HR executives fear additional federal regulations

11 Aug

Ensuring compliance will help companies avoid lawsuits.

A recent study by Littler Mendelson showed that although those in charge of human resource management remain concerned about the Affordable Care Act, their biggest fear has now become increased regulations by the federal government.

According to HR Morning, some of these fears might be due to the added regulations this year having to do with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), along with increased monitoring of employee/contractor misclassification.

In a separate survey by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. reported by Business Insurance, the same fears of regulation cropped up, although 63 percent of respondents were also concerned about the rising cost of health care benefits programs.

How to deal with the FMLA
The fears that a government agent will perform an audit of a company's compliance with FMLA rules are well-founded, according to HR Benefits Alert. The federal government has recently grown much more nit-picky about what it considers a violation of the FMLA.

However, companies can prepare themselves by knowing in advance what the feds have begun looking for in particular. Typically, what happens is a company will mistakenly do something it believes is unrelated to the FMLA, and the federal government, upon auditing the company, will find a connection. In one case, a company would fire employees who did not fill out their medical histories in a timely way. However, the medical histories included questions that were not considered permissible to ask in accordance with FMLA rules.

In another case, a company failed to provide someone with notification of her FMLA rights after asking for leave to take care of a very ill child. Additionally, the company fired the woman for taking too much time off, even though this leave was permissible under FMLA. In a separate example, a company fulfilled an FMLA request to take leave, then failed to return the employee to his job because he wasn't told he needed to complete a fitness-for-duty medical exam in order to come back to work.

Finally, one company failed to allow an FMLA request to pass because the worker was standing in loco parentis, meaning she was acting in the place of a parent. When a woman was fired for taking time off to take care of her niece, she was acting in place of a parent, but her FMLA request was denied.

It is likely the above companies did not intentionally try to game the rules, but even simple oversights can cause costly lawsuits. It is always more effective to pay attention to a company's employee management system to ensure compliance and prevent problems before they happen. Whatever human resource solution a company uses, it must ensure these are compliant with the most recent interpretations of the federal law.

Telecommuting now a part of reasonable accommodation

8 Aug

Working from home may become more common after a recent ruling.

A recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has recently expanded the number of companies that must offer telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation to employees who otherwise wouldn't be able to work from the office, according to Talent Management.

A suit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Ford Motor Company, argued that in the case of workers who are otherwise able to work from home in a fully-functional capacity but who cannot work at the office much of the time because of medical or other conditions, companies should allow those employees to work from home as part of the government's ruling on reasonable accommodation.

According to the ruling, "the 'workplace' is anywhere that an employee can perform her job duties," Talent Management reported.

Working from home as an option
Those in a position for recruiting should keep in mind that telecommuting may become much more prevalent now, and making the option available for everyone may be a good idea. A study by Staples indicated that 65 percent of employers who permitted their employees to work from home reported their employees were happier. Thirty-three percent also reported there were fewer cases of absenteeism.

"Not only does telecommuting lead to a happier workforce, it's also a critical benefit to have from a recruiting standpoint," said Paul Mullen, vice president of technology solutions for Staples Advantage. "Employers who are flexible and support their staff with the tools they need to telecommute have a definite recruiting advantage."

Setting up a telecommuting system for the office could mean integrating more employee self-service programs in the workplace, as well as using technology such as cloud-based computing software to allow easy access to work wherever a person may be doing business.

Introducing big data to an HR program

6 Aug

Big data is becoming a major part of HR.

Using big data to select candidates is quickly becoming the new norm in the human resources field. Many companies are building human resource information systems that can scour the internet and find resumes. The software can analyze people based on things such as where they went to college and how much work experience they have. In the end, the software can make an estimate of how well such a potential candidate would work for a certain company.

A tool like this expands the reach of an ordinary hiring advertisement because HR professionals can even find people who have never heard of a company and include them in the pool of candidates used for human resource planning.

People analytics
The fancy word for this new way of doing HR is people analytics, according to The Washington Post. It means using big data to find correlations with various fields and job requirements. Some of the results might be surprising. According to the Post, for example, there is no correlation between being a skilled programmer and going to college. In fact, many skilled programmers didn't go to college. People analytics can determine this by looking at major companies and the backgrounds of the programmers who work there.

