Posts Tagged ‘Employers and Employees’

5 Extreme Weather Tips for Employers

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

employment background check, pre-employment screening, credit checkWinter is a tough time for businesses in many parts of the country. Extreme weather causes shutdowns, customers stay home and employees can’t always get to work—all of which contributes to losses in productivity, revenue and profits.

Should Employees Be Penalized For Staying Home in the Snow?
What should employers do when employees can’t get to work? Should they be lenient, knowing that safety comes first? Or should they require employees to work, no matter what the weather is doing? And what about employees with kids, who have to stay home when schools are out for bad weather?

Creating and implementing an extreme weather policy makes things easier for everyone. Employees know exactly what they should do, and you don’t have to come up with solutions while the snow is still piling up.

5 Extreme Weather Tips for Employers:

  1. Realize that employers must assume some level of care for employees. Forcing them to come to work in dangerous conditions could subject your company to liability if someone is injured or causes injury to others. Besides, do you want to be the type of employer that makes an employee feel they have no alternative other than traveling to work or risking termination?
  2. Be the leader your staff wants you to be. They will likely be looking to you for direction, so keep an eye on the weather, and communicate. Keep your cell phone on and be available to employees with questions.
  3. Make things flexible. If an employee needs extra time to get to work safely, or would prefer to work at home and stay off the roads, try to accommodate their needs. If snow is piling up during the work day, allow employees extra time to get home before dark, when possible. Add a provision in your policy for employees who can work at home to do so. Productivity could suffer, but it’s better than getting none at all.
  4. Be consistent. It’s not easy to make different accommodations for different employees; to allow some, but not others, to work from home; and to decide who gets paid and who does not. Try to be fair and consistent in your policies to avoid any legal battles with employees.
  5. If you pay employees who aren’t able to get to work, it’s reasonable to ask them to make up the time. Otherwise, you can offer that they take vacation time or unpaid leave and not worry about making up the hours they miss.

Even when snow and ice lead to driving problems, it is up to your employees to get to work or communicate their difficulty in doing so. But everyone appreciates a boss who tries to help and makes reasonable accommodations.

Where are all the Qualified Employees?

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

employee screening blogAre stacks of resumes piling up on your desk? Is your email inbox overflowing with inquiries from potential employees who not only are not qualified, but didn’t follow your application instructions? It’s not easy to find qualified employees, even when the nation’s unemployment rate is 10%. In fact, it’s harder than ever for some business owners to weed through the flood of applicants to hire just one or two employees.

We asked a few HR Managers where they go to save time and their sanity when it’s time to hire. Perhaps you can use some of these great ideas:

Professional Associations: If you’re a member of a group for accountants, attorneys, credit managers, automobile dealers, natural food store owners, or whatever your profession—try checking in with your local or regional affiliate. You might find an out-of-work industry veteran in their ranks—maybe even someone can fill your job opening.

Ask yourself, “Where do the people with the skills I want hang out?” or, “Where do they go for continuing education?” For example, if you need a website programmer, do an online search for a local web developer group, or see if there is a Facebook group in your area. Then, check local community colleges, technical colleges, and universities. Their placement offices could have your perfect candidate waiting for an opportunity.

Check your own online networking groups. LinkedIn is the most popular professional social media site. If you belong, ask your LinkedIn group members if they know people who match your needs. If you don’t belong to LinkedIn, it’s easy to join. Put out the word that you’re hiring on your company’s Facebook page and Twitter account. Use the contacts you’ve already made online to spread the word fast.

Does your company website have a news page or blog? Consider it your company bulletin board—only with a much bigger reach! Post your “now hiring employees” notice there.

Talk to your competition—if they’re not hiring, let them know that you are. Perhaps they can send a candidate or two your way—or give you the contact information of that terrific employee they just had to lay off.

Are you registered with a local Workforce or Employment office in your area? After all, that’s the place you’ll find people who don’t have jobs but want to work.

