Suck It Up! Sometimes You Have To Be The Bad Guy

For most managers out there, being the “bad guy” isn’t always easy.  Sure, when it comes to disciplining and employee they have no problem.  But when it comes to having to terminate an employee, most don’t like that feeling regardless of how rock solid a case you have.

Being the “bad guy” comes with the title.  You have to tell someone when they are doing things wrong, violating policy, presenting a bad attitude.  You can’t be their friend, no more than a parent can always be a “friend” to their child.  As much as it is a discomfort for some to do, terminating an employee after you have determined it is the right course of action is in the best interest of the company so you have to take a deep breath and just do it.

Sometimes, the employee will just up and leave…and we secretly hope this is the reaction to make it easier to manage the situation.  However, sometimes the employee will make a last ditch effort to plead their case and get you – the manager – to change your mind.  Here is where you can get yourself into trouble if you don’t stand firm on your position.

Employee Morale

Employee talk.  Gossip is rampant in companies regardless of how well some think they manage it.  Employees talk after hours with each other or exchange opinions via social media.  So, if you are terminating a problem employee remember you are setting an example for the others as well.  They are watching to see if 1) you are a man (or woman) of your word by sticking to what you set out to do, 2) if you care about the well-being of all your employees and 3) do you really hold power.  That last one is vital!

If the employee being terminated has been problematic and complaints have been filed about this person over and over with you yet when the moment comes for you to eliminate the problem and you don’t, it sends a message to the other employees that you are “all talk” and will bend to complaining employees.  What happens next?…

Respect Is Lost

Two things are vital for a manager to gain from their employees: trust and respect.  Without even one of them, you can’t effectively manage your team.  When you don’t stand your ground and act as a manager, why should other employees treat you like a manager.  It sounds harsh, but think about managers that you have had in the past that you didn’t respect.  What did they do, or rather – what didn’t they do?

Company Liability

Now comes the “HR” spin to the situation.  Many managers dismiss the seriousness of backing out of a termination and think “well, we still have a case.”  If you have worked with your HR department on a progressive discipline plan and then reached the decision to terminate after solidifying your case, giving the employee “one last chance” (again) will tell any third party (such an Unemployment) that it “really wasn’t that bad” after all.  For example, if you are terminating an employee for repeated violation of company policy (let’s say the attendance policy) and at termination you decide to give them one last chance to “straighten up,” the next time you decide to terminate them for the same reason flags will be raised as to whether or not this was a serious enough violation to terminate since, well, you let them get away with it so many times!

Some Employees Just Don’t Work Out

Bottom line: No matter how much you try and counsel or correct them, some employees just don’t care enough about themselves to make things work.  As the manager, your other employees depend on you to set the course for the department and keep morale up so they stay engaged and do the best job for you.  If you have come to the point where you know termination is the only answer, then you have already proven to yourself that “one last chance” won’t really change anything in the long term.  Part ways as amicably as you can and turn your focus back to the employees you have that are giving you 110%.  Once you get past the initial sit-down talk with them, you will see that is was the best thing you could have done for both parties.

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. 

 

New Federal Overtime Rule Effective December 1

Effective December 1, a new rule updates the regulations governing which executive, administrative, professional, and highly compensated employees are entitled to the minimum wage and overtime pay protections of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Current Rules
The current federal rules provide an exemption from both the minimum wage and overtime pay requirements of the FLSA for bona fide executive, administrative, and professional employees who meet certain tests regarding their job duties and who are paid on a salary basis at not less than $455 per week ($23,660 per year). “Highly compensated employees” (HCEs) who are paid total annual compensation of $100,000 or more and meet certain other conditions are also deemed exempt.

New Rule
The new rule updates the salary and compensation levels needed for executive, administrative, professional, and highly compensated employees to be exempt. In particular, the final rule:
• Raises the salary threshold from $455 a week to $913 per week (or $47,476 annually) for a full-year worker;
• Increases the HCE total annual compensation level to $134,004 annually;
• Amends the regulations to allow employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses, incentives, and commissions to satisfy up to 10% of the new standard salary level, so long as employers pay those amounts on a quarterly or more frequent basis; and
• Establishes a mechanism for automatically updating the salary and compensation levels every 3 years, beginning on January 1, 2020.

