Are your job descriptions doing their job?

Job descriptions. You might not think they’re worth spending much time on, but that’s simply not true. Job descriptions are an important starting point when hiring and later, serve as your “road map” when managing the employee.

You don’t hire an employee based on generalities, so why should the description for a particular position be broad or vague? You’re looking for more than just a warm-blooded human who can read, write and sit through long-winded meetings, right? You have specific needs to be filled with each new position … and goals to be met by bringing that person on board … right?

An in-depth, carefully constructed job description lets you hone in on the skills, experience and education the job requires. With these details, your job postings will be more targeted, your interviews will be more targeted, and your selection process will be more targeted.

And down the road, you’ll save time and money letting a ho-hum employee go and replacing that person with someone more qualified – or investing in training to fill in the gaps and bring a ho-hum hire up to speed. Your appraisal process will be easier, too. When that first performance review rolls around, you can compare an employee’s contributions against the goals and objectives stated in the job description. There’s even the added benefit of legal protection, especially in cases where an employee may cry “that isn’t my job” when asked to do something.

Bottom line: An in-depth job description can help you make a better hire, while supporting the management and ongoing review of that hire.

So what does a well-written job description look like? Here are some guidelines:

Title. Give the job a title that fits the desired experience level and that indicates the rank within the company hierarchy (such as managerial, supervisory, clerical, etc.). Don’t use a title that is gender-specific. (For example, say “salesperson,” not “salesman.”)

Individual skills needed. Does the job require the use of certain equipment or computer programs — or some other specialized knowledge? List specific workplace qualifications, as well as broader qualities, such as “willingness to learn,” “customer service skills” and “team-playing skills.”

Responsibilities/duties. Describe the tasks the person will do routinely on the job, as well as the expected outcome. (For example, “Schedules building maintenance and repairs to ensure uninterrupted business operations.”)

Education or training requirements. Are specific degrees or certifications required for the job?

Minimum experience. What types of jobs will the ideal candidate have held previously? How many years of experience? Remember that more years of experience generally demand higher pay. Never refer to experience in terms of age. (For example, say “entry-level,” instead of “recent college graduate.”)

Work schedule. Will there be set hours? How many days a week? What type of flexibility is needed? Specify any environmental factors that may affect the position, too. (For example, excessive noise, high temperatures or outdoor work.)

Hiring and firing and the latest legalities along the way

In the HR world, two activities demand a lot of your time and attention – bringing new people on board, and letting people go. And not surprisingly, the recent recessionary crunch and temperamental job market have led to some legal changes that affect your hiring and firing practices. Here are some of the latest legal considerations – and the paperwork you need to stay on track.

Hiring – Claiming the payroll tax exemption under the HIRE Act

In a move to encourage recession-weary employers to hire again, President Obama signed the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act on March 18, 2010. Under HIRE, qualified employers will receive two important tax breaks for hiring and holding onto previously unemployed workers:

A payroll tax exemption — An exemption from the 6.2% share of Social Security tax on wages paid to qualifying employees from March 19, 2010 through December 31, 2010

A new hire retention credit — A general business tax credit, up to $1,000, for each qualified employee retained for at least a year

You can now use the recently issued “HIRE Act Employee Affidavit,” or “Form W-11” to claim the payroll tax exemption. The main purpose of this form is to get qualified employees to state, by a signed affidavit and under penalties of perjury, that they have not been employed for more than 40 hours during the 60 days prior to beginning employment with you.

Take advantage of this exemption for newly hired, eligible employees with our Downloadable Form W-11.

For more information about the HIRE ACT, check out our HIRE Act FAQs.

Firing - Another short-term COBRA subsidy extension is in effect

In a now-familiar move with the COBRA subsidy, President Obama pushed out the eligibility date again. The bill extends the 15-month, 65% federal premium subsidy to employees laid off from April 1 through May 31, 2010. (The previous extension expired March 31.)

At the same time, President Obama urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would extend the COBRA premium subsidy to eligible individuals through the end of the year. While the Senate has cleared such a measure (Tax Extender Act of 2009), the House has not yet acted on it.

Inform employees of their COBRA rights with our Downloadable ComplyRight™ Initial Notification.

It's Earth Day! Tips for greening up your office

Today, April 22, 2010, is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. The idea of devoting a special day to honor the planet began as a grassroots movement in the '60s and became an official U.S. observance in 1970.

