What’s trending in human resources approaches, policies and good management practices.

November was National Flu Awareness Month: 5 Steps to Prevention

As National Flu Awareness month comes to a close, it’s not too late for flu shots and promoting flu prevention in your workplace. Experts agree when the flu season invades the workplace, it can have a ripple effect on employees, co-workers and their families and, depending on your workplace, customers and vendors as well.
The flu season peaks in January and February so taking steps now can make a huge difference in staff productivity and well-being in the months ahead. Following are some basic rules of thumb:

No. 1 – Get your flu shot today

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advocates flu shots for everyone over the age of 6 months. Studies have shown that the best course of prevention is to get a flu shot every year. And while getting a shot earlier in the season may be preferred, it is still not too late to protect you and your family against this year’s flu bug. Check with your medical insurance provider to learn how and where to get vaccinated. If you don’t have medical coverage, contact your local health department or other community resources for the best, most cost-effective options in your area.

No. 2 – Wash your hands throughout the workday

We hear it all of the time and it’s true: Washing your hands frequently, using soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds each time, makes a difference. This is especially the case when you continually touch workplace items such as keyboards, door handles, phones, point-of-sale registers, and other work-related surfaces. Try to avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and nose whenever possible and if your position requires you to travel, be sure to pack hand-sanitizers.

No. 3 – Use tissues to cover a sneeze or a cough

It’s important to not only take care of yourself, but also to care about co-workers. If you feel the need to sneeze or cough, grab a tissue to cover your mouth and nose. You’ll feel better knowing that you’re looking out for your co-workers and your they will appreciate your efforts. And, as always, don’t forget to wash your hands after sneezing or coughing whenever possible.

No. 4 – Keep work surfaces clean

When was the last time you cleaned your keyboard or the handset on your phone? Take a few minutes to clean surfaces around you and everyone will benefit. Cleanliness does matter.

No. 5 – Make good health habits a priority and stay home if sick

This may sound like more than one tip, but it’s really good advice to practice year-round. Techniques such as getting enough sleep, keeping active, managing stress and maintaining a healthy diet are proven steps to improve your overall well-being. If you experience flu symptoms, try to stay home when possible. If you’re a manager or supervisor, encourage team members to stay home if that’s an option. And managers or supervisors should follow the same advice if they become ill.

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Susan Price, Strategic Service Manager

Office politics at a new level: Managing the political season in the workplace

Election Day is right around the corner and as the big day approaches, chatter in the office can get louder and louder.  This year, in particular, people seem to be more divided than ever on the outcome of the upcoming national election.

How should this be handled in the workplace?  Is it OK to debate politics in the office?  Is it OK to try and persuade a fellow coworker?

While many are eager to share their political views with coworkers, other staff members may feel very private about their opinions and can feel bullied by the ones that are more vocal.  Things can get heated quickly and it’s important for staff to feel they are working in a nonvolatile environment.

Below are some simple guidelines that may be helpful in your work environment.  No matter what side of the political aisle you are on (or maybe you are taking no position), these helpful tips may help make the environment at work comfortable for all:

  • It’s important that managers or staff in leadership positions be careful in sharing their political views. Be sure that your views are not perceived as a representation of the Company as a whole.
  • Do not allow political signs/banners to be displayed in the workplace. Banners, posters, signs can all be a source of contention for fellow employees that don’t share the same views.
  • Managers or staff in leadership roles should refrain from asking employees what their political views are.   You would not want an employee to question whether they had missed out on an advancement opportunity.
  • Nip it, quick. If you hear about chatter among coworkers that could raise tension, don’t let it linger. If a complaint is made to a manager, it should be dealt with as quickly as possible to avoid bigger issues down the road.
  • Respect each other. You may want to address such rules of respect in your employee handbook.
  • As Election Day approaches, prepare: Tension can rise quickly on and shortly after Election Day. Make sure your staff understands that while they may feel strongly about the outcome, coworkers may feel very differently.

BCN is here to help you with your HR needs and if you would like assistance in establishing Code of Conduct rules in your employee handbook, we are here to help.

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Wendy Allen, Marketing Manager

Does texting belong in your workplace?

Chances are, technology and communication trends have advanced more swiftly than your company policies. Do your managers give work instruction to employees via text message? Are your employees reporting a work absence using text messaging? Is this communication happening on personal devices or work devices? Does it matter?

Our Human Resources Department has seen an increase in complaints from employees who are reporting bullying, sexually explicit photos, and racial slurs sent by text messages from co-workers or supervisors. Even more alarming is the group text, which may start out with work-related content and digress into a conversation that wouldn’t be, and shouldn’t be, spoken aloud in the workplace.

