Archive | July, 2013

Is Your Coworker an Emotional Vampire?

31 Jul

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.

vampireLarry was a mysterious colleague. “Charming and captivating” were words his coworkers used to describe first meeting Larry. Larry just seemed to emit a certain attractive quality. It would reel you in like a moth to a flame. But then something strange would happen. The more time spent with Larry, the more his coworkers would complain of feeling drained and exhausted. Larry became known for turning 30-minute “touch base” meetings into 2-3 hour marathons where he would talk, preach, reenact, dream, and generally suck up the energy in the room. Unfortunately, while Larry was feeding off of the energy in the room, his coworkers suffered. Larry would leave the meetings energized with an extra hop in his step while his coworkers crawled to the door, exhausted and drained from Larry’s endless one-way banter. Larry is part of a dangerous office breed: the emotional vampire.

How You Know You’ve Been Bitten

Emotional vampires are sneaky and subtle. They move in as charming colleagues. They are captivating, entertaining, and generally interesting. The problem is that their energy comes from the people around them. Whether they hijack meetings to dream about big ideas or they take over discussions to complain about their workload, their energy comes from being heard and reaffirmed. They suck mercilessly until they are fed, leaving shriveled colleagues in their wake. How do you know if you’ve been bitten? Three signs:

  1. The emotional vampire talks about him/herself relentlessly—They find ways to take what you are talking about and turn it to themselves. They listen very little and talk incessantly.
  2. The emotional vampire has no boundaries and no respect for others’ time—They grab you in the hallway, causing you to be late. They never ever end meetings on time.
  3. You feel exhausted after you spend time with them—They usually start off meetings semiflat and end meetings looking and acting “high.” Those in the meeting with the emotional vampire have the opposite experience. If you find yourself bringing coffee to meetings in anticipation of the energy drain you’ll likely experience, you may have an emotional vampire on your hands.

Your Garlic Strategy for Keeping Emotional Vampires at Bay

I’ve fought my fair share of emotional vampires in the workplace, and I have the fang marks to prove it. After barely escaping their clutches on more than one occasion, I’ve learned that there are certain things that you can do that emotional vampires despise. Consider the following strategies:

  • If possible, never meet with them in person—Emotional vampires have to meet in person in order to effectively drain other’s energy. For them, it is not a preference, it is a need. Refuse to meet with them in person and offer a phone call instead. You’ll see them squirm, protest, and revolt. It seems fangs can’t penetrate through phone lines very well.
  • Never answer your phone when they call—When emotional vampires call, never answer your phone. Force them to leave a message so you know what they want and call them back on your time. If you don’t, they’ll catch you off guard and derail your day.
  • Always open every conversation with a “hard stop”—Emotional vampires suck and suck and suck until you tell them to stop. Your best preemptive strategy is to open every interaction with an emotional vampire by announcing, “Unfortunately, I only have ten minutes to talk.” It forces them to get to the point and keeps them relatively in check. Note: Whatever “hard stop” you announce, just be aware that they will not adhere to it, so be sure to give yourself a buffer.
  • Be aggressive and take charge—Emotional vampires tend to prey on our professional courtesies and politeness. They take charge of conversations and quickly turn the topic of conversation to themselves and what they want to talk about. They do not like aggressive conversationalists. If you are the one asking the questions of them and if you keep redirecting them back to the agenda, you’ll soon see that they will begin to avoid you. You prevent them from getting what they want, and they don’t like that.

Emotional vampires leave shriveled hollow shells of colleagues in their wake. Stop them in their tracks with the strategies outlined above and they might just see the light. Then again, like most vampires, emotional vampires don’t care very much for the light and may just look for another home that is darker and less bright. Either way, you rid your workplace of those nasty pests.

Good luck, stay sharp, and keep your garlic handy.

How High Efficiency Creates High Performance for HR and Improved Business Results

22 Jul

Efficiency impacts HR professionals in every aspect of their work. Whether they’re working on payroll management, employee engagement, recruitment, or compliance, efficiency is not only directly connected to HR productivity and effectiveness – but overall company performance. When HR practices are efficient, a company thrives. Yet efficiency goes much deeper than just getting more accomplished in a shorter time frame.

Although the relationship between efficiency and heightened performance has been thoroughly recorded, many companies have been hesitant to adopt new practices, instead relying on outdated methods. There are companies out there that still abide by the old guard, championing their antiquated personnel management and administration strategies; this despite others who more fully recognize the connection between talent and results when HR is integrated with business decision-making and strategy to promote greater efficiency.

