7 Ways to Foster Team Collaboration in Your Workplace

Source: Pexels

Source: Pexels

By Oscar Waterworth

Among many of the challenges that modern companies face nowadays, among the biggest ones is certainly how to create and nurture that rare beast: teamwork. Of course, it has been a buzzword for ages, but not many work environments actually succeed in breeding true collaboration and team spirit. Here are some of the ways to encourage its development in your company.

Make Yourself Heard

To get what you want, you have to ask for it first. Running a team has its fair share of difficulties, but plenty of times they can actually be attributed to inadequate communication. Rules, standards, guidelines and policies exist for a reason: they create a clear frame for your employees. If everybody is on the same page about collaboration being not just desirable, but a necessity, it’s much more likely you will actually achieve it.

Set Clear Goals

To unite people, you always need a common goal. Goals need to be set in a clear and precise way, with a reasonable deadline and complete transparency. Make sure all of the channels of communication are in perfect order, and provide your team with adequate organizational tools. A good online collaboration tool for your project can go a long way in keeping everybody focused and organized. United around a common goal, your team might surprise you by working together and parsing it into manageable tasks which all lead to the desired outcome.

Nurture Creativity

Creativity and a reasonable amount of freedom can be the spark that brings people together. Creativity often results in original, sometimes even revolutionary ideas, which can lift team spirit and give birth to enthusiasm. Don't be afraid of a questioning attitude. Have regular brainstorming activities, or just open unstructured conversations that encourage freedom of thinking. Explore different creativity boosting tactics and adopt the ones that work for you.

Source: Pexels

Source: Pexels

Cultivate Togetherness

Transparency is one of the building blocks of a great team. Nothing gives people a sense of belonging like being included, or at least familiar with every part of the creative process, including decision making. Give your team a say; you might be surprised at the useful input they contribute. A cohesive team is also an immense asset in terms of organization. These teams are usually easy to manage, make few mistakes and are extremely efficient as there is little delay and idling.

Get to Know Your Tribe

Knowing each of your team members, their skill set, personality and interests can be invaluable. It can help you always find the best man for a particular task, foresee and prevent any problems, and manage them in a more efficient way when they do arise. Team building exercises and activities might seem corny and sometimes even awkward, but they actually work. Doing fun stuff together, getting to know each other and building trust is the best way to find and nurture that elusive team spirit. To ensure a positive, collaborative environment, look for these characteristics in your team members.

Play to Their Strengths

Not every team member is suited to every task, and that’s normal. A wise manager knows how to assign tasks for maximum success, and also how to create mini-teams that perfectly complement each other. Within reason, try to give each team member the opportunity to do the things they are interested in and to gain experience and knowledge consistent with the direction they want to steer their career in. Don’t forget to reward significant accomplishments to up the morale and motivation.

Source: Pexels

Source: Pexels

Create a Custom Workflow

One of the core tools that will help you increase collaboration in your workplace is a streamlined workflow. Using cloud-based tools, collaboration software, and adequate communication channels can really transform the work you do and take it to the next level. A streamlined workflow boosts collaboration without interfering with the actual completion of tasks. Time wasting decreases significantly, while team cohesion strengthens.

Companies that cultivate a collaborative culture are much more likely to succeed. Collaborative efforts often far exceed the sum of individual accomplishments. A healthy atmosphere at work is also a huge draw for employees. Teamwork not only yields excellent results, but it also creates a bond between team members which ultimately boosts employee satisfaction, and, consequently, loyalty to the company.

Oscar Waterworth is a writer and a senior editor at Bizzmarkblog. He frequently blogs about the latest developments in the tech, marketing, and business industries. To stay updated with Oscar’s latest posts, you can follow him on Twitter.

Take Note: Addressing Bad Behavior in the Workplace

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By Stephanie Hammerwold

After what has been one of the highest profile terminations of the year, former FBI Director James Comey recently testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. From an HR perspective, one of the key things to come out of Comey's story of the events leading up to his termination was the fact that Comey took notes on his interactions with the president. While it is currently unclear what the results of all the testimony from Comey and others will mean, there are lessons to be learned here about what to do when you suspect your boss or another authority at work are engaged in ongoing questionable or inappropriate behavior.

Why Documentation Matters

In my HR career, I have done a fair number of workplace investigations. Sometimes I was lucky and had compelling evidence such as security camera footage, text messages or emails that backed up the complainant's story. But more often than not, a workplace investigation comes down to one person's word against another. In these situations, the HR person investigating the complaint has to sort through interviews and statements to determine as best they can what actually happened. The situation between Comey and the president was like this, so we are left with what many have called a he said/he said situation.

We can learn a lot from Comey's actions prior to his termination. Comey chose to document conversations with the president in memos. He stated that he did so because he was worried the president would lie about the nature of their meetings. While notes about meetings are subject to bias and do not provide the solid proof that things like emails or security camera footage can, they do add credibility to someone's version of events. This points to the biggest piece of advice I give any friend telling me of problems with a particular person at work: document what is happening.

What to Document

When we try to recall events from the past, our memories can get fuzzy, and specific details can slip from our minds. Writing things down immediately after they happened means you have a clearer recollection of what happened. It also gives you a chance to write down facts before you have had a chance to talk it through with someone else, think about what happened or do anything else that can add layers of interpretation and meaning to the initial interaction.

Be as specific as possible. Include dates and times, names of any witnesses and details about what happened and what was said. Keeping careful records of what is happening strengthens your complaint and gives HR a clear sense of the problem. It can be challenging for HR when you come forward and simply say your boss is treating you horribly; however, if you present notes showing details of a meeting where the boss yelled at an employee and other moments of bad behavior, it gives HR specific issues to address with the bad boss. Documenting repeated incidents also helps establish a pattern of bad behavior, which is something your HR department should quickly address.

What to Do with Documentation

For most of us, taking the steps Comey did to get his memos to the New York Times are unnecessary. When you notice bad behavior is ongoing, it is time to take things to HR. With your documentation in hand, you have details that go beyond, "My boss is mean." Specific details give HR a firm place to start their investigation. Submitting your notes will also ensure that your version of events is clearly documented.

Even after HR has wrapped up an investigation and taken appropriate disciplinary action against the offending party, keep an eye on the situation. If things get bad again, document the incidents and report them to HR, so they can take further disciplinary action.

The advice in this post refers to ongoing issues, but keep in mind that it is good to document a single serious incident as well. If something is severe, always report it to HR right away. But even if you have told your story to HR, it is still a good idea to take a moment to write down your version of events shortly after it happened. Once again, it helps ensure that you get important details down on paper before your memory gets hazy.

Some Final Thoughs

While the types of incidents we investigate in the workplace are not quite at the level of the events unfolding in DC, we can take important lessons from the investigation. Most relevant to the average workplace is the value of good documentation. In HR we often remind managers to document performance problems and conversations with employees, and the same holds true for employees who notice ongoing problems with a coworker or boss. It strengthens your complaint and helps provide accurate and specific detail about what you experienced.

How to Create a Company Culture of Communication

By Oscar Waterworth

Communication is the blood flow of every business and it’s also a critical workflow aspect, which requires time and active effort to streamline and optimize. Unfortunately, many up-and-coming brands fail to take communication seriously and such an oversight usually costs them a lot in the long run, since it can punch deep holes in productivity, growth potential and bottom line. If you want to stay on the safe side of your business endeavor, it may be a smart move to establish a culture of communication as one of your company’s main pillars. Don’t know how to pull it off? No worries: here are a few smart tips to follow if you want to set your brand’s communicative efforts on the right and well-voiced track.

Internal Communication Channels

Active communication between all relevant workplace links is critical for long-term productivity, favorable bottom line, and business sustainability. In this light, prompt exchange of information and timely feedback are a guarantee of quick resolution of all potential issues which may arise in the line of work. To speed up internal exchange of information, facilitate collaboration, reduce response delays, and boost overall efficiency of communication, you can use an intranet or live messaging system instead of conventional e-mail.

Weekly Reports and Reviews

For peak communication ease and efficiency, direct reports and performance reviews should be presented to the staff on a weekly basis, and preferably accompanied by face-to-face meetings. To avoid stress of one-on-one sit-downs and ensure peak team engagement and communication efficiency, you can organize informal weekly get-togethers: it will allow you to fill your team in on relevant details and casually discuss ways to boost output, minimize waste of resources and other critical performance- and workflow-related aspects.

