Posts Tagged ‘company culture’

Employers Can Learn from Paula Deen’s Mistakes

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

employee screening, employee credit checkEarlier this summer, TV chef Paula Deen was known more for her teary performances on talk shows than for her down-home cooking on her own show, after she was accused by an employee of using racial slurs. Deen was subsequently dropped by the Food Network, as well as several other companies with which she’d held endorsement deals.

Employers can take a lesson from the fallout that Deen has experienced since her employee’s lawsuit came to light. Sexually explicit or racially charged language has no place in the business world, but sadly, it is not unheard of. Now is a good time to re-establish rules and reinforce them with your employees–and to take them to heart yourself, if necessary.

Watch your language: Racial slurs, sexual comments and biased language should not be allowed, period. From the boss on down, establish a zero-tolerance policy, and enforce it. Doing otherwise opens your company up to liability.

Show respect: No matter whom you are interacting with, pay attention to your behavior. Your words, actions and body language might make others uncomfortable, which could create a hostile working environment. Don’t assume that just because someone is of your gender and race that you can use language with him or her that demeans those who are not. The plaintiff in Deen’s case is a Caucasian woman.

Protect your brand: You’ve worked hard to create a company with a good reputation, but accusations of racism, sexism or intolerance can turn off both your current clientele and prospects. Consumers vote with their dollars, and word of bad behavior can bring about disastrous results.

Treating everyone fairly, keeping harmful language out of the workplace and creating a positive, respectful organizational culture can only strengthen your company. It makes it a better place to work. And it’s the right thing to do.

End of DOMA Means Changes for Employers

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

employee screening, employee background checkThe Supreme Court decision yesterday that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has some implications for employers, but not for those that already offer benefits to partners of gay workers or to spouses in same-sex marriages in the states where it’s legal.

For now, the ruling only affects employers in the 12 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal or will soon be. Benefits such as pre-tax health insurance payments, 401(k) retirement plans and pensions will change, in that spouses in same-sex couples will automatically be considered beneficiaries, unless the employee states otherwise. Prior to the ruling, only heterosexual spouses were automatically considered beneficiaries, which led to issues should a gay employee died without naming his or her spouse as beneficiary.

Employers will need to change benefit plan documents to ensure equal treatment of all married couples. They will not longer be required to treat the value of employer-paid health insurance provided to same-sex spouses as taxable income. And, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) will also apply to caring for same-sex spouses. COBRA, flexible health spending accounts, and other spouse-related practices will have to apply equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

Almost two-thirds of Fortune 500 firms already offer health benefits for domestic partners. Employers who don’t, in states where same-sex marriage is not yet legal, can get ahead of the curve by initiating domestic partner programs.

Nearly 300 major employers, including Johnson & Johnson, Apple, Nike, Starbucks, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup signed onto a brief arguing that DOMA was bad for business, and urged the Supreme Court to strike it down. Prior to the decision, the employers were forced to treat differently those employees in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Even more conservative companies have seen that keeping two sets of rules and books and administrative duties is expensive. So are the legal mistakes that can easily occur. Apart from financial concerns, more companies are recognizing that being inclusive is great for employee morale and recruitment, and, as Paul Guzzi, the CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce said on National Public Radio, “Talent is talent.”

That may be why no companies filed a brief arguing that DOMA was beneficial for business and needed to stay in place!

Respect the Personal-Professional Wall Between You and Your Employees

Thursday, May 30th, 2013,, employement screeningEmployers often speak of their staff members as “family.” It’s great when supervisors and workers can hang out together, bond over a softball game or grab a beer after work. But in the age of social media, it’s far too easy to know far too much about your employees’ personal lives. And getting too involved can lead to real problems.

You cannot, by law, discriminate against employees who belong to a protected class or category. Examples are gender, race, age, sexual orientation, religion or disability. You can’t even ask questions about these issues in interviews. Why? Because there is a possibility of discrimination if decisions are made based on these characteristics.

