Have You Taken Any PTO Lately?

Original post benefitspro.com

Americans might be workaholics, but not necessarily because they’re in love with work. Studies show Americans yearn for vacation time, but some of them can’t bring themselves to take it.

A survey commissioned by Namely, a payroll and benefits company, finds that a majority of U.S. workers intend to take 15 days of vacation per year. It also found that 40 percent of employees have or would be willing to sacrifice pay to gain more paid time off. Similarly, more than two-thirds of workers said that vacation policies were at least somewhat critical when considering a new job.

But as a statement accompanying the survey from the company points out, another recent study found that the average American worker only take 11 days off per year.

The lower average is largely driven by the fact that many employees receive far less than three weeks of vacation a year, but there is some evidence to suggest that some workers who are entitled to generous PTO do not make use of it.

A quarter of  workers in the Namely survey cited strict company policies as an obstacle to taking vacation, while a fifth cited “stress at the thought of missing time at work” and 16 percent reported a “negative perception” in their organization of taking time off.

“What this tells us is that despite the best intentions to take large chunks of time away from work and unplug from technology, employees are feeling confined and are using vacation time differently than previous generations,” said Matt Straz, founder and CEO of Namely.

In recent years, a number of major companies have made a point of offering generous vacation benefits. Some offer unlimited vacation, while others have put in place policies to encourage workers to make use of their vacation, including bonuses for taking time off.


Employee Relations: The Other Side of Office Politics

Original post ubabenefits.com

Everyone is aware of office politics, but what about politics in the office? Whether you label yourself as a republican, democrat, independent, liberal, conservative, or anything else, it’s best to keep your opinions to yourself. During an election year, people can become quite passionate about which candidate they prefer. Throw a particular issue into the mix, and things can get downright heated. All this creates the perfect storm for getting fired.

It seems so easy to just keep quiet, yet so few people are able to stop when it comes to expressing their political opinions. Have you ever heard people arguing during a meeting? It can be much worse when there’s a clash of politics. At best, espousing an opinion may make others uncomfortable. At worst, that person now becomes alienated or even terminated.

Employees may think that their political opinions are protected as free speech under the First Amendment.  They are wrong! The government may not censor your speech, but an employer has every right to enforce a ban in the workplace. In fact, in “at-will employment” states, employers can fire someone for any reason not prohibited by federal, state, or local laws.

In an article titled, “Electing to Talk Politics at Work has Serious Implications” on the website Workforce, the author discusses that a business owner or boss may easily fire someone if their political opinions are different. Yet, even if they align, an employee still may be fired if they cross the line from good to poor judgement.

Some examples of poor judgement would be if two or more employees get into an argument over politics.  Doing so wastes valuable work time and usually has a negative effect on morale. If an employee uses discriminatory language, such as an inappropriate comment about a candidate’s gender, race, age, etc., then an employer has an obligation to address this. Otherwise, the employer may be held liable for promoting a hostile work environment.

And just because employees aren’t at their place of work doesn’t mean they should let down their guard. If an employee is representing the company at an event, at a vendor, or at a meeting with another company, they can be labeled unfavorably by discussing their political views. Plus, if an employee is being interviewed, even if it’s at a political rally, they would be well-advised to avoid anything that identifies them as working for a specific employer such as the company name or logo on a shirt, hat, uniform, etc.

Most everyone has formed an opinion on a few political issues, and some of those opinions may be stronger than others. Regardless, it’s best to just walk away from any political discussion in the workplace. If an employee does decide to jump into the fire and discuss his or her side of the subject, then it’s best to think before speaking or that person may argue themself out of a job.

Weeding Out Low Performers

Original post ubabenefits.com

Every workplace has its fair share of slackers and goof-offs, but it’s what an employer does with those employees that solidifies its corporate culture as one of high or low performance.