Monthly Staff Meetings

Face-to-face meetings are a go-to communication mode for monthly and quarterly presentation of reports and key information roundups. For this reason, it might be a wise move to stage staff meetings at least once a month and update your team about vital business decisions, initiatives, performance metrics, and key concerns and priorities for the forthcoming period. Strive to make monthly meet-ups enjoyable, avoid bossiness and leave criticism for one-on-one meetings: after all, you’re supposed to set a positive example for your team.

Regular 360° Reviews

A 360° review is another smart communication tool many businesses use to dial up productivity and bottom line and secure long-term expansion, and it’s also an internal communication mode which helps managers solicit feedback on an employer’s skills and performance from other team members. Using 360° reviews, managers are able to provide positive and constructive feedback to each and every team member based on the analysis of comments and remarks submitted by their coworkers, superiors and subordinates.

Annual Performance Reviews

In addition to monthly and quarterly reports, annual performance reviews can help managers adjust the course of business conduct, scale results and provide critical feedback to their teams. If you’re about to stage a one-on-one meeting to discuss annual review of an individual worker’s performance, aim to make the ambiance formal yet amiable, accentuate the positives and offer a range of constructive tips on ways the employee can optimize performance and exploitation of company’s resources in the year to come.

Anonymous Staff Surveys

Surveys are another critical tool for gathering employee feedback that can be used to hack peak performance, identify problematic workflow aspects and eliminate glitches and conflicts. If you want to create an environment in which your staff will voice their views openly, make the survey anonymous: that way, all team members will feel comfortable speaking their mind, which is vital for gathering information about chief challenges and room for improvement. Feedback obtained from surveys can make the difference between a timely business conduct tweak and shutdown.

Informal Social Outings

Last but not the least, don’t overlook the power of informal get-togethers after work hours. The trip to the local bowling alley or a casual sit-down over a pint of beer can be a valuable source of insights about potential problems and solutions to chronic issues managers can use to fine-tune their approach to certain aspects of the workflow. In addition to that, social events outside work hours are a cost-efficient way for managers to foster close team bonds and collaboration across departments, so don’t overlook team building if you want to dial up communication at work.

Up the Game

Are you ready to take your brand’s communication to the next level? Use the instruments above to set up a tight communication network and streamline exchange of information between vital links in the workplace hierarchy puzzle, and your company’s sustainability and growth will be as safe as well-communicated messages. Good luck!

Oscar Waterworth is a writer and a senior editor at Bizzmarkblog. He frequently blogs about the latest developments in the tech, marketing, and business industries. To stay updated with Oscar’s latest posts, you can follow him on Twitter.

How to Get Started With Recruitment Marketing

By Oscar Waterworth

It was not so long ago when talented people went out to find suitable employment by proving to employers just how great their potential is. Nowadays, employers have to compete in order to attract the attention of talented people and give compelling offers that will interest the best candidates enough to work for an organization.

Recruitment marketing is a way to promote a company's culture and story in order to let talent know that working there has many perks and benefits. It involves creative and innovative ideas for winning over talent and qualified employees. Here are a few tips on how to get started with recruitment marketing.

Tell Your Story

Talented recruits need to know why they should they join your organization and what kind of benefits will they have if they work for your company. They need a compelling reason to share their talent with your company and kick off their career with you. That is why it is important to tell your company's story the best way possible and convince potential employees that they have a bright future waiting for them in your organization.

Your company needs to formulate a strong message that will capture the attention of those who are actively searching for employment and those who are still passive and indecisive. It is a good idea to closely work with your HR department on creating a campaign and choosing effective strategies that will provide the best results when it comes to recruitment marketing. Together with your HR, you can create a recruitment persona that will reflect on what kind of people and skills your organization needs in order to target specific audience.

Involve Other Members of Your Team

 In order to create an awesome recruitment marketing strategy you should enlist the aid of your existing members of the team. For instance, HR is already helping you to create a message and a recruitment persona, now ask the marketing team to come up strategies that will help you deliver the message to recruits and interest them as much as they would interest customers into buying something.

Do not hesitate to involve your team into helping you out. After all, they are good at what they do and they can also shift their skills to create recruitment marketing strategy that is just effective as a product marketing strategy.

Leverage Content Marketing for Recruitment

Content marketing has always been an effective way to attract customers and capture the interest of viewers. Content is also a good way to reach out to recruits and spark their interest as well. Promoting content for recruits is pretty much the same as promoting to customers, with few adjustments of course.

You can use your company's website to promote recruitment content or manage a different website or a blog with a specific purpose of attracting recruits. It is important to remember that your blog has to have good performance, otherwise viewers will leave. You can host your recruitment blog separately or use shared hosting with other blogs, which is more economical. Regardless, a website or a blog will be the hub for your recruitment content and it must serve a purpose of promoting your company's story and culture that will hold the interest of recruits.

When it comes to recruitment content, you should make sure it contains in-depth information about your organization such as working benefits, career opportunities, career advancement etc. You should also involve your employee's personal experiences and reviews to help you boost the impact on viewers. Transparency and creativity will speak for your company's legitimacy and potential employees will have a detailed view into your company's culture - which in turn, will make them feel closer to your organization and hopefully help them decide to join you.

Recruitment marketing is very similar to product marketing. The only difference is that you are not trying to convince people to buy something, but rather join your company. Recruitment marketing involves leveraging content, social media marketing and other strategies, with a slightly different approach.

Oscar Waterworth is a writer and a senior editor at Bizzmarkblog. He frequently blogs about the latest developments in the tech, marketing, and business industries. To stay updated with Oscar’s latest posts, you can follow him on Twitter.

Mental Health & Well-Being in the Workplace

By Stephanie Hammerwold

I recently attended the National Human Resources Association’s panel on “The Impact of Mental Health in the Workplace.” We spend a large amount of our time in the workplace. If employees are struggling with mental illness, that comes to work with them. It affects their work and well being, so it is important that employers recognize the need to provide resources to support employee mental health.

The Reality of Mental Illness

Steve Pitman is the president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. During the panel, he pointed out that one in five people will have a diagnosis of mental illness this year. Of those diagnosed, 50% are not getting treatment. Given these numbers, it is clear that this is an area that employers must address.

The signs of mental illness are not outwardly visible, and Pitman said that the number one reason people do not seek treatment is the stigma. There is this thought that a person can just get over it. But the reality is that treating mental illness requires help and support—just as people get for physical illness. If workplaces are open and supportive of mental health, it helps break down that stigma, and this is good for everyone. As Pitman explained, “An environment that supports mental health supports all employees.”

How to Support Employees

Your employee assistance program (EAP) and coverage for mental health in your insurance plan are excellent places to start, but supporting mental health does not stop there. Find ways to incorporate mental health into your existing wellness program. You can also provide training on topics like suicide prevention, recognizing the signs of depression and supporting children with mental illness. Panelist Sheryl Correa of St. Joseph Health explained that your approach to mental health education should also include training people on positive well-being in the workplace. At St. Joseph, she said that they open meetings with a reflection to help people focus and feel grounded.

Correa offered five easy steps that employees can easily incorporate into their daily routine:

  • Gratitude—figure out something you are grateful for
  • Journal one positive thing you have done in the last 24 hours
  • Exercise
  • Meditate
  • Practice random acts of kindness

These changes can start small. For example, meditate for a minute and slowly increase that one minute each day until you get to your target length of time. HR professionals and managers can support employees by allowing them to slow down occasionally to take a few minutes to focus on these things or even encourage them to use break time to go for a relaxing walk away from their desk.

Panelist Noma Bruton offers more suggestions on her blog. Bruton is certified as a mental health first aid instructor and works with HR professionals to train them on recognizing and responding to the signs of mental illness in the workplace as well as ways to support mental health in the workplace. As she points out in her blog post, “In the past, HR contributed to issues of discrimination, sexual harassment, cracking the glass ceiling and providing employment to people with disabilities.  By bringing meaningful change to the workplace, HR is well placed to move the dial on mental health.”

