HR’s Role in a Recession

The prospect of a recession has many businesses and their employees worried. During an extended economic decline, sales drop, jobs disappear, and productivity decreases. Companies have less revenue to invest, and their customers have less money to spend. With their lives shaken by financial instability, people are more motivated to play it safe and less inclined to take risks.

We make no prediction about whether a recession is near. But with the possibility of one on the horizon and the inevitability of one eventually, everyone working in HR ought to be prepared when the time comes. A recession hits more than just your bank account. Stress grows. Tensions mount. Morale falls. People become less productive simply because they’re preoccupied with their personal finances. Each of these affect the bottom line.

HR’s role in a recession is to mitigate stress, resolve tensions, maintain morale, and ensure employees continue to be rewarded for their hard work. This is what HR should be doing all of the time, of course, but economic downturns come with their own challenges. Respect and empathy are key. Let’s look at a few of these challenges and what you can do in response.

Heightened Uncertainty About the Future

If a recession nears or begins in earnest, employees will be worried about how it might affect them. Will their pay be cut? Will they lose their job? Will their retirement savings evaporate? It’s difficult to plan or act when you don’t know what’s going to happen. For some people, waiting for the possibility of bad news induces as much anxiety as receiving that bad news.

Whether your business is booming or struggling, be as transparent as you can be. If your business looks poised to do well despite the overall downturn, deliver that message to employees. Give them that confidence. If navigating the recession will demand more efficient work from everyone, clearly communicate those goals, don’t sugarcoat the consequences if those goals aren’t met, and show your appreciation when they’re achieved. Whatever the case, don’t mislead employees. If you do, they’ll find out eventually and remember not to trust you in the future.

Employee Financial Hardships

A recession doesn’t hit everyone in a company the same way. Even if your organization fares well, the finances of your employees may not be so hot. Their 401(k)s may be tanking. An employee you just gave a raise to may still be worried about paying rent because their spouse or partner lost their job or their roommate had to move away.

Be mindful that your employees’ experiences during a recession will vary widely. Some may take bad news harder or feel less celebratory when there’s good news to share. Don’t assume that employee morale is high just because quarterly financials are on the rise. In times like these, empathy is invaluable. Keep a pulse on what your people are feeling. Point them in the direction of helpful resources.

Layoffs

Recessions sometimes lead to layoffs. A layoff occurs when you terminate the employment relationship because there’s no work available for the employee to do, the company can’t afford to pay for the work, or the company will completely close.

There’s no sense denying it: layoffs are stressful for everyone. That said, conducting layoffs poorly adds a lot of unnecessary stress, increases the chance of lost revenue, and may expose companies to liability. When considering and administering layoffs, keep the following in mind:

  • Learn about your compliance obligations regarding layoffs. The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), which applies to employers with 100 or more full-time employees, requires 60 days’ notice before a mass layoff or business closing. Many states have their own versions (mini-WARNs) that kick in at a lower employee count, so be sure to check state law too. Your state unemployment insurance law may have notice requirements as well.
  • Be doubly sure that layoffs are absolutely necessary and that you’re letting the right number of people go. Layoffs mean less work gets done, period. Unless you’re shutting down, you need at least enough people remaining to keep the business running. Quickly rehiring people because you underestimated how much work needed to be done to stay afloat won’t inspire confidence and will likely lead to confusion around to shifting job duties.
  • Determine whether the layoff will be temporary or permanent. If you intend to rehire laid-off employees later, let the employees know and keep them apprised of developments or changes in your plans. You’ll be scrambling if you’re ready to rehire workers at some point and no one can or wants to return. Also, given the waiting times for unemployment insurance, being on-again, off-again with employees can seriously interfere with their income.
  • Be fair and non-discriminatory. Base your layoff decisions on legitimate business reasons and document those reasons.
  • Comply with laws regarding final pay. Many states require that you pay an employee much sooner than their next regular payday if they’re discharged or laid off. If your state law doesn’t address layoffs specifically, we recommend using the deadline that applies to terminations. If your state law doesn’t set a deadline for final paychecks at all, we recommend paying no later than the next regular payday.

Reduced Hours and Pay Cuts

In addition or as an alternative to layoffs, you might consider reducing hours or pay, but there are rules to follow here as well, and morale is sure to take a hit.

Employers generally have the right to reduce the number of hours an employee works. If you plan to send an employee home before the end of their shift, check state law for reporting time pay. Other restrictions may apply as well—review any contracts you have as well as relevant state or local laws. Exempt employees aren’t paid by the hour, so just reducing their hours won’t in itself lower their pay and save your company money.

If you still need a lot of work done, but can’t make the finances work, pay cuts may be your best bet. You can reduce the rate of pay of nonexempt employees as long as you keep it above the federal, state, and local minimum wages, still pay overtime when applicable, and don’t make the change retroactively.

You can also reduce the salary of exempt employees as long as they don’t fall below the federal and state minimum salary thresholds and, as with nonexempt employees, you don’t reduce the pay retroactively. In addition, to avoid violating the salary basis requirement for exempt employees, any change should be ongoing rather than fluctuating frequently. Federal law doesn’t require advance notice of pay reductions, but some states do, so be sure to check your state’s requirements.

