Your employees work hard to ensure your company’s success, but when companies are cutting back on expenditures, it seems nearly impossible to recognize their efforts without cutting into your bottom line, says Jennifer Coon-Leeper, CSP, major accounts manager, at Ashton Staffing, Inc.

“Many companies feel strapped for cash right now and run in the other direction at the mere mention of bonuses or raises. Nevertheless, tough times don’t mean that you shouldn’t reward your employees,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with Coon-Leeper about how to acknowledge employees through non-monetary means.

What are some ways to recognize and reward employees if you can’t give bonuses or raises? 

There are many ways that a company can reward employees without handing them money. Many things can be done with minimal effort. For example:

• Be flexible. Give your employees the flexibility in determining work schedules and the ability to take time for family or personal issues. Create summer hours with shorter in-office workdays. Rearrange working times to add an extra hour during the first part of the week in exchange for lesser hours later in the week. As long as the employee is deserving and does not abuse the privilege, this can go a long way to building trusting and mature relationships.

• Lunch from the president/CEO. Have the ‘powers that be’ bring in lunch as a nice surprise. It can be a home-cooked meal. Clear the conference room and have the president deliver the praise, lunch and sit down with the employees to get to know more about them. All business aside, just the thought would make employees feel appreciated.

• Give employees a free pass. Try giving out a certain number of free days off to employees to use as they see fit. Employees get a few of these a year and can use them as they like. They do not have to pretend to be sick. They can go to the beach, read a book and play with their kids. It does not matter how they use the time.

Do some employees prefer certain types of rewards and what’s the best way of identifying what works best?

Companies should make an effort to get to know their employees. Each employee is different and will have different values depending on how old he or she is and at what stage in life. Because of that, younger employees may appreciate different rewards than individuals who are middle age. For example, younger employees may prefer to earn more paid time off to use as they see fit, whereas studies have shown that middle-age employees prefer to be praised more on their work performance by either receiving a handwritten note from the president/CEO or by simply hearing verbal approval of a job well done.

If your employees still want bonuses or raises, how can you best handle turning them down?

In many situations, it is easy to turn down a raise request — if a person’s performance has not met expectations or if a person bases the request on what others are making, it is easy to explain that everyone is treated as an individual. The more difficult scenario is when you have to deny a request from someone who merits an increase but cannot get one because of the company’s financial situation.

The secret here is to ensure the employee knows he or she is a valued worker and is making a legitimate request that simply cannot be met right now because of the company’s financial status. A rational person will understand these kinds of circumstances. Acknowledge the employee’s disappointment by ensuring that you will come back to him or her with a raise as soon as the financial picture brightens.

Jennifer Coon-Leeper, CSP, is a major accounts manager with Ashton Staffing, Inc. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or jleeper@ashtonstaffing.com.

Insights Staffing is brought to you by Ashton

Published in Atlanta

When a position opens up at your company, a decision must be made whether to fill it with someone working in the company or hire someone from the outside. Each course has its benefits and drawbacks.

“When assessing your current staff, consider possible positions that a highly skilled employee would benefit from,” says Mary Delaney, an account manager with Ashton Staffing, Inc.

She says it may be the case that certain employees are outperforming or underperforming in their current roles and highly skilled employees may not be using their abilities to their fullest in their current positions.

However, there is reason to exercise caution. Delaney says, “Internal hiring immediately limits the prospective hiring pool and the company may miss out on a better-suited candidate.”

Smart Business spoke with Delaney about the difference between promoting from within and seeking to fill a position with a new hire.

How should a company evaluate the talent it has on its staff?

Aside from role-specific evaluations, monitor the employee’s work ethic. Look to see if they abuse sick days, are consistently tardy, if they share the company’s values and mesh well with its culture and if they’re able to adapt to changes within the company.

Consider the dedication level of the employee, which can be measured by the number of years they’ve invested with the company and what they have contributed in that time. Don’t just rely on numbers for this. Think back to instances where the employee succeeded in building and creating a flawless name for the company. Seek feedback on the employee from customers, phone surveys, email responses or co-workers.

Discuss your findings with the employee. Let the employee know they are not going unnoticed. Choose areas in which an employee has overachieved and acknowledge them for his or her hard work and dedication. Suggest ways of improving specific areas of concern you have with them. If there is a suitable promotion or role change, offer it to them.

What are the risks and benefits of looking inside the company to fill an open position?

Hiring from within can be very beneficial. A current employee’s familiarity with the company will allow for a cleaner and simplified transition period. Already aware of the company culture and policies, the current employee will most likely get up to speed much faster than a person new to the organization. Time spent interviewing and negotiating with an external employee is eliminated. Many companies use promotion from within as an incentive tool and a reward for good work or longevity with the company. This increases motivation and loyalty from internal employees. Hiring from within is typically economically beneficial. The position to be filled immediately transitions to a lower-level, less skilled position. This can significantly reduce the costs of recruitment and training expenses.

