Are Your Supervisors Prepared for These 5 Challenges?

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The following is a complimentary audit and assessment consisting of key questions your organization should ask to determine if your supervisors and managers have the appropriate skills and competencies to combat the most common management pitfalls. Additionally, tips we frequently recommend to organizations in addressing these pitfalls are summarized.

Challenge 1: Exposing the organization to liabilities

Organizations are exposed to liabilities when their supervisors and managers are not knowledgeable of employment law or understand how to apply legal guidelines. For example, supervisors and managers may make selection decisions based on non-job related criteria or subjective biases, ask inappropriate interview questions, not document performance, misapply wage and hour law (not recording overtime worked, not providing necessary breaks, etc.), or fail to handle employee issues with consistency.

Key questions include:

  • Are supervisors and managers knowledgeable of employment laws and do they successfully apply these legal guidelines in the workplace?
  • Do supervisors and managers ask appropriate interview questions, if they are responsible for hiring duties?
  • Do supervisors and managers participate in making legal selection decisions, based on job-related factors and qualifications and not based on any protected criteria (such as gender, race, national origin, religion, etc.)?
  • Do supervisors and managers understand wage and hour law (FLSA) and how it affects the pay of their employees?
  • Do supervisors and managers discipline or handle issues of employee conduct with consistency?
  • Do supervisors and managers understand the basics of managing employee leave, particularly FMLA?

Challenge 2: Failing to document and manage performance

Performance management is a common struggle for many supervisors and managers. Oftentimes, we find that the supervisors and managers are not doing enough to support the employee in achieving their performance expectations and standards and not providing regular feedback, counseling, and coaching. In addition, correctly documenting performance is commonly overlooked.

Key questions include:

  • Do supervisors and managers generally have a high performance work team, or do their employees struggle in reaching certain performance standards or goals?
  • Are employees aware of what is expected of them in terms of performance?  Do supervisors and managers communicate these expectations to employees?
  • Do supervisors and managers take the performance review process seriously? Do they understand its importance and how to prepare for and deliver a performance review?
  • Do supervisors and managers document any and all incidents of poor performance? (note: this is also a potential liability)
  • Do supervisors and managers guide performance through regular feedback and coaching?
  • Do supervisors and managers support performance with development and training if needed?
  • Do supervisors and managers have conversations with employees about their career aspirations and developmental interests? Do they follow-up on insights obtained in these conversations?
  • Do supervisors and managers continually challenge and empower their employees?
  • Do supervisors and managers make themselves available to answer employee questions about projects, assignments, and tasks?
  • Do supervisors and managers recognize and thank employees for their contributions when they do a good job?
  • Do supervisors and managers criticize more than they praise? Is there an imbalance of negative and positive feedback, and is this justified?

Challenge 3: Poorly communicating

Inadequate communication manifests itself in a number of problems including poor supervisor-employee work relationships, frequent misunderstandings of job tasks or policies/procedures, and unclear expectations. These issues often surface from poor listening, relationship building, clarifying, and feedback skills and lead to frequent supervisory problems.

Key questions include:

  • Do supervisors and managers establish rapport and positive relationships with employees?
  • Do supervisors and managers engage in frequent methods of in-person communication?
  • Do supervisors and managers actively listen to employees’ concerns, problems, and questions?
  • Do supervisors and managers clarify points and issues, trying to better understand work problems employees have?
  • Do supervisors and managers ask for employees’ viewpoints and opinions?
  • Do supervisors and managers exhibit effective non-verbal communication with employees? Do their words match their body language?
  • Do employees often feel confused when completing work assignments, or do misunderstandings frequently occur?
  • Do employees receive enough performance feedback from supervisors and managers? Do they understand where they excel and where they need to improve?
  • Is the feedback provided by supervisors and managers constructive and well-targeted at behaviors needing changed?

Challenge 4: Failing to resolve conflict

Many managers fail to resolve conflicts between employees and coworkers or may perpetuate too much conflict in their groups. It’s common for supervisors and managers to avoid conflict altogether. In addition, they may not do enough to prevent conflict.