Employers that ignore low-performing employees risk more than just productivity. In an article titled, “Study: Beware ‘Toxic’ Influence of Low-Performers” on the Society For Human Resource Management’s website, research found that low-performing employees hurt overall morale and increased their co-workers’ workload. Furthermore, innovation and motivation are stifled and mediocrity is deemed acceptable.

What may be of most concern is that a mere 60 percent of survey respondents looked at their co-workers and would rehire them. Their motto should have been: we may hire the best, but we keep the rest.

Successful companies know how to weed out their weakest links, while rewarding and retaining high-performing employees. They know that employees who perform poorly can cause high-performing employees to seek jobs elsewhere. Successful companies are able to identify their best employees, then they establish incentives, opportunities, or other ways of ensuring they stay.

So, how do you identify the best, or even the best of the best? It’s not as easy as it may seem. These are the top 10 percent to 15 percent of the organization. A company must first determine a set of guidelines that mark an employee as a high performer. Once the guidelines are in place, observation of these employee traits should be done in order to ensure uniformity and that the guidelines were set correctly.

Now that a company knows what it expects in its employees, it’s time to announce that to everyone so that they either know they’re doing the right things, or can make a plan for improvement. At the same time, employers should conduct surveys on employee satisfaction. Their focus should be on their top performers and what makes them happy.

Plenty of data should be collected regarding the criteria that not only make an employee a top performer at the company, but also what he or she prefers in terms of job satisfaction. Going forward, this data should be matched to potential recruiting candidates for new positions. In addition, surveys that measure the quality of a new hire (i.e., whether the recruiter hired the right candidate) should be completed at predetermined intervals of three, six, nine, or 12 months.

In jobs where there is high demand and lots of attrition, correctly recruiting and retaining the best performers could be the key difference in a company’s success.


Trending: Virtual Healthcare Gains Broader Acceptance

Original post benefitsnews.com

The Cadillac tax may have been postponed until 2020 but that doesn’t mean employers have put healthcare cost containment measures on the backburner. In fact, new research shows 90% of employers are planning myriad measures to control rising healthcare costs.

The 2016 Medical Plan Trends and Observations Report, released today by DirectPath and CEB, highlights top trends in employers’ 2016 healthcare strategies. Overwhelmingly, employers are continuing to shift a larger share of healthcare costs to employees, often through high-deductible health plans, according to the report.

The use of telemedicine, meanwhile, continues to grow, with almost two-thirds of organizations offering or planning to offer such a service by 2018 – a 50% increase from the previous year.

“Employees often say that they go to the emergency room because it’s hard to get a doctor’s appointment. With telemedicine, you’ve got 24/7 access and you don’t necessarily need an appointment,” notes Kim Buckey, vice president of compliance communications at DirectPath. “That’s certainly a huge driver of avoiding those visits to the emergency room or even the urgent care clinic because telemedicine is typically less expensive than an urgent care visit, as well.”

Buckey says it “makes sense” for employers to investigate telemedicine – the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients via phone calls, email and/or video chat – because employees are increasingly accepting of virtual access to just about everything.

“How many employees now are just grabbing their phones, iPads, or computers when they need information? That’s something that people are comfortable with using and they don’t have to leave their house to get quality care,” she says.

Spousal and tobacco surcharges are also expected to grow, according to the CEB data. Twelve percent of employers surveyed already have spousal surcharges in place, while 29% expect to introduce them in the next three years. Twenty-one percent of employers already have tobacco surcharges in place, while 26% expect to implement them in the next three years.

“I think we’re going to see more and more of those, particularly as employers focus more on wellness initiatives,” says Buckey, adding that a robust communications plan is needed before implementing tobacco or spousal surcharges.

“People don’t understand basic concepts like deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance, let alone how to make a decision about what plan to choose, or frankly, what’s the best way of receiving care,” she says. “As more and more of these provisions are added to plans, they have the potential of being even more confusing and off-putting to employees, so having a robust communications plan in place that addresses all of these issues [is important]. … There certainly will be cases where these surcharges aren’t going to apply to a large percentage of the population. You just want to make sure that the folks who are affected, understand how they’re affected and why.”


