Posts belonging to Category employee communication



When an Employee is Terminally Ill

In this season of thinking of others, I thought I’d share this online article I came across recently, addressing how best to handle all workers when one announces he or she is terminally ill.

dv360033The piece — by Lynne Curry, president of Anchorage, Alaska-based The Growth Company — begins with a reader’s question about ”Allen,” who “occupies a critical position in our company” and has just let his employer know he has bone-marrow cancer and less than one year to live.

“Allen doesn’t want to quit work and, even if he wanted to, can’t afford to do so … . We’ve never faced anything like this before. What can you recommend we … do to handle this well?” the question reads.

Everything about Curry’s answer makes sense. From going over his benefits and granting him work flexibility to giving him confidentiality — without falling into the trap of assuming, just because he’s told a select group of friends, that anyone has blanket permission to discuss his situation — the response underscores the importance of facing, rather than ignoring, this reality.

Every workplace faces it at one time or another. “Some organizations make the mistake of attempting to ignore reality and thus relegate the dying employee to work/life’s fringes,” Curry writes. “Co-workers generally need the opportunity to support Allen, if only to say, ‘I’ll be here for you.’ ”

And managers, she adds, “need to reach out to these secondary sufferers who may ache for Allen or have feelings about the extra work they may have to pick up.” She even suggests that letting Allen train his successor might be more appreciated and productive than “ghoulish.”

Facing the end of a life head-on hits a real nerve with me right now. Both my parents are in the throes of failing health and are being “guided” by my dad to do whatever can be done and be a realist about what can’t. He’s shown me all the boxes, and where the files are. He’s making sure we’ll be as trouble-free as possible. He’s passing the baton. And we’re honoring his approach and attitude in return.

I can only think that a manager or HR professional leading ill or grieving employees with the same straightforward respect for everyone involved will be doing his or her organization a monumental service.

 

Whether to Treat Them Like They Own the Place …

Came across an intriguing conundrum on BLR’s HR Daily Advisor site: whether it’s wise to treat employees like they own their company or not.

144339020 -- trading keysThe piece by Dan Oswald, BLR’s CEO, makes cases for both. One suggests that inspiring this kind of ownership culture, where employees treat company reputation and resources as their own, can also engender abuses of, say, the organization’s travel expenses. Especially if certain employees are used to spending their own money on luxuries.

The lesson here, writes Oswald, is that “if you have someone with a real sense of entitlement, you might not want him thinking like an owner. It can be really expensive.”

On the other hand, employees — especially highly talented ones — taking ownership of their organization can be extremely beneficial to innovation, productivity, customer service, operations improvements, recruiting, you name it.

“That’s why Facebook uses the following motto with new hires: ‘This is now your company,’ ” writes Oswald. “That simple statement is plastered on all of Facebook’s onboarding materials, and it’s the first thing new employees see when they walk in the company’s training center. It’s a company goal to have every single employee carry a sense of ownership — not just in the individual jobs, but within the company as a whole.”

I happen to know Starbucks’ approach is a similar one, based on a feature I’m currently working on. At that company, instilling “coffee passion” and company knowledge in every barista is a well-thought-out leadership and talent-management approach. It includes store walk-throughs for new hires, followed by debriefings about what they liked and didn’t like; encouragement to strike up real conversations with customers about the coffee they’re drinking and the company’s ideals and philosophies; coffee-tasting rituals between managers and new hires; invitations to every employee to submit ideas to improve any and all company systems; and even a strong urging from the top down to look for other potential Starbucks recruits in their conversations with customers and friends.

So how do you create such a culture? Oswald has a few suggestions:

First, you  need to hire the right type of person. You need to hire people who think this way when they walk in the door. In fact, at Facebook, they talk about hiring  for the culture, not the skill set. Their rationale? Skills can be taught, but  mind-set can’t.

Second, you need to train and reinforce the ‘ownership’ mentality  at every level in the organization. That means you provide your people with the  information and opportunities that will allow them to act like owners. You  can’t expect people to act like an owner if they don’t have the information or  the freedom to do so in a meaningful way.

