity until the 8-9 month range.

The Cost of Recruiting
Advertising your vacant position is expensive, no matter what media you use. Print ads (newspapers, professional publications, etc.) can run from a $200.00 classified to a $5,000.00 display ad; web ads are 300.00 to $500.00. Using a headhunter? Factor in 30% of annual compensation.

The cost of the internal recruiter's or HR’s time to understand the position requirements, develop and implement a sourcing strategy, review candidates backgrounds, prepare for interviews, conduct interviews, prepare assessments, conduct reference and background checks, make the offer and notify unsuccessful candidates. This can take anywhere from 30 hours to over 100 hours per position.

Then you have the time of the hiring manager or department to review candidates, including interviews, and select a finalist.

Add in the cost of drug screens, educational and criminal background checks and other reference checks. And since all these are often done for the top 2 or 3 candidates, the costs add up quickly. Don't forget to calculate the number of times these are done per open position as some companies conduct this process for the final 2 or 3 candidates. Do you utilize any other pre-employment assessment tools? Add those in, as well.

The Cost of Training
Determine the cost of training. This will include actual cost of any external training, the time and salary of internal staff conducting orientations and training, as well as the time for any on-the-job training or instruction. Include also the cost of any training materials.

The Cost of the New Hire
Getting a new employee started involves a lot more than handing him a new hire packet and calling it a day. Think about the cost to set up computer and security passwords or and identification and access cards, business cards, email accounts, cell phones, automobiles, etc.

Cost of Salary and Benefits
Salary costs have to be bundled with benefit costs. Life, health, dental, vision and disability coverage, etc., are hard costs to consider. According to Joe Hadzima, senior lecturer at MIT's Sloan School of Management, the salary plus benefits usually totals in the 1.25 to 1.4 times base salary range. So, the salary plus benefits package for a $50,000/year employee could equal $62,500 to $70,000.

That’s some real money, there. More than enough to put careful thought and effort into hiring effectively – not just putting butts in seats – but hiring for quality and fit. It should also show you the value of retaining your best and brightest employees and just as importantly, cutting your losses when you’re faced with a non-performing or disruptive employee.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Workplace Wellness Programs

The ACA and the EEOC's Lawsuits

Last week’s post highlighted several news items about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including news about the EEOC attacking several corporate wellness programs, despite the ACA specifically authorizing and encouraging such plans.

What’s the problem? And what’s the potential fallout? 

Wellness programs are designed to encourage healthy living and activities by employees, and hopefully, this will result in reduced costs to employer’s health plan costs, as well as healthier, happier employees who are more productive. Hmmmm. Pretty lofty goal. Most major employers have some sort of wellness program in place, and many small to mid-size employers are jumping on the bandwagon.

Plans have traditionally offered various rewards for participation in activities and health awareness programs. These rewards often start out as prizes and gifts for simply participating (regardless of outcome) in the activities and some biometric screenings, and then progress to including discounts on insurance premiums or deductibles, or penalties for not participating. Some programs will penalize participants (or remove rewards) for not reaching certain goals. While participation is voluntary, an employee can miss out on some substantial cost-savings for not "getting with the program". In fact, the state of Maryland’s program, in which participation is required as part of insurance coverage, allows for penalties of as much as $450 per person by 2017 for those who fail to undergo certain screenings and fail to follow treatment plans for chronic conditions. The state said the program could save $4 billion over the next 10 years. That’s a pretty big incentive for a major employer to maintain such a program. (I wonder if the EEOC will go after the state of Maryland’s program?)

It is these very rewards and penalties that the ACA allows and encourages, and the same ones the EEOC is now calling "illegal". How can that be?

The EEOC’s position is that what it sees as substantial penalties make the programs essentially "involuntary" and therefore in violation of both the ADA and HIPAA regulations. It reasons that if the penalty is too large or onerous, it’s not a truly voluntary decision not to participate (but who decides what it too large or onerous?) And this is where the cat fight begins…..

And that fight has angered a lot of people, enough that the Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs from more than 200 large U.S. corporations, is planning to meet with President Obama on the issue, according to a report by Reuters. "The fact that the EEOC sued is shocking to our members," said Maria Ghazal, vice-president and counsel at the Business Roundtable. She continues "They don't understand why a plan in compliance with the ACA (Affordable Care Act) is the target of a lawsuit."

In November, Roundtable president John Engler sent a letter to the Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services cabinet secretaries who oversee the ACA asking them to "thwart all future inappropriate actions against employers who are complying with" the law's wellness rules, and warning of "a chilling effect across the country."

Since the EEOC’s recent lawsuits, there have been indications that some of these large employers might pull back their support of the ACA and instead stand with its opponents.

That could be a major setback for the Obama Administration, since large employers were some of the few entities to actually support the law. But they say they did so primarily because of its wellness provisions, which as noted above, stood to save them substantial amounts of money on health care plan costs, which could take the sting out of ever-increasing premiums.

Republicans want to change the law at the very least (remove the employer mandate; change the "full-time" definition to 40 hours/week, etc.). Also, more Democrats are even starting to criticize the Administration for its handling of the law. So, maybe all big business has to do is bring a few Democrats over to the other side of the aisle for the ACA to see some significant changes.

With the Supreme Court hearing a case on the legality of subsidies offered through the federal exchange, the EEOC lawsuits against wellness programs as a backdrop, the ACA could face some real backlash this coming year. When employers get a full taste of the reporting requirements that go along with the employer mandate, they could renew their opposition to the law. While the ACA is probably here to stay, I predict there will be substantive changes coming.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Affordable Care Act News Roundup

And here we go………we have another round of exciting news on the Affordable Care Act! Well, ok – it’s not that exciting for most people – just us geeks who follow this stuff. But, it is important since we are all affected in one way or another by this law.

So, we start with another lawsuit by the Republicans, Obamacare Lawsuit Filed by Republicans and House Sues President over ACA Administration

The House GOP sues the Obama administration for the executive actions taken to change provisions of the Act without first getting congressional approval. Sound familiar? You may remember (or maybe not) that the President delayed the employer mandate – or at least delayed the penalties under the employer mandate. What many people don’t know is that because employers have not had to submit the required reports detailing their health insurance offerings (including which employees are eligible for it and what they will pay), this gives the IRS no way to verify if any particular person signing up for a plan on the federal or state exchanges is actually eligible for a subsidy. It’s on the honor system! Yeeahhhh, that’ll work.

It won’t likely go anywhere, but it’s still an indication of the tension the creation and administration of the ACA has caused and continues to cause. In fact, the Supreme Court will hear another aspect of this soon:

Supreme Court and Affordable Care Act Round Two

This case revolves around a few simple words within the Act: established by the State. The Act specifies how the subsidies are to be calculated and specifically provides for those enrolled in coverage offered through an exchange established by the state. With strict adherence to the language, it would seem to prohibit subsidies for those who enrolled on the federal exchange. Several district courts have heard this issue, and been divided; hence its review by the SCOTUS. If it’s ruled that the federal exchanges cannot provide tax subsidies to people, it would be a serious blow to the health of the law; one from which it may not be resuscitated. Such a decision would have impact on several provisions, including the affordability provisions, the individual mandate and the employer mandate. All of these hinge on the availability of a subsidy to low-income individuals.

Never to be left out, the EEOC has gotten (heavily) into the ACA picture, as well.

EEOC's Litigation Strategy Gets Slapped Around in Senate Hearing

The EEOC has been attacking businesses for their wellness programs, which are specifically allowed by the ACA, and their inclusion agreed to by both sides of the aisle. They’ve decided that, at least in 3 recent cases in which they filed suit against businesses, that the wellness plans were not truly voluntary, and imposed too harsh penalties upon those employees who chose not to participate. The provision in the ACA regarding wellness programs is that they would be allowed, and not considered a violation of the ADA’s prohibition against medical examinations and questions, if participation was truly voluntary.

