The Killjoy of Office Culture

One of the latest things trending right now in business is the importance of office culture. When everyone in the office is working well together, productivity rises and efficiency increases. Naturally, the opposite is true when employees do not work well together and the corporate culture suffers. So, what are these barriers and what can you do to avoid them?

According to an article titled, “8 ways to ruin an office culture,” in Employee Benefit News, the ways to kill corporate culture may seem intuitive, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t happen. Here’s what organizations SHOULD do to improve their corporate culture.

Provide positive employee feedback. While it’s easy to criticize, and pointing out employees’ mistakes can often help them learn to not repeat them, it’s just as important to recognize success and praise an employee for a job well done. An “attaboy/attagirl” can really boost someone’s spirits and let them know their work is appreciated.

Give credit where credit is due. If an assistant had the bright idea, if a subordinate did all the work, or if a consultant discovered the solution to a problem, then he or she should be publicly acknowledged for it. It doesn’t matter who supervised these people, to the victor go the spoils. If someone had the guts to speak up, then he or she should get the glory. Theft is wrong, and it’s just as wrong when you take someone’s idea, or hard work, and claim it as your own.

Similarly, listen to all ideas from all levels within the company. Every employee, regardless of their position on the corporate ladder, likes to feel that their contributions matter. From the C-suite, all the way down to the interns, a genuinely good idea is always worth investigating regardless of whether the person who submitted the idea has an Ivy League degree or not. Furthermore, sometimes it takes a different perspective – like one from an employee on a different management/subordinate level – to see the best way to resolve an issue.

Foster teamwork because many hands make light work. Or, as I like to say, competition breeds contempt. You compete to get your job, you compete externally against other companies, and you may even compete against your peers for an award. You shouldn’t have to compete with your own co-workers. The winner of that competition may not necessarily be the best person and it will often have negative consequences in terms of trust.

Get rid of unproductive employees. One way to stifle innovation and hurt morale is by having an employee who doesn’t do any work while everyone else is either picking up the slack, or covering for that person’s duties. Sometimes it’s necessary to prune the branches.

Let employees have their privacy – especially on social media. As long as an employee isn’t conducting personal business on company time, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with an employee updating their social media accounts when they’re “off the clock.” In addition, as long as employees aren’t divulging company secrets, or providing other corporate commentary that runs afoul of local, state, or federal laws, then there’s no reason to monitor what they post.

Promote a healthy work-life balance. Yes, employees have families, they get sick, or they just need time away from the workplace to de-stress. And while there will always be times when extra hours are needed to finish a project, it shouldn’t be standard operating procedure at a company to insist that employees sacrifice their time.

 

 


Dear Brain, Please Let Me Sleep

There are alarms to help people wake up, but there isn’t anything similar to help people fall asleep. It seems that no matter how much you zone out just before going to bed, the minute your head hits the pillow your brain kicks into overdrive. Thoughts of every decision made that day, things that need to be done tomorrow, or that stupid song just heard continue to flood the brain with activity.

Often, when this happens to me, I’m reminded of the time Homer Simpson said, “Shut up, brain, or I’ll stab you with a Q-Tip!” because I feel like the only way I’ll stop thinking about something is to kill my brain. Fortunately, there are other ways of dealing with this problem. An article onCNN’s website titled, “Busy brain not letting you sleep? 8 experts offer tips,” reveals a few clear tips to try and lull your brain to sleep.

A few that have worked for me are to think about a story I’ve read or heard, or to make one up. It may seem counterintuitive to think about something so that you’ll stop thinking, but the story tends to unravel as I slowly drift off to sleep. Another favorite is to get out of bed and force myself to stay awake. While the chore of getting out of bed, especially on a cold night, may seem daunting, there’s nothing quite like tricking your brain with a little reverse psychology. If that doesn’t work, write down what’s bothering you, take a few deep breaths, or even do some mild exercise. If all else fails, there’s always warm milk or an over-the-counter sleep aid, but really this should be used as a last resort and not your first “go to” item.