If you need to reduce exempt employee pay below the minimum salary threshold, you’ll need to reclassify them as nonexempt, pay them at least the minimum wage and overtime as required by law, and provide them with any legally required breaks. Avoid reclassifying employees on a short-term basis, however, as it can look like you’re trying to avoid the rules.

As with layoffs, make your decisions regarding cuts to hours or pay in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner—and document, document, document.

Temptation to Cut Programs Deemed “Nonessential”

When money is tight, you must make sacrifices, but it’s important to remember your commitments and consider the consequences of casting them aside. For example, if an employer had committed to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion at their company, but then quickly opted to cut that program to help make ends meet, its employees would no doubt question whether that was ever truly a priority. All the work done as part of that effort could be jeopardized. The company’s reputation in the labor market could suffer.

Take care when deciding what programs and practices to stop. People assess an organization’s values based on where it spends (and doesn’t spend) money. What would your choices say about your values? Consider what message your actions will communicate.

If you really have no choice but to cut programs and practices that speak to your values and commitments, be thoughtful about how you communicate these decisions to employees. Transparency is key, as is following through again on these commitments when your company is back on its feet.

Everyone on Edge

Money problems weigh heavily on most people. Patience wears thin, the ability to collaborate with others deteriorates, and peaceful environments become high-pressure ones. In the event of a recession, you can expect people to lose their temper more quickly, long-standing conflicts to escalate, and new drama to erupt. However, don’t tolerate bad behavior.

Instead, address behavioral and performance issues right away, remind everyone that you’re all working for a common purpose, teach your team effective communication skills, and practice conflict resolution strategies. Ignoring drama or otherwise allowing it to fester will only hasten your best employees out the door.

Bottom Line

Recessions are difficult to go through and sometimes require hard choices. Treating people with respect and empathy sets everyone up for success in the long run.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

Five Ways to Promote Mental Health in the Workplace

In a survey by McKinsey & Company, 75 percent of employers acknowledged that there’s a stigma around mental health in the workplace. People in the workplace, leaders included, are afraid to speak up about their mental health needs or ask for help. As the McKinsey report notes, employers can’t solve every problem contributing to poor mental health, but there is work they can do to reduce the stigma around mental health and promote healthy behaviors. We recommend these five actions: 

  1. When possible, give employees a little extra time to slow down and rest. Employees may need a moment to breathe or a day to regain their peace of mind, and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for time to take care of themselves. The ability to occasionally function at a medium (or even slow) pace should be built into performance expectations so that employees can avoid burnout or breakdown.
  2. Offer paid time off (PTO), mental health benefits, and flexible schedules if appropriate. In some cases, employees may want to get mental health care but can’t afford it. Losing pay from a missed work shift might be too great a hardship, and effective treatments might be financially out of reach. These financial hindrances can exacerbate conditions like anxiety and depression. In other cases, employees can afford the time off and the treatments, but they can’t make regular appointments work with their schedules. If you can offer PTO, health insurance benefits, or flexible schedules, these can help employees get the care they need.
  3. Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). An EAP gives employees access to expert, confidential assistance for substance abuse issues, relationship troubles, financial problems, and mental health conditions. These services are offered through an outside provider that connects employees with the appropriate resources and professionals. These programs enable you to provide professional assistance to employees in a confidential manner.
  4. Make reasonable accommodations when possible. If an employee informs you that they have anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition that’s affecting their work, begin the interactive process to determine what reasonable accommodation(s) you can provide in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA applies when an employer has 15 or more employees, but many states have similar laws that require employers to make accommodations at an even lower employee count. You can learn more about the ADA on the HR Support Center.
  5. Promote good mental (and physical) health in the workplace. Healthy habits are important for everyone to practice. Consider setting time aside during the week or month for employees to participate in activities like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness that develop and strengthen these habits. If you aren’t familiar with these practices, solicit the help of your employees. One or more of them may know a lot about these activities and be able to assist you in setting up a workplace program or modifying a program for employees currently working from home.

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Invest Time in Onboarding

There’s nothing like a bad onboarding experience to make a new hire regret accepting a job offer. It’ll take a lot of work to restore the employee’s trust if you’re lucky enough to keep them.

A good onboarding process provides new employees with everything they need to be successful. They receive whatever tools, equipment, and instruction they’ll need to do their job. They’re given time to read and reflect on company policies. They’re given time to get acclimated to the new environment. They’re introduced to members of their team and given time to connect with people in the company they’ll be working with closely. Remember that the experience should be reciprocal—onboarding is a time for the company to get to know the new hire better, too. In short, they’re given a warm welcome!

As with hiring, always look for ways to improve the onboarding process. Establish a way for newly onboarded employees to provide feedback anonymously.

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Four Ways to Make Terminations Less Stressful

In the 2009 movie Up in the Air, George Clooney and Anna Kendrick play corporate downsizers—HR consultants that companies across the country hire to terminate employees for them. The practice wasn’t exactly common at the time, and fortunately never took off, but it was believable.

Terminations are nerve-wracking. You’re doing something that’s going to cause another person incredible stress and financial hardship. It’s not easy to do, even when it’s deserved.

