5 Foolproof Solutions to Managing Remote, Non-Exempt Employees

For good reason many employers have concerns with non-exempt employees performing remote work.  Accurately tracking employees’ time worked presents problems when employees work outside of the office.  Typically, telecommuting or working remotely has been reserved for exempt workers since those workers are not entitled to overtime pay and employers need not worry about the number of hours worked by the exempt employee.  But the reality is that the use of technology in the workplace, whether company-issued or personal, has led to the increased accessibility employees have to their work, especially when off site or after hours.

Importantly, work not specifically requested by an employer, yet still performed, is still compensable, and companies must be proactive in ensuring employees receive all pay due to them.  Employers must pay non-exempt employees when they respond to emails, answer or send text messages, or make or answer phone calls outside of their regular work hours.  Tracking such time presents many difficulties.  Below, we have set forth some tips….

 

  1. Find out if your current time tracking system can be accessed remotely. Employers must remember that the law requires employers to maintain contemporaneous and accurate records of non-exempt employees’ time worked each day.  Many timekeeping systems can be accessed remotely by employees performing work outside of the office.  In the absence of accurate time records, courts will employ a rebuttable presumption that the hours claimed by the employee are correct.  Thus, employers must provide remote workers with the ability to access time tracking software so they can contemporaneously record their time.
  2. Employers must clearly explain what constitutes “hours worked” to non-exempt employees as well as to their supervisors. Non-exempt workers’ hours worked are usually determined based upon the time an employee starts their “principal activity” and the time on that day at which they cease the “principal activity.”  Employees must understand the expectations employers have if employees are to track their own compensable time.  Usually, meal breaks of 30 minutes or more where employees are not performing any work can be unpaid, while rest breaks of 20 minutes or less should paid for as working time.
  3. Develop or update your timekeeping policy. Most employers share the concern that permitting non-exempt workers to work remotely will allow those employees to work too many hours at home and result in high overtime costs.  Employers should institute a policy prohibiting off the clock work.  If work performed remotely will result in a non-exempt employee to exceed the 40 hour mark in a workweek, employers can require non-exempt employees to receive advanced written approval that they may work overtime.  In addition, this policy should explicitly state that under-reporting hours worked, or over-reporting hours worked is strictly prohibited.  Employers should have all employees execute an acknowledgment that they have been made aware of and understand the time-recording policies.  If any non-exempt employee fails to obtain the written approval to work overtime hours, employers are still legally bound to pay the overtime but may take remedial action due to the employee’s failure to comply with the policy.
  4. Managers must be instructed and understand that they are not permitted to direct non-exempt employees to perform work off the clock. When overtime is not permitted managers must tell employees that “no one is allowed work any extra hours.”  It should be noted that the previous statement is very different from telling employees that “the business cannot afford to pay for overtime,” since employees are likely to interpret that they should still work the extra hours but not record their time.  Similarly, if a manager works longer or different hours than the employees who report to them, the manager should try to schedule sending emails during the employee’s normal hours.  If that is not practical, managers should include in the email’s subject line that the employee should not respond to the email until they return to work.  Supervisors must also be trained to report any potential off the clock work by non-exempt employees to enable HR or upper level management to speak with the employee to determine if they are owed pay for hours worked.
  5. Set boundaries for any kind of remote work non-exempt employees may perform. This should include establishing well-defined rules about when and if a non-exempt employee is permitted to work remotely. For instance, employers can set times when workers may use company-issued phones or may log into their computer remotely.  However, it may not be practical for all employers to set specific times for remote work.  Nonetheless, employers should make certain that all non-exempt employees understand the boundaries for when they are permitted to work remotely and how time is to be recorded to ensure wages are properly paid.


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Comprehensive Technology Policy: A Workplace Must-Have!

Considering how common smartphones have become in our daily lives, it’s likely that most, if not all, of your employees bring a smartphone to work.  As helpful as our handheld devices are (since we use them for everything), they can be distracting, and at times, can lead to bad publicity or security risks for a company.  It should not be surprising to employers that the presence of smartphones in the office introduces a new set of concerns that must be addressed.  Some of these concerns include ongoing distractions for employees, a decrease in employee productivity, and potential problems resulting from an employee’s unmanaged social media.  Studies have estimated that Americans spend over 5 ½ hours per day on social media.  How much of that time is spent in the office?  Whether your business has a smartphone policy that was drafted 5 years ago or your company simply does not have a policy addressing cell phone use or social media, it is critical to adopt a wide-ranging technology policy to effectively protect your company.

A comprehensive technology policy should include policies regarding use of smartphones and devices in the workplace and a social media policy for each employee’s personal social media channels.

