Archive for December, 2015

How to Prepare for Difficult Compensation Discussions

Thursday, December 31st, 2015
Molly Hegeman, VP of HR Services

Molly Hegeman, VP of HR Services

In today’s post Molly Hegeman, CAI’s Vice President of  HR Services, shares helpful strategies for approaching conversations about pay with preparation and confidence. 

If you’ve been in HR long enough, you’ve inevitably experienced uncomfortable conversations about pay. Whether it’s with an unhappy employee or a frustrated manager, your staff looks to you for answers in these emotionally charged situations.

So what can you do to feel more comfortable and prepared the next time you’re questioned about pay?

First, don’t say “No” right off the bat. Start by asking questions and gathering information.

  • Why is pay suddenly an issue?
  • If it’s about an employee, is he/she a good performer?
  • Does the employee demonstrate potential with your organization?
  • If it’s about hiring, has there been recent turnover in the position?
  • Are you having a difficult time making an offer to candidates because of pay?

Second,  agree to look into the situation. Research market data about the position. Go to trusted survey sources, like CAI’s NC Wage & Salary Survey, seek outside expertise.

  • Look for answers to questions about the position:
    • What is the market paying?
    • Is this a market-sensitive position?
    • Is this an issue about low supply of the skill set?
    • Are benefits and/or your total rewards package competitive?
  • Look for answers to questions about the employee(s):
    • How long has the employee(s) been in the position?
    • What is the performance history of the individual?
    • Is this employee a strong contributor with future potential?
    • Are there implications to other employees within the department?

Finally, don’t get defensive. Remaining calm will help you have a better conversation about the issue.  Your goal is to maintain an objective perspective and develop a credible position based on facts and knowledge, not emotion. They will most likely come to the conversation with plenty of emotion of their own, so addressing their concerns with facts and research will help you both understand the situation better and have a good follow-up conversation. Whether you end up agreeing to make an adjustment or providing rationale for why the pay is appropriate as is, you will be more credible and have confidence in your decision.

How to Create an Attendance Policy That Fits Your Culture

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

In today’s post, CAI’s Vice President of Membership Doug Blizzard shares helpful tips to create an attendance policy that will work well for the needs of your business.

Absent.  Tardy.  Leave early.  Words that have made managers cringe since the first workplace.  “Attendance” can be a real hornet’s nest that can go in many different directions.  When you’re too lenient people can take advantage. Too strict and it can damage morale and/or drive away good people.  Finding the right balance can be tricky even for the most seasoned of managers.

When you think about an employee’s overall work performance, job requirement number one is that they come to work, right?  Duh. Well “come to work” isn’t as straightforward as it used to be, particularly for workplaces with higher numbers of “white collar” employees.  Telework, telecommute, and flextime are all much more prevalent today than say ten years ago, and all of them seem to live in a realm above something as disciplinary or 1970’s sounding as absenteeism and attendance.

So step one for a good manager is to understand the company’s stance and/or policy on attendance or absenteeism and then fall in line with it.  I’ve seen many technically minded managers fail when they attempt to implement their own attendance policy in the absence of a clear company policy.

Let’s now turn to how to handle the chronically late or absent professional employee.

Strike three you’re out!  One strategy is to adopt a very strict attendance policy.  Every tardy, leave early, or absence is documented to the minute and after a preset number has been exceeded disciplinary action ensues.  While this approach is a way of life for many employers who have large numbers of hourly employees, it will sound totally foreign to more white collar environments.  If you’re managing in a strict policy environment, perhaps this article isn’t for you.  Otherwise, read on …

Keep those germs out of here! It bears saying that you really don’t want sick employees in your workplace infecting other workers, a situation some call “presenteeism,” meaning they’re present but very unproductive because of an illness (and infecting others making them less productive).  And this advice goes for you as the manager when you’re sick.  No one wants you there and you’re setting the wrong example. Work from home if you must.

But what about the person that is just sick a lot? There are a few regulations you must consider that deal with sickness such as the Family Medical Leave Act (must have 50 employees or more) and potentially the Americans with Disabilities Act (15 employees or more).  Once you’ve exhausted those requirements, you may find that you just can’t continue to employ someone who is chronically not there or late, even if they have a legitimate reason(s) for being absent.  My typical advice is to stay focused on job performance.

