Thursday, May 28, 2009

Employee Attitude or Management Attitude? Or Both?

Kris Dunn's great riff on customer service attitude at Enterprise Rent-a-Car reminded me of a topic I was going to post on a couple of weeks ago. Cathy Martin, writer of Profitability Through Human Capital, and I were talking about grocery shopping. We both shop at Kroger and Publix. Both are fine companies and I have shopped at both. Currently I spend most of my grocery shopping time at Publix with occassional trips to Kroger for special items. It used to be the reverse. I tell you this so you can tell that I have had a lot of time to compare the two stores.

To me there is a palpable difference in "attitude" of the workers, primarily the cashiers and baggers. At Publix everyone I have encountered is friendly, sometimes chatty, always nice. The baggers almost always offer to carry your bags out to the car (lest you think this is for money they do NOT receive tips for this.) They are efficient as well, and in a few cases run to exchange items for you if you did not get the right item. I have never heard them complain about their work schedules or even talk about when they are getting off.

At the Kroger I did my primary shopping at the case was not the same. They were friendly enough when I spoke to them, as I am want to do, but most the times they did not speak first. And in some instances I got nothing but "bad news" when I asked how they were that day. I have heard numerous conversations about when shifts ended and how ready people were to get off work. And I have never heard anyone offer to carry groceries out to a car. Now I am not saying these people were bad employees or the store was a bad store. I have had similar experiences in multiple stores.

The difference seems to be the "ATTITUDE". What can I attribute this to? I feel that the difference is tied to the following: Publix is employee owned and non-union. Kroger is heavily unionized, though not all locations I believe, and employees are just employees. Publix managers treat workers like fellow owners and realize that mistreatment may make them susceptible to unions, something Publix ardently tries to avoid. Kroger managers treat employees like employees and much of that interaction and training is tied up in the fact that the union-management relationship is an adversarial one. If you are trained to see your employee as an adversary that will certainly have an effect on the relationship and thus the attitude of the employee. On the converse holds too. Publix employees have a personal stake in the company's success. For many Kroger employees it just comes across as "a job."

I realize I am "broad brushing" here and we can probably all find examples that run contrary to my statements here, but as a general statement others agree with this assessment.

So what do you think it is? The attitudes of the employees, or the managers or a combination?
Do you feel the same thing? Do your customers feel this when they walk into your establishment?
Tell me your experiences or similar stories of other establishments.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Paid Sick Time: Soon To Be Mandated

I don't have a problem with paid sick time. Every place I have ever worked offered it, at least to full time workers. We offer it at our company even though we only have 13 employees. Most of my clients offer it as well. Research has shown that 80% of employers do so. So I am not about to argue against sick time, what I do not like is MANDATED BY THE GOVERNMENT SICK TIME. The House of Representatives has introduced the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 2460).

This new bill will mandate that all employers with 15 or more employees be required to accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked up to 56 hours, or 7 days. This is generally more sick time than most small companies allot, which in my experience is 5 days. So an additional cost to employers. Workers would begin accruing the time immediately and could take it as soon as their 60th day of employment. They can take this time for the following reasons:

  • Their own physical or mental illness, injury or medical condition.

  • To obtain medical care, including preventive care.

  • To care for, or help obtain medical care for, a child, parent, spouse or "any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is equivalent of a family relationship.

  • Absences related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, including time needed to get counseling, relocation assistance or pursuing legal action.

So in one fell swoop we have a mini-FMLA, domestic partner, violence against women law all wrapped up in one neat little package that at this time stands a very good chance of passage, at least in the House. After all who is going to argue against this? President Obama has expressed his support for the bill.

Again I am not against sick time. But not all companies can afford this mandate. People have a choice of working or not working for an employer who does not offer sick time or benefits. If you are an employee who needs benefits find an employer who offers them. Rather than forcing employers to offer this I would prefer an incentive approach as opposed to a mandated approach. Reward employers for offering better benefit packages with tax incentives rather than forcing a mandate down everyone's collective throats.

BTW, this will mean more work for the HR administrators, timekeepers, recordkeepers out there. This will have to be coordinated with all the existing laws and benefit coverages already in existance, such as FMLA. You will have to track this separately.

One last note. I believe this will also cover your part-time workers. The threshold is hours worked, not fulltime status. So as a part-timer works they will also accrue sick time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Training IS Important

Rather than recreate something I wrote on training I figured I would point you to the article written for the Atlanta Journal Constitution for the HR Roundtable. It is entitled Now Is The Time to Step-Up Training. I write about how important it is for companies to train employees and supervisors even though economic times may be tough. Sort of a "pay me now or pay me later."

So click on the link above and have an easy read.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Some Interesting Read: Pointing You To Some Other Blogs

There are some very interesting writers and blog topics that have been posted in the last couple of days. I thought I would point you to some of them (that way I don't have to get creative myself.)