Your cell phone/smartphone/smart device policy should be drafted broadly to include all devices employees may bring into the office and should include the following topics:

  • Smartphone etiquette: There is nothing wrong with telling your employees how you would like them to use their cell phones during work hours. However, a policy banning cell-phone use would be unreasonable and it is not likely employees would comply with the policy.  Instead, aim to curb cell phone use by asking employees to use their common sense by taking personal calls or texting when only necessary, limiting the calls to brief sessions and speaking quietly when making or receiving personal calls.  Employees should also be cognizant of cell phone use during meetings so as not to be preoccupied or distracting to others because they are texting or checking emails during the meeting.
  • Accident prevention: If part of an employee’s job entails driving a company-owned vehicle, not only should talking on a cell phone be prohibited (hands-free exceptions may be made), but text-messaging and any use of other functions of the device should be banned.  If a call must be made, the driver should pull over to a safe place to make the call.  Employers may also modify the voicemail greeting or have an automatic reply text sent to indicate the employee is unavailable to answer calls or return messages while driving.
  • Company-issued devices: If your company provides your employees with company-issued phones or other devices, employees must be made aware that any communications sent on the device are company-owned property.  Employees should have no expectations of privacy with respect to such communications.  The policy should include a statement that the company-issued device is subject to review by the employer and that the employer owns the telephone number associated with the device.
  • Anti-harassment policies still apply to smartphones and devices. Employers should be aware that inappropriate use of smartphones in the workplace can lead to potential sexual harassment claims and litigation. Employers should emphasize that any use of a smartphone (i.e., sending inappropriate text messages to coworkers, etc.) is subject to the company’s anti-harassment policies, including the sexual harassment policy.
  • Camera usage: Most smartphones and smart devices are equipped with the ability to take pictures and videos.  Employers may want to ban the use of all cameras on phones and devices during the workday to protect the privacy of the employer as well as fellow employees.  Employees should be made aware that any proprietary information is property of the company and employees are prohibited from taking pictures or recording video of proprietary information.  Depending on the business, this may include, but is not limited to, photos or video of any prototypes, notes from development meetings, upcoming product releases, customer receipts, etc.  In addition, if a business has trade secrets or patents, employers should implement an absolute ban on any camera use in the workplace.

A strong social media policy should clearly outline what your company believes to be acceptable conduct online, even off-hours, in order to protect your company and your employee’s rights.  Your social media policy should address the following topics:

  • Workplace conflicts should stay offline: Be sure to outline the procedures employees may use to air grievances before they choose to post about a situation on online.  However, employers may only request and cannot require employees to use the appropriate channels to resolve workplace grievances.  Many employers do not realize that a social media policy may violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) if it precludes employees from engaging in protected concerted activities.  Employees also have a protected right to seek help from third parties on social media to improve their terms and conditions of employment.  A social media policy should not discourage employees from discussing conditions and terms of employment or from sharing information about themselves or other employees with outside parties.
  • Content restrictions: Your social media policy should specifically restrict employees from posting or sharing confidential or proprietary information on social media.  In addition, any use of brand trademarks or company logos by employees should be used only in an approved manner.
  • Consequences for unprofessional behavior online: Legally, employees may post whatever they choose on their personal social media channels (so long as they do not break any of the channel’s terms and conditions).  Employers may prohibit defamation and of course, employers may also discipline employees for online behavior during the workday when the employee is supposed to be working.  To note, employers must consistently enforce this policy with respect to all employees.


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Mind the Gap! 5 Tips To Bridge The Generation Gap In The Workplace

Some of the biggest challenges business owners face is managing different personalities in the workplace.  It can be difficult to get any two strangers to effectively work with one another.  It can be even more challenging when one of those individuals is a baby boomer and the other is a millennial.   Since many baby boomers are delaying retirement to a later age as more and more millennials enter the workforce, the age of employees in a work environment might range from 18 to 70 years old.

Sometimes generational differences can cause tension in the workplace and create issues.  For instance, millennials may view baby boomers as old-school and unapproachable, while baby boomers may see millennials as lazy, impatient, and unprofessional.  We believe it is important that business owners take advantage of all the valuable strengths and skill sets each generation offers by learning how to bridge the generation gap in the workplace with the following 5 tips.

  1. Create diverse teams to include employees from all generations. Grouping employees of the same generation together creates a complete loss of opportunity for employees of different generations to learn important skills from other generations.  Take advantage of each generation’s different backgrounds and experiences to help teams communicate and problem solve more effectively.
  2. Understand what motivates employees of different generations and how each generation views their role and defines success in the workplace. Since many baby boomers grew up during a time of mostly steady and strong economic growth, they are motivated by the need to have security and place heavy value on productivity.  Baby boomers have often been described as workaholics, driven, and willing to tolerate an imbalance between family and work life.  Many baby boomers are process-oriented and believe that success is achieved by putting in long hours in the office to finish a project, since they entered the workforce in an era when they could not work at home.

