If employee engagement and retention are your biggest concerns, you're not alone

According to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employee engagement will be the biggest HR challenge employers face in the next three to five years.

The concern ranked "very important," topping the list for 69 percent of HR professionals. Close on its heels was employee retention (63 percent), followed by employee recruitment (53 percent) and culture management (51 percent).

Luckily, 80 percent of the HR professionals who participated in the survey also shared that their companies have an employee recognition program. This is good news because recognition can be a big factor in whether or not employees are "plugged in" and, as a result, loyal. It's all related: Recognition feeds engagement, and engagement feeds retention.

Looking for ways to motivate your employees? Here are 10 simple ideas to ramp up your recognition efforts:

1. Leave a handwritten thank you card at their desk.

2. Appeal to their sweet tooth. Chocolate, candy and cookies always do the trick.

3. Buy them a small gift certificate to their favorite coffee shop.

4. Invite them to join you for lunch.

5. Sit down with them and have a sincere, non-work related conversation.

6. Recognize a star employee’s recent efforts at a company meeting, and give the employee a personalized certificate to mark the moment.

7. Find small gifts for hard-working employees to keep at their desk. Anything from fun-shaped sticky notes to a smart-looking pen will work.

8. Create an event. Have a crazy hat day or favorite sports team day; give an award for the best dressed.

9. Bring breakfast to the office.

10. Call employees into your office to tell them what a great job they’ve been doing lately.

Remember what Zig Ziglar once said, “People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily.”

It’s up to you to motivate your employees on a daily basis. Even something as small as a thank you note can go a long way.

EEOC may extend recordkeeping requirements to GINA-covered entities

Today's post comes from G.Neil's HR News Weekly:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is recommending an extension of the recordkeeping requirements under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to employers and entities covered by Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

To clarify all those acronyms and numbers, what this means is this: The EEOC would like to update the current Title VII and ADA recordkeeping regulations to add references to GINA. According to the EEOC, the proposal wouldn't create additional documents or impose any new reporting requirements. Rather, it would extend the same record retention requirements under GINA that are imposed under Title VII and the ADA.

(As a reminder, Title II of GINA prohibits the use of genetic information to make employment decisions, while also restricting the acquisition or disclosure of genetic information by employers and other GINA-covered entities.)

The EEOC is accepting comments on the proposed rule until August 1, 2011. Check back here for updates.

Drawdown in Afghanistan: Are you ready for soldiers returning to work?

With Obama announcing that he will pull 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by December 2011 (and another 23,000 by the end of next summer), it's time to get up to date on USERRA.

If this makes you cringe a little, you're not alone. USERRA requirements are tricky for many employers.  In fact, a 2010 poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that only 9 percent of respondents were “extremely familiar” with USERRA, while 52 percent claimed to be “somewhat familiar” and an alarming 39 percent of respondents claimed to be unfamiliar with the law.

No more excuses! Only if you're thoroughly debriefed on the details of the law can you be certain you're giving returning soldiers every advantage in the workplace.

The rights of employed military members

USERRA is the primary federal law that provides employment and reemployment rights for members of the uniformed services, including veterans and members of the Reserve and National Guard. It prohibits employers from discriminating against employees in regard to hiring, firing, promotion, training or any other terms of employment based on past, present or future military service. The law:

•    Applies to all employers, regardless of size
•    Covers anyone in federal uniformed services, including full-time, part-time, temporary, probationary and seasonal workers on active duty, reserve duty, or in training
•    Also protects intermittent disaster response personnel

At its core, USERRA requires that you give employees a military leave of absence of up to five years. Employees who take a military leave of absence are entitled to accrue benefits based on seniority, to pay for continued health care coverage, and to participate in insurance and other benefits not based on seniority. 

To be eligible for reinstatement, the returning veteran must notify you that he or she intends to return once military service is completed. The amount of time the veteran has to contact you regarding reemployment depends on the length of service:

•    For service less than 31 days, the individual must return at the beginning of the next regularly scheduled work period on the first full day after release from service (taking into account safe travel home plus an eight-hour rest period)
•    For service more than 30 days but less than 181 days, the individual must submit an application for reemployment within 14 days of release from service
•    For service of more than 180 days, an application for reemployment must be submitted within 90 days of release from service

The escalator principle

Remember: When a service member returns from active duty of five years or less, that individual is entitled to any increases in seniority, promotions, pay and benefits that would have been received had he or she never left – a legal concept known as the “escalator principle.” USERRA also requires that you provide any training or retraining necessary to enable returning service members to refresh their skills, thus allowing them to qualify for reemployment.

USERRA also provides protection for disabled veterans, requiring employers to make reasonable efforts to accommodate the disability. Service members recovering from injuries received during service or training are allowed up to two years from the time they completed service to return to their jobs or apply for reemployment.

