Author Archive

Can HR be Held Liable for FMLA Denial?

Friday, April 28th, 2017

An employer that took issue with an employee’s FMLA paperwork and refused to allow her to return to work until she provided new documentation, and ultimately fired her for job abandonment after a breakdown in communication, will face a jury on her FMLA interference and retaliation claims, the Second Circuit ruled in reversing summary judgment against the employee. The court also reinstated her FMLA claims against the HR director since she could be liable as her “employer” under the FLSA’s economic realities test, but refused to revive the employee’s ADA associational bias claim (Graziadio v Culinary Institute of America, 2d Cir.).

The employee, who worked for the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), took two weeks of FMLA leave in early June to care for her son after he was hospitalized for Type I diabetes. She returned on June 18, 2012, and submitted a medical certification on June 27. That same day, her other son fractured his leg and underwent surgery. She gave notice of her new need for leave, stating that she expected to return by July 9. When that date arrived, she requested a three-day week schedule for the next few weeks and asked if she needed to submit further documentation.

Despite her numerous inquiries as to when she could return, she heard nothing until the HR director sent her a letter on July 17 stating that her FMLA paperwork did not justify her absences. After she sent several emails attempting to determine what “paperwork” was needed, the HR director provided her with a Department of Labor brochure and refused to allow her to return to work until she provided proper documentation. As communication broke down, counsel for the parties became involved and the employee was fired on September 11 for job abandonment.

Individual liability. There was sufficient evidence for the employee to advance her FMLA claims against the HR director individually as her “employer.” Applying the economic-reality test used in FLSA cases, the Second Circuit found that triable issues existed as to the director’s authority since she appeared to have played an important role in the decision to fire the employee and also controlled her rights under the FMLA. Notably, the director specifically instructed her supervisor not to communicate with the employee and that she alone would handle her leave dispute.

FMLA interference. A jury could also find that the employee was denied leave to which she was entitled. First, it appeared that she may have taken intermittent leave to care for her diabetic son which was not approved by CIA. For example, the HR director’s July 17 letter stated that her documentation was insufficient and after she submitted a new certification, the director never responded (suggesting that she continued to withhold approval). Moreover, her updated certification arguably met the statutory requirements.

Good faith compliance. Regarding her injured son, a jury could conclude that the employee attempted in good faith to comply with CIA’s certification requests and that its conduct excused any residual failure in compliance. The HR director’s vague request for “paperwork” hardly sufficed to give adequate notice that CIA was requesting a medical certification, especially given the employee’s repeated requests for clarification. Although the HR director then sent her a Department of Labor brochure, she failed to respond to any of her continued pleas for clarification. Such unresponsiveness might itself run afoul of the FMLA.

After the employee submitted a doctor’s note, the HR director quickly rejected it and cut off communication by refusing to discuss the matter further until she appeared for an in-person meeting. The employee could thus have believed that she could not submit new medical information until the meeting. The director’s concurrent failure to acknowledge receipt of her updated certification for her diabetic son might also have signaled that further submissions would be futile. The meeting never occurred and the HR director never reopened the lines of communication until August 30, when CIA’s attorney demanded a new medical certification.

On this record, a jury could reasonably conclude that the employee made sufficient good faith efforts to comply with her employer’s requests and that defendants’ conduct—their imprecision in requesting certification, their failure to answer her questions responsively, and their failure to communicate with her after deeming her doctor’s note deficient—relieved her of any unsatisfied obligation to provide a medical certification to support her leave. Freed of this obligation, she may have been denied leave to which she was entitled.

FMLA retaliation. The employee also sufficiently demonstrated that CIA’s proffered reasons for firing her were pretextual since the record suggested that CIA’s assertion that it fired her because she abandoned her job was unworthy of credence. Although the August 30 email from CIA’s attorney instructed her to contact her supervisor to return to work, it also contained two paragraphs reiterating that if she wanted to return, she must submit FMLA medical certifications. The weakness of the evidence supporting CIA’s explanation, in conjunction with the very close temporal proximity between the employee’s leave and termination, suggested that the real reason for her discharge was her much-contested attempt to take FMLA leave.

ADA claim. However, the Second Circuit refused to revive the employee’s associational disability bias claim because she failed to show that she was fired because CIA feared that her concern for her diabetic son would cause her to perform inadequately. Rather, she presented evidence that she was terminated because CIA felt she had taken too much leave to care for her sons. Thus, it did not fear that she would be “inattentive at work,” but rather that she would not be at work at all.

We’ll have to wait and see how this case turns out.  In the meantime, CAI members always have access to our Advice & Resolution team for questions about FMLA leave for an employee.

CAI delivers HR, compliance, and people development solutions to 1,100+ NC companies to help them build engaged, well-managed and low-risk workplaces. Contact us to find out how we can help your company.

