Archive for March, 2012

Overcoming a Toxic Workplace: Insights from Communication Expert Laura Hamilton

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

When Sunday afternoon rolls around, do you become worried or start to feel sick as you anxiously anticipate your return to the office?

Laura Hamilton, communication expert and president of her own consulting business based in Winston-Salem, N.C., says that being worried sick about going to work is a sign that your workplace is toxic. Workers in toxic environments usually have a gut feeling that something is awry in the company, says Laura.

Employees in these environments might feel as though opportunities to grow are limited and that working with their coworkers is challenging. Depending on how toxic their workplace is, employees may also feel a sense of panic, anxiety or that they have no place to go or no one to turn to for help.

Laura says that several factors help foster a toxic atmosphere. Individuals who partake in bullying, self-righteous or self-absorbed behavior can add to workplace chaos. Employees who strive for perfection or use passive-aggressive tactics to make their points can cause stress to their coworkers. Setting impossible project deadlines or practicing unfair bonus competitions can also make your staff feel overwhelmed.

If your environment is harmful, you should hold your management team partly responsible because research shows that a work environment is a reflection of how things run at the top. Laura points out that there are cases where one disgruntled employee can destroy the productivity in an entire department as well.

If you don’t take action to correct your toxic workplace, your company could suffer some of the following consequences:

  • Loss of productivity
  • Financial losses that affect the bottom line
  • Increase in absenteeism
  • Increase in insurance claims for stress-related diseases
  • Production of low-quality work

Not only will your business be affected, but Laura says that your employees will soon show wear and tear from the negative environment. Employees working under toxic conditions can feel anxious or angry. They may lose confidence or isolate themselves from their coworkers. Laura says that most employees don’t realize they are under so much pressure and stress, as their work environment becomes their “new normal.”

Unfortunately, management may not be aware of the toxic environment they are letting build up, says Laura. Although many workers might be hesitant to go to upper management and report how their work environment is affecting them, management can’t fix a problem if they don’t know one exists. Address the serious situation with your management team, and suggest ways that your company’s environment can be more positive and productive.

Laura Hamilton can be reached at for additional questions relating to toxic environments.

Don’t Make These 4 Common Mistakes When Filling Out an I-9

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

The I-9 form can be a tricky document for employers. The government has created specific rules that must be followed when completing the deceivingly simple document. Your organization may be penalized and fined if the regulating agency discovers incorrect information or mistakes in your employees’ I-9 forms. To stay compliant with state and federal regulations, avoid these common I-9 mistakes:

1.  Does Everyone Have an I-9 Form on File?

Your organization should have a correctly completed I-9 form for every employee. Making sure that you do is important to stay in compliance. If the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency conducts an audit or investigation and learns that you’re missing forms for any of your employees, you will most likely be fined.

2.  Missing and Misplaced Information

Missing and misplaced information are mistakes that can easily be avoided if you and your employees spend adequate time filling out the documents and reviewing for errors. Here are some examples of information that is frequently misplaced or left out: wrong date, no signatures and information in incorrect boxes.

3.  Not Following the Three-Day Rule

You are required to complete a new hire’s I-9 form within three days of his first day of paid work. After an applicant has been offered and has accepted the job, ensure the new employee is aware of the types of acceptable identifying documents they may choose to provide to accurately fill out their I-9 forms. Helping your employees prepare for their first day of work will help you steer clear of potential fines.

4.  Incorrect Corrections

If there is incorrect information on an I-9 form, do not use a marker to cross out the information. Using white out is another mistake that employers often make when trying to correct information. Failing to initial and date corrections will also make an employee’s I-9 form erroneous. If these mistakes are made and the document lacks clarity or is not easy to follow, filling out a new form is appropriate. Make sure the original document is attached to the new one. Never backdate changes.

For more information on staying compliant with state and federal regulations, please join us on May 2nd and 3rd at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh for the 2012 Employment and Labor Law Update. The conference will feature experienced lawyers from Ogletree Deakins who will update you on the most recent regulatory and legal changes affecting employers. Some of the topics they’ll discuss include the ADAAA, Workers’ Compensation and Healthcare Reform. You can register for the event and see the additional topics here:

Photo Source: Victor1558

Can You Consume Healthcare Better?