Nothing you can do will make terminations entirely stress-free. But terminations are often far more challenging than they need to be. No, we don’t recommend flying in Anna Kendrick and George Clooney to conduct your terminations, as tempting as that may be. But good preparation and the right attitude will make a big difference. Here are four general practices we do recommend:

Know Your Compliance Obligations Ahead of Time

Look up applicable laws regarding termination procedures and paperwork, accrued paid leave, severance pay, COBRA, and final paychecks before conducting a termination meeting. If you’re laying off a number of employees, you may have specific notice obligations under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) or a similar state law. You don’t want to miss any steps or deadlines. If the employee works in a different state, refer to that state’s laws.

You should also understand how antidiscrimination laws work in practice and take steps to reduce the likelihood that the terminated employee will file a discrimination claim. While at-will employment allows either the employer or the employee to terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without notice and with or without cause, it does not permit you to terminate employment based on the employee belonging to a protected class (e.g., race, sex, religion, national origin).

Along similar lines, screen the termination to make sure it’s not based on a protected activity. Myriad state and federal laws protect employees from being discharged for certain reasons. For example, Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act entitles employees to talk about their wages or complain about working conditions with each other. A handful of states prohibit employers from terminating employees for engaging in lawful activities outside of work. Reporting unsafe working conditions is protected. And don’t forget about the many leave laws that vary from state to state: from sick leave to military leave to school-involvement leave and more, you may be surprised by the types of absences that are protected.

There’s even some risk when the termination is for cause. A terminated employee could claim your reasoning is just for show, and they were actually terminated for an illegal reason. That risk grows exponentially when you don’t provide the employee with a sensible reason for the termination or when you’ve been inconsistent in applying your discipline policies.

Consequently, the safest way to terminate employees is to communicate performance issues to them, give them a chance to improve, and have documentation that justifies the legitimate business reasons behind the termination. This documentation would include policy violations, instances of poor performance, and any disciplinary or corrective action taken. The documentation should indicate that the company communicated the issues to the employee. The more you can do to show you had a legitimate business reason and gave them an opportunity to improve, the harder it will be for an employee to fill in the blank with their own illegal reason for termination. The termination will be less risky, and you’ll feel better about the decision because you treated the employee fairly.

Approach Terminations with a Positive Mindset

Painful as they are, terminations can be a good thing. Yes, even for the terminated employee. Let’s say you have an employee who’s continually struggled to meet your performance expectations. Guidance and training haven’t proven fruitful. No amount of coaching has or would enable them to do the job better. There’s no other job in your organization they could do. So now you have a choice. You can keep them on, tolerating subpar performance and accepting its consequences for your organization, or you can let them go. In this case, letting them go is probably the better option for both parties.

You’re not doing this struggling employee any favors by keeping them in a position where they can’t be successful. You’re also setting them up for failure in future roles. Months or years of experience listed on their resume may help them land a future job, but if it’s a job they actually can’t do, their future employer will have the same choice you’re facing. And the employee will be no better off.

This employee has their own hard choices to face. They may need to develop skills beyond what you can provide, rethink what kind of work they’re suited to do, or make better choices about their future. Whatever the case, if you allow them to coast along, they’ll never thrive. Termination is in the employee’s best interest in these types of situations. We wouldn’t recommend telling the employee this, but it’s something to keep in mind when making this difficult decision.

In the case of layoffs, where the employee is not at fault, figure out a few ways you can help them land on their feet. Provide a severance if that’s an option. Remind them that they can apply for unemployment. Help them update their resume. Inform them of any opportunities you know about and facilitate networking connections if you can. In short, make the layoff meeting a productive discussion about their future. That’s going to be a hard discussion, no doubt, and it’s possible the employee won’t want to hear it. You can honor that too.

Be prepared for strong emotions like sadness and anger to surface during the termination meeting so that you can respond with confidence. While there’s a fine line between allowing space for initial processing and unnecessarily prolonging the meeting, you can acknowledge and validate the employee’s feelings without changing the end result. Although escalations into violence are rare, review your company’s procedures ahead of time for dealing with such situations.

Don’t Let Terminations Be a Surprise

Have you ever gotten an email from a boss saying something cryptic like “We need to talk”? You may immediately begin to worry. Are you in trouble? Are you getting fired? Until you have that talk, you can’t breathe a sigh of relief.

Why would your mind go there? It might be because you’re not clear on what could get you into trouble at work and you don’t feel safe. Vague out-of-the-blue messages are seldom a good idea. They’re a terrible practice when people believe that they could realistically lose their job for reasons unknown to them. That belief puts people on edge, inclining them to assume the worst when their manager reaches out without any context. Surprise terminations encourage everyone to adopt that belief and incentivize a culture of fear.

Terminations should never be a complete surprise. Yes, at-will employment allows you to terminate employment for any reason or no reason at all (as long as it’s not an illegal reason), but please don’t fire someone for any reason or no reason at all.

Clear rules and consistent practices are your friends here. Inform employees what’s expected of them and what could result in their dismissal—the employee handbook is a good place to do this. Enforce your rules consistently, not willy-nilly. If you let employees get away with policy violations, but then suddenly switch to strict enforcement, you’ll only create confusion and fear. You don’t need to follow the same process for every kind of offense—some behaviors may warrant immediate termination, for example. But don’t bend the rules for some employees and not others.

