Thought Leadership Blog

The HRS Thought Leadership Blog delivers validated findings, visionary perspectives and op/ed commentaries related to HR, Leadership, Organizational Development and Employment Law. To enjoy the full volume of available articles, please enter topic keywords in the search box to explore our body of work. Articles are regularly presented by the HRS team and guest experts.


Building a Rock-Star Employer Brand with Glimmering Engagement Tactics

As the world’s largest music festival, Summerfest not only presents rock stars, but also presents a rock-star employer brand worthy of spotlight and emulation. While the widget shop next door might not enjoy intrinsic stardom, the same techniques that reinforce and sustain Summerfest’s brand are those that can make any employer shine. Successful talent management aligns with successful employer branding. 

We spoke with Eric Heinritz, Director of Food & Beverage Operations for Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. (MWF), parent organization to Summerfest. Heinritz offered us some of his leadership team’s most successful talent engagement tools, and these keys to success are accessible by every employer. Too many employers, however, continue to miss these opportunities.

As Dallas-based strategy, marketing and brand expert Dar Hackbarth describes it, “You have a brand whether you want one or not. Your brand, simply put, is not your logo or your advertising tagline; it is instead how people perceive you.” Brand management relies upon daily leadership commitment and so much more. Hackbarth continues, “The good news is that you don’t have to book Prince, Foo Fighters or Tim McGraw to create a rock-star perception about your workplace.”

Milwaukee Word Festival hires a few thousand quality seasonal employees each year and gets it done successfully. The organization's empowerment of the year-round team creates a magnetic culture. "It can be difficult to find organizations that are willing to loosen the reins and truly empower their employees.  Empowerment is often laid out as lip service or what I like to call the 'faux empowerment tactic'," offers Heinritz. "The employee should be integral to a decision making process that affects his or her actual job, not simply put on a committee that plans the annual holiday party or organizes the company softball team. If an employee does not feel a true sense of ownership, they are not truly empowered and are not as likely to be fully invested in the job."


Align with the External Brand.

Hackbarth reinforces that a company’s workforce is key to a strong, believable external brand. “People are the most powerful brand touchpoint you have. They are likely the most frequent and in-depth medium via which you interact with customers. You can try to change your brand through different graphics or words, advertising or social media, but if your people are saying and doing one thing while your words and graphics are saying another, you lose.” He observed that Summerfest does a good job of interweaving its longtime smiley-face logo within the smiling, happy demeanor of its employees. “Summerfest markets itself as a happy place to be, and they do a nice job of educating their employees to be living embodiment of that smiling brand.” He continues, “Neither good external messaging nor educated people come first; neither is more important than the other. Rather, it is the ‘chicken and the egg together’ that make a branding strategy successful.”


Listen to Employees.

"Listening sessions are another great tool. Not only are you going to discover the common issues that the team struggles with, you will also likely gain some fresh ideas," delivers Heinritz.  "The best listening sessions are those that are not run by a team's direct supervisors.  The team is most likely to open up and freely share concerns and ideas when that intimidation is removed.  It may be necessary to utilize an experienced moderator who will be able to keep the group focused on practical criticism and foster those fresh ideas." 

To Eric's point, third party facilitated learning sessions continue to emerge in popularity. With an unbiased expert deployed, the meeting has structure and contribution without fear of reprisal. HRS regularly substitutes roundtables in lieu of seminars. The participation not only elicits important team ideas but also delivers empowerment and augments learning. Further supporting participation, most people are not auditory learners but rather kinesthetic learners. Heinritz adds, "Most importantly, these listening sessions will require follow through by management." Leadership response and positive energy are the building blocks to successful consecutive sessions.  

Listening can also be in written form, and employee surveys have been widely used by countless employers over many, many decades. Heinritz discusses his company's survey success. "The addition of an employee survey last year proved to be one of the most powerful and impactful tools we have implemented in years.”  Well-crafted surveys can evaluate processes, leadership protocol and team effectiveness. Surveys can be voluntary and better present themselves as an employee benefit where voluntary. However, those reluctant to volunteer can be just as or more important to contribute.  Heinritz tells us the MWF survey was voluntary and offered protected anonymity, along with an option for further discussion with management. When crafting a survey, be certain to add only those questions employees are qualified to answer and management is willing to address. We caution against questions calling forth evaluation of practices outside respondents' knowledge base. However, well-crafted questions that anticipate response can assess impact upon employee engagement, and well-crafted questions manage expectations of potential outcomes.  Similar to 360 reviews, language and anonymity must be carefully considered.


