7 Lessons on Managing Open Workplaces

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Recently, there has been considerable research and debate on whether open work environments improve or impede employees’ performance and productivity.

On one hand, open work environments naturally encourage collaboration, teamwork, socializing, and innovation. They allow employees to move around, create discussion, and collaborate spontaneously. They lead to more informal mentoring, problem solving, rapid information sharing, and easier communication between peers, and can even decrease misconduct.

On the other hand, most organizations that move to an open work environment face challenging management issues. Open work environments can lack private or quiet space for concentration, contain loud noise levels, lead to frequent interruptions, and decrease productivity or performance for some employees.

It’s clear that in practice open work environments can enhance a workplace and improve collaboration, but also pose issues that need to be managed. Here are some important lessons other companies and research tell us about how to effectively manage the open office work environment.

The open office is not for everyone...or every business.

There are employees whose job function, nature of work, and personality benefit from private individual space. For example, mathematical and computer science jobs tend to require long periods of heavy concentration; introverts tend to be more creative and productive in private spaces; and younger employees tend to like open workspaces more than older employees. Don't assume that open spaces work for everyone's job or situation. Consider your generational make-up, types of jobs, and business climate before making the move.

Setting creative rules can help eliminate common problems.

Gather employees together to set basic informal rules and "cube etiquette." This helps alleviate common issues of disrespect and frustration with coworkers in open office settings. These rules could address how to creatively deal with issues such as interruptions, hygiene, noise, and personal business. Have employees participate in creating a respectful work environment. Don’t set the rules for them.

Organizations need to train on soft-skills.

Open work environments prompt frequent interpersonal interactions which naturally lead to more frustration and conflict. Your organization needs to be prepared to train employees and managers on the skills they need to make the environment work. Continuously training employees on soft skills such as respect in the workplace, communication, collaboration, and conflict management is imperative to keeping these interactions positive and constructive.

Listen and keep an open dialogue.

Research shows that employees generally won't come forward with complaints about their work environment or address them directly with their coworkers. Keep an open dialogue with employees – especially during the months of the transition – on what’s working and not working. It shows that you care about their response to the change.

Balance individual and group needs - be flexible.

Effective open work environments seem to provide enough accessible individual (hoteling or individual spaces) and cafe-like or conference room spaces - balancing the needs of private individual work time and space for collaboration, meetings, and open communication. They also give employees the freedom to work how and where they want and still allow employees the ability to individualize their space.

Natural separation and groupings should be utilized.

Put "like-groups" together within a larger space. Employees who use the phone frequently could be grouped in a space, while employees who don't could be grouped in a different space. Another best practice is to place employees in the same department and/or highly interdependent departments within the same work area.

Small details need to support productivity.

Light, color, amount of space, and placement of chairs or desks may seem like unimportant details, but they can make a big difference in comfort and productivity. Light levels can cause headaches or lack of focus; color can energize (or de-energize) your staff; if employees don't have sufficient space to work, they can be uncomfortable. All these things affect output and need to be managed.

Break down impediments to productivity and performance.

If you find that employees aren't getting much done, having to work at home to finish projects, that their performance is suffering, that their best ideas are coming from outside of the workplace, or that there are frequent conflicts between coworkers, your open work environment may be creating problems. Enabling performance and creating an environment where work can get done productively should be your number one goal.

Pilot a layout to test an open work environment.

Try an open layout with one department or a particular location before rolling it out to your entire organization. Observe how employees react to the new work environment.

Open work environments can be highly beneficial to an increasingly team-oriented workforce, but they need to be managed in ways that make employees feel comfortable and productive in their spaces, limit negative effects on performance, and support a respectful and collaborative work atmosphere.   

Additional Resources

Soft-Skills Training for Employees & Managers
ERC offers numerous soft-skills training for both employees and managers on a broad range of topics including communication, conflict resolution, generational differences, team-building, respect in the workplace, internal customer service, dealing with difficult people, and more. All of our courses can be customized to meet your organization’s needs. For more information, please contact ckutsko@yourerc.com

Office Products & Services ERC’s network of Preferred Partners provides discounts on a range of products and services to help your organization enhance its workplace experience for employees from technology solutions to food and catering services to office supplies. 

ERC Endorses CareWorks as Preferred MCO

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ERC is proud to endorse CareWorks as the preferred workers’ compensation Managed Care Organization (MCO) for members.

