Thursday, April 28, 2016

Roadmap to the FMLA

DOL publishes employer guide

Don’t we all just love administering the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) [insert sarcasm font]? Yeah, me neither. Like a lot of employment-related laws and regulations, it has so many moving parts and it can be pretty easy to run into trouble with one or more of those parts. But, now the DOL has published a guide to help make it easier.

The Employer’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act is intended to "provide essential information about the FMLA, including information about employers’ obligations under the law and the options available to employers in administering leave under the FMLA." It answers some common questions employers have about the law’s requirements, using flowcharts and giving some "Did You Know" tips. This guide will be useful as a basic guide for companies with no HR function, or with HR folks who are a bit less experienced in FMLA.

It doesn’t however, go into, or give examples of, some of the more difficult issues employers face. For those situations that don’t seem to fit the standard examples, there’s nothing like your friendly neighborhood employment law attorney. Or, at a minimum, consulting some of the experts who regularly write on the subject in their blogs. Two of my go-to resources for some of the trickier FMLA (and other) issues are Jeff Nowak and his blog FMLA Insights and Eric Meyer at The Employer Handbook. Really. These guys nail it.

I do have to wonder why the DOL didn’t publish this guide a long time ago, maybe at the same time it published the Family and Medical Leave Act Employee Guide. After all, it’s the employer who has to administer the FMLA and bears the liability, yes? But, I guess better late than never is the best way to look at this.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Toxic Workplace Culture?

How to know you need a culture change

Last week I talked about what HR can contribute to culture change efforts. So, let’s talk about one type of workplace culture that needs changing. Do you have a "toxic" workplace?

Once you’ve actually looked around – with eyes (and ears) wide open – what’s going on in your workplace, do you know what’s it telling you? Here are some signs that your culture is toxic to you, your employees and the organization as a whole.

Candidates are not breaking down your door. As of February of this year, there were 5.4 million job openings; the labor market is still unstable. Your workplace culture is broadcast to the outside world. If the word is that things are not all that peachy within your walls, good candidates are not likely to be seeking you out. On the other hand, some aspects of your toxic culture may actually attract the type of candidate you don’t really want.

Chronic High Stress - The work you do may be intense on a fairly regular basis, but there are few periods of "downtime" allowing people to recover. Is this just the way it is, or is this high stress environment created? Do you encourage "firefighters", or is there a consistent state of fear or confusion over management expectations or organizational direction?

Low Morale - Employees are in a bad mood frequently; there’s more negative gossip and very little enthusiasm for doing the job well.

Immature/Ineffective Leadership – You have managers and supervisors who are immature, dysfunctional leaders. This can be characterized by:
  • Cold and unemotional or excessive emotionality and reactivity
  • Conflict avoidance
  • Unwillingness to listen to others
  • Poor communication
  • Aggression, intimidation or bullying
  • Hypocritical - doesn't walk the talk; i.e., says he or she embraces teamwork, good communication, trust, integrity, honesty, etc., but doesn’t display that very behavior.
Chronic resistance to change. Most people find change difficult, and we sometimes resist it, even if we think it will be good in the end. But, if heavy resistance is the norm in your organization, it can be devastating to any effort. 

Heavy turnover. Some industries experience high turnover on a regular basis. But if your does not, or if your turnover is higher than expected, for longer than expected, your culture may be to blame. If your entry-level employees are regularly leaving before a year is up, you need to find out why.

Poor Communication – Your messages just don’t get through, even though you think you’ve communicated them. How are those messages being relayed down the line? Does anyone even care to hear your message? How is feedback being relayed up the line? Do employees feel free to share their feedback with you and your supervisors and managers?

Scapegoating – A culture of blame is probably one of the most damaging situations you can have. . Employees are belittled or marginalized; even high performers are criticized for incompetence (real or manufactured), and employees that leave are blamed for poor performance. While there are times when it may be necessary to determine who made what mistake, a heavy emphasis on blame is in no way productive.

