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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. 

HR in the hospitality sector: Part 2

16 Mar

The hospitality sector is unlike any other: with long hours year-round, large numbers of staff members and a relatively high turnover rate, it can be difficult for HR departments to keep up with hiring and talent management needs.

This is especially true when it comes to large-scale hirings. When an organization is about to enter the busy season or open a brand-new location, it will require plenty of new team members to ensure everything runs smoothly when patrons flood through the doors. Hiring isn't easy even under the best of circumstances – it requires skill and a lot of patience to find candidates who will not only do the job well, but fit into the company culture and contribute positively. This challenge is magnified when it comes to the mass hiring the hospitality industry does fairly regularly, but it is possible to streamline this process to ensure it's efficient and leaves a company with only the best applicants.

  • Shorten the hiring cycle: No HR manager wants to feel as though he or she didn't have enough time to thoroughly vet candidates and choose the ideal ones, but a hiring cycle that's too long only hurts a business – your top choices could have found other jobs by the time you offer them roles. Cut tasks wherever possible for HR employees – anything that can be automated with human resource solutions should be. This allows HR personnel to focus more on hiring and less on the day-to-day paperwork that could be taking up extraordinary amounts of time.
  • Consider employee referrals: Your organization may already have an employee referral program that rewards staff members who send successful hires your way, but make sure it's widely known and that all teams know you'll be hiring on a large scale in the coming weeks or months. 
  • Identify the top skills that matter: Your employees will need to be able to do a lot of things, but what are the top two or three characteristics or skills they have to have to be successful in the role? Narrow down your list of nine or 10 qualities an applicant must have substantially, and you'll find yourself with more people suited to the positions that are available. 
  • Do some homework on past hires: Have several of your most successful previous hires all come from the same companies, school or internship program? Look for a similar background when reviewing new applications, as these past experiences could have instilled a common work ethic in these individuals.

Retaining talent
When you're hiring new employees – especially on a large-scale level – the last thing you want to think about is many of them turning in notice in a few months. But this is something every HR professional has to keep in mind – after all, Deloitte estimates turnover in hospitality could be as high as 31 percent.

To keep employees from leaving for greener pastures, where they think they can hone their skills and better develop, put your company ahead of the game and offer to help them grow their soft skills from the very start. 

  • Emotional intelligence: Unlike IQ, EQ can be improved over time, and it's the ideal skill to help employees in the hospitality industry develop. EQ, or an employee's self-awareness, social awareness and relationship building skills, play a key role in connecting with patrons and coworkers. The Harvard Business review suggests that meditation and relaxation can be beneficial in improving this skill, but enhancing someone's ability to cope with rocky situations may be better. Try putting employees in a role-playing situation with another team member pretending to be a difficult customer and provide feedback on how their reaction needs to change.
  • Time management: Some employers feel younger employees especially struggle to manage their time. Devices like smartphones and tablets have made it easy for them to get distracted and flit from task to task without finishing anything. Give team members a list of things to do by the end of their shifts, and if they haven't completed it ask how they structured their day and broke up the time to see where they went wrong.
  • Communication: Again, some business leaders think this is an area in which more junior employees are lacking. Face-to-face communication is infinitely important, especially when individuals are dealing with patrons in the hospitality industry, and must be developed and enhanced. Observe how staff members behave during in-person interactions and offer feedback on what they've done well and where they need to improve.

By helping recruits develop these skills over the long term, you're giving them the tools they need to eventually ascend into a leadership position, and reducing turnover while you're at it. Talent retention depends on ensuring employees are engaged and developing valuable skills, and being proactive in this respect means you're grooming your organization's next generation of leaders.

HR in the hospitality sector: Part 1

16 Mar

The hospitality industry is growing. It's not just a talking point – it's the truth. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the restaurant and bar industry has created nearly 1 in 6 new nonfarm jobs since the economic downturn. The Department of Commerce revealed that travel and tourism spurred almost $1.5 trillion in spending in 2012, and the industry's main subsectors – accommodations, air travel and food/beverage services – only continue to thrive.

