« April 2007 | Main | June 2007 »

May 25, 2007

Get ready for June: National Safety Month

The month of June has been named "National Safety Month" by the National Safety Council, which has been dedicating the month to safety-focused themes for the past decade. This year, the designated theme is "Celebrating Safe Communities."

"Workplace injuries are on the decline, but the number of unintentional injuries incurred off-the-job continues to rise. Since a person inhabits many different communities throughout the day—work, home and every stop in-between—the National Safety Council encourages businesses and individuals to take advantage of the safety education we provide, and reduce the risk of unintentional injury and death in everyday life."

NSC has broken the month into Weekly themes covering different aspects of safety

  • June 4-8: Workplace safety
  • June 11-15: Driving safety
  • June 18-22: Emergency Preparedness
  • June 25-29: Safety in the Home and Community

For each week, NSC has compiled an array of tools, including safety tips, posters, multimedia, and activities.

The Home Safety Council also commemorates the month, and provides tools and information for work and home. These include a HR Manager's Guide to Implementing a Hands on Home Safety Campaign. HSC states that its research shows that that home injuries can cost employers up to $38 billion in a single year.

Other wellness observances for June:
June 3: National Cancer Survivors Day
June 3-9: Sun Safety Week
June 11-17: National Men's Health Week
June 1 - July 4: Fireworks Safety Month

May 23, 2007

HR tools and useful business bookmarks

Are you protected? Online security
Identity theft is a growing problem for individuals and organizations. Passwords are one of the most fundamental online security measures, yet most people are fairly careless in creating a password, opting for convenience and memorability over security. If you want to be really scared, check to see how quickly a password can be breached by a determined cracker when it is just a combination of letters and numbers. Then try this password checker to test the strength of your favorite passwords. So just how do you create a password that is secure enough to foil the evil-doers, but simple enough to remember? Here's a simple tutorial that teaches you how to create and use strong passwords - useful information that would be well worth sharing with your staff in the next company newsletter.

Enhance your employee communications
Trying to come up with some ways to dress up a report or to present a complex concept to employees in your next presentation? This periodic table of visualization might be a good idea generator. This clever tool categorizes various types of graphical representations and suggests ways they might be used. Simply let the page load, and hover over any of the elements.

Once you've determined the way you'd like to present your information, use this list of nifty tools for drawing diagrams, charts and flow-charts. And a site called "Brainy Betty" has free PowerPoint templates and backgrounds, as well as a variety of tutorials, tips, and tricks to help you create better presentations.

Regulatory compliance

  • The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Overtime Calculator Advisor - this calculator will help you determine the correct payment of overtime, under federal law. Remember to check with state law, too. (thanks to Jill Pugh of Employment Law Blog)
  • U.S. Department of Labor State Workers' Compensation Laws - state by state comparisons of various benefits and regulatory provisions, such as the waiting period and which states are employee or employer physician choice.
  • IRS guidelines for determining whether a worker is a contractor or an employee for tax purposes. Check with your state law on this matter, too.

Increase your productivity
There's been a delightful profusion of productivity sites cropping up over the last few years, many of them geared to discussing ways to use online tools to simplify and organize your personal and professional life. Lifehacker.com is a blog that focuses on harnessing technology to enhance your productivity. We love the philosophy: "Don't live to geek; geek to live." Not to be confused with lifehack.org, a blog dedicated to lifehacks or "... any hacks, tips and tricks that get things done quickly by automating, increase productivity and organizing."

Can't get enough productivity tools? This list compiles the top 50 productivity blogs (most of which you haven't heard about). It's a great list - the only downside is that if you check them all out, there goes your productivity for today ... but think of it as an investment in your future.

May 18, 2007

Best practices for terminations and firings

A few months ago when the story of Radio Shack employees being fired by e-mail first surfaced, our CEO Jim Walter suggested best practices when someone is being terminated. We've noted that lately, a lot of people reach this blog searching on "terminations" or phrases related to "firing." We're not sure if this interest is a seasonal spike or simply a matter of perennial concern. Years ago, being terminated from a company was an unusual occurrence, a black mark on your resume. Today, it's the norm—it's hard to find a person who hasn't either been touched directly or been affected by a family member's termination. But even when terminations affect thousands at a time, each human drama is a very personal one, encompassing the terminated employee and that person's family and friends.