Note: When both the FLSA and a state law apply, the employee is entitled to the most favorable provisions of each law.

Poaching: Is It Just Business or Vengeance?

It happens all the time: You land a new position and find that there are other open positions that maybe your previous co-workers would be interested in.  You tell your new supervisor and, on your recommendation, they give you the “green light” to reach out to them and ask.  Nothing wrong with that, right?

But when do you go too far?

In the recruiting world, its typical for a recruiter to reach out to a client’s competitors to try and steal away their employees.  After all, its easier to find someone who is already doing the job you are hiring for AND in the same industry that will be able to plug in right away.  We call that “business.”  And if an employee is happy at the job they currently have, no amount of wooing will be able to change that.

And it would seem to be perfectly acceptable to use a new hire to do the same type of scouting that would happen if you hired a recruiting firm.  Let’s face it – they know exactly the environment these other employees are in and what may be the reasons they would entertain leaving.  But, there is a point of crossing the line.

I recently had an employee move on to another opportunity with a competitor who began to reach out to his former co-workers to see if they would be interested in leaving and coming over to his new employer as well.  We’re not talking one or two employees….he reached out to at least 5!  Each were key employees in their own departments.  Where this former employee “crossed the line” and has now left a bad taste in not only his former employer’s mouth but that of his former employees, is he began to harass these employees.  And when employees wouldn’t respond or take his phone calls anymore, he turned them over to his new boss to try calling them…to the point that one of their targets came to ask me if we could somehow get them to stop calling him.

Now we’ve crossed into the unprofessional side…An employee determined for vengeance.

Just as we tell jobseekers not to bad talk your past employers during a job interview, seeking vengeance against a former employer leave create a reputation for you personally…not the company.  This can be particularly harmful to you when it’s a niche industry and the power players all talk to each other.  Competitors in the marketplace doesn’t always make them enemies.  Word will get around if you go down the “vengeance” path that can come back to reflect negatively on your new company and you as an employee when you go to move on to another employer.

This can be particularly dangerous for small businesses who don’t have a strong reputation to fall back on, not to mention to potential for legal issues involved from cases of slander to non-competes.  It may seem like an easy and cost-saving tactic to use, but its not always the smartest.

Keep it just business by taking yourself out of the equation.

There is a reason why recruiting firms exist and sometimes the “smarter” approach to poaching as a tactic is to use them to carry it out.  They can approach your desired candidates from a point of confidentiality and feel them out to see if “jumping ship” is really something they would consider.  Remember, just because you perceive an employee as unhappy at their current job doesn’t mean they have the same desire to leave that you did.

As the Interviewer: Stages of the Interview

There are so many different ways that companies are conducting interviews these days that it begs the question: Should there be different steps in the interview process?

Some will say the process depends on the size of the company…others will say it depends on the level of the position.  But too many times either a vital step is missed or more steps are added that complicate the process and may end in loosing a candidate or having to re-hire again because a candidate didn’t work out.

Not knowing the best way to approach the interview process is really no one’s fault.  The Art of Interviewing is a topic discussed with Jobseekers but never have I seen it as a topic taught from the Interviewer’s perspective.  Like with any HR or Management position, it is just “assumed” that you will know how to interview because you have achieved those roles in your career.  And this is where I have seen mistakes be made.

You have may a process that works well for you and your company….and congratulations if you do!  But for those that find themselves wondering if it could be better or struggling with always seeming to hire “problem” employees that aren’t discovered until after the fact, here is a breakdown that hopefully will help you.

Stage 1:    The Phone Interview

Duration: Typically no more than 15min

For some people, they think the Phone Interview is a waste of time and go right to bringing the candidate in for an in-person interview.  However, you are missing a key opportunity especially if this is a candidate that will be working on the phone in any capacity with your customers.

The main purpose of conducting a phone interview is to hear the person’s phone etiquette.  Are they quiet and timid or are they hyper and interrupting?  Do they speak clearly?  Do you perceive any attitude when they are answering you that your customers may misinterpret?

Questions are by the Interviewer are typically: questions about the current job that they have, what interested the candidate about your job opening and the “why do you feel you are a fit for this job?”  Based on the impressions over the phone, you decide whether or not to go to Stage 2.

