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‘Tis the (flu) season! Re-thinking your company’s sick policy

‘Tis the (flu) season! Re-thinking your company’s sick policy

It’s the holiday season! But as many of us know, the holiday season is often cozied up right next to the flu season. Employees are calling in to claim sick days, while others trudge through the work day with cough drops and tissues in tow. 

In 2018, a Walgreens survey revealed that 40% of workers admit coming in to work with the flu. This year 90% of employees admit going in to work with cold or flu symptoms. Our culture’s obsession with productivity has made “workaholism” the norm. Sick days? Those are for wimps.

Even still, HR firm Career Builder recently surveyed more than 2,200 human resource professionals and 3,700 employees about their companies’ employment practices. The survey found that 40% of workers have faked a sick day in the last 12 months.

So what’s an employer to do? How do you create a sick policy where people can take care of themselves without taking advantage? 

While you will never be able to control this entirely, there are a few things your company can do to prevent these tricky situations without fostering a culture of suspicion.

Review your policy

The “sick day” concept was originally created to keep employees from abusing time off and to help track work environments in which employees were sick more frequently than other parts of the business. 

However, having designated “sick days” can often force employees to compromise their integrity. Sometimes people aren’t sick, they just need a day off. If an employee’s only way to take time off is to use a sick day, it can encourage dishonesty. Also, those who believe “sick days are for wimps,” may feel guilty taking these designated days, and end up “powering through,” potentially getting other coworkers sick in the process. 

Research shows that forming a modern, non-defined PTO policy fosters more positive workplace sentiments. Small businesses should still allocate a predetermined number of days off for their employees. However, an increasing amount of businesses are no longer using the antiquated terms “sick days” or “sick leave,” but instead defining all days off as paid time off (PTO).

You may or may not decide modern PTO is right for your company. However, if you decide to no longer differentiate between personal time and sick time, make sure this is clearly stated in your policy. Make sure your employees don’t think they will get all of their personal time in addition to sick days.

Model transparency

In today’s progressive workplace, more and more companies are putting everything in the open. This means everything from opening financial dealings to simply opening office doors. Of course, each business is different and must implement these ideas with discretion. Still, the principle is universal: face-to-face communication encourages honesty. 

If you talk openly with your employees about significant things such as work projects, compensation, and company decisions, it is more likely that your employees will talk openly with you about their family, their health and their need for time off. 

Hire honest people, include others in decision-making processes and treat all employees equally. These are just best practices in culture-making, but they inevitably affect your employees’ use of time off. If honesty is at the core of your company, it will be at the core of your time off policy as well. 

Promote prevention

A report by Stericycle found that prevention efforts—like vaccinations and hand washing—are up over the last year. And while less than half of workplaces offered flu shots as a benefit (and even fewer offered on-site vaccinations), those that do are viewed more positively by their employees.

Many organizations now host on-site vaccination clinics, allowing employees to get vaccinated without sacrificing their free time. You can contact your local pharmacy or community vaccinators to come to your workplace and administer the vaccines on site.

If having on-site vaccinations isn’t an option for you, do your best to make it easy for employees to get their flu shots elsewhere in the community. Make sure that flu shots are covered by your company’s health insurance, post a list of all local vaccination sites, and be flexible to allow your employees to leave work briefly to get a flu shot. 

You can also promote prevention by following the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s suggestions. Encourage employees to wash hands frequently, cover coughs, use hand sanitizer and avoid close contact with others during flu season. You can also stock your office with hand sanitizer, a shared medicine cabinet, orange juice, Emergen-C, tea and healthy snacks for employees. These are small but significant ways to show your employees you care. 

Encourage staying home

Despite those who take advantage, employers cannot dismiss the reality that many employees feel pressure to come to work sick. And having sick employees in the office can have serious consequences. The 2018-2019 flu season was one of the longest on record—and this year’s season has started early, meaning it could reach similar heights, according to the CDC. 

Productivity may suffer, but employers should encourage those with the flu to stay home rather than spread the virus to co-workers. Employers should review their sick time policies to see if they put undue pressure on workers to come to work ill. You may also consider remote work arrangements for appropriate positions and situations. 