“CareWorks’ customer service philosophy, effective return to work strategies and quality medical management efforts can provide significant benefits to employers. CareWorks can also deliver substantial medical savings through provider network discounts. These discounts can help employers reduce claim costs and help control future premiums,” comments Pat Perry, President of ERC.

To register for a free event from CareWorks about what your MCO should do for your business, click here.

What is the Difference Between an MCO and a TPA?

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If you are responsible for your workers’ compensation program, it is important to have a fundamental understanding of the roles of a MCO and a Workers’ Compensation Third Party Administrator (TPA). MCOs and TPAs play unique roles in helping employers control workers’ compensation costs.

What is a MCO?

Under Ohio's Health Partnership Program, MCOs are responsible for the medical management of Ohio employers’ work-related injuries and illnesses. Every employer in Ohio must have a MCO, which is paid for directly by the Bureau of Worker's Compensation.

The core MCO functions include:

  • Collecting initial injury reports and transmitting to BWC;
  • Management and authorization of medical treatment to be received by an injured worker;
  • Medical review and bill payment processing;
  • Maintaining a network of BWC-certified healthcare providers;
  • Return to work services;
  • Utilization review;
  • Providing Peer Reviews as necessary for treatment decisions;
  • Processing treatment appeals through the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process; and
  • Training and education.

Further, MCO associates are medical professionals and their processes are clinically focused. They work diligently to help employers avoid the most costly of claims, i.e. lost time claims – when an injured worker is off work for eight or more consecutive days. With clinicians managing the medical care and transitioning injured workers back to gainful employment, employers are better able to manage their long term insurance premiums.

What is a TPA?

A Third Party Administrator (TPA) assists employers in the administrative and financial aspects of a claim.

The core TPA responsibilities include:

  • Providing risk management consulting to employers;
  • Administering compensation group rating savings programs and other discount program consulting;
  • Pertinent claims investigation;
  • Claims administration;
  • Industrial Commission hearing attendance;
  • Evaluation of claims for workers' compensation coverage; and
  • Assisting employers in the development of workers' compensation cost control strategies.

 

TPA staff typically consists of claim representatives, account representatives, and other workers' compensation professionals. 

ERC is proud to endorse CareWorks as the preferred workers’ compensation Managed Care Organization (MCO) for members. For more information, click here.

New Free Services Offered to ERC Members

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ERC is excited to offer two new, free services to ERC Members! These new services are direct results from feedback provided by ERC Members.

netwERC Groups

Our new netwERC Groups are exclusive networking events for ERC Members that provide an opportunity to meet other HR practitioners in your area, network, and share ideas. These events were first held throughout the month of March with many ERC Members as hosts. We thank the ERC Members who joined us for making these events so successful, and invite all ERC Members to join us again in June for the next round of netwERC Groups. We hope to see you there!

Global HR Resources

Due to our members’ growth of international operations and questions about how to manage employees outside the U.S., another new service that ERC is proud to provide to our members is the addition of several new global HR resources available through our HR Help Desk. ERC members can now receive guidance on HR policies and practices in other countries, international compensation data and employment law, and managing global employees or assignments.

We thank our members for providing suggestions and feedback in helping to shape ERC membership. If you would like additional information on these services or additional resources available through ERC Membership, please contact the ERC Membership Team at membership@yourerc.com or 440/684-9700.

Why Your Business Can't Afford to Ignore Wellness

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If your organization thinks workplace wellness is just a passing trend, think again. Investments in workplace wellness programs are paying huge dividends for employers. Plus, many organizations are finding that workplace wellness programs are a strategic priority when it comes to saving money, engaging employees, and creating a more productive workforce. Here are a few reasons why your organization can't afford to ignore workplace wellness.

Wellness programs reduce costs.

It's the most obvious benefit: wellness programs save your organization money on health insurance and reduce a number of other associated costs including use of sick time, workers' compensation, disability management, and absenteeism. Health benefits are arguably the second largest employee expense for organizations and one of the most volatile costs from year to year. Wellness programs are one of the best tools available to reduce health care costs over the long-term.

Smaller businesses are more affected by poor health.

