Diversity is critical to the success of your organization

Take a hard look around your organization. Do you have employees from a variety of backgrounds, people with differing opinions and perspectives, or do they mostly look and think like you?
“Inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility are critical,” says Harold Harrison, chief human resources officer at Cleveland Metroparks. “Having people with different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives in the room elevates the conversation and opens the window onto insights and ideas you may not have otherwise considered. This widened world view can help you reach new heights.”

Smart Business spoke with Harrison about how focusing on diversity can help your organization soar and why inclusion has to start at the top.

What is the impact of having a diverse group of employees involved in decision-making?

It’s important to include the opinions of staff when making decisions that could impact morale, and not just make blanket edicts. It’s easy for leadership to sit in a room and decide on a direction in a vacuum. But to learn and grow as an organization, you have to make sure that you use the right strategies to include perspectives from all different departments and all walks of life.

Establishing a diversity committee allows you always to be thinking about how to create synergy in the room to come to the best decisions. Engaging such a committee on topics related to organizational diversity and inclusion can help move the needle, benefiting not just your workforce but the customers you serve.

People at high levels want to solve problems, and they want to solve them really fast, but sometimes you have to slow things down to get them right. Listen to what people are saying, and take a step back. Put the right people around you, trust in them, tap into their passion and know they have your best interests in mind.

How do you get people to participate and share their views?

When you’re close to something, it can be a challenge to be objective. Gaining an outside perspective can accelerate progress. Engaging a consultant in the process, as a subject matter expert, allows that person to conduct conversations in a way that employees feel more comfortable talking to them than they might to someone internally.

If employees feel they are not being heard and are disengaged, this can have a damaging effect and your brand can suffer. But if you can create a culture of diversity and inclusion, where people feel a connection with the company and pride in their role in it, they become ambassadors for your brand.

How do you engage a diverse group of employees in the goals of an organization?

From the top down, leadership needs to be authentic and transparent in expressing the importance of staff engagement in diversity and inclusion initiatives. Don’t shy away from answering the tough questions. When staff feel they have a voice and are aligned with overall goals, their participation is a catalyst for progress.

Encourage employees to get involved in the creation of the core values, but don’t dictate who can participate in order to get to the answers you want. Done right, it becomes a sought-after committee with high visibility, known for getting things done. If people are passionate about it, even if they have a very narrow view, the next person is passionate about something else, and all that comes together.

Here, we held work sessions and the staff identified core values they felt served as the organization’s North Star, included among them, dignity, respect, and organizational sustainability. Because they believed in those values and had an active role in establishing them as organizational values, they were embraced quickly into the fabric of the organization. As with the development of core values, getting staff involved at the ground level on the organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion ensures a level of passion and an enthusiasm for real results.

Continue to engage employees, be open to how the organization can improve and listen to staff about how they feel about diversity and inclusion.

Insights Human Resources is brought to you by Cleveland Metroparks

401(k) plans are more affordable, easier to manage than assumed

Many business owners, especially those operating smaller companies, want to offer retirement plan options, such as a 401(k), to their employees. Most, however, avoid pursuing a plan because they think they’re too complex to manage, or too expensive to afford.

Fortunately, there are options for business owners that make 401(k) plans easier to manage, mitigate compliance risks and more affordable to provide.

Smart Business spoke with Jim McElwain, regional sales manager at Paychex, about 401(k) options for smaller companies.

What are some of the reasons business owners don’t provide a 401(k) plan?

Many business owners believe they need to match employee contributions to a 401(k) plan. While that’s a nice perk for employees, a match is not required. Employers can start by simply providing a 401(k) plan and then begin matching later. It should be noted that matching is tax deductible.

Along the same lines, business owners often choose not to offer a 401(k) plan because they think it’s too expensive. What they might not know is that the IRS offers tax credits for business owners creating a 401(k) program for their employees that covers 50 percent of eligible plan startup costs up to a maximum of $500 per year.

The other more common misconception is that 401(k) plans are too complex for a smaller business to manage, which puts the owner at risk for a compliance breach. While it’s true that business owners need to be careful when managing a plan and the record keeping aspect is critical, there are third-party providers that understand these plans and can offer administrative support. This relieves the time burden while mitigating the risk of noncompliance.

What outsource services are available to help business owners struggling with 401(k) administration?

