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.