This means the hospitality sector needs to be prepared to not only hire, but use human resource systems to hire efficiently and effectively, especially with some of the high turnover rates the industry sees as a whole.

It all starts with hiring
Most HR professionals love offering qualified candidates a job, but that doesn't mean they can hire every individual who walks through the door. What are the most important soft skills to look for to ensure you're bringing on a strong applicant who will prove to be successful with your organization?

  • A good attitude. Someone who claims to have a "positive, can-do attitude" in a cover letter or resume is certainly being cliche, but there's something to be said for candidates who have this skill. You want to hire people who won't spread negativity to other employees and are willing to do what it takes to complete a job well and without complaint. 
  • Easily transferrable skills. Some of your candidates may never have worked in hospitality before, but that doesn't mean some of their skills won't be relevant to the open position. Don't write off applicants who seem like they have no relevant experience – they may surprise you.
  • The ability to communicate. Successful hospitality workers need top-notch communication skills. If they're not able to express themselves, their ideas and problems they face, they won't be able to work well with others or, more importantly, present themselves and your brand positively to patrons.

The orientation and training process
Welcoming new employees to your company is a key element to starting them off on the right foot. Your orientation process should make new hires feel comfortable while giving them a thorough overview of the company, detailing exactly what their job will entail and assigning a them a point person to go to with questions. Don't forget to schedule time to have someone give new team members a tour, introduce them to other people they'll work with and give them a chance to thoroughly review the handbook or paperwork. Orientations will vary greatly depending on company culture and goals, but don't be afraid to mix things up and make it entertaining or interactive – you don't want an employee's mind to wander while they're supposed to be absorbing information. For employee engagement ideas, ask your recent hires what the most and least effective elements of their training were and update your program based on that.

As you're introducing employees to the company, they may have questions about scheduling and compensation. It may be worthwhile to explain shift differential scheduling, if this wasn't covered in the interview stages. Shift differential, or the extra compensation an employee may receive for working outside traditional business hours, may be confusing for some workers, especially if they are unfamiliar with this type of work, so providing them with a cheat sheet can help clear up confusion.

After employees have gone through orientation, they'll need to start learning the essentials of customer service so they can begin doing the job they were hired for. But will you use a vendor-produced tool, or an internally created one? There are benefits to each:

  • Vendor-provided systems don't require you to do any additional work – you can simply use the tool as is, over and over again.
  • Content created especially for your company is personalized and can be tailored to specific policies and situations your employees will face on the job. However, it may require some tweaking over time to get it just right.

Depending on how unique your service policies are and how involved you want to be in the customer service training process, you may prefer one over the other.

Measuring success and controlling costs
Turnover in the hospitality industry remains a problem, as it's significantly higher than the rest of the private sector. Deloitte estimates turnover in hospo is as high as 31 percent, a number that poses significant challenges for any business and highlights the importance of employee engagement.

By measuring this number alongside others, companies can see where they're going astray and how they can potentially lower turnover, while simultaneously increasing productivity and engagement metrics. Decreased turnover isn't the only advantage – Gallup research indicates companies with greater engagement have higher earnings per share. Not only that, but they receive better customer ratings, are more profitable and experience greater productivity. 

Top workplace trends for 2015: Part 2

3 Mar

Now that we've covered the employee-related changes, we'll take a look at those affecting technology and the workplace.

1. Social media becomes an even stronger tool for attracting talented employees
Most companies have already embraced social media as a great way to communicate with customers and show off their brand personality. In fact, according to Adweek, about 88 percent of brands utilized social media as part of their marketing strategies in 2014. To date, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn are some of the most effective forums. However, in 2015, more businesses will begin to use social media to attract and connect with top talent. Large companies like Nestle have already begun to incorporate this strategy, adding dedicated Careers profiles to their arsenal of social media pages.

