April 17, 2015

Test your nonverbal communication skills

How well do you read nonverbal cues in people? Take the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test. This test was developed by Simon Baron-Cohen at the University of Cambridge in 1997 and then revised in 2001. You will be shown 37 pictures showing just the eyes part of people's faces. You will be asked to guess what emotion these eyes are showing. You'll also be asked a few basic questions about yourself and your computer use.

You can learn more about the "eyes test" at Psych Tutor. It's been used in a number of studies over the years, although there has been some criticism leveled that it is gender biased due to a restricted range of female images and expressions.

More resources
Nonverbal Communication
Improving Your Nonverbal Skills and Reading Body Language

Amy Cuddy on Body Language
Social psychologist and Associate Professor at Harvard Business School Amy Cuddy's TED talk. See more work from Amy Cuddy.

Looking for the most comprehensive and effective wellness program for your employees? ESI TotalCare Wellness pairs Behavioral Health Clinicians with certified Wellness Coaches to provide employees and their families with the help, motivation, tools and support to make changes and improve their lives. Call 800-535-4841 for more information.

March 27, 2015

Mindfulness in the Boardroom: the Meditation Trend

Will capitalism complicate something as simple as following your breath? That's a question Joe Pinsker poses in his article for The Atlantic, Corporations' Newest Productivity Hack: Meditation. He interviews David Gelles, a New York Times business reporter who tracks the intersection of "mindfulness" and corporate America.

"Gelles first reported on the rise of corporate mindfulness programs in 2012 for The Financial Times, when he described a rare but promising initiative at General Mills. In the years since, similar programs have popped up at Ford, Google, Target, Adobe—and even Goldman Sachs and Davos. This adoption has been rapid, perhaps due to its potential to help the bottom line: Aetna estimates that since instituting its mindfulness program, it has saved about $2,000 per employee in healthcare costs, and gained about $3,000 per employee in productivity. Mindful employees, the thinking goes, are healthier and more focused."

Gelles also authored a newly published book, Mindful Work, prompting the interview with Pinsker. The interview ranges from the earliest intersection of mediation and corporate America to current day trends and manifestations in the workplace. Gelles attributes the increasing adoption of mediation programs to three reasons: scientific research that quantifies the effects of mindfulness, mindfulness having become a secular pursuit, and the third:

"The third is, I think mindfulness is being accepted in the workplace today because we need it more than ever, it seems. We are so stressed. We are so bombarded with constant information overload. We are so addicted to our technology that the promise of a technique that allows us to come back to the present moment and stop obsessing about whatever it we just read in our Twitter stream or what we're about to post on our Facebook page has a unique and enduring allure that is totally understandable. I mean, after a totally frenetic workday here at The Times, the opportunity to quiet down is totally lovely."

Pinsker and Gelles go on to discuss examples of how these programs are being implemented at various companies.

Perhaps one of the most compelling examples can be seen in Gelles' recent article, At Aetna, a C.E.O.’s Management by Mantra, in which he profiles Mark Bertolini and his near-death experience that led him to meditation. After a life-threatening skiing injury, Bertolini searched for an alternative to pharmaceuticals to manage his chronic pain. He turned to yoga and meditation. He credits this with helping him to regain his health, and in realizing these benefits, he thought, "If yoga and mindfulness had helped him, why shouldn’t they help his employees, and even Aetna’s millions of customers?" He began folding it into the company.

"When Mr. Bertolini reviewed Aetna’s financial performance for 2012, he noticed something surprising: Health care costs had fallen. For the year, paid medical claims per employee were down 7.3 percent. That amounted to about $9 million in savings. The next year, health care costs rose 5.7 percent, but have remained about 3 percent lower than they were before yoga and meditation were introduced at the company.
Mr. Bertolini doesn’t attribute all those cost savings to yoga and meditation alone. Other wellness initiatives, including a weight loss program and new health screenings, had also been ramping up during this period. But he says he believes they made an impact. “It was a culmination of a set of programs that led to a steady decrease in health care costs,” Mr. Bertolini said. “I wouldn’t say it’s all just yoga and mindfulness, but they helped.”

Gelles also links Bertolini's experience with mindfulness to his recent decision to increase Aetna's U.S. minimum wage to $16 an hour, from $12. He quotes the CEO as saying: "It’s made me question what I do and how I look at the world,” he said. “It’s made me consider my influence and how I treat people.”


Mindfulness Meditation? Am I Doing It Right?

How to practice mindfulness: Expert tips on learning to embrace the present

Mindfulness Tied to Better Physical Health

New to Mindfulness? How to Get Started

Looking for the most comprehensive and effective wellness program for your employees? ESI TotalCare Wellness pairs Behavioral Health Clinicians with certified Wellness Coaches to provide employees and their families with the help, motivation, tools and support to make changes and improve their lives. Call 800-535-4841 for more information.

February 1, 2015

Are you a leader or a manager?

In business, the line between leadership and management sometimes gets blurred. This powerful video by Scott Williams helps to clarify the difference. It's less than 6 minutes, time we think will be well spent to start your week.

Scott Williams is a speaker, strategist, consultant and a respected thought leader who blogs at BigIsTheNewSmall.com. Learn more about his thoughts on leadership in his post 11 Key Attributes Of Great Leadership.

Thanks to Jüri Kaljundi for the pointer. We learned about this clip from a post on the very interesting Weekdone blog. Jüri Kaljundi is the CEO & co-founder, Weekdone, a weekly reporting tool for teams and companies.

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

November 23, 2014

Snow policies: Are yours in place?

Employers in Buffalo are grappling with how to deal pay policies related to the recent weather-imposed closures and driving bans. Even companies with strict disciplinary measures related to unplanned absences were forced to relax policies.

Does your organization have a policy about snow and other weather-related work disruptions? Do your employees understand where your organization stands on the issue of pay should they be unable to make it into work or if your organization shuts down due to weather? It's best to clarify in advance to avoid any misunderstandings. If you haven't already, the week after Thanksgiving week might be a good time to issue a reminder about your policy.

HR Specialist offers some guidance on pay for snow-day absences based on Department of Labor guidance on the matter, noting that while the DOL letters on the topic don't have the weight of law, courts are deferential to them. And BLR has a great flow-chart on FLSA/FMLA payments in weather-related events (see below).

If you don't have a policy, here are some samples to get you started.

Winter Weather and the Workplace: FLSA, FMLA and When to Pay Infographic

Winter Weather and the Workplace: FLSA, FMLA and When to Pay: By HR.BLR.com


esi.JPG Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

November 2, 2014

Why we make bad decisions

From the TED archives, Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert says our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong — a premise he supports with intriguing research — sharing some surprising tests and experiments that you can also try on yourself. His talk touches on decisions that we make and why we make them, how we assess risks and opportunities and why the way we assess those risks is often very flawed. He talks about why we are so bad at assessing the real risks we face. While he uses terrorism as an example, it isn't hard to think of comparable "outsized" fears today, such as Ebola.

It's an entertaining, thought-provoking talk on human motivation. You'll need to set aside the time because the video is a little over a half hour.

If you need an alternate to the YouTube video, there is an alternate video on the TED page with transcript.

For more, see his book Stumbling on Happiness, his home page and his Twitter feed.

September 12, 2014

Leadership lessons from a 4-star general: Listen, learn ... then lead

In this 15-minute TED Talk, four-star general Stanley McChrystal shares what he learned about leadership over his decades in the military. He speaks of how he was raised with traditional military leadership models, but how leadership today requires different skill sets. He found himself needing to build consensus and shared purpose with people who had different vocabularies, different experiences and different skill sets. Instead of briefing meetings and pep talks in one room, he was now required to communicate with a work force over 20 countries via email and chat programs. How can one build a sense of shared purpose among people of many ages and skill sets? By listening and learning — and addressing the possibility of failure.

If YouTube is blocked at your organization, you can access an alternate source at TED, where there is also an interactive transcript: Stanley McChrystal: Listen, learn ... then lead


ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

September 5, 2014

5 things great workers do [infographic]

We thought this infographic on 5 things great workers do. By way of intro, it appeared in ‘a’ Magazine, an HR publication issued by O.C. Tanner and O.C. Tanner Institute, with the following introduction:

"1.7 million cases of award-winning work across all industries, positions, and pay grades, proves great work is a product of 5 activities people do, and 1 common intention.

The study proved that Great Work isn’t an accident. In fact, all cases of award-winning work began with a single-shared intention: to create a difference people love. Great Workers focus more on the recipient of their work, than on the work itself".

Click the infographic for a larger version with an accompanying text article.


June 21, 2014

Creating the Perfect Social Media Posts

Want to improve your social media savvy? This handy infographic maps out guidelines, dimensions and optimal times for making the the "perfect" social media posts on the most popular platforms: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Pinterest, Vine, Google+, Instagram & Tumblr.

We've offered a brief sample here - but click "continue reading" at the bottom of the image to view the full graphic in a larger version.


"Creating the Perfect Social Media Posts " »

June 7, 2014

How successful people start their days

Laura Vanderkam researched and writes about the morning rituals of successful executives and entrepreneurs and how they invest in their top-priority activities for the day. In 12 Things Successful People Do Before Breakfast, Jenna Goudreau writes that, "Vanderkam cites Florida State University psychology professor Roy Baumeister’s famous finding that willpower is like a muscle that becomes fatigued from overuse. Diets, he says, come undone in the evening, just as poor self-control and lapses in decision-making often come later in the day. On the other hand, early mornings offer a fresh supply of willpower, and people tend to be more optimistic and ready to tackle challenging tasks."

In his article about what successful people do in the first hour of their workday, Kevin Purdy says, "Remember when you used to have a period at the beginning of every day to think about your schedule, catch up with friends, maybe knock out a few tasks? It was called home room, and it went away after high school. But many successful people schedule themselves a kind of grown-up home room every day. You should too." He offers concrete examples and links to ways that successful people start their days. Among his examples: A Quora forum on personal productivity posed the question how the most successful people spend the first hour of their day looked for and got feedback on examples of how CEOs and entrepreneurs spend their first waking hour and how it contributes to their success.

In this short video clip, Gina Trapani says do your worst task first thing in the morning - clarifying that by "worst" she means "most important" and the one that you are most likely to procrastinate on.

Also see this infographic from Funders and Founders about How to Start the Day - click for the original to enlarge.


ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

May 17, 2014

Three Myths of Behavior Change - What You Think You Know That You Don't

Jeni Cross is a sociology professor at Colorado State University. She has spoken about community development and sustainability to audiences across the country, from business leaders and government officials to community activists. In this thoughtful talk, she focuses on the sociology of behavior change. Her university biography page notes:

"What we believe about a situation—what we think others are doing, what we think they expect us to do, what we think is the right thing to do—has a profound effect on our behavior. If we think that other people are engaging in a behavior (e.g. turning off lights when leaving an office, reusing hotel towels), then we are more likely ourselves to engage in that behavior.
A variety of behaviors from substance use to energy conservation can be influenced through media campaigns which report the actual behavioral norms (description social norms). Dr. Cross has worked with elementary schools, middle school, high schools, and universities to encourage healthy behaviors and reduce unhealthy behaviors. The projects she has evaluated or helped to design have reduced unhealthy behaviors—drinking and driving, alcohol use, tobacco use—and increased healthy behaviors like school engagement and energy conservation."
If influencing people and motivating change is on your agenda, set aside the 20 minutes to view this talk!

April 6, 2014

Preparing for & conducting video job interviews: Tips & best practices

More and more companies are using video interviews in the hiring process. John Schoen of CNBC reports, "In a survey of more than 500 hiring managers at companies with more than 20 employees, OfficeTeam found that 63 percent said their company often uses videoconferencing for job interviews." His article talks about many of the reasons companies use this technology and what their experience has been, along with some tips for conducting successful interviews.

While undoubtedly convenient, fast and economical, not everyone is a fan of the video job interview. Last year, a study showed that video conferencing for job interviews disadvantages both employers and candidates. "In simulated job interviews, candidates who were interviewed by video-conferencing were rated lower by interviewers and were less likely to be recommended for hiring. On the other side of the webcam, candidates also rated their interviewers as less attractive, personable, trustworthy and competent." These researchers recommended using video conferencing as an initial screening but using face-to-face interviews for final selection. They offer 10 tips for using video conferencing effectively.

Last week, Reuben Yonatan of GetVOIP offered an article on Video Interview Tips From the HR Experts. In this posting, nine expert HR and recruitment specialists weigh in on 5 key questions:

  • What are your best tips for interviewers conducting a video interview?
  • What are your best tips for interviewees during a video interview?
  • What are some of the biggest advantages and disadvantages of video interviewing for employers?
  • What are some of the biggest advantages and disadvantages of video interviewing for the candidate?
  • Is there a specific video conferencing tool that you prefer or can recommend? ex: Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.

For additional perspective, Emily Bennington of Monster.com offers a video and transcript of tips on how to prepare for and conduct a video interview.

Prior related blog posts

Interview question-palooza

Social Media: Your "Keep Out of Court" Kit for the Hiring Process

Bad hires can be costly - do you check references?

In the "What were they thinking" department: Job interviews run amuck

Hiring Managers Share Tales of Memorable Resumes


esi.JPG Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

March 30, 2014

HR from the Jury’s Perspective: Notes from an employment law attorney

Mary Wright is an employment law attorney with more 25 years' experience in helping employers -- and she's written a very helpful article that should be required reading for every HR practitioner and manager: HR from the Jury’s Perspective – What A Trial Lawyer Wants You to Know.

She offers bulleted lists of "Dos and Don'ts" and observations in several categories. We've excerpted a few as a sample.

Terminations: "Trying to explain to a jury why you didn’t do something is infinitely harder than explaining why you did; i.e., why you didn’t give notice, why you didn’t document the warnings, why you didn’t accommodate, etc."

Witnesses: "Truthfulness, likeability, documentation and consistency win lawsuits, in that order."

Documents: "All documentation must be direct, concise, easy to understand and truthful."; "Don’t lie in a document."

The jury's perspective: "A jury doesn’t care about the company’s rights. They want to hear how the company honored the employee’s rights."

Use your EAP
When it comes to performance issues or potential terminations, we'd urge you to involve your EAP whenever possible. When performance problems occur, particularly when there is a change or degradation in performance, there is often an underlying reason. It may be work-related or it may be personal - family stresses and problems, mental health issues, substance abuse, or any number of reasons.

It's not the job of a supervisor to diagnose but your EAP can be a good resource for addressing behavior or performance issues. At ESI EAP, we are often able to help resolve employee issues before disciplinary actions are required. Train managers how to use the EAP and how to be familiar and comfortable with making referrals.

Additional Resources

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

February 21, 2014

Supervisor Sins

HR Daily Advisor has a good series on ten common mistakes that supervisors make ... we're offering three that we've often seen in our intersection with HR directors and employees. You can view a text version of the 10 Sins of Supervisors at the BLR site, or if you'd prefer to view them all in video format you can find them at BLR's video channel.

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

February 8, 2014

Inspiration of the Week: Leadership Lessons from Olympians

World-class athletes are a rare breed: it takes courage, perseverance, discipline and passion to reach Olympic levels. Athletes can teach us a great deal about leadership - including the fact that it's not always about winning. Nowhere was this lesson more evident than in the inspirational story of racer Derek Redmond's finish in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Derek was favored to win a Gold Medal in a running event - watch what happened.

Read more about Derek's dramatic Olympic finish.

Here are some other leadership lessons shared by Olympic athletes - we're offering key bullet points, but click through for the full story.

8 leadership lessons we learn from Olympic athletes
Four-time gold medal winner Sanya Richards-Ross shares her story and offers her advice:

  • Visualize the end
  • Build a team you can trust
  • Seek out the best and learn from them
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Practice every day
  • Warm up before an event
  • Exemplify the calm during times of chaos
  • Never give up

Five Lessons Olympic Athletes Can Teach Business Leaders
British rowing athlete Greg Searle has wond both Gold and Bronze Olympic medals. He describes how the strategies used by elite athletes are very much the same employed by business leaders to compete at the very top.

  • Find a vision; set short term goals to achieve overall success.
  • Feedback is your best friend.
  • Unshakeable self-belief: Self-confidence versus self-esteem.
  • Controlling the controllable.
  • Recognizing pressure as a positive.


esi.JPG Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

December 10, 2013

Leadership Lessons from Nelson Mandela

In 2008 on the event of Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday, Richard Stengel wrote an essay on leadership lessons learned from Mandela for Time Magazine. Stengel had worked with Mandela on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. At the time, we summarized the lessons in a blog post.

1. Courage is not the absence of fear — it's inspiring others to move beyond it
2. Lead from the front — but don't leave your base behind
3. Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front
4. Know your enemy — and learn about his favorite sport
5. Keep your friends close — and your rivals even closer
6. Appearances matter — and remember to smile
7. Nothing is black or white
8. Quitting is leading too

Michael McKinney has further elaboration on these eight lessons on The Leadership Blog, and you can access the original cover article via subscription at Time.

At the Washington Post, Jena McGregor compiles Five Nelson Mandela tributes that will change how you think

From various sources around the Web, we've compiled a dozen of our favorite quotations from Mandela.

If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.

It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.

There are times when a leader must move out ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way.

After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.

Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.


ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

November 22, 2013

14 Ways to Stifle Creativity

As a leader, how would you rate yourself for creativity, innovation, and problem solving? Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon is an author and a Professor of Business Administration that talks about such topics as branding, differentiation and creativity. In presenting her "Anti-Creativity Checklist," she poses this question:

Here’s a question for you: If you had to come up with a checklist for your organization that was guaranteed to stifle imagination, innovation, and out-of-box thinking…a checklist designed specifically for people who want nothing to do with disruptive change…what would it look like? With a wink toward the irreverent, here's mine.


esi.JPG Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

September 6, 2013

Inspiration of the Week: Elton Simmons, Traffic Cop

Is it possible to have a "zero defect" attitude to our jobs? This total quality approach to manufacturing took root in the 1960s and 1970s, and still holds sway in many boardrooms today. Rather than assuming that mistakes are inevitable, the zero defect approach focuses on prevention and motivating people to do their job right the first time. OK, that might produce results in the world of widgets, but what about in a less quantifiable areas of the work world, ones that involve human relations? What about service deliveries that include a high potential for conflict?

We recently found one example, one where the rubber is literally meeting the road.

If there's one thing guaranteed to ruin the average person's day, it's getting a traffic ticket. By it's very nature, it's a high-stress event that is likely to fray nerves. But for some Los Angeles drivers, the experience of getting a ticket is not a day-ruining event - in fact, some people who are stopped by Sheriff's Deputy Elton Simmons even drive away with both a ticket and a smile. Simmons has been handing out tickets for more than 20 years. Over that time, he's issued more than 25,000 tickets and has never logged a single citizen complaint. Not one -- a fact that astounds his supervisors.

In an L.A. Times article, Simmons attributes is success to one word: respect. "His easygoing manner was cultivated by an uncle back home in Louisiana, a pastor who instilled in Simmons the motto "Do good, be good, treat people good." CBS followed Simmons around for a day and produced a short video that's worth watching to learn more about his approach to his work.

Note: video is preceded by an ad.

It's a good lesson to ponder. We'd add one more word to the reason Simmons is successful at his work, despite the inherent potential for high conflict: attitude.

One of the criticisms leveled at the "zero defect" approach is that perfection is impossible to attain given that humans are fallible; another is that it takes a "blame the worker" approach to problems. Proponents dispute this, suggesting that a zero-defect approach is more about "attitude and performance standards." In The Quest for Zero Defects, Mark Richman talks about this, noting the important role of management: "Workers may assemble the parts or staff the call centers, but they’re not ultimately responsible for the overall quality direction of the enterprise. It’s incumbent upon the leadership to create processes that work and result in quality products and services."

He also cites this quote from Philip Crosby's book, Quality is Free:

“People are conditioned to believe that error is inevitable. We not only accept error, we anticipate it. Whether we are designing circuits, programming a computer, planning a project, soldering joints, typing letters, completing an account ledger or assembling components, it does not bother us to make a few errors, and management plans for these errors to occur.... However, we do not maintain the same standard when it comes to our personal life. If we did, we would resign ourselves to being shortchanged now and then as we cash our paychecks. We would expect hospital nurses to drop a certain percentage of babies. We would expect to go home to the wrong house by mistake periodically. As individuals we do not tolerate these things. Thus we have a double standard--one for ourselves, one for the company.”

Does your organization have a "zero defect" approach to your core service or product or process? We'd all like to have more employees like Elton Simmons in our workforce -- but that takes modeling, motivating, and fostering the standards and work climate where such workers can thrive.

August 23, 2013

Grace Under Pressure: Inspiration of the week

On Tuesday, a disturbed 20 year old gunman entered a Georgia elementary school armed with an AK-47 type assault rifle and nearly 500 rounds of ammunition. He fired some shots and took school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff hostage, telling her he was off his medication, was not mentally stable and was ready to kill and be killed.