Finally, you must recognize and reward the people who think this  way. When people make a contribution because of their ‘ownership mind-set,’  make sure you let others know that you appreciate and respect that type of  thinking.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could say,  ’He acts like he owns the  place!’ and ‘She acts like she owns the place!’ about every one of your employees and mean it in the best [as opposed to the worst] way possible?

Some Demographic ‘Sticking Points’ to Conquer

121199603-- age demographicsCame across this interesting take on just how frustrated workers — all workers — are today. Haydn Shaw, a speaker and generational expert, has a new book out, Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart. In it, he itemizes the 12 different sources of tension troubling the different demographics trying to work together for the betterment and success of their organizations. As his release says:

Frustrations have never measured higher in the workplace. Some blame the recession and the fact that there are now more hours to work and less pay. The cost of living and healthcare is rising, but not salaries. Others see how generational conflicts are lowering productivity in organizations as misunderstandings, lack of teamwork and communication pull teams apart, leaving team members at a loss for resolving issues across the generations. Those same generational tensions show up at home as well.

These tensions are caused by four different generations working side by side in the workplace for more than a decade: the Traditionalists (born before 1945), the baby boomers (born 1945–1965), Gen X (born 1965–1980), and the millennials (born 1980–2000). Time has not solved the issues created by multiple generations in the workplace; it has only magnified them.

His release didn’t go into much detail on just what those tensions are, so I called him to at least get the full rundown. Here are those 12 “Sticking Points” that cause conflict between the four generations: communication, decision-making, dress code, feedback, fun at work, knowledge transfer, loyalty, meetings, policies, respect, training and work ethic.

Some are fairly intuitive — dress codes, for instance. All you have to do is imagine someone in pumps and someone in flip flops walking into the same meeting. And, pondering communication, we’ve heard plenty about social media driving more of a wedge between the generations than bringing them together. And respect might conjure up the different age groups’ views on schedules and start times.

But rather than conjecture, I asked Shaw to expound himself on the top four — in his mind — that come up most often and what employers can do about them. Here’s what he had to say:

On work ethic – The farm and the factory shaped the expectations of Traditionalists (born before 1945) and baby boomers (born 1946-1964) that the workday started early in the morning and you put in your time. My father-in-law used to say, ‘Give a full day’s work for a fair day’s pay.’ But as work moves from a job with set work hours to service and knowledge-driven projects  that can be performed 24/7, the definition of work ethic must move with it. Create clear work standards and then measure your employees by what they produce, not by the hours they work.

On communication — For those of us who have spent most of our careers communicating through memos or e-mail, mobile technology and access to Facebook is a nice bonus, but not essential. We have trouble understanding how big it is for millennials. Cisco did a study in 2011 of 2,200 college students and young professionals worldwide to see what they wanted from their employers. They found that 56 percent of college students globally would turn down a job offer from an organization that banned access to social media (or they would ignore the policy). If your organization is going to succeed with millennials, you’re going to have to get familiar with the tools that they can’t live without. And then get clear as to when to put them down and make eye contact.

On respect – Millennials are redefining respect and causing teams to get stuck around the questions, ‘How long do you have to pay your dues before you can say what you think or put new ideas on the table?’ ‘How long before you don’t have to do the junk jobs that no one wants to do?’ Employers need to get their people talking about the different ways each generation answers these questions so people will quit assuming everyone defines respect the same way. Then they will quit taking personally what another generation doesn’t mean personally. That breakthrough idea allows us to leverage generational know-how rather than complain about the differences.

On loyalty — Getting unstuck around loyalty has two parts. First, we need to quit stereotyping and name-calling. To do that, we have to help the generations get a clear definition of loyalty that fits current economic and work realities. If we don’t, older generations will always think younger generations have a moral defect because they’re not as loyal as the older generations, and the younger generations will think the older generations don’t understand the new economy. Second, we must shift our energy away from criticizing other generations’ definitions of loyalty and toward discovering ways to make our organizations better so all generations want to stay longer.

