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October 31, 2011

Just for Halloween...

The Mummy Meets Human Resources...

Also: see Ray Villafane's awesome pumpkin gallery

It's not too late to remind your employees about safe driving on their way home tonight because a lot of little kids might be out and about right around commuting time. Why not send them a link to this: At-Home Safety: Brake for Ghosts and Goblins this Halloween

October 30, 2011

New briefs: sick days, scent-free policies, psycho bosses, staying out of court & more

Sick days - Jon Hyman of Ohio Employer's Law Blog talks about a recent CareerBuilder survey in which 29% or employees admitted to taking sick days when they really weren't sick - using the days for other purposes. He notes that only 28% of businesses report that they check on "ill" employees. He proposes what we think is a great solution: getting rid of sick days entirely and using a different system altogether. See Are you checking in on your “sick” employees? Maybe you should be (or not) for more.

Scent-free workplaces - The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety tackles the topic of fragrance sensitive people in the workplace in when fragrances offend. They offer advice and tips for establishing a scent-free policy for the workplace. For more on how this might relate specifically to the ADA, see: Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Fragrance Sensitivity from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).

Psycho bosses - The bad news: A new study says that one in 15 corporate managers qualify as psycopaths. The good news: Psychopaths had very high ratings on communication, strategic thinking, and creative abilities.

Wellness - in Health Care's Brave New World of Compulsory Wellness, Ezra Klein reports on Cleveland Clinic's wellness program, which offers a strong combination of carrots and sticks to influence and change employee health behaviors. Is it working? "Not only has the clinic cut its health-care costs, but its employees are also getting healthier in measurable ways. Workers have lost a collective 250,000 pounds since 2005. Their blood pressure is lower than it was three years ago. Smoking has declined from 15.4 percent of employees to 6.8 percent."

Age Diversity - In Human Resource Executive, Katie Kuehner-Hebert writes about a new report that highlights some innovative ways companies are beginning to create age-diversity strategies that positively impact the bottom line.Dee: Managing through the Life Stages.

Avoiding litigation - Hr Daily Advisor recently offered a pair of posts from plaintif attorney Whitney Warner on avoiding litigtion - and who etter to learn from? The first post suggests 5 Ways You Attract the Attention of Plaintiffs' Attorneys, and the second is 6 secrets...from the dark side.

Cool Tool - transportation and auto expenses are a big slice of any family's budget. According to the Department of Labot, car ownership costs are the sedond largest household expense after shelter. It makes sense to try to control those costs any way that you can - including considerations about the type of vehicles that you buy. If you are considering a new car, check out the Edmunds True Cost to Own Calculator, which figures in the "hidden" costs, such as depreciation, interest on your loan, taxes and fees, insurance premiums, fuel costs, maintenance, and repairs.

News Briefs

October 23, 2011

Study updates costs, productivity losses related to excessive drinking

Excessive drinking costs the U.S. $224 billion per year, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first cost reassessment since the 1998 cost tally or $184.6 billion per year. The current tally breaks down to a cost of about $1.90 per drink or $746 per person. Losses break down to 72.2% from lost productivity, 11.0% from healthcare costs, 9.4% from criminal justice costs, and 7.5% from other effects.

Alcohol abuse is the nation's third leading cause of preventable death, resulting in an average of 79,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year - estimated at 2.3 million years of potential life lost. Researchers also site the following: "Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with multiple adverse health and social consequences, including liver cirrhosis, certain cancers, unintentional injuries, violence, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Excessive alcohol consumption also causes premature death, increased healthcare costs, property damage from fire and motor vehicle crashes, increased crime and criminal justice system costs, and lost worker productivity in the form of missed work, diminished output, and reduced earnings potential."

The report on this study, "Economic Costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumption in the U.S., 2006" is published in the November 2011 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and is also available online.

Employer Resources
There are numerous screening tests that are available online that could be used in a wellness program - either as interactive online tests, or simple screening tools that could be rprinted in newsletters, benefit portals or other employee communications.

