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May 2011


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

I’m a big fan of using character assessment tools – and one of my favorites is www.zeroriskhr.com. My team and I are currently using their post-employment program to help improve our communication and make me a more effective boss. The folks at ZeroRisk reminded me that the employer’s goal is to match skills and natural abilities with job function. As the saying goes, “Put square pegs in square holes!”

To help reach this goal, consider how employee personalities can differ:

People Orientation

  • Reads people – can sense how to be effective with different individuals
  • Needs others to feel good
  • Enjoys individual interaction
  • Enjoys people in group settings
  • Prefers to not deal with the feelings and individual needs of others
  • Likes to help others

Results Orientation

  • Has good practical judgment
  • Likes to get things done using their hands
  • Enjoys solve thinking problems
  • Likes to apply theories to real-life problems
  • Prefers to think about things, rather than applying them to business issues
  • Likes to put things where they belong – creating or preserving order

Environment Needs

Is comfortable with a routine * Likes order, structure, and certainty * Enjoys planning and organizing * Needs variety in using creative thinking * Needs to work in a top-level, winning company

Behavioral Characteristics

  • Thinks out of the box
  • Obeys the rules, no matter what
  • Able to do things exactly as instructed
  • Able to do repetitive tasks consistently
  • Thinks in terms of the team and belonging to the team * Will be protective of company policies, standards, and mission

Individual Characteristics

  • Is an individual and needs to express their individuality
  • Able to handle rejection –has a thick skin
  • Has a lot of courage
  • Is passionate about their work
  • Able to keep secrets
  • Likes to be in the middle of things
  • Flexible in midst of change and surprises
  • Likes to be the center of attention
  • Team player – little self-glory
  • Accurate at knowing what they’re best suited to do
  • Capable in a highly competitive environment
  • Accurate ideas about their own strengths and weaknesses

Ambition Characteristics

  • Committed to personal growth
  • Likes to win
  • Needs rewards to be directly tied to their work
  • Driven to excel and improve
  • Strong sense of accountability
  • High achievement drive
  • High degree of initiative

The point is: Match the personality to the job!


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

It takes the EEOC 56 pages to define a “mental disability.” Approximately 58 million Americans, one in four adults, experience a mental health impairment in a given year (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2007). One in 17 individuals lives with a serious mental health impairment, such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder (National Institute of Mental Health, 2008).

Common mental impairments include:

  • Bipolar disorder, sometimes referred to as manic depression, “is a medical illness that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning. Bipolar disorder is a chronic and generally life-long condition with recurring episodes of mania and depression that can last from days to months that often begin in adolescence or early adulthood, and occasionally even in children.” An estimated 10 million American adults have bipolar disorder.
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is “an often misunderstood, serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self image, and behavior. It is a disorder of emotional dysregulation. This instability often disrupts family and work, long-term planning, and the individual’s sense of self-identity.” It’s estimated that 1% to 2% suffer from BPD.
  • Major depression is “persistent and can significantly interfere with an individual’s thoughts, behavior, mood, activity, and physical health. Among all medical illnesses, major depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States and many other developed countries.” There are approximately 15 million American adults with major depression.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) “occurs when an individual experiences obsessions and compulsions for more than an hour each day, in a way that interferes with his or her life.” Estimates indicate that 2% of American adults have OCD.
  • Panic disorder occurs when a person “experiences recurrent panic attacks, at least one of which leads to at least a month of increased anxiety or avoidant behavior. Panic disorder may also be indicated if a person experiences fewer than four panic episodes but has recurrent or constant fears of having another panic attack.” Approximately 2% to 5% of American adults suffer from panic disorder.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is “an anxiety disorder that can occur after someone experiences a traumatic event that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror. While it is common to experience a brief state of anxiety or depression after such occurrences, people with PTSD continually re-experience the traumatic event; avoid individuals, thoughts, or situations associated with the event; and have symptoms of excessive emotions. People with this disorder have these symptoms for longer than one month and cannot function as well as they did before the traumatic event. PTSD symptoms usually appear within three months of the traumatic experience; however, they sometimes occur months or even years later.” It’s estimated that 2% to 9% of adult Americans (including 15% to 30% of veterans) have PTSD.
  • Schizophrenia “often interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly; to distinguish reality from fantasy; and to manage emotions, make decisions, and relate to others. Some 2 million American adults are schizophrenic.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is “characterized by recurrent episodes of depression – usually in late fall and winter – alternating with periods of normal or high mood the rest of the year.” Note: SAD is not regarded as a separate disorder by the DSM-IV (APA, 1994), but is an added descriptor for the pattern of depressive episodes in patients with major depression or bipolar disorder.