Millennials are often working to improve the system and evolve, and they take pride in seeing their work make a difference.  Millennials are often viewed as forward-looking, entrepreneurial, risk-taking, tenacious and multitaskers.  They perceive hard work as the quality of their output and success as the culmination of their growth and experiences.  Millennials don’t necessarily believe success and hard work are the result of spending long hours in the office.  Instead, millennials define success as positive feedback from co-workers and managers.  They want a work-life balance that includes room for self-development and community involvement in addition to family time.  Hence, millennials want things like flex time, job-sharing and an experience that integrates technology to empower them to be productive from anywhere.

  1. Recognize that each generation prefers different means of communication and implement new channels and styles of communication in the workplace to accommodate all generations. Since baby boomers have had to adapt to technology as a result of the popularity of online communication in the workplace, baby boomers tend to favor either face to face communication or phone conversations over email or instant messaging.  On the other hand, millennials grew up with technology and the internet at their fingertips.  Millennials view technology as a necessity (i.e., they bring their smartphones to meetings to take notes or to find information online or via social media apps) whereas older workers may not rely on technology and only utilize their pencil and pad at meetings.  There are many ways to compromise.  For instance, video conferencing can provide baby boomers with the face to face communication they desire and millennials can still participate in meetings even if they are not physically present in the room or office.
  2. Form a mentorship program that includes reverse mentoring. When people work side by side and get to know each other away from other groups, typically their stereotypes fade away and they no longer view one another as they once did.  Providing a channel for baby boomers and millennials to mentor each other and work together can help each generation replace their preconceived notions with the perception of the person as they actually are.
  3. Stage gatherings that include employees of all generations. It is more likely that groups of employees who are closer in age might plan get-togethers out of the office.  It is less likely that the 22 year old who started working at the company 3 months ago is going to ask a 60 year old to lunch or grab coffee.  Managers should be proactive and set up monthly activities or weekly workshops where there is a designated time for employees to get to know one another and create personal relationships with each other.  Hosting a lunch-and-learn session on a topic that no one of any particular age group is very familiar with is another way to help employees improve skills while getting to know each other.  By providing an environment where employees can be vulnerable while learning something new, the group can create common bonds which will carry over into the workplace.


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Ending the Stigma: Why Employers Should Care About Mental Health

Whether you run a company employing thousands of workers or manage a local, small business, you (hopefully) want what’s best for your employees and you try to ensure they feel happy, safe, and fulfilled at work.  If you do, that’s great because most people spend a majority of their waking time at work.  The environment at work can have a considerable impact on employees’ mental health and well-being.  As companies look for new and innovative ways to improve the physical health of their employees (i.e. providing employees with standing desks; conducting walking meetings; and holding office cross-fit classes after work), it’s important to include employee mental health in the conversation.

It is no surprise that a negative work environment is bad for employee morale; but what’s worse is that it can cost your company financially.  Decreased productivity, absenteeism, and increased healthcare expenses are merely a few ways mental health problems create financial losses for businesses.  Studies have shown that 42% of employees consider resigning due to stress from work, and 30% of workers feel they are not able to speak openly and honestly with their superiors about being stressed at work.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that in the U.S. depression causes around 200 million lost workdays each year, costing employers between 17 billion and 44 billion dollars.  It’s easy to see happier employees are more productive and cost-effective.

So if having happier employees leads to greater levels of employee productivity, then what is stopping companies from taking action to improve employees’ mental health?  Unfortunately, mental health is still perceived as taboo and a topic to be ignored in the workplace.  The stigma associated with discussing mental health and illness overshadows the incredible financial losses businesses experience as a result of disregarding their employee’s mental health.  According to the World Health Organization, mental health issues affect 1 in 4 people.

Both biological and environment factors contribute to a person’s mental health.  As a business owner, you can’t affect the biological aspects but you can take steps to improve employees’ work environment.  Here are a few suggestions to help make your employees improve their mental health and in return, increase your company’s productivity.

