Hiring to come out of its deep freeze as economy warms up

According to CareerBuilder’s 2010 Job Forecast, employers will be revisiting their hiring strategies in the new year, largely due to the dark cloud of the depressed economy beginning to lift.

"There have been many signs over the past few months that point to the healing of the U.S. economy, especially the continued decrease in the number of jobs lost per month, a trend that will hopefully carry over into the new year," said Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder.

In its survey of more than 2,700 hiring managers and human resource professionals nationwide, CareerBuilder uncovered some very encouraging hiring predictions for 2010, including:

=> 20% of employers plan to increase their number of full-time, permanent employees
=> 11% of employers plan to add part-time employees
=> Employers in the West plan to increase their headcounts the most of any other region, with nearly 24% saying they will add full-time workers (compared to 21% in the Northeast, 20% in the South and 16% in the Midwest)
=> Hiring is expected to increase the most in these industries: information technology, manufacturing, financial services, professional and business services, and sales
=> The types of jobs that employers plan to hire for most frequently are technology and customer service, followed by sales, research/development, business development, accounting/finance, and marketing

Hiring isn’t the only area being resuscitated in the new year. According to the CareerBuilder survey, companies will be “making up for lost ground caused by the recession” by pursuing 10 additional key trends.

In yet another “top 10 list” in a January blog post (!), these key initiatives include:

1. Replacing lower-performing employees
2. Focusing on social media to strengthen brand
3. Rehiring laid-off workers
4. Providing flexible work arrangements
5. Cutting perks and benefits
6. Rehiring retirees and postponing retirement
7. Turning to freelance or contract hiring
8. Adding green jobs
9. Stepping up bilingual recruitment
10. Reducing business travel

So what about your business? Will hiring come off the back burner and make an appearance again in 2010? And what about the other trends CareerBuilder revealed in its survey? Will you be taking any of the same steps?

When is it OK to ignore the OSHA posting deadline?

The OSHA posting deadline is less than a week away! From February 1 to April 20, 2010, most businesses will be required to post OSHA Form 300A – a summary of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred in 2009.

Notice that I said “most.” That’s because employers that fall under certain Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes are exempt from keeping OSHA injury and illness records (unless requested, in writing, by OSHA, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) or a state agency operating under OSHA or the BLS). These businesses should be aware, however, that if a workplace incident results in a fatality or the hospitalization of three or more employees, they must report the accident to OSHA.

Check out the list of exempt industries here. From apparel stores and barber shops to photo studios and used car dealers, there are approximately 56 types of establishments that don’t need to hustle to get their OSHA Form 300A posted by this Monday.

For those of you who aren’t exempt, meet this upcoming posting deadline and other OSHA recordkeeping requirements with our mandatory forms and convenient recordkeeping tools.

How to steer clear of legal landmines in the new year

Protecting your business and “not getting sued” are topics that come up again and again on this blog. Whether you’re an HR professional, business owner or people manager, you’re all too aware how one legal misstep or compliance lapse can lead to much bigger trouble down the road.

That’s why my interest was piqued when I ran across a spot-on article by Susan K. Lessack, a labor and employment law partner with Pepper Hamilton LLP.

In her “Top Ten Things to Do in 2010,” Lessack discusses some important actions for minimizing the risk of employment-related litigation in the new year. In a nutshell, she suggests that you:

1. Make sure your company has a pandemic plan
2. Check your policies to ensure they’re a friend of GINA
3. Be sure you comply with the regulations issued by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) if you’re a federal government contractor
4. Ensure that disability leave policies do not contain inflexible provisions
5. Audit your wage-and-hour practices
6. Review relationships with independent contractors to evaluate whether those individuals are classified properly
7. Consider having a policy that advises employees who need a reasonable accommodation to request one
8. Review existing communication systems to ensure that employees have a way of raising concerns, and train manager to be effective in listening to and addressing those concerns
9. Develop a policy concerning employee use of social media, such as blogs, Facebook, MySpace and the like
10. Remember to document and communicate to employees any performance problems

Do yourself a favor and check out Lessack’s article for a quick snapshot of the best tactics for keeping your hands clean of any messy legal snafus. Many of the suggestions have been covered in this blog before, but they’re all points worth repeating. As are Lessack’s final words of advice for the litigation leery: “Remember that employees who feel they are treated fairly and with respect are less likely to bring claims against their employers.”

