When An Employee Has A Serious Complaint

by Bruce Clarke, J.D.Clarke, Bruce 2014

It happens in every workplace.  The same serious and unlawful misbehavior we see in our communities sometimes find its way to the job.  People are the greatest asset of an employer but can be the “crabgrass in the lawn of business,” as my friend says.

What should happen when harassment, discrimination, abusive treatment and other serious misbehaviors rear their ugly heads?

Managers, please view a complaint as an opportunity to make a situation better AND the long-term relationship with the victim stronger.  Psychologists in workplace studies say that an emotional crisis is a key point where your response can make the employee’s attitude much better OR much worse.  Some even say that the best predictor of whether a problem will end in a lawsuit is how fairly you process the problem, not the problem itself.

Good managers do several things.  They embrace the complaint, rather than avoid it, and focus on finding the right solution.  Neither of you caused the problem, so let the chips fall where they may and avoid prejudgment.  You will create a much better investigation and solution if you remain neutral on the outcome.  If you cannot be objective, ask for help.

Follow through with good listening, appropriate pushback to the victim for the whole story, and appropriate speed and discretion.  Take any quick steps needed to prevent repeat behavior while you work.  Ideally, keep the victim informed of your progress.  Get help from HR or a mentor.  Follow your company’s complaint process, at a minimum.  Precedent can be important to consider, but avoid a foolish consistency as the saying goes.

Employees making complaints have an equally important role.  Follow the complaint policy if there is one, but skip to another manager you trust if needed.  Your manager wants to hear how you feel, but must have facts to investigate.  Focus on the facts.  Who can help support your story?  Bring the problem to a trusted manager sooner rather than later.

Be honest about any part you may have played in the problem or steps you have already taken, good and bad.  Have some discretion and give this time to work.  What is your manager going to hear when he or she investigates?  For example, be prepared to hear some things about your performance you may not like (but need to hear) if work quality is an issue.

An important question that employees and managers often fail to ask is:  “What is the ideal outcome here?”  I am often surprised at how reasonable employees can be even in serious situations.  They know employers cannot guarantee perfect behavior by all.  But they have the right to expect help when they seek it.

Solutions to early-stage problems handled properly by all can be simple and effective, preserving relationships and protecting careers.  Problems that are buried like a bone in the backyard will only get worse with age.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 NC employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit www.capital.org.

Social Media For Job Hunters

Clarke, Bruce 2014By Bruce Clarke, J.D.

Are you seeking a new position in your field? You will be much more successful if you understand the methods company recruiters use to select candidates.

First, HR recruiters will view your LinkedIn account. If you do not have one established, you are at a real disadvantage. If you do have a LinkedIn account, you can depend on potential employers performing a careful review of your online network. They will read every single one of your LinkedIn references, too, so you should ensure that your profile properly reflects your true skills and abilities.

Good HR recruiters, however, do not stop with LinkedIn. They regularly follow and connect with candidates who have a genuine interest in your business and industry. Interacting with candidates via Facebook and LinkedIn accounts provides recruiters with an advantage in finding the best people to fill positions quickly and effectively.

We live in a time when job hunters must be engaged via social media to be viewed as relevant and current.

In the job market, you are competing with students fresh from colleges where faculty and students alike use social networking sites for class communication. Some professors even use Twitter and Facebook to disperse assignments. The Jenkins Graduate School of Management at North Carolina State University is addressing the demand for social-media-savvy employees through courses on social media in its MBA curricula.

Social media recruiting is still in its relative infancy, though. There are no specific laws as yet from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission covering the legal limits of social networks for recruiting beyond what is stated in the traditional Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures.

Many companies have established metrics to calculate the success of their recruiting efforts. They look at page views of their blog, followers on their social media accounts, retweets of recruitment opportunity announcements on Twitter, and discussions on a firm’s wall posts on Facebook. If the results are low for any of these, chances are the smart company will take steps to improve its social media presence overall, not just for recruiting.

Of course, social media is not the only answer for the recruitment process. As a candidate, you will be interviewed in person and/or over the phone to provide the recruiter with a sense of whether you will be a good fit for the corporate culture. But that step only comes after you have successfully made it through the social media process.

The recruiter will more than likely Google your name to see what comes up. You should do this regularly yourself and remove anything you do not want recruiters to see.

A recent Wall Street Journal investigation found that the online tracking of individuals is pervasive.  According to WSJ, the 50 most popular U.S. websites regularly install tracking technology onto your computer.

You may not realize it, but you have been building a reputation since the first day you signed onto Facebook or posted to an online discussion group. Be smart about what you post online. Your next job

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 NC employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit www.capital.org.