Stage 2:  First In-person Interview with HR

Duration: Typically 30-45min

Here is where many Managers just don’t understand why HR has to get involved to interview.  After all, when it comes to doing the job (especially if it is technical or specialized) how can HR really be a good judge about who would be a “good hire” and who wouldn’t?  The purpose of the “first interview” is not to find your ideal candidate right off the bat, but to serve as a “gatekeeper” to weed out all of those that may not be a good representation of the company or a fit with the company’s culture.

Your HR person is looking for a “personality fit” when they first meet with the candidates:

  • Do they speak clearly?
  • Are they thoughtful when answering questions about their background?
  • Do they show they can think on their feet when asked questions about past problems they have encountered?
  • Are they a personality a fit for the company and how it projects itself to its customers?
  • Would they bit a fit with the other employees?
  • Are they looking for more career-wise than the company is able to offer to where they may become dissatisfied quickly?
  • What are their reasons for gaps, changes in career, leaving previous employers?

They made it past the “check the box” on their resume to get the interview, but now it’s time to see how they answer questions about their experience and aspirations to see if – personality-wise – there is a match with your company.  When HR finds the candidates that they feel fit this requirement, now it’s time to get into their specific skills and experience to see how it relates to the job you are looking to fill.

Stage 3:  Second In-Person Interview with Hiring Manager

Duration: Typically 30-45min

This is where the Manager gets to focus just on the candidate’s background and skills to ask questions to see if they will be able to fill the job you are looking to fill.  Don’t waste your time with some of the typical questions you can find on the Internet such as “Where do you see yourself in 5yrs?”  Remember, that’s the type of questions your HR person has already asked to see if they would have a future with the company.

Make the most of your time by focusing on “if” and “how” this candidate in front of you would be able to:

  • Come up to speed to do the job you are hiring for or will they need more time to train and become accustomed…
  • Are they technically up to par with the skill set you are looking for or, with a little time and training, could you train them up to be the ideal employee…
  • How well do they seem to listen to direction – do they listen to you or interrupt you when asking questions…
  • Do they offer ideas and suggestions based on past experience as answers to the questions you pose…

Let’s face it – you are looking for that employee that can hit the ground running right after their first day, so use this time to uncover if they will be able to work with you (as their manager) and do the job efficiently so you can quickly make a choice on your new hire.

Optional:  Reference Checks

Today’s jobseekers often wonder if companies ever do call on references before hiring them and, in all honesty, many companies don’t…mainly because they don’t think it will get them any insight into a candidate as they are expecting.  So, as a result, jobseekers don’t want to share references in the early stages of interviewing (and they really shouldn’t be required to) and employers aren’t taking the time to do their research.

With social media today, there are so many ways to “reference check” an employee to see if they would be a good hire.  Many candidates will have LinkedIn accounts that allows you to see not just their resume, but more about outside activities such as: volunteer positions and articles published, not to mention how professionally they work to appear online (is their photo professional or questionable?).  Same can be said for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram….anything that is set to “public” that you can see – your customers and clients will be able to see to.

But don’t discount the phone inquiry!  Yes, there are companies staying away from offering reference checks because of implied legal retaliation, but some are still willing to share especially if it was a great employee that they were sorry to see go.  Just stay away from family and friends as references.  Even students can offer teachers as references that will give you more of a peek into their personality and ethics.  And don’t pressure an employee to give you a reference from their current employer unless you have already extended a job offer.  Ask for past supervisors and even subordinates. 

You will already have an idea if you want to hire the person or not before you make the call so keep the conversation on how well they carried out their job, how they got along with others, did they have ideas to bring to the table, etc.

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 You Grooming A “Mini-Me”?


“Talent Management” is one of those buzz words flying around lately and everyone will have their own definition of what it is and how they approach it in their company, but in my view Talent Management is just the upgraded version of Mentoring.

Mentoring to me isn’t assigning an experienced employee to a new employee to help them learn the ropes and integrate into the company quicker.  Mentoring is “coaching and training one’s replacement.”  Remember when we were told to do that?  That we should always be training the person that will replace us so that we can move forward in our own careers?