Build your Brand into your Employees’ DNA.

Taking the idea of employees as brand missionaries further, Hackbarth added that “the best companies bake their external brand into their core employee values,” He cited Harley-Davidson as an example of a company that does this well. “Most people intuitively get the Harley brand. What they likely don’t know is that the brand has its roots within five core company values: tell the truth, be fair, keep your promises, respect the individual, and encourage intellectual curiosity. These operating values are ingrained internally, they emanate outward from employees, they interweave into marketing efforts, and the world then sees them as the encouragement of freedom and straightforward American values, values we’ve come to associate with Hogs and denim.”

Hackbarth also cited an aviation company he worked with to help rebuild their external brand “from the employee out.” The company developed several ongoing education sessions to emphasize the ideas of brand selling, brand service, and daily brand behavior. These sessions were mandatory for new and long-time employees alike. The company reinforced the training by creating a quarterly recognition program in which rank-and-file employees nominated each other for specific acts of exemplifying the brand. “Sales and customer satisfaction numbers increased measurably as a result,” he said. “There are significant bottom-line benefits to having a workforce that all walks the talk.”


Employer Brand Management Delivers ROI.

Employers like Summerfest understand that getting their employees involved creates success for all. Techniques like the ones mentioned above are universal keys to success and have been studied and validated for more than half a century.

An employee who volunteers to weigh in on his or her own departmental tasks should certainly be heard; that employee repetitively performs a task first-hand and is therefore integral to decision tools in process design. Not only is that information valuable to process evaluation, but the employee will also feel substantially valued.

HRS has been “rocking” employee involvement training for more than 30 years, starting with Quality Circles in the early 1980's. We continue to deliver programs such as these herein, and we've had the good fortune of educational collaborations with many top employers including Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. Hackbarth summarizes, “If you create ways to align your external brand with your employer brand, and nurture employees who become a living embodiment of your external brand, you’ll amplify everyone’s perception of you and turn the volume up on your bottom line.” Hackbarth has guided countless employers in turning their brands “up to 11.”


For more information regarding our feature experts, please visit summary bios for each...

Eric Heinritz

Dar Hackbarth

Jessica Ollenburg


Jessica Ollenburg - Wednesday, March 05, 2014

 





Op/Ed Commentary to Cleveland's "Communicator of the Year"

According to viral news, Cleveland’s “Communicator of the Year” is wielding her communication weaponry, maliciously attacking young professionals who invite her to connect on LinkedIn.  CNN Backstory. One of these victims, Diana Mekota, has come forward with well-publicized evidence. Along with many others who find these attacks revolting, I am compelled to comment. 

In a scolding response to a social media invitation, Kelly Blazek attacks 26 year-olds in general and reprimands the sense of “entitlement.” Inasmuch as seeking employment is by no means demonstrative of entitlement, generalizations and stereotypes today remain as unprofessional and ignorant as they were 50 years ago. We use generational analysis for big picture planning, not for individual attack and presumption of guilt.

It is absolutely true that a sense of entitlement in the U.S. is prevalent and endangers our values, jeopardizes patriotism and threatens sustainability of American goal attainment. However, Gen Y is not the culprit. In fact, it is the generations and individuals preceding Gen Y that are causing the problems, including those establishing values at the highest level of visibility and leadership. Because “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” I find a stronger work ethic and determination in Gen Y than I’ve found in many. Of course Gen Y will question the rewards of hard work after seeing what has befallen their parents. Additionally, much study has been devoted to the impact of potentially inappropriate messages upon these inheritors of the new regime. As we’ve pointed out in many other collaborations and articles, successful Boomers should prepare to pass the torch, not extinguish it.

Please find me among the many Boomers who recognize our true service to greater good in helping the incoming generations succeed. We accomplish this through dedicated knowledge transfer, tempered with respect and the augmentation of confidence among emerging professionals. We do not support overconfidence, but we build bridges of trust and collaboration. We dedicate ourselves to not only our own continued relevance and accomplishment, but also to active participation in productive succession planning. Perhaps it is Blazek who deserves a scolding and a trip to the back woodshed.


Jessica Ollenburg - Sunday, March 02, 2014

 





Can Employee Engagement Techniques Conceal Intrinsic Demotivation?

For any labor intensive employer, the study and practice of employee engagement is critical to business success, and as engagement success is relative to alignment of individual motivators, employee engagement must begin with the selection process. Without such commitment and proper toolsets, even the best engagement practices will erode, and demotivation shall ensue. Many instances of employee demotivation are entirely avoidable.

