The same technology that makes your small business work can be a threat in the hands of your employees. Smart phones carry so much power and utility, it is as if they have a computer in their pocket. Their distraction is inevitable.
Prohibit smart phones?
When you prohibit smart phones, you invite what Psychology Professor Larry Rosen diagnoses as “iDisorder.” This fear of missing out produces stress, insomnia, and the compulsive need to check into social media to confirm their status. Smart phone users cannot go long without confirming what others think of what they do or say. That is the whole rationale for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
To avoid the symptoms or deeper aggravation, smart phone users apparently consume 12 hours of information each day, exchange thousands of texts each month, and post hundreds of messages a week.
What can a small business owner do?
Managers can absolutely ban smart phones in certain labor environments, such as food processing, laboratory research, and high-risk workplaces. However, small businesses present different challenges. Here are a few examples of things you can do.
- Meet with employees to discuss the problem and seek their buy-in to a solution. You need to communicate how phone usage disturbs performance efficiency. Show how it affects quality and customer satisfaction. Listen to their concerns about monitoring family, doing their banking, or keeping current on certain issues. Discuss possible solutions, such as time limitations, use at breaks, or use outside of business.
- Install an information system with limited access or no access to the internet. In a system something like parental control, install a business network that will not reach the web for shopping, personal emails, and browsing. You can build in exceptions for some employees in purchasing or marketing. You can build proprietary operations, handling, and purchasing software. You can outsource administrative needs to HRIS and accounting systems.
- Prohibition is counter-productive. There is no win in requiring employees to leave their smart phones at the reception desk. It is also naïve to think they will not be used if employees are permitted to carry them. So, you have to seek some compromise that does not surrender productivity, quality, and customer satisfaction.
- Permit tech opportunities. Contemporary workers often have trouble focusing attentively for long periods. When they are asked to go without networking, texting, or emailing, Professor Rosen noted that they exhibit negative symptoms like anxiety, anger, headaches, and addictive behaviors. Enabling controlled iBreaks at specific times may restore their psychological balance and energy flow.
- Fair is imaginary. If you publish a rule, employees demand that it be applied across the board. They become vocally upset when they see a manager or others apparently breaking the rules. When you do reach some consensus on smart phone usage, everyone must accept that there may be certain staff, like the salespeople, who have permission to use their phones for business purposes.
- Reserve a space for smart phone users. If space permits, identify a tech spot where they can take their 3-5 minute tech breaks. This takes them out of the process and operations area, so they do not distract others. It also reminds them they can be observed.
You cannot re-purpose millennial workers. Personal technology has brought about a fundamental psychological shift in the way people think, learn, and behave. Small business owners have to come to some compromise with the facts of tech life. What you want is to make technology work in support of your interests and business. As the small business owner, you are also its manager. What you can do is model behavior for them. You can communicate expectations, and you can affect performance.
Read more here, Governing Social Media in the Workplace…
Small business owners are afraid to fire people. They often find it difficult personally and emotionally. Typically, they overthink it and make it even more stressful. The fact is that employees usually fire themselves. If you set aside the employee who deserves to be terminated for cause – violence, drunkenness, theft, harassment, and so on, small business owners worry too much about how to know it is time to fire that employee who simply has no future.
You will find that behavior issues do not get better over time. Attendance or tardiness, for example, are character habits that you are not likely to change. You can counsel, warn, and write them up, but sooner than later you have to look what it is at stake.
- Personnel policies on verbal and written warnings bring structure and good will to a business with a large staff. Unfortunately, most employees with behavior issues will improve over the short-term only.
- The time it takes for employee development is often a luxury you cannot afford. The employee termination will leave you in need of a pair of hands, so recruit the replacement, and once the candidate is in the pipeline, terminate the problematic employee.
You can often fix performance issues. Considering the options, it is worth the effort.
- Try to identify weakness in a skill or ability early. For example, the employee may have trouble with your multi-line phone system, operating an office machine, completing Excel spreadsheets, or using a cloud application. You need to determine the time and method of re-training the employee out of the difficulty.
- If the ability issue affects your product or service, it could be an information problem, and this you have to fix promptly and fully.