Hiring from within the company can also have some drawbacks. An internal promotion may inhibit the opportunity for innovation and progression. The company may lose out on fresh ideas and the creativity that can come from an external hire. Company morale could be negatively affected and friction among colleagues may arise if an envious employee feels slighted by a colleague’s promotion.

Ultimately, each company’s hiring decision is going to be unique. What’s best for one company may not work for another. Be sure to consider both positive and negative implications of internal versus external hiring before opening the position. Consider your budget, time frame, company culture and prospective talent on hand first. Internal hiring is generally faster and cheaper but may create hostility between colleagues and leave the company without the best-suited candidate or fresh innovative ideas.

How can a company ensure it has qualified candidates prepared to fill positions as they come available?  

Both mentoring and cross training are great tools for motivating your employees and sharpening their skills. By implementing a combination of these two, your employees will step out of their normal role and comfort zone by taking on new challenges. This keeps both the employee and job role from becoming stagnant. The challenge gives the employee a sense of achievement, which increases confidence and overall job performance.

Mentoring establishes a positive atmosphere of teamwork and success. When a talented employee displays initiative to go above and beyond, support that with cross training. Give them higher-level responsibility. Invite that employee to participate in more company-wide planning and decision-making meetings. Give them room to establish more goals and priorities. Reassign responsibilities that the employee does not like or are routine. A great way to promote company-wide training and development is by providing access and reimbursement to continuing education classes or company-specific training seminars, which ultimately sharpen employee skills.

In terms of cost, which is most often the more prudent: hiring internally or from outside the company? 

Hiring internally can save you time and money. You avoid expenses on advertising, screening and in-depth job training. Current employees are familiar with company policies and culture, and generally transition instantaneously into their new position.

However, if you strictly hire internally to save on these costs, you may lose out in the long run. Consider the risks and benefits of internal and external hiring before you make your decision. Each company is unique. Consider how your company morale will be affected if you hire internally. Do you already have a candidate who is an excellent fit? Or would you be sacrificing the need for ‘new blood’ and fresh ideas?  Hiring internally to save on costs up front may lead you to losing out in the long run. Determine which is the best route for your needs before you decide to open the position.

Mary Delaney is an account manager with Ashton Staffing, Inc. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or mdelaney@ashtonstaffing.com.

Insights Staffing is brought to you by Ashton

Published in Atlanta

Whether a company is a 10-person operation or a corporation with thousands of employees, its employer has a need to protect itself in case of employee-related claims. To keep the potential for legal landmines, confusion, and false expectations to a minimum, all employers should ensure they have an updated and relevant employee handbook — and that employees read and understand it. From HR policies such as vacation days to legal issues surrounding discrimination and employment contracts, employers need to stay up to date on what to include in their handbooks.

While every company is different in its structure and culture, each business’s handbook should at least address the basics.

“When creating a handbook there are a few essential items that are important to include,” says Jennifer Leeper, major accounts manager at Ashton Staffing.

Smart Business spoke to Leeper about how to help protect the business through proper use of an employee handbook.

Why should a company have an employee handbook?

A handbook is an important communication tool that is vital to any company with employees. A key aspect to a successful business is trust between the employer and the employee. One of the best ways to establish this trust is to develop an employee handbook. Handbooks are designed to help create structured environments and build loyalty within the company. Having said this, there are some employee handbooks that are so poorly written that they can actually damage the relationship between an employer and an employee. A poorly written handbook can cause a hostile work environment and can bind the company to promises that it didn’t even know it made. With the right advice, each company can develop a handbook that will establish a concrete relationship between the company and the employee.

What should be included in an employee handbook?

? Disclaimer. The disclaimer is used to show that the handbook is not a binding contract of employment. This helps protect the employer if a fired employee decides to try to sue the company based on a breach of contract. The disclaimer should also include that the employment with the company is ‘at will’ and can be terminated by the employer or the employee at any time for any reason.

? Equal opportunity statement. This should simply state that the employee’s religion, race, age, or sex will have nothing to do with hiring decisions, promotions, pay, or benefits.

? Mission statement. A mission statement defines the question ‘Why do we exist?’ It should give the company a purpose and help boost morale. The statement should provide a better understanding of the values that the company has and its goals.

? Defined work week. This should include lunch and time allotted for breaks.

? General policies and procedures. All the basics should be included in this section. Policies such as dress code, vacation days, holidays, and telephone and Internet policies need to be clearly stated.

? Sexual harassment and discrimination policies. It must be known that the company has a no-tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination of any kind. The company must also include different ways an employee may voice a complaint and who employees need to go to with concerns.