If someone is always calling in sick or late, if you’re paying attention, their job performance is suffering as measured by project completion, customer satisfaction, effect on other employees, cost, etc.  Focus on the performance and not the “sickness.”  The more you make it about the sickness the more you’re making their case for being “disabled” or covered by some other law.

What about the person that is out a lot and/or absent who really isn’t sick?  Think of all the reasons, legitimate and not, for someone to be absent.  Hundreds of scenarios.  Some are obviously ok and not ok, many are grey.  Do you really want to have to make an individual decision every time someone is absent as to its legitimacy?  That’s why my advice, absent a clear policy, is to stay focused on job performance, unless of course they are misleading you as to why they are out, in which case disciplinary action is usually called for.

In fact, I don’t believe in regulating attendance very strictly on professional exempt employees unless someone gives me a reason to do so.  We compensate professionals with a salary to get a job done regardless of how many hours that takes each week.  The more you treat them like hourly employees, for example strictly regulating their attendance, the more they will fall into an 8 to 5 mentality, which is not what you want from a professional employee.  I had a technical manager that insisted on managing his exempt professionals with our hourly attendance policy.  He was flabbergasted that the professionals demanded overtime pay whenever they stayed late or worked during a weekend.  Again, he created that 8 to 5 mentality.

But what if their job performance isn’t suffering? Perhaps some of your “best” employees just don’t like to work to a strict schedule. You’re concerned if you lean on them they might leave.  I would look to your company culture and policy.  If your firm expects people to work a strict schedule then you will need to reign in your prima donna or risk losing other people and /or getting in trouble yourself.  Other employees who aren’t out a lot are watching your every move.  At some point their attendance will also start to slide if they see you’re ineffective in dealing with it.

What about consistency? Should you give more leniency to a long service solid performer who gets into a temporary bind or do you treat them the same as you would a six month employee?  Trying to be 100% consistent with attendance on professional employees is a losing proposition.

When to take action? When someone’s attendance is affecting their performance or others, or is so far above the norm from the average employee, it’s time to start the disciplinary process.  Follow your company’s process, or in the absence of one I like the three strikes rule.  Talk to them about it once, then provide a written warning, then on strike three let them go.  At each step make it clear what successful attendance looks like and the consequences for not improving.  And make sure you document every step clearly so you can go back and see a clearly communicated line from offenses to termination.

One policy or two? Am I suggesting you treat exempt employees different than hourly employees?  Well legally they are different.  The hourly employees typically only get paid when they work unless you provide them with a paid time off benefit.  Absent a policy, I would also stay focused on performance with hourly employees when it comes to attendance issues.

You may be the problem. Your own management style and behaviors can greatly contribute to or reduce employee absenteeism.  Poor management causes more employee “sickness.” Chose to be a good manager.  Set clear and high expectations, hold people accountable, and treat them like adults and you’ll be amazed at how those attendance issues you’re having go away.

Have any more questions about how to tailor an attendance policy for your firm’s culture? Call our Advice and Resolution team today at 919‑878‑9222 or 336‑668‑7746.

If you have any further ideas about how to handle absenteeism, please let us know in the comments!

Top 5 Reasons You Need HR Technology

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

The post below is a guest blog from Rachel Richards who serves as Enrollment Services and Voluntary Benefits Solutions Team Lead for CAI’s employee benefits partner Hill, Chesson & Woody.

Until recently, HR Technology was reserved for employers with more than 100 employees and true Human Capital Management was for +1,000 employers.  The landscape of HR technology is swiftly changing, especially with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Having benefits, payroll, and time keeping is more important now than ever, and easily accessible for employers all the way down to 50 employees.  New HR technology companies are popping up on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis.

See the top 5 reasons to have HR technology:

1. ACA Tracking & Reporting

Companies with over 50 full time equivalent employees (FTE) will need to be able track variable hour employees to determine eligibility.  Employers will also need to illustrate whether benefit eligible employees were offered employer-sponsored health care coverage and whether that coverage meets minimum essential coverage (MEC) standards.  Employers will need to capture this information and report on the IRS Forms 1094 and 1095.  In addition, specific enrollment information is required on the 1095-C form which can be handled easily by a benefit administration system.

