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Monthly Archives

March 2009


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

It’s not just employers who are feeling financial stress today. It’s every one of your employees, too. According to a January 2009 poll reported by SHRM, more employees are finding wages garnished, asking for advances on 401(k) and wages, and reporting losing their homes than any time since the early 70s. The fear of survival is real today, but we often find ourselves dealing with it alone. Smart companies will take the bull by the horns by taking these steps:

  1. Open up your books. Read Jack Stack’s Great Game of Business. We recommend that HR That Works users see the Webinar on Open-Book Management.
  2. Teach employees about the numbers. Most employees have a horrible understanding about accounting. Watch next month’s webinar: The Accounting Game.
  3. Finally, make sure employees get their personal financial act together by offering lunch-and-learn education. Have your benefit broker discuss all the ins and outs of 401(k) and health plans. Bring in a financial planner to help employees understand basic financial management. Have your managers watch the Dave Ramsey Organization Webinar on Financial Peace in the Workplace.

The only way we’re going to get out of this mess is by working smarter — and that means every employee needs to understand how they contribute to the company’s financial success and in turn their job security.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

The Bush years were some of the least employer-friendly in many decades. All of that is about to come to a screeching halt. There’s no doubt that the Obama years will be employee friendly. Earlier this month, as part of an omnibus funding bill, the House Appropriations Committee proposed nearly $344 million for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as almost $262.6 million for the National Labor Relations Board (both an increase over previous years). Congress has already overturned the Ledbetter decision, thus extending the filing period for back pay litigation based on unequal pay claims. Obama has come out with three pro-union executive orders, appointed a pro-union Labor Secretary and is looking to overturn many pro-employer decisions by the NLRB. COBRA protections were just expanded under the economic recovery legislation. The Employee Free Choice Act sits in Congress waiting its turn.

In addition to the shift in administration policy, tough economic times will trigger an increase in employee claims. Just ask any lawyer. According to Jury Verdict research, the average employee verdict jumped to roughly $270,000 in 2007 — the highest average verdict ever! We expect 2008 numbers to show similar results.

The bottom line: If you haven’t already, now is definitely the time to get your discrimination, harassment, wage and hour, ADA, and FMLA acts together! While you’re at it, make sure to stay abreast of the Employee Free Choice Act legislation and be prepared to address unionization without catching the ire of the NLRB.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Improving employee performance doesn’t have to be difficult. Taking these basic steps will guarantee improved employee performance:

  1. Ditch traditional performance evaluations. They simply don’t work. Too much fear and a lack of information results in an uneasy process for both manager and employee.
  2. Separate performance discussions from compensation issues. It clouds the conversation. In many cases, the employee couldn’t care less about the evaluation; they just want to know if they’re getting the raise.
  3. Establish benchmarks. How would employees answer these two questions: 1) What’s the most important thing you do every day?; and 2) How would you know you were doing well without having to be told or without having to ask? Until you can have this conversation, any rating system is a waste of time.
  4. Have a performance discussion at least every 90 days. Make sure the employee has a game plan for the next 90-day period. See the Form of the Month, 90-Day Game Plan Worksheet.
  5. Ask people what they’ve gotten done — not what they’re doing. Performance is about results. In the end, that’s all that matters. Then constantly find out how they can get those results more efficiently and with greater quality.
  6. Finally, the time to deal with poor performance is now. Don’t waste time on your bottom 10% of employees. Chances are that they should have been terminated already. Focus on making your best employees even better and then share their best practices with everyone else.

In conclusion, most small and mid-sized companies do a poor job of analyzing, benchmarking, evaluating, and reporting performance. Any effort you make toward this end will be guaranteed to improve your bottom line. HR That Works users should see the Training Modules on Performance Management Improvement and Discipline and Termination.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

According to a 2008 study by SHRM, compensation as a percentage of operating expenses in 2007 of privately owned, for-profit organizations came to 60%. Use the HR That Works Cost Calculator to run the numbers for your company and you’ll find that there’s at least a 10% variance related to these dollars. In other words, if your payroll is $1 million, the variance will be at least $100,000. This variance, or cost, consists of poor hires, loss of good employees, non-productivity left on the table every day, lack of team play, Workers Comp claims, EPL claims, and other nonsense.