“When we understand why another generation thinks the way they do,” he says, “we are much more likely to appreciate the differences and speak their language.”

Granted, much of what he says underscores points others have made and stories we have published, but I like the way he says it.

Coincidentally, this byline that just went live yesterday on our website, HREOnline, offers another – maybe even more probing — look into what goes wrong when managers simply can’t connect with employees around what’s important to each side. The title kind of says it all: “Dear HR: Why I am Leaving.”

 

Dan Pink Delivers Inspiring Sales Pitch to HR

Author Dan Pink, Tuesday’s keynoter at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2013 Annual Conference, gave his early-morning 78779258audience — most of the event’s 15,000 attendees — a pretty basic and resounding wake-up call: If you’re not selling your offerings and services in HR, you’re not going to make it in HR.

“Back in HR’s beginning,” said Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, Drive and other best-sellers about the changing world of work, “HR had to come up with ideas to sell their ideas to workers,” a concept that needs to be constantly reignited if the profession is to move forward.

Today, he said, most people in business spend a large portion of their time convincing other people to give up something of value for something they offer. “Like it or not,” he said, “we’re all in sales now … and my guess is HR people spend even more time than most,” or should be spending more time than most, selling their wares.

Drilling his repetitive mantra of “always be selling [through] ‘attunement,’ buoyancy and clarity,” he went on to illustrate each of those selling techniques as they might relate to programs and initiatives HR leaders are trying to get off the ground.

“Get out of your own head and see the world from their point of view,” he said. “Stay buoyant in a sea of rejection, and [be crystal clear] by constantly distilling information so everyone can access it and by focusing on finding [people's] problems rather than solving them.”

What can you do to increase your HR sales prowess? First, reduce your feeling of power, because power “distorts the ability to take someone’s else’s perspective,” Pink said. Second, don’t be an extrovert or an introvert, but be what he calls an “ambivert,” someone with a good mix of both qualities. “Don’t be a glad-hander; be more like yourself,” he said, citing research by Adam Grant from the University of Pennsylvania proving “ambiverts” make the best salespeople.

Pink also stressed the importance of giving people “an off-ramp, an offering to make it easier to act” the way you want them to, be it through a behavior change or a choice to buy in to an initiative or idea. Auto-enrollment, he said, is a good example of this.

Getting good at this is getting ever more crucial, he said. With information available to everyone now, “buyers” aren’t taking you at your word anymore. They’re coming to the conversation armed with their own research, so you’d better be ready for that and at the top of your game.

“We’ve left the world of buyer beware and entered the world of seller beware,” he said, and selling is increasingly defining and redefining the HR profession.

 

 

 

 

HR Is NOT Getting the Benefits Message Out

I know we’ve pounded the benefits-communication drum already in our magazine, website and blog, but Audrey Boone Tillman’s plea, if you 125728721-exec with bullhornwill, to HR leaders to pound that drum harder left me with some compelling new truths.

Tillman, executive vice president of corporate services for Columbus, Ga.-based Aflac Inc., presented findings of the 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report at her session — “Marketing Your Benefits: Developing a More Effective Strategy to Educate and Engage Employees About Benefits Options” — Monday at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Annual Conference in Chicago.

That’s a mouthful. I’ll cut to the chase. According to the report, 59 percent of employees would likely switch employers for lower salaries but more comprehensive benefits, and 79 percent agree a well-communicated benefits package would make them less likely to leave.

At the same time, 93 percent of employers believe they effectively communicate benefits, yet nearly half of employees say HR doesn’t communicate benefits enough. And here’s the kicker: Only 10 percent of employees feel their HR department is extremely effective at communicating benefits.

When you’re thinking about the overall cost of providing benefits, “think about the cost to the company if someone leaves for better benefits,” Tillman said, such as turnover, recruiting, lost productivity, training, the list goes on.