In today’s job market, there may be plenty of applicants to choose from but the best practice has (and should still be) to promote from within first when you have an open position to fill.  Let’s talk the reason why this should be a company’s “best practice”:

  • It takes less time to bring a current employee up to speed with company goals and expectations that a new employee because they will already be vested in the company and ready to hit the ground running.
  • There is also less time spent getting the remaining employees to accept the “new” person in the role as they won’t be viewed as an “outsider” trying to change things from how they have always been.
  • You spent the time and money to train this person when they were a new employee initially so you are saving that money promoting from within.
  • Today’s employees aren’t staying at companies for years on end when they don’t feel that there is some potential for growth, so promoting from within satisfies their desire to grow while saving the company money associated with recruiting an outside person.
  • Promoting from within will also show the remaining employees that your company truly cares about them and their growth – so you win loyalty points from them as well.
  • Finally, its creates the type of company culture – a company that cares – that will also help attract future employees when you are ready to hire from the outside.

Will this approach always be the best fit? Obviously, not as it will depend on the position itself, the company’s need and the pool of talent you have.  But, if you haven’t been practicing this type of “grooming” in your workplace, you may have no idea what skills or talent are already on your payroll!

If your employees know that they may be considered for open positions now or in the future, you will find:

  • Employee productivity will likely pick up as they set out to try and prove themselves in their roles.
  • Employees will be more open to share their ideas and suggestions for change and improvement in the workplace – up to and including new positions they feel should be created to help benefit the company.
  • Some employees may even seek outside skills training (at their own expense) to improve their position in applying for one of these open roles.

So, as you are reviewing or creating your “Talent Management Program” at your company, remember that in addition to reviewing your job descriptions, recruiting strategies, performance reviews and training programs that you have added this long last art of “mentoring” back into your program.

Exhaustion: The Latest “Status Symbol”

I have been following the work of Brene Brown, Research Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.  She spent over 10 years studying the topics of shame and vulnerability in an effort to help uncover how we can find our inner courage and be more authentic in today’s world.

In one of her talks, she spoke about how part of her research work involved going to a popular office building in downtown Houston and just riding the elevator up and down to listen to the interactions of the employees in that building.  The one story she shared was about two law firm employees and their interaction with each other.  One talked about having to work til the wee hours of the morning on a project.  When this person asked the other person when they left work for the day, the other’s response was that they hadn’t left the office yet (since the day before).

While it may seem immature that two co-workers were having a “one-up” conversation with each other, the truth is that many employees today do think that to be considered valuable and successful in their careers that they have to work themselves to the point of exhaustion.

Can we really blame them for this perception or do companies need to take ownership of the fact that they are the ones that created this status symbol?

Think about it – Employers see that the main advantage to putting an employee on “salary” is that you aren’t tied to limiting their hours for the week since you don’t have to pay them overtime.  Many employers have gone so far as to expect their employees to be available even after hours and weekends for phone calls, emails, special projects…whatever is needed.

And, consequently, many of these salaried employees will do whatever their employer wants because they fear 1) loss of status in a management or leadership position if they aren’t working “harder” or 2) loss of employment.  These employees sacrifice family and personal time to keep on top of whatever their jobs needs…not to make sure the work is carried out and completed but to make sure they remain in good graces with their employer.  Hence, working themselves into exhaustion!

Now, from a business standpoint, the recent announcement from the Department of Labor concerning the proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act concerning overtime will play a huge role in attacking this status symbol as companies have to re-categorize exempt employees and pay for the overtime they have been getting for free.  While some companies will, obviously, still encourage overtime – especially if they can pass on the cost to their customers or clients – but the pressure to work more just to impress the boss should find some relief.

From an HR standpoint, we should never make employees feel obligated to work  themselves to death just to make an impression to the boss or keep their job.  Shame on companies for doing that!  Expecting employees to work excessive hours, breaking into their personal and family time, should not be an expectation…as if it is some “right of passage” to promote within a company.  With all the technological advances we have made in business in the last 20 years alone, we now have two scenarios: 1) work doesn’t require as many “man hours” as it once did so there is additional pressure on employees to “look busy” and 2) things such as “smartphones” (especially if they are company-issued or paid for) give employers the excuse they can contact employees they want.

So, how do we start to reverse that?