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

The post below is a guest blog from Chris Tutino, Communications Specialist, and Theresa Lough, PHR, SPHR and Human Resources Manager. Chris works for CAI’s employee benefits partner, Hill, Chesson & Woody, and Theresa is on staff at Smith Debnam Narron Drake Saintsing & Myers, LLP.

Consumerism refers to the “emphasis on or preoccupation with the acquisition of consumer goods.” With health services, it means getting the right care, from the right provider at the right price. With so many more of your hard-earned dollars in play (with HRAs, FSAs and deductibles), it only makes sense that you’d want to fully understand what you’re purchasing in order to be a wise consumer.

But, the basic laws of supply and demand do not exist in the healthcare industry’s current economic environment. Think about it – with everything else you purchase you can research the quality, see online ratings or view customer testimonials before you buy. Not with healthcare. Not even a surgeon who had a hernia repair knows what he’s going to pay.

Why is that? For one thing, there’s a lack of transparency in pricing and little to no information concerning quality. But, the market is responding. There are many consumer decision-making resources available to you through insurance carriers, governmental websites and other third party websites that are rising to meet the demand. Many insurers offer online cost treatment estimators and on-call nurse lines. Similarly, The Department of Health & Human Services offers information on hospitals and compares their pricing for certain medical procedures.  At you will find provider care quality measures and comparisons.

Why is this still so difficult? Pricing information is not transparent because healthcare providers negotiate prices with insurance carriers, and that information is held confidential. This leaves the person who pays the bill in the dark.

However, you can be a better buyer of your healthcare. Start researching when you have time to make a decision by knowing what your medical treatment, service or prescriptions are going to cost. Ask your physician what they charge for the procedure and what your options are for treatment. Ask if there are alternatives to your prescriptions. Ask if the results of a certain test they want to perform will change their ultimate course of action. Compare the quality of healthcare between different hospitals before selecting one.

Check out these resources as well. Maybe we’ll find a fix sometime soon.

Certainly, these are not perfect solutions. What would you like to see happen in the healthcare industry as it relates to pricing?

3 Workplace Practices to Clean Up this Spring

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Today is the first day of spring. During the season of rebirth and renewal, people are eager to clean out their cluttered garages, revamp their tired wardrobes or get started on projects they keep putting off. Similarly to the improved changes you can make to yourself or your home, your organization can also take part in a transformation.

Giving your company a good spring cleaning will help you uncover inefficient and unnecessary workflows or outgrown policies and procedures. Here are three areas you should be sure to keep clean:

Social Media

More than 50 percent of people in the United States visit social media sites. The different internet communication channels will help you showcase your brand and connect with your customers in several ways. However, if you don’t have a strong social media policy, the disadvantages of the tools might outweigh the benefits. Drafting a sound policy can protect your company from risks, such as a reveal of confidential documents or slander from disgruntled employees. See what to include in your social media policy here: Create a Social Media Policy to Protect Your Business and Employer Brand.

Employee Reviews

Giving your staff positive and constructive feedback is critical for the development of their careers and the success of your organization. Annual reviews include the summation of the feedback you give to your team members throughout the year and the goals you want to help them accomplish. Make sure you take adequate time to prepare for them. Performance reviews conducted correctly help your employees focus on achieving success. See how your performance review process measures up here: Four Key Elements for Conducting Productive Employee Performance Reviews.

Low Performers and Poor Behavior

Poor performance can impede workplace productivity. Useless distractions or careless mistakes from staff members waste your organizations resources, time and money. Coworkers of poor behaving employees can also be affected if they have to pick up the slack or spend more time fixing errors. Although confronting low-performing workers can be challenging, taking care of the situation quickly will help your organization maintain success and high employee morale. See tips for helping your poor performers improve their work habits here: Addressing Poor Performance in the Workplace.

Keep the practices in these three areas of people management up to date and well documented to set your company up for year-round success. For more information on workplace spring cleaning tips, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Victor1558

17 Ways to Show Your Employees Appreciation

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Your employees want to be recognized for the contributions they make to your organization. Taking time to recognize your workforce’s efforts will increase employee morale and job satisfaction at your company. With engagement levels up, your organization will also see an improvement in productivity and retention.