It's back: Mandatory E-Verify law reintroduced in the House

Today's post comes from G.Neil's HR News Weekly:

If a recently proposed bill gains traction, all employers may one day be required to use E-Verify to check an applicant's eligibility to work in the United States. The Secure America through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act is a bipartisan bill that was recently reintroduced in the House of Representatives. If implemented, the bill would create a four-year phase -in period for using E-Verify with potential and current hires, as follows:

=> Federal government, federal contractors and large employers with 250+ employees - within one year
=> Companies with 100 to 250 employees - within two years
=> Companies with 30 to 100 employees - within three years
=> All other employers - within four years

In addition to E-Verify compliance for employers, the SAVE Act would enhance border security and step up enforcement of existing immigration laws. Keep in mind that the bill is one of many versions of legislation introduced in the House and Senate since 2007, all which have failed to advance.

Even if you don't currently use E-Verify with your new employees, you still must confirm that they are eligible to work in the United States. Ensure you're up to date on the latest immigration laws, and fulfill mandatory verification requirements, with our Forms I-9 and other practical tools.

Previous posts:

New E-Verify tool helps job seekers verify employment eligibility

Getting better versed about E-Verify

USCIS issues User Manual to clarify E-Verify for federal contractors

The high cost of gas ... on our pocketbooks and our productivity

Soaring gas prices are a real pain. Not only on our personal finances ("can I afford this week's groceries AND a full tank of gas?"), but also on workplace morale. Not seeing the connection? The following article from G.Neil's HR Library sheds some light on the subject:

Most employers know about the impact of poor employee motivation, lacking of rewards or communication problems on employee morale and productivity. But have you factored in the price at the gas pump?

High gas prices are not only draining employees’ pocketbooks, but also their work productivity, according to Florida State University (FSU) researchers. In 2008, studies at FSU showed that the more employees must pay out at the gas pump, the more stressed they are at work, says Wayne Horchwarter, the Jim Moran Professor of Management at Florida State University’s College of Business.

Three years later, in an economy where job losses, underemployment and flat wages have hurt employee buying power even more, Dr. Horchwater's findings are even more significant. So what an employer to do?

Get creative with the high cost of employee commuting

The average commute time to work in this country is about 42 minutes. Double that to account for the trip home at the end of the day, and you have just under an hour and a half of non-productive employee time spent getting to and from work. And a lot of gas money.

For many employees, work means sitting in a an office or cubicle working on a computer monitor. So why all that driving? Habit. Tradition. Fear of loss of control. Maybe it's time to let those excuses go.

If your employees are suffering with the high cost of commuting, consider letting them work remotely two or three days a week. The savings in gas and auto wear-and-tear will feel like a raise to struggling employees. And your company will save on electricity, plus reap a reward in increase employee motivation and morale.

Flex your corporate muscles - and the schedule 

In some businesses, being in a certain place at a certain time is critical. But does everyone have to start and end during rush hour? Offering employees the option of starting and ending before or after rush hour could save them money at the pump. Less sitting in traffic means a shorter commute and better gas mileage - a double win for employees hungry for fatter wallets and more time with family and friends. And a win for your company as employee motivation and morale starts to rise. 

Pay salaries employees for work completed, not seats warmed   

If a salaried employee comes in and works 14 hours on Monday, and 14 hours on Tuesday, and 14 hours on Wednesday, and gets everything on their plate completed, why are you making them come in on Thursday and Friday? Stop looking at work as hours on the job, or days of the week, and consider letting exempt employees work on a project basis instead. Apple, Google, Microsoft and other leaders in thought and technology work this way, so why not your company? Employees who are allowed to work on projects rather than hours report higher company loyalty, higher levels of employee motivation, and higher levels of productivity. And that doesn't even take into account the day or two a week of savings on gas and tolls.

If employee motivation matters, show it 

When real buying power is dropping - and employee motivation and productivity is falling with it - employers need to address the problem. And when raises and bonuses aren't on the table, make sure something creative takes their place. Your business could depend on it.

Hurricane season is here! 5 tips to help you prepare

Today's post comes from G.Neil's HR News Weekly:

The 2011 hurricane season has officially begun … and the forecast isn’t pretty. Experts predict an “above normal” season with approximately 17 names storms and nine hurricanes (five coming in as a Category 3 or higher). If such predictions hold true, businesses can expect disruptions, whether from emergency response measures, power outages or actual damage to facilities.

To stay connected and prevent significant setbacks this hurricane season, you should:

1)    Invest in a back-up generator and stock up on batteries. If you’re unable to maintain electrical power, you’ll lose your Internet connection.
2)    Subscribe to a resilient, high-speed Internet service (such as satellite broadband) to secure communications between company decision makers and emergency operators, as well as to ensure your email, product orders and other essential information are maintained if your terrestrial network fails.
3)    Determine which applications and data are essential (such as emergency response plans, accounting documents and inventory logs). Then, back up the information regularly, and store it in a safe, dependable location. (Consider an off-site location, in case of flooding.)
4)    Keep one or more corded phones connected to a wall jack, so that you have telephone service in the event of an electrical-only outage.
5)    Do not hesitate to put your Web hosting provider on alert, especially if you suspect you’ll lose service for a long period of time.

Planning is key! To be certain your company is ready for a natural disaster (or other on-the-job emergency or hazard), follow the above tips and check out our emergency preparation and response items.

