Author: Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer's size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

Want To Know What I Think?

Another update from the Jungle…

Sam always gets excited in January. Well, maybe not excited, but he briefly becomes animated and shakes off the fog in which he usually works. Sam gets excited about completing the annual employee satisfaction survey.

His company does their annual employee satisfaction survey in January. They used to do the survey in November but eventually concluded that the timing was awful. By November, employees had completed annual open enrollment in the group health plan and had received their annual performance reviews.

The survey became a forum for complaining bitterly about the rising cost of the health plan’s payroll deductions. Employees who didn’t receive pay raises complained bitterly of biased bosses, lousy working conditions and a lack of parking spaces. So the CEO made an executive decision to move the survey to January.

Sam doesn’t care when the employee satisfaction survey is administered because it’s all a game to him. Outwardly conforming, inside he’s a subversive weasel. He does an informal survey of his co-workers to find out what they are most disgruntled about and then advocates for what they hate in the survey.

Last year, Sam said that the CEO’s latest management fad initiative was the most brilliant change the company had ever tried. Sam’s co-workers hated the initiative which eventually flopped due to foot-dragging. The year before, Sam voted in favor of a company picnic knowing his co-workers weren’t enthusiastic and then was “sick” the day of the picnic.

Sam wasn’t always a devious weasel. Once upon a time, he was happy to give his honest opinion to anyone crazy enough to ask him. Then a former boss oh-so-coincidentally repeated verbatim all the unflattering survey comments during a staff meeting. Sam stopped believing that the survey is anonymous.

How should HR respond to employee distrust of the survey?

  1. HR can suggest that the company stop administering employee satisfaction surveys since the survey could make employees feel like lab rats in an experiment.
  2. HR can continue the status quo and set up a department-wide betting pool about the survey results.
  3. HR can suggest outsourcing the survey to a third party vendor so that no one at the company sees raw data and anonymity is preserved.

Employers are increasing the number of surveys administered each year in the hopes of improving employee engagement. While surveys can be helpful, it’s critical that employers promote trust between management and employees by (1) guaranteeing anonymity in the survey response and (2) making objective, positive changes based on the survey results.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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What’s Her Excuse This Time?

Another update from the Jungle…

Linda shows up late at least twice a week. She always has a story to explain why she can’t get to work on time. The kids got up late, missed the bus, and she had to drive them to school. The parakeet was sick. The dog escaped from the backyard, and Linda chased him for half an hour before catching him.

Linda’s manager, Jack, is fed up with the excuses. Before Christmas, he uncorked some colorful language to suggest that Linda should set her alarm an hour earlier so that she could get her act together to get herself to work on time.

Jack told Becky, the HR manager, that if this were a sports league, Linda would be traded to a bush league team if he could find one stupid enough to take her. He wants to fire Linda in hopes it will improve the morale of his department. Becky sighs inwardly and reminds him of the progressive discipline policy.

It’s January, that non-festive season of arctic cold, snow, sleet, ice and general misery. Last night, the latest North Pole blast arrived from Canada and dumped several inches of snow on the town. Jack made it to work because he’s got four-wheel drive and he’s a former Marine who refuses to surrender to anything unless directly ordered to do so.

He arrives at work a few minutes late and begins checking on the status of his subordinates. Cindy left him a voicemail saying her hilly street is impassable. Since she never misses a day, Jack believes her. Rob’s message says he’ll be there as soon as the tow truck pulls his pickup truck out of the ditch. The next voicemail is from Linda. She can’t get to work because school is closed and she doesn’t have a sitter for her kids.

Jack slams down the phone and digs out the already-prepared termination paperwork. He signs and dates the form and then marches down the hall to Becky’s office.

What should Becky do next?

  1. She can suggest that Jack go work out at the on-site gym for a couple of hours until he gets over his anger.
  2. She can process the termination because she’s tired of dealing with the saga of Linda and Jack.
  3. She can point out that Linda actually has a “good” excuse this time and should be given one more chance.

At this time of year, the weather can interrupt the best intentions of employees.  As a result, the weather should be included as a factor when deciding if termination of employment is appropriate.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Nobody Understands Me

Another update from the Jungle…..

