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What drives good employees to leave

17 Apr

No matter what company they work for, HR managers and supervisors will always have to deal with good employees leaving the business. People move on, whether it's for a career change, a higher salary, a promotion or personal reasons. 

Finding a proper replacement can be challenging, and no company wants to lose a valuable team player. Are there actions that hint someone is about to turn in his or her notice? And what can managers offer resigning employees to convince them to stay?

Certain behaviors signal a resignation is coming
There are certain actions that clearly indicate someone has either lost interest in his or her work or they're about to quit. Coming in late and leaving early, disappearing for lengthy periods in the middle of the day and barely getting any work done are obvious signs you'll soon need to replace someone, but what about less obvious signs?

Research from Utah State University indicated that certain behaviors, when performed consistently, reveal a worker is probably about to leave in one or two months. These activities all had one common thread – they helped an employee start disengaging him or herself from the workplace. Tim Gardner, an associate professor at the university, said that if an employee is engaging in at least six of the following behaviors, the model he created predicted with 80 percent accuracy that the individual was about to resign. These tendencies included:

  • Becoming more quiet
  • Avoiding social gatherings at which upper management would attend
  • Becoming less interested in promotion opportunities
  • Reluctance to commit to long-term projects
  • Speaking up less frequently in meetings
  • Not going above and beyond
  • Minimal interest in developing new skills and participating in training initiatives
  • Reduced productivity
  • Failing to offer up new ideas for improvement

HR managers can train supervisors within their companies to keep an eye out for such behaviors. While they aren't necessarily always associated with an impending resignation, they are certainly a warning sign.

"It appears that a person's attitude can create behaviors that are hard to disguise," said Gardner. "As the grass starts to look greener on the other side of the fence to you, chances are that others will soon notice that you've lost your focus."

What will convince them to stay?
Employee turnover is costly, with regard to dollars, recruiting costs and employee morale overall. Therefore, after receiving a letter of resignation a manager's first line of defense should be to save the job and convince the employee to stay.

This may be easier said than done. A whitepaper from the Society of Human Resource Management showed that in initial exit interviews, 38 percent of employees said they were leaving because of salary, while only 4 percent cited poor supervisors. When these same employees were surveyed again year-and-a-half later these numbers changed drastically – 12 percent said salary was their reason for departing while 24 percent said it was poor management. If fewer than 15 percent of people are really quitting because of salary, HR managers shouldn't necessarily offer a raise to retain someone. Seeing if they're interested in moving to another department or working with another team could be more beneficial, though if the worker's problem is with management as a whole, this strategy may not prove effective. 

Work-related stress was a significant reason why employees quit, according to Towers Watson data, but this same study showed that concern didn't resonate with managers, who didn't think it belonged in the top seven reasons why workers will leave. Supervisors need to rectify this, and soon, especially as constant access to technology may make some workers feel they're on call 24/7. Trying to determine the underlying cause of staff stress and offering to work with someone who's quitting on this factor may convince them the job is worth staying in after all.

What do HR managers need to know about the EEOC’s initiative to eliminate workplace harassment?

16 Apr

HR manager software can help a human resource professional better manage payroll, training and time off. As anyone in the field knows, these systems are critical given the number of other tasks on HR's plate. From new workplace rules to government initiatives, there's a lot for human resource professionals to stay up to date on.

One of these government initiatives includes ending workplace harassment. So what exactly do internal teams need to know about it, and how will it impact them, if at all?

What constitutes as harassment and what role does the EEOC play?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has long aimed to ensure all workers, regardless of sex, race, disability or other defining characteristics, have the same opportunities in the workplace. The government body has also made a move to eliminate harassment many people face on the job. Harassment of this nature is illegal, but some employers may be unclear on the specifics. 

According to the EEOC, conduct becomes unlawful when it creates an environment that is hostile, offensive or intimidating to a reasonable person. This can include physical assaults, threats, offensive jokes or insults, intimidation, ridicule or a range of other activities. Minor isolated incidents and irritations do not fall under this umbrella and would thus not be considered illegal, unwelcome as they may be. 

