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

You’ve heard it a thousand times, but that doesn’t make it any less true — happy employees lead to happy customers. It’s a simple statement, but actually achieving it isn’t so simple.

The past couple of years have been a huge drain on most people, both professionally and personally. Anyone that you speak to has either experienced a major setback firsthand or knows someone who has been affected by these difficult times. Stories of job loss and financial uncertainty are everywhere you turn. Worry and fear are common emotions and morale has taken quite a beating.

“Because morale is a state of mind, it can be affected by any number of things,” says Michelle Elson, corporate director of operations with Ashton Staffing. “In the workplace, the most prevalent are feelings of undervalue, uncertainty of the future of the company and frustration due to a perceived lack of communication. These types of emotions breed dissension and it is very important to step in before things get out of control.”

Smart Business spoke with Elson about employee morale, how to improve it and why engaged employees are so important.

How can morale be turned around?

The key to a turnaround is to make employees feel appreciated. When employees feel valued, they are more willing to take on additional responsibilities until things improve. It also fosters loyalty.

Communication is critical during uncertain times. Employees like to feel that they are involved in the vision and progress of a company. Keeping employees informed about where the company is headed, whether into tough or good times, can allow for creative thinking, problem solving and a boost of energy.

Goal-setting is crucial to invigorating your team; everyone loves competition. You must be realistic though; nothing is more demoralizing that an unattainable goal or deadline. Make sure each member knows his or her role and how important it is to the growth and future of your company. Establish a realistic expectation that will motivate your employees.

Recognition of a job well done or acknowledgement that a person has gone above and beyond is instrumental to in- creasing morale in the workplace. Praise good work performance, both verbally and officially. A shout-out at a meeting, small gift card, a handwritten note, or an afternoon off can go a long way in making an employee feel recognized and appreciated.

Why are engaged employees so important?

A person that is energized and excited about the role they play in an organization will have a positive impact on those around them. Positivity improves the attitude and outlook of other employees. Stress is minimized when an energized employee views an issue as a challenge rather than a problem.

Motivated employees set personal goals and are more successful in their career objectives. The feeling of accomplishment leads to better productivity and teamwork. It instills a sense of ownership and belonging in an organization.

Employees who are happy in their jobs won’t hesitate to provide good customer service and will take opportunities to sell your company to those they speak to. They will also stick around when the economic climate improves.

What defines a great workplace?

It is a place with a defined purpose and attainable expectations. It offers challenges and rewards, and allows for career development. It garners mutual trust between management and employees and allows for open communication and independent thinking.

How can employers improve the workplace?

Establish a sense of purpose; outline how each individual’s job supports the mission and goals of your company. Set high expectations and provide meaningful challenges. Treat employees as individuals and create an environment that encourages independent work but also provides guidance when needed. Communicate regarding progress and offer praise consistently. Offer learning opportunities and encourage seasoned employees to share their knowledge.

Who is most responsible for morale? Leaders? Employees? Both?

The leaders set the tone for morale in a company. Their attitude and outlook have a direct impact on how employees perceive a company. It is also important to realize that decisions — however small — can directly affect your employees and should not be made lightly. As you are building your team, make sure they have similar goals and gather a team that will work well together. Don’t set people up for failure.

The employee’s responsibility involves maintaining an open mind and a receptive attitude. Sometimes the energy required to motivate an employee outweighs the benefit. In this instance, the employee just isn’t a good fit for the team and/or the organization.

What is often overlooked when it comes to morale?

Leaders can sometimes overlook that showing presence and taking interest in the well being of their employees makes them feel valued. Take a few moments to chat and interact with your employees daily so that they know they are impor- tant to you and the company.

Michelle Elson is the corporate director of operations at Ashton Staffing. Reach her at melson@ashtonstaffing.com or (770) 419-1776.

Published in Atlanta

Employee compensation has been a hot topic during the recession. Many employees have taken on additional responsibilities due to downsizing within the company but may not have received additional compensation for these new duties. Some of these employees may have even taken a pay cut just to keep their jobs.

You may run into problems retaining these employees after the recession ends if you don’t properly compensate them or negotiate a fair salary. Offering pay increases or bonuses may not be an option at this time, so you need to develop nonmonetary compensation options, continue to maintain a positive work environment and address any concerns up front with employees.

“Ignoring salary negotiations only exacerbates an already bad situation,” says Jessica Ford, director of sales and operations with Ashton Staffing. “Employees may feel discontent about their salary and simply not discussing the issue may make them feel that they are not important and their worth is solely based on salary. Try to involve employees when possible and let them understand the company’s current financial situation.”

Smart Business spoke with Ford about key things to include in salary and compensation negotiations and how to develop nonmonetary compensation packages.

What are some key things you should understand about salary negotiations and employee compensation?

Negotiation is not about winning, unless both parties win. If either party feels they have not negotiated, both parties lose. Make every effort to identify the most recent salary and benefits your employee or potential candidate received. Ask an employee candidate to provide a W2 or proof of salary during negotiations instead of simply asking about his or her desired salary. You can also find this out from former employers when conducting reference checks. You may not be able to match the salary, but you will have a good idea of what the candidate will seek during negotiations.

