How losing can inspire motivation

As this year’s March Madness college basketball competition comes to a close and those lucky few employees collect their winnings from the office NCAA pool, some may be saddened to know they may have picked better brackets if they would have paid attention to a recent study.

A new study out of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania examined 6,000 college basketball teams and found that teams that were slightly behind their opponent at half-time were more likely to win the game.

Wharton professors Jonah Berger and Devin Pope who conducted the survey, titled “When Losing Leads to Winning,” suggest that their findings directly tie into the workplace and how we set employee performance goals.

The researchers compare employees to basketball players in that they both will show more motivation and perform better when they are close to, but still short of, achieving a goal.

"Take any situation where someone is so close to a goal that they can almost taste it," said Berger in a recent Human Resources Executive Online article. "The fact that they're almost there makes them work harder."

Similar to the idea of setting “whisker” goals, Berger recommends that managers set milestones that are within reach of employees’ efforts. While “stretch” goals may be effective in motivating employees when confidence is high, setting smaller goals can spark an increase in performance when times are tough and confidence is waning.

"A lot of tools are used in the workforce to motivate people, such as wages, bonuses, etc. While surely these things can have motivating effects, one should not underestimate the potential importance of psychological motivation as well. This paper shows that the psychological impact of being behind by a small amount can cause significant increases in performance," said Pope.

Whether it’s on the basketball court or in the workplace, the Wharton study shows that small goals have the power to motivate. Pair those small goals with positive employee recognition for their shining accomplishments and help employees get moving on the road to success.

Reminder: New Form I-9 effective April 3

Next Friday, April 3, 2009, employers must start using the revised Form I-9 for Employment Eligibility Verification.

The new I-9 form was originally scheduled to take effect on February 2, but the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) delayed implementation for 60 days for further review.

Employers should continue using the current Form I-9 until April 3 and should prepare to use the new version beginning April 3.

Completing the I-9 form is mandatory for all new employees hired to work in the U.S. and the updates reflect numerous changes in the list of acceptable documents employers may use to verify an applicant’s work eligibility status.

The new Form I-9 reflects several changes, including:

  • Expired documents are no longer considered acceptable proof of identification or work authorization.
  • Three documents were removed from List A of the List of Acceptable Documents: Form I-688, Temporary Resident Card, Form I-688A, Employment Authorization Card, and Form I-688B, Employment Authorization Card.
  • Foreign passports with machine-readable visas for certain citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) were added to List A.
  • The new U.S. Passport card was added to the list of acceptable employment eligibility verification documents.

Employers who fail to use the revised Form I-9 by April 3, 2009, may be subject to violation fines. Neglecting to fill out an I-9 form for every employee, or filling out forms incorrectly , can result in up to $1,100 for every incorrect form.

Order the updated I-9 form with detailed tip sheets to ensure your company is in compliance with federal recordkeeping requirements. More tools and information on completing your I-9 forms correctly are available in the ComplyRight I-9 Recordkeeping Kit.

DOL issues model COBRA notices for employers

Late last week the Department of Labor (DOL) issued four model notices that employers can use to explain federal premium subsidies available under COBRA.

As part of the economic stimulus plan President Obama signed into law in February, employees who were involuntarily terminated between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009, are eligible to retain their group health coverage for a period of up to nine months by paying a portion of the COBRA premium.

Involuntarily terminated employees must pay 35 percent of the COBRA premium and employers must front the money for the remaining 65 percent. Employers will pay the insurer directly, then claim it as an offset against payroll tax liabilities. Payroll will then report any subsidies and take the offset on an updated Form 941.

"Our action today gives workers and their families useful information on their right to receive the COBRA subsidy and makes it easier for employers and plans to meet their notice obligations. Given the current economic situation facing dislocated workers and their families, it is very important that individuals do not lose their group health coverage," said Alan D. Lebowitz, deputy assistant secretary of labor for the department's Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA).

Employers can send the DOL’s model notices to COBRA beneficiaries advising them of the subsidy and how they can enroll for coverage.