Susie returns from her holiday break feeling wonderful. Her sister hosted Christmas dinner so Susie avoided days of frantic cleaning at home. Then she got extra sleep because last week her kids were staying with her ex and wrecking his new girlfriend’s place. Life is good.

She pulls into the parking lot at work mentally reviewing all she has to accomplish today. She parks in her usual slot and reaches for her bag on the rider’s seat. As she grabs the door handle, she freezes. She spots danger ahead!

It’s Miranda, a morose co-worker whose life resembles the most depressing country music song ever. Miranda rehashed her D-I-V-O-R-C-E so many times unkind co-workers suggested that her husband bailed in self-defense.  Another time, Miranda’s dog ate some chocolate and made an emergency visit to the vet’s office. Miranda wandered around the office hysterically predicting that her dog would die and then complained about the vet bills.

Susie works in a different section of the company and made the mistake of being polite to Miranda several months ago when they met in the break room. Susie is an optimist who is friendly to everyone, at least the first time she meets them.

Unfortunately, Miranda was starved for an audience and latched on to Susie. Before Susie had poured a cup of coffee, Miranda had launched into a dramatic account of the elder abuse inflicted on her mother at the nursing home. Susie’s suggestion that speaking politely to the nursing home staff might be better than screaming was summarily rejected by Miranda.

That’s how it’s gone ever since. Miranda’s sister is a self-centered person who refuses to help with their mother. Miranda’s daughter has a nose ring, orange hair, and a worthless boyfriend. Miranda tragically soldiers on, despite the world being against her.

What options does Susie have to avoid talking to Miranda this morning?

  1. She can stay in her car and leave a voicemail message for her boss saying she is too sick to come to work.
  2. She can sneak into the office and hide from Miranda like all the other employees.
  3. She can boldly but politely excuse herself if Miranda tries to talk to her.

Some employees are morose because they are temporarily overwhelmed by the problems in their lives.  These employees may be directed to the company’s employee assistance program (EAP) by their manager or HR. However, some employees appear to enjoy chaotic lives and don’t want to change. In these cases, damage control is necessary to avoid tanking the morale of their co-workers.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Did You Hear What They Said?

Another update from the Jungle…..

Peter and Paula have worked together for years and are best friends at work. Their friendship grew during the tough years, like taking pay cuts during the recession and working past midnight on New Year’s Eve to salvage the contract with a major client.

They’ve got each other’s backs. Paula covered for Peter when his drinking temporarily got the better of him. Peter lied to their boss about Paula’s frequent absences when she was devastated by the death of her cat. Co-workers rely on them for everything from problem solving to boosting morale. But there is a downside to Peter and Paula’s morale-boosting.

They boost morale by joking and clowning around which makes everyone laugh until it all slides over the invisible line into bad taste. The jokes are sometimes risqué and occasionally sleazy. The raunchier comments are aimed at each other, which is why co-workers haven’t complained. If Peter and Paula aren’t offended by their trash talking, why should others take offense?

The truth is that some of the other women make off color comments too. A few enjoy mild flirtations with Peter without any intention of going beyond words. It’s all a way to relieve the tedium of the daily routine.

But workplaces are constantly evolving as new workers are hired. The new employees don’t understand what Peter and Paula have done for the company which allows them to be occasionally sleazy and off color. Diane and Jane agree that Paula is a cheap tramp who sets back women’s equality every time she speaks. They also agree that Peter is a jerk.

Inevitably, a complaint about sexual harassment slides onto the desk of Sue, the HR manager. She’s heard a spate of these complaints lately and is feeling a bit burned out on the topic. But she’s also been warning Peter and Paula for years that they are skating on thin ice as far as the company’s HR policies are concerned. Now that an official complaint has been filed, Sue calls Peter and Paula to her office.

What options does Sue have?

  1. She can slap the taste out the mouths of Peter and Paula for ignoring her previous verbal warnings.
  2. She can recommend that one of them be transferred to a different department even though that will reduce efficiency in their current department.
  3. She can tell Peter and Paula to save their trash talking for after hours.

Workplace expectations are evolving rapidly regarding sexual harassment and what will be tolerated. Employers should take sexual harassment complaints seriously but not over-react.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Join the HR Compliance Jungle today. Click here!

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Don’t Anyone Touch Anyone!

