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May 31, 2009

Planning for summer on the job

Planning a summer vacation this year? According to a recent survey by CareerBuilder, 35 percent of workers aren’t planning to take a vacation this year. About 71% of those who don't plan to take a vacation say that they can't afford it, and almost 20% said they feared job loss if they are away, or just felt guilty being away from the office. But too much work without a break is not a good thing - it can lead to burnout and stress. Managers should encourage employees to take that vacation. Suggest long weekends or the increasingly popular staycation - sticking close to home but spending time relaxing with family and taking lower cost field trips. Here are some resources for staycation activities:

Summer work perils
Summer is also a time that many of your employees face different job hazards - particularly if they spend any time working outdoors or in settings where heat can be an issue. Here are resources to ensure your employees stay safe this summer:

Wellness: Eye exams can save money - June 27 to July 5 is Eye Safety Awareness Week and July is Eye Injury Prevention Month. Besides addressing your work exposures, another way to commemorate might be to encourage employees to have their eyes checked. HR World reports on a study showing that regular eye exams can save healthcare dollars because eye exams can often detect chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. Here's another wellness resource for eye safety: Protecting Your Eyes: At Home, At Work, At Play

May 29, 2009

It's a good time of year to review those dress codes

Susan M. Heathfield, About.com tackles the topic of casual dress codes, an issue that is important all year but that takes on even greater significance in the summer when outfits can sometimes be a little more casual and skimpy. She offers a variety of articles on dress codes for various setting and sample dress code policies. She also includes some helpful photo galleries casual dress code and business formal, which is a great idea for supplementing a policy - you might want to compile your own to reflect your organization.

Often, it comes down to the type of business and the role the employee plays. Tech employees who spend their days away from the public working on computers might have a little more leeway than customer service reps who meet and greet the public. A manufacturing plant might have different standards than the financial sector. But it's hard to make generalizations - the NBA Player Dress Code is stricter than many might associate with a sports team.

Communication is the key to avoiding misunderstandings. What might be considered appropriate casual wear to one generation may cross the line to another. Stephanie Armour of USA TODAY talked about how various employers are handling this issue in an article about business casual trends in recent years. To avoid confusion, it helps to be specific. Are flipflops allowed? tank tops? jeans? mini-skirts? t-shirts with slogans? Armour also reminds employers to be careful not to discriminate against women in dress code policies and to be cautious about policies that might exclude religious dress, such as headscarves. In addition to offering specific guidelines, make sure you are clear about any associated disciplinary actions that might be taken for violation of the dress code, such as warnings or sending employees home to change. Having this outlined in a policy can help to keep any such actions from seeming arbitrary or personal.

For casual dress guidelines, here are some resources that may be helpful to employees and employers alike:

May 19, 2009

Is employee theft on the rise? One employer's creative solution

As a side effect to the troubled economy, we're noticing more stories about an increase in employee theft. We haven't seen enough to know if this reputed increase is statistically true or anecdotal, but theft by employees is a massive problem that occurs in good financial times and bad. It stands to reason that there might be a spike when times are tough. It's a good time for employers to dust off and tighten up their loss prevention practices and policies - here's a checklist for preventing employee theft excerpted from the Small Business Fraud Prevention Manual issued by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

If indeed we are seeing a spike in employee theft, there may be other reasons to account for the increase than the economy and there may be other solutions to loss prevention than the traditional ones. For another perspective on employee theft, see Bob Sutton's recent post on an innovative employer approach to stopping employee theft . While there are various root causes of theft and need may certainly be one of them, Bob notes that, "The most extensive and impressive stream of research on employee theft has been conducted by Jerald Greenberg, who has done a host of laboratory and field studies (e.g, in manufacturing plants and retails stores) that show stealing is driven, in large part, by employees' desires to "get even" with companies and managers who treat them in cold and unfair ways."

While "the economy" and "getting even" may well be motives for theft, Bob goes on to cite a fascinating case of employee theft at a sawmill in which the underlying motive was largely "for the thrill of it." At this particular plant, organizational consultant and researcher Gary Latham worked with management to institute some creative measures to stop theft. The company introduced a "library system" where employees could borrow the type of equipment that was being stolen. Management also launched an amnesty campaign, during which employees could return any stolen goods under a no-fault, no-questions-asked system. The results of both measures were dramatic, with theft being virtually stopped in its tracks. This approach reminded me of a similar measure I witnessed a number of years ago when working at a manufacturing plant that assembled popular household goods and toys for large corporate clients. To mitigate employee theft, the employer sponsored a "company store" where employees could purchase the goods they produced at wholesale prices. This served the dual purpose of being a great new low-cost benefit and reducing theft significantly.

While we haven't witnessed too much in the way of for-the-thrill-of-it theft, revenge against perceived unfairness is certainly something we're familiar with - it surfaces as a motive for many work behavioral problems that our counselors deal with daily. And beyond specific grudges against specific employers, there is a more generalized sense of anger and outrage brewing, stoked by the daily barrage of headlines about corporate malfeasance and greed at the highest "leadership" levels of large corporations. It's pretty difficult to imbue high ethical standards when the people at the top are widely disrespected or engage in criminal behavior themselves.

Whether it be employee theft, runaway workers' comp costs or some other costly work problem, all too often we find that the problem is a symptom of a toxic work environment where mutual respect and trust have broken down. Prudent employers can and should enact preventive measures, but as we've previously stated, that may not be enough.

Our experience shows time and again that employers who communicate often and well with their employees and who work diligently to maintain a healthy work culture experience fewer workplace behavioral problems than their mistrusting, suspicious counterparts. Keep things in perspective. Dishonest employees are in the minority so don't cast a pall of suspicion over everyone. Set the policy and the expectation, ensure that risk control measures are in place, and be fair and consistent in the way policies are enforced.

