Archive | July, 2012

Nobody Likes a Tattletale

20 Jul

A Positive Alerts SystemI had an interesting conversation last week with a customer who is using an alerts system. They were really pleased at all the notifications they had configured – many of which took the form of daily reminders about tasks that needed to be completed, contracts that needed to be renewed, and the like. And then this customer said the following: 

“You know, Alerts & Workflow is kind of like a vitamin for our employees. If left on their own, they’d probably forget to take it; now they get it automatically and they understand that it’s good for them.”

Hmmmmmm . . .

 There was something about that phrase that I didn’t like; a little later it came to me:

 Nobody likes taking their vitamins.

 Oh sure, we all understand that vitamins are good for us in the long-term, but on a day-to-day basis they’re more of an annoyance than a pleasure. And then I realized that it was all-too-easy for an Alerts system to take on these same qualities. Deep down we know that being reminded about tasks and other items that require our attention is a good thing, but that “daily ding” (or two, or three . . . ) that points out what we should be doing is about as enjoyable as getting poked with a stick.

Now no one is going to argue that we don’t all need the occasional reminder, nor would we argue that it’s better to let something be forgotten than to address it. But those facts don’t make the receipt of the reminder any more palatable. And — viewed in this light — an Alerts system can very easily be seen as a “tattletale” system; one in which its main purpose is to point out those things that we are doing wrong or – in many cases – not doing at all.

 And nobody likes a tattletale, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

 That’s why, when implementing an alerts system within your organization, you need to look long and hard for positive, reinforcing uses of that technology. In the HR world, those uses can include:

  •  Celebrating employee birthdays and term-of-work anniversaries
  • Acknowledging training certifications completed
  • Congratulations on job position advancements
  • Communicating salary increases
  • Confirming an employee’s passing of mandatory drug tests
  • Thanking employees for completing certain tasks
  • Recognizing benchmark achievements (e.g., projects completed on-time and/or under budget)
  • Acknowledging that “Nothing Bad = Something Good” (e.g., commending employees with no overdue tasks)

The importance of positive, reinforcing alerts cannot be overstated. Without them, every automated notification that an employee receives will be viewed with a combination of dread and depression – a reminder of “what’s wrong” with their work habits. And interestingly enough, it doesn’t take an equal number of positive alerts to offset the “tattletale” ones. Even just one positive, reinforcing alert per day can offset the weight of countless reminders.

Ultimately, these positive alerts do far more than just make your employees feel good about themselves. An alerts solution that is solely designed as a tattletale system stands a strong chance of failing over the long term because users will eventually ignore the alerts they receive from it. But if you show your employees that an alerts system can also be used to recognize achievements, milestones, and above average performance, your alerts system will almost assuredly be a success.

After all — although almost no one likes a tattletale, pretty much everyone likes to be recognized for a job well-done.


The Bring Your Own Device Divide

18 Jul

There are two sides to the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend now that IT departments are facing off against human resources professionals. Each side of this polarized debate has valid points, but finding ways to work together is essential for employee engagement and business security. The key to solving these issues and creating a friendly workspace is collaboration which, while facilitated by BYOD programs themselves, can be difficult to promote acceptance with at first.

HR Support

A Forrester report recently showed that more than three-fourths of company technology is already purchased by employees and used for both home and work purposes. The study went on to say that, based on previous adoption trends, BYOD will probably be the ruling institution among SMBs and big business alike within the next three years. These devices have proliferated in personal life and tend to go with workers whenever they travel already, representing a savings for businesses that don’t have to invest in new technology to make operations more flexible.

IT Resists

While this cuts costs and increases productivity for the workforce, it could result in a security problem in terms of increased data breach probability. The trouble with BYOD initiatives is that it’s already difficult enough getting employees to follow security procedures for company-owned technology, but introducing personal devices make people feel like they have more liberties with data protection. This could result in serious danger to business continuity, and by default complicates the job of IT personnel who have to buff up endpoint security to account for anticipated lackluster personal device security.

Some IT and HR professionals share the concern, though, that it could enhance FLSA compliance issues. Studies have found that workers tend to keep at job tasks even after they should have stopped for the day, resulting in overtime and reporting issues. Seeing as some of the problems of BYOD are shared, these departments need to get together and offer ideas on how to effectively solve each of them. By finding a middle ground, companies should discern a way to save data and money at the same time.

What do you think about BYOD? Should employees be allowed to use their own devices? Let us know on Twitter by mentioning @JoeyBaird with your answer.