? Leave policies. Include policies on all types of leave that the company is willing to allow. For example, jury duty, maternity leave, sick leaves as well as bereavement. It should also discuss who is eligible for leave and what would happen if excessive time is taken off.

? Benefits. This is an important topic and should include who is eligible for benefits, the period of time that the employee must wait for coverage as well as how much the company will contribute towards the policy.

? Disciplinary polices. Define what is included and considered to be employee misconduct as well as what the  consequences are of such actions.

? Acknowledgment form. Every company needs a form for all employees to sign stating that they understand all of the rules and policies set forth in the handbook.

What are the most common mistakes employers make when putting together handbooks?

All companies can benefit from having a well prepared and thought out employee handbook. When creating a handbook it is important to make sure the following common mistakes are avoided.

Not having the handbook reviewed by a lawyer is one of the most commons mistakes employers can make. There are a lot of ways to state policies and sometimes being too vague may lead to potential legal issues. Having a lawyer who is versed in employment law review the handbook prior to distributing it to staff will help prevent any potential legal issues from arising.

Another common mistake employers make is not using straightforward language. If the handbook is too vague or too technical that the employees don’t understand it, then it won’t serve its purpose.

Failing to make sure that all employees read, sign, and have a copy of the handbook is another item that is often overlooked. A company must ensure that everyone signs a form agreeing that they have received a copy of the handbook. Employers need to keep that form in the employees’ files.

How often should employee handbooks be updated?

The world is constantly changing. From technology to society in general, it is important to make sure that handbooks are constantly updated to address new laws. What applied and was appropriate when the handbook was written may not apply or be appropriate now. Once a year, companies should review the handbook for any significant changes in company policies or laws.

Jennifer Leeper is major accounts manager at Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or jleeper@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta
Saturday, 31 December 2011 20:01

How to prepare for changing salaries in 2012

Some companies are still struggling to make ends meet. Even so, they should be committed to rewarding performing employees by offering higher salaries. Newly released information shows average salaries are expected to increase by 3.4 percent in 2012. The largest gain seems to be in technology jobs, indicating an average of a 4.5 percent increase on base salary compensation.

“I would advise employers to revisit their current salary structure and make sure they are competitive with the market,” says MJ Helms, director of operations for The Ashton Group. “Otherwise, you can be at high risk of losing an employee down the road this year.”

Smart Business learned more from Helms about planning ahead for salary changes for in-demand employees.

Why should employers be concerned about rising average IT salaries?

Various reports indicate that some IT workers are already leaving full-time, permanent positions to become contractors. This year, the employment index sees huge gains in technology hiring with a 20 percent annual growth. Those IT professionals want to capitalize on the number of contract opportunities in the marketplace as employers devote a larger portion of their work forces to contingent labor. They also want to cash in on the pay premiums that contingent IT positions are commanding these days. Whether contractors are moving into permanent positions or IT staff are leaving permanent jobs to become contractors, it all indicates the same thing: that IT job opportunities are once again beginning to boom.

Are these shifts justified?

Systems and networking engineers are in stronger demand, as are mobile applications developers. One of the important elements affecting the salary of IT specialists is certification. When a person combines an in-demand skill set and particular certification, to justify a certain job role, a salary increase should take place. There are however, a lot of certifications in the market, and only a few carry influence in the industry. Market veterans say that not all certifications make equal paycheck impact.

The following is a list of top certifications as we move ahead in 2012.

? CCNA Certification (Cisco Certified Network Associates)

? MCITP Certification (Microsoft Certified Professionals)

? CompTIA Network + Certification

? CISSP Certification

? CISA Certification

? Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator Certification

? ITIL Certification

? CompTIA Security + Certification

? VMware Certification

? Project Management Expert Certification

? Microsoft’s Certified Systems Engineers Certification

? CompTIA A+ Certification

What other positions are seeing a rise in salary?

Besides the technology area, financial, administrative and office support personnel are also likely to see some of the biggest starting salary increases this year. And let’s not forget about your marketing department. Those employees with interactive skills, such as user experience designers, are especially sought after as firms look to improve their Web presence and move many of their marketing programs online.

How can employers ensure they are offering appropriate compensation?

Websites like PayScale.com and Salary.com can give you a reasonably clear idea of where your pay stands in comparison with others in similar jobs in your industry and geographic location. Check out help-wanted ads, job board postings and industry-association salary surveys as well.

Do expected increases compare to what’s actually happening in the market?

According to a number of recent surveys, the average pay increase companies are planning for 2012 hovers between 2.8 percent and 3 percent, up a little from around 2.6 percent in 2010 and 2011. (The pre-recession average, from 2005 to 2008, was 4 percent.)

How can employers evaluate who should receive raises?