While the after effects of a termination for an employee can be devastating, at least the stigma to the reputation may not be as heavy a burden for the employee today as it was in the past. The same may not always hold true for the firing organization. Terminations used to primarily be hush-hush one-off affairs and now they are frequently mass events reverberating over the mainstream media and in every little nook and cranny of the Internet. While mass layoffs can be popular on Wall Street, on Main Street where public sentiment reigns, they aren't always received quite as well. The damage that a botched termination or layoff can do to a company's reputation can be incalculable. Not to mention the inevitable lawsuits, which are becoming so pervasive that many employers are nervous about terminating employees even in cases where firings are warranted.

Best practice tips from the experts
While never a happy event, Human Resource managers can play a pivotal role in keeping a bad situation from turning worse. To help this task, we offer some best practice words of advice from experts.

Robert Cenek of The Cenek Report has been around the HR block and back a few times, having worked in management at some very large corporations. This week on his blog, he suggests that "...if an employer is careful, forthright and professional with an employee during the separation process, the odds of an amicable separation are much higher. While the Golden Rule is a good starting point, there are other actions that employers should take to avoid the most common miscues in employee terminations."

And from the legal front, we recommend attorney Jill Pugh's list of 10 Things to Keep In Mind When You Have to Fire an Employee. Jill, who writes the blog Employee Handbook, suggests that you act decisively when you have reached the conclusion you must terminate an employee—too many employers put it off until a crisis forces them to act on impulse.

In addition to this excellent advice above, we reiterate our own best practice suggestions that we've gleaned from dealing with both HR managers who must do the firing and the terminated employees themselves:

  1. Schedule the termination meeting early in the day, and during the week; avoid terminating employees right before a holiday or a weekend.
  2. Have all paperwork ready. The final paycheck and all severance and benefit information need to be delivered at the termination meeting.
  3. The employee's manager and a representative from HR should attend so that you are able to cover all issues and questions.
  4. Be brief. Be compassionate. Allow the employee to vent his or her feelings, but do not engage in a negotiation or argument. Plan in advance what you are going to say and choose your words carefully.
  5. Extend every reasonable courtesy to the employee. Give the person an opportunity to say goodbye to coworkers. Should the employee become angry or abusive, don't get upset, simply escort the worker from the building.
  6. After all questions are answered and all paperwork completed, wish the person well and help them assemble their belongings and leave.

Some anger after a termination is to be expected, but if you take every step to treat people honestly, fairly, and with dignity, you can minimize the potential for litigation and limit damage to your organization's reputation as an employer.

May 16, 2007

Wearing diapers in casinos - a sure sign of a gambling problem!

Diaper wearing adults may be the year's most obvious warning signs of deep-seated personal problems. First we saw diaper wearing on the part of Lisa Marie Nowak. It was difficult for an amazed public not to get caught up in the humor provoked by the absurdity of the situation, but those of us who work with troubled people saw the raw and painful reality of a troubled employee.

We thought that would likely be the year's only story involving diapers and troubled people, but thanks to the wonders of the Internet, we once again find diapers and problems converging. This time, diaper-wearing is an indicator of gambling problems.

The story came to light when Professor Tim Pelton of the University of Victoria's Centres for Addiction Research was conducting a study with casino staff to assess the extent of the youth gambling problem. In the course of this research, a troubling theme emerged:

The survey of casino workers found many workers polled said they regularly see problem gambling up close, including people wearing diapers so they don't have to leave the machines to use the washroom.

Could this be true? Apparently at least one company is marketing an Adult Incontinence Reusable Cloth Diaper (warning: photos of adults in diapers) as being "perfect for ... Gamblers all night in the casino."

This marketing ploy troubles Professor Pelton, and we are with him on that one. In our experience, gambling is right up there with any of the other highly damaging addictions that we see, causing untold harm to the addict and the addict's family and close friends. Yet compulsive or pathological gambling (and we would lump diaper-wearing gamblers in that category) is often called "the hidden addiction."

The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery offers excellent information and resources on gambling addiction, including a list of warning signs to help identify problem gambling in the workplace:

  • Excessive use of telephones (to call bookmakers, stockbrokers or to obtain credit)
  • Taking the company vehicle to the race track, card room, casino, etc. (parking tickets near gambling locations are a "red flag")
  • Absences from work, often for part of the day (typically after lunch)
  • Arriving late for work (related to all-night card games, casino trips, anxiety-related sleep disturbances)
  • Vacation days taken on isolated days rather than in weeks (or vacations taken to gambling locations on a regular basis)
  • Sick days taken immediately or ahead of time
  • Failure to take days off (obsessed with getting money to pay gambling debts or afraid to take a day off because of a fear that embezzlement or fraud will be discovered in their absence)
  • Changes in productivity (which seem to be related to mood swings)
  • Organizing office pools and gambling junkets
  • Borrowing money from co-workers or arguing with co-workers over failure to pay debts
  • Embezzlement, defrauding customers or engaging in employee theft for resale

As with any other addiction, HR managers and supervisors don't have to diagnose or treat the problems, merely to be aware of early problem indicators as evidenced by performance and behaviors. Suspected addictions should be referred to EAPs or other qualified help resources.