Then today, we see this post from Eric Meyer (great blog, by the way! I highly recommend it.)

This could be welcome news for employers. Finally, some direction? Why it should take until February 2015 to produce this clarification is beyond me. The ACA went into effect in………2010? Oh, well. It’s not unusual for a regulatory agency to write regulations and then wait for the courts to battle out the implementation issues. Fun times.

Next up, we don’t want to forget the now infamous consultant Jonathan Gruber, now do we?

Obamacare Consultant under Fire

Always nice to have someone openly admit they made every attempt to dupe the American public (and our elected officials – are ya listening, Nancy?).

As we enter the 2nd open enrollment period for plans on the exchanges, people need to be aware that in many cases, premiums are going up and they need to pay attention to avoid paying higher monthly costs.

O-Care Costs to Rise for Many

When the premium goes up, the subsidy effectively goes down. Your income most likely has stayed the same. In order to keep costs in line with their budgets, people may have to choose another plan upon reenrollment. Switching plans may mean your doctor or hospital is not covered…. or it may mean higher deductibles or co-pays – and this could reasonably have the effect of making any particular plan far less "affordable".

How do the subsidies work? The size of each person's subsidy is tied to a "benchmark" plan. Lower income consumers only have to spend a certain percentage of their income for that plan; the government pays the rest of the premium. If you choose a more expensive policy, you have to pay the difference on your own.

For 2014, about 3.4 million people picked the benchmark plan or went even one option cheaper. As those plans raise their rates and new options come on the market, they may lose their benchmark status to cheaper plans and those people will find themselves having to pay a larger portion of the premium.

So, let's say your income is at about 150 percent of the poverty line—roughly $17,000 per year. The ACA says you don't have to pay more than 4 percent of your income for the benchmark plan in your area. You chose that plan this year, and you get a pretty decent subsidy. Then, the insurance company wants to raise its rates by 5 percent next year - not unusual and not too bad, really, and you're only paying about $50 per month out of your pocket anyway (for the premium). You like the plan, so you decide to just auto-renew for next year. However, other insurance companies are now offering cheaper plans in your area. Your plan is no longer the benchmark plan; a cheaper one is. Now your subsidy is based on the cost of that plan, not the one you have. This means you're paying the 5 percent premium increase, but you’re also paying for every dollar of the difference in price between your plan and the new benchmark plan.

These technical changes in subsidies could turn a 5 percent premium increase into a spike of 30 to 100 percent in the net costs for low-income consumers, according to a recent Milliam analysis. Ouch, and get out the headache powder – why is this so complicated?

And the big news, I guess, is that the employer mandate will fully go into effect as of 1/1/15. Businesses with 100 or more full-time employees are required to offer health insurance to at least 70% of their workforce. Employers that don't offer coverage will face penalties: an approximately $2,000 fine for every employee in the company, minus the first 80 employees. (That number drops to 30 employees the following year). Also beginning in 2016, medium-size companies with 50 to 99 full-time employees must offer coverage or face the fines. And the required minimum for coverage will rise to 95% of a business's workforce, up from 70%.

Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from coverage requirements under the law. And remember the ACA defines a full-time employee as someone working an average of 30 hours a week. The Republicans, and some Democrats, are trying to get this changed to 40 hours per week, which has been the standard definition of full-time used by the vast majority of businesses for many decades.

What’s a small business to do?
I think it’s fairly safe to say that many more businesses in the 50-99 employee range are having difficulties with the ACA and its requirements. Certainly, you get that impression from all the news articles about companies structuring their workforces to support more part-time (less than 30 hours per week) than full-time (o 30 hours or more per week) employees.

Options are few and not all that great. One option is to not offer health insurance to your employees, direct them to the exchanges to buy individual policies and pay the penalty. Do the math: it may be less expensive to pay the fine than to pay for the group health insurance. But is that who you are as a company? What effect will that have on your ability to recruit qualified people to your business?

The best advice I can offer is to speak with a knowledgeable, full-service broker. As much as you might want to patronize the guy down on Main St. who sells auto, home, life and health insurance, he may be struggling with understanding and keeping up with this law as much as you are. A full-service broker has the knowledge, and the resources to help you wade through the morass that is this law. If nothing else, such a discussion can help you determine what you can afford, and what all the implications are of whatever decision you make.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Toxic Employees

Cure or Cleanse?

Negative employees can wreak havoc on your business. They not only decrease the productivity of everyone else, but they make everyone dread coming into work. Negativity is like any virus or poison: it spreads easily.

If you've got a toxic person on your team it's vital that you either try to cure them or cleanse yourself of them.

Like any virus, toxic employees can spread their harmful and antagonistic attitudes and behavior to other employees, some of whom then begin to agree and identify with the toxic individual. The result is that vulnerable employees without the ability to see through these people can become victims. This renders them unable to differentiate between antagonism and constructive criticism, or see the difference between forming negative coalitions and simply agreeing with colleagues.

The Toxin

We have probably all been familiar with such an employee. This is the person who instigates infighting, backbiting, engages in passive/aggressive behavior, arguments or criticisms simply for the sake of being different or antagonistic. Sometimes they are the "helpful" ones. They help their co-workers understand what could go wrong. They help people see that disaster is coming. They do so with such conviction, everyone believes them and gets sucked into their vortex of negativity. Or maybe they withhold important information until the end, just to wield control.

Toxic employees are good at illusion. They expend a lot of energy pretending to work; doing the bare minimum in order to avoid being disciplined for low productivity, but jumping in at the last minute to grab all the credit for the work of others.

A toxic employee avoids approaching people directly with concerns, instead choosing to spread hearsay and innuendo. He likes to stir things up and may even go to the boss with some "constructive" solution to a problem he helped to create, thereby getting the credit for the solution at the expense of others.
While the motivation for such behavior is probably as varied as the individuals themselves, there do seem to be some commonalities.

The need to acquire informal power and control; advancing one’s position within the organization; neutralizing others’ value and positions in the organization (those they see as a threat) and retaliation against co-workers for perceived slights are among the motivating factors seen in toxic employees. And then there are those that simply revel in the ability to stir up crap. Maybe it gives them a sense of accomplishment they might not get from actually trying to do a good job. Who knows?

The Cure
How can you "cure" a toxic employee? As with many problems, the best offense is a good defense. Not hiring such an employee to begin with is the preferred method - prevention. But recognizing this in an interview can be challenging, since many are also skilled manipulators. Behavioral based interview questions will be your best bet. Asking a candidate to explain how he handled workplace conflict – in detail – may give you an idea of how he approaches co-workers.

Questions about what types of challenges he enjoys most and what motivates him can reveal how he views teamwork and cooperation. If the candidate doesn’t take the time to ask about others' roles in the organization (except those at the top), and focuses only on "me", it should send up a red flag that there could be a problem. The toxic employee often only focuses on WIIFM – What’s in it for Me?

Reference checking focusing on the candidate’s interaction with co-workers and supervisors can also be revealing. Sometimes, you have to listen for what is not said, as well as what is said. Be sure to ask about specific responsibilities and accomplishments. Try to pinpoint if the candidate worked best as part of a team or independently and what his contributions were.

Oftentimes, though, it only becomes obvious that you have a toxic employee well after he’s been hired. It’s vital to your organization’s health to deal with this behavior decisively. Allowing this negativity to continue will only bring down your good performers and risk your mission.

Can you determine the cause? When did it start? Has it always been this way? While never an acceptable way of dealing with issues, is there something within your environment that could be contributing to this person’s negativity? Can that be resolved?

It’s important to confront the employee about the behavior. Be specific, be prepared for an argument, or at least a defensive reaction, and be ready to offer positive, constructive suggestions. Be direct and don’t get into a negotiation. Your goal is to make sure the employee understands you expect the behavior to change, but that you’re willing to help if possible.