Smaller organizations are more affected by poor employee health than larger organizations. They are less able to absorb additional health care costs, and extended absence or frequent use of sick days can significantly affect their business operations. Additionally, decreases in productivity or engagement (even by just one or a few employees) because of poor well-being can also affect smaller businesses more than larger organizations.

The demands of the workplace are increasing.

More and more is being demanded of employees. Longer hours, expanded work weeks, and higher standards mean that employees face increased stress and worse well-being at work. These risks can lead to poor physical and mental health, which in turn affect costs. Wellness programs can enhance employees' ability to function and perform well in spite of these demands and also help employees cope with the stresses of work.

Healthy employees are more engaged.

Beyond reduced costs, healthy employees tend to be more engaged. Studies find that employees who are engaged and interested in their work are more likely to report better overall well-being and healthier outcomes, such as improvements in cholesterol and blood pressure and lower stress, than their less engaged counterparts. They are also less likely to be absent from work, and more likely to be productive, energetic, and have higher performance.

Employees want to work for organizations that care about their well-being.

It's not uncommon for employees to cite that their organization's investment in their health and care for their well-being are key reasons that they stay at their employers. Employees want to work for organizations, leaders, and managers that care about their well-being and who provide appropriate levels of support and flexibility to lead healthy, balanced lives. ERC's employee engagement research has found significant relationships between whether employees believe that their organization cares about their well-being and their perceptions of leaders, supervisors, and the overall workplace.

Wellness programs are becoming a standard benefit.

With their increasingly popularity, wellness programs are becoming a standard part of an employer's benefits package. According to our surveys, the majority of local employers offer some wellness benefit to their employees, such as health screenings, wellness coaching, access to trainers and/or dieticians, on-site clinics, healthy food options, fitness/weight management programs, or health education seminars. Also, wellness perks can be an attractive benefit to prospective employees, and especially for candidates that care about being healthy. Several leading employers, such as our NorthCoast 99 winners (www.northcoast99.org), promote their wellness initiatives to attract talent.

Wellness programs change lives.

Beyond the cost and productivity benefits of wellness programs, one of the greatest gifts you can offer your employees is a better quality of life. There are countless success stories resulting from corporate wellness programs inclusive of employees that have overcome a chronic condition, lost significant amounts of weight, and reduced serious health risk factors. These programs aren't just saving money for businesses - they're improving lives. Wellness initiatives inspire and motivate employees to change their behavior and provide them the tools to better themselves.

The business case for wellness should be clear: lower costs, higher engagement, productive employees, and a healthier business. With these diverse positive benefits and the current volatile climate of health care, your organization truly can't afford to not invest in employees' wellness.

6 Ways to Help Employees Get Along

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6 Ways to Help Employees Get Along

Sometimes employees don't get along and these conflicts and office disagreements can dampen productivity, waste time, reduce a team's performance, make the work environment tense and uncomfortable, and increase stress in work groups - none of which are beneficial to your business. Here are a few ways managers can help reduce conflict on their teams.

1. Set the tone

Managers and leaders set the tone for team interactions by what they say or do when conflict or problems emerge between their employees, how they manage conflict with their own peers, and what behavior they tolerate. If managers act passive-aggressive, disrespect fellow employees, or do not directly deal with conflict, employees will follow their lead.

2. Hire team-players

Hiring employees who have strong interpersonal, team-building, and internal customer service skills can decrease the likelihood of conflicts. While it's tough to predict how well a candidate will interact with your team, a solid personality or style assessment and behavioral interview as well as asking for references can help.  

3. Don't ignore conflicts

Managers have a tendency to ignore problems with poor team-players or team conflicts until they escalate. Instead they should encourage employees to collaborate on a solution and seek coaching and/or training for current employees who argue with coworkers, don't provide good internal service, or are overly critical or judgmental of others. It's critical to not let conflict spiral out of control.

4. Educate on styles and generational differences

Great teams are melting pots of different generations and backgrounds. Each employee brings a different personality and style to the table. Most conflict stems from not fully appreciating who another person is, their background, and the strengths of their individual style. Spend time educating your team on style and generational differences.

5. Spend time interacting

Developing common ground is one of the most important ways to fend off conflict in the workplace and it's achieved in the simplest of ways: spending more time with one another. Informally interacting and talking is one of the best ways to get employees familiar with one another. When they eventually find common ground, magic happens.

