Archive for March, 2010

Is Your Company Preventing Workplace Harassment Claims?

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Employers must be ever-vigilant in providing a safe workplace for all employees. That responsibility includes a workplace harassment policy. Harassment is unlawful and can get an employer in trouble if it goes unmonitored or unpunished.

What is Workplace Harassment?

  • It’s an unlawful form of discrimination, based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • It’s defined as unwelcome verbal or physical conduct based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation or retaliation that results in a hostile work environment or a change in an employee’s status or benefits.
  • It can affect anyone.
  • Is not limited to male on female sexual harassment.

Harassment can range from offensive language or remarks to comments about a fellow employee’s body, skin color, or religion, to inappropriate touching, jokes, gestures, or even emails.

Increase in Sexual Harassment Claims by Men
A growing number of sexual harassment complaints have come from men since the start of the recession, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the EEOC). Litigation, including harassment cases, tends to increase during economic downturn, when jobs are harder to find. In the past, men might have responded to sexual harassment by leaving a hostile workplace for another job—but now, when they’re not easily finding other employment, a harassment suit is more likely to be filed.

Harder-hit states for unemployment, like Michigan and California, saw bigger increases in the percentage of sexual harassment claims by men: Michigan’s cases rose 10% from 2007 to 2009, and California’s cases rose 5%.

While the stigma around claiming sexual harassment is huge for both genders, it is even more so for men, say the experts. Men can be seen as weak or unmanly when claiming sexual harassment, so the numbers of reported incidents are most likely lower than what actually occurs.

Employers are often in the dark about harassment; often employees are laid off for economic reasons, and file claims months or years later. Developing and enforcing a strict no-harassment policy is vital. And remember to broaden your definitions to include same-sex harassment. Many employees are more sensitive to what they say around the opposite gender, but might think that sexual jokes and banter among their own gender is okay—but it’s not.

As unemployment continues to hover around 10%, employers could face rising harassment claims—so now is the best time to review your company’s policy and tighten it up as needed. Communicate to and train employees on the policy. Strict workplace harassment policy enforcement is the best way to mitigate risk to your business.

Monitoring Employees in an Age of IM, Email, and Social Networking

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Supervisors everywhere know the frustration of strolling past an employee’s work station, only to find them texting furiously instead of doing what they’re being paid to do. Increasingly, employers are taking steps to cut down on employees’ extracurricular digital communication—whether its instant messaging (IMing), web surfing, texting or making personal phone calls on company time.

Some consider it an invasion of privacy, but the law is solidly on the employer’s side. Employers are allowed to monitor employee communications, and most communication equipment is the property of the business—so its use is dictated by business needs, not staff’s need to keep up with their friends’ latest activities.

Three forces are at work in employee monitoring: first, employers are ever-vigilant about squeezing every ounce of productivity out of workers. If an employee is not giving 100% to his or her employer, there are probably others who will be happy to take over that position. Second, risk-averse employers know that keeping workplaces completely litigation free is an elusive goal—but one that can come closer to happening with the right monitoring practices. Keeping all staff safe from harassment is easier if you know what types of emails and IMs are flying around the company. Third, it’s more important than ever to keep company information and trade secrets confidential. Too many firms have been taken down by loyalty-lacking employees. It’s way too easy to forward a company-only email to the press or a blogger who will quickly spread the information throughout the industry.

Monitoring software is easily found online or at electronics retailers. Depending on the package features, keystroke monitoring, website tracking, and even webcams capture employees’ activities.

Data from 2007 shows that 2/3 of employers check up on employees’ Internet use. From tracking time spent and websites visited, to keystroke monitoring to capture search terms, employers can get a full picture of which employees are using company equipment for work use and for personal use. And a 2009 survey shows that nearly 90% of employees used office networks to send jokes, rumor, or gossip to outside recipients. 14% have sent confidential company emails to third parties.

So far, the courts have ruled that employees have no expectation for privacy when using employer-provided computer systems, cell phones, and pagers. Even employees who send personal emails through a private account are using company servers—and so have no right to expect those emails will not be monitored.

Employers’ best practices are communicating the need for monitoring, and to put a clear policy in place, so workers know exactly what is and what is not allowed—and the consequences for breaking the rules.

The best pre-employment screening process includes employee background checks, employee credit checks, and criminal background checks. You’ll know you’re hiring safe when you screen employees before offering a position.

