Managing Workplace Romance...Or Not?

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Managing Workplace Romance...Or Not?

In the spirit of romance on this Valentine’s Day, now might be a good time for your organization to take a good hard look at your policy on “workplace romance”. Do you have a policy in place? How does it define the limits to relationships between employees? Has this issue come up recently among your employees? Should you consider implementing one?

With several surveys pointing towards a change in employee’s attitudes towards dating in the workplace and romance in the air this week, let’s take a look at how employees feel about this potentially charged issue and what that might mean for employers.
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The Power of Social Media in the Workplace

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As social media expands into every aspect of our lives, including the workplace, striking a balance between leveraging social media as a business tool and managing it’s use by individual employees across your organization and can be a challenging balancing act. In an effort to help shed light on how Northeast Ohio employers are handling this difficult issue, ERC recently released the 2012 Social Media in the Workplace Survey report.

Policies

The 2012 survey reports that slightly less than half (47%) of all organizations currently have a social media policy in place. Several organizations indicate that although they do not have a formal social media policy, they do address issues regarding social media use under the larger umbrella of “electronic communications” or “IT” policies. These policies, in whatever form, are most commonly communicated to employees via their employee handbook or through some other form of internal communication (e.g. email, intranet).
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Financial Concerns Drive Innovation in the Workplace

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The results of the 2012 ERC/Smart Business Workplace Practices Survey demonstrate a commitment among Northeast Ohio employers to improving their workplaces despite and in some cases because of the financial challenges they face in today’s economy. While respondents indicate for the second year running that the economy is no longer their most pressing challenge, cost related challenges more generally such as funding, healthcare costs, controlling costs and financial stability are all among the top ten challenges reported by employers.

Perhaps the most striking fiscal measure being utilized to control costs reported by participants is layoffs. After a sharp decline in 2011, the percent of organizations anticipating layoffs for the coming year increased to 10.3%. However, it is important to note that while higher than 2011, this number still falls in line with pre-recession levels when double digit percentages were commonplace.
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What is Discrimination?

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Discrimination in the workplace refers to when an individual or group of individuals are treated less favorably than others solely because of their race, sex, pregnancy or marital status, age, disability, religion, sexual preference, trade union activity, or other class or characteristic protected under federal or state legislation. It is illegal for employers to discriminate against individuals from protected classes in the workplace if they are current or prospective employees, such as job candidates.

Laws Covering Discrimination

There are a number of important federal laws that cover discrimination of protected individuals. Some states have additional bases on which discrimination is prohibited. Federal laws governing discrimination in the workplace for private employers in 2012 included:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that is responsible for enforcing these laws and handling discrimination claims. It frequently provides guidance and information about recent cases and claims to help employers enforce these laws in the workplace.

Discriminatory Employment Practices

Under these laws, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against individuals in protected classes for employment decisions related to hiring and firing; compensation; assignment or classification of employees; transfer and promotion; layoff or recall; job advertisements; recruitment; testing; use of company facilities; training programs; fringe benefits; retirement plans; disability leave; and other conditions, terms or benefits of employment.

This means that employers cannot make employment decisions based on any factor protected under law. For example, employment discrimination could occur if an employer pays equally-qualified employees different salaries based on their sex or race, excludes potential employees from the hiring process based on their religious affiliation or race, lays off an employee based on them being in a protected class, denies a promotion to an otherwise qualified employee who can perform the essential functions of the job because he or she has a disability; or states preferred characteristics which are protected under law in a job ad.

Additionally, individuals covered under this legislation are protected from four types of discriminatory practices including:

  • harassment on the basis of their protected class;
  • retaliation from their employer based on filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation or opposing discriminatory practices;
  • employment decisions based on stereotypes, assumptions, or myths about the abilities, traits or performance of individuals within a certain class;
  • denying employment opportunities to a person because of marriage to or association with an individual of a particular class

Disparate Impact and Treatment

Discrimination can be manifested in either disparate treatment or disparate (otherwise known as "adverse") impact. Both types of discrimination against protected classes are prohibited under federal law.

