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September 29, 2008

When politics comes to work

Some call it silly season: the 4 to 6 weeks before the national election. In reality, there is nothing silly about it, beyond perhaps some of the candidates' campaigning behavior. Decisions in the upcoming election are of utmost importance, particularly as the nation faces serious issues such as the economy and the Iraq war. The stakes are high.

People can be very passionate about political issues and their candidates and there are many other underlying hot-buttons, such as abortion, gay rights, and religion, to name but a few. Add to that the fact that with a minority, a woman, and a senior citizen running for the highest offices, there's something to potentially offend everyone in the way the candidates are discussed. A conversation that starts with a little good-natured ribbing can quickly turn uncomfortable. Tempers can flare. Resentments can ensue.

Surveys reveal mixed attitudes on the part of employees about whether politics should be brought to work. In an American Management Association survey, more than one-third of the 700+ respondents said they were uncomfortable discussing political views with coworkers. But in a survey conducted by Office Team, 67 percent of the 500+ respondents felt that political debate in the workplace is okay in small doses; only 18 percent found such discussion "inappropriate."

Human Resource Executive (HRE) features a thoughtful article on office politics, which would be well worth your time. Here is an excerpt:

"You really have to be careful if you start this kind of dialogue, because people feel so passionately about politics and tend to get emotionally wrapped up in it," says Dawn Usher, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Silverado Senior Living Inc., in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. "As long as you're not offending anyone or trying to force people to your views, it's OK to have the conversation, but once it becomes intrusive, then it needs to stop."
That approach is right on track, according to Bruce Weinstein, a New York-based corporate consultant and ethics analyst known as The Ethics Guy. He likens talking politics in the workplace to talking about religion or sex -- two topics that are widely recognized as taboo.
"In most workplaces, these subjects not only have nothing to do with the work at hand, but because they're so controversial, engaging in discussions about them may very well impede one's ability to work well with other people," he says.

Our past post on the topic - when politics spin over into the workplace (note: some links in the article have expired) - includes a roundup of opinions on the matter of politics, with the consensus being "try to keep politics out of the workplace." But that may be easier said than done. In terms of employee rights to engage in political discussion or activities, the law firm Fisher & Phillips offers thoughts on what activity is protected and what isn't protected in their article Tis the Season: NLRB Clarifies Its Rules on Politics at Work.

The HRE article discusses various ways that actual employers handle politics in the workplace. One concept we liked was the idea of setting some ground rules of mutual respect. One commenter even suggested having employees sign a contract agreeing to respect other people's opinions. We like the idea of a "culture of respect" - it might be a good idea for management to issue communications setting that expectation should any political discussions occur. But it certainly sounds like a "culture of respect" is something you might want to foster at all times, not just during the political season!

September 27, 2008

Weblog roundup - posts from around the blogosphere

The Office - Mark Toth of Manpower Employment Blawg offers a lawyer's perspective on the premiere of this season's The Office. He thinks it is a great employment law training aid because you just have to watch it and do the exact opposite of everything you see.

Positive feedback - Kris Dunn of The HR Capitalist talks about praising employees and suggests that HR should try to facilitate a way to get customer feedback directly to the employee who performed the service.

Theory X - Wally Bock of Three Star Management talks about "Theory X," the old-school view that workers are inherently lazy and will avoid work if they can. He notes that although most managers have adopted more progressive viewpoints today, computerized efficiency programs that reduce everything to time and keystrokes can lead to a resurgence in this type of regressive thinking.

USERRA - Lou Michaels of Suits in the Workplace discusses the case of an army reservist who ran into some problems when trying to return to his job at the Nashville Police Department on his return from Iraq. His job was reinstated by the courts, and Michaels reminds us that. "Reinstatement rights under USERRA are intentionally rigid and always construed in favor of the returning service member. Prompt reinstatement to the employee's escalator position is mandatory absent very narrow (and difficult to establish) exceptions."

For your employees
Smart tips for spotting retirment scams - download free brochures from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

Monster's Career Blog notes that in a tough economy, it's important to make the most of your money, linking to tips and articles with practical advice.

By the numbers
10 ideas about what employees want
10 universal principles of the workplace
10 things HR needs to do in an economic downturn
100 things to do during a money free weekend
1000 voices: family values at work

September 22, 2008

Transgender discrimination

Chris McKinney of HR Lawyer's Blog posts about a plaintiff who recently won a discrimination lawsuit against the Library of Congress. Marcia McCormack of The Examiner had more details on Schroer v. Billington. McCormack writes that, "The court held that the discrimination on the basis of gender identity is literally discrimination on the basis of sex and it is also discrimination on the basis of failing to conform to sex stereotypes, both prohibited by Title VII."