Another update from the Jungle…..

ABC Corp always seems to catch the latest trends late, thinks Karen. She’s the HR manager for her company and she’s watched for years as the news headlines play out at the office. Now she’s seeing an uptick in sexual harassment claims.

This morning before Karen could finish her first Diet Coke, Vanessa stopped by to complain that Hank had touched her inappropriately. Inappropriately how, asks Karen. Vanessa says that last week Hank patted her on the butt and since then he’s been looking at her in a suggestive way.

Karen sighs inwardly. Before the company switched to electronic records, Karen devoted a large, four-drawer file cabinet to Vanessa and Hank. Vanessa is always complaining about something. Hank has a reputation for saying things that others would leave unsaid often being a little too “friendly” with his hands.

Karen fortifies herself with a second Diet Coke and begins calling in Vanessa’s co-workers to find witnesses. Dorothy says she didn’t see any inappropriate touching but admits that she dislikes Vanessa and Hank and avoids them as if they have the plague. Amanda says that she dances a highland jig to stay out of range of Hank but generally considers him harmless.

Sue shrugs and says that Hank has patted her on the rear many times. When a project is successful, Hank often pats people on the back or the butt. She dismisses it because she thinks he’s just acting like the jock he was. When Sue tires of it, she kicks Hank in the shins, as she did with her older brothers when they were obnoxious. Dan and Joanne confirm Sue’s interpretation of Hank’s hands-on approach to thanking co-workers for a job well done.

Karen sighs deeply and reaches for another Diet Coke before she calls in Vanessa. She tells Vanessa that she believes Hank used poor judgment but it is unlikely that a claim of sexual harassment can be proved. She encourages Vanessa to tell Hank immediately to not touch her if he again pats her on the rear.

What other options does Karen have?

  1. She can institute a new HR policy that says no employee may touch another employee during business hours.
  2. She can encourage Vanessa to join a nudist colony to overcome her sensitivity about the human body.
  3. She can advise Hank to be less “friendly” since not everyone finds his behavior innocuous.

Context is so important. What one person may find offensive another may not. It’s important to take sexual harassment complaints seriously but to not over-react.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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3 Revisions For Your Sexual Harassment Policy

Another update from the Jungle…..

It’s amazing how quickly our social expectations are evolving on the topic of sexual harassment. Not so long ago, off color comments, body groping and other objectionable behavior was tolerated, particularly when committed by powerful people. All that is changing and employers need to adapt. Here are three suggested revisions for employers reviewing their sexual harassment policy and training.

Managerial Support

Every employer I worked for insisted on annual sexual harassment training for the staff. But most managers never showed up for the training or left early. That’s unfortunate, since the most common form of sexual harassment is still male bosses harassing women subordinates.

But accusing the boss of inappropriate behavior is the fastest path to ruining a woman’s career. That’s why Harvey Weinstein wasn’t publicly accused of sexual harassment until after he lost his status as a Hollywood power broker. Employers can avoid a Weinstein moment by requiring managers to participate in training and to set the example on what behavior is acceptable.

Realistic Training

One employer I worked for used the same training video year after year until employees stood in front of the screen, miming the actors and repeating the dialogue. The scenarios were blindingly obvious, like the woman who gets fired after refusing to date her boss. Everyone got their ticket punched for the yearly training and no one learned anything.

Training materials must include realistic scenarios of everyday occurrences. Training must also acknowledge that deciding what is harassment can be subjective. I once worked with a man who always spoke in double entendres. Most the women in the office claimed that they were outraged, but they continued flirting with him. Was he harassing them or not? That’s a much more realistic scenario than the boss dating his secretary cliché.

Clear Complaint Process

Deciding whether to complain begins with actually reading the relevant section of the employee handbook. The relevant section is usually buried in a long paragraph at the end of the anti-harassment policy section of the handbook. It may not be clear whether the complaint process applies to other situations, including the separate sexual harassment policy.

Assuming the harassed employee decides to make a complaint, she (or he) will immediately have two fears. What if the process requires reporting to your supervisor and that’s the harasser? How does the person complaining avoid retaliation? To be effective, the complaint process should be easy to read, have alternative paths for reporting a complaint, and ensure confidentiality as much as possible.

