Watch out for witches at work today ... and every day

In fun-loving, Halloween-celebrating workplaces across the country, employees showed up today dressed as blood-sucking vampires, lumbering zombies, mischievous clowns and full-grown babies. Donning elaborate makeup, masks, outfits and accessories, many of us get a kick out of this once-a-year opportunity to shed our normal persona and “try on” an alter ego.

But this got me thinking. How different, really, are some of the characters we're seeing today from what we see daily at work? I don’t know about you, but I’ve encountered vampires, zombies, clowns and babies in the workplace on many occasions. They're just cleverly disguised in office attire and regular routines. On good days, these creatures can create an interesting, challenging work environment; on bad days, they can be downright frustrating and confusing. But people are people, so we all have to learn to get along no matter how ghoulish the circumstances. In smart, well-functioning workplaces, it definitely pays to play off each others' strengths (while understanding weaknesses) to keep peace and productivity humming along.

According to author Francie Dalton, founder and president of Dalton Alliances, Inc., a Maryland-based business consulting firm specializing in communication, management and behavioral sciences, most coworkers fall under these general personality types:

Curt and controlling, commanders don't waste time on niceties. While they don't mean to offend, they often forsake tact to get their point across. As bosses, commanders often fail to delegate important assignments and as subordinates, they can seem overly aggressive. “Value and validate commanders for their ability to overcome obstacles, to implement, and to achieve results,” says Dalton.

Averse to structure, drifters often have trouble with rules, work hours and deadlines. They lose track of details and can neglect to see a project through to completion. While they're warm and affable, their disorganization can be off-putting. “Value and validate drifters for their innovation and creativity, their ability to improvise on a moment's notice, and their out-of-the-box thinking,” says Dalton.

Ill-tempered and contemptuous, attackers can have a dampening effect on workplace morale. They tend to criticize others in public, believing themselves to be superior. “Value and validate attackers for their ability to take on the ugly, unpopular assignments no one else has the mettle to do, and for their ability to make unemotional decisions,” says Dalton.

Considerate, sociable and friendly, pleasers rarely deny the requests of others and think of colleagues as extended family members. They have trouble coping with conflict, avoiding it as much as they can. “Value and validate pleasers for the way they humanize the workplace, and for their helpful, collaborative work style,” says Dalton.

Witty, charismatic and outspoken, performers engage and entertain others in the workplace. They are skillful at promoting themselves, taking credit - even when it's not due - for successful projects and appearing to be in a rush to get important things done. “Value and validate performers for their ability to establish new relationships, and for their persuasive and public speaking skills,” says Dalton.

Clinging to the status quo, avoiders shy away from increased responsibility because they fear it will make them more visible and accountable. Reticent and reserved, they thrive when working alone and establishing safe, closed-off environments. They do as they're told and do not take initiative. “Value and validate avoiders for their reliability, for their meticulous attention to your instructions, and for getting the job done right the first time, every time,” says Dalton.

Meticulous, thorough and cautious, analyticals can get mired in details. When presented with a new idea, they tend to focus on the reasons why it will fail and should not be pursued. They feel compelled to check, doublecheck and triplecheck their work for any inaccuracies. “Value and validate analyticals for their commitment to accuracy, and for their ability to anticipate and evaluate risk far enough in advance to allow risks to be reduced,” says Dalton.

So here’s wishing you all a Happy Halloween – and a workplace where attackers and analyticals, witches and werewolves, can put aside their differences and get along! Wouldn’t that be a treat?

Home Depot employee fired over "politically driven" pin that violated dress-code policy

In yet another real-life reminder of why it’s so important to maintain an employee handbook with crystal-clear workplace policies, a Home Depot employee claims he was fired for expressing his personal beliefs though an American flag button he wore on his apron. The former cashier of the Okeechobee, FL, store says he had the right to wear the “One nation under God, indivisible” button, while his employer argues that he DID NOT – and the reason being the company’s written dress-code policy forbidding it.