Harassment doesn't have to come from a higher-up. While an offender may sometimes be a worker's manager, it's just as likely the harasser could be a coworker, contractor or even a non-employee. 

It's critical HR acts on harassment complaints, or better yet, tries to nip this problem in the bud. Employers are responsible for harassment from a manager that leads to an employee's termination, failure to get a promotion or pay cut, and are also liable for harassment from other individuals if they knew or should have known about the activity and didn't put a stop to it.

EEOC finds harassment still a significant issue
While employers are certainly aware of the detrimental impacts harassment brings to the workplace and most employees sign some sort of policy stating they understand their company's harassment policy, this is still a surprisingly large issue.

A January EECO meeting found that of all the complaints filed with the organization, about 30 percent allege workplace harassment. This indicates employers aren't doing enough to keep harassment out of the workplace, or employees find the any training sessions they currently undergo ineffective. 

Due to the high rate of alleged harassment, EEOC Chair Jenny Yang announced she would establish a task force aimed at determining what strategies would best help eliminate this common workplace problem.

"The EEOC is working to leverage our resources to have a greater impact on the persistent problem of workplace harassment," said Yang. "By identifying underlying problems in workplaces and industries where we see recurring patterns of harassment, we are developing strategies that focus on targeted outreach and education as well as systemic enforcement to promote broader voluntary compliance."

Data from the EEOC shows that the fiscal year ranging from Oct. 1, 2013 to Sept. 20, 2014 saw nearly 31,100 individuals claim they'd been harassed because of their race, while more than 26,000 said their sex was the reason behind the harassment. More than 25,300 and 20,000 said the same about their disability and age, respectively.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the rate of individuals alleging retaliation for reporting harassment hit a new high of nearly 43 percent during this period. 

How employers can stop harassment
Harassment is costly, with regard to time spent trying to settle the case, low employee morale, damages that may need to be paid and a damaged brand reputation. Rather than dealing with these problems as they arise, HR departments need to determine what they can do to stop this serious issue before it even starts. 

One of these things will include revisiting current harassment training programs, namely: Do any exist? If employees are simply signing off on a sheet saying they understand and will comply with company harassment policies, they may not understand the seriousness of the issue and that something they consider a joke could actually have significant repercussions in the long run. 

Creating stronger and more informative preventative training sessions is one area in which the EEOC's Yang thinks employers could focus on. 

"Preventing harassment from occurring in the first place is far preferable to remedying its consequences," she said in a press release. 

To do this, HR managers will need to determine what needs to be discussed at the sessions, potentially including:

  • What actions constitute harassment
  • Examples of harassment and why these are considered such
  • Which groups are protected from workplace harassment by law
  • Who can be accused of harassment
  • The legal repercussions if someone goes to the EEOC with a harassment complaint
  • What will happen to an individual accused of harassment

By getting ahead of this troubling trend, employers can protect themselves and their employees from harassment and the potential litigation that may fo​llow.

The modern performance evaluation

16 Apr

Performance evaluations aren't usually the most comfortable meetings for employees or their management teams. Any situation that requires one individual to judge another is going to be stressful, and that can reduce the overall effectiveness of what could otherwise be a productive and beneficial meeting.

Thankfully, the outdated concept of the traditional performance review is starting to change, and they're being replaced by more effective, engaging conversations and human resource solutions that have a more lasting impact. 

Consistent conversations over annual rubrics
One of the major problems with the now-outdated annual performance review was its infrequency. Getting feedback once a year wasn't allowing workers to change their strategies as soon as management thought something wasn't working well. This allowed them to build up bad habits or go into their reviews thinking everything was fine, when in reality management had a very different opinion. In addition, the person conducting the review could be harping on an event or project the employee being reviewed doesn't even remember well, making it a pointless exercise. 

