October 10, 2014

10 ways to do employee terminations wrong

HR Daily Advisor says that employee terminations are the cause of many lawsuits so it’s worth learning how to do them right. This video clip by Steve Bruce and his colleagues portray 10 common mistakes to avoid when firing an employee.

See Firing 101 for more videos on termination from HR Daily Advisor.

Here are some other resources for best & worst ways to fire employees:

Best practices for terminations and firings

Some good ways to deliver bad news

You're fired x 1300

Best Practices for downsizing, layoffs, and firings

Planning terminations that involve potentially violent employees

At-Will employment and the high cost to defend an employment lawsuit

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


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 21, 2014

Engaging Employees & the Importance of Employee Training

Brian Benton writes about importance of training employees, offering 6 reasons why training saves you money. The article links to a story about Deloitte and their commitment employee skills development.

In addition to building the workforce of the future, training is also critical to job satisfaction and employee engagement. This infographic from Benchmark Learning tells the story - it is based on interview with 1,400 IT Professionals. You can see the original here: Employee Engagement: How Skill Proficiency & Training Affect Your Workforce



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 27, 2013

The Best Resignation Letter Ever Written

Many writers take jobs to make ends meet while they pursue their true calling in off hours. Such was the case for author Sherwood Anderson who worked as a copywriter at a Chicago ad agency. When he reached a point that he was ready to devote himself to his writing full time, he penned an amusing letter to his employer - surely one of the best resignation letters ever written.

William Faulkner worked as a postmaster for a few years and was apparently rather a shirker. On being forced to resign, his letter was short and to the point. Contrast that with the folksy and amusing resignation from another postmaster, humorist Bill Nye, which he submitted to his boss, U.S. President Chester Arthur.

Among other resignation letters we've enjoyed is this sweet missive, a tasteful way to resign indeed. We also liked this song delivered in video format by a Microsoft employee to her team.

Should you be on the receiving end of a letter of resignation, here are some tips:


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 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.

May 28, 2012

Top 11 Reasons to Hire a Vet in 2012

Looking for a good candidate to fill that job opening? Here are the top 10 reasons to hire a military veteran. And here is one more: If you hire a qualified veteran who begins work before January 1, 2013, you may be eligible for a tax credit. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a provision in the VOW to Hire Heroes Act 2011 that allows employers to claim the WOTC for qualified veterans. Credits can range as high as $9,600 per qualified veteran for for-profit employers or up to $6,240 for qualified tax-exempt organizations. There are a number of factors that determine the credit amount, including the length of the veteran's unemployment before hire, the number of hours the veteran works, and the veteran's first-year wages. Learn more about potential tax credits for hiring veterans from the IRS.

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

February 19, 2010

Toyota's fall from grace: won't someone think of the employees?

As we've watched the Toyota recall story unfold - one painful, awkward chapter after another - we can only hope that the company has a really good EAP. In all the talk about the crisis that the company is going through, there is a lot of emphasis on the share price and the damage to the brand, but our thoughts go out to the rank and file employees who have gone from heroes to villains in one fell swoop. One day, the workers enjoyed the pride of association with one of the world's most successful and respected firms, noted for impeccable quality and reliability; and then, seemingly the next day, their company is besieged with international recriminations, negative headlines, and plummeting sales. In a terrible economy, the specter of job loss must suddenly loom large.

After every major corporate PR crisis, the literature is rife with analyses and dissections of what went wrong on a management level. Just one time, we'd like to hear more about the perspective and impact on the worker level. At the height of the AIG scandals, we recall the trapped-in-the-headlights look of one employee caught by the media as he was leaving the building one day. "I am not AIG," said the poor fellow. "I just work here."

HR's Role in Toyota's Crisis
Consultant and HR guru Dr. John Sullivan has produced an interesting "think piece" with the provocative title How HR Caused Toyota to Crash, in which he challenges readers to consider whether Toyota’s current predicament is a result of poorly designed practices and weak execution on the part of the human resource department. He says that:

"In any situation where employees fail to perform as expected, investigators must determine if the human error could have been caused by factors beyond the employee’s control. Such external factors might include actions by senior management, lack of adequate information or job training, faulty inputs to the process, or rewards that incent actions not in line with documented goals.

If you believe in accountability, you have to accept that human errors that lead to corporate catastrophes could be the result of faulty HR processes, most notably those related to acquiring, developing, motivating, and managing labor."

His piece is worth your time and don't skip the comments, which also make for a good read. Some commenters accept that HR is a contributor to the problem, but balk at being the cause; other commenters find the premise silly, viewing the problem as the exclusive purview of PR, the quality team, the engineers, or the folks at the top; still others note that if HR wants a seat at the management table, they must also assume some share of responsibility for the company's problems.

We fall in the "contributed but not caused" camp on this issue, but think it is a topic well worth exploring - particularly given how the Toyota culture has served as a benchmark and a template for so many best practices over the last few decades: lean manufacturing, just-in-time processes, continuous improvement, quality, and mentoring - to name but a few. And Dr. Sullivan's premise is all the more valid when you examine the heightened role that HR played in the company. Jeffrey K. Liker and Michael Hoseus examine the issue of Human Resource Development and the Toyota Culture in a 2008 article that explored the role of HR in a lean enterprise in the light of an HR reorganization after a crisis of trust at it Georgetown, KY plant.

Toyota's unique culture
Time features an excellent article that looks at the role that Toyota's much ballyhooed corporate culture may have played in "the epic breakdown."

"One organizing philosophy behind TPS is popularly ascribed to a concept called kaizen — Japanese for "continuous improvement." In practice, it's the idea of empowering those people closest to a work process so they can participate in designing and improving it, rather than, say, spending every shift merely whacking four bolts to secure the front seat as each car moves down the line. Continuous improvement constantly squeezes excess labor and material out of the manufacturing process: people and parts meet at the optimal moment. Kaizen is also about spreading what you've learned throughout the system. And then repeating it.