  1. Break the silence and talk to your employees. The best way to combat the stigma associated with mental health is to simply begin the conversation.  Employers should make it clear that employees should not be afraid of repercussions if they speak up about mental health.  It is a good idea for employers to have conversations with employees to find out what their employees think of the workplace culture, how well supported they are by the company, and what sources in the workplace are causing stress or anxiety.  Some ways employers can begin the conversation are by holding a town-hall style meeting to let employees know the company is taking steps towards improving mental health in the office to reduce stress; or by creating a memo with your HR department explaining how employees can go about discussing mental health within the company.  Be sure to provide next steps, including offering a voluntary check-ins for employees to speak with management regarding reasonable accommodations they may need.  By providing a welcoming and supportive space for employees to discuss mental health and the resources available, you can provide employees with stepping stones towards receiving treatment and to improve your workplace.
  2. Train managers on how to discuss mental and physical health issues presented by employees. It can be difficult, and sometimes inappropriate, as a manager or supervisor, to speak with employees about their mental health.  As you try to foster a supportive and positive workplace, you don’t want to make your employees feel uncomfortable or overstep a boundary.  Employers should offer training to supervisors and managers to learn how to identify and address mental health appropriately.
  3. Provide mental health resources to employees. It is easy to forget that mental health looks different in each person and those who smile the most might be silently battling hard times on the inside.  Even though it’s impossible for supervisors to be mental health professionals, you can make your employees aware of the available resources.
  4. Promote healthy work practices and aim to minimize stress. Employees are likely to enjoy a better work experience if management sets realistic goals for them to meet.  Employees should have clarity on their work responsibilities and have a manageable workload.  Supervisors should aim to keep late nights in the office at a minimum and avoid sending emails at 2 a.m. or on the weekends.  Although it might be par for the course to burn the midnight oil, be sure to give your employees a chance to catch their breath and get a couple of good night’s sleep in order to prevent burnout.  Employers should encourage employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance, so employees can feel more peace, comfort and joy both at home in their personal lives, and at work.
  5. Be flexible and reasonable by making accommodations for employees to deal with mental health issues. When an employee is struggling with a physical health issue companies understand that reasonable accommodations are required.  The same should be done with those facing mental health issues.  It can be as easy as allowing the employee to work from home or another remote location or trade shifts.  It should also not be frowned upon for an employee to ask for a mental health day, so long as the employee has days available to take.

Employers know that happy and healthy employees are the backbone of a great organization.  By taking these small steps in the workplace employers will undoubtedly see increased productivity and a better company culture.



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Risky Business! Rescinding a Job Offer

It is common for circumstances to arise requiring an employer to rescind a job offer.  Even after seeking out the most qualified candidate for a position and making an offer, there are a variety of reasons the offer might need to be retracted.  For example, the corporate health of the company is poor and the company cannot take on another employee, or the candidate did not pass a background check.  Although rescinding a job offer is not necessarily unlawful, there are legal issues an employer must consider when withdrawing a job offer.

Most states, including New York, are employment-at-will states which enable employers to terminate an employee with or without reason at any time.  Generally, these laws equally apply to the withdrawal of a job offer.

However, sometimes a job offer can constitute a promise of a job which can be enforced by the candidate.  For instance, if the candidate reasonably relies upon the job offer and quits his or her job only to have the offer later withdrawn, there can be damages for the candidate’s reliance on the offer.  The employer can be held liable for the candidate’s economic loss if his or her reliance and conduct were reasonable under the circumstances.  Thus, if an offer is conditional, be sure to express it as a conditional offer in writing.

Employers must also be aware that depending upon the wording of an offer it can constitute a contract of employment.  A written offer should not contain a time period of employment, and if it states an annual salary it should have the reservation that it is stated as an annual figure for convenience only.  Offer letters should clearly state that the employment is at-will in order to avoid the possibility of it being construed as a contract.

Employers may also find themselves defending against a discrimination claim if the unsuccessful candidate falls within a protected class, e.g., race, national origin, age, religion, disability or gender.  Further, this risk increases if the employer extended an offer to a candidate falling outside of a protected class for the same job.  If an offer is withdrawn be sure to have documentary proof as to the business reason for the withdrawal.

In order to avoid running into problems with rescinding a job offer, employers should not extend an offer until pre-employment screening information has been received.  However, some screening steps, including background checks, physicals and drug tests, cannot be done until after the offer is made.  Hence, the offer letter must clearly state that the job offer is merely conditional and not a promise of employment.

Under New York and Federal law, there are strict guidelines on how an employer can consider matters that arise from a criminal background check or credit check.  New  York employers should be sure to familiarize themselves with the requirements of Article 23-A governing criminal background checks.  There are a number of steps an employer must document that it took before it rescinds an offer based upon a conviction.

Ultimately, if the decision is made to withdraw an offer, documentation of the reasons are necessary.  Just as a company would document its reasons for terminating an employee, the same measures should be taken in rescinding an offer.  Ensure that those employees who communicate with candidates understand what should and should not be said about an offer and that they know the difference between a firm offer of employment and conditional offer.  Lastly, it is important for employers to handle a withdrawal of a job offer with as much tact as possible, as this can have reputational and legal implications.

 

 



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Cross-Training Employees: Your Best Defense

Running a business is predictably unpredictable regardless of the industry. The temporary absence of an employee from work due to vacation leave, sickness, family emergency or leave can result in loss of revenue, decreased productivity, and strained customer relations. The leave provided by, for example, New York’s newly enacted Paid Family Leave Benefits Law (“PFLBL”) further complicates this issue.

