Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Takin’ Care of Business & Working Overtime

I woke this morning to Canadian rock group Bachman-Turner Overdrive doing their iconic 70's hit, Takin’ Care of Business. As I danced to the kitchen on  those major and minor riffs, I brewed my newly acquired Detroit Bold coffee, and I belted out the most memorable line, “Takin’ care of business and workin’ overtime.” (For those not familiar with the tune go check it out on YouTube, I guarantee you’ll be dancing and playing air guitar)

Today we can't dance around the topic of overtime. Back in 2014, President Obama directed the Secretary of Labor to update the rules on overtime pay, and this year, the President and Department of Labor Secretary Perez have announced the final rule updating the overtime regulations to reflect the original intent of the Fair Labor Standards Act. 
What the new rule does:
  • Extends overtime pay protections to over 4 million workers (within the first year of implementation)
  • Simplifies and modernizes the rules so they’re easier for workers and businesses to understand and apply.
  • Raises the salary threshold indicating eligibility from $455/week to $913 ($47,476 per year)
  • Strengthen overtime protections for salaried workers already entitled to overtime.
  • Provide greater clarity for workers and employers.
  • Sets the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employees (HCE) subject to a minimal duties test to the annual equivalent of the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally ($134,004)
  • Establishes a mechanism for automatically updating the salary and compensation levels every three years 
  • Amends the salary basis test to allow employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to 10 percent of the new standard salary level.

The final rule will become effective on December 1, 2016.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Is it Time to Make Pet Care Benefits a Standard?

Oscar and Lola in 2013
For 15 years Oscar and Lola were part of our family. We brought them into our home when Oscar was 8 weeks old and Lola, about 16 weeks old. Our two Lhasa Apso puppies quickly became a part of everything we planned including housing decisions, vacation destinations, and home entertaining.
Lola was diagnosed with diabetes about 18 months ago. She required insulin injections daily and continued to live comfortably until April of this year when constant seizures brought us to the heart breaking decision to euthanize her to end her suffering. 
It was hard to know if Oscar knew Lola was gone since he had been blind and deaf for a few years -- I think he knew. Oscar followed his nose to maneuver throughout the house so he had notice that Lola’s scent was missing at some point. He always knew where to find each family member at the appropriate time of day and would curl up on one his favorite blankets or behind a chair, or under a table or other odd places. 
Oscar had advanced renal failure. His age and overall condition made possible treatments unreliable for a positive outcome, but rather than euthanasia, we decided to keep him home and in familiar surroundings until the end. Oscar slept away on October 10, 2016 with my daughters and me next to him. My youngest daughter was visiting from Colorado and remarked that she was comforted as she fell asleep listening to his snoring the night before. Her sister decided to stop by to spend the day with her before her flight so they both had the opportunity to comfort Oscar. 
Both our beloved pets gone within 7 months of each other.
We are all sad, but honestly, I never expected to feel so distraught. If I feel this way surely others who have dealt with the death of a pet have experienced this sense of loss and subsequent grief. 
As a child, our family always had a dog, but the dog lived outside in a dog house built by my dad.The dog was not allowed inside our house. For the first three years we had Oscar and Lola they never ventured outside, they were litter box trained. They had their own room and went with us on vacations or vacationed at the Valley of Hounds if we couldn’t take them with us. 
Pets have become more integrated as family members and connection to them is more than cursory. Pets are central to our well-being and become part of our heart space. There are many reasons for this as pets often fill voids created by job mobility and military deployments that take people away from their families, friends and familiar surroundings. Socialization is also different as people delay, or forego marriage, delay or choose not to have children, or people that have children reach the point where they grow up and move on.
Since pets are integral in many employee’s lives, should employers provide bereavement benefits? Should benefit plans be expanded to include insurance provisions for regular care, care for chronic illness, or catastrophic illness? Perhaps flexible spending accounts and use of days reserved for personal use, sick time, or vacation time would meet the need. Some companies already recognize the benefit and need for these kind of programs. Is it time to make them a standard practice? 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