Reshaping the Workplace

While it is important that we have resources to help employees focus on mental health, it is also necessary that we look at how our work environments affect mental health. Toxic work environments do nothing to support positive well-being. If you notice that morale is low and that employees are regularly struggling, take the time to look at your policies and practices. Are your managers creating an environment that encourages long days and impossible deadlines? Are they supervising by yelling and bullying?

Supporting mental health in the workplace also requires that we look to our own practices to make sure we are not causing unnecessary stress. Create an environment where employees can have a work-life balance and can have time off to spend with friends and families. Happier employees are more productive and are better ambassadors for your company and your brand.

What is Fair Chance Hiring?

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This post comes from the Pacific Reentry Career Services blog. Pacific Reentry Career Services is my nonprofit, which helps formerly incarcerated women find meaningful employment. We will be holding Fair Chance Hiring Summits this year to provide a forum for discussing the benefits and challenges of working with the formerly incarcerated, so please sign up for our newsletter to get more information about when the summits are scheduled.

Simply having a criminal record should not be enough to keep someone from being hired. Fair chance hiring refers to policies that help those with a criminal record find jobs they are qualified for. This can include removing the question about criminal convictions from job applications (also called “Ban the Box”), moving questions about criminal record to later in the hiring process and only asking about criminal record when it is relevant to the job.

Pacific Reentry Career is committed to educating employers on the benefits of hiring the reentry population. With that in mind, here are some of the most common questions about fair chance hiring. There are links to useful fair chance hiring resources throughout this article.

How does fair chance hiring benefit employers?
One in three Americans has a criminal record. If employers automatically reject these job seekers, they are missing out on a large number of qualified applicants. Many people with criminal records are qualified and ready to work.

How does fair chance hiring benefit formerly incarcerated job seekers?
Getting a good job with a steady income is a huge step in rebuilding a life following incarceration. It can help reduce recidivism, secure housing and help to reunite families. Often checking yes to the job application question about criminal record can automatically land someone in the reject pile. By moving the question about criminal background to later in the process (or not asking it at all if it is not relevant to the job), formerly incarcerated job seekers can be evaluated based on work history, education and other job qualifications, which gives them a fair shot at landing a good job. Their criminal record no longer becomes an automatic rejection.

Does fair chance hiring mean I should never ask about criminal background?
You can still ask about criminal background if you practice fair chance hiring, but you should evaluate when in the process you look at criminal background. The simplest thing is to remove the question about criminal background from your job application and to ask about it once a conditional offer has been made if it is relevant to the job. This gives job seekers a chance to be evaluated on qualifications without having a criminal record unfairly bias a hiring manager against them. For some jobs, you may want to do away with the question all together.

What is the EEOC guidance on the use of criminal background checks in hiring?
In 2012, the EEOC issued guidance on the use of criminal background checks in hiring. The EEOC’s guidance comes from the fact that certain racial and ethnic groups experience higher rates of incarceration and may therefore face barriers to employment. This may lead to discriminatory hiring practices. The EEOC’s guidance encourages employers to only look into an applicant’s criminal background if it is relevant to the job. This is not law, but it is a good place for employers to start when figuring out how to change their hiring process so it does not create unfair biases against people with records. Click on the link at the beginning of this answer or visit the EEOC’s information page for more information on the guidance.

What if I want to use a background company to review criminal records of potential hires?
There are federal and state laws that govern the use of background check companies. Root & Rebound’s “California Employers’ Fair Chance Hiring Toolkit” offers detailed information on the requirements for California employers. If you are thinking about employing a background check company, it is best to consult with an employment attorney to make sure your process fits within the legal requirements.

Are there ways I can protect my business if I do end up making a bad hire?
Many people with criminal records go on to live productive lives following release from jail or prison. The U.S. Department of Labor established the Federal Bonding program in 1966 to provide fidelity bonds to cover at-risk, hard-to-place job seekers. This includes formerly incarcerated individuals. This program is free for employers and employees and covers the first six months of employment. For more information, visitthe Federal Bonding Program website or contact your local EDD office in California. Keep in mind that only about 1% of these bonds are ever claimed, so those covered by bonds have had a high success rate with employers.

Are there any tax benefits for hiring formerly incarcerated people?
The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal program that provides a tax incentive to employers who hire people from difficult-to-employ groups, which includes the formerly incarcerated. You can learn more about WOTC on the Department of Labor’s website. California offers additional incentives to employers in designated geographical areas. For more information on the California incentive, visit the Franchise Tax Board’s site.

What can I do to show that my business supports fair chance hiring?
Visit the Dave's Killer Bread website to take the Second Chance Pledge to show that you are committed to removing barriers to employment for the formerly incarcerated. Train hiring managers to make fair decisions regarding candidates with criminal records, support community programs that help the formerly incarcerated find employment and spread the word about the benefits of hiring the reentry population.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. It is always a good idea to check with an employment attorney before making changes to your hiring process and to ensure that your hiring practices are legal and fit within the requirements of the law for your location.

Human Resources Trends for 2017

By Oscar Waterworth

The year 2017 will be particularly challenging for human resources teams as they will need to constantly adapt their strategies to emerging trends and ongoing changes in the working conditions and environment. Here is a look at some of the top human resources trends for 2017.

Company Culture and Employee Engagement as a Priority

As testimonials of employees and candidates are more visible with the rise of employer review websites, corporate practices are more transparent than ever. This is marking the end of unethical practices, and the beginning of taking care of issues such as respectful treatment of employees at all levels including benefits, job security, etc. Companies need to focus on corporate culture and values in order to retain employees and attract future candidates.

Further Rise of Blended Workforce

A major HR trend still relevant in 2017 is the continuing change in structure of the global workforce. While full-time employees still form the greatest part of the workforce, there has been a constant rise in numbers of non-traditional workers such as freelancers, interns, remote and part-time workers, etc. Since permanent employees are working side by side with temporary or non-traditional workers, the HR teams will face new challenges when it comes to organizing different types of workers while working together on the same project.

Changes in Performance Management and Reviews

While the annual performance reviews are increasingly abandoned in favor of continuous, more personal methods of delivering feedback to employees, the companies are yet to find a performance management strategy that best suits their working environment and their workforce. Most employees, especially the younger generations, appreciate regular and relevant feedback, so they can focus sooner on areas in which they can improve their performance. In 2017, companies will likely switch from performance measurement to performance counseling—as comments and discussion with employers and peers will replace the traditional rating systems.

Separating Performance Management and Compensation

As companies redefine or completely abandon performance rating, the question of what to do with performance-based bonuses still remains. Some companies have already eliminated monetary rewards based on performance, as it was concluded that they don’t significantly improve performance or employee morale while potentially causing rivalry in the workplace. It will be important to determine how to calculate pay and bonuses in a fair and competitive way, while respecting the newly established culture of continual feedback instead of keeping the classic performance ratings.

Turning Towards In-house Training

In order to keep their existing employees’ skills up to date, companies have often turned to outside sources for additional training and education. In 2017, HR teams will be looking for useful skills which employees already possess and the ways these skills can be put to use in a more cost effective in-house training.

Increasing Appreciation of Work Flexibility

Flexibility may be the benefit that is currently valued the most as work/life balance seems to be very important to employees, especially younger workers. In order to keep the talent working for them in the new results-driven environment, companies are increasingly flexible with working hours and location of their employees. In order to effectively keep track of a growing number of workers with different schedules, the use of a reliable time tracking software will be essential throughout 2017.

Using the Advantages of Big Data Analysis

To remain competitive, companies will invest more resources in big data analysis as the results of it have the potential to improve every aspect of the business.  Interpretation of the data will be helpful in areas of recruitment, improving employees’ performance and retention as well as reducing the number of bad hires.

Rising Interest in Wellness Programs

Companies are using wellness programs to reduce absenteeism, attract and retain talent, as well as save on healthcare costs. Creating a healthy and supportive work environment will help maintain employees in an optimal mental, emotional and physical state of well-being.

The successful implementation of good strategies in HR will lead to improved performance and greater satisfaction of the employees. This will largely depend on the ability of HR teams to tackle the challenges that will come with the latest trends while searching for adequate solutions for the new working situations.