Traditional rubrics don't leave much room to consider each worker's unique skills and limitations. Consider those old rubrics as a guide, or something to spark ideas and conversation, rather than something that needs to be strictly followed at all times. Because ultimately, that's what the modern review should be – a conversation. Both parties should have a chance to speak and discuss each point on the agenda, ask questions and raise concerns. A successful evaluation should never consist of an HR manager rattling off a list of problems. 

Ohio State University's Office of Human Resources released a document detailing some of the most common problems with traditional reviews. They can sometimes result in a "halo effect" or rating an employee highly in every category because of exceptional performance in one area, or the contrasting "horn error" which leads managers to lower all factors in a review based on poor performance in one area. If an employee has struggled in the past, the "spillover error" could leave HR managers downgrading performance numbers even if the worker has improved.

It's critical managers have two-way chats with their teams instead of one-sided conversations while their staff members sit by. Asking employees how they can improve their performance in a specific area or what they think they've improved on can give those conducting the review an idea of how the employee sees him or herself. Requesting more detail on why or how an individual made a certain decision, where they want to develop their skills more and what's prevented them from achieving those goals may give more insight into what the worker's day consists of and if they're bogged down with time-consuming tasks.

What do employees think of these evaluations?
In a perfect world, reviews would inspire employees to improve and tackle tasks with renewed vigor. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the case. "Performance appraisal satisfaction: The role of feedback and goal orientation," a study completed by researchers at Kansas State University, Eastern Kentucky University and Texas A&M showed that top performers who want to improve are quite bothered by getting negative feedback.

With this in mind, those organizations that think it necessary to keep evaluations need to ensure the best employees aren't getting reviews that will discourage them or motivate them to leave the company.

What makes a review effective?
Ultimately, both managers and employees should walk away with several key pieces of information and should never be surprised during the review. The hallmarks of a good review are shared responsibility from both employee and supervisor, the chance to set goals and an opportunity to recognize achievement or improvement. 

If neither party feels these objectives have been achieved, it's hard to consider the review a successful or productive one. 

How do bonuses factor in?
Most managers love rewarding great performance with a bonus. However, they need to go about it a certain way. Michael Beer, chairman of management consulting firm TruePoint and professor emeritus of business administration at Harvard Business School, told Inc. magazine that under no circumstances should a manager say they plan to discuss bonuses with employees in performance reviews

"You can't get someone to really be listening and trying to learn about what they can do to change or problem solve when they know the meeting is about what their bonus is," he said. "They're going to be very defensive and closed."

Rather, the bonus talk should be saved for after the review, when the employee already knows how they're doing, where they can improve and will be fully focused on the topic at hand. 

By optimizing performance reviews, employees will be more engaged in and satisfied with the process, and management teams can see more consistent, stronger performance throughout the year. 

Mental health issues in the workplace

15 Apr

Dealing with mental health is an enormous problem facing our society. Individuals across the nation suffer from a range of disorders that the public, physicians and employers are just beginning to fully grasp. As awareness and understanding of these disorders grows, it will be more important for workplaces to ensure they're adequately protecting their workers and making accommodations for those who may already struggle with mental health problems. Strategic human resource management will be more important to guarantee this problem doesn't get out of control.

Mental health issues on the rise
An enormous number of people suffer from mental illnesses, and some may not even know it. According to the World Health Organization, it's thought that 350 million people across the globe suffer from depression, the most common mental health issue, and many more face other psychological challenges on a daily basis.

This estimate could be low. The National Institute of Mental Health notes that while sometimes mental health disorders present obvious symptoms, in some cases they don't impair an individual's ability to function at all. This could lead those affected to believe nothing serious is wrong with them. Overall, the NIH estimates 18.6 percent of U.S. adults have some sort of mental illness.

A study conducted by San Diego University's Professor Jean Twenge, the rate of depression has increased substantially since the 1980s. Her study of nearly 7 million people found that college students are 50 percent more likely now to say they feel overwhelmed and adults are more likely to say they sleep badly, feel like everything requires an effort and have a poor appetite today than they were years ago. These are all telltale symptoms of depression, and indicate mental health has worsened over the decades.