...Sakichi Toyoda developed another concept, jidoka, or "automation with a human touch." Think of it as built-in stress detection. At Toyota, that means work stops whenever and wherever a problem occurs. (Any employee can pull a cord to shut down the line if there is a problem.)

...That was the idea. But the fact that Toyota has produced so many imperfect cars is evidence that its system developed faults."

The authors note that it was an enormous challenge to export the corporate culture over the company's rapid growth, which encompassed long distances and many cultures. In addition, as the company grew, the empowerment of the individual worker diminished. Steven Spear of MIT, author of Chasing the Rabbit: How Market Leaders Outdistance the Competition noted:
"The big deal is this question, Does an organization know how to hear and respond to weak signals, which are the problems, or does it have to hear strong signals? You have to listen to weak signals. By the time you get to strong signals, it's too late."
These articles all provide food for thought. We'll no doubt be reading more analyses like these over the next several years, and we think it is worth putting the role of HR and the corporate culture under the microscope in any of these dissections.

Meanwhile, all you Toyota employees - our thoughts are with you. If the stress is getting you down, call your EAP!

February 14, 2010

Barriers to employees seeking help for mental health issues: concerns about confidentiality, work status

Are your workers afraid to seek help for mental health issues or substance abuse? Most are, according to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which showed that barriers still exist for employees in seeking health services, particularly mental health and substance abuse treatment. Employees expressed concerns about confidentiality and loss of status at work:

"76 percent thought their status would be impacted for seeking treatment for drug addiction, 73 percent for alcoholism and 62 percent for depression compared to 55 percent and 54 percent who indicated status as a barrier for diabetes and heart disease treatment."

In conjunction with the Partnership for Workplace Mental health, the APA offers these tips for employers to address these issues:

  • Lead by example. Supervisors and managers play a crucial role in creating a healthy environment by taking care of themselves. Set the tone and take care of your own health.
  • Promote prevention, early intervention and wellness programs. Encourage regular preventive health screenings, conduct health fairs, provide healthy meals and snacks at meetings, encourage exercise and promote work/life balance.
  • Discourage people from working while ill. Employees that need to take off time due to an illness should know that their employer wants them back – safely, healthy and productive.
  • Promote the investment you are already making. Remind employees of the health benefits and programs available to them. Make sure employees know how to access care, including programs like Employee Assistance Programs.
  • Reassure employees about confidentiality – this is especially important for mental health treatment. Remind employees about the ways that their privacy is protected when they utilize services, including Employee Assistance Programs.
In the current issue of Human Resource Executive, Tom Starner examines the survey and the issues raised in the survey in greater depth in his article Scared of the Stigma. The article offers various suggestions from experts on practices that will foster more amenability to treatment resources. One suggestion we liked is that employers consistently pair mental-health information with general physical-health information. We would agree that this would help to reduce the stigma, would reinforce the link between physical health and mental health, and would help to disseminate the message that help is available.

The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, a program of the American Psychiatric Foundation, offers employer resources in conjunction with employer partners. It maintains a searchable database of employer innovations, actual cases studies of successful corporate approaches in key areas, such as screening and education, Employee Assistance Programs, and disability management. Also see A Mentally Healthy Workforce - It's Good for Business, a report which notes that employer barriers to effective management of mental health in the workplace include misperceptions about the cost-effectiveness of treatment; lack of information about the direct and indirect costs of mental illness in the workplace; and a general wariness about all things related to mental illness. The report addresses each of these barriers and offers concrete suggestions for how an employer can change from being a mentally unhealthy workplace - or a marginally healthy one - to a healthy workplace.

Mental illness and the workplace
Study points to mental health issues as leading cost and absence drivers
Quickly Treating Employee Depression Helps Workers

November 11, 2009

Hiring Veterans - Resources for Employers and HR Managers

Hire Vets First - this Department of Labor site offers resources for recruiters and employers to match employment opportunities with veterans.

Veterans' Employment and Training Service - the U.S. Department of Labor offers veterans and transitioning service members with the resources and services designed to maximize employment opportunities, protect employment rights and meet labor-market demands with qualified veterans.

American Corporate Partners - a nationwide mentoring program helping veterans transition from the armed services to private enterprise through counseling and networking with volunteers from some of America's largest corporations.

American Heroes at Work - a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) project that addresses the employment challenges of returning service members living with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

National Center for PTSD - this site from the Division of Veteran Affairs aims to help U.S. Veterans and others through research, education, and training on trauma and PTSD.

Workplace Warriors - the Corporate Response to Deployment and Reintegration - (PDF) - 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.

Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act - a federal law intended to ensure that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserves, National Guard or other "uniformed services": (1) are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service; (2) are promptly reemployed in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty; and (3) are not discriminated against in employment based on past, present, or future military service.

Safeguarding the rights of servicemembers and veterans - from the U.S. Department of Justice

Give An Hour - nonprofit organization that provides free mental health services to U.S. military personnel and families affected by current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also,a national network where providers can volunteer their services.

Disabled American Veterans - Congressionally chartered as the official voice of the nation’s wartime disabled veterans, for nearly nine decades this 1.2 million-member nonprofit has been dedicated to building better lives for America’s disabled veterans and their families.

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs - Veterans Services - Veterans of the United States armed forces may be eligible for a broad range of programs and services provided by the VA. Eligibility for most VA benefits is based upon discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions, and certain benefits require service during wartime.

Department of Veteran Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program - Information for Employers - Employers hiring disabled veterans may qualify for benefits and incentives through the VR & E programs or other Federal Resources.

Insurance issues for U.S. military service members & their families - A blog posting that offers links to insurance resources and related consumer protection resources for service members.

