Category Archives: employee communication

Safe and Secure, or Not So Sure?

The good news coming out of a recent CareerBuilder survey is that the overwhelming majority of employees (93 percent) feel their office is a safe, secure place to work.

A few other findings from the Chicago-headquartered employment website and HR software provider’s poll of 3,031 full-time, United States-based workers are less encouraging.

Some of these same employees, it seems, are less confident that their employers are adequately equipped to address specific threats in the workplace.

For example, 17 percent of those surveyed by CareerBuilder said they do not feel their workplaces are well-protected in case of a fire, flood or other disaster, and 26 percent don’t think their companies have an emergency plan in place should such events occur. Nineteen percent indicated their workplaces are poorly safeguarded from weather-related threats, and 26 percent don’t believe their organization has an emergency plan for responding to extremely severe weather.

In addition, 31 percent of respondents said they don’t feel their workplaces are well-protected from a physical threat posed by another person, and 41 percent said their company has made no provisions for handling such an attack.

This past February, I spoke with Michelle Colosimo, director of Black Swan Solutions, a Waukesha, Wis.-based provider of crisis management technology and services, about what employers can do to prepare workers for threats to their physical safety while on the job. More specifically, we talked about the importance of putting plans in place for an active shooter event in the workplace.

I sought Colosimo’s insight for an hreonline.com piece focusing on some of the tools and resources available to help employers equip employees to react should such an unthinkable scenario ever unfold in their office. (Incidentally, an expanded, more in-depth feature on this topic is set to run in our May print issue.)

HR leaders are faced with “a huge undertaking” in the event an active shooter descends on the workplace, said Colosimo at the time.

“Accounting for everyone is a big challenge. So, [HR] has to coordinate all of these things beforehand—What do you need to prepare for? And, what will you need to do when and if this does happen?”

Earlier this week, I reached out to Michelle for her take on the results of this CareerBuilder survey. She reiterated the need to have processes in place to potentially prevent an active shooter incident, and to provide employees with ways to anonymously report concerning behaviors or comments from another individual.

“If a report is made, the organization needs to have a threat assessment team in place to review each threat, and determine appropriate action needed to address the potential concern,” she says.

But, even the best, most comprehensive plan may not thwart an attacker, unfortunately.

“So, it’s critical that the organization train employees ahead of time on steps they need to take, as an individual, to protect themselves if an incident were to [take place],” she says.

Conducting realistic drills and active-shooter simulations and providing workers with practical tools and steps to follow also helps create “better muscle memory” in employees, she says, “so they take proper action when a crisis occurs.”

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Survey: Employees Only ‘Moderately’ Engaged

The good news, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s latest Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, is that employee satisfaction is at its highest level in 10 years, with 88 percent of respondents saying they’re satisfied with their jobs. The bad news? The number of employees who say they plan to look outside their current company for a new job is also up, at 45 percent. SHRM announced the survey results at its Talent Management Conference in Orlando earlier this week.

The keyword for holding on to employees is spelled R-E-S-P-E-C-T: 67 percent of the 600 employees surveyed ranked “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” as “very important” to job satisfaction, followed by overall compensation/pay and benefits, job security and “opportunities to use skills and abilities,” which tied for fifth place with “trust between employees and senior management.”

As for employee engagement, actual engagement levels are little-changed from last year’s survey, said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs, coming in at 3.8 out of 5 with 5 being the highest, showing that employees are “moderately engaged.” Satisfaction and engagement aren’t always aligned, with engagement typically tied to employees’ connection and commitment to their work and organization, she said.

One of the top factors affecting employee engagement are the engagement level of their coworkers, said Esen. “If employees don’t see those around them as being engaged, this will impact the overall level of engagement in the organization,” she said.

Being engaged means feeling that you’re an important part of the organization’s mission, she said.

“The opportunity to use their skills and competencies is of continuing importance to employees – it gives them a sense of engagement and pride,” said Esen. HR should develop a “skills matrix” for employees to get a better sense of “what they do well, not just what they do” in their everyday jobs, she said. This will make it easier to determine if there are other ways employees could be contributing and – by extension – feel a tighter connection with the organization.