Set your policy and tell employees

First and foremost, employers should make their position on texting known. A company’s silence on the matter may be viewed as acceptance of this type of behavior. Even if your employee handbook states that employees are to call their supervisor if they will not be reporting to work, a practice of accepting text messages makes this your new, unwritten policy. (Anybody familiar with a “Code Red” from A Few Good Men where extrajudicial punishment was used causing a character in the movie to die)

At a minimum, your anti-harassment policy should be updated to include all forms of harassment and all forms of communication.

Text messages are documentation

Your supervisors and managers need to be aware that any text messages they send to employees can (and will) serve as documentation. Promises of money, work performance critiques and requests for dates verbalized in the past and viewed as passing comments are now documented and available to be produced on demand.

However, this street runs both ways. In the matter of U.S. District Court case of Enriquez v. U.S. Cellular Corp., an employee sued because her supervisor sent her inappropriate and, what she claimed were, offensive texts. However, evidence was presented that the employee had in turn sent the texts on to other employees indicating that she did not find them offensive. Judgement was found in favor of the employer in this case.

What about texts sent between members of your management team? Is there an expectation of a response whether or not it was sent during business hours? What about when that manager is on vacation or out sick?

Regardless of whether or not you decide to use texting as a part of your regular business communications, make sure your expectations are clearly understood by your employees. Our Human Resources professionals at BCN Services are available to discuss policy options and assist in updating your employee handbook and communicating with your employees. Contact us at 800-891-9911 anytime for assistance.

 

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Sue Kester, HR Manager

Consider liability issues if serving alcohol at company parties

The holiday office party season is upon us, but before you decide to serve alcohol at your company party this year you should be aware that there are potential legal liabilities, including injuries to your employees.

If you plan to serve alcohol, consider the following best practices to limit those legal liabilities:

  • When sending out your invitations, be sure to include a statement that encourages employees to drink responsibly and in moderation at the event and to not drink and drive. Circulate another written reminder just before the party.
  • Hire a professional bartending staff for the event; do not have a self-serve bar or open keg. Verify the bartending staff’s experience and ensure that they have proper insurance coverage.
  • Limit the number of drinks each guest may consume or consider having a cash bar. You may wish to serve beer and wine only instead of offering a full bar.
  • Always serve food so that employees are not drinking on an empty stomach
  • Offer a variety of beverages including non-alcoholic options. Consider having “mocktails”(cocktails without alcohol) so that those who do not wish to drink can still feel included.
  • Emphasize to management staff that they should lead by example and that they may need to intervene if a situation at the party crosses the line.
  • Have alternate transportation, such as rented vans or cabs, available in case an employee has had too much to drink and needs a ride home.

BCN Services is here to help you. If you need assistance communicating to your employees regarding your company’s alcohol policy or if you have additional concerns about serving alcohol at your holiday party, please contact us.

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Alicia Jester, Manager-Benefits and Payroll

Workplace rudeness is toxic, contagious and can affect employee morale

Rudeness is increasing in the workplace, causing retention and health problems among employees and decline in employee camaraderie. It is also contagious, causing employees to model bad behaviors.

In a recent University of Florida study, 98 percent of workers have experienced workplace rudeness with half of employees experiencing these behaviors at least weekly.

Rudeness is contagious in workplace

Impoliteness spreads like a virus in the workplace. In the recent study, it was found that encountering rude behavior at work makes employees more likely to perceive discourtesy in later interactions, which prompts them to respond in the same manner. Even witnessing rude behavior directed at someone else seemed to have the same effect.

Incivility can hold people back or minimize their contributions, as it limits a staff’s ability to engage. Employees are less creative when they feel disrespected, and many get fed up and leave and, if they stay, team spirit around the office can deteriorate. Some employees deliberately decrease their effort or lower the quality of their work.

Customer relationships are also damaged

Incivility also damages customer relationships which can chip away at the bottom line. And although it is expensive, few organizations recognize the long-term problems or take action to curtail it. A survey among Fortune companies reveals that HR professionals spend 14 percent of their time managing incivility incidents.

How to stop contagious rudeness

Let’s address what a business owner or manager can do to stop contagious rudeness before it spreads:

  • Make an effort to not be rude and model good behaviors
  • Be clear, beginning with recruiting and onboarding and continuing with current employees, that workplace civility is expected
  • Organizations need to teach civility on an ongoing basis. Role-playing and workshops can help
  • Reward civility by measuring and scoring the behavior in your workplace
  • Penalize bad behavior immediately, even if that means terminating the employee. Keep an open door policy for employees to report problems.

BCN Services can help you discuss how to create a policy about workplace rudeness and bullying and put it into practice. Contact us for assistance.

Sources: SHRM.or, Harvard Business Review, news reports.