Here's to a glass half full in 2010

I know it’s January 14, but you’re not already jaded about the new year, are you? You’re still happy to put the challenges of 2009 behind you, and are focused on a big and bold 2010, right?

I’m glad to hear that. And so is Terry Starbucker, the voice behind the blog, Ramblings from a Glass Half Full. A senior operations executive for a service business, Starbucker is committed to spreading “realistic optimism” through a philosophy he calls “Half-Fullism,” or to put it another way, “Dealing with the literal world in a favorable way.”

In his first-of-the-year post, Starbucker shares a New Year’s checklist of 10 things leaders can do in the coming year to make it great. If you're a leader at your company:

1. Don’t Dive in Head First – Take the time to review the year you just experienced, celebrating the victories and learning from the setbacks. Discuss these insights with your team now, before the new year kicks into high gear.

2. Study Up – How familiar are you with the details of your business or project plan for 2010? Absorb the full scope of what you plan to accomplish, so you’ll start the new year on solid footing.

3. Read Your Fine Print – Every leader’s strengths, left unchecked, can have a dark side (something Starbucker calls the “fine print”). For example, a hard-charging, assertive leader could have a tendency to become inpatient or steamroll over people. You must constantly self-correct to make sure you’re striking a healthy balance.

4. Put the Right Team on the Field – While you’re assessing your own strengths and weaknesses, review those of your team, too. Are there any unresolved issues from the previous year? Can you make changes now, before it gets too busy, that will improve everyone’s chance for success?

5. Keep Raising the Bar – In select areas, set higher targets than the year before. Even if a team experienced a “best ever” year, they can strive for better results the following year – and hit them.

6. Synthesize Goals – Reduce your business or project plan to four or five smaller pieces and communicate these goals through the organization. Talk up these goals heavily and be sure to keep everyone posted on their progress.

7. Calibrate Your Accountability Meter – Make sure your teammates know what is expected of them for the year; then, be prepared to lead using the full spectrum of accountability – encouraging and motivating them, but also taking appropriate action if they’re underperforming.

8. Clean Out Your Ears – In a non-stop, multi-tasking environment, this can be tricky, but it’s important to shut out the noise and listen - really listen - to what your teammates are sharing.

9. Give Feedback Early & Often – Even when everything is moving full-steam ahead, you need to pause periodically to give your teammates feedback - and make adjustments early in the process, when it’s easier.

10. Practice Patience, Tolerance & Engagement – Last, but certainly not least, it’s important to keep yourself in check and not become impatient, intolerant of criticism or adverse to conflict. Things won’t always go your way, and as a leader, you have to rise above it and stay calm, open-minded and understanding.

A new year, a new decade – what better time than now to take stock of what’s working and not working in your company – and challenging yourself to “lead” in a more positive, dynamic direction? With the right tools, training and mentoring, you can keep your glass half full and put the power of optimism to work for your business.

When wicked winter weather grounds your workforce

“Oh the weather outside is frightful/But the fire is so delightful/And since we’ve no place to go/Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!”

No place to go? What about employees trying to get to their jobs! What are they supposed to do when the wind is howling, the snow is drifting and the roads are icing over?

With much of the country dealing with the blustery weather that is so common in the months of January and February, now might be a good time to review your HR rights and responsibilities when crippling snowstorms are in the forecast.

The main issue for most employers is whether or not they must pay employees who don’t - or can’t - come to work because of weather conditions. And if you can charge them with vacation or other PTO for missed work.

