Americans don’t take their paid leave

10 Nov

Most Americans don't use their vacation time.

The majority of Americans don't use all their vacation time, according to Human Resources Executive Online. A recent innovation in paid leave may reduce this problem, but it might also make it worse. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, has initiated a plan that will offer unlimited vacation to every employee provided they've done all their work. The problem with the plan is the question of when work has been finished is relatively ambiguous for most Americans – there is always something to do on the job.

Currently, only about 1 percent of companies offer unlimited days off. Additionally, the leave is typically given to those in positions that already provide flexible working days. The plan has more to do with human resource planning on the financial end than it does with presenting an incentive to workers.

"Unlimited leave is being offered primarily to executives and managers, who already have a great deal of flexibility," said Mary Tavarozzi, HR manager at Towers Watson. "Hourly workers would probably take more time if they were offered unlimited vacation time, but they – in general – are not the ones being offered this benefit."

She explained the reason many companies offer unlimited leave to executive is that when business people don't take their days off, they receive accrued leave, which must be reconciled with financial statements, becoming a liability.

The problem for employees
Time Magazine reported that the total cost of accrued vacation time that employees never use comes to about $52.4 billion, or 169 million paid days off, citing data from the U.S. Travel Association.

Some of the reasons people don't take vacation time are nobody else can do a certain job or that it may lead to a promotion. However it was found that those who forfeit their leave are actually less likely to become promoted. Additionally, those who refrain from taking vacations say they are more stressed at work.

A small company that offers unlimited days off
A business-to-business company called crowdSpring offers its employees as many days off as they want, but for the most part, they use it in small pieces, such as taking a Friday or a Monday off of work, rather than spending a month out of the office. Mike Samson, founder of the firm, said to Human Resources Online that it was likely if the company grows larger than its 15 employees, he may have to reconsider the policy, although he would never get rid of it completely.

Whether companies adopt more radical vacation policies in the future or not, it appears evident that taking time off is a good thing.

Wal-Mart and the importance of a dress code

10 Nov

The right dress code varies based on the company.

The dress code in an office is a difficult matter. Recently, Wal-Mart began requiring its employees to adopt to a new dress code at their own expense. Employees must wear collared shirts and khaki pants, which can be purchased from Wal-Mart's own stores, although this is not necessary.

Many union workers were upset about Wal-Mart's choice, according to Human Resources Executive Online. Current laws allow workers to supply their own uniforms and maintain them at their own expense, although if this results in employee salaries falling below the minimum wage of 7.25 an hour, then this becomes illegal. However, if the uniforms are required because of federal laws – for example, protective equipment for hospital personal or workers at a chemical plant – then the company must supply the uniforms.

Whether uniforms are appropriate for Wal-Mart employees or not, the larger question for the company in particular is the fairness of making people wear a uniform when they are already earning very little money.

"The bigger question here might be the outrage that people feel when they read about it, because after all, the workers [subject to this] are at the bottom of the food chain," said Deborah Weinstein, business professor for Wharton University. "And, we are at a time when people are increasingly concerned about economic inequality in this country."

Dress codes for average companies
Most companies likely won't run into the same issues that Wal-Mart did, but the overall question of whether a dress code is a good idea or not is something every business has to think about – it may inspire new thoughts about employee engagement ideas. Paul Shepherd, founder of Coup Media, reported in the Drum that he believed dress codes are important when meeting with clients, but for everyday business at the office, people should be allowed to wear what they like. Others favor a smart casual look, which means wearing a shirt with a collar and a pair of professional-looking pants.

The ultimate thing to consider is what companies will think of you, and what your employees would naturally wear if given the opportunity to dress for themselves. If they would choose something more plain than a manager would otherwise like for the business, then instituting a mild dress code likely wouldn't be a major fiasco. People in creative industries tend to take great care with their outfits, but other businesses might face problems with people rolling into work with a slovenly outfit that doesn't suit the mood of the company.

Keeping employees working for the long haul

10 Nov

Employee retention benefits from a strong working culture.

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.

Have you lost your work-life balance or is it already gone?