May 15, 2009

Short takes: Political change, social media, wellness incentives and disincentives, gender identity, work-life

Change is in the air - Michael at Human Race Horses tells HR managers that, "Your world is going to change one way or the other. Get ready!" Check out his must-read post about 7 People Who Will Change Human Resources in 2009.

To tweet or not to tweet? - Melanie Holmes of Contemporary Working has some interesting statistics about the prevalence of social networking tools. But should we be concerned about the ubiquity and 24/7 nature of work communication that these new tools afford? Are social networking tools addictive? Jeffrey Hirsch of Workplace Prof Blog raises the issue of whether employers could have any liability for technology addiction. Related: Charlotte Huff has an excellent article that discusses Staying Afloat in a Digital Flood at Workforce.

Wellness incentives - Fiona Gathright of Corporate Wellness Insights looks at a recent study on the use of incentives in wellness programs. She also reports that there is some political support for incenting employers to enact wellness programs, but notes that it will be important to set the right tone for such programs. David Williams of Health Benefits Blog talks about the flip side of the coin in his post on the ethical considerations of financial penalties for unhealthy behaviors.

Gender identity - Michael Fox of Jottings by an Employers Lawyer posts about transgendered workers in the mainstream press, citing a statistic that 322 major companies have added gender identity to their diversity programs.

Work-life balance - Thoughts from Training Time reports that a fear of layoffs is affecting employee vacation plans - many are deferring because they fear a temporary absence from the workplace could lead to a permanent one. The post suggests several tips for managers to help their employees allay their anxiety and avoid burning out. Related: Freek Vermeulen makes the case for work-life programs in Harvard Business.

Longevity - There are about 250,000 centenarians alive today, including several hundred "supercentarians" aged 110+ years. Find out your chances of reaching 100.

May 13, 2009

The Last Lecture: Lessons Learned Over a Lifetime

Understandably, it seems most of us are focused on one subject these days – the current tough economic times. But as our leaders and financial experts debate solutions, this may be a good time for the rest of us to step back and examine the guiding principals by which we lead our lives. Unlike the economic crisis, over which we individually may have little control, each of us has absolute control over how we order our lives.
Or as Randy Pausch, puts it, "We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand." The Last Lecture, New York: Hyperion Books (2008)

When Dr. Pausch, a popular computer science professor, husband and father of three small children was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he decided to take charge of the situation by preparing a last lecture that would draw from his life experiences. His goal was to leave a legacy not only for his students but also for his children who would soon be fatherless. Some notable excerpts:

  • People are more important than things: While still a bachelor, Pausch enjoyed the company of his sister’s young children. When he showed up in a new convertible to take the kids for a ride, his sister sternly warned them to "Be careful in Uncle Randy’s new car. Wipe your feet before you get in. Don’t get it dirty." As his sister was outlining her rules, he slowly and methodically opened a can of soda and poured it on the cloth seats in the back of the convertible. His message was delivered with a dramatic flair that amazed his niece and nephew and no doubt shocked his sister! (Chapter 15)
  • Emphasize the positive whenever possible: When he asked his oncologist, "How long before I
    die?" the physician framed the answer positively: "You probably have three to six months of good health." This reminded Pausch of the time that he and his sister visited Disney World as young children and asked a worker, "What time does the park close?" The response: "The park is open until 8:00PM." (Chapter 12)
  • Negative feedback is still very good feedback: When his football coach rode 12-year-old Randy
    particularly hard one day, an assistant coach later commented, "When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you." (Chapter 7)
  • Obstacles need not be barriers to success: "Brick walls are there to stop people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop other people!” (Chapter 16)
  • Don’t obsess over what other people think: "I’ve found that a substantial fraction of many people’s days is spent worrying about what others think of them. If nobody ever worried about what was in other people’s heads, we’d all be 33% more effective in our lives and on our jobs." How did he arrive at that 33% figure? "I’m a scientist. I like exact numbers, even if I can’t prove them. So let’s just run
    with 33%." (Chapter 34)
  • Effective leadership requires empathy not just intelligence: "Just because you’re in the driver’s seat doesn’t mean you have to run people over." (Chapter 4)

Some books provide "a good read" while others can help reorder one’s life. The Last Lecture does both in a highly entertaining way! Also, see our September 2007 post for a link to a video presentation of his last lecture, Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.

May 7, 2009

Employer best practices for caregivers in the workplace

Caregiving is a work-life issue that our counselors deal with often - it can be a terrible burden to juggle the responsibilities of a full-time job while caring for an elderly or a disabled family member. There are some family responsibilities that can be scheduled or defered to another time, but caregiving is not one of them. It entails immediacy and urgency, and the weight of the responsibility means that caregivers are a population at risk.

As part of a push to support family-friendly workplaces, The EEOC has recently been focusing on caregiver discrimination and has issued a technical document giving guidance to employers on best practices related to caregiving employees. Melissa Turley of Human Resource Executive notes that although caregivers are not a protected class, "Discriminating against caregivers, however, could result in Title VII, FMLA or ADA claims." She offers a summary of best practices.

Mark Toth at Manpower Employment Blawg also offers a great summary of the EEOC's Caregiver Best Practices. After polling readers, he learned the the number one employment law headache was identified as medical leave. In response to this, he is developing a series of cheat sheets on various laws relating to medical leave. This week, he issued an FMLA cheat sheet.

Additional Resources
State-by-state Family Care Navigator
The Family Caregiver Alliance
Caregiver resources
The high cost of caregiving
Caregiving employees at heightened risk: how employers can help

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