Designed to fit different situations, the four COBRA model notices include:

  • A general or “full” notice to be given to beneficiaries who lost group coverage between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009.
  • An abbreviated general notice that would be for beneficiaries who are currently receiving unsubsidized COBRA.
  • An alternative notice explains the right of individuals working in states with continuation coverage laws, or “mini-COBRA” laws, which apply to employers with fewer than 20 employees.
  • A notice of extended election periods for eligible individuals who lost their jobs before the stimulus plan was signed into law, between September 1, 2008 and February 16, 2009, and declined or discontinued COBRA coverage at the time.

Each package includes information of the premium reduction provisions, a series of questions and answers, and which forms to use in requesting the premium reduction or COBRA coverage.

More information on the COBRA subsidy:


Obesity linked to more expensive workers’ comp claims

Data released earlier this month indicates that obesity is having an increasingly larger impact on workers’ compensation claims and workplace safety efforts.

Workers’ comp medical claims involving obese claimants open for one year can be up to three times as costly than those involving healthier employees, according to preliminary findings released by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI).

Claims that remain open for five years can be five times as expensive and the extra treatments related to obesity involved in some “smaller claims” can exceed almost 30 times the cost of treating a non-obese individual, according to NCCI.

Studies have shown that along with obesity, the heath care costs associated with employees who smoke and with conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure can be significantly higher than healthy employees.

In addition to mounting health care costs, the cost of work-related injuries in the U.S. totals more than $50 billion a year. Though the costs are high, a growing number of business have been taking their chances with employee safety by cutting vital OSHA safety training out of the budget in the wake of the recession.

The combination of unhealthy employees and more businesses cutting safety training corners has the potential to add even more financial stress to organizations that are already feeling the pressure.

Employers can take a comprehensive approach to combating both rising health care costs and more expensive workers’ comp claims by promoting the importance of employee wellness and workplace safety.

Employer-sponsored wellness programs can help employees take that first step to improving their health. Find a gym to partner with that can give you a good deal on memberships for employees or bring health specialists in-house to train employees on the benefits of wellness.

As the economy continues to challenge businesses, more are searching for inexpensive safety training methods to save money and limit the number of workplace injuries that can lead to costly workers’ compensation claims.

G.Neil is meeting that challenge with new products that make employee safety training and OSHA compliance easier and affordable. With the right tools, it’s possible to keep workers safe and healthy without jeopardizing your budget.

Achieve more with small goals?

The recession has been creating adverse effects across the business world, from a severe drop in sales to stressed-out employees. Right now, everyone seems to be feeling the pain.

Research shows that financial stress has a direct impact on employee performance and morale, landing many businesses in a state of immobility. Whether it’s from shock or stress, it’s difficult to get moving.

Companies across the country are searching for a stimulus that will cure the paralysis that has been plaguing employees and motivate them to move forward. Instead of overwhelming yourself and looking at it as one giant task, some experts suggest that baby steps are the best way to go.

Setting smaller goals is the secret to improving employee performance during tough times, as Dan Heath and Chip Heath explain in their Fast Company article, Set Smaller Goals: Get Bigger Results.

Dan and Chip believe that during times when we feel empowered, stretch goals are a great way to spark motivation. However, when we're feeling overwhelmed, stretch goals can cause immobility.

They recommend setting "whisker" goals, with targets that fall just slightly lower than average.

From the Fast Company article:

We need these more modest steps because they help us get past the "startup costs" -- the apprehension and fear -- that deter us from doing the tasks we hate.

Adversity calls for change, and change doesn't arrive via a miracle: It arrives via a kick start.

For most organizations, now is not the time to make major changes. Many are focused on working through the adversity in order to land safely on the other side.

Whisker goals could be the solution to kick starting any team that is stuck in a rut. It takes small steps to get the ball rolling.

Start a movement in your organization with small goals and keep that movement going with small recognition. By focusing on the small stuff, you may find that the big problems just don't seem so big anymore.

Do you think it’s possible to achieve more at work with small goals? How does your organization work to get employees motivated during difficult times?