HR departments are increasingly relying on talent management software to conserve resources. These talent management systems keep HR professionals organized, efficient, and allow employees to grow professionally by accurately tracking and assessing data, benchmarks, and projects; in the process, providing invaluable data and insight into operations and strengths and weaknesses.

Organizational Support and Employee Engagement
Taking into account the extent of information HR professionals need to keep track of, organization is of the utmost importance. In my experience, the most efficient and effective HR departments make use of self-service payroll administration, employee training, and staffing procedures. Often times, these simplifications are achieved through technology such as human resource management software.

Through the use and integration of HR software, employers can train new employees with web-based technology, giving access to information and virtual scenarios from remote locations, eliminating the need for additional staffing to implement in-person training. An HR professional can also access compliance or benefits paperwork at any time, print them out as needed, or even invite an employee to complete necessary paperwork online.

When addressing staffing needs, recruiting software has opened up opportunities to HR as well.  Now, when an employer posts an open position, potential candidates worldwide can see it, cutting down on the number of hours dedicated to combing through resumes. This improved efficiency means that when a company manager needs a new hire, not only will the recruitment process be streamlined, but also enhanced through the use of software that enables the businesses to move with greater insight into hiring initiatives and qualified candidates.

Many concerns that fall under “operational success” include the day-to-day activities of an HR department.  While these tasks go unnoticed when done right – people notice right away when they are not. A highly effective HR department needs to go beyond improving the efficiency of the daily tasks.

Integrated Talent Management Strategy
There is one area in which world-class companies spend more than average companies: the development and management of their employees. The practice of investing in employees is yet another way to improve efficiency, as workforce talent cultivated in an atmosphere of enhanced productivity can bring major benefits to organization.

The more an organization invests in its human capital, the better a position it puts itself in to benefit from employing individuals drilled in company culture and best practices – leading to greater efficiency and less wasting of time and resources. For instance, when recruiting, instead of dedicating efforts to vetting outside applicants, firms with integrated talent management strategies can turn inwards for internal replacements.

Human Resources departments and team members should wear two hats: one that services that business in a strategic mannerand another that serves as an advocate and champion for employees.

Technology also plays a significant role in driving businessperformance. HR professionals are able, through software applications, to assess employee performance, as well as encourage employee feedback on processes or products.  HR professionals can then quickly convert that data into results, such as return on employee investment or improvements in infrastructure. When an HR representative is able to delve through this information without trouble, their productivity increases, and when an HR department functions at a high level, so does the rest of the company.

For example, when HR professionals become more productive, analytics and reports are created in greater depth, providing heightened value to those that use such information. VPs of sales, managers, or supervisors can then implement talent management strategies such as motivational compensation plans using the information delivered by HR. As a result, employee engagement will rise, leading to higher revenues and better business overall.

Utilizing Talent Analytics
Highly efficient human resources departments are more likely to pay attention to, and use, analytics and metrics.  The implementation of HR software solutions, which improve a business’ understanding of such data by allowing for greater efficiency, can help an organization achieve their analytics-based goals, which include:

  • Identifying talent and effectively managing employees.
  • Developing competitive business strategies.
  • Making company-wide decisions on human capital management.
  • Weighing costs and benefits of new business tactics.

An HR department’s job is one that is required to juggle perspectives and balance constantly changing priorities. It can be a daunting task. But when businesses fully understand the farther-reaching impact of an effective HR strategy and trust their HR professionals with adequate resources, HR departments become an asset for employees as well as the board room.

Five Reasons to Offer Flexible Working Arrangements

19 Jul

Out of sight, out of mind – that’s what many employers imagine might happen to an employee’s mindset when they’re out of the office. Most companies throughout the U.S. don’t offer flexible working arrangements for their staff. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 5 percent of employers offer flexible work schedules for a majority of their workers on a consistent basis, and that percentage has only gone up 1 percentage point since 2003.

Although traditional workdays are effective, it may be time for HR professionals and supervisors to update their employee management strategies, as an increasing amount of research shows flexible schedules benefit both employers and employees alike. Keep reading to find out five reasons to offer flexible working arrangements.

1. Attract Top Talent
Being able to work from home is considered a huge perk for prospective and current employees, and can act as an incentive to hire top-quality talent.

Entrepreneur and New York Times best-selling author Kevin Kruse said that the ability to work from home has helped him draw in top talent for more than two decades. Kruse wrote in Forbes that for 20 years he’s been telling new employees: “You can do your job wherever and whenever you want. You can even sit in a beach chair with a cocktail in hand for all I care, as long as you get our desired results.”