Oscar Waterworth is a writer and a senior editor at Bizzmarkblog. He frequently blogs about the latest developments in the tech, marketing, and business industries. To stay updated with Oscar’s latest posts, you can follow him on Twitter.

Is it Time to Ditch the Cover Letter?

By Stephanie Hammerwold

Whenever I have a friend who is in the middle of applying for jobs, I hear the inevitable grumbling about cover letters. I don’t blame them—whenever I have done a job search I find myself complaining about such things.  Studies show that the average time that a recruiter spends on a resume is a measly six seconds. With such a small amount of time spent on a resume, is the cover letter getting any attention? After over a decade in HR, many years of which included reviewing applications, I think it is time to bid farewell to the cover letter.

What Recruiters & Hiring Managers Look at in Applications

Filling out an application, creating a resume and writing a cover letter can be very time consuming. When a piece of paper or information on a screen must fill in for making a good first impression, the stakes are high, which can be a stressful situation for even the most seasoned professional. The questions I hear most often are, “What does a potential employer want to see?” and “What should I include on my resume?”

I must admit that I am not surprised by the six-second statistic. When I screened applications and resume, I always start with a quick scan. I was most interested in seeing what someone’s work history was and if it was relevant to the job. If there was enough there to pique my interest, I would spend much more time on the resume and read it in detail before making a decision on scheduling an interview. You may have noticed here that I am talking about the resume and not the cover letter. That’s because the cover letter was often the last thing I read.

The reason for this is simple: there is very little information in a cover letter that cannot be gleaned from a good resume. This is my biggest argument for ditching the cover letter. Conventional wisdom on cover letters was that the letter should point a recruiter or hiring manager toward the highlights of your resume. But if your resume is well organized, you should not need directions in your cover letter, right?

Changing the Application Process

Employers, it is time that we all agree to stop asking for cover letters. Let’s let resumes and job applications speak for themselves. While we are on the subject of unnecessary steps in the application process, many companies seem to ask candidates to jump through hoops to apply for a job. This is a good reminder for employees to review their process and to determine which steps are unnecessary.

Applying for employment can feel like a full-time job itself. Many applications ask for a cover letter and include pre-employment questions. Perhaps it is time to remove those things from the first stage of the application process. Consider starting off with a basic application that asks for just enough information to help decide if a candidate is worth pursuing. If they are, then ask them to provide additional information. This saves an applicant from wasting time completing unnecessary application materials and keeps employers from having to read through excessive text. When reviewing your application process, ask yourself if the information you are soliciting is necessary to make an initial decision on a candidate. If it is not, remove it from the application.

If there are additional questions you want to ask beyond work history and experience, consider moving them later in the process so that only candidates who are moving on to the phone screen or interview have to provide additional information. This helps to focus your screening on only the relevant information.

Some Final Advice to Job Seekers

Job seekers reading this may be tempted to stop sending in cover letters, but do not abandon them so quickly. Make sure to read all the instructions an employer provides before applying. The application process is not a good place to stage a cover letter protest. If a potential employer requires a cover letter, draft something concise that highlights some of your accomplishments and explains in a few sentences why you are the ideal candidate for the job. If you do end up getting hired and, better yet, get hired into a supervisory position or something in HR, spend some time making the case for getting rid of the cover letter once you have put in some time at your new company.

Why We Need the Overtime Rule

By Stephanie Hammerwold

Just as employers were taking the final steps to make sure they were compliant with the new salary threshold for exempt employees that was set to go into effect December 1, Judge Amos Mazzant of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas granted a preliminary injunction on November 22 in a lawsuit that challenged the Department of Labor’s authority to raise the threshold. The new threshold would have raised the salary threshold for exempt employees from $23,660 to $47,476.

President Obama had pushed for the new threshold, which would have brought overtime pay to approximately 4 million Americans who were previously classified as exempt based on the old threshold. The change was celebrated by employees who had been working long hours for low pay and no overtime pay, but some businesses criticized the new rule saying the threshold was too high and would hurt small businesses. While I understand any change to the wage threshold can have an effect on the bottom line for businesses, especially small businesses, the overtime rule would have been a positive change for the American workplace.

Looking at the Math

I am in California, and the exempt threshold here is currently $41,600 and is set to rise to $43,680 on January 1, 2017. The new law would not have been a dramatic increase here, but other states relied on the old threshold of $23,660 and would have seen a huge jump. When an employee is exempt, they are paid a set amount per week regardless of the number of hours worked. They do not get overtime pay for hours worked beyond 40 per week. If someone making $23,660 per year works a straight 40 hours per week, they make about $11.38/hour. The problem is that many exempt employees work more than that. So, let’s look at an exempt employee at the current threshold who works 50 hours per week. Suddenly their hourly wage drops to $9.10/hour.

You can see how the current low threshold opens up the possibility for abuse. An employer can take advantage of the professional exemption to classify an employee as exempt and save money by not paying overtime. The problem is that the employee is most likely being paid much less than they should be making. Someone could be a manager with supervisory responsibilities and management duties but be making less than $10/hour when all the hours worked are considered, which essentially undervalues their work.

Why Have a Threshold?

A threshold limits the abuse that can happen when an employee is exempt. Aside from the salary threshold, exempt employees must meet a duties test. Exempt employees fall into several categories: executive, administrative, professional, computer employee and outside sales. Title alone does not determine if an employee should be exempt, and exempt status usually requires that the position has independent judgment, advanced knowledge and managerial responsibility. The idea here is that employers cannot get out of paying low-wage workers overtime pay by classifying them as exempt.

Being able to classify an employee as exempt can be useful for managerial positions and certain professional positions because it keeps those positions from being bound by the time clock. Of course exempt status opens up the possibility that an employer could work an employee 60 hours per week and pay them the same as if the employee only worked 40 hours. But, the duties tests are supposed to limit exempt status to position that carry more responsibility and are compensated as such. This is all the more reason to raise the threshold to ensure that lower wage workers are not classified as exempt in order to work them long hours without paying overtime.

By placing further limits on who can be exempt, it also helps to shift the workaholic culture we have by making an employer think carefully before making an employee work long hours. If they now must pay overtime, it may not be worth it.

The Future of the Overtime Rule

It is unclear what the future of the overtime rule will be as we prepare for the Trump Administration. Trump has chosen Andrew F. Puzder to be Secretary of Labor. Puzder has been critical of minimum wage increases and sick leave policies, and he also claims the overtime rule would diminish opportunities for workers. Under Trump and Puzder, it seems unlikely that we will see a push from the new administration to implement the overtime rule.

Some employers had already made the changes prior to the preliminary injunction on November 22. Inside Higher Ed points out that many colleges and universities will still move forward with the changes. Once an employer has communicated a salary or exempt-status change to employees, it can create problems to change things back—especially if the change had benefited the employee. Even in the absence of the new overtime rule, this is a good time for employers to review those employees classified as exempt to ensure that they meet the job duty requirements for that classification.

Ultimately the new rule sent a message that work-life balance is important and that workers deserve to be fairly compensated for their work. This has been a regular message from Obama, a president who continues to push for paid sick leave, paid family leave, raising the minimum wage and other pro-employee policies.

Obama’s push for policies that focus on taking care of employees should serve as a guideline for improving workplaces. In the absence of laws requiring things like paid leave and the overtime rule, employers can still make such changes to improve their workplaces in order to take good care of their employees. This leads to happier workers, and happier workers are more productive.

The Importance of Promoting Positive Company Culture on Social Media

By Oscar Waterworth

The workplace as a concept has always been an evolving "entity." From employees struggling to attain working conditions that would not kill them to companies encouraging their employees to nap at work; from companies trying to do everything to keep their employees from unionizing to employees realizing they do not matter to their employers. This could go on indefinitely.

Today's workplace is a very complex one in that employees are more jaded and less loyal than ever before. The employers, on the other hand, all have to deal with brutal competition but still need to let the employees "do their thing," especially in some super-competitive industries. Slap a ton of new HR tech on top of it and you get a whole mess.

One thing that has come out of all of this is that attracting and hiring the best talent in the industry has become more difficult than ever before, especially if you are targeting younger generations. One of the ways to do this is to be very smart about promoting your positive company culture on social media.