It is unlawful for employers to use practices that have disparate impact on a protected class unless the characteristic can be deemed a “bona fide occupational qualification.” In cases of disparate impact, employers do not intentionally and explicitly have policies or practices in place that exclude or discriminate against individuals in protected classes. Policies or practices that seem neutral, however, can adversely impact a protected class. A common example of disparate impact is testing all job applicants on a particular skill or ability and disproportionately eliminating African Americans based on the results, even though this practice is not intentional.

Disparate treatment is also illegal, but differs from disparate impact in that it is intentional discrimination. With disparate treatment, an employer intentionally treats individuals of a protected class differently than other employees or job applicants to control an outcome.

Your Responsibilities As An Employer

Employers are required to post notices describing the federal laws prohibiting job discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Employers must also keep certain records, regardless of if a charge has been filed with them, including certain workforce data in the annual EEO-1 report. In addition to these obligations employers should:

  • Develop and implement a clear policy prohibiting discrimination in the workplace and retaliation against an employee making a discrimination complaint
  • Train supervisors and managers on employment discrimination
  • Refrain from asking about protected characteristics in the hiring process
  • Regularly evaluate hiring and selection practices for adverse impact
  • Conduct compensation audits to assess pay equity
  • Document objective, performance, and job-related reasons for all employment decisions

For more information about workplace discrimination, ERC members can access our HRresources or contact ERC's HR Help Desk at hrhelp@yourerc.com. Not a member? Join today and access tons of HR resources, posters, forms, information, guidance, and legal trends and updates to help keep you compliant.

 

Please note that by providing you with research information that may be contained in this article, ERC is not providing a qualified legal opinion. As such, research information that ERC provides to its members should not be relied upon or considered a substitute for legal advice. The information that we provide is for general employer use and not necessarily for individual application. The data used in this article reflects the current laws in 2012.

Additional Links & Resources

Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices (Source: EEOC)

Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination Questions & Answers (Source: EEOC)

Guide for Employers: The Charge Handling Process (Source: EEOC)

Discrimination in the Workplace (Source: HR Hero)

Drug Testing Policies in the Workplace

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Drug testing has become a hot button political issue with the 2012 report by the  National Conference of State Legislatures that 28 states across the country have either considered or passed legislation establishing drug testing requirements for individuals enrolled in various types of public assistance programs, including unemployment benefits. The constitutionality of many of these laws is currently in question, but what do drug testing policies look like outside of the realm of the State?

While some limited data on drug testing policies and practices in the workplace does exist, ERC’s 2012 Drug Testing Policies and Practices Survey provides data about drug testing policies for 163 organizations right here in Ohio. In addition, the report offers a detailed look into the frequency with which organizations have encountered failed drug tests, many of which result in rescinded job offers to otherwise qualified job applicants or even termination for existing employees.

Drug testing policies were common, with 78% of employers reporting that they would not hire an otherwise qualified applicant based on a failed drug test. This policy was applied to hourly positions (78.6%) slightly more often than to salaried positions (77.5%), a trend that continued across all breakouts regardless of industry or organizational size.

Although these hiring polices around drug testing were slightly more common for hourly than salaried positions, the survey found much larger differences in the reported testing failure rates among the hourly (33.5%) than the salaried group (13.2%). By and large, employers reported that their failure rates have remained the same from 2011, both for pre-employment testing as well as for drug tests performed on existing employees.

To download the full survey report of 163 participating Ohio organizations, please click here.

Additional Resources

ERC members save on drug testing with Preferred Partners.

How to Build Your Own Great Workplace

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At ERC, we believe that creating a great workplace is about creating an environment and culture that supports the talent your organization needs to be and stay successful. It means creating a place in which great talent want to come work and where they want to stay and build their career. It’s about enabling superior performance and eliminating the policies, practices, and norms in your workplace that hinder your top people’s success, progress, and innovation.

If this sounds like something your organization wants to achieve, here are 5 steps we recommend for creating a great workplace.

