HR: What Are Your New Year’s Resolutions for 2017?

Hey, everybody has been talking “New Year’s resolutions” so why not!  Just kidding…but now is a good time to tackle of a couple of compliance things to make sure you are kicking off the New Year on the right foot.

With everything else that comes with the New Year and end-of-year paperwork (like those W2s and Form 1094s and 1095s), the start of the new calendar year is a good time to give other parts a good look-over, just to make sure everything is up-to-date and you don’t get caught half-way through the year.

Here are a couple of suggestions to make time for this month:

1.  When was the last time you went and checked your Labor posters?

Now is a good time to check to make sure you have the latest AND that you have them posted where employees can see them.  Many people make sure they are visible in their “HR” department but what about employee breakrooms?  We had a lot of changes last year from classifications and minimum wage increases.  Make sure all of your workplace posters are up-to-date and the correct size. Check with your state labor department for any industry-specific poster requirements that may apply to your business. Note that certain localities may also have posting requirements.

Psst…. *You can visit the Federal and your state’s Department of Labor websites and download the new posters for free.

2. Put together an Employee Information Package. Were they any changes to your benefits?  How about those annual required notices, such as summary plan descriptions (SPDs) or COBRA- and FMLA-related notices?  Remember that employers are required under various laws to provide employees with certain information about their benefits and responsibilities.   While employees may be less interested in the annual required notices (yes, you still have to give it to them!), they will be very upset if they go to use their benefits this month and find out their FSA card is not valid or insurance deductibles changed.  Even if it is included in information that went out when the plan changed was being finalized, a quick snapshot memo of “Changes you need to know for 2017” brings it back to their attention so they can’t come back later and complain that you never told them.

3. When is the last time your reviewed your Employee files? Employers are required to maintain certain types of employee records in order to comply with applicable law but many only are required for a certain number of years.  What not declutter around the office!

  • Take time to review what documents you need to have paper copies of and what you can scan and save.
  • Check employee files to make sure your I-9s are up-to-date (and using the current form) with unexpired IDs.
  • Make sure each of your employees has an Emergency Contact sheet and that its not older than 3yrs (in my opinion) as contact names may not change but phone numbers frequently.
  • Make sure you have insurance beneficiary forms for all your employees that you are providing Life insurance and 401k plans for, including: make sure they signed it! So many employees worry so much about getting their beneficiary information correct that they forget the easiest part of all.

4. Review your current policies and procedures.  Again, a lot of employments laws changed last year or are slated to change during 2017 so this is a good time to review your current Employee Handbook as well as company policies and procedures.

Performance Review Time – Should You Keep Doing Them?

 

Its the beginning of the New Year and many companies may be getting ready to produce their employees’ annual performance reviews, so I’m sure the topic of whether or not its worth the time has started to come up.

There are a lot of different opinions out there as to whether or not companies should still be doing “performance reviews” for their employees.  Some say its too time consuming in this day and age.  Others say employees don’t really care because all they want to hear about is a raise.  And even more say that there’s just no purpose anymore.

I disagree.

Performance Reviews are more than just a “necessary evil we have to do once a year.”  Its an opportunity for the manager and the employee to have an open discussion on the employee’s work performance and continued employment with the company.

Today’s employees aren’t building lifelong careers with any one company anymore.  In fact, studies are out that actual encourage employees to change jobs every 3-4 years.  That “job-hopping” that used to be frowned upon in the past now…its acceptable and expected.  Turnover in a company does more than create open positions and slow down production for a short time – it costs the company money.  Money that has to be spent on recruiting the new employee and then training the new employee before they are ready to perform the job by themselves.  Companies that properly use “performance reviews” are able to control that amount of turnover and, quite possibly, find they have employees that they can promote from within again.

Employees today, more than ever, want to know what they are doing right, what they are doing wrong and what they can do to advance in the company.  Not communicating with the employee shows them that the company doesn’t care about them or their career path and before long, their performance will start to drop.    A negative attitude will develop…employees will begin missing work or coming in late as dedication to the job begins to slide.  By the time their manager finally does come around to giving them a review, all they will focus on is the employee’s poor performance – taking no ownership in the fact that they themselves contributed to the problem.

Performance reviews are basically feedback we give our employees.  While many managers claim it takes too much time and limit it to once a year, it actually should take place more often during the year.  The biggest complaint employees have about the process when its only annual is the manager will only focus on what he or she has done recently.  So, if they were a star employee for 9 months but the last 3 months ran into issues because of family problems, for example, the manager will typically use that as the focal point and the review will talk about how they “need to improve their attendance and performance.”  No wonder employees get frustrated!

