Workplace Resolutions for 2016

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By Stephanie Hammerwold

Last week I wrote about my workplace Christmas list, so it seems fitting that I tackled some resolutions for the new year this week. January 1 is always a good time to look forward and figure out how to make things better, and this year’s list includes some things you can implement in your own workplace.

Review & Update the Employee Handbook

I have been helping several clients with handbooks recently, so perhaps that is why this is at the top of my list. Take a moment right now and dust off your employee handbook. What is the date on it? If you answered anything prior to 2015, your handbook is overdue for an update. If you answered, “What handbook?” then make a resolution to create an employee handbook.

The best practice is to review your handbook each year. Many laws go into effect at the beginning of the year, so reviewing your handbook around the new year is a good idea. Make changes and add policies in accordance with legal requirements. When reading policies, also pay particular attention to current practice in your workplace. Do your policies match how you do business?

This is a good reminder that businesses of all sizes should have a handbook. A handbook is an excellent way to communicate expectations and requirements to employees, and it also gives you written proof that policies were communicated to employees. Even for a company with only a few employees, having a handbook builds a good foundation as your business grows and adds people.

Provide Paid Sick Leave to All Employees

In 2015, California’s paid sick leave law went into effect, which brought paid sick leave to many employees who did not previously receive it. The law is a huge boon for those in the food service industry and other jobs that have not historically received such a benefit. Paid sick leave benefits all of us in that it reduces the chance that someone will show up to work sick and spread their illness. Who wants a server to be coughing as they bring meals to a table because they could not afford to take a day off of work unpaid in order to rest?

In his State of the Union address in early 2015, President Barack Obama called on Congress to pass a bill that would require paid sick leave for employees, so this benefit is getting a lot of attention. Even if you are not in a state or area that requires paid sick leave, make a resolution to add paid sick leave to your benefits for all employees. No one enjoys being at work when ill, so make it easy for employees to take the time off to rest and recuperate.

Improve Employee Benefits

Sticking with the theme of benefits, make a resolution to update your benefits package. Talk to employees and find out what benefits they want. Benefits are more than just insurance and can include things like discounts, incentive programs caregiver assistance, education assistance, a wellness program, paying employees to volunteer and more. As unemployment decreases, attracting top candidates becomes more important. Having a good benefits package will make it more likely that a candidate will accept your job offer over another company’s offer.

There is no denying that treating employees well helps with retention, productivity and morale. Benefits are a good way to show employees that you appreciate and value their work. Having generous paid time off policies and other perks help to ensure employees are enjoying life outside of work, which will help reduce burnout and stress.

Remember that there is more to Life than Work

Finally, remember that there is more to life than work. Many people work insane schedules. We get so wrapped up in our work identities that it seems to be all we are, and it can infringe on time with friends and family and time doing the things we love. Take some time in the new year to remember that you are more than your job. Even if you have to block it off on your calendar, make time for the things you enjoy, whether that is spending time with your favorite people or even just curling up with a good book.

Happy New Year!

The HR Hammer’s Christmas List

By Stephanie Hammerwold

I like to think I’ve been pretty good this year and that I ended up on Santa’s nice list. So, in the midst of wrapping presents and snacking on one too many holiday cookies, I wanted to take some time to share my Christmas list for the workplace:

