Employee Engagement Starts with the Manager

Only 30% of U.S. workers are engaged in their work, according to Gallup's "State of the American Workplace" report (Gallup, 10/2013). That means only 3 out of every 10 of your employees are aligned with your organization's values and actively working toward executing company goals. "Engagement" has become a buzzword and might seem too vague or ambiguous to make much of a tangible impact, but a host of respected business resources have proven the direct correlation between engagement and productivity. Motivated employees generate 40% more profit (Taleo, 6/2012) and are more loyal to their employers. Only 18% of highly engaged employees said they were likely to leave their company within the next two years compared to 40% for disengaged employees. (Towers Watson, 6/2012).

Clearly, every company should strive to build an engaged workforce. The best strategy for enhancing engagement is by improving the relationship between employees and their managers. Managers have the single biggest impact on an employee's engagement, being accountable for 70% of variance in employee engagement (Harvard Business Review, 3/13/14). A great manager can transform an employee's mindset from "I'm willing to do the job I'm asked to do" to "I am driven to execute goals and produce results."

An exceptional manager will build a focused, productive team; a poor manager will have employees that sabotage the work or simply check out on the job. Using the 3 strategies below, managers can engage their workforce and build a staff that generates more and sticks around longer.

  1. Communicate expectations of excellence -- Setting low expectations is a self-fulfilling prophecy; if a manager expects low quality, they will probably get it. But if a manager expects excellence, communicates those expectations to employees, and involves their teams in crafting a vision and setting realistic goals, people will rise to the occasion.
  2. Focus effort on work that has a purpose -- Employees that understand the purpose behind their work find the work more interesting and desirable. Understanding why their work matters and how it has an impact will help employees fully "buy-in" to their job.
  3. Allow autonomy when possible -- Autonomy is the opposite of micro-management. When they are able, managers should allow employees flexibility in their scheduling, timing, and methodology. Granting sovereignty increases employee trust in their manager and ownership over the final results.

    Readers: How have you seen managers affect employee engagement? Have you ever seen a great manager inspire their team? How about a poor manager who de-motivates their whole staff?

Avoiding Discrimination Claims

Would you have guessed that nationwide, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had an estimated 93,727 individual filings in 2013? These discrimination claims can cover any of the protected categories, such as sex, race, or religion. This translates to extra costs, paperwork, and innumerable headaches for employers. According to Jon Hyman's column "The Practical Employer" (Workforce.com, 6/19/14), it can cost an employer up to $250,000 to take a case to a jury trial, and that doesn't include the cost of a settlement, which may be much more.

We all want to enjoy a workplace that is free from discrimination, and there are things managers can do to prevent claims. During the hiring process and on the job, the employees' protected rights should be at the forefront of consciousness. By following some of these best practices, the hassle of lost time and money due to claims can be reduced or prevented.

It should go without saying that during the interview process, managers must treat all candidates fairly. Questions that might seem harmless when making conversation might veer off and become inappropriate. Personal questions that delve into family planning should be avoided. According to "Conducting Job Interviews" (NOLO.com), asking a female candidate her plans about having children could lead her to believe that she experienced gender discrimination if she does not get the job. Even if the conversation is friendly, be mindful of the way a candidate might interpret the question.

A good policy, according to "Avoid Disability Discrimination When Hiring New Employees" (NOLO.com), is to ask questions that make sure that the candidate is able to do the job for which they are applying. These are questions that focus on abilities, rather than disabilities, or other factors. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects workers during an interview and specifies the types of questions employers should not ask (EEOC.gov).

Once the candidate is on the job, the manager should set a good example by following the laws and maintaining a discrimination-free workplace. A big step in avoiding claims is to make sure that employees are comfortable reporting issues before they escalate into official claims. Managers should not engage in discriminatory behaviors, and exercising an open-door policy is helpful to allow employees to voice their concerns. If an issue comes to light, actions can be taken to stop what is happening before it persists. If a complaint does reach the ears of the Human Resources Department, they can assist with how handle the situation before it further escalates.