The study and acceptance of employee engagement practice is longstanding. Motivation remains an inherent component, if not synonym, to engagement.  Motivation drives behavior in all workplace aspects including invention, performance, time-to-learning, collaboration, litigious behavior and attrition. Where employers successfully optimize motivation, organizational success is simultaneously optimized.

Maslow’s popular “Theory of Human Motivation” emerged in 1943. ERG and other theories quickly followed in support and expansion of common principle.  Behavior modification experts continue to study motivation and demotivation as keys to engagement.

As we study engagement, the essential differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation must be keenly understood. Intrinsic motivation comes from within and represents a belief system shaped over lifelong experiences and culture. Extrinsic motivation is shaped and manipulated within a specific situation, such as the employer workplace. Extrinsic motivation is that which we focus upon in workplace engagement practices.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivators each significantly impact workplace performance and retention. Research validates that manipulation of extrinsic motivation creates only temporary impact when intrinsic motivation is unaligned. So, what then occurs when we apply extrinsic motivation bandages to intrinsic motivation damages? We create only a temporary cure and a smokescreen unless we quickly change the employee’s core beliefs.

Whereas short term motivation is better than no motivation, a false sense of security can lead to disaster. Disaster is averted by better understanding intrinsic motivation of employees at the onset. Once we have concealed without addressing the problem cause, problem recurrence is likely.

In best talent management models, an employer’s pre-hire behavioral assessment exercises will archetype intrinsic motivators. Where we hire people who are already intrinsically motivated to succeed in our environment, we mitigate loss of motivation along the way. We then deploy our best employee engagement practices to earn a win. To succeed, engagement techniques must be supported by credibility of promise and sustainability of cause and effect.  

Employee engagement cannot be successful without a well-aligned employee selection model. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, ERG and later studies each discuss “needs” as motivators and the reversion principle to explain demotivation. According to these well-accepted findings, motivation is defined by stages of needs fulfillment. As needs are fulfilled, new goals are pursued. Motivation regresses when a need suddenly becomes unfulfilled.  Employers can safeguard against such threats only by both assessing and addressing engagement needs. Failure to do so forsakes substantial business opportunity.

Behavioral assessment is a talent acquisition tool that can identify intrinsic motivation pre-hire. Specifically, by investigating the unique intrinsic motivators of pre-hire candidates and then ensuring new hires properly align with company mission and future vision, we ensure the sustainable effectiveness of our engagement practices.  By deploying lifecycle talent assessments, employers are empowered to optimize engagement by hiring appropriately intrinsically motivated people. Employers are then further empowered to benchmark motivation throughout the journey, reliably measuring success of engagement practices and adeptly predicting outcomes with sufficient advance time to insert behavioral modification toward optimized success. HRS highly recommends assessment tools which deliver lawfully compliant, valid and actionable data. Assessment tools must earn employee buy-in to successfully kick off the employee engagement journey.

Please contact HRS for validation studies and discussion of specific models. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, January 30, 2014

 





A "No References" Policy is a "Welcome" Sign for Employee Bad Behavior

When employees know their bad or good acts won’t follow them, motivation and accountability are adversely impacted. An employer who wants the best of employees knows this and reinforces accountability through both seeking and providing employment references.

Today's employment background checking requires enhanced employer responsibilities to Fair Credit Reporting Act compliance. That being said, proper candidate pre-hire screening remains a due diligent essential. Employees who believe that terrible performance will be kept a "secret" are less likely to deploy adequate self-supervision. If we take the approach “What happens in Vegas…” with our employees, there is too little motivation for them to give us their best. We also miss our opportunity to allow our forgiveness and well-placed "second chances" to build loyalty and incentive.

In many states, employers enjoy specific statutory protection in providing employment references, as long as information is factual, non-subjective, and used in no discriminatory or otherwise unlawful manner. Despite this protection, many employers extend employee right to privacy to employment references. Employers need to carefully control information flow and train all managers in legal compliance. Failure to do so can result in legal consequences. That being said, a published “no references” policy is a hurtful substitute for compliance.  

When seeking references, professional third parties can be far more effective, as the employer can trust information will be collected and used within full legal compliance. The structure, content and tone of inquiry are additionally key to validity.