It’s important to create a workplace that is free from any inkling of discrimination. And the less you know about employees’ personal lives, the easier that becomes. For example, you might have an employee who shows up every day on time, works hard, achieves his goals and has a great attitude. But if you’re friends with him on Facebook, you may also find out that his political views are 180 degrees from your own—even if he’s never brought up politics at work. And that could affect how you treat him.

Here are some other personal things you don’t need to know about your employees:

  • How they spend their free time. Some people run for fun. Others sit in bars. It’s not your concern one way or the other.
  • What church they belong to—or don’t. If an employee speaks about his religious beliefs or tries to proselytize to other workers, have a talk and insist that the behavior stop.
  • How they spend their money. If you know she buys expensive shoes or likes good wine, you might decide Sara doesn’t need that raise she has earned.
  • Their sexual orientation. It’s none of your business. Period.
  • Whether they have physical or mental illnesses. Some illness will carry over into the workplace. But knowing that an employee is in therapy, taking medication or dealing with a chronic disease can affect your objectivity in evaluating her performance. Remember though, that employees with disabilities who need work station adjustments are entitled to them.

In a time when everyone announces what they’re eating for breakfast on the Internet, it takes more effort to respect the employer/employee professional relationship. But this is also a litigious time, and knowing less about your employees could keep you out of legal trouble. Keep the professional wall between you and your employees intact.

Improve Company Culture to Improve Retention and Recruitment

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

employee screening, employee credit check.

Do you have a strong company culture? Does your staff, from top management to the newest employee, share common values and goals? Or is there a distinct lack of cohesiveness or identity in your company?

When everyone in a company believes in the same vision, whether it’s making the very best dog biscuit in America or putting a space ship on Mars, and feels needed to do their part to make that happen, there’s a sense of pride that cannot be overstated.

Apart from vision, pride and values, companies with strong cultures also tend to be honest with employees, sharing both good and bad news. They demonstrate that all employees are equally needed and important. They allow creativity in approaching how to do their jobs. And they celebrate when good things happen. All of these factors make good employees better, and attract the best people.

It doesn’t even matter how large or small your business may be; if you don’t have a strong culture, you’ll hurt your chances of keeping your best employees and attracting the strongest candidates. A strong culture can also make the hiring process easier, such as when an otherwise promising candidate shows signs that he or she won’t fit into the company’s culture. It’s much easier to pass on such a person, than to hire and find out that it was never going to work out.

Your company culture could be attracting talented peopleor turning them off from the start. Take a look at yours and make improvements where you need to. Start with easy-to-implement changes, and ask employees for their suggestions and input. In fact, that’s a great way to immediately improve your company culture.

Office Dating: OK or Not OK?

Friday, February 15th, 2013

employee screeningLots of couples meet at work. It’s inevitable: when you put people in a closed environment, where they see each other every day, sparks will start to fly. But not all office romances survive, which can be problematic for employers.

Sometimes it takes a bad experience for companies to decide they need a dating policy, whether it’s a strick no-dating policy or just some guidelines for employees, should they choose to date each other (which they will inevitably do, even if it’s an official no-no).

Here are a few ideas for dating policies that many employers find effective:

  • No interfering with work: Especially when a relationship is new, employees who are dating will almost always allow it to affect their work. They may find new ways to see or talk to their love interest throughout the day, send distracting emails, or sneak away for romance. It’s not fair to other employees to have to pick up the slack. And lovebirds who attend meetings together can make others uncomfortable if they are obvious about their relationship. Emphasize to employees that if they date a co-worker, they may not allow it to affect their work or that of their peers.

  • No dating between supervisors and their team members: It’s never a good idea for managers to date their subordinates because it puts the company at risk for legal action. That alone is reason to ban it. In addition, bosses could show favoritism to their loved one, or worse, treat him or her badly in an effort to avoid favoritism.
  • No sexual harassment allowed: Allowing dating is not the same as encouraging it. Operating in a free-for-all type of atmosphere could give employees the impression that any sort of sexual behavior is okay in the office. Having a zero-tolerance policy concerning sexual harassment will go a long way to defining expectations.