2. The separation between work life and home life will shrink
Technology companies are increasingly focusing on wearable technology and mobile devices, making it easier for everyone to stay connected. Unfortunately, in 2015 this may also lead to a more "blended" work-life balance, according to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. If workers do not need to be physically present in the office to complete their assignments, it is likely that it will become more difficult to fully step away from work in off hours. 

3. Offices steer away from the "cubicle farm" design
Many companies are now reconsidering how sitting in a cubicle impacts employees, so 2015 will likely see a shift away from the "cubicle farm" office plan. Having all coworkers sit in rows of cubicles has led to less personal interaction in the workplace, as many admit that it now seems easier to just email a neighboring coworker a question rather than standing up and having a face-to-face conversation. To combat this problem and refoster a sense of teamwork, large companies are designing open floor plans with comfortable seating and artwork, giving the office a more welcoming environment. Some will also include designated areas for large meetings, group lunches or one-on-one check-ins to encourage employees to move around more during the workday.

4. A new emphasis will be placed on social responsibility
The Internet has made sharing information easier than ever, and one of the most positive effects has been the impact on raising money for different initiatives. Corporations as a whole have a reputation for being malevolent and greedy, but joining in on fundraising and charitable campaign initiatives and sharing their participation on social media can now help revamp their images. In 2015, this corporate social responsibility will become the norm. Companies will be expected to create videos for viral campaigns, start online crowdsourcing fundraising initiatives and live-blog from charitable conferences. Additionally, there could be an uptick in the number of companies sponsoring teams for events like 5K races or half marathons benefiting various health causes.

5. Employers will offer better wellness incentives
The idea that healthy employees can be happier and more productive is not a new one, but the way employers approach the subject is likely to change in 2015. One of the largest health-related trends has already begun, and it involves offering employees alternatives to traditional desks and chairs. Working at treadmill desks or standing desks and using exercise balls instead of chairs are all great alternatives that are steadily becoming more popular. Additionally, more companies may adopt offering healthy incentives to employees. This may include reducing monthly health insurance costs for nonsmokers, or supplementing the cost of wearable activity or step trackers during office-wide weight loss competitions.

Top workplace trends for 2015: Part 1

3 Mar

With the ever-changing landscape of the American workplace, it's no surprise that certain trends come and go. 2015 has already been a significant year for American workers, as new federal regulations and increased technological flexibility influence company executives to make large-scale employee management changes within their organizations. Whether this includes seeking more remote and nontraditional employees, redesigning office spaces to enhance productivity, or focusing on a diverse workforce, American workers can expect many exciting changes in the year to come.

In this two-part series, we'll analyze what experts are saying will be some of the most significant trends hitting offices in 2015, starting with those regarding employees:

1. Women continue to climb the corporate ladder
Gender equality in the workplace is not a new idea, but it will continue to be at the forefront of the conversation in 2015. As more women earn college degrees and decide to delay having children, they are rising to leadership and executive positions within their companies and enjoying an ever-shrinking wage gap. A 2012 Pew Research study found that for every dollar earned by a male worker between the ages 25 and 34, a female worker in the same age group earns 93 cents. At a 7 percent gap, this difference has become much less significant than the 33 percent gap recorded back in 1980. Millennial women are known to be extremely motivated and will continue fighting through 2015 until there is complete gender equality in the workplace.

2.  Freelancing will become a legitimate career choice
An Elance-oDesk study found that due to technological advancements and the wide reach of the Internet, some 53 million Americans now choose to be freelance workers. That accounts for about 34 percent of working Americans. These individuals can now earn a substantial income completing freelance, contract and temporary assignments, leading many to forego a standard 9-to-5 corporate job to enjoy more variety and flexibility.

3. Companies will start hiring millennials
The first wave of millennials will graduate from college in 2015, and businesses across the country are investing significant time and effort into understanding and recruiting this new generation of workers. According to Bloomberg, companies based in Silicon Valley have even begun recruiting talented high school students – as young as 16 – for summer internships. Corporate executives understand that younger hires really understand technology and social media, which can help give their companies an edge in the highly competitive digital space.