Not only does showing your employees that you value their work benefit different business areas, the process doesn’t have to be costly or time consuming. There are simple actions you can take to make the gratitude you have for your staff known.  Use the 17 ideas below to show your team that they are instrumental members of your organization:

  1. Be respectful by saying “please” and “thank you” often.
  2. Help them save money by ordering pizza or taking them out for lunch.
  3. Keep an ample supply of free snacks and drinks in your break room or kitchen.
  4. For jobs done well, buy employees gift certificates to their favorite restaurant or store.
  5. Job permitting, allow your employees to have flexible schedules.
  6. Purchase subscriptions to some of your team’s favorite magazines, and leave them in the break room to share.
  7. Celebrate employment anniversaries with office parties.
  8. Help simplify their lives by partnering with a dry cleaning company to provide delivery and pick up at the office.
  9. Reward stellar workplace performance with a paid vacation day.
  10. Pay for memberships to professional groups that interest your employees.
  11. Give them notes of appreciation that you hand write.
  12. Purchase a cake and a card for staff to sign to celebrate employee birthdays.
  13. Create awards, like Team Player of the Year or Goes the Extra Mile, and have employees vote for the most deserving team member.
  14. Ask staff members what their career goals are, and help them reach success.
  15. Have an office potluck lunch, and encourage employees to bring their signature dishes.
  16. Greet your employees with a smile and friendly salutation when they arrive at the office.
  17. Decorate their office or cubicle with streamers and balloons when they accomplish a personal goal, like running a marathon or planning a charity event.

For additional tips and information to help show employees your appreciation, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Victor1558

March Madness and the Workplace: Comparing Your Employees with the Big Dance’s 68 Teams

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012


Talking about teamwork in the workplace is fitting now that March Madness officially starts this evening. Whether the team you cheer for made it to this year’s Big Dance, the dynamics of the 3-week NCAA tournament offer you good tips to execute when engaging different players within your workforce team. Knowing how to use your people’s strongest assets will help you improve employee satisfaction and business productivity at your organization.

The college basketball event has its own terminology, and the nicknames they assign to teams can also apply to employees in your organization.  Read the following March Madness tags and their definitions to see how staffers with similar characteristics can be coached to create a championship team.

March Madness in the Workplace:

On the Bubble: Teams on the fringe of making it to the college basketball national tournament. They earn one final chance to show that they deserve to be in the competition.

Workplace Counterpart: Employees who are on the bubble at your organization have talent and know-how to be extraordinary teammates, but their overall records indicate that they aren’t strong competitors. Work with them to identify their strengths and weaknesses to ensure that they are the right fit for your company. If they are, offer these employees positive and constructive feedback frequently. Help them use their strengths to accomplish their career goals.


Cinderella: A team that no one expects to play big at the dance but advances in the tournament anyway.

Workplace Counterpart: Don’t underestimate your office Cinderellas. They are dedicated to doing their jobs well and aren’t afraid to work through any obstacles that they may face. Give them assignments that match their talents, and you won’t be disappointed with the results they bring you. Recognize their contributions by praising them, and you’ll see that they’ll become more confident and productive in their decision making.


The Elite Eight: These are the tournament’s final eight teams. They’ve shown their expertise and finesse for the game to remain in the competition.

Workplace Counterpart: Your elite employees are engaged and make great contributions to your organization each work day. You can count on them to encourage other team members to perform well and give their all when completing projects. Because they always bring their A-game to assignments, some managers might take their excellent work ethic for granted. Continually give them feedback and ask them what they hope to accomplish to make sure they remain satisfied in their positions.


The Final Four: These teams have fought hard to prove that they have the talent to be national champions. They are the best of the best of the 68 teams invited to the Big Dance. Their workload increases as they play for the last two spots and eventually the national championship title.

Workplace Counterpart: Your employees who are similar to college basketball’s final four are determined to make a difference at your organization. They are your company’s top performers who steadily produce high-quality work. These employees aren’t afraid to challenge traditions or explore new options for getting things done efficiently. Keep these staff members engaged by assigning them a variety of projects that showcase their expertise and passion for achieving big results. Treat these employees well by offering them promotions or raises that indicate you acknowledge their efforts. They will remain loyal and help get your company through tough business situations.