August 16, 2009

Big-haired, smelly people who wear bells on their shoes: co-worker annoyances

It may not be the big things that send people over the edge at work, it may be the little things. In his poem, The Hollow Men, poet T.S. Eliot says that "This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper." When asked "what bothers you the most about co-workers" in a recent survey of 2600 hiring managers conducted by Career Builder, respondents revealed a quirky litany of petty annoyances and grudges ... from colleagues who "eat all the good cookies" and breathe too loudly to those with disconcerting habits like having big hair, checking co-workers for ticks or wearing bells on their shoes.

The list is amusing - it is easy to imagine the shudders and eye rolls that accompanied these statements. But are we wrong in wondering why many of these complaints seem singular rather than universal? Where were some of the stereotypical and ubiquitous cringe-worthy souls like the whistler, the bootlicking toady, the space invader, the loud talker, the loud eater, and the taker of the last cup of coffee without making more? We went looking for other surveys about co-worker complaints and found those and other petty grievances.

In a Forbes survey, noisy colleagues featured prominently in a list of top annoyances - loud office talkers, people with annoying ring tones, and those who talk on speakerphones. The kitchen is another source of contention: people eating smelly food, leaving dirty dishes or messes for others to clean up, or people who hog the best treats while never bringing in their own. In some "arm's length" research conducted by Brianna Raymond of Pongo Blog, gossip and eavesdropping were among the top coworker annoyances, along with "gross" behavior such as publicly clipping fingernails (or toenails) at the desk or sharing too much information about medical issues. Among those commenting on her post, there seemed to be a fair amount of coworkers who tell "poop jokes," and the consensus was that "poop jokes" are indeed annoying and don't belong in the office.

David R. Butcher of Thomasnet helpfully categorizes these annoying people into 13 Types of Irritating Coworkers. Where do you fall on the scale of things? When people think "annoying co-worker" does your name come to mind? Take the am I the annoying co-worker quiz to find out where you land on the scale of people who drive other people crazy. A few weeks after his list of 13 annoying coworker types, Butcher issued a second list: 13 Types of Coworkers We Like, with many traits we should all aspire to. Meanwhile, if in your role as HR manager some of these crazy-making behaviors wind up in your lap, John Baldoni of CIO suggests three tips for nipping workplace annoyances in the bud - being direct and specific in confronting the behavior, asking the offender to participate in helping to identify the solution, and following up to ensure resolution.

August 9, 2009

How not to get sued for age discrimination when drafting a severance agreement

Business Brief calls it a set of "how to sue your employer" instructions from the fed and advises that employers and HR managers familiarize themselves with this document recently issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): Understanding Waivers of Discrimination Claims in Employee Severance Agreements. Largely, this document was issued in response to a spike in age-related discrimination claims that is worrying the EEOC. They report that last year, workers filed nearly 30 percent more age discrimination charges than in 2007. Many feel that the economic downturn has taken a disproportionate toll on the older work force and many are concerned that several recent Supreme Court decisions are weakening the 1967 Age Discrimination Act in Employment. (In June, the Supreme Court ruled that for a discrimination case to succeed, thee employee must show that age discrimination was the cause rather than just a contributing factor to termination or other adverse job action Gross v FBL Financial Service)

The new document issued by EEOC is intended to give employees guidance on waiving discrimination claims in severance agreements:

"This document answers questions that you may have if you are offered a severance agreement in exchange for a waiver of your actual or potential discrimination claims. Part II provides basic information about severance agreements; Part III explains when a waiver is valid; and Part IV specifically addresses waivers of age discrimination claims that must comply with provisions of the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA). Finally, this document includes a checklist with tips on what you should do before signing a waiver in a severance agreement and a sample of an agreement offered to a group of employees giving them the opportunity to resign in exchange for severance benefits."
Business Brief recommends that employers see this document as "a heads-up that EEOC is giving all such agreements a closer look." They sugges that this document should be a resource for employers in drawing up any severance agreements, particularly in terms of what not to put in an agreement.

June 22, 2009

"Survivor Syndrome" after layoffs

Joanne Wojcik of Benefits Beat discusses a new report on post-layoff survivor syndrome. While the actual report is only available to members, the author suggests that managing survivor syndrome " ... is about taking a strategic approach before, during and after the downsizing so management teams will be able to extract greater employee motivation, engagement and productivity, and foster the performance of the business over the long term."

Once the dust has settled after a layoff, the remaining employees may run through a gamut of emotions. As a manager, you should recognize that the the five stages of grief and loss may be at work. Expect anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and eventually acceptance. It's common for surviving workers to have some or all of the following reactions:

  • Sadness at the loss of valued colleagues
  • Guilt that friends and colleagues are suffering hardship
  • Fear, anxiety, or worry that job loss could happen to them next
  • Anger at you or the company; mistrust, erosion of loyalty
  • Stress at having to assume a heavier workload or take on new duties
  • Lack of motivation or apathy

As a manager, you need to address these common reactions and find a way to move forward in a positive direction.

  • Recognize that people need to express their feelings of loss for valued colleagues.
  • Expect some venting. If employees express anger at you or the organization, don't take it personally and don't be defensive. Try to steer things in a positive direction.
  • Explain the business rationale for the cuts. Try to allay insecurity but don't offer any false promises or misleading statements about their future security.
  • Help people adjust to new work roles - offer support and encouragement.
  • Work to rebuild trust. Encourage teamwork, set positive goals. It might be a good time for morale boosters like extra training sessions, pizza lunches, and recognition for a job well done.
  • Communicate frequently and honestly.
  • Watch for signs of continued stress and refer employees to your EAP if signs of stress persist.

See our past guide on Coping with Tough Times where we provide more resources on survivor guilt and helping your employees cope with change. Also see our post on some good ways to deliver bad news.