Remarkably, Tuff stayed calm and respectful and persuaded the man to stay with her, diverting him from going into the school yard where children would be in danger. Her diversion afforded precious time for the children to escape. She called 911 and interceded between the police emergency dispatcher and the gunman. Throughout the extended ordeal, she listened to the gunman and appealed to him on a human level, extending hope to him and relating to him by talking about her own troubles. She explained how she had contemplated suicide but that things got better for her and they could for him, too. In a compassionate and motherly fashion, she showed him a way out and appealed to his better nature.

The incident ended when she talked the man through surrendering without anyone being hurt. You can read more about this story and listen to the extraordinary 911 tapes in full on the Atlanta Constitution coverage of the incident

In one of the many news interviews she later conducted, she described a technique she had learned in her own life that helped her to cope with tragedy and fear: you just have to "push through the pain" and go on. Below is a video clip of an interview with Tuff explaining how she got through the ordeal.

Alert: this is an embedded clip from WSBTV that is preceded by advertising. If your organization blocks videos, here is a link to the story and the clip: http://www.wsbtv.com/videos/news/tuff-says-faith-life-experience-saw-her-through/v9fKq/

People often throw around the word "hero" rather loosely - this is a real-life example of heroism - grace under pressure, courage under fire. The world needs more heroes like Antoinette Tuff and more appreciation for our hard-working school personnel. This woman kept herself in harm's way to protect children in her charge - incredible bravery.


esi.JPG Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

July 21, 2013

Replacing exit interviews with conversations and engagement

In a recent post at TLNT.com, HR consultant Barbara Milhizer calls the exit interview "the 2nd most worthless activity HR has to handle" after performance management. She suggests they've attained "sacred cow" status because, among other things, they are intended as a way to get actionable data on why people are leaving and offer a measure of risk mitigation.

But however worthwhile these goals might be, is there any evidence that exit interviews are effective about accomplishing these goals? Milhizer thinks not. She steps in a departing employee's shoes to describe the awkwardness of the encounter and suggests an exit "conversation" as an alternative approach. Her post elicits a mixed response in the commentary that follows, with most agreeing (exit interviews are too little, too late), but also a spirited defense of the exit interview value by others.

At HR Daily Advisor, Steve Bruce suggests another approach: Why Not Stay Interviews Instead of Exit Interviews?. He cites management consultant and author Leigh Branham in offering this type of interview as one of the keys in an ongoing retention and engagement strategy. The first step begins with knowing who might leave and why, so managers should identify high value/high risk employees and start there. The article suggests a process and objectives for conducting such an interviews, along with offering a series of potential questions, such as, "How could we more fully utilize your talents and capabilities?"; "What, if anything, is holding you back from being more effective?"; "What can we do to make your job more satisfying?", and "What can I do as your manager to help you meet these development goals?"

For more on fostering employee retention and engagement, see the Re-Engage blog by Lee Branham and Mark Hirschfeld. Also, see Branham's recent presentation “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Disengage & Leave… or Engage & Stay.”

Business Class - Employee Engagement and Retention from Greater KC Chamber of Commerce on Vimeo.

Author Leigh Branham, founder & principal of Keeping the People, Inc. presents on “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Disengage & Leave… or Engage & Stay.” Watch for a better understanding of the reasons employees leave (which are very different from what they say in exit interviews), so that management and HR can create on-target corrective and preventative solutions to employee turnover.”

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

June 21, 2013

Eat a live frog every morning & other productivity tips from Mark Twain

Mark Twain said, "“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Gina Trapani of Fast Company translates this sage advice into modern productivity parlance: Do your worst task first thing in the morning - the first thing you accomplish at work sets the tone for the rest of the day. She clarifies that by "worst" she means "most important" and the one that you are most likely to procrastinate on.

In a related article, Kevin Purdy samples a handful of well-known entrepreneurs to see how successful people spend the first hour of their work day. And here's a hint: Some of those high performing people actually get the ball rolling the night before: What the most productive people do before bed.

More from Mark Twain
Today's productivity gurus have nothing on Mark Twain. Another sage bit of advice we like: "The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex and overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one." At The Bacharach Blog, W. Briggs takes an entertaining look at 5 productivity tips from Mark Twain. And if this whets your appetite for even more wit and wisdom from Mark Twain, he has also gathered a slideshow of 17 Mark Twain Quotes for Leaders.


ESI-Logo.jpg Does your EAP measure up? If you'd like to learn more about turbocharging your employee benefit package, reducing absenteeism, and enhancing productivity, call us today: 800-535-4841.

May 12, 2013

Can random acts of kindness motivate your employees?

Does it seem as though there's nothing but violence and tragedy on the news? We have a bit of an antidote to renew your faith in the goodness of the human spirit. Two videos have been making the web circuit over the past few weeks that show people caught in random acts of kindness.

The first is a compilation of Russian dashcam videos. For insurance purposes, many Russian drivers keep dasboard recorders - that's why we were able to watch so many great live images of the recent meteorite flashing across the sky. Now, a new compilation shows people caught in the act of doing good deeds.

Another video captures Los Angeles Dodger outfielder Matt Kemp's touching act of kindness to a young fan who has a terminal illness. More of the story behind this kind gesture.

Random acts of kindness are free and open to anyone to perform. Plus, they are often contagious. Can they find a place in your workplace? Some think they not just can, they should. A recent article in the New York Times, talks about Wharton professor Adam Grant's new book, Give and Take, in which he makes the case that giving is the secret to getting ahead, a philosophy he espouses in his own career. The article is well worth a reading, and it looks like the book should make it to the top of your summer reading list.

Here's a brief excerpt of the article:

"Organizational psychology has long concerned itself with how to design work so that people will enjoy it and want to keep doing it. Traditionally the thinking has been that employers should appeal to workers’ more obvious forms of self-interest: financial incentives, yes, but also work that is inherently interesting or offers the possibility for career advancement. Grant’s research, which has generated broad interest in the study of relationships at work and will be published for the first time for a popular audience in his new book, “Give and Take,” starts with a premise that turns the thinking behind those theories on its head. The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other people’s lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves."

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

April 6, 2013

Modeling Google's Innovative Approach to HR

In a recent feature, the magazine Fast Company names 50 companies as The World's Most Innovative Companies of 2013, as well as top 10 picks per various industry segments. It's always an interesting list of case histories of new and emerging ideas and well-worth perusing. By way of preview, here's this year's pick for the Top 10, a mix of both online and offline innovation: 1) Nike; 2) Amazon 3) Square 4) Splunk 5) Fab 6) Uber 7) Sproxil 8) Pinterest 9) Safaricom and 10) Target.

Also noteworthy is their look back at last year's crop of Innovative Companies to see how the big ideas they were featured for actually panned out in 2012, and how their prospects look for 2013 and beyond.

Among the selection of interesting articles in this focus on innovation, the one that caught our eye and the one likely of most interest to most readers of this blog, was a story by Mark Crowley, Not A Happy Accident: How Google Deliberately Designs Workplace Satisfaction. He runs through the many ways that Google has had an impact on human life in such a short period of time - less than 15 years - but notes that perhaps its single greatest achievement is in its people:

"But in Google’s short lifespan, it has also grown from a two-man startup to an organization with nearly 37,000 employees in 40 different countries. This notable and relentless workforce expansion begs the very important question: How have they successfully managed and integrated all these new people while concurrently motivating them to be consistently loyal, ambitious, innovative, and productive?"
He notes that much attention is given to their "seemingly over-the-top perks" like bowling alleys and pets at work, it's easy to to attribute their people innovation and success to these perks, but in reality, things go much deeper than a handful of creative benefits:
"Upending traditional leadership theory, which directs organizations to squeeze as much out of people while paying them as little as possible, Google holds an authentic reverence for its employees and seeks to not just appeal to their uber-developed minds in motivating performance, but also to their very human hearts."

After a visit to the company, he offers his highlights of what he learned, and expounds on each of these four key points:
  • Being a great place to work is in Google’s DNA
  • Google ensures people have inspiring work
  • Employees have uncommon freedom and control of their time
  • Google is a democracy and employees are given a significant voice

For more case histories of HR innovation, see Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For - Google has topped this list for four years running. And two-related articles worth noting: Want to hire great people? Hire consciously and 11 top perks from Best Companies.


esi.JPG Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

March 31, 2013

Inspiration of the Week: Amy Cuddy on Body Language

Set aside 21 minutes and 3 seconds some time this week to watch Amy Cuddy's TED talk - we're pretty sure you'll be glad you did. It's funny, it's warm, it's inspirational - and you will learn something that you can apply in your own life and hopefully share with others.

Here's the TED summary of her talk:

"Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how "power posing -- standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident -- can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success. Amy Cuddy’s research on body language reveals that we can change other people’s perceptions — and even our own body chemistry — simply by changing body positions."

(Note: this post contains a YouTube video. If your employer blocks YouTube, you can view the video and a transcript at the following link: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html


esi.JPG Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

March 17, 2013

Lessons from outer space: How to achieve your goals

When's the last time you got your motivation from outer space? Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield offers a short, inspirational video on how to achieve your goals - it's great advice for you as a leader and a great clip to share with your employees!

For more inspiration, see this longer video of Chris Hadfield talking with William Shatner, aka Captain Kirk.

You can find more videos from Chris at the Canadian Space Agency YouTube channel. Don't miss space food and nail clipping in space.

(Note: This post contains a YouTube video. If your organization blocks access, you may not be able to see it in this post. Here is a direct link to the video URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGrzo4IvXyg )

esi.JPG Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

February 21, 2013

Planning terminations that involve potentially violent employees

In another sad chapter of Minnesota's deadliest workplace shooting, Accent Signage Systems is being sued by the family of one of its employees, a deceased victim, for being grossly negligent.

In October 2012, managers at Accent Signage fired employee Andrew Engeldinger, who then shot those managers and several other coworkers before killing himself. Six employees of Accent Signage - including the company owner - were killed in the rampage.

The lawsuit states that the events were "reasonably foreseeable based on Engeldinger's past incidents of employment misconduct and his known propensity for abuse and violence" and state that the company should have taken greater precautions when firing the shooter. Engeldinger's estate is also a party to the suit.

Looking back at a termination gone nightmarishly wrong, it's easy to point fingers or to say what should have been done differently. As the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20 vision. Sadly, in this case, the people who made the decisions about how the termination was handled paid with their lives for those decisions.

As with any mass shooting, there's a lot of coverage of the event online - his parents said that they saw their son's descent into paranoia and mental illness, but were powerless to affect change or get help. Coworkers describe a moody, quiet loner. The victim whose family brought suit had spoken of his unease, saying that Engeldinger was his nemesis. At least one post-event report stated that a search of Engeldinger's work computer revealed he had done much of his research and shopping for weapons and ammunition while on the job - a chilling detail, if true. Yet the Star Tribune notes that, "Engeldinger's court and employment records show no history of physical threats or violence before the shootings -- only repeated warnings for being late to work and being verbally abrasive with colleagues."

There are so many issues involved in these cases: the plight of family members who watch a loved one's terrible struggle; the grief of survivors, and the long road of recovery for witnesses; the issue of mental illness and the way it is handled in the workplace and in society at large; the issue of guns, and the increase in laws that prevent an employer from forbidding that guns be kept in cars in a company parking lot; and the related legal issues, lawsuits, and human resource issues. For today's post, we focus on prevention. If we learn nothing from such tragic events, then they are doubly senseless.

Firing a volatile and violent employee
Firing an employee is never a comfortable event, not in the best of circumstances. Managers never truly know how someone will react. We've blogged about best practices for this tough responsibility before. When dealing with troubled employees, there are special precautions that should be taken - particularly if there is the merest hint that things could turn badly or violently.

Long before a situation reaches the level where a termination of a potentially volatile employee is required, there are steps that should have been taken. These start with best hiring practices and a widely promoted and well-enforced policy of zero-tolerance for violence.

In addition, from the outset of employment, managers should be alert for red flags that may indicate a propensity to violence. Some of these include:

  • A chronic inability to get along with fellow employees
  • Mood swings and anger control issues
  • Expressions of paranoia or persecution. Being a "victim"
  • A history of problems with past jobs and and/or personal relationships
  • An inability to get beyond minor setbacks or disputes at work
  • A fascination with guns, weapons or violent events
  • A sudden deterioration in work habits or personal grooming
  • Signs of stress, depression, or suicidal ideation
  • A major life problem, such as divorce or legal problems

If red flags surface, or at the first sign of any anger issues that do not rise to the disciplinary level of termination, an employee should be referred to the company's Employee Assistance Program for anger management counseling and for an assessment so that any underlying mental health or personal issues may be identified and addressed. A Fitness for Duty exam is another tool that might be used if behavior indicates potential mental health issues. (See the article by James J. McDonald in "Additional Resources" for more on this.)

Even when all best practices occur in hiring and ongoing supervision, a termination is sometimes inevitable. Minnesota labor and employment law attorney Marylee Abrams states that having a strategic plan when terminating an employee can minimize the risk of violence. She offers several good suggestions in her article.

Other suggestions we've compiled from various sources include:

  • Consider having a professional threat assessment performed
  • Consider using a neutral manager or outside security consultant to carry out the termination
  • If there is manager or supervisor who has been the object of threats or anger, that person should not be the person to conduct the termination
  • Have security nearby - not in the same office, but close enough to hear signs of a problem and to act
  • Do not take a break. There are numerous instances of an employee asking for a bathroom break or time to compose him- or herself, and using the break to retrieve weapons
  • Wait until the end of the workday to terminate, if possible. This protects the dignity of the person being fired and minimizes the number of employees on hand should a situation escalate
  • Minimize any reasons why the employee would have to revisit the workplace. Mail a check; have uncollected belongings sent to the person's home via a delivery service
  • Allow the person as much dignity as possible, but be brief and to the point. Do not get into a back and forth
  • Emphasize any severance benefits and outsourcing help that may be available. Some organizations decide they will not contest unemployment or offer the option of resigning.

Additional Resources
We offer a few resources that we think are particularly good on this important topic.

Terminating the Violent Employee (PDF) - by James J. McDonald, Jr., a partner in the Irvine office of Fisher & Phillips LLP. He offers a sample workplace policy and excellent advice rooted in the legal perspective.

Deadly Terminations and How to Avoid Them - IRMI article by James N. Madero, Ph.D. of Violence Prevention International. He presents deadly scnarios and ways that risk might have been mitigated.

Firing the Violent or Threatening Employee Without Being Fired On (PDF) - Ten pages of advice from Steven C. Millwee, author and expert on workplace violence.

Eight Tips for Meeting with a Potentially Violent Employee - these tips from attorney Robert Bettac are not necessarily aimed for a termination meeting, but offer good advice.

Prior Related Blog Posts

ESI-Logo.jpg A good EAP is a vital component in your violence prevention program, offering important support resources for your managers and help for troubled employees. In addition, ESI EAP offers trained response teams for on-site trauma intervention. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

January 25, 2013

Best Practices for downsizing, layoffs, and firings

Employee layoffs and terminations are one of the least favorite job responsibilities for most human resource professionals, but they are a reality nevertheless. In past posts, we've talked about best practices for terminations and firings as well as offering some good ways to deliver bad news. We recently came upon some practical tips from Employco USA for ensuring that any necessary employee terminations are handled in the most compassionate manner possible and we share them with you here:

To avoid negative repercussions (such as a wrongful termination lawsuit), all companies large or small should have a procedure in place for properly firing employees. Instilling programs that provide financial planning or other resources for recently laid off employees protects the integrity of the business as well.

“Appropriately handling the termination process not only benefits the employee in question, but the company as a whole,” says Rob Wilson, CEO of Employco USA, human resource outsourcing company. “It will provide reassurance to other employees and limits tension, which is conducive to a productive work environment. It also provides the terminated employee with resources for coping during the transition.”

Below are five steps employers can take to help with the transition process:

1. Proper Procedure: During the termination, include all documents related to job performance such as work reviews and written warnings to prevent any misunderstandings, and have a witness present to oversee the proceedings. Be sure to explain clearly (yet courteously) as to the grounds for termination, avoiding debate on the issue. Handle the termination with a human element, treating them as a person and not a number, and be sure to keep the termination confidential to maintain the former employee’s privacy.

2. Outplacement Services: Typically hired by larger companies, outplacement firms can offer great assistance to recently laid-off employees. They provide help with resumes, hone interview skills, offer networking workshops and even access to life coaching.

3. Financial Transition Planning: This asset will help the terminated employee understand their economic situation and offer financial advice as to how their accounts should be handled. They can educate the employee on finding a new job that provides the necessary compensation to pay their bills as well as assisting with their 401k and overall retirement plan.

4. Severance Package: Organizations that offer severance packages to downsized employees are providing them with a resource during the transition period. Most companies compute severance payments using a formula that is based on years of service among other factors.

5. Offer Compensation Upfront: At the time of termination, provide the employee’s accrued salary to him/her in person with a paper check to avoid discrepancy. In addition, financially compensate the employee for any remaining vacation days or paid time off days that were left.

6. Resources: While not all companies may have the budget to offer access to an outplacement firm, that doesn’t mean they need to leave terminated employees out in the dark. At the very least, businesses can provide a list of resources and contacts where the terminated employee may seek assistance with their new situation.

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

January 18, 2013

Being awesome: Who can you delight today?


This story is the stuff of superhero workers. At Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, a father and son trio of window-washers donned Spiderman and Captain America costumes to try to bring a little cheer into the lives of hospitalized kids. For several hours, the costumes added a little flair to their jobs as they dangled from windows and sprayed silly string at the delighted kids. The pictures in this article above and the video below tell the story.

Who can you delight today? Whether it's your coworkers or your customers, it doesn't necessarily take being a superhero to earn a smile. Here are 24 ideas to thank your customers and your employees.

Direct link to video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfhR-SNhi0A

January 5, 2013

5 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People

Great presenters know the psychology of their audience. Behavioral psychologist and author Dr. Susan Weinschenk shares 5 of her favorite things every presenter should know.


esi.JPG In addition to more benefits & more services for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. To learn more about how ESI EAP can help, give us a call: 800-535-4841.

December 8, 2012

Bad hires can be costly - do you check references?

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey on reference checking, 80% of employers said that they don't check references for new hires. That's too bad, because of those that do, nearly 3 in 10 have found a fake reference on a job application.

Bad hires are more than just a drain on productivity and morale - there are very real costs associated. One study shows that they suck up at least one day a week of a manager's time. The wrong hire can rack up a high price tag in a variety of ways - they may expose you to higher legal risks or they may turn into a malevolent disgruntled employee, exposing you to security risks.

Another survey shows that bad hires come with a steep price tag: Forty-one percent of companies estimate that a bad hire costs more than $25,000, and one in four said it costs more than $50,000.

Jay Goltz talked about the hidden costs of a bad hire in an article in The New York Times last year. He discussed some of the reasons why that bad hire can be so costly.

There is the cost of hiring and training and the hit to your unemployment tax rate (the rules vary by state, but business owners should know that when the state pays out claims to a company’s former employees, that company’s unemployment tax rate goes up). The problem is that you are not going to get a bill for your hiring mistakes that would help you reflect on the true costs. Instead, the costs will be hidden in an unemployment rate that goes up for the next three years, in wasted time that could have gone into more productive things, and in customers who get bad product or service during this period. You have hit the trifecta of wasted money.
What could it all add up to? It could easily be $40,000. The extra unemployment insurance by itself could be that much. It could easily be $200,000 if the person costs you a customer or two. Think about it: one call to a reference might have saved you $100,000."

All reference checks aren't created equally

Even those employers who do their due diligence in checking new hires sometimes make a bad job of things. Today, many rely too heavily on checking candidates out via social media, which can have its own pitfalls, or they fail to ask meaningful questions of references that will give them useful information about a potential candidate. Here are a few tools to help you in your screening process.

Reference Checking: Ask Better Questions, Get Better Data

Top 10 Guidelines for Social Media Background Checks = from employment law attorney Michael Nader

Social Media: Your "Keep Out of Court" Kit for the Hiring Process

Checking References: Top 10 Questions to Ask

Ten Critical Questions To Ask When Checking References

Guide to Reference Checking (PDF) - from the personnel Commission of the Los Angeles Community College District

ESI-Logo.jpg Employers: ESI EAP offers discounted background checks and pre-employment screening to member employers. And if you suspect a problem with a potentially disgruntled worker, a referral to your EAP can help to defuse a potential problem. Don't have an EAP? Call 800-535-4841.

December 2, 2012

A Hidden Talent Pool: Employees with Autism

About a year go, we featured a fascinating video presentation of Temple Grandon, one of the world's most well-known adults with autism. If you missed it last time around, we can't recommend it highly enough - it's an excellent 20 minute overview that aims to make you think differently about people with autism. She makes the case for employers, particularity in the tech industry, to think about hiring people with autism. She says that "... the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids."

As an employer, there are at least two good reasons why autism should be on your radar. First, it is an issue that concerns you as an employer and your obligations under the ADA. Second, autism is a significant issue that faces many of your caregiving employees who have a son or daughter with autism.