- You cannot support the continuation of an employee whose weakness jeopardizes you and your business. For example, if an employee grossly misrepresents the product, overstates the delivery date, or underprices a service, you need to determine how soon this ability issue can be corrected and then act immediately to fix it.
Small business or large, you cannot act from an illegal motive like racial or age discrimination. However, employers do have rights to protect their businesses. With an “employment at-will” agreement, you can terminate employees at any time for any reason, with or without cause, with or without explanation. So, if you have made a bad hire, eliminate the problem peremptorily and re-think your hiring process.
As a small business owner, you can pretty much terminate employees when you need to. On the other hand, you do not want to be careless or cavalier. Have your documentation in order to defend the business against unfounded charges from unemployment insurance or workers’ compensation claims. With no deep pockets to sue and, assuming you handle the termination with empathy, you should act decisively rather than wait when it’s time to fire.
The 5th Circuit Court has ruled on another human resources lawsuit that should never have reached court. Pauline G. Feist – and get this – an Assistant Attorney General sued her employer – would you believe – the Office of the Attorney General in the Louisiana Department of Justice (LDOJ). What could possibly explain the LDOJ’s reluctance to settle or arbitrate?
Feist v. Louisiana, 5th Cir., No. 12-31065 (Sept. 16, 2013)
Ms. Feist has disabling osteoarthritis of the knee. Her employer was fully aware. She never claimed that the disabling condition interfered with her ability to perform the essential functions of her position, nor did she request accommodation to enable the performance of her job under Americans with Disabilities (ADA).
What Attorney Feist did do was ask that the LDOJ provide her with a free onsite-parking space to accommodate her difficulty. In short, she did not claim the problematic knee interfered with her ability to do her work but that it was a burden to reach her work location from the available parking. (Her claim that she was dismissed in retaliation is another story.)
A lower court decision favoring the LODJ was overturned by the Louisiana 5th Circuit Court in the plaintiff’s favor. The result makes good sense.
- The court found that the ADA itself allowed that a reasonable accommodation might include “making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” In light of this, the court ruled that providing onsite parking would presumably make Feist’s workplace “readily accessible to and usable” for her. And, so it might, therefore, provide a reasonable accommodation.
- In addition, the court confirmed that the ADA’s implementing regulations pictured “a modification that enables an individual to perform the essential functions of a position.” However, the court pointed out two other criteria and to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance that “providing reserved parking spaces,” indeed, may provide a reasonable accommodation under some circumstances.
- The court, thus, held that the plaintiff did not have to link her need for the parking accommodation with her need for accommodation at her job.
What might have been solved with a compassionate, empathetic employer’s accommodation has implications for other employment issues. The court repeatedly cautioned that this decision is influenced by the specific circumstances of this case. But, employers might gear up for some fall out.
Look at it more simply. Someone with a desk job may require no accommodation to perform the essential functions of his/her job. But, s/he may require reasonable accommodation in the restroom, building access, or parking. The court ruling says the ADA showed no intent to sever the accommodations or to apply one accommodation to all.
Employers may now need to look more closely at disabilities that begin or end at the front door. For example, a machinist with disabling back or knee problems may need accommodation to sit comfortably at his/her machine, but it does not follow that the employee requires accommodation in entering or exiting the shop floor.
It seems, on the surface, to require the employer to be open-minded and to collaborate with the employee in resolving the issue. Between the two of them, they can surely secure the necessary medical diagnosis and forms to accommodate constructively the individual needs.
Employee lawsuits are omnipresent, and the possibility of litigation is very real, even in situations where no harm was intended. A professional employer organization can provide you with certified HR consultants and legal advisers to reduce your liability and navigate the complex nuances of discrimination laws.
The fact that many new small businesses fail makes you wonder what is wrong with the start-up. So excited about their innovative idea, so passionate about making the business work, so energized by the promise of profits, too many otherwise successful entrepreneurs stumble over the basics. You need to take significant time - before you open - visualizing and structuring the first year in business. Below are 6 tips to start your thinking!1. Board of Advisors
Form a Board of Advisors, a sort of brain trust that will help you with their expertise in entrepreneurship. Appoint a lawyer, CPA, banker, Human Resources professional, and so on. Buy them lunch once a quarter, and seek their input on the reports you have given them ahead of time. 2. Business Plan
There are two business plans: the one you prepare for lenders and the one that directs your future.