When you use your networks and online contacts, or just try using a personal touch and reaching out in your community, you may find your search for qualified employees just got a little easier!

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.

Tough Talk from a Micro-Managing Business Advisor

Friday, May 28th, 2010

employee screening, background checks employeesGeorge Cloutier is the author of a popular business book, Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing. The book came out of a series of business training seminars he was doing for small-business owners.

The Turnaround Ace’s Tough Advice
So named by Business Week, some of Cloutier’s advice is unusual, if not controversial. A few examples:

  • Cloutier says you should love your business as much as you love your family. (And he used to say, “Love your business more than you love your family.”)
  • He says it’s fine to have a plan—but that’s the easy part. The hard work is the hard part. Work on weekends. Give up golf, because you’re not going to make money on the golf course. The people who say they do are making an excuse to be lazy.
  • Take responsibility for your failures—don’t blame the economy, the recession, the bank, or your employees. If the bank doesn’t lend you money, it’s your fault. If an employee fails, it’s your fault. If a customer drops you in favor of another product, it’s your fault. Taking responsibility is necessary to be successful.

The Business Owner Comes First
Cloutier espouses that business owners take care of themselves first—ahead of the employees, process, team—or anything else. He says that without focusing on profits, your business will fail. When business owners allow employees and popular wisdom to run the company, instead of focusing on cash and profits, they will fail.

You’re Not in Business to Pay Your Vendors’ Bills
Cloutier advises business owners to not pay vendors on time. When it’s difficult to obtain financing, the only place you can get more credit is from your vendors. If you’re getting 30 days, ask for 60 days. If you’re getting 45 days, ask for 75 days. He does not advise business owners to be unethical, or to not pay taxes on time, but to be upfront and conserve cash as much as possible.

Teamwork is Overrated
Cloutier thinks teamwork is vastly overrated. If the team takes over your business, they will protect their failures. They will not hand out harsh penalties. Better to have one person in charge—the business owner.

Embrace Your Inner Control Freak
Coultier says that if your employees fail, it’s your fault. You must take responsibility. You hired the wrong person, failed to train them properly, or failed to correct their mistakes. And what about delegation? He says, don’t do it. Instead, micromanage your business. Look at everything, every single day. Who’s calling? Who was that customer who just left? What did they buy—or not buy? How are your employees dressed? How much cash is in your bank account?

Getting good help, Cloutier says, is “100 times more difficult” than we think. Many people are mediocre—so it makes sense to have procedures in place to follow up on them and see how they’re doing. Monitor closely, and intervene earlier, rather than later, when they’re going off track.

Fear is the Best Employee Motivator
But it’s okay to like your employees. In fact, Cloutier says that business owners must treat employees with respect, follow the law, help them with personal problems—but coddling employees is off the mark.

Stop Whining and Get to Work
The recession, Cloutier says, is a big excuse for poor performance. Failure to build a strong sales organization, strong financial reporting, and strong profits and cash flow are the real reason businesses fail.

And Fire Your Relatives
According to Cloutier, says a family business with more than one family member is a bad idea. The entitlement family members usually feel is a morale killer and bad for business.

I Need to Hire An Employee—Now What?

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Congratulations—your business not only survived the economic downturn, but it’s growing—and now you need to hire your first employee. You might be a great pastry chef, shoe shop owner, or candlestick maker—but if you don’t know a W-2 form from a can of WD40, you might have a big problem.

Relax—hiring your first employee is not as tough as you think. There are plenty of resources on the web, as well as at your nearest state and federal tax offices, where the staff will supply all the proper paperwork and manuals. They want to make sure you are completely compliant with all the taxes you’ll be responsible for.

You’ll need to obtain an Employer Identification Number, set up a payroll system, file withholding taxes, and report the new employee to the federal government. You’ll also need to register with your state employee office for their disability or worker’s compensation program, or obtain your own disability insurance.