Our society is evolving.  Employers need to move quickly to adapt.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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It’s Got To Be Perfect

Another update from the Jungle…..

It’s a week before Thanksgiving, and Abigail feels overwhelmed and deeply stressed. Between her job and her home life, the demands on her time make her want to run away to a Caribbean island and forget it all with lots of rum.

It all started when her brothers informed her that she would be happy to host the family gathering. As part of the festive occasion, their mother will be in residence for a week. Abigail loves her mom, but the thought of a week living in the same house makes her blood run cold. Mom will be offering “advice” on everything from how to arrange the Pilgrim centerpiece to the best way to carve the turkey.

To prepare for the arrival of Mom and the family, Abigail engages in a frenzy of cleaning each evening after work. She ropes in her husband to help her clean. He grumbles about the last time they hosted the family when his TV remote was broken and his man cave was invaded by munchkins who spilled Kool-Aid on the carpet.

Abigail reminds him that it was his side of the family last time and opens another bottle of red wine. She figures that at the rate of one room and a bottle or three of wine per night, everything will be ready by Thanksgiving.

At work, it’s hard to concentrate. The red wine is catching up with her. Today, she’s sitting in a staff meeting ignoring the reports of co-workers and waiting for it to end so she can get back to her to-do lists. Rick, her supervisor, finally wraps up the meeting by asking if there are any questions. People push their chairs back, ready to run.

Everyone is rising from their chairs when Myra says she has a quick question. Everyone settles back in their seats glaring at Myra. Myra wants to clarify her role in a project due in late January. Abigail is infuriated. That’s two whole months away, after the holidays. Abigail thinks about all the things she needs to get done before next Thursday. It’s all too much.

What are Abigail’s options?

  1. She can beat Myra senseless with the remaining cheese Danish.
  2. She can fall on the floor and roll around pretending to have a seizure in hopes that will end the meeting.
  3. She can take a deep breath and remember that perfection is unattainable and so stressing about the holidays is a waste of time.

We’ve all been there. Take a break from trying to achieve perfection and have a fun holiday.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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3 HR Practices to Consider on Veteran’s Day

Another update from the Jungle…..

This Saturday, November 11th, we will celebrate Veteran’s Day. This national holiday originated after World War I to commemorate the war which officially ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Since then, the holiday has expanded to commemorate all military service personnel in our country’s history.

In recent years, the solemnity of the occasion has been obscured by a tendency to label every military person as a “hero.” But a “hero” is an idealization. So labeling all military personnel as “heroes” can make it more difficult for these individuals to admit they need help with mental health issues arising from their days in the service.

For almost two decades, our all-volunteer military has cycled repeatedly through war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as many other parts of the world. The length of the wars means that they have repeatedly switched between combat and peace time deployments. This cycle has greatly increased mental health strains on active duty individuals, veterans and their families. Those issues don’t go away when an individual leaves the military for civilian life.

Employers who hire veterans can ease the transition with these 3 HR practices.

  1. Support mental health programs for employees. Veterans (and other employees) often avoid treatment out of fear that they will be unfairly stigmatized as “crazy.” More employees will seek help if senior management actively supports use of an employee assistance program (EAP) and the mental health benefits covered in most health insurance policies.
  2. Ensure that anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and anti-bullying policies are enforced with the goal of limiting the potential for workplace violence. Employees dealing with mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may be more likely to react inappropriately when facing a perceived threat. (Not all veterans develop PTSD and not all PTSD sufferers are veterans. Domestic violence survivors and residents of high-crime neighborhoods often have PTSD.)
  3. Review how your company handles Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requests for accommodations.  Some employees may function better in a quiet, secluded corner rather than in crowded, noisy cubicles. Other employees may flourish if they can sometimes work remotely. A flexible approach is more likely to ensure your company keeps good employees, including veterans.

This Veteran’s Day, let’s honor our veterans by treating them like the veterans of former wars were treated: men and women who did their duty and then returned to peace-time employment. Help them transition to civilian employment with enlightened practices for handling mental health issues. It will be good for all employees.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Go Back To Your Cave

Another update from the Jungle….

Once upon a time, at a company not so different from its competitors, a new employee was hired. Addison was bright, cheerful and had graduated from college near the top of her class. She believed that hard work was all she needed to advance her career.