For additional ideas on engaging the different staff members that make up your workforce team, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: katerha

Use Effective Time Management to Keep Your Workforce Productive

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

At 2 a.m. this Sunday, we will set our clocks forward one hour for Daylight Saving Time. The practice first used in World War 1 adds daylight to our afternoons and evenings. Many activities benefit from the spring time change, but many people don’t forget the fact that we lose an hour to keep some sunlight. Depending on your organization and the work your employees complete, this loss of an hour could have a negative effect on your company’s productivity. Utilizing effective time management strategies will help you and your staff avoid unfavorable results from the lost hour.

Successful time management comes easy to some, but for most people, it is a skill that takes time to learn and perfect. Being more efficient with time has several workplace advantages. Here are a few: deadlines and expected results are met because they were realistic, fewer errors occur in projects because staff members allot appropriate time to complete them and last-minute panicking to address pertinent assignments decreases.

Some managers and members of senior leadership think the answer to solving time management issues is to eliminate all time wasters. Examples of time wasters include chatting with coworkers, surfing the internet, taking personal phones calls, checking personal emails and running errands. Yes, these activities take away time from completing projects, but they shouldn’t be eliminated all together. If employees work straight through their 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. shifts, they will most likely burn out. Breaks, downtime and socializing should be practiced in the workplace because they help create a positive atmosphere for everyone. Instead of eliminating these activities, limiting the amount of time spent on them is encouraged.

Here are a few more time management strategies to share with your workforce:

  • Plan your day
    • Whether you make a to-do list or setup tasks in your Microsoft Outlook, specify the assignments you want to complete for the day. You can also go one step further and specify the amount of time you’d like to spend on each project. Make sure your list is manageable so this method is helpful not overwhelming.
  • Practice prioritizing projects
    • Finishing all of your easy assignments in a day does feel good, but dragging out the length of a high-priority assignment is never fun. Build time in your daily schedule to work on an important project. Break it down into smaller parts or take breaks to avoid a burn out. Getting these assignments finished before or by deadline will make more of an impact on your company than the easy projects.
  • Delegate when you can
    • If you have tasks that can be completed quicker with the help of additional team members, ask for their support. Delegation is a great business tool because it helps free up some of your time while also empowering the employees who receive the additional assignments.
  • Know when to say no
    •  Sometimes employees take on more work than they can handle for various reasons such as, wanting a raise or proving they can take on more responsibility. Overworking creates stress and lowers employee morale and job satisfaction. Instead of volunteering for projects that come your way, evaluate the core assignments that you have to finish. If a new project will cause a missed deadline for another project, politely decline and give the reason why you are declining.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle
    • Loss of concentration can often be attributed to an unhealthy lifestyle. Eating nutritious food, exercising multiple times per week and adapting a routine sleep schedule will give you plenty of energy to stay focused throughout your work day. Your ability to stay focused will help you complete tasks more efficiently and with fewer errors.

For additional tips to effectively manage time and increase productivity for your company, consider participating in CAI’s Time Mastery: Taking Control of Your Time course.

Photo Source: Victor1558

Help Employees Deal with Workplace Changes

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

“It can be hard to change, but it is even harder to fail,” CAI’s CEO, Bruce Clarke, says in his most recent News & Observer column, The View from HR.

Bruce says surviving in today’s workplace requires the ability to smoothly adapt and thrive in different business scenarios. He says successful employees embrace change and look forward to the next disruption. They don’t hold onto methods that aren’t beneficial to workflow processes or impede a company’s progress in improving a new system. These resilient workers are flexible, quick thinkers and decisive when needed.

In his Sunday column, Bruce references the days when employees who resisted change were accommodated in the workplace. Those days are over, however. To continue to achieve positive business results, your organization must be able to modify its goals and strategies as different circumstances arise, such as a recession or a shortage of valuable talent. Similar to the organization, your employees must be able to land on their feet no matter the workplace situation they face.

Use the information below to help lead your workforce through a change initiative.

