Is Forced Time Off the Right Cost-Savings Solution for Your Company?

As more and more employers are looking for ways to save money in today’s economic crisis, many are reaching a decision to implement an “unpaid time-off” program. There are pros and cons to this decision – from both the employer and employee perspective. If your company is considering such a program, the article below will be worth your time and consideration. The questions asked will help you evaluate if ‘forced time off’ is a viable solution for your firm, or not worth the potential risks.

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Is Forced Time Off Fair?

March 16, 2009 , Tom Davenport, Harvard Business Publishing

One of the common approaches to dealing with this recession is for companies to ask — well, tell — employees to take time off without pay, a day every week or two. This 10 or 20% haircut is supposed to indicate that “we’re all in this together,” and that it’s better for everyone to suffer a little than to lay some people off.

While I have some sympathies with this philosophy, I’m not sure it’s either fair or wise. On the issue of fairness, if such a policy had been instituted in 1969, it might have been very fair. But in 2009 there is much less of a relationship between hours on the clock and work actually done, at least for knowledge workers. How many of you reading this post actually work only 40 hours a week? How many of you only work on official workdays? Today, most people have a continuous mixture of work and non-work activities, and it will be difficult for any knowledge worker to stop working for a day every week or fortnight. I might suggest that this is exactly what the employer wants, but that would be a cynical remark.

There is also the issue of whether the forced haircut is wise. I have problems with its wisdom in two respects. One involves the fundamental principle that all employees are equally valuable. It’s nice to pretend that they are, but we all know they’re not. Giving all employees a haircut may lead the most valuable ones to look elsewhere. There was a column in a recent Boston Globe about treating all employees (at Boston’s Beth Israel hospital) alike with regard to cuts. It’s heartwarming, but if it leads to an across-the-board haircut, might some of the best employees leave for wealthier hospitals across town?

The other potential problem is that employees, given an involuntary time chop, may look elsewhere to fill the void. They’ll freelance, e-lance, or moonlight to replace the lost income. This could lead to a variety of negative scenarios for the employer/barber who originally chopped their time. The employee might find the freelance employer more desirable, and jump ship altogether for full-time employment there. Or he might end up doing a bit of his freelance work while ostensibly on the clock for the 80% or 90% employer. I’m not saying that 10 or 20% haircuts for everyone are necessarily a bad idea. I do think, however, that they are hardly a no-brainer either. The inclination to share the pain is admirable, but it could open the door to a host of problems.

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Motivate Employees with ‘Flexible Fridays’

As with many small business owners, I belong to a number of online social networks including Twitter and Facebook.  I frequently review postings from other members to identify interesting information that I believe will be of value to my target customer, small business owners. 

In reviewing some recent Twitter postings, I came across one from Amy Nichols the CEO of the franchise organization, Dogtopia.  Her posting regarding the ‘Flexible Fridays’ program at her company struck me as a concept that other business owners might have interest in using in these days of high gas prices, long commutes and 60-hour work weeks. Therefore, I asked Amy if she would write an article to share her program with our readers.  The resulting article is below.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (By the way, as a former D.C. area resident myself, I can absolutely attest to the traffic difficulties Amy discusses in her article; I assure you, I would have been thrilled to have an employer who believed in ‘Flexible Friday’s’ when I lived there!)

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Flexible Fridays

Washington, D.C. is known as our nation’s capital, but it also has another national moniker, that of one of the worst cities for traffic in the country.  Forbes ranked us in the Top 3 Worst Traffic Cities with the likes of Los Angeles and San Francisco. http://bit.ly/ForbesWorstCitiesForTraffic

Commuting in our area is grueling, and after leaving the “rat race” seven years ago to start my own business, I thought I had found a way to truly control the time I spend in my car.  I opened a doggie daycare, Dogtopia, just seven miles from my house.  Our business hours had me commuting outside of the most congested periods of the day, and I felt that I had solved the problem.  No longer would I be subjected to hours of wasted time in my car.  Until I decided to expand the business, that is.

A few years later we decided it was time to grow Dogtopia.  We had great success with the first dog daycare franchise in Tysons Corner, VA and felt it was time to add a “sister store” in North Bethesda, MD.  The new Maryland store would be only 14 miles from the Tysons Corner location – an easy commute between the two.  Or so we thought.  Apparently, the Wilson Bridge that takes you over the Potomac River and from Virginia into Maryland, had other ideas.

Skip forward a few more years and we are now a growing franchise company with 20 locations across the country.  We also have over 30 employees, six of which are in franchise management and report daily to our North Bethesda location.  The North Bethesda location now houses our national headquarters and training center.  Since we began the business in Virginia, that also happens to be where the majority of our corporate staff  lives, thus the daily undertaking of the Wilson Bridge.  The result, I was back to where I started eight years before and dealing daily with the horrors of DC traffic!