Chances are that a company with $1 million in payroll overhead devotes less than $30,000 per year assigning a part-time person to be in charge of the HR function. This person usually wears two or three hats, one of which is HR. As a result, that company with its million-dollar payroll is doing very little to proactively work on the HR function, and it pays the price in the process. Here’s the point: Do one proactive thing a month. Have a 90-day game plan and do those things within the 90 days. See the Sample 90-Day Game Plan for an HR executive below. At the end of the year you will have made at least a dozen improvements to the HR function that reduce your cost variable substantially. For example, just making sure you that don’t make a bad hire will add $50,000 to your bottom line. In today’s economy, with revenues constricting, employers have to be ever-more vigilant to make sure they don’t have costs diminishing their bottom line. Survival will require companies to step up their HR acumen.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

In the case of Crawford v. Nashville Metro School District the Court held that an employee who speaks out about discrimination not on her own initiative, but in answering questions during an employer internal investigation, is protected from retaliation. Remember, any employee communication regarding employment discrimination virtually always constitutes an “opposition to the activity,” and is thus protected from adverse consequences. According to the unanimous decision, to rule otherwise would have a chilling effect on complainers.

For Facts of the Case, The Court’s Ruling and Lessons Learned, see this article by Worklaw Network attorneys Shawe Rosenthal, LLP.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

For many years, I’ve been a member of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), a “New Age” organization that studies consciousness. I’ve met many amazing people in IONS, including physicists, physicians, psychiatrists, business leaders, and other seekers. Since the work in which they engage is as “cutting edge” or New Age as it gets, I thought I’d share with you some of the language gleaned from their invitation to the Thirteenth International Conference.

  • Fields of Consciousness
  • Episodes of Spontaneous Resonance
  • Non-Ordinary States
  • Collective Consciousness
  • Inspiring Vision
  • Journey of Initiation
  • Mind-Body Connection
  • Responsible Co-Creators
  • Collaborative Inquiry
  • Collective Learning
  • Group Coherence
  • Personal Transformation
  • Creative Altruism
  • Sustainable Future
  • Inner Engineering
  • Inner Wellbeing
  • Indigenous Wisdom
  • Carbon Offsetting
  • Conversation Cafes
  • Living Deeply
  • Living Simply
  • Quantum Entanglement
  • Transcending Duality

I share these terms to stretch your thinking about what they might mean for you and your organization. The very language itself is important — collectedness, transformation, well-being, and so on. Chances are that most if not all of it “feels right” to you and yes, it is very New Age. To understand how important these concepts are, think of their opposites: Disconnection, individualism, living shallowly, working alone, disharmony, non-sustainability. When you think about it like that, you realize we don’t really have much of a choice in which direction to go.

The reason for our recent recession lays within the collective “us.” It’s “we” who are the government, businesses, and consumers. It’s simply not sustainable. As Einstein stated, “The thinking that got us to this insanity won’t be the thinking that gets us out of it.” That’s why IONS continues to excite me. It’s about what can be. It’s about creating a future — not just reacting to the past.

If you’re in HR, even part time, what could be more important work for you to do than this? Payroll? Benefits administration? Sure those are tasks, but they’re void of any real meaning. Since we all search for meaning in our work, the opportunity for us is to be a seed in the transformation of our workplace. I have seen entire organizations transformed by the suggestion of a single employee. If you have a story about how you’re engaging in transformational work at your company, please let me know. I’d love to discuss it with you and perhaps share it with our other readers.

Keep stretching!


By Life and Health | No Comments

A disability often occurs when you least expect it. If it happens to you, you could find yourself in a shaky financial position without Disability insurance coverage according to a new study.

Market researcher Opinauri, Inc., conducted an online survey on behalf of The Hartford that questioned 971 U.S. adults, aged 18-64, during February 2008. The majority of the participants were married with children, working full time, and earning between $50,000 and $100,000 annually.

Seventy percent of those who responded to the survey said that they were meeting their expenses with little or nothing left over after paying bills. Eight percent said they were unable to meet current household expenses. But a staggering 95% admitted that they would need to alter their lifestyle if they lost part of their family’s income for three to six months. However, despite this admission, only half of those polled said they had Short- or Long-Term Disability insurance to cover their needs should the unexpected happen.

It’s easy to conclude from the survey data that many Americans are trying to make ends meet while juggling significant debt. Walking this kind of tightrope makes them extremely vulnerable if a disability strikes.

Even more disconcerting is that many Americans are facing this risk without any form of income protection because they don’t believe they need it. One in four survey participants said they are more likely to win a lottery than suffer from an injury or illness for three to six months. However, the Social Security Administration paints an entirely different picture. The agency says U.S. workers have a one-in-three chance of becoming disabled at some time during their working life.

Given how real the possibility is that you could experience a disability, it makes sense to investigate your insurance options. The Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE) says that about half of all mid-sized and large employers provide some type of Long-Term Disability Income insurance. Even if you are fortunate enough to work for a company that offers Group Disability coverage, the plan likely only pays 50%-60% of your current income in the event of a disability. If you’re like most Americans, a 50%-60% income replacement is not going to suffice, so you should explore a supplement to your group policy.