6. Reward teamwork

Most managers want teamwork, but reward individual achievement. Recognizing and rewarding teamwork, collaboration, and supportive interactions and promoting or giving choice assignments to employees who act like team players helps promote and encourage a supportive work environment.

When conflict strikes in the workplace, your managers are the best people to nip it in the bud, deal with it, and prevent it.

Conflict Resolution & Mediation Training

Conflict Resolution & Mediation Training

The course demonstrates how constructive conflict resolution techniques can be useful.

Train Your Employees

ERC Awarded 2012 Wellness@Work Award

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ERC is very proud to announce that we received a 2012 Wellness@Work Award. This is the third consecutive year that ERC has won an award; winning 2nd place in the Small Business Division. The Wellness@Work Awards honor area businesses for their workplace wellness initiatives.

“We’re honored to receive a Wellness@Work Award for the third consecutive year,” said Pat Perry, President of ERC. “It is important to us to lead by example, as we sponsor the ERC Health program throughout the State of Ohio. Wellness has truly become a part of our culture here. We see it through participation in events like staff health days, cardiovascular screening sessions and afternoon workout classes. We are proud of the commitment we’ve made to improve our employees’ health and work-life balance.”

ERC would also like to congratulate our members who also won the 2012 award: Lake Health, Oswald Companies, ShurTech Brands LLC and Vita-Mix Corporation.

Health Tip: Aim for 5 Per Day

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By Heather Butscher, MS, RD, LD
Outpatient Clinical Dietitian
University Hospitals Health System

Americans are just not meeting the fruit and vegetable recommendations. If fruits and vegetables are so important, then why aren’t Americans eating enough? The United States Department of Agriculture suggests a minimum of two servings of fruit per day and three servings of vegetables per day. However, a 2012 study shows that only 33% of adults eat enough fruit and only 27% of adults eat enough servings of vegetables per day. The statistics are even worse for high school students. Less than one third of high school students eat enough fruit and a dismal 13% eat the minimum servings of vegetables daily.  

Eating enough fruits and vegetables are a part of a healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables are important as they contain nutrients such as vitamins A, C, and vitamin K as well as potassium, fiber, and magnesium. Fruits and vegetables are associated with the reduced risk of many chronic diseases and since they are relatively low in calories, they can replace higher calorie foods to aid in weight loss. If fruits and vegetables are so important, then why aren’t Americans eating enough? 

Consuming more fruits and vegetables does not have to be hard. Below are some pratical tips for making sure you get your five a day: 

  • Make half of your plate at each meal fruits and vegetables.
  • Focus your meal around vegetables such as beans instead of meat.
  • Keep a bowl of whole fruit on the table, counter, or in the refrigerator for easy access. 
  • Always travel with a fruit for a snack. 
  • Stock up on frozen vegetables for last minute addition to meals and easy cooking in the microwave. 
  • Buy produce from local farmers and buy-in season.

Interested in bringing this message to your employees? ERC member organizations receive discounts on corporate wellness services through University Hospitals, including nutrition seminars brought on site to your organization.

 

Military FMLA: Wading through the Confusion

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Verifying Next of Kin

According to the Department of Labor:

"Next of kin of a covered servicemember" means the nearest blood relative other than the covered servicemember's spouse, parent, son, or daughter, in the following order of priority: Blood relatives who have been granted legal custody of the covered servicemember by court decree or statutory provisions, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and first cousins, unless the covered servicemember has specifically designated in writing another blood relative as his or her nearest blood relative for purposes of military caregiver leave under the FMLA.

When no such designation is made, and there are multiple family members with the same level of relationship to the covered servicemember, all such family members shall be considered the covered servicemember's next of kin and may take FMLA leave to provide care to the covered servicemember, either consecutively or simultaneously. When such designation has been made, the designated individual shall be deemed to be the covered servicemember's only next of kin.

How is an employer supposed to know if a next of kin has been designated?