Where an employer elects to forego employment referencing, both incoming and outgoing, we recommend not only reconsideration but also reasonable discretion. Advertising a "no references" policy is a "welcome" sign for bad workplace behavior. At a minimum, we recommend the avoidance of "no references" language in the employee handbook. Instead, we recommend language limiting who at the company is licensed to handle the inquiries. Many language options are available. Requiring electronic fax, forms or email is a great way to streamline and defer cumbersome activity.

Apprehension to “burn bridges” keeps many of us on our toes. We self-police, we filter and we decide accordingly. The workplace deserves this respect.



Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, January 06, 2014

 





Is Balance Between Gen Y and Baby Boomers Key to Skills Gap Solution?

We have rightfully spent the last decade debriefing Baby Boomers regarding the unique work habits, motivators and keys to success for Gen Y team members.  Amidst these adaptation challenges it is equally essential to debrief Gen Y workers the same about Baby Boomers. Is it possible to mitigate the skills gap by properly addressing this issue?

The skills gap was once defined by the shortfall of available skilled labor in today’s workforce. Experts have since expanded the skills gap to include deficits in critical thinking and communication. Some say the lack of latter skills is twice as prevalent as the lack of technical skills.  http://www.cnbc.com/id/101012437  Can we better empower Gen Y and Gen Z by better tapping the Baby Boom?

As a 30-year professional who spent the first 20 years of her career being perceived as “too young,” I’m watching people my own age suffer age discrimination. We, the “50 and fabulous” younger Boomers went quickly from being too young to being too old. This alone tells us that age does not matter. Competency, contribution and adaptability do matter, and ageism is a barrier to success. Beyond the missed opportunities of ageism, we continue to warn against discrimination. The best way to be litigation-proof is to make decisions which are both actually and perceived to be legally compliant.

Since 2003, HRS has been called upon by nationwide academia, media, professional associations and employers of choice to deliver findings and solutions related to the generation shift. We commenced this campaign by forecasting the breakdown of trust and 5 global impacts to millennial motivators. We were absolutely correct, much attention has ensued, and we now transition our change agency by posing new questions and delivering new study. Many experts continue to deliver works on generational differences in attempt to reach those still too stubborn to respond to the original messages. We return to addressing those who are open to learning… those seeking more in depth action planning. In collaboration with several experts, we are creating an updated blueprint for decision planning.

Gen Y Brings Great Promise

The Gen Y professionals with whom I am proud to collaborate push back against today’s stereotypes. They pride themselves on accomplishment and resilience. They pride themselves in individuality and knowledge that each Gen Y peer has handled the impact of their generation uniquely. They bring the same “save the world” commitment I saw in my peers at that age and still today. These emerging leaders are willing and anxious to learn from the successes and failures of their predecessors. If handled correctly, Boomers have an open door for collaboration, if not mentorship.

Although every unique household enforced its own set of beliefs, outcomes and motivation principles, Boomers were not exposed to widespread media of de-motivators to include the dot-com bust, housing bubble burst and, of course, the twin towers collapsing in their living rooms.  While we coddle and apologize to Gen Y, are we missing the point that Gen Y is the very generation that witnessed 9/11 as children, both witnessing and proving resilience at early age?  This generation has also been listening to our well-founded observations, and many have taken heed to resist the stereotype. Each generation has been stereotyped, and as always, stereotypes and generalizations pose danger.  Matthew Bare, HRS AVP, is at the top of his generational class and openly questions “Are we ‘feeding the beast’ in over-attending Gen Y needs? Are we convincing some they are delicate flowers? Were participation trophies a bad idea?”  Admittedly, I was one of those little league coaches who ensured my team received the same participation ribbons as the other teams, but the trophies were always a noticeable step above the ribbons. There was always motivation to excel. Gen Y and Gen Z represent current and future leaders, and the best of them offer some astounding deliverables.

Matthew Bare continues, “Our parents strived to give us a better world than they had, especially in light of the tragedies that occurred during our upbringing. For most of us, this resulted in positive praise, almost at an excessive level. We were told that we could accomplish anything, and we believed it. All of the focus on positive praise and putting an end to bullying led us to one thing - loads of self-esteem. If there is one, consistent fact about our generation, it's that Gen Y might be the cockiest generation to ever walk this planet. Each and every one of us believes that we can accomplish whatever we want. Work ethic doesn't even become an issue for some. We were rewarded for our efforts no matter what the outcome (trophies, ribbons, etc.). You combine that self-esteem with the world events that we had to witness… and the world has created an entire army of individuals who are cocky, self-obsessed, and resilient. Why do some people my age not work? Because they don't feel the need to. Either they feel that they can accomplish what they desire without working hard, or, thanks to the economic depression, they don't see the benefits of working hard. This is no one's fault, while also being everyone's at the same time.”