A coaching culture can also be your friend, especially with employees who are struggling to perform to expectations. If managers regularly work with employees on improving their performance and enhancing their skills, they’re in a good position to spot signs early on that a struggling employee may be more successful and happier doing something else. In some cases, good coaching means guiding an employee out of the organization. A loss is a loss, but guiding employees toward more suitable work elsewhere is usually much smoother and less disruptive than an involuntary termination. Plus, they leave with goodwill towards you. In situations where termination is the right call, if managers have had conversations with employees ahead of time about the consequences for failing to improve, they’ll have softened the blow when it eventually comes.

Lastly, don’t hide bad financials from employees. If business is slow and a layoff is possible, employees need to know so they can make informed financial decisions and contingency plans. They’ll be extra angry if they feel they’ve been lied to or misled. In an age where companies go viral on the internet for poorly conducting layoffs, it’s in your interest to be transparent and honest.

Stay Organized

Develop a checklist ahead of time of things that need to be covered. This list might include specific equipment and keys that need to be returned, passwords and access cards that will need to be disabled, coverage of the employee’s workload until a replacement is hired, notification to coworkers, vendors, and customers, COBRA information, a current address for W-2s, and what you’re going to say during the termination meeting.

Checking off boxes may feel impersonal, but the day of a termination is at the very least challenging for all involved, and at the worst chaotic, especially if you’re disorganized. Keeping the process smooth and orderly is both kind and professional.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

7 Ways to Reengage Your Workforce and Inspire Loyalty

You’ve probably been hearing about the Great Resignation (or however you want to describe it) for months now. Even if you’re not dealing directly with increased turnover, your employees know they have options. Their friends, family, and people they know peripherally or on social media have made the leap and are gleefully announcing it on LinkedIn.

Some job-hoppers may be emboldened by the movement to quit good jobs in the hope of something better—better pay, more flexibility, or more opportunities for advancement. Some have simply been pushed to the brink by dead-end jobs, lousy company culture, or ineffective managers. Others have given up trying to “have it all” and left the workforce completely.

But what if employers could capitalize on this current “I quit” mood? What if you could keep your employees engaged, inspire loyalty, and make it easier to attract and hire those that are looking for that next best thing?

We’ve got some ideas for both prioritizing current employees and making it easier to attract new ones.

  1. Understand and be responsive to employee needs, motivations, and priorities. A paycheck may be the reason everyone has a job in the first place, but it’s not the only reason people choose to work or decide to work for one employer over another. Your employees stick with you because there’s something in it for them besides the money. The job is useful to them. Knowing why it’s useful enables you to keep employees satisfied and, better yet, make their jobs even more appealing.
  2. Prioritize employee development. A work environment in which people gain knowledge, learn new skills, and advance in their careers speaks more clearly and loudly than any marketing message can. People like working where they can grow and develop. According to a LinkedIn report, companies “that excel at internal mobility are able to retain employees nearly twice as long as companies that struggle with it.” And a better trained workforce is also a more productive and profitable workforce! 
  3. Invite employees to be co-creators of the organization. Empower them to make decisions about how things are done and where the organization is going. People feel more a part of something when they see themselves in it. They’re more engaged when their decisions bring about real change.
  4. Reward success. In fact, reward anything you want to see more of. Whether large or small, the rewards have to be meaningful. Ideally, figure out what type of reward speaks to each employee. For some, acknowledgment in a company meeting will make their heart sing. For others, receiving a token of your appreciation, such as a coffee gift card, will be more meaningful.
  5. Allow for a healthy work-life balance. Flexibility is a big selling point for employees looking for better balance between work and life. Your employees have other commitments they need to attend to. Some are caring for young children or other family members while navigating daycare and school closures or multiple appointments. Give employees the time to see to those commitments and have a life outside of work, and you’ll get more from them when they’re on the job. Options may include remote or hybrid work, paid time off, flex hours, four-day workweeks, alternative schedules, and reducing workload. Remember, however, that policies are only as good as the practices around them. Ensure that employees don’t need to jump through hoops to request time off. Remind managers to be responsive to requests for time off and on the look out for signs that employees are feeling overwhelmed. 
  6. Conduct “stay interviews.” Don’t wait until people are leaving to investigate what could have inclined them to stay. Talk to employees now about what’s going well, what pain points they’re experiencing, and what could be done to take the relationship to the next level. Stay interviews enable you to address problems and unfulfilled wishes before they drive people out the door.
  7. Let people go who want to go. You have only so much time in the day. Don’t spend it trying to entice people to stay if they really want to leave the organization. That time is better spent ensuring smooth transitions and engaging employees who don’t have one foot out the door.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

Why You Should Care About Your Employer Brand

Lots of HR leaders today are talking about the importance of using marketing techniques to build an effective employer brand. What is an employer brand? To answer that question, it may be helpful to go over what a brand is in general. A brand is a name, image, or some other feature that distinguishes your products and services from those offered by others.

Branding may sound simple, but as any marketing team can tell you, a lot of thought and work goes into it, and the difference between success and failure couldn’t be starker. If you call to mind successful companies, some names will pop in your head—not simply because they’re profitable, but because you know their brand. If they didn’t have an effective brand, you wouldn’t have even thought of them.

A company’s employer brand is its public image or reputation as an employer. It’s the feel of the company that comes through in job postings, social media, reviews, news stories, awards, and word of mouth. It’s the value (or lack thereof) that prospective employees expect to find in the employment relationship.