This is why cross-training employees is a necessity. Cross training employees to perform multiple jobs to support each other as needed and easily shift job positions enables a business to be flexible and not flounder when an employee takes short-term, intermittent, or long-term leave.

Cross-training, a systematic process that should be executed both horizontally and vertically throughout a company to be effective. Vertical expansion of a job includes the addition of job enriching tasks to provide an employee with more responsibility. For instance, you may choose to cross-train an employee who works in human resources or on payroll or benefits administration to support the company’s recruitment process by teaching behavioral interviewing skills and including the employee in the creation of an interview plan and execution of that plan.

Vertical expansion should not be limited to only lower level positions. It should include cross-training managers and upper level positions. This means managers should be cross-trained to perform in lower-level positions when needed. Horizontal cross-training entails enlarging the scope of an employee’s role by adding tasks on the same level of responsibility and skill. For example, managers should be cross-trained to take on the job responsibilities of other managers where the level of responsibility is still the same.

Cross-training is a two-way street that provides benefits to both business owners and employees. By implementing cross-training efforts, employers will have a well-rounded team of employees who can use their varied skills when the unpredictable occurs. This can mitigate a business’ risk and maintain stability when there is a disruption. Cross-training is also likely to result in higher efficiency and productivity because training forces the trainers to reassess the way they perform tasks routinely associated with their job. Trainees can also increase productivity by providing a fresh set of eyes and may suggest new cost saving or time saving ideas when being trained. Employers can also reduce costs by reducing the need to recruit new candidates from outside the organization.

Employees are also afforded great benefits from cross-training. The addition of new tasks and job responsibilities can reduce boredom and stagnation and increase employee productivity. Employees will also feel more confident and valued by the company because the company is investing resources and time to teach them new technical and professional skills. Cross-training can also provide employees with the opportunity to build new relationships with people they might otherwise never have contact with, and it can also serve as a unique way for employees to develop leadership skills and help fast-track promotions.

Of course, cross-training will not just happen by itself. To strengthen your business and ensure it is equipped to handle the unpredictable, create a cross-training master plan to yield successful results. Here are some helpful guidelines to help create an effective cross-training plan:

• Identify the critical tasks and areas where your organization requires cross-training. Evaluate both the business as a whole and the individual departments where cross-training would be most effective.
• Identify the employees who are capable of performing the cross-training tasks by matching the learning capability and skill set of the workers to be cross-trained with the required skills for a particular position.
• Avoid suspicions that the cross-training program is designed to replace employees or eliminate jobs by explaining the benefits employees will receive from cross-training, and how the organization will benefit from the program.
• Ensure that adequate time, funds, training materials, and training facilities are scheduled and prepared to allow the cross-training program to run smoothly.
• Set achievable short and long term goals and establish intermittent benchmarks in the cross-training program where both trainers and trainees can evaluate the progress of the program to track success and adherence to the plan. Utilize the benchmarks to gather feedback to improve cross-training in the future.
• Due to the fact that it will take a new person longer to perform a task until proficiency is achieved, temporarily reduce the workload of employees receiving cross-training.
• Create a reward and recognition program for workers who have successfully finished cross-training and share those achievements with the whole organization. Not only will this show the employees that cross-training is an essential part of their overall development plan, but it will also demonstrate the organization values their hard work.
• Finally, don’t forget that periodic re-training will be required because workers not performing the tasks each day may not retain the cross-training skills forever.

Implementing a cross-training program reaps benefits for both employers and employees. Do not let shortsighted cost controls hurt your company in the long run. By proactively taking the initiative to cross-train employees, your business should be able to handle any unexpected absence of employees.



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Take the Question Off the Table: How the Ban on Salary History Inquiries Works in Your Company’s Favor

Many jurisdictions across the country, including New York City, Westchester County, Albany, Philadelphia, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Orleans, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Puerto Rico, and San Francisco, have enacted legislation with the aim of closing the pay gap between men and women.  These laws generally prohibit employers from asking job candidates about their salary history either in writing or at an interview.  The rationale for the bans is to prevent the perpetuation of a pay gap or wage discrimination based on a prior employer’s possibly nefarious motives.

Many employers view these laws as an impediment to the hiring process.  However, there is an upside to eliminating salary history inquiries altogether.  Taking the question off the table will not only improve company culture, but it will yield better qualified and more talented new hires.  These laws are forcing companies and hiring managers to improve their screening and hiring processes.  Regardless of jurisdiction, here is why your company should eliminate the question about salary history and how you can use the salary history ban to your advantage.

Salary history is not only an unnecessary factor when deciding to hire new employees, but the question actually prevents companies from considering individuals with different experiences or sets of skills.  In this ever-growing competitive market, companies cannot survive if their employees all fit the same cookie-cutter mold.  Smart employers know that if a candidate demonstrates they are motivated, can learn quickly, and can do the work, they likely possess the competencies, skill-set and education required for the position.  Your company will surely miss out on hiring diverse, top-tier talent, non-traditional candidates, military vets, and high-potential candidates who learn quickly by filtering based on salary history.