Doug Blizzard brings a wealth of knowledge to CAI, serving as Vice President of Membership. During his first 15 years at CAI, he led the firm’s consulting and training divisions and counseled hundreds of clients on HR and Employee Relations issues. If he isn’t speaking at North Carolina conferences, teaching classes on Human Resources or consulting clients on EEO and Affirmative Action, Doug is leading the company’s membership services.

How HR Can Balance Compliance and Engagement

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Whether you are an official HR professional or the person tasked with HR duties at your organization, your organization needs two primary things from you: Compliance and Engagement.  Call these terms what you want, but both are important to company health, growth, and survival.  Compliance is a straightforward term I think.  I’m using “engagement” to refer to all the things you do to attract, retain, reward, motivate, and develop employees and leaders. We should strive for a good balance.  Focusing too much on compliance creates a workplace no reasonable person would want to work at.  Total compliance isn’t achievable anyway.  Focusing too much on “engagement” without much regard to compliance could create unwelcome charges / litigation that can also damage your brand.  Whether you’re a generalist or a specialist, this balance is important.

We often see companies out of balance.  This imbalance is painful for employees, HR and Management and leads to many unwanted outcomes.  Turnover, low morale, poor communication, inability to find people, etc.  These things have many causes, but often at the root is the imbalance.  For example, many times when I talk to a company that “can’t find good people” I find their recruiting processes feel more like a compliance exercise than one aimed at attracting good people.  Only 3% of EEOC charges relate to “hiring,” yet many companies focus more on screening people out to avoid liability than screening good people in.  I had one client tell me they couldn’t change anything in their recruiting process without first getting it approved by their legal counsel.  Anything!  Again, imbalance.

How can you achieve balance?  Acknowledging your imbalance is the first step.  It may be that you’re the one out of balance, too focused on one these worlds at the expense of the other.  Or it may be you’re pretty balanced but your management team is out of balance.  I recently had an HR person tell me his management team didn’t care anything about compliance.  Either way, fixing the imbalance should be near the top of your list.

CAI can help you achieve balance.  We have the people, tools, and resources you need to balance things out.

  • Our Advice & Resolution team is authoring over a hundred practical guides on most every HR related compliance issue. You’ll find thoughtful insights from our senior Advice & Resolution advisers based on their subject matter expertise, years of experience, relationships with regulators, and daily interactions with our valued members.
  • Strategic HR services.  As a CAI Member, you have unlimited access to senior HR executives who can help you assess, plan and solve operational and strategic organizational issues. Beyond assessments and advice, they also offer a series of 1:1 virtual coaching sessions to help you implement new initiatives.  They bring expertise in areas such as: Realigning HR to better support the business; Aligning people to business goals; Succession planning; Developing robust leadership pipelines; Creating a results based and high performing workforce; Attracting, developing, and retaining top talent; and Improving organizational capability.  

A membership in CAI can help get your company balanced…find out how we can help you and your organization today!

Doug Blizzard brings a wealth of knowledge to CAI, serving as Vice President of Membership. During his first 15 years at CAI, he led the firm’s consulting and training divisions and counseled hundreds of clients on HR and Employee Relations issues. If he isn’t speaking at North Carolina conferences, teaching classes on Human Resources or consulting clients on EEO and Affirmative Action, Doug is leading the company’s membership services.

How to Stop Poor Performance From Draining your Company

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

I obviously don’t work for your company, but my experience tells me there is a better than average chance that you have subpar performers that you’re letting work at your company and it is draining your company’s productivity, profit, and growth.  I wish I was wrong but I see it everywhere, every day in every industry.

Think about the poor performers in your life.  At work, at school, at church, at the stores you frequent, maybe even at home. Infuriating isn’t.  Missed deadlines, waiting in line, poor customer service, sloppy or slow processes, etc. Do you feel your blood pressure rising?  Believe me, top performers really appreciate having to do more work to cover for their uninspired co-workers. In fact that’s a leading cause of turnover for top performers – burn out over cleaning up the messes made by their slack co-workers AND frustration that their managers will not clean it up.poorperformance

Bruce Tulgan, noted management author and thought leader and past speaker at CAI’s HR Management Conference believes that “undermanagement” is one of the most detrimental phenomenon affecting business today.  He wrote a best-selling book called “It’s OK To Be The Boss.”  Why are so many managers not “being the boss” and letting poor performance slide?   We hear things like…

  • “Well Sally is better than having no one in the job and it’s hard to find good people.”
  • “At our pay Jim is the best we can afford.”
  • “I’m not dealing with this behavior because I know other managers let it slide.”
  • “I don’t have time to deal with Terry.”
  • “Don has been here forever and he’s always been this way, why should I have to deal with it?”

HR is blamed a lot.

  • “Our HR Department won’t let us fire anyone around here.”
  • “I would address it, but HR won’t let me because Joe is in a protected category.”
  • And on and on.