Create a Positive Company Culture

You can do as much employer marketing and social media promotion as you wish, but if you actually do not have a positive company culture, it will be for nothing. Trying to plaster a fancy façade on a house without walls and the foundation does not work. 

Creating a positive company culture is a complex and comprehensive task and it would be silly to try and explain it in a few sentences. Still, there are some basics that can point you in the right direction: properly compensating your employees for the work they do; providing (at least) some basic employee benefits; ensuring everyone is treated fairly and given an equal chance; putting an end to any discrimination in the workplace; rewarding the people who deserve it; ensuring everyone understands what the company is about and acts accordingly.

It's All About the Employees

If you wish to start spreading your positive company culture across the social media channels, you will always start and end with your employees. At the core of it, a positive company culture is one where employees are happy and you need to show this. If someone does a great work, make sure to announce it on your social media channels. If a team does something truly great, create a short video and post it on your YouTube channel. If one of your employees has a baby, make sure to gift them something and publish it on social media.

As long as your social media profiles feature photos and videos of smiling faces, everyone will know that your company cares about its people.

At the core of it, a positive company culture is one where employees are happy and you need to show this.

Letting the People In

There is something alluring about a behind-the-scenes peek, it doesn't matter what into. We love to see how movies or TV shows are made. Sports fans enjoy it very much when they can see how their favorite team practices and travels. Fashion enthusiasts love watching how fashion shows are put on from the inside. It all makes us feel like we are involved in some way.

Believe it or not, doing the same for your company can be a great way to present it on social media. Snap a few photos when the day is particularly busy (and sunny, because of the light and everything), do a short video when the last "I" is being dotted on a project and when everyone celebrates. Show people how your different departments work.

Celebrate the Good Times

Every company has its non-work moments and these are the perfect opportunity to show how fun and employee-friendly your company is. Holiday celebrations, company outings, various teambuilding activities – all of these look amazing on camera and on social media. It is very likely that your employees will have a ton of pics and videos themselves. Ask them if they would share them with you. Of course, you will also encourage them to share them on their own personal social media profiles.

Another good idea would be to share these good times on the company blog. No matter how serious your blog content usually is, no one will mind if you do a couple of posts every year, showing off the fun-loving side of your company. Of course, you will need to pay attention not to go overboard. As content marketing agency professionals will always point out, your blog needs to be balanced.

Closing Word

In the end, it all comes down to how good your employees feel working for you. If they come to work with smiles on their faces (at least most of the time), promoting your positive company culture on social media will be a very natural process.

Still, you can always give it a push or two.

Oscar Waterworth is a writer and a senior editor at Bizzmarkblog. He frequently blogs about the latest developments in the tech, marketing, and business industries. To stay updated with Oscar’s latest posts, you can follow him on Twitter.

Consent and the Locker Room: Why Words Matter

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By Stephanie Hammerwold

Recently video surfaced of Donald Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women. You have probably seen the video by now, so there is no need to link to the clip of his vulgar language here. Countless hours have been spent analyzing, criticizing and in some cases defending what Trump said in the clip as well as similar comments he has made throughout the course of his campaign. Those that defend Trump, and Trump himself, explain it away as “locker-room talk.” As a feminist and someone who has spent a good part of my HR career leading training on preventing workplace harassment, this explanation makes me cringe.

When we talk about preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, we are trying to help foster workplaces free of these kinds of comments as well as many of the other comments we have heard Trump make about women and a wide variety of people who fall into protected classes. With the election only a few weeks away, and one of the top two contenders for president being a man who does things that could get him fired for harassment in an ordinary job, I think it is important that we take a moment and look at why it is necessary that we call out this kind of bad behavior both in the workplace and when it comes to the highest office in the U.S.

Consent & Respect

The most disturbing thing about the Trump’s comments is not his use of a vulgar word to describe a part of a woman’s body; it was his complete disregard for consent. In fact, he was boasting about sexually assaulting women. As I mentioned in my recent post on harassment training, it is important that harassment prevention education includes discussions about consent, and this should start with how we talk about appropriate behavior with kids in school.

Those who defend Trump ignore the fact that his original message spoke of lack of consent. This points to a big problem in how many people still do not grasp this concept. It is never OK to touch a woman (or anyone for that matter) without their consent. When business leaders and people running for president express ideas that disregard consent, it shows a profound lack of respect for women. This attitude is harmful to everyone.

In a speech Michelle Obama gave in New Hampshire on October 13, she explained what happens if we speak the way Trump did, “We're telling our sons that it's OK to humiliate women. We're telling our daughters that this is how they deserve to be treated. We're telling all our kids that bigotry and bullying are perfectly acceptable in the leader of their country.”

Trump’s words and the words of others who behave like him harm all of us. People like him set a bad example for how to treat women—the message is that women do not deserve to be respected. Now, more than ever, it is necessary that we denounce this type of behavior and demand that our leaders behave in a way that is respectful to all people.

Changing the Idea that “Boys Will be Boys”

Underlying much of the response from those that defend Trump’s comments or dismiss them as “locker-room talk” is this sense that boys will be boys. Most women have come across the consequences of this attitude at least once in their lives. It is the kind of attitude that dismisses sexist comments, catcalling or inappropriate touching. It is time we put an end to this.

In the days following the release of the Trump recording, I was moved by the number of my male friends who were appalled by what Trump said and who said they never spoke with their friends in that manner. Again, it was not about the vulgar word Trump used, but his complete disregard for consent. It gives me hope that there are plenty of men out there, including our current president, who never think it is acceptable to talk about and treat women in the way Trump has. In fact, Trump’s response to the recording was an insult to decent men who respect women.

It is time for all of us to speak up when we hear this kind of damaging talk and to call out those who treat women in this manner. Words matter—especially when they come from someone who is running for president.

Leading by Example

Back in August President Barack Obama wrote a piece for Glamour where he explained why he is a feminist, and a lot of that had to do with the kind of example he wants to set for his daughters. He explains, “Yes, it’s important that their dad is a feminist, because now that’s what they expect of all men.” Just take a moment and let that sink in. Then compare it to some of the things Trump has said about women. A Trump presidency would reinforce the idea that it is OK to speak disparagingly about women and to judge them solely based on appearance and body size. Even more disturbing is that Trump’s words about women often perpetuate a culture where claims of rape and sexual assault are not taken seriously.

Those in charge must lead by example. This includes those who lead from boardrooms, the White House, classrooms and really any leadership position. Words matter, and the way we talk about others can have a profound effect on our society. Remember that when you head to the polls on November 8.

Using Recruitment Marketing to Attract the Best Candidates

By Oscar Waterworth

It is no longer sufficient or acceptable for recruiters to simply put up a job advertisement and hope for the best. Regardless of how great (you think) your organization is or how many people are trying to get in, you are unlikely to attract the best possible candidate and even less likely to attract the best possible field of candidates from which to choose without having engaged in recruitment marketing.

For a variety of reasons, the balance of power in recruitment has shifted from employers to potential employees. Candidates - particularly young and educated ones with no dependants - are no longer desperate for stable work and are willing to wait a long time before committing to a full-time, permanent job.

On the flipside, they are not willing to spend a long time in that job if it doesn't suit them – this has made recruitment a very particular and complicated science that is not just about finding the most impressive candidate, but the right candidate and convincing them that their organization is worth committing to.

It also means that the candidate search is not limited to the unemployed – it means attracting the best talent regardless of whether they are employed, unemployed, underemployed, interstate, overseas or even retired! It means targeting the "passive" job market and catching the biggest fish out of the biggest possible pond.

How do You Attract Candidates Who are not Even Looking for Work?

As mentioned above, in order to give yourself the best chance of attracting the best possible candidate you need to cast the web as wide as possible. This means more than just advertising a “position vacant” on as many mediums as possible, and in fact it means more than just advertising a position at all. This means a constant and consistent marketing campaign of your company or organization as an employer, rather than just a goods/services provider.

As such, the search for the ideal candidate doesn't begin once a position becomes vacant – it should have already been occurring in the form of brand development as an employer. It should have been occurring on various mediums, whether exclusively online or on traditional media as well (depending on your organization's budget).

If you are a software development firm, you want all software developers to know that you exist and you want them to know how great conditions in your office are – you want a video of your office to pop up on their Facebook feed, complete with classy footage of your existing staff happily brainstorming on beanbags, sipping on fresh lattes from your state of the art coffee machine!

