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.

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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.

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.

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.

Bring Back The Pink Slips!

Back in the days of the Personnel Department, the “pink slip” was a notice included with the employee’s paycheck notifying them that their employment had ended, either by termination or layoff.  No one knows when this practice came into being, or how it was even labeled with the color pink.  Even Peter Liebhold, a curator at the National Museum of American History, spent ten years searching for literal evidence of the pink slip as a firing device and came up empty.  But regardless of who or how it started, it became a common-place term that many employees knew of and feared.

Should we literally bring back a pink piece of paper that says “You’re Fired” as a method to separate or terminate employees?  No…but we should do something similar for much better reasons.

In some states, such as California, there are laws in place that require an employer to give their workers a written explanation for their termination when they are being informed.   The employee is clearly told the violation or reason behind the company’s decision so there is no “speculation” or “ulterior motives” as to why the employee was separated from the company.  The assumption is that the written explanation includes concrete reasons, including facts and dates, to clearly support management’s decision.

But, what about those states that are “At Will” and technically don’t require notice to terminate an employee or provide a reason?  You are not as protected as you think.  Remember, if the employee believes that they were unjustly terminated, discriminated against or their firing was a form of retaliation from their manager, they will have ground to file not only an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint but also a lawsuit for unlawful termination.

Some employers fear giving a written explanation for termination of employment.  They worry that somehow the employee will find a way to use it against them so they feel its easier – and safer – to simply cut ties and leave it at that.  Except, sometimes it doesn’t end that easily.

So, why “bring back the pink slip?”

Bottom line: You are creating a final piece of documentation that will be valuable if you have argue why a termination should be help both in court and with unemployment (if terminated for cause).

The best reason, however, is it serves as a final “catch” for management and HR to ensure that the process was handled correctly and legally.  Think about it – How many managers have terminated employees in the heat of the moment?  At that point, words are exchanged – words that can later be used against the company.  Add to that, if the employee had never been previously counseled or reprimanded but the manager simply let his frustrations build up and explode, then unemployment (and the courts) will argue that the company didn’t do enough to address or correct the employee’s performance problems.  All of which will work AGAINST the employer…even if overall it was the right and financially responsible action to take.

Before you do anything!…Have a sit down discussion with the Supervisor and review all documentation in the employee’s file.  If the employee has never had a performance issues and now suddenly the supervisor wants to terminate, you are going to have quite the uphill battle in defending your decision in court.  Claims of “retaliation” or “personality conflict” may be raised in that case leaving the courts to side with the employee.

If you feel you have a strong enough case and all signs point to terminating the employee, then put together a Letter of Termination (or Termination Notice) to present to the employee when you are letting them go.

What do you include in the Termination Notice?

  • You want a clear statement stating the reason why the employee was terminated. Don’t beat around the bush or try to appear vague thinking that will protect the company.

Take a look at your Employee Handbook.  What are some of the reasons cited as to why an employee can be terminated?

For example: Excessive tardiness or absence, Neglect/misuse of company property, Intentional violation of safety rules, Excessive personal use of phones, Taking extended breaks, Intentional violation of policy, Use of abusive language, Drug or alcohol use on the job, Substandard work or performance, Insubordination or refusing to follow orders, Conduct which disrupts business activities, Harassment of fellow employees/customers/suppliers, Deliberate injury to another person, Conviction of a crime. 

  • List previous disciplinary actions or verbal discussions that were held with the employee. You want to remind them the steps the company took to work with them to correct the problem…and word it in that manner when you cite the information:

“We have previously attempted to address and work to correct this issue in the past….(list dates)”

  • List any benefits or pay information still due to the employee:
  1. If you are paying them any severance or unused vacation time, make sure you note it here.
  2. Let them know when their final paycheck will be processed (next payroll date) and how they will receive their check (mailed or they can pick it up).
  3. Let them know when their health benefits will expire (immediately or end of month) and what options they have to enroll in COBRA.
  4. And finally, give them information on how to withdraw or rollover any 401k money they have.

Times have changed and employees are more informed of their rights.  Your best defense – is a strong offense…and that means taking the time to make sure you have a process in place to protect the company.  No one likes to terminate an employee, but there will be times that it becomes inevitable.  Thinking proactively will help eliminate potential employee issues after the fact, so if your company isn’t already doing so – revisit your termination procedure and see how adding this can benefit you in the long run.

Onboarding New Employees: Doesn’t Stop Their First Day of Work

After weeks or months are trying to find the “perfect candidate,” you finally hired that new employee!  On Day 1: they came in, did their paperwork and you whisked them off to their new department to become familiar with their new position and new employees.

Your job is done, right?  Sure, if all you wanted to do was fill a position.

But, don’t you want to keep this new employee past their 90 days – 6 months – even their 1st year anniversary?  Then you have to make a plan to follow up with that new employee directly from time to time during those first 6 months.