Always be a role model. To one degree or another, we all model the behavior of others. I’ve written before about the need for managers and supervisors to model the behavior they expect of their employees. How you conduct yourself has a huge impact on the behaviors of those you lead.

Giving the toxic employee specific tasks for which he will be held totally accountable will prevent him "pretending" to work or manipulating others into doing the work. This will be one barometer of whether your actions will have the desired effect. If the employee can accomplish these goals successfully without failing back on bad habits, you will have gotten closer to success.

Check in with others to see how things are going. Don’t be afraid to find out the employee is still behaving badly. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away.

We don’t often include employee behavior in our performance management process. As a result, it can communicate that technical competence matters more than behavior. Include behavior and conduct as factors in working toward your organization’s mission. Make these expectations known up front and manage for it just as you do technical skills and other competencies.
In the end, if all else fails, don’t hesitate to remove the toxic employee – cleanse yourself and your organization. Your employees will thank you. Sometimes, we don’t know how bad we feel, or how bad things have gotten until we feel better or done something to improve the situation.   

Thursday, October 30, 2014

New OSHA Reporting Requirements

Guilty until Proven Innocent?

Late last year, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued proposed changes to recordkeeping and reporting requirements for many of the nation’s workplaces. Currently, most businesses must record workplace injuries and illnesses and post that report in the workplace. Additionally, hospitalizations and deaths that occur in the workplace must be reported directly to OSHA within certain timeframes. OSHA normally only views an employer’s workplace injury log (Form 300) when onsite for an inspection, or as part of the annual OSHA Data Initiative – when about 80,000 employers in generally high-hazard industries submit their summaries to OSHA. In a separate program, the annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, the Bureau of Labor Statistics requires about 230,000 employers to submit detailed incident information based on their Form 300 logs. That confidential information is used to calculate the yearly injury and illness rates and provide a database for researchers.

The proposed changes would require businesses to notify OSHA of work-related fatalities within eight hours, and work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations or losses of an eye within 24 hours. Prior to this, the regulations required an employer to report only work-related fatalities and in-patient hospitalizations of three or more employees. Reporting single hospitalizations, amputations or loss of an eye was not required under the previous rule, but now will be. All employers are subject to these reporting requirements, including employers who are otherwise exempt from keeping illness and injury records.

The types of reporting methods have also been expanded. Employers can still call OSHA’s confidential number or call the local OSHA Area Office. Now, employers will also be able to go to a website and file a report electronically. A little reported (at least in OSHA’s press releases) difference is that employer reports of illness or injury will now be made public on OSHA’s website. OSHA states this will be an incentive for employers to increase safety for their workers. OSHA recently published a supplement to the proposed rule on August 14, 2014, which indicated its intention to impose increased scrutiny to employers’ policies on reporting injuries/illnesses (focusing on "unreasonable requirements for reporting injuries and illnesses and retaliating against employees who report injuries and illnesses"). More on that in a bit.

Eric Conn, founding partner and chair of the OSHA Workplace Safety Group at the law firm Maciel Carey PLLC, based in Washington, D.C has stated "The new rule will dramatically increase the number of incidents that employers have to report directly to OSHA, and will also dramatically increase the number of incident inspections that OSHA conducts. Experience also tells us that OSHA does not leave incident inspections without citing something….I would caution employers against this new tool (the website filing) because it will require employers to memorialize an explanation about an incident that just occurred a few short hours earlier, and about which they cannot really know enough to commit to a description in writing that may later be used against them in enforcement proceedings".

Recently, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) joined more than 60 other employer and trade groups in a letter to OSHA asking the agency to withdraw the supplement to he proposed rule. Specifically, this group states that "OSHA’s supplemental notice lacks supporting data or evidence, seeks to prohibit conduct already prohibited, and exceeds the bounds of the agency’s statutory authority in rewriting the retaliation provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. The proposed rule includes many provisions already contained in OSH laws. "SHRM felt it was important to weigh in on the supplemental [notice] because of our concerns about the agency’s process," said Nancy Hammer, SHRM’s senior government affairs policy counsel. "They have made assertions about employers suppressing injury reporting without supporting data and they have not provided specific regulatory text for comment. Unsubstantiated allegations of non-reporting and potential retaliation by employers is something HR takes very seriously."

Under current law, OSHA has to wait for a worker to file a workplace retaliation complaint based on the whistle-blower provisions of Section 11(c). Under the new proposal, OSHA would be able to cite an employer for taking adverse action against an employee for reporting an injury or illness, even if the employee does not file a complaint. "OSHA would prefer to decide when employers are engaging in adverse action rather than waiting for an employee to allege such action in a complaint. The effect of this would be to enforce the whistle-blower protections without a whistle-blower," says Tressi Cordaro, counsel to the Coalition for Workplace Safety and an attorney at law firm Jackson Lewis. Furthermore, the proposed rule would in effect allow OSHA to cite employers for policies in lieu of complaints. These policies could be safety incentive programs, post-accident drug testing and zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, for example.

Marc Freedman, executive director of Labor Law Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has stated "This is a troubling rulemaking because it will make sensitive company-specific data publicly available. The mere recording of an injury does not mean the employer was at fault, or tell the full story of what happened, or indicate the company’s overall approach to workplace safety and its full record. This information will likely be used by groups who have campaigns against certain companies to create misleading and damaging impressions of these companies’ safety records."

Occupational safety and health law attorney John Martin has called this part of the proposal "the latest phase in OSHA’s antagonistic ‘regulation by shaming’ policy—amped up by a degree."  Martin, a Washington, D.C.-based shareholder at employment law firm Ogletree Deakins, questioned OSHA’s proposed use of injury and illness data, saying the agency is turning recordkeeping into a "bludgeon for enforcement’s sake." That’s not the purpose of recordkeeping, he added.  "It is intended as a tool to compile and track injury and illness statistics, in an effort to allow OSHA to spot trends and write better regulations. Publication of everyone’s OSHA 300 logs on a government website doesn’t do anything to advance that purpose."

My view is that this is yet another overreach by a regulatory agency to impose more and harsher impositions on an already overregulated business environment. These changes will do nothing constructive to increase worker safety; which currently enjoys sufficient protections. Apparently, OSHA, along with a few other agencies, have bought into the online bullying and unsubstantiated accusations being employed by so many today, and are writing their own protections for such behavior.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Can We Talk?

Getting your employees to open up

I think many organizations face an internal dilemma in wanting candid feedback and input from their employees, but also being afraid to hear it. On the other hand, creating an environment where people feel free to open up is important to our success, both from an individual management perspective as well as an organizational perspective.

James Detert, a professor at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management who specializes in transparent communication in the workplace, says that initiating more one-on-one, casual conversations can help by giving some employees an option they may be more comfortable with.

Silence usually means people are holding back," says Joseph Grenny, the coauthor of Crucial Conversations and the cofounder of VitalSmarts, a corporate training company. Finding out why they might avoid speaking up will help you to find ways to encourage them to offer their opinions. Are they concerned about your reaction? Do they think it’s not worthwhile to voice concerns due to their perception that other suggestions were never considered or implemented?

Detert also advises to "stop waiting for people to come to you — go out and ask them yourself." It may be easier to respond to an open question than to take the initiative to come to you and start the conversation.
How can you encourage your staff to speak up honestly on important issues? 

Trust through non-judgment. Encourage your employees to communicate honestly, openly and as frequent as necessary. As is the case with many management issues, if you model the behavior you want to see in your staff, you’re more likely to get it. When you communicate in this manner, both with your staff and your boss, your employees will know they can talk about problems and mistakes without concern for harsh judgment.

Don’t shoot the messenger. Almost nothing can destroy trust and initiative faster. As managers, we know that there are times when people have to relay messages. If that person keeps getting shot down simply for passing on the information, he will not only not come back, but eventually no one else will, either.