  1. Paid leave for parents—The U.S. lags behind many other countries when it comes to paid leave for those who recently had a baby, adopted a child or took in a foster child. Some companies have jumped on board and implemented their own paid leave options, and some states have paid leave programs, but we need to have a nationwide law that reflects the realities of working parents.
  2. Easier access to employment for the formerly incarcerated—One of the keys to lowering recidivism is helping the formerly incarcerated find jobs with a decent income. Unfortunately, having a criminal record can be a huge strike against someone in their quest to find employment. Once released, people have paid their debt to society and should be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives. Opening up access to employment is a huge step toward that.
  3. No more performance reviews—If you are a regular reader, you know my feelings on this topic. It’s time to ditch the traditional review and to go with a system of ongoing feedback.
  4. And speaking of things to get rid of…let’s think about doing away with salary negotiation. I am not a big fan of the game playing that goes on in the negotiation process. I think it immediately sets up a relationship of employer vs. employee. I prefer a straightforward offer and a process that does not solely favor those who happen to be good at negotiation.
  5. Benefits that extend to all employees—Too often when we hear about a company offering excellent benefits, they only extend to office staff. Those who work in low-wage jobs, such as in distribution centers, are often excluded from generous paid family leave and other perks. Some of the hardest working people I know work in low-wage jobs, and we should not forget the value they add to a company when designing benefits programs.
  6. Productive conversations about finding ways to raise the minimum wage—The minimum wage is not livable for employees, and employers worry that raising wages will be unaffordable. We need to have conversations around this issue and find solutions to the huge wage gap we are currently experiencing in the U.S.
  7. A move toward kindness—I recently wrote about this, and I think it is an important reminder as we get further into the presidential election cycle where mud slinging and hate speech are commonplace. There is power in being nice.
  8. Workplaces free from discrimination and harassment—No one should go to work and worry about being harassed or discriminated against because of who they are. We live in a time where same-sex marriage is legal, yet sexual orientation is not a protected class in every state. We have also seen local laws in some place that are aimed at restricting bathroom access for transgender people, and we have heard horrible anti-Muslim rhetoric from some high profile figures. These forms of discrimination are not acceptable, and we owe it to our employees to create workplaces that are accepting and welcoming to everyone.
  9. A focus on finding ways to improve the workplace for employees—Employees are a big part of what can make a company successful, so it is important that we find ways to support them through good wages, excellent benefits, employee appreciation and more.
  10. More books—OK, this one is for me more than the workplace, but I want to encourage everyone to take some time to read in the coming year. It is an excellent escape from all the stresses of work.

Have a wonderful holiday season!


Employee Benefit Spotlight: CorporateCARE Solutions


By Stephanie Hammerwold

Employees lead busy lives that often include balancing work with the constant demands of family. Sometimes those worlds collide and employees have to make the decision between going to work or staying home to care for a child or aging parent. Such absences create stress for the employee and also place a burden on the company as both struggle to make up for the lost time due to absence. Finding ways to address this through creative approaches to benefits can be a win for both companies and employees. Corporate CARE Solutions is a national Back-up Care Provider and an excellent option for providing such a benefit. They draw on a national network of care providers to help support your employees in managing their family responsibilities so they can be at work.

Absenteeism Caused by Breakdowns in Family Care

Many adults deal with supporting an aging parent or raising a child. Some find themselves in the sandwich generation and are doing both at the same time. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center study, 47% of adults in their 40s and 50s have both a child they are raising or financially supporting and a parent that is 65 or older. Additionally, the study found that 15% of middle-aged adults are providing financial support to both a child and an aging parent.

The reality is that many employees have some kind of care responsibility outside of work, and many workplaces do little more than offer a few days of paid time off. When an employee calls in to say they need to miss work because their child is home sick with a cold, the employer may find themselves scrambling to cover the work the employee is missing. In addition, the employee has the added stress of coming back the next day and playing catch up. Employers who fail to address the family care responsibilities of employees run the risk of increased absenteeism which can lead to lower productivity; however, offering a benefit that provides care options can keep your employee from missing work.

How Corporate CARE Solutions Can Help

When I attended the California HR Conference in Anaheim recently, I had the chance to meet Sharon Lurtsema, the founder and CEO of Corporate CARE Solutions. Lurtsema has been providing professional care services since 1992. With Corporate CARE Solutions, she puts all her experience into helping employers provide a caregiving benefit to their employees, which lowers absenteeism and also provides employees the peace of mind that their family member is being well cared for.

What I like the most about Corporate CARE Solutions is that they are a benefit that can work for companies of all sizes, and their services cover the care of children on up to aging adults. They work with a network of vetted Care Providers all over the country who provide in-home care. Lurtsema says, “We recognize most children and elderly dependents are not comfortable being cared for in an unknown environment and most parents prefer to leave their children in familiar surroundings.” Even when the family member in need of care resides in another state, Corporate CARE Solutions is able to provide a caregiver to assist in their loved one’s home. This is especially beneficial for those trying to help aging parents from afar. Corporate CARE Solutions can even handle last minute requests for those days when the babysitter cancels. Even if an employee is traveling with a family member in need of care, Corporate CARE Solutions can send a caregiver to their hotel.