Consistent performance reviews of employees is an extremely important part of your company’s effectiveness and efficiency. Not only does it give the employer a better idea of how well your employees are performing, but it will justify giving a deserving employee a raise or promotion. Research shows that up to 65 percent of companies are dissatisfied with their current performance appraisals. The majority of employers have biannual or annual reviews; others feel it is important to meet more often with their employees.

When determining how to identify your top performers, consider rewarding employees that ‘think like the owner.’ They may be various employees throughout your organization, but, ultimately, you need to reward people who make everyday decisions and perform as if they own the company.

Why should employers pay attention to these trends?

Employee retention is the No. 1 reason. Employers need to keep in mind that the competition for employees will continue to increase as the baby boomer population ages. Make sure that you challenge and value your star employees. The deficit that occurs when a good employee leaves far outweighs the time, efforts and costs to retain that person. Salary reviews should be part of a program developed to reward loyal employees. But more importantly, establish action items that will encourage them to stay.

M.J. Helms is the director of operations at The Ashton Group. Reach her at (706) 636-3343 or mj@ashtongrp.com.

Published in Atlanta

You might notice a member of your staff who looks frazzled, or who frequently uses vacation days but never goes on an actual vacation. Maybe he or she has turned down a promotion or a new project. There’s a good chance this person is dealing with something at home, and employers need to pay attention, because it’s a growing issue in today’s workplace.

“When a working man or woman is faced with the additional job of caring for a loved one, their life is changed and so are their priorities,” says Melissa Hulsey, president and CEO of Ashton. “Employers need to be aware of these changes and have plans in place to address them.”

Smart Business spoke to Hulsey about how employers can — and should — approach the often difficult topic of employees with caregiving responsibilities.

Why should employers pay attention to this issue?

It is a fact that Americans are living longer. In 1990, 12.6 percent of the U.S. population was over age 65. This number is expected to increase to 22.6 percent by the year 2040. While those aged 65 to 74 is expected to increase by 17 percent, the population of those over 85 years is expected to double. Improved health care and use of disease prevention techniques contribute to our longer life expectancy.

Many older adults develop a disability that will cause them to need outside help with the activities of daily living. As most older people want to remain in their homes, caregivers must be found to help with simple things like dressing and bathing, or more complex medical requirements. Anyone can be a caregiver; however they are most typically women.

What are some of the challenges these employees are facing, both in and out of the workplace?

When an employee takes on the new role of a caregiver, the first thing they usually give up is personal time and leisure activities to fit everything in. Emotions like sadness, guilt, worry, fatigue and even anger may begin to affect them. Finances may become strained as living arrangements and other caregiving options are being discussed and transitioned. At work employees may become more easily distracted or stressed as this new workload sets in. And this is just the beginning of the process.

How should employers approach this subject?

It is imperative to the company and the employee to communicate openly during this time and have realistic expectations for the work-life balance. The last thing a good employee needs during this difficult time is to worry about their job. Recent studies have shown that adopting flexible workplace policies that help your employees with caregiving responsibilities to have a better work-life balance may decrease complaints of discrimination, but also will benefit the customer base and bottom line.

Employers with work-life balance policies in place reduce absenteeism, increase recruitment and retention and save time and money on training new employees. These programs have allowed some employers to be ‘lean but not mean.’ Offering workplace flexibility programs has given some employers an alternative to work force reductions in a bad economic environment. This allows organizations to rebound quickly as soon as business improves.

Are employers obligated to help or accommodate employees with these responsibilities?

Companies with more than 50 employees are required comply with FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act), which allows for 12 weeks of unpaid leave while caring for a seriously ill spouse, parent or child, and protects job security. Smaller firms can use FMLA as a guideline to structure their own policy.

Employers must also be careful not to violate any Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines. This would include training managers to be sensitive to the needs of employees in this situation. Include written policies that define the benefits and flexibility in your workplace for caregivers in your handbook. Make sure that all employees are treated equally when this occurs to avoid any complaints.

What is the best way for employers to address this in a way that works for everyone?

The best way to address the rising challenge of elder care in the workplace is to have a good written plan in place. Some parts of this plan may include:

  • Human resources or employee assistance can offer a list of resources such as Internet sites, local agencies for the elderly, elderly day care or meal services in the area.
  • Larger organizations could have a caregiver support group.
  • Host a company ‘caregiver fair’ or invite industry professionals to lunch-and-learn seminars.
  • Offer resources for legal and financial advice.
  • Offer long-term care policies as a benefit option.
  • Have counseling options available through insurance coverage or referrals.
  • Consider different ways to give the employee more of their most valuable resource — time. This could be through flex time, borrowing or buying leave, part-time opportunities, compassionate leave policies or career breaks.
  • Most importantly, be considerate and sensitive to what the employee is going through. Others will see that concern and be more likely to ‘pitch in for the team.’