No Politics in the Office is Good Office Politics

While the presidential debates have earned record television viewing audiences and have revealed interesting perspectives, employees should be discouraged from engaging their colleagues in heated political debates of their own. Supervisors in particular should not share their political beliefs with employees. What gets a pass as campaign rhetoric could create serious issues in the workplace ranging from creating low moral to potential legal issues.
My advice - employers, follow the law in allowing time off for voting, and employees, exercise your choice and keep it to yourself.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Virtual Communication in the Workplace

A major driver in business has always been the ability to communicate effectively. This is not a profound statement, it is merely a fact.  Few people in the workplace remember IBM’s Selectric with changeable font balls for a choice of script or courier; or another business innovation referred to by some as the “mojowire”, and by others as the fax machine – all amazing improvements to our ability to communicate in the workplace.  Today we are in a virtual communication world approaching Star Trek and very soon, “Beam me up Scottie”, may be a reality.

Considering the challenges of businesses functioning on a global scale, the one factor that has not changed is the need to communicate effectively.  Technical innovations have given us virtual tools to add to our arsenal and absolutely provide major benefits.   The benefits fall into several major categories, including transportation cost saving, knowledge sharing efficiency, improved customer service, and improved employee utilization.

In the first category, transportation – reducing the need to travel to every client meeting or to the office generates costs savings in fuel, time and office overhead, along with a positive green  impact of reducing the carbon footprint. Taking advantage of email, and conference calling are routine and are further enhanced with the use of satellite conferencing, Webinars, or online video calling.  For small group video meetings Skype, Oovoo or Yugma offer free to very low cost options to get everyone in on collaborating to hammer out details at one time.  For communicating educational or promotional roll-out information, a Webinar or web conference may be more appropriate.  Using any number of available options such as Openmeetings, GotoWebinar, Adobe Connect, or Microsoft Office Live, a company can deliver the same message to all members of the company at any location in real time.  That being said, based upon my own experience of holding such a meeting with members in Michigan - USA, South Korea, Australia and Germany; one has to understand that some members could be in their pajamas unless a dress code of business attire is specified!

The second category of benefit is knowledge sharing efficiency.  As a business writer, tutor and educator, I find a team of one is limited, while the greatest kernels of wisdom have come from varying perspectives that can only be present when collaborating with others.  Again, Webinars or Skype and Oovoo like programs are wonderful and easy to use methods for brainstorming and having a face to put with a voice while creating or reviewing material.

In the third category, improved customer service, the positive impact of virtual communication cannot be denied.  Smartly designed voice prompted response systems and live response representatives available on at 24-hour basis prove to be great for the bottom line – some studies claim a 36% impact!  Of course any measure of improvement in keeping customers satisfied with the product, or the service provided is the ultimate goal because happy customers drive a healthy bottom line, and a healthy bottom line drives a healthy company.  Using email, text messaging, phone calls or online response systems are all easy to use and manage methods.

The final major category of benefit for this discussion about using virtual communication in the workplace is improved employee utilization.  The workplace of today cannot thrive without satisfied stakeholders.  Clients have to be satisfied and valued, and equally as important, the workplace cannot survive without motivated, respected, valued and inspired employees.  The same virtual conventions that have brought the world to the doors of the local workplace have brought the local workplace to the front doors of its employee’s homes.  This is another one of the potential cost saving benefits for the employer.  Recognizing that for the first time in history there are five different generations of employees in the workplace.  The employee base potentially represents the greatest diversity in languages spoken, geography encompassed and variations of culture.  Considering this awe inspiring diversity of the workplace, if employers wish to gain the greatest benefit from employees it would be wise to consider that a one size fits all approach may not be best.  For example a Gen-X or millennial generation employee may have little use for elder care benefits, however a baby-boomer or boomer2, may need those benefits to address family care issues.   Millennial generation and Gen-Xer’s may need childcare and educational flexibility.  Sacrificing the value that each generation brings to the workplace is made moot with the successful implementation of virtual communication.  Staying connected to the workplace is made seamless with the use of email, teleconferencing, video calling, Dropbox, SharePoint and other real time collaborative tools.  I also believe blogging and using facebook, tumblr, and a host of other social networking tools can benefit the workplace when used according to guidelines that employees have a hand in creating.