Here’s a quick overview of some job accommodations that might be useful for people with mental health impairments. Maintaining Stamina During the Workday:

  • Provide flexible scheduling
  • Allow longer or more frequent work breaks
  • Allow employee to work from home during part of the day, or week
  • Provide part-time work schedules

Maintaining Concentration:

  • Reduce distractions in the work area
  • Provide space enclosures or a private office
  • Allow for use of white noise or environmental sound machines
  • Allow the employee to play soothing music using a portable player and headset
  • Increase natural lighting or provide full spectrum lighting
  • Plan for uninterrupted work time
  • Allow for frequent breaks
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals
  • Restructure job to include only essential functions

Staying Organized and Meeting Deadlines:

  • Make daily TO-DO lists and check items off as they are completed
  • Use several calendars to mark meetings and deadlines
  • Remind employee of important deadlines
  • Use electronic organizers
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals

Dealing with Memory Deficits:

  • Allow the employee to tape record meetings
  • Provide type written minutes of each meeting
  • Provide written instructions
  • Allow additional training time
  • Provide written checklists

Working Effectively with Supervisors:

  • Provide positive praise and reinforcement
  • Provide written job instructions
  • Develop written work agreements that include the agreed upon accommodations, clear expectations of responsibilities, and the consequences of not meeting performance standards
  • Allow for open communication to managers and supervisors
  • Establish written long term and short-term goals
  • Develop strategies to deal with problems before they arise
  • Develop a procedure to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodation

Interacting with Coworkers:

  • Educate all employees on their right to accommodations
  • Provide sensitivity training to coworkers and supervisors
  • Do not require employees to attend work-related social functions
  • Encourage employees to move non work-related conversations out of work areas

Handling Stress and Emotions:

  • Provide praise and positive reinforcement
  • Refer to counseling and employee assistance programs
  • Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for needed support
  • Allow the presence of a support animal
  • Allow the employee to take breaks as needed

Maintaining Attendance:

  • Provide flexible leave for health problems
  • Provide a self-paced work load and flexible hours
  • Allow employee to work from home
  • Provide part-time work schedule
  • Allow employee to make up time

Dealing with Change:

  • Recognize that a change in the office environment or of supervisors may be difficult for a person with a mental health impairment
  • Maintain open channels of communication between the employee and the new and old supervisor in order to ensure an effective transition
  • Provide weekly or monthly meetings with the employee to discuss workplace issues and productions levels

To learn more, visit the Job Accommodation Network’s Accommodations’ Ideas for Mental Health Impairments.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

This recent news story carries a lesson for every employer.

Levi Strauss Agrees to Pay More Than $1 Million in Overtime Back Wages to Nearly 600 Employees Following U.S. Labor Department Investigation

Overtime violations found at retail stores nationwide

SAN FRANCISCO — Levi Strauss & Co. has agreed to pay $1,011,413 in overtime back wages to 596 employees nationwide after the U.S. Department of Labor found that the company violated overtime and recordkeeping provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

An investigation conducted by the San Francisco District Office of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division determined that the San Francisco-based company misclassified several groups of workers, including assistant store managers of newly acquired stores, as exempt from overtime. Although their counterparts at previously existing stores were exempt from overtime compensation, the newly hired employees were not.

“Misclassification of employees has serious and adverse consequences for employees, as well as for corporations,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “When violations of federal labor laws are discovered, this department will take appropriate action to ensure that workers receive the wages they deserve.”

The company failed to record all hours employees worked in its payroll system. Instead, the misclassified assistant store managers were required to work off the clock during late night closings, early morning openings, and staffing shortages. Various administrative employees working at the company’s headquarters also were misclassified as exempt from FLSA coverage and found to be owed overtime back wages.