During the next decade, more than a half million young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will turn 18 -- and many will be looking for work. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal to discriminate against qualified job applicants because they have autism. As with many disabilities, autism is much misunderstood but some employers who take the time to enlarge their understanding of ASD are finding a rich pool of talent. USA Today recently featured an article about Aspiritech, an Illinois start-up company that has found a successful niche in hiring autistic adults as software testers, harnessing excellent attention to detail.

This success would be of little surprise to Specialisterne, a Danish company that employs 35 high-functioning autistic workers who are hired out as consultants to the tech industry throughout Denmark. This remarkeble company is profiled in the excellent New York Times article The Autism Advantage, which notes that, "Specialisterne has inspired start-ups and has five of its own, around the world. In the next few months, Sonne plans to move with his family to the United States, where the number of autistic adults — roughly 50,000 turn 18 every year — as well as a large technology sector suggests a good market for expansion."

Thinking differently starts with greater understanding
Steve Silberman is an investigative reporter for Wired and other national magazines. Autism is a theme that he writes about often. During last April's autism awareness month, he authored the excellent Autism Awareness is Not Enough: Here’s How to Change the World. He notes that while, "the lion’s share of the money raised by star-studded “awareness” campaigns goes into researching potential genetic and environmental risk factors — not to improving the quality of life for the millions of autistic adults who are already here, struggling to get by. At the extreme end of the risks they face daily is bullying, abuse, and violence, even in their own homes."

Silberman talks to ASD self-advocates, parents, and teachers, including "Nick Walker, an autistic aikido master who founded his own dojo in Berkeley; the first openly autistic White House appointee, Ari Ne’eman; Emily Willingham, one of the sharpest science writers in the blogosphere; Lydia Brown, a prolifically articulate and thoughtful 18-year-old self-advocate at Georgetown University; Todd Drezner, director of Loving Lampposts, a groundbreaking documentary on autism and neurodiversity from a father’s perspective; and the editors of Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism."

They offer ideas ranging from, "outlines for education and public-policy reform, to calls for more 24-hour businesses and innovative assistive technology, to persuasive arguments from the trenches for transformations of attitude — are a road map to a more equitable neurodiverse society that will help all 88 out of 88 kids to maximize their creative potential."

This roundup of interviews is thought provoking and continues along the Temple Grandin mission to "think differently" about people with autism.

Don't Get Locked Into Labels - by Temple Grandin.

Employment Opportunities for Individuals with Autism

ASCEND (Autism Asperper Syndrome Coalition for Education, Networking and Development)

Young Adults With Autism Seek Out White-Collar Careers For First Time

The Autism Project - a multi-media effort by Toronto Star reporters, photographers and videographers - in print, online and social media - to document autistic lives in all their many stages.

The Autism Society - Employment


esi.JPG Learn how ESI Employee Assistance Program can help address your employees' wellbeing issues - from a wellness benefits and help for everyday work-life matters to comprehensive assistance for a wide array of potentially disruptive issues and problems.

October 21, 2012

On becoming a better boss: things to do and not to do

Most of us have survived the soul-crushing experience of having a bad boss at least once in our lives, no? If you're one of the few that hasn't - there's still time! It's sort of a universal human experience. This blog even has a Bad Boss Hall of Fame where we've shared a few stories that have come our way. We like to share the bad with the good because there's almost as much to be learned on the "what not to do" side of things as the "walk this way" side.

In reality, when we talk to HR managers and supervisors in the organizations we work with, we're always impressed and heartened by how seriously folks take their jobs, how important fairness is, and how sincerely the vast majority of people strive to be better managers. In that spirit, we offer a few articles from experts that have impressed us in the "what not to do / what to do" genre. We're summarizing the bullet points, but they are all pretty good pieces so it would be worth your time to check out each author's full commentary.

Ten Things Bad Bosses Do - by Mark Price Perry at ProjectManagement.com

1. Embarrassing employees in public.
2. Not following up on employee ideas.
3. Withholding praise.
4. Ignoring professional growth needs.
5. Demanding unrealistic rules of order.
6. Being vague and indirect.
7. Showing you don’t care.
8. Being all-knowing all of the time.
9. Ignoring individual differences.
10. Never say you’re sorry or admitting being wrong.

Ten Things Only Bad Managers Say- by Liz Ryan at Bloomberg Businessweek Management

1. If you don’t want this job, I’ll find someone who does.
2. I don’t pay you to think.
3. I won’t have you on eBay/ESPN/Facebook/etc. while you’re on the clock.
4. I’ll take it under advisement.
5. Who gave you permission to do that?
6. Drop everything and DO THIS NOW!
7. Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.
8. Sounds like a personal problem to me.
9. I have some feedback for you … and everyone here feels the same way.
10. In these times, you’re lucky to have a job at all.

10 Things That Good Bosses Do by Steve Tobak at CBS MoneyWatch

1. Pay people what they're worth, not what you can get away with.
2. Take the time to share your experiences and insights.
3. Tell it to employees straight, even when it's bad news.
4. Manage up ... effectively.
5. Take the heat and share the praise.
6. Delegate responsibility, not tasks.
7. Encourage employees to hone their natural abilities and challenge them to overcome their issues.
8. Build team spirit.
9. Treat employees the way they deserve to be treated.
10. Inspire your people.

esi.JPG - Hone your management skills with the ESI Management Academy. Our member organizations have access to a complete curriculum of online compliance and management training programs.

October 6, 2012

Constructive conflict: Dare to Disagree

"A fantastic model of collaboration: thinking partners who aren't echo chambers."

Margaret Heffernan's TED talk, Dare to Disagree, explores the idea that conflict avoidance can sometimes create blind spots that hinder progress. She illustrates how the best partners aren’t echo chambers -- and how great research teams, relationships and businesses allow people to deeply disagree.

According to her biography on the TED page, Margaret Heffernan is the former CEO of five businesses: "She began her career in television production, building a track record at the BBC before going on to run the film and television producer trade association, IPPA. In the United States, Heffernan became a serial entrepreneur and CEO in the wild early days of web business and was named one of the Internet's Top 100 by Silicon Alley Reporter in 1999."

Her book Willful Blindness has been called one of the best business books of 2011. You can follow more of her business thinking at her blog and her her websit, mheffernan.com.


ESI-Logo.jpg Does your EAP measure up? If you'd like to learn more about turbocharging your employee benefit package, reducing absenteeism, and enhancing productivity, call us today: 800-535-4841.

September 22, 2012

Inspirational story of the week - bring tissues

This past week, the internet introduced us to Taylor Morris, a Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal tech from Cedar Falls, Iowa. If you're looking for an inspirational story, this is it - it's a story packed with courage, grit, and humor. It's also an incredibly moving love story. And if it doesn't convince you to move veterans up to the top of your hiring list, well, nothing will.

On May 3, 2012, Taylor stepped on an IED. The explosion claimed both legs, his left arm and his right hand. Now a life-changing event of that magnitude would slow most of us down. Not Taylor - he's apparently got too much life to live. Follow his story over the four and a half months since his injury occurred - right through to his welcome home parade -- a model for how our injured vets should be treated -- and on to his wedding to his sweetheart and partner, Danielle. Incredibly, and against all odds, Taylor danced at his own wedding. Tim Dodd,a photographer and hometown friend chronicles Taylor's recovery in a three part narrative with photos and video clips.

We encourage you to set aside some time to read the three entries Tim has posted, but if you have limited time, the excellent photos tell the story.

Part 1: Do you know my friend TaylorMorris?

Part 2: Have you seen my friend Taylor walk?

Part 3: Did you see my friend Taylor come home?

You can follow more about Taylor Morris at his journal.

Hire a Vet

Top 11 Reasons to Hire a Vet

From the Department of Labor:
Employer Toolkit for Hiring a Vet

Information on Hiring Wounded & Injured Veterans

esi.JPG Returning service members face the challenge of reintegration in the family, the workplace, the community. Some will face the special challenges of coping with physical or psychological wounds, such as PTSD. ESI EAP offers members a variety of services addressing the challenges of military deployment. We also have resources for employers. To learn more about how ESI EAP can help, give us a call: 800-535-4841.

August 19, 2012

Are you taking advantage of everything your EAP has to offer?

If you are like most HR professionals, you are always working to maximize your employee benefit package while minimizing your costs. Ed Bray, the director of Employee Benefits for Hawaiian Airlines, has a suggestion for you: Show your EAP some love. Bray says that one theme has been consistent across companies in his decade of HR experience: organizations are not making full use of their EAP, a benefit they already have that can offer employees significant value. He offers his top 5 reasons why you might want to promote its use, which we summarize here:

1. Everyone loves free.
2. Your EAP probably offers elder care resource and referral services.
3. Particularly in the current tough economy, employees could use any financial and legal consultation services available through an EAP.
4. It is likely that your EAP provides referral services for reputable childcare facilities in your local area.
5. There is an excellent chance that your EAP has a website with a plethora of information available to your employees, including a list of all covered services and resources.

We couldn't have said it better! We can add to Ed's list. Here are 20 more benefits that your EAP should provide:

  • Access 24/7 counseling services for virtually any problem
  • Address family conflicts
  • Prepare for retirement
  • Decrease stress
  • Kick the smoking habit
  • Get help for depression
  • Lose weight and keep it off with exercise programs and fitness benefits
  • Adopt a child
  • Get discounts and savings
  • Create a will
  • Deal with substance abuse issues
  • Cope with grief and loss
  • Develop professionally through courses and training
  • Get help for consumer problems
  • Deal with mental and behavioral health issues
  • Balance work, life and job
  • Plan for college and tuition assistance
  • Access caregiver support and resources
  • Deal with debt and get help with debt restructuring
  • Get help for cancer, diabetes, and other health challenges

Benefits for HR practitioners and managers, too
Your EAP should provide resources and benefits to you, as an HR manager, and to your managers and supervisors. Your EAP is a critical tool to help you retain employees, reduce absenteeism, and improve productivity. Are you making full use of all the benefits and services available to you?

  • HR Consultation with SPHR professionals for difficult issues
  • Administrative referrals to address unacceptable performance issues
  • Pre-employment screening and background checks
  • Mediation services
  • Trauma Response services
  • Professional development and management training
  • Drug Free Workplace Programs
  • HR tools and resources for policies and compliance issues

ESI-Logo.jpg Does your EAP measure up? If you'd like to learn more about turbocharging your employee benefit package, reducing absenteeism, and enhancing productivity, call us today: 800-535-4841.

August 5, 2012

Why We Lie, Go to Prison and Eat Cake: Dan Ariely

When it comes to honesty, ethics, and the dividing line between our values and our actions, we point you to Dan Ariely, best-selling author and professor of behavioral economics and psychology at Duke University. Wired editor Joanna Pearlstein recently posted a lively discussion she had with him at a business forum: Why We Lie, Go to Prison and Eat Cake: 10 Questions With Dan Ariely.

In the interview, Ariely talks about some of the issues that are in his new book, The Honest Truth of Dishonesty. He looks at such issues as how the chance of getting caught affects us, why the potential for even dire consequences may not deter us from lying or cheating, and how our "fudge factor" allows us to incrementally rationalize dishonesty. The crux of the interview and the thrust of topic of his new book can be summed up with a few lines from one of Ariely's recent blog posts: "Every day, people are finding new and more creative ways to cheat, and to justify their dishonest behavior, regardless of the negative impact their actions might have on others. What’s most worrying about this trend is that we still fail to grasp the extent of our dishonesty. But it doesn’t have to be like this. If, on a global scale, we worked to understand the root of our dishonesty, and motivated each other to overcome it, we could do much better."

Related to this interview, we point you to Ariely's engaging, amusing, and thought-provoking Ted Talk, Why We Think It's OK to Cheat and Steal (Sometimes). Ariely talks about many of his experiments testing the boundaries of honesty and cheating. Here's a brief description of the talk:

"One of the challenges of human life is what's good for us in the long term often doesn't seem good for us right now. Dieting, for example, is not so much fun now, but good for the future; the same goes for saving money or submitting to preventive medical tests. When we face such tradeoffs, we often focus on the short term rather than our long-terms goals, and in the process we get ourselves into trouble. But wait! There is hope. By understanding where we fall short, there are methods we can use to overcome our natural (and less than desirable) inclinations."

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

August 4, 2012

Keeping Silly Season Sane: Politics in the Workplace

Life might get a little more contentious at the water cooler over the next few months because we are officially in silly season. Wikipedia defines this as the time in the U.S. between early summer and early October in an election year. "Primary elections are over at this time, but formal debates have not started and the general election is still many weeks away. Issues raised during this period are likely to be forgotten by the election, so candidates may rely on frivolous political posturing and hyperbole to get media attention and raise money."

Expect that employees will be talking about politics in your workplace, and it's a topic that can incite passion. According to a survey on the issue of politics in the workplace, "36 percent of workers acknowledge discussing politics at work, while 46 percent say they plan to talk about this year's presidential election with co-workers. About 23 percent said chats about politics led to a heated debate or a fight with a colleague."

People sometimes misinterpret "free speech" to mean that they can say anything, anytime, anyplace. Not so. Private employers generally have the right to limit political discussion in the workplace -- but there are gray areas. In some instances, the NLRB protects political speech that relates to work-related issues . (See Can an Employee be Disciplined for Engaging in Political Speech in the Workplace?). And employers can't dictate the direction of conversations between employees who are on breaks or at lunch. When it comes to banning discussions about politics, the issue isn't quite so much a question of "can you" as "should you."

Instead of imposing restrictions, which may be difficult to enforce, some experts suggest that common sense should rule the day. Employers may want to establish some ground rules by re-emphasizing the values of professionalism, respect, and tolerance for others - including differences of political opinion. It may be a good time to dust off and circulate your organization's "code of conduct" from your Employee Handbook.

Focus on productivity - don't allow discussions of any variety to disrupt the workplace. Be prepared to intervene and nip things in the bud if things get heated or argumentative. And it should go without saying that, as an employer, you should avoid any adverse employment action related to an employee's political opinions.

For more, see our prior posts on politics at work

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

May 27, 2012

Social Media: Your "Keep Out of Court" Kit for the Hiring Process

More and more, employers are harvesting information about job candidates from social media. Recently, there was a big brouhaha over the idea that some employers were asking job candidates for their Facebook password as a gating issue in the hiring process. While we're not sure how widespread that questionable practice might have been, it's clear that employers are using social media to check out prospective employees, as well as to monitor current employees. As the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of any training, policies or guidelines about what your managers can or can't do in the hiring process, they are likely creating their own rules - some of which may put you on the wrong side of the law.

Mark Toth is the Chief Legal Officer of Manpower North America and he's also a Senior Professional of Human Resources (SPHR) and a Certified Staffing Professional (CSP). While he imparts regular doses of wisdom and humor in The Employment Blawg, lately we've been taking note of his posts on how employers use social media, particularly in the hiring process. In his recent post everything employers need to know about social media, he noted that although 95% of employers are using LinkedIn, 58% are using Facebook, and 42% are using Twitter, among other social media, 73% of employers do absolutely no social media training. Yet left to their own devices without any guidance, your staff may be doing some questionable or deceptive things that could create a public relations nightmare or could put you on the wrong side of the law.

To help keep you out of the courtroom when it comes to the hiring process, Mark recently posted a handy Social Media Search-O-Rama Checklist which he authorized us to reprint here. It's simple and concise!


If you'd like more guidance on formulating a social media policy or offering training to your staff, see Toth's Social Media Starter Kit, a remarkably handy list of useful links to laws, sample policies, templates and more.


ESI-Logo.jpg Hiring people is one of the riskiest things that an employer does. ESI EAP offers discounted background checks and pre-employment screening to member employers. For more information, call 800-535-4841.

May 8, 2012

EAP Best Practices Checklist

If you don't have an EAP or are considering a change, this list will serve as a handy checklist of the services necessary to minimize lost-time, disability, work absence and liability. And if you already have an EAP, check to see if you are maximizing the benefits and taking full advantage of all available programs. Compare your EAP’s menu of services to this checklist of best practices to ensure that you have an adequate program to trim your productivity losses and lower your disability and workers' compensation risk.

  • 24 hour, 365 day per year direct access to counseling and referrals by masters and doctoral level professional counselors via a toll-free telephonic service
  • A countrywide network of professional counselors who are readily accessible within minutes of your employees' homes and job sites.
  • Between three and six cost-free outpatient visits per distinct presenting problem.
  • Cost-free coverage that extends to members of the immediate family, life partners, and dependent children up to 23 years of age.
  • Drug-free workplace programs that include components for both supervisors and employees, and that include awareness programs, consultation, and supervisor training.
  • Legal consultations for any legal issues unrelated to work.
  • Financial counseling including debt restructuring, credit problems, and financial and retirement planning.
  • A work-life component that addresses childcare, eldercare, and other family challenges that can affect job performance and productivity.
  • Supervisory trainings in compliance issues such as EEOC rules, workplace sexual harassment, workplace violence prevention, etc.
  • On-line trainings and compliance information for supervisors.
  • On-line information and help for employee members.
  • Crisis management programs that include workplace violence awareness and prevention training.
  • On-site post-traumatic stress assistance and debriefings.
  • Monthly statistical utilization reports.
  • Employee awareness materials, including initial orientation materials, website access, and monthly EAP newsletters.
  • An administrative referral process for effectively correcting job-related behaviors.
  • Supervisory consultations to discuss the best practice approaches to employee behaviors and group dynamics.
  • A "hold harmless" clause that completely shields the employer from any and all charges stemming from EAP actions or referrals.
  • A comprehensive quality assurance program.
  • Privacy and confidentiality standards, including compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
In evaluating prospective firms, it’s also important to:
  • Check the credentials and experience of principals and professional staff. Are the counselors trained and credentialed? Do they hold advanced degrees?
  • Make sure that experienced counselors will be staffing the phone line and accessible.
  • Check the knowledge and experience specifically related to workers compensation and disability issues.
  • Learn the scope of the program’s network — what services will be provided directly by staff (internal) versus services contracted to outside firms?
  • Ask for references from current clients and check for any satisfaction surveys. Ask about client retention rates.

April 22, 2012

You're fired x 1300

Did you hear the one about the employer who mistakenly issued pink slips to 1,300 employees via email? Oops! They only meant to send the termination notice to one person. We bet the phone lines and Twitter feeds were doing double time in that work community after that surprise.

The big news here isn't the blooper. It's that some employers think using email is an appropriate way to fire people. Call us old-school, but we don't think an important matter like a job termination should be handled by email, phone call, or letter. Unless there are extraordinary and unavoidable circumstances, firing should be a face-to-face meeting -- employees deserve that courtesy. Yet virtual firings do happen, and they happen at all levels of the organization.

In our role as an EAP, we find ourselves working with managers and employees when terminations and downsizings occur. There is no easy way to fire someone, but here's our recommended best practices to ensure that affected employees are afforded the maximum in fairness and dignity.

First, if the termination is based on performance, make sure that the employee has been adequately warned, that warnings have been well documented, and that the employee has been given ample opportunity to rectify the situation. Many employers conduct an administrative referral to their EAP at this stage. Done properly, an administrative referral will resolve and head off more than half of all performance-based terminations. If the termination is part of a downsizing, there should be an announcement ahead of time that layoffs are planned.

If termination is the only solution, whether for performance or for general business reasons, the following steps will prove helpful:

  • Schedule the termination meeting early in the day, and during the week; avoid terminating employees right before a holiday or a weekend.
  • Have all paperwork ready. The final paycheck and all severance and benefit information need to be delivered at the termination meeting.
  • The employee's manager and a representative from HR should attend so that you are able to cover all issues and questions.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • After all questions are answered and all paperwork completed, wish the person well and help them assemble their belongings and leave.

Firing someone is always a difficult task, but following these basic rules will help it go better. We don't advocate e-mail as a good termination strategy!

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

April 7, 2012

A holiday weekend "ta-dah"

We were looking for a light hearted little something with an Easter theme to post when we stumbled on this video clip of a woman wearing bunny rabbit ears. On closer inspection, the woman is best-selling author Amanda Gore, who offers a fun little lesson in offering up "ta-dahs." If you don't know what "ta-dahs" are, you may be lacking an important leadership skill so you need to watch this short clip now.

Did you watch it? Good for you, you show an awesome capacity for leadership! Ta-dah!

February 26, 2012

Transgender in the Workplace

In December, the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit found in favor of Vandiver Elizabeth Glenn's claim of sex discrimination for having been fired from a job as editor with the Georgia General Assembly. The Court found that Glenn's firing violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, just the latest in a series of such rulings. And the courts are not the only sign that the tide is turning. In an essay in TIME, Adam Cohen notes:

"Meanwhile, things are also changing in the workplace. Last week’s [December] report from the Human Rights Campaign found that 207 of 636 major U.S. companies surveyed, or nearly one-third, covered the cost of gender-reassignment surgery for transgender workers. That number increased from just 85 a year earlier. When HRC began monitoring the issue a decade ago, no corporations covered the surgery. Among the corporations that added coverage this year are Apple, American Airlines and Chevron. In pop culture, transgender people are also becoming more visible and recognized. Chaz Bono, the only child of Sunny Bono and Cher, has put a celebrity face on being transgender — especially after he competed this season on Dancing with the Stars."