Whether you feel the pin and its message was religious, political or just patriotic (and as such, acceptable in the workplace) is a matter of interpretation. And it’s because of this sort of interpretation that employee policies exist.

“The issue is not whether or not we agree with the message on the button," says
Craig Fishel, a Home Depot spokesperson. "That's not our place to say, which is
exactly why we have a blanket policy, which is long-standing and
well-communicated to our associates, that only company-provided pins and badges
can be worn on our aprons."

While the employee’s lawyer is suing Home Depot for religious discrimination, the case probably won’t go very far. As Michael Masinter, a civil rights and employment law professor at NOVA Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, explains:

"Because it's a private business, not one that's owned and operated by the
government, it doesn't have to operate under the free speech provisions of the
First Amendment."

He clarifies the matter of religious displays and expression, too, for those who feel Home Depot’s pin-banning action was a form of religious discrimination:

“But we're not talking about religious displays here," he said. "This sounds
more like a political message ... Wearing a button of that sort would not easily
be described as a traditional form of religious expression like wearing a cross
or wearing a yarmulke."

As a private business, Home Depot has a right to protect its image by not promoting different employee opinions via pins and badges - opinions that might offend customers who are as diverse as the employees serving them.

Some important details in this case: The employee was first asked to remove the pin. He refused. He was also offered a company-approved pin that said, “United We Stand,” but he declined.

It would appear that Home Depot did everything right, from an HR standpoint, in this situation. They based their actions on company policy, they confronted the employee first (and hopefully documented the exchange) and when all was said and done, the employee refused to cooperate with policy. Thus, the employee was fired.

What do you think? Do you agree with Home Depot’s actions? Please leave a comment - I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

New Federal EEOC poster released - All covered employers must post to comply!

On October 23, 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released the revised “Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law” poster, which includes the new Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and ADA Amendments Act regulations. The EEOC posting change is mandatory for all covered employers.

Effective November 21, 2009, GINA prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from:

• Using genetic information to discriminate against an individual through hiring, firing, compensation, promotions and other employment decisions

• The collection and disclosure of genetic information

• Retaliation against individuals who exercise their rights under GINA

Now is the time to get into compliance with this mandatory posting update, as well as learn more about GINA and its impact on your business.

When you enroll in Poster Guard® Compliance Protection, you’ll enjoy the promise of complete, worry-free posting compliance – immediately, with the revised EEOC poster and in the future, with automatic posting replacements anytime mandatory changes affect your federal or state postings.

For an overview of GINA and clear explanations of how it affects you as an employer, download the ComplyRight™ Now E-Guide: New Genetic Discrimination Law: What It Means for Employers.

Tricked-out job titles: Creative morale booster or unprofessional fluff?

What if we gave all those stuffy, vague job titles the boot and let people craft new titles that capture what they’re really about?

That’s what many businesses are doing these days – and their employees couldn’t be happier about it. In his blog post, More death to job titles, Alexander Kjerulf (Chief Happiness Officer, incidentally), argues that job titles are “a waste of time and contribute nothing to our productivity, creativity or happiness at work. In fact, job titles can be the source of a lot of disputes and bickering in the workplace.”

Alexander’s post inspired the Web Marketing Director at Quicken Loans so much that he challenged his Web Marketing Team to come up with new job titles that express who they are and their impact on the business and their teammates. The results? Whimsical titles like:

• Royal Storyteller & Propaganda Minister
• Supreme Challenger of the Status Quo & Wicked Web Site Innovator
• Innovation Maven and Revenue Raiser
• Mastermind of Possibilities, Visual Linguist, and Czar of the High Fiber Revolution
• Art Juggler
• Flasher
• Idea Launcher
• Conceptologist
• Head Brother In Charge of Chat
• Reality Check Provider