"Despite all of these symptoms, people are not any more likely to say they are depressed when asked directly, again suggesting that the rise is not based on people being more willing to admit depression," said Twenge.

There are still some misconceptions regarding mental health, so some people may think they're just having a bad week or that they need to "snap out of it" rather than considering depression or anxiety are serious, long-term health issues that can't be fixed without some sort of medical assistance.

While a stigma surrounding mental health may have been one of the issues that kept people from seeking treatment in the past, this doesn't appear to be a major barrier these days. Numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control show that nearly 63 percent of adults strongly agree with the statement "Treatment can help people with mental illness lead normal lives," while almost 26 percent slightly agreed with that assessment

Why the spike in occurrences?
There could be several reasons for the steady increase in mental health issues over the past few decades. In his piece for Psychology Today, Gregg Henriques notes that one of the factors behind increased stress, anxiety and depression is the advent of technology. With constant access to social media and the Internet, people are more apt to become worried, stressed or unrealistically compare themselves to others. All of these things can contribute to serious mental health issues over time. The constant access to sad or frightening news stories, given the relatively new 24-hour news cycle, could also be playing a role in this.

One of the other factors he addresses is the fundamental difference between how people live now and how they evolved to function. Our diets, lack of exercise and less in-person communication could all contribute to issues like depression. Similarly, the freedom people have to make their own choices and moral decisions could be leaving them unsure of their place and what's actually right.

Obviously another factor that contributes to mental health struggles, especially in recent years, is the economy. Unemployment skyrocketed in recent years, and people all over the country experienced layoffs and significant financial pressures. Some families were left short of food, adequate health care or even lost their homes. Younger adults have, in many instances, been unable to find gainful employment after graduating college, forcing them to remain in low-wage jobs and delay what's considered "real" adulthood. These are all serious problems that undoubtedly have contributed to rising stress, anxiety and depression rates.

Those who have been able to keep their jobs throughout the economic crisis haven't necessarily enjoyed better mental health, though. According to Towers Watson's 2011/2012 "Staying @ Work Survey" report, nearly 90 percent of respondents said long hours were the main source of worker stress. This was a jump of nearly nine percentage points over the same survey conducted in 2009.

Are employers addressing mental health?
As rates of depression, anxiety and other disorders have shot up, employers have been left with no choice but to do something about it if they want to keep their top performing staff members. According to the Towers Watson report, 50 percent of employers had taken some sort of action to reduce stress due to long hours in 2011 compared to only 21 percent in 2009. Because many employees are also stressed over how smartphones and email make them feel on-call 24/7, 46 percent of companies said they had tried to address the issue of technologies expanding someone's availability after the workday had ended.

However, it appears that employers that are taking these steps aren't doing enough. The research indicated 45 percent of employees said their business's actions didn't have an impact on their stress related to long hours. Another 51 percent felt the efforts their management teams had made with regard to increased availability thanks to technology hadn't been helpful.

Ultimately, HR managers will need to take additional steps to guarantee they're preventing burnout, reducing stress and keeping the most valued employees from fleeing for greener pastures. By surveying staff members on what the company can do differently to increase their satisfaction and lower stress or depression, businesses will have a more clear idea of how to proceed with this critical task and proceed with the appropriate human resource solutions.

What happens in the event of a cyberattack?

15 Apr

Cybersecurity is a top concern for every business. With multiple high-profile data breaches that cost businesses millions of dollars and seriously damaged their reputations in recent years, it's increasingly apparent that one area companies can't afford to neglect is IT security. 

But what happens if a company does indeed experience a breach? Even if all the necessary security measures are in place, every business needs to be ready for the worst. 

Who takes responsibility? 
It's an age-old question: Is HR or IT responsible for cybersecurity? In some cases one department wants control of this task and the other doesn't, making it easy to determine who blame should fall on if anything goes wrong. But all too frequently, it's difficult for leaders within these areas to decide which should take the lead. 