This investigation covered back wages for time worked over a two-year period. Levi Strauss has agreed to pay the back wages and committed to upgrade its time and attendance system, as well as maintain future compliance with the law. The applicable employees are now treated as non-exempt under the FLSA.

Founded in San Francisco in 1853, Levi Strauss was the first company to manufacture blue jeans. Today, the company operates 164 retail stores and employs more than 4,000 workers in the U.S., and its global operations span more than 100 countries.

The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates of pay, including commissions, bonuses and incentive pay, for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers are required to keep accurate records of all hours worked by covered employees. The FLSA provides an exemption from both minimum wage and overtime pay for workers employed as bona fide executive, administrative, professional and outside sales employees. It also exempts certain computer employees. To qualify, employees generally must meet certain tests described in the act regarding their job duties.”

Lesson Learned: Unless you have a legitimate business need for classifying employees as exempt, you’re far safer classifying them as non-exempt and adjusting their hourly pay so their take-home, including overtime, matches their exempt salary. We’d recommend that HR That Works use the Overtime Authorization form to reduce unauthorized or unnecessary OT usage.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Social media and networking sites have become commonplace in today’s workplace. The most popular sites (such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube) connect people by enabling them to search for former classmates, colleagues, and friends. Users can leave public messages for their “friends,” and/or create interest groups or “networks.” The problem for employers is that employees might be posting negative, misleading or defamatory information about their company, its employees or its products on social media sites. More and more businesses have instituted policies to help protect against posting such negative information on social media sites. A recent case settled by an employer in response to an unfair labor practices charge brought by the NLRB illustrates one of the pitfalls concerning such policies. The company, American Medical Response, had fired an employee for bad-mouthing her boss on Facebook. The NLRB held that the employer’s policy, which prohibited employees from “making disparaging, discriminatory or defamatory comments when discussing the Company or the employee’s superiors, co-workers and/or competitors,” was overly broad; because it violated Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, which permits employees to engage in “concerted activities for the purpose of … mutual aid and protection.” In settling, the company agreed to revise its social media policy to ensure the protection of employees’ rights to discuss working conditions.

Bear in mind that, even in a non-union workplace, employees have the right under the NLRA to share information regarding working conditions. Before taking disciplinary action against employees for their social media activities, consider whether the employee’s conduct could arguably constitute protected concerted activity.

To ensure that your social media polity does not violate employee Section 7 rights, we’d recommend following these guidelines:

  • Employees may not use company equipment or systems to “twitter” or log onto social networking sites.
  • Twittering on personal cell phones, Personal Data Assistants (PDAs), etc. may not interfere with working time.
  • Employees should not tweet or post information on any social networking site on behalf of the employer, without approval by management.
  • Employees may not use company logos or trademarks in tweets or twitpics (a service that enables users to post pictures to Twitter) or any other social networking site without company authorization.
  • Employees may not promote the company’s products or services on any social networking site or online message board without prior management authorization and disclosure of their employment relationship.
  • Employees may not post information on any social networking site that disparages the company’s products or services, contains false statements, or breaches the employer’s confidentiality policies.
  • Employees who have any information on their social networking site about the company should provide a disclaimer on their profile page that the opinions are their own, and not those of the company.

Article courtesy of Worklaw® Network firm Shawe Rosenthal.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

I’ve handled more than 3,000 “hotline” calls from managers trying to deal with their employees. I find that very often they don’t let employees know about something- when they should do so. These include: Poor performance, body odor, bringing personal problems to work, wasting time on gossip, using social media, shopping online, coming and going late, 20-minute breaks, smelling like a chimney when they return from the break, their dress, their communication skills, the time they waste on the basketball pool, being on the layoff list – the list goes on. The real question is: Why don’t managers speak up? In my experience, there are many reasons: The employee intimidates them, they’re new to the management role, they get no support if they want to act, they prefer to avoid conflict, they don’t want to be become “villains,” they fear having their shortcomings pointed back at them, they don’t want to cause a lawsuit – you name it!

What are you doing to help your managers move past this fear-based limitation in a way that can make them proud? How can they face these concerns and build a relationship with employees in the process? By the way, what are you holding back on with anyone you manage?


