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?

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?

Security is Everyone’s Responsibility

This week, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel resigned in the fallout of the major security breach Target experienced this past year as many consumers' credit card information was compromised. By stepping down, Steinhafel has effectively taken the blame for this incident; however, this kind of security is an area for which every company employee is responsible. With viruses such as the recent Heartbleed and many consumers shopping, banking, and placing personal information online, the reality is that potential security breaches are all around us and we can all help to stop them.

Security has changed greatly over the years. Small companies may have only used a few computers in decades past, and only certain members of the company may have had access to records including personal information. The Internet was less mature, and online stores of information were hardly mainstream. Now, even the smallest companies have online stores for products and collect personal information from consumers. This change in the way we collect and store information has opened us up to hackers who know how to target small and large companies as well as those who prey on those who work remotely and in public spaces so that they can tap into a network more easily.

Even your least tech savvy employees can help identify security issues. Suspicious emails and phone calls should always be reported to your company's team that handles IT or security. They can investigate these potential threats carefully. Train your staff to be careful when opening mail from an unrecognized source. You should include your company's privacy policy in emails sent to those outside of the company. Be very cautious about clicking links in emails from any source. You can hold a special training for your staff to discuss issues that may arise in the form of emails, phone calls, and general website activity. For more ideas on what to be aware of online and for training your staff, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has created this webpage for cyber security tips for small businesses.

If your company has an online store or any forms where you collect personal information, encrypt these pages. Go ahead and spring for that better security package. Your customers will appreciate your attention to their safety online, and you will spend less on potential security breaches down the line. Include your privacy policy on all web pages that collect information and be sure to have answers ready for customers if they email in with questions regarding the safety of your site.

While we cannot predict how technology will change over the next few years and can certainly not predict what new ways some people will come up with to invade your company's security, we can at least learn from the current security issues facing businesses today. In many cases, a well-trained staff could have made a huge difference. Making security a top priority could save your business time, money, and customers in the future, so get started on instituting policies and procedures now!

Readers: Does your company have an online security policy? Are all staff members trained on that policy?

Open Office Plans – Good or Bad?

As a manager, you are tasked with figuring out the most productive use of space in your office as well as helping your staff feel comfortable enough in their spaces to get great work done for your business. With the rising cost of real estate as well as company growth, the idea for the open office plan sprung up as a good way to cut down on space needed and promote transparency and collaboration. Now most offices have at least a few cubicles or sections where coworkers have workstations out in the open. In celebration of National Cubicle Day, we would like to examine the potential downsides to having an open office plan.

Space-sharing increases noise levels among your staff members. If each person within a five cubicle space makes two calls per day, that is ten calls that each person in that area will have to be part of or hear in the background at best. In an office, one may close the door or have much more insulation when it comes to outside noises, leading to better concentration for many. We all know that losing focus is not remedied immediately when the distraction disappears – it can take several minutes just to get your mind refocused on the task at hand! That may be hours of productivity your staff is losing every day.

Having some sort of privacy in one's space may also help your employees feel more engaged and exercise more autonomy. Whether or not you are goofing off, someone constantly looking over your shoulder or hearing every word of your conference calls can make you feel as though you are doing something wrong or that you are not trusted to complete your work without someone sitting right next to you. Those employees that have more space to themselves may feel more valued while they work, leading to better engagement and higher productivity.

Close quarters for many offices can pose health problems too. When employees have their own offices or larger spaces, they are less likely to spread germs to coworkers. Even though it is better for your sick employees to stay home, they may not realize they are sick or may still make the decision to come into work for the day. In that case, open offices are much more likely to have many coworkers spread the illness quickly.

These are some serious drawbacks to open office plans or close quarters involving cubicles or shared offices. However, as a manager you can decide what is best for your staff with limited space and resources. For example, you may have two or three people on your team that have very similar job duties and remain mostly quiet throughout the day. If that is the case, having a shared space between those coworkers can prove beneficial as collaboration is more likely to be necessary. It may not be best to group together a few staff members who are always on the phone or who have to move around the office often as this can cause many distractions for those sitting near them.

Although there are many pros and cons to each side of the space-sharing argument, you may have a unique situation that would benefit greatly from an open office option. If that is the case and you must or wish to group coworkers, pay careful attention to job duties, personalities, and workplace types. Be prepared to be flexible if a situation is not working out. This doesn't necessarily mean that your team members are being difficult, but they may need a change of scenery at the office in order to do a great job. You can also take precautions against health concerns by having your employees clean their work stations each week with disinfectant, and you can offer a great plan with sick days and manager understanding so that your employees that share space can be considerate of their team members. In short, there may be some less than desirable side-effects to open offices, but these may be easily fixed with the proper attention from you!

Readers: Do you sit in some sort of open office plan at work? How do you feel about your space?

How Green Is Your Business?

With companies like Apple, Tesla, and Continental Airlines making headlines with their initiatives to cut down their carbon footprints, smaller businesses often forget just how much they can do to reduce waste and emissions at their offices. Sure, Apple can afford solar panels that cover a staggering area, but perhaps the daily changes your business can make can place you in the same category of caring for the future of our earth. In celebration of Earth Day, we want you to test your business's environmental impact by inviting you to take our quiz to find out how green you really are.

Each time you answer All the time to a question below, give yourself 4 points. If you answer Sometimes, give yourself 2 points, and if you answer Never, give yourself 0 points. Add your score at the end to determine your "Green" rating according to TradePost!