IT seems like an obvious choice to lead data protection initiatives – after all, cybersecurity certainly seems to fall under the information technology umbrella. And while IT professionals may be able to advise and contribute to the discussions about mitigating breaches, they aren't the only ones who have a horse in the race.

Unlikely as it seems, human resource solutions should play a major role in the cybersecurity process. In an interview with the Society for Human Resource Management, Philip L. Gordon, a shareholder in the Denver office of Littler and co-chair of the firm's Privacy and Data Protection Practice Group, claims that lost or stolen devices are one of the most common causes of data breaches. He says that training employees to report a missing device immediately is critical, and this could be one of the onboarding sessions HR completes with new workers. 

Similarly, he recommends HR have a stringent office security policy, and make sure reception workers don't allow any unauthorized individuals to walk through the workspace without supervision. 

If the IT department refuses to take the lead on data protection, the HR department may opt to create a new position like " Chief Security Officer" or something similar. This person would need to have a firm grasp on legal compliance and a strong understanding of the technical aspects that cybersecurity calls for. 

What if IT doesn't step up?
To keep from encountering any confusion over who's responsible for what when it comes to security incidents and protection, it's vital to have a plan in place before anything happens. 

While HR may be responsible for training employees on how to mitigate security risks and working with employees if one does happen, IT will be responsible for certain things given its more technical expertise. The department should be aware that if a hack does happen, it is responsible for taking machines offline, preserving evidence of the breach and working with forensics to determine what data has been compromised and how to delete any malware or hacker tools.

Experian's Data Breach Response Guide details what steps need to be taken within the first day after a breach occurs. Every organization should have a point person to go to for each item on the list, whether it's someone in the IT or HR department. The steps include recording when the breach was discovered and when someone acted on it, alerting the appropriate parties, making sure additional data loss doesn't occur and starting an investigation.

What must a company provide after a breach?
No business plans on getting hacked, but in the event it does, higher-ups need to know what documentation they be required to provide.

The Federal Trade Commission's 2014 Privacy and Data Security Update details when companies in certain industries are required to inform consumers of data breaches. The Experian report also shows how multiple states are considering more thorough notification laws that would require businesses to provide even more information about the data breaches they experienced, including what personal information was accessed, when the breach occurred, what happened and sometimes even if the notification was delayed because of a law enforcement investigation.

After a security incident, documentation at every single stage of the process is key. Professionals responsible for investigating the breach should have notes relating to each person they spoke to about the issue, how long it took them to get the authorities involved, what information was accessed and so on. They should also note not just what they did and when, but why they took those steps.

Businesses have to act now
Even if a business thinks its data is secure, chances are it can be compromised at some point. The Experian report says that in 2012 alone, 267 million records were exposed thanks to cybersecurity incidents. 

With such great repercussions, companies have to be know how to mitigate the risk of an incident and how to proceed if one does happen. By combining the duties for HR and IT, no one department has to bear the entire burden and each department can specialize in its own area.

What’s happening in the telemedicine industry?

2 Apr

Telemedicine may still be relatively new, but it's certainly undergone many changes recently. Just several months ago the benefits and drawbacks of telemedicine were still fairly unclear and the technology had barely taken off; recent developments have shined more light on the advantages, suggesting the potential telemedicine has for human resource planning could be extremely beneficial.

The current advantages of telemedicine
A recent report from the Altarum Institute revealed telemedicine continues to offer benefits with regard to quality of care and cost effectiveness. The "Telemedicine Today: The State of Affairs" research report indicated telemedicine offers savings of hundreds or thousands of dollars for patients who use the emergency room for primary care visits, which translates to massive benefits for those in need of health care.

This is also true of simple visits to primary care doctors. The Healthcare Performance Institute's "Telehealth and the U.S. College Population" report noted that while the average three to six minute basic office visit cost $133 in 2011, a telehealth consultation cost only $35 to $40

The report also noted that 70 percent of office visits and 40 percent of ER visits are unnecessary. In these instances, telemedicine can save both money and time.