Wellness: Business Travel Is Seldom Done Leisurely

Original post ubabenefits.com

To quote singer Warren Zevon, “I’ve been to Paris and it ain’t that pretty at all.” Many people often think of business travel as a “free vacation” or that it’s all champagne and caviar (and if it is for you, I want to know where you work), but the reality is that it’s often very stressful. An article titled “Six Tips to Reduce Stress While Traveling for Business” on Forbes’ website details the common causes of travel-related stress and what you can do about them.

Basically, according to the article, there are three main areas that can cause stress — lost time, unforeseen events, and a new routine. The first one, lost time, is one that most likely affects people the most. I don’t care how efficient you may be, whether you are the best multitasker in the world, or if you are constantly connected via mobile device, there is always work that needs to be caught up when you return from a business trip. Some things just can’t be accomplished when you’re away from the office.

The next stressor, unforeseen events, rarely happens, but when it does, it’s definitely a major issue. You’re trying to get somewhere and then a flight is delayed, your rental car breaks down, your luggage is lost, or you miss a connection. All these affect your well-planned schedule causing you to freak out.

Finally, there’s a disruption from your normal day-to-day routine. If you’re a creature of habit, then be prepared to have your world turned upside down. Obviously, your diet, exercise, and sleep regimens will be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain. This added stress, combined with the potential lack of sleep and unhealthy diet, has now affected your immune system, making you more susceptible to the awful germs that are lurking in airplanes and hotel rooms.

Want to throw a wrench into these three main areas of stress? Travel internationally. Besides the added effect of jet lag, research has found that it takes anywhere from six to 11 days for a person’s body to return completely back to the way it was before leaving on the trip. Oh, and you can also add the risk of deep vein thrombosis, which can develop from sitting for long amounts of time on those international flights.

Now that you know the most likely culprits that trigger stress on a business trip, what can you do about them? Like any good Boy Scout will tell you, be prepared. When you’re running down your packing checklist (you do have a checklist, right?), make sure you include things that won’t be at your destination. For example, computer files, mobile Wi-Fi access, phone chargers, batteries, etc.

Speaking of packing, try to pack smart. That means bringing only carry-on bags if you’re able so you won’t have lost luggage and wasted time hanging around the baggage claim area. Remember to check the weather and bring appropriate clothing. Travel light and efficient by packing travel-sized bathroom items and only the clothes you’ll need, but your wardrobe should be versatile in case you get a stain or there’s no iron at the hotel.

When you book your flight, rental car, hotel, etc., try and make your itinerary as stress-free as possible. That means to confirm the location of your hotel, fly into the best airport, which may or may not be the closest, and fly nonstop if possible to eliminate the possibility of missed connections and lost luggage. If you have to take a connecting flight, give yourself a reasonable amount of layover time. Nobody likes to wait longer than they have to at an airport, but would you rather schedule an extra hour of layover, or risk missing your next flight due to delays?

This almost goes without saying, but be comfortable when you travel. This includes clothing, bringing your favorite book, magazine, music, and snacks, and even taking a travel pillow if you’re so inclined. Try to exercise by walking briskly and stretching, and eat sensibly. Finally, file that expense report immediately so you’re not worried about any out-of-pocket costs.

Whew! You’re back home, all is well, and you can relax and unwind. Time to take a vacation!

Employee Relations: Don't Bring Me Down!

Original post ubabenefits.com

Every workplace has its fair share of slackers and goof-offs, but it’s what an employer does with those employees that solidifies its corporate culture as one of high or low performance.

Employers that ignore low-performing employees risk more than just productivity. In an article titled, “Study: Beware ‘Toxic’ Influence of Low-Performers” on the Society For Human Resource Management’s website, research found that low-performing employees hurt overall morale and increased their co-workers’ workload. Furthermore, innovation and motivation are stifled and mediocrity is deemed acceptable.