As HR professionals, we have to start pushing for management to turn their focus off of “quantity” and back on to “quality.”  It has to start with the top down or middle managers will keep that stigma going.  How can we “maneuver” that?  Two ways come to mind: 1) hold an informational session with management to talk about this issue, how they shouldn’t be encouraging it and how it can actually hurt the company in the long-run (not just in financial costs but in employee morale) and then 2) establish (or promote if already available) any programs or incentives aimed at work-life balance or family values (such as after-hours contact guidelines, time off for family events – not just emergencies, paid “volunteer days,” etc).

The point of any program you put into place is to make both the employee and their supervisor understand that you don’t want them spending all their waking hours thinking about or doing work.  They need to know that it is okay to set boundaries.  Once employees begin to see they aren’t being penalized for “having a life” outside of work, the trend will begin to correct itself…we just need to have that conversation to get the ball rolling.

Do You “Motivate” Or Do You “Inspire”?

When we talk about “performance,” our minds automatically go to “how to we improve performance.”  It’s always on the mind of every leader or manager that has a team under them.  We think by coming up with ways of improving performance that it will translate into happier and more productive sub-ordinates.  For the majority of individuals, this is true – however, it’s the steps and processes that most people use that end up not working or even back-firing.

Think about it…

We “measure” performance.  How well or how bad an individual performs at their job is evaluated by a set of pre-determined factors.  We “rate” them based on these factors as a result of our perception of how they are conducting themselves.  We will talk about specifics that apply to their assigned job, segments that they are “required” to excel at in order to maintain their job.  Then we also rate them on: communication, problem-solving, loyalty, etc.  Its like we have some version of the “ideal employee” that we use these evaluations to compare them to or try to mold them into.

Why Performance Reviews suck…

There is a lot of talk about doing away with performance reviews for a variety of reasons.  I personally don’t think we should, but that we should look at re-evaluating how we use them and definitely increasing them from only once a year tied in with a person’s raise.  It is nearly impossible to accurately rate someone based on a year’s worth of performance only once a year…I mean, who really remembers all the details?  If you do something wrong, its probably been brought up already during a disciplinary discussion.  This is why even employees don’t value a performance review.  The only reason why they push to get one is because of the expectation that a raise will be forthcoming as well.

Most managers don’t want to be bothered with a performance review: “takes too much time,” “I don’t know what to write” or even “if they just do their job, then why do I need to go over it.”  The whole concept of assigning future goals and milestones to help an employee improve or excel is lost on most managers.  When they are told to do them, they just want to get through them as quick as possible.

How We Motivate…

Sit back and look at your workplace and even how you conduct yourself.  How do you – whether you are a manager or not – motivate others? Are you being positive in your approach or adding to the negative?  Do you put an employee’s job on notice if they aren’t performing to your expectations?

The #1 way managers “think” they are motivating their employees: Give them a task above or outside their scope of duties and tell them you want to see what they can do with it.  And here’s the problem with that – your “motivation” is attaching an expectation which, in turn, attaches an expectation from the individual on what you will do in return.  That’s not motivating – that’s haggling.

What Inspires You?…

Call it “new-age” talk if you want but have you noticed at up-swing in articles and phrases like: “what inspires you,” “focus on your passion” and even “pursue your dreams.”  Its all over the place as people are getting away from the robotic feeling of going to work and doing the same thing day in and day out.  One takeaway from the 2008 market crash is that more and more people are focusing less on the almighty paycheck and more on creating a happy life for themselves.

When I used to volunteer with a youth group, my role was not to motivate them to become better people but to inspire them to test their own limits and find what really grabs their interest.  Yes, I would give them guidelines and goals but I also let them spread their wings and bring me new ideas or try different things.  I was more the net to catch them along their way.  I watched teenagers who were once wall-flowers that, after I pushed them a little outside their comfort zone, blossomed into passionate public speakers that then went on to do the same for the new members coming on aboard.

Inspire To Perform…

Companies can’t depend on loyalty anymore to keep their employees nor can they think throwing money at them will make them stay.  You are also creating limits to what you employees can dream or create when you pigeon-hole them into a set of expectations or standards to follow.  If you really want to improve performance, take the leash off and focus on encouraging them to share their thoughts and creations.  You may find new methods they offer benefit the company even more and you will finally see that “spark” in their eye where its not just a job anymore, its their passion…and they will WANT to succeed.