Arm yourself and do your research. Be sure to reference your current internal salary ranges, the salary of current employees in similar positions, the profitability of your company, as well as the job search market in your area and the economic climate.

Even if an employee has positively impacted your company, you need to keep your salary limits in mind. You will save yourself years of headaches and prohibitive costs by doing this, even if you have to start your recruitment process over or tell an employee that salary negotiation is not an option at this time.

What are some common mistakes employers make regarding employee compensation, and how can they mitigate those mistakes?

Some employers have simply blamed the maintenance or reduction in employee compensation on the recession and have not come up with alternative ways to reward employees. Reducing employee discontent due to employee compensation is dependent on the total work environment you offer employees. Think outside of the box. Sometimes the biggest mistake employers make is to think that employees only care about a monetary salary. Offer other incentives that shift the focus away from monetary awards to employee recognition. This can lead to higher productivity.

How can you develop nonmonetary compensation packages for employees?

  • Offer a balance between work and life. Allow flexible starting times, core business hours, work from home options and flexible ending times. Employees will deter from a fixation on salary if they feel like they have a balance and some freedom.
  • Offer an attractive and competitive benefits package, if you are able to, with components such as life and disability insurance and flexible hours. An employee can be content with a low- to mid-range salary if a strong benefits package is offered.
  • Select the right people from the beginning through behavior-based testing and competency screenings. Offer performance feedback and praise good efforts and results.
  • Do your best to create a fun work environment, because people want to enjoy their work. Engage and employ the special talents of each individual, and involve employees in decisions that affect their jobs and the overall direction of the company, such as the discussion of company vision, mission, values and goals.
  • Continue company traditions, such as holiday parties. This gives everyone something to look forward to and adds an element of fun into the workplace.
  • Remember to take an interest in your employees. Respect their ideas and listen to them. This small gesture can make an employee feel needed and that he or she has a purpose in everyday tasks, beyond just receiving a paycheck.
  • Provide opportunities within the company for cross-training and career progression. People like to know that they have room for career movement.

How can you handle employees who are not happy with their salary and the negotiation process?

Remember to always be honest with your employees and never promise them anything that you cannot offer. Tell your employees up front if it’s absolutely impossible for your organization to address salaries at this time. Be sure to balance this with some kind of nonmonetary reward. This is necessary in order to maintain a healthy and happy work environment. But if you are confident that your company will have a good year, set a date as to when your employees can expect a raise or bonus.

Jessica Ford is the director of sales and operations at Ashton Staffing. Reach her at (770) 419-1775 or jford@ashtonstaffing.com.

Published in Atlanta

The aging of the baby boomer generation and the number of family caregivers is growing rapidly, which has a financial impact on businesses.

If you want to know whether or not this impact is currently being felt at your business, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are your employees who are caregivers making telephone calls about their care-giving responsibilities from work?
  • Are they arriving late or leaving early?
  • Are they taking additional time off?
  • Are they reducing their hours?
  • Are they developing health or stress issues that are affecting their productivity?
  • Are they becoming depressed and spending more and more time discussing their care-giving issues with colleagues?
  • Are they retiring early or simply quitting their jobs?

“There are more than 20 million family caregivers now juggling work and elder care responsibilities in the United States, and three-quarters of the caregivers are women,” says M.J. Helms, director of operations for The Ashton Group. “Employees who provide personal care to a family member tend to have much higher levels of physical and emotional stress. The cost to businesses in lost productivity related to elder care is conservatively estimated in the billions per year.”

Smart Business spoke with Helms about employees who are caregivers, and what companies can do to assist with their care-giving responsibilities.

What are employees who are caregivers really looking for?

Some employers have found that by taking a comprehensive approach to work-life balance issues, they can help minimize turnover and productivity losses related to elder care, which will deliver a return of several times their investment in this area.

To do this, employers need to start with an understanding of employed caregivers’ top four needs: time, timely information, financial advice and emotional support.

  • Time needs include both scheduling flexibility and personal time (time away from work and care giving in order to replenish energy).
  • Timely information should be provided through consultation and referral services and by increasing both your in-house intranet or outside Web-based services, all of which help employees meet the challenge of quickly finding the right help at the right time.
  • Financial advice often involves helping the employee creatively combine publicly funded services with the resources of the elder and the caregiver.
  • Emotional support includes a caring attitude on the part of family members, supervisors and coworkers — and sometimes the assistance of a professional counselor — which will help the caregiver through stressful choices and tradeoffs.

How else can employers help with the work-life balance?

Regardless of company size or type, employers can reap the benefits of encouraging work-life balance among employees. One company is doing just that on their production line, where worker teams can ‘flex’ the start and end times of their team members’ shifts to accommodate the demands of childcare and elder care. Other smaller employers located near to one another have pooled their resources to create an association that arranges backup in-home care. Every employer faces a unique combination of factors regarding this issue with their employees.

Where should employers start?