Employees appreciate being treated with respect and trust. Ultimately, as an employer, it’s up to you to approve PTO arrangements and determine the validity of time off requests. However, doing everything you can to encourage health and honesty will go a long way in building the kind of workplace your employees won’t want to miss. 

Interested in learning how a PEO can aid your efforts toward building a healthy culture? Along with offering HR coaching and counseling, Servant HR frees business owners from their administrative burdens to better focus on what matters most—their people and their business. Give us a call and see how we can serve you today.

The Training and Development Your Employees Really Want

The Training and Development Your Employees Really Want

Your employees might be a little jumpy with Halloween just around the corner. However, recent research shows it’s not the spooky season that’s frightening your workers—it’s their jobs. 

A new Cornerstone report found that over half of American workers aren’t sure they have the skills to withstand a future layoff. Some economists are already forecasting a downturn after a recent spike in layoffs, and data shows employees are getting nervous. Cornerstone reports that 60% of baby boomers feel insecure with their current skill sets, especially as compared to the increasingly competitive talent market. And with the rise of new technology, workers are afraid they could lose their jobs to either more qualified employees or in some cases—to machines. 

So what is HR’s role amidst this worried workforce? How can you more effectively train your employees so they feel empowered to do their work and confident in their skills? To start, you’ll have to learn what your employees know and don’t know—and tailor your training and development programs to fit the needs of your organization.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers several key ideas for better training and development programs that actually increase employee confidence.

1. Survey your employees

The best way to get real information about organizational performance is to simply ask your employees. They know their exact pain-points and will be motivated to participate in training that specifically addresses their needs. Surveys also boost morale, as they demonstrate employer care and interest in employee development. SHRM notes the most common feedback from employee surveys is that employees want clearer work expectations and training by experts. 

2. Align training with goals

Management should define their operating goals before designing targeted programs. Specific goals might be better performance, productivity or customer satisfaction. Perhaps you need better onboarding and new-hire training so that employees can provide greater customer service. For compliance training, partner with regulatory agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (health and safety), the Department of Labor (wage and hour compliance) and the Department of Justice (harassment and discrimination training). You may consider contracting out design work in order to create more comprehensive instructional material. If you’re managing a multi-generational workforce, your goal may be to improve communication within the organization. Offer training for supervisors to improve their coaching skills and help develop a healthier work culture. 

3. Ingrain it into your culture

Speaking of healthier work culture, consider implementing a “life-long learner” philosophy that focuses on employee satisfaction. When making promotion decisions, give preference to employees who have completed training and performed well. A promotion should be one of the rewards for their efforts, as it answers the employee question, “What’s in it for me?” Celebrate achievements by letting everyone in your organization know when someone completes training and what that means for their growth opportunities. Advertise your programs and participants in internal communications, display their pictures and stories, and talk about it at every employee gathering. Encourage employees to be trainers or subject matter experts so that employees are engaged and empowered to take ownership of their skills. 

4. Keep innovating

Sometimes the problem lies, not in lack of programs or training content, but in the inability to communicate that content in an appropriate learning format. As we all get more comfortable with technology, there’s a growing need to adopt the latest ideas. Today there are apps, games, and easy-to-use video tools that can be streamed to mobile devices for individual training on the employee’s own time. It’s important to research the latest trends online, network with other training professionals, and revise programs to take advantage of the latest best practices. Just because it’s what you’ve always done, doesn’t mean it’s what you should do forever. Tailor your training to how your employees best learn and don’t be afraid to adapt to new technology. 

5. Measure results

Make sure you’re keeping track of how things are going. This lets you know if the training offerings you provide are worth everyone’s while. The best measures are the simplest ones; incorporate them into your program so everyone knows what’s expected. Look for behaviors and measure them on the job to determine if employees actually learned how to perform appropriately. If trainings do not provide the intended result, consider redesigning programs, as well as offering feedback. To ensure there are no surprises for employees, communicate the importance of feedback and implement a specific structure. Make feedback a regular part of life at work so employees know how they are doing in real-time. 

These are just a few ideas for revamping training and development at your company. You want your employees to feel happy, confident and motivated in their work—not insecure and nervous they might get fired at any second! Demonstrate your belief in your workers by investing in their development. Providing your employees with growth opportunities sets them at ease and allows for greater productivity in the long run. 