If you decide this year to change how you do things and turn it into shorter, but quarterly reviews, the goals you set for the employee will seem more attainable – setting them up for success instead of failure – because you will be discussing the progress throughout the year as issues are coming up.  What you are truly showing your employee is that the two of you are working together as a “team.”

Keep in mind – feedback sessions do not have to be formal reviews.  Call it a “strategy meeting” or “career planning” if it makes it easier for you not to label it a “performance review.”  You will sit down your entire department to talk about a goal and strategize how to accomplish it.  Well, why not do the same with your employees?

These sessions should be two-way feedback sessions with your employees also sharing their observations, expectations and suggestions for both personal and company improvement.  Remember – while you are focused on managing these employees, they are the ones carry out the tasks and will have more insight into the effectiveness of the plans you have put into place.

Talk about what additional training the employee should also look into and whether or not the company would be willing to absorb the cost.  Let them research training and classes on their own to show you how serious they are about improving themselves.  Not all employees will be motivated to do so and that’s okay.  The point is that you created the opportunity for it to exist and by including it in a performance review session, you also have a speaking point to come back to in future sessions.

You don’t need fancy programs or long forms to fill out – keep it simple and stick to only what’s relevant:

  • Attendance and punctuality
  • Quality of work produced
  • Communication skills: following directions, asking questions, offering help
  • Knowledge of the job
  • Interaction with customers and other employees

And then, set some goals:

  • What is the specific goal as it applies to the employee (not overall for the department)
  • Give a timeline of when you want to see the goals completed
  • What training will the company assist them with or help them find to complete the task
  • What are your expectations: that the employee let you know how things are going, ask for help when needed, make suggestions for changes along the way

That’s it!  Let them know how you feel they are performing right now, what areas you would like to see them improve in and what goals you would like them to work toward before the next discussion.  You are creating a positive and growing environment for the employee and “a happy employee = a productive employee!”

Bonus: By following this method, if an employee’s performance starts to deteriorate and the company decides to end their employment, you now how documentation to show that you (as the company) did try to help the employee improve and can show that the company offered their part in helping improve the matter. 

 

Be The Calm In The Storm Around You…

It’s sad to say…but everyday there is more and more bad news about what is going on around the world.  If you’re like me, you are probably trying to avoid watching or reading the news anymore because it is so depressing.  I would like to wake up one morning and hear that all of it has stopped, that everyone around the world is getting along and happy again but I know that’s not a dream that will come true any time soon.

Everyone will have their own opinions as to why but if you ask me – social media and the press are to blame…and let me explain why I feel that way and what I think we all should do to try and change it.

Once upon a time, if you wanted to find out the news you simply bought a newspaper.

Reporters were tasked with not just getting the story to report but they were expected to put in time and interview people in order to uncover the facts.  While the person writing the news piece will have undoubtedly put a slight spin on their story, based on their own feelings on the subject, the aim of the story was to get the truth out to the public so we would be informed.

In today’s world, that certainly doesn’t happen.  Today, its all about making a profit…and for a media source to make a profit, they have to have the most followers/subscribers.  To get the most people to turn to them, they now have to be the first to report on anything that happens in order to grab your attention and not have you going to look at another source for information.  Time is not spent on interviewing all the parties or getting the facts – the goal is to be the first to get the story out to the public…and that is it.

So what happens?  Stories start to circulate before all the facts have been gathered.  In the non-media world, remember we call that gossip?  Media sources need to grab your attention (since people spend less than 10 seconds deciding whether or not they will continue reading or watching a story) so they have become creative with the marketing to title story lines in a way that makes you stop in your tracks and read on.  They use titles that are going to invoke anger, fear or sympathy because that is what will get your attention.  Do they care if they are getting you all the facts or the truth? Nope – their shareholders don’t care about anything but what will make them a profit.

Let’s now add to that Social Media.  Now, we have the ability to create a Facebook post or send out a tweet on Twitter to the general public right away.  For the users that like the attention from “likes” or “shares,” they will employ the same tactics as the media in appealing to your emotions and not your senses.  Add in #hashtags to your posts and now it can grab the attention of those outside your own circles.  Crimes now get tried in the press before they ever make it to the courtroom.

But the worst result of all of this is how the general public now lives…and here is where we all need to make a pledge to each other and to ourselves to not be a part of the problem but rather strive to “be the calm.”  We are all very emotionally-charged these days and social media and the press have certainly done their part to stir it up.  If we ever want to change the world we live in, we need to get that under control and shift the focus.

