Friday, February 29, 2008

Do You Want Happy Employees?

"Everyone wants happy employees, right? Happy employees are productive, inventive, and supportive of all you do."

I saw this stated in an article and it got me to thinking. Do I really want happy employees? Or do I want satisfied employees? Or do I want motivated employees? It all depends I guess on how you define those terms. The article talked about happy employees being well paid, but not paid too much. One could argue that a happy employee would be one who is paid to do whatever they wanted to do. Pay me to surf the Internet all day and I will be happy. But that doesn't do much for the company and soon everyone will be unhappy. No company, no paycheck.

The same thing could be said about the definition of safisfaction. Some may be satisfied to do as little as possible and still get paid for it.

No, I think I want motivated employees. But that needs definition too. I want employees motivated to produce high quality work and contribute to the success of the organization. I motivate them through the use of rewards of compensation, learning, challenge, structure, affiliation, involvement and achievement. If this makes them happy and satisfied all the much better. But I am not willing to just settle for happy or satisfied.

What about you?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Clocking Out: Shutting Off The Brain

"The proliferation of phones and PDAs also brings with it wage and hour liability, Weitz says. As HR managers well know, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay nonexempt employees for all hours worked. Therefore, if nonexempt employees make employment-related cell phone calls from home during off-duty hours, that time is probably "hours worked" according to the FLSA. And that's true even if they say, "Oh, I don't mind making a few calls."

This quote from the HRAdvisor of BLR to me to thinking. Our laws almost require us to forget about non-exempt employees once they walk out the door. Because if you contact them by phone or email then you have to pay for the time and track the time as well. If you don't you get penalized by the Department of Labor, under a violation of the FLSA. And forget about having them think about work and doing something about it. In fact you have to discourage that. Certainly not a very good model for employee engagement. You work at getting people excited about their jobs and then you have to have them "shut it off" when they walk out the door.

Maybe in the days where most people worked on "things" and engaged in manual work that was easy to do. But in today's economy where many employees work with intellectual "things" it seems to me to be harder to shut off. How do you get a non-exempt employee to shut off their brain when they get home? Well, I guess you have them watch American Idol...

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Performance Appraisal: "Your Performance is Going to be Terrible"

Imagine taking an employee aside and saying "All signs point to the fact that you are probably going to falter in your performance. You are going to be flat and it may take sometime for you to recover." Then you publish it in his email everyday and you let everyone else in the company know what kind of expectation you have for that employee. What would you expect that employee to do? FAIL! And then you would say, see I knew he was a poor employee.

Well that is what is happening to the economy today. Everyday we hear how bad it is GOING to be. So what happens? Everyone starts acting like that is what is happening. And then the prognosticators say "See we told you so."

Isn't that called Self-fulfilling prophecy? I don't know about you, but it angers me. And it certainly does not do alot for the confidence of your employees.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Performance Management: George Washington Style

With the celebration of President's Day in the U.S. having been this week I was reading some words of wisdom from George Washington. I thought his words would be, should be as applicable today.

"Be strict in your discipline; that is, to require nothing unreasonable of your officers and men, but see that whatever is required be punctually complied with. Reward and punish every man according to his merit, without partiality or prejudice; hear his complaints; if well founded, redress them; if otherwise, discourage them, in order to prevent frivolous ones. Impress upon the mind of every man, from first to the lowest, the importance of the cause, and what it is they are contending for."

Wouldn't all our organizations be better off if all our managers and leaders operated by these words. Performance management might not be such a big issue.

Just food for thought.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mandated Paid Sick Time: A New Angle

An article in the Kiplinger Online Newsletter asked the question "Is Paid Sick Leave Coming to Your State?" The opening paragraph states the traditional arguments for and against mandated paid sick leave. "Efforts are growing across the country to require employers to provide paid sick leave for their workers. Advocates say it is both unfair to employees and a public health hazard to make them decide between staying at home without pay or going to work ill. The business community says such a mandate could put many companies out of business or that workers will see pay and/or other benefits shrink."

The article further states that 10 state legislatures are considering legislation that will require employers to provide paid sick time to employees. And they see this as being a growing trend. (And depending on the outcome of the Presidential election it may be seen on a national basis as well.)