June 5, 2009

Closing the barn door style of management

Your HR Guy has a great post on exit interviews, calling them "band aids on broken legs." Well written, and we couldn't agree more.

"Let's not fool ourselves: the best case scenario is your exit interview actually provides new information because your company management is inept at figuring out what should already be known. That’s the best case scenario!"

He makes the case that exit interviews are more of a feel-good device than a strategy that will yield fresh insight or actionable information to curtail turnover. This is partly because because many departing employees aren't open - they often don't want to say anything negative that will get back to the manager and burn a bridge. Also, he sees that because management training will rarely be cited as a problem, it will rarely become part of the solution.

The real solution?

"You need real managers. Ones that know their employees well, that have open lines of communication, that have some basic investigation and analytical skills, and don’t need an exit interview to be told why people are leaving."

We'd file exit interviews under the category of "retrospective management" and this just isn't a management style that cuts it. We sometimes see a similar dynamic with referrals to our EAP. Astute managers who make an EAP referral early on - either when they first observe a pattern of problematic work behaviors or when they see the manager-employee relationship breaking down - can often salvage the relationship with a strategic referral. More often than not, we are able to help the employee identify the root cause of the problem and develop coping strategies or problem resolutions - sometimes the underlying problem isn't even work-related, but simply spilling over into the workplace.

Unfortunately, all too often, the troubled employee isn't referred to us until the problem behavior has festered unaddressed for a period of time, frustration on all sides is high, and the situation is not salvageable. The good managers that we see have open communication with their employees, they spot problems early, they address problems frankly, and they know when to look for outside help. The less-than-ideal managers are the ones who are frequently trying to close the barn door after the horse has escaped ... problems aren't addressed until they are huge, often reaching a level of toxicity that makes it difficult or impossible to resolve. Cue up the exit interview.

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:

March 12, 2009

Coming soon to a neighborhood near you: guns in your company parking lot

As an employer, you have a right to set policy for your private property, right?

Apparently not when it comes to guns. An employer's private property rights are taking a back seat to employees' rights to keep loaded guns in their cars in workplace parking lots. At least that's the word from the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ruling is the latest development in a series of events that began in Oklahoma in 2002 when Weyerhaeuser employees were fired for having left firearms locked in their vehicles in the plant parking lot. In reaction to these firings, the state legislature enacted a law banning companies from restricting workers' ability to carry legal firearms in their vehicles. Many employers - Weyerhaeuser Corp., Whirlpool Corp., and ConocoPhillips among them - challenged the Oklahoma law on safety grounds. In October 2007, a U.S. District Judge issued an injunction against the law on the basis that it conflicted with an employer's legal obligation under OSHA to maintain a safe workplace.

In its decision, the appeals court noted that OSHA took a neutral stance on the law and, therefore, the law did not create a conflict.

Since this ruling, both Arizona and Utah legislators have made progress on enacting similar bills. In both places, there has been significant opposition to these laws, particularly from business and employer groups. But such opposition did not stop the passage of a similar law in Florida last year. Ironically, guns are not allowed in most of the chambers where such laws are decided. Guns are not allowed in most federal offices or in many state and municipal offices.

This decision is a substantial victory for the gun lobby of the National Rifle Association, which has been going state by state to promote such legislation. Employers are left with the burden of maintaining a safe workplace while being disallowed from establishing safety policies of their choosing for their own property.

While several such state laws have provisions that offer some thin liability protection to employers, there are other losses that could occur as a result of a gun-related incident at work. Such losses could include business interruption, loss of reputation, an increase in absenteeism, a decrease in employee productivity and morale, and increased disability and workers compensation losses. Waivers are also unlikely to protect an employer from employment suits such as negligent hiring or negligent retention. Is your business ready for the heightened security burden that this additional risk will impose?

The parking lot today, but one has to wonder if the next battle line will be the workplace proper. Will the NRA soon be lobbying for the right of employees to arm themselves at their workstations to be protected from co-workers who retrieve loaded weapons from the parking lot and begin a shooting rampage?

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

March 28, 2008

When it comes to alcohol problems, all industries are not equal

On average, about 9 percent of U.S. workers drink in ways that contribute to absenteeism, higher health care costs and lost productivity, according to an analysis of government data. But in some industries, the toll can be much higher. At 15%, hospitality tops the list of industries with a higher than average prevalence of alcohol abuse problems, followed closely by the construction industry at 14.7%, according to a new report on alcohol abuse by industry issued by Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems at The George Washington University Medical Center.

In addition, some demographics experience more problems than others. More than 18 percent of young workers between the ages of 18 and 25 have an alcohol-related problem, compared to just seven percent of workers 26 and older, and in every industry segment, men experienced more problems than women. For example, "Researchers found that men working in hospitality and construction are approximately 50 percent more likely to have an alcohol-related problem than women in the same industry. In wholesale trade, men are almost three times more likely to have an alcohol problem than women."

Prevalence of alcohol problems by industry segment
Hospitality.................Male 17.4%....Female 12.6%....Overall 15.0%
Construction................Male 15.2%....Female 10.0%....Overall 14.7%
Wholesale Trade.............Male 14.6%....Female 05.3%....Overall 11.9%
Professional................Male 13.3%....Female 07.1%....Overall 10.6%
Retail Trade................Male 13.4%....Female 06.2%....Overall 09.7%
Finance & Real Estate.......Male 11.2%....Female 07.6%....Overall 09.2%
Manufacturing...............Male 09.5%....Female 06.5%....Overall 08.6%
Transportation/Utilities....Male 09.1%....Female 04.8%....Overall 08.2%
Information/Communication...Male 12.7%....Female 04.8%....Overall 08.1%
Agriculture.................Male 08.7%....Female 01.9%....Overall 07.2%
Other Services..............Male 08.9%....Female 03.8%....Overall 06.4%
Education/Social Services...Male 09.4%....Female 04.3%....Overall 05.4%
Public Administration.......Male 06.4%....Female 04.1%....Overall 05.3%

Estimating costs by industry
Ensuring Solutions states that problem drinking is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing 85,000 Americans annually and draining $185 billion from the nation’s economy every year. Yet it is a problem that often stays under the radar with few of the problem drinkers identified for help. Researchers suggest this is a major public health issue, and one that employers should take the lead in addressing. similar to the way employers have led the way in addressing other public health issues such as obesity and diabetes. And as with most health problems, awareness, education, and early intervention are critical to changing behavior.

