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.

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2017 HSA and Health FSA Contribution Limits Announced

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced the inflation-adjusted contribution limits for health savings accounts (HSAs) and health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs) for tax year 2017.

2017 Contribution Limits
The tax year 2017 contribution limits for HSAs and health FSAs are as follows:
• HSAs: The annual limitation on deductions for an individual with self-only coverage under a high deductible health plan (HDHP) is $3,400 (up from $3,350 for 2016). The annual limitation on HSA deductions for an individual with family coverage under an HDHP is $6,750 (unchanged from 2016). For 2017, an HDHP is defined as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,300 for self-only coverage or $2,600 for family coverage (unchanged from 2016), and annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) that do not exceed $6,550 for self-only coverage or $13,100 for family coverage (unchanged from 2016).
• Health FSAs: The annual dollar limitation on employee contributions to employer-sponsored health FSAs rises to $2,600 (up from $2,550 for 2016).

For more information, please see IRS Revenue Procedures 2016-28 and 2016-55.

Jumping on the “Employee Engagement” Bandwagon: Part 2

In Part 1, we talked about first getting to know what your employees would like to see.  Here in Part 2, we will talk about some general ideas to consider integrating into your workplace.  While there are plenty of different options available, sometimes its best to start with some simple ideas and let the company build upon it once you see how welcoming the employees are to these new “perks.”

Today’s employees want to know and feel that their work matters…regardless of what generation they fall into.  They want to be known as a vital member of the team and not just overhead getting a paycheck.  If a company isn’t meeting their other “needs” (respect, growth, recognition, etc), then employee “disengagement” leads to low morale and a focus on …money.  And here is where a company can start spiraling downward.

So, how can an Employee Engagement plan help?

We heard all about “work life balance” these past couple of years, but the truth is its all about work-life integration now.  Smartphones keep us in contact 24/7 not just with voice and text but now emails and social media.  We’re not just “connected” to close friends and family because we now have co-workers, acquaintances, mentors, etc. as part of our life “circle” thanks to social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We can’t honestly expect a true separation anymore between work and home life.

So, engaging your employees is more than just finding ways to make them “happy” at work…its about finding ways to incorporate their passion and creativity into the workplace.  While the hope is that these different programs will increase work performance, employer loyalty and even generate profitable ideas, don’t make decisions based solely on that.  When employees feel “heard,” their talents used and recognized and a sense of teamwork returns, you will shift the work environment to where performance will naturally increase.

What are some ideas to consider?

There are so many different articles out there that talk about different engagement programs that you may feel a bit overwhelmed reading them over and thinking how to make them work at your workplace.  When I looked many of them over, I looked for things that were simple but would have the quickest return:

  • Look for resources already available to you…for free!

Many Healthcare providers also provide free workshops and seminars on a variety of topics, not just health.  Take a look at see how often they will provide one to your company and what other topics they offer.  Some offer programs such as: Stress Management, Debt Reduction, Wellness Coaching, etc.

  • Review (or Create) Work-Life Options

Does your company have a work-from-home option available for certain circumstances?  How about Flex Hours?  These ideas don’t have to be limited to just salary employees anymore and employees knowing they can ask when faced with family/personal circumstances goes a long way to showing yours is a company that cares.

  • Don’t leave family out!

When you start planning Company activities, such as Holiday Parties, include family members…and yes, children as well.  Employees generally spend more time at work than at home so it is important for family to feel that they matter as well.  That will help them be more understanding when your employee has to travel or work long hours.

  • Tap into the talents of your employees…do you know what they are?

How many of your employees are writers or aspiring photographers?  Let them share their talents with their co-workers!  Not only does it create a sense of pride but you also uncover a whole other skill set aside from their job that may help the company.

> Let your employees lead a “Learning Club”…be it before work, during the lunch break or after hours.

Employees have talents and interests outside their job – why not let them share it.  Have someone who is financially savvy at playing the stock market and you want to boost your 401k participation?  How about instead of having a seminar to explain to employees why to join you ask that employee to lead an Investment Club, where he/she has share tips and ideas with the employees.

> Set up an internal newsletter for employees-only.

Communication, even in the world of technology and “apps,” is still an area of struggle for most companies.  Enlist those aspiring writers and photographers to publish a monthly company newsletter that highlights events, recaps of projects, quotes from customers, pictures of completed projects/events, etc.  Lets employees see what is going on in the company aside from the people they interact with everyday and shows the company has pride in what their employees do.

> Create a TEDx type of event!