  1. My office uses solar panels.
  2. We print emails only when necessary.
  3. We use recycled paper and other office materials.
  4. We have energy efficient sinks or we turn the faucet all the way off to prevent dripping.
  5. We have motion detector lights in rooms that are frequently unoccupied.
  6. We print on both sides of the paper.
  7. We recycle all recyclable materials.
  8. We use high efficiency toilets.
  9. We invoice clients and pay vendors electronically.
  10. We hire local candidates only, allow our commuters to work from home, or facilitate carpools for commuters.
  11. We use heat and air conditioning only when necessary.
  12. We pack items in smaller containers for shipping.
  13. Our company vehicle is a hybrid or electric model.
  14. We properly dispose of batteries and other toxic waste.
  15. We keep a company garden and/or compost.
  16. We have energy-efficient appliances in our break room.
  17. We use our own mugs for coffee and dishes for food rather than paper products.
  18. We discuss new environmental efforts in staff meetings.
  19. We do community service projects that benefit the environment.
  20. We have environmentally minded employees.

Now score yourself!

0 to 30 points – Not so green.
Your office is busy, and it is tough to make time to pay attention to the environment. However, you should consider putting forth a little more effort as some of these things will save you money in the long run. Start with the easy ones – like reducing paper use and recycling – and build from there.

31 to 60 points – Doing fairly well.
You may not have solar panels or a hybrid vehicle, but you and you staff do try to reduce waste and help the earth. Keep going and soon your business will be a real friend of the environment!

61 to 80 points – Green Superstars!
Your staff really knows how to be conscious of our great planet. You're doing a lot as a business owner or manager and you should keep up the good work!

Being green doesn't mean that you have to keep up with every latest option for your space or never print an email. It just means that you and your staff are working toward reducing the amount of waste at your office and helping to save a great environment for our children and their children. If you need more tips on how to make your workplace more environmentally friendly, read this great article from Office Depot!

Readers: What green effort are you most proud of at your workplace?

March 2014 Jobs Report

The unemployment rate remained stable at 6.7% in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Situation Summary. Some 192,000 jobs were added to nonfarm payrolls, making March another month of little change for the United States' employment situation.

Several industries added jobs in March with the most notable being professional and business services (+57,000). Within that category, temporary help services added 29,000 jobs. Health care also added 19,000 jobs, while food services and drinking places (+30,000) and construction (+19,000) also had substantial gains.

Government employment as well as manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information, and financial activities remained unchanged from February.

The Real Reason behind Unequal Pay

This week on April 1, 2014, the Paycheck Fairness Act had yet another hearing in the Senate (click here for the recording). Although this bill has been killed twice before by Congress, both in 2010 and again in 2012, it has been brought before the Senate again as its sponsors feel that more progress must be made toward equal pay. Although the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act has helped fight pay discrimination, Democrats feel there is more to ensuring that workers are paid equally for equal work. In anticipation of Equal Pay Day, which falls this year on April 8 and symbolizes how far into 2014 a woman must work to catch up to her male colleagues' pay from 2013, TradePost would like to again bring to light the real issue of unequal pay in the workplace.

Many opponents to this bill have claimed reasons why the statistics on the wage gap are faulty. Some have argued that women tend to enter into careers that pay less out of a need for comfort, such as clerical work, and that they tend to do less dangerous or uncomfortable work, such as construction. Another reason some claim that women are paid less overall is that they take jobs that are flexible enough to allow for child-bearing and more time off for family commitments. Therefore, many claim, women are as a whole paid less than men due to their own choices.

While many women do gravitate toward careers that pay less in general, it would be dismissive to say that the pay gap has nothing to do with on-the-job discrimination. We have cited before the statistics of women who hold leadership and government positions, which are dramatically unequal to men (TradePost, 4/14/11). It is not likely that most women have no desire to rise to a leadership position, and this statistic more likely reflects discrimination than merely a choice to work jobs that have less responsibility.

There is also the concern from opponents that pay gap statistics are not comparing women and men who do the same job at the same level, but that is also incorrect. According to a recent blog article, an experienced lawyer tells her story of pay discrimination in a job offer (Huffington Post, 3/28/14). Women in male-dominated fields also still earn less (American Association of University Women, 3/10/14). Finally, statistics prove that women's earnings are less than their male colleagues in almost every position, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While there is a great deal of data about pay rates and gender as well as other factors that have been studied, such as minority status, family size, and education, it is clear that there is still gender discrimination, and it does not stop at pay. In fact, lower pay for women may be the product of a more implicit and elusive form of discrimination, which is that employers simply do not help women in their companies advance, or they may not hire them at all. Some employers have cited that they do not want to go through the hiring process again if a woman becomes pregnant and needs time off for maternity leave. So, while it is true that women may more often take jobs that pay less, there are reasons that have made those decisions necessary as it seems less likely that women will be considered for jobs where there is more responsibility.

The Fair Paycheck Act would seek to better protect workers who discuss their pay with each other as well as allow women and men to inquire about salary information at their workplaces without the fear of retaliation. If this bill passes, it would be another step in the right direction. However, the more grim bias against women that still exists in many industries is keeping women out of jobs and positions of leadership altogether. Until Americans address this as a social issue, no amount of legislation will ensure complete protection to women.

Readers: Have you witnessed or experienced gender discrimination at work or during a company's hiring process? Share your story with us!

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