But first, you need to get through the hiring process. Determine exactly what you need from your employee. Make a list of every single task you want the employee to perform. Write down all the things that are not being done well—or at all—because you cannot get to them. The list may be longer than any single employee could take on—but write them down anyway. You’re going to cut the list to a manageable number.

Write a quick job description, based on the list. Think of it as the goals you need help reaching and the tasks required to meet them. Keep the job description flexible enough to change it to fit your needs and the employee’s skills after he or she has been in place for a month or so.

Think about the education and skills needed to perform the job you’ve just described. Don’t forget physical requirements, like standing for several hours, reaching, bending, or lifting 25 pounds. These are all important aspects of your job listing.

Next, determine pay and benefits. Your local Economic Development Office and Small Business Administration are great places to research local pay rates. Or, check a site like PayScale.com, and you can find out what your job title average pay is, nationwide, or narrow your search by geographical location.

Now you’re ready to advertise. Most employers advertise online through local newspapers and Craigslist.com or use large online job boards like Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com. Yahoo, Facebook, and Twitter are also great ways to get the word out that you’re hiring. And don’t forget word of mouth—you’re more likely to find a great employee through someone you already know.

Once the resumes start coming in, weed out those that don’t meet your qualifications. Of the qualified applicants, some may no longer be interested (if they accepted another job, for example) and others may expect a higher wage than you can pay. How to find out? Conduct a telephone interview, and ask a few pointed questions about availability, ability to perform the job, and interest in the position at a certain wage range.

Call in the finalists for in-person interviews and have them fill out applications. You can find templates online or create your own. Be sure to have a separate permissions page for background screening and credit check. Pre-employment screening should be part of your new hire process. You don’t want to subject your business to an employee with an arrest record for embezzlement or who lies about her employment record.

The last step is to choose the best-fit employee, based on background screening results, your impressions, and qualifications. Personality has a lot to do with choosing the right employee, but don’t let emotions get in the way. Even if you really like a person, it doesn’t mean they’re the best employee for you!

Increase Productivity through Better Employee Communication

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Even as the economy shows signs of strengthening, many companies haven’t yet seen business rebound. They still need to do more with fewer employees. Perhaps you’re a hiring manager or business owner who is not able to begin hiring—but needs to keep existing employees motivated and more productive.

You might be thinking, “Haven’t I analyzed productivity enough over the last couple of years?” Perhaps you think there is no way to ask for more efficiency from overworked employees. What if you want to give them a break without affecting productivity? And you know you can’t hire more staff just yet. What to do?

Analyze Again

One answer is the one you might not want to hear: start at the top and analyze your business again. Look at your processes and procedures with a fresh eye—not an easy task, id it? So, why not get some help from the people on the front line? Seek input through an employee survey. Solicit their ideas for increased efficiency.

Fewer Steps, More Efficiency

If yours is a production-based business, efficiency can make or break it. Again, start with your front-line employees—like Mike, your shipping clerk. Look at Mike’s flow and setup. How many steps does each task take? Which can be eliminated or streamlined? How can Mike reduce travel time required for his job requirements? The higher the number of steps his feet take, the more time and energy he’s wasting. Encourage Mike to work with you to redesign his work station, eliminate wasted time and materials, or redistribute his tasks to others, if that makes more sense.

Decrease the Layers of Authority

If your business is sales-related, listen to your phone operators. How can they better balance customer service with efficiency? Are they wasting time waiting for approvals for services they are not authorized to give? Can you empower customer service staff to take care of issues on their own level, decreasing the layers required to handle a problem?

Be an Undercover Boss

Not sure if these areas are problems in your company? Your employees do! So ask them. Spend time with them. Get out of the office and shadow a few employees for a day. Take a cue from the new reality show “Undercover Boss,” where CEOs go undercover in their own companies, working alongside the lowest-level employees—and learning how their businesses really work.