Last week, Baltimore County approves transgender discrimination ban. Nationwide, more than 160 cities and counties have laws banning transgender discrimination, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Employment law attorneys Robert Brody and Rebecca Goldberg talk about what this means for employers in Changing Gender — The New Sex Discrimination (PDF). In discussing the case, the authors note:

But the most likely problem is workplace harassment. Research suggests as many as 97 percent of transsexual employees are harassed at work, more than double the number who reported being denied a job or promotion or fired. To prevent this problem, employers should proactively include gender identity in their anti-harassment policies and training programs. Waiting until an employee identifies as transsexual to implement these changes can draw negative attention to the employee and exacerbate the problem.

Dionysia Johnson-Massie and Gina Cook, attorneys at the employment and labor law firm Littler also take about the Court ruling's impact on employers in 11th Circuit Rules for Transgender Employee in Sex Discrimination Case.

Among other things, they suggest that both public and private employers should review the following policies:

  • Equal opportunity, anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies
  • Dress code and appearance standard policies
  • Codes of conduct between employees, constituents or customers
  • Policies regulating the use of gender-segregated areas such as bathrooms
  • Policies regarding respect for the individual or manager-subordinate relations

Additional Resources:
State Advocacy from the Human Rights Campaign offers maps of state laws and policies, lists of cities and counties with Non-Discrimination Ordinances that include gender identity, and other resources.

Employer and Union Policies from the Transgender Law Institute

Transgender Discrimination - more resources at a prior HR Web Cafe posting.

ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers help with supervisory training and compliance issues, as well as help for employees who are facing any difficult life issue or decisions. Don't have an EAP? Call 800-535-4841.

February 19, 2012

A kinder, gentler philosophy of success

This thought-provoking talk by Alain de Botton looks at success and failure and how these concepts are defined. "Is success always earned? Is failure? He makes an eloquent, witty case to move beyond snobbery to find true pleasure in our work."

February 11, 2012

"The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance" - Shawn Achor

Shawn Achor is the winner of over a dozen distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in what was described as the most popular class at Harvard.

His research and lectures on happiness and human potential have received widespread media attention. He travels around the United States and Europe giving talks on positive psychology to Fortune 500 corporations, schools, and non-profit organizations.

He is currently CEO of Aspirant, a Cambridge-based consulting firm which conducts research to understand where human potential, success and happiness intersect. Based on his research and 12 years of experience at Harvard, he clearly and humorously describes to organizations how to increase happiness and meaning, raise success rates and profitability, and create positive transformations that ripple into more successful cultures.

In his entertaining and though provoking TEDxBloomington presentation, he says that most modern research focuses on the average, but that "if we focus on the average, we will remain merely average." He wants to study the positive outliers, and learn how not only to bring people up to the average, but to move the entire average up.

January 15, 2012

Leadership Lessons: Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 83 years old today had his life not been cut short by an assassin's bullet. In commemoration of his life and legacy, his birthday will see the launch of The King Center Imaging Project, which will make thousands of never-before-seen documents and papers accessible online.

As one of the world's great modern leaders, we take a moment to look at leadership lessons that King offered.

Michael Hyatt offers Eight leadership lessons from Martin Luther King Jr. that he heard when re-listening to the I Have a Dream speech. We've summarized them here but click on the link for his full commentary.

  • Great leaders do not sugar-coat reality.
  • Great leaders engage the heart
  • Great leaders refuse to accept the status quo
  • Great leaders create a sense of urgency
  • Great leaders call people to act in accord with their highest values
  • Great leaders refuse to settle
  • Great leaders acknowledge the sacrifice of their followers
  • Great leaders paint a vivid picture of a better tomorrow

Professor at Columbia Business School Hitendra Wadhwa talks about how Martin Luther King wrestled with and controlled his anger an article entitled The Wrath of a Great Leader. Citing examples of how King channeled his anger to a higher purpose, Wadhwa notes that "Great leaders do not ignore their anger, nor do they allow themselves to get consumed by it. Instead, they channel the emotion into energy, commitment, sacrifice, and purpose. They use it to step up their game." Simon Sinek expands on Dr. King’s power of leading others by sharing his own beliefs. The result? “People who believed what he believed took his cause, and they made it their own."

Ted Talks compiled a playlist of videos that highlight Martin Luther King's visionary leadership. Three speakers talk about ways that King’s passionate style galvanized followers.

Leadership quotes from Martin Luther King

Nothing offers a better leadership lesson than King's own words. Here are a few quotations that exemplify his leadership.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus."

"A man all wrapped up in himself is a mighty small package."

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle."

"All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem."

"Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."

"All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality."

"Let no man pull you low enough to hate him."

December 4, 2011

Limit your employer liability for holiday parties

If you plan to hold a holiday office party, you need to take steps to limit your liability. Some of the potential exposures include alcohol related injuries, post event D.U.I. related car accidents, and harassment -related claims stemming from inappropriate behavior. See this scary roundup of litigations of Christmas past.

To limit your exposure, ensure that party attendance is truly optional. It's not really a party if someone feels obliged to attend. In fact, mandatory fun is getting pretty close to being "work." If employees feel obliged to attend, you heighten your exposure to workers compensation claims should any injuries occur.

Establish a relaxed but appropriate atmosphere. Consider having the event off-hours at an outside venue to limit your liability. Inviting spouses/significant others may cut down on inappropriate behaviors.

Offer (insist on?) free cab rides home for people who have been drinking. Sounds expensive? Not nearly as expensive as the costs and the lifetime of guilt that would ensue if an employee is injured or killed on the way home, or harms others.

For more tips from the pros, Employer Handbook offers 72 ways to prevent an office party from creating an HR hangover, a great roundup of posts from employment law and human resource bloggers.

Other options for holiday-related celebrations:

Consider an alcohol-free family event. Invite employees to bring spouses and kids to the worksite. Serve light refreshments and have small gifts and favors for the kids. It's a good way for managers and supervisors to meet employees' family members.

Consider a neighborhood block party. Open your doors to neighboring businesses or residents for cake, cookies, alcohol-free eggnog, and a tour of your premises.

Consider a charitable event. Invite your employees to be hosts for a community based charity event or fundraiser. Stage a caroling event for local nursing homes or shelters. Have a toy or food fund drive, or sponsor mailings to military folks in active deployment.

Susan M. Heathfield of About.com Human Resources offers a great list of alternatives to the holiday party - from ugly holiday sweater days to office decorating parties - terrific ideas that are cost effective and less risky than a booze-soaked evening event. She also suggests that a simple and good seasonal alternative is a focus on employee recognition.

November 14, 2011

How to overcome your glossophobia

"There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous and 2. Liars." - Mark Twain
"The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public." — George Jessel
"According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy." - Jerry Seinfeld
"All the great speakers were bad speakers at first." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Glossophobia, aka stage fright, is fear or anxiety associated with public speaking. It can encompass perfomance anxiety, fear of failure and the fear of being judged or rejected. It's a very real and often incapacitating fear. Bestselling author Sam Harris takes on this great fear in his entertaining essay, The Silent Crowd: Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking

Harris says that "no one is likely to drag you in front of a crowd and force you to produce audible sentences" and you can go to great lengths to avoid it - even for a lifetime. But he notes that this fear and avoidance "...will periodically make you miserable, and it will limit your opportunities in life." He suggests that "the only way out is through," and he offers seven tips to help you face you fear and emerge on the other side of the podium.

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

August 4, 2011

Life Tools: A Decision Matrix for the Rest of Us

Are you a confident decision-maker, always sure of your choices and usually pleased with your results? Or do you sometimes second-guess yourself, or feel worried and uncertain about big decisions? Or maybe you are among those who find making key decisions (or even more minor choices) utterly torturous, to the point of deciding-by-not-deciding (often a terrible mistake).

By definition, major life decisions are fraught with hope, desire, fears, expectation, and doubt, and if you are among the not-so-decisive deciders above, perhaps you've wished for some mechanism that would allow you to apply more objectivity and logic to the process.

The good news is that you are in luck! Exactly such a tool exists, and for free: the Decision Matrix [PDF]. An information design specialist has created an easily accessible explanation of the matrix and one real-life example of how to use it, plus printable forms. It's the same type of decision matrix that big businesses, corporations, and financial institutions use to make critical decisions every day - you can use it on or off the job.

And the bad news? The bad news is that your decision matrix is only as good as the criteria (key characteristics) you apply and the research you put in to weigh them... but hey, we never said the big choices can be rendered dead easy -- only that you can bring more clarity and objective light to the process.

Remember, this is only a tool. Even if your matrix gives you an answer you hate, it may have done it's job by helping to clarify what you really want or need (or what you don't!) as opposed to what you think you should do, or just feeling confused and uncertain about whole thing. If you get an answer that just feels wrong instead of enlightening, you can toss it out and forget it, or you can start again with a better idea of the weight and importance of certain key aspects of the decision, or by excluding options you now realize are unacceptable.You use the tool, the tool doesn't use you!

Oh, and returning once again to the groups we mentioned in the first paragraph -- the confident and successful decision-maker as opposed to the rest of us who are more likely to fret and dither? It is very likely that the bold, self-assured, decisive individual has a sort of "internal matrix" that helps him or her to evaluate choices naturally, and the process of applying the physical matrix and related techniques to our own decisions can help us to develop and exercise our own critical thinking and decision-making skills, even in instances where we don't have the opportunity to physically chart them out.

July 17, 2011

The 30-day approach for setting & achieving goals

In this his short, lighthearted talk, Google engineer Matt Cutts offers a new approach and a simple recipe for setting and achieving goals.

June 27, 2011

From the "cute kids offering important life lessons" department

This video clip is one of those must-shares. It's the heartwarming and sweet story of a remarkable group of kids who offer tremendous lessons in teamwork, sportsmanship, and the truly important things in life. That's the kind of team I want to be part of -- winners, every one of them!

l'equip petit from el cangrejo on Vimeo.

June 18, 2011

Tips for using Facebook (and other social media) in the hiring process

If you use social media such as Facebook or LinkedIn as a primary source of recruiting, you may be inadvertently putting yourself at risk for discriminatory hiring practices. For one, there is the issue of disparate impact since some minorities may be underrepresented on social networking sites, a matter that may be particularly important for employers with any federal funding. The EEOC is currently reviewing the issue of disparate impact and it is expected that new guidelines may be forthcoming to encompass 21st century practices, such as social media.

Social media poses other potential risks for discrimination in hiring. Viewing a candidate's social networking pages may also expose you to information that you are not allowed to consider in the course of hiring, such as race, religion, age, political beliefs, or health issues.

Security experts CSO Online offer 4 tips for using Facebook legally to conduct background checks - which includes an article and the video, below. Among the many points they and other experts make are to have a policy and to enforce it consistently; be upfront and transparent, and to seek authorization; be aware of the potential legal hazards; to use a third party for screening and research; and recognize that online information may be inaccurate.

May 10, 2011

Planning to hire teens this summer? Tips to keep them safe

As young, first-time workers enter your workplace this spring and summer, it's critical to redouble your efforts to ensure they work safely. Here are ten quick tips for employers, along with some resources for additional information.

Know the Law. Review federal, state, and local laws governing young workers, and ensure that your managers know them, too. Check work permits.

Make safety cool. Never underestimate a teen's need to be cool! Remember how enormous peer pressure was for you in your teens? Teens may not think it's cool to appear dumb by asking questions or wearing protective equipment. Break these barriers down!

Keep a sharp eye out. Watch your young workers closely for fatigue - they may not yet have the stamina of your experienced workers. Also watch for any signs of substance abuse and establish a zero tolerance standard.

Take a lesson from Madison Avenue. There's a reason why advertising works - it repeats a message frequently and in different media. Make sure your safety message stays top of mind at all times. Stuff safety tip sheets in your paycheck envelopes, hang signs everywhere, offer small incentives for good safety suggestions.

Train, train, train! Don't forget to make safety a number one priority in any training programs. State the policies and set expectations. Point out hazards, demonstrate things that could go wrong and be explicit. Teens have an illusion of immortality that you need to break through.

Buddy up. Pair a new teenage worker with an older more experienced worker for their first few days. Have the "safety mentor" check in on the teen frequently over the first few weeks of work. This will help to spread the responsibility throughout the workforce.

Get Mom & Dad involved. Send a letter to your new employees' parents telling them about your company's safety policies, and ask for their support in reinforcing the message.

Dress for success. Make your under-age workers visible to their co-workers in some readily identifiable way so everyone can look out for them. Give teens different colored name tags, uniforms or caps so that everyone can look out for them.

Hold managers responsible. Set your expectations with supervisors and managers, and schedule trainings in laws and issues related to teen workers. Make sure your expectations have teeth - put this important issue in performance reviews!

Walk the walk. Owners and senior managers need to set the example and live the commitment. Establish the priority in your organization. Walk through your workplace on unscheduled visits. Talk to teens one-on-one about safety and probe for questions or suggestions. Many teens may not yet be assertive enough to speak up with concerns. Correct hazards or unsafe behaviors immediately.

--- Reprinted from Workers Comp Insider.

May 5, 2011

One-stop resource for a plethora of work-family issues

Whether you're an HR managers, an academic, a journalist or a policy maker, the Alfred P. Sloan Work and Family Research Network is your one-stop resource for information about work/family issues. Up until 2004, when it broadened its mission, the Network had an academic orientation; today, the initiative calls for engagements with workplace leaders and policy makers, as well.

The Sloan Work & Family Research Network has a wealth of topical work-life resources at its Boston College-affiliated website, including resources for teaching/training, definitions, audio & videos, links, suggested readings and other useful information. Some of the work-family topics, including Afterschool Care, Breastfeeding and the Workplace, Changing Definitions of Families, Dependent Care Tax Assistance, Domestic Violence and the Workplace, Elder Care at the Workplace, Employer-Supported Child Care, Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Family Leave, Flexible Work Schedules, Gender and Use of Workplace Policies, Generation X/Generation Y, Health and Workplace Flexibility, Low-Wage Workers, Military Families, Work-Family Spillover: Negative Impacts, Older Workers, Overwork, Parents Caring for Children with Disabilities, Part-Time Work, Phased Retirement, Return on Investment, Shift Work, and Telework.

Here are a few key tools we've found particularly useful:

And for recent updates...

Follow the Sloan Network on Twitter @SloanNetwork

Visit the Sloan Work & Family Blog

May 4, 2011

Changing perceptions and looking past limits

Caroline Casey has dedicated the past decade of her life to changing how global society views people with disabilities. In 2000, she rode 1,000 kilometers across India on an elephant to raise funds for Sight Savers. Then, as founding CEO of Kanchi in Dublin, she developed a set of best practices (based on ISO 9000 quality standards) for businesses, to help them see "disabled" workers as an asset as opposed to a liability. Hundreds of companies have adopted the standards, changing their policies and attitudes.

In 2004, Casey started the O2 Ability Awards to recognize Irish businesses for their inclusion of people with disabilities, both as employees and customers. The initiative has received international praise and, in 2010, a parallel program was launched in Spain.

March 19, 2011

The Happiness Model

Can you base a business model on happiness? Yes, according to successful CEO Chip Conley. Conley has written three books, including his most recent, PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, and is at work on two new ones, Emotional Equations and PEAK Leadership. He consults widely on transformative enterprises, corporate social responsibility and creative business development. He traveled to Bhutan last year to study its Gross National Happiness index, the country's unique method of measuring success and its citizens' quality of life.

February 26, 2011

Changing how we think about ability and disability

Aimee Mullins looks at language and the way we use words to define ourselves and others. "It's not just about the words, it's what we believe about people when we name them with these words - it's about the values behind the words and how we construct those values. Our language affects our thinking and how we view the world and how we view other people."

Aimee Mullins was born without fibular bones, and had both of her legs amputated below the knee when she was an infant. She learned to walk on prosthetics, then to run -- competing at the national and international level as a champion sprinter, and setting world records at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. At Georgetown, where she double-majored in history and diplomacy, she became the first double amputee to compete in NCAA Division 1 track and field. She has built a career as a model, an actor and an activist for women, sports and the next generation of prosthetics.

For more on remarkable Aimee, see her Ted Talks biography, as well as this fascinating video: Aimee Mullins and her 12 pairs of legs

November 27, 2010

Why work doesn't happen at work

Have you ever thought about the parallels between sleep and work? Jason Fried has, and in his recent 15-minute TED talk, he makes the case for why the workplace keeps getting in the way of worker productivity. He offers three concrete suggestions for shaking things up.

Fried is the co-founder and president of 37signals , a Chicago-based company that builds web-based productivity and collaborative tools, which are well worth exploring.

November 20, 2010

Thinking differently - why the world needs visual thinkers

Temple Grandin is a remarkable person. Perhaps the world's most well-known adult with autism, she was recently named to the 2010 TIME 100, the magazine's annual list of the world's most influential. Grandin was diagnosed with autism as a child and her parents were told that she should be institutionalized. Fortunately, her parents did not listen because today, Grandin she is an American doctor of animal science, a consultant on animal behavior, an animal rights activist, a professor at Colorado State University, a bestselling author, and a noted speaker and author on the topic of autism.

This past year, she was a featured speaker at TED, presenting about how the world needs different kinds of minds. In her engaging presentation, she makes the case that "... the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids." It's elucidating both from the vantage of enlarging our understanding of autism specifically, and more generally, understanding how to motivate and work with different types of thinking.

More on Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin's Official Autism Website
Temple Grandin - Wikipedia
Dr. Temple Grandin's Livestock Behavior page
How does visual thinking work in the mind of a person with autism? A personal account
TIME: Temple Grandin on Temple Grandin

November 1, 2010

Civility and politics in the workplace

Over the weekend, a few hundred thousand people turned out at a Washington DC rally to affirm the message that we can disagree without being disagreeable and that our opponents should not be demonized. They came armed with a sense of humor to send the serious message of a need for civility in our public discourse. It's a shame that this message has to be delivered by comedians rather than our leaders, but maybe the message of civility will be contagious. Civility and good humor are certainly a good themes for us all on election day eve, the culmination of a difficult political season. Campaigns have been highly charged and acrimonious and there are a lot of volatile issues at play: the economy, immigration, gay rights, and religion. For many, these are important and personal issues, so it's all too easy for discussions with opponents to escalate into anger and emotion.

Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal talks about ups and downs of politics in the workplace in her column and also posts about ways the employers can help to keep the peace in pre-election politics on her blog.

A 2008 American Management Association survey on Political Discussion in the Workplace Survey revealed attitudes about politics as a topic of discussion:

"35 percent of respondents were uncomfortable talking politics with co-workers, while 19 percent were okay. And about 39 percent were not comfortable discussing their political views with their supervisor, while about 40 percent were. When it came to having written policies regarding prohibiting the distribution or posting of party of candidate material, about 39 percent said their company did, about 30 percent said their company didn’t and 31 percent didn’t know."
It's unrealistic to think that people won't bring issues that are important to them into workplace discussions. It's important for managers and supervisors to establish and enforce an overall climate of respect on this and any other topics. Remind people to be gracious, whether their candidates win or lose.

It's helpful to remember that this is not new territory. In the 2008 election, things were pretty heated as can be heard in NPR's segment with Amy Dickinson where callers discuss their experiences with politics on the job. In that election, we also posted about managing politics at work. And the roots of acrimony go back much further than 2008. While that is not a good defense, it's comforting to know that despite our differences and the heat of our rhetoric, we manage to move on and progress as a nation.

October 12, 2010

Why it might be a good idea to keep your goals to yourself

After hitting on a brilliant new life plan, our first instinct is to tell someone, but Derek Sivers says it's better to keep goals secret. In a recent short TED talk, he explains why.

July 5, 2010

Point - counterpoint: do benevolent tyrants make good leaders?

A recent article in Entrepreneur by George Cloutier entitled Your Company Is Not A Democracy is raising a bit of a ruckus and eliciting some push back. The article advocates a "tough love school of management" and takes the position that the most effective leaders are benevolent dictators and that the only opinion that counts is that of ownership: "You cannot be effective as the owner of a business unless you are feared and respected by your employees. Likability is nice but not necessary. You've got to demand what you want." The author suggests eight attitudes and practices that small-business owners need to adopt. Here's a sampling: "Tell your employees: "Don't think--obey."

At Lead Change Group's blog, Mike Henry calls the article as a biased justification for poor leadership. While he acknowledges a few truisms in the article (eg, that employees must be held accountable), he takes issue with the overall philosophy that fear is the best motivator and that managers must choose between the options of failing or dictating. He draws a distinction between effective leadership and good leadership, offering five reasons why he (and many others) would avoid the "my way or the highway" type of managers.