Cold Reality

Regardless of how experienced or knowledgeable your new employee is, there is still a “hesitation”…or let’s flat out call it a “fear”…that comes with starting a new venture.  New people to meet, get to know and build relationships with.  New systems to learn because, let’s face it, even if each company uses the same software program (that you made sure they had experience with during the interview process) there will still be little “tweaks” or processes that your company will use that their last company may not have.

For most, the first 30 days on the job is not just learning the job – but learning how the company wants you to do your job.

If you rely on only asking their new Supervisor how things are working out, you are only getting half of the story – or only what they want you to know.  Personality conflicts are the biggest issue that comes up during that initial 30 days.  The employee comes in trying to fit in and make an impression…but how that comes across to their co-workers and supervisor may not be the same.  Then, you also have the reality that the Supervisor will also be “making an impression” so the new employee understands they are in charge…and not all supervisors know how to integrate a new employee into their department, especially if they have always had the same crew or are relatively new to the role themselves.

Benefits of Checking In

Whenever you hire a new employee, there has been a huge cost attached to the process. Its more than just the money you paid to “run an ad” or hire an outside recruiter.  Keep in mind the time HR and the Hiring Manager(s) spent interviewing candidates, on-boarding the new hire with all their paperwork (usually takes a couple of hours that you are paying them for but not having them produce anything for the company), conducting any training that’s needed both on Day 1 and ongoing (if the Hiring Manager or other employees are involved in the training, take into account the cost of taking them away from their daily duties to complete the training), and of course the cost of the benefit package itself that you offer.  Every company will have their own “cost calculation” for every new hire, but a good target figure is about 30% of the employee’s annual salary – to be conservative.

New employees are typically hired to fulfill two needs: 1) fill a position that has been vacant and considered critical, and 2) bring a fresh perspective with new ideas to help grow or expand the company in the long run.  Let’s face it: a second set of eyes on any project is always beneficial to see the potential possibilities – good or bad – and even better when its from someone who isn’t set in the same routine to approach things from the same angle.  But, until that trust is established between the new employee and his new supervisor, that free exchange of ideas probably won’t happen.  By sitting down with your new employee within their first 30 days to just “check in,” you are helping them find that comfort zone to share their ideas and feedback.  Wait too long after their are hired, especially if they are feeling a bit uneasy about fitting in, and you run the risk of them deciding not to share anything and just carry out their job.

How To Follow Up With New Employees
There is no long, drawn out, “formal” process that you have to use so don’t make it harder than it needs to be!  Best way to follow up is to just simply make some time to talk to them.

If you are looking for a process so as to not ruffle feathers, consider this:

1) Schedule a meeting or phone call with the Supervisor to do a “check in” of how the employee is doing so far.  This is your chance to get their point of view before approaching the new employee and also finding out if there are any ideas that you can help correct by proposing a “plan of improvement” before the performance continues to decline or the Supervisor later tells you “they aren’t working out.”

2) Have an “informal meeting” with the employee.  Try to avoid having an actual scheduled, sit-down meeting with the new employee so that it doesn’t come across as some sort of corrective action.  Simply, stop by their department and ask them “how’s it going?”  From there, if questions, concerns or issues are brought up, you can opt to move to a more private area or suggest coming to your office to discuss further.  Even if the Supervisor has indicated that there is already a performance issue to address, start out with an informal discussion.  Remember: if the employee feels they are under the microscope or going to be reprimanded, their defenses go up.  You want to establish that open discussion first so they are comfortable to share before moving it into anything more serious.

3) Schedule a formal review for the new employee with HR and the Supervisor present and do this before the first 30 days is up.  Why? Because most habits only take 20-30 days to firm up so any bad habits you want to get on the table and talk about right away.  But keep in mind – even bad habits may not be intentional.  Remember to approach the new employee (and any employee for that matter) from the viewpoint of “informing” them of the habit, not automatically reprimanding them.  They may not realize what they are doing or how it is coming across.  It also helps the Supervisor to come to a position of “counseling” the employee rather than scolding so that they continue to build a relationship of honesty and trust with the employee.

4) Keep in touch with the employee periodically during the next 6 months.  Even if your company doesn’t have a formal performance review process in place or only does it once a year, make it a habit of just taking a day to “walk the department” and talk to the employees.  This lets your employees know that your “door is always open” and that you welcome feedback and discussions that will help make their jobs easier to carry out.  Its that “Open Door Policy” that everyone talks about but very few take the extra steps to make sure the employees know you mean it.

Your basic goal in hiring any new employee is to make sure that they make it to their first full year with the company.  Retaining an employee after their first year is much easier than during the first year, so a little extra TLC is required.  But its that extra TLC that will go a long way to retaining those top candidates you attracted to the company and creating a culture that will more easily attract new candidates in the future.

Remember word of mouth! That new employee will tell his/her friends, who will tell their friends, and so on and so on…