Employees often follow procedures they are trained in, whether or not they are the most efficient use of their time. They do what is expected. But when given the chance to change things, many will jump at the opportunity to contribute to an improved workflow.

Give Mike a Promotion

Perhaps your frontline employees, like Mike, are capable of taking on some management duties. If you’ve downsized your management team, it may be that they already are—and if that’s the case, recognize them for it. Sometimes a change in title helps employees shine in ways you didn’t expect—and it can be real morale booster, too. So make Mike the Shipping Manager if he deserves it!

Talk to Your Staff

As with most management challenges, the key to increasing productivity lies in staff communication. Talk to your workers, learn how they do their jobs every day, and solicit their ideas for improvement. If they are willing to take on more responsibility, start on a plan to make that happen. And if they are at the point where another task will send them out the door—you need to know before it happens.

Employment Update

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

For the third month in a row, the private sector added jobs in April, according to a report from ADP. Jobs increased by 32,000 from March. March’s number was revised as well—and the news is even better: rather than a loss of 23,000 jobs, there was an increase of 19,000.

With employment from January 2010 to February 2010 increasing by 3,000, April’s numbers seal three straight months of increases. And this Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its jobs report for April; analysts predict total job growth (pubic and private sectors) will be between 180,000 and 189,000. (March’s increase was reported at 162,000, which will be adjusted on Friday’s report.)

April’s expected increase will include the temporary jobs added by the U.S. Census Bureau. Still, the manufacturing sector is expected to add about 29,000, and service sector about 50,000 in Friday’s report.

Another bit of good news is that the Consumer Confidence Index increased to 57.9, 18 points higher than April 2009, and 5 points higher than just a week prior. The Conference Boar Consumer Research Center, which issues the Index, reports the reading is higher than it’s been since September of 2008 because consumers’ concerns about business and job markets are easing. The Conference Board also reports that online job openings advertised in April jumped to 4.15 million, an increase of 222,700 over March.

So hiring freezes may be starting to thaw. What about the employees who managed to keep their jobs throughout the economic downturn? How are they faring?

There are indications that wage freezes are starting to hit the road, too. The Wall Street Journal reports that large employers like BASF, the chemical company, and Rockwell Collins, an aviation electronics firm, are distributing raises to their employees. Retaining key employees, rather than cutting staff, has become the priority.

BASF was scheduled to pay out raises in April, but decided to do it a month earlier—and employee morale was instantly improved. Even the buzz surrounding the early raise announcement helped loyalty and allowed employees to recommit to the company.

And employers might soon need that commitment from their people. A January survey by Towers Watson showed that 15% of respondents were having difficulty keeping their best talent. Employers are seeing more poaching and defections of key employees. One way to keep them from going is to increase salary—and that’s what is happening. AT&T gave 100,000 managers significant raises in November of 2009—four months ahead of the rest of their employees.

We will report on Friday’s job numbers as soon as they are announced, so check back!

Effective Leaders know that People Come Before Profit

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

When you’re an owner or in charge of a company, there are so many individual issues to worry about—sometimes it’s a wonder you can think at all. Is it true that the most important thing to worry about is profit—for without it, you don’t have a business at all?

Focusing on profits blinds some managers and business owners to the real purpose of business, which is people. After all, no matter what business you are in, it exists to sell a product or service to people; it needs great people to keep it running smoothly, and having happy people as employees and customers makes it all worth doing.

A good team makes a manager’s job easier—but leading them effectively takes time and effort. And good leaders know that putting profits before employees is a recipe for disaster. No matter what size business you’re running, from a team of three to three hundred, you can’t reach goals and become a successful company by yourself. But how does a manger create a tight, efficient and effective team of employees?

Find the people who work best for you and with your other team members. Hire for skills, sure, but skills alone won’t make up for a lousy attitude. Passion and drive can’t be taught, so look for those attributes along with a stellar set of skills. Personality differences help make a stronger, more diverse team. But it’s not a good idea to bring polar opposite strong personalities into the same team. Knowing your team members well and hiring for compatibility will help ensure a winning team.