There is still a lot of bad that goes on in the world…but I still do truly believe our society has made huge strides in change over the last 50 years.  The problem is: everyone forgets about progress and reverts back to the days of anger when our emotional are charged.  Its natural – we are human, after all.

And some forget that two wrongs don’t make a right – you can’t organize a protest, for example, against the police but then taunt them and break all kinds of laws in the process…it accomplishes nothing.  I’ve sadly seen too many of my friends turn against each other when situations like this arise…friends that would normally get long and be very supportive of each…all because they feel they have to pick a side.  Some get so out of control that those friendships are then lost forever.

So, the purpose of this post: How do you and I change that?

First of all – Please don’t be so quick to judge or jump on the bandwagon.  Bottom line: unless you yourself were personally involved in the situation, any information you read or receive is now coming from an outside source which may be skewed, missing information or lacking information.

“There are two sides to every story – and the truth is somewhere in between.”

This is my favorite quote and something I live by both in my personal life as well as my professional life.  Even if you feel strongly about one side of the story, you need to listen to or find out the other side of the story too.  It may not change your opinion…but you may also find information that you didn’t know before.

Second – Don’t add fuel to others’ emotional rants.  Yes, I’m being very point blank here.  Part of the problem with everyone getting all upset and out of control is that they are emotional fired up and further supported by others.  We all know it: when you start reacting emotionally, all common sense goes out the window – so we have to stop that from happening in the first place.

Third – Ask yourself and those making comments: What can I do to change the situation? Everyone will be quick to say what “needs” to change but notice few people will post or comment about what exactly that is and how they can help initiate that change.  Complaining just adds fuel to the emotional fire – shift your focus on what action steps you can take to help the tide of change begin or continue.  Is there research that needs to be done? What steps or training can you see helping that you can suggest rather than just telling the other party “you need to change” or “you need to fix things.”

Lastly – Don’t add yourself to the problem.  In the example of the protesters: If you want to be heard and taken seriously, don’t act out inappropriately.  I was extremely angered recently to hear about a group of protesters that interrupted a WWII veteran’s medal ceremony in Seattle in order to get their point across.  Their “cause” had nothing to do with the situation and was completely disrespectful to that veteran (they had to cancel the ceremony because the protesters became so unruly).  Was the public focusing on the purpose of their so-called protest? No, we were all focused on the fact that these people were out of control and disrespectful.  No one cared what their cause was anymore because they proved that they are a part of the problem in our society right now….lack of respect for others.

To be the change in the world, we are going to have to work together.  And that means we have to get our emotions under control, step back to see the full picture and then formulate a plan to help solve these problems.  Don’t let the media or social media think for us.

And don’t turn your backs on the progress we have made or the friendships we have forged…both of those are near impossible to get back if we loose them.  Be a Teacher in the stormy world around us – not a Fighter.  We can accomplish the change we all want to see if we just shift our approach.

Culture: Do You Define It or Does It Create Itself?

“Culture” is another one of those buzz words going around lately as companies strive to up their game or reinvent themselves.  With the changes in the market after the economic crash of 2008 and the new generations entering the workplace now, the new goal is to make your workplace happier, healthier and higher performing….still all within reasonable cost.

But let’s start with defining: What is a “company culture”?
Basic definitionYour culture is a set of characteristics that define a business.  It is the values and practices shared by members of the company.  It involves employee attitudes, standards (policies and procedures) and “rites or rituals” (i.e. Employee of the Month) that have been ongoing and/or influenced by the communities in which the company operates.

Let’s not think that this is all based on positive influences.  Yes, even negative influences can affect a company’s culture.  For example: Is your company known for “still doing business the same way since…”?  This may actually come across to potential employees as a company unwelcoming to change.

When your company decides it wants to hire a new member to the team, one of the considerations during the hiring process is whether or not the candidate and their skill set will be a “fit” for the company’s culture.  The purpose, of course, is to reduce the change of problems/conflicts that may arise if the candidate does not display the same values or behavior as the rest of the team and so that they can quickly (and with the expectation that it will be easily) fit in with the company and hit the ground running in their new position.

Companies that have a defined “company culture” tend to see employees as a valuable asset, rather than just a body to fill a position, which typically leads to higher productivity and company loyalty.  This is probably the basis why many companies are now working to define their company culture and adjust it if necessary.

But, you can actually create a “company culture” and set the tone or is it something that truly evolves over time based on attitudes and interactions of your employees?  And how you answer that question will determine 1) how you go about defining your company culture and 2) IF you can improve upon it.

Don’t fall into that trap that as long as you define your company’s culture with Mission or Vision Statements and a bunch of policies and procedures that are supposed to “set the tone” for your employees that you have succeeded in setting up a positive culture.  What is put down in paper means nothing if it isn’t communicated and follow-up upon by members of your management team.