Like many pay issues, this depends on the exemption status of the employee. Under FLSA guidelines, employers should use discretion before docking the pay of exempt employees who miss work for weather-related reasons. Basically, if you remain open during bad weather and an employee does not report to work, you may make pay deductions for full-day absences only. (If the employee works any part of the day, you must pay him or her for the entire day.) Yet if you shut down your business, you should pay exempt employees their regular salaries. Keep in mind, however, that you have the right to require employees to use accrued time off to cover the missed work – assuming they have vacation or PTO available to them.

Regarding non-exempt hourly employees, it’s up to you whether to pay them for snow days. Basically, the FLSA doesn’t require you to pay them for hours they would have worked if severe weather wasn’t a factor. But again, you may require non-exempt employees to use vacation or PTO to cover their absence. Also, it’s up to you whether you allow hourly employees to make up any weather-related lost work.

Next order of business: Does your employee handbook contain a severe weather policy? If not, you’ll want to develop one ASAP that covers:

Closing the business – How you’ll determine whether to shut down for severe weather (snowfall more than six inches, local school districts are closed, etc.)

Communication – How you'll communicate a business closure to your employees (call-in number, website with instructions, etc.)

Employees with children - Whether employees who are able to report to work, but who have children whose schools or daycare facilities are closed, may bring their children to work

Telecommuting - Whether employees who are unable to report to work may work from home - and the conditions surrounding this arrangement (such as remaining accessible via computer or telephone)

A final note: While not a policy issue, you may also want to provide a list of cold-weather precautions for your employees, such as how they can protect themselves in frigid temperatures, safe-driving trips (including emergency tools to stow in their vehicle, like a snow scraper, flares and flashlight) and what to do in case of an accident.

OUCH! Survey reveals that nearly one out of every two employees is unhappy at work

Do you enjoy your job? If you answered “yes,” consider yourself lucky – and in a very narrow majority. According to a survey of 5,000 households by the Conference Board research group, only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their work – the lowest number ever recorded by the organization in its 22 years of studying the issue.

“It says something troubling about work in America. It is not about the business cycle or one grumpy generation,” says Linda Barrington, managing director of human capital at the Conference Board. USA Today

What is it about, then? What’s causing such discontent for so many Americans? While some of the malaise can be blamed on the worst recession since the 1930s (and the difficulty in finding rewarding and suitable jobs), there’s something more at play here. Worker dissatisfaction has been increasing for more than two decades for additional, non-recession reasons, the biggest being:

=> Fewer workers consider their jobs to be interesting
(Only 51% of workers currently find their jobs satisfying, compared to nearly 70% in 1987)
=> Incomes have not kept up with inflation
(Average household incomes, adjusted for inflation, have been dropping since 2000)
=> The soaring cost of health insurance has cut into worker’s
take-home pay

(The average employee contribution for single-coverage medical care benefits rose from $48 a month to $76 a month between 1999 and 2006)

Continuing the nearly 50/50 split of satisfied/dissatisfied workers, here are some of the other key findings of the survey:

=> 43% of workers feel secure in their jobs
=> 56% of workers like their coworkers
=> 56% of workers are satisfied with their commute to work
=> 51% of workers are satisfied with their boss

Add it all up and you have a trend that is not only troubling for employers, but also for the nation. Economists worry that long-term job dissatisfaction could squash innovation and damage America’s competitiveness and productivity.

When dissatisfaction hits home (or work)

Which brings us to another point: How concerned should you be about employee satisfaction in your organization – and what can you do to help reverse these numbers within your own four walls?

Obviously, this is no easy task, and a bit of a moving target. While you can’t control the recession or rising health care costs – or please all of the people all of the time, for that matter – you can take positive steps to ensure your employees are engaged and motivated. It’s a brand-new year, the perfect time to take a good, hard look at what’s working (and not) with your most valuable resource – your employees.