Every employer has a brand, whether they’ve deliberately worked to define one or not. Your company does, too. And that brand is either helping or hurting your recruitment and retention efforts. That’s the biggest reason HR leaders are talking about it. You have no say in whether you have an employer brand, but you do have a say in what that brand is. Here’s how you can take charge of it.

Identify Your Current Brand

When building your employer brand, you won’t be working from scratch, but rather altering what already exists. Your first step, then, will be to get an accurate picture of your existing brand. Examine all the ways your organization appears to the public. Look at your job ads, your corporate social media accounts, and your website. Search your organization’s name online to find news stories and reviews by customers and employees, past and present.

What impression is your workplace giving? How would an outsider view it based on what they can find online? What’s distinctive about working for your organization? What images do you see? What words and phrases appear most often? These are the first questions you should ask.

Next, ask yourself what sort of employees appear to work at your organization. If, for example, your social media accounts feature photo after photo of employees playing games and partying on the job, but show little or nothing of their actual work, you might be giving the impression that working for you is mostly fun, relaxing, and carefree—and that your current employees are the sort that value playing hard over working hard. If online employee reviews mention a former manager who was terminated for harassment, but the reviews make no mention of any other leader in the company, you may still have a reputation for tolerating harassment even though the offending manager is long gone.

Identifying your existing brand may be more challenging than you expect. Not only do you have a lot to consider, you also have your own working impression of your company that may color what you see. It may be prudent, therefore, to enlist the aid of a third party, someone who can describe your existing brand as it is and not as you wish it to be.

Once you’ve got a complete picture of your existing employer brand, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Evaluate Your Current Brand

There are two questions you should ask in this step. First, is the brand you’ve identified an accurate representation of reality? And second, is it the type of brand that you want?

A brand may be inaccurate for a number of reasons. A former employee in a vindictive mood might have taken to a review site to tell the world how much they hated their boss, when their boss was in reality patient, caring, and supportive. Or your social media might describe your culture as no-holds-barred competitive when the truth is your culture is distinctively collaborative and uplifting.

Accuracy is crucial. You don’t want a flood of applicants who don’t have the traits and behaviors necessary for success in your company. If your brand doesn’t match reality, you’ll need to correct that in the next step.

Before we move on, though, there’s another question you should ask. Is your current brand headed in the direction you want? Does it align with your specific employee-related needs? These answers will determine whether the next step involves minor tweaks or a major overhaul.

Develop the Brand You Want

Since it’s vital to success that your employer brand accurately mirror the reality of the workplace, changing your brand may require changing your culture. Creating a really attractive employer brand that hides hard truths about your workplace will only hurt you in the long run. Employees will join your organization only to realize that they’ve been sold a false reality. Frustrated and resentful, they’ll soon leave physically or mentally, neither of which is good for your bottom line.

Just because an applicant has the skills you need doesn’t mean they’d be happy working for you. If you’re a small business with a simple hierarchy and don’t expect to grow, you don’t want to spend your time vetting candidates who are hoping to get promoted in the near future. If you will be able to offer promotion opportunities and will need creative people to lead teams, you probably don’t want to hire lots of individuals who are simply content to do what they’re told.

In short, an effective employer brand can’t be developed in isolation. Whoever is working on the brand should collaborate with the company leadership team and, if possible, the marketing department so that the developed employer brand aligns with both the overall culture and the corporate brand vision. Ultimately, these should all be one and the same.

Tell a Story

If you’re at all familiar with the marketing world, you’re probably aware that a lot of marketing professionals see themselves as storytellers. Stories can be a powerful and effective way to change behavior, which is what marketing is all about. In your case, you want prospective employees to stop what they’re doing and come work for you. You have to convince them to make this change, and a well-told story can be very persuasive.

Think of your employer brand as your workplace culture as seen from the outside. The images and messaging you use should show prospective employees the real you. That way, you’ll attract the kinds of employees you want and deter the kinds you don’t.

But here’s the thing: prospective job candidates don’t care about your story. Even if they’re aware that you exist, they’re not emotionally invested in your success or failure. So, the story you should tell is not about you. It’s about them. They’re the leading character, not you. Your workplace is the setting of their story. At best, you’re in a supporting role.

An effective employer story is a story about employees—what they’ve experienced. Achievements they’ve unlocked. Skills they’ve learned. Friendships they’ve formed. Obstacles they’ve overcome.

You’ll be able to tell some of these stories, but the most heartfelt and effective tales will be told directly by your employees. Don’t tell them what to say. Avoid talking points and scripts. Prospective candidates will know if your employees are just repeating the company line. Instead, create a remarkable work experience that employees are happy to share with the world.

If you’re doing this right, you won’t need to ask employees to share job ads with their networks or be “brand ambassadors.” They’ll promote their work experiences without any prompting from you simply because those experiences have been a good thing for them, and people enjoy sharing the good things in their lives.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

Creating a Safe and Fulfilling Workplace for Another Challenging Year

As we enter the new year, the risks of COVID-19 may recede, but the trauma, pain, and disruptions of these past two years will still be with us, affecting our lives and our work. We’ve all struggled, sometimes in ways we can’t pinpoint

In her book Bearing the Unbearable, Joanne Cacciatore describes grief as “a process of expansion and contraction.” Cacciatore explains that in a moment of contraction, we may feel unsteady and unsafe, and we “feel the call to self-protect.” In a moment of expansion, we “become more willing to venture out and explore” and “take risks.” This process isn’t exclusive to grief, of course. Whatever the cause, many of us right now are experiencing one or the other, or both. 