It occurred to me last summer that it would be quite easy to work from home on Fridays, and I felt that I deserved a day free from commuting.  My second thought was that my employees would really enjoy working from home on Fridays.  And if I could do it, why couldn’t everyone on our management team?  They would each save two hours or more in daily commuting time, and could therefore have an earlier start to their weekend and more time with their family.  I even came up with a clever name, “Flexible Fridays.” 

The way the program works, you can work wherever you want, but there are a few rules:

  1. Must be available by phone
  2. Must be online and available in email
  3. Must be on Instant Messenger

 The first two are quite obvious; the third requirement is because even when in the office, I often use IM to communicate with my team.  I might have a quick question while on the phone with a vendor or franchisee and it prevents me from having to yell and/or put the person on hold. 

Our initial ‘Flexible Fridays’ program last Summer worked great!  Knowing they had at least one day per week where they could avoid traffic really improved the outlook of the staff, and I know they appreciated my gesture.  There have been a few frustrations, but the slight inconveniences are more than outweighed by the increased satisfaction felt by my staff.

 This year I decided to once again offer ‘Flexible Fridays’ and so far, so good.  Other times of the year it would not be possible due to franchisee training and other commitments, but it has become a nice Summertime perk, and one that I plan to continue indefinitely.

Managing Virtual Employees

 

By Nipa Shah, June 18, 2009

Nancy is a financial analyst working for a mid-sized company located in the United Kingdom, but she lives in Michigan. She works from home in her pajamas and “meets” her boss once a month via video conference.

She is a virtual employee enjoying one of the perks of working from home and leveraging technology to stay in touch with her boss.

Companies across the globe are leveraging technology to retain resources that no longer have to be located in the same building or even in the same country. It is commonplace to hear of an individual working for a multinational company and having never met another team member.

By creating a virtual workforce, companies have been able to create efficiency, reduce travel and overhead costs, and essentially service the end-customer 24/7. Virtual employees, on the other hand, benefit from having a better work-life balance due to flexibility in working hours and not having to dodge rush hour traffic to be at work at a specific time.

Companies, however, face a common concern when it comes to virtual teams, that of measuring an employee’s productivity. Since the employee is no longer under a manager’s nose per se, managing productivity through “oversight” is impossible. Another concern is keeping an employee motivated and connected to company happenings.

The virtual team requires a shift in managerial and employee behavior. Here are some best practices which can effectively help you manage virtual employees:

Level Set Expectations
Beyond the policy and procedures set up by human resources, be sure to level set your expectations with your virtual employee, in a one-on-one discussion. Specifically state how you’d like him or her to keep in touch, how often, by what means (e-mail, chat, phone), and what deliverables you expect to receive at various times during the week. By level setting expectations in a more personalized manner, you create a better working relationship with your virtual employee and also plan for corrective action in the future.

Trust Employees
This is an important responsibility for a manager even when managing an on-site employee. It is an even more important responsibility when working with a virtual employee. Lack of trust can lead to micromanagement, which is never productive. Refrain from micromanagement in the form of “urgent e-mails” and “urgent voicemail” on a daily basis, which can create friction and unproductive working relationships between manager and employee. Trust the employee to do the work assigned and to turn it around in a reasonable timeframe. Once expectations are set, trust the employee to perform and do the work as assigned.

Provide Tools and Support
Virtual employees may require additional support to ensure their productivity. They could run into technical issues when connecting with a company local area network, or they could have issues sending large files through the firewall. All these issues need to be promptly addressed so that productivity is not impacted. Tools such as a BlackBerry, fax, access to resources and webinars, etc. should be offered to ensure employee can do the job.

Create an Inclusive Environment
Just because an employee is virtual it doesn’t mean he or she should be isolated from corporate events and happenings. Virtual employees still need to be included in team meetings, conference calls, town hall meetings, and other events so that they feel as if they are part of the corporate culture. 

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The importance of communication cannot be overstated. Even with all the technology in the world, it is important to do more than “staying in touch.” On a regular basis and without micromanaging; keep in touch, ask questions, participate in dialog, provide feedback, ask for feedback, etc.  Do everything necessary to stay in touch with your virtual employee so that you have clear communication.

A virtual workforce can be a blessing for companies and individuals alike. To make it work effectively, everyone involved will need to learn new skills and techniques. A successful virtual workforce can help a company save money and increase efficiency. Implement the above strategies and create a dynamic virtual workforce for your company!