Encourage others to express differing viewpoints. Let your staff know they can disagree (respectfully) with you and discuss it. This gives both you and them the opportunity to understand each other’s views. It may not change the ultimate decision or plan in the end, but it may uncover roadblocks you may not have considered. And if that’s the case, thank them for telling you!

Reward honest and open communication. Rewards can be as simple as "thank you for telling me"; or more authority and autonomy if possible. Again, showing your staff that constructive conversation and critical analyses will be recognized will encourage them to continue. 

Keep them informed. Everyone wants to know what’s going on. Keep your employees informed about what’s happening in the organization. The more they feel informed about their organization, the better they feel about their part in it. If you don’t know the answer or don’t know the reason for a corporate decision, admit that, but then try to find out and follow-up.

Encourage information sharing. You’re a manager. It makes no sense for you to be the only one to keep your team informed. Expect your staff to share information with each other regularly. Involve others in giving updates and sharing other relevant and important information.

Constructive, not destructive. You may not always like what an employee tells you. There may even be a time the criticism is about you. Be open to it, don’t be defensive. Have the conversation and ask questions –explore the issue – whatever it is. You don’t have to make every change or implement every idea presented to you, but when you listen without judgment, it will encourage your employees to continue looking for things that can be improved.

Allow the ability to place "blame". No, not pass the buck, or throw someone else under the bus. But for instance, you can ask what other people are saying about an issue. For some employees who are not yet comfortable in owning their opinions or at least not expressing them openly, this gives them the opportunity to get them out in the open in a safer fashion. 

Respond in a timely fashion. A general rule of thumb is to get back to people within twenty-four hours. And it’s even better when you can shorten that time. When someone sends you an email, letter, or leaves a phone message, get back to her as soon as you can; even if it’s just to let her know where you are in addressing the issue or concern. And just as importantly, if not more so, do what you said you would do.

Try some (or all!) of these steps and you’ll be on your way to more open and honest communication throughout your organization. But remember: it begins with you. If you are open and honest, your people will follow your example.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Why Your Leadership Development Program Fails

According to the American Society for Training & Development, businesses in the United States spend more than $170 billion on leadership training programs. And yet, after the training only about 15% of the skills learned are actually transferred to real life situations in the workplace. In fact, that percentage is pretty common for training in many subjects. So, what’s going wrong?

Certainly, one can look to principles of adult learning. Andragogy, the study of adult learning, originated in Europe in the 1950's and was then pioneered as a theory and model of adult learning in the 1970's by Malcolm Knowles, an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, who defined andragogy as "the art and science of helping adults learn.
Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed. Adults tend to resist learning when they feel others are imposing information, ideas or actions on them without context.
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences. Adults relate their own life experiences and ideas to the learning experience.
  • Adults are goal oriented. Adult students come ready to learn when they perceive the subject will directly relate to, and help them with real-life tasks and problems. Theory alone will not hold their attention.
  • Adults are relevancy oriented. Adult learners want to know the relevance of what they are learning to the goals they want to achieve.
  • Adults are practical. They want hands-on experiences that will show them that what they’re learning actually applies to their life and work.
  • Adult learners like respect. Respect for their life experiences; being treated like a colleague with knowledge and expertise of value, collaborating with colleagues of a similar level.
When we look at some of the reasons such programs fail, we can see where some of the problem lie.

Separating Theory from Real Life
Leaders, both current and future, regardless of how talented, often have trouble transferring even the best training experiences to the day to day challenges of their work. Leadership development programs often focus more on theory and ideas rather than on action and learning by doing. Giving them real work projects to apply those new theories and ideas to is a valuable combination that will increase their take-away. It will also provide a bigger ROI to the organization by continuing to work on actual goals.

While planning a program companies should ask themselves a very simple question: what exactly is this program for? Often, these programs focus on a long list of leadership qualities, competencies and mission/vision/values statements. In order to help them remember these long lists, they are frequently summarized in some sort of shorthand. What ends up happening is that managers come away with an alphabet soup of steps, but don’t really know how to apply it all. Identifying a small number of capabilities essential for success in your business or industry, like high quality decision making or strong coaching skills, will produce better results.

The Wrong People at the Wrong Time
Resources are scare for many organizations. Including everyone who expresses a desire for more learning is rarely feasible. Careful selection of participants will help ensure the program will be successful in actually developing future leaders. Participants will also be more invested if they perceive that their fellow participants are as invested and goal-directed as they are. If some participants are not motivated to reach the goal of being a leader, the others may suffer.

Event vs. Process
Most leadership development programs are focused on providing a great training program. Training is an event, but learning is a process. Becoming a leader doesn’t happen in a couple of weeks or even a month of sessions. Skill development takes time. Designing a program that includes periodic updates and refreshers will be more successful and more relevant. You can’t provide quick training and then move on to the next great idea. Companies have to commit to a long-term process, offering numerous opportunities and experiences for the participants over time.

Change won’t happen if minds don’t change. Here’s how the issue is described in an article by McKinsey:

Becoming a more effective leader often requires changing behavior. But although most companies recognize that this also means adjusting underlying mind-sets, too often these organizations are reluctant to address the root causes of why leaders act the way they do. Doing so can be uncomfortable for participants, program trainers, mentors, and bosses—but if there isn’t a significant degree of discomfort, the chances are that the behavior won’t change.

It takes time to transform old ways of being into new ones. Few programs provide the opportunity to reflect on the deep seated traits and motives that are limiting effectiveness. 

Delving into the whys and wherefores of deep-seated mindsets help set the stage for future change.

Developing leaders from within makes sense financially and strategically for most organizations. Creating the right program is the real challenge. Continuing the learning process is the key to the program’s success.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


***SCOTUS Alert: Supreme Court convened on October 6, 2014
Among the cases to be heard later this term will address pregnancy discrimination. Must employers make special accommodations for pregnant employees? In Young v. UPS, a Maryland case, federal courts rejected Young’s pregnancy discrimination claim on the grounds she was treated the same as other workers who were injured off the job, but the Supremes will hear her appeal and decide whether pregnant workers must be given the same special accommodation as other employees who have a temporary disability. Young was denied light duty under UPS’ policy that only employees injured on the job would be allowed light duty (which was also negotiated under the union contract). It will be interesting to see how this plays out, and if the decision stands, how it will affect Maryland’s law, which went into effect last year in response to Young’s loss in court, and which requires ADA-like accommodations for pregnant employees. (Remember, pregnancy, in and of itself, is not considered a disability under the ADA.)***

An essential job skill

Last week I posted about the importance of cultural fit, from both ends of the work equation – employer and prospective employee. As I mentioned, both skill and cultural fit are key items to assess in an applicant. One of those skills should be discipline. No, not the slap on the wrist (or worse) because of a policy violation. But the self-discipline that provides the internal drive to get things done. The trait that provides focus, attention to detail, organization and the perseverance required to be successful.

People who are disciplined tend to be more successful professionally and in their personal lives. Disciplined employees are liked and appreciated by not only their managers but their fellow co-workers. These employees will climb the success ladder more quickly compared to those who are less self-disciplined or just do the minimum to get by.

As a manager, you want employees who will persevere, who won’t give up despite failures and setbacks and who have the ability to avoid distractions and temptations that would rob them of the ability to get the job done.

As a person (or employee) self-discipline leads to self-confidence and self-esteem, which are key components of happiness and satisfaction.

Asking the right questions during an interview can help managers assess the level of discipline an applicant possesses. These questions are not uncommon or especially creative, but are often asked for different purposes. Yet, they can reveal this important trait.
  • During long term projects, how do you track progress and goals?
  • When was the last time you were truly angry in the workplace? Why were you angry? What did you do about it? How was the situation resolved?
  • Tell me about your methods of keeping track of ongoing changes in your (field, profession, industry) and how you keep on top of the paperwork and incoming information. Do you ever get behind? How do you handle that?
  • Describe your methods and systems to keep your calendar and to-do lists in order.
  • What ideas have you come up with that have increased your productivity, or someone else's?
  • How did you prepare for this interview?
You can also give the applicant a work simulation. Provide the materials and information to complete tasks similar to what someone in that job would do. Then, see if the applicant accomplishes those tasks in a disciplined, orderly, and organized manner.