4. "Job-hopping" will rise
With all of the mobile apps and job-posting websites available today, it's hard to resist the temptation to look at what else is out there. Job boards make it easy to see what positions are open in different fields and different cities, so people can now place more emphasis on landing their dream jobs rather than staying where they are comfortable. This newfound ability leads many Americans to forego working at the same company for their entire careers and instead put in short-lived stints at different organizations until they find something that sticks.

5. More employers will allow telecommuting
Technological advancements have strongly decreased the need for all company employees to work in the same offices, so in 2015, the number of people who primarily work from home will continue to grow. This idea is mutually beneficial for workers and employers alike. Companies can decrease the amount of office space required to run the business, and geographical constraints will no longer apply when looking for the most qualified candidates. For employees, working from home means no long commute, more time at home with the family and a break from distracting office environment.

Managing employee and employer relations

23 Feb

Employee relations is a major part of human resources. If workers don't get along with their managers and each other, then tasks can't be completed effectively. Creating a good workplace means beginning with helping the people who work together feel safe and welcome to come to the office every day. Perhaps more importantly, the HR staff should listen to everything happening at a business and provide the tools managers need to help keep their staff feeling healthy, secure and able to do a great job every day.

Maintain a high-quality workplace
Keeping the workplace happy, comfortable and safe is a critical piece of employee relations, according to the Houston Chronicle. Depending on the company, different human resources teams might have unique abilities to impact how people feel about their jobs. This could mean listening to employees and reporting on this info to those in charge of making appropriate changes. For example, if workers have to deal with a noisy machine, then HR might be able to communicate with the relevant department about noise levels and tips on how to control sound in the office.

Listening to the complaints of workers is also a major issue. This has to do both with keeping the workplace safe as well as acting as a disinterested third-party during conflict resolution. For workers who act inappropriately, the applicable disciplinary actions must be enforced. This can be anything from termination to correcting poor performance after a quarterly review. HR Managers must be sure to follow all appropriate rules and regulations and see to it that employees do the same.

Expanding the employee relations role to include other stakeholders
Employee relations may also involve the relationships that a company has with unions and governmental agencies, according to Wiley, an Australian educational website. Major issues that remain outstanding and continue to be relevant in HR are the matter of minimum wages and workers' rights – including the rights of interns. Proper human resources management requires negotiating with unions about the proper compensation appropriate to certain roles. For example, if a company plans to incorporate an extra line of products that will require additional work or hiring more people, then it must communicate this information to any applicable unions to make sure the company remains in good standing. Doing so will help companies remain on good terms with every stakeholder both inside and outside the office.

Creativity in the HR sector

16 Dec

Human resources is a complex field that encompasses many areas of expertise, including legal issues, human interactions and organization. One part of the job that many people don't acknowledge is the sheer necessity for creative solutions to difficult problems. Some of the places where creative thinking can help HR professionals include planning ahead for future trends in technology and management techniques, along with thinking of new ways to divide work fairly among different divisions. The ultimate goal of HR staff is to improve the workflow of the company. By coming up with creative solutions, businesses can work more intelligently, with elegant solutions that don't waste energy.

The way things look in human resources will be very different 10 years from today, Blogging 4 Jobs, reported. Not only will technology grow and develop, which will require new methods for adapting to the way people will work, but the employees themselves will be different. There will be far more representatives of Gen Y and Gen Z taking on management roles, and preparing will take a certain amount of creative thinking. Many people in a company won't be around 10 years from today, and much of the staff that joins a business will have been unexpected, with different talents and areas for improvement. Planning for these contingencies takes creativity.

Another place where creative thinking can help an HR manager is in the realm of organization, according to Psychology Today. For example, companies are always trying to find new ways to get work done faster, and sometimes streamlining things is as simple as giving the right assignments to the right people. Having the ability to guess which teams would work best together takes creativity. It requires a kind of lateral thinking to create flowcharts to accurately model new ways of finishing assignments such that redundancies are eliminated and everyone has something productive to do.