In a related story appearing in The Ledger, Slowly, Companies Embracing Transgender Employees, Lisa Belkin writes:

Across the country, particularly at larger companies, transgender workers are being protected and assisted in ways that were hardly imaginable a few years ago.
Currently, 125 of the Fortune 500 companies include "gender identity" in their nondiscrimination policies, compared with "close to zero" in 2002, according to Jillian T. Weiss, an associate professor of law and society at Ramapo College of New Jersey, and an expert on transgender workplace diversity.

For more resources on the topic of transgender issues in the workplace:
Human Rights Campaign
Transgender Law and Policy Institute
Employer and Union Policies
Transgender Employees: What's an Employer To Do?
Transgender at Work
International Foundation for Gender Education

September 19, 2008

Why not hire a vet this week?

If you're in the market for new employees, there are a lot of good reasons to think about hiring veterans. HireVetsFirst is a web resource sponsored by the Veterans' Employment and Training Service which offers resources both to the employer and to the returning vet. For human resource managers and employers, the site offers resources for matching employment opportunities with veterans. Among the resources are One Stop Career Centers that provide recruitment, screening, and training services:

  • Recruits, screens, and refers veterans ranging from entry-level workers to highly skilled professionals
  • Recruits full-time, part-time, and seasonal workers
  • Posts job openings
  • Hosts job fairs
  • Partners with businesses to clarify job descriptions and eligibility criteria
  • Screens veterans to ensure that the right workers with the right skills are selected for interviews

The site also offers a list of upcoming military career fairs.

Another good resource is America's Heroes at Work, which offers resources for transitioning service members an their families and specific resources for hiring wounded and injured veterans.

The veteran's adjustment
"The Army of Dude" is a personal blog by a veteran of Iraq. In one post, he describes some of the challenges facing a soldier when re-acclimating to civilian life. (note: rough language alert) It is a compelling personal account that may be useful for employers or family members to read to understand some of the issues that a returning vet might be experiencing.

For another perspective, there is the story of how John Flor's employer helped the with his adjustment on returning to the job after a two year deployment.

Getting veterans back to work offers some practical employer tips for integrating veterans back into the workforce. Monster.com also offers some tips for employers.

Prior posts:
Employers' best practice guide for helping veterans re-acclimate to the workplace
Helping the military return to work

September 13, 2008

Domestic violence and the workplace

We recently blogged about a spike in domestic violence as a side effect to the troubled economy, and how this "home" problem often has very real implications for the workplace, ranging from a loss of productivity to heightened security risks. Since this topic has been much on our mind lately, we were pleased to see that Human Resources Executive recently featured an in-depth series on the topic. It offers enough quality tools and resources that we thought the issue was worth revisiting again.

In the lead article, Violently Ill, author Jared Shelly notes that studies have shown that 84 percent of surveyed employees believe that employers should be involved in the solution to the problem of domestic abuse, while just 13 percent of executives think it's the company's job to help solve the problem. Yet the article quotes a 2003 CDC study that says that domestic violence accounts for nearly 8 million lost work days, the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs.

Beyond productivity, there are other reasons why domestic violence needs to command the attention of employers:

If an employer fails to recognize the warning signs of domestic violence, it could not only prove life-threatening for the victim, but the company could also be held liable. In the case of La Rose vs. State Mutual Life Assurance Co. in 1994, the family of Francesia La Rose filed a wrongful-death action against her employer after she was murdered by a former boyfriend at the worksite for failing to protect her after being notified of the specific threat. The case was settled for $350,000.
The specific laws on domestic violence vary from state to state. Several -- Florida, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, North Carolina and Washington -- force companies to allow workers to take leave if they are victims of domestic violence.
Some, such as Florida, which enacted its law in July 2007, mandate that companies with more than 50 employees must give three days of leave to victims during a 12-month period. The leave can be paid or unpaid.
The law in Washington, enacted in April, applies to public or private companies regardless of size.
The article also offers concrete suggestions for what an employer should do to face this issue, along with a case history from State Farm Insurance. Some of the steps that State Farm takes to help affected employees include referring employees to an EAP for counseling, offering safety tips, providing escorts in and out of the building, putting the abuser on a "Do Not Admit" list, assigning special parking spots, screening telephone calls, eliminating the employee's name from the automated telephone directory and having paychecks delivered to other addresses.