How can your organization foster self-discipline in your employees? Again, the list isn’t new, but these items reflect simple, good management techniques that will have the added benefit of encouraging your employees to be more disciplined in their approach to work.

1. Clarify goals. Team goals should reflect the organizational goals, with some refinement with respect to your function or department. When someone new is added, spend some time with them to communicate those goals and what you expect of them in their specific role, emphasizing how their hard work will benefit their co-workers as well as the organization as a whole.

2. Establish clear rules. Explain precisely what is acceptable and what isn’t, what’s explicitly against the rules, and explain the policies and procedures for their work environment.

3. Create a foundation of accountability. Make it clear that you expect your staff to accept responsibility for everything they do, regardless of the outcome. Create an environment where they’re comfortable doing so. While honesty may prove painful at times, they’ll be better off accepting their mistakes, but be allowed to learn from them.

4. Encourage self-control. Give them opportunities to improve their productivity by eliminating bad habits: excessively long breaks, unproductive multitasking, procrastination, web surfing, and any other time-wasters. Most importantly, model the self-control you want them to possess.

When people are self-disciplined, the need for a supervisor or manager to impose external discipline is diminished. This makes everyone more productive. Supervisors and managers are then better able to spend time on the more interesting stuff, like developing your employees and getting the real work of the organization done and being successful doing it.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Finding the Right Fit

Workplace Culture

Whether we know it or not, we spend a lot of time "fitting in" or deciding if we fit in. Those around us are also judging if we fit in. At various stages throughout our school years, socially and our workplaces, we make these judgments. Hiring managers attempt to assess our fit to the job and the organization, and we in turn, should also assess our fit to that organization.

Workplace culture fit has been touted as possibly more important than skill. Ever heard the phrase "hire for culture, train for skill"? While both are important, it’s often the cultural fit that gets left out of the hiring equation. Hiring the right person for our environment (skill and culture) can reduce the overall cost of the hiring process by reducing turnover and the wasted time and training of someone who didn’t make it because he didn’t fit in. Saving your employees from having to cover while you find another candidate reduces their stress, as well.

If you’re looking for a new job, making sure you will thrive in that environment will offer you more of an opportunity to succeed and be happy with the place in which you spend a large portion of your life.

What is workplace culture and how do we hire for it and how do we suss out a company’s culture to decide if we’ll fit in?

The culture of a workplace is made up of values, beliefs, attitudes and behavior shared by the people who work together. It’s the behavior that results when a group arrives at a consensus about working together. Most times, these are unspoken, unwritten rules of the game, so to speak. We’re probably not even fully conscious that we’ve developed a culture. But in order to hire for it, you need to figure out what it is. While the old saw "I’ll know it when I see it" may be true to an extent, it’s not always reliable. Are you more buttoned up, old school corporate culture? More business casual, both in dress and attitude? Or are you start-up wild and crazy?

I.T. hiring expert and management consultant Johanna Rothman gives us questions we can explore during the interview process to help determine if a candidate will be a good fit:

1. Tell me about your greatest successes? What caused your success? Probe for the reasons behind the success. Knowing if the candidate works best in a team-oriented, collaborative environment, or a more individual-contributor independent environment will help you decide if she will fit in.

2. Tell me about your greatest challenges, and what caused them? This should encourage the candidate to talk about roadblocks he encountered and how the culture either helped or hindered him.

3. What type of environment do you need to work in to be most successful? Candidates will reveal their needs for things like work tools, privacy or flexibility in order to work successfully.

4. What is important for you to have if we made you an offer? Vacation, benefits, office location, computers, phones, etc. are all part of the bargain. Some candidates place more importance on availability of training, for instance; and managers might want to know they have the freedom to select their own team.

In general, behavioral interviewing is going to get you closer to the information you need to determine the cultural fit of a candidate.

If you’re the one being interviewed by a company, what can you do to figure out the culture? Paying attention to what’s going on around you while you’re there can tell you a lot.

How do people relate to one another? What’s the vibe between your interviewer and the receptionist when he comes out to greet you? How do the members of the panel interviewing you behave toward one another? Do they interrupt each other?

Ask the interviewer to describe the company’s culture. What she chooses to tell you can be revealing. How she tells you - the words she chooses and body language – may tell you even more. Are they consistent with the words being spoken? Compare your preferred style of working with what is being described. Do they match?

Ask for a tour. What your interviewer chooses to show you is probably what the company feels is important and its best-selling points. This will also give you another opportunity to see how employees relate to one another; and see how casual or formal the atmosphere is.

Inquire about promotional opportunities, training, etc. Ask how many people have held this job in the last 5 years. If your interviewer is also the hiring manager, ask about her style of supervision. Is it loose and hands-off when you need more feedback? Or does she come off as a micromanager and you work better in a less restrained fashion?

The savvy candidate can even turn Rothman’s questions around and discover what the interviewer and the company sees as important to them.

For a company looking to hire, skill is important, but cultural fit may seal the deal. From the candidate’s viewpoint, money and benefits are important, but working where you’re comfortable, believe in the mission and feel welcomed is equally as important to your success.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

HR Buzzkill

Buzzwords we should let go….

A recent survey from Accountemps, conducted by an independent research firm and based on interviews with more than 600 HR managers at U.S. and Canadian companies, reveals the top 20 most annoying terms used in business today.

Somehow clarity and simplicity has come to signify lack of sophistication or even lack of knowledge or intelligence, and using the current favorite buzzword is supposed to indicate you’re with it and get it. I would suggest that overuse of these types of terms is contributing to the disconnect between employees and management and employees and HR. How are they supposed to connect with you, your ideas and your goals if they don’t know what you’re saying?

You can check out the list at the link above. But here’s my take on some of those buzzwords, and a few more that are HR-centric (see what I did there?):

  1. "Out of pocket" Ok, you’re not in the office – say so!
  2. "Employee engagement" What? Is there jewelry involved?
  3. "Onboarding" I’m looking for the yacht…..
  4. "HR Business Partner" Where’s the vendor contract? Aren’t they employees, too?
  5. "Crunch time" Are we exercising?
  6. "Value-added" Let’s just exceed the expectations, can we?
  7. "Leverage" Borrowed from finance/investment circles. Using something to maximum advantage is not how this term is used today.
  8. "Circle back" I thought we should avoid going in circles?
  9. "Synergy" Teamwork, unity – even harmony – will be better understood
  10. "Thought leaders" Can they be "action" leaders, too?
  11. "Alignment" Yeah, we agree on our [goals, mission, values, whatever]
  12. "Game changer" Are we playing a game?
  13. "Take offline" Not everything is computerized…..
  14. "Human Capital" Referring to your employees in strictly financial terms might alienate them further, or simply confuse them.
  15. "Reach out" Reach out and touch some……..No. Just no.
Communication, or the lack thereof, is among the top complaints employees have about their workplace and their relationship with management. Maybe if we kill the buzzwords and speak clearly and simply our message will get through and we can all be on the same page. (Oops)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

You Don’t Want to be the Boss?

CareerBuilder comes out with some fairly interesting surveys. And this recent one is no exception. It found that of 3,625 workers ages 18 and over (employed full-time, not self-employed, government and non-government); only 34% aspired to leadership roles. That’s a pretty low number. Why don’t people want to be the boss? A little more research came up with a Pew survey reported by Time that gives us some idea of why being the boss might not be all that attractive to some.