Verifying next of kin can isn’t as easy as it sounds. Here are some guidelines which will help employers in this situation when next of kin needs to be determined:

  • The Emergency Contact Form (DD0093) would rank employee’s relatives. This will help determine Next of Kin. For example, if the servicemember didn't have brothers/sisters, child, spouse, or parent, then maybe they would list their cousin or uncle as an emergency contact and beneficiary.
  • To obtain the DD0093, the employer can contact:
    • Army orders verification should be sent to hrc.foia@conus.army.mil
    • For all other branches of the armed forces: To identify a contact person, an employer should look at the military order and conduct an Internet Search to locate of the unit/battalion the servicemember is assigned. There is no general location/number employers can use to verify the validity of the orders. Employers are going to have to do some research to find the appropriate officer in charge of the unit/battalion.

This link has contact information for all the branches of the armed forces. Each branch can provide verification of active duty dates of service. The verification of orders is given by the unit officer in charge of the service member.

Military orders for Marines, Air Force, and Navy will detail what unit or battalion the servicemember is assigned.

The links below can be used to locate contact information for the unit the servicemember is assigned. The employer should contact the officer in charge of the unit to verify the orders.

The Air Force doesn't have a main location on the web which has all the units and contact information. An employer’s best option is to conduct an Internet Search of the unit indicated on the orders to locate a contact person.

Questions please contact:
Holly Moyer, M.Ed., CRC
Sr. Absence Management Consultant
(440) 937-9507
Holly.moyer@careworks.com

An Employer's Guide to College Recruiting

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You have everything to offer: jobs to fill, a great workplace, exciting career paths, meaningful work, and a terrific staff. How do you leverage all of this to gain an edge in recruiting a fresh, talented, and enthusiastic May grad? We've compiled a brief employer's guide for successful college recruitment.

Identify talent needs. Determine the talent you need now, the talent you will need in the future, and which departments would benefit from a new college graduate or entry-level role.

Get rid of your traditional practices. Young people are drawn to innovative and non-traditional organizations. Dress down, color your walls, open up your office environment, and change your policies. Attracting this generation requires thinking differently about work.

Create an online presence. Young people spend the majority of their time online and on social media outlets. Use social media, your website, and mobile apps to engage with young people and highlight your culture and workplace.

Build an attractive employment brand for young people. What does your organization offer that is unique and that young people want? Young people generally desire to follow their passions, work on something meaningful, develop their career, and have work/life balance. Create a compelling message that attracts the younger generation.

Promote clear career opportunities and paths. Young people are concerned about the career opportunities they can take advantage of at your organization and how you will develop their careers over time. If they can't see a future at your company, they won't apply.

Make the recruitment experience fun. Whether it's creating an attractive booth at a college career fair or inviting students to fun social events to learn about your workplace, make their experience exciting and memorable and they won't forget your organization.

Use your young professionals to connect and engage with students. Send your other young professionals on-campus and encourage them to connect and engage with students. Have them tell positive and compelling stories about their careers and experiences at your organization.

Engage them over time. Maintain communication with students, especially if you begin recruiting early. Send them emails, call them, and let them know you are interested in them, particularly the exceptional talent that is vetting offers with your competitors.

Develop relationships with key faculty and college career centers. They will recommend top students to you and suggest jobs at your organization to students. Select and target efforts at a few key colleges with quality programs applicable to your staffing needs.

Create a job shadowing experience. Allow students to job shadow and witness your day-to-day operations to help them understand the job and experience the work environment. Pull out the bells and whistles and "wow" them with your hospitality while they are with you.

Use internship programs. There's no easier way to hire a May grad than by converting one of your interns into a full-time hire. You get the benefit of testing their skills and experiences before making an investment.

Provide the right pay and benefits package. For many college grads, their final decision comes down to basics: the highest offer and best benefits. Make sure you know what other companies are paying new college graduates in your geographic area, otherwise you may end up making an offer that is unattractive to your candidates and all of your fantastic recruiting efforts could go to waste.

College recruitment provides the opportunity to acquire fresh talent with tons of potential. Every organization can and should take advantage of these strategies to land a great young hire. 

Additional Resources

Intern & Recent Graduate Pay Rates & Practices Survey This survey collects information from Northeast Ohio employers about their internship and recent graduate employment and pay practices - including intern pay rates and college graduate starting salaries. This survey provides important information for employers planning to hire interns or new graduates.

Project Assistance
ERC offers a broad range of HR consulting services and has expertise in developing selection systems, recruiting, and developing job descriptions. For more information about these services, please contact consulting@ercnet.org.

Save on Background Screening, Job Posting, Recruitment Services and More! ERC members save money with our Preferred Partner Network.