Poor Performance generally comes in three categories:

  1. Don’t know what to do.  Many employees regularly wander around our workplaces not knowing what is expected of them.  This category of poor performance rests with Managers, who simply need to take the time to provide clearer expectations for their employees.  Most people will perform just fine when they know what to do.
  2. Can’t do what you’re asking.  Sometimes we can salvage this “can’t-do” category with training.  Sometimes, though training will not correct the performance and in those cases the employee should be transferred to an open job they can do or they need to go work for someone else.
  3. Won’t do what you’re asking.  This is the most dangerous category.  Employees who won’t do what you’re asking create tremendous problems in the workplace every day.  Whether they vocalize their refusal or utilize more subtle activities, like slowing down, or overlooking things, there is only one solution for these people – they need to leave, and soon.

I once heard it put, hire slow and fire fast.  Good words to live by.  Yet I frequently find companies actually do the opposite – they hire quickly and impulsively and then take forever to separate the problem employee.  Many performance problems are really hiring problems in disguise.  So my advice, take more time assessing candidates. Most HR professionals know within the first five minutes of orientation if a new hire will make it or not.  Why didn’t they uncover that earlier?  HR professionals sometimes tell me the line managers decided to hire the person against HR’s advice.  So who is at fault?  I advise HR professionals to stand their ground and use turnover data to make your case.  And once you know someone is a poor performer, address it quickly. Fairly and respectfully, yes, but quickly.

The time between losing confidence in someone and them leaving is one of the most expensive in a manager’s life.  So if you’re a manager, start being the boss and quit letting poor performance slide and quit hiring people that should not work for your company because you are desperate. Your employees will thank you, because believe me they know who shouldn’t be there and they talk about it and suffer through it every day.  If you’re in HR do not let a lawsuit that will probably never happen overly impact how you deal with problems.  The EEOC actually dismisses two-thirds of all claims filed and only finds cause in about 3% of the charges it receives each year.  However, letting poor performers remain is a real problem that is draining your company every day.  I’m not advocating for a wild west management style absent of warnings and second chances.  I am suggesting we run our companies in a way that maximizes results versus running it out of fear.  After all a rising tide lifts all boats right!

I know this sounds pretty straightforward.  Who doesn’t get this right?  Ask yourself that question the next time as a consumer you have a bad customer experience at the hands of a problem employee.  You’ll be in that situation sometime this week and you’ll ask yourself why that company lets that person treat its customers that way.  Well, for the same reason it’s allowed at your company.  Think about it.

If you need help dealing with problem performance at your company please reach out to our Advice and Resolution team.  They answer thousands of questions each year that deal with performance management.

 

doug

Doug Blizzard brings a wealth of knowledge to CAI, serving as Vice President of Membership. During his first 15 years at CAI he led the firm’s consulting and training divisions and counseled hundreds of clients on HR and Employee Relations issues. If he isn’t speaking at North Carolina conferences, teaching classes on Human Resources or consulting clients on EEO and Affirmative Action, Doug is leading the company’s membership services.

 

The Employee Incentive That Works Like No Other

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

The one reward that most employees crave, but few get, doesn’t cost anything to provide.

When employers brainstorm ways to reward employees, it’s logical to put compensation, incentives, and bonuses at the top of the list. After all, few people are able to work for free.

But is there a “best” reward—a reward that every employee craves but few receive? Many management teams are in search of just such a reward. CAI is frequently asked to provide managers and HR professionals with low cost, or no cost, ways to reward employees. The blogosphere also is full of lists of ways to reward employees. In fact, past CAI HR Management Conference speaker Dr. Bob Nelson has a book called 1,501 Ways to Reward Employees.  Photo of business partners hands applauding at meeting

These resources suggest everything from pizza parties to extra time off to premium parking spaces. There is nothing wrong with any of these ideas, and the more creative you can be the better. However, there is still a much higher reward that won’t cost you anything and will produce positive employee motivation. Have I piqued your interest?

OK, here it is: The one reward that most employees crave—but few get—and that is almost guaranteed to motivate employees to do good work is quite simply … praise. Praise is a very powerful idea that managers often forget about. Bosses usually are good about recognizing and pointing out bad behavior, but they often forget to recognize good behavior.

Think this sounds like a bunch of “touchy feely” HR stuff? Don’t be so quick to judge. As it turns out, receiving praise actually stimulates a chemical neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine, something we all need. Shortages of dopamine can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, and difficulty in learning, all traits we definitely don’t want in employees. But receiving more of the chemical boosts feelings of pleasure and pride, according to a report from Gallup. Once you get that rush, the brain wants more of it, needs it regularly, and instinctively figures out what behaviors result in more praise and thus more dopamine.