When it comes to the confusing labyrinth that is the Affordable Care Act, 75 percent of employees think their employer will and should be explaining how healthcare reform will impact them and their healthcare, yet only 13 percent of employers are actually planning to explain that.

For a complete rundown on who all was questioned for the survey, how many and from what industries, go to the company report’s website. In the meantime, I think it’s safe to say HR professionals are not marketing the benefits their companies are offering nearly enough.

“Too many HR leaders still think if they offer it and explain it at open enrollment and put out an email, that’s enough,” said Tillman. “The days of explaining what’s inside a glossy brochure once a year are over.”

Tillman urges employers and their HR and benefits teams to utilize “all the new touch points” available today that “far too few are taking advantage of,” including creating Facebook pages, mailing annual benefits statements to homes where spouses can see them, putting table tents in break and conference rooms, dedicating online email accounts to benefits questions, holding frequent town halls and lunch and learns, and putting videos on company portals featuring testimonials by employees who’ve been helped by the program in some way.

She even suggests pumping up the message with free shirts and free food. “You should be marketing benefits like the big vendors are marketing their goods and services on the expo floor below us,” she told attendees.

And when it comes to healthcare reform, “even to tell them, ‘We still don’t know enough’ is better than telling them nothing. Even ‘We have no news’ is fine,” she said.

Bottom line, employers aren’t finding ways to ask employees what they know and don’t know, need and don’t need, and employees aren’t asking about their options and how their companies can help them become better stewards of their health, finances and benefits.

And if you don’t think most employees need help, consider these two stats from the study: Nearly half (46 percent) of employees have less than 1,000 saved for unexpected health or life emergencies and 25 percent have less than $500 saved. And these are employees! These are the people who are working!

The good news, said Tillman, is that “employees want to hear from HR about employee benefits.” They want the ACA explained to them. They want to understand the “alphabet soup” of acronyms and terminology associated with it.

“This is a space where HR can really take the lead,” she said, “determining and explaining where the company will go in light of healthcare reform. This is where HR can really create value — for the company, for the employee and for HR.”

New Arsenal in the War on Germs

Figured flu season makes this infographic from Best Choice Reviews a viable post, even though much of the information is stuff you already know about germs at work.

Like just how germy your mouse, phone and keyboard are. Or just how much rhinovirus sits on surfaces in restrooms and lunchrooms. Or just how filthy co-workers’ 155316887-- Germshands really are (indeed, the graphic — based on 5,000 swabs of office surfaces and corresponding interviews with several thousand of the folks who touch them — shows 15 percent of workers avoid shaking hands to avoid germs … wonder how that plays out in sales meetings??).

Surprising as some of the new stats are (79 percent of vending buttons are dirty, 1 in 3 office workers have witnessed people leaving restrooms without washing their hands, 53 percent of workers don’t wash their hands after exchanging money), there’s not much more you can do with them beyond communicating the importance of hand-sanitization and making sure dispensers are strategically placed throughout your company.

What I found more troubling were Best Choice’s findings that 72 percent of Americans typically go to work when they’re sick and 55 percent of workers feel guilty when they call in sick.

I wonder how many HR departments out there are seriously and aggressivley communicating the importance of staying home when you don’t feel well, considering all the work that needs to get done today with fewer resources and less money. And surely, it doesn’t stop there. Training managers and supervisors to respond to “I’m sick and staying home today” calls – or ”I’m sick but I’ll be there around noon” calls – so health is being promoted just as much as, or even more than, productivity has to be the next and necessary step.

Considering how prevalent and scary the currently spreading flu bug is, this may be something worth thinking harder about and taking up with your powers that be.

Publicizing Promotions

stk149211rkeIt’s nice to think that your highest-achieving, hardest-working employees are driven to excel in the name of meeting team goals, advancing the company’s mission, increasing market share and all of that good stuff.

And many of them are. That should be part of what pushes them, anyway.

We all know there needs to be something in it for them as well. The prospect of receiving a promotion is one obvious motivator, and employees want to know what’s required to reach the next rung on the company ladder. And from an employer standpoint, making sure workers understand how they can continue climbing is also a wonderful recruitment and retention tool.

