Archive for October, 2011

Lack of Attention to Extended Leave Policies Can Be Costly

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

The post below is a guest blog from Jenn Hargiss who serves as a Client Coordinator for CAI’s employee benefits partner Hill, Chesson & Woody.

You offer a more generous leave policy than the Federal requirements of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Big deal, right?  While this may not sound like anything unreasonable, does your health insurance carrier or reinsurance (stop-loss) vendor agree with your decision to allow employees to continue coverage outside of COBRA under your company health plan for an extended period of time?

Medical Insurance Carriers and reinsurance carriers follow strict federal guidelines, especially with FMLA and COBRA.  If an employer allows an extended leave period, including health plan coverage continuation (Non-COBRA) after the 12-week (or 26 week) FMLA maximum has been exhausted, then the employer loses the protection of the group health plan and reinsurance policies.  In essence, the employer just became fully self-funded; paying all the medical claims incurred under the terms of the medical plan after FMLA was exhausted for each individual.  Ouch! 

If claims are incurred, an employer may end up with many very large, unbudgeted claims and legal expenses.  Plus, an untimely offering of COBRA continuation after the fact may not satisfy the health insurance or reinsurance carrier contract provisions and certainly opens up the employer for expensive COBRA rights violations.

Take action to avoid finding your company in an unfavorable legal and financial position:

  1.  No policy is a bad policy.  What is the company policy?  Understand when health benefits are supposed to end to avoid a dispute should the employee not return to work at the end of the leave.  Not only should the health contracts be reviewed, but also dental, vision, life and disability.
  2. Check your policies, procedures, and handbooks.   Make sure the company is not making promises to continue coverage that doesn’t coordinate with the health insurance and reinsurance contracts.  Make it clear when coverage ends and when COBRA coverage will begin.
  3. Negotiate with the health insurance or reinsurance carrier to amend the contract and add the appropriate language around continuation of coverage after exhausting FMLA if the policy is more generous than Federal Regulations require.
  4. Review contracts annually.  Make sure when changing carriers, the policy is submitted for approval and the new contract is updated with the appropriate language.

Show Employees They Are Your Company’s Greatest Asset

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

employees are assetsBruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO, discussed assets employees or job candidates can offer employers in the October 23 edition of his News and Observer column, “The View from HR.” Bruce said that the single most important asset employees can offer is their spark.

“When employers see no spark, they assume there is no engine,” he said.

Well if their greatest asset is their spark because it shows their willingness to learn, work, grow and produce for their employers, then they are essentially their company’s greatest asset. Business cannot survive without the efforts from employees.

As an employer, it is not hard to forget that your staff is your greatest asset. A down economy, lean budgets, and limited resources can stress out the strongest organizations, but not realizing that your employees are critical to your organization’s success can cause dismal effects. The American Institute of Stress said that US industries lose almost $300 billion per year because of absenteeism, diminished productivity, turnover, and medical, legal and insurance fees related to workplace stress.

Unhappy employees who feel unappreciated are a disservice to organizations because they interact with customers daily, promote and sell products, and cultivate the processes that help drive business. When given proper attention, workers become motivated to achieve company goals. They will express creativity and a desire to learn if they are engaged with their organization.

There are several steps that can be made to engage and satisfy your most important asset even if your company is struggling with budget cuts or has downsized staff. The strategies below will help foster a work environment that encourages commitment and maximizes productivity: 

1. Acknowledge Their Importance

An employer-employee relationship should work as a two-way commitment. If an organization wants its workers to perform at their best, then it needs to make an effort to give them its best, whether it is through information, training or resources to complete their jobs. 

Frequently tell employees that their efforts are appreciated and support the organization’s survival. Always try to keep commitments with them, and never overpromise if you cannot deliver. This will show them that you respect them, their time and their work, which, in turn, will increase the level of respect they give you.

2. Be Truthful and Transparent

Being transparent and telling the truth are essential to maintaining good relationships with your employees. Your staff members spend most of their week working, so their need to understand how the company is doing should not be ignored.  During staff meetings or through company-wide emails, alert them of important changes, data and other items to keep them informed.