3 Nov

HR Work Life BalanceAs an HR/Payroll professional, how many times in your career have you heard someone say, “I need to get a life outside of this place?” or “All I do is work, work, work,” or “my kids don’t even know who I am anymore” or “I need a mental health day.” Sound familiar? Sure it does. Maybe you have even joked about it with your friends or said it to yourself. In any case, it looks like your life has gotten a little off balance.

That’s okay. It happens a lot in HR/payroll. Why? Let’s face it. Depending upon your role in the profession, this can literally be a 24/7 proposition. How are you going to say to someone who needs your help with their HR or payroll issue (an issue that really can’t wait like a paycheck that didn’t make it into a direct deposit account, someone’s health deduction was taken out twice on their check, an employee who had the wrong state’s taxes taken from their check, a hospitalized child where the parent is having a problem with his or her medical insurance not being accepted at the hospital, a “tomorrow surgery” with a rejected referral today, or an employee who has just told you that she has been harassed by a coworker)–so do you say to those employees, “yeah . . . hey, I’ll get to that tomorrow morning, promise.”

Okay, we all know that doesn’t fly and for those of you who know you can’t actually do it tomorrow (and are one of those who will think about these issues on your own time), and that means most of us in this profession, this is where too many of these situations can lead to your work- life balance getting thrown off, and burnout is most likely to occur. Aside from seeking the traditional forms of assistance for yourself, you need to start fixing this by trying to simplify your work as much as you can. If the type of person you are doesn’t allow you to “turn off” the 24/7 needs of others, then you need to simplify those parts of your job that have not been allowing you to focus more on the human aspect of the job that you enjoy the most. So, where do you begin?

First, assess how much paper you currently use in your process. Aside from enjoying the freedom of being able to “go green,” is there a process or two that you can bring online? Can you relinquish some of the control and allow the managers and employees in your company to take ownership for some input and entry of process? You can do it! Did you know that there are tools available that are classified as “employee self-service” tools that enable you to streamline some of the more repetitive tasks in your role? For example, instead of calling the HR department with routine inquiries, your employees and managers can be more self-sufficient when they can access information, such as time off, current benefits, and current job details—anytime, anyplace over the Internet or company intranet. These tools can even empower you to dynamically and securely provide on-demand workforce data to executives, managers, and others; all of this can even be done without IT support.

Help yourself the way that you help your employees, managers, and others day in and day out. Check out or call 866-271-6050. Allow Sage to show you really how much can be taken off your plate so you can get the much needed balance back into your life.


360-degree reviews lets companies see themselves entirely

31 Oct

A 360 review benefits not only managers but the entire company.

The so-called 360 review allows employers to see themselves from every angle. Their own bosses will give their opinions, along with coworkers and subordinates. It is much more effective than having just one person give another member of the HR team a review. The choices made regarding human resource planning impact every member of a team differently, and everyone giving their feedback allows for a more rounded assessment.

According to, a business education site, having a degree of self-awareness will benefit employers much more than would filling out a form about how they perceive themselves. The 360 review is the best vehicle for creating this self-awareness because it lets employers map out how they are doing according to everyone. There may be some cognitive dissonance when employers realize they've favored bosses over subordinates or vice-versa, but this is what the review is for. People will know where their personal weak points reside and how to address them moving forward.

Learn about individuals and the business as well
Discussing the 360 review with an employer or someone in senior management who knows how to shape feedback and give it some perspective would probably help the process of introspection even more. Training Zone reported that, a properly done 360 review essentially reviews not only a single employer, but also the entire company as a whole. The example cited was a sales team being rewarded on short-term, individual goals versus the 360 degree review demonstrating that management wants its salesforce to be making group-oriented selling that is focused on the long-term . The website emphasized that this information must be wrung from the review – information like this won't come naturally but through hard work. People will have to spend a lot of time poring through the data of many 360 reviews before a clear picture of the teams and the business comes into focus.