So we have a relatively simple concept that produces quick increases in employee motivation that doesn’t cost anything. The workplace must be awash with employee praise, right? In fact, research conducted several years ago by Gallup found that less than one-third of American workers strongly agreed that they had received any praise from a supervisor in the last week. That’s a sad statement about the quality of supervision that many employees receive each day. Employees who think that nobody cares about their work will be less motivated. Some leave the company. Others remain on the payroll but essentially quit working.

There are many reasons for this lack of praise. Some managers don’t regularly praise because they are too busy and just forget about it. Others don’t praise because they don’t receive any praise from their boss either. Some managers worry that recognizing one employee and not another will make it look as if the manager is playing favorites.

To compensate for these problems, some companies institute regular events to recognize employees: “Per company policy, employees will be praised on the second Friday of each month in the cafeteria.” While there’s nothing wrong with company events, they shouldn’t be the only source of praise that employees receive.

How can employers do a better job? First, it’s important to differentiate between appreciation and recognition. Appreciation is the act of expressing gratitude to employees for their positive actions. It is best accomplished through simple expressions or statements: a simple thank you, a card, a pat on the back. Recognition means acknowledging workers in front of their peers for specific accomplishments, actions, or behaviors. It’s important to tailor both of these strategies to each employee’s personality. Some people just don’t like to be called out in public.

Where managers really miss the mark is with frequency. To be most effective, employees need the dopamine rush at least once a week. Noted leadership author Mark Murphy found in a study of more than 500,000 employees that 72% said they were not giving 100% at work. No doubt many were suffering from a lack of dopamine. So make it a goal to show appreciation for each of your employees at least twice each week. And for those employees you feel don’t deserve appreciation? That’s a subject for a future article.

If you just don’t have time to recognize or appreciate your employees on a regular basis, you should take stock of your daily activities to make the time. Remember, genuine praise produces quick increases in employee motivation, and it doesn’t cost you anything. Before you start handing out gift cards, make appreciation and recognition a priority—then watch how morale, motivation, and productivity improve.

Let CAI’s Advice & Resolution team talk you through ways you can build a positive culture.

dougDoug Blizzard brings a wealth of knowledge to CAI, serving as Vice President of Membership. During his first 15 years at CAI he led the firm’s consulting and training divisions and counseled hundreds of clients on HR and Employee Relations issues. If he isn’t speaking at North Carolina conferences, teaching classes on Human Resources or consulting clients on EEO and Affirmative Action, Doug is leading the company’s membership services.

Managers…Don’t Avoid Conflict

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

Of all the skills required to be a successful manager, the art of embracing, sometimes encouraging and then managing conflict is up near the top.  As a manager a good part of your job involves getting people to do things they may not want to do, or work with people they don’t agree with or even like, or discuss ideas that make them mad or go against their beliefs, and on and on. Conflict!  The ability to recognize conflict, understand what’s causing it, and then work through it swiftly will serve you well as a manager. Not dealing with conflict will bring you misery and health problems, and may ultimately lead to your demise.busbox

Conflict is a natural disagreement resulting from individuals or groups that differ in attitudes, beliefs, values or needs.  Some of the main causes include poor communication, differing values, differing interests, scarce resources, personality clashes, poor processes, or poor performance.  While we tend to think of conflict as a negative thing, it can be healthy when managed and can lead to growth, innovation, and new ways of thinking.

Determine Root Cause. Step one in managing conflict is to determine its main cause.  You cannot effectively deal with conflict until you know why it’s occurring.  I realize that statement sounds obvious, who wouldn’t know that right?  Well, as humans we are fast to blame the people involved for the conflict, when many times the situation we’ve placed them in would cause conflict for any two people.  If the situation is at fault, enlist the two people to help redefine the process, or adjust roles, or reallocate resources, or improve the technology, or whatever steps are necessary to move us forward.  Conflict caused by situations can be easier to fix, however you need to fix it.  Ignoring conflict caused by the circumstances of work can grow to a real conflict between people that can be very destructive.

Opposites attract, then attack. For any manager, one of the most difficult situations to deal with is when two very skilled employees just don’t mesh.  They are constantly at each other throats, or perhaps even worse they engage in passive aggressive behavior.  They are constantly talking to other staff members about the other person.  Before you know the entire office is embroiled in this clash, people are taking sides, other arguments start…work productivity suffers.  I’ve seen these situations get so bad that some employees leave because the workplace has become so toxic.  If you don’t think you have any personality conflicts on your team then you are simply not paying attention.  It’s inevitable when you combine so many different people together that you will have conflicts.  Here are some ideas to help you resolve the out-of-control conflict like I described above.

Recognize the conflict. Don’t ignore it and hope it will go away.  First, talk to both employees individually.  There are two sides to every story so get to understand both viewpoints.  Your job is to just ask questions and listen.  Don’t judge or argue.  You may get lucky and find that a misunderstanding is causing the conflict.  Or you may find that in fact one of the individuals is just plain wrong and if so you can address that situation.  More than likely, however, they are both right and both wrong and resolving this conflict will require give and take from both of them.