Dealing with Company Change

  1. Explain why the change is necessary for the organization. Include the benefits, potential disadvantages and major adjustments an employee might experience as a result from the change. Allow employees to ask questions about the upcoming changes and voice any concerns that they might have. Try hard to answer their questions and reassure them that you will help them throughout the endeavor.
  2. Frequently communicate when the change will occur and how company processes and employee roles might be transformed. Utilize several forms of communication, including company internet, email, newsletter and staff meetings, to ensure that all staff members understand the change and know when it will happen.
  3. Pay attention to staff members who are having an especially hard time adapting to your company’s new change. Talk them through any difficulties they may be facing. Partner them with a staff member who is handling the changes well. If possible, permit these anxious employees to deal with the change gradually.
  4. Be patient throughout this process. Getting all staff members up to speed with a new initiative or the latest technology takes time. Do not expect your employees to be experts in their new assignments over night. Changes are about learning as well. Allow employees to make mistakes to learn and grow in their positions.

If you would like additional information and tips on helping your employees embrace change at your organization, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel Team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Victor1558

Here’s What You Missed at CAI’s 2012 HR Management Conference

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

CAI hosted its annual HR Management Conference last week on February 21 and February 22. More than 380 HR professionals and company executives attended the event themed Crushing Your Competition with Your Culture & Talent.

Jack Daly delivering his keynote presentation.

Held at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh, the conference featured four keynote speakers. Each of them provided audience members with helpful tips to create a positive and productive workplace to keep employees happy and engaged. Listed below are the four keynote speakers and their presentation topics:

  • Jack DalyCorporate Culture: Is Yours by Design or Default?
  • Jeff TobeColoring Outside the Lines: Let’s Get Engaged
  • Michael Lorsch—The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
  • Kelly Swanson—How to Stand Up and Stick Out in a Crowded Market

“I’m actually the vice president of our operations company, and in my daily work what was really important to clarify is the dilemma between important and urgent. You do urgent things every day, but you don’t necessarily do the important things. This has direct impact not only to my world, but more importantly to the world of my people and the company culture they experience ,” said Max Henze, Vice President of AKG North America Operations when commenting on information from Jack Daly’s keynote session.

In addition to the keynote presentations, conference goers had the opportunity to participate in several breakout sessions hosted by leaders experienced in company culture and strategies to retain top talent. The 12 breakout sessions utilized role plays, surveys and real-world examples to help participants absorb concepts to take back and incorporate at their organizations.  Here are a few of the topics discussed during the sessions:

  • You’re Ruining Our Culture: How to Deal with Toxic Behavior in the Workplace
  • High Value Talent: How to Capture and Keep Them
  • Creating a Competitive Advantage with a Strong Corporate Culture
  • How to Influence Positive Leadership Behaviors that Impact Your Culture
  • Building Your Talent Pipeline
  • Coaching Supervisors and Managers to Solve Their Own People Problems

“I came primarily for the cultural enhancement of organizations. My organization has had some phenomenal growth over the last four years, and we’d like to position ourselves to be the employer of choice so to speak,” said Keith Workman, Vice President of Human Resources at Implus Footcare, when asked why he attended the conference. “With the speakers, Mr. Daly and of course Brad Geiger, who is superb, I noticed that they were focusing on cultural development, how to identify problem areas and ways to avoid them, so that was a very big draw for me.”

CAI CEO Bruce Clarke with the 2012 Ovation Awards Winners

CAI revealed the winners of its sixth annual Ovation Awards for HR Excellence on Day 2 of the conference. Local employers are encouraged to submit nominations year round for an innovative people practice they initiated at their company. The people practice must have made a significant and positive impact on employees and business results to win one of the three awards segmented by company size. This year’s winners include:

  • Caterpillar Building Construction Products Division in the Large Employer Category
  • Halifax Regional Medical Center in the Mid-Size Employer Category
  • Pate Dawson Company in the Small Employer Category

Leaders from the three winning companies presented their innovative people practices to conference attendees in small breakout sessions after the awards ceremony. Caterpillar presented on its workplace flexibility initiative, Halifax Regional Medical Center discussed its fast-tracking hiring process and Pate Dawson Company shared its high performance workplace training program.

Participants also received notebooks packed with information from each of the keynote speakers and presenters of the breakout sessions. The conference provided opportunities for guests to personally speak with each presenter and network with more than 380 of their peers.

When asked about his thoughts on this year’s conference, Keith said, “Oh it’s excellent, and it always is. I’m never disappointed.”

If you are interested in attending CAI’s next HR Management Conference in 2013, please contact an Account Manager at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.