What most employers fail to understand is the link between company culture and the ban on salary history.  The culture of your company is a most sacred thing and is comprised of the collection of accepted behaviors from which the success of your business grows.  Your company should always strive to align its culture with its recruiting practices.  The salary history question is a rote, automatic question asked during interviews and candidates almost never blinked at when asked the question.  However, there has been a shift in mindset of job candidates when thinking about sharing salary history with potential employers.  Many job candidates perceive their current pay as a private matter that is not up for discussion when being interviewed.  Even if your company is not located within a jurisdiction subject to a salary history ban, candidates may view your company’s culture in a negative light if asked about salary history.

As millennials increasingly populate the workforce, employers are also realizing they must adapt and forego hiring norms in order to impress millennials and to find the most qualified talent.  From the moment candidates apply to a job posting on LinkedIn or answer your recruiter’s call, they begin to experience your company’s culture.  Throughout the entire interview process, potential new hires are assessing your culture to see if their values correspond with the values of your company.  Many candidates, especially millennials, will view an inquiry about salary history as insensitive, invasive, and irrelevant.

Employers need not fear that eliminating the salary history question will leave hiring managers at a disadvantage when trying to figure out the appropriate salary to include in a job offer.  However, it will require some effort on the employer’s part to embrace the ban on salary history.  Companies should conduct both internal audits and external market research to determine the range of salary that is suitable for the job position.  Despite the additional time it will take, employers can position themselves for increased employee engagement, retention, and profitability by developing a system to establish salaries based on the external market research, the company’s internal logic, and where job performance is rewarded fairly.  During the interview process, hiring managers will get a sense of the candidates’ skills to deduce the proper salary to be included in the job offer.  However, there should be a preset salary range in place for the position.

In light of these new last, and best practices, hiring managers can navigate around the salary history question by stating the salary range outright during the interview and asking if the candidate is still interested in continuing the interview process.  In addition, an employer can still inquire as to the applicant’s desired salary without seeking prior salary information.



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Company Culture: Your Strongest Asset or Biggest Liability?

No longer can company culture be thought of as a trendy catchphrase or as a workplace with nap pods, Nerf guns, and employees riding Segways up and down the hallways. This soft concept has hard results in terms of employee retention, productivity, a company’s reputation, and overall success. Whether by default or design, culture exists in every organization. Culture is not a tangible thing; it is fluid, dynamic, ever-changing and always evolving.

A company’s culture is comprised of the shared values, missions, and goals of the company, employees, stakeholders, and customers. An organization’s culture acts as its identity and personality. Yet, many companies fail to view culture as a serious business issue and merely take a passive approach. Employers should treat company culture in the same manner as other valued business objectives, including financial growth, sales, marketing, and product development. Many factors, including procedures and policies (or lack thereof), leadership style, hierarchy, job titles, workplace atmosphere, and overall demographics help to shape a company’s culture.

Below are some tips on how to make your company’s culture a strong business asset:

• Culture is a “must-have,” not a “nice-to-have”. On average, employees will spend approximately 30 percent of their lives working. This is a fact employees know well, which is why many people will not stay at a job for too long if they are unhappy. When companies provide a work environment and atmosphere where employees are comfortable and motivated to work, employee morale will increase. In turn, there will be greater employee retention and increased productivity.

• A good company culture not only attracts but retains talent. New employees should be hired based on skill set or experience as well as because they fit in with your company’s culture. Talent may get employees in the door, but your culture is why they will stay. Employers should remember that gaps in skill sets can be closed over time by training. However, it is nearly impossible to change who people are at their core. Turnover costs can range from tens of thousands of dollars to two times the employee’s annual salary, hence, it is important to strive to retain as many employees as possible. Employers must view hiring as an investment in their company. Bad hiring decisions can quickly frustrate top talent when employees fail to fit in with your culture.

• Culture strengthens loyalty and promotes teamwork among employees. A company’s culture has a tangible impact on employees’ commitment to their job, team, manager, and organization. Employees should value the work they do and enjoy coming to the office. A company with poor culture will undoubtedly have employees who dread coming to work. A strong, healthy culture provides employees with a purpose and goals they strive to meet. A healthy culture will increase the employees’ willingness to go above and beyond their regular job responsibilities. Employees want to feel they are a part of and contributing to something larger than themselves.

• Culture builds your brand’s identity and differentiates your company from the competition. The more your employees, stakeholders, and customers understand and identify with your company, the more customers are likely to buy from you or clients are likely to refer business to you. Consumers want to feel a connection to your business, and it is your culture that will help form this bond. By viewing culture as an external issue as well as an internal issue, it will be easier to attract your target consumers, making your business the clear and obvious choice over competitors.