What do you think? Is this something that can work in the right environment, allowing for greater self-expression in the workplace? Or could titles like these backfire, leading to more confusion than clarity? According to one person’s comments to Alexander’s blog post, “Job titles are important in my opinion. They should be concise, professional and define what the person does. If I got an email from someone and in the signature it said they were a Conceptologist or a Wicked Website Innovator, I would not take them or their company seriously …”

Perhaps a compromise is in order. In What’s In A Job Title? More Than You’d Think!, a recent survey by Pearl Meyer & Partners is cited, where 95% of respondents said that job titles were important, whether for conveying corporate hierarchy or for recognizing valued employees when funds are limited.

But there’s a twist. According to the survey, many companies assign formal, “official” job titles, while also allowing the use of alternative, “working” titles. Managers and their employees can customize these less-traditional job titles to reflect an individual’s responsibilities, preferences and just as important, personality. Many employees will then take it upon themselves to create business cards with these alternative job titles or use the tweaked job titles on social networking pages such as LinkedIn.

So maybe your company isn’t quite ready for titles like “Propaganda Minister” or “Innovative Maven”, but how about something a little more descriptive than “Creative Director” or “Communications Coordinator”? Your employees are unique and multi-dimensional - why shouldn’t their job titles be, too?

Flex time: How far are you willing to bend?

The traditional, 9-to-5 workplace model is going the way of the typewriter, shoulder pads and pocket calculators. Flexible workplace scheduling - whether letting employees telecommute, work part time or leave early one day a week - is becoming more commonplace.

In fact, nearly all of the 1,100 companies polled by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute in a 2008 report provide at least one type of flexible work option. The Families and Work Institute considers flexibility “a way to define how and when work gets done and how careers are organized”. For employees, this may include:

• having traditional flex time (setting daily hours within a range periodically)
• having daily flex time
• being allowed to take time off during the work day to address family matters
• being able to take a few days off to care for a sick child without losing pay, having to use vacation days or make up an excuse for the absence
• being able to work some regular hours at home
• being able to take breaks when one wants to
• having a work shift that is desirable
• having complete or a lot of control over the work schedule
• being able to work part-time (if currently full-time) or full-time (if currently part-time) in one’s current position
• being able to work a compressed work week
• being able to work part-year in one’s current position

It’s no surprise that employees support flexible scheduling, where the payoffs include higher job satisfaction and commitment to their work, coupled with lower stress and job burnout.

"We know from the research that if you have choice or autonomy and you have the
support to make those choices and you're held accountable, those are the
things that most affect how you feel about your employer, as well as your
health and well-being," says Ellen Galinsky, President of the Families and
Work Institute.

To promote flex time in your workplace, Ilyse Shapiro, founder of the job search website, recommends:

1. Make sure your organization’s culture supports work/life initiatives. “Flexibility” shouldn’t be just a catchphrase but a concept embraced throughout the organization.

2. Effective work/life balance programs should be nondiscriminatory, available to all employees, male or female, with or without children, regardless of income level, job title, exempt/nonexempt status or marital status.

3. Career advancement and training opportunities should be offered to those with flexible schedules as well as to those with traditional schedules.

What type of flexible work options do you extend to your employees? What are the challenges, if any, you’re facing? Post a comment and tell us more.

Happy Boss's Day! - 7 attributes management and employees love about leaders

Long gone are the days when dictatorial management delivers top-notch results. Sure, CEOs want leaders who boost the bottom line, but they also want mentors who develop the next generation of leaders by showing employees how it's done. Employees, on the other hand, want a player's coach, someone who understands them as a person and creates an environment in which to thrive. Is a combo of the two possible? You betcha!