As with every fairy-tale, an evil troglodyte lurked in a cubicle down the hall. His name was Larry. He joined the company many years ago and never advanced beyond cubicle world. Beneath a façade of pleasant chitchat lurks a very angry employee.

Addison bumps into Larry in the break room as she tries to figure out how to use the single cup coffee maker. Larry helps her while sarcastically commenting about how good life was when they still had the Mr. Coffee machine. Addison finds his acidic commentary mildly amusing and thinks he might be a friend.

Alas for the fair maid. At the next staff meeting, Larry questions the decision of Wanda, the manager, to designate Addison as the leader on a new project. Larry privately thinks he should be leading the team based on his seniority. Addison seals her fate by saying she’d be happy to have his help. Wanda shrugs and agrees. She’s a manager, not a knight in shining armor trying to rescue a fair maid, especially one too stupid to sniff out danger.

Addison’s first hint that she is not going to live happily ever after happens at her first team meeting. Larry interrupts repeatedly with helpful suggestions, all of which she rejects. During the next week, Larry visits each team member to express his concerns about the imminent failure of the project due to Addison’s inexperience.

Wanda hears via the grapevine that the project is tanking so she calls Addison in for a status report. Larry sees Addison walking down the hallway towards Wanda’s office. Quick as a flash he scampers down the hallway, pushes past her, and turns in the doorway to Wanda’s office to smirk before slamming the door in Addison’s face.

When Addison finally meets with Wanda, Larry’s poisonous comments have taken effect. Wanda says she’s worried about progress and needs to replace Addison with an older, more experienced worker.

What should Addison do next?

  1. She can loudly proclaim that Larry the troglodyte has sabotaged her career and begin crying.
  2. She can plot a suitable revenge against Larry, but he’s had years more experience at this sort of backstabbing.
  3. She can search for a mentor to help her learn how to fight troglodytes in the future.

In the actual situation, the new employee gave up believing in fairy-tales, resigned and joined a competitor, feeling older and slightly wiser. Avoid this fairy-tale by implementing effective HR policies.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Stop Him Before He Talks!

Another update from the Jungle….

Jack was an honors student in graduate school and he’s possibly the smartest person ever hired by his company. On paper he looks fantastic. That’s why his boss, Mitch, was so anxious to hire him. Acting in haste means that Mitch is now regretting at his leisure.

Jack is actually a pretty decent person, but he is a socially inept basket case. He misses every nuance of human behavior. By the time he understands a joke, everyone else has stopped laughing.

At his first staff meeting, Jack sits staring at his co-workers. At the second staff meeting, when Mitch calls on him, Jack describes a magazine article he is reading about a new management theory. Mitch’s jaw drops. His question was about the draft budget for the following year. Worse is to come.

Mitch’s staff is invited to join the semi-annual client appreciation event. Jack shows up early before the caterer has finished setting out the food and drinks. He explains that he wanted to be on time. He gobbles up food as if it’s his last meal for a week.

After banishing his hunger, Jack stands in a corner near the refreshments table and stares at everyone as they arrive, much as a zoo keeper might study an exotic animal. Anne, senior vice president of procurement for a key client, smiles at Jack while waiting for her drink and makes the mistake of engaging him in conversation.

Fifteen minutes later, Mitch spots Anne sidling away from Jack, her face frozen in a smile. He gallops across the room. Jack is describing the mating habits of sperm whales, based on a National Geographic show he’d watched last night on TV. Mitch is aghast. He kicks Jack in the shin and shoulders him aside, preparatory to ushering Anne away from the scene of the crime.

The next morning, Mitch invites Jack in for a quiet conversation on appropriate small talk during a client shindig.  Jack is hurt; he thought he was being friendly.  Mitch stares at him, helplessly.

What are Mitch’s options?

  1. He can join Jack’s co-workers in teasing Jack for his social awkwardness.
  2. He can build a reality show around Jack and sell the concept to a cable TV channel.
  3. He can try to teach basic social skills to Jack while limiting his contact with real people, like clients.

In the actual situation, the inept employee was a good employee in all other respects, so co-workers took turns looking after him at client events. Clients eventually grew used to the employee.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Join the HR Compliance Jungle today. Click here!

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