Set Expectations. Make it clear to both individuals that the conflict and resulting behaviors must stop immediately.  Ask for each person’s agreement to work to resolve the conflict. But one if one of them thinks they are so “right” they refuse to change?  In that case, you’ll need to face the reality that they may just need to go work somewhere else.  You can’t progress through the conflict if both individuals aren’t committed to resolving it.

Meeting of the minds. After talking to both employees individually and getting their agreement to resolve the conflict, it’s time to get them together with you as the facilitator.  Ultimately, you can’t force two people to get along, it’s up to them to either choose to work together or not.  Share your observations.  Tell them clearly what is expected of them in terms of how they need to behave towards one another.  If you have a conduct policy, remind them of that.  You have to be crystal clear on the behavior(s) you will not tolerate going forward, how they are affecting their own performance and that of the team.   You always want to avoid attacking personalities.  Focus on the behaviors.  Sometimes the realization that their livelihood is at stake will shock people back to reality.  Most importantly, make the two employees accountable for sorting out their differences. Get their suggestions on what they can do to resolve the conflict and improve working relationships.   Help them uncover ways to work together differently. Help them see unproductive and unhealthy behaviors.  If this meeting is going nowhere, you may want to enlists the help of another party like your Human Resources Professional or perhaps even an EAP if you have either.  Or you may be able to transfer one of the employees to another department if you’re larger, though that tactic is usually only a short term fix.  Ultimately, if the conflict can’t be resolved you may end up losing both employees, and you know that’s OK.  If they can’t resolve, the emotional toll this conflict is having on them, their families, and the rest of your team isn’t worth it.  Everyone will thank you for it.

One last word. Many times conflict in your workplace is caused by you not doing your job.  Avoiding problems, tolerating poor performers, not providing enough tools and resources for your people, creating confusing processes, not communicating and the like all lead to negative outcomes.  The best single thing you can do to have a healthy environment with lower amounts of negative conflict is to talk to your employees on a regular basis. Get to know them.  Show them you care.  Believe me it will make your life and theirs’ a lot better, and when problems do come up, they can be resolved faster and more effectively since you’ve already opened up the communication channels.  Don’t be one of those managers that’s too busy to manage.  Think about it!

If you need help working through a conflict, call our Advice & Resolution team.  They can facilitate a solution to your conflict issue.  Also, sometimes an outside perspective can help break a log jam.

doug

Doug Blizzard brings a wealth of knowledge to CAI, serving as Vice President of Membership. During his first 15 years at CAI he led the firm’s consulting and training divisions and counseled hundreds of clients on HR and Employee Relations issues. If he isn’t speaking at North Carolina conferences, teaching classes on Human Resources or consulting clients on EEO and Affirmative Action, Doug is leading the company’s membership services.

Don’t Lose Your New Star on the First Day

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

The first day on a new job – Excitement, anticipation, fear, for the new employee AND their family. An employee’s first day can make the difference between them staying and leaving, between them being motivated and engaged or just riding out their time until something better comes along.  I’m going to illustrate my point by tracking the first day experiences of two new star employees: Jane Regret and Tom Happy. Think about which story sounds like your company.

dont
Jane’s first day starts with her husband wishing her luck.   She arrives early, beaming with excitement.  Jane becomes concerned as she learns the receptionist wasn’t expecting her and didn’t know if her boss Joe Smith was even in.  After ten minutes of calls and pages the receptionist finally reaches Joe, who apparently forgot she was starting that day.  Jane is asked to go to HR to fill out paperwork and told that Joe will meet her later.   Jane spends the next two hours in HR signing forms, hearing about benefits, and watching an old company video.   HR takes Jane to her desk, which really isn’t her desk because they haven’t figured out yet where Jane will sit.    HR gives Jane the policy manual to read and sign now, a catalog to order supplies and is told her computer should arrive in a few days.  Joe Smith finally pops in between meetings for a quick hello, telling Jane he’ll see her at Fred’s going away party this afternoon.   After going out to lunch by herself Jane attends the party for Fred, who is moving on after only 5 years.  Joe actually missed the party so Jane will try to find him on Tuesday.  Jane gets home and tells her husband that she may have made a big mistake.

Tom Happy’s wife Linda was surprised to find a rather large package from Tom’s new employer on the porch, especially since he hadn’t even started working there yet.  As Linda opens the box she calls to Tom, “Wow, it’s all kinds of company merchandise, shirts, hats, sweatshirts, etc.  There is also a copy of the company handbook for you to read.  And look there are tickets to the local baseball game – how did they know we love baseball?  And a note from your boss Jack Smith – Welcome aboard, can’t wait to start hitting home runs together.  See you in a month!”

happyTom leaves home on day one and Linda kisses him goodbye and wishes him well.  He arrives early and as he approaches the receptionist he sees his picture on the large TV in the lobby that reads “Today is Tom Happy day! Welcome Tom.”  The receptionist tells Tom they are glad to see him and that Jack will be right here.    Jack greets Tom, “I am so glad you are here, look we need you to sign some paperwork but first, let’s meet your teammates.”  As they approach Tom’s work area he sees streamers, balloons, and a gathering of people.