According to Jim Collins in his best-selling book, Good to Great, the most effective bosses fall into the category of "Level Five Leaders". These managers recognize their personal strengths and weaknesses, hire/place employees in roles where they shine, and set really high (and achievable) long-term goals that employees believe in. The key to success for these leaders? They inspire employees to willingly and passionately do more with less, which makes CFOs downright giddy. Here are seven characteristics that make bosses great to both management and employees:

1. Great bosses understand corporate goals and skillfully explain them to their teams – “this is why we're here, this is what we need to do and this is how we're going to do it.” Setting a clear vision and informing employees that they will be held accountable for the task at hand sets expectations everyone can rally around. It also helps employees keep each other accountable.

2. Great bosses listen more than they talk. Leaders who employ Stephen Covey's mantra "seek first to understand before being understood," will always serve their employer and employees better than know-it-alls. The best ideas to improve efficiency or enhance products often come from line employees. Bosses who listen, listen, listen are the ones who can move great ideas through the pipeline quickly.

3. Great bosses take an interest in each employee as an individual. They get to know the person and his or her personal life. They spend time understanding employee career goals and guide them on a path to get there. They remember birthdays and anniversaries and they ask, "How'd your son do in his Little League game last night?"

4. Great bosses hold employees accountable. When goals aren't met or deadlines are missed, the issues are addressed immediately to find out the whys. Inspired bosses always look for ways to improve and move forward, rather than punishing in the moment. They also move quickly to dismiss under-performing employees, which always makes management happy. Staff members are thrilled, too, with quick assessment and action, because they usually recognize poor performance before managers do.

5. Great bosses don't seek personal accolades. They never take credit for the work of the team and are always looking for ways to recognize and reward their staffs. They write hand-written thank you notes and recognize superior efforts with tickets to the ball game or an afternoon off.

6. Great bosses manage individuals based on strengths rather than weaknesses. Collins calls this "putting the right people in the right seats on the bus." Having people do what they do best always enhances productivity and efficiency. Too many managers spend months trying to shoehorn people into roles they're not prepared for or skilled in, rather than finding someone with the right skill set for the task. Managing to strength is a win-win for the company, the boss and the employee.

7. Great bosses hire people who are better than them in the areas where they don't perform well. Bosses who are good with strategy and not execution are always better served in surrounding themselves with doers, and vice versa. They also go out of their way to acknowledge their deficiencies rather than cover them up: "I wouldn't be successful without your contributions."

If you have leaders in your company who exhibit these traits, consider yourself extremely lucky! And go out of your way today, National Boss’s Day, to let them know how much you appreciate them.

Recession is lifting - competition for jobs isn't

While most economists believe the recession is over and recovery has begun, unemployment rates remain alarmingly high. As a result, the number of U.S. job seekers competing for a single opening has reached the highest point since the recession began.

“There are about 6.3 unemployed workers competing, on average, for each job
opening, a Labor Department report shows. That's the most since the department
began tracking job openings nine years ago, and up from only 1.7 workers when
the recession began in December 2007.” (

The msnbc article states that the employment crisis will most likely get worse as companies remain sluggish to hire. In fact, many economists expect a “jobless recovery,” which will lead to added pressure on President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats to stimulate job creation.

"Fewer people are facing job loss," said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at Economic Policy Institute in Washington, "but once you have lost your job, you are in serious trouble.”

Shierholz says the economy faces a "jobs gap" of almost 10 million — the 7.2 million jobs lost plus the roughly 125,000 per month that would have been needed since the recession began just to keep up with population growth.

To close that gap and get back to pre-recession levels in two years would require more than 500,000 new jobs per month, a pace of job creation that hasn't been seen since 1950-51, Shierholz adds.

What about your business? How much of your workforce did you have to cut during the recessionary downturn? And are you feeling enough of an economic boost to start replenishing those positions – or even adding new positions? Or are you sitting tight and not hiring until the recovery is more robust?

Substance abuse in the workplace, Part 2: Honoring Drug-Free Work Week

In our last post, we looked at the destructive effects of substance abuse in the workplace. That was the bad news. But today, we’ll focus on the good news: What you can do to protect your company from the dangers of substance abuse – and in turn, help preserve employee productivity, morale and safety.