2. Streamline Processes Through Integration

Whether you put in a “single source solution” where the same HR technology vendor provides you with payroll, benefits, and other HR technology modules or you find the best in class for each type of technology, information should flow from one area to another seamlessly.  This can be done through integration – integration with payroll, integration with your benefit carriers, and integration with your time keeping system.  It’s important to have one core system of record that is feeding all other systems, typically this is either payroll or core HR.

3. Electronic Onboarding

Removing paper from the onboarding process will bring efficiency to your entire HR department.  Imagine once an offer of employment is accepted, a link with your entire onboarding process is delivered to the new employee before they even start their first day of work. This feature is available in MOST benefit administration systems, however, the way these systems capture and store this information can vary greatly.  Be sure to ask questions, request demonstrations, and have a solid understanding of the onboarding capabilities before executing any agreements.

4. Simplify Administration

Whether you have 3 or 1,000 employees, a benefit administration along with other HR technology modules will eliminate paperwork and multiple points of entry.  In addition, having the ability to run reports to gather and share information about your workforce allows HR to provide information to the executive level team easily.

5. Notifications and Electronic Disclosures

There are many notices required under ERISA, ACA, and other regulatory agencies.  As an employer, you are required to notify your employees and keep a confirmation on hand with a time and date stamp of the notification.  A benefit administration system can allow you to notify your employees electronically and can even capture and store acknowledgements of receipt.

For more information on how HR Technology can streamline your benefit administration, contact HCW’s Enrollment Services and Voluntary Benefit Solutions team.

Guarantee A Great Cultural Fit With These 5 Interview Questions

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Business meeting.

Tom Sheehan, CAI’s HR Business Partner, shares the questions you should be asking your candidates to gauge whether they will be a strong cultural match for your business.

According to a study by Leadership IQ, 46% of newly-hired employees failed within 18 months, and contrary to popular belief only 11% failed due to technical skills.   The majority of the 20,000 new hires tracked in this study failed for interpersonal/fit issues.  As I once heard it put, “you’re hired for what you know and fired for who you are.”

As a result, it’s absolutely critical that all managers in your organization, especially anyone involved with interviewing potential employees, have a good grasp of your company’s culture and refer back to it throughout the hiring process.  HR leaders need to ensure that all leaders understand and can articulate the founding principles of your culture, and that they know how to effectively test for these principles when they are interviewing candidates. It’s also important to include culture-based questions in every interview round. Here are five interview questions that should help assess ‘culture fit:’

1. What was the most frustrating thing about working at your last company?

If the candidate expresses frustration about the amount of corporate email, daily meetings, or anything else that your company also has, you can probably assume this candidate isn’t a good fit for your company.

2. Describe your ideal work environment. What is the single most important factor that must be present for you to be successful at your job?

Personal work environment preferences can vary greatly. Some people like a set schedule while others require a great deal of scheduling flexibility. Some don’t mind travel while others do not want any travel at all. Some employees like working for a smaller more personal company while others prefer being part of a larger organization.

3. What is your preferred work style: alone or part of a team? If you could divide your work time, what percentage would you assign to each?

Most jobs are a mixture of working alone and working on a team. However, the mix can vary widely. Knowing if a person prefers working alone most of the time is critical in a job where most of the work is done as a team. The opposite is also true.

4. What characteristics would you ideally want to have in a boss? Describe the management style that brings out your best work.

Some job candidates have a strong preference in the kind of manager they like to work with and the ones they don’t. For example, trying to fit an autocratic manager with an employee who likes a democratic style can be a recipe for a difficult working relationship.

5. When working in a team, describe the role you most often play? How would your co-workers describe the role you play on the team?

Most people have a preferred role when it comes to being a part of a team. It might be as leader, a coordinator, or an implementer. It is good to know what their preference is and if they are able to adapt their approach.

For any further help with this subject, or any talent management issues, please don’t hesitate to contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Resolution team at 919‑878‑9222 or 336‑668‑7746.

