September 2009 
Titles are Vital
Why Employees Crave Structure

Chances are, if you are responsible for keeping employees happy and productive in their positions, you probably give consideration to things like wages, benefits, bonus opportunities and vacation time.  These things are clearly important, however they are also costly.  Giving more of any of those things to employees, especially in tough economic times, can be nearly impossible. 

There are other ways, however, to keep employees engaged in their work, comfortable in their position, and loyal to their company.  Tell them WHO they are, WHAT they're expected to do, HOW they fit into the organization, and then evaluate their performance accordingly.

JOB TITLES - Defining WHO a person is within the organization with a descriptive, targeted, title gives them a sense of identity and a sense of how they fit in.  Careful selection and application of words like operator, clerk, administrator, supervisor, or manager tell the employee what level their position is, and what is likely to be expected of them. Don't make the mistake of calling an employee the manager of a department if they don't truly have managerial responsibilities. I've seen many Shipping/Receiving Managers who don't have any direct reports, don't oversee a budget, don't make decisions regarding necessary supplies, and don't have the authority to alter operational procedures.  They are NOT a manager. The incorrect application of the title will either lead to an over paid employee (management pay without management duties) OR will lead to difficulty in recruiting because the pay rate offered will not align with the title being advertised.

JOB DESCRIPTIONS - Defining WHAT the employee is expected to do is critical on many levels.  First, in order to hire the right person, it is essential to identify exactly what duties need to be performed. If this is not known, it is impossible to evaluate the fit between a potential candidate and the job itself.  An internet advertisement or job posting can be easily adapted from a well written job description. This will help attract the right kind of candidates in the first place. Once a person is hired, their activities cannot be properly supervised or managed if it is unclear as to what job they are actually performing.  Supervisors and managers should be provided with job descriptions for all of the individuals who report to them.  Finally, performance cannot be properly evaluated without a yardstick to measure against.  A well written job description provides that yardstick. Raises and bonuses should not be arbitrary responses to a recent 'good deed' but should be systematically determined based on job performance as compared to job requirements. This comparison should be done over the entire length of the review period, not just the last few weeks or months.

ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE - Employees need to know HOW they fit in and what goes on around them in the work place.  The more they know about everyone else's duties, the more they can feel secure that their job is important to the big picture and to the performance of the company overall.  In a small business environment, employees are often called upon to function in different roles at different times and to "wear more than one hat". By clearly defining these roles, the employee can more easily shift gears when asked to do so. He or she will gain a greater appreciation for everyone's unique specialty which builds a strong team focus as well as a sense of self worth.

Employees crave structure and as a business owner or manager, it is easy to provide this with just the few simple things described above.  Job Titles provide a sense of identity. Job Descriptions help an employee understand what people will rely on them for and whether they are doing a good job. Organizational Charts or a well defined reporting structure help employees understand how they fit in.  If your company is lacking in these areas, call us and we can help get you on track. 
Sandra Teague, SPHR
Advantage Employment, Inc.
Credit Checks - Necessary or a Legal Land Mine?

Bag of Money
In preparing to hire a new employee, it seems that the more information you have, the better.  However, conducting unnecessary credit checks or using information contained in the report incorrectly can lead to trouble.  Workforce.com in its recent article points out some areas of caution:

Although credit and criminal checks will remain relevant for some positions, widespread screening for broad job categories may not produce valid predictors of employee behavior or protection from negligent hiring lawsuits. In addition, screening carries its own risks. Higher numbers of rejected candidates and soaring unemployment rates quickly translate into a rise in discrimination lawsuits.

EEOC advisory guidance has always warned that employers should be cautious in using credit checks. "The EEOC wants the use of credit information to be job-related - in other words, consistent with business necessity." says Rod Fliegel, shareholder at Littler Mendelson. Credit information, properly assessed, can provide valid information about a job candidate. "However, employers must have some standard for how to evaluate it," Fliegel warns.

The effectiveness of credit and criminal checks in predicting employee behaviors is still a matter of debate. Research indicates that employee attitudes and turnover rates are better predictors for employee theft than negative credit reports.

For a link to the full article or an e-mailed copy, please contact Sandra Teague.
Employee Handbooks You Can Actually Read
Employee HandbookThe purpose of an Employee Handbook is to communicate company policies to all employees in written form.  The goal is that everyone knows what the rules are, and understands what procedures to follow in any and all employment situations.  The handbook should serve as a point of reference even to long term employees who either don't remember what they learned at their employee orientation, or who might not know what changes have been made to various policies since they started with the company.  Handbooks are a communication tool, and as such, need to be clear, concise, and easily understood by employees in the executive offices as well as employees on the shop floor. 

The Society for Human Resource Management emphasizes these points in their recent article called "A Lighter Touch for Handbooks - Handbooks should reflect your culture, not just the law."

Employee handbooks should serve as a guide for employees at all levels, and should not be written by lawyers for lawyers. Yet all too often, they are.

Overly legalistic language can make a handbook impenetrable to most employees and might wind up doing more harm than good when there is a legal challenge. It's all too easy for handbook provisions to seem heavy-handed or for handbook language to wind up unduly limiting the employer's discretion.

As the new Congress and president enact a host of laws at a breakneck pace, there is the danger of overly legalistic language being dumped into handbooks. Yes, handbooks will need to be changed in light of many new requirements, but HR professionals will have to be on guard to ensure handbooks still set the right tone and reflect the corporate culture.

The opening pages should be welcoming, encourage employee feedback and build team spirit. Keep handbook language as positive as possible. Unless the employer is careful, the handbook can sprawl into an endless list of "don'ts," reinforcing an "us vs. them" mentality that too often arises in employer-employee relations.

Employers need to have an employee handbook. If you already have a handbook and plan on doing updates yourself, e-mail us for a copy of the full article.  If you would rather have some help creating or modifying your handbook, let us know and we would welcome the opportunity to talk about it. Contact Sandra Teague by e-mail or at the phone number listed above.
How Advantage Employment Saves your Company Money:
  • Eliminate the internal cost of an HR administrator and outsource those duties for less.
  • Stop allocating high level executive time to handle sensitive or confidential HR issues. Focus on your business instead.
  • Stop paying an outside payroll provider steep rates for minimal do-it-yourself service.
  • Don't lose a protestable unemployment claim. Each person who gets unemployment benefits who shouldn't can cost your company $4K to $6K in increased taxes each year.
  • Don't let workers comp claims malinger. Improper case management and lack of a return-to-work plan will increase the cost of the claim and increase your mod.
  • Reduce your exposure to dangerous lawsuits by enlisting the help of HR professionals. Show your employees that policies are sound, and prevent trouble makers from taking advantage of a loosely run organization.
  • Reduce turnover in your staff by maximizing their understanding and utilization of the employee benefits that you already provide to them.
  • Increase employee loyalty by providing them a resource to solve any employment question or problem.
Things You Should Know
Credit Checks - Necessary or Legal Land Mine?
Employee Handbooks you can actually read

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205 E. Butterfield Road, #445
Elmhurst, IL 60126
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