Here are some items to consider if you need to find a private policy to supplement the Long-Term Disability coverage provided by your employer:

  • How does the policy define “disability?” Are you considered disabled if you can’t perform your specific job, or if you can’t perform any job, for which you are qualified by training, experience and education?
  • When do payments begin? Is the waiting period pre-determined, or can you choose the length of time you wait before benefits begin? The longer you can wait for payments to start, the lower your premiums.
  • To what extent must you be disabled before benefits begin? Must you be totally disabled, or can you receive benefits for a limited time if you are partially disabled? In order to receive benefits for a partial disability, must it follow a period of total disability for the same cause?
  • Can you receive residual benefits? If you resume work on a modified schedule because of your disability, does the policy pay you residual benefits to make up the difference in your income?
  • How long will you receive benefits? You can receive benefits for two years, five years, ten years, or until you turn 65. The longer the benefit period, the higher your premiums.
  • Does the policy have a “waiver of premium” provision? Policies containing this provision permit the insured to stop paying premiums if they are disabled for 90 days or more.


By Life and Health | No Comments

As you prepare for your next overseas trip, whether it’s a vacation in France, China, or Bermuda, you’re probably dreaming of delicious local cuisine, incredible sight-seeing adventures, or plenty of relaxing days on the beach. But one thing you might have neglected to plan for is your health.

Many international travelers who fall ill while overseas aren’t sure where to turn. If you don’t plan ahead for such an unfortunate event, you could find yourself in quite a bind. Here are a few healthy travel tips you should keep in mind as you plan your next overseas journey:

Pay your doctor a visit. Before you board an international flight or set foot on a cruise ship, set up an appointment with your physician — especially if you have a medical condition. Your doctor can give you a thorough checkup to make sure you’re healthy enough to travel overseas.

Research the health care system of your final destination. Although quite a few international destinations, such as China, Costa Rica, and Thailand, offer top-notch medical care, many countries do not. Do your homework and find out if and how you’ll be able to get medical care if necessary. If the country you’re planning to visit has a notoriously substandard health care system, you might want to choose a different destination.

Get familiar with local diseases. If you are traveling to a particularly exotic country, you should familiarize yourself with common diseases and medical conditions in that area. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find out what diseases are common in certain countries. Visit www.cdc.gov/travel for a list of countries that require vaccinations. Visit the World Health Organization’s Web site at www.who.int/ith.

Take a close look at your Health insurance policy. Many Health insurance polices do not cover you if you’re traveling overseas. For example, Medicare does not cover international travel health expenses. However, certain Medigap policies do. This is why it’s extremely important to read the fine print on your Health insurance before you embark on that next trip.

If your Health insurance doesn’t cover you for trips abroad, you should purchase Comprehensive Travel insurance. Before signing on the dotted line, make sure this Travel insurance policy covers medical evacuations — these emergency evacs could cost you up to $50,000 out of pocket. You should also check the policy for any exclusions. Some Travel insurance won’t cover injuries that result from “risky” activities, such as mountain climbing or scuba diving.

Pack your meds. Don’t forget to pack any prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs you might need during your trip. If you have crucial prescriptions, be sure to pack some extra in your carry-on bag in case your luggage gets lost. Bring these meds in their original bottles including the labels. That way, you’ll have the necessary info if you need to refill a prescription during your trip. You should also know the generic names of your medication in case the pharmacy doesn’t carry the brand name.

Don’t push it. Many international travelers try to cram too much into one trip, which can be incredibly stressful on the body. Try to plan your trip so that you’re not rushing to a different city every day. Additionally, if you tire or get winded easily, you might want to avoid trips that require excessive walking or vacations in high altitudes.

Know where to turn if you fall ill. If you do get sick during your trip, you can obtain a list of local English-speaking doctors from the U.S. embassy or consulate. Before you leave for your trip, you may want to request a list of English-speaking doctors worldwide. You can obtain this free guide from the nonprofit organization, International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers. Visit their website at www.iamat.org or call 716-754-4883.


By Life and Health | No Comments

According to the Institute of Medicine, medication errors are among the most common type of preventable medical mistakes to occur in hospitals. Adverse drug events cause more than 770,000 injuries and deaths each year and cost up to $5.6 million per hospital, based on a study by the Agency for Health Research and Quality.

Although these statistics are disturbing, there are some measures you can take to avoid medication errors. If you want to play it safe with prescriptions, follow these five simple medication safety steps:

1. Keep a list of all your meds

If you’re paying a visit to your doctor’s office, the pharmacy, or the hospital, bring a complete list of all your medications with you. If you don’t have time to write down your medications, simply throw all them into a bag and take them with you.

You should include both prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as any vitamins and herbal supplements that you use. You should also tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have any known drug allergies. If you receive a new prescription, be sure to ask both your doctor and pharmacist if it’s safe to use with the other medications you’re taking currently.

2. Double check your prescription

When you pick up your medication at the pharmacy, make sure it’s the correct prescription. Double check that the name of the medication matches what your doctor wrote on the prescription.