Employers may not be able to prevent workplace romances, but they can try to control them as much as possible, to save the company loss of productivity and reduce risk of legal action.

Is the Work Ethic Going Out the Window?

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

employee screeningAs we said last week, the workplace is changing fast. Not only is technology changing the way we work, but new generations of workers are bringing new abilities, as well as some different workstyles, into the workplace. Baby boomer and Gen Y bosses and supervisors are sometimes surprised by the behavior exhibited by the Millennial Generation they are now working with.

Some see a distinct lack of professionalism—at least as they would define it for themselves: regular attendance, punctuality, honesty, working until a task is completed well, interpersonal skills, appropriate appearance, and being focused and attentive. That view is backed up by a recent study of professionalism in the workplace that shows professionalism has declined in past five years.

A high majority of respondents to the survey indicated that work ethic has gotten worse, saying that younger employees taking a casual attitude toward work (86%), not taking ownership of their work (69%) and being less than driven (71%).

That doesn’t mean the young millennials are hopeless. Far from it—they just need to be taught about expectations. They say they haven’t been taught by their parents or the education system on how to succeed in the working world.

Older generations need to understand that millennials view the world differently, including the workplace. Their definition of professionalism is quite different: it doesn’t mean wearing specific clothing, or even showing up at a specific time.

To accommodate millennials, should employers update their employee handbooks to say, “The workday begins whenever you feel like getting here”? Not necessarily! However, assigning tasks, explaining expectations and providing guidelines and flexibility works well with this generation.

Thorough training, trusting (and verifying), transparency, and sharing the organization’s values and mission are all very important to millennials. They want to be part of something important, and even better—to be a force for good.

Most of all, don’t assume that how you’ve always done things will be embraced or even understood by today’s workers.

Year-End Bonuses and Employee Gifts: How Little is Too Little?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

employee screening, employee background check

While the economy is sputtering back to life, it’s still been a rough year for plenty of small-and medium-sized businesses. So, what does a well-meaning employer do about the question that comes up every year at this time: to give year-end gifts or not?

Perhaps your company bounced back into the black and you feel like celebrating. Chances are, employee gifts are not a big dilemma for you. But if 2012 was unprofitable, you still need to closely control expenses.

Holiday parties, bonuses and gifts can easily get out of hand. But what do workers think of “token” gifts, or miniscule bonuses?

Surveys say that even small gifts are appreciated by employees, and go a long way to boost morale. The majority of 600 workers surveyed by benefits consulting firm Parago said that a $25 gift card would satisfy their expectations. Eighty-three percent said a reward makes them feel appreciated, motivated to work harder, or more loyal.

So if you can afford it, a small gift could reap big benefits for both employee and employer. But be careful that you don’t add injury to insult. If you’ve cut pay or benefits this year, a small token gift could upset workers more than motivating them.

Of course, you could also revamp your rewards program to give bonuses to employees who deserve them. Setting goals and tying rewards to performance takes all the guesswork out of what often proves to be a sticky situation for employers.

What Does Sustainability Mean Today?

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

employee screening, employee credit checkPlenty of companies are touting their sustainable practices and accomplishments. But sustainability goes beyond switching to recycled paper and reducing waste. Employers may have heard that sustainability has taken on a broader definition that encompasses good human resource practices.

Sustaining employee relationships is a big part of a more holistic business view. Just ask any company manager who has applied for sustainability certifications: many of the questions will be related to HR. Certifying agencies want to know how employees are treated and paid, and how the company relates to the community at large.

HR departments are more engaged in building a company culture that embraces all forms of sustainability. Organizations are trying harder to build good community relationships by supporting worthwhile organizations and leading the way to improve daily life for everyone. They are improving their diversity, from the boardroom to the shipping room. They are focusing on the “triple bottom line” of people, planet and profits.

Creating a sustainable culture can start with the little things: recycling and reusing are certainly an important foundation. From there, it’s important to take care of employees through fair pay and benefits, training and performance management, and by actively pursuing diversity and inclusion. Finally, going beyond the company’s walls to improve surrounding communities helps ensure a healthier place to live, work and do business in.