Don’t be afraid of conflict. Conflict helps employees sort out leadership roles, and move toward a tighter-fitting, focused group dynamic. But conflicts must be worked out or your teams will be completely ineffective.

Watch the rule-makers. Let your team leaders set the rules for the group—to a certain extent. Nobody wants a bully at work, but employees with natural leadership qualities will find ways to make the team work most efficiently. Working together pleasantly is a nice by-product of great leadership. If you start hearing complaints about rules that aren’t working for everyone, address them right away to avoid losing productivity.

When you have passionate, driven individuals, clear and focused leadership, and healthy doses of well-managed conflict, you have the beginnings of a great team of employees—and the potential for great profits, too!

When An Employee Isn’t Pulling His or Her Weight

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

It’s an interesting saying, “not pulling your own weight.” But think about a team of horses, or oxen, or even sled dogs. Each one must contribute equally to the success of the team—or else the sled gets stuck in the snow, the field doesn’t get plowed, or the stagecoach takes a lot longer to reach its destination.

In an updated scenario, your business is the stagecoach, and success is your destination. If the entire team is pulling equal weight, you’ll get there together, faster. If even one employee is not pulling as hard, or putting in as much effort, it will take longer. And you might not ever reach the success your company is capable of.

So what does an employer do when one employee (we’ll call him “Joe”) is not doing his part?

First, don’t assume that Joe knows. Joe is not a mind reader. Even if his co-worker, Lucy, rolls her eyes each time Joe mentions he’s tired, or brags about how much he’s accomplished today, he could have no idea the rest of the team thinks he’s a slacker. You might think Joe is deliberately unproductive, while Joe thinks he’s a superstar.

Don’t wait. If it’s several months before Joe’s annual performance evaluation, don’t wait for that special day to bring him into your office and talk about his performance. It’s crucial to address a problem when it’s happening (or in this case, not happening), and ask for improvement right away. Especially if Joe’s teammates have complained to you about an unfair situation—you owe it to them to follow up and fix the problem. As boss, that’s your job.

Don’t accept excuses. Joe may have legitimate issues that are affecting his work performance. If so, call on your best leadership skills and help him through this rough spot—and if he’s a great worker, help him keep his job. But, if Joe is just really good at avoiding his workload, it’s only fair to the rest of the team to require improvement.

Choose a good time. If you’re under unusual stress, or the entire team is, due to a big project deadline, don’t escalate a potential problem. Wait until you can handle the conversation with Joe with clarity, keeping objectives in mind.

Acknowledge Joe’s strong points. Give a dose of good with the bad news. Focus on Joe’s strengths, appreciate his effort (such that it is) but let him know that other employees are doing more. Ask for Joe’s input on splitting the workload more fairly.

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.

Traits to Look for when Hiring Employees

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Every business has different needs from its employees. A day-care center and a lawn-care service both have “care” in their names, but if the nanny is better with chrysanthemums than with kids, he or she is not going to fill the day care owner’s needs.

Still, there are plenty of basic traits employers like to see in their job applicants. We surveyed a few employers who are hiring right now about the most important qualities their new employees have. NO matter how smart, how educated, or how articulate a job-seeker is, remember this list when you’re hiring—because these are the qualities that really count!

Christine, a communications company owner, said, “First, I look for talent, then creativity. Everyone has a gift, and my job as an employer is to figure out how each employee’s talent can benefit my company. Creativity is absolutely essential. I can’t be the only one to solve problems. Having creative people around spurs ideas, growth, and helps us overcome challenges.”