Negative cliques survive and thrive. This is the "mean girls" environment, but more widespread. Employees form a negative clique whose members behave like the worst of immature teenagers. They put a negative spin on practically every company initiative; they are mean-spirited and feed off the negative momentum and gain strength from each other. When a new person joins the company, they go out of their way to befriend that person. They work swiftly to indoctrinate the new kid on the block to their way of thinking.

Increased Physical and Emotional Illness - You’re seeing more absenteeism or instances of "presenteeism" where an employee is present, but not engaged or even functional. You may be seeing more musculoskeletal problems, gastrointestinal upsets, anxiety and depression, and even more serious maladies like autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer.

Toxic workplace cultures can kill your business. At a minimum, your overall performance and productivity will suffer, as will employee welfare. If you’re seeing man of these signs, it’s time to take charge and turn it around.

Friday, April 15, 2016

HR’s Role in Culture Change Efforts

What should we be doing?

Do you know what your company culture is? If so, is it working for you? As companies grow, evolve and adapt over time, it may become obvious, and necessary, for the culture to change as well.

The content and direction of that change should be defined by senior management (which should include HR) with input from many sources. Those sources may include employees, outside stakeholders, and customers.

Once the desired change is defined, what role should HR play in effecting that change?

First, I believe that paying attention to culture on an ongoing basis is important in order to recognize any early warning signs that a change is actually necessary. This also allows you to begin addressing the issue sooner, rather than simply reacting long after the fact. Why?

Culture affects the way the organization conducts its business, treats its employees, customers, and the wider community. It dictates the freedom employees have in decision making, developing new ideas, and executing those ideas. Your culture also reveals how power and information flow in your organization and how committed employees are towards your mission and values. It affects the organization's productivity and performance; it affects employee retention and your ability to recruit the best. Company culture fills the gaps between spaces where there are no rules. It helps people make the best decisions when there’s no specific policy to follow, or guides how we behave when no one is looking! In short, culture permeates every aspect of your business and how it operates.

Once the initial strategic work of identifying what your current culture is, what you want it to be, and what specific mission and value changes you’re going to make to effect that change is done, HR (at all levels) plays a big part in facilitating that change and continuing the strategic work to implement it. Here are some areas in which HR can, and should, play a role:

Communication is key. Communicating why the change is needed is vital to ensuring buy-in from all parties. Explaining why a change is needed helps clarify the intent and effectively invites employees to contribute, and can help prevent resistance – either passive or active. HR can ensure that messaging is consistent across the organization and that counterproductive communication is corrected.

Training . Provide continuous training to focus on the culture change you want to make. Staff who are appointed to culture change leadership roles should be proven change leaders, or have proven skills and characteristics that will transfer to this role. If they aren’t or don’t, a crash course in expectations is in order. Define what you expect of these staff as they help to lead others in the effort. HR should make the development of skilled leaders at all levels of leadership a priority; identifying the qualities, knowledge and competence needed for this task. Training can then be tailored to your needs and help develop these characteristics and competencies. This is bigger than simply learning new skills or tasks.

Assess Current Practices/Systems. Does your performance management program and total comp (pay and benefits) structure support the culture you want? What adjustments need to be made in order to support a change effort? Have you identified what is important to your employees in terms of benefits and pay? Offering a whole menu of perks may look great, but how many of them are actually utilized and to what extent? Don’t forget to look at any employee recognition/reward programs you have and assess their effectiveness. Recruit and hire with an eye toward the skills and competencies needed to sustain the change you’re making. Assess your current strategy to determine if it aligns with your mission.

Walk the Talk. This applies to all levels of management and leadership. HR can be the leader and clearinghouse to help ensure that what people actually do is consistent with what you say you want your culture to be. It is essential that leaders, managers and supervisors be SEEN living the culture you want. This will go a long way to inspire culture change. Employees may be able to recite your mission, vision and values, but they will only BELIEVE it when they see it and hear it from the people at the top. And they will be merciless in mocking you if they don’t.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Failing Accountability

Is your organization making the grade on accountability?