Keep clear documentation of the facts, such as notes that you take during the hiring process, and honest reviews of the employees' work; this information may be needed later and should be kept accordingly. Keeping records about any incidents is also a good idea. Do not delete messages or misplace computer files that you may be called upon to provide. It is best to be organized ahead of time.

While a fool-proof anti-discrimination system doesn't exist, obvious pitfalls can be avoided. Provide basic Human Resources training to employees and let them know what is expected to keep interactions lawful. HR Training materials, either videos or written handouts, model acceptable workplace behavior. Innocent comments or conversations can be perceived differently by a person in a protected class. A little prevention goes a long way, and the sooner that managers become aware of any problems, the sooner that steps can be taken to make the situation right for everyone.

Readers: Did your company provide you with training for ensuring a discrimination-free workplace?

State of the Economy and June 2014 Jobs Report

The U.S. economy has seen tough times over the past few years, and speculation as to its health and recovery is in the news every day because Americans want to know how secure their jobs are, what they will be able to afford for themselves and their families, and what to expect for the future of their dollars. In recent weeks and months, optimism for the health of our economy has seemed to wane.

For the past two years, our economic growth rate has remained at a measly 2 percent. Economists were confident at the beginning of this year that we would finally boost that growth to 3 percent, but in mid-June, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reduced its estimate of 2.7 percent growth for 2014 to 2 percent (Bloomberg.com, 6/16/14). Although employers have added many jobs over the past few months, the long winter placed a strain on several industries, and experts are worried that climate change could present even more challenges to economic projections in the coming years.

Some experts say that the economy is doomed to never fully recover from the Great Recession in 2008. While it would seem as though the economy has rebounded greatly, the truth is that salaries and household incomes have not risen in years and many are still unemployed despite growing numbers of jobs added each month. Other economists maintain that full recovery is on its way, but will take more time than originally estimated due to the slow rate of growth (The New York Times, 6/11/14).

While this speculation, estimation, and evaluation continues among experts and politicians, the Economic Employment Situation for June 2014 had some unexpected positive news – with the economy creating a higher-than-expected 288,000 jobs and the unemployment rate falling to 6.1%, a six-year low. In addition, the May payroll number was revised upward.

Other news from the June Jobs Report included:

  • The number of long-term unemployed persons declined by nearly 300,000 and nearly 2% of the total unemployed.
  • Major industries with gains included professional and business services (+67,000), retail trade (+40,000), food services and drinking places (+33,000), health care (+21,000), financial activities (+17,000), transportation and warehousing (+17,000), and manufacturing (+16,000).
  • Temporary help services continued its upswing by gaining 10,000 jobs in June, which makes for a total gain of 216,000 over the past year.

Upon the news, the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke the 17,000-point barrier for the first time. Similarly, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite were in the green. Some news outlets, like CNNMoney, claimed that this report was an indication "the American jobs recovery seems to have finally hit its stride" and also noted that rising pay rates, partially spurred on by some minimum wage increases in several states, have encouraged consumer and economic optimism (CNNMoney, 7/3/14).

Traditionally, the run-up to elections causes some economic uncertainty in the nation. We'll have to see if the optimism stemming from today's Jobs Report will stay high in the coming weeks and months.

Readers: Do you think the economy has recovered as much as it can already?

Hiring and Retaining in Your Company Culture

Does your company have a very strict dress code and behavioral guidelines? How about casual dress and a flexible schedule? Every company's culture is unique and there are nuances that will dictate which types of people will be comfortable – and happy – working on your team. Some employees prefer a very structured environment while for others, flexibility in dress, hours, and environment is the highest priority. Part of your duty as a manager is to communicate effectively about your company culture during the hiring process as well as manage these expectations with your team on a long-term basis.

Finding a new employee with the right skills and experience is important, but perhaps even more critical is hiring someone who will fit in. Hiring and training new employees takes time and effort, and it's hard enough knowing whether someone will be able to manage the tasks assigned to him after a few hours of interview conversation. Save yourself – and your new employee – the headache of creating additional turnover by eliminating as many of the unknowns as you can.