What may be of most concern is that a mere 60% of survey respondents looked at their co-workers and would rehire them. Their motto should have been: we may hire the best, but we keep the rest.

Successful companies know how to weed out their weakest links, while rewarding and retaining high-performing employees. They know that employees who perform poorly can cause high-performing employees to seek jobs elsewhere. Successful companies are able to identify their best employees, then they establish incentives, opportunities, or other ways of ensuring they stay.

 

So, how do you identify the best, or even the best of the best? It’s not as easy as it may seem. These are the top 10% to 15% of the organization. A company must first determine a set of guidelines that mark an employee as a high performer. Once the guidelines are in place, observation of these employee traits should be done in order to ensure uniformity and that the guidelines were set correctly.

 

Now that a company knows what it expects in its employees, it’s time to announce that to everyone so that they either know they’re doing the right things, or can make a plan for improvement. At the same time, employers should conduct surveys on employee satisfaction. Their focus should be on their top performers and what makes them happy.

 

Plenty of data should be collected regarding the criteria that not only make an employee a top performer at the company, but also what he or she prefers in terms of job satisfaction. Going forward, this data should be matched to potential recruiting candidates for new positions. In addition, surveys that measure the quality of a new hire (i.e., whether the recruiter hired the right candidate) should be completed at predetermined intervals of three, six, nine, or 12 months.

 

In jobs where there is high demand and lots of attrition, correctly recruiting and retaining the best performers could be the key difference in a company’s success.

4 Ways to Talk to Employees So They Listen

Original post entrepreneur.com

No one likes to be lectured in the workplace.

As a leader, you need to communicate with your employees to deliver strategic direction, reinforce corporate culture and rally the troops to achieve company goals and objectives. To be effective, you need to deliver these messages in a way that creates energy and enthusiasm, rather than deflating your team.

Here are four tips for talking to employees in a way that energizes them rather than depleting them:

1. Use humor. No matter how big or small your operation may be, there is often tension and emotional distance between the boss and employees. To diffuse that, I regularly use humor, a tactic that makes me more approachable. In my experience, the best kind is self-deprecating humor. When I showed up to meet new employees for the first time at a Midwest location, I started the conversations by poking fun at my pronounced “New Yawk” accent. It got a laugh and made me seem more accessible.

2. Ask open-ended questions. And then be quiet. My favorite question to ask is “Tell me about [insert topic here].” When you ask a new employee about his ideas or a technologist about a new device, you are asking them to do more than give you a pat sentence or two in response. You have the opportunity to access that person’s deep knowledge and passion. Ask a question that opens the conversation wide and then hold still and listen.

3. Bring others into the conversation. A boss-employee conversation may seem casual to the boss but can feel like an interrogation to the employee. To diffuse this situation, I like to bring others into the conversation to even out the experience. I may turn a one-on-one discussion into a larger conversation by inviting people to join us and share their thoughts and experiences. It benefits me, because I get to hear more voices, and it helps put everyone else at ease.

4. Let the little stuff slide. If you are the kind of hands-on person who helped build the business from the ground up, you probably have insight or advice on everything from the capital budget to color of the carpet. But you don’t have to communicate every thought to the staff. If it’s not an important critique, let it go. I visited a flower shop in my company once and noticed the manager was not lining the trashcans with plastic bags. I know from experience that liners make the job easier, but I also know that I don’t need to communicate every idea that comes into my head. It just creates a climate of nitpicking.

Conversations that take place up and down the food chain – between supervisor and staff, people of different departments and the boss and the new employee – are often the source of great new ideas.

As the boss, it’s your job to get those conversations started and keep them going. You have a chance to make that happen (or achieve the opposite) every time you open your mouth.


7 Tips to Get Your Team to Actually Listen to You

Original post entrepreneur.com

Right from the outset, entrepreneurs must pay attention to every communication and opportunity for sharing their passion and vision.  They must communicate effectively, so they can inspire others to come aboard.  They must speak honestly and in ways that reveal their personal character and genuine connection. Yet, this sort of communication style can be difficult and time consuming – especially when demands are huge and time is scarce.