For example: You company may “claim” to operate as a “family” – giving the impression that the employees are close knit, look out for each other and do what they can regardless of title or position for the benefit of the whole company as a whole.  But, if your management team goes on a power trip and starts assigning hierarchies and demanding people follow it, then your “family atmosphere” falls apart…and now its just words on a piece of paper.

So, start with: What is your company’s culture?

  • Is it already defined? If not, what are you using as an example to create?
  • How it is defined? Just policies and procedures? How do your employees know what the company’s culture is supposed to be?

Now, look at how effective it is:

  • Is it having a positive effect on your employees?
  • Have complaints gone down?
  • Has tenure increased?
  • Have employee “sick” days decreased?

Next, how is your company’s culture being perceived by the public?

  • Do you have a “reputation” in the industry that candidates may consider when applying?
  • Are you or your employees active in the community where people can get to know your employees better?
  • What feedback have you gotten from customers about the general atmosphere or employee conduct/attitudes?

Yes, it’s a lot of questions to consider but each answer will help you develop and tweak your company’s culture as time goes on and changes occur within the company and the employees themselves.  Coming up with a concept and template that you expect your employees to fall in line with and follow won’t work long-term.  Your employees are that “variable” in the math equation for a perfect work environment – they are always changing so you have to watch, monitor and change with them.

Are Your Employees Planning a Mutiny?

Think about this…
Are your employees showing up to work late consistently? Are they more “on edge” or angry all the time?  Are they making more mistakes that usual?  Are their “attitudes” now affecting how they handle your customers? Are they just getting through the day so they can go home?
These are all RED FLAGS trying to get your attention! Ignoring it won’t make it go away and disciplining your employees won’t correct it.  But there is a simple way to reverse the trend = Introduce some play time!
What are the biggest problems companies face concerning employees right now?
  1. Absenteeism
  2. Poor morale
  3. Poor productivity
  4. Workplace violence
What is the common cause of each? = Stress!!
When we talk about incorporating “Play Time” into the workplace, it simply means incorporating some fun into the daily work routine to break up the mundane routine of the day.  Let’s not forget, most of us will spend more time at work during the week than with family, friends or just outside activities.
What will “play time” do for the employee? It helps alleviate some of the daily stress, especially during high peak seasons, which helps improves employee morale.  It can become overwhelming for an employee if he/she doesn’t have an avenue to release the daily stress build-up, especially if they go home to more of it.  You invested your time and money into hiring and training these employees, so why not put as much effort into keeping them?
First argument I expect to hear is: “employees need to earn their paychecks by working the full amount of time” or “an employee’s focus should be on how many billable hours they can pump out on a daily basis.” Do NOT think of this as “slack off” time.  Am I expecting companies to pay employees for time to just goof off? Okay, in a way, yes! But, think of the long-term payoff regarding employee morale and performance simply because the company set aside a small amount of time each day for stress relief.
What are some examples you can do in the workplace?
  • Community Service projects
  • Walk/Run Fitness challenges (sponsor a group for a local 5k!)
  • Desk Massages / Manicure Mondays
  • On-site fitness facilities
  • Company sponsored sports such as Softball or Volleyball
  • Company-wide learning classes….such as Cooking or Photography classes
Let’s break down a couple of the examples to you can see the benefits:
Community service = An activity either on-site or off can break the tension of the workday and build a sense of teamwork among your employees. For example: Organize a food drive or holiday cards/care packages to send to our troops. Employees like the distraction from their everyday duties plus it makes them feel good knowing they are doing something to help others. And in some cases, companies can also publicize their employees’ efforts – so it becomes free advertising for the company.
Early morning or lunch time workout = Ask one of the employees to lead a brief 20-30min workout session that can be as simple as a 1k walk or a weight loss contest. Remember that line from Legally Blonde about working out – “working out gives you endorphins and endorphins make people happy!” It also helps improve your employees’ health which, in turn, helps decrease costs associated with the company’s health insurance when it comes to renewal time.  See…another win-win!
What will adding “fun” to the work day really help do?
  • Reduce sick time taken…including those “mental health” days that employees partake in more and more these days.
  • Improve employee retention. It shows the employees that the company is truly interested in them and their well-being.  When employees feel appreciated – they are happy!  And happy employees don’t start looking for other jobs…even if they wish they had more pay.
  • Helps to recruit new employees. A happy employee will tell others about how great their job is…and others will want to work for you! Jobseekers today know that most companies aren’t using job boards as much as they used to in the past and rely on networking and referrals. Because employees are more likely to only refer those candidates that they truly feel are a fit for the company, you have cut down on advertising and time-to-fill costs because candidates are being brought to you!
But, for Play Time to “catch on” and be effective, the Employer needs to let their employees that it fully suports this new “way to work”.  If employees worry that they will be looked at poorly if they participate, they won’t give it a try.  So, it is imperative that you not only promote some “fun” in the workplace, but let them know you WANT them to participate in it.  Here’s an idea: Lead by example = YOU get out there and show them how to have fun during the day!
Remember: Happy Employees = Productive Employees

Are Disgruntled Employees Really A “Lost Cause”?