Nipa Shah is president of Jenesys Group, LLC, an online marketing and Internet solutions company, providing technology consulting (with emphasis on offshore management) and online marketing. She is also the founder of the Michigan India Chamber of Commerce. Shah can be reached at nipa@jenesysgroup.com.

Benefits vs. Budgets: Providing Employees with Real Assistance During Tough Economic Times

By Darla Mullner; June 18, 2009

It’s no secret that every business today, regardless of sector, is faced with tough financial decisions. To that end, how do companies retain employees when budgets are impacting salaries and benefits? On one hand, management might take the position that with uncertainty in the marketplace, employees, despite reduced compensation packages, will stay in a job no matter what. That’s the short side of the argument.

The larger picture is that the economy is sure to rebound and employees have long memories. One approach is to provide meaningful benefits coupled with real assistance for all employees in an effort to aid retention and provide for an enhanced quality of life.

When faced with a competitive marketplace, the demand for highly skilled workers in a particular industry such as health care is fierce. The most cost-effective and efficient strategy is to hire the best employees during the recruitment phase and retain them for as long as possible by offering benefits that will enhance their quality of life. These quality of life benefits encompass several areas and include financial assistance, health and well-being and work-life resources.

Financial Assistance
In addition to wages, perhaps your organization may allow employees to “assist” co-workers that are facing a difficult financial situation. If your organization is a nonprofit and has a foundation or charitable affiliation, consider whether or not a special employee-fund can be established. Annual or any time contributions can be made and “drives” such as a cookie, flower or the like can generate thousands of dollars. Another way that employees can assist a co-worker in need is through the donation of Paid Time Off (PTO) hours. This is especially useful when an employee is experiencing a serious medical condition and has exhausted their own PTO hours or if they need income for time off.

Large organizations should take advantage of the purchasing power of a big group through discounted services and coupons offered by national retailers and service industries.  For example, employees might receive a 15 percent discount when using an on-campus or nearby daycare provider. Employees might be eligible to receive 20 percent off tax preparation services by a nationally known tax preparation service. Other reduced costs can be negotiated for employee entertainment such as amusement park fees and movie theatres.

Health and Well-Being
Most employers are well aware of continually rising health care costs. Disease prevention and fitness opportunities not only benefit the employee, but healthy team members use less health care services and costs can be better managed. Consider partnering with a local fitness center and offer free or discounted memberships, not only a great benefit, but also a great way to contribute to the bottom line.
 
Employees are people with lives outside the workplace. To ensure productivity and peak performance, offering a free employee assistance program (EAP) when someone needs guidance, counseling, referrals to local services or reliable professional care is often money well spent by the organization. Services include emotional health counseling and referrals, financial consultation including budgeting, credit assistance and college or retirement planning. The EAP also provides legal services including consumer and family law situations, traffic citations and estate planning.

Work-Life Assistance
Going beyond a paycheck can help make a difference in an employee’s life. What can your organization provide to enhance the lives of workers? For instance, consider offering all employees interest-free loans for the purchase of a personal computer. The incentive is that many employees in a large manufacturing firm or service organization may not have access to a personal computer on daily basis. As more communications and employee activities become electronic it becomes even more critical to offer ways to “wire” staff members to the organization. Partnerships with banks or credit unions are also desirable for employees who can take advantage of the option of checking and savings accounts as well as automatic payroll deduction for home and auto loans.

Helping employees hone skills that might be outside their normal job duties is also a great idea. Consider partnering with a local community or business college to offer staff free office software classes such as word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software.

The lifeblood of any business is its workforce. Today’s leaders must recognize that without talented, highly skilled and dedicated workers, many organizations would merely be buildings with equipment and furniture. Therefore, the best investment we can make for the future is the investment of a compensation package that provides employees with useful and meaningful benefits that enhance their quality of life.

Darla Mullner is human resources director at Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora, IL, a 183-bed hospital providing health and wellness services to the greater Fox Valley community.  Rush-Copley was named one of Chicago’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For in 2008. Mullner can be reached at dmullner@rsh.net.