It's not just a small number of people who are interested in telemedicine, either. A survey from Software Advice revealed 75 percent of people who had never used the technology before were interested in trying it, as opposed to making an in-person appointment. Twenty-one percent of people who had used these services said the quality of care they received was the same or better than they'd received in person.

Some drawbacks remain
These advantages don't mean that the telemedicine industry has no room to improve. According to the Altarum Institute report, the field remains confusing for consumers, as different state regulations create rules that can be difficult to follow and vary from one location to the next. 

Aside from this difficulty, it does appear telemedicine is working to reduce medical costs and save time.

How have early adopters fared?
Early adopters are often thought of as forward-thinking, tech-focused private companies. However, the telehealth movement proves this definitely isn't the rule. The Veterans Health Administration is one of the most prominent examples of an organization that has tried out a telemedicine program successfully, according to a report from The Commonwealth Fund. The research detailed that patients had satisfaction levels higher than 85 percent for telehealth care and "bed days" dropped by 40 percent.

Some of the keys to the VHA's success, according to The Commonwealth Fund, were aligning their telehealth strategy with the organization's overall mission, standardizing elements of the program, properly training staff with dedicated resources and gathering evidence of targeted outcomes. 

Centura Health at Home is another telehealth care system that completed a one-year pilot program to successful results. CHAH noticed ER visits declined significantly – from 283 visits in the year before the program to a mere 21 the next. Hospital readmission rates and the frequency of home visits also dropped, saving patients and health care facilities both time and money. 

As the telemedicine industry continues to grow, it will undoubtedly still face challenges. However, these setbacks may very well be overshadowed by the massive benefits organizations utilizing telehealth services have noticed thus far. The future of medicine is here, and while it certainly looks nothing like the past, it presents greater opportunities for HR professionals. If employees have greater access to telemedicine, they may be able to take care of any small medical problems more quickly and easily, resulting in fewer sick days, enhanced productivity and overall, happier employees.

Executive Order 13672 lists sexual orientation and gender identity as protected parties

19 Mar

As the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identities become more widely accepted, company executives have a new responsibility to ensure that all of their employees are treated fairly and respectfully in the workplace. In order to comply with regulations and prevent discrimination, employers must be armed with the most up-to-date information and HR solutions to cover all protected parties.

The latest ruling
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a new rule that extends workplace protections to individuals of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

"Americans believe in fairness and opportunity," Thomas Perez, the U.S. Secretary of Labor, said in a press release. "No one should live in fear of being fired or passed over or discriminated against at work simply because of who they love. Laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity are long overdue, and we're taking a big step forward today to fix that."

The "big step forward" Perez refers to is Executive Order 13672, which President Barack Obama signed on July 21, 2014, to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of protected Equal Opportunity classes under Executive Order 11246. The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) announced the order, known as the Final Rule, on December 3, 2014, and declared that it will take effect 120 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

The public response
This is the first time in history that the federal government has taken action to promote workplace equality for the LGBT community within the private sector. It comes at a time when the American public seems to be ready for change. A 2014 poll conducted through the Human Rights Campaign found that 63 percent of voters favored a federal regulation protecting LGBT workers from employment discrimination.

Although there was no prior federal law prohibiting LGBT discrimination at work, states and companies across the country already have their own rules in effect. According to a White House press release, the District of Columbia and 18 other states have laws stating that LGBT workers can't be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What is expected of employers?
In order to help businesses comply with the new regulations, the OFCCP stated that it will host webinars, workshops and forums to talk employers through the amended requirements. Additionally, it will publish fact sheets and other printed materials for distribution. Company executives should use this information to amend their employee handbooks, company policies, job postings and other internal and external-facing documents to ensure that everyone involved understands the new regulation. 

Associate Relations departments are crucial for an effective workplace

19 Mar

The Associate Relations department is one of the most critical within an organization, as it is responsible for facilitating positive relationships and overall employee management. Sometimes also called Human Resources or Employee Relations, this team helps streamline office processes and makes a beneficial addition to a company for five main reasons:

They help disseminate information
Whether it involves circulating updated office policies, explaining new government regulations or sharing company news, the Associate Relations team can ensure that all coworkers receive the same information. When everyone is on the same page, it can help cut down on inter-departmental gossip and miscommunication, which in turn can alleviate some work-related stress.