What other interview questions have worked to assess a great cultural fit for you? Please let us know in the comments!

Leverage Your “Big Data” to Make Better HR Decisions

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015
Kaleigh Ferraro, Manager, Affirmative Action Services

Kaleigh Ferraro,  Affirmative Action Services

In today’s post, CAI’s Manager for Affirmative Action Services, Kaleigh Ferraro, shares how your business can utilize HR data to its advantage in the future.

The big data trend is making its way to the Human Resources arena.  In fact, a 2014 Towers Watson Survey of more than 1,000 organizations found HR data and analytics to be among the top three areas for HR technology spending.  Where HR is concerned, big data aims to empower employers and human resources to make more informed business decisions.   Big data analytics offers many exciting promises for HR professionals:

  • Gain more insight on employee performance, boosting individual motivation and overall engagement.
  • Help identify and acknowledge top and low performers.
  • Learn why employees leave — and why they stay.
  • Evaluate training program participation and outcomes.
  • Identify great potential talent by sorting information into trends and narrowing down the talent pool.

But where do you start?  Well, put simply, with the data.  You’ve heard the expression “garbage in garbage out.”  The thing about data is that while everyone has it, it’s frequently imperfect and we typically don’t know what to do with it.  As someone who works with data every day while preparing Affirmative Action Plans for CAI members, I realize it can be a source of headaches for many people.  Data really is a great thing and we need it for almost everything – payroll, budgets, sales & marketing, year-end reporting, etc.  But the frustrating part is that oftentimes the data is bad.  And when the data is bad, the resulting decisions you make will be less than ideal.

So before you can even consider using big data to improve your HR operations, you need to get small data right.  The question is what can you do to try to make small data better?  While you probably won’t be able to fix everything, there are a few things that you might be able to do make your job a little easier.

  • Fix data at the source. The ability to download data from HR systems into Excel for further analysis is a great thing.  However, I see people all the time who upon finding errors in the data just make the correction in Excel because they are trying to meet a deadline and this is the quickest way to fix the problem.   That is OK but I recommend also going back to the source data and correcting it there.  If you don’t fix the source data, including the process that resulted in the error, the next time you run this or a similar report, you’re going to have the same problem.  Sounds simple but I see this issue every day!  And, others who try to utilize your “big data” will see the same inconsistencies, reducing the data’s and perhaps your own credibility.
  • Check for Inconsistencies. Often what is supposed to be the same data, will be listed in a variety of different ways in the same system or across multiple platforms.  For example the job title Accounting Assistant may be listed as Accting Assistant, Accounting Asst, Accounting Asst. or Account. Asst.  For simplicity and correct reporting, a standard format for this type of data is beneficial and necessary.
  • Capture the right information.  If data you need is not currently available, can you start capturing the information you need?  It may take some extra time initially but if it’ll help you in the long run, you’ll be happy you did so.  Make sure there are clear processes in place to capture the data correctly the first time.  With data, the more judgement required on the data input side the more inconsistency you’ll see on the output side.
  • Get help.  You might need to get someone else involved to help you.  It could be a system administrator who is responsible.  Or you might just not have time to audit and correct data problems yourself.  Check to see if there is someone else in your organization that could assist you with this endeavor. There are probably other people who also use the data and have an interest in ensuring your company has the cleanest possible data.

If you can, take some time and try to correct any issues you’re aware of.  Very few people want to deal with the same problems over and over again.  Every little bit helps!  For any further information, please call Rick Washburn or Tom Sheehan on the Advice and Resolution team if you need help talking through your data strategy.


Six Tips to Turn Frustrated Employees into Positive Ones

Thursday, December 10th, 2015
Renee' Watkins, HR Advisor

Renee’ Watkins, HR Advisor

In today’s post, Advice and Resolution team member Renee’ Watkins shares helpful tips to transform negative energy into positive action within frustrated employees.

Within any organization, there will always be an opportunity to deal with a frustrated employee.  When employees are frustrated, their productivity often goes down and odds are they are affecting the morale and productivity of those around them.

Some frustrated employees will never speak up regarding their frustrations, be it feelings of being unheard as an employee or mistreated as a team member.  Their feelings eventually turn to anger or resentment until they finally resign.   When an unhappy employee does confide in you, it becomes an opportunity to turn that situation around for an employee who may be a valuable contributor to the organization.