Additional resources:
National Council on Problem Gambling
Gambler's Anonymous
Wikipedia on Problem Gambling

May 11, 2007

Friday fun: bad bosses on film

Employment law Hollywood style—Take the Labor Law in the Movies Trivia Quiz. There are ten questions about films that featured employment law issues. Here's a sample question:

In the 1980 film, 9 to 5, sexual harassment and sex based discrimination were the normal operating procedure. Name the trio who kidnapped their boss. Extra points if you can name his character and the actor who portrayed him.

Answers can be found here —scroll down the page about half way.

And while we're at the movies—Here are some nominees for Worst On-Screen Bosses Ever. And here are 10 more movie bosses—which one do you work for?

TV bosses aren't much better—You don't need to go out to the cinema to find bad bosses—just flip on the TV. Here's a list from John Challenger about the top tyrants on TV. Take the TV Bosses from Hell poll to vote for the boss you would least like to work for. Surprisingly, the Pointy Haired Boss didn't make either list.

And from the "bad bosses in real life" file—This British company is our nomination for bad employer of the week. That's a pretty cold way to deliver hot news.

And since we mentioned the law—If bad bosses or shoddy employment practices force you to seek legal assistance, this little ditty will explain a lot about what you can expect from your attorneys. (YouTube and sound alert.)

May 8, 2007

Study points to mental health issues as leading cost and absence drivers

According to a recent survey of HR professionals and senior managers, mental illness is "the leading cause of indirect costs associated with lost work time." And although both the prevalence and cost of mental health issues in the workplace are viewed as problematic, employers are not effectively grappling with the problem.

The study, "Innerworkings: A Look at Mental Health in Today's Workplace," was conducted by Employee Benefit News in conjunction with The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health and AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP. The study encompassed more than 500 HR-benefits professionals and senior executives representing more than 50 business segments from across the country.
This study reveals that mental illness is exacting a high economic toll in the workplace:

HR-benefits directors say mental illness has far more impact on the indirect costs associated with lost productivity and absenteeism than physical problems. Nearly one-third of the survey respondents (31%) believe mental illness has the greatest adverse impact - more than twice the number who blamed back problems (14%) and three times the number identifying substance abuse, asthma/allergies and smoking as the culprits.
Their rankings are supported by other studies showing the cost of mental illness in the workplace. For example, a 2006 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that a worker with depression averaged 27.2 lost workdays annually due to absence or poor functioning on the job, and an employee with bipolar disorder averaged 65.5 days.

The good news: many benefits in place
HR managers and employers report that the availability of benefits designed to address mental health issues is high: 90% of the respondents cite mental health insurance coverage, 76% cite employee assistance program (EAP) availability, and 63% have return to work programs for disabled workers.

The bad news: benefits are not fully utilized
Despite treatment availability, respondents point to low utilization, citing a variety of factors. Common employee factors hindering utilization are lack of awareness of available help and the stigma and shame associated with mental health issues. In addition, respondents indicated that managers and supervisors may be part of the problem because they often fail to encourage benefit utilization. Fewer than 25% of respondents felt that managers understand the scope of the problems that mental health issues pose, and only 15% of the respondents had training to help managers recognize problems and point employees to help.

This study mirrors much of what we see in treating troubled employees. We strongly believe that line managers are often pivotal in spotting at-risk employees early and directing workers to help before problems are exacerbated. But because good training is often unavailable, supervisors and managers are often ill-equipped to identify and address problems effectively. Particularly when issues appear to be related to non-work matters, supervisors can be reluctant to address problems, either because they don't know how to or because they think it is not their business. Therefore, problems are often ignored until they rise to the level of a crisis. Yet our experience and numerous studies show that early intervention can help to effectively resolve problems. Supervisors should know that they do not need to (and should not) attempt to diagnose or treat personal or psychological problems, but should understand the importance of identifying employees who may be at risk and referring these employees on to HR managers and the benefit programs that can provide help or treatment.

Liberty Mutual recently studied mental health disability claims and issued recommendations for best practices for managing claims involving psychological issues. These include:

  • Quickly involve the experts
  • Know what's happening at work
  • Make sure physicians communicate
  • Manage the condition

The cited article discusses each of these practices in greater depth, and states that employers implementing these practices have cut the number of disability claims related to psychological issues by as much as 10 percent.