- The Business Plan you write for investors is a visual description of the business, a summary of its purpose, financial position, and strategy to achieve goals. It is broad and persuasive. It is also very horizontal and incremental in the way it rolls out.
- Your Strategic Business Plan is different. It is layered and more dynamic. It understands that a start-up is an electric and diversified experience. Challenges and opportunities come at you from all directions, and demands pull you apart.
The Strategic Business Plan integrates operations, sales, and cash flow. It anticipates costs, human issues, and supply chain needs. It learns that things are more volatile than horizontal and tries to mark incremental metrics that warn and reward. 3. Small Debt or None
Debt is not good, no matter how small. If you have to borrow money to start your business, keep it small. It helps to remind yourself that you are creating a SMALL business. You cannot act like a mid-sized or large one even if there is some success at the start. You are a SMALL business until your success drives you to a new organizational level. And, remember that success is always reduced by debt.4. Unique Sales Proposition
You cannot compete short-term or long unless you have a competitive edge. And, to have the competitive edge, you need to identify your Unique Sales Proposition and communicate it effectively. If you do not have an edge going into business, it will not come later. If you are making a product or performing a service, your success depends on how clearly you have identified and defined what it is that you do and how it is different and/or better than the competition. 5. Market Content
Content marketing refers to the use of media – including social media – to create an easily accessible presence. If you run a florist shop or restaurant, you want to be seen on social media sites and available on mobile devices. If you run a virtual business or service, you need online content to pull in your customers. Online content has replaced old-school flyers and print advertising.6. People Factors
You have too much to do to find yourself buried in people problems - and that includes the problems that follow hiring family members. If you must hire, consider outsourcing the recruiting. Better yet, before you even open your doors, look into the advantages of co-employment with a Professional Employer Organization
. They will process your payroll, recruit, obtain worker’s comp, and secure benefits. This allows you to return your attention back to your strategic plan. 6 Hot Tips do not cover all the potential issues an entrepreneur needs to manage. Different products, services, and markets complicate the planning, but these six are a place to start.
Women owned businesses have become their own economic sector. There are 8 million of them generating $1.3 trillion in revenue. They employ almost 8 million people and account for 35% of all businesses. Such excitement in numbers is supported by research in the SBA Office of Woman Owned Business
, The National Association of Woman Business Owners (NAWBO
), and Forbes. Job Makers
According to the National Women’s Business Council
, women owned businesses employ 23 million workers or 16% of the total US workforce. And, they will be the source of more than 33% of the 15 million jobs the Department of Labor predicts through 2018. The same studies indicate the women owned workplace will be more diverse, inclusive, and collaborative.What They Do
Women are less likely to stumble into business. Most women business owners are college graduates who have approached their business opportunity with some expertise and structured planning under their belts. They are sharp enough to focus on capitalizing on and bringing something new to worlds of healthcare, retail businesses, virtual work, and women-oriented services where they have some affinity. How They Do It
Evidence shows that men plan less and spend more in business start-ups. Women spend more time on organization, produce earlier revenues, and create positive working environments. They struggle to balance life and work, and they think it important to extend the balance to others. They are likely to pay and benefit employees better, and they motivate employees emotionally and psychologically.
Women take fewer risks than men take in business and are more reluctant to purchase an up and running business. In addition, they prove better at customer retention because their customer relationships are more direct and personal. They are better at differentiating their strategic and unique business proposition. And, they network in a more shared and less exploitive way. What’s Their Future?
The future of women owned businesses is strong. Because they are more likely to co-exist with competitors, they do not burn out with slash and burn competition. They will seek and use the advice of their peers and expert consultants. They will listen to their employees in a no-fear environment and integrate their feedback.
It may be profiling to site that women business owners are likely to have a wider, deeper, and longer-lived vision. They write better – often exhaustive - business plans and invest themselves emotionally. They think more about security, their employees, and their retirement than they do about trophies and toys.What Do They Want?