The other articles in the series offer practical tools, resources, and advice:
Initiating a Training Program - Verizon Wireless shares its approach to educating employees about the impact of domestic violence in the workplace via a collaborative program that is accessible, cost effective and easily transferable to various company locations.

Warning signs - offers guidelines for both supervisors and coworkers.

Domestic-Violence Policy - State Farm Insurance Co.'s policy on domestic violence defines the term and offers a number of ways the company assists its employees who are victims.

State Law Guide - State laws affecting victims of domestic violence vary. HRE provides links to resources that track the various state laws.

September 8, 2008

Trouble at Work

Business Week unveils a new double issue, one that was created in collaboration with readers using online surveys and blogs through its own site, through LinkedIn, and in a poll conducted with YouGov and the Washington firm RT Strategies. Through more than 8,500 votes and 5,000 comments, readers identified their top concerns at work and offered their thoughts on how they address these problems. Editors note that this "reader-generated" approach was markedly different than the normal reporting where they might have contacted consultants to learn about emerging trends.

We've listed the 6 issues that readers identified below. Each identified problem has a mini sub-site with videos, articles, and an associated blog. You can access content through the index Trouble at the Office, or search any of the top problem areas that were identified:

Work-life balance - how to manage workplace balance without going crazy.
Staying entrepreneurial - sparking innovation and fostering creativity.
Time management - tips for making every hour count.
Negotiating the bureaucracy - breaking out of the box.
Generational tensions - generational collisions in the workplace.
Toxic bosses - or "how to live with the s.o.b."

September 2, 2008

Obesity prevalence and costs on the rise

The prevalence of overweight and obese adults in the U.S. has increased dramatically over the past three decades, and if the trend continues, most adults in the U.S. will be overweight or obese by 2030, with related health care spending projected to be as much as $956.9 billion. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine are sounding the warning bell that health care costs attributable to obesity are expected to more than double every decade.

Dr. Mark Nelson spends a lot of time thinking about obesity and the impact that it has on health. As a cardiologist, he sees the deleterious results of obesity every day in his practice: heart disease and strokes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoarthritis, breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea, and more. He also notes that obesity can be extremely disruptive to a person's normal life activities, including their ability to be productively and gainfully employed. He points to an increase in work absenteeism and cites the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Injury Research and Policy's recent report indicating that obesity increases the risk for on-the-job injuries.

Nelson believes that employers can and should play a critical role in tackling obesity and encourages corporate wellness programs to take a proactive approach to solving this problem. By focusing on obesity reduction, organizations can build a healthier, more productive work force while reducing some of the human and economic costs associated with obesity. Employers are in a unique position of influence with employees, and because employees spend so much time at work, it is the logical place to help instill and reinforce healthy habits that will support weight loss and healthy weight maintenance.

Nelson states that it is not only important for individual to lose weight, but that they must learn healthy eating habits that will allow them to sustain the weight loss. He believes that many weight problems are the result of people not having learned the basic habits of health in the first place, including the importance of balanced nutrition, eating frequent small healthy meals, and exercising regularly. He views health habits as the cornerstone for losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight. One approach that he favors is the Take Shape for Life program, which assigns health coaches to guide participants through both rapid safe weight loss and teaching Habits of Health so people can learn how to maintain a healthy body weight. Nelson emphasizes that being at a healthy body weight is the beginning, not the end, of the road to health.

Nelson suggests that employers can help in the battle against obesity by:

  • Providing information about the many health risks associated with obesity and dramatic risk reduction when overweight or obese individuals attain a healthy body weight
  • Educating employees about the benefits of healthy habits, such as good nutrition, frequent small healthy meals and frequent exercise
  • Ensuring that cafeterias and vending machines offer healthy food and beverage alternatives
  • Sponsoring or subsidizing health and wellness programs. Nelson believes the Take Shape for Life program deserves serious consideration because it costs employers nothing while helping employees (for whom the program is cost neutral) lose weight and improve their health
  • Encouraging or sponsoring periodic health risk assessments
  • Partnering with and tapping into health care providers who are experienced in Health and Wellness work
Nelson believes that by addressing obesity in a meaningful way, corporate wellness programs have a real opportunity to help their employees lead healthier, happier, and more productive lives while also accruing benefits to their organization's bottom line.

Dr. Mark Nelson MD, MPH, FACC specializes in general cardiovascular disease and has a particular interest in disease prevention and creating health for his patients. To contact Dr. Nelson or to learn more about the Take Shape for Life, you can view an archived webinar or contact mnelsonmd@nycap.rr.com

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