Tom’s teammates have gathered for coffee and bagels to welcome him.  They talk baseball, kids, share funny stories, etc. When Tom enters his office everything is there – supplies, computer, business cards, etc. After a quick visit to HR, Tom and Jack meet for several hours to review Tom’s 90 day plan and success factors. Several co-workers take Tom to lunch and share company history, why they came here, how important Tom’s role is to the team, and answer his questions about what it is really like to work here. Tom arrives home beaming and tells Linda how she won’t believe the day he had. Replies Linda, “I have an idea – look what Jack sent us – a bottle of wine with this note – Welcome aboard Tom and Linda, let’s raise a toast to a great new relationship.   We’re so glad you two have joined our family.”

These stories, while extreme, do teach us some valuable lessons about how we start our new employees. Think about Tom and Jane.  Which one is more motivated?  Which one is already questioning their decision?  Which one is susceptible to being recruited away? What will each person tell their family, their friends?  What might they post on Facebook or glassdoor.com?

Now, think about which story most resembles your company.  Most organizations I’m afraid resemble Jane’s experience.  Everyone’s doing more with less so few have time to go that extra mile for new employees.  At other companies “only the strong survive,” so they intentionally do not pamper newbies.

Feeling unwelcome, having a boss that doesn’t have time, an unclear job plan all increase the odds that you’ll lose that new star.  And once word gets out about your culture you’ll have a harder time attracting new stars.   You’ll also lose the training costs you’ve sunk into new employees as they leave. Depending on the level of position it can take anywhere from 8 to 28 weeks for a new employee to reach full productivity.

With this backdrop, here are some components of the best on-boarding plans.  Notice that these activities don’t require a large budget, just time and attention.

  • Activities that make a new employee feel welcome.  First impressions that people form about your company are extremely hard to overcome. Instead of just throwing parties for people who are leaving, celebrate your new stars.
  • One-on-one time with supervisor and other leadership. Don’t rush someone onto the payroll if you don’t have time to spend with them. Consider having new employee start on a day other than Monday if that’s your busiest.
  • Introduction into the formal and informal culture. Consider activities such as CEO meetings with newhires, “skip level” lunches, lunch-n-learns, and a buddy system to help new employees understand expected behaviors.
  • A carefully chosen mentor or buddy to help them navigate through your culture, processes and operation. A safe place to learn how things really operate.
  • Just-in-time resources that provide answers for the new employee.  Company acronym dictionaries, process diagrams, auto-enrolled into appropriate listserves and forums, phone lists, community information for relocations, etc.
  • Feedback and guidance on job performance.  Make sure your new hires are working a clear 90 day plan versus walking around aimlessly, with regrets.

A successful on-boarding process should cover the entire first year for the new hire and include all activities through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective.  When done right, on-boarding can lead to higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organizational commitment, and reduction in stress and intent to quit.

So start them off right and watch them soar.  Or, start them off wrong and watch them fly away.  Your choice.

p.s.  And when you lose a long term star from your team, odds are they’ll find themselves in a bad first day questioning their move.  Call them that first day and just tell them you’re thinking about them and hoping they are having a great first day!

Learn more about how our Advice & Resolution team can help you design a great onboarding program for your organization.

doug

Doug Blizzard, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP serves as CAI’s Vice President of Membership, and has been with CAI for more than 15 years. Doug is well-versed in the world of HR from compliance issues to workforce management to aligning business objectives with HR. He strives to constantly improve the member experience and provide employers with the confidence needed to turn fears and opportunities into practical actions and results. If your HR team could benefit from some guidance, you’ll want to learn more about CAI.

 

Two Questions HR Must Answer Correctly

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

I once spoke to a large group of HR professionals and I asked them two very important questions.  WARNING: Getting the answers correct may require you to radically shift your perspective and focus.  However, making the shift may be the most important thing you can do as an HR professional to dramatically elevate your value to your organization.

Hopefully I’ve piqued your interest.  So here goes.

Question number 1.  Look at the pictures below and tell me who the most important group is to your business. This isn’t a trick question. There is only one correct answer.

ee cust inves.JPG

When I asked this question in a speech I once made to over 120 HR professionals, the most common answer was “the employees.”  As one participant confidently articulated, without employees and their contributions and innovations there would be no business.  Good point.

One person sheepishly said “the customers,” but I could tell she didn’t feel comfortable saying that in front of her HR peers.