Do not avoid questions posed by staff that might be uncomfortable or have unfavorable answers, such as, “How are we doing financially?” Answering questions will eliminate uncertainty even if the outcome is undesirable. Keeping your staff up-to-date with company news will help them feel plugged in to the organization and increase their commitment level.

3. Help Them Reach Their Individual Goals

Employees know they were hired because of the skills and knowledge they could offer. They know their job description, and they work to deliver on expectations. For all of the work they put into their organization, they deserve its support.

Show your employees that you are grateful for their contributions and want to help them succeed. Offer them opportunities to learn new skills and information through training. If a professional group related to their field exists, encourage them to join. Additionally, ask them what they would like to accomplish during their time at the organization.

4. Ask for Their Opinions

Employees want to know that their views matter to their organization. They put in a great deal of effort to keep their companies running, so their desire to have input is expected. Because they spend ample time with customers and products, they have first-hand accounts on what is working and what is not.

They will appreciate being part of the decision-making process because it shows their organization has confidence in them. Include staffers in discussions about improving business or strengthening customer service. Get their feedback on company policies and recent enterprises. Do not shy away from opposition. Allow employees to express their ideas and different methods for tackling projects.

For additional tips on improving employee morale and engagement, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Highways Agency, Lachlan Hardy

Employees Who Display Emotional Intelligence Add Value to the Workplace

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

The economy is still down, budgets continue to get cut and staffs remain lean. Producing good work under stressful conditions can be challenging for many employees. The country’s high unemployment rate created a highly competitive job market, which now allows employers to be more selective in their hiring decisions. In order to continue to reach their goals, organizations realize that they need workers who can persevere through tough economic times or strenuous business situations, as well as understand the needs and feelings of their coworkers.  

Surveys indicate that hiring managers place more value on candidates’ emotional intelligence than their ability to fit the job description. Emotional intelligence (EI) describes a person’s capacity for controlling his or her own emotions and recognizing and understanding the emotions of others. EI also reveals how people react to others’ emotions and how they manage their various relationships.

People with a high EI are gems in the workplace. Because they have strong interpersonal skills, they offer many helpful qualities, including mitigating conflict productively, remaining calm when facing pressure and empathizing with their colleagues. Employees with a high EI are also great listeners and take criticism well. These qualities make efficient managers, inspiring motivators and thoughtful decision makers.

The personal attributes found in people with a high EI are coveted in the business world. As an employer this does not necessarily mean that you have to hire new staff members or terminate those who lack consideration, tactfulness, grace, etc. EI can be improved with continuous coaching and frequent feedback.

Help your organization achieve its goals by disseminating the strategies below to encourage your staff to manage how they handle workplace emotions:

Gauge your attitude at the office:

People with a high EI control their emotions instead of having their emotions control them. Make an effort to recognize that your individual emotions affect how you act and how others react to you. Draft a running list of emotions and actions that are appropriate for work and ones that are inappropriate. Revisit this list when you feel your emotions taking over.

Form strong workplace relationships:

Everyone at your organization can potentially provide you with a mutually beneficial work friendship. Establish relationships on being supportive and helpful to each other’s work responsibilities. Friendships based on gossip or fear will not increase EI. Good work relationships help create a more positive work environment for all parties involved.

Strive to be valued instead of right:

Influencing coworkers positively is a common goal among those with a high EI. Being right all the time might boost your ego, but it does not exclusively demonstrate your capabilities. Show that you are valuable and productive by the assistance you offer and the tasks you complete. Your actions will display your worth to your employer more than your desire to always be right will.

For additional information on EI or tips to improve the EI of your staff members, please contact an account manager at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746 and inquire about CAI’s class called Emotional Intelligence at Work.

Photo Source: KaiChanVong

5 Egregious Errors that Endanger Employment Investigations

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

The post below is a guest blog from Robin Shea who serves as Partner for Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP, CAI’s Partner for the 2011 Triad Employment Law Update.

Now that the Supreme Court has officially recognized “cat’s paw” liability for employers whose decisions are tainted by an individual with an unlawful motive, it is more important than ever for employers to conduct workplace investigations that are above reproach.