We all have parents and, one day, may face this challenge ourselves. Remember the golden rule: ‘treat others as you wish to be treated.’ That may be the best way to consider what policies employers should have for elder care.

Melissa Hulsey is the president and CEO of Ashton. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or mhulsey@ashtonstaffing.com.

Insights Staffing is brought to you by Ashton

Published in Atlanta

In today’s economy, it’s natural for employers to be more focused on cutting back than on adding to the budget. But there are certain areas of the business that are always going to require investment.

Perhaps the primary place that employers should always be striving to improve is human capital. Businesses cannot afford to lose their best employees to competitors that offer better opportunities for career advancement, and keeping employees sharp will only improve a business’s competitive position.

“The reward definitely outweighs the cost,” says Jessica Ford, vice president of operations at Ashton Staffing. “You do not have to start out with guns blazing, offering paid college tuitions. Look at your budget and tailor your training plan around it.”

Smart Business spoke to Ford about making sure your business is preparing employees to meet challenges in today’s tough market.

In today’s competitive market, why is employee training and career development important?

The importance of training your employees — both new and experienced — cannot be overemphasized. Effective training of new employees reduces turnover because employees will have a positive feeling about the company, and it saves them time with getting initiated into their job.

But employee training doesn’t end with new workers. Manager training and development is equally important to workplace safety, productivity and satisfaction. Among the most useful skills that can be addressed are manager communication, employee motivation and employee recognition.

A continued education program for experienced workers based on their job duties helps to alleviate sloppy, inefficient and even unsafe work habits.

Why do some employers hesitate to put any formal training or employee development in place?

Employee training is essential for an organization’s success. Despite the importance of training, many companies initially encounter resistance from both employees and managers. Both groups may claim that training is taking them away from their work.

Given the current economic climate, some employers are also hesitant to allocate the necessary funds to train their employees.

What kinds of offerings should employers make available to employees?

Start slow. Companies do not have to roll out an elaborate training plan in the beginning. This will de-motivate some staff and also overwhelm them. Look at each position in your company and where each could improve. Choose the job class that is most effecting your bottom line and that is where you begin.  Initially the training will need to be required in order to get everyone on the same page.

Training is available in many ways, the most popular being online training, particularly for management. A great investment is a company trainer. They will research your company’s situation thoroughly before developing a customized training plan by using many different resources to determine your company’s training needs, such as company goals, HR complaints and legal obligations.

Many standards by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) explicitly require employers to train employees in the safety and health aspects of their jobs. Other OSHA standards make it the employer’s responsibility to limit certain job assignments to employees who are ‘certified,’ ‘competent,’ or ‘qualified’ — meaning that they have had special previous training, in or out of the workplace. These requirements reflect OSHA’s belief that training is an essential part of every employer’s safety and health program for protecting workers from injuries and illnesses.

From an HR perspective, a growing number of states are requiring workplace harassment training for employees, specifically requiring employee sexual harassment training. This is yet another example of the importance of employee training.

What are the cost implications?

If you choose to start small and train for specific results, many online training sites will provide you a bulk discount. A growing number of employers are turning to online employee training for a hands-on, interactive way for employees to learn. More economical in both time and money than conventional training, this form of training has become more and more popular as Internet technology has improved.

How can employers make sure they are making the most of training in the workplace?

You must have employee buy in for any program to be successful. Make the training fun when you can. Offer pay increases to those who have successfully completed the training and make sure to mention their accomplishment during their annual review. As employees complete their training, offer certificates and make sure to congratulate them. When possible, send out an e-mail blast to the company as a whole or display the graduates’ pictures holding their certificated in a break room.

A successful training program is always a work in progress, and the training cycle isn’t complete without an evaluation of training’s effectiveness, which leads to decision-making and planning for future training.

Jessica Ford is vice president of operations at Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or jford@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta

There are more than a few reasons for companies to conduct exit interviews. The benefits can far outweigh the effort of putting a simple and respectful process into place for surveying a departing employee.

“The exit interview is a direct reflection of the company’s culture and values,” says Gary Belancik, director of marketing and strategic development at Ashton. “The leader of an organization must ask him or herself what value, if any, do I place on the tenure of the exiting employee? What vehicle do I have in place to capture that information? If I were leaving a company, how would I want to be treated?”

Smart Business spoke to Belancik about the vital knowledge employers can glean from departing employees.

How are exit interviews valuable to employers?

An employee should be viewed as a client, albeit an internal one; a client with a history and relationship with the organization that on some level is vital to the company’s continued growth. The exit interview is a great opportunity to glean potential helpful information as a driver for organizational improvement. Information gained in a positive exit interview could help change the way you recruit and retain your employees.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the ‘exit,’ this meeting could enable a transfer of critical knowledge and/or developed relationships from the exiting employee to their successor.