Alcohol Screening Test - a free service of Join Together, a project of the The Partnership at Drugfree.org and Boston University School of Public Health. The anonymous online test helps individuals assess their own alcohol consumption patterns to determine if their drinking is likely to be harming their health or increasing their risk for future harm. Through education and referral, the site urges those whose drinking is harmful or hazardous to take positive action, and informs all adults who consume alcohol about guidelines and caveats for lower-risk drinking. More than one million people have completed this screening questionnaire since the site launched in 2001.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism offers three common screening tests: The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and the mnemonic CAGE and T-ACE tests.

Other resources are available at the CDC: Alcohol & Public Health and OSHA's Working Partners programAbuse, and NIOSH.

And of course, if you suspect that alcohol or any other substance is affecting an employee's health or productivity, we encourage you to make a referral to your organization's Employee Assistance Program.

October 15, 2011

Monitoring your employees, privacy, and social media: what you need to know

Employment and Business Law Attorney Heather Bussing also serves on the Editorial Advisory Board for and contributes to HR Examiner. This past week, she posted an excellent three-part series on issues around privacy, social media and monitoring your employees. We think it's a must-read.

Part 1: Employee Privacy - What Can Employers Monitor?
Bussing raises and discusses a variety of issues around privacy: Can you spy on your employees? Is it spying if they consent? Does an employer have to give notice before monitoring employee phone and computer use? She explains that it depends on who owns the accounts and equipment and what the employer’s policies are.

Part 2: Employee Privacy 2 – When It’s Personal.
Bussing states that all employees have common law privacy rights in information about their personal lives, health, finances, sex lives, off-duty activity and personal email and phone accounts. This post discusses privacy rights and issues that should consider before employers wants or “needs” to know, it is important to consider the whole picture and the interests involved. When in doubt, stay out.

Part 3: Employee Privacy 3 – Social Media
Bussing notes that social media is where an employee’s work life and personal life often collide. She discusses social media and the legal rights of both the company and employee. Who owns social media accounts and content? What about trade secrets or defamation? This post will ground you in the issues.

Bonus: 8 Reasons Social Media Policies Backfire

October 11, 2011

Filed under the Department of Bad Ideas

Everybody has at least one "bad boss" tale under their belt, but every now and then, there is a standout. An Iowa convenience store owner takes the dubious crown this week for an employee contest he ran, inviting workers to "Guess the next cashier who will be fired." As an incentive to play this game, there was even a $10 prize. See a copy of the company-wide memo that announced this "contest."

This story surfaced because one employee who quit in disgust filed for unemployment benefits, which the employer contested saying that she had quit voluntarily. The employee stated that this memo "... created an extremely hostile environment for us and it pitted employee against employee." The judge awarded the employee benefits, calling the contest "egregious and deplorable." As Stephanie Rabiner notes in the first link:

Ordinarily, unemployment insurance is not available to workers who voluntarily leave their jobs. However, many states will grant benefits when an employer causes an employee to quit.
An employee must generally prove that an employer did something so intolerable that any reasonable person would have quit. There may also be proof that an employer intended to compel an employee to leave the job.
Examples include discrimination, retaliation, abject humiliation, and of course, firing contests.

This one gets posted to the Bad Boss Hall of Fame, right up there with legendary Tiger Mike Davis and his infamous memos to his staff. If you've never read the Tiger Mike Memos, do so now. Here's a small sample: "Do not speak to me when you see me. If I want to speak to you, I will do so. I want to save my throat. I don't want to ruin it by saying hello to all of you sons-of-b*tches."

Related: The 32 Dumbest Things That Real-Life Managers Have Said

October 9, 2011

Is your job misunderstood?