“Nobody is going to feel sustained doing the same job over and over,” she said.

Dissatisfaction with their compensation and benefits was a top reason why employees plan to look for new jobs, the survey finds. Sixty three percent of employees chose overall compensation as “very important” to them, yet only 23 percent described themselves as “very satisfied” with their own compensation. Similarly, 60 percent chose overall benefits as very important, but only 27 percent said they were very satisfied with their benefits.

“Companies have only reinstated some of the cuts to benefits they made during the Great Recession,” said Esen. “Organizations really need to focus on what benefits their employees really want, and offer the ones that appeal to all demographics of their employee base.”

HR must also keep in mind the needs of a multigenerational workforce, she said.

“Millennials want their ideas to be valued and not dismissed just because they’re younger and less-experienced,” said Esen. “Boomers want to be valued for their experience, but often feel they’re not sufficiently valued for it. It’s important to keep both groups satisfied.”

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NLRB Rules Against Chipotle

In yet another case of a corporate social media policy found to have violated employees’ rights to engage in protected concerted activity, an administrative law judge of the National Labor Relations Board has ordered Chipotle Services LLC to rehire former employee James Kennedy, pay him back wages and post signs in its workplaces notifying employees that its former social media policies violated labor law.

Kennedy, who worked at a Chipotle restaurant in the Philadelphia suburb of Havertown, Pa., found himself under management’s spotlight after he replied to a customer who tweeted “Free chipotle is the best thanks” with “nothing is free, only cheap #labor. Crew members only make $8.50hr how much is that steak bowl really?”

After viewing the tweet, Chipotle national social media strategist Shannon Kyllo alerted regional manager Thomas Clark, who oversaw the location where Kennedy worked. Clark subsequently asked Kennedy to review Chipotle’s social media policy and delete the tweet, which he did.

Kennedy was later fired for what his supervisor, Jennifer Cruz, said was insubordination during a meeting at which he was asked to stop collecting signatures on a petition that addressed allegedly poor working conditions at Chipotle, including a lack of adequate meal and break times. Cruz later testified at the board proceedings that she feared for her safety during the meeting because Kennedy (an Army veteran who’d served three tours of combat duty) raised his voice and she feared he would become violent due to his diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.

Administrative Law Judge Susan A. Flynn found in her ruling that the corporate social media policy Kennedy had been asked to review was outdated at the time, as Chipotle had revised its policy to better comply with the National Labor Relations Act, which forbids employers from interfering with employees’ rights to engage in protected concerted activity. However, Chipotle could still be found liable for violations under the old policy, as that policy was the one referred to by Clark, the regional manager.

“I find that Clark’s implicit direction not to post tweets concerning wages or working conditions constitutes a violation of [the NLRA],” said Judge Flynn, reports Law360.

The judge also concluded that Cruz violated Kennedy’s rights when she fired him. Cruz’s fear that Kennedy would lash out “was neither justified nor true, and was fabricated after the fact,” Flynn said. Kennedy was fired because he had refused to stop collecting signatures for his petition, she said.

Kennedy has since found new employment working in a unionized position for American Airlines at Philadelphia International Airport and told the Philadelphia Inquirer he’s not interested in going back to work at Chipotle, although, he added, he’ll miss the free meals.

“If you want to tweet something about your personal experience at your job, do it,” he told the Inquirer, cautioning against libel and slander. “Tweet at your bosses and your bosses’ bosses.”

 

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A Word of Caution This Election Year

In case you didn’t notice, the 2016 presidential election season officially kicks off next Tuesday, when Iowa caucus-goers cast their votes for their favorite Democrat or Republican.

ThinkstockPhotos-476244660At this point, it’s anyone’s guess who will eventually win their party’s nominations. But this much is for sure: Contentious debate about the upcoming election around the workplace watercooler (and a host of issues associated with it) is only going to intensify in the coming months.