The Pew survey found that more than 75% of bosses consider their job a career, whereas less than half of workers do. Many of them look at their work as just a job, something to get them by. Yet others don’t want to put in the time and effort – and give up work/life balance – in order to reach that leadership level. They perceive it’s necessary to give up too much to get there.

Others may choose not to take on the responsibility of managing others, and want the luxury of leaving at 5 p.m. and not thinking about work till the next day.

Interestingly, the survey also found that that a little more than half of the workers polled think they’re adequately trained to do their jobs. But that means that a large chunk of people don’t feel they have the knowledge or skills they need to progress.

In my years of HR management, I have often had people say "I wouldn’t want your job!" That’s ok; there have been times when I didn’t want my job. But some of the reasons they gave are revealing:

  • You have to tell people they’re [not performing well, doing something wrong], etc.
  • You get blamed when your team doesn’t succeed, even if it’s not your fault
  • You have to say "no".
  • You have to fire people! *gasp*
  • Some people won’t like you.
  • You have to toe the company line, even if you don’t agree with it.
  • Everything you do or say is watched and seen by everyone.
But try to think about the flip side. Being in a management or supervisory position – being the boss – affords you some pretty exciting opportunities. It can give you the opportunity to shine, to show off your skills and talent. It gives you the opportunity to grow both personally and professionally, while helping others to do the same. You can grow, develop and lead your team, and your organization to success (whether big successes or little ones). And you know what? That’s a pretty cool thing. That’s fun, and fulfilling. So, don’t let your perceptions of the possible "bad" things about being a boss hold you back from an experience that could be a really great opportunity. Take the steps, get the knowledge or skills you need, ask for help from your boss, take initiative. Be the boss.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What HR Hates

Well, hate is a strong word, although that hasn’t seemed to stop the many blogs and other publications churning out articles about why everyone hates HR. For instance, here, here and one that started it all: here.

Certainly, there are bad, inexperienced or just plain clueless HR pros out there; just as there are in any profession. But they don’t exist in any greater numbers than in other professions, either.

Just as there are those who think all HR pros are evil incarnate, we HR pros have a few things that really set our hair on fire, too. So, it’s time to highlight a few things that HR folks really don’t like, or even "hate".

It’s our job to help our organizations by way of recruiting, retaining and developing the best employees and with making sure the organization is in compliance with the hundreds – no, thousands - of laws and regulations dealing with the employment relationship. That right there is enough to make us cranky. These two goals among the many we have can seem to conflict in that the same people we are supposed to help succeed sometimes seem to be working hard to destroy the organization. What we hate is that people, both employees and managers/supervisors, often fail to understand this. Their view is that we are being obstructionist and a pain in the ass. Nope, we’re just trying to get it done.

We are not counselors or therapists. But you’d never know that sometimes. Employees sometimes have personal problems, but that’s not the issue. We can refer you to the EAP or legal assistance, offer leaves of absence, etc. We're sympathetic; after all, we’re human and sometimes have problems, too. But, please don’t expect us to solve your personal problems and don’t get ticked off when we won’t hang out our "psychologist" shingle. We can help you navigate your relationships with your manager or your coworkers, but we aren’t qualified to fix your marriage and that really falls into TMI, anyway.

In a related area, we can show you how to do something. We can even show you how to do something several times. But, eventually, you need to do it by yourself. Whether that something is using your health benefits, accessing your retirement plan online, or completing a performance evaluation, we really, really can’t continue to do it for you all the time. We have a lot of other things to do for a lot of other people. Please be an adult and be responsible enough to learn how to do these things yourself.

Whiners and high-maintenance employees (and managers) are the ones that complain about being overworked, even though they rarely work a full day; about being treated badly by their manager who simply told you to do your job; about how they need to be paid more, even though they make as much or more as their comparable coworkers; about the quality of the hand towels in the bathroom and the sodas in the vending machines. They are forever being harassed, discriminated against and clearly don’t know the meaning of those words in the workplace (even though we’ve explained a hundred times). They take up inordinate amounts of our time and energy, leaving less time and energy for more legitimate issues. You exhaust us. Grow up.

The manager who knows everything, and takes every opportunity to tell you about it. She may be smart and graduated with honors, and she may get the job done well. But she’s absolutely sure she’s never wrong – about anything. When she inevitably makes a mistake it’s a mess to clean up, but she still refuses to believe she was wrong. She’s usually the one that gets your organization sued.

Next up is the exec that thinks his title means he doesn’t have to follow the rules (or the laws) any more. Actually, you don’t even have to be an exec to make this designation – managers and supervisors reach this point, too. Yes, you have to take the harassment training, just like everyone else; no, you can’t fire people willy-nilly, you need to follow the guidelines and policies, too, you can’t violate the FMLA or EEO laws just because you don’t agree with them or refuse to remember what they mean – the EEOC doesn’t care about your title or your bad memory; no, you can’t make changes to your benefits elections outside of open enrollment without a qualifying event – the IRS doesn’t care about your title.

Don’t shoot the messenger…..Some people think we in HR sit around all day and make up policies just to make your life difficult – and because we’re, well – evil. Nope. Oftentimes, we’re implementing the decisions and policies set forth by the executive team. Other times we’re simply complying with one or more of those thousands of employment laws that get passed each year. It’s our job and we have to do it, even if we sometimes don’t agree with those policies or laws, either. Just like it’s your responsibility to do your job even if you don’t like parts of it. Life is tough, isn’t it?

Most of us really don’t like party planning. In fact, a lot of us hate party planning, especially when it seems like employees and management think party planning is a major function of HR. Guess what? It’s not, and shouldn’t be. Let someone else do it; create an employee party committee and have at it. Being the party planners only serves to minimize the importance of our true function.

Employee satisfaction surveys – or as they’re more popularly referred to today – employee engagement surveys – can be helpful, but more commonly are pretty useless. But again, it’s our job to get them out, get them in and try to make use of the data. Which is pretty difficult (hence the uselessness) when hardly anyone will turn them back in. Another thing is that it’s most often the case that the people who are most dissatisfied, and a few who really are satisfied, are the only ones who respond. So, together with a low response rate in general, the data isn’t really a reliable indication of anything. And then, when nothing comes of the results, nothing ever happens with the feedback, we get the blame. Remember, HR is not always responsible for making the decisions.

So much has been written about how we should get rid of the traditional performance evaluation. We’d probably love that, if someone would come up with a viable alternative. An alternative that supervisors and managers would actually support and implement instead of just bitch about. Don’t like writing evaluations? You have too many, you say? In my years as staff HR, I read every single evaluation. You may have had to write 5 or 10, or even 50; but I read all 350 of them. I had to make sure you didn’t write that your employee’s FMLA protected leave was a detriment to her performance; and make sure you were consistent in your ratings when compared to your written summary; and make sure you were clear in your expectations for your employee’s performance for the coming year; and make sure you told your employee that only occasionally showing up for work is not acceptable.

Dress codes. Oh. Dear. God. How we hate dress codes. Do you really think we like being the fashion police? Do you really think most of us care what you wear, as long as you get your job done? My philosophy has always been if what you’re wearing is neat, clean, in good repair and not revealing (we don’t need or want to see your boobs, your butt, or your underwear), then it’s probably all good. While there are some jobs and some environments where specific types of attire are necessary for good business, most do not require a particular mode of dress. But you need to be an adult, be reasonable and be fairly professional. Leave the daisy dukes and jammie pants at home; put on a belt and cover your private parts. This is work, after all. And remember, even if HR doesn’t much care if you wear jeans to work, executive management may have decided they don’t want you to wear jeans to work.