There is far more to being an effective and authentic communicator than most entrepreneurs believe — at least when they are starting out. Even if you think you’re good at speaking to your team and motivating them, there’s always more to learn.

Leadership communication is a discipline and a practice: The more time, effort and heart you put in, the more effective you become.  There really are no shortcuts.

That said, here are seven ideas that can help you focus your attention and improve your leadership communication.

1. Be authentic.

When you speak with your employees you must come across to them as real. This means sharing your beliefs and your struggles. Talking about moments of doubt but also explaining how you overcame them with more conviction and confidence than ever. Or perhaps share a story or two about a failure and disappointment in life.

The most convincing talks are when stories are shared about personal weaknesses and what one was doing to overcome them or disappointments and failures and how they were turned around.

2. Know yourself.

Dig deep.  Know your values and what motivates you.  If you don’t know yourself you cannot share or connect with others. People want to know what makes you tick as a human being not just as a leader. Share this and make yourself real.

3. Rely on a good coach or a trusted advisor.

Developing good communication skills takes time — and in the rush of business, that’s scarce.  Having someone who can push you to examine and reveal your interests and passions is enormously helpful and the value is immeasurable.

4. Read up on leadership communication.

If you can’t hire a coach, read all that you can. This is an inexhaustible resource, and you should never quit learning anyway. Books, articles, the internet; the possibilities are endless.

5. Make values visible.

Effective, empathetic communication and a commitment to culture can provide a solid foundation for your ideas and contribute to making it a reality. Many of today’s most successful companies have gone through dramatic crises.  Their improvements often hinged upon genuine communication from the leaders.

For instance, think of Starbucks and Howard Schultz’s clear and genuine communications about the importance of managers and baristas being personally accountable for future success. Your employees want to know what you and the company stands for. What is the litmus test for everything you do? These are your values. Talk about them but you must always be sure to “walk the talk” and live by them.

6. Engage with stories.

You can’t rely on facts and figures alone. It’s stories that people remember. The personal experiences and stories you share with others create emotional engagement, decrease resistance and give meaning. It is meaning that gets employees’ hearts and fuels discretionary effort, thinking and desire to actively support the business.

Once someone was implementing a massive pricing cut. He could have presented reams of data about this change and why it needed to be made. Instead he invited in four clients of the firm who had written letters about why after more than 10 years they had decided to leave due to our pricing being noncompetitive. Everyone was engaged and quite horrified to hear this feedback. Getting the team’s support for the change was much easier after that.

7. Be fully present. 

There is no autopilot for leadership communication. You must be fully present to move people to listen and pay attention, rather than simply be in attendance. Any time you are communicating, you need to be prepared — and to speak from your heart.  Leadership communication is, after all, about how you make others feel. What do you want people to feel, believe and do as a result of your communication?  This absolutely can’t happen if you read a speech. No matter how beautifully it is written, it doesn’t come across as authentic or from your heart if you are reading it. Embrace what you want to say and use notes if you must, but never read a speech if you want to be believable and move people to action. (And yes this requires a ton of preparation).

Your speeches are visible and important components of your role as a leader. Successful entrepreneurs are conscious of that role in every communication, interaction and venue within the organization and beyond. They also know that while today’s world provides a wide range of ways to communicate to your organization — mass email, text, Twitter, instant message and more —connecting is not that simple. Electronic communication is a tool for communicating information — not for inspiring passion.


Want to be productive? Don’t skip lunch

It seems that every office has its share of employees who appear so dedicated to their jobs that they are always available, never or seldom take a lunch break, and when they do take a break, they remain working at their desk. This fosters the belief among other employees that if they also want to be, or at least appear to be, productive, then they must follow the same practice of skipping lunch. This is a bad idea.