It could provide a chance to get to the root cause of the decision to exit and ultimately a chance to save key employees from leaving. This is an opportunity to allow the departing employee to speak freely and share something they might not if they were otherwise still employed there. When both parties make peace, it only strengthens the reputation of the company. Keep in mind you may want to re-hire the employee in the future. Also note that your handling of the exit process may filter back to your current employees.

Another benefit of this meeting is that it may uncover potential negligence or gross misconduct of another employee that could cause further damage if left unaddressed.

Who should be conducting the interviews, and what kinds of questions should be asked?

The departing employee must know the ground rules for an exit interview:

  • It is voluntary
  • It is safe
  • It is chance for them to improve the organization they are leaving
  • It would be appreciated and hold meaning for the company

Depending on the size of the company, it should be conducted by a human resources manager, senior manager, or owner.

The best results are obtained when the employee who is exiting is placed in a ‘safe environment’ and feels that who they are meeting with has the authority to appreciate and act on the information that is shared, and there is no chance for any type of retaliatory action.

The exit interview could be equal to or greater than the initial hiring interview. You would never think of going into an initial interview without questions and a specific goal in mind. Nor should you with an exit interview. Just as in an initial interview, it is best to ask open-ended behavioral questions.

Questions should be developed in a non-threatening and objective manner. The meeting should not feel like an interrogation but more like a chance for them to share their side of the story. The questions should be aimed at the true cause of the decision to leave and should not be vague or general.

What type of format and/or setting is best for obtaining honest answers?

The best results are achieved in a face-to-face meeting. This allows better communication and understanding, and a truer interpretation of the employee’s feelings. It also enables you to show your true feelings and support with the exiting employee. This could enable you to get past the standard, sometimes defensive answers and get to the root cause of the decision.

The setting should always be professional and in an environment that fosters trust and openness. It should never be casual, and never in an open environment. Again, let them know this is truly voluntary and is greatly appreciated by you and is critical to the company.

A face-to-face meeting may be view by some as intimidating and an uncomfortable setting in which to share their true feelings. In those instances it is best to provide them with a questionnaire or some form of third-party electronic survey.

How can employers best use the information gleaned in exit interviews?

Information gained in the exit interview can be helpful in many ways, ranging from strategic process improvement to identifying and mitigating  potential hazards and risks.

Process improvement:

  • Recruitment
  • Induction into your organization
  • Training and development
  • Career development and pathing
  • Team-building initiatives
  • Empowerment
  • Compensation
  • Improvements and efficiencies specific to their position

Hazards and risks:

  • Discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Theft/unlawful practices
  • Unsafe work environment
  • Misinterpretation of rules and misuse of authority

What would you say to an employer who doesn’t see the value in conducting exit interviews?

You are missing out on a great opportunity to improve your company.

You would never consider hiring someone without interviewing them first; you should never allow someone to leave your employ without a chance to learn from their time spent with your company.

Look at it as the start of the hiring process, not the end.

Gary Belancik is director of marketing and strategic development at Ashton. Reach him at gbelancik@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta

Pre-employment testing, or talent evaluation, is continuing to expand as a general practice as companies strive to find the best candidates for job openings. Turnover reduction, improved success of new hires and saving time during the interview process are just a few reasons to implement this in your organization.

“By having data available before meeting with a person face to face it can maximize the interview time and confirm that what is being said by the candidate is genuine,” says Melissa Hulsey, president and CEO of Ashton.

Smart Business spoke to Hulsey to learn more about how businesses can use these tools to their advantage.

Why use testing when making a hire?

Verification of skills and job knowledge, cultural fit, behavioral predictions and values can all be assessed by utilizing the correct type of pre-employment tests. Knowledge is power and assessment tools are one more power tool to add to the box.

Hard skills account for a critical percentage that varies from company to company and position by position. It is imperative to determine if that candidate can perform the skills for that position. With unemployment at an all-time high it is paramount to be able to rely on a vetting process that is proven and unbiased to enable you to be more efficient in your search and hiring process. It is also vital to establish key benchmarks for each position within your organization and define a way to validate the results.

What kinds of test do companies normally use?