Pay Attention To Pay Trends

What Pay And Benefits Can Tell Us About The North Carolina Workforce And Economy

By: Molly Hegeman, vice president of HR Services, CAI

North Carolina is ranked as one of the fastest-growing states in the country, and areas like the greater Research Triangle are being recognized as some of the nation’s top places to live and work. This is in part due to an economy that has greatly recovered from the effects of the 2008 recession.

North Carolina’s economy has made great strides in the past six years, and results from CAI’s 2013-2014 Pay Trends Survey supports these developments. The recent annual survey from CAI, an employers’ association that supports and evaluates North Carolina businesses, found that the projected average salary increase for employees across the state will hold steady at 2.9 percent in 2014. In fact, 84 percent of all companies surveyed intend to give pay raises this year. This means that employers across the state will need to continue to be mindful of employee salaries as key factors in overall employee satisfaction and retention. With signs of continued improvement in employee pay, what else do salary trends mean for North Carolina associations and companies?

One implication of current salary trends is that associations and companies need to start taking a more comprehensive approach to attracting and retaining top talent. Due to salaries holding steady or increasing, potential employees feel more comfortable in assessing their value and can now be more selective when choosing a new employer. What’s the bottom line? Promoting a strong salary is great, but the paycheck can no longer be the only tool in an employer’s toolbox when it comes to winning over their next employee.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace for the best employees, companies are placing an ongoing emphasis on pay for performance, not just pay for pay’s sake. These companies are challenging themselves to make wiser decisions on spending in the improving economy. It is important for employees to feel that they are not just numbers, but valued team members who should be invested in and rewarded for hard work. Companies are finding ways to show their team members that they are valuable.

Investing in employees is not a brand new concept. But the way companies invest is changing to meet employee needs and speaks volumes to an employer’s ability to attract and keep top talent long term. Company culture is becoming more important than in year’s past. Today’s employees are looking beyond salary alone and are now taking the time to inquire about the work environment, stress level and work-life balance at a potential organization.

Consider questions you may be asked by job candidates that you may not have heard a decade ago. Some examples include: Does your company offer training and development opportunities? Are there service or volunteer opportunities that your company participates in? North Carolina associations and companies that can answer “Yes” to these questions and more are poised to find a greater return on investment in 2014.

Instead of just giving current and prospective employees the chance to achieve a positive work-life balance, companies are shifting their focus to work-life effectiveness. The important concept for companies to embrace is that work is more than just a job. By understanding the needs of employees, offering flexible schedules, remote work, and other benefits that appeal to your workforce, employees will feel more engaged with their employers and find more meaning and fulfillment in what they do each day.

The one-size-fits-all approach to employment, pay and benefits is not relevant anymore. The data compiled through our annual research indicates that work-life effectiveness is made a reality through broadening your policies and benefits that  include more flexible scheduling, the opportunity to work from home and continuing training and education. When associations and companies combine positive pay and benefits that are most valued by its employees, they are more likely to reduce turnover and increase employee productivity and satisfaction.

With an ever-improving economy, North Carolina companies can expect to see pay and benefits trends continue to rise throughout 2014 and for the foreseeable future. Employers will also be able to increase or at least hold steady their salaries for employees, as well as invest in the benefits and other measures that will help them achieve work-life effectiveness. Companies can more easily project their value and pick from the best in the state’s talent pool to ensure sustainable success. Because of positive pay, great companies and strong talent pools, North Carolina looks to continue leading the way as a great state in which to live and work.

Molly Hegeman is vice president of HR Services for CAI, a trusted resource for HR, compliance and people development.  With locations in Raleigh and Greensboro, CAI is a membership-driven organization that helps North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, news, survey data, public policy advocacy and consulting services. For more information, please call (919) 878-9222 or visit http://www.capital.org.

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Why Re-Evaluate Your Company Culture?

By Guest Blogger Douglas David

Even a great company culture can eventually break down and need repair if it is not tended to regularly. Best practices are based on the four business outcomes of profitability, productivity, staff retention and customer loyalty—and any one of these outcomes can become broken over time.

To prevent a nose dive in your company’s profitability, low staff morale, lack of productivity, or customers that drift away and do not return to do business with you, it is important for a company to re-evaluate and fine tune its culture on a periodic basis.

Begin With Your Inner Circle

The shared values and knowledge of a company culture begin with the “inner circle” of management. This is the group of individuals you trust and turn to the most. If relationships are not right within this circle, the devastation settles like a poisonous fog over the rest of the company. For instance, if two members of the inner circle cannot agree and take opposing, hostile stances, you will end up having a polarized company—which usually means a paralyzed one.