  1. First is "Who Wants to See a 56-year-old stripper?" written by the Ohio Employers Law Blog. The question is asked if attractiveness should be a BFOQ. Well it is for clothing models.... sooo.....

  2. We Need a Way To Measure "People." FAST! Jason Seiden at Fistful of Talent talks about the challenges of measuring the impact of culture and people.

  3. Driving by HR offers up Social Media Policy advice. For those of you struggling with this you may want to read up.

  4. The HR Capitalist, Kris Dunn, writes Want to Keep the Job and Maybe Get Promoted? Don't Be A Victim... Kris is always a good read.

  5. Lastly, for those of you still struggling with salary budgets Ann Bares at Compensation Force offers great information in 2009 Salary Budget Increases: The Latest.

Within an hour or less you will be educated in 5 different areas and have usable knowledge in HR. Check them out.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Healthcare Reform: Get In On the Debate

Ann Bares over at Compensation Force posted on HR Pros: Make Your Voice Heard in the Healthcare Reform Debate. This is a call for "people in the know" to have some input on the legislative process. READ THIS and DO SOMETHING! If we do not help guide this debate we run the risk of having to deal with a MAJOR DISASTER OF A BILL.

Of course such a bill might be good for the longterm employment prospects of benefits specialists, so you decide whether you want in the fray. But for all of you who have complained in the past of NOT BEING PROACTIVE here is your opportunity.

Step up. It is ok to express an opinion. If nothing else at least study the issues.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Seven Deadly Sins At Work: Career Killers

An article on had an interesting take on toxic behavior at work. How Toxic Behavior Leads to Sinful Behavior at Work , written by Rachel Zupek, talks about a study by Dr. Mitchell Kusy and Dr. Elizabeth Holloway, authors of "Toxic Workplace! Managing Toxic Personalities and their Systems of Power." In their material they talk of bad workplace behavior in terms of the Seven Deadly sins. For those who are unaware of these sins they are ENVY, GLUTTONY, GREED, LUST, PRIDE, SLOTH AND WRATH. They give examples of each and offer solutions for overcoming these sins and recovering your career.

Here are a couple of highlights:
  • Envy: When you're envious of someone else, you naturally want to undermine his reputation and the way others gravitate toward him.

  • Gluttony: More is not always better. Though many people are eager to climb quickly up the corporate ladder, none of that will matter if you don't care whom you plow through to get to the top. "You don't need to belittle and diminish someone else for your work to be noticed. Work with your team so that you are all noticed for innovation and productivity. Make sure that you are in the lead of building a positive team climate; making everyone look good on a project will make you look good as a team player."

  • Greed: Everyone is guilty of wanting more: more money, more power and more responsibility. The problem comes when you try to use your position to punish others, demand their loyalty or take all the credit for the work that others have done.

  • Lust: Not just limited to office romance. You might lust after a nicer work space or even your boss's job. But, spending your time focused on what you don't have or others' work achievements rather than working to further your own is a sure-fire career killer.

  • Pride: You have no problem taking credit for a job well-done, even if it was a joint effort. You have the absolute belief that you're always right; you always want to be in control; and you think other people won't -- or can't -- do their jobs.

  • Sloth: If you're lazy, complacent or indifferent about your job, you're on the express train to nowhere. Just because you've been successful in the past doesn't mean that success will carry you through the rest of your career. Sloth becomes toxic when there's a continued pattern that becomes counterproductive to workplace productivity.

  • Wrath: Anger and malice benefit no one in the workplace. Harboring secret hatred or angst toward your boss, colleagues or general work environment will only create an atmosphere of negativity and abuse around you, Kusy and Holloway say.

In my HR career I have seen many of these behaviors. I find the most damaging to be the first three particularly when they are associated with the boss. It ruins morale, lowers productivity and causes expensive turnover. And unlike, sloth, often these behaviors are interpreted as a good competiveness or that "go-getter" attitude. Sloth is lazy and no one has a problem in getting rid of someone who is lazy. Being attuned to attitudes, turnover and performance metrics may help you identify when you have a problem in your company.

If you recognize yourself in this list then perhaps you may want to read Kusy & Holloway's book to get their advice on how to correct your behavior.