If the back-and-forth on social media today is any indication, HR leaders will want to brace for the worse. (In today’s environment, that means civil political discussions among employees escalating into heated discussions about issues involving race and religion.) But as Cozen O’Connor attorney Michael C. Schmidt recently reminded me, employers need to be careful not to overreact when things seem to be getting out of hand.

Just as employers have the right to ensure that the workplace is safe and productive, Schmidt said, employees similarly have certain rights that need to be appropriately balanced.

Schmidt, vice chair of Cozen O’Connor’s Labor and Employment Department, points out that “many states have some form of a ‘legal activities law,’ which prohibits employers from taking adverse action against an employee because he or she engages in certain types of political-related activities off premises and outside of working time.”

At the same time, he said, employers need to be “mindful of not imposing the company’s particular political views (and, especially, those of the company’s principals) on employees, and suggesting any link—positive or negative—between an employee’s expressed political views and compensation.”

Schmidt added that HR professionals need to “communicate to all employees that company policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and violence in the workplace also extend to political discussion in the workplace.”

The bottom line: Employers would be well advised to tread carefully as they navigate what’s increasingly looking like one of the more volatile election seasons in recent memories.

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Change Brings Unclear Expectations

When it comes to change in the workplace, employees aren’t as worried about workload as one might think, according to a new  poll from ComPsych Corp.

It finds 31 percent of more than 2,000 surveyed employees are most troubled by unclear expectations from supervisors, while 20 percent are most worried about people issues around change.

“Change has become a constant for many workplaces, whether in the U.S. or globally,” said Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, Founder, Chairman and CEO of ComPsych. ”Employees are telling us that much of the disequilibrium around change is coming from managers. These challenges have resulted in our training topics of ‘resiliency’ and ‘coping with change’ being by far the most popular,” he added.

When you experience change at work, what is most stressful for you?

31 percent said “unclear expectations from supervisors”

20 percent said “confusion / conflict between coworkers / departments”

18 percent said “belief that workload will increase or become more difficult”

15 percent said “uncertainty about future / questions about stability of company”

13 percent said “new processes / operating rules / skills needed”

3 percent said “other”

It’s interesting to note that employees cite their managers as the primary source of disequilibrium, which makes me think there is an opportunity for HR here to better train managers to be clear with their expectations of their workers.

As for the 20 percent who are most concerned about the
“people issues around change,” it seems that communication efforts could be well-utilized to allay such workers’ concerns about their roles in a changing workplace landscape.

And, while wonky words such as disequilibrium and resiliency may not have been in the workplace lexicon for very long, as the pace of business continues to accelerate, it seems certain that we will be seeing much more of them in the future. I suggest you start building up your resiliency to them now.

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Rise of the Intelligent Machines

“Smart machines,” aka cognitive computing systems such as IBM’s Watson, robots and other systems incorporating artificial intelligence, could profoundly change the workplace. Researchers at Oxford University, for example, predict that 47 percent of U.S. occupations could be automated within 20 years thanks to smart machines.

Most managers are excited about the prospect of smart machines: 87 percent told Accenture that these smart systems will make them more effective and their work more interesting. About one-third, however, fear that these systems will threaten their job, according to the Accenture study. The study, titled Managers and Machines, Unite!, is based on a survey that queried 1,700 managers in front-line, middle and C-suite levels at organizations in 14 countries on their attitudes and expectations regarding cognitive computing’s impact on their job roles and skills.

The managers said they spend the bulk of their workday on planning and coordinating work (81 percent), followed by problem-solving and handling exceptions (65 percent), monitoring and reporting performance (52 percent) and maintaining routines and standards (51 percent). The study’s authors, Accenture’s David Smith and Bob Thomas, write that intelligent machines can take on much of these tasks, freeing up managers for “judgment work” such as complex thinking and higher-order reasoning.

However, managers in certain industries tend to regard these systems with more trepidation than enthusiasm, largely because of the potential threat to their jobs. Managers in the electronics and high-tech industries are most concerned (50 percent), followed by 49 percent of banking managers, 42 percent of airline managers and 41 percent of retail managers.