Nevertheless, a recent survey from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based WorldatWork finds very few companies making serious efforts to convey promotional guidelines and policies to their workforces.

The survey of 873 HR, compensation and benefits managers found just 16 percent of respondents saying their organizations widely communicate such information to employees.

Companies neglecting to share parameters for employee promotions do so at their own peril, says Kerry Chou, practice leader with WorldatWork, in a statement announcing the findings.

Employers may be missing out on an opportunity to enhance [their] ability to attract, motivate and retain employees by not sharing general information about the guidelines or processes associated with promotions.”

While employers may be mostly hush-hush on promotional guidelines, the study finds organizations still finding room in the budget for programs supporting employee advancement, and respondents report promoting about 8 percent of employees in a typical year.

The survey also found the average promotional increase award to salaried employees in 2012 was 8.7 percent, compared to 8.3 percent in 2010. Officers and executives received an average promotional pay increase of 10.2 percent, versus a median jump of 9.5 percent two years ago.

Most responding companies (81 percent) defined a promotion by an increase in pay, band, grade or level, and/or the addition of higher-level responsibilities (76 percent).

Make special note of how most respondents defined a promotion: While nearly one in five organizations reported awarding promotions without salary increases, the importance of providing a bump in compensation shouldn’t be overlooked, says Chou. In other words, pay up when you promote.

While a bigger title and recognition from peers are nice, employees will usually not feel completely satisfied with a promotion unless there is a meaningful increase in base pay.”

Time to Start Talking About Healthcare Exchanges

No harm in reminding one and all that you have until March 1 — according to the recently enacted Affordable Care Act — to notify your employees about state-specific healthcare exchanges to be set up before 2014.

This alert from the Society for Human Resource Mangement lays out what you need to be doing next, according to the new law, after you’ve satisfied your January 2013 healthcare-benefit cost-reporting requirement for 2012 W-2s, that is. (Appropriate informational links are included in the SHRM piece; note, though, that the SHRM site is a subscription-based one.)

In the piece, Jennifer Benz, CEO of Benz Communications, lists three specific communication requirements employers must satisfy by March 1:

State exchange basics. This is a description of the state exchange, the services provided by the exchange and how to contact the exchange (website and customer service number). One wrinkle: not all states have decided how they’re going to comply (the National Conference of State Legislatures provides an up-to-date chart of state implementation efforts). Employers in multi-plan states will have an even more challenging time.

Individual plan value. This explains whether employees will receive at least 60 percent coverage of essential health benefits through employer-provided coverage, and whether employees may be eligible for a premium tax credit if they purchase a plan on the state exchange.

Tax implications. Because health-insurance premiums under employer-sponsored coverage may be paid with pre-tax dollars, buying coverage through a state exchange may change an employee’s tax obligations. Employees using an exchange to purchase coverage may lose their employer’s tax-free contribution (if any) to their health coverage, also.

Although many benefits and HR experts are predicting the March deadline will be extended, considering the U.S. Department of Labor has yet to release proposed regulations or samples of a model notice, Benz suggests integrating the three-part notice into your overall health-benefits-communication strategy regardless.

“No matter what deadline the DOL ultimately sets,” says Benz, “employers need to be prepared to include [these three points] in their communication plans for 2013.”

Communicate your 2014 position before the legalese does,” she adds. “Be sure to use language that fits the notice into your big-picture approach to healthcare-reform compliance. For many employers, this strategy is going to include high-deductible health plans and incentive-heavy wellness programs, two benefit strategies that require robust, thoughtful communications in their own right.”

Holiday Parties — Naughty, Nice and Nonexistent

Figured the same day I opened up our holiday-party email (we’re having our small departmental one but nixing the gift exchange) would be a good day to share a few holiday-party notes I’ve been compiling to kick off the season.

I guess top of the list, and in keeping with the nixing theme, has to be this survey from OfficeTeam that finds 52 percent of executives saying their employers are not holding holiday celebrations at all this year. I guess the rercovery is still recovering.