Let’s face it – between “life” issues and work, we find many of today’s employees are disgruntled in one way or another.  For some, the situation is temporary…for others, it becomes a daily attitude they display.  But, does that mean you – as the Employer – should take the stance of either reprimanding them for their “poor work performance” or just wait and hope that they will quit?  Are these once valuable employees dispensable now that they have a “bad attitude”?

I had an instance once where a manager approached me soon after starting with the company to talk about “how do we get rid of this employee.”  The employee in question had been doing her job, as expected, but wasn’t giving 100% anymore and was always walking around complaining about how she hated her job now.  I was taken back by the manager’s request to “find” a way to get rid of her…implying that we had just cause based on her attitude and slack in performance.

Because I was raised to believe that there are two sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in between, I decided to approach the employee and have an informal talk with her.  I wanted to hear her side of the story and see if there was more to the situation that could possibly be fixed.

She had no problem sharing her frustrations with me, as you could imagine, but the information she shared was eye opening.  She talked about not liking the position for a while and trying to talk to her manager about possibly moving into another role but repeatedly told “you just need to change your attitude.”  She told me she had offered suggestions for projects she could start and work on but was always told “no” without her manager giving her the chance to hear her out.  Then, her perception was that the manager just “had it out for her” as a female because the male employees that came to work in the department appeared to get the better tasks and projects to work on…even those that were brand new!

That last revelation – and her perception of how she was being treated – happens quite often…once a manager decides they don’t think you are a fit as an employee but you are still doing your job so they have no real “cause” to terminate you, they will begin to engage in tactics to “get the employee to quit.”  It borderlines a “hostile work environment” in many cases and some employees have gone on to pursue legal action against the company as a result (which most managers never believe the employee will do).

I decided to ask her what were the suggestions she had that she tried to offer…part out of curiosity and part because my opinion is that the company owed her that much – to at least hear her out.  The next 20min was amazing!  She had seen a need for a new position within the department that would help organize sales and process orders much quicker…and she felt she was the right person for the job.

So, I challenged her: come up with your own job description along with any training, equipment, etc that you would need to setup and carry out the job and, together, we will pitch it to the manager.  She did and the manager was hesitant but said he would let her give it a try for the next 30days.  If it didn’t work out, then she was back in her original role.

The end result: The employee remained in the position for 3 years!  What she envisioned was possible and the manager even commented later on to me that he was pleased in the turn-around in her attitude.

Morale of the story: Perception can be the devil.  You never really know the situation or possible solutions until you sit down and have a simple conversation with that employee.  If that is the “first step” you take as a manager to dissolve the situation with a disgruntled employee, a solution may be found much sooner before attitudes deteriorate or performance slacks.  If you aren’t open to listening to the employee, don’t be surprised when the start “coping an attitude!”

Sometimes, it may even benefit you to enlist the help of a third-party.  Having your HR professional talk to the employee in a less defensive environment may diffuse the situation.  They are also in a better position to talk to the employee about changing they can make to help their situation or suggest that maybe moving on to another company will make them happier.

A disgruntled employee doesn’t have to be a lost cause!  Remember: you hired them for a reason.  They were your top choice at one time and you viewed them as an asset to the company.  You put time and money into training them and getting them up to speed so they could be successful at their position.  Don’t throw in the towel without giving one last try – a “real” try with an open mind.  You might just surprise yourself.

Engagement Isn’t Rocket Science Folks!

There’s a lot of talk in the market about “Employee Engagement” and all these tactics and tools an organization can use to improve in this area, but the fact is – engaging your employees is much easier to do than you think and doesn’t cost a penny.

The problem many companies – and even volunteer groups – are facing is that employees have lost that “drive” that they once had when they first joined.  Regardless of whether they have been a long-term or even short-term employee, that “spark” they had has dimmed: the excitement of being part of a new organization, the nervousness yet eagerness to learn all they can about their new company and position, the desire to feel like part of the team and that old “giving 110%.”