• Finally, culture can turn your employees into advocates. Leverage your employees to seek out the right people to hire. Good talent knows other good talent. Let your company’s culture encourage employees to share their positive experiences at work to enhance your company’s reputation. Motivating employees to speak positively on your organization’s behalf not only will increase the quality of candidates for hire, but can also bring in new business and more customers.



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Out of Sight Shouldn’t Mean Out of Mind: How to Effectively Manage Remote Employees

With the abundance of technology that is available to employers, it has become easier and more common for companies to employ people outside of the office.  Employers must manage, motivate, and retain both on-site and remote employees.  A common misconception about managing remote employees is that it requires an entirely different skill set.  While managing remote employees does have its challenges, those hurdles can easily be overcome by taking a proactive approach.  Here are some helpful ways to effectively manage remote employees.

  • Set clear goals and expectations. Managers should set benchmarks for remote employees to meet on either a weekly or bi-weekly basis.  Walk through and explain the tasks expected to be completed and establish a timeline for when assignments are to be finished.  Set broader goals to be achieved in 1 or 2 months.  Be sure to provide feedback about the employee’s progress and implement a formal process to review performance and work product.  You cannot motivate remote employees if they don’t know how they are performing.Build rapport with every member of your team. When managers establish trust and build a relationship with team members it becomes easier to work through problems.  It can be challenging to get to know remote workers when they are not physically present in the office and they don’t participate in the proverbial water cooler discussions.  A simple fix to this is to take a small amount of time out of your week to check in with your remote employees and simply make small talk.
  • Strategically use different methods of communication. A miscommunication is bound to occur when delivering a message to someone not physically in the room.  It is important to make sure all communication to your remote employees is delivered on the right platform.  Use email for neutral, short exchanges of information.  General announcements or group discussions can be easily facilitated by using an instant messenger chat.  Video conferencing is most likely the best way to communicate when the topic of discussion is long, detailed or particularly difficult.  Video conferencing also provides the essential non-verbal cues that comprise more than half of human communication.  An audio-only call deprives participants from seeing a person’s reaction to a change in plans or just what their overall mood is that day.  What a person is communicating non-verbally can easily help the receiving party to distinguish if the speaker is being sarcastic, serious, angry, etc.  It is less likely a miscommunication will occur over video chat than by email or over the phone.  Screen sharing is a helpful tool that can increase productivity by providing a visual explanation to aid in the explanation of a detailed assignment.
  • Create a balance between inconvenient schedules. Your remote employees may live in different time zones from your on-site premises.  That can make scheduling meetings difficult and it is often the case your remote employees have to call-in at awkward hours to compromise for not working on-site.  Try to schedule meetings with team members located in your main time zones to accommodate the outliers every once in a while.  This will help your on-site team remember the sacrifice their remotely located teammates regularly make to contribute and better the team.
  • Make remote employees feel like part of the team. The physical distance between your on-site location and their remote location can create an “us versus them” feeling.  Encourage collaboration between remote employees with on-site team members.  Focus on the commonalities you and your direct reports share.  Remote workers often feel invisible because their efforts aren’t noticed.  Try to be generous with acknowledgement and public praise of remote team members because recognizing their work is a signal to coworkers that they are pulling their weight.  Don’t forget to send remote employees the same swag gifted to on-site employees.
  • Don’t worry about them not working. Remote employment is typically associated with the stereotypical images of a laid-back employee working from their couch or lounging on a beach with a laptop.  As it turns out, studies have shown remote workers, on average, record four more hours per week compared with their on-site equivalents.  However, you can still track remote employee’s hours and progress.  Don’t ask them to turn in a standard 9-5 timesheet; remote workers have chosen to work remotely and they want freedom and independence with their work.  Instead, ask them to take responsibility to measure their progress by sending you a daily three-bullet summary of their completed tasks.  No matter how you choose to keep track of their time and progress, the employee should always have the burden to get it don
  • Schedule in-person visits at least once a year. It is a good idea to establish a yearly trip for remote employees to come in to the home office.  A few days of teamwork in person will build more rapport than months of remote efforts trying to get to know your employees.  This will also decrease feelings of isolation remote workers may have and can provide a great opportunity for discussions about your company’s vision, culture, and future that would be challenging to do with employees located in all different parts of the state or country.

By putting in a little extra effort and keeping in mind the team members who are out of sight, managing remote employees will be easy and your business will see a high return on investment.