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Debbie Strahle, Partnership Manager

The nose knows: Dealing with workplace odors, scents and smells

Who hasn’t needed help in finding just the right words when talking to an employee about their stink?  Stinky breath, stinky body, stinky clothes, stinky food.  And those are just a few of the easier to discuss matters.

But what about employees that smell … good? And who’s to say what smells good? It’s a subjective thing.

Body odor, food smells and perfume/fragrance can all cause issues for employees that are particularly sensitive to smells and have to work in proximity to those causing the smells.

Here are a number of tips for managers when approaching an employee who needs to tone down the use of perfumed products:

  1. Communicate the sensitivities that some people have to artificially scented products. Perfumes can cause sniffling, dizziness, headaches, nausea and breathing problems. Some reactions, like shortness of breath, are particularly severe for people with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. You may want to consider setting a general workplace policy relating to the topic of workplace smells.
  2. Make it clear to your employees that perfumes aren’t necessarily the only offender. Heavily scented soaps, shampoos, makeup and even laundry detergents can also cause problems for some people.
  3. Set an example at the level of management. Don’t wear scented products yourself, and avoid using air fresheners, scented candles and scented sprays in the office. Instead, turn on fans and open a few windows to freshen the air.
  4. Encourage employees to talk to each other about scent sensitivities. Explain that it’s OK to ask a teammate to tone down her perfume, as long as it’s done politely. Give examples of how to courteously ask someone to avoid fragrance use. Say, for instance, “I’m really sensitive to scents, and I think I’m reacting to something you’re wearing. I’d really appreciate it if you could avoid using that perfume at work.” If an employee continues to have problems, a manager may need to intervene.
  5. Meet one-on-one with individual workers if excessive scents remain a problem a week after issuing a general workplace policy. Explain why you are calling the person into your office, express that you understand that she or he didn’t mean to offend anyone, and then ask the employee to avoid wearing the scent. For example: “As you know, we have some people in the office who are very sensitive to scents. You may not be aware of it and I’m sure you didn’t mean any harm, but a few people have come to me with concerns about a scent they’ve noticed you’re wearing. From now on, I’d like to ask that you avoid wearing that perfume to work.”

It’s never fun to deal with the “stink” issue, whether good or bad, but it may be helpful to keep two things in mind before broaching the subject:  No one wants to be embarrassed and most people want to be team players.

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Lisandra Quinones, HR Administrator

 

How to make workplace distractions work for you

Distractions are a natural part of our work environments.  One co-worker is crunching on chips, another is loudly discussing an interesting topic and there’s music billowing out of an office down the hall.  Then there are ongoing phone calls, emails, text messages and social media alerts from co-workers as well as family and friends.

Even though many are about work, often they aren’t related to what you’re trying to accomplish at the moment.

How can a person get any work done!?

The average worker cannot go more than 11 minutes without being distracted, according to research by Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine.  The good news is:  It’s possible to use distractions to your advantage.

We get caught up in multi-tasking.  We feel productive doing more than one task at a time, but multi-tasking actually reduces productivity and accuracy.  But we can use distractions as an opportunity. We can evaluate how we’re using time and make a decision about which task to focus upon.

Studies also show that how we time our responses to distractions can make a huge difference in productivity.

For example, one study evaluated the productivity of students who answered text messages while viewing a video they would be tested on.  Those who waited to view texts received higher test scores.

Respond at appropriate times

We can apply that same principle to our work by deciding to respond to the distractions at appropriate times.  For example, we can finish typing an email before looking at incoming email messages.  That is more productive than stopping mid-sentence each time an email alert pops up, interrupting our train of thought.

This can be applied to everything we do throughout the work day.

Another way to use distractions to your advantage is to schedule “distraction breaks” into your day.  If you plan to stop at certain intervals and take a quick walk around the office, check your personal email, or grab a healthy snack, you may find it easier to focus. You are rewarding yourself for focusing in the non-break times.

Distractions are inevitable.  How you respond to them is up to you.

If you work at it, you can be more productive in spite of and because of them!

Trisha Crigger, Human Resources Generalist

 

Consider its purpose before using an employee severance agreement

The use of severance agreements has increased over the past several years, particularly with the recent economic downturn.

In some cases of involuntary separation, employers choose to enter into severance agreements with employees to avoid potential litigation.  The idea behind the severance agreement is that an employee receives something of value to them which they would not otherwise be entitled to (usually additional compensation or benefits). In return, the employee makes a written agreement not to sue his/her employer.

Severance agreements not right in every case

While the premise of a severance agreement may sound like a viable option if you have an employee you are considering terminating, they are not right in every situation. There are legal considerations you should review before using such an agreement:

  • The employee must receive something in exchange for the release (typically, a sum of money) and that offering must be included in the release.  Keep in mind that if you normally offer a severance package to employees that do not sign a release, you must offer something additional to employees that do sign.
  • An employee cannot be forced to sign a severance agreement.  As an employer, all you can do is offer the agreement.  A court will not enforce the release if they find that the employee was coerced.
  • You must be clear about the rights the employee is waiving in the agreement.