No one said “the investors.”  Some experts argue that without investors you couldn’t have a business because there would be no capital to buy the equipment and infrastructure needed to deliver the product or service.

So what’s the right answer?  The answer came most succinctly from the late Peter Drucker who many called the Godfather of Modern Management: “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”  All three groups are important, but without a customer there is no business.  You can have investors in search of a business, and you can have employees in search of an employer, but as the customer goes so does the business.  A business will only continue to exist as long as it has products and / or services that satisfy customer needs.

Question number 2: Who is HR’s most important customer?  I asked the same group of HR professionals this question and overwhelmingly and emphatically they said “employees!”  Wrong again .  Now obviously HR spends a lot of it’s time serving employees, and yes the employee group is clearly a customer of HR, as are managers, other departments, executives, retirees, covered family members, etc.  However, HR’s most important customer is the company itself.  In today’s business environment, HR exists, along with other support functions like IT, to help the company create value for it’s customers.  Let that statement sink in for a minute.  When I ask many HR professionals what HR’s primary role is, I hear some version of “HR’s job is to sit in between employees and management…”  “To sit in between” suggests that HR isn’t part of either group.  Others tell me it’s HR’s job to “look out for” the employees.   Other’s say to “hire and fire.”  These views represent traditional notions of HR, or really “Personnel” or “Labor Relations.”

Companies of all sizes need much more from HR today.  Viewing HR”s primary role to support the company (and it’s customers) results in a much different view of what the HR function should be doing.  I’ll illustrate this point with a few examples I borrowed from a CAI conference speaker and noted HR guru David Ulrich.  Dr. Ulrich calls this new customer focused view of HR “Outside-In” HR.

hr outside in_ulrich_hr domain.png

Companies exist to satisfy a customer need.  In doing so they provide jobs and shareholder returns.  A firm’s talent is at the heart of satisfying that customer need and HR should be driving what kind of talent is attracted to and remains at the company.

Where does an HR leader start?  The most important, and difficult step, is to shift your perspective and your team’s perspective to a company – customer focused view. Next, go visit some of your company’s customers.  That’s right, ask sales to attend a few customer meetings.  These experiences will open your eyes to how your company provides value to customers and what attributes attracts them to your company.  The neat thing is that customers and top talent are attracted to similar things.  And when both groups are happy, amazing things can happen!  Think about it!

Let us know if CAI can help you transform your HR focus.

doug

 

Doug Blizzard, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP serves as CAI’s Vice President of Membership, and has been with CAI for more than 15 years.  Doug is well-versed in the world of HR from compliance issues to workforce management to aligning business objectives with HR.  He strives to constantly improve the member experience and provide employers with the confidence needed to turn fears and opportunities into practical actions and results.   If your HR team could benefit from some guidance, you’ll want to learn more about CAI.

 

Fixing a Broken Performance Management System – Part I

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

As a manager, few things are harder than delivering honest performance feedback to an employee.  Of course giving bad news isn’t supposed to be Performance-Review-Chalkboardfun.  Some managers avoid giving bad news altogether hoping performance improves on its own.  Others sugar coat the news to the point that the employee can’t see the problem.  Then there are those managers who just “tell it like it is” with no filters or tact.  They may succeed in getting their point across but at a cost.  

Many managers struggle equally at giving good performance news.  Some pour on the kudos so much or so generically that employees aren’t sure what specific actions are being praised.  And then far too many other managers don’t take the time to give any feedback at all, usually because they are so “busy.”   It’s no wonder why HR professionals and executives alike regularly bemoan the state of their performance management process.  So it seems that the only people that like how performance management is practiced at many companies are those slackers who aren’t being appropriately addressed …

At what cost? Employee underperformance is at epidemic proportions in some companies.  On average, U.S. managers waste 34 days per year dealing with underperformance.  Tolerated underperformance is also a leading reason top performers, who have to work harder to cover the slack, leave for greener pastures.  Eventually this underperformance affects customers and that of course affects the top and bottom line.  Don’t believe me, think of how frustrated you are as a customer when you’re at the hands of an underperforming employee.  How does that employee’s behavior affect your future buying patterns? 

The Cure.  Fortunately the cure for poor performance management is simple to understand and it doesn’t hurt.  And to be clear, the problem isn’t with whatever appraisal form you use. I’ve never seen an appraisal form that makes up for poor hiring, unclear expectations, infrequent or non-existent 1:1 meetings with employees, poor managers, poor execution,  and so on.  More on the form in next week’s article.