1. Commit to creating a great workplace.

Making a true commitment to be an employer of choice is the first and hardest part of creating a great workplace. It requires getting your management team on-board with their support, securing and committing resources for the initiative, and creating a vision of where you see your workplace in the next 3-5 years. It also entails meeting regularly with your managers to talk about and identify ways to enhance your workplace. You can't create a great workplace without your leadership and managers on-board, the willingness to put resources behind the effort, and on-going discussion.

2. Identify your top performers.

Great workplaces are built from great people. This requires hiring the right people from your receptionist to line employees to managers to top leadership. Rarely do organizations have all the right people. This is why it is especially important to identify who your top performers are and define what attributes top performers have at your organization. Knowing which employees are successful and why they are effective will help you hire more of those people, create a workplace that meets their needs, and weed out the wrong fits.

3. Ask employees for their feedback.

Great workplaces have feedback-rich cultures that care about, appreciate, and use employees' input, ideas, and opinions. To create and maintain a great workplace, you need to know what engages your people, specifically what would make them stay, what would make them leave, and what is important to them. In our experience, the answers to these questions (though similar) vary by organization. Whether it's conducting one-on-ones, focus group discussions, or an engagement survey, start somewhere and invite employees to share their feedback.

4. Benchmark your practices.

Data and measurement are important parts of creating a great place to work. In order to create a great workplace, you must gauge how you stack up against other employers of choice – how your total rewards package, policies, culture, and results compare to the standards set by best-in-class organizations. This not only helps your organization determine what it takes to be a great place to work, but after determining where the gaps are, you can develop strategies to help build, change, and enhance your policies and practices.

5. Evaluate your progress.

Building a great place to work is an on-going endeavor – it never ends. It will require constant attention, changes, and improvements. It will also require that you monitor and evaluate your progress regularly to make sure that you are meeting your goals in becoming a great place to work.

If your organization is progressing towards becoming a great place to work, over time it will see its investments pay off. Attracting and hiring top talent gets easier, great talent sticks around, your workforce is more engaged and productive, and your workplace’s reputation improves. The road to a great workplace is undoubtedly a path that is worth pursuing if your organization wants to secure top talent to achieve long-term success.

Additional Resources

NorthCoast 99 – 99 Best Places to Work in Northeast Ohio If your organization is interested in being recognized as a best place to work and thinks it excels at attracting and retaining top talent, begin your application today!

Benchmark Reports Interested in targeted metrics for top performers and benchmarking how your organization's practices for attracting and retaining top talent compare to others in the region? Please take a look at our benchmark reports which provide tons of information on great workplaces and top performers.

Consulting & Project Assistance
ERC is a leading provider of quality, affordable human resources consulting services in Ohio. Our HR consulting services provide the crucial strategic and technical expertise needed to support your HR goals and workplace initiatives.

5 Myths About Workplace Communication

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5 Myths About Workplace Communication

Employers constantly find themselves battling communication issues between employees and managers in the workplace. These issues commonly stem from not understanding the basics of good communication, mistaking frequency for quality, and making inaccurate assumptions about how much information others want and need to know. Here are 5 myths about workplace communication that your organization should consider "debunking" to improve communication.

1. If your employees are talking to you frequently, you have good communication.

Regular one-on-one "catch up" meetings between your employees and supervisors do not guarantee that quality communication is taking place. Despite these meetings, misunderstandings and communication breakdowns can still happen. Frequency of communication, while important, has little to do with how effective the communication between your supervisors and employees actually is. Focus instead of what is actually being discussed in those meetings and how it's being said.

2. Line employees are the main reason that communication suffers in the workplace.

Sometimes...but not usually. Effective communication is important at all levels of the organization, but is most important and more commonly expected at the manager level. After all, managers spend the majority of their time communicating with all levels of the organization, including other departments, employees, managers, and leaders. Their job is to make sure people have the information they need to do their jobs well and that they have the information necessary to manage their departments and employees. This involves sharing lots of information and asking lots of questions. As a result, when there is a communication problem, it usually falls on the manager.