It was an ending paragraph that really caught my eye about this article. "Growing interest in paid sick leave does not just reflect concern over workers, but the threat to coworkers and the public. "In fact, the industries with the most employees who lack paid sick days are those with the greatest exposure to the public: hotels and food services, home health care and child care," quotes one advocate as saying." So mandated paid sick leave for the good of the PUBLIC and other employees.

This is an interesting take and certainly one that requires some consideration. As our businesses require more and more "intellectual capital" and hence our economy requires more and more reliance on "intellectual capital" does it make sense to protect that capital by not exposing it to diseases that come from people to people contact? HR articles are already calling for companies to encourage sick employees to stay home and not infect other employees. How much of a step is it to mandate that we protect our resources (the human kind) from exposure to productivity reducing illnesses. I am not necessarily talking about the common cold here, but major strains of flu can have a very detrimental effect. I know of one team that worked closely together ending up with almost everyone on the team being very sick at the same time. What would have happened if that had been a life-threatening illness, such as avian flu? An entire functioning unit wiped out?

Now I am not a big advocate of mandated sick time, or mandated anything, but changes in today's world politically, in the nature of disease, and in the nature of human contact may force us to rethink how we handle situations in the workplace such as paid sick time.

Tell me what you think.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dealing With Job Seekers: YOUR Employees Looking for Work

Penelope Trunk, of the Brazen Careerist, offered job hunting advice to her readers. The title of her blog is How to Job Hunt From Your Current Job. In her blog she lists the following tips:
  1. Don't Feel Guilty
  2. Schedule Interviews at the beginning or end of the day (or lunch)
  3. Don't dress up for interviews if you can help it
  4. Don't do phone interviews from your cube

Her justification for point 1 is that everyone does it. You just can't do it during the day from home. Plus, everyone knows that the person that works is the more desirable candidate. The Internet makes it easy to do, so why not. She does say, "Get your work done well at your current job no matter what. You owe that to your employer. Beyond that, your time is yours and job hunt if you want."

She recommends "personal" time for the interviews and not raising suspicions with your current employer by not dressing for the interview and not doing any phone interviews while at work. One other piece of advice she gives is "So you don’t need to be sneaky beyond what is ethically comfortable, but you don’t need to beg the question either." (My emphasis)

Having been a corporate HR manager and recruiter I have conflicting feelings about her advice. And I wonder if other HR managers do as well. I don't really want my employees to spend their time at work looking for a different job. I want them doing my work. And they are using my equipment to do their job search. Yet at the same time I may contact people during the day who are candidates for positions with my company. And I want them to come interview with me during the working day, because I don't want to work at night to interview. (Though I have done both phone interviews and face-to-face at night.)

If I find someone is looking for work, because they have Internet searches that show up, or emails that indicate they are interviewing, do I speed their job search up by letting them go? Or do I start a "recovery effort" by trying to convince them to stay. Do I put blocks on my system of all the major job sites? Do I investigate an employee whose productivity has fallen? Do I look for patterns in Internet activity of certain company searches? But, at the same time, accept resumes and inquiries from people during work hours knowing full well they are "cheating" their current employer?

Leave some comments and tell me how you handle this situation? Is it a conflict for you as well?

By they way is "sneaky beyond what is ethically comfortable" an oxymoron?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Is It Really Age? Why Older Workers May Not Get Work

Continuing with my theme of older workers, I have had a couple of people react to my quote about companies starting to hire older workers, by calling and saying they have been trying and have been unable to get work "BECAUSE OF MY AGE." My reaction to that is to be initially skeptical. If "because of my age" means:
  • You have not kept your skills up to date
  • You have not become Internet savy
  • You are in the "rut" of "I have always done it that way"
  • You have no idea what a blog or podcast or wiki is

Then yes you may not be getting a job because of your age. So my initial response has been "take a critical look at yourself" and lay the blame there. I have suggested that a job transition coach might be valuable. Have someone teach you how to interview, dress, and present yourself. Just as when you were younger, you have to have something "saleable" about you.

Now, does this mean that there is no age discrimination? No. It is there. And this is where good HR people come into play. A forward thinking, ethical HR professional does not let their organization succumb to age bias. They help hiring managers get beyond the surface and see the skill sets, the loyality, the work ethic and the energy that many "older" workers bring to the job. However, if you don't have anything worth "buying", all your skills are dusty and outdated, then even the best HR manager is not going to help you. Nor is a recruiter. So look in that mirror. If companies are not buying what your are presenting then do something about it.