Planning a project in general, whether for a new wellness program, implementing new hr manager software, or preparing for an office move, takes creativity as well. If one defines creativity as the ability to create an idea of how something new would work, and to take this idea and look for any gaps or possible oversights, and then to implement the idea as a plan, then HR is a very creative job. People in human resources are always thinking of new ways to do work faster and more efficiently, and they are also on the move planning ahead and thinking of possible dangers that a business could run into.

In the end, actually taking the time to work on one's creative talents may help someone's management skills. A good way to practice creativity in the workplace is to reward it. When employers see that people in human resources are coming up with novel solutions to problems as they arise, then it would be a good idea to reward those employees with additional work that is equally engaging. In essence, by advocating for creative solutions, one is training employees to think differently and preparing them for the next stage of their careers.

How to keep employees with good on-boarding

18 Nov

Employees have been switching jobs more quickly now than ever before. Forbes cited a statistic by the Department of Labor that said the average tenure of an employee in the U.S. is only 1.5 years. The story noted that many of the reasons employees quit are lack of intrinsic motivation. Employees should connect with each other and with the work they're doing. They should have an idea that they are benefiting the world with what they do. Forbes referenced Walt Disney, who came up with Disneyworld and sold his employees on the vision of how it would change the face of amusement parks.

Employees want to feel a personal satisfaction in what they do. For example, workers for theater companies often don't get paid, but they love the work. The job such people do for money tends to be low paying and not intrinsically rewarding. In theater, someone can be happy they did a good job, but for waiting tables, the only thing that matters is the tips. Try to find ways to get your employees interested in their performance. Make them feel like what they're doing is important.

Successful on-boarding can lead to longevity
Sometimes employees quit because they haven't been educated enough about the work they'll be doing, according to HR Morning. Of the five major reasons for why people quit, the biggest ones involve the work being different from what was expected, the work being boring or the wrong fit and a lack of training.

Those charged with human resource planning should pay attention to on-boarding. Successfully explaining the job so employees have a reasonable idea of the work they'll be doing is a great way to keep out people who wouldn't be interested in the job and to encourage interested people to continue the application process. Lying about what a job entails will only make workers feel confused about assignments and dissatisfied with work they hadn't planned on doing.

HR Morning recommended that on the job training and being assigned a mentor are two things that employees really want in order to feel acclimated to a new job. Additionally, for the training, they would prefer a manager to help them with work, while others wanted someone from the HR department.

Proper training can ensure that people who want to work at a job will know exactly what that job is, and they will also learn from someone about the right way of doing it. As such, the quality of the on-boarding process is crucial to employee longevity.

Keeping employees working for the long haul

10 Nov

Employee retention has less to do with a simple campaign and more to do with a broad, inclusive employee resource planning, according to the Chicago Post-Tribune. The basic facets to keep in mind include rewards, structure, keeping bureaucracy to a minimum and hiring the right people. When people are happy in their jobs and corporate culture is sound, they won't want to leave their positions for another place to work. Additionally, employees want to be able to grow in a company for a long time. Businesses with a lot of turnover often can make people feel like they are never going to make it into the upper echelons of a company, which can make it challenging for people to stay motivated.

Culture is another major incentive for people who want to stay in a company. People who enjoy a family atmosphere and a culture that emphasizes working hard may stay longer because they admire the spirit of their fellow workers and want to stay where they have friends.

Keeping veterans happy
Business 2 Community explained that one major place where companies need to focus their attention is veterans. The number of people who stay with a company for between one and two years is always going to be a much larger percentage than the people who stay somewhere for five or more years, but getting those veteran workers to stick around can help retain a strong culture. It also helps to have people with experience. In the field of tech support, Business 2 Community points out that most people leave work after staying for less than a year, which means they never have enough experience in comparison with people who stay for longer.

By keeping people for more than a year, the overall quality of the company's product may improve. Generally it takes a long time for people to be good at their job, and if someone leaves before he or she becomes a major expert, then the business as a whole will not be working at peak performance.

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