Everyone has to do their part
One point about 360 reviews is people have to complete them. There is really no excuse for getting a low completion rate – track individuals until they finish their reviews if necessary. But another way of making sure the 360s are done is by using a carrot instead of a stick. Training Zone suggested tailoring the questions to the people being asked, along with the person being reviewed. Additionally, keeping the number of questions to around just 30 is easier.

How telecommuting is transforming the workplace

31 Oct

Telecommuting has become an increasingly common part of the modern office experience.

The traditional office environment is undergoing evolutionary changes. Increasingly, employees are no longer tethered to a specific work space or location, as Internet access across the U.S. and globe has skyrocketed. At the same time, the Great Recession has left an indelible impact on employers and employees in that both are looking to become more agile and lean in their operations. There are numerous examples of companies hiring contractual or freelance employees instead of full- or part-time staff.

One of the ways companies are meeting this demand is through telecommuting. It's a policy that gives employees the chance to work from various locations, including home, off-site client visits and while they are in transit. In fact, Forbes indicated between 30 and 45 percent of workers telecommute, assuming the title of remote or virtual employee. Ignoring the odd connotations of these descriptors, it's a trend that's taken hold and doesn't appear to be going anywhere soon.

Still, human resources managers can't simply make an announcement that everyone can work from home. It requires significant human capital management to ensure that telecommuting pays off for the company and everyone on the payroll. Employers want to ensure their mobile personnel are just as productive at home as they are in the office.

Is it working?
It's hard to ignore the strong message Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer sent in eliminating telecommuting from the list of the company's benefits in 2013. Forbes explained this was a logical step for the company that had been seeing a tough string of days. Mayer felt it was necessary to centralize the workforce in a physical location to align everyone with the business culture and mission.

Ravi Gajendran, a professor of business administration at the University of Illinois, was inspired by this decision enough to conduct further research to find out whether telecommuting was a boon or burden for employers. Working with David Harrison of the University of Texas at Austin and Kelly Delaney-Klinger of the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, Gajendran took a sample of 323 employees and 143 supervisors from multiple companies, Psych Central wrote.

The researchers found that telecommuting workers tend to put forth a greater effort to make themselves and their work stand out. Due to the fact that they aren't a physical presence in the office, they work hard to reassert themselves. At the same time, the study found remote workers feel a sense of obligation to repay their employers for the flexibility and unique work arrangement by working a bit harder.

An interesting highlight of the research is that employees with a poor relationship with their bosses usually perform better while telecommuting. These workers attempt to repay the special treatment provided by their bosses with higher output.

However, when telecommuting is a broad-based policy that everyone can take advantage of, the tendency to see increased performance tends to wane. Why? It's not seen as a privilege. As a result, it's simply another part of the job that merits no special compensation on the part of employees. When employers use telecommuting as a reward given to workers who demonstrate they can handle greater responsibility or leadership, there are stronger performance benefits.

Will the trend continue?
Citing a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management, The New York Times wrote that more employers are planning to provide telecommuting as a benefit to their workers - more than any other type of office perk. Between 2005 and 2012, remote working increased nearly 80 percent, the Census Bureau's American Community Survey estimated.

Will all workers be remote in the next 10 years? It's doubtful that all employees will be able to telecommute. It's a policy that lends itself best to workers whose duties are relegated to computer-based tasks and communications. In fact, the Census survey found the standard virtual employee holds a four-year college degree and works at a company with 100 or more employees. They also earn an average annual salary of $58,000, but the study didn't mention benefits. It's harder to imagine employees working in manufacturing or similar industries telecommuting for any amount of time.

In another way, the telecommuting trend may be influenced by weather. For instance, the massive snow storm that crippled Washington, D.C. last winter could have taken a larger toll on the federal government and agencies. The Times reported telecommuting employees saved the government $32 million that would have been lost if workers weren't allowed to work at home.

When an employer institutes a telecommuting policy, it has to lay the foundation of what it means for the organization. Does it cover those working at home on the nights and weekends after they've spent time in the office? Or are telecommuters only those who work off-site completely? How will human resources effectively keep track of performance and maintain close contact? Employers need to consider these questions before any remote work strategy is put in place.