Individuals have to embrace leveraging the technology which is evolving at a mind boggling speed.  Communication, whether virtual, or in your face, is only as good as the people engaged in communicating.  The human element is the key to all successful virtual communication.  It is important to understand that generational position has little to do with the ability to leverage any virtual communication tools.  True enough, the millennials probably have the edge on playing Guitar Hero or Halo, but there is no conclusive evidence that younger employees are any better than more senior co-workers at mastering virtual technology most used in the workplace.  What is true is that all generations of employees benefit most from supervision that can keep them engaged, whether working virtually or in a physical office location.  Supervision and management have to keep moral up so that when employees are not in sight, they are still in mind.  Virtual communication also makes it easier to blur the line between work and personal life.  It is up to management to work with employees to develop policies that foster career and work life balance.

Twitter speak, and the language of text messaging will never replace the long respected and admired elements of language resulting in a well turned sentence.  However, it is possible from time to time, we may need a reminder not to “facebook, Skype or ‘txt’ our bff” during a meeting, or not to email a co-worker sitting in the office next door, or just over the cubicle wall.

In looking at the methods, and the impact of virtual communication in the workplace – the benefits outweigh the negative side effects.  Technology will continue to evolve, and I believe it remains important to remember that differences in language, time zones, local customs, and culture are all challenges to virtual communication in the workplace.

 A final thought, when Alexander Graham Bell used his original modern technological creation for the first time, he was summoning the assistance of another human as he said, “Mr. Watson, come here. I need you.”  -- In my opinion, even with the phenomenal benefits of virtual communication in the workplace, at some point we will all need to summon our own Mr. Watson.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Is It Time For A Social Media Policy?

Thinking back to when I was a training instructor for a Michigan utility company, one of the tasks I had was monitoring the customer service representatives to make sure they were responding properly to inquiries and maintaining a pleasant and professional demeanor.  For the most part it was routine and each call was completed in less than five minutes.  On occasion, there would be a CSR that made personal calls and some were quite embarrassing for the ear to endure.  Of course there were policies against using the company telephone system for personal reasons, but it happened.  When it was discovered, the person would be reminded of the corporate policy.  There were never any violations involving the computers because back then, (I am a bit embarrassed to admit), computers were nothing more than a cathode ray tube with a black screen and amber letters and numbers, and no Internet!  Hard to believe, but it is true.  Fast forward to 2011 -- we have Internet gone wild with in your "facebook", swimming in "plenty of fish", shown on "YouTube"and cleaned up and connected on "Linked In".  I believe there are so many social networking sites that it defies the imagination.  Can people get carried away using social media in the workplace that is often such a part of life in general?  You bet!  We have all likely heard stories about people who have taken things a bit too far -- sometimes purposely, and sometimes unintentionally.  So, is it time for companies to add social media protocol to their policies and procedures manual?  You bet!  As many companies have discovered, social media can be used as an incredible tool for branding corporate image, promoting products, services, events, educating employees and the general public as well.  Therefore, rather construct a rigid policy with a list of what employees CAN NOT do using social media, consider the opposite approach.  Think about using the arsenal of the employee base to become an extension of the marketing department.  Perhaps consider beginning with engaging all employees in determining what is acceptable and what is not.  Identify those employees who are the most savvy and interested in becoming involved in the process,and create outlets for them to add value by using their skills and interests by creating employee blog sites with teams of employee bloggers, or create facebook pages to announce and promote community service activities.  Make the authorized use of social media a positive and encouraged activity that contributes to marketing goals and objectives.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Marketing Your Brand is a Team Sport