For example, it is easy to find candidates that would like to wear casual clothes to work every day, but what if your office wears business formal clothing every day? This is something your candidates would all like to know, and they will not often remember to ask about such details in the interview. As the hiring manager, you should be proactive about communicating these expectations upfront. Most candidates put on their best clothes for interviews but may not assume this is how they expect to dress every day. If your company requires suits and tailored dresses, mention it to those you interview when you are discussing details about the job. After all, your new employee will be spending a lot of time at the office, and some candidates will not wish to go further in the hiring process if they hear of a strict dress code.

Another expectation that should be communicated early on is the schedule and general social behavior expected of all employees. If you did not already include it in the job posting, the hours should be discussed in the interview. If your company hires those who can come into the office from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and flexible schedules are not an option, explain that early on. That way, someone who needs to leave every day by 3:00 to pick up their kids can remove themselves from consideration. Some offices also have guidelines for when to take lunches, when to speak with coworkers throughout the day, and what personal work can and cannot be done during the work day. Make this clear upfront.

Once you are confident that you have hired individuals who fit within your company's culture, take steps to ensure that they stay satisfied or else risk being blind-sided by employees leaving. One way to do this would be to take an employee satisfaction survey once or twice a year. This would allow employees to be honest about how the culture is working for them. You can even approach your higher-ups if you see trends and think some policies may be worth changing.

Another way to stay up-to-date on how your employees feel about company culture is to watch and listen. If your company wears business formal clothing, but Ted keeps showing up in sneakers or without a coat, he may be dissatisfied with the dress code even if he agreed to it early on. If he uses your conversation as a chance to complain, you could ask him if he is planning to abide by the code or if he has considered leaving over this policy. At least you would be prepared in case he decides that it is a deal-breaker. Other policies, such as the schedule, may prove more difficult for certain employees than they had originally thought. If this seems to be the case with any cultural policy at your workplace, speaking with these employees can help you and your senior leadership decide what policies may have room for improvement, or in some cases, which employees may not be the best fit.

Of course, you want high-performing staff members who can do a great job for your company, but even the best and brightest may not be happy with your company's culture. This is why it is best to be very transparent while hiring and enforce policies with your current employees equally, and if you feel your company's policies are in line, you can build a talented team that appreciates the culture too.

Readers: Would you work for a company whose culture was very different from what you prefer? What would make you overlook a culture that wasn't what you'd choose?

Managing During Employee Turnover

The time has come for one of your employees to move on to a better opportunity, move away to a new town, or even to quit out of the blue with no notice or idea of what went wrong. The joys of managing a great team sometimes come with these uncomfortable times of employee turnover, and it's your job to make sure the show goes on around your office as well as find someone new for the open position. This is never an easy process, but we have some tips for helping you get through this tough time.

Hopefully your employee leaving will give you at least two weeks' notice, which is the courteous thing to do. However, there are times when this is not possible. If illness, a family emergency, or another unexpected circumstance occurs, your employee may not be able to let you know in advance. Try to be understanding in this situation. Some employees will simply quit and leave right away. If that does happen, there is not much you can do, so avoid being angry as it will waste your time and energy. In cases of short notice, post your open position immediately or ask your staffing company to help you find someone for an urgent need. By now, you probably have some employees cross-trained on this person's job duties, so have them prioritize helping to cover this shortage for a few weeks. For tips on preparing for office absences, planned or unplanned, view our post from last year about documenting responsibilities (TradePost, 6/27/13).

For those employees who are able or considerate enough to give you two or more weeks' notice, talk with them about a priority list of things they can accomplish before they leave. If there is a big project Ben has been working on for a few weeks and you need that to be finished, make that a first priority. To put yourself in the best situation here, have a list of "Need to haves" and then a list of "Nice to haves." That way, the important things can get done, but he can help more if time permits. Don't forget to have your exiting employee pass off anomalies and inconsistencies that go along with the job. If Sally has encountered some special circumstances in her role, make sure that she documents these and cross-trains her back-up on these before leaving.