Ideally, your bedroom will be conducive to sleep anyway. Light and noise should be kept to an absolute minimum and calming, muted colors promote a more restful ambience. Also, make sure that the bedroom is your ideal temperature because it’s more difficult to sleep if you’re too hot or cold.

Don’t let your brain win the battle of sleep! Fight it on your own terms and equip yourself with as many tools as possible to win. Your brain will thank you in the morning by feeling refreshed.


Yes, Boss/HR/Your Honor, That's My Email

Ever hear of the acronym “CLEM”? That stands for career-limiting email and is a reminder to reconsider sending anything out in writing when a phone call may be the better option. If you have to think twice about hitting that send button, then you shouldn’t hit it.

In an article titled, “For God’s Sake, Think Before You Email” on the website of Workforce, it says that unlike diamonds, email messages aren’t forever, but they are pretty darn close. Remember that whatever you say in an email – and I mean anything in electronic text – could come back to haunt you because there’s always a trail. By electronic text, I mean email, mobile text, social media post, etc.

Everything from tasteless humor, opinions about a boss, employee, or the company, and definitely an angry reply or threat of violence should be an instant no-no. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle once it’s out and don’t assume that an email to a close friend or confidant is private because even if that person doesn’t forward it, there’s always a record somewhere of that email. Furthermore, you can’t always recall, or “unsend” an email.

You’d hate to have to explain to your boss, HR representative, or even a judge and jury why you sent that email or posted that message. You don’t just run the risk of losing your reputation, but also your job, and potentially being sued, or even going to jail. These are not pleasant prospects over a seemingly innocent email. Which is why you must review your electronic messages with a discerning eye.

Emails and social media posts have become commonplace and the norm for communications. Yet, despite the ease in which you can send them, you must be aware that the freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences.


Don't Put Up with the Bull of Bullying

There’s no place for bullying and that’s especially true in the workplace, yet many employees bully their co-workers. So, how does this happen? It used to be that bullying was confined to the schoolyard, but now it’s spread to cyberbullying and workplace bullying. Now, if there’s a culture of bullying at an organization, often it’s repeated as people climb the corporate ladder even though they were bullied themselves when they held lower positions.

An article on the website Human Resource Executive Online titled, “How to Bully-proof the Workplace,” says that “80 percent of bullying is done by people who have a position of power over other people.” Let that number sink in. That means four out of five people in positions of power will bully their subordinates.

One possible reason for the high number is that bullying may be difficult to identify and the person doing the bullying may not even realize it. Either the bully, or the victim, could view the action as teasing, or workplace banter. However, when one person is continually picked on, then that person is being bullied. Likewise, if a manager picks on all of his or her subordinates, then that person is a bully.

It’s important for organizations to have policies in place to thwart bullying and not just for the toll it takes on employees. It also begins to affect productivity. Those being bullied often feel like their work doesn’t matter and their abilities are insufficient. Worse is that bullies tend to resent talented people as they’re perceived as a threat. So, bullies tend to manipulate opinions about that employee in order to keep them from being promoted.

Eventually, talented employees decide to work elsewhere, leaving the employer spending time and money to find a replacement. But the bully doesn’t care. It just means they get to apply their old tricks on someone who isn’t used to them.

At some point, someone will fight back. Not physically, of course, but through documentation. An employee who is being bullied should immediately document any and all occurrences of workplace bullying and then present those documents to someone in HR. Most likely, this will result in identification of the bullying, stoppage of it, counseling for both the bully and the victim, and, if not already enacted, policies to prevent it from happening again.


Oh, s-NAP!

Have you ever taken a quick 10-minute nap at work? Did you feel guilty about it or worry that you’d get caught? Or are you lucky enough to have an employer that encourages these small breaks in order to invigorate and recharge your body?

According to an article on The Huffington Post titled, “Sleeping At Work And Nap Rooms Go Hand-In-Hand,” the author says that employees who walk around looking tired and drained should be looked down on rather than those who take an occasional nap.

Of course, in an ideal world we’d all get plenty of sleep before starting the day. In the real world, however, that simply doesn’t happen. Add in the pressures of work and naps can become a necessity. Employees often use their lunch hour to grab a few quick Z’s, yet that may not be the best time to take a nap depending on what a person’s body is feeling.