A recent guest on the HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast, Julie Turney, founder and CEO of HR@Heart Consulting, observed that people today recognize that they deserve better, and they are demanding better. They are less willing to settle, less comfortable with the way things are. People are fleeing jobs that are physically or psychologically unsafe. Others are chasing their dreams with a newfound passion. 

For the foreseeable future, people will seek environments that are both flexible and strong enough to support a process of contraction and expansion. They will desire work that gives them a safe place to be and a fulfilling place to go. They will crave a future they can own and a course they can chart, and their jobs will either help or hinder them. Jobs that help them will be in high demand.

Fortunately, such sought-after work environments can be achieved with some basic practices. Let’s look at some.

Talk About the Future

Ask your managers to talk regularly with their direct reports about how they’re feeling today and what they’d like to be doing in the future. Due to the circumstances, you can expect the answers they hear to vary and to change. On a given day, an employee may feel optimistic and ambitious, eager to take on a new project or a new role. But a week later, that same employee may feel hesitant or anxious about taking on any new responsibilities.

Don’t assume an employee expressing conflicting feelings isn’t up for the task at hand. In normal times, it’s natural to second guess big decisions, and these are not normal times. Some employees may need a little extra encouragement. Others may truly be happier continuing to do what they’ve been doing.

Through these conversations, managers can help their people make informed decisions about their future that make sense for them and for the company.

Don’t Be Afraid to Set Deadlines

Giving employees time to decide what future makes the most sense for them can go a long way to building trust and gratitude. There will come a time, however, when a decision needs to be made. A manager who has been talking with a member of their team about a new career opportunity in another part of the company, for example, will need a definitive answer eventually, probably sooner rather than later.

When a manager has a conversation with a team member about opportunities for growth that require significant change, they should, as soon as possible, make it clear to the employee when a final decision needs to be made. That way the employee has a set timeframe to work through their feelings, and a deadline isn’t unexpectedly thrust upon them.

Provide Grief Support

A lot of people are grieving, and grief takes work. People grieving need the time, space, and freedom to do that work. The option to take bereavement leave after a loss can be invaluable to them, but so too is the liberty to take days off down the road when they’re needed. The grieving process isn’t linear, and the unbearable pain of grief can resurface unexpectedly, months and years later. The life of grief is long. Whatever you can do to enable employees to safely take the time they need to process a loss and heal, do it. 

Take Care of Yourself and Your HR Leaders

Lars Schmidt, founder of Amplify, points out that, while the “market for HR roles has never been hotter,” the work of HR has taken a “sustained toll” on those doing that work. They’re “carrying the emotional burdens of their employees (and their own).” Burnout is common.

Be sure to give yourself and anyone else caring for your people time to rest, recharge, grieve, or whatever else each of you needs to do to stay healthy. “Resilience is not an infinite resource,” executive coach Sarah Noll Wilson reminds us. Take time off. You need it, too.  

Don’t Take Departures Personally or Draw the Wrong Conclusions

When an employee leaves an organization, it’s always a good idea to understand why and consider what changes you could have made to keep them. What you learn may not persuade that employee to reconsider their departure, but it may assist you in keeping others. That said, sometimes employees quit and there’s nothing you could have done to convince them to stay. The best possible workplace in the world will still see people go elsewhere simply because those people want a change or because of circumstances beyond their control.

When your employees tell you they’re leaving, do your due diligence to find out why, but don’t overthink their departures or take them personally. If everything was good and they still left, that just means everything was good and they still left. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t do enough or should have done something differently. Believe in the work you’re doing. Be kind to yourself. As Lars Schmidt says in his book Redefining HR, “we’re on the front lines of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows of all our employees.”    

Inspire Hope

Whether we feel the strong urge to self-protect or we’re jumping out of our seat to pursue a risky venture, we could all use a little hope. The philosopher David Utsler writes, “Hope offers no guarantees. Hope does not promise that life or the world will get better. Hope only insists on the possibility.”

You can inspire hope by expanding the scope of what is possible for your employees. Talk with them about their dreams and ambitions so they can imagine what possibilities lie before them. Talk about where your company is going and what you’ll need from your employees. Help them envision a place where they can explore, take risks, and be supported.

Then work together to get there. 

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

How to Design a Powerhouse Team

Many Americans get their first job working at a fast-food chain. You may have been one of them. If so, you probably remember your first day. Maybe you started at a register. Or perhaps you began in the kitchen. Either way, you had a lot to learn in a short amount of time. Everyone was counting on you to help keep the lines moving. Patience isn’t a virtue in this business, after all.

Fast-food restaurants make for good first jobs because the tasks are fairly easy to learn and don’t require any specialized knowledge going in. But they’re also good first jobs for another reason. When you get a job in fast food, chances are you’re joining a well-designed and effective team that works smoothly under pressure. Fast food lines might not always be as fast as we’d like, but they’re reliably quick, and it’s the team design that makes it so.