For more information on goal setting and employee recognition, take a look at a few of these posts and HR Library articles:


Test employee engagement with a new sensitivity survey

Employee engagement is a main factor in determining the long-term success of a business. Studies show that engaged employees perform as much as 20 to 28 percentage points higher than disengaged employees, making them one of your business’ best assets during tough times.

"When employees witness corporate downsizing and start to fear for their own jobs they often lose their motivation, which in turn affects their job performance, thereby causing them to become less productive and less of an asset to the company," said Greg Harris, president of Quantum Workplace, a market research company that surveys employee engagement, loyalty and retention.

So, what's the easiest way to find out if employees in your organization are engaged in their work? Ask them.

Start a conversation with employees to find out how they are handling the recession and how it may be affecting their work. To get a better sense of how engaged employees are across the entire company, you can take it one step further and ask them to complete a survey.

We recently came across a great format to follow when testing employee engagement levels in the 10-question Economic Sensitivity Survey developed by Quantum Workplace, a market research company that surveys employee engagement, loyalty and retention.

The survey measures employee engagement by an employee's "ability and willingness of individuals to exert effort for the benefit of the company, their tendency to speak highly of the organization and their intent to stay."

Quantum suggests you can determine how engaged your employees are by asking them to rate these 10 statements:

  1. Management is providing good leadership and guidance during difficult economic conditions.
  2. My job is mentally stimulating.
  3. I understand how my work contributes to the company's performance.
  4. There are future opportunities for growth at my company.
  5. My company affords me the opportunity to develop my skills.
  6. I receive recognition and reward for my contributions.
  7. There is open and honest communication between employees and managers.
  8. I see professional growth and career development opportunities for myself in this organization.
  9. I know how I fit into the organization's future plans.
  10. Considering the value I bring to the organization, I feel I am paid fairly.

Employee engagement should be at the top of your list of key business objectives, especially if your organization has experienced layoffs since the economic downturn began. An engaged workforce is a productive workforce, something every business needs during tough times.

"Now, more than ever, employers should be helping employees know how they're part of the future of the company. You need to quell any negative or fatalistic attitudes that might be present and educate the staff that this isn't something that's going to last forever, and that we need to be prepared for better times once the economy turns around," emphasizes Harris.

If you're looking for ways to let your staff know you appreciate their hard work, you can find a variety of new employee recognition ideas from G.Neil. Even playful gifts like a silly-looking stress ball can show an employee that you notice and are grateful for the extra effort they've been putting in recently.

Dangers of using social networking sites to screen applicants

For many businesses, looking up an applicant’s profile on social networking sites has become a part of their hiring routine. What many may not be aware of is that using sites like MySpace or Facebook to screen applicants may spell serious trouble if you’re not careful.

Studies suggest that almost 40% of employers have used Facebook and other social networking sites to gather information on job candidates. When they find negative information on these sites, more than 80% of employers consider that information when making hiring decisions.

While personal profiles on social networking sites contain some of the same facts that would be on a resume, they also include information related to gender, relationship status, sexual preference, home town, age, religion and if they have or plan to have children. The problem is that most of these topics should never be discussed during the hiring process.

For a business to make a hiring decision based on any of the personal information just mentioned, it could be considered discriminatory and may quickly create a legal mess for your company. If you have no legitimate job-related reason for asking about personal information during the hiring process, you should avoid the topics completely.

The only exception to using information you find on the Internet to deny an applicant a job is if there is a direct link between the information and a person’s job duties. If an applicant is modeling behavior outside of work that could interfere with their job responsibilities, it is legal to deny that person a position.

While many human resource professionals have been trained the dangers of “too much information” in the employee hiring and recruiting process, the Internet has made it as simple as clicking a button to fall into more information than you would ever want to know about an applicant.

When you’re using the Internet to research job candidates and even current employees, there are some very important legal issues to keep in mind:

  • Invasion of privacy. Some social networking sites state specifically in their terms of service that is is illegal to use users’ profile information for commercial purposes.
  • State protected privacy. California and New York have laws preventing employers from interfering in employees’ private lives outside of the workplace.
  • Discrimination. Even if you stumbled across an applicant’s personal information unintentionally, it is unlawful to deny employment based on protected categories such as age, race or gender.
  • False information. It’s probably not surprising, but users on social networking sites don’t always post information that is entirely true. It’s best to rely on information that the applicant directly gives you.
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). If you’re using an outside agency to conduct background checks on job candidates, you must comply with the FCRA and receive the applicant’s consent before starting the background screening process.