And because it’s more fun to talk about mistakes than what people do well, I’m going to focus on five workplace investigation errors that I see regularly.

Error No. 1. The man* who knew too much. This is a very common mistake when the investigator is someone from the same worksite as the individuals involved, and knows the “cast of characters.” “TMI” is not a good thing. Hear me out. The problem is that someone who already knows the cast of characters can have a very difficult time keeping an open mind.

*The masculine shall be deemed to include the feminine, and vice versa.

Ideally, a workplace investigation will be done by someone from outside who can investigate objectively. But if the investigation absolutely must be done by someone who knows everyone involved, the investigator should keep in mind the cliche, “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.” Just because the complaining employee is a known drama queen and the accused is a thrice-decorated war hero who rescues little kitties from the tops of trees and gives all of his money to the poor (or the complaining employee is a lovable Sunday school teacher who drives only 15 miles a week, and the accused is Tiger Woods), it is possible that, in this case, just this once, the roles are reversed. OK, probably not, but at least as an investigator you should keep that attitude to the best of your ability. You can turn your brain back on when it’s time to assess your evidence and determine what really happened.

Error No. 2. Dangling leads. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked to review an employer’s investigation, and the notes say, “Joe didn’t see Bill make a pass at Mary, but he said that we should talk to Susan, who works in the same area and might have seen something.” I scour through the rest of the notes to find the interview of Susan, to no avail. The reason? Nobody followed up on Joe’s suggestion that Susan be interviewed. Fortunately, we usually catch this type of thing while there’s still time to go back to Susan and find out what, if anything, she knows. But companies shouldn’t have to waste precious legal fees hiring lawyers to point out such obvious omissions to them. (Save us for the hard stuff!) Investigators need to follow all leads provided by the accuser, the accused, and the witnesses. If they don’t, and if the mistake isn’t corrected before there is an EEOC charge or lawsuit, you can bet the government/plaintiff’s lawyer will use the lack of follow-up to its/his/her advantage.

Error No. 3:  Accepting conclusions as “facts.” Another mistake I see all the time. Investigator asks, “Is Tifanyea sexually harassing the men she works with?” Amber replies, “I feel that Tifanyea is very inappropriate with the guys.” Or my personal favorite: “Oh, you know, Tifanyea is Tifanyea.” These are not facts. These are conclusions, and they don’t tell you anything. A good investigator will say, “Amber, tell me what Tifanyea does with the guys that you consider inappropriate,” or  “Tell me what you mean when you say Tifanyea is Tifanyea.” If the investigator doesn’t do it, you can be sure that the EEOC or a plaintiff’s lawyer will.

This, by contrast, is a factual statement: “Yesterday, I overheard Tifanyea telling Dave that his jeans really made his butt look cute. Dave turned bright red and walked away.” Or this: “Every day, Tifanyea is talking about how ‘hot’ Steve is. Steve never says anything to her, but he’s told me several times that he is uncomfortable and tries to avoid her.”

See the difference? Now you have some information! 

Error No. 4: “You don’t wanta get mixed up with a guy like me, Pee-wee. I’m a loner. A rebel.” And you know those “Do not remove under penalty of law” tags they put on mattresses? Well, I cut one off! (Sorry – I got carried away.) In all cases, and especially if the investigation is conducted by the man* who knew too much (see Error No. 1), someone else ought to review the findings of the investigator to make sure that all leads have been followed (see Error No. 2) and that conclusory statements have been supported by facts (see Error No. 3), and that there is adequate factual support for the preliminary conclusion of the investigation. The reviewer should also assist in determining what really happened and what the appropriate action should be. The reviewer ideally should be an in-house attorney, a corporate-level Human Resources professional, or an outside attorney, preferably with expertise in employment law. He or she should also be someone who is not personally involved with the cast of characters, or only minimally involved. 