Cutting Wellness May Cut Profits

16 Jul

Human Resources Cost CuttingThis guest blog post is courtesy of Mary Anne Osborne, SPHR, and principal of the Osborne Group. Mary Anne is a people-centric HR professional and consultant with over 25 years of HR experience in telecom, finance, manufacturing, healthcare and higher education.  Mary Anne presents monthly on our complimentary Sage HR R&R: Refresh and Recertify Webcast Series.

The cost of healthcare is continually on the rise as a result of the economy and recent changes to federal laws. Employers are trying to find ways to save money without sacrificing employee engagement, but the trade-off could seem too compelling for those already struggling with shrinking customer bases. The problem is, it may be more expensive to cut benefits than to continue these programs.

The healthcare condition

A study by Towers Watson has found that, indeed, average payments for insurance and other health costs have remained high for the last three years. In some countries, the annual increase has been more than 10 percent for overall coverage. The upward climb has seen a slowdown during that time frame, but the consistent trend isn’t heartening for HR and payroll personnel tasked with finding more money within existing infrastructure.

Proactive support initiatives

The problem with taking away benefits is that businesses have difficulty with retaining top talent and attracting similar candidates. Offering top-notch services may be more expensive, but companies like Verizon prove that this employee investment strategy actually pays off over time.

Verizon was named the National Business Group on Health’s 2012 Best Employer for Healthy Lifestyles. The credit was earned by offering wellness and health facilities at 44 of its central locations which offer free services to employees. Encouraging wellness through the company not only makes for a better-prepared workforce, it also helps manage the cost by stabilizing these facilities as business-owned, ensuring outside HMO’s can’t affect the cost or overcharge insurance providers for services.

Methods in management

Getting everyone on the same page for fitness may seem challenging to HR professionals, but there’s no need to invest in on-site medical facilities or other extravagant programs if it simply isn’t in the budget. You may even have an opportunity to use technology to improve employee wellness for much less of a cost, both for staff and the company.

Using innovative online teaching tools can give employees an education in self-help. A business can invest in its own wellness software or purchase licenses at much less of a cost in order to provide workers with tools about dieting, exercise and long-term planning. These tips and tricks are essential for promoting a more flex between work and life and increasing employee engagement through positive reinforcement of good habits

What Makes Technology Cool? Business Results

13 Jul

Technology Tools That Increase Business Results

In this fifth installment of a five part series, Mollie Lombardi, a research director for Aberdeen Group’s human capital management practice, shares her thoughts on the importance of emerging and new technology. Mollie has surveyed and interviewed thousands of end-users to gain a better grasp of the key challenges facing human resources and talent management leaders. Mollie has an extensive background in writing and speaking about topics such as strategic talent management and employee engagement. If you’d like to learn more about Mollie you may read our first installment, Meet Mollie Lombardi.

 I am asked frequently to comment on the “cool new technologies” available in the world of human capital management. There certainly are a lot of shiny, exciting tools and products coming onto the market, and the ones that excite me most are those that can be used to implement strategy: technology that helps me make better decisions, connects me with the right stakeholders and helps me achieve business objectives. 

An area seeing much technological innovation today is in tools that foster collaboration, which can be thought of in two ways when it comes to human capital management: collaboration in completing projects and collaboration in talent decision-making.

Completing Projects: Technologies such as video chat on mobile phones and slide-sharing video sites within organizational firewalls help teams working together, individuals seeking out experts to learn from, or employees finding new ways to apply existing solutions to new problems.

Talent decision-making: The goal of any good hiring, on-boarding or succession initiative is to make better decisions about talent, ensuring that the organization has people with the skills, capabilities and knowledge the business needs to move forward. Technology that provides visibility of the data required to make decisions and allows individuals to collaborate by sharing comments and ideas is an exciting trend. These valuable technologies include:

  • Mobile phone apps that allow interview teams to rapidly evaluate and share comments about a candidate.
  • Internal social networking tools that have built-in analytics showing who key influencers are within the organization, making that a part of how talent gets evaluated.
  • Dashboard and analytics tools that can serve up data to any user based on their role, no matter where they are, from shop floor to executive meeting room.

An Aberdeen Group report, 2011’s HR Executive Agenda, reveals that organizations combining workforce and business data are three times as likely to achieve best-in-class status. This shows just how critical technologies that bring the right information to the decision-making process can be. So, as exciting as “cool new technologies” are, it’s important to measure their impact in the context of whether they help achieve organizational goals. In for-profit organizations, this tends to be revenue goals; for nonprofit organizations, it is meeting the needs of whatever groups or interests they serve.

The Aberdeen research also shows that though 57 percent of businesses say they can measure a correlation between their talent management efforts and business operational metrics, a mere 12 percent say they have the data to validate that correlation. For talent leaders to really have a voice within the organization, this number must increase.

Keeping abreast of the “cool new technologies” is important, but finding and using technologies that support strategy and enable results — and proving it — is the ultimate cool.