Using computers to determine whom to hire may seem like a less-than-ideal way of doing human resource planning, but according to the Post, a quarter of the people who get hired through the traditional process of posting a resume to a job site and then coming in for an interview last at their companies for less than one year.

HR professionals are using these new software programs to turn this number around so the vast majority of hires stick with a company for the long term.

Advice for those seeking to build a big-data HR program
Enterprise Apps Today recently offered some advice for those seeking to integrate big data into their existing human resource systems. The basic idea is to start small and figure out a way to bring data analysis into the equation slowly.

Big companies can take advantage of a large hiring budget to hire statisticians to crunch numbers on a larger scale. If a company can afford it, building a dedicated big-data team not only for the hiring process but also for analyzing performance of existing employees might be a good idea. Smaller companies may want to start with preexisting software and work their way toward further incorporation of data analysis as workers gain experience working with the specialized computer programs.

Enterprise Apps Today specifically advocates using software for smaller companies, since these packages often come with the advice of a dedicated team who will help human resources staff integrate data-based solutions software through an information hotline.

"Vendors have spent years developing vertical-specific online services and tools to help their customers make the most of their data, which means they're ready to use and already designed to help specific kinds of businesses," said Chad Carson, co-founder and vice president of products at Pepperdata, a company that makes big-data software.

The bottom line is for companies to take it slow and thoroughly understand each step of their integration of big data into the ordinary business of running human resources for a company.

Hiring in the post-recession world

2 Aug

Contracting work on a temp-to-hire basis can help employers find the right employees.

Temporary workers may make up to 20 percent of the workforce by 2022, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers cited by CIPD. PwC indicated it believes those in charge of employee management are reaching a crossroads because more employees are changing their minds about what they want from their careers . People are beginning to telecommute and request hours that are different from the usual 9 to 5. As a result, 24 percent of strategic human resource management companies responding to PwC's survey reported they are actively planning to change their workforce initiatives to reflect what employees want.

The result is that temporary workers will take on more responsibilities than they might have in the past. Additionally, it means hiring permanent workers will also change as companies use different tools to choose their workers, including hiring from pools of temps.

Finding permanent talent through contract labor
Companies are looking for qualified workers to fill niche positions in their companies, but these talented individuals are becoming harder to find, according to Chris Martin, senior vice president for enterprise solutions at Randstad U.S. in an interview with Human Resources Executive Online.

"The war for talent is over, and talent won," said Martin. "So now you're seeing companies looking at every potential stream to hire qualified individuals."

Companies are therefore hiring more contract workers to fill positions that might otherwise have gone to permanent hires. But these positions are often temp-to-hire, which means employers can shop around for the best fit for a job before committing to a single employee.

"In 2012, less than 11 percent of our openings started as contract-to-hire – in which the company states at the outset that it's looking for someone to eventually hire permanently," Martin said  "This year, through July, we're at 19 percent."

The benefits of temp-to-hire
In general, human resource planning teams have much to gain through hiring a contract worker full-time. There is a longer period for determining the employee's ability to fit into the corporate culture, along with his or her general ability to do a job well. Sometimes, employees are on their best behavior for the first month or so, but eventually they let their guard down and reveal how they will likely behave if they were hired permanently. This can reveal the employee more fully than a short interview and contacting past employees.  By taking its time, a company can help to avoid hiring people who wouldn't do well with a long-term role.

How to retain top workers before it’s too late

2 Aug

Keeping the best employees is never easy, but there are ways to stay competitive and boost retainment levels.

In today's day and age, employees tend to work as free agents in the sense they are constantly moving from company to company, and if they're unhappy with their situation, they'll find somewhere else to go, LinkedIn reported. In the past, workers used to build a relationship with the company for decades and slowly move to the top, but younger generations and different work-motives are making it harder for businesses to keep their top talent.

Getting compensation rates right
One of the biggest reasons why employees leave a company is because they think they are under-valued and don't make as much as they would elsewhere. According to Inc. Magazine, companies that try to compensate with bonuses or raises at the last minute, before a worker leaves, are often too late.

Businesses have to make sure their wages are competitive from the beginning and not make it seem as if throwing money at the situation will resolve everything. Workers want to feel appreciated and using strategic human resource management plans to stay competitive with salaries is necessary.

In a study by Towers Perrin, research found that disengaged employees have between a 30 percent and 50 percent higher chance for turnover than their engaged counterparts. The study also found that having engaged employees can help increase a company's bottom line by as much as 19 percent.