But maybe most of all, we really don’t like when people say everyone should hate HR and throw it out, especially when those who write those articles clearly don’t understand. These are supposed to be business people; I’m surprised they don’t have a better understanding of why HR operates the way we do.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Humor and Laughter in the Workplace

"Live by this credo: have a little laugh at life and look around you for happiness instead of sadness. Laughter has always brought me out of unhappy situations" ~ Red Skelton

As I get ready to head out on vacation next week – and have fun – it seems like a good time to reflect on having fun and how important it is to laugh. Laugh with our friends and family; laugh at ourselves, and at the absurdities of life. We lost someone this past week who was a master of humor – Robin Williams. If nothing else, he taught us the value of humor and laughter. We can realize that value in the workplace as well.

There is plenty of scientific support for the fact that laughter is good for you. It is good for you physically, bringing oxygen rich air into your body that stimulates your lungs, heart and muscles and releases endorphins from your brain. Laughter reduces stress and relieves tension.

But we don't need the science to know that we like to laugh. It simply feels good.

On the other hand, business is serious stuff. There are always issues, challenges and stress. There are financial pressures, goals to meet, competitive pressures, market pressures and the ever present need to grow. There are employee issues, product issues, customer issues and supplier issues. Doesn’t seem like such a fun place to be, does it?

It can be. And I would argue that it should be, at least some of the time. Life is too short to spend eight or ten hours a day in a high-tension, soulless place with nary a smile.

"The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter. The moment it arises, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place." -- Mark Twain

Laughter and humor can have positive effects in the workplace.  "When you display a sense of humor, when you laugh at yourself, it helps your corporate image," said international business speaker Michael Kerr, quoted in an article for SHRM Online. "It can help your business come across as more humble, as more human, as more personable. It can put a human face to what we otherwise perceive as being a very sterile, corporate, soulless entity."

A survey conducted by Robert Half International found that 97 percent believe it’s important that managers have a sense of humor. Nine out of 10 said humor is important for career advancement, while 84 percent think that people with a good sense of humor do a better job.

The SHRM article also cited a study by market-research company Ipsos that showed a statistically significant correlation between managers’ sense of humor and their employees' willingness to remain with the organization. And in a CareerBuilder survey, employers presented with two equally qualified job candidates chose the one with the better sense of humor.

So, again, there’s plenty of evidence that we should be having fun at work, too! Your co-workers will enjoy working with you, helping to increase productivity. Humor is a key factor in creative thinking, allowing us to see things in new ways. Humor helps bring teams together, creating a more cohesive group. When people feel like they are a meaningful part of the team, they are more likely to fully contribute to the success of the team. Those long hours, doing the work that three people used to do, and tedious, repetitive types of jobs can suck the life out of us. Humor and laughter helps bring back the life and revitalize your team.

Lighten up. Take time to look at the absurdities of life. Enjoy life while it’s here to enjoy.

I’m off to enjoy a vacation. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks. Keep laughing…..

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The NFL, Ray Rice and “Ban the Box”

And let’s add unions just for the heck of it….

Unless you’ve been trekking the Outback or floating the Amazon, you’ve probably heard or read about all the furor of late over the "punishment" meted out to Ravens running back Ray Rice as a result of an altercation he had with his then girlfriend (now wife). That incident, in and of itself, is not my focus. To be clear, I am not advocating for more, or less punishment than what the legal system, the NFL and/or the Ravens have meted out. Nor am I minimizing the seriousness of his actions. But I do believe that there are some very important issues that are not being addressed.

On July 31st, Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin sent letters to Roger Goodell and Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome asking for harsher punishment. "The decision to suspend Mr. Rice for a mere two games sends the inescapable message that the NFL does not take domestic or intimate-partner violence with the seriousness they deserve," They continued in part:

"Mr. Rice’s suspension reflects a disturbingly lenient, even cavalier attitude towards violence against women. We therefore urge you…………reconsider and revise Mr. Rice’s suspension to more adequately reflect the seriousness of his offense. …"

The following day, the Maryland contingent added their voice. Letters were sent to the Ravens and the league. Reps. Elijah Cummings, John Sarbanes, Chris Van Hollen, John Delaney and Steny Hoyer –- the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House -- all questioned the punishment. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin also called for a tougher penalty.

I appreciate that these elected officials are of the opinion that domestic violence deserves the condemnation of the behavior by society and by our legal system. On that, we can all agree. However, they are calling for harsher punishment than the duly appointed officers of the court felt appropriate. The New Jersey prosecutor chose not to pursue the case after Rice entered a pre-trail diversionary program. Argue that however you want; campaign for harsher penalties for first –time offenders if that’s what you believe. That’s what our country allows us to do. But, since the legal system has already spoken on this matter, these folks, and many members of both sports and general media now feel Mr. Rice’s employer should do what they feel the legal system did not do. Remember, Rice was not convicted of anything. In fact, the charges levied can be removed if he successfully completes the diversionary program and he was never jailed on this charge. He has not had prior violations of any NFL policy.

Here’s the disconnect as I see it: All of these elected officials are from states that have various levels of "ban the box" laws (statewide, localities or state employment, etc.). You know, those laws that say an employer cannot inquire of, or consider, an applicant’s prior criminal record, at least until the applicant has been chosen for an interview or in some cases, not until the post-offer stage of the process. Concerning both applicants and current employees, many of these laws also say the employer must take into consideration many factors before rejecting the applicant or taking employment action, such as the nature of the conviction, the relatedness to the job in question, the overall criminal history and so on. And don’t even think about looking at an arrest record; employers are usually only able to consider actual convictions. The state of Maryland has even tried several times (unsuccessfully) to pass laws that would shield conviction information from employers so they cannot use that information in employment decisions.

So, let’s break this down very simply: They feel strongly that employers should not be able to hold violations of our laws against an applicant or employee to the degree that they would prevent employers from even having that information upon which to decide who is the best candidate for hire, and yet they are demanding that someone who does not even have a conviction, who presents with a single incident, be punished more harshly and have that one (albeit serious) mistake held against him for a long time to come. How does that make any sense, and doesn’t it seem just a bit hypocritical?

There has also been a fair amount of criticism that the punishment Roger Goodell visited upon Rice was inconsistent with other rule violations. They felt it unfair that repeat drug use violations carried harsher penalties. You know, something that might actually have a bearing on a player’s ability to do his job. So, are you all forgetting that the NFL is a unionized workplace? Yep. They have a collective bargaining agreement that spells out exactly what penalties will be imposed for various infractions of NFL policies, just like any other unionized workplace. If these folks feel strongly that these penalties are out of balance, they really ought to be speaking to the union about that, don’t you think? But, then, they support labor unions, so I doubt that will happen.

My point is that you simply can’t have it both ways. You cannot pass laws that purport to protect people with prior criminal convictions, thereby giving them a "second chance" (and therefore hamstringing businesses), and then turn around and call for exactly the opposite to happen because……………………well, because why? That’s a great question. Why this inconsistency? Which stance is their true stance? And which is simply grandstanding?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Resume Mistakes

Or, how not to end up in the circular file…..


I have reviewed a lot of resumes over the years – a lot. It only takes a few seconds to grab my attention – either good or bad – once I look at a cover letter or resume. It’s the same with other HR pros and hiring managers; we’re looking for the same things regardless of the particular job we’re seeking to fill. There are common mistakes that will cause your resume and cover letter to hit the "no" pile in nanoseconds. Luckily for you, it’s also very easy to avoid these mistakes with just a bit of careful attention. Most resume blunders fall into two categories: format and content. Here are the most common mistakes (in no particular order) that cause me to toss one toward the (trash) basket:

Typos and Grammatical Errors
Spellcheck is easy to use. It even has a grammar function! Please use it. We all make mistakes, but leaving yours indicates either that you’re too lazy or don’t care enough to check, or that you really don’t know how to put together a correct and coherent sentence. Either way, the chances your resume will make it into even the "maybe" pile are significantly reduced.

Using an Inappropriate Email Address
Email is the accepted and preferred form of communication in today's workplace, so it’s important for it to be visible and convey- at worst - a neutral message, if not professional. Don't use email addresses that contain immature, sexually charged or offensive elements.