HR managers, tell me what you think. Am I delusional?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Older Workers: A Follow Up and Opportunity

A blog from a couple days ago discussed an article about older workers (See February 12th). Just this morning I read an article written by Joyce Gioia-Herman in the Herman Trend Alert entitled Older Workers in Greater Demand. (You can subscribe to the Trend Alert by clicking here.) The material in this newsletter reinforced much of what was said in the AJC article. Older workers will be in demand and one place in particular that will be actively recruiting workers is the U. S. Federal government. According to the Trend Alert the AARP "...added three U.S. government agencies and six corporations to its list of employers looking to hire people 50 and older for a range of full-time, part-time, and seasonal jobs. In all, thirty-eight of the nation's employers have expressed an interest in hiring seniors." The Trend Alert further states that "The Internal Revenue Service, the Peace Corps, and the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Disaster Relief, are the first federal employers to join AARP's National Employer Team, the name given to the association's three-year-old partnership."

The numbers are pretty staggering. "Of the two million people who work for the federal government, more than 25 percent are expected to leave over the next five years. In the next two years alone, The Partnership for Public Service estimates over 193,000 mission-critical positions will need filling."

So, if you know someone who is looking for work I would send them to the Federal government or state governments, as I am sure they are in the same condition that the Fed is in.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

You Don't Have To Be Crazy to Have This Job But It Helps: The HR Personality

Human Resource Executive magazine just published its February issue with the cover story being The HR Personality. They asked the question of how HR executives differ in personality from other company executives. The findings were interesting, though not really suprising. And despite my catchy title they did not find that being crazy helps.

What they did find is that executives of all varieties share more personality traits than they differ in. But the ones where there were differences were significant. HR executives (VPs) were less strategic, less rational/logical, less directing, and less enterprising. On the positive side they were more accepting, more resolving and more self-assured. What this means it that HR VPs were:
  • less visionary and less focused on the long-term
  • less focused on numbers, logical systems and hard facts
  • less task focused
  • less competitive
  • less interested in selling and spotting new business opportunities
  • less inquisitive
  • less ambitious
  • less manipulative
  • more of a team player
  • more prudent
  • more empathetic, good listener and more interested in others
  • more comfortable with resolving conflict and dealing with angry people
  • more confident
  • more balanced and a greater self-worth

What makes this list critical is that the CEO is the key executive from which the HR VP differs. Subsequently the VP may not be taken as seriously or be as highly valued as is the other VPs with whom the CEO more closely matches in personality. They ask the question "Can the HR VP be more like the CEO?" The answer was YES. But it requires a true self-knowledge and the ability to take that knowledge, understand how you differ and be able to put a plan in place to change behavior. As one consultant said "Have a plan. Determine what behaviors you need. Practice those behaviors. Get feedback. And keep focused on your objectives. It can be done. I may not be a shark, but I can think like a shark."

By the way, one thing mentioned in the article is that HR levels below VP show even greater levels of divergence from the executive suite. To me this leads to much less credibility for HR with executives. But this can be overcome as well with a recognized behavioral change.

One thing not mentioned in this article was the subject of gender. Given that the field of HR has a high number of women in HR and HR executive positions I wondered if this gender difference might account for some of these personality differences. It might be an interesting personality study to compare female HR execs to female CEOs and see if the differences are still as apparent.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Boomers, Brain Drain and a Quote

I was quoted in an article entitled Older Workers: Once Trashed, Now Treasured, written by Bill Hendrick for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The article deals with the subject of older workers, primarily baby boomers, and the realization by many organizations that they are facing a brain drain as the boomers retire.

There are alot of human resources issues involved in the impending retirement of large amounts of baby boomers. (BTW, "baby boomers" is a US term for children born during the period following WWII through 1964. Other countries had baby booms at different times.) Some of these issues include: healthcare, retirement income, delivery of services, succession planning, and one of the biggest, loss of knowledge.

Many organizations are struggling with this impending loss and how to retain this "knowledge" within the organization. By the way, this knowledge is not just "how to do the job", that is actually the easier knowledge to retain. The difficult knowledge to retain is the relationships these boomer workers have established with customers, suppliers and co-workers that enhance the selling, buying and problem-solving process on a daily basis.