Unfortunately, there is no commenting feature on Cloutier's original article so we cannot see any pro or con remarks that it may have elicited among readers, but the comments on Mike Henry's post are worth reading. Here are a few excerpts:

  • uxdesign.com: "I think what we’re dealing with here is less to do with management “style” and more to do with narcissism and a kind of power fetish that has been fostered by industrial age models of “management” designed to maintain the submission of labor."
  • Bruno Coelho: "Today, the most advanced economies aren’t competing in the industrial era league. They’re competing in the knowledge era league! The globalization and the speed of technological evolution has changed the way business compete and work. In the industrial era the focus was mass production. Today, the focus is personalized innovation. Today, the employee knows much more about the what, why, where and the how of building the product/service than his boss. Today, the employee plays a critical role in the way that customers experience a brand by delivering a world-class customer experience.

    The leadership style must adapt to this new reality. The new leadership style should focus on People and Results. And in this order because without People, I absolutely guarantee you that, you can NOT achieve any successful Results."

  • Dave Martin: "Moreover, they ["folks like Mr. Cloutier"] fail to grok the proper role of leadership which includes bringing out the best in people and respecting every person on the payroll as talent. Great leaders set the stage for greatness, create the environment needed for success to happen and they accept this reality: the only person they must manage to be successful is the person that will always prove the most difficult of all to manage – themselves."
We agree with Mike Henry's observations and those of many of the comments on his post. We point to a prior post on leadership, which offers lessons from some of the world's most respected leaders.

On that prior post, author and management consultant Bennet Simonton took the time to share his thoughts on leadership at some length in the comments. Because this excellent comment is buried in our archives, we take the liberty of reposting it here, given its pertinence to the topic at hand:

"One liners never helped me much in my 30+ years of managing people, as few as 22 and as many as 1300.

In my first 12 years, I used the traditional top-down command and control approach to managing people. I then changed to listening to them. After years of listening, I learned what they were following and thus what leadership is.

Leadership consists of sending value standard messages to people which most of them then follow/use. Thus we say that they have been "led" in the direction of those standards. Leadership is merely one side of the coin called values, the other side being followership.

Leadership in the workplace consists of the value standards reflected in everything that an employee experiences because these standards are what employees follow by using them to perform their work. Most of what the employee experiences is the support or lack thereof provided by management - such as training, tools, parts, discipline, direction, material, procedures, rules, technical advice, documentation, information, planning, etc.

Leadership is not a process any manager can change. It happens inexorably every minute of every day because of the way people are. The only choice available to a manager is the standard (good, bad, mediocre or in between) which he/she transmits to to employees.

For instance, the top-down command and control technique is a widely used method by which to manage people. Top-down concentrates on producing goals, targets, visions, orders and other directives in order to control the workforce and thereby achieve organizational success. Concentrating on giving direction prevents these managers from doing much of anything else. Thus top-down treats employees like robots in the "shut up and listen, I know better than you" mode, and rarely if ever listens to them. By so doing this approach ignores every employee's basic need to be heard and to be respected. This approach also makes top management ignorant of what is really going on in the workplace thus making their directives misguided at best and irrelevant at worst.

In this way and others, top-down demeans and disrespects employees sending them very negative value standard messages. The standards reflected in this treatment "lead" employees to treat their work, their customers, each other and their bosses with the same level of disrespect they received. No one can become committed to company goals while being treated so poorly.

This is the road to very poor corporate performance as compared to the results that would be achieved using a better approach. Top-down managers are their own worst enemies because they “lead” employees to the very worst performance.

To produce very high performance, swing to the other end of the spectrum thus leading toward the highest possible performance. To do this, first get rid of all traces of a top-down approach. Everyone wants to do a good job, but don't want to be ordered around like a robot.

Next, start treating employees with great respect and not like robots by listening to whatever they want to say when they want to say it and responding in a very respectful manner. Responding respectfully means resolving their complaints and suggestions and answering their questions to their satisfaction as well as yours, but most importantly theirs. It also means providing them more than enough opportunity to voice their complaints, suggestions and questions. Spend your time making your support reflect the very highest standards of all values by resolving their complaints and suggestions thus "leading" toward the very highest standards.

And realize that the highest quality and most respectful "direction" is the very least since no one likes to take orders or really needs them except in emergency situations. Anyone routinely needing extensive orders should not be on your team.

This treatment leads employees to treat their work, their customers, each other and their bosses with great respect. Listening and responding respectfully also inspires them to unleash their full potential of creativity, innovation and productivity on their work giving them great pride in it and causes them to love to come to work."

June 11, 2010

What motivates us

April 18, 2010

The fun theory: Motivating behavior change

How do you successfully motivate your employees to change behavior? The folks at Volkswagon think that infusing some fun is one of the best and easiest ways to change people’s behavior for the better, whether it be for personal goals, for the environment, or any other matter that would constitute change for the better. They conducted "the Piano Stairs" experiment to test this theory. Would making the stairs fun motivate a behavior change? You can see the results in this short video clip:

Spurred on by their successful experiments, they sponsored a competition challenging readers to submit their own thoughts, ideas, and inventions to demonstrate the effectiveness of the fun theory. Winning entries and submissions can be found at www.thefuntheory.com - check them out - they are fun, and might get your creative juices flowing for your next employee communications campaign.

March 21, 2010

How to stifle creativity in 14 steps or fewer

Youngme Moon, the Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, offers her take on common organizational innovation and creativity inhibitors in this short presentation, The Anti-Creativity Checklist. In the comment section of her posting, readers offer their own lists.

My Anti-Creativity Checklist from Youngme Moon on Vimeo.

January 24, 2010

What's so great about Fortune's top 100 companies?

Fortune recently released its 100 best companies to work for 2010. We like this list because it is usually accompanied by company profiles and data that offer a window into what makes some of the most progressive companies great. It's always worth spending a little time to note the best practice trends.

Among the companies that made the top 5 slots, there are two technology companies, two grocery store chains, and one investment advisor:

  • SAS, a software company, shot up from #20 to earn this year's top honors. The company boasts a laundry list of strong benefits as well as a culture based on "trust between our employees and the company"
  • Edward Jones, investment advisor, held on to its #2 position. In a tough economy, didn't lay off a single employee or close any of its 12,615 offices.
  • Wegmans groceries earned the #3 position on the list - it had been #5 last year. Incredible fact: Wegmans has never had a layoff in its 94-year history.
  • Search giant Google held on to its #4 position. Google is in hiring mode for 2010, too - it plans to add thousands of employees to its payroll this year.
  • Nugget Markets, another supermarket chain, was named as #5, having climbed form the 10th position last year. The company offered employees discounts on groceries to help in a tough economy.

We think one of the best features of the online list is the way that you can sort it. You can see the 22 companies that plan to be in hiring mode this year, view the 25 top paying companies, view the 10 with the best work-life balance, or see a list of the most unusual perks.

Best benefit perkfinder
The sorting tool we liked the best - and the one that we think could be most useful for HR managers - is the best benefit perkfinder.

  • 96 have gay-friendly policies (non-discrimination policies)
  • 84 offer telecommuting benefits (see list of 10 highest percentage of commuters)
  • 83 offer gay-friendly benefits (domestic partner benefits)
  • 81 offer a compressed work week
  • 72 have gym discounts
  • 69 offer an onsite gym
  • 68 offer job sharing
  • 32 offer onsite childcare (see list of 10 with the lowest monthly rates)
  • 19 offer fully paid sabbaticals (see list)
  • 14 offer fully paid healthcare (see list)

December 18, 2009

ESI featured in WSJ article on Mental Health Parity Law and EAPs

An article by reporter Shirley Wang at the Wall Street Journal this week noted that many companies are turning to EAPs or expanding their EAP coverage options as a cost-effective alternative to help fulfill requirements of the mental health parity law. We were pleased to find a brief profile about our services in the article:

"One employee at Harrington Industrial Plastics, a distributor of industrial plastics in Chino, Calif., says she "didn't know where to start" when looking for help dealing with the loss of a child. She turned to her company's EAP, which took a "heavy burden" off her by helping find the resources she needed, including an in-network provider.

Harrington had a bare-bones EAP, offering just three telephone counseling sessions, until early this year. To encourage greater use, the company began offering unlimited telephone sessions and introduced in-person sessions through ESI Employee Assistance Group. It also expanded the menu of services offered to include consultations for adoption, caring for elderly parents and even dealing with pets' behaviors and moods.

Employee use of the Harrington EAP has since risen dramatically, says Robyn Cherney, the company's human-resources administrator."

Mental Health Parity and EAPs
According to Wang, many employers with 50+ employees will need to adjust coverage options by January 1 to comply with the mental health parity law (The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.) This will entail "setting co-payments for behavioral-health services no higher than those for other medical benefits, as well as lifting or expanding limits on the number of visits to mental-health professionals so they are no less restrictive than physical-health benefits." The law expands on the parity provisions stipulated in a prior federal law. In addition, many states have their own mental health parity laws.

One advantage of having an EAP is the potential to intervene early so that many life problems and mental health issues can be addressed at an early stage before they burgeon into more debilitating and more disruptive problems. A good EAP with clinical counselors can also serve as a mental health entry point to help ensure appropriate referrals and follow-up for services within a qualified network of providers.


** An alert reader notified us that the Department of Labor link that we used in our list did not have the most recent information and therefore was inaccurate. We've updated the link with more recent information from the DOL, but be aware that final regulations for the law have been delayed. In October, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated that regulations are planned for January 2010. Meanwhile, affected employers should proceed with good faith efforts to comply with the law's requirements.

November 27, 2009

Three from Jack Canfield: Planning your day; heart talks; getting over a bad situation

Three short video clips from Jack Canfield, best-selling author of Chicken Soup for the Soul book series.

November 1, 2009

Distracted driving & employer policies

Ninety-seven percent of those surveyed in a recent New York Times/CBS News poll support the prohibition of texting while driving (TWD), with 50 percent stating that punishment for TWD should be as severe as for drunken driving. The poll also revealed widespread support - 80 percent - for banning use of hand-held cell phones while driving. This is up from from 69 percent in a 2001 poll. However, seventy percent thought that the use a hands-free phone while driving is not a problem, a view unchanged from a 2001 poll.

The use of hands-free devices while driving may not be as free from risk as people think. Recent research points to the fact that even hands-free devices pose a dangerous distraction. A Carnegie Mellon study show that just listening to cell phones can impair drivers by reducing the amount of brain activity associated with driving by as much as by 37 percent. "Subjects who were listening committed more lane maintenance errors, such as hitting a simulated guardrail, and deviating from the middle of the lane. Both kinds of influences decrease the brain's capacity to drive well, and that decrease can be costly when the margin for error is small."

Employer policies
In the interest of both employee safety and for protection against liability, employers should have policies covering cell phone usage and texting while driving on company time. A new survey of more than 2,000 employers conducted by the National Safety Council found that 58 percent had some type of cell phone usage policy in place, and roughly one-quarter of those surveyed prohibit both hand-held and hands-free devices while driving for some or all employees.

A potential decrease in productivity was one barrier cited by employers that did not yet have any cell phone usage policies in place. Yet only 1 percent of the employers that prohibit hand-held and hands-free devices reported a decrease in productivity. A second barrier cited was concern that employees would not accept a ban, but NSC cites a 2008 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey that found that 83% of drivers rated drivers using cell phones as a serious to extremely serious threat to safety.

Cell Phone Driving Laws by state - this chart is maintained by the Governor's Highway Safety Association, and includes laws related to cellphones and texting.

Texting while driving simulator - have your employees play this game to see how they fare.

The National Safety Council offers a free Cell Phone Policy Kit for employers.According to NSC, the kit includes:

  • ready-to-use sample policies
  • a presentation and written executive summary for senior management
  • a variety of policy roll-out communications for employees, including presentation talking points, posters, voice mail greetings, FAQs, and newsletter articles
  • a 1-hour course with instructor and participant guides and PowerPoint presentation

August 7, 2009

HR and the pirates: a crisis management case history

In this month's Human Resources Executive, Jared Shelly has a fascinating behind-the scenes report of the HR role in crisis management as it played out during the Somalian pirate hijacking of a US merchant ship this past April. The report takes you into "The Situation Room" in Virginia Beach where the crisis response team of Maersk Line Limited met the unfolding situational challenges. Human Resource director Susan Lebrato played a pivotal role on the crisis team in communicating with both internal and external constituencies. As the crisis unfolded, this entailed coordinated planning, information sharing, and communication with governmental agencies; getting information to and providing support for the families of the ship's crew, particularly the family of Capt. Richard Phillips; writing press releases and taking a public role in responding to media inquiries; and planning public and private events to welcome the crew home.

The communication role was particularly sensitive - while seeking to be as open as possible in communicating with staff and family members, this had to be balanced with the fact that international media were clamoring for new angles to the story. Because negotiations were ongoing and because pirates had access to major news channels, it was essential that external communications be measured and cautious.

While most HR managers won't be thrust into managing crisis communications for an international incident with pirates, company crises that spill over into the public realm happen every day, and the HR role is pivotal for both internal and external communications, as well as in overall crisis management. While it's impossible to plan for every contingency, the basic response to any crisis can be planned in advance: crisis team identified; alternate means of communications in place; spokespeople trained; list of core values and goals outlined. Here's a helpful Crisis Planning Checklist designed for planning and response to natural or man-made crises.

More resources on HR crisis management and crisis communications
Crisis Management and HR's Role
Crisis management in today's business environment: HR's strategic role
HR lessons learned in the aftermath of Katrina
Tips for supporting employees who are on international assignments
Crisis Communications - using social media in an emergency - where blogs and Twitter have played a major communication role in crises like the Virginia Tech shooting and the Fargo Floods. We've also blogged about harnessing social media in a crisis.

August 2, 2009

Workplace flexibility programs on the rise

Workforce reports that despite the troubled economy - and partly because of it - there has been a 25 percent increase in workplace flexibility programs among employers with more than 1,000 workers. According to a recent survey conducted by the Families and Work Institute of New York, 81% of the 400 companies surveyed have maintained flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting, compressed workweeks, phased retirement and voluntary reduced hours, and 13% have increased such programs. Only 6% of the surveyed companies have eliminated flexibility programs. Companies are using flexible work arrangements to minimize layoffs and to bolster productivity and retention. You can learn more by downloading a copy of the study: The Impact of the Recession on Employers (pdf).

Employers that are interested in exploring or benchmarking best practices in workplace flexibility can look to Twiga Foundation as a resource. Triga is a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring, promoting and maintaining family-consciousness at home, in the workplace and in the community. One of the central tenets of the organization is that to be an effective employer, work should work for both the employer and the employee. Among its many resources, it offers a handy chart explaining the most common variations in flexible work arrangements (pdf).

Twiga also issues an extensive guide profiling organizations that have developed innovative approaches and new models in how, when and where work gets done, When Work Works (pdf). Profiles featured in this report are comprised of organizations that were winners of the Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility in 2007. This award recognizes exemplary employers of all types and sizes in participating communities across the U.S. for their innovative workplace effectiveness and flexibility initiatives. Some of the common characteristics these organizations share include:

  • These employers don’t see looking over employees’ shoulders as the way to ensure good work. They trust employees, but hold them accountable and focus on results
  • They don’t see the individual employee in potentially heroic terms. It is the team that must deliver performance.
  • They don’t think that automatically putting “customers first” above employee concerns is the best way to succeed. They have learned that a workplace that addresses staff issues has a staff that is more responsive to customers
  • They don’t think that killer hours are the only route to profit. They try to ensure that their employees have the time and space for renewal to do their best work
  • They don’t say that "only work-centric employees need apply." They find that dual-centric employees – who contribute to their communities and are involved with their families – are among their most committed and productive employees

July 20, 2009

Zappos: case study of a creative employer

For some time now, we've been noticing that Zappos, a Las Vegas based e-commerce company with 1500 employees, keeps surfacing on blogs and in news reports for being both a remarkable example of customer service and an excellent place to work. We've been meaning to write about the company and are prompted to do so after seeing Chief Happiness Officer post about Zappos as a genuinely happy place to work. Others agree. The company earned spot #23 on Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For 2009 list, the highest-ranking newcomer on the list.

In Zappos Knows How To Kick It, Fortune writes about how "the quirky retailer" made the list by "... providing a model of how to manicure culture and treat staffers like adults, while simultaneously reassuring them that sometimes it's okay to behave like children." Zappos encourages "weirdness" and fosters creativity, fun and employee empowerment - particularly when it comes to service - employees don't work from a script and are encouraged to go to great lengths to delight cutomers and solve problems.

After visiting Zappos recently to make a presentation, blogger Brian Solis posts about Zappos' Core Values. He talks about the culture of empowerment "...Zappos as represented by its hundreds of employees, is driven by dignity, personal and professional fulfillment, sincerity, empathy, and the aspiration of always being helpful to not only customers, but each other. At Zappos, employees are royalty. They’re encouraged to be themselves. They’re rewarded for adding personality to their job and responsibilities. They’re promoted for contributions and collaboration. It’s this empowerment that powers everything."

Zappos also fully embraces social media as a way for employees to interact with the market and their customers... from blogs to twitter. Besides being a bold and transparent marketing approach, social media also provide a way for employees to share "inside" info about events and happenings, to keep current on trends that affect their business, to provide health, fitness and wellness info, and to share parenting and work-life tips. We like that their CEO and COO maintain a blog which they use to communicate to both employees and the public at large - instead of being a "sell piece" it's a forum where they talk about company values - see Your Company Is Your Brand and a post about moving on after a layoff.

July 7, 2009

A remarkable woman's self-written obit reminds us to live life fully

Someone sent us Nancy Lee Hixson's self-written obituary, which recently ran in the Cleveland Plain Dealer ... it's well worth a few minutes of your time. Ms. Hixson was obviously a remarkable person, a one-of-a-kind character who lived her life with gusto, courage, humor, and passion...she paints her own self portrait with a witty irreverence that makes us sorry we never had the opportunity to meet her.

This obituary has gone viral in just a few days, careening its way through websites and emails. Strangers who read it are touched and motivated to leave wonderful messages on her obituary page. It illustrates the power that one person can have - even in death - to reach out and inspire others.

We particularly liked this comment from someone who stated that she was Nancy's sister:

Through her death notice. Nancy Lee is unforgettable, unquenchable and unrelenting. Listen to a bird chirp, watch a leaf float all the way to the ground, stomp through every puddle you meet, brush your pet 100 strokes every day, run headlong down a hill, name the clouds, walk with purpose, sit perfectly still and listen to the air, wake with a smile for the new day, and always, always, always keep a pocket free for the litter you encounter on your way. Live with deliberation, search for joy, seek an adventure and you will find her spirit within you. Grateful tears to each of you who have affirmed her spirit and offered solace by writing here.

As many others have stated, we are left wishing we knew more about this remarkable woman. She reminds us a bit of Randy Pausch, another remarkable person who lived life fully, inspired others, and faced his impending death from cancer with courage and grace. As my colleague Bill Bowler noted when discussing life's lessons learned from Pausch, "...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."

Rest in peace, Nancy Lee Hixson - we thoroughly enjoyed meeting you, even if it was posthumously.

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 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.

February 23, 2009

"Love contracts" may limit employer liability for office romance

Are water-cooler romances a big issue at your workplace? If not, your organization may be in the minority. Forty percent of U.S. workers have dated an office colleague, with 31 percent of those romances progressing on to marriage, according to a recent workplace dating survey survey by CareerBuilder.

When workplace dating takes a wrong turn, it can result in headaches for the employer ranging from decreased productivity and an awkward work environment to legal liabilities such as sexual harassment and retaliation. The stakes are particularly high if dating involves employees from different levels of the office food chain. A supervisor-subordinate relationship, publicized in both fictional films and all-too-real court dramas, is the classic example of potential jeopardy. In the not-too-distant past, workplace romance was generally considered taboo, but times are changing. Yesterday's employer policies banning or restricting workplace dating are giving way to the so-called love contract, a written acknowledgment that a workplace relationship is consensual. Generally, the terms of such a contract would involve both parties agreeing to abide by company policies, both while dating and should the relationship end. Employment lawyer Brian Finucane says such contracts are "...almost a get-out-of-jail-free defense, from a lawyer’s perspective."

Attorney Marilyn Sneirson cautions that while such contracts can help to limit liability, they should only be regarded as a supplement to a company's anti-harassment policies. She suggests several key elements that should be addressed in love contracts:

  • Any dispute arising from the relationship or contract will be resolved through arbitration
  • Employees may want to consult an attorney before signing the contract
  • Dating employees are expected to follow certain guidelines, such as refraining from displays of affection at work or work- related events
  • Either employee "can end the relationship without fear of work-related retaliation"
  • Dating employees agree to waive their rights to pursue a claim of sexual harassment for any event prior to the signing of the contract

January 28, 2009

Great places to work

When it comes to beauty pageants, we've always been partial to the Miss Congeniality award because we think substance should trump beauty any day. That's why we like Fortune's annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For 2009. We firmly believe that when you take care of the people, everything else will fall in place, assuming a good business product or service in the first place.