Start by listening to the employee.  Do not try to immediately determine if they have an actual problem. That can sometimes be a first reaction, but it is not what they are looking for when they come to you. The important thing to remember is they perceive there is an issue which needs to be discussed.  Let them talk through it and work with them to really understand their point of view.

Show the employee you genuinely care about their issue and then work to find out why they feel the way they do.  By talking through it, the two of you can get to the underlying cause and hopefully find a solution.  Follow these simple steps to turn a frustrated employee into one with a more positive outlook:

  • Appreciate Feedback – Show your employee how much you value the time, energy and the courage it took for them to come to you with this situation.
  • Empathize – Offer your employee understanding about their situation. Take the time to understand the situation and be genuine in your delivery. Otherwise, you will come off sounding like you are patronizing them.
  • Get the Details – Have the employee outline for you what led up to their becoming frustrated with the situation. Let them know, if appropriate, that you will investigate the issue(s) and therefore the more detail they can provide, the more quickly a solution can be found.
  • Offer an Apology – Providing your employee with a heartfelt, honest apology may be appropriate.  You may not be directly responsible, but you are not apologizing for the issue, you are offering an “I’m sorry” for the way your employee feels as a result of the issue.
  • Take Action – At the end of the discussion, your employee is going to want to know what you intend to do about the situation. They may not ask directly, but you need to convey your plans to take action. Your next steps will be what they remember. This is an opportunity to enhance your employee’s trust.
  • Follow Up – Offer a time frame in which you will follow up with the employee to be sure things are better. By now, you have conveyed what you feel is the solution and have hopefully executed it. Close the loop by making sure the employee is satisfied in how you handled it.

These simple steps will help you take control of a negative situation and make a very positive statement about how your organization cares for its staff. If you have questions about dealing with frustrated employees, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Resolution team at 919‑878‑9222 or 336‑668‑7746.

What has worked best for you when you have dealt with a frustrated employee? What has worked best for you if you were the frustrated employee?  Let us know in the comments below.

How to Network Around the Holidays

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

In today’s post, Learning & Development partner Linda Taylor shares many helpful tips for creating strong networking connections during the busy Holiday season.

Around this time of year, people willingly (or not so willingly) attend company parties, get together with friends and neighbors and usually spend a day or two with their families.  Many people stress about the pressure to make small talk and socialize, especially when they are attending a function with their spouse or significant other.

Here’s an idea that I came across recently:  “Be more concerned with being interested than being interesting.”  So, immediately, this strategy calls for us to be attentive listeners. Now, that may not be too hard if only you can get people to talk in the first place!  When possible and appropriate, take a quick peek at LinkedIn or Facebook and review the basic facts about someone you know you’ll meet at a party.

For instance, look over their education and former employers so you can say, “Hey, I see you are a Tar Heel, too!” or “So I understand you used to live in Dallas.  What was that like?” As people speak, listen for hints as to their passions.  You may probe further as long as it’s not intrusive.  Later, if you run across an article about something that might interest them, pass it along.  They’ll be flattered that you remembered.

But what if you don’t have access to people’s backgrounds beforehand?  You may inquire of your host and ask for an introduction.  Or simply go up and introduce yourself and ask what their connection is to the host or hostess.  “Hi, I’m Jack, I work with Phoebe in the accounting department over at Widgets International.  How do you know the Baileys?” They’ll likely tell you a story about how they met and you can build on that from there.  It goes without saying that you’ll always want to make sure to speak well of everyone.

A little mingling etiquette:

  • If you are approaching someone standing alone, walk up and put out your hand while introducing yourself and asking for their name.
  • If you are approaching two people talking, be more cautious as they may be holding a private conversation.
  • If you are approaching a group of people, simply slide in on the periphery and say hello to the closest person. Ease into the conversation gently and respectfully.
  • When you need to need to extricate yourself, say “Excuse me…I need to freshen my drink” or “Excuse me…I see an old friend I’d like to greet; it has been a pleasure to meet you.”