It’s extra impressive what fast-food teams regularly accomplish given that the team can only move as fast as the slowest person on it, turnover tends to be high, and a lot of the crew has little other job experience. And yet these teams move with a purpose. You may have read that when a COVID-19 vaccination clinic needed to get its backed-up drive-thru moving, it brought in a Chick-fil-A manager. 

If you’re creating a new team or restructuring one you already have, you could do worse than look at fast-food teams for inspiration. You probably won’t be mimicking the particular functions, roles, or processes of those teams, but there’s nevertheless a lot to learn from how these teams are designed and how they operate.

What’s their secret? These teams succeed because they’re clear about the value they provide and because their functions, roles, and processes are all designed to provide that value. Let’s look more closely at their design and what it can teach us.

Clarifying Value

Like all restaurants, fast-food chains serve food, but the food isn’t the value they provide. The value is the speed with which you get your food. It’s the convenience of a quick meal. It’s also the uniformity of the experience. Whether you purchase a Whopper and fries at a Burger King in Eugene, Oregon or in Ankeny, Iowa, you expect the meal to look and taste the same, and you expect to get it fast. In most instances, you do.

Businesses like this are set up to deliver a fast and uniform customer experience. Get in line, get your food, and go about your day. No delays. No surprises. This is what you expect when buying fast food, and every decision made at a fast-food joint is designed to satisfy this expectation. The measure of success for every function, process, and performance is whether this value is delivered.

Before you determine or reconsider team functions, processes, and roles, clarify the value your team is meant to deliver. That value, remember, isn’t a product or a service or an internal “deliverable.” It’s the need or want satisfied by whatever your team provides. It’s the why behind what your team does.

If you’re not sure what value your team is meant to have, ask yourself what success looks like. What are the one or two or three big signs that your team is or would be doing a good job? What makes relevant parties happy when your team has done its job well? Those should clue you in to your team’s specific value.

Considering Functions

The functions of a team are those things that need to happen for the value to be delivered. When a customer orders a hamburger at McDonald’s, they expect to get it quickly and for it to taste like every other McDonald’s hamburger they’ve eaten. A series of tasks makes that happen. The order is taken and communicated to the kitchen. A bun is prepared. Condiments are added to it. A beef patty is cooked and placed on the bun. The finished burger is wrapped, handed off, and bagged. Money is taken. Food is delivered.

When you’re considering what functions your team performs or will perform, don’t think about roles just yet. Think first about what value your team is expected to deliver and what functions make that happen. Write down all of the work that gets done or needs to get done. Account for every task.

Next, ask yourself how each function contributes to the value that your team provides. Consider also whether that work actually needs to happen. Fast-food restaurants, for example, found that indoor lines move faster when customers fill and refill their own drinks. The task of filling drinks, when done by employees, slows things down. Removing this task from the team sped things up, i.e., increased the value they provided.

Assigning Roles

Don’t confuse functions and roles. If you pop into a McDonald’s during a lunch rush, you’ll likely see five or so people in the kitchen each assigned to a separate task . But arrive during an afternoon lull, and you may just see one or two people doing all this work. In places like McDonald’s, managers typically determine roles with each shift. Today an employee may be scooping French fries into containers. The next day, they may be taking drive-thru orders. This flexibility enables employees to learn all of the team functions over time, builds speed and familiarity with each one, and it keeps the work from quickly becoming monotonous. Because everyone can do everything, sudden reassignments, say when an employee calls in sick last minute, are easier to accommodate. Speed doesn’t suffer (too much).

Day-to-day role assignments may not work for your businesses, but it’s still a good idea to keep functions and roles separate in your mind and in your future team planning. Conflating the two risks locking people into roles that don’t develop (or enable them to develop). Aligning roles with functions too rigidly can also isolate your people, limiting the number of people with whom they interact and the places where they can add value. But dividing up functions more liberally can bring more variety to each role and expand the areas where people in those roles are able to collaborate with others on their team.

Implementing Processes

The process of getting a burger made and in the hands of a customer is fairly simple and straightforward, but the demand for speed and the volume of orders both make it easy for mistakes to happen. During a rush, the kitchen crew has a continual stream of orders on the table, each with a different destination.

To manage the flow of ordered items and keep multiple lines of people moving, fast-food teams must communicate quickly and clearly. When an assembled and wrapped burger moves from the kitchen to the frontline crew, there can’t be any question about which bag or tray it should go to. Any uncertainty wastes time and decreases value.

Clear communication is valuable everywhere, of course, but speed may not be the value your processes should be designed around. People tend to like it, for example, when their doctor takes extra time to listen to them and understand their needs. Medical offices that get patients in and out as fast as possible aren’t delivering the value those patients typically want. They soon get a bad reputation. That reputation fairs even worse if doctors take ample time with patients, but the staff scheduling appointments have been told to schedule as many appointments as possible.

When you’re figuring out how your team should communicate and collaborate, let the value your team provides be your guide, and make sure every member of your team is guided by the same value.

Deciding Who Decides

Fast-food chain managers decide who to hire and fire, what to pay, and whom to schedule, but they have no say in the decisions about the products they make and sell. They don’t decide what temperatures to cook the meat or how much mustard or ketchup to use or how large the fry containers should be. Those decisions are made outside the restaurant. This makes perfect sense. Customers expect uniformity, so you don’t want the kitchen staff experimenting with the secret sauce or patty sizes or seasonings that go in a taco. Not even a franchise owner has the liberty to make those decisions.