There are a couple ways to do this that might work. One is a mentoring program. Teaming younger workers with older works. Problems may arise however because not all parties are good mentors or mentees. Younger workers may get impatient and cause discrimination problems. Older workers may feel threatened and feel like the company is trying to push them out too soon. So this process has to be set up correctly and ALOT of training needs to be done.

An approach to transfering "relationship knowledge" that I like is done by Harvey Mackay, author, speaker and company CEO. He uses something called the Mackay 66 , in which he provides a mechanism for tracking a great deal of information on customers. Things such as family information, likes and dislikes, favorite foods and sports, where they went to school, things you should and should not discuss and much more. This information is collected and logged over a period of time and retained by the company. This way if the person who was calling on this customer leaves all of that knowledge does not walk out the door with them. The next person can read that information and get a head start on retaining the relationship.

There are a number of approaches that can be used, you have to pick what fits best with the culture of your organization. But if you have not started working on this today you will soon find yourself between a rock and a hard place. Look at your organization and take stock of who may be retiring in the next 10 years. What and who do they know? Figure out a way you can get them to invest some of themselves in the future of the organization. Wally Bock, at Three Star Leadership, also blogged about this issue and had some suggestions, so check him out as well.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Thinking About Your HR Thinking: The Tool of Metacognition

Rob May, writer of the Businesspundit blog wrote about a personal subject for him that has nothing to do with HR. But in his blog he mentions the concept of METACOGNITION. He states "Metacognition occurs when you think about your thinking. It means that instead of just analyzing evidence at face value, you start to ask questions about why you favor certain facts over others. You think about whether or not you have emotions, cognitive biases, peer pressures, or other things that are affecting your thought processes. You ask yourself if you would think something different if the roles were reversed, if you had a better day, if you had not had such a bad experience last time."

His definition got me to thinking of metacognition as a great tool for the human resources professional. It is a very good thing sometimes to question why you think the way you do. Is your thinking grounded in fact or just what you believe to be fact? Do you have underlying biases about employees, applicants, groups, backgrounds, etc. that should be questioned? Do you do things because the peer pressure (or boss pressure) is there to do it that way?

If you are an effective behavioral interviewer you are already somewhat trained to do this in that you are trained to question your "gut" feeling on someone. Why not extend this to all of the rest of your HR work?

So plan to go through the exercise of metacognition and question your HR practices. Ask yourself:
  • Why do we do things the way we do here?
  • Why do we hire whom we hire?
  • Do I have biases that get acted on in our HR processes?
  • How would I see what we do if I were on the outside looking in?

Try it out and get a fresh perspective. Oh, by the way, having someone come in from the outside can be helpful in asking some of those tough questions if you can't do it yourself.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Things That Stress Out Your Employees Scenario #204: A Personal Relocation

There are alot of things that can result in someone not giving the company their best work and undivided attention during work hours. A wedding, a divorce, birth of a child, illness of a family member, personal illness, impending Super Bowls, etc. HR people are generally tuned into paying attention to these things, and in fact we have laws on the books to help deal with these to an extent. Well here is one more thing that can cause a major distraction: a personal relocation! When it is a corporate relocation there is some support for the move and typically some financial backing and assurances. But when it is a personal relocation there is a great deal of stress associated with timing, money, and time issues. Making sure the appropriate things are canceled and the other approriate things are turned on. Packing, movers, and finding temporary housing all compound the stress.

The stress increases when the sale of a home is involved because then real estate dealings are involved, potential buyers viewing the house, and once a buyer has committed you have the stress of making it through a closing, Money, timing, repairs (and more money), delays, the movers, etc. all cause your employee to be distracted and subsequently less than productive at work. ( I know this from personal experience because I just described me!).

So be aware of what is happening in your employees personal lives because you may be able to anticipate stressful times that may have an effect on their work. Your awareness and proper handling of these situations may make the situation smoother for all parties concerned.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The "Poison" Employee

I have seen a number times and have discussed with many HR managers the concept of the "poison" employee. What I mean by this is that employee who slowly destroys your organization through their actions or words, much as a spider or snake's poison starts slowly digesting its prey. You can recognize these employees because they:
  • Use intimidation
  • They foster "bad blood" between coworkers or managers and employees
  • They spread rumor
  • Circumvent the rules or encourage others to do so
  • Find fault with others actions, be they formal rules of the company, or someone else's work habits
  • Find fault with other people and talk about it
  • Are conspiratory
  • (fill in your favorite here)

The problem is these employees are often "good", productive employees and thus give you no objective reason to get rid of them. As HR people we are left trying to referee situations or dealing with the aftermath of another employee opting to leave. Managers put up with the situation far too long as do HR people.