Want more ideas for training? Need HR coaching and counseling for specific issues at your company? That’s where we come in. The health of your business is our priority, so contact Servant HR and allow us to serve you today.

Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

September is National Suicide Prevention Month—an opportunity for employers to learn how they can help workers at all levels of anxiety and depression. Mental health disorders are now among the most burdensome health concerns in the United States and their presence in the workplace is undeniable.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nearly 1 in 5 US adults aged 18 or older (18.3% or 44.7 million people) reported a mental illness in 2016. In addition, 71% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress, such as a headache or feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

With roughly 63% of the population engaged in the workforce, overlap is inevitable—making mental health a necessary issue for employers to address. It’s in the best interest of employers to take a proactive role in dealing with this challenge head on.

What Employers Can Do

Reduce Stigma

Talking about mental health in the workplace can feel scary, mostly for fear of offending, being politically incorrect, or sounding uneducated or inexperienced with mental health. However, the less mental health is talked about, the more stigma is created. 

A white paper by The Prudential Insurance Company of America states that the workplace can impact stigma positively simply through open communication and transparency. Employers can encourage education on mental health and asking for help as needed—specifically conveying such asking as a positive thing. A study by Mercer noted that employers must understand mental health, access to care must be available, and proactive measures should be encouraged in seeking treatment and improving productivity.

Include EAP’s in benefit plans

Study after study shows that early intervention is the key component to success. Early intervention can be more likely when employers include in-network Employee Assistance Program (EAP) providers in their health plan. This ensures that care can be continued once EAP sessions are exhausted. Only 29% of the U.S. population diagnosed with depression seeks treatment, and even less follow through. The ability to continue therapy is absolutely vital to treatment and recovery.

Assessment and management

Often times managers assume a performance problem without considering an emerging mental health issue. Proper training is absolutely necessary from an employer standpoint. Managers should learn to consider an employee’s history— especially if behavior is new, unexpected, or emotion-driven. Because depression often manifests itself in declined performance, managers should inquire about well-being before jumping to conclusions. Managers must also be equipped with proper resources, such as an EAP, health and wellness partner, or HR representative. 

Considering potential mental health issues does not mean an employer cannot still properly discipline or terminate employees that are not performing essential job functions, failing to attend work hours, or breaching company rules. This consideration simply allows employers to act in the best interest of both employee and company.

Maintaining consistent contact is important as well, so to help employees through depression and reduce any fear of returning to work. A study on the psychology of “return to work” found that manager and co-worker interactions are essential in making employees feel safe enough to share problems, get help, and comfortably return to work. Remember that asking “Is everything okay?” is a small, but effective first step. 

Work also creates a sense of purpose that can eventually serve to improve mental health. Keeping communication lines open and offering return to work programs can help support employees and provide a productive, successful transition.

An Effective Strategy for Company Health

While individual well-being is a good enough reason alone to address mental health, the benefits can also affect your company’s bottom line. World Health Organization states: “Workplaces that promote mental health and support people with mental disorders are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.”

Addressing mental health is big, high-level, policy-making work. But addressing mental health can also be small things—card-writing, checking in, simply asking, “How are you doing?” Prioritizing communication, access to care, and proper management training are all part of an integrated health and well-being strategy. 

Have questions? Interested in more specific mental health resources? We at Servant HR love helping business owners create productive and positive work environments. Contact us today.

Eight Things Your Remote Work Policy Should Cover

Eight Things Your Remote Work Policy Should Cover

It may seem like a simple, generous gesture to offer employees a remote work option. The trend is certainly up, as over a third of full-time employees are projected to work remotely in the next ten years. And with such high demand, the ability to work from home can give your business a competitive edge in the war for talent. 

However, offering the option to work remote isn’t as simple as just saying yes. Compliance risks must be considered alongside the creation of a definitive policy. Rich Henson from HR Morning writes

“Without a legally sound remote work policy, your well-intended efforts to improve working conditions can unexpectedly create big legal problems for you.” 

Potential legal pitfalls include FLSA violations, discrimination and disability issues, workers compensation, health and safety issues, data security concerns and more. 

Still, while 63% of companies have at least some remote workers, the majority don’t have a remote work policy in place. Unsurprisingly, many companies operate under unspoken or informal guidelines, as remote work is still a new concept and companies are learning to adapt. 