Women seek support and financial attention. The SBA Women’s Advocacy, National Association of Women Business Owners, and Count-Me-In
are just a few of the hugely supportive information centers that support women.
Women are sharp at recognizing values in outsourcing; they listen well to prudent planning, and they collaborate well with vendors. They are becoming expert at running tight and efficient ships. At this, they will continue to lead the economy.
How long do you want to be a temp? How long was it part of your plan? Chances are you have been a temp more than once. You may have even bagged in a supermarket or worked the counter in a fast food place. But, if you think back, it never crossed your mind it was possible to become a permanent employee. The job paid a few necessary expenses but never gave you benefits nor security.
Still, there comes a time when you may be in the career you want – business, healthcare, retail – just not on a full-time permanent basis. For whatever reason, your employer was only placing temporary workers, and you saw it as a way to get your foot in the door.
What You Don’t See
Some companies are concerned about the economy at the time, and their future in that economy. They need workers but do not want to take on the cost of full-time employees and the labor and cost burden of their benefits.
Companies actually can save money on temporary employees because the agency does not have to pay benefits. If companies pay the agency the hourly rate for that job at that company, the agency pays you less than the hourly wage. In the end, the company has to decide if it costs less to continue you as a temp or if it is worth bringing your demonstrated ability on board as a full-timer.
Companies may be pressed by their budget, but they are not indifferent to employee needs – temp or perm.
- Simply ASK! Let the boss know you like what you see and you want to join permanently. Once you join as a temp, set a date, perhaps two months into the job, on which you will ask for employment. Do not press or seem over anxious, but do the same thing in about another three weeks. If you see yourself going into six months as a temp, you may want to begin another job search.
- Do Your Best! While a temporary employee, you will be observed for basic work behaviors: attendance, timeliness, ability to follow directions and to complete tasks, and so on. Employers want to see work ethic because they know they can train you.
- Enjoy the Chance! Temp employment allows you to determine if this career and this workplace fit your plans. So, as long as your status is temporary, take advantage of the situation. Learn everything you can and be first in line to learn more. It will give you a leg-up on your resume.
- Fix What’s Broke! Given the opportunity, identify something that needs a fix and that you can repair. Then fix it, and let them see what you have done. This differentiates you from the other temps in the running.
- Network! Let the supervisor - and just about anyone you meet – know that you are happy there and would like to stay.
What you need to do is show that you are the one they have been looking for. Show that you are the candidate who will add value to the business. More important, because you showed them your value, their risk in hiring you is minimized.
Three people died as the result of murder in the workplace in the time it took to write this.OSHA’s numbers from 2012 report:
- 767 workers died because of violence and other injuries, including 463 homicides and 225 suicides.
- Shootings were the most frequent manner of death in both homicides (81%) and suicides (48 %).
- Of the 338 fatal work injuries involving female workers, 29% involved homicides.
Homicide remains one of the leading work-related cause of death in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics also stated that homicide was the #1 cause of death for females in their workplace, or 42% of all workplace fatalities.
Whether in an elementary school in Connecticut, a military base in Texas, or a storage company in Orlando, strangers, spouses, and co-workers are killing people. What used to seem a vagary of rough and tumble blue-collar environments now rears its violent head in all levels of work. Human Resources may be late bringing solutions to the table on this threat.Disappointing survey
In a quick unofficial survey of employers in my circles, I do not find a violence-in-the-workplace policy with any teeth to it. Policies, such as they are, form gentle admonishments that workers should like and respect each other, that bullying and threats are counter-productive, and that repeated violations will provoke verbal and written warnings. This is well short of a zero-tolerance policy.
Given the incidence, the legal filing requirements, and the inadequacy of existing policy, Human Resources has accountability to get a grasp on what is happening and how it can be pro-actively preventive and defensive.What does workplace violence look like?
Violence takes specific forms:
- Employer Directed: the violence targets company supervisors, managers, and executives.
- Domestic Directed: the violator engages in violence against a domestic partner or would-be partner.
- Property Directed: the violence is aimed at the employer’s property and may or may not injure people as well.
- Commercial Directed: violence against the company takes the form of theft of money or property and violence related to that action.