For a while there, the HR community called this “retention”…how do we keep our employees from leaving?  But the word itself – if you really think about it – is restricting.  To “retain” something (or someone) is to hold on to them, usually using boundaries or by force.  Not exactly what we want to do with our employees!  Last thing we want them to feel is back into a corner and complying with what we try to do just to make us stop and go away.

The shift to talking “engagement” instead is because, in reality, the only people we want to try and keep within our organizations are the ones that want to be there.  Remember that phrase “you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink it?”  Well, that’s what many organizations have been trying to do…just nicely.

Think about your own job.  Are you still as enthusiastic about getting up and going to work in the morning as you were when you first started?  Do you feel a sense of personal success or satisfaction when you leave at the end of the day or are you just happy to go home?  Do you start to compare yourself to others more and more in how the company treats or rewards them?  Is this the job you see yourself content to spend the next several years with until you are ready to retire?  It’s a reality check – isn’t it.

Bottom line:  Dis-engagement stems most of all from a breakdown in two-way communication. Employees loose the desire to engage in their job because: 1) things become too routine with companies only rewarding for work results, and 2) they don’t feel appreciated or they feel taken advantage of.

To truly get your employees re-engaged, they need to self-motivate themselves…but there are simply things that Managers and HR professional can do to set the ball rolling on this:

  • Observe and note: Take a walk around and just watch the employees while they are working. What mood do you pick up from them? How are they engaging with others? Are they always looking down and annoyed or do they look up and smile from time to time?  Does one complain louder than the others or seem to get the others riled up as well?  Just take in your observations about what the work environment looks like to someone from the “outside” and make notes of what you observed.
  • Have an informal conversation: Don’t schedule a meeting but rather take the time to walk up to each employee, regardless of their position in the company, and have a chat. Tell them that you are just wondering how they are doing.  It starts right there – you want to make it casual so that their guard comes down and they talk openly.  Then start asking them about what they like or don’t like and what changes they may want to suggest.  Tell them you are trying to get a feel for where the company is right now and where the employees would like to see things go so that you can review with management about adding some programs or making some changes.
  • Have a meeting with management: Now its time to get serious and get down to business. Employee morale does more than just affect tenure of an employee, it affects how they interact with customers.  A disgruntled employee will already be annoyed with a complaining customer and maybe not go that extra step to make them happy because, well…they aren’t happy.  Explain your observations as you walked around, comments you received and suggestions you have to introduce some positive changes to the workplace.  The biggest resistance management usually has it to anything that will “cost money” but not all changes have a price tag attached to it and most, if not all, can actually decrease overall cost as time goes on and these changes become the norm.  Want a sure-fire way to get them to listen?  Talk about the dollar amount associated with recruiting a new employee, labor lost in the meantime, cost to onboard and train that new employee and the potential of having to do it all again if the pattern continues…that usually gets them to at least stop and listen.
  • Follow-up with the whole company: If you really want employees to open up and share the good and the bad, they have to know that what they say – regardless of what it is – will not fall on deaf eyes “as it has in the past.” Hold a company meeting.  Let them know some of the observations that were made and the changes that management would like to make based on that feedback to help improve everyone’s job.  This is where you have to build trust and it all has to start somewhere.  The next time you repeat this process – and I would do it at least twice a year – you will find employees more open to talking when you come around.

Changes won’t happen overnight, we all know this, but don’t wait until you have developed the “perfect” Employee Engagement plan to start working on it.  Those disengaged employees won’t stick around for long and many are already looking for their exit strategy.

Jumping on the “Employee Engagement” Bandwagon: Part 3

You’ve talked to or surveyed your employees to find out what they would like to see around the office that would make them feel more appreciated or part of the “team.”  You researched different Employee Engagement programs to find out which ones could be implemented right away and at little to no cost to the company.  Now, here in Part 3, we will talk about the “how” to keep your employees engaged once you launch these programs.

Even the best thought-up programs have to be managed and monitored in order to truly have a long-term impact on the organization.  That means having someone dedicated to “running” the program, making changes and adjustments as time goes on, and updates management on the progress and how they can help improve participation.

Keep in mind, as well, that these types of changes to engagement aren’t going to be realized overnight or even 2-3 months down the line…you are looking at possibly 6-12 months before you can truly gauge whether or not the program is having the overall impact that you were hoping for.  Yes, getting people involved in the beginning and sticking to it will give you an idea early on if its working or even being welcomed, but don’t give up right away.  Tweak some things, change how you communicate, when the programs are being held, etc. before you throw in the towel.