In a previous post on this very subject, we talked about how employee engagement is a key factor in determining the long-term success of a business, with studies indicating that engaged employees perform at much higher levels than disengaged employees. At the same time, we're assuming that engaged, high-performing employees are happier, more satisfied employees.

Great, but how do you know if your employees are committed to their work? Ask them!

This earlier post suggests you start a conversation with employees to find out how they are handling the recession and their jobs, even going so far as to conduct an informal employee survey. Not to state the obvious, but this won’t work if managers and supervisors only inquire about their employees’ well-being at review time. They have to sit down with their employees on a regular basis and give them the attention they deserve.

If you go the route of a written survey, here are some of the statements you can ask employees to rate, which will provide a clear snapshot of where you stand in building satisfied employees:

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.

Once you’ve asked the tough questions, you’ll want to spend time with upper management and other decision-makers to review the results and figure out ways to fill in the gaps. From training and mentoring employees - to recognizing and rewarding your workforce for their contributions – make 2010 a year for turning those frowns upside down! Your employees will be happier, and your business will be more successful as a result.

Looks like we made it - Saying goodbye to 2009 and hello to 2010

So here we are, ushering in 2010 … a fresh, unspoiled year … a blank slate waiting to be filled with new experiences and opportunities. The year ahead feels like that shining, new employee you just hired, coming to you with impeccable credentials and a winning personality. Will the new year, like that new employee, be everything you hoped for?

In addition to wishing you a "Happy New Year" in this first blog post of 2010, I feel like I should express my congratulations, too. Congratulations on enduring a year that was anything but dull, thanks to a lingering recession, the swearing in of a new, Democratic president and heightened labor law enforcement under the Obama administration. Many of you successfully kept your businesses afloat with fewer employees, fewer resources and budgets that were cut to the bone.

Lest you forget your strength and resilience during such trying times, let us take a quick walk down memory lane to revisit the changes that hit employers the hardest in 2009 (and that were covered in HR Forum):

=> New Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rules become effective in January, with expanded military coverage and revised guidelines on determining FMLA eligibility and handling leave requests.

=> In his first piece of legislation as President, Barack Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law in late January, an equal-pay bill designed to make it easier for employees to sue for pay discrimination.

=> In response to the nation’s dire economic situation, President Obama signs a $787 billion stimulus package that includes a COBRA subsidy for laid-off workers, hiring incentives via tax credits for certain types of workers and other new HR requirements.

=> Just as most businesses are preparing to update their employment verification practices to incorporate newly updated I-9 Forms, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pushes back the scheduled update by two months (to April 3).

=> In late April, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano urges employers to aggressively prepare for another outbreak of swine flu to prevent it from becoming a full-fledged pandemic.

=> The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launches a bold initiative in early July as part of its stepped-up enforcement, alerting 652 businesses nationwide that ICE agents will be inspecting their hiring records.

=> Beginning September 8, all federal contractors and subcontractors are required to use E-Verify, a free, web-based system, that compares employee information from the Form I-9 against federal databases to verify a worker’s employment eligibility.

=> Also in September, all businesses covered by HIPAA - or that offer products or services that interact with protected health information – must notify individuals when their health information has been breached, along with updating their HIPAA policies and procedures.

=> In October, OSHA announces a national emphasis program (NEP) on recordkeeping to assess the accuracy of injury and illness data recorded by employers, largely due to unusually low incidence rates in traditionally high-rate industries.

=> The provisions of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) go into effect in November, which includes an updated EEOC “Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law” poster – the fifth federal-level posting change in five years.

Awareness and action in 2010

While the new year is starting on a high note – with many experts indicating that the recession is lifting – we can most likely expect a similar level of labor law reform and increased enforcement under the Obama administration in 2010. Check back here often for insights on the latest legal and HR issues affecting your business, including solutions to help you meet every challenge like a seasoned pro.

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