If there is a disconnect between management and employees, the Associate Relations department can also help cultivate and distribute the information needed to clear up the problem.

They streamline disciplinary actions
Performance reviews and meetings about misconduct can be tense for managers and employees alike, especially when the former are not properly trained in how to handle these situations. Associate Relations team members can work together to create written guidelines and hold training sessions to ensure that all confrontations regarding workplace disruptions, poor performance, disciplinary action and other complaints are handled professionally and respectfully. Associate Relations understands the serious nature of confidentiality and can help the reporting individual take the right steps toward resolving the problem by involving all of the right parties without causing a scene.

They can help boost morale
Everyone is busy during the workday, so in many cases company morale is put on the back burner while job-related tasks are being completed. However, if employees are unhappy at work and do not have a positive impression of the company or its values, they are likely to become unmotivated and not put their best effort forward. Something as simple as hosting team gatherings after work, finding interesting speakers to give "lunch and learn" presentations or organizing company-sponsored intramural sports teams can make a huge difference and can be planned on a more regular basis with the help of an Associate Relations team.

They manage the employee assistance program
In the modern working world, companies are becoming more willing to accommodate the needs of their employees and are even providing programs to help them through hard times. Employee assistance programs can help with everything from drug and alcohol addiction and mental health counseling to setting up flexible spending accounts and working with management to agree on nontraditional work schedules to better fit the needs of working parents. 

They facilitate quality in the workplace
At some companies, the Associate Relations team also acts as the office manager. Members of the team will be in charge of acknowledging employees' birthdays, work anniversaries and other special occasions, in addition to ordering supplies and being the point of contact when computers and other machines are not working properly. Associate Relations often also conducts office-wide surveys to give employees a confidential space to air their grievances and request changes. 

In companies without Associate Relations teams, these responsibilities are often distributed to executives and managers who do not have the time to give relevant tasks the attention they deserve. Those considering the pros and cons of creating a new Associate Relations team should start by thinking about the processes they currently have in place. Who is in charge of each of the functions listed above? Are they managed efficiently? Associate Relations professionals are typically very passionate about fostering happiness and balance within the workplace and can help streamline all office processes to make the workday run more smoothly for everyone. 

The 401(k) plan and its real value to employees: 401(k) basics

17 Mar

Enrolling in a 401(k) plan is a great way to save money for retirement at any point in your professional career, as well as a key aspect of employee benefits management. However, before getting started, it's important to understand exactly what a 401(k) is, what to expect and how to get the greatest contribution benefits.

What is a 401(k) plan?
A 401(k) plan is an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan that helps employees steadily put money away for retirement. These programs have many different components, and here's what you need to know:

  1. Both public and private for-profit companies offer 401(k) plans. Some employers will allow you to set up a 401(k) plan immediately after you start working, while others will enforce a waiting period of usually one month to one year before you are eligible.
  2. A percentage of your paychecks will be put into savings. Before you receive each paycheck, a designated percentage will be deducted and set aside in a separate 401(k) account. 
  3. Some employers offer a company match. The company match refers to the amount that an employer contributes to 401(k) accounts. Companies will match up to a certain percentage of your contribution – usually 3 to 6 percent of your paycheck – which helps your 401(k) grow even more.
  4. The maximum amount you can put into your 401(k) changes each year. The cost-of-living index and inflation are taken into account when considering this number. According to the IRS, the maximum amount you can contribute to your 401(k) plan increased from $17,500 to $18,000 in 2015.
  5. The IRS also imposes a "catch-up contribution" limit.  If you are 50 or older, you may be eligible to add an additional $6,000 to your 401(k) on an annual basis, according to the IRS.
  6. Enrolling in a 401(k) plan will reduce your taxable income base. Money designated for your 401(k) is taken before state and federal income taxes are applied to your paycheck. This will reduce your take-home pay, but also require you to pay less money in taxes.
  7. The money in your 401(k) account is not taxed until you start making withdrawals. As you will likely have no income during retirement, your personal tax rate will be lower than when you were working, and you will therefore owe less money to the IRS.
  8. You can start accessing your money as early as age 59 and one-half.  Prior to that age, you will be subject to an early withdrawal penalty. However, if you become completely disabled or are over age 55 and have been let go by your employer, you will be exempt from the penalty.
  9. You must start withdrawing from your 401(k) by age 70 and one-half. If you are still a full-time employee with the company that sponsors your plan, you are exempt from this rule.
  10. If you leave your current employer, there are options for what to do with your 401(k). Typically, there are four things you can do: Withdraw your entire balance as a cash payout; roll your account balance over into an IRA; roll your account balance over to a plan with your new employer; or, if allowed by the employer, leave the balance where it is.