Preventing transgender discrimination by educating workers

30 Oct

It is illegal to discriminate based on gender identity.

Workplace discrimination against transgender people is a serious issue. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 1 in 5 transgender individuals experience discrimination at their place of employment. This means firing, being denied a promotion or just being harassed by other members of the team. Much of the problem seems to have to do with those in charge of human resource planning not receiving a proper education about transgender issues. One example cited by the HRC was Jason, a female-to-male transgender person who spoke with his boss about possibly doing a team-building program centered around educating people about his transition. His boss refused, and Jason felt his coworkers distanced themselves from him because of his identity. Additionally, he had to specifically make a formal request to use the men's restroom, and it wasn't until the HR head personally gave it the OK that he was permitted use of the bathroom of his gender identity. Even after this amount of work, many of the male members of staff expressed discomfort with the decision.

For those who employ transgender people much of this awkwardness can be alleviated by just taking the time to educate people. Not to do so is to risk unconscious discrimination, like behaving in a confusing way around someone who identifies with a different gender from the one they were born into physically. Such an atmosphere of discrimination can create a negative image from many people in the community. The year 2014 is one in which many people believe that everyone should have the right to identity with the gender they most strongly feel tied to. This means that even if it were possible to get away with discriminatory actions, it is a bad idea to do so because it would reflect very poorly on the company and possibly pave the way for a more toxic workplace.

Discrimination based on gender identity is illegal in every state
According to Transgender Law Center, it has been illegal since 2012 in the U.S. to discriminate against anyone who identifies as transgender. The legal group gave the following examples of discrimination that can be brought to trial:

  • Firing someone or refusing to hire someone based on gender identity
  • Prohibiting someone from dressing in the clothes of the gender to which they've transitioned
  • Limiting someone's exposure to customers because they might feel "uncomfortable" with someone's gender expression
  • Anything that would involve restrictions on bathroom use based on gender identity

Employers should pay close attention to whether they are discriminating or not. If they are, they need to put a stop to it before things escalate and the workplace becomes hostile.

Navigating LinkedIn’s contact networks

30 Oct

LinkedIn is a powerful business tool.

LinkedIn is a great way for recruiting firms to plan strategic human resource management and find new potential employees. It's also a good place to advertise one's business. All of the content that a company puts up is owned by the person who made it. In order to make this absolutely clear, LinkedIn even went out of its way to publish this fact:

"When the new LinkedIn User Agreement goes into effect from October 23, LinkedIn will always ask its users for permission before using any of your content in third-party websites, ads or publications, and even thought they have always done this, the User Agreement specifically lets you know this is the case."

Although the information was published in October 2014, it remains accurate as far back as the company began. As such, it becomes important to be clear about what goes on the website and what doesn't. The likelihood of an employee being sued because of what he or she puts on LinkedIn is smaller than if someone put something personal on Facebook. The two social media sites are very different in tone and content.

Making a LinkedIn profile
Because LinkedIn is designed explicitly for businesses, it is especially useful for recruiting people and finding other companies and associates to partner with. How companies portray themselves on LinkedIn is how they will be seen by anyone who wants to work with them.

According to Forbes, the ideal LinkedIn profile contains more than just text and a simple image. At the same time, it may be excessive to post a lot of video content – it depends on the industry. Consider LinkedIn to be an extension of the company's overall brand.

Connecting with others
A separate Forbes article reported that the main usefulness of LinkedIn is its ability for people and businesses to form information networks. If there is a job opening, then look through your company's LinkedIn network and find people who might make an ideal fit. Try to look up potential hires to see if they share contacts with you or someone on your team. This may allow you to recognize someone who could potentially work well with others at the company.

You can also use LinkedIn to take a more general glance at what other companies are doing in your industry. If your company is large enough, then different departments might have very different networks, and a good HR professional would take a look through the social connections of other leadership team members.

Planning for emergencies

27 Oct

Emergencies require preparation in advance is a company is going to recover quickly.