You can view the full list and learn more about each company and why it was chosen by clicking on the company name or sort by geography or by pay for both salaried and hourly employees. We particularly enjoyed the option to sort by best perks and the perkfinder, which offers a bird's eye view of the prevalence of certain progressive benefits among this roster of high-performing companies. There's also an honor roll of 9 companies that have never had a layoff.

Any company that is at least seven years old with more than 1,000 U.S. employees is eligible. Of the process, they state: "Two-thirds of a company's score is based on the survey, which is sent to a minimum of 400 randomly selected employees. The remaining third is based on our Culture Audit, which includes detailed questions about demographics, pay, and benefits, and open-ended questions on philosophy, communication, etc." If you think your company can make the grade, submit a nomination at Great Place to Work.

But just to keep things in perspective about life at the opposite end of the spectrum, you might also want to review Fortune's list of the 21 Dumbest Moments in Business 2008. We wonder how they managed to narrow things down to 21.

November 14, 2008

Investing now for innovation: Yes business can

Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks Coffee Company, makes the case for why it is the right time for U.S. businesses to be investing in people, training, and corporate social responsibility. Rather than waiting to see what the government and the new Obama administration will do to solve the economic crisis, he suggests that if business leaders rise to the occasion, American business can play a critical role in turning things around and delivering future prosperity, sustainable economic stability and security.

Schultz points out that in this challenging environment, many business leaders stop leading and become fixated on short term thinking, yet it is longer-term investments and thinking that will fuel innovation:

Now is a time to be bold. Now is a time to invest, truly and authentically, in our people, in our corporate responsibility and in our communities. The argument--and opportunity--for companies to do this has never been more compelling. A recent opinion piece by former Vice President Al Gore Jr. and David Blood makes this point eloquently. "Sustainability and long-term value creation are closely linked," they wrote earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal. "Business and markets cannot operate in isolation from society or the environment."

It's a good essay to pass around among managers. In a challenging environment, it is easy to have today's problems suck all the oxygen out of the room, but forward thinkers know that today's problems are often the spark for tomorrow's opportunities.

October 20, 2008

Step up your EAP communications in light of high financial stress

The troubled economy and the volatile stock market have many people worried - not just about their 401k, but about what a prolonged economic downturn will mean to everyday concerns. Many are struggling to make ends meet. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, in June of this year, more than 4 million Americans were at least one month behind on their mortgages and a record 500,000 had entered the foreclosure process.

A recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association reveals that 8 out of 10 Americans report economy-related stress. Money and the economy jumped to the top concern cited by respondents, with economic anxiety jumping from 66% to 80% since the last survey six months ago. Of those responding, 60 percent reported feelings of anger and irritability, 53 percent reported fatigue, and 52 percent said they lie awake at night.

In addition to sleep disruption, stress and anxiety can also lead to unhealthy coping behaviors such as overeating, drinking, and gambling. It can also have more serious consequences. Many counselors are reporting that they are seeing more people crushed by economic stress - and some reports point to an increase in suicides and violence: "The Samaritans of New York have seen calls rise more than 16 percent in the past year, many of them money-related. The Switchboard of Miami has recorded more than 500 foreclosure-related calls this year."

Communicate with your employees
When employees are hurting, productivity suffers too. And in a difficult economy, employers need to be at the top of their game. Wise employers will utilize their EAPs preemptively to help mitigate potential deleterious effects of financial stress in the work force. Alert your managers to watch for heightened signs of depression, stress or related problems among the employees they supervise. Remind managers of your EAP as a resource and review referral procedures.

Check with your EAP to get a refresher on services that might be helpful for dealing with stress - many EAPs offer financial and debt counseling, stress reduction, help hotlines, family counseling, and other resources. Ask about any communication resources your EAP may be able to provide - such as articles on debt or stress that could be included in company-sponsored newsletters or intranets; brochures on service availability that could be distributed with paychecks; or seminars on stress reduction or violence prevention. Your EAP should be willing to work with your organization in risk management planning to help your employees get through troubled times.

October 14, 2008

Top small workplaces and the practices that make them great

What makes a workplace outstanding? What are the characteristics of a company that motivates, retains, and energizes its workers? For the second year in a row, Winning Workplaces and The Wall Street Journal examine that issue as they name the winners in the 2008 Top Small Workplaces competition. You can read about each of the top 15 companies and view a brief video and slide show to learn about the characteristics and practices that led to their selection. The winning companies were selected from more than 400 entries. Eligible companies included North American firms with less than $200 million in annual revenue, with less than 500 employees, and at least five year track record in business. Companies were scored on such factors as growth in revenue and numbers of employees; the rate of employee tenure and turnover; investment in employees in areas of benefits, training and leadership development; the stability of the work culture as characterized by employee engagement, commitment and innovation; and the level of employee participation in business decisions and in the rewards of financial success.

While the individual profiles are instructive, we call your attention to the collective profile of the companies and the report on benchmarking and best practices that helped to earn the companies a spot on this list. The article is an excellent primer for how to become an outstanding workplace and might serve as a good platform for discussion at your next management meeting. Here's a brief summary of some of the shared characteristics of the winning companies:

  • They take a long view of their business
  • It's not just about profits…these firms intend to change society
  • Open communication helps weather the good times and the bad
  • Teamwork — it's how the work gets done
  • Employee development assures quality execution
  • Workspace matters
  • Employees share in the risks and rewards
  • A focus on well-being, prevention and health builds endurance
  • Through their employees, these firms compete on quality and service

If after reading the article, you think your company has what it takes to be a winner, you can submit a nomination for 2009.

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 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."

July 28, 2008

On leadership

Whether you need to inspire a work force of 20, an army of thousands, or guide a nation of millions through a tumultuous cultural and political upheaval, you will require the ability to lead. There's a difference between leading and managing. Here are some leadership lessons that are worth passing on. We've given you the highlights, you can click the links for further elaboration.

Nelson Mandela's Eight Lessons of Leadership
1. Courage is not the absence of fear — it's inspiring others to move beyond it
2. Lead from the front — but don't leave your base behind
3. Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front
4. Know your enemy — and learn about his favorite sport
5. Keep your friends close — and your rivals even closer
6. Appearances matter — and remember to smile
7. Nothing is black or white
8. Quitting is leading too

Colin Powell - Quotations from Chairman Powell: A Leadership Primer
1. Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.
2. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.
3. Don't be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world.
4. Don't be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard.
5. Never neglect details. When everyone's mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.
6. You don't know what you can get away with until you try.
7. Keep looking below surface appearances. Don't shrink from doing so (just) because you might not like what you find.
8. Organization doesn't really accomplish anything. Plans don't accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don't much matter. Endeavours succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.
9. Organization charts and hence titles count for next to nothing.
10. Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.
11. Fit no stereotypes. Don't chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team's mission.
12. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
13. Powell's Rules for Picking People"—Look for intelligence and judgment and, most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done.
14. Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.
15. Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired." Part II: "Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.
16. The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise.
17. Have fun in your command. Don't always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you've earned it. Spend time with your families. Corollary: Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard.
18. Command is lonely.

Warren Bennis, from his book "On Becoming a Leader" on the difference between managers and leaders

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager accepts reality; the leader investigates it.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader has his or her eye on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

June 27, 2008

Words to the wise

What's the best advice you've ever gotten? Fortune posed that question to 25 prominent business people, civic leaders and celebrities. The answers run the gamut from marketing mantras to life philosophies. Here are excerpts from some of the responses that we liked:

"I can't remember who told me this, but I certainly didn't grow up knowing it, so I must have gotten this advice at Salomon Brothers in the 1970s. The advice was, first, always ask for the order, and second, when the customer says yes, stop talking."
Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, founder of Bloomberg LP

My boss at the time, then-Maj. Gen. Jack Galvin, said "I think you ought to look for an out-of-your intellectual comfort zone experience." So that's what I did.
Gen. David Petraeus, Commanding general, multinational force - Iraq

"My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different."
Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, Pepsico

"Don't panic. It's from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. You have to be wary of emotion clouding your decision-making process - and of making a decision that you'll later regret."
Elon Musk, Founder and CEO, SPACEX

"The best advice I ever got came from my mother, Estée Lauder: She believed that if you had something good to say, you should put it in writing. But if you had something bad to say, you should tell the person to his or her face."
Leonard Lauder, Chairman, The Estée Lauder Companies

June 11, 2008

Unleashing creativity

Would you like to be more creative in your day-to-day problem solving and impress your boss with new ideas and concepts for tired old programs? Would you be interested in finding new ways to motivate and energize your work force to provide better customer service or enhance productivity? No doubt you would, but if you are like most people, you may be thinking there's barely enough time in the day to get through your task list, never mind finding the time for getting creative.

But experts suggest that creativity is a process that is teachable and trackable, and that there are techniques and tools that can foster a more creative approach to life. And being creative doesn't need to take a lot of time. But creativity does need to be continually nurtured and the creative impulse needs to be exercised regularly.

In a recent article in Scientific American, three experts - a psychologist, a poet/playwright, and a scholar - discuss the importance of creativity and the role that it has played in their lives and the lives of others, and offer ways that you can unleash your own creativity. They suggest that there is more to creativity than what some call "Big Creativity" or "Big C creativity" - big ideas and concepts with far-reaching impact. There is also "Small C creativity" that manifests itself in everyday problem solving.

The discussion suggests that there are four basic competencies or skill sets that are essential for creative expression:

"The first and most important competency is “capturing”—preserving new ideas as they occur to you and doing so without judging them ... There are many ways to capture new ideas. Otto Loewi won a Nobel Prize for work based on an idea about cell biology that he almost failed to capture. He had the idea in his sleep, woke up and scribbled the idea on a pad but found the next morning that he couldn’t read his notes or remember the idea. When the idea turned up in his dreams the following night, he used a better capturing technique: he put on his pants and went straight to his lab!
The second competency is called “challenging”—giving ourselves tough problems to solve. In tough situations, multiple behaviors compete with one another, and their interconnections create new behaviors and ideas. The third area is “broadening.” The more diverse your knowledge, the more interesting the interconnections—so you can boost your creativity simply by learning interesting new things. And the last competency is “surrounding,” which has to do with how you manage your physical and social environments. The more interesting and diverse the things and the people around you, the more interesting your own ideas become."
The article continues to suggest other ideas and techniques for fostering creativity. An important part of the creative process is simply unleashing or giving permission to the creative impulse. An all-too-frequent and unfortunate byproduct of the education process can be a stifling of our inner creativity. Children are naturally creative, but as part of the socialization process, that creativity is often suppressed. Experts in this article suggest that creativity demands a thick skin because rejection often goes hand in hand with creativity and the creative thinker often has to overcome obstacles to nurture a concept on to fruition.

May 6, 2008

Supervisor training: avoid the "Frank Robinson Rule"

Every now and then I check out Jeff Angus' blog, Management By Baseball. Angus is a management consultant and the focus of his blog is applying the management issues he observes in baseball teams to everyday business issues. In a recent post, he focused on what he calls the Frank Robinson Rule. For those of you who don't read the sports page, Robinson is a hall of fame player who went on to try his hand at managing. As a player, Robinson was one of the all-time greats, with a career batting average of .294, 586 home runs, 1812 RBIs, and 2943 hits. He is the only player to be named MVP in both the American and National League and he was on two World Series winning teams.

His career as a manager was a somewhat different story. Over the course of 30 years, his record stands at 1,056 wins against 1,176 losses. In both 2005 and 2006, a Sports Illustrated poll named Robinson the worst manager in baseball.

We have all seen it before. An individual star performer in your organization either raises their hand or is tapped by management to fill a supervisory position. It can be really difficult to say no to when the individual has contributed so much. But all too often, when the individual assumes the additional responsibility, they have no management training or skills, and this can be a prescription for disaster.

Indeed, it happened to me. I was managing a book of business for a company and doing a pretty good job at it. One day my boss approached me and asked me to consider a promotion to supervise a small group of sales executives. I was flattered and excited and jumped at the chance.

Quickly I realized how little I knew. I had never hired, trained, provided feedback, set goals, or handled the administrative aspect of management. I was fortunate that I had a good mentor who kept me on track and was lucky enough to find good people for my team. But in retrospect, I now understand that not only did I put my own career on the line with my inexperience, I could have put the company at risk, too. I had no training on compliance issues, hiring, disciplinary process, discrimination, and all the other human resource regulatory issues I faced daily. While things happily worked out in my case without any untoward events, it's generally pretty risky to let your supervisors learn how to be managers by trial and error. One mistake can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Make it a priority to get your newbie managers the training and attention they need. Make sure they know where to go when they don’t know the answer, train them in compliance issues, and stress the value of honest feedback. To address this very issue, we offer a complete Management Training Academy to provide online and onsite training for the supervisors and managers of our client firms. Check to see if your EAP offers any similar resources; also check with any professional associations that you belong to and any nearby colleges to see what resources might be available. Your might also be able to engage someone from your organization's law firm to present basic seminars on various employment law issues. If you ensure the proper training, your supervisors may be able to avoid the Frank Robinson Rule and successfully make the step from individual performer to managing a successful team.

April 10, 2008

Cancer in the workplace: resources for managers and colleagues

If you've ever managed a worker who has been diagnosed with cancer, you know the challenges that it can pose, both in terms of your own interactions with the person, and also in terms of supporting and managing concerned colleagues. It can be a difficult and delicate balance, offering support and flexibility for the employee while managing within the policies and needs of your organization. We've compiled some excellent resources from around the web that might be helpful to you and to your employees.

Managing Through Cancer Principles - offers a set of principles, resources and tools for organizations and managers that want to support employees with cancer and their co-workers. The site offers a set of principles along with manager/employee responsibilities and suggestions for developing supportive time-off policies, such as paid time off and leave banks. The site also discusses telecommuting and flex time options. While the guideline is specific to cancer and cancer treatment, most of the principles are applicable in managing employees with any life-threatening illness.

Beyond the matter of principles and policies, there is the very real matter of how managers and colleagues should talk to an employee who has been diagnosed with cancer or who is dying of cancer. Often, people who are grievously ill become isolated because friends and colleagues are uncomfortable and simply don't know what to say or how to deal with the person - so they simply avoid things. Here is a list of some very helpful resources offering guidance for how to talk to and interact with a person who has cancer.

Top 10 Dos and Don'ts when someone in you life becomes seriously ill is a short, practical guide with solid advice.

Supporting a friend who has cancer also offers Dos and Don'ts for things to say, along with a list of practical ways you might offer help and good gift ideas to show your support.

Quick tips for everyday situations offers suggestions for how colleagues and friends can be supportive of and respond to everyday situations, such as a coworker diagnosed with breast cancer, a relative with clinical depression, or how to offer help to a blind person in the gym.

How to talk to a friend with cancer is a discussion board thread that links to some very helpful articles, but more importantly, shares the real-life experiences of people who are living cancer and people who have lost loved ones to cancer. This is a rich, frank, and very touching discussion by and for the real experts - people who are living/have lived through real life situations.

Remember, these are the types of situations where your EAP can offer real support and resources - be sure to recommend the services of your EAP to both the person who is ill and their family members. Also, check to see if your EAP offers help and guidance for supervisors.

March 14, 2008

Employers' best practice guide for helping veterans reacclimate to the workplace

We've previously discussed the importance of helping the military to return to work. Of the 1.5 million troops that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, approximately one in every four is a "citizen soldier" serving in the ranks of the National Guard or the Reserves. In many cases, they will be returning to resume jobs at former employers.

As we've learned from the experience of returning vets in past wars, the transition is not always an easy one. Many who return are IED survivors with serious physical injuries such as amputations, burns, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Many others suffer from an array of behavioral health problems such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One recent Pentagon study identified that as many as one in three returning troops have mental health problems six months after their return. The study showed that the transition is even harder for citizen soldiers than for active-duty soldiers: "About 42 percent of the Guard and reserves, compared to 20 percent of active-duty troops, were identified as needing mental health treatment in two screenings. The first testing was immediately upon return from Iraq and the second six months later."

Helping to ease the transition back to the workplace
The Disability Management Employer Coalition and several large insurers teamed up with military and veteran advisers to examine the challenges and opportunities facing returning veterans and to identify employer-based resources and strategies to help ease the transition. The group, calling themselves the Workplace Warrior Think Tank, has produced a useful guide for employers: The Corporate Response to Deployment and Reintegration Highlighting Best Practices in Human Resources and Disability Management * (PDF).

The following are among the group's most important best practice recommendations:

  • Establish a Military Leave and Return Policy covering employees who are members of the Reserves or National Guard. A key component of that policy is to communicate the range of benefits and programs that apply, including provisions of the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), which requires job protection for all employees who are deployed regardless of the size of the employer.
  • Inform civilian employees (such as those who work for defense contractors) who are assigned to work with the United States military overseas of the benefits programs available to them. In particular, employees should understand the federal Defense Base Act, which will cover them during their overseas assignment.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and behavioral health services to help returning employees (including members of the military and civilian employees assigned overseas) who have been diagnosed with or who are exhibiting symptoms of major depression, generalized anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Use good general disability management practices that apply, including:
    - maintaining communication during absences;
    - celebrating employees’ return to work;
    - giving employees adequate information about benefits prior to deployment;
    - allowing time to reintegrate after an extended absence;
    - considering accommodations to assist the employee’s return to productivity;
    - recapping changes while employees were gone;
    - establishing red flags to help supervisors identify potential problems; and
    - obtaining commitment from senior management to ensure that programs are given strong support and a cultural presence.
  • Offer sensitivity training to managers, supervisors and co-workers on issues and challenges faced by civilian soldiers during deployment and post-deployment.
  • Provide mentoring programs to link returning civilian soldiers with veterans in the workforce. The commonality of military experience may forge bonds among colleagues to support the successful reintegration of returning workplace warriors.

EAPs identified as a vital resource
The Workplace Warrior Think Tank stressed the importance of employers having not just an EAP, but one that is well equipped to address the full spectrum of behavioral health issues that are common to re-acclimating veterans, particularly PTSD and depression. In addition, the EAP must be poised to address the many family problems and stresses that can surface both during and after deployment. According to congressional testimony by Todd Bowers, Director of Government Affairs for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, 27% of soldiers now admit they are experiencing marital problems, and 20% of deployed soldiers say they are currently planning a divorce. And a CBS investigation points to a veteran suicide rate that is twice that of average Americans.

Employers must train supervisors and HR staff to spot warning signs for problems early and must have resources in place for referrals to appropriate help and support services. For employers who will have returning citizen soldiers, the next EAP renewal might be a good time to kick the tires and ensure that it is up to providing the serious support and mental health services that will be needed. The transition will not be a once-and-done matter, but a long-term issue that America's employers will be dealing with over the next few decades.

*More information and a copy of the full Guide are available through the Disability Management Employer Coalition.

February 29, 2008

Time to take a second look at EAPs?

We run into a fair number of folks who are living in the 1970s in terms of their perceptions of what an EAP is - a surprising number of otherwise savvy employers still think of EAPs as little more than substance-abuse referral programs. While it's true that most EAPs still offer traditional counseling and substance programs, today's top-tier EAPs are also about productivity, wellness, work-life balance, and myriad other issues that confront the modern work force. Take some of the realities of the day - when a financial crunch, a traumatic event or simply the day-to-day stress of family matters impinge on your employees, life can be tough for them and also for you as their employer. A good EAP is there not just for the big events and traumas but also to provide helps with managing the quiet crises and challenges of everyday life. And services shouldn't simply be all about problems, but also about life enhancement - things like wellness and nutrition, financial planning, and personal and professional development.

If it's been years since you've taken a second look at EAPs and how they can improve life for both you and your employees, it might be worth a few minutes of your time. This blog's sponsor, ESI Employee Assistance Group, has just had a web site face lift - it's brighter, better organized, and has more content. The site offers a good sampling of the extensive benefits and services that today's premier EAP can offer to employees and employers, alike. If your organization doesn't have an EAP or if you're still driving an '70s model, it might be worth a look - the Employer Brochure(PDF) offers a good overview.

February 14, 2008

Employee satisfaction and the stock market

It's no secret that the stock market has traditionally seemed to favor tough employers. Wall Street often reacts favorably to news of a corporate layoff by rewarding the company with an uptick in the stock price. Firms like Costco that have a strong employee commitment and an employee-focused philosophy are often taken to task by analysts for being overly generous. Studies have also shown that CEOs who preside over layoffs are positively reinforced. A study of 229 firms that had layoffs by a University of Arkansas of Arkansas professor showed that CEOs of the firms with recent layoffs received 22.8 percent more in total pay than CEOs of firms that did not have layoffs.

To many, this type of market-driven people management is short-term thinking that flies in the face of the age-old mantra that "your people are your greatest assets." Now, a new study by Wharton finance professor Alex Edmans points to the fact that employee satisfaction is not just a nice thing, but an integral ingredient in financial success. His research analyzes the relationship between employee satisfaction and long-run stock performance, showing that intangibles matter and that "nice guys" do indeed finish first.

His research compared companies on Fortune's annual list of the "100 Best Companies to Work for in America" to the the overall market between 1998 and 2005, finding that the "best companies" returned 14 percent per year versus 6 percent a year for the market at large.