To help employers understand the workplace costs associated with alcohol abuse, Ensuring Solutions has devised a series of online alcohol cost calculators for businesses , for health plans, and for kids, as well as a return on investment calculator.

Using a hospitality industry example of 5,000 employees, here are sample results:

Likely number of problem drinkers in your workforce...458
Likely number of employees’ family members who are problem drinkers...621
Likely number of excess work days lost to sickness, injury and absence because of problem drinking ...159 Days Per Month
Cost of excess lost days per year...$266,052
Likely alcohol-related health care costs...$1,962,068
Excess emergency room visits...121
Excess days in the hospital...56
Emergency department and hospital costs...$441,383

Treatment options
Ensuring Solutions offers the full report in PDF: Workplace Screening and Brief Intervention: What Employers Can and Should Do About Excessive Alcohol Use. Their website also offers guidance and many resources for addressing alcohol abuse in the workplace. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) also offers many tools and programs

And don't forget your EAP. DOL suggests that use of an EAP is the most effective treatment modality:

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are generally the most effective vehicle for addressing poor workplace performance that may stem from an employee’s personal problems, including the abuse of alcohol or other drugs. EAPs are an excellent benefit to employees and their families and clearly demonstrate employers’ respect for their staff. They also offer an alternative to dismissal and minimize an employer’s legal vulnerability by demonstrating efforts to support employees.

January 8, 2008

Common supervisory mistakes

Ten Critical Mistakes Made by Supervisors Dealing with Federal Employees in Trouble at Work - This is an excellent article by Bob Gilson, a consultant and employee relations advisor who authors articles at FedSmith.com, an information portal for sources of information impacting the federal community. This concise and sensible list is one that should be mandatory reading for all with supervisory responsibility, regardless of whether they are in the public or private sector.

Bob attributes many of the supervisory mistakes that he's witnessed to poor training, something we would concur with. He labels each item on his list as a "critical mistake" and elaborates considerably on each - but here is a summary of the ten mistakes that he identifies:

  • Failing to Set Clear Expectations or to Regularly Reinforce Them
  • Letting Problems You're Aware of Fester before Addressing Them
  • Failure to Communicate With People with Problems
  • Failure to Recognize the Importance of Due Process
  • Taking the Matter Personally
  • Moving Too Quickly to Formal Action
  • Playing "GOTCHA" With Troublesome or Difficult People
  • Waiting Too Long to Get Professional Help
  • Unwillingness to See a Problem Through to a Resolution
  • Worrying Too Much About Over-Touted Disincentives to Taking Action

This list is a follow-on to a prior article about Ten Critical Mistakes Made by Federal Employees in Trouble, a candid look at mistakes employees often make to aggravate their troubles when they have problems on the job - another article well worth a read. More articles authored by Bob can be found in the Federal Manager's Toolbox.

February 14, 2007

Cupid at work: office romance

About 2 out of every 5 workers has been romantically involved with a co-worker, according to a recent survey on workplace romance by Spherion. And despite 41% of the survey takers saying that they thought that a work romance might interfere with their job security or hinder advancement, nearly 2 out of 5 respondents said they would still consider becoming involved with a coworker.

While we hate to strike a sour note on this day of wine and roses, it's a simple fact. Work romance can be fraught with problems for the employer. Witness the sad spectacle of astronaut Lisa Nowak, an example of a work romance gone frightfully awry. While it is likely that Nowak's problems go far deeper than the romance, her employers at NASA must be wondering if there was anything they could have done or been alert for before things took such a terrible pass. (See What makes an astronaut crack?)

In Spherion's survey, 42 percent of workers said they conduct their romance openly, while 35 percent favor keeping things quiet. Whether overt or covert, there are many, many reasons why work romances can be a headache to the employer. In a large organization, the effect on coworkers may be negligible, but in a small workplace, romance between workers can hurt morale and cause discomfort, distractions, and conflict. Much worse can ensue if it is a relationship between a manager and a non-manager. And when romances hit the skids, even more problems can ensue - loss of valued employees and potential lawsuits due to harassment or discrimination, for example.

While most employers tend to discourage office romance, few out and out forbid it. In 2006, SHRM conducted a survey on workplace romance and that found that:

"Only 9 percent of HR professionals surveyed say dating among employees is prohibited, and in 2001 and 2005 more than 70 percent of organizations did not have formal written or verbal policies dealing with romantic liaisons between employees."

Rather than prohibiting dating or romance between co-workers, most employers seem to be taking things on a case-by-case basis. An article on office romance in Inc.com profiles one employer with this approach:

"We don't have a specific policy," said Lisa Stone, human relations director at New Media Strategies, an Arlington, Va.-based online marketing firm. "We have an environment that cultivates relationships, and every now and then, Cupid strikes."
According to Vault, 58% of companies will only interfere if the relationship has created a problem at work, similar to the approach New Media Strategies takes, according to Stone. On average, the firm's employees are 28 years old and work between 40 and 45 hours a week -- factors that have contributed to at least a handful of romances among the ranks of the seven-year-old company, including one engagement, Stone said."

Not all work romances are problematic—the Spherion study points out that twenty-five percent of workplace relationships eventually lead to marriage.