3. An open-door policy is enough to encourage employees to share their concerns and ideas.

If you think that your organization's open-door policy is enough to encourage employees' sharing of opinions, ideas, and concerns, you're probably placing too much faith in your policy. Simply saying that your organization has an open-door policy does not necessarily ensure that employees will actually take advantage of this policy and voice their concerns to management. You will probably need to make more proactive attempts to gather employees' ideas and encourage their input if you value two-way communication with your staff.

4. Employees aren't interested in, privy to, or already know information.

This may be true for some of your employees, but not of all of them. Many employees desire more information about the organization and what it's trying to achieve, and your organization has a responsibility to share it with them. When employees are treated as partners in the business and given access to sensitive information, they are more likely to engage in their work and create greater value for your business. Additionally, never assume that employees already know something that is important for them to do their job. A good deal of communication problems result from assuming that people already know information they actually don't know.

5. Information is the foundation of good workplace communication.

Information is important, but trust and communication skills are the true foundations of good communication in the workplace, and both need to be developed over time. Trust is also one of the major reasons communication fails in the workplace. When departments don't trust other departments, employees don't trust their managers, and leaders don't trust employees, information gets withheld, decisions are made without consulting others, conflicts emerge, and everyone starts choosing their words less wisely and thoughtfully. Similarly, communication skills need to be built and fostered among all levels of your employees, and especially your managers, through training, coaching, and practice.

Communication issues affect every organization, but "debunking" common myths and assumptions about communication can be a good first step to improve communication in your organization and especially between your managers and employees.

Additional Resources

Supervisory Series
In this series, participants will gain an understanding of how to communicate effectively with others in the workplace, in addition to dealing with everyday challenges of being a supervisor, resolving workplace conflict, and managing performance and coaching. This series is offered in AM sessions and PM sessions and begins February 7th.

Communication & Interpersonal Skills TrainingERC specializes in communication, interpersonal, and soft-skills training for all levels of the organization. Click here to view the many training courses we offer. These courses can also be customized to meet the needs of your organization.  For more information, please contact ckutsko@yourerc.com.

Communication Skills Training

12 Tips for the 2012 Workplace

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The new year is just a few short days away, and it brings with it a number of challenges and opportunities to enhance your workplace. Here are 12 things to consider as your business heads into 2012.

1. Proactively manage the legal landscape

The legal landscape is becoming more complicated to navigate and employers are increasingly being hit hard with expensive fines and discrimination charges, per a recent report which noted a record number of discrimination charges and fines filed by the EEOC. Discrimination against the unemployed and disabled as well age discrimination are just a few pressing issues the government will be targeting in 2012 that employers should note.

2. Change your hiring strategies

Can’t find the talent you need? The current skills shortage is not expected to change anytime soon, so consider rethinking how you’re hiring. Perhaps your skill and experience requirements may be inadvertently screening out potentially great top performers that fit your culture and have growth potential. Or, you may need to explore different sourcing and branding tactics to attract the talent you need.

3. Focus on top performance

Make creating a better performance management system and approach one of your strategic priorities in 2012. Additionally, build your managers’ abilities to execute results and manage/support employees’ performance. A solid approach to performance management will increase the likelihood that your organization has a successful year.

4. Develop leaders

2011 was a year in which many organizations focused their efforts on leadership and management development and 2012 will be no exception. Organizations are increasingly growing their internal talent, preparing them for their next roles, and ensuring that their businesses have appropriate succession in place.

5. Keep a watchful eye on employee benefits

Employee benefits regulations are changing – and not just surrounding health insurance. Changes to retirement plans, family leave, and sick time are all issues the government has explored in the past year and will continue to target in 2012. Make sure your organization is prepared for the trends that will affect employee benefits in the coming year.

6. Create a long-term wellness strategy

Health care costs will remain a major challenge for employers in 2012. One-off wellness initiatives or activities will not suffice in managing costs effectively, so it’s advisable to create a long-term wellness strategy, based on the needs of your workforce, that will help your organization better manage health care costs and usage for years down the road.

7. Leverage social media

In 2011, the use of social media rapidly rose in the workplace. If your HR department hasn’t started to leverage the power of social media tools yet, it may be missing out on opportunities to find exceptional talent and boost learning and development – not to mention help your own career. Mastery of social media is, without question, an HR competency you’ll need for future success.