Error No. 5: “We will keep everything you say strictly confidential. Except, of course, when we talk about it.” It is impossible to keep an investigation completely confidential. You cannot interview accused parties or witnesses without disclosing at least some of the reason for asking the questions. If you tell an employee that everything will be kept confidential, and then she finds out that you’ve been talking, she is rightfully going to be ticked off at you. Better to say, “We will keep everything that you say as confidential as we can, but of course we may have to talk about this with other people involved in the investigation. I can assure you that we will not discuss this with anyone who doesn’t have a legitimate need to know.” Employees are not stupid. They will understand and will appreciate your honesty.    

CAI’s 2011 Triad Employment Law Update, scheduled for November 9 at the Koury Center in Greensboro, will provide additional information for conducting successful employment investigations.  The conference will also provide news and material on several legal topics relevant to employers, including ADA, Wage and Hour, Workers’ Comp Reform, FLSA and Immigration. Register today at www.capital.org/triadlaw.

Court Case Gives Employers Clarity on Disciplining Disabled Workers for Misconduct

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

The US Department of Labor estimates that almost 50 million Americans have a disability. Laws and organizations, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), work to prevent discrimination towards individuals who have mental or physical conditions that substantially limit one or more major life activity.

Statistics indicate that people with disabilities make up 20 percent of the American workforce. Employers are required by law to provide reasonable accommodations to those who disclose their disability. When employees engage in misconduct resulting from their disabilities, employers often approach disciplinary action cautiously to avoid potential lawsuits.

On April 13, 2011, the Fourth District Court of Appeals gave employers greater clarification on disciplining disabled workers through a case of first impression. The Appellate Court ruled in favor of the employer that terminated plaintiff Linda Wills, who sued for disability discrimination, in the case of Wills V. Superior Court of Orange County.

California’s Superior Court of Orange County fired Wills from her position as a court clerk in October 2007 because of threats she made to her coworkers. Wills was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1997 and started her job at the Superior Court in 1999. Although she took several medical leaves to treat her disorder, she did not reveal her disability to her employer.

In July 2007, Wills received a work assignment at the Anaheim Police Department. She became angry when she had to wait for workers to let her into the department’s lockup facility. The police department’s employees informed the Orange County Court that Wills swore at them and told an officer she would add him to her Kill Bill list, referring to the popular movie about a female assassin. The employees of the police department described Wills’ behavior as threatening and asked the Superior Court to no longer assign her to their facilities.

Wills claimed that her outburst happened during an early stage of a severe manic episode. Her doctor placed her on medical leave shortly after the incident. Wills sent coworkers, friends and family members threatening, offensive and illogical emails and videos during her time away from work. When her doctor permitted her to return to work, her employer put her on paid administrative leave while it investigated her inappropriate behavior.

At the beginning of the investigation, the Superior Court received a letter from Wills’ doctor stating that she suffered from bipolar disorder. The doctor also said she would not cause danger to her coworkers. The Orange County Court decided to terminate Wills after its investigation for four reasons:

  1. Threatening a police department while performing official business
  2. Threatening and inappropriately communicating with her coworkers
  3. Misusing court resources
  4. Exhibiting poor judgment

Wills reacted to the termination with a lawsuit. She sued under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and alleged that she was fired because of her mental disorder.  The Fourth District Court of Appeals did not deny that her disorder incited her misconduct, but it agreed with her employer and confirmed that Wills’ behavior was a legitimate, nondiscriminatory cause for her termination.

In proceeding cases, such as Gambini V. Total Renal Care, violent outbursts caused by mental disorders were not grounds for termination. This is because courts typically have ruled that ADA protects both the disability and disability-related misconduct unless the behavior was related to criminal activity or drug and alcohol abuse. 

The key difference in Linda Wills’ case is that her threats and violent behavior were aimed at her coworkers, which put her employer on a “razor’s edge,” as the Appellate Court described.  The Orange County Court could have violated the law if it terminated Wills, but it could have also violated the law if its employees were working in an unsafe environment, which the Appellate Court called being “caught on the horns of a dilemma.”

By reviewing the EEOC’s interpretation of ADA, the Appellate Court determined that an employer can discipline disabled employees for violating workplace conduct standards by threatening violence or committing violence against their coworkers. The Appellate Court purposely limited the scope of its decision to protect the disabled from discrimination and also allow employers to protect their staff from threats and actions of violence. Wills and her lawyers petitioned her case to the Supreme Court, but the high court agreed with the Appellate Court’s decision and decided to not review the case.