The Ebola virus has everyone worried about issues with emergencies. Although the chance of Ebola turning up in a business setting is slim to none, it may still be a good time to consider whether the office has an emergency plan set in case of dangerous situations, such as a fire or an earthquake. Making sure the HR department has a human resources solution for any emergencies and keeps the office informed about what to do can help to mitigate the risks of potentially dangerous situations.

One major concern in the case of a fire is the damage caused to files and computers. If data is being stored on site, then the people in charge of it should have a backup plan in case the office needs to be evacuated. One way of doing this is by uploading crucial information to a cloud-based server that exists in another part of the city or state.

Disaster communication
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, communication during an emergency is one of the major factors that can get overlooked. A plan that combines departments and certain sections of the office into particular groups, which all have leaders who can guide people away from danger and toward emergency exits is one plan that might help to keep people on the same page in the event of an emergency. Walkie-talkies are a bonus that would allow for other strategies, such as keeping people near exits to make sure everyone leaves the office and no one is left behind.

Carol Chastang, who recently spoke for the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Disaster Assistance, warns against misinformation, which can be just as damaging as having no information  about a disaster. This is particularly true after the incident is over and the company is on its way to recovery.

"When a disaster occurs, it's often the misleading bit of information shared by an outsider that gins up rumors about a damaged business shutting down," said Carol Chastang, a spokesperson for the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Disaster Assistance. "Obviously, this situation undermines the company's ability to recover. That's one big reason why precise, effective communication—within the organization, and out to the public—is vital during an emergency."

The possibility of a U.S. epidemic
Although because Ebola doesn't become contagious until a victim is already symptomatic, it is unlikely there will be an Ebola outbreak in the U.S., Human Resources Online still stresses that it wouldn't be completely out of the boat to consider whether a similar disease might cause damage to a company.

"Having a pandemic plan on the shelf is not good [enough]," said Robert Quigley, U.S. medical director and senior vice president of medical assistance for International SOS.

He advocates that people get ready for a potential outbreak in the same way they might prepare for a fire – monitor where employees are traveling and caution them against going to places like West Africa, where the Ebola virus is prevalent. Additionally, make sure the pandemic plan includes the possibility for all sorts of diseases, not the most often appearing ones in the newspapers.

The NLRB takes a stand on swearing, Facebook

27 Oct

Labor laws remain important even for those not part of a union.

A recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board revealed that firing people for having online discussions on Facebook is against the National Labor Relations Act. This was the case even though neither of the people who had been fired were unionized. Because rules regarding Facebook and other social media platforms are still unfocussed, companies should look carefully at how they handle their policies about the Internet. Those in the business of implementing human resource solutions for a company should additionally consider swearing in the workplace, which is protected by the NLRB under certain circumstances.

The case
Two people were fired by the Triple Play Sports Bar and Grille for having a discussion about the bar's owners that was filled with profanity, according to Lexology. One part of the conversation involved "liking" a statement by the other. The NRLB ruled the conversation was a protected concerted activity, according to BABC Employment Law Insights, even though the conversation contained profanity.

Lexology reported that the conversation began with a comment containing expletives. A person who liked the comment and a person who posted a reply with a swear were both fired.

In fact, the NRLB has become more expansive of late when dealing with protections for insulting or profane conduct. For example, Starbucks fired an employee who said swear words to the manager because he felt that person was not providing enough help when he was preparing drinks for customers. In the case, the firings were deemed improper by the NLRB.

Firing people who swear
The Starbucks case, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, involved an employee who cursed out his boss twice. Additionally, the man, Joseph Agins, attempted to unionize four Starbucks in Manhattan between 2005 and 2007. Later, Agins and several other workers came to the store while they were off duty to protest being unable to wear union pins. Agins had a confrontation with the assistant manager, which escalated until Agins said several offensive comments in front of the customers at the store. The comments included several swear words.

A few months later, Agins was fired by Starbucks. The NRLB ultimately ruled that although the man had cursed out his employer in front of customers, rather than in a backroom or a warehouse, he was still protected. Additionally, the NRLB found that the assistant manager was not disciplined for his role in the incident at all.

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