But should yours be one of the companies deciding not to dampen the spirit (the OfficeTeam survey says 79 percent of managers and 75 percent of employees whose companies throw holiday parties indicate they enjoy them), here, courtesy of About.com, are a few choice notes on how not to ruin your own reputation. There’s no harm in sharing them with all employees before you let the partying begin.

Probably the more obvious caution from Susan M. Heathfield lays out her “Top Seven Office Party Gaffes” – the most obvious of which is the don’t-drink-too-much one. “One executive,” she writes, “after drinking too many martinis, stripped naked and climbed his city’s water tower.”

I would add that any office-party planner should think long and hard before adding alcohol to the festivities and fare. Angie Strunk, vice president of Sheakley HR Solutions, writes in a recent email that HR professionals should review everything — harassment, retaliation, workplace violence, safety issues, dress code as well as alcohol use – before the party, considering every one of these issues can become exacerbated when alcohol hits the flames.

Flirting with co-workers or their significant others at the office party is another of Heathfield’s top seven. “I remember when two employees, both married, commenced an affair following an office party. No matter how quiet they tried to keep their involvement, the company was not that large; people knew and people gossiped … .”

Then there are the gifts you should never give to your boss or co-worker for fear of sending a wrong or inappropriate message. Lahle Wolfe of About.com lists eight such no-nos. Top of that list (no-duh) are the “adult” items (toys, art, books, etc.) that, at best, are inappropriate and, at worst, illegal. Think, too, before you wrap up that funny small book that could be considered offensive to women, minorities, people of certain faiths or individuals with disabillities. Give something like that to your boss, even if he or she is your BFF work spouse, and you might be looking for other employment come January.

Personal care products, intimate clothing and romantic jewelry can also be fraught with suggestive overtones, or just plain wrong for the recipient. “That scented hand lotion you love,” writes Wolfe, ”might seem like a good idea, but when given to a person with allergies or asthma, you are giving a gift that cannot be used.”

“A good rule of thumb,” she writes, “is to ask yourself if the gift is something you would let a child see. [If not], it may not be appropriate to give to someone at work.”

Considering their many complications, I guess it’s possible the apparent decline of holiday parties has nothing to do with the ecomony at all and everything to do with headache-avoidance … hangover headaches included.

 

 

What Do Employees Want Most? More Money!

It’d be nice to think that employees are, in general, long-term planners, always taking into account the big picture in terms of what they and their dependents will need the most further down the road: adequate retirement funds, money put aside for unforeseen medical expenses, perhaps some long-term care insurance. And then there’s reality: When 10,400 workers in 10 key markets around the world were asked in a recent survey to choose from a list of benefits the ones they’d most like to have, the No. 1 choice was a salary increase (The exception were respondents in Canada, where paid time off proved slightly more popular).

Who can blame them? Well, Mercer doesn’t seem too happy with their choices. Mercer conducted the survey, titled Making Smart Benefit Choices. Dave Rahill, president of Mercer’s health and benefits business, had this to say: “Employees valuing more time off and increased pay in the current stress-filled environment may be understandable, but there are other benefits that have the potential to create more income protection through health benefits and income replacement through retirement and savings vehicles.”

To the survey participants’ credit, it’s not as if they’re unaware of their retirement challenges: In general, the percentage who indicated they’re fairly or very concerned about retireemnt ranged between two-thirds and three quarters. Mercer notes those concerns are valid, pointing out that in markets outside of Asia, approximately 75 percent of employees are putting aside less than 10 percent of their total compensation towards retirement savings.

The survey also asked employees to rank the “voluntary” benefits (extra benefits, such as home, auto and life insurance, that are typically paid for by employees but usually include a group discount) they’d be most willing to pay for themselves. The top three benefits U.S. employees were willing to pay for are disability, life and auto insurance. Accident and hospital indemnity insurance was also fairly popular, while legal assistance and identity theft insurance proved the least popular.