Top 10 HR Mistakes Made by Businesses – Large & Small

  1. Failure to develop an effective corporate communication strategy; internal and external.
    • Establish specific communication policies
      • internal/external email
      • internet/intranet
      • social media
      • IM
      • media/public communication
      • corporate document sharing
    • Publicize internal communication; open access promotes honesty and trust between management and staff
      • staff meetings
      • town halls
      • newsletters
    • Handle confidential information appropriately
  2. Failure to link individual goals to company goals
    • Short-term and long-term objectives; personal and company
    • Developing action plans
      • corporate > division > department > individual
    • HR planning
      • staff selection & planning
      • training & development
  3. Not utilizing HR metrics to track activity and performance
    • Measure how activity is impacting the bottom line, not just the cost of the activity
    • Needs to objectively demonstrate benefits to the business
  4. Lack of employee motivation and retention strategies
    • What motivates employees?
      • recognition; feeling valued by the organization
      • sense of achievement
      • feeling they are an integral part of the organization
      • opportunity for increased responsibility and advancement
      • compensation package
    • Develop credible reward programs
    • Insure that compensation packages are competitive to the market
  5. Lack of strategic recruitment plan
    • Hire people that fit; effort, expectations, attitude, talent, skills, training, experience
    • HR needs to manage the recruitment process, not department heads or executives
  6. Lack of training
    • Empower front-line management with authority; train them to use it effectively for the organization’s benefit
    • Don’t allow lack of awareness to be an excuse for inappropriate actions
    • Insure managers have training regarding legal issues affecting the manager/employee relationship
    • Ensure there is a clear understanding of corporate values
  7. Not establishing employee performance guidelines
    • Establish a reward system based on performance
    • Insure timely attention to employee performance issues to prevent staff morale issues
  8. Failure to keep up-to-date on legal requirements related to HR
    • Establish a network of experts for guidance
    • Participate in continuing education programs
  9. Lack of documentation
    • Insure proper tracking, measuring, analysis, reporting and follow-up
    • Meet all legal requirements for payroll documentation
  10. Failure to maximize the effectiveness of the HR team
    • HR should be an integral part of the executive team
    • Be pro-active rather than re-active to avoid negative perception amongst staff
    • Allow the HR department to be the catalyst for change management initiatives

Let us help you avoid these mistakes; contact us via our website or email us at info@strategicgrowthconcepts.com for assistance with your HR strategies and structure.

10 Employee Handbook Mistakes Made by Small Businesses

All businesses with employees will benefit from having an employee handbook. Writing your company’s policies and procedures requires you to spend less time answering questions and explaining the rules and regulations of the office. Having a standardized employee manual will also lessen your chances of ending up in court.

To help you prepare an appropriate manual we’ll highlight some common mistakes that typically occur during the creation of employee handbooks, as follows:

Not having the handbook reviewed by a lawyer. There are many ways to state your policies, some of which may be vague or potentially misconstrued and leave you open to potential legal issues. Have an attorney who is well-versed in employment law review your handbook before designating it as complete and distributing to your staff.

Not taking into account federal and state laws. It is imperative that laws such as the Family Medical Leave Act, among others, are not mis-stated in your handbook. You also want to insure that your company policies are not violating personal rights. Both of these items are another reason to have an employment lawyer review your handbook prior to distribution.

Creating the long version. While you want to cover all of the essentials, you also don’t want to go into such great detail that you hand employees a novel that they’re unlikely to read. You want employees to be willing to become familiar with the contents. 

Not providing a means by which employees can complain about harassment or discrimination. The law requires that employers provide an opportunity for employees to voice such complaints as well as having a process in place by which their complaints will be addressed.

Failing to read such a handbook first. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel when you develop your company’s handbook, there are plenty of employee handbooks available to read as well as templates that can be found to help you construct yours. Review employee manuals from other companies and take advantage of available tools to help you in the development of your company’s employee handbook.

Failing to update your handbook. At least once per year, your company should update its employee manual – more often if there have been significant changes in company policies or laws related to employment.  Reasons to update your employee handbook typically include new laws, new technology, and various changes in how you conduct business.

Not having a disclaimer. A disclaimer prevents an employer from being boxed into a corner. Without a disclaimer, the handbook can be construed as a contract. There needs to be some room for the employer to use discretion and work within the general guidelines of the handbook. Therefore, do not make the mistake of neglecting the inclusion of a disclaimer for your company’s protection.

Not using straightforward language. If the handbook is too vague or technical and not clearly understood by employees, then it won’t serve its’ intended purpose. Instead of writing it in ‘legalese’, make sure everything is easy to understand and reader-friendly.

Not tactfully introducing the handbook to current employees. In order to prevent concerns among the staff that their jobs may be in danger, make it clear to employees that the handbook is just a means of clarifying procedures and policies so that everyone is on the same page. Be prepared to answer questions regarding the handbook.

Failing to make sure all employees have a handbook. You should have everyone sign off that they have received the handbook and keep the sign-off sheet in their employee files.

Resources for Developing Your Company’s Employee Handbook:

For more information helpful in preparing an employee handbook, see the Employment Regulations section and the Employment & HR Center of Allbusiness.com. For an employee handbook checklist, see the Employment Policies and Termination section of the AllBusiness.com Forms & Agreements Center.