For many of us, every day is Earth Day – an opportunity to reduce, recycle and reuse to lessen our impact on the planet. What’s more, the workplace can be just as much a setting for greater awareness and action as our homes, schools and communities.

To help turn your workplace into an eco-friendly oasis, let’s revisit some ideas we covered in a previous post:

Buy plants. Plants not only brighten up the workspace, but also improve the quality of the air in your building. Talk to your local nursery about which indoor plants would work best in your office.

Only print when necessary. Paper is one of the most wasted items in the workplace. When you want to print something, ask yourself if it is absolutely necessary to have a hard copy.

Print with eco-friendly ink. Soy-based toners offer an environmentally friendly alternative to the petroleum-based options. Using soy-based ink also increases the recyclability of paper, so that when you have to print, you know you’re doing it in the ‘greenest’ way possible.

Purchase recycled office supplies and products. From printer paper to the federal and state labor law posters on your walls, do your research and find the best recycled products on the market.

Consider using electronic forms. Electronic forms allow you to print out the documents you need, only when you need them. No more wasted stacks of unused forms the next time labor laws change.

Turn it off. Shutting off the lights when you leave a room is a simple way to make a positive impact on your energy costs. Take it a step further by shutting down your computer and switching appliances off when you leave the office at the end of the day.

Buy reusable utensils. Instead of going through boxes and boxes of plastic utensils every month, ask employees to bring their own from home or invest in a set of inexpensive silverware for the office. Switching to the real thing will not only reduce waste, but will also save you money.

Have any more ideas for going green at work? Leave a comment and let us know.

You've got mail? Save it for later!

So how many e-mails do you receive in a day? And how much time do you devote to these and other electronic intrusions?

According to an article, "Blunt the e-mail interruption assault", the average desk-bound worker loses 2.1 hours of productivity every day to interruptions and distractions, largely in the form of e-mail alerts, instant messages, buzzing BlackBerrys and cell phones. And the intrusions are nearly constant. Based on research by RescueTime, a firm that develops time-management software, a typical office employee checks e-mail 50 times a day and uses instant messaging 70 times.

And you know the next part: Time is money. Some experts estimate that e-mail overload can cost large companies up to $1 billion a year in lost productivity. The interruptions pull employees from the task at hand, chipping away at their attention spans, increasing stress and diminishing job satisfaction and creativity.

Then there’s the myth of multitasking. It’s not always the sign of a hard-working, hyper-efficient employee. Rather, science tells us that trying to tackle two or more thinking tasks at once (such as reading e-mail while on the phone with a client) taxes the brain, causes mistakes and can lead to burnout.

So what can you do to slow down the electronic onslaught and encourage employees to step out of their electronic bubble? Here are some suggestions:

=> A high-tech software company created Quiet Time, where the engineers work alone for four hours in the morning, with no message and phone contact allowed.

=> Companies like U.S. Cellular and Deloitte & Touche promote less e-mail use, encourage more face-to-face contact and have developed programs like “no e-mail Friday”

=> Put yourself on an electronic diet, only checking e-mails manually at your desktop and only three or four times a day at prescribed hours

=> Ask your staff to communicate with you by phone and to think twice before sending e-mail unless it’s important that the information be in writing (if you’re only checking e-mail a few times a day, your staff will learn not to expect an instant reply)

Making COBRA available for domestic partners, too

Losing a job is difficult enough. But even more disruptive is losing your health coverage. That’s why many people opt for COBRA to maintain their coverage after termination – protection and peace of mind for you, your spouse and your dependent children.

But what if you’re in a gay relationship? Under current COBRA law, continuation coverage would not apply to your same-sex spouse or partner, even if you worked for a company that offered this level of health coverage.

Senator Barbara Boxer of California wants to do something about that. She recently introduced legislation – the Equal Access to COBRA Act of 2010 - that would allow many domestic partners the same access to COBRA health coverage that married couples currently have.

COBRA coverage would apply to those companies that already offer health benefits to domestic partners and their children. (Currently, that amounts to more than half of Fortune 500 companies.) Domestic partners could also tap into the 65% COBRA premium subsidy that has been extended a couple of times under the Obama administration.

On her website, Barbara Boxer states:

“This is a question of fairness: Every family deserves access to health insurance, especially in this tough economy. This bill ensures that domestic partners and their families will have equal access to health coverage after a job loss.”