Mistakes to Avoid for Effective Payroll

11 Jul

Avoiding federal payroll compliance errors can save HR a lot of time and money. There are certain pitfalls as common as they are easy to avoid, while knowledge pertaining to these errors will help keep them out of your accounting.

Classify your co-workers correctly

Exempt or nonexempt? Employee or independent contractor? If you don’t know where employees fall in your company’s infrastructure, chances are you may not be submitting the right information to payroll, let alone the IRS. Failing to correctly report a worker’s status can result in a full overhaul of your accounting, an expensive and embarrassing process.

An exempt worker isn’t covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), so their hours aren’t paid individually. Rather, they get a set wage, regardless of how many hours they do or do not work. A nonexempt employee in the same circumstances would be entitled to an hourly rate plus time and a half for any hours worked past 40 in a single work week.

If you’re considering taking a shortcut on payroll software by classifying all workers as independent contractors, make sure they actually are first. An employer is only required to submit a 1099-MISC for all contract workers at the end of the year. Misclassifying any employee, though, can result in payroll compliance fines and possibly a lawsuit if he has been unjustly disallowed access to programs.

Take the right taxes

Once you know where each employee falls, make sure your payroll software is up to date and your HR professionals are trained on current practices as well. New legislation can change the amount of payroll withholding on everything from healthcare to Social Security, and programs within the company could change premiums or benefits at any time. If communication is a problem, this can result in internal dilemmas, but improperly calculating federal taxes can be a much bigger problem if the government catches it before internal accounting.

Mind the details

Retirement programs, life insurance and tax savings accounts all need to be calculated and reported correctly on W-2 and 1099-MISC forms where applicable. Incorrect information supplied to an employee and the IRS can lead to a spreadsheet nightmare of trying to track down the issue and sort out errors, creating a time-consuming and expensive problem that could easily have been avoided. Taking care in filling out forms may seem tedious, but it’s preferable to having to do everything over again and losing money for the business.

Need more information on government compliance? Visit our library of Human Resources Best Practices and Tools to download whitepapers like Avoiding Costly Fines: A 2012 Guide to Compliance Mandates or to view recorded webcasts like Wage and Hour—Staying on the Right Side of the DOL.


Can Online Training Really Be Beneficial?

9 Jul

Empower Your Human Resources Team with TrainingSome businesses may hold back on offering training to employees because they’re worried about the costs involved, but there are benefits to alternative modes of worker development that can make it an appealing employee retention strategy.

Offering computerized training instead of face-to-face opportunities may seem impersonal, but these online courses actually may be more effective teaching tools. Employees can set the pace in training modules and are engaged in various tests and interactive sessions to facilitate applying knowledge at the same time it’s being gained. Rather than negatively affecting the amount employees take away by keeping them active for the entire course, they actually are more likely to learn.

Computer-based courses also save employers money in a number of ways. Gone are the travel and entertainment costs usually associated with off-site seminars, as well as increased hours out of the office and decreased productivity. Since this kind of training can also reach a much wider audience, it allows remote employees to get necessary information as well without the hassle of scheduling conflicts. It’s also much cheaper and more effective to create a single learning experience than have a manager set aside time to repeat lectures.

If you’re interested in learning more about online human resources training, take a look at our Sage HR Essentials Library. The library contains 29 courses that are HRCI certified for continuing education credits and another 45 courses to expand your knowledge on key compliance topics and critical leadership skills.


Give Yourself Time to Make Benefits Enrollment Easy

5 Jul

Time is of the essenceMost employers hold open enrollment during the October through December period because their benefit plan year starts January 1.  Open enrollment can be the defining task the human resource department undertakes all year as it has impact on employer and employee costs, employment satisfaction, recruiting and HR interdepartmental relations.

Organizations devote a great deal of energy and countless hours to meet the demands of end-of-year enrollment periods. With all of the details required to budget, plan and execute the open enrollment process, it can easily become a headache-prone project. Well-planned processes and smart technology can help ease the pain for HR and everyone involved. An online enrollment application can be used to collect and verify  employees’ benefit elections. Transmitting the enrollment data electronically to the carriers completes the solution by ensuring on-time delivery of benefit elections, eliminating data entry errors, and cutting many HR hours from the process.

Time is of the Essence

HR departments are right now negotiating new plan year benefits with insurance carriers and other benefit providers, looking for the best benefit to cost ratio for their employer and employees. Many are also shopping for new or upgraded benefits admin system with their focus on the upcoming open enrollment projects.

A prospective user of an electronic carrier connection solution needs to allow 60 days to implement it in order to take advantage of improvements this year.  This will allow them to fully purchase, implement the program, and then test it. Since most organizations hold their open enrollments at the end of the calendar year, the time frame is starting now to look for automated benefits solutions.