What Employers Should Know About Generation Y

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Call them Generation Y, Generation Next or the Millenials, the age group is loosely defined as those born from the mid-70s to the early 2000s. In general, the 78 million Gen Ys are very familiar and comfortable with communications, mass media and digital everything. They trend toward tattoos, piercings, and other ways to express their individuality.

Here are a few things that employers in older generations (the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers) might find helpful in knowing what makes your younger employees tick:

If you telephone a Gen Y employee, don’t be surprised if you don’t get a call back. Not all Gen Ys ignore the phone, but as a group they prefer IMing (instant messaging) and texting to email and telephone calls. Voice mails are often not listened to at all. This generation is more likely to just note that you called than to listen to your voice mail!

They live online. Gen Yers spend more than 3.5 hours on the internet every day, on average. And they’re not checking email. Social networking is a big part of their lives, and they check in with friends and family on Facebook rather than on email. Gen Yers are used to knowing what’s going on with their friends via Facebook, and expect to communicate through that network. If you’re not on Facebook, you’re not likely to know what a Gen Yer is up to.

Gen Yers have been spoiled a bit by their parents. They may expect a bit of indulgence in the workplace, too. For example, they value their non-work time and seek work/life balance—so they might expect their employers to cooperate with that important goal. Come up with creative compromises to make sure your goals are covered, too.

Gen Yers like change. They want to feel like they’re contributing new ideas. This might look like they want to undo procedures you’ve spent years refining. But this is one tech-smart group that doesn’t see the value in waste—of time, materials, or money. Listen to them and give their ideas more than a cursory look. You might find room for improvement, and you’ll win your employees’ loyalty.

Gen Yers like direction. Sure, many are self-directed; but others expect their employers to provide clear instructions and to state expectations. Help establish workflow, goals, and schedules, and be sure your Gen Yers know what the company’s priorities are.

Gen Y is possibly the most productive generation in history. They just might need a little more managing than others—but it’s a small price to pay!

How They Made the List: Tips from Fortune’s “Best 100 Places to Work”

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

With a glance through the companies on Fortune Magazine’s list of The 100 Best Companies to Work For, similar themes arise, even though the 100 firms represent a wide range of industries. Businesses of any size can use these themes to make their workplace one of choice for their employees, too. Reducing turnover reduces costs, increases productivity, and makes everybody happier.

Do the right thing:

  • The #1 company on the list is SAS, a software firm. Employees get unlimited sick days, free medical care, a free fitness center and summer camp for their kids. The CEO believes in the trust between the company and the employees. Perks are probably a big expense, but SAS is very profitable (it’s the world’s largest privately owned software company) and turnover is a low, low 2%—the lowest in the industry.
  • Johnson Financial Group, keeps pay in place if staff must be out of work for a crisis. The CEO says they will always “do what is right.”
  • Arkansas Children’s Hospital sponsors a summer camp for sick kids—and awards extra vacation to employees who volunteer there.

We’re all in this together (even in a tough recession year):

  • Edward Jones, the investment firm, froze salaries but continued profit sharing and did not lay off a single employee or close a single office.
  • Wegmans Food Markets has never had a layoff, and didn’t end that streak. 11% of its employees have been with the grocery chain for over 15 years.
  • Shared Technologies, a phone and data systems company, limited layoffs by cutting pay for employees (5%) and management (10%). The CEO of AFLAC, the insurance firm, gave up a $2.8 million bonus—and maintained all employee benefits.
  • Nugget Market, a small chain in California, helped employees through the recession with 5% discounts on groceries; management showed appreciation by washing all the associates’ cars one day.
  • Men’s Wearhouse demonstrated a team approach with pay cuts at the top: the CEO took a 20% pay cut, the SVPs, 5%, and the board of directors 10%.

Let’s keep having fun:

  • The Scooter Store, in Texas, keeps celebrating with quarterly pep rallies and birthday parties every day.
  • Mattel, the toy maker, keeps employees happy with potluck breakfasts, volunteer days, picnics and milk-and-cookie parties.

Benefits for all:

  • Build-A-Bear Workshop gives part-time employees access to health insurance.
  • CISCO offers on-site child care.
  • Methodist Hospital System gives out bonuses based on patient satisfaction each quarter.
  • PCL Construction focuses on healthy employees with gym memberships, unlimited sick time and paid life insurance.

Maybe these ideas will inspire other employers to think creatively and hang on to your valuable employees longer!