Drug-Free Work Week is October 19-25, which means now is the perfect opportunity to launch a successful drug-free workplace program. Here are some ways you can make the most of it:

Implement a drug-free workplace policy – A workplace policy is the foundation of any drug-free workplace program. If you don’t already have one, you should create a policy that addresses how your organization defines substance abuse, what behavior is expected of employees, who is covered by the policy, when the policy applies (work hours only or at after-hours events, too?), who is responsible for enforcing the policy, and whether the policy includes any form of testing for alcohol or other drugs.

Promote your drug-free workplace program - Once you have a program, you’ve got to get the word out and get employees involved. Hand out Substance Abuse Fact Sheets to remind employees about the effects substance abuse can have on the workplace.

Train supervisors and educate workers - Be certain supervisors understand your policies (as outlined in a supervisor-specific handbook) for addressing substance abuse. In addition, provide guidelines and support materials that help supervisors deal with substance abuse legally and effectively.

Remind employees about the availability of employee-assistance services - These free, confidential services can help employees overcome substance abuse problems.

Offer health screenings - Let employees know about the resources available to them
to evaluate whether they have a substance abuse problem. Consider giving employees breathalizer alcohol detectors during holiday breaks when alcohol consumption is more likely and encourage them to test alcohol levels before driving.

Review your health insurance policy - Employees are more likely to seek help if your policy includes coverage for substance abuse treatment. Consider the cost benefit of adding such coverage over the cost of an accident and lost productivity.

Allow employees time to volunteer in community drug-prevention efforts - Organize a team of volunteers to help support local drug-prevention programs, or grant time off for employees who are involved in other drug-awareness and prevention efforts.

Create a drug-free workplace display - Dedicate an area of your workplace, such as a breakroom bulletin board, for raising awareness of your drug-free workplace policy through informative posters.

Feature Drug-Free Work Week in the employee newsletter or intranet - This feature can contain helpful information about the impact of drugs on the workplace, sources of help, and things workers can do if they think a colleague may have a substance abuse problem.

Distribute a payroll message listing helplines or a reminder about Drug-Free Work Week for employees - Include a message reminding employees about Drug-Free Work Week that contains a listing of resources available for them to learn more about substance abuse in the workplace.

Hold a social event celebrating safety and health - Put together a pizza lunch or other worktime activity to help reinforce the message that drugs and alcohol aren’t necessary to relax.

Substance abuse in the workplace, Part 1: How big a problem is it?

While certainly not pleasant to think about, the reality is that at this very moment, some of your employees may be high, drunk or hung over. And because of it, their work performance is suffering - as is your business.

According to the Department of Labor, 73 percent of all current drug users aged 18 and older are employed, which includes 6.7 million full-time workers and 1.6 million part-time workers. Construction workers (15.6%), sales personnel (11.4%), food preparation, wait staff and bartenders (11.2%), handlers, helpers and laborers (10.6%,) and machine operators and inspectors (10.5%) reported the highest rates of current illicit drug use.

The destructive, far-reaching effects of substance abuse in the workplace are well-documented. Substance abuse:

Lowers productivity –
Problems related to substance abuse cost businesses around $81 billion in lost productivity in one year.

Employees who abuse substances function at about 67% of their full potential.

Causes accidents and injuries -
Nearly 40 percent of industrial fatalities and 47 percent of injuries are associated with substance abuse.

Employees who use drugs are 3.6 times more likely to get in a workplace accident and 5 times more likely to file a workers’ compensation claim.

Increases absenteeism and turnover –
Approximately 500 million workdays are lost annually due to alcoholism.

Employees who use drugs are 2.2 times more likely to ask for time off or to leave early, 2.5 times more likely to report absences of eight days or more and 3 times more likely to be late to work.

Raises an employer’s medical costs -
Employees who use drugs cost their employers about twice as much in medical claims as non-drug-using employees.