Human Resources leaders should consider their stance. One position is to create a defense against litigation. The higher road is to prevent the pain and suffering as much as reasonably possible.
- Thoroughly vet new hires with criminal background records.
- Ban weapons on company property including parking lots, in company vehicles, and on company business. (Neither the U.S. Constitution or the state constitutions override such company policy.)
- Evaluate security systems. Depending on the size of the business and its facility, there should be silent alarms, monitored ID cards and keys, surveillance cameras, and possibly armed guards.
- Train all employees, supervisors, and management to recognize symptoms and warning signs.
- Require employees to report threats or other violent behavior through any one of several channels.
- Include all relevant policies and procedures in Employee Handbook and periodically in employee meetings and emergency drills.
- Train employees on the frontline, like receptionists and guards, how to spot and respond to suspect behavior.
- Require all employees to report any restraining orders. And, although employers have the right to ban service of legal papers on the company premises, HR may arrange for the service near an exit rather than risk a confrontation outside the building.
- Plan to handle disputes and confrontations in person or with a mediation team.
- Document threats and company response. Terminate any employee who makes a threat, and make it policy to terminate any employee whose relative or friend is disruptive or dangerous.
This last approach underlines the difficulty of HR’s position. It may not seem fair to terminate the threatened worker, but it does move the threat off the employer’s plate. Existing legislation
Existing and impending legislation is news to some HR leaders.
- OSHA 29 CFR 1904.8 requires businesses to verbally report incidents, including those involving workplace violence that cause the hospitalization of 3 or more colleagues or a fatality. Employers must make such verbal reports no later than 8 hours to the closest OSHA Office or State OSH Act Enforcement Agency.
- OSHA 29 CFR 1904.2 mandates employers to log and summarize all recordable injuries or illnesses sustained by their employees. Injuries or illnesses resulting from workplace violence must be recorded where the event occurs on the employer's premises. If the event happens away from the place of employment, it still must be recorded -if the worker was involved in work-related activities or was present at the site of the event because of their employment.
- New York, California, and Illinois have passed legislation providing employer mandates. Cornell University finds each law non-comprehensive and/or retroactive. They suggest OSHA fails to do its job and propose specific regulations for state legislation.
The Cornell Review recommends strengthening and fulfilling current OSHA regulations, but because those regulations require reporting after the fact, they recommend legislative standards that require management to be accountable along with proactive policies and practices. Proposed legislation, such as that recommended in Massachusetts, portends more administrative and engineering responsibility on the part of Human Resources.
What Does Human Resources have on its plate in 2014 – other than the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act? What more could it need?
Even the most optimistic supporters of ACA do not know where things are going. The rollout has been a debacle by any standards. Eventually it will straighten itself out, or not, but it is beyond your control. So, what else is new in 2014? Here are some controversial thoughts on the near future.
- Insurance brokers and agencies will disappear through merger, sale, or failure. At best, this will push quality professionals to the top. Nationwide multi-line firms will dominate, but they will also lose interest quickly in small and mid-sized company needs.
- Hospitals and providers will disappear through regionalization, mergers, and innovative physician practices. Employees will suffer and react to the inconvenience and poor service. A fundamental reorganization of patient care will directly affect Workers’ Comp care and rehabilitation.
- Insurance providers – as distinct from brokers and agents – will become more selective in underwriting markets and will struggle to comply with ACA requirements on transparency and claims ratios.
- Healthcare providers will finally come to terms with the facts of the act. But, the rollout fiasco will delay their introducing innovative products, systems, and programs. 2015 may see more data-sharing and mobile platforms driven by customer complaints, confusion, and consternation.
- The Employee Benefits buffet may become more of a Whack-a-Mole game late in 2015, but no one is confident enough to make a move in 2014. Once the splinters of ACA have settled, Congress will hopefully address weak and unworkable pieces. But, the ACA is not likely to be rescinded or unwound. Once that is accepted, voluntary benefits will drive more options and product development.
- The narrow HMO world or Kaiser-Permanente model will spread to states and regions where they have not been known. That will shock some employees, and unhappy employees are HR’s problem.
