How to avoid the pitfalls and liabilities that can accompany employees’ use of social media

Melissa Hulsey, President and CEO, Ashton

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 [email protected]


How boosting morale leads to engaged, high-performing employees

Michelle Elson, Corporate Director of Operations, Ashton Staffing

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 [email protected] or (770) 419-1776.

How to handle salary negotiations and employee compensation during the recession

Jessica Ford, Director of Sales and Operations, Ashton Staffing

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 [email protected]

How to handle employees who are caregivers to their families

M.J. Helms, Director of Operations, The Ashton Group

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.

Performing proper background checks on all new hires

Melissa Hulsey, President and CEO, Ashton

With businesses getting back on track and reinvesting in themselves, many companies are expanding their capabilities and bolstering their staffs.

But don’t rush into making a new hire — regardless of how extensive his or her credentials and references seem to be — just because you can (and need to). Before you do anything, make sure you perform a proper background check on all new hires.

“Over the past 10 years, background inquires have quadrupled,” says Melissa Hulsey, the president and CEO of Ashton. “It is standard protocol to perform background checks on all job levels.”

Smart Business spoke with Hulsey about background checks, how to perform them and why doing so protects an organization’s employees — and the organization itself.

What specific criteria are included in a candidate’s background check?

There are many types of background checks — reference, criminal background, driving record, education, credit report, credential verification, workers compensation claim records and legal working status checks, to name a few. When evaluating a new candidate it is important to establish what type of background check is required for the job.

A custom screening process can be designed for each job within an organization. It is very important to be consistent. Background checks can be different for each job; however, candidates applying for the same position need to be evaluated equally.

At what point in the process should an employer ask for references?

References should be provided early in the selection process. Any blemishes on reports can then be discussed in the interview process, or it may eliminate the candidate immediately. It is always better to know up front if a potential problem exists than to wait until time and resources have been invested. Most background reports are not expensive to run and it is money well spent to find out the truth early.

How much faith should companies put into references in the background check process?

Let’s face it: the personal and professional references provided by a candidate will almost always be good. Why? They would not list them if they were not confident a glowing report would be given. Therefore, take most of these with a grain of salt. It is more important to verify accurate dates of employment and rehire status, if at all possible. Many times, candidates exaggerate this information. Stick with the facts and try not to make your evaluation on emotion.

Should companies take search firms’ background information at face value?

Clients should always request a copy of background reports to verify that hiring criteria have been met. The candidate will have to authorize the release of this information, so make sure to ask for this verification as well. Search firms want their candidate to be hired, especially if they are in competition with other services. By requesting copies of all reports and reference checks, it keeps everyone honest.

What information detected in the due diligence process will most likely lead to being a deal-breaker for the candidate?

Any type of felony conviction that was not clearly explained up front will most likely be the end of the road for that candidate. Bankruptcy, DUI and lying on the application can all be deal-breakers when discovered. The important part is to have a system in place to make sure these things can be discovered.

How have background checks changed over the years?

Technology has made obtaining personal information much easier and more cost-effective. Gone are the days of calling someone and waiting for them to return your calls in a timely fashion.

There are databases, such as E-verify (www.uscis.gov/everify), the Georgia Department of Corrections free inmate search (www.dcor.state.ga.us) and fingerprinting service Cogent Systems (www.cogentsystems.com), that can provide almost instant access to any requested information. A word of caution, though, databases are only as good as the information put into them. Some are not frequently updated and many rural counties do not report to a central system at all. So, if an individual was convicted of a crime in a rural county and that county does not upload its information, the only way to obtain it would be to personally go to that county’s courthouse. Background information is not foolproof.

Does it hurt morale to request internal candidates to undergo a new background check?

No, just like random drug tests, it’s becoming standard procedure to periodically update personnel files. The key, again, is to be consistent and have a documented policy for what is required to maintain a good employment status. Morale is hurt when change is not effectively communicated and understood. Explain why it is important to do these checks for the safety of the employees and the company.

Melissa Hulsey is the president and CEO of Ashton. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or [email protected]

How to recognize and reward employees for their hard work, even in tough times

M.J. Helms, Director of Operations, The Ashton Group

The recession has caused many businesses to cut back on expenses in many areas, including raises. While your employees may deserve raises, you may not have the money there to provide them with monetary recognition. Despite spending decreases, it’s important to recognize your employees’ hard work through other means of compensation.

“Employees are concerned and consumed with the prospect of reduced salaries, temporary layoffs or job losses,” says M.J. Helms, director of operations for The Ashton Group. “Now is the time to retain your super stars. You can attract and retain employees by offering rewards in exchange for time and effort.”

Smart Business spoke with Helms about how to recognize employees, how to keep track of employee performance for recognition and rewards, how to help employees understand the recognition tools, and how to use these tools to leverage your company during the hiring process.

What are the benefits of rewarding and recognizing your employees?

Recognition helps reinforce the actions and behaviors you most want to see people repeat. An effective employee recognition system is simple, immediate and powerfully reinforcing. When employees feel like they matter, they’re much more willing to give their all for your company.

When you praise employees, you let them know you’re aware of their hard work. You acknowledge they’ve put forth a great effort to accomplish something and you’re celebrating that accomplishment with them. It shows that you don’t necessarily need to spend money to make someone feel valued and appreciated.

How can you recognize employees for their hard work?

Employee recognition is not just a nice thing to do for people; it’s a communication tool that reinforces and rewards the most important outcomes people create for your business. You need to show your employees the value they add to the team and point out specific instances where they went above and beyond the call of duty. Recognition, such as identifying one employee each month who has gone above and beyond, needs to be a planned activity. Giving someone a pat on the back in private may make that employee feel good for a few minutes, but taking time to recognize that person during a staff meeting in front of his or her peers will extend that good feeling into days, if not weeks. This also entices others to strive for the same reward. You can even do something as simple as having a Wall of Fame in your office to post pictures of employees and their accomplishments.