What other tips and tricks are there to making benefits enrollment easy?

You Need a Vacation. Do You Take It?

2 Jul

Vacation from Human ResourcesAre your work and life priorities out of alignment? Are you feeling exhausted and burned out?  With the summer upon us, it is natural for us to begin planning a vacation – that respite from the chaos of work.  So, how do we give ourselves permission to take a break and what is the right kind of break to take? I have a neighbor of mine who’s mantra is “I need a break.” And she doesn’t hesitate to give herself one. She simply takes a vacation whenever the urge arises. In fact, she took so many vacations last year (I lost track at over 15) that she was physically gone from her home more than she was there. The irony is as soon as I welcome her back and ask how her latest vacation was, she immediately responds with “I need a break… a vacation from my vacation.” Clearly, whatever she is doing is not working. There is an art and science to taking a break. This post is about solving that puzzle for you.

The Science

Experts routinely point to the need for taking a break in our lives as a means of keeping us renewed, refreshed and recharged. Vacations can serve this purpose well. They allow us to disconnect from work, reconnect to what matters and often come back with a fresh perspective. What we also know is that as a culture, Americans tend to take vacations at a significantly lower rate than other developed nations – in some cases only mere days vs. the weeks of “holiday” our European counterparts commonly enjoy. Arguments have been made that this lack of downtime in our culture has contributed to our higher rates of burnout and may even lead to higher divorce rates and greater family instability.

The Art

So, the answer is that we need to take a three week vacation, right? Not so fast. Here’s where the “art” of vacationing comes in. It varies from person to person. So while we know we need to take a break, there are several important things to consider as you determine the right break for you:

Are you better idling the engine vs. turning the engine off?  I recently took a week and a half vacation – a long vacation for my standards.  I turned off the engine, but not just one engine. I turned off my work engine, exercise engine, spiritual engine, etc… Jump starting all of those engines since my return has proven to be quite difficult. Here’s what I’ve learned about myself: I do much better with “idling the engine” vs. turning the entire engine off. In other words, a long four day weekend does the trick vs. taking several weeks off. What about for you?

Can you leave work for that long without it piling up? The reality is that with nearly all organizations running lean and doing “more with less,” it is all that more difficult to leave work. So, can you find a way to leave work without returning to 1,000+ e-mails? Consider delegating and / or giving plenty of notice to everyone around you to minimize your workload upon your return.

Will you still have a job when you return? An even worse reality in this economy is that in some cases when people leave for extended periods of time, if the organization runs “too smoothly” without them, it might highlight they aren’t necessary. Don’t leave if the axe is still falling in your organization and more downsizing could be looming. That’s a time to make yourself seen and valuable, not missing and unnecessary.

Sight-seeing vs. beach chairs and daiquiris – what recharges your battery? Ask yourself what renews you. Is it high levels of activity and adventure or the opposite – quiet and relaxation? Knowing this can prevent you from taking the wrong vacation and coming back needing a “vacation from your vacation.”

Who’s going with you? Kids? Significant other? Friends? Going solo? Who you bring with you will directly impact what gets recharged and what might not get recharged. What do you need? Choose wisely or suffer the consequences.

Be sure to enjoy the build-up. For many of us, the planning process can be just as rewarding (if not more so, ironically) than the actual vacation itself. Planning the perfect vacation can give us a short-term goal to look forward to when we are in the midst of stress so be sure you are enjoying the anticipation and planning.

Finding the Right Plan for You

Here’s where I wish I could tell you what you need to do. Unfortunately, I can’t. I can tell you what I’ve learned about myself over the past year. I’ve learned that long vacations don’t work nearly as well as do short breaks for me. I’ve also learned a painful lesson that if I don’t take time to recharge, I’ll come dangerously close to burning out. So what am I going to do about it? I’m planning four mini-vacations (essentially long weekends) this year to keep myself recharged. Some will be with kids, some won’t. I’ve already got the first two on the calendar and I can’t wait!

In the end, learning how to take a break and recharge is an art and a science. We know we need to do it, but the “how” varies for each person. Try some new things next year to strike the right balance for you and let me know what worked for you. If I can’t use it, I know my neighbor will be happy to.

Today’s guest post comes to us from Brandon Smith. Therapist, professor, consultant and radio host, Brandon brings an upbeat, witty approach to the challenges of workplace health and dysfunction. Brandon is the founder of – a resource dedicated to eliminating dysfunction at work, improving workplace health and restoring optimism and focus in the workplace. Brandon also currently serves as faculty at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School where he teaches and researches on topics related to leadership, communication and healthy workplace dynamics.