Your organization may not match this description, but you can certainly find competitive advantages of your workplace (whether this is the location, the conditions or any other factors) and find a way to highlight these to prospective employees.

Developing a Reputation as an Employer of Choice

Most HR departments, although great at their core business, are not equipped to conduct the kind of full-scale recruitment marketing campaigns that are required to stay competitive in the talent market. If this is the case in your organization, it is highly recommended that you engage the services of brand developers.

Brand developers are able to build up the kind of reputation your organization needs to catch the biggest fish through a comprehensive process including content marketing and analytics. Recruitment marketing has become a science in itself, which a company neglects at its own peril.

You may know that you are a great employer, your existing employees may know that their conditions are great and this may be outlined in great detail in your job advert – but nobody knows this except the active unemployed job seeker. And even then, only IF they are using the same channels in their job search that you've advertised on. To avoid the risk of missing out on the best possible candidates (as we speak!), make sure you have a recruitment marketing campaign in place sooner rather than later.

Oscar Waterworth is a writer and a senior editor at Bizzmarkblog. He frequently blogs about the latest developments in the tech, marketing, and business industries. To stay updated with Oscar’s latest posts, you can follow him on Twitter.

HR Hammer Interview: Rathin Sinha of JobFindah

There are numerous benefits to having a diverse workforce. Not only have diverse teams been shown to perform better and appeal to a wider customer base, but it is the right thing to do. Ensuring that hiring brings in a variety of people helps bring in multiple perspectives, which can improve the overall success of a business. Rathin Sinha founded JobFindah, a job board committed to helping connect employers committed to diversity to job seekers. I recently spoke with Rathin to learn more about his site and to find out what makes his platform different from traditional job boards.

Tell me about your background and why you decided to found JobFindah.

Prior to JobFindah Network (JFN), I developed America’s Job Exchange (AJE) and led its growth until AJE was acquired and integrated with Time Warner Cable. Previously, I built and ran the e-commerce channels for Monster.com, which became perhaps the largest online sales channel for our industry. Earlier, I had stints as a CMO, Head of strategy, marketing, e-Commerce and a strategy consultant for Fortune 500 companies.

I decided to launch JobFindah to carry on the original vision of AJE that couldn’t be carried out as the new owners were weathering the affects of consolidation in the cable industry. Consequently they had no appetite for investment in a non-core business such as AJE other than harvesting it for profits. We, on the other hand, wanted to build a modern platform that solves the challenges of talent acquisition within the context of regulatory compliance. Customers kept telling us that they wanted a solution that is not confined to merely checking the box for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) compliance, but a solution that truly helps them find great talent, enhance diversity and also fulfill the requirements of the OFCCP regulations. JobFindah is built with that vision in mind--an aspiration to serve the broader needs of our customers beyond just compliance.

What makes JobFindah different than traditional job boards?

Unlike traditional job boards that merely offer recruiters online real estate for posting jobs and then leaving them "praying" for applicant response, JobFindah offers a systemic approach through our "Attract-Reach-Manage" framework. We focus on attracting applicants to employer job postings using job boards and employer branding. This allows us toreach applicants through a diverse set of partnerships and job distribution technology while also managing the compliance process through mandated outreach, reporting and analytics capabilities. Helping businesses with their OFCCP compliance and reporting is a core expertise of ours, but so is the focus on applicant delivery. JobFindah offers a broad set of products and solutions so businesses can optimize their strategy based on goals and budget.

How does your service help companies improve their hiring practices and contribute to a more diverse and inclusive workforce?

We help companies attract general talent through job postings on our flagship job site, as well as through our community specific sites for the veterans, women and individuals with disabilities (and more in the pipeline). We help them create branded micro-sites to communicate their culture of equal opportunity and inclusiveness via social media to engage with a diverse set of talent communities. To improve effectiveness in hiring from the under-represented groups, we help companies with targeted job distribution and community partnerships at the ground level. We help companies post or list their open job ads on state-run as well as reaching out to community-based organizations where employment counselors help job seekers to search, select and apply for the right jobs.

Finally, we provide tools and software that empower companies to broaden their links with local organizations and events. Overall, by using our solution, companies can greatly improve their hiring practices, and build a diverse and inclusive workforce based on their overall corporate ambitions and commitments.

What are some steps employers can take to ensure they are building a diverse workforce?

Companies should use JobFindah as the foundation to build their more ambitious efforts to enhance workforce diversity. JobFindah provides all the required elements of compliance and recruiting diversity as well as the tools, technologies and marketing capabilities for companies to go beyond the requirements and create a culture and environment of inclusiveness.

Is there anything else you would like to share about JobFindah?

JobFindah was built as a continuation of the original vision of AJE which couldn’t be executed, and so this is our opportunity to take the category from a myopic compartmentalized service to a truly effective platform for results. Current players either lack the grasp of the possibilities, or they perhaps decided not to invest in the change as this can also cannibalize their current profitable business models. The industry, however, needs to embrace the change and we hope to be the catalyst for the change.

Connect with Rathin on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

Why Equal Pay for U.S. Women Soccer Players is Important

By Tim Pershing

The fight for recognition and higher pay is nothing new for American soccer players, both men and women. That’s why it is so sad for those who have supported the sport over the last three decades to see what is happening now. Just as American soccer was earning respect as a viable, money-making endeavor, all the progress has become overshadowed by wage disputes, allegations of inferior playing conditions and outright sexism by some of the highest ranking FIFA officials.

It should go without saying that women and men should get equal pay for equal work. It is a concept so fundamentally fair and just that it defies logic how it is even an issue in 2016. Yet, with five key members of the United States Women’s National Team filing an EEOC complaint alleging wage discrimination against the United States Soccer Federation, it is an all too real blight on gender issues in the 21st century.  The suit brought by FIFA Women’s Player of the Year Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe highlights the sad state of not only the pay gap in women’s sports but in many other professions as well.

I think that we’ve proven our worth over the years. Just coming off of a World Cup win, the pay disparity between the men and women is just too large. And we want to continue to fight.
— Carli Lloyd, speaking on NBC’s Today show

It’s laughable to suggest that women don’t give as much as men, on and off the field. The fields are the same (except when turf is substituted for grass), the duration is the same, the schedules are the same. Equal. The one thing that isn’t equal is the success rate of the teams in international play. There is no question that the women are the far more successful team but that doesn’t seem to matter to the U.S. Soccer Federation.

When considering how much the Women’s National Team means to the American fans, especially girls who look up to them as role models, it would seem obvious that the women and men should be supported equally. One of the greatest sports moments in the last century occurred when Brandi Chastain ripped a left-footed penalty kick past Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong at the Rose Bowl to win the 1999 World Cup in front of a sold-out crowd of over 90,000 screaming soccer fans. That moment in American sports history cannot be underestimated.

Equal pay for equal work should be a fundamental principle of our economy. It’s the idea that whether you’re a high school teacher, a business executive or a professional soccer player or tennis player, your work should be equally valued and rewarded, whether you are a man or a woman.
— President Barack Obama

The U.S. women’s team has been consistently the most dominant team in the world for the past 25 years. No small feat in global sports, and yet they are still relegated to the back of the line when it comes to cashing in on that performance.

I would rather watch the U.S. women play at this point than the men. Who is subsidizing whom? And why should it matter? It’s U.S. soccer. It’s one body. One nation. One team. Or at least that’s what the U.S. Federation wants us to believe. We should be united in our goal of lifting up all athletes, regardless of gender, into the equal pay range we know they deserve. Doing so lifts up the sport as a whole.

Women’s professional sports are still relatively new compared to men’s sports. Of course it takes time to build up team loyalties and professional programs, but it is also important to provide athletes and teams with the funding necessary for success. In a recent National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) game between the Western New York Flash and the Seattle Reign, the game was played on a makeshift pitch placed in the outfield of a baseball field. The playing space ended up being undersized and was not only an insult to the players but also to the sport. NWSL players have also complained about substandard hotel accommodations that included bed bugs and mold. This is no way to treat professional athletes, some of whom helped secure a World Cup win in 2015. When forced to play on undersized field or on artificial turf or when provided with unacceptable accommodations, how can professional women athletes be expected to help grow the sport?