We recognize most children and elderly dependents are not comfortable being cared for in an unknown environment and most parents prefer to leave their children in familiar surroundings.
—Sharon Lurtsema

For employers, getting set up with Corporate CARE Solutions is easy. Employers pay a reasonable one-time administrative fee, which covers the duration of the contract (3 or 5 years). The employer controls the cost by determining how many days employees can use the program. Lurtsema says that most companies opt for 10-12 days per year; however, the program can also be offered with an annual limit. Employees are provided with instructions to set up a profile, and then they are ready to submit CARE Requests. Employees are responsible for a co-pay, which is typically $4 per hour but again can be determined by the employer. The employee co-pay remains the same for child and adult care, regardless of the number of children/adults needing care. Employers are billed monthly only for exact employee utilization.  If no utilization occurred in the previous month - nothing is owed. It’s just that simple.

Small Investments in Employee Well-Being are Good for Company Health

Providing benefits that positively affect employees' lives and their family's well-being helps retain and attract top talent. There are many creative ways companies can find to provide benefits beyond insurance. Corporate CARE Solutions is an easy way for employers to recognize that many workers have family responsibilities that can make it a challenge to get to work, and this is a benefit that even small businesses can easily implement. Rather than grumbling about an employee missing yet another day due to a childcare emergency, why not meet the problem by providing a solution? CARE benefits are an excellent way to invest in employee well-being, which is also good for company health.

The HR Hammer is committed to partnering with vendors and services in alignment with this site’s philosophy. As such, I will sometimes run sponsored content to showcase products and services that may be useful to my readers. This post has been sponsored by CorporateCARE Solutions.

Netflix & the Problem with Excluding Some Workers from Awesome Benefits

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By Stephanie Hammerwold

Large companies have been making headlines lately for how they treat their workers. Whether it is the benefits they do or don’t provide, long hours or company culture, these large companies are representative of our cultural attitudes toward work in the U.S. Netflix is known for fostering a culture where long days are not the norm and benefits like leaves of absences go far beyond what is required by law. Netflix sounds like a great place to work, right? That is until you realize that benefits are not the same for the employees who work in their DVD distribution centers.

We’re a Great Place to Work, but not for You

A recent article in The Guardian drew attention to the disparity between those who work in Netflix DVD distribution centers and those who work in higher paid jobs in office environments. As the article points out, Netflix received praise for offering generous leave benefits to new parents, but several organizations have stepped forward to challenge Netflix over the fact that they do not extend those benefits to their distribution center employees. Netflix points out that they provide the leave required by law and tend to pay their distribution employees more than the industry standard. This is a step in the right direction, but it does little to support employees who want to have and raise children.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 43% of families in the U.S. had children who are under 18 in 2014. In addition, the BLS found that in 60.2% of married-couple households with children, both parents worked. This is a big segment of the workforce that must balance raising a family with the demands of the workplace, and one way employers can support employees is by providing leave that extends beyond what is required by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and state leave laws.

This all raises the question: in a workplace culture that favors higher paid workers when it comes to benefits such as leaves of absence, who is entitled to have a child? While companies may argue that it becomes increasingly important to attract top candidates to certain jobs by offering generous benefits at that level, it ultimately sends the message that those higher on the ladder are far more valuable than their low-wage counterparts.

In These Times recently reported that one in four new moms in the U.S. returns to work within two weeks of giving birth. While those that meet the eligibility requirements of the FMLA are entitled to up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave, this time off is unpaid. Unless a new mom is lucky enough to work for an employer with paid leave or to live in a state that provides some kind of state program such as California’s State Disability Insurance (SDI) or Paid Family Leave (PFL), she may have to make the decision to head back to work early for financial reasons.

So, it is nice that companies like Netflix provide this benefit for some employees, but it should not stop there. We need to foster an environment where all employees are supported in their desire to raise a family. The reality is that we live in a society where we need workers at all levels, and the fact that someone works in a distribution center or factory should not mean they count for less as part of the workforce.

Lack of Flexibility Adds an Extra Burden

I got my start in HR working at a manufacturing and distribution company. At its height, the company grew to 650 employees—many of whom worked in low-wage jobs in the warehouse or in production. I was talking to my boss, the HR director, about a warehouse worker who was struggling to balance raising her children and her work schedule, and it was often causing her to arrive late to her shift. Rather than finding a way to adjust the employee’s schedule, the HR director's response was, “Well, I managed to raise three kids and show up to work, so this employee should be able to figure it out.”