Gen Y is questioning everything that did not work for the prior generations and is incorporating new age thinking into new decisions. Is this different than what high-achieving Boomers did in their 20’s? Isn’t change a component of progress? Some perceive Gen Y as owning a lesser work ethic. Is this really a generational trait, or is it just a symptom of age… time for kids to be kids? We begin to see a shift as Gen Y ages. Most Gen Y are no longer kids… enter Gen Z and a forthcoming set of studies.

Gen Y is showing substantial signs of resilience, learning and fiscal prudence. Fidelity Investments’  “Five Years Later” study reports that Gen Y has “learned more and (has) taken the most positive action post-crisis of any generational cohort.”

Boomers Adapt & Continue to Deliver

At this recession’s start, many Boomers presented unreasonable demands and found themselves out of work. Demanding future pay based upon past performance was rarely effective in an economy of belt-tightening and youth-oriented technology. Seasoned egos were replaced with equally competent and more developable talent for less money… specifically Gen X and Gen Y. Most employers have been pummeled with employment solicitation from unemployed Boomers. As a single employer, since 2008, HRS alone has received more than 12,000 resumes from seasoned professionals seeking to join our consulting team. Flattered as we were, sadly we were unable to provide any meaningful response to candidates not accepted for excess jobs we could not offer. This is true of many employers, and Boomers have adapted.  Those who just five years ago presented unreasonable demands have either learned, have exited the job market, or to this day…“stick out like a sore thumb.”  It is time for employers to circle back and re-tap this valuable resource. While promotion from within remains productive methodology, we need mentors. Enter Boomers.

Doug Franklin, President of FLHRPS and Principal of Epic Business Strategies, has spent a great deal of time researching and addressing this very topic. “I believe many of we Boomers have had long great careers, but due to a number of factors, many of the Boomers will find they need to continue their careers well past the dates they had targeted.” Reasons for the extended careers are well documented. We concede the economic impact to retirement funds, asset value and household income. On the positive side, Boomers are enjoying longer career-life expectancy than generation predecessors.  Some Boomer business owners will stay involved due to the “brain drain” and the challenge to replace themselves. Franklin continues, “Most senior-managers have now turned their thoughts towards extending their careers and not retiring as early as they had thought or maybe hoped.  I regularly speak to Boomers who are in their mid-sixties who are continuing to work and have their eye on 3-5 more years of very strong career path.  For some I think this is economically driven. I think for others it is because they enjoy working and are open to taking on a lower level position which they may feel is fun and less stressful.  I think many Boomers now are thinking of working full time until they are closer to 70 than 65.” Whereas Boomers are known as the generation of hypertension, many are responding with wellness routines and stress management, efforts which keep them productive in the workplace.

An August 2013 SHRM article “Invest in Older Workers” discusses the stereotypical characteristics of Boomers. Low absenteeism, low turnover, high problem solving and customer service patience are among the positives. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports Managerial, Administrative Assistant and Driver positions among the most popularly held by age 55+. Other popular roles include retail sales, teaching, health care, accounting and law.

A Gen Y start-up business owner recently declared...

“I understand patience is key to my business success.”

Boomer entrepreneurs cringe and shrug in response. As one of those left scratching my head and struggling for response, I embrace this... if I had been patient for even one day, HRS would not be here. In fact, if I hadn’t pushed back or walked away every time someone deployed a work avoidance technique, HRS would not be enjoying 30 years, and you would not be reading this article. Except for happenstance, working smart and working hard are the keys to business success. Is this a Gen Y problem for Boomers to solve?  Is it an inherent Gen Y trait to redirect after experiencing resistance… is this a learned trait, an individual trait? Is there an opportunity for Boomers to assess and contribute? Are some Boomers just plain crazy, needing to wind down by talking with a calm, patient Gen Y?

The Solution

Whereas some professionals will continue to shout at those still ignoring the basic concept of demographic adaptation, and while some employers will extinct themselves like dinosaurs, we understand those reading this article are already among the select few who are well-researched and will use this information to succeed. It is time for us to now focus upon reassessment and blueprint of balance.

“Most of my Client companies do not seem to be directly addressing head on the large future loss of the Boomer ‘Resource’ that they now rely on and cherish.  However, some are putting serious resources into a variety of programs to try to keep up with the large loss of Boomer talent they expect to lose in the coming years,” advises Doug Franklin. “Some of these programs include strong succession planning...and even more aggressive internal training programs coupled with remote learning initiatives by progressive major universities to train younger generations.”