If you aren’t familiar with TEDx, it is an event that basically allows people to speak about a topic they are passionate about in the hopes of educating others.  So why not setup a monthly event at your company to allow your employees to do the same thing.

Did they attend a training session recently? Let them get up and talk about the experience: what they learned, how they are applying it now, what they hope to do next – it may generate additional interest from other employees.

Is there an outside organization or event they are a member of?  Let your employee share that with their colleagues.  Shows interests they have outside of work and, again, may get others to want to join or find their own outside interests.  These side projects are a great stress relief and sense of pride – which helps employees find balance and happiness in their own lives…so encourage it.

> Give Back and encourage Volunteering

Its not just the Millennials (as you may have read) that are interested in volunteering or giving back to their community!  Donating their time makes employees feel that they are helping make a difference.  Sponsor charity events – such as a fun 5K – and encourage employees to participate.  Give them paid time off to attend the events and acknowledge their participation on social media.  It supports “social responsibility” while also boosting morale…and giving your company some free, positive press.

  • Promote perks that boost mental and physical well-being.

To quote Legally Blonde: “Exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy!”

> Have an onsite work-out activity: could be a morning yoga class, fitness class or even organize a daily employee walk.

> Have “themed days” at work: pick a day a month or every Friday.  During football season, for example, have a Team Pride Day and let them where their team’s gear or colors.  Have a “Flashback Day” and tell employees to dress up from the 80s and play only 80s music that day.  Let them have a little fun at work!

> Create a Scavenger Hunt!  Want to get your employees out interacting with other departments?  Challenge them to take photographs of certain things in each department that you will hide and be the first to find them all.

> Bring back the “Bring Your _____ to Work” Days.  What ever happened to the “bring your child to work” days?  Its most appreciated during Winter and Spring breaks when its hard for parents to find someone to watch them when there aren’t activities or camps to join, as in the summer.

What about “bring your dog to work”?  Studies show that petting your dogs naturally brings down stress levels and invokes happiness – hence why dogs are used as therapy companions.  Let your employees show off their 4-legged kids!

> Host a company luncheon or BBQ.  Sometimes, a company just needs to shut down and relax as a whole, especially after a busy season.

 

Coming in Part 3…Best Practices for Employee Engagement

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

Employees Skipping Breaks – Why You Should NOT Encourage It

lunchThe dynamics of the workplace have changed from employees simply punching a timeclock to this world of “working until the job is done”…regardless of the number of hours it takes.  As employers, we push our employees to give 100% and employees, in turn, have had it burned into their brains that they need to give 110% to keep their employer happy…and keep their job.

Speed is the winner in this game: so employers and employees are constantly trying to stay two steps ahead of the competition from working longer hours to constantly checking their smart phones for new emails even late at night while at home.  The worst offenders are salaried employees who simply just don’t know how to turn their work off when they leave the office.

Let’s look at the statistics on this…

CareerBuilder conducted a recent study and found that:

–         32% of employees take less than a half hour break for lunch

–         5% taken less than 15 minutes

–         One in 10 employees never even takes a lunch break

–         16% actually work right through their lunch break

Add the pressure of the job market still not back to pre-2008 standards and I would even venture to guess that those numbers would be higher depending on the industry or current workload.  So while we may be getting more out of our employees, is it the right thing to do?

Laws on breaks will vary from state to state, but in Illinois: “An Illinois employee who is to work 7 1/2 continuous hours or more shall be provided an unpaid meal period of at least 20 minutes. The meal period must be given to an employee no later than 5 hours after beginning work.”  What is not stipulated is whether or not the employer has to require the employee to take their break…and here is where companies can run into hot water if they aren’t careful.

But aside from taking a “legal” look at this, the more important considerations to take into account is how this is affecting your employees work product and job satisfaction…two things that can cost more in the long run with potential worker’s comp issues, excessive time off, and negative attitudes.  And the last one is the hardest to control in this world of Social Media where a “bad day at the office” can lead to a Twitter posting or Facebook status update putting the company in a bad light.

Getting away from their desk…even for 20min…allows them to detach both physically and mentally from the job, giving their brain just enough time to “reset” itself to tackle the rest of the day.

If its something that occurs once in a while, I wouldn’t concern myself.  But, if you are in an industry where employees are working long hours consistently…make sure they take that break!