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

I recently saw a job posted for an HRIS expert at an auto dealership. Curious, I scrolled through it, where it stated at the end in bright red print:

“Important Notes: Environment and Physical Activity

“The environment for this position is an open office that’s mostly clean and comfortable. The job involves driving a personally owned vehicle approximately 20% of the time, which includes exposure to outside weather elements and moving mechanical parts. It might include some minor annoyances such as noise, odors, drafts, etc. The incumbent is in a non-confined office-type setting, in which he or she is free to move about at will. The incumbent spends time writing, typing, speaking, listening, lifting (up to 25 pounds), carrying, seeing (such as close, color and peripheral vision, depth perception and adjusted focus), sitting, pulling, walking, standing, squatting, kneeling and reaching.

“The incumbent might operate any or all of these devices: Copy and fax machines, adding machine (calculator), typewriter, personal computer and related printers.

“The work environment characteristics described here are representative of those an employee encounters while performing the essential functions of this job.

“The physical demands are representative of those that an employee must meet to perform the essential functions of the job.

“Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.”

Have we regressed to this, for a job that involves someone sitting at a computer all day? Really?


By Life and Health | No Comments

According to A.M. Best, an insurance rating company, fewer than 50% of U.S. households have Life insurance outside of what’s provided by their employer. This statistic begs the question – why have so many individuals abandoned their Life insurance needs? There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to such a question, but there are a couple of common contributing factors.

One factor is the alleged product misrepresentations cited in class-action lawsuits against several Life insurance companies. Another factor is that much of the media focus today is centered on individuals living much longer than previous generations and the resulting need to prepare for the retirement years adequately. This focus has caused many Americans to redirect their attention toward saving for their retirement years and to start placing their money into tax-favored accounts. Consumer trending hasn’t gone unnoticed by Life insurance companies. Despite the fact that most individuals don’t consider Life insurance a good investment option, many insurers have been heavily marketing the investment side of Life insurance policies instead of the death benefit aspect of it.

The protection Life insurance provides through its death benefit is and always has been the main reason individuals purchase Life insurance policies. The funds a Life insurance policy beneficiary receives can serve as a replacement for the income lost by the death of the policyholder. It can also help to secure the future needs of the policyholder’s spouse, children, or other dependents, such as college funding.

Investments can be an important aspect of funding a retirement. That said, investing in the stock market can never be a substitute for a Life insurance policy.

First of all, a Life insurance policyholder has a guaranteed monetary return for the dollars paid in premiums. Since a return on money invested in mutual funds and stocks are never guaranteed, even under the most ideal market conditions, the same can’t be said of these types of investments. This is exactly why most brokers warn their clients not to invest more money than they can afford to lose. Even individuals that have a stock portfolio with a good rate of return must wait while it amasses over time and becomes substantial enough to meet their family’s long-term financial needs. Obviously, a person can die before their stock portfolio makes enough money to cover their family’s long-term needs.

Secondly, stock portfolio values fluctuate; as the market conditions change, as will the value of a stock portfolio. The inconsistency of stocks can create major problems when an individual is trying to ensure that their family’s long-term financial needs will be met if they were to die unexpectedly. For example, if the death occurs while the stock market is in a down cycle and the survivors must sell the assets, then they won’t net as much money as might have been planned and will also pay capital gains taxes. On the other hand, the beneficiary of a properly planned life insurance policy will receive the death benefit tax-free.

In closing, don’t mistakenly underestimate or overlook the value of a Life insurance policy. An insurance agent can help you determine the type and amount of coverage that will best suit your needs.


By Life and Health | No Comments

Almost everyone is aware that eating lots of leafy, dark green vegetables is a healthy choice. Even if we don’t put heaping piles of fresh spinach or kale on our dinner plates, we know that we probably should. New research is unlocking the secrets of why certain veggies are helping us to stay healthy and to minimize the effects of aging.

It turns out that simple broccoli is a very impressive anti-aging food that comes with the added benefit of contributing to heart health. A recent study conducted at UCLA demonstrates that, among vegetables, broccoli is the best source of a chemical called sulforaphane. This chemical helps to activate the body’s own antioxidants, which helps to control cell decline.

And that’s not all. Broccoli is one versatile vegetable. One study that tested broccoli extracts revealed that broccoli can have a direct impact on preventing bladder cancer. The same study found that broccoli helps prevent muscle damage during oxygen deprivation (which is one key to surviving a heart attack).