- Professional Employer Organizations (PEO) will multiply and expand, relieving Human Resources from shopping and negotiating employee benefits. The larger employee base represented by the PEO positions them to leverage best benefits packages and costs. The PEO arrangement also puts employees closer to their benefits, able to choose and edit their benefits packages.
On December 20th, the Wall Street Journal reported a 4.1% increase in Gross Domestic Product, the highest jump since 2011. Barring any significant national catastrophe or geo-political event, this confirms momentum and stability in the marketplace. But, 2014 will not see much progress in strategic HR – especially in small business - as it continues to wrestle with the ACA and other compliance issues.
Managing and improving the most important asset of your company – its people – is a difficult, time-consuming and often trying occupation. Still, it is one of the most necessary as it is the most effective way to increase the bottom line. In short, human capital management
should be one of the primary concerns of any business owner or corporate manager. The Usual Perspective
Many small business owners envision the role of their Human Resource Manager and his staff as a purely supportive one. This perspective has the HR department providing such services as:
- recruiting and hiring
- new hire on-boarding
- training development;
- performance management
- regulatory compliance
- benefits delivery
Each of these tasks is important as they have an immediate, long-lasting and significant effect on all facets of a company. Finding the right people is one thing, but getting them oriented and providing them with the right training is just as important.
Similarly, the proper training and counseling, when necessary, will make for a ready, highly motivated workforce. Lastly, the more pedestrian aspects of HR such as paying people on time and ensuring that their benefits are delivered on time leads to a better morale and higher productivity. A More Strategic Focus
While the above tasks mentioned above are significant and necessary, they do not really embrace a strategic view of how human capital management can help a company. As a mathematician would say, they are necessary but not sufficient. Instead, the best human capital managers also contribute at the executive level by providing the following:
- strategic staffing
- policy development
- career development
- transition planning
- company-wide communication
As you can see, these strategic tasks are not as “concrete” as the earlier, operational ones. Instead, they are more ephemeral but have the possibility of effecting far more people and, more importantly, increasing the value of the HCM team.
A Final Note
Developing a strategically-minded HCM department takes time and money and is not always cost-effective for smaller organizations. Instead, these companies should consider the benefits of a professional employer organization.
Since HCM is their sole focus and forte, for small businesses, PEOs already have a staff of experienced HR professionals at their disposal. They can provide a strategic focus from the very start. Consider one when your human capital needs turn from the merely operational to the truly strategic.
To start your search for the right PEO try our free PEO Matching Tool.
Over the course of a lifetime, work will probably be the single activity that takes up most of your waking hours. For that sole reason, most people will realize that they should pick a career that gives them some enjoyment and fulfillment rather than one that just pays the bills. Here are some reasons to love your job:
- It Matches Your Personality – Nothing is sadder than a salesman who can't sell and the saddest part is that the person knows it himself. Nevertheless if you are a natural born salesman, the job is just perfect. Everyone should take the same attitude towards their job – go with your inherent strengths. This is not to say that you shouldn't mature in a position and expand your skill set but finding a job that fits your personality will go a long way towards satisfying you and your employer.
- You're Good at It – It's almost considered a truism that most people would rather be recognized for their work than get a raise. While practical matters usually lay bare this claim as false, there is no denying the fact that people want to be recognized for doing a good job. Do not ignore this trait in yourself. Being good at your job is a self-reinforcing cycle. As you succeed at one task, the recognition earned allows you to excel at further tasks.
- It's An Investment – A career is not built in a day but it does take day-to-day effort. You must recognize that “paying your dues” is an essential part of moving up the ladder. Prove that you can handle your current responsibilities and the rewards will be ever increasing responsibilities with a commensurate amount of compensation. In short, envisioning your job as an investment that requires constant attention will reap you great dividends in the future.
- The Result – A job is only as good as you make it. Accepting inferior positions because they are easy will not ultimately be fulfilling. Similarly, retaining a dead-end job because of financial considerations may be necessary in the short term but will eventually cause you to quit or be fired. You should always be looking to improve.
One final note: If you ever have any doubts about what it means to love your job, think of Major T.J. “King” Kong – a man who loved his job despite the evident and overwhelming adversity, in the movie Dr. Strangelove
, and learn to love your job with the same ferocity.