Last month, The Atlantic had a fascinating feature on jobs as part of their Labor Day roundup on work-related articles. They asked readers to "tell us what people don't get or don't appreciate about your job." They culled out an A to Z encyclopedia of reader responses and served them up in an article: What people don't get about my job: From A(rmy soldier) to Z(ookeeper). Ranging from an IRS employee to a bass player and everything in between, some people offer pithy one liners and others offer short essays. Together, they offer a pastiche of the American workforce.

It occurred to us that a larger company could engage in a similar exercise in the company newsletter too - we've all worked in places where the jobs vary considerably, and one department has minimal understanding of what other departments do. Why not offer employees a platform to talk about what's misunderstood or under-appreciated about the role they play in your organization?

Along the same line as The Atlantic feature, a question was posted to the help board Ask Metafilter: "What is the first question people ask when you tell them what you do? Are there common misconceptions or generalizations that people make? How do you tactfully and/or humorously correct them? For example: "So, you're a linguist eh? How many languages do you speak?""

The query elicited 156 far-ranging responses, but we warn you, it's addictive reading (and be aware there is the occasional use of a four-letter expletive).

We didn't see much about human resources, but Susan Heathfield of About.com' Human Resources offers Seven Reasons HR Is Often Misunderstood. But when it comes to truth and myths about the HR Field, no one says it better than the kids in this humorous HR.com commercial.

October 2, 2011

October 6: National Depression Screening Day

October 6 is National Depression Screening Day. More than 3,000 sites will be participating in screenings and events.

The following information from Mental Health America offers tips on why screenings are important, who could benefit from a screening and what you can expect from a screening.

Why Screen for Depression?

  • Clinical depression is a serious medical illness.
  • Clinical depression can lead to suicide.
  • Sometimes people with depression mistakenly believe that the symptoms of depression are a "normal part of life."
  • Clinical depression affects men and women of all ages, races and socioeconomic groups.
  • One in four women and one in 10 men will experience depression at some point during their lifetimes.
  • Two-thirds of those suffering from the illness do not seek the necessary treatment.
  • Depression can co-occur and complicate other medical conditions.
  • More than 80 percent of all cases of clinical depression can be effectively treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both.
  • Screenings are often the first step in getting help.

What Is a Depression Screening like?
Attendees at screening programs, which are free and confidential:
  • Receive educational materials on depression and other mental illnesses
  • Hear an educational session on depression.
  • Complete a written screening test.
  • Discuss the results with a mental health professional.
  • If necessary, learn where to go for additional help.

Who Should Attend a Depression Screening?
People suffering from depression often experience some of these key symptoms:
  • A persistent sad, anxious or "empty" mood
  • Sleeping too little, early morning awakening, or sleeping too much
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depression screening tests will not provide a diagnosis – for that you need to see a professional. But, they will help you identify you whether or not you have symptoms that are consistent with a condition or concern that would benefit from further evaluation or treatment.

Finding a screening
Employees and the general public: Check to see if your employer has an EAP - that's always a good starting point for help. If not, community based organizations nationwide are offering anonymous self-assessments for a variety of concerns that are often misunderstood or misdiagnosed. Take a screening online or choose your location from a clickable map to locate an event near you.

Students: Colleges nationwide are offering anonymous self-assessments for a variety of concerns that are often misunderstood or misdiagnosed. Take a screening online, or choose your location from a clickable map to locate an event at a local campus.

Military and their family members: Take an anonymous screening online or find screenings at local military installations. The screening questions are designed so you can review your situation with regard to some of the more common mental health issues including, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, alcohol problems and more.

October 1, 2011

Adapting to change: Bronze Age Orientation Day

Some people have more trouble adapting to change and new technologies than others. A few weeks ago, we brought you the Medieval Help Desk. On a similar theme, we the offer "Bronze Age Orientation Day."


When your organization introduces major changes, some of your employees will be early adopters and some will be laggards - see the Rogers Innovation Adoption Curve. Whether the changes are technological, organizational, or even a more simple change like a change in routine, some of your workers may struggle to adapt. This article offers some good principles for managing change in the workplace. (PDF)

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