So, how does management keep employees “engaged” in these engagement programs?
1) Don’t micro-manage them

2) Don’t make them feel obligated to be a part of it

3) Practice some simple “best practices”

As a Manager, your best practices should be:

  • Communicate – Get out from behind the text messages and email notifications and go talk to your employees. That human touch makes a much bigger impact and will encourage your employees to share more with you that you can use to change or improve not just these engagement programs but general day-to-day tasking.
  • Provide basic training (if needed) – Don’t just assume that people will know what to do or how to approach their fellow employees when getting these programs off the ground. Basic training can be something as simple as showing them how to advertise or set up group emailing…all depends on the program being initiated.
  • Develop your people – This is where you go to those employees you wouldn’t normally think of putting in charge and let them spread their wings. Support them, let others know that you have them leading the programs, check-in with them from time to time on progress…most will shock you at how well they do, once given the chance.
  • Recognize your employees – This is most important! Yes, the personal “thanks” and “great job” are still a necessity but make the time to also recognize them publicly…company announcement, newsletter with quote and picture and even during a company-wide meeting.
  • Encourage teamwork – Its natural for the other employees to feel they don’t have to step up and help, so communicate why the company is doing these programs and how you would like to see these programs as “special project teams” that share success stories. Ask them for suggestions and feedback as the programs are on-going and hold “team meetings” to talk about, from their point of view as the “user,” what changes can be made or things added to make them even more successful.
  • Last, but not least, ACT on their feedback! – The quickest way to shoot down any program or idea is for management to listen but then not follow-up or make any changes. Even if it is determined that no changes will be made, communicate that and explain why.  Remember – employee “buy-in” comes from them feeling that are truly a part of the success and not just an employee doing just what they are told.

Knowing the make-up of your particular company and what your employees would like to see, and then creating programs based around that rather than following the “most popular” programs, makes it much easier for these programs to be a long-term success.  What will start as simply making the employees feel good about being part of the company will quickly transform into company pride and dedication…factors in today’s workforce that have been thought to be lost.  It can be brought back – for the “right” reasons – with just a little investment, time and determination.

Jumping on the “Employee Engagement” Bandwagon: Part 1

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to lead a session at #HRU’s first Chicago conference focused on Employee Engagement.  (For upcoming dates in other U.S. cities, check them out here at: http://www.globalhru.com)

Employee Engagement is the latest “buzz” phrase in HR with so many companies now realizing that they have to step up and do something if they want to increase production and employee retention.  And while you can Google the phrase and find all kinds of articles about “best practices” and ideas for different programs to integrate, I have seen little – more like nothing – that addressed the “how”…that is, how does a company determine what Employee Engagement Program is best for their needs.

Once upon a time, employers could use money as a motivator…dangling the “raise carrot” to get employees to give more of their time and focus harder on giving 110%.  But, let’s face it: the market crash in 2008 changed everything.  Companies have tightened down on raises, some not giving them annually anymore, and hiring replacements at lower salaries.  The promise of a bonus or pay increase doesn’t hold much weight with today’s employees who can’t trust that if they do their part, the company will follow through.

So, now companies want to focus on Employee Engagement as a way to manage their employees, yet – no one stops and asks them why…why do they want to focus on it now and what do they hope to get out of it.  You ask anyone and you get the standard explanation: We want to engage our employees to be more involved in the company and enjoy their jobs.

Truth is: Many companies see “employee engagement programs” as a way to simply increase production and increase their profits.

Companies get hung up on the generational differences and jump to conclusions about their own employees based on it: Older employees are set in their routines, not looking for career growth and generally not as technologically savvy.  Younger employees are part of this “give me” generation that don’t want to put in the time and work to move up the ladder and earn the salary they feel they deserve.  Sound familiar?  It should since most articles you read today talk directly to that – but isn’t necessarily true.  During the conference, we talked about that age group that is embracing all this new technology the fastest is actually the 50 and over crowd!

Bottom line: The market crash changed the attitudes and outlook for all employees.  Money isn’t the #1 motivator anymore now.  Focus on family and giving-back have taken center stage in many people’s lives.  Loyalty and longevity at a company are almost non-existent these days not because of topping out salary-wise but because of limited personal growth…employees want to continually be learning and growing in their positions to feel personal satisfaction.  Employees focus on the lack on money when they feel they are lacking in all other areas on their professional life.

So….how do you discover an Employee Engagement Program that will work for your company?  Start with gathering feedback from your employees to see what they want and what will really motivate them!  Don’t assume you know what they want.  And don’t just start incorporating all these ideas you read in articles thinking they will be work or even be welcomed.

For example: Don’t think you are adding to the well-being of your employees by adding a Smoking Cessation program and then manipulating them to join it to quit smoking.  Employees resent being forced into anything, especially if it doesn’t relate to their job.  Doing something like this will actually backfire on you in the end!