When re-evaluating your company culture, examine and work with your inner circle first to build trust among the individuals involved. This group must banish any power games of ego and control, and ensure team effort instead. Creating extraordinary customer experiences and satisfaction requires a coordinated team effort. To ensure a team attitude, for example, my company works under a Team-Based Pay (TBP) system rather than a traditional commission-based system, which is the norm for the beauty industry. But sometimes re-evaluating culture means going against the norm.

Review Profitability Constantly

The trusted inner circle should know the business’s cash flow, break-even point, income and expenses. As the leaders, they should know where your company stands every week on purchasing, payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable. Without the constant review of the company financials, leaders cannot make informed decisions about expanding operations, purchasing new assets or developing a new product or service. Shared knowledge about profitability is vital to the health of your company culture.

Examine Productivity and Staff Retention Issues

Staff satisfaction, productivity and retention are all related strongly to company culture. Here again, knowledge is power, and it is important to know how people feel about working for your company, what motivates them, why they stay and why they leave. Keep tabs on these factors through feedback meetings, surveys and other forms of communication, and continuously work to keep employees engaged.

Cultivate Customer Loyalty

Cash flow is related strongly to customer loyalty. It is important to know who your best and worst customers are, and to cultivate the best ones. Are relationships healthy between your staff and your customers? These are issues you cannot afford to ignore.

Neglect your company culture and your business will fail to thrive. Re-evaluate and repair that culture regularly to ensure a smooth-running organization. You will be rewarded with longevity in your business, productivity among your employees and loyalty from your customers.

Douglas David is a star stylist and leader in the beauty industry who is a member of Intercoiffure, the most powerful and influential organization in the hair dressing industry. He is the founder of the nationally and internationally recognized Douglas Carroll Salon, located at 6325-27 Falls of Neuse Road in Raleigh. For more information, visit http://www.douglascarrollsalon.com.

Employee or Independent Contractor?

By Guest Blogger – Sandy Abalos, CPA

There are times when it seems unclear whether a worker who performs services and is paid by your company is subject to employment taxes. The answer depends on whether that worker is an employee or an independent contractor. Because the determination of a worker’s status depends on facts that may differ in each case, you need to be able to define the business relationship on a case-by-case basis:

  • In general, an employee is considered to be someone who works for and performs services under the control of your company.
  • An independent contractor is in business for himself or herself, and performs the services free of your company’s control.

When you are determining whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor, the IRS stresses that you must consider all evidence of the degree of control you have over that individual and the degree of independence that person has from your company.

The evidence of the degree of control and independence falls into three major categories: behavioral control, financial control and the type of relationship between your company and the employee.

1. Behavioral Control

Does your business have the right to direct and control how the worker does the task for which you have hired him or her? To answer this question, consider the following:

  • The type and degree of instructions your business provides to the worker. An employee is generally subject to the instructions from the business about when, where and how to work. Even if your business provides no instructions, sufficient behavioral control may exist if you, as an employer, have the right to control how the work results are achieved.
  • Any training that your business provides to the worker. If your business has trained an individual to perform services in a particular manner, indications are that person is an employee, since independent contractors generally use their own methods.

2. Financial Control

Does your business have a right to control the business aspects of the worker’s job? To answer this question, consider the following questions:

  • Does the worker have unreimbursed business expenses? If so, this indicates independent contractor status.
  • Does the worker have a significant investment in the facilities or tools used to perform services for your business? If so, this indicates independent contractor status.
  • Does the worker make services available to the relevant market? If the worker performs services for other businesses, this indicates independent contractor status.
  • Does your company pay the worker by the hour, week or month? An independent contractor is usually paid by the project. However, some professionals, such as lawyers are paid by the hour and are considered independent contractors.
  • Can the worker make a profit or incur a loss on services performed for your business? If so, this indicates independent contractor status.

3. Type of Relationship

The type of relationship between the parties is indicated by facts that include the following:

  • Any written contracts describing the type of relationship the parties intended to create.
  • Whether your business provides the worker with employee-type benefits, such as insurance, a pension plan, vacation pay or sick pay.
  • The permanency of the relationship. Employer/employee relationships generally have the expectation that the relationship will continue indefinitely, rather than for a specific project or period of time.
  • Whether the worker provides services that are a key aspect of your company’s business activity. If so, this may indicate an employee status.

Upon request, the IRS will make a determination for you whether a worker would be deemed  an employee based on the information provided by filing Form SS-8 (Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding).