Key questions include:

  • Do supervisors and managers work to accurately define and identify key workplace conflicts or are problems frequently incorrectly identified? 
  • Do supervisors and managers recognize the causes of conflict?
  • Do supervisors and managers understand and costs of conflict on your business and recognize its effects on productivity?
  • Do conflicts generally go unresolved by supervisors and managers, or do supervisors and managers create different strategies to manage and resolve conflict, ensuring that it has a limited effect on performance?
  • Do supervisors and managers frequently collaborate and strive for “win-win” approaches to conflict?
  • Do supervisors and managers try to prevent conflict by encouraging positive coworker relationships, encouraging recognition of individual differences, and addressing work problems quickly before they escalate?
  • Do supervisors try to adapt to different personalities and styles in order to maximize their effectiveness?

Challenge 5: Not understanding their role

Typically promoted from individual contributor roles, supervisors and managers find themselves not understanding the new requirements and expectations of their role, or encountering common challenges like micromanaging, distrusting employees, treating employees poorly, or not making time for them. 

Key questions include:

  • Do supervisors and managers frequently encounter challenges on the job, in dealing with employee issues and problems?
  • Do supervisors and managers understand how their role is different than that of their previous role as an individual contributor? Do they understand its importance in driving results through others?
  • Do supervisors and managers understand the responsibilities of their role and how to carry them out?
  • Do supervisors and managers make time for employees, balancing task completion and building supportive relationships?
  • Do supervisors and managers show trust and confidence in employees?
  • Are employees excessively directed and micromanaged?
  • Are employees treated with respect and courtesy? 

Addressing Management Challenges

If your supervisors don’t have the right competencies in place, there are a number of ways to develop them. In our experience, these are the most common and effective ways to build supervisory and management skills:

  • Supervisory and managerial training
    Training is one of the best and most common ways to develop supervisors’ and managers’ abilities. Consider registering them to attend ERC’s Supervisory Series, an affordable training program that develops their skills in all of these critical managerial areas including communication, conflict resolution, performance management, and employment law. This program can also be delivered on-site and customized to your organization’s needs. 
  • Skills coaching and mentoring
    Sometimes a more personalized and customized approach is necessary to develop skills and solve specific managerial and supervisory issues, particularly when training has already been conducted. This can be facilitated either through mentorship of leaders internally or skills coaching with an external consultant
  • Management literature and educational materials
    Articles and learning aids are another great way for supervisors and managers to develop their capabilities and can be great follow-up resources for after training to help transfer skills learned back to the workplace. Checklists and forms that guide behaviors learned in training can help them stay better organized on the job. These can be created in-house or training programs may have them available.  

Interested in learning more about training your supervisors?

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Survey Reports National Pay Trends for HR Positions

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A 2011 analysis conducted by ERC reports how pay for various HR positions in Northeast Ohio compares to pay provided by employers across the U.S, based on data from the 2010-2011 EAA National Wage & Salary Survey. In general, a comparison of salaries for HR positions among employers across the U.S. and just Northeast Ohio employers shows that local employers pay higher-level HR positions (manager and above) near or above the median salary reported by employers across the U.S. Local employers, however, appear to be pay lower-level HR positions, such as generalists and assistants, lower than the median salary reported by employers across the U.S.

View ERC's Wage & Salary Adjustment Survey Results

The survey reports data from Northeast Ohio organizations regarding their actual and projected wage and salary adjustments.

View the Results

Workplace Gift-Giving & Bonuses

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Giving employees a year-end gift or bonus this year? Here are a few common questions and answers employers ask us about issues related to giving gifts and bonuses to their staff.

How common is gift-giving in the workplace?

Gift-giving is a fairly common practice among organizations. In ERC’s 2010 Holiday Practices in the Workplace Survey, 51% of local employers give gifts to employees. A 2010 survey conducted by BNA shows that 41% of employers across the U.S. plan to provide a year-end gift or bonus to employees, and also reports that this is the highest percent in three years.

What is the most popular holiday gift given by employers?

We find that the most common holiday gift is a generic gift card. In a 2010 survey of local employers, 61% said they provide this type of gift. Some employers also give cash, food (such as a turkey or ham), clothing or logo items, or gift baskets. In addition, a few employers raffle-off gifts versus providing them to all employees. Spending amounts for employee gifts typically range from $25-$75 per employee.