Top talent truly helps companies succeed and taking all the steps to keep them in the doors is necessary. According to Forbes, businesses should try to increase communication with their top workers. The most talented staff in the company might be the longest tenured or the most knowledgeable workers, so sometimes their engagement levels can be lacking.

Keeping everyone on the same page
However, creating an engaged workforce all depends on having every employee and higher-up on the same page, the source reported. When firms have successful communication methods, employees tend to feel better appreciated and more comfortable in their role. Having great communication skills at work will also reduce the amount of stress, and disgruntled workers often leads to lower retention rates.

Andre Lavoie, CEO of ClearCompany, a talent alignment company, believes companies should start with the first point of contact with the job description.

"Employees need to understand their purpose in your organization starting with your first point of contact: the job description," said Lavoie. "The best companies have systems in place that help them achieve this from the onboarding process to the employee's day-to-day work. If the employee loses this sense of meaning, it's easy for them to feel disenfranchised."

Employers leaning more toward target date retirement funds

30 Jul

Target-date retirement plans are growing in popularity, but workers should make sure it fits to their needs before deciding.

One of the major shake-ups in retirement planning has many businesses now using target date retirement funds (TDFs). However, many workers are still uncertain about their employee benefits management and how the new system works to their benefit and if it's in a company's best interest to use them.

TDFs have been around since the 1990s, but have become more widely used in the last few years because they give workers the option to invest more conservatively while employees get older, Benefits Pro reported.

The new system strongly favors equities and stocks when workers are younger and gradually moves to bonds and fixed income options once employees get closer toward their retirement age, the Motley Fool reported.

However, after the stock market crashed in 2008, many found out that TDFs took a hit as well, which made it nearly impossible to see a return on investment when workers were just two years away from retirement, the source reported.

Jake Adamczyk, associate vice president for Aurum Wealth Management Group, explained that if companies continue to stick with TDFs, employers should still comply with current regulations, but something should be done if they are going to be used as a "quantified default investment alternative," the source reported.

"The alternative is employees or participants investing on their own and all the studies done, all the research says professional guidance is better than folks doing it by themselves," said Adamczyk, according to Benefits Pro.

TDFs grow rapidly after market settles
The importance of saving for retirement is only growing since many workers are nearing their expected retirement date with little funds saved, USA Today reported. Currently, TDFs account for $670.6 billion in total assets, which is more than four times higher than the $160 billion reported at the end of 2008. One of the biggest concerns for businesses implementing these plans is if their workers will have too much equity exposure when they are getting close to the targeted retirement date, Barron's reported.

Generally, younger workers will see equity allocation make up around 90 percent of their funds, while it will slowly move to 50 percent or less when workers are nearing their retirement date, the source reported. TDFs have seen success since the market has rebounded and several industry observers believe it's not a bad idea to shift 401(k) plans to TDFs since it's a good investment.

"Target-date funds are a better choice for almost everyone than trying to manage their own retirement portfolio," said Joe Nagengast, a spokesperson for Target Date Analytics, a retirement plan consulting firm, according to financial investment publication Barron's. "With a target-date fund, you get a rational investment approach, broad diversification and a strategy for lowering risk as the retirement date approaches."

Employees looking for unique options
There are three major companies that cover 70 percent of the TDF market: Fidelity, Vanguard and T. Rowe Price, Barron's reported. Specifically, Fidelity currently has $186 billion target-date funds at the end of May 2014, which has grown since businesses are comfortable having them manage retirement-plan assets.

"A lot of what we see with smaller plan sponsors is that they're skeptical that they can find an investment manager who can beat the market over time after fees," said Greg Carpenter, CEO of Employee Fiduciary, a firm that controls 401(k) plans, according to the source. "They're choosing index target-date funds. That gives their employees a fighting chance to be retirement ready."

Experts believe that TDFs are a "sound alternative" for several 401(k) plan investors, but employees are going to want to have their funds specifically tailored to their unique needs, U.S. News and World report said. In some circumstances, workers are finding out that their TDF plan is not specifically adjusted to the date they wish to retire, which can change retirement plan outlooks.

How President Obama’s new myRA plan works for Americans

25 Jul

President Obama's new myRA plan is aimed at helping low- and middle-income workers.