Always have a ready supply of non-controversial topics at the ready – positive current events (like what’s happening in your home town, sporting news, a play or movie you would recommend or a funny story about how your GPS took you far from your desired destination.)  Dwelling on negative events creates a poor image and leaves you nowhere to take the conversation from there.  As a last resort, comment about the weather and ask the other person what he/she thinks.

Going back to the beginning:  the reason so many people dread socializing and small talk is that they are worried about being witty and impressive.  Instead, this season, focus on others and you’ll have less stress and more fun.  Remember – getting someone to talk about themselves allows them to discuss their favorite subject.  Encourage that and watch the conversation grow from there!

For any further tips on how to effectively network during the Holiday season, please give our Advice and Resolution Team a call at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

The Journey from Zero to Sixty: Part Two

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

In today’s video blog, CAI’s Vice President of Membership, Doug Blizzard, continues his discussion series about the journey small employers take, from hiring their first employee to their sixtieth. Doug has broken up the journey into four phases, and will discuss the second phase, from 11 to 19 employees, in today’s video.

While the first phase of development for small businesses is very CEO-centric, Doug explains that CEOs must learn to let go of some of their duties and delegate them to managers during this second phase. With a growing business comes growing responsibilities, and in order to thrive in this stage, Doug advises CEOs to

  • Departmentalize: Create organizational structure by bringing in managers who will report to the CEO and take some of the weight off of his or her shoulders
  • Reevaluate the staffing front: Let go of employees that you have outgrown. It is difficult to do but will ultimately open up new positions for employees who can help your business get to the next stage
  • Add regulations including the Civil Rights Act and the ADA

Tune in next time to see Doug tackle the third phase of the Journey from Zero to Sixty. As always, please contact our Advice & Resolution team at at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746 if you encounter any further challenges with the growth of your small business.

The Power and Place of a Sincere Apology at Work

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015
Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer column, The View from HR.

The media are peppered with apologies from politicians, business people and celebrities. Even television journalism had one of its own stars caught in an apology-loop recently.

These apologies are usually incomplete hedges designed to preserve the speaker’s status while admitting enough to make the inquiry go away. It rarely works. Their nonapology just gets replayed the next time another famous person does the same.

There is much to be learned in the workplace from how the powerful and entitled mishandle these things.

At work, sincere apologies play an important role. They clear and prepare a productive relationship to grow again. Both managers and employees need to understand their power and place.

Mistakes. When either a manager or employee makes a mistake which could harm trust and confidence, an apology can prevent further damage. Here, a mistake means a preventable lapse such as missing important facts or misreading intent. Errors made for the right reasons require adjustments, not apologies.

No excuses. Benjamin Franklin said: “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” Excuses are the basic flaw in most failed workplace apologies. If the word “but” is in the same sentence with “I am sorry,” then it is unlikely you are truly sorry and your victim can tell. Too-clever-by-half explanations with an apology buried inside are not worth the oxygen. In fact, they insult the listener.

Went too far. Sometimes in the course of productive conflict, people go too far in their comments, word choices or tone. Pushing the envelope is one thing (and often good) but pushing it too far can damage trust. The sooner a simple but sincere apology can be made, the better. Good relationships get stronger after a well-intended brush with disaster if handled well. The same goes for angry (intended) outbursts, but the requirement for “no excuses” is even greater.

Unintended insults. Workplaces with a variety of cultures and backgrounds can mean a statement or behavior works well in one setting, but poorly in another. An apology with a sincere admission of ignorance or plain insensitivity is helpful. Four letter words might be used as adjectives where you were raised. When this pattern conflicts with local customs, an apology and a commitment to better future behavior can restore a productive relationship.

Counterproductive apologies. Apologies are not right for every situation. Tough conversations might offend an employee but are aimed at changing problem behaviors. “Sorry to have to tell you this” blunts the message. Overuse of “I’m sorry” is seen for what it is: insincere or passive blather that means nothing. Apologizing is not a communications or management strategy, it is an occasional tool to prevent further damage from a poorly handled situation.

If soft skills differentiate an average employee or manager from a great one, then the ability to recover from a soft skills train wreck is key. Think of the times you gave or received a sincere apology in your personal life. They have the same effect at work.