When the situation finally gets to the point of being intolerable we terminate them, yet are unsure of the footing we are on and live in dread of the lawsuit that may follow. Businesses without any HR guidance often live with this type of employee for a long time to an unknown cost in business and opportunity.

Michael Wade of had a blog on Predatory Employees in which he describes something similar to what I called the 'poison' employee. He describes the fear employers have "Employers fear how suspicious or reprehensible behavior on the part of an employee may be represented to a jury as the expected conduct of a victim. They worry, in turn, about how a manager's reasonable and appropriate behavior may be portrayed as oppressive or harassing. Their assumption is that juries will have an automatic sympathy for the underdog - the employee - versus the big, rich employer. Fear of litigation is both the sword and shield of the predatory employee."

However you describe this type of employee they are a very real problem. Wade suggests that this needs to be discussed and "Selection procedures need to be improved so the predators can be screened out. Early intervention in potential cases, with the energetic involvement of the firm's attorneys, should be the rule and not the exception. Team values need to be set forth and reinforced." That is a very good call on his part and one I hardily agree with. Unfortunately, many companies do not articulate their culture well enough to be able to screen properly.

What is your take on this? How do you prevent the poison employee, or Wade's predatory employee, from destroying your organization? Or if you have a way to screen them out what is it?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Education and the Talent Shortage published an article entitled "Employers Seek to Improve Education" in which they discuss something that HR managers have been aware of for quite awhile now and that is the U.S. educational system is just not making the grade. Businesses are suffering and are not able to hire the talent needed to effectively compete in the world market today. This lack of talent stemming from a lack of education is most visible in the areas of math, science, engineering and technology. But it is also there in language and communication skills as well as in critical thinking.

So what are businesses doing to address this shortfall of educated talent? They are pressuring governments at the federal, state and local level to improve. They are teaming with school systems to help develop curriculums. They are pressing presidential candidates for an educational platform. But alot of companies are pushing ahead on their own to provide incentives to professionals who would like to teach and incentives for students who would like to learn, especially science and math.

Because many companies are relying more and more on immigrant labor, both legal and illegal, companies are having to offer basic education in English and arithmetic and grammer in order to get willing workers to a level of being functional workers.

HR knows this is a problem, we see it day-in and day-out as our hiring managers push us to get them "quality" workers. But this is a battleship that will not be easily turned around.

Anyone have creative ways you are dealing with lack of education in your workforce? If so, leave a comment and let us know.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Proud Employees or Victims?

I have mentioned before that I am a big fan of Alan Weiss, consultant and author. I got his February newsletter, The Balancing Act, today and, as usual, it is thought provoking and informative. In this issue he talks about his experience of riding a train where the crew of the dining car had obvious pride in their jobs and, as a result, how pleasant the trip was for him. His observation on this was "I think this individual pride, and its ability to transform work and relationships, is a crucial consideration in terms of who we hire, who we become friendly with, and with whom we decide to surround ourselves. If we hang out with people who hate the work, hate the customers, hate life, and feel constantly oppressed, we'll find ourselves subsumed in that quagmire." He further muses "But if we surround ourselves with people who merely believe that they have the power and responsibility to do the best they can, so will we."

This has always been my personal philosophy. I don't work with or associate with "downers." There is no need to. And you should not either! If you have control over the hiring in your organization make sure you are only recruiting and hiring people who have pride in themselves and their work. It will make your life more pleasant and productive and as Weiss' story shows it will make the experience of your customer much better.

To me this is especially critical of the people you have working in your HR department. Do they have pride? Are they upbeat? There is nothing worse than having the "gatekeepers" of your organization be a "downer"! Oh by the way, this goes for the operator and receptionists in your company.

If you do not have the control of the hiring and you are surrounded by prideless "downers" don't allow yourself to become a "victim." Remove yourself from that situation as quickly as possible before you get used to it and become a "downer" yourself. If this is you, find another job and start by smiling today!