Are there any legal or payroll issues we need to be aware of when giving holiday gifts to our employees?

The IRS has different tax reporting and deduction rules depending on the cost of the gift and whether it is considered tangible (ham, turkey, wine, entertainment tickets etc.) or intangible (cash, gift cards or certificates, etc.). Intangible gifts of more than $25 are taxable income and must be reported on a W-2 form. Tangible gifts do not need to be reported in taxes. Employers can deduct up to a maximum of $25 of the cost of both intangible and tangible gifts, according to IRS guidelines.

Should we allow for gift-giving between coworkers and/or bosses?

Some organizations choose to institute a gift-giving policy on the types of gifts their employees can give and receive in the workplace. While instituting such a policy can decrease the likelihood that employees will encounter uncomfortable situations surrounding giving gifts, gift-giving can be a nice way for coworkers and supervisors to show appreciation to one another that employers may not want to limit. In general, however, gift-giving etiquette is as follows:

  • Gift-giving should be considered voluntary. No one should feel pressured, obligated, or required to give gifts.
  • Gift-giving should also be kept relatively inexpensive, simple, and modest. Several sources suggest that $10-$20 is an acceptable amount to spend on gifts for coworkers or bosses.
  • Gift-giving should be appropriate for the workplace. Alcohol, gifts with political or religious messages, romantic gifts, and hygiene-related items are typically considered inappropriate holiday gifts. Tasteful and professional gifts, cards, treating to lunch, or even donating to a charity on behalf of an individual are all appropriate ways to show appreciation.
  • Group gifts are generally an acceptable way of thanking a supervisor/manager versus an individual gift. 
  • If supervisors or managers choose to give gifts to their employees, it’s best that they are given to everyone versus only certain individuals to prevent perceptions of favoritism or unequal treatment.

Employers should consider their culture before instituting any rules as there is no gift-giving best practice that works for all organizations. Some workplaces are more formal, and others are more family-oriented, and gift-giving should generally align with the culture.

How common are holiday bonuses?

Nearly a third of local employers provide holiday bonuses, according to a 2010 ERC survey. Certainly this isn’t the majority of employers; however, it is a sizeable portion. Recent reports, however, do indicate that the holiday bonus is diminishing in popularity. Discretionary or individual performance bonuses, on the other hand, tend to be more commonly offered by employers.

What criteria should we use to determine who gets a holiday bonus?

That depends. Some employers use a holiday bonus as employees’ gift versus a reward for attaining a certain level of performance. Others only provide holiday bonuses to employees who meet certain criteria such as performance, attendance, or length of service.

How much should we spend on a holiday bonus per employee?

Bonus amounts typically range from $200-$1000 or 2% of earnings with the average being $712. The most popular bonus amounts are $200 and $1000. However, $300 and $500 are also somewhat common. Also remember that bonuses are taxable, per the IRS.

What issues should we keep in mind when providing our employees with holiday bonuses?

First, if bonuses are regularly given at your organization, it may be helpful to develop a policy which includes eligibility requirements for the bonus, criteria for receiving the bonus (i.e. average performance ratings, length of employment, etc.), how the amount of the bonus is determined (i.e. based on company profit, revenue, etc.), when the payments will be awarded, and any legal guidelines or requirements the program is subject to. A disclaimer is also recommended, so that the organization can reserve the right to administer, modify, or terminate the program at any time, should business needs dictate.

Also, make sure your organization is compliant with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Bonuses given to employees for performance, productivity or quality need to be included in calculating an employee’s regular rate for overtime purposes. However, holiday/gift bonuses can be excluded when calculating overtime rates for non-exempt employees if they are not linked to hours worked or production.

Finally, if your organization provides holiday bonuses based on certain criteria, but not to all employees, be sure that you have documented why or why not employees have not earned the bonus to avoid any potential legal issues surrounding discriminative treatment. Performance documentation is crucial for your organization’s legal protection.

Gift-giving and bonuses are certainly great ways to show your employees appreciation and recognition during these final weeks of the year. To obtain answers to other questions related to gift-giving and bonuses, please contact ERC’s HR Help Desk (Members Only) at hrhelp@yourERC.com.