There are as many different types of pre-employment tests as there are different jobs available. Most tests will measure skills, behavior/values or knowledge. It is also important to point out the difference between screening and testing. Examples of screening would include drug testing, background checks, credit checks or medical exams. These results will mostly be definitive or pass/fail. Testing is much more in depth and provides greater information on the applicant. Personality tests assess the degree to which a person has certain traits or dispositions. It can also predict the likelihood of conduct. Cognitive or skills tests can measure memory, speed and accuracy or specific functions necessary for a job. Talent assessment tests can help predict a new hire’s success and potential for promotion. Some important points employers should keep in mind:

  • Tests can vary based on company size and organizational culture.
  • Tests can vary based on the core competencies of each position.
  • There are off-the-shelf products that can perform validated assessments.
  • The pre-employment evaluation process can range from an entry-level basic skill validation to testing that involves several hours spent with an industry/organizational psychologist.

The important point is to have a formal talent evaluation process and tailor it specifically to your organization’s needs through proper benchmarking

Are there certain kinds of testing that employers cannot conduct?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the intentional discrimination of people based on race, color, sex, national origin, or religion. If a company tested the math ability of all its female applicants but not its male applicants this would be called ‘disparate treatment’ and is not legal. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) say that those over 40 also are now a protected class with regard to disparate treatment.

In 1978, the EEOC adopted the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP) under title VII, providing employers with uniform guidelines on test validation. As long as tests meet the requirements stated above they should be safe to use in employment selection. One exception to this is the lie detector test; the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) prohibits most private employers from using lie detector tests during the course of employment.

How should tests be conducted?

Tests can be conducted at any time in the interview process. They can be online or in person, written or hands-on demonstrations of a particular skill. The key is to be consistent in how they are administered and evaluated. Update tests often to keep up with changing job descriptions.

Skill evaluation should be conducted in the initial stages of the screening process to validate the candidate’s claims of skill proficiencies and save you the time of going further in the entire process if it is not necessary. Behavioral interviews are beneficial when conducted face to face — this will be a critical opportunity for you to measure soft skills.

It is also beneficial to conduct the talent evaluation process in a ‘real world’ environment. This will provide you a more realistic view of how candidates will perform once they are in a paid seat in your company

How can companies decide what kinds of tests to use? And where can they find them?

When beginning the process of deciding what test is best for your organization, you must first define what you want to measure. Update all job descriptions and have metrics in place to measure performance. Look for the traits your best employees possess and benchmark those qualities and screen for those traits in new hires. There are many assessment vendors that have pre-packaged job assessments from manufacturing to medical. Talk with assessment vendors, staffing professionals and HR professional organizations, or spend some time on the Internet looking at your options.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to pre-employment testing, but there are plenty of resources available to guide you through the process. Enlisting the service of an expert consultant would be well worth the investment.

Melissa Hulsey is the president and CEO of Ashton. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or mhulsey@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta

The term “diversity” has evolved over the years. To some employers, it means including a mix of males and females in the workplace. To others, it involves taking advantage of what people from different generations can bring to the table.

“Diversity covers a multitude of differences, which are not limited to race, gender, age, social status, marital status, sexual orientation and physicality,” says Nakita Harris, payroll manager with Ashton Staffing.

No matter how you define it, the advantages of including people who can bring different perspectives and experiences into the fold are clear. Employers are learning that limiting themselves to one viewpoint means they are limiting their ability to grow and change with the marketplace.

Whether it means you can better reach diverse customer audiences or you gain an advantage over the competition in attracting the best and the brightest, making an effort to generate a work environment that embraces change and differences can improve the bottom line as well as the workplace itself. And winning the talent war is an issue not to be taken lightly in today’s economy.

“You will have a high turnover rate if you are not willing to be open to adaptation,” Harris says.

Smart Business spoke to Harris about how employers can make sure they are maintaining a workplace that embraces diversity.

How do different cultures, age groups and backgrounds affect the workplace?

Having a diverse business allows you to be able to understand the differences of the marketplace and therefore allows you to be better equipped to service a broader range of customers. It also affects employee morale, productivity and retention when you have a diverse workplace. Morale is impacted because involving more than one perspective makes people feel included in the decision-making process. People work differently — some are more efficient or productive than others, and if you can mix up the work force, you will utilize each person’s strength. And when it comes to retention, people are less likely to look for other employment if they feel like their strengths are being used in an effective manner.

Also, some people are more comfortable in a diverse workplace. For example, young people will prefer to work in a place where there are some other young people and women will like to work with other women occasionally, and not always in an all-male environment.

What are the benefits of having a diverse workplace?

Diversity allows for benefits such as better creativity and decision-making, which in turn helps product development. You have different input on what will be more successful. It also helps with marketing because if you have a variety of different types of customer groups, you will have a better idea of what everyone likes.

Your work force will also develop an appreciation for an atmosphere of tolerance, which helps to create a better working environment for everyone.

What are some of the challenges?

As with most workplaces, you will encounter challenges because not everyone will think alike and agree on the same things all the time. You have to be able to communicate with everyone in a manner that will relay the same message, although you may have to word it differently to each person. If you have employees from a variety of cultures or who speak different languages, they may interpret words and meanings differently. An older person may not understand the lingo that younger people may use.