The leaves are beginning to turn, autumn is in the air – it is football season!  After several conversations with my son, who loves the game and is a great resource for sharing strategy, explaining plays, and answering my questions about what the referee is saying, I pondered which player is most valuable to the team.  Initially, I thought it must be the Quarterback; after all he is the one calling the plays.  My son kindly pointed out that the QB is only on the field with the offense and, “without the linemen, the QB would rarely be able to successfully pass or hand-off the ball, and without a receiver or a running back, the QB would not have a player to take the ball toward the end zone.”  Without a coach to teach, motivate, and inspire, many team members would find it nearly impossible to reach their potential as a player. Football really is a team sport. Perhaps that is one of the reasons it engenders such great camaraderie and generates emotional contagion.

It struck me that the game of football is a great metaphor for operating a corporate marketing division and camaraderie and emotional contagion would not be a bad thing to give marketing a boost.  Recently, I was asked by a client to help them create a unique industry brand for their company.  The company is small, and cannot afford a diversified marketing staff or full-time public relations professionals. Rather than claim I could create their brand and give them a turnkey package to promote it, I suggested, in my professional opinion, a better approach that could be implemented for any company serious about creating and marketing their brand.  It isn’t really complicated but it does require commitment.

First of all, recognize who you are as a company and create your own quick pitch mantra. Working with a consultant like me, or another talented professional can ease you through the process. Take the time to train each employee.  Start in the executive suite, if it exists, and don’t stop until everyone has been introduced to, and taught to recite the quick pitch mantra on cue.   Teach all employees to share the quick pitch whenever they have an opportunity, and help them to identify opportunities.  Some examples of opportunities could include informal meetings with friends, during participation with professional associations, or during volunteer activities with not-for-profit organizations, and of course, never over look the powerful impact of using social media. Executives should model behavior for other employees and work with them to create their own quick pitch for how their job ties into the success of the company. 
Secondly, identify subject matter experts across disciplines.  These SME’s will become the coaches for their teams and will be the point people for helping with internal information dissemination.
Thirdly, don’t stop at the training phase.  Everyone must be empowered to become a cheerleader!  Never let a week pass that does not include encouragement to everyone.  It can be a Monday morning inspirational email blast, an end of the week mass distributed voicemail for reaching a special goal, or thanks to stand out employees for random acts of kindness and support of others. Be sure to remember the preferred information reception needs of the entire employee base if it is intergenerational by using means and methods appropriate for the type of position, generational mix of employees and convenience.  Make it easy to communicate the message, easy to retrieve it, and easy to remember.
And finally, make sure there are plenty of hugs to go around.  That may sound corny, but making people aware that they are appreciated can be a tremendous boost to morale.  Happy, inspired employees are more productive and more likely to take the internal messages to the sources needed to brand the company image externally. 

Marketing to create corporate brand identity and product brand awareness is a team sport that requires all team members to work together and support each other.  Companies that recognize this are far more likely to experience harmony that will lead them to end zone where they will score better bottom lines.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Case Studies of Best Practices - Career Life Fit Programs

Annotation for Case Studies

The next four blog entries provide a review of four places of employment that have incorporated career life fit programs into their culture. I selected the four companies because each represents a different type of work environment. The first case features The MITRE Corporation, a global not-for-profit with locations in 60 countries. The second case presents the Detroit Chamber of Commerce, the largest chamber of commerce in the United States. The third case is the University of South Carolina, a large public educational institution and the fourth is a Florida area corporation called Tech Data, a global distributor of information technology, with over 90,000 customers and annual sales of over $21 million as of its last fiscal year.

The case studies for MITRE Corporation, The Detroit Chamber of Commerce and the University of South Carolina were compiled by the Sloan Work and Family Network, Boston College. The case study for Tech Data Corporation, is my independent work that involved contacting the company and interviewing people in the human resources department and employees who have accessed the resources available through the program.