Any manager can tell you that an employee who’s tired will not produce the best work. And any employee can tell you that by not producing his or her best work will often result in more sleepless nights worrying about what their supervisor will think.

A “power nap,” as they’re often called, has been shown to boost memory and productivity. This is why several large companies, including Google, Zappos, Ben & Jerry’s and The Huffington Post, provide employee nap rooms and encourage their use.

Employers should be flexible enough to consider the benefits of workday naps and may even want to institute a nap room program on a trial basis. Employees shouldn’t feel pressured to avoid these rooms, but they should also not misuse the perk.


Eat Your Fruits and Veggies

You know that eating fruits and vegetables is good for you, so what’s stopping you from actually including them into your daily meals instead of the processed junk that you usually eat? Is it the fear of pesticides? If it is, or if it wasn’t before, but it is now that I’ve mentioned it, have you looked at the list of ingredients in the food you cram into your mouth? I’ll bet that list is a nutritionist’s nightmare of unpronounceable chemicals.

But what about organics, you may ask? Naturally (no pun intended), organic fruits and vegetables are great, but that’s only if your family can afford them on a regular basis because oh my gosh are they expensive. What’s a person to do if their family can’t afford organic fruits and vegetables? Do they go without, or take a chance on pesticide-laden produce? The takeaway from this is that no matter what pesticides are used on fruits and vegetables for sale in the U.S., fruits and vegetables are still darn good for you.

An article on The Washington Post’s website titled, “A diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweighs the risks of pesticides,” reveals that people may not be buying fruits and vegetables because of this fear of pesticides. This is a major problem. Fruits and vegetables don’t have many calories, but are full of vitamins and antioxidants. They’re just plain healthy and the benefit of eating them far outweighs the fear of pesticide residue.

There are lists that define the “dirtiest” and “cleanest” fruits and vegetables, and you can find links to those lists in the Washington Post article. However, something that’s not mentioned on those lists is that, while a particular fruit or vegetable might have a higher concentration of pesticide residue, that concentration is still small and has little potential for harm. Furthermore, a smaller concentration of a particularly bad pesticide could be worse than a large concentration of a relatively harmless pesticide. Again, any food sold in the U.S. is thoroughly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as being safe to eat. There is no reason to avoid any produce and, in fact, the reverse is true. People should eat more fruits and vegetables!

Particularly disturbing is that one piece of misinformation (e.g., strawberries are dangerous) causes people, especially those with low incomes, to avoid any fruit altogether. Sort of a guilt by association. They key message should be clear: Everyone’s diet, regardless of income, should be full of fruits and vegetables whether conventionally grown or organic.


The Keys to the Castle

When it comes to security, the more layers you have, and the better each layer is, the more successful you’ll be in deterring most thieves. However, no matter how good the security is on your home or car, if a thief really wants something, then he or she is going to do whatever it takes to get it.

But what if the thief is someone who is already trusted? For those who have teenage children, do you leave money on top of your dresser, keep the liquor cabinet unlocked, or provide easy access to the car keys? You might think, “my child would never break the rules because of the consequences.” And then, you get into a fight, or take away privileges, and all that goes out the window when the teenager, in a fit of rage and emotion, does the unthinkable. It’s the same with corporate cyber security.

The IT department in most companies has the “keys to the castle” and each IT employee needs to be trusted more than most because of the damage they can do. In an article titled “Is Your Company Protected From Insider Cyber Threats?” on the website of Workforce Magazine, it notes that, when it comes to data breaches, employees are often a company’s weakest link. Three types of employees are listed as the greatest threats to cyber security – negligent, disgruntled, and malicious.

A negligent employee can be anyone in any department who is ignorant or not trained in practicing good cyber security. A disgruntled employee can also be anyone, but is angry toward the company and is either apathetic about whether cyber damage occurs, or worse, actively attempts to cause damage. Finally, there’s the malicious employee. This is, by far, the most dangerous because their sole purpose is to steal.