Dieticians remind us that the way you prepare broccoli and other vegetables has a large impact on the benefits you receive. For instance, consider steaming broccoli rather than boiling it to preserve the nutrients. And never fear that you must eat broccoli every day. Other vegetables that are rich in sulforaphane include kale, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes, collards, and turnips. As a rule, if it has green leaves, it’s good for you, and you are most likely not eating enough of it!


By Life and Health | No Comments

Most employees that leave a job also leave their employer-sponsored medical coverage behind. This can be a chancy move, especially if you don’t have other insurance options readily available to you.

If you’ve already left your job, then you’ve most likely already found out that obtaining affordable Health insurance isn’t the easiest task when you’re between jobs. COBRA is an option that gives you the right to keep your insurance from your previous employment, but the monthly premiums are usually extremely expensive and something that many simply can’t afford while unemployed.

Temporary insurance, which is a short-term form of Health insurance, can be an affordable alternative to the high premiums associated with COBRA. It’s designed to provide a bridge between the gap of finding your next job and leaving your former employer-sponsored plan. Having such a policy can remove the chance of not being protected against unforeseen injury or sickness while you’re between jobs, but pre-existing conditions are usually excluded.

The premiums for short-term coverage policies are usually much cheaper than those for COBRA, but the cost can still seem expensive for someone without a job. Although finances might tempt you to put off insurance until you find another job, you should remember that financial security is the primary reason that individuals purchase short-term health insurance in the first place.

It only takes one unexpected hospital trip or admission to put someone without medical coverage hundreds to thousands of dollars in debt. For example, consider the financial repercussions if you suddenly develop appendicitis and need an emergency appendectomy when you don’t have Medical insurance. The average cost of an appendectomy is between $11,000 and $18,000 dollars. Countless financial studies have cited medical bills as one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in America. Having short-term health coverage to carry you until your next job can help avoid the catastrophe of being responsible for the total cost of medical bills from being uninsured.

Aside from the value of financial protection, short-term insurance also helps to avoid having future health insurance claims rejected under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPAA) laws. In other words, individuals that don’t have a break from credible insurance coverage exceeding 63 days are considered to have maintained a continuous coverage, which means that they won’t be subject to exclusions for pre-existing conditions. And, many approved short-term policies are included in the realm of credible coverage, even if they have exclusions for pre-existing conditions.

Depending on specific state requirements, short-term policies may run for a term of anywhere from 30-days to one year. As far as payment goes, most short-term health insurance plans offer two different options – paying through a monthly installment plan or in a single up-front payment that will cover a specific number of days. Generally, single payment plans are slightly cheaper than monthly payment plans.

Of course, temporary insurance is designed to be just that: A temporary solution to ease your health and financial concerns. It’s not designed to last longer than a year and should never be considered a long-term insurance solution. Once you’ve found another job, you should look into your new employer’s insurance offerings and determine when your new coverage would start if it’s elected.


By Personal Perspective | No Comments

Driving distractions come in many shapes and sizes. Between phone calls, text messages, Internet, television screens, unruly children, and distractions on the road, it is a wonder we ever arrive safely from Point A to Point B.

In November of 2010, State Farm created an online survey to gain a better understanding of what distracts drivers from their most important task at hand – driving. The survey went to 912 drivers who reported that they drive at least an hour per week, own a smartphone, and have a valid driver’s license.

Of those surveyed, 19% admitted to Internet usage while driving. Here are the top five internet activities that driver’s engage in:

  • Searching for and reading driving directions
  • Reading E-mail
  • Looking for specific information of immediate interest, such as where to find a restaurant
  • Reading/Updating social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook
  • Writing/sending an e-mail

When asked about when their internet usage occurs, drivers responded:

  • When stopped at traffic lights
  • During heavy traffic
  • When driving alone
  • During daylight hours only
  • On long highway drives

The survey further reports that about 40% of the U.S. population currently owns a smartphone, and this statistic equates to many distracted drivers on the road at any given time. Studies show that the increasing use of smartphones, especially among young adults, increases the risk of crashes. And there is an ever-growing need to remind yourself and the ones you love to put the phone away while driving.