After you have squared away your team with their extra job duties during the transitional time, take a look at your schedule. By now, you have probably received a call from your staffing provider and have seen some résumés from them or from your online posting. You are beginning the hiring process, so make sure that you have a great handle on what your schedule looks like. Some meetings or projects may have to take a back seat for the next week or two as you schedule interviews and meet with your best candidates. As you interview candidates, it will be enticing to find someone as quickly as possible, even if they are not the best fit. Remember that some employee turnover is actually caused by the lack of a thorough hiring process, so do not put your team in the situation to lose someone again soon – it will be uncomfortable to spend extra time finding the right person, but it will pay off in the long run.

Finally, in times of employee turnover, emotions can run high. Remember to keep calm and to help your staff stay calm by providing plenty of guidance and reminders that it is a transition that will not last long. Do your best to find the right person for your open position and to be understanding of your exiting employee. This is not an easy time, but if you remain grounded during this process, your team can make a smooth transition.

Readers: What is your first thought when a team member quits?

Smart Recruiting Techniques

TradePost recently discussed the change in the hiring market that shows job seekers becoming more confident again as the unemployment rate drops and many industries continue to add jobs (TradePost, 5/22/14). Fewer job seekers are responding to each job posting, so many companies are going to further lengths to fill their open positions. More strategic recruiting is needed at this time, and some companies are making the process easier for candidates so as to attract passive talent as well as those currently seeking new jobs.

There are still hiring managers who believe that they will receive at least a few good résumés for any position for which they advertise. This might be true, but it depends heavily on where it is advertised, the area where the job is located, and the level of the position. If you have ever advertised an entry-level position, you likely received many more interested applicants as the job has few necessary qualifications. However, have you tried advertising for a high-level or specialist position? If so, you probably received a couple or few very qualified applications along with some inquiries that led to nothing.

How are companies finding these talented professionals, whether they are less experienced or high-level superstars? One major way is through mobile recruiting. Now all of the major career sites have mobile apps, mobile-friendly layouts, and they offer a way to stay connected with job alerts. Many companies, including The Select Family of Staffing Companies, have jumped on this bandwagon and have seen great success – a recent study by Glassdoor reports that 89% of job seekers use their mobile devices to search for new jobs (Glassdoor, 5/13/14).

Another recruiting technique is to look for talent where you already know talent. Many companies are asking for employee referrals and often will not post a job until they have already looked for qualified candidates with which their own employees are acquainted. Some companies, especially staffing agencies, also keep a database of qualified applicants should they have a new position open up. Zappos, an online shoe retailer, has decided to do just this so that they will have a community of applicants already interested in the company (NextAvenue.org, 6/3/14). This will make it easy for them to search résumés depending on the jobs that open.

Finally, the best recruiting technique used by companies that locate top talent is to use real recruiters. Many large corporations use a faction of their Human Resources departments specifically for recruiting, but smaller companies that do not need full-time recruiters often look to temporary agencies to help fill their needs. Recruiters are highly trained and experienced professionals with one job – to find great people! Those companies should already be up on the latest recruiting techniques so they can get candidates in front of you faster.

Recruiting talent can be difficult to do. There are so many job seekers that may have the qualifications you want, but finding them is not easy. As technology advances and job searching changes, staying up to date on recruiting is the mark of a great company. Also remember that polishing your company reputation is key when searching for new employees. For tips on maintaining that shiny image in the eye of the public, see our recent post, Managing Your Online Reputation.

Readers: How were you recruited for your current company?

May 2014 Jobs Report

The United States economy added 217,000 jobs in May while the unemployment rate remained at 6.3%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Situation Summary. The number of long-term unemployed persons remained at about 3.4 million and accounted for 34.6% of the total unemployed.

Major industries with gains in May included professional and business services (+55,000), health care and social assistance (+55,000), food services drinking places (+32,000), and transportation and warehousing (+16,000). Temporary help services continued its upswing by gaining 14,000 jobs in May, which makes for a total gain of 224,000 over the past year.