“Cough…Cough… I’m Sick” – But Are They Really?

sickWhether its because the weather is just awful outside and they don’t want to leave the house, they are feeling stressed from the job and tell themselves they need a “mental health day” or they truly have personal issues that need to be taken care of but are afraid to reveal to you, absenteeism in the workplace is one of the most disruptive issues managers have to face.
Come down too hard on the employees and the company is viewed as “cold and uncaring.”  Be too lenient and now you run the risk of these “fake” sick days coming up at the most inopportune time.
It is estimated that an absent employee costs an organization 1.75 to 2.5 times his or her daily salary. And about two-thirds of those employees who call in sick at the last minute aren’t really sick. Instead, they’re skipping work to deal with personal or family issues.  If you work in an area that has seasonal peaks in production or sales, this can really throw a wrench into the mix.
But how can you combat the last minute, no-show problem?
Most successful absenteeism programs are grounded in three basic elements: 
1) a clear company policy, 
2) careful documentation of absences and their reasons, and 
3) consistent application/enforcement of that policy.  
I want to put special emphasis on that last element because that is the one the gets most managers in trouble.  The only way to be successful is to apply this (and all other policies) fairly and uniformly.  If you start create “special circumstances” based on an employee’s request, you will now find your other employees wanting the same treatment and expecting their own special circumstances.  Before long – your “absenteeism policy” might as well be thrown out the window!
Your Employees need know the rules they need to follow – especially: how much notice is required, who and how they are to communicate their need for time off to (i.e. Need to notify their immediate supervisor by phone, text or email and NOT just leave a message with a fellow co-worker), and how many days “sick’ before that employee has to bring in a doctor’s note to show they are healthy to return to work without restrictions.
Your Supervisors need know how to handle those who break the rules.  As the HR professional, you need to instruct them on how to document these absences and their reasons….and WHY they need to document them.  Explain to them that when it comes to the point where they want to write up an employee for “excessive absenteeism,” this is the documentation they need to include in order to prove their case…not just a “they take a lot of days off.”  This also is a talking point to bring up during performance appraisals, especially when the employee is trying to negotiate a higher raise…its an area of responsibility that they can control – and they need to be reminded of that.
However – if you begin to notice a pattern of absenteeism, don’t ignore it or simply write it up.  Remember: not every employee will share their personal reasons even with the co-worker they trust the most and it is your job as the HR professional to take notice of these “signs” that there may be more going on and then counsel them to try to find out.  An employee should never feel fearful of honestly telling their employer why they need time off.  All companies over 50 employees, as well as many smaller businesses, have “Leave” policies whether it be FMLA or simply Personal Leave.  Many employees, especially in this market, are so afraid to ask for leave for fear of loosing their job – and sadly, many managers will use this fear to their advantage.  Protect your company and the employee by getting involved to determine the root cause of the situation and educating both sides on what can and can’t be done.  This way – the leave can be planned and work schedules adjusted to accommodate without disrupting production or sales like a last minute call-off would do.
Absenteeism can be controlled…set the rules, enforce them and keep open communication with your employees…and watch things turn around.

Wellness Programs….They Do A Company Good Too!

WellnessIt’s not the latest corporate “fad” or a substitute for performance raises.  Wellness Programs truly are a tool for companies to use to increase productivity among their employees and decrease health care costs…and more should be embracing it!

Baseline Magazine did a recent study with the following facts (and the numbers might surprise you!):   70% of employers are currently offering some sort of Wellness Program

       85% of employers are offering Flu Shots at no cost to their employees

       79.9% of employers pay for employee Health Screenings

       52.5% of employers offer a Weight Management Program

       67.5% of employers offer a Smoking Cessation Program

       58.6% of employers have walking/fitness challenges (including company-sponsored teams for 5K walks and marathons)

       36.4% of employers have an on-site fitness center

So you’re first reaction is going to be: “Sure, the big corporations can afford to spend that kind of money on their employees…not the small businesses.”  Well, hate to break it to you – but you would be wrong.

Will it mean some upfront costs by the employer? Sometimes…

Will the company reap the benefits of this “wellness program” right away? No…but it WILL in time.

The biggest challenge in benefits every year is tackling the always rising insurance costs.  How do we keep them down?  Maybe change insurance companies, maybe raise the deductibles, maybe switch to a lower plan….always a headache coming up with different options to look at just to keep the cost of offering insurance to our employees (regardless of whether the company pays for it or the employee does) at a managing amount.

Insurance companies look at various factors during your renewal and compare them to the “national average” that they have set up: # of office visits, # of urgent care visits, # of ER visits, pharmacy costs, etc.  When employees aren’t taking care of their health, they are visiting the doctor more and getting more prescriptions.  So…if a company helps an employee pay attention to their health, the assumption is the number of visits and costs will go down – hence, keeping your annual renewal from skyrocketing!