Related reading

Seven rules of office romance

Romance in the office can lead to marriage or to a lawsuit

November 9, 2006

Helping your employees "Kick the Habit"

Is it time for your organization to do more to encourage employees to quit smoking? Smoking tobacco is still the number one killer of individuals in the US and associated illnesses cost billions for American businesses. Here is your chance to take advantage of a nation-wide effort. Every year, the third Thursday November -- November 16th this year -- is the Great American Smokeout. Smokers are encouraged to give up smoking for 24 hours in the hope that this head start will support a long-term behavior change.

Resources from the American Cancer Society are available and community events you can tag onto pop-up across the nation. The CDC also offers many free resources for you to use in your efforts.
This can be a great company-wide event to improve the health of your employees. But is it really a company's place to promote smoking cessation? Citing benefits for employers and employees, many states have passed laws requiring workplaces to be smoke free. The Lung Association offers a Worksheet to determine State laws that may apply to your organization.

Here are some benefits of a smoke-free workplace as identified by the American Cancer Society:

Benefits for the Employees

  • A smoke-free environment helps create a safe, healthful workplace.
  • Workers who are bothered by smoke will not be exposed to it at the worksite.
  • Smokers who want to quit may have more of an incentive to do so.
  • Smokers may appreciate a clear company policy about smoking at work.
  • Managers are relieved when a process for dealing with smoking in the workplace is clearly defined

For the Employer

  • A smoke-free environment helps create a safe, healthful workplace.
  • Direct health care costs to the company may be reduced.
  • A well-planned and carefully implemented effort by the employer to address the effect of smoking on employees' health and the health of their families shows the company cares.
  • Employees may be less likely to be absent from work due to smoking related illnesses.
  • Maintenance costs go down when smoke, matches, and cigarette butts are eliminated in facilities.
  • Office equipment, carpets, and furniture last longer.
  • The risk of fires is lower.
  • It may be possible to negotiate lower health, life, and disability insurance coverage as employee smoking is reduced.

Creating a Smoke-Free Work Policy

Creating a Smoke-Free Policy is a good way to clearly present your organization's position on this practice in the workplace. For model policies check out The American Cancer Society

Making a policy successful may depend on a few preparations:

  • Find out what your employees want. You may discover that employees object to co-workers smoking outside the front door or beneath open windows. Second-hand smoke is a consideration when identifying smoking places on company property.
  • Announce the no smoking policy ahead of its implementation.
  • Give details of how things will change and allow employees time to adjust to new rules. If possible, specify a starting date.
  • Help employees kick the habit by offering a smoking-cessation program.
  • Offer access to support through a health professional or your EAP. It is proven that groups of individuals who quit together offer each other support, and this can often enhance success.

While eliminating smoking in the workplace is a good start, refusing to hire smokers all together is not an option for most organizations. More than half the states in the US have "lifestyle discrimination" laws which prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on their use of tobacco or other lawful products. And for many employers, limiting the potential labor pool by instituting a blanket hiring ban on a class of workers for a lifestyle issue isn't feasible. Many fire and police departments and some companies are indeed banning smoking entirely—on or off the job—and refusing to hire smokers. Here's how Jon Coppelman at Workers Comp Insider wrote about this.

The final word, it's always advisable to look into your state laws to determine your best course of action.

November 8, 2006

When politics spill over into the workplace

On the day after election day, politics may still be percolating as specific races go through a post mortem, or worse, recounts. This is a topic that may likely engage your workers - hot elections and controverrsial political issues can and do carry over to water cooler debates. In a recent poll conducted by AP-Pew Research, nearly half of all respondents, or 43 percent, said they debate political issues at work.

Here's a round-up of some news and web stories that discuss both employer and employee rights related to politics in the workplace.

Arthur Susser of Littler Mendelson, a national employment and labor law firm, discusses the fact that workers are often surprised to learn that their employers can restrict political expression at work. He suggests some steps that employers can take to restrict workday activities to business pursuits, even in states with laws protecting political expression.

Geoff Williams of Entrepreneur.com suggests that, despite how pervasive politics has become, we should take the advice of experts and keep it out of work or " ... risk an entire Pandora's box of problems spilling out to the office place." He offers 5 tips on defusing political passions before they start at the workplace.

Susan M. Heatherfield of Human Resources at About.com discusses the reasons why it's best to nix political discussions at work. She also offers some helpful tips for supervisors who become aware of potentially negative political discussions. She suggests that politics should be treated like any other situation that holds the potential for escalating into conflict.

Workplace Fairness discusses employee rights and the limitations of the law in relation to retaliation for political activity.

Margarita Bauza has a story entitled Working with politics: Experts advise treading lightly and knowing office policies before speaking on the issues in Detroit Free Press:

Typically, company policies addressing political speech deal with displaying signs of support and soliciting donations, said Jennifer L. Berman, an attorney who has drafted numerous workplace policies dealing with political speech. Berman is managing director of CBIZ Human Capital Services in Chicago.
"In a private workplace, you can prohibit any type of speech you want," Berman said. "But that would be a little bit stronger than what most companies want to do."
No office is immune to rules regarding political speech -- even political offices. Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, a Democrat, prohibits assistant prosecutors from supporting opponents. There is language to that effect in their union contract.
Nemeth said such policies are rare and potentially violate free-speech rights. But they at least define what is and isn't acceptable in the workplace, she said.

Michelle Kara of The Mercury has a story advising caution when talking politics at work:

Peter Susser, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Littler Mendelson, the nation's largest employment and labor law firm, encourages employers to "ensure that work environments are safe, are free of hostility and conducive to productivity" by "protecting employees from being badgered or pressured by overzealous political advocates."
Susser said many people wrongly assume the Constitution and the Bill of Rights entitle them to express their political views whenever and wherever they wish. In fact, "workers at private-sector companies that are employed at will can be terminated for their political beliefs as long as their dismissal complies with employment statutes and does not run afoul of other state-law guarantees," he stated in a news release.