The Orange County Court’s preparedness with its written policy against workplace threats and violence, as well as its thorough investigation that included several witnesses, helped the Appellate Court determine that Wills’ termination was based on legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons.

The takeaway from this case for employers is to draft extensive workplace policies that are enforced throughout the organization and record all instances of misconduct. Employers are allowed to distinguish between disability-related misconduct and the disability itself when the behavior threatens a coworker with violence, but solid documentation and supporting evidence is required to prove that disciplinary action is based on nondiscriminatory factors.

Companies should still take heed when addressing misconduct from employees with disabilities. Although Wills provided a victory for employers, suspicious accusations and theorized claims may not be protected by this decision. For additional information on ADA or to discuss your organization’s handbook or workplace policies, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Mark Fischervictoriapeckham

The EEOC’s 5 Warnings about Medical Leaves and the ADA

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

The post below is a guest blog from Robin Shea who serves as Partner for Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP, CAI’s Partner for the 2011 Triad Employment Law Update.

Leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act is a smokin’ hot subject these days, particularly in light of the ADA Amendments Act and its regulations, which expand the ADA’s coverage to a dramatically larger population, the “new,” more activist U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)  under Chair Jacqueline Berrien, and two recent multi-million-dollar settlements in leave-of-absence lawsuits brought by the EEOC against Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Supervalu, Inc. (Jewel-Osco).

John Hendrickson, the EEOC’s Regional Attorney for Chicago, said that these settlements contained five lessons for employers, and that’s what I’d like to talk about today because Hendrickson’s points are consistent with warnings we’ve been giving to employers for quite some time.

1. An “inflexible period” of leave will not satisfy ADA requirements. Most of the employers I’ve worked with have very generous leave of absence policies — one employer I know offers up to two years of leave for a single medical condition (and possibly more, if the employee contracts a new condition). However, many policies provide for “automatic” termination if the employee’s leave exceeds the designated period of time.

Nunh-unh, no can do, says the EEOC.

If the employee needs, say, two years plus two weeks, but then will be able to return to work, you have to consider granting that additional two weeks.

Or, if the employee can come back but needs reasonable accommodations (including reassignment to a vacant position), you have to consider allowing the employee to come back in the new capacity.

And when I say “consider,” I mean, seriously. I mean, if you decide to say no, you’d better have a darned good reason.

Your next question may be, Well, if our leave is so generous and we still have to do all this when an employee has been out of work (and probably receiving disability benefits or workers’ compensation), then why on earth do we want to offer so much leave in the first place? And my answer to that would be, Good question, and a point that was made by an employers’ lawyer who testified at the EEOC hearing. You can shorten the “maximum leave” under your policy, as long as you comply with the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act. (You should check applicable state laws, as well.)

2. “Appropriate leave” requires an “individualized assessment” when the designated leave period expires, if not before. See #1. The “individualized assessment” would include determining whether the employee needs additional leave beyond the official company maximum, and whether the employee can come back to work with a reasonable accommodation.

Many employers still require employees returning from medical leaves of absence to be “100 percent recovered,” or able to return to work without restrictions. These requirements have arguably violated the ADA from the get-go (in my opinion, they have), but there is no question that they should be scrapped in our modern era. If an employee has restrictions, the employer is supposed to assess whether the employee can return to work with a reasonable accommodation. If not, then it may be ok to terminate. But if so, then the employer should allow the employee to return to work.

And, have I mentioned that “reasonable accommodation” includes reassignment to a different vacant position?

3. Keep your friends close, and your leave administrator and ADA decisionmaker closer. Many employers outsource leave administration to a third party. Meanwhile, the person making decisions on ADA accommodations is usually someone in Human Resources, in consultation with the employee’s supervisors and managers, and possibly legal counsel.

This is a fine arrangement, as long as the leave administrator stays in close contact with HR or legal counsel, and knows how to identify potential ADA issues. (Which should be a cinch now that virtually everyone on an extended medical leave qualifies for ADA coverage.)