EEOC warns that it may interfere with rights

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has argued that, in some cases, a severance agreement unlawfully interferes with the employee’s ability to communicate with the EEOC regarding potential discrimination.

Also, the age of the employee can impact the content and potential risk of using the severance agreement.  If the employee is age 40 or older, they receive special protections under the Older Workers’ Benefits Protection Act. This agreement must contain specific language regarding legal counsel and there is a mandatory allotment of time for the agreement to be signed and revoked by the employee.

BCN Services can assist you in determining whether or not a severance agreement should be used for your particular employee situation as well as drafting and execution of the agreement.  If you have questions, please contact us at 1-800-891-9911 or contact us here.

 

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Alicia Jester, Manager Benefits and Payroll

Resolve to improve productivity in the new year with 5 simple strategies

Now is the time of the year where every website, magazine or television show has their annual take on resolutions for the New Year.  BCN Services has compiled its own list from various sources around the web and what has worked for us, as well.

The key to successful resolutions is threefold: having a plan, reviewing the plan and making necessary adjustments to the plan throughout the year.  The suggestions listed below are simple and cost-effective things to implement and, hopefully, will have a positive impact on your business success in the new year.

  1. Plan out each day.  There is an ongoing debate in business coaching about whether it is better to plan your day the night before or first thing in the morning.  Either way, the important thing is to make a plan.  A great way to get started is to identify the top five things that will make the day a success and outline when and what needs to be accomplished.  Another key tip, is to be specific.  Research shows that the more specific you are with plans and goals the more often you will them.
  2. Get control of your email.  We hear complaints about managing email from clients all the time.  Everyone has increased access to email, texting, and data in general with the proliferation of smartphones, and tablets. Several studies have shown people who schedule email management time with beginning and end times are more productive and less stressed than those who reach for their email constantly or whenever they hear an email notification.  Another great tip: Code your emails based on urgency, action needed and/or if others needs to be involved.
  3. Meeting management.   Employees everywhere complain about too many meetings, nonproductive meetings and meetings that last too long.  Here are some tips to alleviate meeting madness:
    • Always have an agenda and distribute it ahead of time.
    • Set a specific time limit and stick to it.  Several Fortune 1000 companies have started limiting meetings to 15 minutes.
    • A more radical idea that has become popular is to only have meetings where everyone stands to energize and shorten meetings.  Research has shown that this keeps employees focused and on point.
  4. Motivate employees.  A motivated workforce can move mountains and improve overall morale.  Employees are more motivated when they have clear goals, when collaboration is welcome and when they are not micromanaged.  Work with employees to set clear goals they understand and allow them to have a say in the goal, why it is important and plan for rewards or consequences goal if a goal is not achieved.
  5. Recharge.  Americans waste more vacation and paid time off than any other country.  Everyone, including owners, managers and employees need to time to recharge their batteries, sharpen the saw and reflect.  Encourage employees to take time and make sure that you do as well.

All of us at BCN Services wish you and your staff a safe and successful new year!

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The Magic of Christmas is an inspiration for us all

I am truly humbled.

For 22 years, I’ve been in the people business. I am privileged to serve great business people. They work with our company to effectively support manage their most important asset:  Their people.

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How do we do it?

Modern-day cloud software, professional expertise, and processes and efficiencies all help, but our most important tool is the people of BCN Services who are well-trained and certified and are  specialists in human resources, benefits, payroll, risk management, accounting and technology integration.

Day in and day out, our clients and their employees need our BCN specialists to go to the wall for them — and they do — which is what makes BCN so different.

A special volunteer brings magic to Christmas

A couple of years back, I attended a charity golf outing and was introduced to Debbie Williams-Hoak, who works throughout the year to provide for children in our local communities who wouldn’t otherwise have a Christmas.

Her program is called “The Magic of Christmas” and it works like this: Families list the clothing they need and the toys they want.  Donors shop, buy and wrap each child’s gifts.  Local law enforcement officers become Santa Claus and deliver the gifts. This gift-giving and bond-building encourages trust by engaging the community’s children in a positive way.

I introduced Debbie to my staff last Christmas.  They responded generously with both their time and gifts.

BCN staff gives from the heart

This year, I brought Debbie back to retell her story because we have added a few new members to our team. My staff responded again by more than doubling their donations and we collectively provided a Christmas for 30 children in need in our community!

So this week’s blog is about my friend Debbie and the amazing people of BCN, and how they make a difference.  I am honored by all that you do. Thank you!

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Andrew C. Hans, President and CEO