Another challenge is that in the age of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action, you have to be able to communicate how a person is not performing their job duties if they are being terminated to avoid liability in an employment practices suit. You must be able to communicate differently to different people.

How should employers best handle the challenges?

You have to have sensitivity training to try to limit any preconceived ideas from workers concerning other cultures. This may include frequent team meetings or occasional outings for team building. Offer classes for credits for things such as effective communication, business etiquette, or language classes. Hold an annual company luncheon where each employee brings food from their culture and people intermingle between upper management and other employees.

How can employers make sure they are running their company in a way that encourages diversity?

You have to make sure you have a diverse leadership or management team. Managers need to be able to be sensitive and open to challenges to help create an atmosphere of support and understanding. Managers’ performance ratings can be based on any instances of complaints of discrimination and how many training classes they have attended throughout the year. This can lead to advancement and bonus incentives. You have to always create learning opportunities and encourage certifications where they are available.

Offer benefits that will give paid time off for all holidays observed in different cultures and religions. For example, don’t just give time off for Christmas, but offer time off for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. Also, recruit from different venues to attract a variety of applicants.

Nakita Harris is payroll manager with Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or nharris@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta

Whether they’re using it to market the business, keep in touch with customers, or connect with colleagues, most owners can attest to the business benefits of social media. But when it comes to unregulated employee use of this powerful tool, that’s when businesses can run into trouble.

From inadvertently posting confidential company information to intentionally bashing an employer in a public online forum, there are certain liabilities that social media can create that business owners should be aware of and prepare for.

Human resources departments should also be careful of their use of social media to screen potential employees; they could be opening the company up to discrimination claims from potential hires.

Smart Business learned more from Melissa Hulsey, president and CEO of Ashton, about how employers can implement policies to avert some of the pitfalls that can arise as a result of employees’ use of social media.

What are the dangers or liabilities businesses face with employee use of social media?

There are many issues that can arise out of the misuse of social media, and your company’s hiring process is one of the first areas to review. Many people post political views, marital status, social views and photos that could display disabilities on their social media sites. None of this information can legally be used to discriminate against hiring a potential candidate. A good practice is to not view any social media sites prior to interviewing. This way, a ‘blind’ selection process is used to determine who will be considered for each job. Make sure your human resources department and hiring managers do not deviate from this practice.

Trouble can also arise when employees put their employer at legal risk with their postings. Revealing confidential information or stating internal company affairs online can do damage on many levels. Employees need to be made aware that the first amendment right does not protect us while we are at work. Be careful what is put online; it cannot be taken back.

Should employers try to limit or prohibit use of social media in the workplace?

The fact is it would be impossible to completely prohibit the use of social media at work. With smart phones and like devices, employees are going to check Facebook and Twitter and look at YouTube while on company time. I say get over it, get used to it and embrace and work with it. Offer a list of company-sponsored blogs, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn groups, Facebook profiles, etc. and encourage your employees to promote your business. Social media is a very powerful tool that can be used to a company’s advantage. Have a policy that limits use, but recognize that, just like the personal cell phone, social media is here to stay.

What kinds of policies should employers put in place to inform employees about their rights and responsibilities?

Keep it simple. A complicated policy will be ignored. Many companies include no personal use of work computers, Internet monitoring and no free speech while at work in these policies. Do not, however, ban access completely. Involve your staff in coming up with a policy that works with your unique work environment.

And always think before you post. For example, if you have a business event and a photo is posted of someone sitting on a fellow employee’s lap, this could result in a sexual harassment charge or an angry spouse. Employees also need to be made aware that their conduct after hours can affect their job. Many states are passing all-encompassing ‘off duty conduct’ laws that can potentially prohibit an employer’s ability to discipline an employee for online actions. Georgia does not currently have such a law, so employees that complain about their boss, co-workers, work environment, clients, etc. can be disciplined up to and including termination. If you do business in multiple states, check the law in each one prior to writing your policy.

How should policies be communicated and enforced?

All policies need to be communicated in writing. Add this to an existing handbook and make sure employees sign off that they have read it and understand what is expected of them. When enforcing social media policies, be consistent. If you discipline one person for posting Facebook updates at work, make sure you reprimand all equally.

How should employers handle damage control from employees misusing social media?

Have a crisis strategy in place before anything happens. This should include appointing a crisis team of trusted employees to evaluate and possibly respond to a situation. Monitor sites to continually know what is being said about your brand. When responding, do it timely and with a consistent message. As in sports, sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Happy employees equals happy customers, so foster an environment that encourages a positive workplace. This will result in good will online and off.

Melissa Hulsey is the president and CEO of Ashton. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or mhulsey@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta
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