The study’s authors urge company leaders to address managers’ fears and concerns, explain to them the benefits of these systems and how they work, and counsel managers on developing the skills that will continue to be important. Indeed, the survey found that managers prioritize skills such as digital and technology skills, creative thinking and experimentation, data analysis and interpretation and strategy development, but place relatively little weight on soft skills such as social networking, people development and collaboration.

“Managers are not entirely sold on the benefit of intelligent machines and it is up to senior executives to address their concerns,” says Thomas. “They need to help their managers not just improve their technology skills but develop greater interpersonal skills to lead the workforce of the future.”

But given the inevitable disruption that smart machines will almost certainly wreak on the workplace (remember those Oxford predictions), one of the skills leaders will undoubtedly need is the ability to be honest with managers (particularly those on the front lines and in middle positions) about the impact this disruption will have upon them. After all, many predictions were made about how technology will free up employees (including those in HR) to focus on “more strategic tasks,” and while that has proven true in many cases, it also led to the elimination of many jobs and not a small amount of pain.

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Are Managers Cutting It As Coaches?

In late June of this year, I was dispatched to General Electric’s famed Crotonville campus in Ossining, N.Y., to attend Aon Hewitt’s Top Companies For Leaders Think Tank.

My main objective there was to meet one-on-one with representatives from some of the 25 companies that were on hand to be recognized as one of Aon Hewitt’s “Top Companies for Leaders.”

(Click here to find out who these organizations are, and how they landed on the most recent list, the first iteration of which appeared in 2001).

In these conversations, I was struck by how often HR executives returned to the idea of helping managers adopt a “coaching mind-set” as a key component of their companies’ leadership development strategies.

I was so struck, in fact, that I wound up writing a 2,300-or-so-word feature story on this topic for our September print issue, in which “Top Companies for Leaders” such as Procter & Gamble and Singtel Communications discussed how they’ve made it a priority to impart coaching skills to supervisors as part of their managerial training.

Some new data, however, suggests that most organizations haven’t warmed to the concept of making coaches out of managers in the way that “Top Companies” have.

In a survey of 117 vice presidents of talent management, vice presidents and directors of HR, directors of personnel and CHROs, talent-management software provider SilkRoad found 45 percent of these respondents saying their managers lack the skills to coach and develop employees.

Maybe finding out that nearly half of managers are coming up short in terms of coaching and fostering the professional growth of their people isn’t that shocking.

Heck, a 2015 Right Management poll found 68 percent of 616 North American workers saying their managers weren’t actively engaged in the career development of their employees.

Bruce Tulgan, founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management training and consulting company Rainmaker Thinking Inc., certainly isn’t surprised by such statistics.

I had a few conversations with Tulgan in the course of writing the aforementioned HRE feature. Not all of his thoughts found their way into print at the time, of course. But he had plenty to say on the subject, and his take in September seems just as relevant to this HRE Daily installment.

He described Right Management’s findings, for instance, as “very much in alignment” with what he and Rainmaker have uncovered in 20-plus years of research based on interviews with more than 200,000 managers.

In studying “undermanagement” and its root causes, he says, Rainmaker has frequently found that many managers and leaders don’t spend enough time interacting with their reports, spelling out their expectations and coaching employees on their career development.

“Managers, of course, are under pressure to have regular conversations with their teams about the actual work,” he says. “But providing this sort of career guidance is also part of the manager’s job.”

For their part, HR leaders can help managers set the parameters for these career-development chats, says Tulgan.

“For example, how often should [managers] be meeting with their people? How long should those conversations be, what should they be talking about and what are managers doing to prepare for those conversations? And what are they asking direct reports to do to prepare for those conversations?”

As is ultimately the case with the employees they’re charged with nurturing, he says, “you can’t hold managers accountable if you don’t tell them exactly what’s expected of them.”

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Employees as Social Ambassadors

Though the 2015 18th Annual HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas is behind us now, and early plans are already under way for next 488576383 -- social mediayear’s conference in Chicago, one session from Las Vegas that didn’t get written up on this site deserves to be.