First, most employee performance problems are really hiring problems.  We regularly hire people that don’t fit our culture and then we waste valuable time trying to “fix” them.  I heard it put once, you’re hired [too quickly] for what you know and fired [too slowly] for who you are.  The cure: only hire people that fit your culture.   At this point I normally see executive eye rolling when I speak on this subject.  I realize that “defining your culture” seems like another “squishy” HR thing to a busy executive but the process really can be quite simple.  Minimally take your company values and find people that possess those values.  Of course this assumes we have values, and that we live those values daily.  Applicants either possess the values or they don’t.  This isn’t a 1 – 10 rating kind of thing.  If they posses the value, then take Gino Wickman’s advice in his book Traction and ask yourself for each applicant:  Do they Get it [the role], Want it [to work with you], and have the Capacity [knowledge, skill and capability] to do it (GWC).  I could add twenty more steps for defining your culture, and they probably won’t get you any farther than your values and GWC.

Second, there should be no disagreement over what successful performance looks like at your company. Instead of using out dated and/or generic job descriptions, consider setting clear expectations and measures for each employee that are directly or at least indirectly tied to organizational priorities.  So for example, a typical CFO job description might say “Assure optimum utilization of financial resources through sound forecasting and cash management.”  Alternatively, a success profile would say:

  • Reduce costs by 10% across-the-board to achieve EBIT objectives for the next fiscal year. 
  • Establish cross functional cost reduction teams within three months completing work in 12 months.
  • Within nine months, achieve a 15% price reduction in raw materials.
  • Develop a back-up sourcing plan to ensure cost reduction of $700,000 in year one.

Now imagine you’ve taken the time to establish annual performance objectives like that with each of your employees.  I realize it takes time for the manager.  But think how much easier it would be to measure performance, to deliver feedback.  Think of how much ownership the employee would have over the results.  And think of how much better your company performance would be if all employees were working a similar plan.  Unfortunately, without such specificity, the responsibility rests on each manager to subjectively determine if someone’s performance is satisfactory.  And that is a very uncomfortable place to be and is one explanation for why typical performance ratings don’t reflect reality.

So, hire people that fit your culture and provide crystal clear expectations of success for each employee and you’re well on the way to fixing your broken performance management system.  Tune in next week when I cover more secrets to fixing your broken system.

If you have employees in North Carolina and need help implementing or fine-tuning your Performance Management system, CAI can help with advice, information, tools, templates and more.

Three Messages from My Wife to Every HR Professional

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016
Doug Blizzard, VP of Membership

Doug Blizzard, VP of Membership

Not to air my personal laundry, but my lovely wife who recently went through a trying career experience has some important messages for HR.  I had to hear these messages almost every night for six months, so now you’re going to hear them.  Enjoy!

Let me set the stage.  Her employer of 27 years was purchased and her job was relocated to another part of the country. Suddenly her very predictable, comfortable world was turned upside down.  Her employer treated her very well on exit, but suddenly she had to figure out what to do with the rest of her life.  Sound familiar?  She devoted her entire working life to this one company.  I realize I’m biased, but she offered an impressive set of skills to future employers.  Promoted frequently, she was a solid professional.   Finding a new job would be easy…so she thought.

Message #1: Are companies really looking for good people?  My wife applied for over sixty positions during her six month job search, most of which were lower level. She just wanted to get a foot in the door.  She didn’t receive so much as a thank you email or even an acknowledgement from ANY of the positions for which she applied.  Not one, ever. And she was applying to name brand companies…who frankly should know better.  Ask yourself if your application process works the same way and if it does is that the message you want to send good people?

Message #2: Dial back your Applicant Tracking System a little, you’re missing good people!  She clearly understood why a company would have an ATS, however her experience was that there were so many nit-picky questions and it was obvious to her when she would fall out.   When was the last time you reviewed your ATS screening process?  Have you dialed it too tight to weed out the occasional bad apple?

Message #3: Don’t be too busy to network like I was.  I throw this last message in because rarely does a week go by that I don’t hear from an HR professional who suddenly finds themselves in the same position as my wife.  While she was working, my wife didn’t make time to network.  When she lost her job she just couldn’t get her head around what networking meant.  Is that an event I go to?  Is it Linkedin?  I don’t have a lot of contacts since I didn’t work to develop them during my career.  I don’t feel comfortable asking help from people I haven’t talked to in awhile.  Sound familiar?  Here’s one easy way you can build your network – visit the MyCAI Forum everyday and answer someone’s question.  That’s it, five minutes max! You’ll help someone and become known as an HR problem solver, and suddenly everyone will want to know you.  And then when you need help…

So how did my wife’s story end?  Well she was pretty depressed with the job search.  One night we went to a party at a friends house (she didn’t want to go).  A friend asked her what she’d been up to.  He needed someone with her skill set to do commercial business development for his small business.  She’d never been in BD before, but had a lot of knowledge of and contacts in his industry.  She started six months ago.  His little company had it’s best year ever and is now the fifth largest provider in the country.  He attributes a good part of the growth to her.  Not bad!  And again, sixty other local companies didn’t even acknowledge her application.  Their loss.  Think about it!

Have any other helpful messages you’d like to send to HR? Let us know in the comments!

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!