September 29, 2006

The bully boss takes a toll

In a few weeks we will all be celebrating National Bosses Day! Of course, this holiday in mid October is more an affectation of the greeting card companies than an act of congress. And since the number one reason employees leave their jobs is unresolved conflict with a supervisor, one wonders just how many bosses will be getting flowers on October 16th. Bosses have been bullying employees since the beginning of work but this "management style" takes its toll on workers and the organization. Intimidated employees are not loyal and productive. Pure employee frustration sprouts Bad Boss Contest websites where a "can you top this" race ensues with bad boss stories posted and winners selected. Or employees can take the "Is Your Boss a Psycho" quiz to see just how bad things are. While these sites relieve stress with a bit of humor, they do nothing to stem the practice.

One of the main reasons bullying continues in the workplace is that workers are intimidated and threatened with their livelihood and won't speak up for themselves. But the most egregious reason it continues is that organizations tolerate it. On the surface bullying bosses may be good producers or they keep a work team in order. Bullying can humiliate and degrade but it also gets results. What does it matter that employees are sick and dejected if they produce?

Stories we hear from HR managers support this theory. Bad behavior is tolerated until it gets to a certain level and then the EAP is called to help a supervisor manage his or her anger. Here are some examples we've run into:

Sally a sales supervisor, blew up at a client last week stomping her feet using language that was insulting and intimidating. When asked if this was rare, the manager said, "No, Sally is a great employee a top producer. She is like that all the time with her team, but never a customer...we can't put up with this"

Harold lambasted and ridiculed an employee in front of her work team. When she walked away to compose her self, Harold followed her into the ladies room and continued screaming about her incompetence...the CEO heard the exchange. "Was this out of character for Harold?" we asked. "No" HR said, "Harold has a long history of volatile behavior but this is the first time he followed anyone into the rest room. We think he crossed the line"

Chris works long hours often staying past 8:00 PM. He penalizes any employee on his team that leaves the office before he does. Employees who leave to attend to their personal lives are scorned for days and given the silent treatment. Their questions are not answered and their work criticized. If employees leave, Chris stays later the next day. Management thinks Chris has a dedicated team, when complaints of intimidation were lodged; the EAP was called in to help team members learn to work more collaboratively.

Pat told his employees that he kept a shot gun in the trunk of his car. If things got out of hand or employees complained about their work, he could always get the gun and take care of things. Several employees complained but HR didn't really think Pat was serious, they were checking with the EAP to see if this was illegal!

Consistent progressive discipline with abusive and volatile bosses is essential. Employees can also learn ways to deal with ongoing harassment. But management must step up and take responsibility for colluding with and condoning bully behavior. The message sent to the organization is that the individual is expendable and dehumanizing behavior is tolerated.

There are all kinds of economical reasons to address this pervasive problem but creating an environment where human respect and decency is paramount is the only important one.

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!

September 4, 2006

Employees are less satisfied, more stressed and expecting employers to fix it

Few would argue that stress in the workplace has increased in recent years and that the relationship between employers and employees is changing dramatically. There is less loyalty on both sides of the equation. The result of these trends is that employees are less satisfied. And that dissatisfaction can affect productivity.

Randstand USA a global provider of employment services conducts extensive research on business issues, workers and the workplace. Their 2006 Employee Review was recently published and brings to light some interesting findings.

The study concludes that there is a growing level of employee dissatisfaction. The data indicate that many employees believe their career advancement is non-existent. Work/life is out of whack and workers feel unvalued. And they expect management to fix the problems. Add to all that the facts that there is a large discrepancy between what employees want and what managers believe they are doing to solve the problems.

"When it comes to career development, 73 percent of employers said fostering employee development is important, but only 49 percent of employees said leadership is adhering to this practice. Likewise, 86 percent of employees cited feeling valued as an important factor for happiness while only 37 percent said it exists in their job."

This inconsistency can adversely affect productivity. Employees become less loyal and more disgruntled. While not willing to leave a position in uncertain times, the employee stays with a job they dislike and productivity suffers from low morale.

Generational Differences
The survey also shows diverse opinions from the different generations in the workplace. Generation X and Y are looking to develop their career and learn more skills. They seek personal growth while overwhelmingly Boomers and Matures are looking for recognition and appreciation.

When it comes to taking time off, the Generations X and Y are almost twice as likely to take a day off to relieve stress and almost 4 times more likely to take a sick day for personal errands. The Matures by far take the least time off.

In a stressful business climate it is essential to understand the varied demographics of your population and to listen and believe what your employees are telling you either openly or with their behavior (increased absenteeism or turnover). Open discussions and efforts to respond are valuable not only for morale but also for productivity and the bottom line.

August 22, 2006

Absenteeism—the productivity leaking bucket, and four ways to plug it

There are a few simple truths about absenteeism.

The first is that almost all employers suffer a substantial loss of productivity because employees are absent from work. Unplanned absence due to family issues, workplace injuries, and non-work-related injuries and illness can add up to as much as a 10 percent productivity loss for some employers. A recent survey on absenteeism by CCH found that "...unscheduled absences cost companies $660 per employee per year, up from $610 in 2004, in salary costs alone—never mind the expense of paying for overtime or a temporary replacement." What's more, the study found that personal illness accounts for just 35 percent of unscheduled absences.

The second important fact is that trying to control absenteeism can be a daunting task. Lost work days fall into many different categories: family and medical leave, workers' comp injuries, and non-work injuries and illnesses all contribute to the mix. These varying types of absences fall under different programs, insurance coverage, and legal umbrellas. Employers that operate in multiple states have the added burden of dealing with a variety of local regulations. And typically, in many organizations, the responsibility for managing lost time is split among different departments. FMLA and short-term disability is usually turfed to HR, while workers comp can fall to the financial people or a safety officer.