Unspoken rules may work for a time, but ultimately lead to confusion. To set employees up for success, there must be clear expectations for work, both in and out of the office. Trust is more quickly and easily established when both employees and supervisors work under clear guidelines. 

So how then do you create an airtight policy that wards off legal pitfalls and establishes straight-forward expectations? So glad you asked! The following rule-areas offer eight great starting points for drafting a cohesive remote work policy.

  1. Eligibility: Your policy should clearly state what positions are allowed to work remotely. If none of your positions are remote-compliant, state this from the beginning to eliminate any further questions or potential loopholes.
  2. Availability: Outline specific expectations for when remote employees should be available. You may need employees available from 9am to 5pm, or you may allow employees to set their own work hours. Either way, make rules on availability clear in the policy.
  3. Responsiveness: Are remote employees required to immediately respond to coworkers? What is the best way to communicate with remote employees—chat, email, Slack? Be sure to specify how responsive employees should be, and what modes of communication should be used.
  4. Measuring Productivity: This one is especially important. Make sure your policy outlines how employee productivity will be measured when working outside the office.This establishes employee accountability and trust with supervisors as well as with other coworkers.
  5. Equipment: Remote work only works if employees have the right tools at home. Companies must state what equipment they are willing to offer remote employees, and what equipment the employee must provide themselves. For example, the policy must state whether employees must use personal laptops, or if they will be issued a company laptop.
  6. Tech support: If remote employees have technical difficulties at home, what is expected of them? Should they return to the office, or complete work at another time? Specify a plan of action and identify what tech support can be offered to remote workers.
  7. Physical Environment: Some employers prefer/require the approval of an employee’s physical environment before remote work is allowed. This should involve a focus on a safe environment designed to reduce the risk of workers’ compensation injuries.  Whatever your company’s stance, state it clearly in the policy.
  8. Security: Doing work outside of the office can compromise security. Policies must provide employees with specific protocol for doing work in public, such as how to properly dispose of confidential papers and how to take electronic security measures.

Daunting as it may seem, drafting a remote work policy simply requires employer anticipation of employee questions. Preventing legal issues and offering a clear, consistently implemented policy not only protects your company, but establishes your company as thoughtful and prepared. 

Have more questions or need help starting your remote work policy? Risk management is an area Servant HR specializes in. We’d love to help you lose the administrative burden of policy making so you can focus on what you specialize in! Contact us today and see what we can take off your plate. 

Talking Politics at Work

Talking Politics at Work

On the heels of 4th of July, and with off-cycle election season quickly approaching, you may be finding yourself in a few more political conversations than usual. Talk at weekend BBQ’s, family gatherings—even checkout line chatter seem to land on politics.

But what about the workplace? Hot topics are still buzzing, but how much can employees engage in political conversations at work? If there is a line, what happens if it’s crossed?

Can you actually fire—or be fired—for talking politics at work?

Many assume First Amendment protection, but free speech isn’t so simple. According to writer Stacey Lastoe at The Muse, “There’s free speech, and then there’s free speech in the workplace.”

Private vs. Public

Private and public employers operate by different sets of rules. Private employers can generally set regulations about what is or isn’t appropriate for workplace discussions. There is not an inalienable First Amendment right in a private employer’s workplace.

Examples of private-sector employment areas include financial services, law firms, estate agents, newspapers and hospitality. Examples of public-sector employment areas include government employment, some healthcare, teaching, emergency services, armed forces and civil services.

Because politics are so polarizing, private organizations can easily and justly prohibit political discussions while at work. However, federal law also protects employees’ right to discuss labor issues with each other (i.e. wages and working conditions).

So the line is hazy—as guidelines pertain to specific topics of political conversation. For example, employees are protected if discussing support for a candidate who promotes higher wages. But as soon as the conversation switches to a candidate’s stance on foreign policy, those same protections technically don’t apply.

Variables

So what actually happens if an employee discusses politics in the office? 