And what is this saying to all the girls who want to grow up strong, happy and equal in all aspects of the law? When we do not pay and treat professional women athletes the same as their male counterparts, the message is that women’s sports are just not as important. This benefits no one.

There are many arguments to both sides of the issue and while the specifics of the money involved may never be truly known, it shouldn’t matter. The U.S. Soccer Federation should have worked with the team instead of brushing them aside. When the women’s team members ask for equal pay, they aren’t looking for a fight, they aren’t looking to grandstand and they aren’t trying to be greedy. They are just asking for what they deserve. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Tim Pershing is the co-founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a new nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find meaningful employment.

Is Harassment Prevention Training Effective in the Workplace?

Harassment prevention training has become commonplace at most businesses. In fact, there is a big industry devoted to online training, in-person training, educational videos and other resources to help employers train employees and managers on preventing, recognizing and addressing harassment. Some states, like California, have mandatory training requirements for supervisory employees. So, with all this training, harassment complaints have virtually disappeared from the American workplace, right?

The truth is that harassment claims are still common. Look no further than headlines about Roger Ailes and Fox News for a high profile example. In addition, according to a report issued recently by an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) task force, training is ineffective when it alone is a company’s approach to preventing harassment. But we cannot just toss our training materials out the nearest window and give up on finding a way to rid our workplaces of harassment. It is time to open up a wider conversation about why harassment is still a big problem and what we can do to change our culture to one of respect.

Why Traditional Training is Often Ineffective

During my HR career, I have spent quite a few hours leading harassment training. At the first company I did training, we used curriculum we ordered from a training company. The majority of the training involved participants watching harassment scenarios mixed with commentary by two attorneys. It was a very passive approach to training because there was little real-life discussion other than what was generated in the questions I was asked as a trainer.  Eventually I added to the training, cut down on the video portion and added in discussion, which created a far more engaging session. Some companies use online training, which can also be passive and result in participants who spend the time when the video is playing checking their phones or zoning out. Such an approach to harassment training sends the message that a company is doing the training because they are legally required to and not because they have a vested interest in improving the workplace culture.

The EEOC task force found that, “…training is an essential component of an anti-harassment effort. However, to be effective in stopping harassment, such training cannot stand alone but rather must be part of a holistic effort undertaken by the employer to prevent harassment that includes…elements of leadership and accountability… the training must have specific goals and must contain certain components to achieve those goals.”

So, we do not necessarily need to ditch our training programs, but it is time to take a look at how training can be improved to fulfill its intended goals and how companies can improve at the leadership level in a way that creates a culture of respect. Training alone is simply not enough—especially when that training is no more than an employee clicking through videos and quiz questions every two years.

The EEOC report points to multiple studies that show the limited effects of training and even looked at one study that found that those with more of a tendency to harass were more likely to have a negative reaction to harassment training. In my own experience as a trainer, I found this to be true. Such participants were often the ones who would make jokes about harassment being acceptable if the harasser was a young, attractive woman, or they might bring up how they believed women often lied about harassment complaints to get attention or to get back at a man. Training did nothing to change their beliefs.

Leading by Example and a Culture of Respect

As the EEOC points out, training can be beneficial if done correctly. Training should be for all employees with extra training for those in supervisory roles. They recommend avoiding “canned” training and instead developing a program that draws from examples relevant to the specific workplace. They also emphasize the importance of live, interactive training. This allows participants to actively engage with the material and to ask questions.

In addition to training, upper management needs to support anti-harassment policies and initiatives. If top-level executives do not take harassment complaints seriously or are harassers themselves, training is going to do little to change the culture.

The task force also recommends workplace civility training to go over positive behaviors rather than just focusing on what employees should not do. This once again points to the larger issue: building a culture of respect. A culture of harassment has a huge effect on morale and productivity. It can cause all manner of suffering and mental anguish for victims and even for those who witness such behavior.

Harassment itself points to a larger issue of a culture that seems to think it is acceptable to demean people based on sex or other protected classes. As we have watched the presidential race unfold, we have the candidate of one major party who regularly degrades women he does not like by commenting on their bodies or looks. It’s no wonder that harassment is still a problem in the modern workplace when political leaders engage in such behavior.

Training Needs to Start in School

Harassment prevention training needs to start sooner. We need to start talking about things like consent and respecting others with kids. It is too late to start training when people are adults and in the workplace. Workplace training should not be someone's first exposure to understanding the importance of respect and not harassing others. While training for children need not include examples of sexual harassment, it should include thorough discussions of what it means when someone says no and respecting personal boundaries. Such education helps develop adults who enter the workforce already understanding that harassment is wrong.

It is important that we work to develop effective harassment prevention training and that we regularly evaluate that training to ensure that it continues to be a positive influence on behavior in the workplace. It is equally important for business leaders to lead by example and to call out other leaders who engage in harassing behavior. We need to avoid the practice of ignoring someone’s bad behavior because they produce good work. But simply making changes in the workplace alone is not enough.

Harassment is not just a workplace problem. It extends to how we treat each other in all areas of life. But until we recognize that and act accordingly, harassment training alone will have little effect on our workplace and everyday lives.

Pacific Reentry Career Services is Open for Business

By Stephanie Hammerwold

After months of planning, I am happy to announce the opening of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find gainful employment. My business partner Tim Pershing and I have talked for a long time about starting a nonprofit, and we are excited to see it come to fruition. Pacific Reentry Career Services is a combination of our work experience over the years and a cause we feel strongly about—giving people a second chance when it comes to finding meaningful work.

Why We Focus on the Reentry Community

Prior to my HR career, I worked in a domestic violence shelter and earned my MA in women’s studies. I have always had a passion for being an advocate for those who are often cast aside by society. I believe in second chances and helping those in need. At the same time I was starting my career in HR, I was also volunteering my time as a weekly art/writing workshop leader in the women’s jail in Santa Cruz. When my workshop participants found out where I worked, I started to get questions about how to handle a criminal conviction when applying for work. That was my first time realizing just how big a barrier criminal convictions can be in the journey to get one’s life back on track following incarceration.

Throughout my years in HR, I have hired hundreds of people, and I noticed that many candidates with criminal convictions could make excellent employees. Often people just need a chance to have a stable income to help rebuild their lives and reduce the chance that they will recidivate. In the last few months volunteering in the reentry community, I have heard story after story about how getting a job was the key to success, and often the formerly incarcerated are so happy to get a job offer that they commit themselves to working hard and keeping that job.

Recent studies have shown that those with criminal records may actually be better than those without. Yet the myth persists that employers should be skeptical of those who check yes to the criminal conviction question. To this end, a big part of what we do at Pacific Reentry Career Services will be working with and educating employers on the benefits of hiring the formerly incarcerated.

How this is a Continuation of our HR Work

Hiring is a big part of HR, and advocating for those whose applications often unnecessarily end up in the reject pile is a natural progression of what I had been doing in my corporate HR roles. As an HR professional, I have always had an eye out for candidates who others might dismiss. I also know how important it is to properly vet and screen candidates to ensure the best person for the job is hired. When we get too hung up on perceived red flags, we sometimes miss all the other parts of someone’s story that might make them a good employee. A number of times I would go to the table for an external candidate or a current employee up for a promotion because I was able to see something amazing in them that others were missing due to perceived shortcomings. Often my fighting for a candidate was rewarded with an employee who worked hard to prove that they deserved the job or promotion. With this nonprofit, I hope to bring that same level of advocacy in matching employers with potential employees they might have otherwise overlooked.

Aside from educating employers, we will also work closely with formerly incarcerated women to help them plan and prepare for the job search and continue to mentor them throughout the early days of a job, thus giving them access to support from business professionals who are invested in their success.

Keep an eye on this blog as well as the Pacific Reentry Career Services blog for news and updates about what we are doing. You can also subscribe to our newsletter.

And, if you are still looking for HR support from the HR Hammer, be sure to get in touch. I am still available to help with employee handbooks, training and general HR help.