While the traditional lunch hour may be on its way out for most business and technology professionals, if employees don’t stop and take a break to eat, it will actually reduce productivity. This is according to an article on The Washington Post’s website titled, “You may look more productive skipping lunch, or eating at your desk. But you aren’t.”

The reason is simple. Your brain needs energy to work properly and if you deprive it of a steady flow of energy, then it won’t function as well as it should. Foods rich in a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats have been proven to improve people’s memory test results. In fact, according to the article, slow-release carbohydrates such as whole grains and vegetables provide the best results.

Another equally important reason is that your brain needs to take a break from cognitively-demanding work such as problem solving, managing, or being creative. Plus, taking a break from stress-related work, such as the constant flow of emails, can help recharge your brain.

To help fine-tune productivity even more, research in the article recommends changing your surroundings during your break, especially if you can go somewhere like a park, patio, or near a window. Natural environments tend to be restoring and an ideal lunch break would be to eat outside.

However, while it’s clearly beneficial to take a break, this still may not eliminate the perception that an employee is somehow less dedicated and productive. An argument can be made that the quality of a person’s work has nothing to do with the quantity of work and an employee doesn’t have to take an entire hour away from his or her desk in order to receive the cognitive benefits. So go ahead, take a lunch break. Your brain will thank you.


Can you hear me now?!

Original post by ubabenefits.com

If your boss has never yelled at you, then either you own your own business, are self-employed, or have a boss who is mute. At some point in your working career, it’s safe to say that you’ve been yelled at by a supervisor. Whether that anger toward you was justified or not is probably up for debate, but what can almost be guaranteed is that you weren’t quite sure how to handle it and respond.

An article on Business Insider’s website titled, “6 ways to respond to your boss yelling at you,” discusses the multiple ways employees can react to their boss yelling at them. Let’s get two important things out of the way first. If your boss isn’t just yelling at you, but is actually bullying you, then you should go to your human resources department immediately. However, if you’re just being yelled at, then never, EVER, for any reason should you yell back. Don’t give your boss a reason to be madder at you. It’s just not worth it.

Do you think you’re right and the boss is wrong? Don’t yell back. Are you the scapegoat for someone else’s mistake? Don’t yell back. Is your boss just venting and you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Don’t yell back. Yelling never accomplishes anything and if you yell at your boss, you risk the obvious of being fired, or at least being watched like a hawk or having a grudge held against you.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with standing up for yourself and, fortunately, there are many ways to accomplish this without further upsetting the boss. Once things have calmed down, analyze exactly WHY the boss is yelling at you because, you know, you could actually be seriously at fault.

Regardless of fault, the primary reason that your boss is yelling is most likely because he or she has simply reached the breaking point. After you sit there (or stand) and “ride out the storm,” ask to speak with your boss privately at a later day and time. Make it a formal meeting either in the boss’s office or a conference room. Before the meeting, make sure you have a plan for mending the relationship and resolving the issue that made your boss so angry in the first place.

The reason your boss was so angry could have been a misunderstanding. If that’s the case, then say so, but remain composed and keep things as factual as possible without straying off-message. Your boss may then ask questions so as to better understand the situation. Be honest, but remember to stay focused and stick to the point.

If, in fact, the reason your boss was yelling at you was because you screwed up, then take responsibility for your mistake. Don’t place blame with others, make excuses, or be argumentative. Accept blame and tell the boss that you understand why you made the mistake, say that you’re sorry, and that you will work diligently to correct the mistake as quickly as possible. After all, everyone makes mistakes.

Let’s assume that whatever the boss was yelling at you about wasn’t your fault. When you have the follow-up meeting with your boss, try and have a solution developed. By demonstrating initiative and thinking on your feet, you just might be able to turn this around in your favor and show the boss that you’re a team player that can shake off being berated.

Finally, make sure that you’re proactive and stay on top of the resolution. Give your boss regular updates and ask for feedback to ensure that you’re on track and won’t get yelled at again. If all goes well, you should be back on your boss’s good side in no time!