To avoid potential discrimination lawsuits, develop a uniform procedure for using social networking sites in the hiring process. Train everyone involved in the hiring process to treat every applicant consistently to avoid trouble and document each step you take.

With the rate at which new technology emerges, it’s almost impossible for the law to keep up the pace. When you use social networking sites to research applicants, you may be taking uncertain legal risks with every search you make.

Is your business using social networking sites to screen job candidates? Have you found the sites to be helpful or harmful throughout the process?

IRS releases info to help employers claim COBRA credit

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released detailed information that will help employers claim credit for the COBRA medical premiums they pay for their former employees, a measure contained in President Obama’s economic stimulus package passed last month.

Employers will find a comprehensive set of questions and answers at, in addition to a revised version of the quarterly payroll tax return employers must use to claim credit for COBRA medical premiums paid for former employees.

Beginning with the first quarter of 2009, the Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, Form 941, is the form used to claim the new COBRA payments credit.

“This is the first step in our effort to provide employers with information on this important health benefit for people who have lost their jobs,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We will continue our work in the weeks ahead to help employers implement this crucial change for the nation’s unemployed.”

In February, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The new law contains specific changes to COBRA health benefit requirements, changes that affect former employees, their employers and COBRA coverage providers.

Under the new law, eligible former employees, enrolled in their employer’s health plan at the time they lost their jobs, are required to pay only 35 percent of the cost of COBRA coverage. Employers must treat the 35 percent payment by eligible former employees as full payment, but the employers are entitled to a credit for the other 65 percent of the COBRA cost on their payroll tax return.

The IRS notes that employers must maintain supporting documentation for the COBRA credit claimed, including:

  • Documentation of receipt of the employee’s 35 percent share of the premium.
  • In the case of insured plans: A copy of invoice or other supporting statement from the insurance carrier and proof of timely payment of the full premium to the insurance carrier.
  • Declaration of the former employee’s involuntary termination.

Visit the Department of Labor for more information about COBRA payments and read another HR Forum post on the subject: Stimulus plan subsidizes COBRA, expands unemployment insurance.

EEOC accepting public comment on proposed GINA rules

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published a Notice of Proposed Rule Making on February 25, 2009, implementing employment requirements of the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2008 (GINA). The EEOC is seeking public comment on the notice.

“The addition of genetic information discrimination to the EEOC’s mandate is historic, and represents the first legislative expansion of the EEOC’s jurisdiction since the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990,” said Acting EEOC Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru in a press release. “We welcome the opportunity to implement important provisions of this landmark legislation, and to expand the promise of equal opportunity in the workplace for everyone.”

The proposed rule provides additional guidance regarding some of the terms used in GINA. For example, the rule defines “employee” to cover not just current employees, but also applicants and former employees.

It also clarifies that drug and alcohol tests are not “genetic tests,” and invites comments on the scope of the term “genetic test,” specifically, “how the term should be applied, whether the proposed rule should be more or less expansive, and whether it or the preamble should provide examples of what should be included or excluded.”

The proposed rule also specifically mentions that the EEOC will update its EEO poster to include information regarding GINA. Final regulations must be completed by May 21, 2009.

“GINA is an important piece of legislation. As a deliberative body, we want to ensure that the intent of Congress is properly carried out through our regulations. Public comment on this NPRM is a critical part of that process. We look forward to a vigorous and thoughtful review,” said acting EEOC Vice Chair Christine M. Griffin.

The EEOC set up a 60-day public comment period on the proposed rule-making. Comments will be accepted through May 1, 2009.

You may submit comments by accessing the Federal eRulemaking Portal at Comments will also be accepted by mail and fax. Read more instructions on submitting comments here.

For more information on the GINA regulations, read:

President signs Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act

Genetic non-discrimination law includes increased FLSA child labor penalties

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