Retail, food service, warehouse and production line work are all examples of jobs that require employees to work specific hours. The nature of the work is such that the business needs to maintain coverage to ensure smooth operations. If retail employees picked their own hours, it would be a challenge to ensure someone was always there to run the register. Office workers often have more flexibility when it comes to scheduling, and it may be easier to adjust the schedule of an accounts payable clerk than it would be to change the hours of a warehouse employee. In my example above, the HR director had some control over her schedule. If she needed to come in late due to a sick child or a school meeting, there were no consequences. In effect, her statement denied the extra burden faced by working parents who do shift work.

I am not calling for automatically changing employees’ shifts whenever they have problems getting to work on time, but we need to recognize the added burden of not having schedule flexibility for parents who do shift work. We can do this by including them in the generous leave benefits we offer to office employees.

Benefits for All

The sad truth is that the U.S. lags far behind other countries in providing leave options to employees. Plenty of countries offer paid leave and companies still manage to survive. When companies offer generous leaves of absence and benefits, it is an acknowledgement that an employee's life does not stop when they clock out at the end of the workday. When a company makes the choice to support an employee during major life events, it is an investment in their workforce.

The debate over raising minimum wage has been a regular topic in the media lately. Those against raising it often say that people in low-wage jobs should just work harder to make more money. The reality is that we need people in those jobs to ensure that our packages arrive on time and our food is made to order. We keep hearing about unemployment dropping and more jobs being added, but many of these jobs are in the low-wage retail and service sectors. People are getting back to work, but it is in jobs that traditionally do not carry good benefits; therefore, it is imperative that employers include these employees in benefits such as generous leave and to not have such perks be the exclusive domain of a select few at the top.

Do you have a story about unequal benefits that you want to share with the HR Hammer? Use the contact form on the About page to get in touch. Your story may appear in a future post.

Transforming How People Work #CAHR15

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By Stephanie Hammerwold

The California HR Conference wrapped up yesterday with a final keynote address by Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of People Operations at Google. Bock recently published Work Rules!, which contains his advice for transforming the workplace. His presentation drew from his experience at Google as well as examples from other companies where valuing and listening to employees are keys to success.

Google is a company known for innovation in technology. Their search engine is powerful enough that it turned the company’s name into a verb, and they have introduced things like Google Glass and the self-driving car. There seems to be regular buzz around what invention Google will bring forward next. But even though Bock works at a tech giant, his advice was surprisingly simple: treat your people right. 

It is easy to get caught up in new HR tech and thinking of ways it will streamline and improve processes. While those things can help us perform our jobs, they are not at the core of creating an environment that drives creativity and innovation.

Bock emphasized the importance of trusting your employees. He said, “Let people in your organization try stuff. Trust them to solve problems.” Too often managers do not put that level of trust in their employees. Whether it is a retail store where employees must get approval for any customer request outside of normal procedures or a manager who won’t let employees try new ideas, many companies fail to trust in their employees. 

At one company I worked at, the owner warned everyone at a management meeting, “Assume all employees are stealing from us.” This was his philosophy for figuring out how to reduce theft in the company’s warehouse. Unfortunately this attitude spread to most of his interactions with employees. As such, the company had a culture of paranoia. This is not the type of culture that encourages creativity and innovation.

Bock also said that companies should be frugal and generous. He explained the ways that Google has been able to increase their benefits at little to no cost to them. For example, the company has a mobile haircutting service that comes on campus. Employees can pay $20 to have a haircut. The benefit is that it makes getting a hair cut convenient, and such a benefit is no cost to Google. They also provide services such as on-site dry cleaning as a way to help employees save time in their busy schedules.

As for being generous, Bock said, “There are moments in life where you get crushed by life or moments where something amazing happens.” These are the times a company needs to be ready to address. This may come in the form of generous death benefits for family members of an employee who dies while working at the company or extended leave options for new parents. Caring for employees during those big moments in their life is a key part of valuing their work.

Bock added that the smallest things can have the biggest impact, and he encouraged managers to nudge their employees when they feel it is necessary to facilitate communication or action. This could be as simple as sending an email to both a manager and a new hire to remind them to meet to go over expectations. Even the gentlest reminder can have positive ripples.

In conclusion, Bock stated, “We’re positioned to transform how people work.” What is most interesting about Bock’s philosophy is that it can be implemented at any company. It does not require fancy technology or the vast resources of a company like Google. It boils down to putting trust in our employees, and as Bock said, “To always make an exception in favor of the employee.”