In a Tuesday (Oct. 20) afternoon session, titled Tapping Employees as Social Ambassadors to Strengthen and Grow Your Workforce, Laurie Zaucha, vice president of HR and organizational development for Rochester, N.Y.-based Paychex; and Joe Schaeffer, Paychex’s social-media program manager, double-teamed on a pretty interesting story about how their company turned its employee-engagement levels and employer-brand awareness around with social media.

About five years ago, the term “Paychex Proud” was a little-known theme of an internal company meeting, one intended to grow engagement levels — or at least start the conversation about doing so — but one that wasn’t getting enough attention.

That all changed in early 2014, when Paychex’s HR and marketing forces launched their first small-business jobs index by taking over the Times Square Nasdaq tower in New York and asking employees to do simple show-and-tells (postings that were then aired) on the tower about what made them “Paychex Proud.”

The effort, said Schaeffer, required a good bit of encouragement. Like in many companies, he said, “people didn’t even think they were allowed to go on social sites,” let alone submit posts during business hours.

But submit some did. And as more caught on, and saw the images of Paychex employees broadcast for all New Yorkers to see, posts started flowing in, resulting in 200 overall and reaching 300,000 users.

“The goal was to get that word out,” said Zaucha, “that people at Paychex truly do have fun, that we’re a fun place to work.”

Next on the agenda was the company’s 2014 Paychex Sales Conference, where Zaucha and Schaeffer and their teams were able to enlist the social-media posting energies of HR and marketing staff, and attendees — again, to tell their stories and champion their company as a fun place to work — to the point where, by week’s end, the campaign boasted 2.5 million impressions and more than 1,400 posts.

By encouraging postings about Paychex on all social-media sites, including even Pinterest, said Schaeffer, “we’re seeing our sales people actually becoming more educated about our company; they’re now following us on Twitter and it is a happening.”

Through these two efforts, not only have engagement figures skyrocketed (from 56 percent of people saying they were highly engaged in 2012 to 63 percent saying the same in 2015), but the company’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter followers have also multiplied exponentially.

“If you can figure out a way to harness the art of marketing [into your HR efforts] and have highly engaged employees,” Schaeffer said, “they really can be ambassadors for the company.”

 

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The Power of the ‘Open’ Organization

For Jim Whitehurst, one of the defining moments of his career came back in 2005 when, as COO of Delta Air Lines, he had to explain the airline’s strategy for re-emerging from its just-declared bankruptcy to a roomful of airplane mechanics who — as part of the company’s cost-cutting moves — would most likely be losing their jobs soon.

“I started off by telling them I was sorry,” said Whitehurst, who’s now CEO of Red Hat, the software company that makes the open-source Linux operating system, during the closing keynote at this year’s HR Tech conference in Las Vegas today. “Then I explained to them Delta’s strategy for how it would emerge from bankruptcy and what it would take for us to get there. It was the same speech I’d been giving to bankers in New York during the previous four weeks in trying to secure loans for us. But I’d never given it to any of our employees.”

At first, the mechanics sat in stunned silence. Then, they began peppering Whitehurst with questions: How could we get planes ready faster? How could we balance schedules to make this happen?

“These were really detailed, intelligent questions they were asking,” said Whitehurst. “So I went back to my hotel and the next morning I’m getting calls from people asking, ‘What did you do? People can’t stop talking about this.'”

He went and gave similar speeches to other groups of Delta employees, explaining the company’s turnaround plan and what needed to be done to realize it. Then an interesting thing happened: Despite the cutbacks and deferred equipment upgrades necessitated by the bankruptcy, Delta’s performance began to surge. It went from last place to first in on-time performance, and remained there for the next two years.

“All I did was tell people the context of what they needed to do,” said Whitehurst. “I tied the work they were doing to the overall strategy of the company and let them do what they needed to do to get the job done. This can be done in any organization.”

Whitehurst explains his philosophy in his new book, The Open Organization, which recounts his experiences at Delta and Red Hat. He believes the management structure of most organizations today is outmoded — it comes from a time when efficiency, not speed and innovation, was the top priority. But today’s managers must also be leaders, he said, and this can be enabled by technology. Most employees these days have much more education than did the workers of yesteryear, when the management science most companies still abide by was formulated. The top-down organizational structure is obsolete, he said.