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Hiring Decisions That Can Make or Break You

Let’s face it.  The stakes are high when it comes to hiring new employees.  A bad hire can cost your business somewhere between $25,000 and $50,000, or even more.  Since most of the hiring decisions come down to the in-person interview, businesses must insure hiring managers are trained and skilled at interviewing to increase the likelihood the best candidate is chosen for the position.  However, most managers are often promoted or hired as a result of their technical expertise, not their ability to hire others.  This means that companies must provide hiring managers with all the tools they need to effectively fulfill their role in the hiring process.  Here are some ways to improve hiring managers’ interviewing skills.

Understanding their role in the hiring process.  First, it is important for hiring managers to understand their role in the hiring process.  Before candidates are interviewed, companies expend a great amount of time and money creating branding, seeking out, and screening potential job candidates.  Hiring managers will be more successful and will want to improve their interviewing skills if they are aware of all of the effort involved with the hiring process and know what happens before and after they interview job candidates.

Knowing the cost of hiring decisions.  Hiring managers must also be conscious of the costs incurred when hiring a new employee and the impact of their hiring decisions on the company.  By informing those who will interview and ultimately decide who to hire, interviewers are provided with a different view of their role in the hiring process.  Business owners should want their hiring managers to understand the impact a bad hire can have on everyone in the company.  When training hiring managers, have them calculate the cost per hire and compare that cost to other costs, i.e., purchasing new equipment, pay increases and bonuses.  Hence, hiring managers will know exactly how much a bad hire will cost the company and they will be more apt to improve their interviewing skills.

Creating a structured interview.  Although you entrust your hiring managers with the hefty responsibility of choosing new hires to join your company, it’s not a bad idea to provide your interviewers with a preparation checklist.  Items on the checklist may include the following questions:

  1. What is the company’s structure, mission and strategy?
  2. Am I familiar with the benefits and perks associated with the specific position?
  3. Do I fully understand the job description of the position I am trying to fill?
  4. Have I coordinated with my team and read all candidates’ resumes?
  5. Have I prepared a list of interview questions to ask?
  6. And, have the interview questions been reviewed with HR for legality?

It is also a good idea to make sure that interviewers really understand the position they are trying to fill and have a firm grasp on your company’s culture.  Interviewers should not only ask questions aimed to seek out job candidates who possess the required skill sets for the position, but should also look to see whether the candidate exhibits the company’s values and if they can fill a void in the team.  A skill set can often be learned by training; what cannot be learned is how a new hire fits in with the job position or the company.

Conduct interview training with hiring managers.  Most hiring managers will tell you that they don’t need training because they have been interviewing candidates for a number of years and a training session will take away from their primary job. But it is possible that they have been repeating an ineffective methodology for years.  Teach hiring managers to be more effective when interviewing by employing a behavior-based interview model to see how a candidate behaved in specific work situations.  This model is useful because it offers a window into past behavior that, in turn, can provide insight into how a candidate will behave as an employee in your company.  When asking a behavior-based question, an interviewer should probe the candidate with situation-based, action-based, result-based, and report-based questions.   For instance, you will want to get a description of the situation including which players were involved in the situation and the role the candidate played.  Ask about the specific actions the candidate took and what result occurred from their actions.  You should also ask who the candidate reported to, which lets the candidate know you may follow up with that person to confirm what you are being told.   Further, a session on interview training should not merely be a lecture but should consist of interactive exercises in a group setting.  As in sports, you play like you practice.  Asking questions in a conversational manner, active listening, creating a rhythm of questions instead of an interrogation, interpreting body language and keeping control of the interview are all skills that require practice.  More importantly, repetition is key when trying to correct and improve one’s interviewing style.

Use standard forms and processes.  Each interview is like a new experience for hiring managers, since they don’t get a lot of time to practice.  They don’t develop methods to keep candidates on track and to retrieve the information they require to fill the position; they don’t take the time to improve their interviewing skills; and they most likely don’t know what they want to get out of an interview going in.  Instead, make it easy for them and develop a standard form and process that hiring managers can use in each interview.  Include a form based on a detailed job description that will allow the interviewer to measure each candidate based on their skills, motivation, aptitude, attitude and temperament.  This “score sheet” will provide hiring managers with an organized and uniform hiring process enabling hiring managers to choose the most skilled and best fitting candidate for your company.

Know the applicable laws.  Hopefully, your hiring managers have enough common sense not to ask questions like “What’s your religion?” or “How many kids do you have?”  However, we cannot stress enough the importance of all the legal do’s and don’ts involved in the hiring process.  Ensure all of your hiring managers are aware of and understand the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s protected classes, i.e., age, disability, genetic information, equal pay, pregnancy, national origin, race, religion, sex, etc. You want your hiring managers to be certain they can carry out an insightful interview without making any legal blunders or errors.  Train hiring managers to ask questions focused on candidates’ job aptitude and cultural fit.  It is a good idea to be apprised of your state’s and industry’s applicable legal requirements for hiring.  Hiring managers should also know how to extend a proper and legal job offer to prevent any legal missteps.

 



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