Business owners that choose to offer a 401(k) plan can benefit from having a strong partner. Companies have a fiduciary responsibility when offering these plans, which means they must operate the plan with the employees’ best interests at heart. Either the business becomes the fiduciary or a third party will need to be engaged to take over those responsibilities. This is an important decision because fiduciary responsibility also comes with liability. If a business cannot adhere to the basic rules of fiduciary responsibility, it can become liable for losses to the plan.

Plan administration involves rigorous legal and fiduciary requirements that smaller companies may not have the staff to manage. By engaging a third-party provider to administer the retirement plan, companies gain the benefit of its expertise, technology, and reliability while streamlining the tasks associated with both functions, making 401(k) an accessible option for companies of all sizes.

What are the benefits of offering a 401(k) plan?

Offering a 401(k) plan gives a company a competitive advantage over companies that do not. It can be the difference between landing top talent or watching them take a job with a competitor.

Because there are very affordable plans in the marketplace and third-party providers that can help with administration and compliance, many companies are offering 401(k) plans that previously did not. Profitable companies with few employees that might have passed on the idea of offering a plan should reconsider. Ultimately, it’s a small price to pay to compete for the best talent.

There is a lot of flexibility with today’s 401(k) plans. This open architecture allows companies to pick a plan that works best for everyone involved. Not long ago only larger companies could afford to offer plans. In today’s market, it’s possible for companies of all sizes to offer nearly the same benefits at the same price.

Retirement savings plans are a coveted employee benefit that many candidates expect potential employers to provide. Offering a 401(k) can help a business attract and retain top talent.

Insights Human Resources is brought to you by Paychex

HR departments are critical. Make sure you have the help you need

Government agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Department of Labor, IRS and others, aren’t making life easier for smaller businesses. New laws are created regularly and companies must comply or face significant penalties. That’s why it’s increasingly important to have a strong human resources department that’s capable of keeping up with the changes.

“It used to be the larger companies that were looking for help with HR, but increased regulation and the way in which they’re enforced has caused that need to go down market to companies with as few as 15 employees,” says Jim McElwain, a Regional Sales Manager at Paychex.

He says some agencies are becoming less reactive and more proactive, hiring more agents to spot-check businesses rather than waiting for complaints to be registered.

“This approach is scaring many business owners that aren’t confident in their HR capabilities. They need a partner to help them stay compliant,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with McElwain about options for companies struggling to keep up with ever-changing regulations.

What elements of human resources do you find are often overlooked?

Companies that start out with only a few employees usually have just one HR concern: making payroll. But once they start hiring, their problems multiply.

Many companies are not trained to interview effectively, making it difficult both to hire the best person for the job and also operate within the law, avoiding questions that could lead to damaging discrimination lawsuits. On-boarding brings with it a slew of forms to complete, such as W-4 and I-9. Once new employees are on staff, businesses can struggle with how to discipline, and firing someone without proper documentation can lead to a successful unemployment claim by the terminated employee, which drives up unemployment insurance rates. These are just some of the legal nuisances in all the fundamental day-to-day business operations that companies must understand and address.

How might having an inexperienced HR department affect a business?

Putting someone in charge of HR functions who knows little to nothing about the laws that guide employment practices creates a risky situation. Rule changes are frequent and require diligent attention to keep up. Sometimes, especially in companies with fewer than 100 people, that knowledge doesn’t exist in the building and hiring for it can be cost-prohibitive.

Fortunately, there are HR outsourcing services for companies that are too big not to have HR help but are too small to afford a qualified person.

How can companies without knowledgable HR staff reduce the risk of noncompliance?

There are many services available from HR outsourcers, some of which are a la carte and others that are bundled into packages. This can be an affordable way to stay in compliance and avoid lawsuits and penalties.

In some arrangements, an HR generalist is assigned to a specific company and meets face-to-face as much as is needed to consult, train supervisors, and help with interviewing, discipline and termination of employees.

What misconceptions do business owners have about an HR outsource relationship?

Many business owners think they can manage HR functions themselves in addition to filling other roles in the company. That leads to a lack of proper attention given to important and often legally required actions.

Without a knowledgeable HR staff, business owners fail to understand overtime laws, when an employee can be paid a salary instead of an hourly wage, and when someone can be classified as a subcontractor instead of an employee. This can lead to serious legal trouble.

So many people that go into business understand their product or service without understanding their legal responsibilities to employees. But it’s not easy. Government agencies continually make it more complicated for business owners to run their companies in accordance with the law. And as these agencies become more proactive, businesses stand a greater risk of incurring fines unless they have knowledgeable assistance in their HR departments.

Insights Human Resources is brought to you by Paychex