You wind up with nobody looking after the whole problem, and nobody knowing exactly how much the bucket is leaking.

Plugging the leaks
There are four best practice principles that can help. If your organization hasn't adopted them, you may want to consider doing it now.

First, get a lost time measurement tool. There are several vendors who offer sophisticated absence management information systems for very large organizations, but for the small to mid-size employer an Excel spreadsheet can work just fine—the important thing is to begin tracking absences. A weekly report citing who's out, for how long, and why, circulated to your senior managers can go a long way toward focusing management attention on the problem.

Second, make sure that prevention is given top priority. For those organizations with recurring risks of injury, there has to be an active safety program that is actively led by top management. There are certain safety practices that can have a beneficial effect on non-work injuries, too, such as driving safety programs.

Third, have an active return-to-work program. This program should include temporary modified duty programs for every employee who loses time due to an injury, whether work-related or not. While we often see resistance to modified duty from managers who mistakenly insist on "having all employees at 100 percent functionality," the facts overwhelmingly indicate that these programs reduce comp and disability costs, improve productivity, and foster faster recovery for the employees.

Finally, use your EAP to help reduce absenteeism and lost time. The reasons for absence can often be mitigated, whether the absence involves a young mother who needs help locating child care, an injured worker who is becoming depressed over not being fully active, or someone with a family or personal problem that results in missed work days. A good EAP program can go a long way in providing solutions that will help to reduce life disruptions that cause absence.

Having an overall absence management program will pay big productivity dividends. Equally importantly, it can improve morale by helping your workers to stay healthy and safe, maintain personal productivity, and preserve income.

August 8, 2006

Helping the military return to work

Even as the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts continue, many Military, Reservists and National Guard are returning home to family life and jobs. The job market is proving tough for many, but for those who do find jobs, this transition to normal life can be joyful and challenging at the same time. As a manager or HR professional, there are issues to be aware of and things you can do to help the transition. Most military personnel left behind relationships, families and jobs when they were deployed. Many things have changed while they were gone and coming back into the work environment can be a culture shock for the vet.

What is the Law
Understanding the law governing their return may be helps ease the transition. Military personnel are protected by the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA) that applies to all employers regardless of their size, and protect those in the reserve forces of the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard, and Public Health Service Commissioned Corp. It's worth checking the regulations when an employee leaves for service so you can be prepared for their return.

Tips for Employers
If you are a supervisor or employer of an individual returning from active duty, here are some tips you can use to ease his or her transition back into the workplace.

Create a welcoming environment: Prior to the employee's return, meet with his or her colleagues to discuss any concerns they have about the impact on their responsibilities, as well as to promote the importance of being supportive as their colleague readjusts. If appropriate, consider organizing a welcoming event, such as a breakfast or cake break.

Update the employee: As soon as possible, meet with the employee to update him or her about the status of the workload, policy and personnel changes, and any other changes that occurred during the absence.

Give the employee time to readjust: Be aware that some people may need a little time to get back into the swing of their former routine. Encourage them to ask for the guidance or support they need.

Support the employee if transition proves difficult: If an employee is having significant trouble readjusting to the workplace, you can note and discuss changes and expectations in work performance, as well as listen to the employee's response and concerns. If you think there are personal issues, including anxiety or depression, related to the transition back to work, do not diagnose a suspected mental health problem--refer. Suggest that the employee seek consultation from your organization's EAP. Reminding the employee of available benefits provided by your organization at this time can be helpful as well.

Returning military may feel that no one except another vet can help so it's important to have local numbers for Veterans Outreach Programs which are located across the country. Help the employee understand that everyone needs help from time to time in dealing with the stresses of life. It is best to act on these problems as early as possible. He she may have many options to choose from: support groups, anger management classes, a service chaplain, or a mental health professional. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

July 28, 2006

Time to revisit the drug free workplace

The recent arrest of a Southwest Airline pilot on suspicion of intoxication was a grim reminder that employers haven't won the battle of substance abuse in the workplace. It has been almost twenty years since the federal government instituted the Drug Free Workplace Act requiring any organization that sells more than $100,000 of goods or services to the Feds to maintain a drug-free workplace with a complete policy and program. Because of this, virtually all large employers doing business with the government have a program. But, surprisingly, up to half of the remaining US employers don't have any type of active drug free program. The smaller the organization, the more likely there is no program.

I've had discussions with many such employers, and the reasons why they don't have programs vary. Some believe that such a program intrudes on employees' privacy. Others don't think that drugs are a problem for their organization.

Statistics tell the story
However, statistics clearly document the need for every employer: Almost one in ten employees are heavy drinkers or illicit drug users. For those employers in the construction, transportation, and hospitality industries, the numbers are even higher. And employees with drug or alcohol issues are the most costly. The Department of Labor reports that drug and alcohol abusers cost American employers over $81 billion in lost productivity. Abusers are 70 percent more likely to be absent from work than non-abusers. And they are responsible for almost half of all workplace injuries.

When it comes to workplace substance abuse, those employers that don't have a program are the most vulnerable. Employees who can't survive a drug test specifically search out those employers who don't have a policy and an active program. As a result, non drug-free employers become the employer of choice for abusers and are up to three times more likely to have abusers on the payroll than drug free employers.

Resources are available
Getting a program in place isn't that difficult. The Department of Labor's Drug Free Workplace Advisor is a great place to start. You'll find everything you need to develop a program, including an automated policy builder.

Most employers with a drug free program report improved productivity results. They tend to see reduced absenteeism, fewer accidents, better overall employee health status, and improved morale. If you’ve got a drug free workplace program in place, then you’re enjoying the benefits. If not, it may be time to reconsider implementing one.

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