Whether an employee is recruited by an outside force to steal from the company where he or she works, or an employee intentionally gets a job with a company so that they can steal from them, makes no difference. The danger is that they do steal and it may not just be data. It could be equipment, prototypes, or anything the company would like to keep secret.

There are a few things companies can do to help prevent insider threats, but these measures can be expensive and possibly too costly for small businesses. High-risk employees should be monitored. High-risk examples would be senior-level executives, IT employees with access to everything, low-level employees who have been previously warned about cyber security negligence, and any employee who HR believes might become disgruntled. Another deterrent to theft is a thorough inventory of all hardware. The easy items are laptops and mobile devices, but don’t forget about USB or “thumb” drives and external hard drives. Finally, make sure you have a process in place to protect whistleblowers. The phrase, “if you see something, say something” doesn’t just apply to terrorism.

There will always be cyberattacks and data breaches. The question is how well a company is prepared in advance to stem these attacks and mitigate the damage if it happens.


Performance Reviews – Did You Get a Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

Most people love reading reviews. Whether someone is buying a product on Amazon.com, a new car, or watching a movie, they probably read the reviews first. So why is it that when it comes time for performance reviews at work, nobody want to read theirs?

If you ask a random employee at any company, the odds are that he or she will say they work hard and give 100 percent. So, if that’s true, then they should have nothing to fear when it comes time for that annual review.

Yet, according to an article titled, “Conducting Performance Reviews? Get Out the Tissues,” in Society for Human Resource Management, almost 34 percent of Millennials said they’ve cried during a performance review. One possible reason is expectations. An employee who is new to the workforce may not realize that a small bump in pay is the norm and no matter how hard you work, or how many hours you stay at the office, you’re not likely to get a huge raise even if you think it’s deserved.

The flipside of that is if an employee doesn’t deserve a raise, and in fact, deserves harsh criticism. Employees who cry, or display any type of non-hostile emotion, should be left alone until they are able to compose themselves, according to the article. But that doesn’t mean the emotional outburst should be ignored. On the contrary, a corporate culture may be highly competitive, or the employee may have been surprised by the negative review. In any case, discussing the review is crucial to a mutual understanding between the employee and his or her supervisor.

Lately, performance reviews have become more conversational and focused on experiences that highlight the employee as a person. The employee’s performance, accomplishments, and areas that need improvement are also brought up, but as a separate issue.

Regardless of whether an employee received two thumbs up, two thumbs down, or a mixed review, he or she should feel confident and comfortable that the review was an honest appraisal along with constructive ways to improve performance.


Compliance Bulletin: Overtime Rule Blocked by Federal Court

On Nov. 22, 2016, a federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction, halting the enforcement of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) new overtime rule until further notice. The rule, which was set to take effect on Dec. 1, 2016, would have increased the salary threshold for the “white collar overtime exemptions” to $47,476 per year.

The judge’s ruling gives employers across the country a reprieve from having to raise salaries for exempt employees to the new threshold or pay them overtime.

However, an appeal of the ruling is possible. The DOL said in a statement that it was reviewing the court’s order and considering any next steps.

ACTION STEPS

Employers should continue to watch for new developments related to the overtime rule, as some uncertainty remains. Until a final decision is reached in the case, employers can rely on existing overtime exemption rules.

Employers that have already made adjustments to comply with the new rule may find it difficult to reverse any changes. However, employers may decide to postpone any changes that have not yet been made.

Hierl Insurance Inc. will continue to monitor these developments and provide updates as necessary.

DOL Rule on White Collar Exemptions The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes minimum wage and overtime pay protections for many workers in the United States. However, the FLSA exempts certain workers, such as white collar employees, from these protections. The white collar exemptions apply to certain executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, computer and highly compensated employees.

To qualify for the executive, administrative or professional exemption, an employee must meet a salary basis test, a salary level test and a duties test. The DOL’s overtime rule would have increased the required salary level from $455 per week ($23,660 per year) to $913 per week ($47,476 per year). Highly compensated employees must also satisfy the salary basis and duties tests to be considered exempt, but a different salary level applies to them. The DOL rule would have increased the required salary level for highly compensated employees from $100,000 per year to $134,004 per year.