At the beginning of 2014 in the State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama announced that a new way to encourage working Americans to save for retirement would be through the "myRA" (my retirement account) plan, Forbes reported.

President Obama cited the need for greater retirement savings after a study found 28 percent of U.S. citizens are not saving for retirement al all, the source reported.

"Today, most workers don't have a pension," President Obama said in an official statement. "A Social Security check often isn't enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn't help folks who don't have 401(k)'s."

The myRA plan will simply work as a initial phase for workers who do not receive an employer-provided retirement income plan, the source reported. The new plan will also not replace Social Security benefits and will increase access to stock market returns.

The plans allow workers to switch jobs and not have to worry about changing their myRA plans, and only cost $25 to start, the source reported. Deductibles can be as low as $5 per paycheck and the U.S. Department of Treasury will support the plan with low-risk investment. People enrolled in the new plan will get an interest rate similar to Federal employees.

Plan aimed at helping lower income workers
According to CNN, the myRA plans are targeted toward low- and middle-income Americans, which account for 75 percent of part-time workers and almost half of all employees. Essentially, the new plan is supposed to work as a supplement to an existing 401(k) plan and can be used by workers with income that is lower than $191,000 per year.

"The good news is you don't have any risk on this account," said David John, a senior strategic policy adviser at the AARP Public Policy Institute, according to CNN. "The bad news is of course you're not going to have a huge amount of earnings on this account either."

The myRA​ plan gives employees the opportunity to use the plan as the safe investment portion of a retirement income portfolio, Forbes reported. According to a recent report from the Center for Responsible Lending, the average U.S. household only had $100 remaining each year after basic expenses and debt payments in 2010.

"This deals with the small saver problem," said John, according to CNN. "Very often the administrative costs of those tiny accounts actually eat into the principal."

Managing whistleblowers in the company

23 Jul

Every business has to be prepared to handle whistleblowers and building a better company culture can help.

Whistleblowing is a serious concern for many businesses and finding a way to manage any occurrences can be difficult. According to Simply-Communicate, one of the best ways a business can protect itself from whistleblowers is by building the best company culture possible.

A report from the National Business Ethics (NBE) Survey, 45 percent of employees in 2011 admitted to viewing misconduct at work. From those who saw misconduct, 65 percent of respondents said they reported the bad behavior they witnessed. The report also found that 1 in 5 employees who reported misconduct felt they went through some form of retaliation.

With 42 percent of respondents saying their workplace environment has weak ethical culture, businesses have to find ways to improve corporate culture.

What exactly is a whistleblower?
Whistleblowers are oftentimes known as employees who complain about company misconduct for reasons connected to health or safety violations, shareholder fraud or financial mismanagement, legal site Nolo Press reported. Typically, employees who don't engage with the initial complaint are titled protected whistleblowers, which are protected by several state and federal laws.

Daniel Goleman, an author, psychologist and journalist, explained the most common reaction to whistleblowing is a worker getting dropped from the company through either transfers or being fired, Simply-Communicate reported. Goleman added that for government and private industry workers, 80 percent of whistleblowers "suffer immensely."

"The paradox of this is that the whistleblower is actually highly loyal to the organization," said Goleman, according to the source. "He/she is not blowing the whistle because they want to get someone, but because they feel the basic mission, the higher ideal is getting violated and they can't live with that. Their own ethics drive them to tell the truth. The organization, paradoxically feels betrayed, angry and retaliates."

How retaliating can harm business operations
When companies retaliate against whistleblowers, retention rates are severely damaged and top performers will realize how quickly businesses can turn their backs on workers, the source reported. The NBE survey also found that 7 out of 10 employees who suffered retaliation planned to quit their job within five years.

Businesses should always keep the anonymity of the whistleblower to avoid any sort of retaliation claim, the New Hampshire Business Review reported. When companies are oblivious to the whistleblower, the less likely any lawsuit can be instigated.

Instead, companies should keep open and clear communication between the worker and not push the idea too much to keep the report confidential. According to the source, businesses should let the employee know both parties remaining quiet about the situation will be best for everyone and that the complaint is being addressed.

Whistleblowers often notify the government because they believe their first report didn't receive enough attention and to protect themselves from any sort of retaliation. According to the source, businesses shouldn't keep employees from contacting the government when they are making a report as it could be reported in a claims case.