Edmans notes that while it may seem obvious that happy workers perform better, traditional management theories have actually treated workers like any other commodity.

Another, more subtle implication of the research, says Edmans, goes to the nature of short-term thinking among corporate managers. Even if managers believe employee satisfaction enhances long-term corporate performance, they may not act on their beliefs because investing in employees often reduces earnings in the short term.
"This is a large concern people have had for a couple of decades now -- that the American corporate system is short-term or myopic," Edmans notes.
That concern, he adds, is driven by managers who argue it is not possible to credibly communicate to investors that profits might be lower in one period in order to invest in employee satisfaction that may pay off in the future.

Edmans points to Google as an example of a company that vindicates the long-term approach of focusing on employee satisfaction. However, he does not think that research alone will result in changing the short-term, reactive focus to a more long-term one because manager compensation is often linked to share prices.

We're encouraged by this research because it validates something that we see in our practice over and over again: treating employees well is not only the right thing to do, it's usually the most profitable thing to do. Stress, burnout, resentment, and anger have a high price tag, something that employment lawyers and disability claims managers can attest to.

October 23, 2007

Harnessing web communication technologies in a crisis: the San Diego fires

Our hearts go out to all the folks suffering in the terrible fires and related chaos in southern California. In the aftermath, there will no doubt be crisis-management lessons for employers in how to communicate with and support employees, just as there were HR lessons from Katrina.

Your technology and web staff should be front line soldiers in crisis planning and crisis management. The Web offers numerous tools that employers should learn to harness for both their public and Intranet sites in the event of natural or man-made emergencies. To learn more about these technologies and to view them in action, see Using Social Media Services to Track the California Fires. This article offers links and discussion about how Google, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia and del.icio.us are being harnessed to offer real time updates, news, and resources about the San Diego area fires.

Note: some of the following links may change or expire as the situation evolves.

Nate Ritter offers an excellent example of how one individual is providing an important public service via the text messaging tool, Twitter. News station KPBS also has a good Twitter news feed.

Some very interesting (and terrible) updates are being provided via Google Map mashups, which bloggers and programmers are cobbling together quickly. This KPBS News map displays fire burn areas, evacuation areas, evacuation centers, road closures, and more. This blogger is mapping the homes that have been claimed by fire in his neighborhood of Rancho Bernardo. His blog, And Still I Persist is an example of the valuable role that bloggers can play in a disaster.

As they were during Katrina, newspaper message boards become an important gathering point for local residents to share information, resources, and help to neighbors. The Union-Tribune's SignOnSanDiego wildfire forums have logged tens of thousands of messages since yesterday, grouped by geographic areas. Many distant folks have been reading these boards to keep track of areas where friends and family live.

And don't forget—one other vital employer resource during and after an emergency is an employee assistance program. Sadly, there will be many, many hurting people when this terrible fire has run its course.

October 2, 2007

Gratitude: The Path to Happiness

Here's a seemingly impossible task—In the middle of your next busy day, put aside thoughts of work responsibilities or your kids' soccer schedule and take a minute to be thankful for what you have. According to recent research, you'll be much happier if you do!

Since 1998, Professor Robert Emmons of the University of California-Davis, has been studying the role that gratitude plays in happiness. As it turns out, grateful people are happy people. "People who show gratitude experience significantly higher levels of joy and other positive emotions," says Dr. Emmons. "They also seem much less bothered by minor illnesses and common stressors."

But gratitude was not a natural subject for Emmons. "Psychologists have a long history of studying things they're bad at. I was always someone who took things for granted." Indeed, his research revealed that a lot of people have obstacles to gratitude. The demands of everyday life and a resistance to being dependent on others are the two biggest. "Gratitude is the opposite of personal autonomy; you're acknowledging that you are dependent on others and that can be very hard for some people."

However, those who make a conscious effort to "take stock" of the good things in their lives as well as those who have helped make those things possible (parents, friends, co-workers, neighbors) report much higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of stress and depression than those who are "me" centered. Grateful people also enjoy a greater sense of "connectedness" with their friends and family.

Other findings included:

  • Those who maintained a "gratitude journal" and made daily entries for three weeks experienced better sleep quality and duration as well as more energy than the control group.
  • "Gratitude journaling" resulted in quicker healing of illness and even seemed to lessen the pain of serious neuromuscular diseases.
  • A "gratitude intervention" in children produced more positive academic attitudes toward school in comparison with the control group.
  • Participants who maintained "gratitude journals" were significantly more likely to achieve personal goals (academic, interpersonal, health-based) over a two-month period than the control group.

If anger, fear, mistrust, or loneliness are impeding your ability to experience gratitude, you may wish to contact your employee assistance program to discuss how to achieve a more positive outlook on life!

September 26, 2007

Achieving your childhood dreams

There's a remarkable video lecture that is making the Web circuit right now, singularly one of the most inspiring 75 minute film segments we've had the privilege to see. It's a story of courage, leadership, creativity and grace under pressure. Randy Pausch, handsome, vibrant 46-year old father of three beautiful young children and in the prime of his professional life as Professor of Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction and Design at Carnegie Mellon University, presents his last lecture. His professional career has been full of creative challenge, but today he faces his life's greatest challenge: He has pancreatic cancer and has been told he has only 2 to 6 months to live.

We recognize that it's a bit long but we recommend finding the time to view the entire lecture, Achieving your childhood dreams. It is funny, vibrant, inspiring and heartbreaking, all at the same time. One of the enjoyable aspects is not just the story of how he fulfills his own dreams—walking in zero gravity, designing a theme park ride for Disneyland, creating a popular 3-D animation software program—but how he then turned his energies to enabling his students to identify and fulfill their dreams. It's very motivating and might be just the thing to show at your next leadership training session for managers.

July 27, 2007

Caregiver employees are at heightened risk: how employers can help

We recently came upon a great LA Times article by Melissa Healy on the topic of caregivers
and the high toll they pay for the role they play
in supporting family members. This is a topic that interests us greatly—our EAP deals with an increasing number of workers who are dealing with the stress or strain of caring for an ill, elderly, or special needs family member. According to the article, about one in every six people is a caregiver and as the Baby Boomers advance in age, that number is expected to increase. Add to that the numbers who will be caring for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars, many profoundly injured either physically or mentally. The scope of the caregiving issue is significant enough that it prompted the EEOC to recently issue new caregiver guidelines for employers. Many caregivers are elderly themselves—about 30% fall in this category. Many others are sandwiched between caring for elderly relatives and providing child care, a double burden. Most caregivers are employed and the weight of their responsibilities takes a high toll on many aspects of their lives, including their work. Caregiving is an issue employers need to tackle head-on—according to a survey by The MetLife Mature Market Institute, which tracks aging, retirement and elder-care issues for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., the cost of caregivers in the workplace may be as high as $33.6 billion a year in missed days, early departures, and on-the-job distractions. The heavy responsibilities of caring for ill or elderly family members also increases the chances that the caregivers themselves will experience financial, physical, and emotional problems. Many are forced to put their own career goals on hold or work reduced hours, and the health risks associated with caregiving are high:

"A 2003 study found that family members caring for those with dementia suffered suppressed levels of immunity for three years following their stint of caregiving, raising their risk of developing a chronic disease themselves. Other surveys have found that compared with the general population, caregivers—especially those with intensive caregiving demands and those already in fair or poor health—are less likely than their noncaregiving peers to attend to their own healthcare needs, less likely to exercise or see their doctor regularly and more likely to eat poorly and drink alcohol excessively."

How employers can help
Many companies are experimenting with innovative approaches to supporting caregivers. Many large organizations, such as IBM and Raytheon, are offering caregiver wellness programs focused on teaching caregivers how to effectively cope with their responsibilities and maintain their own physical and mental health. Here are some of our suggestion for things that employers can do to support the caregivers in their workplace:

  • Assess the issue in your work force. Take a survey to learn the extent of the caregiving responsibilities in your workplace so that you understand the pressure points and can plan the most appropriate response for your employees.
  • Train managers and supervisors to be sensitive to and alert for workers with caregiving responsibilities and to direct these employees to appropriate support resources, such as an EAP.
  • Learn about and publicize local caregiving resources that can provide practical assistance, such as meals on wheels, transportation services and and adult day care. Publicize these resources in your organization's newsletter or intranet.
  • Examine your organization's policies on flexible work hours and work-at-home options. Consider offering your employees more options on when, where, and how they accomplish their work responsibilities.
  • Consider expanding work/life benefits. If you don't have an EAP that offers work/life and caregiving resources, consider adding one. Research benefit options, such as access to temporary emergency dependent care or paid leave for caregivers that goes beyond FMLA standards, or voluntary time banks where other workers can donate unused sick or vacation time to to caregiving or ill co-workers.

July 11, 2007

Turbo-Charging your Workers Comp Program with your EAP

If you ask employers to describe an employee assistance program, they'll usually talk about resources and services to solve employee personal problems. They'll describe it as an employee benefit. And if they've had occasion to use the services of an EAP, they'll probably tell you that it is a very valuable benefit.

What you won't hear is any reference to workers' comp. Few employers talk about how an EAP can be an effective tool to reduce workers' comp and disability costs or how an EAP can support employees during the recovery process to ensure they get back to their normal life as quickly as possible.

But those of us at ESI Employee Assistance Group believe that we have cracked the code and figured out how to insert the EAP into an organization to help the employee expedite recovery while also helping the organization reduce overall comp costs.

The Problem
Let's start with the fundamental reason why organizations opt to have an employee assistance program. It all revolves around that fact that 1 out of every 5 employees face some sort of significant personal problem in any given year. Those problems impact their lives and their productivity at work. A good EAP can go a long way toward addressing these problems and helping these employees get back to full productivity.

When it comes to workers' comp, the fundamental problem is two-fold. First, too many people are injured on the job. And when injured, employees are frequently away from work far longer than the injuries require.

And that's where the EAP and workers' comp connect.

The EAP—Work Comp Connection
Anyone who is familiar with workers' comp knows that there are three key elements to an effective cost containment program:

  • An aggressive injury prevention effort
  • Immediate medical treatment by quality providers who understand workers' comp
  • An active return to work and transitional duty program

What we've learned at ESI, is that it is possible to utilize the EAP to essentially turbo-charge this sort of program.

Start with how injuries occur. While some injuries are the result of work site hazards, many injuries—arguably the lion's share—are the result of unsafe behavior. Relevant data clearly indicates that personal issues are the single most significant cause of unsafe behavior. The U.S. Department of Labor's data suggests that upwards of 40 percent of all workplace injuries have alcohol or substance abuse as the key contributing factor. And if you add other personal problems to the mix—depression, stress, medical issues, etc. — it is clear that employee problems are at the root of many workplace injuries. An effective EAP can head off many of these problems before they result in harm to the employee, to coworkers and to your organization.

And if you examine why injured workers have extended disability, all too often unresolved personal problems rather than medical problems are sabotaging the person's recovery. Personal issues are frequently barriers that keep people from returning to work and resuming their normal life in a timely fashion. Issues such as depression, family problems, debt and, once again, alcohol and substance abuse are the main contributors to extended disability. By helping employees tap into the services of the EAP, these barriers can be knocked down and recovery and return to work can be expedited

Why don't more employers use this cost reduction tool?
Properly used, an effective employee assistance program can address both the pre- and post-injury issues. So why aren't organizations using their EAPs more effectively?

First, responsibility for the workers' compensation program and the EAP almost always reside in different parts of the organization. The human resource department is responsible for the EAP, while risk management or the CFO is responsible for comp. Rarely is there one person or one department handling both. Add to that the fact that most EAPs are not attuned to the opportunity to impact workers' comp and disability. And, finally, the EAP is generally viewed as a nice benefit, but not a strategic business partner; and not as a strategy for turbo-charging prevention and return to work programs

To ensure an effective program, a couple of things have to happen. HR and Risk Management need to work together to promote the EAP, not only as a benefit for employees, but also as a tool for pre- and post-injury management. Next, employees must be made fully aware of the benefit. Supervisors must be trained to identify problemed employees and how to steer employees to the EAP. And, finally, the organization needs to select an EAP provider that is up to the task: one that fully understands work site productivity demands and complex issues such as disability prevention, as well as the counseling needs of employees.

Over the years, we have seen many employers integrate the EAP into their risk management efforts with extraordinary results. One large self insurance group has experienced an overall drop of more than 40% in claims. We believe that we have just begun to scratch the surface of how to make the EAP an effective cost containment tool and are working to make it even more effective.

Clearly, an EAP can be an effective tool in your overall workers' comp program. You and your EAP just have to know how to do it right.

June 15, 2007

Creative workplaces

It's no secret that a pleasant work environment brings out the best in people. Veerle Pieters, a graphic and web designer takes a closer look at inspirational workplaces—she's certainly gathered some fun, creative examples in her post and she offers her thoughts on how an environment can influence the worker's state of mind. Veerle also set up an inspiring workplaces photo-sharing pool on flickr so that people could add photos of other creative workspaces. If you work in a great environment or know of one, jump in the pool!

We've posted about creative work environments before. In March, we posted about life in the Googleplex and last November, we posted about 10 seeeeeriously cool places to work, courtesy of The Chief Happiness Officer who frequently discusses the benefits of fun and creative work environments. In a newer post he offers another pictorial essay on the work space and creativity. There are some very imaginative furnishings in his post, ranging from art tables to "bibliochairs." Don't miss the conference bike—come to agreement and stay healthy at the same time.

Many of the workplaces cited in these posts are from offices, ad agencies and tech firms—we'd love to see some pictorial examples from manufacturing, retail, health care and industrial concerns, too. One of the most creative work environments we've encountered is a precision plastics manufacturer headquartered in an historic New England building with state of the art facilities. Not only is it a colorful, clean, and energizing place to work, but the attention to environment has paid off in an outstanding safety record, high productivity and great morale.

An article in Business 2.0 discusses ways that office redesign can boost the bottom line. They cite a survey in which 90% of the workers polled said they would work an extra hour a day if they had a better work environment. Less than 40% said they would be proud to show important customers their workspace. The article makes this excellent point:

Consider this insight, which came from the General Services Administration decades ago: Of the total cost to a company for running an office building over a 30-year life span, the initial construction represents just 2 percent; operating expenses come to about 6 percent.

The remainder? It all goes to paying the workers inside. The point should be obvious: People are the biggest cost inside a work environment, so leveraging your human capital ought to be near the top of your priority list.

Even when budgets and space are limited, imagination and effort can be focused on shared spaces, break rooms and other common areas. Showing employees that you care about them is a good way to get employees to care back about you. And we've said it before, but it bears repeating: even the most exciting environments are only skin deep. A really fun work space is great. A really good manager who supports, motivates, and inspires staff is even better! And when the two are paired? Well that's pretty much the definition of a world-class workplace!

June 13, 2007

Teen and first-time workers: keep them safe!

For many workplaces, it's that time of year when the ranks of employees swell with part-timers and seasonal workers. Finding great part time workers can be a challenge for any organization, particularly in a tight labor market. Young first-time workers comprise a huge portion of the seasonal work force, and with this influx of teens, employers face a special responsibility: keeping them safe.

During the summer months, about 2 million teens join the work force and, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), every two minutes one of those teens is injured on the job. About once every five days, a teen dies as a result. NIOSH estimates that every year, about 230,000 workers under the age of 18 are injured on the job and between 60 to 70 die due to workplace injuries.

Some workplaces are particularly dangerous for teens. While any workplace can have its hazards, the National Consumer League identifies the five most dangerous jobs for teens as:

  • Agriculture: Fieldwork and Processing
  • Construction and Work in Heights
  • Outside Helper: Landscaping, Groundskeeping, and Lawn Service
  • Driver/Operator: Forklifts, Tractors, and ATVs
  • Traveling Youth Crews

OSHA lists the most frequent types of deaths experienced by teens as homicides, driving or traveling as passengers in motor vehicles, machine-related accidents, electrocution and falls. The most frequent reasons why these injuries occur are cited as:

  • Unsafe equipment
  • Stressful conditions
  • Inadequate safety training
  • Inadequate supervision
  • Dangerous work that is illegal or inappropriate for youth
  • Trying to hurry
  • Alcohol and drug use

A special mandate
Young workers are callow. They lack the experience, judgment and stamina of older workers, and are eager to please new employers. These characteristics can be a toxic mix, particularly when exacerbated by a young person's normal inclination towards feelings of invulnerability. Employers must take special measures to ensure that young workers are safe on the job.

First, ensure that everyone in your organization is complying with applicable laws regarding young workers. OSHA issues a teen worker guide for employers that links to federal labor laws. For a quick summary, Youth Rules offers a one page summary of when and where a teen is allowed to work. Specific states may have additional provisions, so be sure to review those laws, too.

Second, redouble your training programs. Many organizations that have stellar orientation programs for full-time workers can short shrift temporary or part-time workers—a big mistake since all new workers are highly vulnerable to on the job injuries, regardless of job status. And for the reasons cited, teens are especially vulnerable. Ensure that safety is an integral component in any orientation and job training. Explain your organization's safety philosophy and policies. In addition, explain the specific hazards posed by each job. "Show and tell" training is particularly important. For teen workers, and can be a wise practice to assign a buddy or a mentor to keep an eye out as they acclimate to the job.

Third, raise overall safety awareness in your organization. Use any influx of new workers to promote your organization's safety policies to all workers, and "deputize" your veteran workers to help enforce any policies. Make safety everyone's job. Have managers—particularly senior staff—conduct regular safety walkthroughs and audits.

Additional resources
Workers Comp Insider offers employers 10 tips to keep teen workers safe as well as a list of resources and links for teens.

Here are additional sites:

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.

April 13, 2007

Facing Up To Procrastination

Procrastination is becoming a chronic problem in America according to research published in the Psychological Bulletin (January, 2007).

Defined as the avoidance or postponing of tasks perceived as unpleasant, fully 26% of the American population now think of themselves as procrastinators compared with just 5% in 1978. While we tend to equate procrastination with laziness, the actual reasons are typically fear of failure or a paralytic indecision on how to tackle a task that seems daunting or complex.

The researchers did, however, cite five strategies that many have found extremely useful in overcoming procrastination:

  • Tackle unpleasant tasks early in the day when you have the most creative energy. Your success will contribute to a sense of exhilaration that will boost your confidence to take on more challenges.
  • Break complex tasks down into smaller "mini tasks" that are easy to complete and will simplify the overall challenge.
  • Invoke the "5 minute rule." Commit to focusing on a threatening task for just five minutes. At the end of five minutes, either commit to another five minutes or take a break.
  • Minimize and unplug all distractions that can reinforce your tendency to procrastinate, including Internet access, cell phones, television or iPods.
  • Honestly examine your true reasons for postponing action. Do you need training or assistance with time management skills? Or might you be a catastrophizer; i.e., someone who chronically and automatically falls into a depression imagining how awful the impending task will be?

Writing in Psychology Today (August, 2003), Hara Estroff Marano observes, "There are many ways to avoid success in life, but the most sure-fire just might be procrastination. Procrastinators sabotage themselves. They put obstacles in their paths. They actually choose paths that hurt their performance."

If procrastination is a problem for you at home or at work, your employee assistance program might be one resource to help you address and overcome this common problem. If you need help in this area, call your EAP today!

March 16, 2007

How to get 3,000 resumes a week

Need to bolster your recruitment efforts? Take five and a half minutes from your day to view this video clip from an NBC report about why Google was named the best place to work—it's quite amazing. Also, check out this report from Fortune describing what makes Google such a great employer and a photo essay that gives a glimpse into life in the Googleplex.

While many hard-working HR managers might have trouble persuading their companies to enrich their benefit programs to the Google standard, the real secret sauce lies in the company's ability to engage the creativity of their workers. Google has an innovative philosophy and a climate that fosters creativity and fun.

To learn about other great employers, see Fortune's 2007 list of the 100 best companies to work for.

February 8, 2007

As an added bonus, you get to jump out of a plane: workplace rewards for the brave hearts

Have you ever been rewarded for a job well done and then just shrugged your shoulders and tossed the reward into a drawer? Or even worse, gotten angry because the certificate for Pizza and Wings was useless to you, a life long vegan? Employee rewards and recognition are tricky business and can sometimes create the opposite of the intended effect.

A recent article in the NY Times heralds a company for creative rewards:

"A few summers ago, Indu Navar, founder and chief executive of the Silicon Valley software maker Serus, paid for her employees to jump out of an airplane. None of them had sky-dived before, and Sumeet Haldankar, a program engineer, said the 14,500-foot plunge delivered such an adrenaline rush that people hugged and laughed giddily when they landed safely."

I'd have to question whether these employees hugged because they felt rewarded or just happy to be alive. The article continues with examples of other creative perks:

"Jil Wyland, founder and chief executive of Litigation Presentation, a company in Atlanta that makes graphics used in courtroom trials, said she offered perks because she wanted work to be fun. She has treated her employees to office massages, personal trainers and maid service. To help the staff through a particularly busy week, she took them to a Nine Inch Nails concert."