Tell me some of your stories about toxic employers and how destructive they have been in your organization.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Carnival Chaos: 30 HR Blogs

Over at Recruitment 2.0 you will find the Completely Random Carnival of HR. This carnival presents 30 blog posts on a wide variety of subjects including learning, metrics, strategy, swine flu, "the apology crutch" and more. Check it out by clicking the link above.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Constant Learning is the Key to Hireability

To stay employed today you not only have to have a current skill set you also have to be aquiring a new one. An article in the WSJ Online entitled Many Companies Hire as They Fire had the subtitle As Employers Adapt to Changing Terrain, Different Skill Sets Are Required. The article talked about the fact that many companies are not doing across the board cutbacks. They are selectively terminating employees who have a skill set that no longer serves the competitive purposes of the company. Yet at the same time they are letting those people go they are hiring people who have a skill set that moves the company in the direction the corporate strategy requires. An example from the story was "National Public Radio has cut more than 70 jobs and two programs since December, but is hiring for its Web site, including bloggers and online news editors." Another example was "Boeing, for instance, plans to cut roughly 10,000 jobs in 2009, including 4,500 from the commercial-airplanes unit. Those affected include thousands of contingent, administrative and support staff, as well as hundreds of hourly manufacturing workers......At the same time, Boeing has more than 1,500 current and anticipated job openings -- in various stages of recruitment -- most for mechanical, electrical, software and other engineers."

According to the article "Some experts say the churn also shows changes in workplace policies. In past decades, many employers retrained and relocated underused workers, says Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "Now they've discovered that you can restructure even faster by laying off and hiring." In a fast paced, "survival to the swift" type of global economy companies no longer have the luxury of retraining as much as they might like. They have to hire for the immediate skill set. This puts the burden of keeping ahead of the curve on the individual. You need to be a lifelong learner. You need to constantly be working at upgrading your skills, both soft and hard skills. Companies can, and should facilitate this, by offering educational opportunities to employees to enhance current skill sets and to acquire new ones. But when "push comes to shove" (click here to see what this idiom means) the individual has to take responsibility for increasing his or her own skills.

If you are in HR today and are not up on the uses of social media in the fields of recruitment, employee communication, employee relations and union organization you are behind the curve. If you are in benefits and you are not aware of discussions and movements in healthcare cost containment then you will be reactive and not proactive. If you are in global HR and are not aware of, and on top of, geopolitical changes then you are behind the curve. If you are in employee relations and you are not up-to-date with socio-economic and cultural changes then you may not be around much longer.

Learning, growing, changing and adapting is your key to success and continued employment throughout your career. As the old saying goes "If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem." This is as valid and important at 60 years of age as it at 30 years of age.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Is Lack of Training Going to Cost Your Company?

The Wall Street Journal Online today had a report on the Buffalo crash of the Colgan commuter plane that killed 50 people. The article, "Captain's Training Faulted In Air Crash That Killed 50" , indicated the pilot had been poorly trained, had failed many tests, yet the company put him back in the air. A very costly mistake. You would not think that companies would do this, yet it probably happens more often than we think.

In fact most companies make this mistake. We put supervisors and managers in positions of responsibility often with little or no training. Few have training in employment law, or labor law, or safety law, or proper interviewing or how to conduct a legal termination. We let them rely on their HR "co-pilot" to keep them out of trouble. Well that is a big mistake. They need to have a much better understanding of their duties and responsibilities in case HR is not around. Sometimes HR cannot correct a mistake that could have been prevented.

So train your supervisor and managers. Although the mistakes they make may not cost lifes they will cost money and time and possibly livelihoods. Ongoing training will often prevent a "crash and burn" incident.

BTW, the co-pilot in this deadly crash was sick and should not have been at work. Another reason to enforce rules about staying home when you cannot perform, e.g., when you have the flu.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Women's Issues: Communication, the C-Suite and Compensation

I received a newsletter the other day called Communicator's Corner, written by Sally L. Williamson. Her newsletter was entitled "WHEN THE BEST INTENTIONS LEAD TO WRONG IMPRESSIONS". (Sorry no link) In the article she makes the statement "By 2016, women are projected to receive over 60% of bachelor's degrees, 61% of master's degrees and over 53% of all doctorate and professional degrees.* The Department of Education says that women have been earning more degrees than men for over 28 years. And yet, the studies prove that women still aren't moving up the corporate structure very quickly. Last year, Catalyst updated their statistics regarding women who sit on Fortune 500 Boards and found that the percentage (less than 15%) is simply not changing." Ms. Williamson then goes on to make several observations on common impressions on why this may be occurring. These include:
  • Impression #1: A Woman Can Do Everything. There is evidence in both personal and professional lives that women can multi-task better than most men. Womea are as frustrated with their workloads and somewhere along the line sense that they need to do it all to get ahead. Men who typically learn to do a few things very well, rather than trying to do everything. Managers are often unsure of what to do with someone who insists on taking on every task. And, in fact, it doesn't take long before this good intention can turn into the impression of someone who can't delegate or who doesn't manage others well. Women who try to do everything can get left behind doing all of the little things, rather than running the big initiatives.

    Williamson's Coaching Note: Women need to hone their skills and excel at something specific, not everything. It's hard to quantify the impact on a department or project if you've done a little of everything. Instead, if you've focused on one project and managed it from start to finish, it's easier to align yourself with success.