In less than two weeks, October 19-25, employers across the country will be honoring Drug-Free Work Week. If you haven’t already, now is the time to implement a drug-free workplace initiative that will have a positive effect on your company’s safety and productivity. Check out our next post to learn more about what you can do to keep your employees and your workplace “clean.”

The DOL encourages all employers to address workplace substance abuse because:

“Taking steps to raise awareness among employees about the impact of substance
use on workplace performance, and offering the appropriate resources and/or
assistance to employees in need, will not only improve worker safety and
health, but also increase workplace productivity and market competitiveness.”


Closer OSHA scrutiny requires more careful accident recordkeeping

Due to unusually low incidence rates in traditionally high-rate industries, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) will be cracking down on recordkeeping violations in the coming months. On October 1, OSHA announced a national emphasis program (NEP) on recordkeeping to assess the accuracy of injury and illness data recorded by employers.

The underreporting of workplace injuries and illnesses is a serious issue, one which OSHA hopes to change through this program.

“Accurate and honest recordkeeping is vitally important to workers’ health and
safety,” said acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab. “This
information is not only used by OSHA to determine which workplaces to inspect,
but it is an important tool employers and workers can use to identify health and
safety problems in their workplaces.”

Inspections will include a review of records, employee interviews and a safety and health inspection of the workplace. While the focus under the NEP will be on high-rate industries that OSHA suspects is underreporting incidents, all organizations should be on alert regarding their accident recordkeeping practices.

Are you confident your injury and illness records are in full OSHA compliance? OSHA requires you to record incidents on these three forms:

300: Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses. Log each recordable occupational injury or illness on this form within seven working days of learning about it.

301: Injury and Illness Incident Report. On this form, you describe each incident in greater detail. Fill it out within seven days of learning about an incident. An on-the-job injury or illness must be recorded if it results in any of the following: death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness. “Significant” injuries or illnesses, as diagnosed by a licensed health professional, also must be recorded, even if they don’t result in days away from work or any of the other conditions listed above.

300A: Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses. This form, which summarizes the number and nature of on-the-job injuries and illnesses for a calendar year, must be posted in a conspicuous place by February 1 of the following year and remain on view through April 30. Although the 300A may not need to be posted for a few months yet, filling it out won’t be easy unless you’ve been keeping up to date with the other forms.

Texting while driving a big no-no for federal employees - But how will it be enforced?

President Obama signed an executive order Wednesday night banning federal employees from texting while operating government vehicles or driving their own vehicles on government business. State and local governments are encouraged to pass similar laws against “distracted driving”.

We’ve all seen it. People pecking away on their cell phones while sitting at traffic lights or worse, while hurtling down the highway at full speed. And as long as they’re looking at their cell phones, they’re not watching the road.

A Los Angeles Times article shares a startling statistic: Distracted driving delays reaction time as much as a blood alcohol content of 0.08%, according to research by the University of Utah.

In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 15% of driver deaths in the U.S. last year were a result of distracted driving. While it’s uncertain how many of these incidents were related to texting while driving, many experts consider it a growing problem - including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

"To put it plainly, distracted driving is a menace to society,” says LaHood.

Now the hard part. While most of would agree that distracted driving is bad and that any efforts to curb it are good, how will the new ban be enforced? Will federal employers develop an official HR policy on the ban and if so, how will they apply it consistently to all employees? And regarding enforcement, how will cops identify someone texting while driving (especially if the person holds the phone below the window line)? Should cops be allowed to peruse a person’s cell phone to see if it was being used at the time of a traffic violation or accident? And what sort of privacy issues could all this raise?

Even if the ban IS just semantics, perhaps it will act as a deterrent. And perhaps it will lead to more people sharing LaHood’s point of view:

"Driving while distracted should just feel wrong - just as driving without a seat belt, or driving while intoxicated, seems wrong to most Americans."

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