Now – back to the “cost to the company” argument: Did you know that many of the insurance carriers are now offering some of these programs FREE to your employees??  That’s right – call them right now and ask.  Health Screenings, Weight Management Programs, Smoking Cessation…yep, that knocks 3 of the 6 off the list.  Flu Shots are generally offered at a discount for groups of 20 or more by local clinics and even the pharmacy chains…some will even come on-site to do them!  By starting these now, by next renewal you will see a drop in visits and claims…which will help your renewal cost.

And of course there’s the “employee morale” angle – especially with the Walk/Run fitness challenges.  There are so many of these that go on in every city, why not get your employees involved – works towards strengthening their teamwork skills and gives them pride.

No more excuses…add a Wellness Program to your company’s portfolio of benefits.

Creative Employee Benefits: Positive or Negative?

perksFor the small businesses that have continued to struggle in order to survive in this market, there has been a focus on providing new and various “benefits” in place of the annual raises that many can’t afford.  They are realizing that many of their employees are either already looking for higher paying positions or soon will be as the job market continues to improve.  Some are looking to extend formerly “management only” perks to all their employees, such as:  flexible hours, telecommuting, additional paid time off, etc.  In most cases, companies have seen higher morale, lower stress levels and better physical health as a result of these slight changes.  But, when does making these new accommodations for employees lean too far?

Managers need to remember that even changes seen as positive need to be fully thought out before being implemented to think of the long-term consequences.  How could these changes turn negative?  Unfortunately, easier than we might first think.

Telecommuting, for example, has become a hot option for many companies to not only save on overhead but to offer to unique work-life balance to their employees.  Who wouldn’t want the option of working from home on a cold winter day?  This is an especially attractive option for employees with young children who can then work babysitting, doctor appointments and sick days around their work schedule.

But now, let’s fast forward 10 years when the employee’s children are now out of school and the benefit of working from home is less of a necessity.  And what if the needs of the company now change and the position requires that they work in the office.  How do you take back the telecommuting agreement?  Now it has become an “expectation” in the eyes of the employee and even an explanation of the required change for the good of the company will still be met with hard feelings.

Many small businesses operate from the “we are a family” standpoint…and “family always helps each other.”  This can lead to quick decisions to keep everyone happy without thought into the long-term affect it will have on the company as a whole.  Employees are coming up with creative options for additional benefits these days as well.  I had one employee ask to sell “gift cards” for her daughter’s high school.  For every gift card bought, a certain percentage of the profits would be applied to her daughter’s tuition.  Her manager saw this as an easy decision – wanting to make it part of her “compensation package” without any idea of how that would be tracked or managed.  His only argument, “She has been a long-term employee and we want to keep her happy.  This doesn’t cost us at all.”  What he didn’t take into account was how it would be viewed by the other employees.  Word of this “simple benefit” spread quickly throughout her department and took less than an hour for the complaints to start coming in about how unfair it was to the others than she was the only one getting this.

Creativity and change is necessary in today’s ever-changing economy and employment market.  There is greater pressure on companies to adopt more worker-friendly policies and new benefits to retain their skilled employees.  Build employee satisfaction and it will increase loyalty while decreasing turnover.  The key to remember is that we still have to think long-term while we are coming up with creative short-term solutions.  Start accommodating a select few or making too many “exceptions” will create more problems than the company is trying to solve.

Unlimited Vacation Time: Newest Perk?

140924165427-couple-vacation-620xaOne of the hardest things for a HR professional to track is vacation time, especially when it comes to salaried employees.  There’s always the argument that because salaried employees aren’t require to track their working time that we can’t really track their vacation time…so why do we “award” them a specific block of vacation time from year to year.  When do we list a day as a “vacation day?”

The whole idea behind a person being labeled a “salary employee” (aside from the legal testing of the definition) is because these are individuals that a company needs to be able to depend on outside of the regular 9 to 5 grind.  We need them to be available for emergency phone call after hours or adjusting their schedule to be available to a client in a different time zone.  They don’t simply stop working because the physical office has closed for the day.  We know if we send them an email at 8pm regarding an issue that they will likely read it and respond right away rather than waiting until the next day during “normal business hours.”