So what should replace it? At Red Hat, a “bottom up” model is in place, where employees feel free to share their thoughts and disagreements with managers. “Red Hat can actually be a harsh place to work because of this, but constructive conflict is far preferable to a ‘terminally nice’ organization, where people simply avoid confronting the problems facing a company until it ultimately dies,” said Whitehurst.

Passion rules the day at Red Hat, where many employees have tattoos of the company’s logo, he said. Managers there are expected to be leaders, helping employees understand how their everyday work supports the strategy. “At Red Hat, we always start with ‘why are we doing this?'” said Whitehurst. “It enables managers to do much greater things.”

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Amazon Really, Really Wants Employee Input

You may have seen that Amazon.com is back in the news.

Roughly two months ago, a stinging New York Times report characterized the work environment at the Seattle-based online retail giant as one where employees were often held to unreasonable standards, occasionally reduced to tears and essentially rewarded for undermining their peers.

More recently, though, Amazon has made headlines for its attempt to connect in a meaningful way with these same workers, and solicit more frequent input with regard to their job satisfaction, leadership opportunities within the organization and more.

In expanding its Amazon Connections program, the company is now posing daily—that’s right, daily—questions on these and other job-related topics to white-collar employees. (Amazon started the program with blue-collar workers in its fulfillment centers in 2014, and has been introducing Connections to other departments throughout the past year, according to Bloomberg Business.)

The responses that Amazon collects will be evaluated by teams in Seattle and Prague, who will compile daily reports to share with the company, according to the Bloomberg piece, which notes that individual employees’ answers and comments “aren’t anonymous, but are shared only with members of the Connections team, and the reports will contain only aggregated data.”

Amazon is clearly making a concerted effort to improve its employee experience, regardless of how much its workplace does or doesn’t resemble the soul-crushing corporate hellscape some envisioned after reading the aforementioned Times piece. But is asking employees to complete these quasi-surveys every day overcompensating? Will workers welcome the chance to share their two cents so often, or will they begin to look at providing constant feedback as a chore?

I put these questions to Katalin Takacs-Haynes, an assistant professor of strategic management at the A. Lerner College of Business and Economics at the University of Delaware.

As is the case with any other new initiative, there are pros and cons, she says.

“On the plus side, it’s great that Amazon realizes it needs to address the issues raised in the [Times article], and is trying to address the issue by initiating internal communication with the employees,” says Haynes. “Also on the plus side, the fact that special teams in Seattle and Prague are going to compile an anonymous report might encourage employees to provide feedback openly.”

While said reports are anonymous, employee responses are not, however.

That, she says, could be a problem.

“This can raise concerns in some employees who might be afraid that sharing their opinions openly will lead to retaliation,” says Haynes. “Job security might be a concern for some who feel that being too open … appears as being critical and leads to termination or lack of promotion.”

Ultimately, the biggest concern for Amazon is that “[despite] its best intentions, it might not get the honest and open answers it’s looking for.”

The expansion of Amazon Connections may well be a reaction to the Times report, “particularly since Jeff Bezos seems to have taken that very personally,” adds Rita Gunther McGrath, associate professor of management at the Columbia Business School in New York.

But, regardless of why Amazon implemented it, the program could wind up being an effective communication tool, especially among millennial employees “who thrive on little bits of quick interaction and feedback, rather than a ponderous annual review process,” says McGrath.

“It also functions as an accelerator of information flows and a way of assessing how significant an issue is,” she says. “If one person says it, it may well be a fluke. If 1,000 people say it, it’s a meaningful issue.”

So, with all that said, and the potential plusses and minuses tallied, should we expect to see similar programs popping up in other organizations?

“A few companies might jump on the bandwagon,” says Haynes. “However, unless a company is in the spotlight like Amazon was, it lacks a legitimate reason to institute such a high-profile feedback system. Such a system can be irritating to employees and reflect a misuse of resources such as employee time and human capital in exchange for information of questionable quality.”

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