I believe in making work fun. Trying to break the monotony of the everyday grind is a worthy objective and creative perks often work better than cash in rewarding exceptional efforts or ideas. Employees typically use the cash to take care of mundane obligations, come to expect it as a part of their compensation package or, even worse, forget that they got it.

Make sure whatever you use as a perk is actually desired by the employee. Motivation is individual and not all employees respond to the same types of rewards. Surely jumping out of a plane is memorable but the question I always ask is, "will this sustain long term motivation and good work performance?" The answer is, probably not.

Perks and rewards have some affect on morale but the most sustaining effort is still creating an engaging respectful work environment where employees are routinely and consistently asked their opinions and recognized for their ideas and efforts. This costs little, depends greatly on skilled and effective supervisors and sustains motivation over the long haul.

December 15, 2006

A special HR challenge: support for military families

I got a call recently from an employee who had just been laid-off. She was a young mother with a professional degree who had worked for a large national company. We talked about all the concerns you would expect: Can I access the EAP benefit? How do I find out about alternative health care? Should I let my childcare arrangement go while I look for a job?

Then what she said made my blood boil. On the Friday before she was laid off, she saw her husband deployed to Iraq. Despite the company knowing her situation—she had taken the day off to bring her young child to the base to say goodbye—just two days later, on Monday, she was escorted out of her office along with others who were caught in the reorganization. This seemed particularly callous treatment, given her situation.

I understand that giving preferential treatment may not be a best practice, but some recognition of extraordinary circumstances seemed to have been in order. This employee was not offered another job within the company and her benefits were cut off within two weeks of her termination. There could have been a better way, if only to have pointed her to support resources. She was philosophical, "maybe it's a good thing, I can spend time with the baby," but in the same breath, she said she wasn't sleeping at night and was turning her heat down to 60 during the day while she sent out resumes and made calls. The baby was warm at the babysitter's, at least for now.

The conflicts in the Middle East have put burdens on American business as many reservists are called up, leaving jobs that are protected under law. But companies should also be aware and sensitive to the special needs of the spouse and family left behind.

A recent blog at the Washington Post by Leslie Morgan Steiner dealt with the tragic story of a young military wife and the impact of her deployment:

Two spokeswomen for National Military Family Association, a nonprofit group that supports military families, isolation is a particular threat for military spouses with very young children whose partners have been deployed. "Spouses face the regular pressures of juggling roles, but when their spouse is deployed, they become single parents worried about their spouse's safety, as well as the effects on their children. Military wives feel additional pressure to be resilient and take care of other wives who need help."

During this holiday time many companies open their hearts to our deserving military by sending cards of support and packing holiday gifts. As HR managers, it is critical that we also remember those left behind with compassionate business practices and ready support. Providing families with information and connections can help ease the strain. The military offers family service support, online chat groups, spouse support groups such as Hearts Apart, and 24/7 counseling through Military Onesource and (800) 342-9647.

Check in with family members and always offer an ear to listen. If appropriate, let other employees know whose family is deployed. Informal support groups can be invaluable. A solid job can be a lifesaver; members of a military family can find purpose and affiliation in the workplace during difficult times.

December 8, 2006

Ho Ho Ho, Planning the company holiday bash

A couple of years ago one of our client companies did a survey about company sponsored holiday parties. Asking employees to rate how they felt about attending a party, 48% rated it below going to the dentist. In any case holiday parties are a staple this time of year and you may still have time to plan wisely and avoid pitfalls.

According to a survey by search firm Battalia Winston International, a vast majority (86%) of companies that host holiday parties will serve alcohol. If your company is in that majority, here are some steps to keep the party safe and free of unwanted problems.

  • Remind employees that company policies related to behavior at work also apply to company-sponsored events, even when employees are off the clock and off the premises.
  • Limit the number of alcoholic drinks per employee. For example, use drink tickets or have a two-drink maximum. Offer an unlimited amount of non-alcoholic beverages, as well. And definitely do not offer all-night open bar.
  • Stop serving alcohol 2 hours prior to the end of the party so all employees have a chance to sober up and instruct bartenders not to serve any employee or guest who appears impaired or is acting loud and inappropriate.
  • Provide for transportation in case some employees are not able to drive home. Keep the phone numbers of local taxi services on hand or arrange for cabs to be waiting outside at the end of the event. Consider booking a few rooms at a nearby hotel, on the company's dime, just in case.

Party food choices can influence how alcohol is absorbed by the drinker and since you're trying to avoid any embarrassing alcohol-related incidents, choose foods that are high in protein and starch. Avoid greasy or salty foods because they tend to increase beverage consumption.

It is important to take the focus off of drinking by having engaging entertainment. You don't need to break the bank on this, ask staff members for suggestions, games, skits and raffles are silly and fun. And if you want dancing, there are usually amateur DJ's available at holiday time. Check with you employees or call area high schools and colleges.

Also, consider having drawings for small prizes, such as movie passes and gift certificates to local salons and restaurants. Awards for service or silly certificates could keep employees engaged. This will hopefully give everyone an incentive to stay sober because they have to pay attention to listen for their names or raffle numbers, and that becomes trickier as alcohol's effects take over.

Have a good time but stack the deck in favor of responsible drinking behavior.

November 21, 2006

Words of advice from "the chief happiness officer"

"Imagine waking up every morning totally energized about your job, your coworkers, and the chance to go in and make a difference. THAT is Happiness at Work and every single one of us can have it."

So says author Alexander Kjerulf who bills himself as The Chief Happiness Officer at a blog by the same name. What a cool title and what a delightful way that would be to re-frame the role of human resources.

We found Alexander's blog from 10 seeeeeriously cool places to work, a fun post that discusses the relationship of physical space to productivity and attitude. Check out the impressive collection of photos of highly innovative and creative work spaces that he's gathered - your cubicle farm will never look the same. And don't miss the newest radically cool workspace he later found: Inventionland Motor Speedway.

If your budget doesn't afford you the ability to rebuild your organization's physical plant, don't despair. Kjerulf's blog also has some good words of advice on ways you can enhance the overall climate, culture, and energy of your workplace. After all, a good part of style is simply in the attitude—so if you can't work in a tomorrow-land space, you might be able to create a very cool and engaging environment through your culture.

Poke around a bit on Kjerulf's site, there are many fun and thoughtful posts. Here are a few we enjoyed:
The top 5 myths about workplace stress
A challenge to managers: Do you know your people
Everything sucks and you can't convince me otherwise: How to handle chronic complainers

October 13, 2006

Drug Free Work Week

The Department of Labor (DOL) announced the first-ever Drug-Free Work Week is scheduled for October 16 - 22. The stated purpose is to educate employers, employees and the general public about the importance of being drug-free as a component of improving workplace safety and health and to encourage workers with alcohol and drug problems to seek help.

We recently discussed the high toll that substance abuse can take in the workplace, and the importance of implementing a drug-free program. In fact, certain employers are mandated by law to implement a drug-free workplace. Failure to have such a program can be costly for both employers and employees alike:

  • Alcohol and drug abuse cost the nation $246 billion annually, or nearly $1000 each for every man, woman and child.
  • Substance abuse problems cost American business an estimated $81 billion in lost production.
  • Up to 40 percent of industrial fatalities and nearly half of all industrial injuries can be linked to substance abuse.
  • One in five workers report that they have had to work harder, redo work, cover for a co-worker or have been put in danger or injured as a result a fellow employee's drinking.
  • Substance abuse is estimated to cause 500 million lost workdays annually.

The DOL offers an extensive variety of suggested activities and programs that employers can implement at their work site, with links to other resources. Below, we are excerpting a few that we see as vital.

Implement a Drug-Free Workplace Program—Drug-Free Work Week is the perfect time to launch a Drug-Free Workplace Program if your organization does not already have one. Such programs are natural complements to other initiatives that help protect worker safety and health. To learn more about them, visit DOL's Working Partners Web site. In particular, the site's Drug-Free Workplace Advisor Program Builder offers detailed guidance on how to develop a Drug-Free Workplace Program, starting with the first step: a written policy.
Promote your Drug-Free Workplace Program—If your organization already has a Drug-Free Workplace Program, Drug-Free Work Week is a logical time to ensure the program is adequate to meet current needs and to remind employees about its important role in keeping them safe while on the job. One way to do this is to distribute to all employees a copy of your drug-free workplace policy, along with a positive message about valuing health and safety, and then provide an opportunity for them to ask questions about it, perhaps through an open forum or privately.
Train supervisors—Supervisors are the individuals closest to an organization's workforce. As part of Drug-Free Work Week, organizations can conduct training to ensure supervisors understand their organization's policy on alcohol and drug use; ways to deal with workers who have performance problems that may be related to substance abuse; and how to refer employees to available assistance. Working Partners offers more information on Supervisor Training, including ready-to-use training materials.
Educate workers—To achieve a drug-free workplace, it is critical that an organization educate its workers about the nature of alcohol and drug use and its negative impact on workplace safety and productivity. Drug-Free Work Week is a natural time to step up such efforts through training sessions, guest speakers or brown-bag lunches. Working Partners offers more information on Employee Training, including ready-to-use training materials. If employee education is already a regular activity, a Drug-Free Work Week program could be offered on a specific timely topic such as the abuse of prescription drugs or methamphetamine.
Remind employees about the availability of EAP or MAP services—If your organization has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Member Assistance Program (MAP), Drug-Free Work Week presents a perfect opportunity to remind them of its availability. Such programs offer free, confidential services to help all employees, including supervisors, resolve personal and workplace problems, such as substance abuse. They also offer confidential substance abuse screenings as well as brief intervention, if warranted, and help employees locate local treatment resources. Working Partners offers more information about EAPs.

September 27, 2006

Web porn at work and other web policy issues

Perusing today's newspaper, I came across an article about two managers at a nearby municipality who got caught with a stash of pornography on their work computers. One manager resigned and the other was suspended. I’m guessing that the reaction of their bosses will pale in comparison to the reactions of their spouses.

It is important to note that collecting web-based adult pornography is not against the law. The issue here is that it was against their employer's web policy.

Most reasonable people agree that collecting pornography on company computers is not a very good idea, there's not much to dispute there. What is less clear is exactly what constitutes a reasonable policy for using company computers for personal use.

I first confronted this question back in the 1990s while serving as CEO of a company with employees in offices scattered across the U.S. We were early adapters of the web and e-mail at work. Early in our learning curve on this new endeavor, it was apparent that e-mail was enhancing communication and web use was helping our employees to solve business problems. But we also noticed that employees were spending an awful lot of time surfing the web at work, and like many others, we were concerned about potential loss of productivity. To address this, we purchased software that limited personal use of the web. It did indeed keep employees from shopping on the web, but it also was a barrier to a great deal of information that would help people in their jobs. Plus, it led to a great deal of dissatisfaction and frustration.

In retrospect, this ‘Big Brother’ approach to the web at work was a lousy idea.

Focusing on the big picture
Clearly, personal use of the computer at work costs employers a great deal. Several studies have demonstrated that employers are losing more than four hours a week to personal Internet use. A survey by AOL and salary.com put the number of hours that employees fritter away online at about two hours per day. These studies estimate the cost to employers at more than $700 billion.

But focusing on personal use at work misses the overall picture. A University of Maryland study about personal use of the Internet at work showed that although workers do indeed use the web for personal business while at work – an average of 3.7 hours a week – they are also spending more time at home using the web for work-related matters – an average of 5.9 hours. No matter how you look at it, the web and e-mail bring every employer a big gain.

Employers have a great deal of latitude on how they treat this issue. The courts have held that an employer does indeed have the right to monitor e-mail and web access. Employers are within their rights to restrict personal use of the web if they so desire, but as the web becomes a fact of life, there seems to be a trend toward a more relaxed policy. We've seen this concept taking root among the many employers that we represent. Progressive employers have learned that broad guidelines encouraging appropriate use work better than a restrictive approach.

A heavy-handed approach will rankle your most creative and productive employees. For the few hours of productivity supposedly gained, you may wind up losing your best people.

This is an important and emerging topic on the minds of many employers, and one that we'll revisit. In future posts, we'll explore various approaches to creating effective web policies.

September 19, 2006

Survey: employees are not prepared for retirement

The 2005-2006 Annual 401(k) Benchmarking Survey (PDF) jointly sponsored by the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, the International Foundation, and the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists, offers an interesting snapshot of the struggle employers are facing with financial benefit programs post-Enron. On the one hand, we see increasing participation rates—24% of the responding firms reported participation rates in excess of 90% of eligible employees. There have also been increases in automatic enrollment and an increase in investment options. A new breed of investment options called time-based lifestyle funds automatically shift a participant's asset allocation based on target retirement dates.

On the other hand, fewer employers are matching contributions with employee stock, and more are now allowing employees to reallocate those assets immediately should they so choose. Most telling is the pessimism that employers expressed about the status of their employees' retirement planning. Only 13% of respondents agreed with the statement that "most employees are/will be financially prepared for retirement."

It would seem that employers are having difficulty establishing the right balance between encouraging their employees in the right direction to ensure their financial security and protecting the corporation from liability, which could result from being viewed as a financial advisor. Most of us know little about investing and rely heavily on the advice of professionals. Of the companies participating in the survey, 40% offer financial counseling and advice to help employees with financial decisions.

Helping employees understand the options
Employers are focusing many of their efforts on developing communication programs to help employees understand their retirement plan options. There are many resources available to both employers and employees. Some include:

  • Group meetings with 401(k) providers or similar vendors

  • Internet access to financial informational sites

  • Information from benefits or human resources departments

  • Books, tapes, worksheets, and other generic information

  • Financial counseling through an EAP

  • Periodic in-house seminars with non-401(k) financial planners

Vetting the vendors
Employers must take great care to select qualified vendors that will help employees with these critical decisions. Some important steps to take include:

Verify licenses. In most jurisdictions, investment advisers must be licensed. Check with your state's appropriate regulatory body to ensure that your vendor's license is up to date.

Get references. Contact the prospective vendor's current clients to verify satisfaction. Understand the compensation system. Make sure you understand exactly how the vendor is compensated. Those vendors that receive commissions for sales of certain investments might not be completely unbiased.

Review communication plans. Ask for samples of employee communication pieces and a plan for employee education to ensure adequate understanding of the plan.

Get recommendations from trusted advisors. Be sure to check with your EAP to learn what individual and group financial services might be available.

In the end, the responsibility for any financial decisions rests with the employee. All an employer can do is help the employee to understand alternatives and encourage participation in available benefit plans.

September 8, 2006

Radio Shack brings new meaning to "you've got mail"

Corporate downsizing is in the news so often that one more layoff announcement hardly draws notice. But, last week, some creative folks down at the Radio Shack headquarters in Texas were able to add a newsworthy twist to the story.

They fired 400 people...and they did it via e-mail. True, company officials had previously met with employees en masse to let them know that layoffs were imminent. Plus, employees could go to the company's intranet site and ask questions. (Maybe that was their way of using high tech to create high touch?) Then, a few days later, the emails went out to those who were terminated.

Did we mention that for an added ironic twist, all this occurred shortly before Labor Day?

In news stories, company officials defended the use of e-mail as both fast and private. But there was nothing private about the public outcry that followed—news outlets from Maine to California have pounced on this story, calling the company to task for being "dehumanizing," "callous," "cruel" and "chicken-livered." We liked this sentiment from a Forbes article on the matter:

"The way a company ends its relationship with employees says a lot about it. Some say it's just as important as the beginning of the professional relationship."

No easy way, but best practices can soften the blow
In our role as an EAP, we find ourselves working with managers and employees when terminations and downsizings occur. Unfortunately, we've gained a lot of experience in this area. We would join the chorus that is proclaiming that e-mail is not the best way to do this sort of thing. While terminations are never pleasant, there are some best practices to follow to ensure that affected employees are afforded the maximum in fairness and dignity.

First, if the termination is based on performance, make sure that the employee has been adequately warned, that warnings have been well documented, and that the employee has been given ample opportunity to rectify the situation. Many employers conduct an administrative referral to their EAP at this stage. Done properly, an administrative referral will resolve and head off more than half of all performance-based terminations. If the termination is part of a downsizing, there should be an announcement ahead of time that layoffs are planned.

If termination is the only solution, whether for performance or for general business reasons, the following steps will prove helpful:

  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.

Firing someone is always a difficult task, but following these basic rules will help it go better. We don't advocate e-mail as a good termination strategy!

August 10, 2006

Like seat belts, a Safe Driving Policy ought to be mandatory

Last month, we had a disturbing call from one of our EAP client companies – one that happens all too often. One of the organization's staff members had been killed while driving on business. Co-workers were devastated to lose a beloved colleague, and our client asked if we could send a counselor in to deal with the trauma of loss.

These calls occur with a frequency that might lead one to think that these accidents are inevitable, a statistical certainty. And I’m betting that most of us doubt that there is much our organizations can do to prevent this sort of tragedy. Unless your organization has a large fleet of drivers, you probably haven’t even considered a safe driving policy.

However, I recently came across a few startling facts that suggest that there is something we can do.

First: Vehicle-related fatalities are the single largest cause of occupational deaths, representing more than 40 percent of all work deaths.

Second: A typical driver has a one in 15 chance of being involved in a vehicle collision each year. Even a small organization – one with only ten or twenty people driving for business - has strong likelihood of having an employee injured in an auto accident.

Finally, statistics from OSHA and the National Safety Council demonstrate that organizations that introduce a safe driving program can reduce auto accidents by as much as 45 percent.

The program they suggest starts with a strong policy, and includes a safe driving training component and a review of employee driving performance.

The policy should at least include:

  • Mandatory seat belt use.
  • Prohibiting hand held cell phone use while driving on company business
  • Driving with the headlights on
  • A requirement to maintain a safe driving record

There are a number of options regarding the training component. There are thousands of driver training vendors that deliver local programs. And the National Safety Council offers a low cost online training program that is very reasonably priced.

It also makes sense to check whether workers assigned to drive on the job have a valid driver’s license and one that is appropriate for the type of vehicle to be driven. And it's always is a good idea to do background checks of prospective employees’ driving records.

Safe driving is not just good for you and your employees: it's good for the employees families, friends, and colleagues, as well as for the public at large. As long as we keep getting sad calls like the one we got last week, this is a drum we'll keep beating.

Here are some additional resources:
OSHA - Motor vehicle safety
NIOSH: Work-related Roadway Crashes - Prevention Strategies for Employers
Where the rubber meets the road: Risk management for employees who drive
Network of Employers for Traffic Safety

July 25, 2006

How high is your "Emotional Intelligence" quotient"?

One would have to be living under a rock to have missed the recent head-butting incident that resulted in French soccer star Zinedine Zidane being ejected from the championship game with Italy. The French team was reduced to 10 players and Italy prevailed in extra-time. Head-butting humor has been all the rage on the Web ever since, but at the root of things, the disturbing incident was another example of rage that seems to be encroaching many facets of our daily life.

The trigger for Zidane’s act was supposedly a remark uttered by his Italian victim, Marco Materazzi. When asked after the losing French effort if he regretted his behavior, Zidane stated, “I don’t regret anything that happened. There was a serious provocation and the guilty party is the one who provokes.” Allegedly, the Italian player uttered a derogatory statement that upset Zidane.

Contrast this ugly incident to the continual, overt harassment experienced by the late Jackie Robinson after he became the first African American ballplayer to crack into the major leagues in 1947 when he was called up by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Unlike Zidane, Robinson was able to ignore loud and frequent taunts as well as death threats with grace and dignity. He went on to become the National League’s most valuable player and set fielding and batting records.

Five key competencies
Some would say that unlike Zidane (whose lifetime record indicates 14 additional ejections), Robinson possessed a high degree of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is marked by five competencies or skills, according to psychologist Daniel Goleman:

1. The ability to identify and name one’s emotional states and to understand the link between current emotions and future consequences.
2. The capacity to manage one’s emotional states and to shift undesirable emotional states to more appropriate ones.
3. The ability to enter into emotional states at will that are associated with success and achievement.
4. The capacity to read and understand other people’s emotions.
5. The ability to enter and sustain satisfactory relationships even with those who initially appear antagonistic.

Cultivating your managerial emotional intelligence
Robinson’s emotional intelligence propelled him to triumph over adversity and scorn and become the first African American inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Zidane’s lack of emotional intelligence propelled him to an early retirement and notoriety.

Certainly, many of us can reflect on a personal incident or outburst in our life which resulted in a negative consequence such as marital discord, loss of a friendship or perhaps disruption at work. The good news, according to Dr. Goleman, is that emotional intelligence can be cultivated and developed to a high level. To do so, one must honestly review and assess one’s behavioral reactions to negative “provocations” and learn to intelligently respond rather than instinctively react.

If you work in human resources, it's important that you and your fellow managers understand the concepts, and work together to cultivate your managerial team's emotional intelligence. It's also useful to understand the dynamics so that you can recognize and intercede with employees who may be experiencing unresolved anger that they just can’t seem to control.

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