Sandra A. Abalos, CPA is the managing partner of Abalos & Associates, PLLC, a full-service, award-winning CPA firm in Phoenix that specializes in the needs of privately held businesses. For more information, contact (602) 943-1984 or visit the website at http://www.abaloscpa.com

How To Shift Problem-Solving From Your Shoulders To Theirs

By Guest Blogger – Willy Stewart

I have discovered through many years in business that managers tend to be good problem solvers. Because of this fact, people migrate to these managers and ask them for help in solving their problems. In other words, problems drift “uphill,” and many managers end up working longer and longer hours trying to solve other people’s problems.

In solutions-driven organizations, however, managers shift from solving everyone’s problems to empowering their employees to solve their own problems. Employees are often closer to a problem and can come up with better solutions than their managers.

In problem solving one should ask whether what is being solved is the problem or a symptom of the problem. To find the answer, one must determine a problem’s root cause, then use a template to analyze creative alternatives to that root issue.

To help employees solve their own problems, consider using an action planning template that requires people to carefully analyze a given situation in a focused manner and write down their thoughts. A template that prompts people through a set of questions will work well to stimulate their ideas and help them to formulate solutions more thoroughly.

  • “What goal do I want to achieve?” The answer must be specific and written down.
  • “What will I get from achieving this goal?” The respondent must write down several benefits.
  • “What obstacles could possibly interfere with achieving this goal?” These obstacles can be factors such as training needed or additional costs.
  • “What are ways to remove these obstacles from my path?” The answers tend to be problem solutions in encapsulated format.

The next section of the action plan template goes on to prompt the employee for the steps that must be followed to achieve the stated goals, and a date when each goal should be met. The template ends with the question, “Is this goal worth the time, effort and money?” The employee must respond “Yes” or “No,” then take the completed form to their manager for discussion and approval.

This approach works, because it empowers employees to “own” the situation and be invested in the success of the solution and its results. People are encouraged to think for themselves, and when they do, generally they come up with excellent solutions. Morale is affected in a positive way when people feel empowered, and that leads to higher productivity and job satisfaction.

Willy E. Stewart, PE, is the managing principal of Raleigh Consulting Group, a consulting firm that works with CEOs and senior management teams across a diverse collection of industries to assist in improving efficiencies and optimizing growth while remaining focused on the company’s purpose and its people.

Manage Well To Avoid Employee Disengagement

By Guest Blogger – Bruce Clarke, J.D.

How do employees get help at your company? Who does the employee go to with problems? Who is there to help keep your employees involved, engaged and committed to their work and the company?

Employees who lack regular communication with a good manager can disengage with their work or eventually join another company with stronger management. Office managers and HR pros can help employees with mechanical questions such as pay and benefits, but only a manager familiar with an employee’s day-to-day tasks can grow a productive two-way relationship promoting strong work engagement.

Skilled managers provide many benefits to the workers they supervise. They are the primary goal setters and the best place to create alignment between the employee and organizational aspirations. Good managers provide frequent feedback and have a genuine interest in their employees’ professional and personal aspirations. They also serve as problem solvers to help workers when obstacles arise.

The negative effects of no management or poor management include decreased productivity, lowered morale, absenteeism and lack of trust and commitment to the company. Employees need managers for guidance, growth and recognition.

Managers help employees understand their roles and how their actions affect business results. With proper goal setting and consistent feedback, both positive and corrective, managers help employees understand what success looks like and how to get there.

Every employee has key questions and quandaries they need answered, and managers who work with them on an ongoing basis are the most equipped to offer responses. Sufficient guidance and attention spent on employees will also help them feel essential and valued in the workplace.

People are rarely satisfied doing the same tasks for long periods of time, so failing to plan for employee challenge and growth opportunities can have dire consequences for your company—specifically, high turnover. Because good managers provide consistent feedback, they know the strengths and weaknesses of their employees. This not only helps managers assign projects, but it helps employees understand what they do well and where they can improve. Managers are also advocates for employee development opportunities, raises, promotions and recognition.

Data and personal experience show that good employees who do not feel valued by their employer will leave.  Managers who communicate well and regularly with employees are in the best position to see and prevent unnecessary turnover.  Private recognition of good work, really listening to employee opinions, and removing hurdles in the way of job satisfaction are important tools.  Public recognition within the workplace when important milestones happen or key behaviors occur is also very powerful.

Whether your organization is large or small, the presence or absence of good one-to-one management is the best predictor of workplace health.  All the flex-time, free cappuccino and blue-jeans-days you can muster are no substitute.

Good managers who demonstrate leadership qualities are critical for keeping company morale high. Please feel free to call CAI’s Advice and Counsel at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746 for additional information about how to strengthen the skills of your company’s managers.

Bruce Clarke, J.D. is president and CEO of CAI, Inc., a human resource management firm with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro, N.C., that helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability.  For more information, visit http://www.capital.org