Although manufacturing did not add a significant number of jobs this past month, its gain of 105,000 jobs over the past year is promising. Other industries, such as mining and logging, construction, retail, and government employment changed very little during the month of May.

Managing Your Online Reputation

Have you Googled your company recently? What did you see? It is likely that someone has written some reviews about your business, and there are several platforms on which to do so. Google, Yelp!, Yahoo, and even Facebook are just a few of the sites consumers use to rate your business. With online reviews becoming more accessible and prevalent, businesses are beginning to implement strategies for managing their reputations online.

According to a recent study, 85% of consumers read online reviews to determine whether or not they will use a local business or service (BrightLocal, 2013). This means that at least a few customers are likely to be driven away if your online reputation is less than stellar. Unfortunately, disgruntled customers are often the most likely to leave a review online.

Luckily, strategies to help your business combat these negative reviews can also increase your business potential in the age of online sharing. The first strategy is to drown out the negative with lots of positive. The more positive recent reviews there are, the less likely a consumer is to judge your business solely on the negative reviews. In order to determine where your business needs work online, figure out where consumers are reviewing your business. You can do so by Googling your business name and by looking up your company on popular review sites (Hubspot, 10/23/12).

One way to gain positive reviews is to ask your loyal customers to consider writing a review. Encourage them to do this on the sites where you have the most negative comments. That said, be aware that many of these review sites will take down positive reviews if they seem solicited. Do not pay your customers for these reviews. The idea is not to bribe, but to receive honest, good feedback from those who love your business. You can also invite new customers to write reviews based on their first transaction with your company. If they are satisfied, they will likely have some great things to say.

Next, consider a strategy for responding to negative reviews. You should address these concerns directly and with professionalism. If you have a public relations employee or department, this could be a great job for them as they will know how to handle unhappy customers diplomatically. Invite these people to email more information to a customer service email and state that you are happy to address their concerns and would like to remedy the situation as best you can. Do not fall into the trap of defending your business in an aggressive manner; that is more of a turn-off to potential consumers than the negative review itself!

Finally, the best way to improve your reputation online is to fully understand where your customers are unsatisfied and fix the problems. If there is a common theme of poor phone customer service for your business, spend some time training the employees who answer the phones and offer incentives for excellent customer service. If your product is the chief complaint, reevaluate your current materials and services. Listening to your customers and adapting to their needs is the best way to build a loyal consumer base.

Your online reputation can change quickly, and it may be difficult to keep up with this aspect of your business. But if you spend the right amount of time and care on this situation, your company can see an excellent boost in new and returning business. Remember, your customers are not always right about their opinions, but what they say can alter the perception of many in the online community. Take this into consideration and approach online reviewers with care and professionalism.

Readers: Have you written a negative review online in the past 6 months?

Negotiating with Generation Y

We have looked recently at how the market is changing again from an employer's market to a job seeker's market. Today's most promising young workers have more options, leading them to be able to negotiate more and find their preferred working situations (TradePost, 5/22/14). As the pendulum swing gains momentum, employers are seeing more requests and negotiations that reflect different needs from this younger generation.

While older generations have negotiated for more money, vacation time, and better work hours to accommodate their families, workers from Generation Y have different goals in mind. This generation is the first to grow up in a world where environmental and social responsibilities were mainstream concerns for the American population. With a turn toward transparent business practices leading to demands for more ethical policies, the younger generation has jumped on this bandwagon, and it's likely to stay that way. These younger folks are looking for companies where they can feel fulfilled in their lives as a whole. For them, it often means greener practices, better efforts to contribute to humanitarian goals, and more tolerant social behavior from businesses. The availability of information online and the quick spread of news regarding businesses' shining moments (as well as their faux pas) has helped the younger generation to identify companies they aspire to join (or avoid).