A survey from 2008 showed that the average salaried employee works 54 hours a week.  In some industries, this may be a consistent number from week to week.  In others that are more seasonal, these hours may peak higher in certain months and drop considerably in the “slow season.”  Then there are the employees who travel to other cities as part of their job – leaving or returning on the weekend.  All these extra hours without extra time off as compensation.  A true fail in the “work/life” balance that many companies strive to provide for their employees.

Companies have traditionally compensated employees with higher salaries, but the state of the market since 2008 has caused most companies to lower starting salaries or skip annual raises to help keep the company afloat…while still requiring the same (if not more) amount of hours to be put in by salaried employees.  How do companies compensate salaried employees when additional monies aren’t an option?  How about unlimited vacation time?

We expect salaried employees to balance their work loads without the restraints of punching a clock.  While hourly employees are expected to put in their 40 hours a week, salaried employees actually have leeway and control over their schedules.  If I can complete a job in 30 hours that week, then I have managed my time and completed my job…no expectation that I have to complete 40 hours – just that I complete my task.  However, if it takes me 50 hours to complete my job that week, then the company views it as I am doing what I need to do to accomplish my job.  There is no “take an extra day off” to compensate.  The next week just starts all over again.

Unlimited vacation time seems to be a concept being explored by some companies as an option to the traditional compensation package and can be a benefit in the recruiting process.  If you are hired as a salaried employee, then we expect you to work the number of hours needed to complete your task.  That includes being able to take time off whenever you want without tracking how much time you take off.  You manage your time.  As long as your job is complete, you can leave early or take time off whenever you want.

So – positives and negatives…

Positives: Employees will enjoy this new “perk” – not being limited to a certain number of weeks off per year.  The additional time off they will be able to now take will also aid in reducing work-related stress from constant long hours and boost employee morale as they will now see themselves being treated as a valuable asset by their employer and no longer being taken for granted.  Employers will no longer have to have a discussion between HR and management as to which days count as a vacation day and which days are considered working “off-site” or available by phone/email.

Negatives: Without proper oversight by management, some employees may abuse this new option and take excessive amounts of days off – eventually leading to a decline in performance.  There is also the perception this new perk will have on the hourly employees – who won’t see that these individuals are working more than the standard 40 hours for the same amount of pay.  All they will see is these individuals getting more vacation time than them.

Unlimited vacation time may have been a perk reserved for only top executives, but I think we are going to see more and more companies exploring this idea as they look for creative ways to reward their employees and become more competitive as the market improves in the coming months.

Do I agree with it?  Honestly, I’m still on the fence about it.  I think companies will see a more positive attitude and improved performance come out of salaried employees as a result but I worry about the impact it will have on the day-to-day running of a company.  Even if “they are still available by phone or email,” too much time away will reclassify a position to more of a “telecommuting” job and can negatively impact a company on many levels: availability to the customer, subordinate employees and even management.

This new employment market has already caused many companies to review their recruiting and employee benefits packages.  As the market stabilizes and companies begin to hire more employees again, this will definitely be a benefit that can sway a candidate to join.

Question now is: As a company, do you set the new standard or follow the pack after the fact?

Yes, Your Company Needs a “Snow Day Policy”

snowday1Growing up in Chicago, I have seen my share of blizzards.  Just last night we had one that dropped 20 inches on the city, making it the 5th largest snowfall to date.  Other areas have seen their share this season as well, especially those on the East Coast.  Are we “equipped” to deal with such storms?  Sure, we know its coming and so we prepare for it best we can but that doesn’t make the conditions any less dangerous.

Kids wait like vultures waiting to pounce on the announcement that school will be closed the next day…don’t you think your employees wish they could get a “snow day” when storms like this hit?

If you stop to think about it, even as managers these things will run through your head:

1) Will I be able to get my car out? (Yes, even if you have a garage this question is common)

2) Will the streets be plowed?  And if they are, will they be safe or icy?

3) How much time to I need to give myself now to still try to make it to work on time?

4) What do I do with the kids if they get the day off?

5) Will there even be any customers today?

Etc…

Aren’t there times when even you wonder if it makes sense to come into work that day?  And yet, we still push our employees to do so.  Sometimes even using guilt: “Do you know how many people don’t have the choice to call off on a ‘snow day’? You think cops and firemen get the day off?”

Is it possible for everyone to push to get themselves to work regardless of the weather? Yes.

Does it make sense for an employer to require them to do this? No, not always

…And here’s where we get into the reason why your workplace should consider a “Snow Day Policy” if you don’t already have one.