Depending on the size of your company, how you go about polling your employees may present a challenge – but I encourage you to find a way to do it personally.  Sending out a survey, even with multiple-choice answers, usually yields a response rate of only about 10%.  Having big company meetings may discourage people from talking as they don’t want to be the first one to offer ideas or look stupid in front of their colleagues.  If you have break things down into “team meetings” by group or department and facilitate discussions to ask for ideas, throw out ideas you have and ask for feedback or even look for volunteers to spearhead some initiatives.

Remember: This is all about engaging your employees – which starts with finding out what they would like and making plans around it.

Coming in Part 2…Let’s Talk Actionable Ideas

Medical Marijuana: How Does It Affect Your Workplace?

Today officially marked the first day that medical marijuana is now available for sale in the state of Illinois…so now that it is really a reality, what does that mean for employers?

  • Will there be this huge influx of issues to address and deal with?
  • How does this affect our workplace safety?
    Do we have to re-write our Employee Handbooks with a new drug and drug testing policy?

Before your mind starts spinning in circles, let’s look at some facts to help answer those questions:

There are over 20 states that currently have some sort of legislature in place concerning the legal marijuana for medical use only.  In Illinois, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act (“Cannabis Act”) allows patients diagnosed with one of 42 specific, debilitating medical conditions to use medicinal marijuana.  Examples include: cancer, glaucoma, positive status for HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, closed head injury, post-concussion syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, MS, severe fibromyalgia, and spinal cord injuries.

State medical marijuana laws do not completely legalize the manufacture, distribution and possession of marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law…and here is where some of the hype and confusion needs to be talked about.

To be a part of this program, patients have to go through an application process.  Only persons aged 18 or over with specific medical conditions may apply and they may not have a felony drug conviction in his or her background.  Once they are “approved” they are issued a “Registry ID card” that then allows them to purchase medical marijuana from one of the registered dispensaries.

There are certain jobs that the Cannabis Act prohibits from being a part of the program: law enforcement officers, firefighters, correctional officers, school bus drivers or anything requiring a commercial driver’s license.

Those that qualify are not allowed, by law, to use the medical marijuana at their place of employment or used in public or in any location where smoking tobacco is forbidden by the Smoke Free Illinois Act.  The Act pretty much restricts use of medical marijuana to the approved patient’s personal residence.

The Cannabis Act does NOT prohibit an employer from enforcing a policy concerning drug-testing, zero tolerance or a drug-free workplace.  It also does not permit any person to engage in any task while under the influence of medical marijuana that could potentially impair their ability to carry out their job or endanger the safety of themselves or others in the workplace.  The best way to look at this: The Employer should treat a medical marijuana patient like any other employee who is on prescribed medication.

Employers can accommodate a worker’s medical marijuana use but aren’t required to.  Since medical marijuana remains an illegal drug under Federal law, its use is not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  It will come down to how you, the Employer, will want to handle the situation…however, the key to remember is to create consistency in your decision or new policy.  Risk and liability are the two issues that the Employer will need to personally identify to determine the best course of action.  Many employment attorneys have been reporting that most employers are not changing their workplace policies, in particular those with a Drug-Free Workplace policy…and for the most part, the way the Act appears to be written there isn’t a quick need to.

What the Cannabis Act does make clear is that an employer may not penalize a valid medical marijuana card-holder solely because he or she is in the registry and is entitled to use cannabis as medicine.  The employer can discipline an employee for use while on the job if it violates company policy or adversely affects their work performance (including safety issues).

The issue that is left outstanding and should be a concern at the back of everyone’s mind: Workers’ Compensation.

How the insurance companies intend on dealing with employers with employees covered under The Cannabis Act seems to still be unsure…and this is where employers may run into issues.  This will not only potentially affect renewal rates (depending on whether or not the use of medical marijuana comes up when a case is filed) but on how the employee may face challenges in receiving benefits or compensation as a result.  While medical marijuana is not the first “medication” with side effects that can cause performance problems for an employee (and one would assume the same standards would apply), its not clear if the insurance companies will treat them the same…so this is an area to watch as things continue to unfold.

Bottom line:  The introduction of medical marijuana isn’t as bad a topic as we may have braced ourselves for.  Yes, there are some considerations to be made but, for the most part, provisions are in place to protect the employer and the employee.  Don’t rush out to change policies based on the hype or fear that has been spread around….but also don’t wait until one of your employees comes to you with their new Registry ID card.

Talk about it now – how you would handle it and how you want to handle it – and everything can still continue as “business as usual.”