He goes on to say that offering a flexible schedule has allowed him to recruit star employees, and lure away talent from competitors without having to offer a raise in pay. A Census survey confirms this: people who work exclusively from home put in the same amount of hours as those in similar office-based roles, but made an average of $4,500 less per year than their counterparts.

When people have the choice to save money on commuting and have more freedom in their jobs, they’re far more willing to accept a lower salary.

2. Increased Employee Engagement, Happiness
On cold winter days, it’s difficult to find any joy in commuting – waiting for a bus or train, or climbing into a freezing car can be miserable, making employees dread going to work in the morning. On other occasions when a child is home sick, finding a way to care for them without missing work can be a real challenge. Offering flexible scheduling and the ability to work from home is a perk that should not be underestimated, as it increases job satisfaction and overall well-being.

Having the option to work from home gives employees the sense that their supervisors value their happiness and appreciate a strong work/home balance. Happy employees are engaged employees, and any HR professional or manager knows how important engagement is.

Gallup’s “The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes” report revealed just how vital employee engagement really is. According to the study, companies with approximately 9.3 engaged employees for every disengaged one experienced 147 percent higher earnings per share compared to their competitors.

3. Improved Productivity
A major reason why most managers resist telecommuting is they believe productivity will take a hit. Studies show, however, that the opposite is true.

Researchers at Stanford University found that, at CTrip travel agency in China, when workers were given the option to conduct business from home, they took fewer breaks during the day, absenteeism dropped, and performance increased by 13 percent,. Of that 13 percent, 9 percent worked more hours per shift, making flexible arrangements a smart human resources solution.

4. Cost Efficiency
Workplace flexibility can save a company money, making the option a valuable investment. If on any given day at an office, 25 percent of employees are working from home, that’s 25 percent people using phones, computers, desk lamps, printers, fax machines, and other electronics, saving on energy and improving sustainability.

Operating electronically also saves money on office supplies – workers won’t be using company paper, pens, and pencils if they’re working from their living room. As any office manager knows, the cost of these items can add up quickly – having to place fewer orders for everyday items frees up valuable room in an organization’s budget.

Business owners can also opt for power-saving technologies when fewer employees are in the office, and can make the switch to time-based Power over Ethernet optimization. PoE allows individuals to turn a network on or off based on a company’s schedule, so if a workforce is operating from home or is encouraged to leave the office by a certain time each day, managers can disable the network to save money.

5. Better Communication, Stronger Results
Working from home requires increased communication between a team and supervisors. Improved communication creates a more equal workplace, and when working from home, this information flow makes employees feel respected and valued, without feeling like they are being babysat or micro-managed.

At the end of the day, sales numbers, productivity and increased revenues are what really matters to a company, and employees should be paid for the work they do, not just for showing up to an office everyday. If an employee can successfully operate from home, what does a company have to lose?

Five Creative Tips for Effective Benefits Management

17 Jul

This guest blog post is courtesy of Mary Anne Osborne, SPHR, and principal of the Osborne Group. Mary Anne is a peoplecentric 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 Refresh and Recertify Webcast Series that are approved for 1.00 recertification credit hours toward PHR, SPHR, and GPHR recertification through the HR Certification Institute.

Benefits take up a large portion of an HR budget, which is why it’s important for a company to develop a management strategy that will increase employee return on investment, engagement, and staff performance.

Implementing an effective benefits management plan can be difficult, however, as there are many things to take into consideration. Keep reading to find five tips on putting in place a great benefits management plan:

1. Be Innovative, Flexible
When thinking about employee benefits, oftentimes, most minds will go straight to fiscal-related benefits like retirement. Yet one of the easiest and least expensive employee benefits is a flexible work schedule. Flexible work schedules are gaining in popularity across all sectors, and for good reason. A recent Gallup poll found employee engagement was significantly higher at companies where workers enjoy a reasonable amount of flex-time.

Gallup’s State of the American Workplace found that flex-time had the strongest correlation to employee well-being, happiness, and engagement. Gallup reported that engaged employees with flexible schedules had 44 percent higher wellbeing than disengaged employees with strict schedules.

One of the greatest aspects of a flexible schedule is that it is cost effective. If employees are allowed to work from home on a regular basis and still produce quality work, there’s no reason for managers to discourage this practice. Instead, managers can score points with a staff by offering this highly desirable benefit to a workforce.

2. Offer Well-Rounded Health Plans
Effective benefits plans include more than basic compensation and health care plans. If a company can afford it, it’s worth it to invest in a robust health program. This doesn’t have to be hugely expensive, however.