First – Safety

This means yours as well as your employees.    Watch weather reports – listen to traffic reports.  If you are hearing about numerous accidents starting and major streets or even highways being shut down, that is Mother Nature holding a big sign saying “STAY PUT.”  Even public transportation will run into service problems in this weather – buses can be delayed and trains can even stop running…but thinking they HAVE to get to work, the employee will try to find some way to get there.

People think they are protected being in vehicles.  Some forget to use caution when turning or even observing the speed limit.  Why?  Some of it is pure ignorance to the danger….but some is the pressure they put on themselves because they think their employer will hold it against them if they are late or don’t come in.  As an employer, how would you feel hearing your employee was in an accident while attempting to get to work under these conditions because you told them they had to or – worse – didn’t tell them to stay at home for the day.

Emergency vehicles cannot respond as quickly under these conditions so even if you car ends up in a ditch or just stalled on the side of the road, you could be waiting for hours for help.  If the vehicle isn’t running or – guess what – runs out of gas, now you are stranded with no heat…and even sitting inside a vehicle in certain temperatures can put you at risk for frostbite.

Second – Productivity

Let’s be honest…if only a skeleton of a crew can get into work that day, how much work will really get done?  And what if the employees that did make it into work that day, spent the morning shoveling – don’t you think they will be physically wiped-out…which can then translate to mentality wiped-out as all the things they need to do when they get home to finish dealing with the storm fill their head.  They will probably want to leave early in order to get those things done so that things can return to “normal” the next day.

Third – Cost

When an employer thinks “Snow Day,” they probably think of two things: 1) how much money am I loosing in production and/or sales if we close for the day? and 2) will the employees expect to be paid for this time away?  Both become factors is why most companies opt NOT to close for a Snow Day.

If you are worried about loosing money if you close for the day, how about thinking about how much it will cost you to stay open on a day like that?  For businesses that focus more on production – your output won’t be at the same levels with a minimal staff however your overhead costs to be open won’t change.  You will still have to run electricity and will probably have to run the heat even higher to offset the absence of bodies that would normally fill up the empty space.   So, in a way, it is costing you more money to be open.

If you are worried about loosing sales, think about this: are your customers going out in this weather?  More than likely, they are also sticking close to home and avoiding driving.  Even if you operate more on telephone sales, your clientele will probably be too busy with kids, shoveling, etc. to be calling to inquire about your services.  Scaling back on staff or even closing your doors for the day won’t have as huge an impact to your profits as you may initially think.

And last but not least – Employee Morale

The days of the “loyal” employee who did anything to make the company happy are long gone.  Today’s employees want to feel appreciated by their employer.  Showing that you care about their safety and well-being, with something as simple as a Snow Day, will go a long way to building morale in the workplace.  It is one of those things that your employees will brag about to their family and friends – how their company “actually cares.”  When employees feel appreciated, they naturally do more to help the company and go that extra mile without you having to ask or motivate them further.  Don’t you want more of that?

Options for setting-up a Snow Day policy

There are two ways you can set up your Snow Day policy – paid or unpaid.

1) Paid = Don’t be afraid that if you decide to set up a Snow Day policy to allow the day to be paid by the company that employees will “expect” an extra paid day or two every year even if weather doesn’t demand it.

Simply state in your policy that: Upper Management will determine the night before or morning of whether or not weather is severe enough to warrant shutting down for the day.  If it is decided that the company will close for the day, all non-exempt employees will be paid their full shift for the day and those hours will not count towards overtime for the week – same as with vacation or holidays.  If it is decided that the company will open, all employees will be excused for late arrivals but non-exempt employees will not paid for missed time.

You will need to determine who will be the decision maker and what method of communication will be used to notify the employees (i.e. email or phone trees).

2) Non-Paid = Yes, you still can show your employees that you care without attaching a paid day to it.
For non-exempt employees, let them know that you will allow them to work extra hours on the remaining days in the week to bring their weekly total to 40 hours.  With so many employees living paycheck to paycheck, the loss of a day’s pay can scare many of them into finding a way into work so giving them the option to make up the hours removes that fear and keeps them home safe for the day.

For exempt employees, let them know you are fine with them working from home.   They can still check emails, make calls and work on projects without coming into the office.  Tell them you will treat it like a normal work day and expect them to be available by phone or email during the normal business hours.

Don’t be Ebenezer Scrooge!

Little things like a Snow Day for your employees can change the attitude of your employees and help you in attracting new talent for your company.  Your consumers will notice it too.   When you look at how much your company can gain from something so simple, the costs that might be associated with allowing a Snow Day for your employees should be a non –issue.