Boxer’s proposed bill is now with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Hiring to get a boost with tax breaks for employers

With the economy crawling out of the shadows and showing signs of life again, so is hiring. We already learned that the U.S. economy posted its largest job gain in three years last month. And help is coming from the White House, too.

In a move to encourage recession-weary employers to step up their hiring efforts, President Obama signed the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act in mid-March, 2010. Under HIRE, qualified employers will receive two important tax breaks for hiring and holding onto previously unemployed workers:

1) A payroll tax exemption - An exemption from the employer’s 6.2% share of Social Security tax on wages paid to qualifying employees from March 19, 2010 through December 31, 2010

2) A new hire retention credit – A general business tax credit, up to $1,000, for each qualified employee retained for at least a year

To support this hiring incentive and help employers claim the payroll tax exemption, the IRS has issued a draft form (“HIRE Act Employee Affidavit,” or “Form W-11”) to confirm that an employee is qualified. Keep in mind, though, that you can use another similar statement if it contains the same information as Form W-11.

The main purpose of this form is to get qualified employees to state, by a signed affidavit and under penalties of perjury, that they have not been employed for more than 40 hours during the 60 days prior to beginning employment with you.

Most eligible employers will then use Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, to complete the payroll tax exemption claim – also available in draft form from the IRS.

And who is a “qualified employee,” you ask? That would be an individual who:

=> Starts working for you after February 3, 2010, and before January 1, 2011
=> Completes the signed affidavit
=> Is not replacing another employee unless that employee left voluntarily or for cause (such as downsizing)
=> Is not related to you

G.Neil will keep you informed about the HIRE Act and finalized versions of the related tax forms once they’re released. In the meantime, you can check out the FAQs on the IRS website.

When talk of health care reform turns ugly

Whether you support it or scorn it, it’s clear that the new health care reform law has hit a nerve with many Americans. In homes, restaurants, coffee shops and every meeting place in between, heated discussions about the intent and effect of the new bill can be heard. And like a couple of ill-tempered children squaring off on the playground, it’s not always pretty.

But what about the workplace? How far can employees take their political views while on the clock – and what if casual discussions escalate and cross the line?

As a blogger over at so aptly suggests ...

While you can’t request that employees couch all political discussions at work, you can step in if their water-cooler exchanges dampen their productivity or become nasty.

Bottom line: It’s completely unacceptable for any workplace conversation to intensify to the point of throwing around racial slurs or outright threats. More than that, it’s grounds for immediate disciplinary action. If you witness this (or are the target of such behavior), you should report it immediately to a manager or supervisor.

Most employers would be wise to remind their workforce to behave appropriately online, too. Facebook is not the place for respected professionals to “let down their guard” and spout off their political views. Again, it comes down to remaining calm and balanced, which some people struggle with when their political views are challenged. You never know who among your friends (and business associates) on Facebook is following your rants and questioning your integrity as a result.

Have you noticed more health care reform-related discussions in your workplace? Are employees keeping their emotions in check so healthy discussions don’t turn into harmful debates?

It's a good Friday for job growth, too

On this sunny Friday afternoon, I thought I’d pass along some equally cheery news from the job front:

The U.S. economy posted its largest job gain in three years in March.

More specifically, the Department of Labor said employers added 162,000 jobs last month – 123,000 of those by private employers.

"It's just the beginning of a rise in private hiring that will help sustain the recovery," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group."They're not big numbers, but they're welcome numbers."

And although some of the news in the report was mixed, I’d like to sustain your good mood with only these additional, upbeat details:

=> Manufacturers added 17,000 jobs, the third straight month of gains
=> Temporary help services added 40,000 jobs, while health care added 37,000
=> Leisure and hospitality added 22,000 jobs
=> Even the beaten-up construction industry added 15,000 positions
=> Plus, the average work week increased to 34 hours from 33.9

This recent report comes on the heels of data earlier this week that showed consumers are stepping up their spending, and manufacturing activity is growing at its fastest pace in more than five years. As they keep a close eye on the numbers, economists are hopeful that the nation will steer clear of a "double-dip" recession, where growth slows after a short burst.

"The stars are starting to align here," said Brian Bethune, chief U.S. financial economist at IHS Global Insight.

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