All of these steps contribute to the new definition of sustainability: a long-term view of how to do business fairly, rather than a close-up focus on sales and profits. And still, many companies report a positive return on their sustainability program investment, along with a rise in morale, efficiency and loyalty, and an improved public image and brand awareness.

Sounds like creating a sustainable culture can be an all-around winning strategy that benefits the company, its employees, the planet and the community.

Is Hiring Smokers Becoming a Thing of the Past?

Friday, June 29th, 2012

employee screening, employee background checkSmokers cost employers money, there’s no doubt about that. Some estimates say smokers cost about 15% more than nonsmokers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates smoking costs the United States more than $193 billion every year, between medical expenses and losses in productivity.

Some employers are not putting up with it any longer. Last year, nationwide retailer Macy’s started charging employees who smoke $35 per month for health coverage. Smokers can have the cost deferred if they enroll in a free smoking cessation class. After six months, their progress is reviewed and if they’ve quit, great. If not—the surcharge starts again.

And Macy’s isn’t the only company to charge smokers a fee. PepsiCo and Gannett both charge smokers extra health insurance fees. But some go further. Union Pacific and Scotts Miracle-Gro, for example, will not even consider hiring smokers. The Cleveland Clinic requires all job candidates to have their blood tested for nicotine.

Starting in 2018, health reform legislation will require companies with health plans that significantly exceed the average to pay an additional federal tax. Many companies will have no choice than to do what’s necessary to cut healthcare costs—including reducing the number of smokers on the payroll.

Most employers have smokers on their staffs. And while most workplaces prohibit smoking indoors, smokers who light up only at home can still have a negative effect on a company. Employers may choose to encourage smokers to quit through positive methods, such as quit-smoking classes or cash incentives, or through punitive measures, such as fines and surcharges.

Or, the entire company could shift its entire focus to better health. Helping employees lose weight, increase their fitness levels and quit smoking can increase morale while lowering health insurance costs. By showing that they care about the health and well being of all employees, as well as their families, employers can affect real, lasting change.

The question remains: is it still better to hire the best possible candidate, even if he or she smokes?

When hiring new employees, be sure to conduct proper background screening. 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.

When Employees Lie—or Hide the Truth

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

employment screening, employee background check, pre-employment screeningIf you’re lucky, you have good employees, who are honest and hard working. They don’t steal from you and you can always count on them to tell the truth. Or can you? How do you know for sure if employees are hiding the truth or outright lying, unless you catch them in the act?

Here are some examples of less-than-honest behavior that almost always seem to come to light:

  • An employee sees another worker taking office supplies home, but does nothing.
  • An employee mistakenly breaks a piece of equipment, but he doesn’t admit it or bring it to your attention.
  • An employee sends out a post on Twitter that contains incorrect information, realizes her mistake, but covers it up and doesn’t tell you.

When employees lie or hide the truth, does the problem lie with them or with you? Perhaps it’s a good time to take a long, hard look at your company, and ask a few questions:

  • Why don’t your employees feel safe admitting mistakes or letting you know you’re being cheated?
  • What is your company culture really like?
  • How have these types of situations been handled before?
  • Are employees in fear of retaliation, termination or ridicule?
  • Have you demonstrated trust in your employees?
  • Does management view these types of incidents as the cost of doing business, or as big problems?

If you can honestly say that your company has an open and respective culture, where errors are understood and employees are used to giving and receiving feedback, then these types of incidents might be more of an employee problem.

How would you handle each of the above employee scenarios? The first thing to do is to have a talk with your employee. Clarify what really happened and why she reacted the way she did. If no one was notified, why not? Did she not know the correct procedure? Was she afraid? Explain the acceptable behavior and ask for a commitment that she will follow procedures should another incident occur.

Company cultures are living things that need care and feeding. It’s not enough to simply establish a culture and expect everyone to follow and embrace it forever. Keep working on instituting mutual respect, tolerance and communication to prevent lies and secrets from harming over your company.