Building a fitness facility onsite is a great idea, but if a company can’t afford such a major investment, a health plan that comes with discounted gym memberships is an effective way to improve employee health and happiness.

Another plus? Regular physical activity cuts down on illness, meaning lower absenteeism and lower insurance costs. In addition to offering sound HMO or PPO health insurance plans, companies can kick off health programs with weight loss or fitness competitions, which will bring some extra life to an office and improve morale.

3. Balance Work and Life
Remember above all else that employees exist outside of the office. This may sound basic, but many members of a company would argue that being overworked by managers makes them feel like they are valued only as workers and not as people.

This is an easy fix. Employers can offer more time off, either through a revised benefits package or through incentive programs like sales competitions. Set up a monthly sales competition, and instead of (or in addition to) monetary rewards, award the winners with an extra day off that they can take whenever they’d like. This will allow for greater balance between work and life, and will improve worker happiness.

4. Focus on Communication
If an HR professional or manager finds himself stuck deciding between benefits management plans, it’s a good idea to consult the staff. After all, they’re the ones who will be subject to any plan.

Asking employees what kind of benefits they’d like to see, or what changes are necessary to improve productivity, will increase communication and the important relationships between a staff and their supervisors. Many companies are choosing to use office management software, which facilitates easy and effective communication.

5. Stay Open to Possibilities
There’s no rule that a benefits management plan has to stay the same for years at a time. In fact, keeping up with industry trends can help companies stay ahead of the competition.

If a company wants to keep star employees around, they would be wise to update a benefits plan, incorporating flexibility with traditional perks. This is a winning combination that will improve employee retention, engagement, and productivity.

Creating a motivational and cost-effective benefits management program can be tough, but with a little creativity and dedication to talent management, a company can improve practices across the board.

The 101 of Performance Rating Scales

3 Jul

Performance rating scales are beneficial to every type of business. They allow employers to gauge worker progress and help employees understand company objectives. Rating scales are often utilized because they are generally easy to administer, are low cost, and create quantitative assessments that are useful for employees, managers, HR representatives, and even executives. Here’s an outline of what must go into developing a performance rating policy:

Developing a Scale
There are a variety of scales for management officials to choose from when structuring a system—which can make the process a bit confusing. However, once a manager decides on the appropriate measurement system, performance management will become easier and offer more insight. These are a few of the most common types of rating systems:

  • Numeric: In this system, employees are rated on a numeric scale such as 1-5 or 1-10. By using numbers, employers can track performance using a scale that is easy to understand for employees and managers alike.

Be sure to include rating documents that explain why a rating of “1” is termed as poor performance and “5” is above average. If an employer is looking for a more precise assessment, he or she can use a scale of 1-10 and assign each numeric figure as a highly specific rating.

  • Alphabetic: This method employs the use of letters as markers of achievement. Managers can develop a rating system in which traditional alphabetic values are assigned to each letter.

For example, an “A” would mark an exemplary performance, while a “C” would indicate satisfactory achievement.

  • Verbal Phrases: Rather than employing a coded numeric or alphabetic system, companies can opt to utilize a method in which phrases mark performance. One can use the terms “Unacceptable,” “Basic,” “Effective,” and “Very Effective.”

Because phrasing can be interpreted in several different ways, it behooves managers to define criteria for each designation. For example, it should be made clear that rating a worker as “very effective” would mean that the individual consistently produces high-quality work, has strong ethics, and benefits the company as a whole.

Selecting a plan doesn’t have to be tricky. Consider these three basic rating systems as a starting ground to assess employee performance.

Guidelines for Assessment
Once a method of appraisal has been selected, HR representatives and managers can decide on assessment criteria. Here are a few examples of ranking programs:

  • Behavior Appraisal: Managers can assess employee efforts by focusing on their behavior. Being a star employee is about more than just showing up every day and producing results—behavior can affect office morale and client interactions.

It’s important that rating systems take into account employee performance metrics, attendance, and qualitative benchmarks such as attitude. If a supervisor wants to understand his or her company as a whole, he or she can take these rating systems and rank employees from high achieving to those who most need to improve. Being able to see a clear breakdown of employee performance is extremely valuable and can help decision makers guide their company in the right talent management direction.

  • Trait Valuation: While the behavior-appraisal method focuses on quantitative data as well as specific employee actions, trait appraisal focuses more heavily on subjective qualities. Some criteria such as willing to make the extra effort can easily be determined and feed into measuring return on employee investment.

Supervisors can create a checklist with categories like helpfulness and dependability and mark off positive qualities for each of their employees. This method is particularly popular in customer-service companies, where human interactions are the key to success.