If you’re picking up a refill, take note if the bottle or pills look different from the medication you’ve received in the past. Are the pills a different color, shape, or size? Has the bottle design changed? Don’t hesitate to tell your pharmacist if you notice such a disparity. Most of the time, patients are the first to notice medication errors. So if something seems wrong, go with your gut and speak up.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

When your doctor prescribes a new medication, feel free to ask both the doctor and pharmacist plenty of questions and make sure that you understand their answers.

If you’re worried that you won’t remember what the doctor tells you about your medications, take thorough notes during your appointment. You might also want to bring a family member or friend along with you who can keep track of your doctor or pharmacist’s advice.

4. Understand possible side effects

You’ve probably seen the long list of potential side effects that comes with a new prescription. Unfortunately, most patients pay this list no more than a fleeting glance before they throw it in the trash. However, it’s extremely important that you understand all possible side effects of a medication.

Although some prescription drug side effects can be a minor bother, others can be a sign of a serious problem or drug allergy. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what side effects you can expect with a prescription and familiarize yourself with the list of side effects that’s enclosed in the medication. If you develop a serious side effect or signs of drug allergy, stop taking the medicine and contact your doctor immediately. You might need to switch prescriptions or take a different dosage.

5. Make sure you know how to use the medication properly

When you pick up a new prescription, read all the directions on the drug label thoroughly. You might need to take the drug with a meal, on an empty stomach, or with a glass of milk. You might also need to avoid alcohol, driving, or sun exposure while you’re on the medication. Not following these instructions or taking the wrong dose could lead to serious problems.

Sometimes these labels can be confusing, especially when it’s a drug that needs be taken multiple times a day. If you do not understand any of the instructions, ask your pharmacist or doctor to clarify.

It’s important to follow all of these prescription safety rules. After all, these five easy steps could be the difference between life and death.


By Personal Perspective | No Comments

Many people collect paintings, sculptures, antiques, and other works of art with values ranging from garage sale prices to thousands of dollars. The International Risk Management Institute states that art becomes valuable for one of three reasons: Cultural significance; owner’s subjective value; or the marketplace’s estimate of its worth. Regardless of the reason, damage to a valuable work of art will likely cause the owner significant financial loss.

A standard Homeowners insurance policy provides some coverage for fine art, but is unsuitable for high-priced works. The insurance company will pay for losses to art caused by fire, water damage, vandalism, theft, and a limited number of other causes. In the event of a loss, the company will pay the item’s replacement cost after subtracting depreciation. For example, if fire destroyed a painting worth $1,000 on the open market, the Homeowners policy would pay the cost of replacing the canvas, paint and frame after subtracting some amount to reflect the age of those materials. This amount might be nowhere close to the work’s market value.

For this reason, art owners might want to buy separate insurance on their fine arts. This insurance can be in the form of an addition (also called an endorsement) to the Homeowners policy, or via a separate policy (sometimes called a “fine arts floater”). A fine arts floater insures paintings and drawings; art glass windows; valuable rugs, statues, furniture, and books; and “other bona fide works of rarity, historical value or artistic merit.” These items must be in a private collection owned by the policyholder; there is no coverage for works owned by a museum, business or government agency. The policy lists high-value art works individually on the policy with their associated coverage amounts and shows a combined insurance limit for all lower-value pieces. If the policyholder buys a new piece during the policy period, the policy provides automatic coverage for 90 days. The most it will pay for a new piece (until the owner reports it to the company) is 25% of the amount of insurance covering items specifically listed on the policy.

If the owner plans to transport an artwork from the address shown on the policy, coverage will apply only if competent packers handle the move. Coverage does not apply to a piece while it is in the custody of an art dealer, museum or auction house if the entity has insurance covering it. Also, the policy will not pay for damage to pieces while they’re on exhibition off the owner’s premises; the owner can extend coverage off-premises by adding the address of the exhibition to the policy.

The policy covers damage to fine arts from all causes except:

  • Actions of governmental or civil authorities
  • Intentional damage
  • Neglect
  • Repair, restoration, or retouching processes
  • Breakage of glass, statues, and other fragile articles unless fire, explosion, collision, windstorm, earthquake, flood, malicious mischief, or theft caused the loss. For an additional premium, the company may remove this limitation.

In the event of a loss, the company will pay the amount shown on the policy for items specifically listed on the policy. For other pieces, it will pay amounts equal to their replacement cost minus depreciation, up to a maximum of $500 per item.

To accurately determine an item’s value, the insurance company may require an expert appraisal. It may also require the policyholder to take certain precautions to safeguard especially valuable pieces. One of our qualified insurance agents can give advice on appropriate coverage and companies. Anyone who owns these treasures should make certain the right insurance is in place. Contact us today!