"All of these people feel they are loyal and that they are doing what they should be doing," said Jim Lukaszewski, a crisis communication consultant, according to Simply-Communicate. "They believe they are saving the company from further damage. However, from the standpoint of management, they are considered to be disgruntled employees."

Companies have a responsibility to avoid retaliation and to resolve the issues with the initial report.

Employee Retention Remains a Top HR Concern

21 Jul

Keeping workers at the company remains important.

HR professionals know that recruiting talented workers is just the beginning of their employee management duties, with retention being one of the core workforce elements every HR department needs to focus on. According to a recent poll by Human Resource Executive (HRE) Online, HR professionals continue to see numerous challenges, with employee retention being one of them. 

HRE Online's "What's Keeping HR Up at Night?" poll received more than 400 responses from HR professionals, and found retaining workers came in at No. 3 on the list. Employee engagement and productivity earned the top spot with 36 percent of responses, while development leadership talent secured No. 2 with 28 percent. But retaining key talent was considered by 24 percent to be a key challenge. In fact, 37 percent of respondents said they gave their concern about losing top performers a 4 out of 5, showing many are very concerned about their retention of crucial workers.

Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital management practice The Conference Board, told HRE Online that keeping workers at the organization is important for every business, large or small.

"There is no greater challenge than the need to have high-performing, engaged employees and effective leaders to deliver on a business strategy," Ray said. "This is the same in every region, in every market, in every industry."

According to an article in TLNT, HR professionals don't have to let their worry about employee management stop them from getting their needed eight hours of shuteye. There are numerous strategies to increase retention, and many have a talent management element to them. Recruiting the right workers in the first place is one of the easiest ways to improve retention, but providing workers professional development opportunities, rewarding and recognizing strong performance and promoting strong leaders can also make a difference to retention. 

Tapping into the Talented Millennial Generation

21 Jul

Recruiting and retaining millennials can be difficult for many companies.

Millennials, also called Generation Y, is the latest generation in the workplace, and many recruiters and HR professionals have been looking for ways to recruit the most talented from this generation and what works best to keep them at the organization. Many companies have tried different tactics to drive recruiting and engagement from this age group - from offering fun competitions to giving them flexible work hours, employers are taking a lot of approaches to ensure their human capital is strong. Before HR professionals start implementing new ideas and strategies to recruit, engage and retain workers of this generation, they need to first understand what has already worked.

Determining What Resonates with Millennials
To some, millennials act entitled and jump from job to job, but Brent Grinsteiner – a recruiter at Manpower who also happens to be part of this generation – thinks negative perceptions about these workers overshadow their true benefits. Grinsteiner wrote millennials have experiences that are unique from other generations, and they are often driven to succeed and welcome professional development. They do best when they are given clear but concise information and are able to communicate through digital channels, such as email. LinkedIn's Lydia Abbot noted in an article that millennials are also strong multitaskers and collaborators who desire career advancement and a work-life balance. Grinsteiner wrote HR professionals need to understand that to reach out to millennials – whether they are employed at the company or are currently involved in the recruitment process – is that they want communication with their managers and to feel a sense of accomplishment from their tasks.

Therefore, best practices for acquiring and keeping top millennial talent often revolve around taking advantage of these attributes and leveraging their existing experience and abilities. Here are just a few best practices:

  • Recruit where millennials are: Many millennial workers use social media and online job boards to look for jobs, but they also often try to network both online and through their mentors. 
  • Make professional development fun: Gamification is one way to train and educate millennials, but collaborative training sessions can encourage teamwork and also be ben​eficial. 
  • Offer them opportunities to challenge themselves: Most millennials want to advance in their careers and develop new skills, so assigning them projects that can help improve their abilities and experience can be a great way to encourage loyalty.

One company that has been innovative with millennial employee engagement is Marina Maher Communications (MMC), which ended up creating a competition among the members of its workforce. According to an article in Forbes, MMC asked all of its employees to compete but collaborate with one another to raise money for the nonprofit She's the First. What resulted was a more creative and social company culture. The millennials in the workforce used their existing abilities, passion and resources to start fundraising, despite having no previous experience doing so. They were able to succeed at their goals because the company found something their millennial workers were passionate about. The Forbes article noted the company took away from this experience that millennials are resourceful and innovative, and the company culture has changed for the better because of it.

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