Creating a family-friendly work environment requires a real commitment from the top. It’s the company’s culture, the unspoken rules, that really make the difference. If a company offers flextime but an employee’s supervisor won’t let them use it, it doesn’t do the employee — or the company — any good. If middle managers don’t see company executives ‘walk the talk’ of work-life balance, good programs may be ineffective. Provide training for your managers. Improve managers’ awareness of the issues surrounding aging and care giving, and help them examine their views on accommodating employees’ efforts to balance personal and family obligations with job responsibilities. Train managers to identify stress related to elder care giving. Let your employees know care giving is an important issue by highlighting information on available resources in employee newsletters and other communications.

Know your employees’ needs. How many employees actively care for aging relatives or expect to do so soon? What proportion of employees’ parents live in distant communities?

Also, take a lifecycle approach. Employees in various age groups have different needs regarding work-life balance. Remember to also communicate with employees without any dependent care needs by presenting elder care initiatives as part of your company’s commitment to work-life balance.

How can employers utilize local resources?

Provide information to employees by setting up an on-site family resource center containing newsletters, books, website addresses and videotapes, or maybe arranging services for direct supports (like geriatric care management or emergency backup homecare). Either way, the place to start is the local community. Contact the state unit on aging. The federal Administration on Aging website (www.aoa.gov) provides contacts in all 50 states. Another option is to research a potential consulting firm’s track record specific to elder care. Also, check with the Alliance of Work/Life Professionals at www.awlp.org.

The reality is that the aging of the American population and work force will affect every employer. Just five years ago, the U.S. Department of Labor predicted 151 million jobs in the nation by 2006, but only 141 million workers to fill them. As baby boomers fall ill and the work force is faced with the responsibility of caring for them, employers who invest now in making the workplace elder-care-friendly can avoid the loss of valuable employees with care-giving responsibilities.

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 work hard to protect your company. Your buildings are safe and secure and all your important data and business information are backed up and shielded from the outside.

But, what are you doing in-house? Are you monitoring your employees, keeping a close eye on how they’re utilizing the technologies you provide for them? If you’re not, your business could be at risk.

Most employers don’t want to think about it, but employees can and do steal confidential information, often taking it to a competitor or selling it to the highest bidder. Not only that, sometimes employees don’t even realize that the information they have access to is confidential. Then, all it takes is a simple slip of the tongue or a seemingly innocuous comment in an e-mail or on a social networking site and your confidential business information is out there in the public for all to see.

“Employers should be monitoring every type of electronic media that employees use, including computers, smartphones and even social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter,” says Jennifer Coon-Leeper, CSP, a major accounts manager for Ashton Staffing, Inc. “Identify what information needs to be protected and who has access to that information. From there, you can craft an effective employee monitoring policy and ensure that all your data are safe and secure.”

Smart Business spoke with Coon-Leeper about employee monitoring, what can and should be monitored and how a company can craft an effective employee monitoring policy.

Why should employers monitor employees’ online activity?

The No. 1 reason is to ensure that the employee is doing a good job and being productive. With the amount of access to the Internet, it is very easy for an employee to spend hours updating a Facebook page, shopping or exchanging personal e-mails. Employers monitor online activity to ensure that the employee getting paid to work is actually working in a timely and efficient manner.

Other reasons to monitor an employee’s online activity are to maintain confidentiality and limit employer liability for employee misconduct. Employers don’t want to worry about company information getting into the wrong hands or any lawsuit stemming from an inappropriate e-mail sent by an employee.

Many employers also monitor online activity to make sure their systems are being used according to policy and are not overloaded with viruses.

What should employers monitor, and do they have to inform the employee?

While controversial, employers, with good cause and under certain limitations, can monitor e-mail, Internet, social networks, etc., without the employees’ knowledge or consent. Although some employees feel that monitoring invades privacy, most federal laws do not support these concerns.

With that in mind, it is recommended for employers to check their state laws, as they may vary. Employers should also create a written agreement for employees to sign when they are hired. This agreement is used to inform employees that all online activity will be monitored.

Do employees have any expectation of privacy when using employer-provided devices?

Most employees understand the need for a monitoring policy. However, many do not want their every move micromanaged and tracked. When using an employer-provided device, it is important for the employee to understand that the device is the property of the company and is and should be used for business only. Anything that is not business-related should be handled after business hours on their own personal devices.

How should an employee-monitoring policy be crafted?

Employers looking to craft a monitoring policy should keep in mind that the policy should be reasonable. Restricting all online activity is unrealistic and practically impossible to enforce. The most effective policy would involve monitoring online activity but would also allow employees the freedom to work without feeling ‘Big Brother’ is watching over them.

Any policy that is created by the employer should:

  • Explain the business-related reason for the monitoring.
  • Discuss what is considered to be permissible work-related activity and what is considered prohibited, inappropriate activity.
  • Address the consequences of violating the policy, up to and including termination.

Finally, all employees must sign the policy. Acknowledging and signing the policy will help to prevent future issues.

What legal rights do employers have when it comes to monitoring their employees?

Most courts have ruled in favor of the employer when it comes to monitoring employee online activity. Whether they have a written policy or not, employers typically have the right as long as they have a business-related reason to do so. That said, employers should always make sure they are up to date on their state’s regulations and laws.

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

Published in Atlanta