That said, third party administrators, or even in-house leave administration “specialists,” should almost never be the ones to terminate an employee for hitting the maximum allowable leave. A best practice would be for the leave administrator to refer these employees to Human Resources or legal counsel for an ADA assessment. The decision to terminate, extend leave, or bring back to work with or without reasonable accommodations should be made by HR/Legal in consultation with the appropriate operations management.

4. Ya gotta talk to the employee. The reasons for this rule are too numerous to mention. From a pure morale standpoint, it’s always good to stay in touch with an employee on medical leave because it makes the employee feel that she’s still “part of the family” and makes return to work that much easier. But just in case these warm and fuzzy reasons aren’t enough to satisfy you, allow me to use more persuasive methods. (Imagine Dr. Evil laugh here. Mwahahaha.)

Many jurisdictions require that the employer and employee conduct an “interactive process” when discussing possible ADA accommodations, and the EEOC takes this position as well. The “interactive process” is fancy-lawyer-talk for having a discussion with the employee (ideally, face-to-face, but phone or email will suffice if the employee can’t come in) about possible reasonable accommodations. In these jurisdictions, the failure to engage in the interactive process is an ADA violation in itself.

Even in jurisdictions like mine, which do not require an interactive process, failing to engage in the process means that the employer “assumes the risk” if there is an accommodation that might have worked but was missed because the employer didn’t talk to the employee.

For these reasons, I strongly recommend that all employers, no matter where they are located, discuss directly with employees their reasonable accommodation options and get the employee’s suggestions. (Employers with unions will, of course, have to include the union representatives in these discussions.)

5. Better get used to being sued by the EEOC. The agency believes that private plaintiffs’ attorneys will not usually have the resources to be able to pursue these “systemic” discrimination cases involving automatic terminations at the end of medical leaves. 

So, to paraphrase all those spam email jokes that we love so much, you may be a defendant in an EEOC lawsuit if

*You have a “100%-recovered/no restrictions” requirement for return from a medical leave of absence;

*You automatically terminate employees who reach their maximum leaves without making “individualized assessments”;

*You delegate all of your medical leave terminations to your third-party administrator, or your benefits administrators; or

*You don’t engage in “the interactive process” before automatically terminating employees who reach their maximum leaves.

(Sorry that wasn’t the least bit funny. Hey – just like the spam email jokes!)

Generally speaking, the EEOC is a formidable plaintiff. Unlike private plaintiffs’ attorneys, the agency does not have a strong economic motivation to settle cases early and inexpensively. They’ll serve you with aggressive written discovery and requests for documents, and they’ll want to take everybody’s deposition. They’ll file motions and fight every motion that your side wants to file. They dig “systemic” cases, where they can get large verdicts or settlements that they can post on their “Newsroom” web page. This is not to say you can’t beat them, but most employers will prefer being in compliance to being a test case.

Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

CAI’s 2011 Triad Employment Law Update, scheduled for November 9 at the Koury Center in Greensboro, will provide additional information for staying compliant with FMLA and ADA regulations.  The conference will also provide news and material on several legal topics relevant to employers, including Wage and Hour, Workers’ Comp Reform, FLSA and Immigration. Register today at www.capital.org/triadlaw.

Focused Employees Contribute to Business Success

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

FocusDid your week start like this? Your biggest client got the wrong order; your CEO received a company report, which had a high-priority deadline, two-days late; and your accounting department cannot figure out how the organization is over budget for the month already.  Meanwhile, your employees are excessively chatting about their weekends, checking their friends’ Facebook statuses and taking numerous breaks.  If so, your company could be facing a problem with a lack of employee focus.

Ensuring that workers pay attention to details is critical to the success of your organization. Even small mistakes can disrupt business goals if they happen frequently. Instead of punishing your staff members for not staying on task, help them see how their efforts affect the bottom line. Motivate them to perform their best and stay on top of their work assignments with these focus-finding strategies:

Create Goals for the Day

Most employees establish goals for the year and sometimes for the month as well, but focus can be lost quickly with broad goals that stretch over long periods of time. Making daily goals helps employees define and prioritize the assignments they need to complete. To further help employees keep their concentration, have them set a time limit for each project they want to accomplish.