May 4, 2007

May wellness observances

Wellness programs not only improve worker health, a recent article in the North Carolina Medical Journal by productivity experts shows that wellness programs can have a positive effect on the bottom line, too. May is a busy month for health awareness observances - we've linked several resources to give your wellness communications for the month a jump start.

Arthritis Month - The Arthritis Foundation reminds us that walking can be a first step into better fitness and less pain from arthritis. Check out the available resources and find local activities.

Better Hearing and Speech Month - resources from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

Healthy Vision Month - this is a national health observance that has a special emphasis on reducing visual impairment due to glaucoma. An estimated 2.2 million Americans have been diagnosed with primary open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the disease. An additional 2 million Americans have glaucoma and don't even know it. Tie in with Ultraviolet (UV) Awareness Month.

High Blood Pressure Education Month - this marks the kickoff for a yearlong awareness campaign focusing on "Adherence to Treatment." The site has an array of tools, including drop-in newsletter articles.

Melanoma - Skin Cancer Detection & Prevention Month - Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, and melanoma is the most serious of all skin cancer types. Although it only accounts for about 3% of skin cancer cases, it causes most skin cancer deaths. The University of Tennessee's Md Anderson Cancer Center has some excellent information and resources.

National Physical Fitness and Sports Month - according to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, which has been sponsoring this month since 1983, "Adults need at least 30 minutes of activity 5 days each week. Children need at least 60 minutes of active play daily." Get some ideas for activities at this site. Tie in with Bike to Work days because May is also Bike Month or National Running & Fitness Week, the third week of the month.

Women's national Health Week - May 13, 2007, and will be celebrated until May 19, 2007. National Women's Check-up Day will be Monday, May 14, 2007.

Other important observances
Lyme Disease Awareness Month
Mental Health Month
North American Occupational Safety & Health Week - May 6 - May 12
Stroke Awareness Month
World No Tobacco Day - May 31

May 2, 2007

Legislation and lawsuits: paid family leave, bullying, OWBPA, and bias suits

Paid family leave - Brent Hunsberger of At Work blogs about how Washington is poised to become the second state to enact paid family leave, following California's lead. A bill which passed the legislature is expected to be signed by Governor Chris Gregoire. The bill, which would go into effect in 2009, would provide workers with $250 a week for five weeks when they take leave to care for a child. Unlike California's act, the bill does not extend any pay for workers caring for an ill family member. He notes that similar legislation is under consideration in Oregon.

More on workplace bullying - Following last week's post on workplace bullying, we were interested to see an article in Human Resource Executive Online about state level legislative efforts to combat workplace bullying. The Healthy Workplace Act would give victims of bullying the right to sue for damages for psychological harassment. It has been introduced in 12 states: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington. According to the bill's author, "There are built-in defenses for employers. ... [They] can avoid litigation by showing they acted responsibly."

Older Workers Benefits Protection Act - Lou Michaels of Suits in the Workplace discusses a judgment against Guidant Corporation related to Older Workers Benefits Protection Act waivers, which he says are now a part of virtually every severance agreement involving reductions in force or mass layoffs. This appeared to be a case of "too much information." According to Michaels:

"The short lesson in this case is that an employer is asking for it when it creates a disclosure document pursuant to an OWBPA waiver that looks like it is designed to intimidate people from actually assessing the impact of a layoff . Courts are sensitive to the fact that individual employees do not have the time, wherewithal or, in many cases, the focus, to breakdown 8800 separate job titles, calculate their ages, and then compare and contrast that information with more than 700 additional entries to figure out the impact of a lay-off. Guidant management designed something that looked like it was going to be too difficult to analyze and the court called them on it."

Age bias suits - Workplace Prof Blog points us to an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on baby boomer age bias suits. While federal statistics actually point to a drop in such suits, the article points out that these figures don't include lawsuits in state courts, retaliation suits, and matters resolved before reaching court. Some states, such as Missouri, have reported an increase in such claims. The article discusses a few prominent class action suits, but states that the bulk of such suits tend to be filed by individuals who have certain situational commonalities: "These plaintiffs tend to have several things in common: They've worked for one employer for many years, have been stellar performers and were fired after new managers had taken over."

New York bias judgment - Michael Fox of Jottings by an Employer's Lawyer reports on a $4 million bias suit in New York. The aggrieved employee was a female bank manager who was passed over for a promotion to the position of treasurer, even though she had filled the role on an interim basis. After then having been relegated to mostly administrative duties, she filed a discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. She was subsequently terminated. Fox notes that it is unclear from the article whether her suit was for discrimination, retaliation, or both.

eXTReMe Tracker