Of course the political answer is, it depends. There are a few variables that determine potential consequences:

  • Your state. You might work in a state where the law protects employees from workplace discrimination based on political affiliation or extends other protections that would tend to protect you from being fired for talking about politics. Click here to read the different laws for each state regulating politics in the workplace.
  • NLRA protection. Most employers are covered by the National Labor Relations Act, which makes it unlawful to fire employees for participating in “concerted activity.” (Read our article about concerted activity on social media here.) If employees are discussing how they might improve the terms and conditions of their employment, or the previously mentioned labor issues, NLRA protection is granted.
  • The situation. Bosses have the right to call out employees chatting on the clock. Politics aside, if an employee is not working when they’re supposed to be working, it may be cause for disciplinary action. If discussions are “creating a disruption,” this can also lead to discipline.  

Takeaways for Employers

Be clear and aware. Make sure your organization has everything spelled out—what is expected of employee talk and behavior at work, how employees should use the internet on the job, social media policies, etc. 

Be aware of your state’s laws and work with HR on communication of what is and isn’t allowed. (Need help with HR? That’s our thing! Contact us today and see how our PEO model can lighten your administrative load.)

Takeaways for Employees

Know the rules. Be careful of how you’re using work time and remember that regardless of your political opinion, you’re at risk if you’re posting it during work hours. Remember that even out of the office, you represent your company and behaving professionally is good practice

Being an employee doesn’t require you abandon political causes you care about either! Simply set your social media accounts to private and make sure not to link yourself to your company—make it clear you’re representing only yourself.

Both employers and employees have the responsibility of pursuing shared goals for the good of their company. The good news is, that responsibility can easily be carried out apart from politics. Our best advice? Your #1 issue at work, should be work.

Two Ways to Revamp Traditional Incentives

Two Ways to Revamp Traditional Incentives

Many companies have approached employee incentives the exact same way for decades—sick leave, overtime pay and annual salary reviews. While these ideas are important and generous, companies must take cues from today’s market to broaden their perception of incentives.

Employee engagement is now a financial strategy for businesses and high engagement is commonly driven by recognition and reward. Two key factors have been identified in the creation of modern incentives that actually engage and produce real, bottom-line benefits:

1. Personalization

Consumer demand for personalization is up. Why would employee demand be any different?

Still, a recent Deloitte survey reported that only 8% of companies say their systems of incentives are very effective at creating a personalized, flexible solution.

Personal and frequent engagement with employees can lead to the discovery of unique incentives that work well for each individual. Incentives then become the tangible evidence that employees are truly known and cared for within their organization.

Personalization of incentives often looks like project or target-based bonuses. For some, the ability to create their own benefits packages may be most rewarding. For others, the freedom to do more independent or remote work can motivate and establish trust. Other ideas include creating company-wide recognition with company-wide games—meeting specific performance targets on a points-based system.

By personalizing incentives, employees feel known and uniquely valued within an organization. Oftentimes, being heard is a powerful incentive in and of itself.

2. Purpose-Oriented

An employee’s interpretation of the work he or she does for a company is a critical part of employee engagement. If the brightest minds feels their work is worthless, work ethic will inevitably decline.

This requires employers to give employees a well-defined and visible mission that can inspire and motivate even the most tedious work. Those from the lowest level to the top should be able to see their contributions and value in day-to-day operations.

Sometimes creating purpose-oriented incentives doesn’t even mean creating new ones—it may mean just presenting incentives in a more thoughtful way.

For example, let’s say a travel marketing agency traditionally gives an extended PTO incentive. That’s nice. But if the extended PTO is given with the intent that employees go out, travel, experience the world and bring fresh ideas back with them… that’s a purpose-oriented incentive.

A carefully developed reason for longer vacation time actually gives employees a sense of belonging, purpose and importance. Traditionally, people take vacations to escape from work. But how might organizational culture and engagement shift if even on vacation, employees felt purposeful and helpful?

Another purpose-oriented incentive could involve linking employee rewards to social causes or community issues that matter to them. This incentive is both purposeful and personalized, as it caters to an individual’s passion. Win-win.

Time to Reevaluate

Still not sure you need to revamp your traditional incentives? Try walking by some desks. Do your employees perk up at the sight of you, trying to look busy? Or are they already driven and motivated? Do you find yourself struggling to know what to say, or do you know your employees on a personal level?

Servant HR is a human resource service provider that gives business leaders freedom to focus on the parts they love about their business. Give us a call and see how a PEO can help you today! We take care of your business’s administrative tasks, so that you can take care of your employees—and we think that’s a pretty good incentive.

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