Discourage Multitasking

 Many people boast about being exceptional multitaskers. Although juggling multiple tasks seems like an effective skill, research reveals that creating high-quality products with this method does not work. The ability to focus on details decreases when we tackle more than one project. Working on too many assignments can also create stress, which increases our chances for making mistakes. Encourage employees to complete one item at a time. Once they finish one, they can move on to the next one. 

Schedule Distraction-Free Times

Coworkers can often be the cause of preventing others from completing their projects. Whether teammates want recommendations for good lunch places or help reviewing a spreadsheet, time for employees to focus on their individual tasks gets lost. Prohibiting staff interruptions (unless necessary) during specific work hours can give employees an opportunity to work on their aDistractionssignments without distractions from their coworkers. Time blocks tailored to the entire company or individual worker are both effective approaches.

It is easy for workers to become complacent and careless in tasks that they perform frequently. In addition to the pointers above, consistently remind them that they are integral components of your organization and their contributions assist in making your business a success or a failure. For more guidance on keeping your employees focused, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice & Counsel at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: febuiles, Sam Pullara

Keep Your Employees off the Playground: Preventing and Dealing with Workplace Bullying

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Today’s news headlines are filled with stories of childhood and teenage bullying with dire consequences, but name calling, intimidation and similar behaviors do not always end in high school.   CAI’s CEO Bruce Clarke recently addressed the topic of workplace bullying in his News & Observer column, The View from HR. In his October 2 edition, he informed readers that 50 to 75 percent of employees have witnessed or experienced workplace bullying.

A company bully can be an associate, a manager or even the chief executive of the entire organization. Workplace bullies can utilize tactics that can be detrimental to a coworker’s health and career. Giving the silent treatment, humiliating others in public and attacking a person’s character or beliefs are shenanigans from a typical bully. Terrors in the office can hold even more power over their victims’ heads by refusing to give coworkers information, implementing impossible deadlines, ignoring achievements and repetitively mentioning mistakes.

Victims of bullies can suffer physically and mentally. Many studies have shown that workers who are frequently bullied report to be more stressed, prone to stomach aches and ulcers, and unhappy and unsatisfied at their jobs. Not only does the victim suffer, but the employee’s organization will also experience negative residual effects. Workplaces that ignore company bullies can lose respect and credibility from their employees. Company morale could lower and absenteeism could rise. Employees who are bullied may struggle to focus on their work, which can decrease productivity. Some staff members might look for new jobs to escape from their bullies, causing turn over to increase.

 As an HR professional, you must do your part to create a bully-free work environment. Here are some tips to help you form a peaceful and productive workplace:bully

  • Never ignore a complaint about bullying. Respect your employees and let them know that you trust and believe the information that they give you. Many times victims are embarrassed or scared to report incidents of bullying. Let your employees know that you care about them and will listen to their grievances. Assure them that you will help them resolve their problems as soon as possible.
  • Create an environment of open communication. Make it okay for employees to feel comfortable talking to their managers about how they are feeling at work. Encourage team members to share factors that make them feel stressed and help them devise a plan to work through tough times.
  • Educate employees on workplace bullies and the effects they can have on their coworkers and their organization.  Providing training on bullying to all staff members, including senior leadership, can help reduce the chances for a company bully to thrive. Advocate that employees report any occurrences of malevolent workplace behavior.
  • Draft a policy that prevents bullying and make it available to all staff members. This policy should include language on how to make a proper complaint, how managers should react and how issues will be handled. Enforce a strategy for dealing with bullies and assign appropriate punishment for misconduct. Counseling for bullies is also suggested, so they understand the errors in their behavior and can work to improve their work performance and keep their jobs.

Additionally, if a bully threatens his victim with violence, waste no time to get to the bottom of the issue. Depending on the severity of the threat, calling the police to report outrageous behavior can be effective. For more information on how to handle bullies, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice & Counsel at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Eddie~S