But if uniformity isn’t what interested parties expect from your team, you probably don’t need as many decisions dictated from on high. The members of a team tasked with coding a video game with never-before-seen features would probably do well having the freedom to experiment, take risks, fail, and try again.

Deciding who makes decisions and in what circumstances can be daunting for managers. A lot can go wrong. Some people enjoy having autonomy and authority over their work, and they’d choose other employment if they had no say over their work and how it gets done. Others don’t want the stress of making decisions that could help or harm the company. More people making decisions invites more bad decisions and workplace drama, but fewer decision-makers can restrict a team’s ability to be creative and innovative.

Whatever you decide about your team’s decision-making authority, make sure it aligns with and supports the value your team delivers, especially long term. Next, explain to your team how decision-making on the team works. No one should be uncertain about who makes decisions and when. Finally, hold people accountable to their decisions. Reward decisions that add value, and address issues with decisions that detract from it. That also means holding yourself accountable for how decision-making is done in your organization.

Developing the Team

You may have noticed that we haven’t covered the essential step of hiring and retaining the right people for the roles you need. That was deliberate. The steps above—clarifying value, considering functions, assigning roles, implementing processes, and deciding who decides—form the design of your team. Think of this design as the team architecture that your team members operate in, whoever they may be.

That said, don’t be afraid to allow your particular employees to help shape the overarching team design. For a team to be effective, it must be a source of value to the people on it. People don’t stay engaged with a team or remain on it when that team doesn’t meet their own wants and needs. Team input can make a good team design even better.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

Biden’s Announcement About Mandatory Vaccinations for Private Employers

If you have fewer than 100 employees, no federal contracts, and no healthcare workers, these new federal requirements do NOT apply to you.

We are actively monitoring for the details of President Biden’s COVID action plan. The aspects of this new plan that affect HR and how you run your business will come from DOL rules called Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), written by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); executive orders (EOs) from the President; and (for healthcare workers) regulations from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). When relevant information becomes available, we will update you via an eAlert and provide information on the HR Support Center. In the meantime, here is what we know:

Employers with 100 or More Employees

Employers that have 100 or more employees will be required to:

  1. Mandate their employees get vaccinated against COVID or submit to weekly testing; and
  2. Provide employees with paid time off to get vaccinated and recover if they experience side effects from the vaccine.

It’s possible that the weekly testing option will be reserved only for those who request testing as an accommodation to mandatory vaccination because of a sincerely held religious belief, disability, or pregnancy. We expect the new ETS to address this.

We don’t yet know if there will be a way for employers to get reimbursed for costs associated with compliance.

Federal Contractors

Federal contractors will be required to mandate vaccination among their employees.

Healthcare Workers

Workers in most healthcare settings will be required to be vaccinated.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Declared in 1988 by the United States Congress (though its roots go back to 1945 when Congress urged employment for WWII service members with disabilities), NDEAM is a good occasion for us to celebrate the contributions of people with disabilities to workplaces and the economy. We also recommend taking this time to better understand employer obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and consider how to be more inclusive and accommodating than what the law strictly requires. 

The DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy is commemorating NDEAM this year with the theme “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” This theme “reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

We’re glad to see this.

People with disabilities (1 in 4 adults in the United States) are at greater risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19. At the start of the pandemic, workers with disabilities lost their jobs at a higher rate than the general population. As the pandemic continued, those with intellectual disabilities were six times more likely to die from the virus than other members of the population. Helping people with disabilities stay safe and succeed as the pandemic continues will be essential to a full recovery, and employers can play a huge role in that. 

Supporting employees with disabilities may also be vital to the success of individual employers—now and after the recovery. According to a CNBC poll, nearly 80% of workers say that they want to work for a company that values diversity, equity, and inclusion. With roughly half of small businesses struggling to fill roles, competition for talent is fierce. Employers who don’t appear to believe that it’s important to include and support employees with disabilities put themselves at a huge disadvantage. 

What can you do to help?

First, make doubly sure you understand your compliance obligations related to applicants and employees with disabilities. We have lots of resources for you on the HR Support Center. If you search disability in the search bar, you’ll find articles, forms, guides, law summaries, letters, policies, Q&As, videos, and more.

Second, as the pandemic continues, do what you can to accommodate employees with disabilities who may be at greater risk of severe illness or death. Accommodations to consider may include remote work for those who can do their jobs from home and extra PPE (e.g., N95 masks, face shields, gloves) for those who need or want to work onsite. Other possible accommodations are different shifts, job changes to reduce physical proximity or public interaction, extra breaks (for handwashing or mental health), permission to keep a minifridge or other personal storage device at one’s workstation, and extra cleaning supplies. All in all, when an employee requests an accommodation, do what you can to try to make it work. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.

Third, stress to everyone that respect and empathy are nonnegotiable values. Employees who need extra support so they can do their jobs well aren’t going to ask for it if they believe their concerns will be dismissed or that they’ll be ridiculed or looked down on by coworkers. If they don’t feel like they can ask for an accommodation, they’re more likely to look for a job elsewhere. And if they stay, it’s unlikely that they will be as productive or successful if they feel unsafe and stressed out. That’s a lose-lose. But it’s a win-win when employees feel safe asking for accommodations and those accommodations enable them to succeed.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center