I’ve written before about the importance of accountability (here) both for management and employees. But I ran across this article from HBR that presents some really interesting data, and again highlights the importance to business leaders, your management, and your employees of creating a culture of accountability.

From the article:

"…….the single-most shirked responsibility of executives is holding people accountable. No matter how tough a game they may talk about performance, when it comes to holding people’s feet to the fire, leaders step back from the heat. In our database of more than 5,400 upper-level managers from the US, Europe, Latin America, and Asia-Pacific gathered since 2010, 46% are rated "too little" on the item, "Holds people accountable — firm when they don’t deliver." Remarkably, the result holds up no matter how you slice the data — by ratings from bosses, peers, or even subordinates. It holds up for C-level executives compared to directors and middle managers. It is about the same in different cultures too; although accountability is a bit more common in some countries than others, it is still the most neglected behavior within every region we have studied."

Almost half fail to hold people accountable. That’s pretty amazing, really. I believe that we’ve gone way too far down the rabbit hole of being concerned with hurting other’s feelings and being politically correct. I’m not saying that being nice isn’t important. It is! In fact, civility in the workplace has also taken a beating lately (just ask the NLRB) in other respects. But prioritizing "nice" at the expense of competence, and indeed, accountability, is short-sighted at a minimum. It will negatively affect your organization’s productivity, success and possibly its very existence.

Accountability is not about punishment, or taking or laying blame when something goes wrong. It is about delivering on a commitment. It’s responsibility to an outcome, not just a set of tasks or items on a to-do list. It’s taking initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow-through.

Another study by Towers Watson on talent management and rewards shows that 24% of companies (in the study) gave bonuses to people "who fail to meet even the lowest possible performance ranking."  That failure to hold people accountable is damaging to those particular employees (will they ever know they aren’t performing, or know how to improve?), but to their co-workers who have now seen that their hard work means quite a bit less than they thought. That is an effect no business can fail to recognize, or tolerate, without serious consequences.

Creating a culture or environment of accountability is no secret. The key factors are generally:

Clear expectations. Be crystal clear about what you expect. This includes the outcome you want as well as the method of achieving that outcome. But is also means being clear about how you will measure if the effort is successful.

Needed capability/ability. You need to know what skills are needed for the task. Do your people have those skills; do they have the resources they need? If not, is there a plan to help them acquire the skills or for you to provide the resources?

Relevant measurement. You should have clear, measurable, objective targets. If someone is off target, you should have a way to know this, and a way to get them back on track.

Feedback. Honest, open, ongoing feedback is critical. People have to know, and most want to know, where they stand. Feedback should be fact-based and easy to deliver and based on the clear expectations and relevant measurement you’ve already set up. This is where it’s really more important to be helpful and foster competence than to just be nice.

Clear consequences. If you’ve done all the above, you should be reasonably sure you’ve done what’s necessary to support your people and help them, and your company, to succeed. If a team member is still failing in some critical way, you really only have a few choices. Repeat the process to make sure it was indeed clear; or if they have proven to be not accountable for their performance, release them – either from that particular role, or from the job or from your organization. The third option is to do the "easy" thing and ignore it. Is that what you really want for your organization?

Expectation of evaluation. No one should expect to "fly under the radar". Your employees should expect and know their performance will be evaluated. If you fail to regularly give feedback and evaluation, you are fostering a culture lacking in accountability, and lacking in competence.

One of my favorite management/leadership authors is Victor Lipman, a Forbes contributor. In one of his articles, he adds the following expectation:

Make the avoidance of "conflict avoidance" a priority – In short, teach managers how to manage.  Management involves conflict, and holding people accountable involves conflict.  That’s why so many managers prefer to avoid it: It’s easier.  Interpersonal conflict can be nasty and unpleasant.  Unfortunately, dealing with it effectively is part of management.  When managers are trained to face conflict and work to resolve it constructively, rather than looking the other way and avoiding it, that too becomes a key element of accountability.

Couldn’t have said it better…..