However, this is not the only change, and it is certainly not just younger people that want to work for these companies offering more personal fulfillment. "Millennials" are also looking for smaller perks. Money is not the only motivator anymore, and this may be due to the fact that they have grown up in an economy where they cannot count on companies to offer much in terms of salary. Instead, they are asking for things that are valuable, but do not cost much, such as flexible work hours, the ability to work at home, and casual dress codes.

While this difference in negotiation terms seems to be a recent trend, it is not as new as you'd think. Typically, older and more experienced candidates have negotiated for these requests too. They have just waited until they were further along in their careers to do so. The real change is that younger and less experienced candidates are asking for these perks upfront, before they've proven themselves to be worthy of them. It is no surprise that talented young candidates are asking for these things, as companies like Google and Apple are offering these benefits to all employees, regardless of experience level. While the older generation may feel it is unreasonable to have some of these requests, the younger generation disagrees – and that may be okay. Some of the requests may seem impossible to hiring managers, such as sabbaticals and low-interest home loans. Many companies cannot promise remote working arrangements or a change in dress code just for these younger candidates either.

However, it may be wise for companies to begin meeting some of these requests. More conservative companies may have a more difficult time recruiting and retaining talented young employees if they do not offer some of these workplace perks. But with every problem, the answer is almost always moderation, and the road to attracting and keeping young driven candidates may be as simple as revamping just part of your benefit and perk structure. McConnell HR Consulting's "Creating an Attractive Workplace for Young Professionals" details what this younger generation wants out of companies and how to implement some of them. Hiring managers may also want a refresher on how to manage Gen Y once they're on board (TradePost, 9/5/13).

While there are many companies whose traditional practices may need to stay in place, employers must be aware of the changes that occur when we are in a job seeker's market. You may have to recruit more heavily and be willing to negotiate some perks for candidates in order to attract top talent to your open positions.

Readers: Does your company offer any unusual perks, such as bus passes or catered lunches?

Whose Market Is It?

Last week, TradePost discussed how to interview and hire new graduates, many of whom have unpolished interview skills but are eager to learn and produce for you. However, these eager new employees may have more of an upper hand than hiring managers think. With the unemployment rate falling to 6.3% in April, the lowest rate since Fall 2008, job seekers are finding themselves with more choices than in the past few years.

Now, we are not completely out of this scenario. While the economy has improved greatly, the drop in the unemployment rate has still been slow in coming. Many employers are still apprehensive about hiring new employees, especially if they have found a way to get all of their work completed with fewer staff members over the past few years.

So, whose market is this? The answer is that we are in transition. On one hand, we see more companies making plans to hire recent graduates (USA Today, 4/24/14). However, we do still see uncertainty by employers regarding economic growth and the continuing political landscape (EconoMonitor, 05/20/14).

In the current situation where things are getting better, but while we have still not fully recovered from the recent recession, trends are emerging and hiring managers can be aware of them. First, it is likely that while your company may have received a very high volume of responses to job postings in the last few years, you will now receive fewer résumés for positions that you post, and responses may be delayed as job seekers are taking time to think about available positions before applying rather than applying to any posting that seems feasible.

Also, after receiving those responses and conducting interviews, job seekers are more likely to negotiate salary and benefits upfront. While you could count on at least one of your preferred candidates to accept an offer without too much negotiation in recent months and years, this is changing as those same preferred candidates are now more likely to have offers from other companies. Some of your candidates may even be negotiating with more than one company at once!

Finally, do not be surprised if you offer a candidate the position with a fully competitive salary and with benefits and they still turn it down. Your first choice may be someone else's first choice as well. Or perhaps he or she still has a job and does not feel that your offer warrants leaving the current position. You may be contacting your second-choice candidates more often in the coming months.

Finally, do not be surprised if you offer a candidate the position with a fully competitive salary and with benefits and they still turn it down. Your first choice may be someone else's first choice as well. Or perhaps he or she still has a job and does not feel that your offer warrants leaving the current position. You may be contacting your second-choice candidates more often in the coming months.

Readers: Have you experienced any of these recent changes when hiring for your last position?

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