Why is this a good savings option?
One of the largest benefits of having a 401(k) plan is how simple it is to start and maintain. After the initial enrollment, you are not required to do any additional work unless you want to make changes to the contribution amount.  It is completely separate from your standard savings or checking accounts, so you will be able to consider larger purchases like homes, cars or vacations without being tempted to dip into your retirement savings. 

The 411 on the workplace bully

16 Mar

In an office setting, odds are that not all co-workers will get along seamlessly. However, as an employer, you need to be able to discern whether someone is taking unfriendliness a little too far and has become an office bully.

Workplace bullying can take on many forms – including verbal abuse, work sabotage, work interference, intimidation, threatening behavior and more – and can either be general behavior toward all co-workers or targeted to a specific individual.

Many times these issues arise out of the office bully needing to feel a sense of control. In many cases, managers – rather than other employees – can be the biggest offenders. According to a study conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, in 57 percent of cases, workplace bullies are men, but both male and female bullies are more likely to target female co-workers. 

Workplace bullying can have a huge impact on morale in the office, especially if many staff members are having issues and feeling uncomfortable.  And don't forget – human capital is one of your greatest assets. If you sense that you may be having a bullying problem in your office, keep the following topics in mind as you plan for a conversation about the employee's action and future with the company.

  • Know the difference between being a bully and having a bad day. If a single co-worker makes a complaint about an isolated incident, it may not really qualify as office bullying. Everyone has bad days when they may be irritated or act semi-inappropriately, but with an office bully, the behavior is consistent.

    "The key is that it's not just a one-time thing," Stacy Tye-Williams, lead author of a study published in the journal Management Communication Quarterly, explained. "It's more than one person snapping you on a bad day. It's the person who snaps at you repeatedly to a point where you go, this is systemic. This is how they work."

  • Make sure you understand the company's disciplinary policies. Each company has its own system for dealing with employee-related problems, so be sure to brush up on your company's policy before meeting with the office bully. This way, you can know for sure that you are passing on the proper future actions that may take place, including counseling, suspension or termination.
  • Keep the complaints confidential. When you confront the office bully, you will need to bring up the fact that complaints were made. However, whenever possible try to keep the stories general so the bully can't tell who filed complaints. If he or she can tell who is reporting them, it may lead to retaliation that can be even worse than the initial offending behavior.
  • Be sure to keep notes of the behavior. It may be difficult to remember specific details after an incident occurs, so be sure to have physical evidence of the complaint.

    "Bullied employees must document their bullying experience as soon as possible so that they do not forget key information," said Lisa Barrow, a workplace bullying consultant with LMSB Consulting. "This will help them regain control over the situation."

    You can either have co-workers send you an email detailing their experiences or take notes during a one-on-one meeting, but make sure you get all the necessary details while they're still fresh in their minds.

  • Be stern with the offending employee. When you confront the office bully about his or her behavior, it's important to be stern. It is likely that he or she will try to make excuses or rationalize the actions as a joke, but you must remain firm that the behavior cannot continue and will not be tolerated.

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