Joseph, a construction company manager, looks for honesty and integrity, a positive attitude, and flexibility when he’s hiring new employees. “I know it’s difficult to judge these qualities through a job interview. That’s why we conduct background checks to make sure we’re hiring honest people. Past employers will tell me if a candidate has integrity. And asking the right questions reveals the person’s attitude and flexibility. These are traits that I cannot teach an employee—and I don’t have the time to deal with anyone’s bad attitude or rigidity.”

“I like to hire adults,” says Cynthia, a financial services HR manager. “Follow-through is important. Our supervisors don’t want employees who just don’t do what they say they’lll do. And who has time to follow-up to make sure they do their job? So, self-reliance and drive are two other qualities I definitely look for in a job candidate.”

To Kevin, owner of a small organic farm, three things are all that matter: “Passion. Confidence. And the desire to work. I can teach anyone how to do their job if they have those three attributes going for them.”

Heather owns a tech-services company. She says, “To me, adaptability is key. Things in our business change every day. Employees who are stuck in a rut or work only within the limits of their job description are just not going to succeed here. So, I don’t hire anyone without demonstrated adaptability. If they’re highly responsible and smile a lot, that also helps them when I’m deciding whom to hire.

If you’re an employer getting ready to hire again, keep these traits in mind, and see how they fit within your company’s needs and culture. Some qualities are just good for employees to have!

Preventing Employee Embezzlement

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Office Manager Pilfers $645,000 from Car Dealership

Finance Manager’s Theft Causes Interactive Business to Shut Down

Furniture Store Suffers $250,000 Loss through Bookkeeper

These headlines are real. Every single day, real employees steal loads of money from their employers. In the United States alone, the amount of property and cash stolen by employees adds up to nearly $1 trillion each year. Whether it’s done by taking property or cash out the door, or falsifying balance sheets, deposits, and checks, embezzlement is a huge problem for businesses.

Often, employees who are charged with embezzlement have a fiduciary relationship with the employer—they are in a position of trust, with access to bank accounts and financial records.

How do they do it? Some embezzlers set up relatives or themselves as phony vendors in the bookkeeping system, then pay phony invoices with real company checks. Others just write checks to themselves or pay their personal bills with company checks.

Embezzlers often start out with small amounts, gradually building up to larger sums when they don’t get caught. Others tell themselves they’ll take the money “just this once,” but find they are unable or unwilling to stop—even after the credit card is paid off, their child’s medical expenses are paid, or they buy themselves a new car.

The guilt felt by an embezzler is often replaced with justification that they are undervalued or underpaid, and therefore the company owes them the money they are stealing. Others feel no guilt whatsoever, and are simply stealing for their own financial gain. For some employees, opportunity is the only “license to steal” that they need.

So how does an employer remove opportunity from the equation—and prevent employee embezzlement?

Be diligent: Managers and owners must have their hands in the business. Know where records are kept, and review them regularly. Are bills or checks outstanding? Are invoices missing? Be an authorized signer on bank accounts, and review activity and statements online. Keep tabs on petty cash, deposit slips, and profit and loss statements.

Listen: Don’t discount when customers complain about double billing—it could be a sign that checks are being detoured to an employee’s account. And if employees report suspicious behavior among their ranks, deal with it immediately. Let employees know you trust them, and care about their job satisfaction. Nip bad attitudes in the bud.

Pay Attention: Employees who regularly offer to work overtime are either great to have, or a potential problem. But what about when the workload doesn’t require it? Staying late with no supervision—especially for an employee with access to cash and financial records—is something embezzlers do.  Embezzlers also spend money they don’t earn—so watch for signs of spending above salary should allow. Driving a new car, showing off expensive jewelry or bragging about trips and pricey restaurants are potential warnings.

Screen employees: Pre-employment background screening is critical to prevent fraud. But don’t stop there—occasional screening for established employees who have access to fiduciary information is also essential.

Employers don’t need to be paranoid about employee fraud. Reasonable safeguards and common sense supervision of employees is often all that is needed to prevent embezzlement. But even the sharpest managers have been fooled by embezzlers—and it can happen to any business.