  • Paired Comparisons: This method compares each team member against the rest of his colleagues to develop an understanding of team dynamics and areas in which to improve on in departmental collaboration, for instance. Paired comparisons also provide managers with breakdowns that are supremely resourceful in trying to decide between promotion considerations between two or more candidates.

Whichever rating system HR professionals settle upon, it is essential to effective talent management through assessments that are clearly defined. Such strategies enable companies to diagnose their workforce and gain greater insight into employee engagement, efficiency, and productivity.

To Be or Not to Be—An Alert

1 Jul

1189820-bigthumbnailToday’s guest post comes from Don Farber. Don writes frequently for the Employer Solutions blog and is a leading spokesperson on the value of business activity monitoring. Don has over 25 years’ experience in the front-office and back-office software industry and is cofounder and vice president of Vineyardsoft Corporation. Don is a frequent speaker at industry events and author of numerous white papers on such subjects as identifying support rep burnout, enabling organizations to become more “data-driven,” and cost-effective compliance.

There are a few phrases in the English language that will live forever; one of my favorites is “Red Alert!” from the original “Star Trek” television series. When Captain Kirk shouted that out, you just knew something exciting was about to happen.

But did you ever notice that every now and then a young yeoman would walk up to Kirk’s chair and hand him some kind of electronic notebook, which he’d glance at, scribble on, and then hand back? What the heck was on that . . . his lunch order?

Personally, I think it was something important, like the state of the ship’s dilithium crystals. (Non-Trekkies may wish to Google that.)

The point—and I do have one—is that “alerts” come in many shapes and sizes; and before you start debating whether an alerts system may be beneficial to your HR organization, it’s worth taking a few minutes to understand what an alert is . . . as well as what it’s not.

Some people would argue that by definition, an alert has to contain minimal information—like a stop light, whose only information is “stop,” “slow down,” and “go.” I disagree. As an example, many HR organizations choose to alert managers whenever they have an employee coming up for annual review; those “alerts” contain a raft of employee information and performance statistics so that the manager can be well informed and ask the most relevant questions.

Other people would claim that an alert is defined by virtue of the manner in which the information is delivered. Thus a text message sent to your cell phone is an “alert,” whereas an absenteeism report sent to your email account is not. Again, I respectfully disagree. Many HR organizations dynamically track employee absenteeism throughout a month so they can alert managers if and when any of their staff are out of the office more than usual.

So—what are the unique characteristics of an “alert”?

Two things: timeliness and criticality of information.

Timeliness is an interesting concept because it can mean “within minutes” if we’re talking about identifying and alerting about an erroneous pay rate. But timeliness could also mean “before the end of this month” if we’re looking at employees’ accrued sick time. So in reality, “timeliness” can’t be pinned down to any particular interval, but rather must be defined in terms of “soon enough.” (And what’s “soon enough” for one business condition is “way too late” for another.)

Even more interesting, though, is an alert’s “criticality of information.” But as to what kind of HR-specific activities should be considered “critical” and which should not . . . well, that could spring a debate that won’t be over anytime soon. One easy answer is to say that something is “critical” if—by not responding to it—something bad would happen.

Unfortunately that’s not always the case. Sometimes an alert is critical for the simple reason that it is expected by the recipient—and if that receipt doesn’t occur . . . well, that’s bad too. And so, although the receipt of an “expected alert” doesn’t prevent anything bad from occurring, the absence of that alert can fail to reassure the recipient that “all is well.”

“Expected alerts” also bring up the subject of “reports and forms as alerts.”

Let’s say your HR department wishes to monitor employee absenteeism. If an employee logs excessive sick days, you want to alert his manager—and, you’d like that alert to include a report of that employee’s recent absences. So is the delivery of this information an “alert” or is it a “report”?

In truth, it’s both. It’s an alert that includes the contents of a report as part of the alert’s notification message. The same is true for the timely delivery of relevant forms and documents. If an employee is approaching that narrow window of opportunity when he can change his elected health benefits, an alert would be the ideal way to notify him about that opportunity—as well as to deliver the appropriate forms he would need to change his enrollment.

Even today you’re probably making more use of “alerts” than you might think. Automating the processes whereby you get the right information to the right people—and when it’s needed the most—is all that it takes to be an alert. Well . . . that plus setting phasers on “stun” . . .

To learn more about business activity monitoring and how your organization can benefit from increased notifications, view the Sage HRMS Alerts and Workflow by Vineyardsoft information page. There you’ll find white papers, webcasts, and data sheets that will help you identify trends or problems across your entire business as they occur, rather than hours, days, or weeks later.