  • Impression #2: Let's Discuss! Women frequently approach business situations with a desire to talk it through and debate all of the ideas and options, which can translate to "She talks too much." Williamson is convinced that women think out loud and men really don't! Women who get bogged down in the details by their desire to talk things out can get alienated by male counterparts.

    Williamson's Coaching Note: The ability to talk things out is a trait that women actually use to their advantage when they are in roles to facilitate or lead discussions. But, it's important to learn how to read an audience by listening first. Women need to listen first and speak last; it isn't always necessary to be heard on every topic. Your presence and non-verbal reactions often say more than your words.
  • Impression #3: I'm Tough as Nails. Often, women feel as though they have to be aggressive with their communication in the workplace in order to get ahead and be heard. Women have always been told "Don't let anyone step all over you, speak up for yourself." (My comment: Probably by other women and well meaning fathers.) I know that I've experienced that in my own career, so I'm guessing others have, as well. When a woman thinks she is being assertive, at times, it can be perceived as "She's so negative and fights everything." Sometimes, women put on boxing gloves to defend an idea without even realizing that we've stepped into the ring. Men rarely challenge ideas in meetings; they tend to take debates out into the hall. When companies want fighters, they promote the football all-star or the Navy Seal. Companies tend to promote women to bring intuitive skills and warmth to a team.

    Williamson's Coaching Note: Aggressiveness is not a trait that most people like and it's important for women to understand when they are fighting or pushing others away with their communication style. Williamson finds that women don't even realize that they're being viewed this way. By becoming more aware of these types of impressions, women gain credibility when they simply own who they have become and project a sense of confidence about what they can achieve - all before saying a word.

    Williamson concludes "Management consultants have said for years that women have natural nurturing traits that make them effective as communicators and team leaders. But, the statistics above make it clear; it's still a challenge for women to get leadership roles. Becoming aware of how good intentions can lead to wrong impressions will help women make different choices in how they communicate."

Some very good observations. Check out her site, SW&A for more information.

Along these same lines, with all the education women have today you would think we would be seeing an increase in the wages that are being paid. After all more and more women are in HR and should be able to assert some influence on "fair wages." But the increases don't seem to be coming. An alternative explanation was written about over at the Compensation Cafe by Becky Regan in her blog post Could It Simply Be Motherhood? : A Contrarian Rationale For Gender Pay Equity. This is a post that might stir up some conversation. Check it out.

Monday, May 04, 2009

SEIU Targets Banks: Union Workers Will Reform the Banking Industry

In the Sunday issue of the Atlanta Journal Constitution in the Pro/Con column there was a discussion on unionizing the banking industry. The question was whether or not unionized workers will help improve and reform the banking industry. On the PRO side, Stephen Lerner, Special Assistant to the President, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) claimed "Workers at big banks like Bank of America can play a central role in reforming an industry that puts profits over people and drove our economy into the ground." He went on further to state that to do that "...they need a voice on the job to sound the alarm and repair our economy. These are exactly the kind of workers who benefit from a union, and it is an excellent example of how having a voice on the job can significantly improve the services workers provide..." He finished his argument by saying "By allowing bank workers to form unions, they can unite to create an industry that puts consumers, workers, and our economy ahead of profits." (News flash to Mr. Lerner, profit is important for continued operation. Even a union will go out of business if does not make money in the form of dues.)

Speaking for the CON side was Peter R. Spanos, Labor & Employment Partner, Burr & Forman. He points out that "Fewer than 2 percent of all bank employees nationwide are represented by unions, with most in only about a dozen banks. The SEIU has plans to picket some banks, but their employees are not reaching out for help." He further states "Compensation and benefits run 7-8.5 percent higher at unionized banks, a serious drawback now. Union work rules and grievances could add more operational costs."

There is no doubt that some banks have had trouble. Three banks were closed just this past Friday. However, this is not because of how they treat their workers. It was poor decision making and bad lending practices. Having unionized tellers is not going to change that. In most cases people do not unionize to reform the companies for which they work. They unionize to improve their wages, benefits, working conditions and personal safety. In some cases, such as with nursing, reducing hours may have the effect of improving patient care. However, most banks do not have 24/7 working hours (in fact I don't know any that do).

It is a well documented fact that unionization increases the costs to the company or organization. It is not just the wages and benefits costs, but it is in the restricted operating environment that gets introduced. And we all know that increased costs result in increase prices. With banks that is increased fees on services. Do you really want to pay more for your ATM? Or have a service charge for talking to a teller? I think unionization will result in higher automation and fewer people. But the SEIU has targeted bank tellers, hoping, I am sure, for a passage of EFCA to make union organization easier.

So you can expect at some point to see picket signs in front of your local bank. And the next time you talk to your teller check for the union label.