8. Manage the effects of change

During the past few years, many organizations have moved towards leaner workforces and processes, but few have managed how those changes have adversely affected employees and their cultures. Use 2012 to deal with the effects that these changes have caused on the workforce, redefine your culture, and re-establish your organization’s direction.

9. Use HR analytics and technology

HR metrics, analytics, and technology have become the gateways to creating a more efficient and effective HR department. Relook at what your department is tracking and the systems it is using. Chances are that you can leverage open-source systems, cloud technology, and other tools to automate processes and improve internal customer service.

10. Enhance global competencies

Global competencies are a sought-after skill by employers as they expand their markets globally. Whether its managing expatriates and bilingual employees, identifying legal risks abroad, or determining what to pay your global employees, as your organization expands globally, it will be critical for HR to enhance its organization’s capacity to manage global talent in 2012.

11. Make retention and engagement of top people a priority

Hopefully your organization emerged from 2011 with its top talent intact and engaged. If not, use the beginning of 2012 to create a strategy to retain your workforce and ignite engagement. Nip the problem in the bud quickly, otherwise, you could face unintended consequences of disengaged employees and high turnover throughout the next year.

12. Do your part for the region

Whether it’s hiring an intern or a recent college grad from a local university, providing an opportunity to an unemployed individual, or giving back to one of our community’s non-profits, do your part to improve economic development in our region and support our local communities.

 

Additional Resources

Leadership & Management Development Training
ERC offers a variety of training programs for leaders at all levels of the organization, from executive to mid-level manager to first time managers and supervisors. Our leadership development programs help move leaders from the traditional command and control role of judging and evaluating, to one of ensuring accountability through creating a supportive and motivating work environment.

HR Consulting
For assistance with various HR projects in 2012, including but not limited to, performance management system design, organizational design and development, HR metrics, employee engagement surveys, succession planning, and more, please contact consulting@yourerc.com.

Top 5 Workplace Attributes Most Important to Top Performers

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According to the results of the 2011 Top Performer Engagement Survey, conducted by ERC on over 2,400 top performers in Northeast Ohio as part of its NorthCoast 99 program, 24% of top performers report challenging and meaningful work as the most important attribute that they seek in jobs. This attribute continues to be most important to top performers when compared to other attributes, and has been consistently ranked as most important over the past five years.

Both compensation and job security were the second most important attributes with 14% of top performers reporting compensation and job security as the number one most important job attribute. Work-life benefits and career development were other important job attributes that top performers ranked as most important in 2011.

“It’s important to consider what your top performers value as most important when prioritizing and budgeting for HR and workplace initiatives,” says Susan Pyles, Senior Talent Consultant & Trainer. She adds, “By making sure that your workplace is meeting the needs and interests of your top people, you’re more likely to retain those employees.”

Note that percentages reflect the percentage of all rankings as the #1 most important job attribute by top performers.

For more information or to purchase the 2011 NorthCoast 99 Winners Report, please click here.

Workplace Flu Shots & Other Wellness Options Gain Ground

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As flu season approaches, an analysis conducted by ERC shows that the percentage of employers offering workplace flu shots and other wellness options has increased significantly since 2007.

According to the 2011 NorthCoast 99 Winners Report, 19% more NorthCoast 99 winners offered free flu shots to keep their workforce healthier during flu season when compared to 2007. Additionally, since 2007, more winners are encouraging fitness by providing subsidies for fitness club memberships; making exercising more convenient by providing on-site fitness classes; and providing annual health fairs. This data seems to suggest that more local employers, and especially employers of choice, are increasing their wellness initiatives.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen more employers expand their health and wellness initiatives in order to improve their employees’ health and well-being. Flu shots and annual health fairs tend to be some of the most common options employers offer. Wellness initiatives can reduce absenteeism, decrease health insurance usage and claims, and create a healthier workplace – all of which are results that many employers are seeking nowadays.

For more information or to purchase the current NorthCoast 99 Winners Report, please click here