Federal Court Cases

In September, a coalition of 21 states and a number of business groups filed two separate lawsuits challenging the new rule. These two lawsuits were combined in October. On Nov. 16, 2016, the court held a hearing on whether to grant an emergency injunction blocking the implementation of the rule. The judge presiding over the case issued his written ruling granting the injunction on Nov. 22, 2016.

The DOL had requested that any injunction apply only to the states involved in the lawsuit. However, the judge rejected this request and specifically ruled that the injunction applies to employers nationwide. Therefore, the DOL will not be able to enforce the increased salary level against any employer unless the court orders otherwise.

The Future of the Overtime Rule

Supporters of the rule remain committed to what they describe as fair increases in the overtime exemption salary threshold. However, the DOL may be facing an uphill battle in implementing changes to the overtime exemptions.

In his written ruling, the judge suggested that he would side with the parties challenging the rule when resolving the case. He stated that, in issuing the rule, the DOL “exceeds its delegated authority and ignores Congress’s intent by raising the minimum salary threshold such that it supplants the duties test.” However, further steps need to be taken in the court process before the rule is permanently struck down.

Congress may also take action to stop the implementation of the rule. In September, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 6094, which would delay implementation of the final rule until June 1, 2017. The bill would have to be passed by the Senate and approved by the president before it becomes law. President Barack Obama had threatened to veto the bill, but any legislation could fare differently once President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

It is also possible that Trump could take executive action to block the rule, but it is not clear at this time what approach he would take to change or undo the rule. If the court strikes down the rule, further congressional or executive action may be unnecessary.

Other Issues for Employers

Although the changes to the overtime exemptions may not take effect for some time, if ever, employers must continue to comply with current regulations. In preparing for the rule change, many employers have discovered that employees may have been misclassified, which is an issue that must be addressed to avoid violating the current FLSA regulations. Please contact Hierl Insurance Inc. if you need additional information on how to properly classify employees under the current exemption rules.


Compliance Bulletin: Updated Form I-9 Released

OVERVIEW On Nov. 14, 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, issued an updated version of Form I-9: Employment Eligibility Verification (I-9 Form). Under federal law, every employer that recruits, refers for a fee or hires an individual for employment in the United States must complete an I-9 Form.

The updated form replaces a form that was issued in 2013 and expired on March 31, 2016. The updated form includes changes that should make using both the paper and electronic versions more intuitive and easier to use.

Employers will be allowed to continue using the 2013 form until Jan. 21, 2017. Exclusive use of the updated form is expected by Jan. 22, 2017. The new form expires on Aug. 31, 2019.

ACTION STEPS

  • Employers should become familiar with the new I-9 Form and transition to exclusive use of the updated form by Jan. 22, 2017.
  • Employers should also determine whether they will use the manual or electronic versions of Form I-9. The electronic version may help employers avoid some common mistakes, but using it may require additional training.

Field Changes and Updates

According to USCIS, the field updates and changes to the I-9 Form will make it easier for individuals to complete either a printed or electronic copy of this form.

The new form:

  • Asks for an individual’s “other last names used” instead of “other names used”
  • Streamlines certification for certain foreign nationals
  • Prompts the person completing the form to include correct information
  • Includes fields to enter multiple preparers and translators
  • Dedicates a field to include additional information (this information will not need to be added on the margins anymore)

Provides a supplemental page for preparers and translators

The electronic version of the form includes:

  • Drop-down menus
  • Calendars for filling in dates
  • On-screen instructions for each field
  • Easy access to the full set of instructions
  • An option to clear the entire form and start over

In addition, when employers choose to print the electronic version, the new form will generate a quick response (QR) code, which can be read by most QR readers.

Instructions

USCIS has separated the instructions from the actual form. This is consistent with other USCIS documents. In addition, because the form and the instructions have been separated, USCIS was able to include more detailed information on how to complete each field in the form.

More Information

Please visit the USCIS website for more information regarding USCIS or the new I-9 Form.

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