How the recently updated FLSA regulations may impact your business

On May 5, 2011, a handful of updated Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations went into effect, according to the final rule published in the Federal Register a month earlier.  While many expected these long-awaited revisions to address issues with the 2008 proposed rule, the final changes offer clarification more than actual new requirements.

The FLSA updates are especially relevant for employers who use the FLSA “tip credit” to meet minimum wage requirements, as well as those with salaried, nonexempt employees compensated under the fluctuating workweek payment method.

To keep you on track with the latest guidelines, here’s a summary of the key changes:

Tip credit – In general, the FLSA requires employers to pay employees a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. However, a “tip credit” provision allows you to pay tipped employees below minimum wage, as long as the wage and the employees’ tips equal at least the minimum wage when combined. Under the final rule, an employer using a “tip credit” must inform employees of its use in advance, as well as explain the direct cash wage the employee is being paid and the additional amount the employer is using as a credit against tips received.

Tip pools – Regarding tip pooling (placing all tips in a common pool for disbursement), the pool can only include employees who “customarily and regularly” receive tips. If non-tipped employees are in the pool, you cannot take a tip credit and must instead pay the full minimum wage. Under the tip pooling provision, you must also:

•    Notify employees of any mandatory tip pool contributions
•    Only take a tip credit for the amount of tips each employee ultimately receives
•    Avoid retaining any of the employees’ tips for any other purpose

Fire protection activities – The final rule eliminates the “20 percent rule” for employees engaged in fire protection activities, such as firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, rescue workers, ambulance personnel and hazardous material workers. These individuals are no longer included among the exempt employees who may spend up to 20 percent of their working time on nonexempt, non-fire protection work. This 20 percent provision now applies to law enforcement personnel only.

Proposed changes that didn't make the cut ...

Just as significant as the new regulations that passed were those that didn’t.  The DOL rejected a handful of proposals (or clarifications to existing regulations), including:

“Fluctuating workweek” method of calculating overtime for salaried, nonexempt employees – The fluctuating workweek method of overtime allows employers to pay a fixed salary to nonexempt employee whose hours vary from week to week – and to only pay the employee at a rate of one-half the regular hourly rate for any overtime hours worked in a week. Under an earlier proposal, bonus or premium payments would have been included in calculating the regular rate.  This was dismissed, however, since critics feared it would lead employers to reduce fixed weekly salaries and shift the bulk of wages to bonus and premium pay.

Granting of requested compensatory time – Also dismissed was a proposal to allow public-sector employees to grant compensatory time requested “within a reasonable period” of the request, instead of the specific dates submitted. The DOL upheld its longstanding position that employees are entitled to use compensatory time on the dates they request, as long as it doesn’t cause undue disruption to the business.

Overtime exemption for certain employees – The DOL will not allow the following to qualify for an overtime exemption: service managers, service writers, service advisers, service salesmen, sellers of boats, trailers and aircraft, partsmen, and mechanics servicing trailers or aircraft.

Meal credits – Finally, the DOL will not permit an employer to count the cost of a company-provided meal toward the employee’s minimum wage, whether or not accepting the meal is voluntary.

While many of these FLSA updates are specific to certain businesses and industries, others have more far-reaching application. Now is the time to carefully review the changes to ensure you’re in compliance with the latest rules.

Hiring illegal workers would be a costly mistake under proposed bill

Today's post comes from G.Neil's HR News Weekly:

If legislation introduced by the House of Representatives to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act passes, employers would face significantly higher fines for hiring illegal workers. The 10k Run for the Border Act (strange name, we know!) would increase the fines for knowingly hiring or recruiting undocumented workers (or continuing to employ illegal workers despite their undocumented status), as follows:

•    $10,000-$80,000 per violation (currently $250-$2,000)
•    $80,000-$200,000 per violation for employers with a prior violation (currently $2,000-$5,000)
•    $120,000-$1.6 million for repeat offenders (currently a minimum penalty of $3,000 and maximum of $10,000)

In another component of the bill, state or local law enforcement officials who assist in the investigation or prosecution of employers would be entitled to 80 percent of the fines paid by those employers.  It follows that this sort of incentive would increase enforcement.

Check back here for updates on the proposed bill. (It should be noted that prior versions of this bill have been introduced in the past six years, but didn’t advance.)

In the meantime, be certain that you’re up to date on the latest immigration laws, and properly verifying the eligibility of all employees, with our Forms I-9 and other practical tools.

Psst ... Most Americans actually like their jobs

That's right! According to a recent Gallup poll, 87.5 percent of American workers say they are A-OK with their jobs.

Tipping the satisfaction scale are those who earn higher salaries and college graduates. More than 91 percent of people bringing in $90,000 or more a year are content with their jobs. (While this drops to 82.1 percent for people who earn less than $36,000 a year, this is still a strong showing). In addition, college grads are more likely to claim they're satisfied than those with less than a high school diploma.

Whites are the most satisfied of all racial groups, and there's no satisfaction gap between men and women. Guys and gals reported fairly equal levels of job satisfaction in the survey.

So if you're white, a college graduate and making close to six figures, you have every reason to whistle while you work!

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