Calling it Quits with a Horrible Boss

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By Stephanie Hammerwold

I was recently talking to a friend who is working for a bad boss. After telling me about a particularly challenging day, he asked, “What do I do to try to make things better with my boss?” My answer was simple: “Leave.” This is advice that comes more from life experience more than it does from my HR background. I think most of us have fallen under the supervision of a bad boss at some point in our career, and we often find ourselves trying to figure out how to make things better. And I have learned that leaving is often the best option. But, it is not always that easy to make that leap.

Horrible Bosses: The HR Hammer Edition

My worst boss was early in my HR career. I ended up working for her for seven years before another HR employee and I were let go when the company decided to downsize a number of departments. While it was difficult to deal with in the moment, once I had moved on to a good job a few months later, I realized that the layoff was actually a blessing. It got me out of a horrible situation that I clearly was not able to quit on my own. Sometimes life needs to force you to quit.

My boss at that job had a reputation for being a bully, and she seemed to enjoy that people saw her that way. We would often go into meetings with her not knowing what version of her was going to show up and whether or not we could expect to laugh a lot or if we would end up wanting to cower under the table in tears. She was the kind of person who would send an email with instructions, I would follow those instructions to the letter, and then she would yell at me for not following instructions. Even when confronted with the original email, her response would be, “I’ve worked in HR for over 30 years, and I would never ask for something like that!” Anyone who worked for her fluctuated between being her favorite one day and being somebody she wanted to fire the next.

It was a toxic environment, and my coworkers and I would share stories of the way the stress of working for this boss was taking a toll on our health. We all had a list of issues that included lack of sleep, upset stomachs, headaches, nausea and all the ways it affected the way we interacted with those closest to us. No matter what countless employees said to the owner and upper management, nothing changed. One person high up in the company even confessed to me that he and the owner were struggling because they did not know what to do to address this boss’s bad behavior. That’s when I realized that they were probably too scared of her to fire her.

Some made the decision to leave after only a short time, but I was among those who stuck it out. After all, there were a lot of people that I liked at that job and who I remain friends with to this day. But ultimately it took a major toll on me, and I did not realize how bad it had been until I was pushed out and began the slow process of healing from working for such an emotionally abusive person for seven years.

Quitting Can be Good

I think quitting gets a bad rap. As Stephen J. Dubner put it on an episode from the first season of the Freakanomics podcast, “Sometimes quitting is strategic, and sometimes it can be your best possible plan.” Quitting is not always a matter of giving up. In the case of quitting a job with a horrible boss, it is really more like moving forward. Sometimes I think this never-quit mentality can keep us in unhealthy situations. I know that I got it stuck in my head that quitting that job was “giving up” or “letting my bully of a boss win.” As a result, I stayed in a place that was dragging me down to the point where most of my free time was spent holed up at home and not having the energy to go out and have fun. I was miserable and should have quit early on. But I did not. And I think in some ways I needed to learn that lesson because it helped me to see that quitting is not always a bad thing.

If you are reading this article and nodding your head as you think about how horrible your current boss is, maybe it is time to consider quitting. When I was laid off from that job, it led me down a path that got me to where I am today in my professional life. It was a major turning point where things ended up much better as a result. It is easy to be fooled into thinking staying is the best option. Maybe your coworkers are fun people to work with or you like the type of work you do. But, the misery of working for my horrible boss made it hard to enjoy those things. If your boss is as big a bully as mine was, and the company is not taking steps to get rid of that person, then your best option is to leave. I missed seeing some of my coworkers from that job on a daily basis, but I ended up with some friendships that have continued for years after I left. And the best part is I can enjoy those people more now that I am not as depressed and anxious as I was in the days I worked for that bad boss.

Develop an Exit Plan

I am not saying that you should march into your boss’s office tomorrow and dramatically declare, “Take this job and shove it!” Quitting a job is a big decision, and I feel it is important to mention that everyone should take a moment to make sure they are ready to take that leap. It can be scary to think of giving up a paycheck and searching for a job, so think through some next steps before you turn in your two weeks’ notice.

If you are worried about going without a paycheck while looking for a new job, consider starting to look for new work while still employed with your bad boss. Bosses who are bullies can make us feel worthless, which can be a hard state of mind to do a job search in. Enlist the help of a friend who can encourage and motivate you to search through job postings in the evening after work. The key is to make a plan to find something else and to stick to it. Good friends can help keep us on track when it comes to sticking to a plan.

Do not forget to take care of yourself. Do things that you enjoy, go for a hike or spend time with good friends. If the consequences of working for a bad boss have left you emotionally scarred, you may want to seek help from a therapist to take care of your mental health. Remember that we cannot change the behavior of others, but we can take care of ourselves. Sometimes that means leaving a job with a horrible boss.

How have you dealt with a bad boss? Share your horrible boss stories in the comments below.

How to Overcome Interviewer Bias

By Stephanie Hammerwold

As much as we try to make the interview process fair by sticking to work-related questions and avoiding discussion of protected classes, our own biases sometimes sneak into our hiring decisions. Maybe you tend to lean toward single parents because it resonates with your own experience being raised by a single mom, or perhaps you had a bad experience hiring someone with a criminal conviction, so now you automatically throw such candidates in the reject pile. Unfortunately, making such assumptions may mean that you miss out on great candidates, and it could also mean that your hiring process is unfair and possibly discriminatory. It is, therefore, important to understand our own biases and to actively work to adjust the hiring process to overcome such biases.

What is Interviewer Bias?

One of the most common forms of bias comes in the form of stereotyping. Take, for example, a job like firefighter, which is physically demanding. If you assume a candidate is not strong enough to be a firefighter because she is a woman, you are relying on stereotypes rather than assessing if the candidate meets the physical requirements for the job. Stereotyping during the interview process can cause big problems, especially when stereotypes about protected classes result in negative hiring decisions. Such practices are discriminatory and could cause legal trouble for an employer.

We may also be tricked by our first impressions into thinking a candidate is exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. This is called the halo/horns effect. This might show up in a bias toward attractive candidates. The candidate’s charm and good looks may get in the way of an interviewer seeing potential problems. Conversely, a candidate who checked yes to the application question about criminal conviction may automatically be viewed as untrustworthy even if the rest of their application and interview are glowing. Such biases get in the way of making good hiring decisions.

We are often drawn to those similar to us, and this can be another bias pitfall. Maybe your estimation of a candidate improves once you find out they are the same religion as you or they share similar political views. Just as with stereotypes, such criteria may be discriminatory and get in the way of really understanding if someone is qualified for the job.

Recognizing Your Own Biases

Overcoming bias starts with recognizing your own prejudices and biases. Once you acknowledge such things, you can be aware of how they may influence your hiring decisions. When I first started interviewing candidates early in my HR career, I noticed that I could easily be swayed by a hard luck story. While some of these candidates were truly ready to move beyond the problems of their pasts and could end up being star employees, sometimes my bias got in the way of recognizing red flags, and I ended up with a few bad hires. Since my early days in HR, I learned to recognize when my desire to root for the underdog was clouding my judgment.

None of us is completely free of bias and prejudice. The important thing is to understand how these things may influence the employment decisions we make. Doing the work before interviewing candidates will ultimately lead to a process that is fairer and free of potentially discriminatory practices.

Structured Criteria & Selection Process

After understanding your own biases, take some time to create a structured hiring process. Start with a job description that clearly lists the qualifications. This is the foundation for establishing criteria against which you can evaluate all candidates. When you determine a reason for rejecting someone, you should be able to point to specific qualifications on the job description that they do not meet.

Have a set of interview questions that are the same for all candidates. This is a good way to ensure interviews stay on track and do not veer into areas that might allude to protected classes. It also helps to limit interview conversations to areas that are relevant to making a good hiring decision and encourages uniformity in the type of information gathered from each candidate.

Make Selection a Group Effort

It is also useful to have several people involved in the hiring process. Pay attention to what others in the hiring process are using to make their decisions, and address any bias you see in how they evaluate candidates. It can also be useful to run selection criteria by others to ensure that criteria are free of bias and are focused on qualifications, skills and experience relevant to the job.

Working with others in the hiring process can be especially beneficial for those new to interviewing who may not yet be aware of their own biases. It is a good opportunity to openly discuss how certain biases may influence decisions and for veteran interviewers to also check in with themselves in an effort to keep the interview process bias-free.