Using Crazy Fonts and Color
Stick to black type and basic fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, Tahoma, or Calibri. Don’t use different fonts or colors in different parts of your resume. Also, stick with white or cream paper. I’m not even going to look at a resume that’s on that lovely shade of lavender paper or has the flowers down the left margin.

Incorrect Contact Information
This may not be discovered until a hiring manger wants to contact you for an interview, but make sure your phone number and email address are on the resume and are correct. We’re not going to track you down if you’ve given the wrong contact information. You get one shot with this one.

Visually Too Busy
If your resume is wall-to-wall text it will most likely give the person reading it a headache. So show your resume to other people before sending it out. Do they find it visually attractive? If what you have is hard on the eyes, revise it. White space draws the reader's eyes to important points; use it wisely. 

Not Using Reverse Chronological Order
This is important because we can see what your most recent experience is first, which is often what we’re most interested in.

Omitting Exact Dates
Omitting exact dates of employment often raises suspicion and makes it look like you’re trying to cover up something. If you’ve got a large gap in your resume, be up front about it and address the issue in your cover letter (employing the most positive spin, of course). We need to know how long your tenure was at each job – good or bad.

Too Long or Too Short
There are no real rules governing resume length. But, that doesn't mean you should start sending out five-page resumes. Having said that, you should try to limit yourself to no more than two pages. If you can do it in one, great! If you go two and a half, ok! The point is, if we have to wade through too much text in order to get a sense of who you are and if you’re a viable candidate, we probably won’t take the time. If there’s not enough information, we’re not likely able to decide if we want to consider you further.

Not Using Action Verbs
Avoid using phrases like "responsible for." Use action verbs: resolved, managed, lead, implemented, etc.

Lack of Specifics
We need to understand what you've done and what you’ve accomplished. For example, you can say you worked with employees in a retail store. But what does that really tell me? However, if you say that you recruited, hired, trained and supervised 15 employees in a major department store, I have a much better idea of what you did.

Listing Duties-Not Describing Accomplishments
It's easy to simply start listing job duties on your resume. Hiring managers are as much, if not more, interested in what you accomplished in that job. Tell us the result of your job duties – what good things happened when you performed your job duties? Did you reduce errors? Did you increase sales? Save money? Create opportunities for others?

Not Customizing
Take a few minutes to tailor your resume to the specific job and company to which you’re applying. Above all, make sure that you review both your resume and cover letter to insure that reference to another company or job is not there! I’ve seen any number of cover letters addressed to someone at a different company, or that mentions a different job. I never get past that; it gets tossed aside.

Using an Objective Not a Summary
Objectives are outdated and usually irrelevant. I already assume you want a challenging position in which you can grow and contribute. Instead, include a summary, which should be like a 30-second sales pitch where you explain who you are, what you're looking for and what you can offer. Use just a few sentences to explain what you’re great at, most interested in, and how you can provide value to my company.

Leaving Red Flags
People often feel they can wait for the interview to explain any red flags or gaps that may be on their resume, but that’s too late. If you have gaps in your history, explain them in your cover letter. If you’re applying from out of state, explain why and what your plans are (moving into area, etc.). Don’t have the degree stated in the job posting? Explain how your experience or other education qualifies you. And don’t simply copy/paste text from the job ad. I know what the ad said; I need to know how you’re going to meet our requirements.
Job hunting is tough enough. Don’t make it any tougher on yourself by making these mistakes.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What’s up with the ACA Now?

A Roundup of Recent News and Developments on the Affordable Care Act

For a while there, the news bits about the ACA were fast and furious – delays, changes, delays and more delays, court challenges, failed Exchanges – you name it, it was happening. Then it got fairly quiet. Or maybe the media just got tired of it. I know I did.

Now, over the last couple of weeks, there has been another spate of developments; all interesting, but the long-term effects will be hard to predict.

More Delays
The Employer Mandate (or actually, the penalty under the Employer Mandate) was delayed. It’s due to take effect in January 2015 and The Hill reports that businesses still don’t have the final forms or technical guidance they’ll need to comply with the reporting requirement under this mandate. "These forms will be made available in draft form in the near future," said a spokesman for the IRS. This has fired up the discussion again on whether the Employer Mandate is even necessary to the success of the law. Of course, President Obama is already under attack for making what many feel are unauthorized changes to the law. We’ll see how this plays out.

Lower Premiums?
Many Americans are still waiting to see the promised reductions in health insurance premiums. A Gallup poll finds that over four-in-ten Americans are spending more on health care in 2014 than they did in 2013. Only 8% reported spending less on health care than in 2013. Interestingly, one of the elements of the new law that was supposed to help control health care costs was the Small Business Health Options Program exchanges (one of the many delayed features). It finally went into operation last October, but HHS has not come out with numbers of enrollments despite several requests for data. The SHOP exchange apparently suffered even more technical problems and delays than the exchange for individuals and families. "The SHOPs opened, although without online enrollment and many promised features, on October 1, 2013," Rep. Sam Graves (Mo.), chair of the House Small Business Committee, wrote in his latest letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the exchanges. "Over seven months later, we still do not have any federal and some state SHOP enrollment data."

Graves was later told that the data he requested was "not currently available". Guess what? CMS officials explained that, unlike on the individual exchange, employers are not required to first verify their eligibility with federal regulators before enrolling in a plan on one of the state-based or federal small business exchanges. This is very interesting. See the next item!

Exchange Fraud
Investigators with the Government Accountability Office were able to get subsidized health insurance premiums on the exchanges using fake names. The GAO reports to Congress that there’s still a huge backlog of applications with "discrepancies". Eleven of 18 fake applications were accepted. The White House said that 6 of them were blocked by eligibility checks built into the system, but the GAO says the undercover agents were able to find a way around those blocks and enroll anyway.

The investigators found:

—Contractors processing applications for the government told the GAO that their role was not to ferret out potential fraud.

—Five of six bogus phone applications went through successfully. The one exception involved an applicant who refused to provide a Social Security number.

—Six online applications were caught by an identity checking system. But investigators simply contacted a call center and all six were then approved. Kind of a big hole in the security net.

—The GAO also tried to check the reliability of counselors providing in-person assistance. In five out of six cases, investigators were unable to get help. In the final case, the counselor correctly told the undercover investigator that their stated income would not entitle them to subsidized coverage.

Does this give anyone confidence that those who don’t qualify for subsidies won’t get them anyway?

And finally, probably the most interesting is…….

Dueling Court Decisions
Two U.S. appeals courts delivered opposite opinions on the legality of the subsidies under the ACA. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Internal Revenue Service lacked the authority to allow subsidies to be provided in exchanges not run by the states. If it stands, this ruling could put at risk the subsidies given to millions of people who bought insurance in the 36 states where the online insurance exchanges are run by the federal government. Judge Thomas Griffith, writing the majority opinion, said they concluded "that the ACA unambiguously restricts" the subsidies to "exchanges ‘established by the state.’ "

But wait! Just hours later, a unanimous three-judge panel for the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled exactly the opposite in King v. Burwell – that Congress intended to allow subsidies to be provided regardless of whether the exchange was run by the state or the federal government. "It is therefore clear that widely available tax credits are essential to fulfilling the Act’s primary goals and that Congress was aware of their importance when drafting the bill," said Judge Roger Gregory.

Yes, the Obama administration said it will appeal the DC District decision and that it is confident that the ruling will be overturned.

Jonathan Adler, law professor at Case Western Reserve University, disagreed. "The heart of the decision today is a reaffirmation of the principle that the law is what Congress enacts, not what Congress wanted to enact or what some, with the benefit of hindsight, wish Congress had done differently," he said.

No less interesting is that these two decisions were split along party lines, essentially going by which sitting president appointed the various judges. Gee, I thought justice was supposed to be impartial and not influenced by politics. Silly me.