Boomers offer attributes, experience and knowledge in need of transfer to the incoming generations. The communications gap and electronics age challenge us to relay information more easily handed down in prior generational transitions. Gen Y’ers who step up to meet Boomer communication styles will find competitive edge in collecting the data. Boomers willing to meet Gen Y halfway may find equal reward.

The mobile and virtual workforce model at HRS provides a valuable prototype for employers eligible to reduce brick and mortar. Working families are accommodated while businesses grow with reduced costs. Today’s Gen Y offers more alignment with longstanding ethics than typically recognized.  Adaptation always has and always will be an essential. Our Gen Y team has always appreciated and contributed to our invention.  HRS work life pioneering to include the initially scoffed at “Casual Friday,” wellness programs, corporate charitable initiatives, as well as, the in-house day care center we dared to attempt in the 80’s are everyday happenings today. It is the Boomers who led Gen Y to this place in time. Boomers can continue to augment future success, as long as Boomers practice what they’ve preached, showing respect, active listening and collaboration.

We at HRS are recommending a balance of collaboration between the generations. If you want a better approach to solving a problem, ask someone likely to disagree with you. As with all team collaboration, negotiation and management skills, know your audience’s motivators and anticipate objections. Franklin comments further on keys to success for achieving generational balance. “Companies have added onsite recreation and gyms, coffee bars in-house… and provide wireless internet access as just a few ways to attract the younger generations.  Companies are also catering to Boomers to encourage them to stay working longer by offering flexible work weeks, virtual positions, and even company provided financial planning services. This team effort helps to train younger generations… and allows X and Y generations to have opportunities to step up and fill Boomer positions at times in a trial period.  However, it remains to be seen as to the overall impact on companies as Boomers finally phase out permanently.  Gen X and Y workers have different life expectations and work thoughts.”


Article by Jessica Ollenburg, HRS President & Senior Consultant. Summary bio.

Doug Franklin is Principal of Epic Business Strategies and President of FLHRPS, Florida's affiliate of the national HRPS, dedicated to HR executives. Franklin held industrial executive leadership positions during the first 30 years of his career with companies such as Honeywell, Ferguson Enterprises, SPS Technologies, and Pacific Scientific. A former HRS client, Doug now serves as a partner consultant to HRS, contributing knowledge-based resources.

Matthew Bare is Associate Vice President of HRS. Matt works with key HRS clients locally, nationally and abroad to understand pressing concerns and deliver timely solutions. He pursues an extraordinary knowledge base in legal compliance, relationship development, employee motivation and best practices for efficiency. Summary bio.


Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, September 12, 2013

 





FCRA Compliance Blueprint for Employer Background Checks

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and its effect on employment practices are finding new court scrutiny, case precedents and employer confusion. The following blueprint simplifies employer “need to know” information. 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the FCRA. As of August 2013 the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection advises employers to perform the following steps before conducting a background criminal, court or credit check:

1) Provide the applicant or employee a written stand-alone notice, outside of the employment application, which advises of the pending background check.
2) Gain written permission from the applicant/employee which includes forward moving checks as performed.
3) Certify compliance to the company from which you are getting the applicant or employee's information. You must certify that you notified the applicant or employee and got their permission to get a consumer report, complied with all of the FCRA requirements, and will not discriminate against the applicant or employee or otherwise misuse the information, as provided by any applicable federal or state equal opportunity laws or regulations.

Thereafter, according to the Bureau:  “Before you reject a job application, reassign or terminate an employee, deny a promotion, or take any other adverse employment action based on information in a consumer report, you must give the applicant or employee:

Notice that includes a copy of the consumer report you relied on to make your decision; and
Copy of “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.” 

Giving the person the notice in advance gives the person the opportunity to review the report and tell you if it is correct.

If you take an adverse action based on information in a consumer report, you must give the applicant or employee a notice of that fact – orally, in writing, or electronically. An adverse action notice tells people about their rights to see information being reported about them and to correct inaccurate information. The notice must include:

Name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting company that supplied the report;
Statement that the company that supplied the report did not make the decision to take the unfavorable action and can't give specific reasons for it; and
Notice of the person's right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of any information the consumer reporting company furnished, and to get an additional free report from the company if the person asks for it within 60 days.”

According to the Bureau, “Employers who use ‘investigative reports’ – reports based on personal interviews concerning a person's character, general reputation, personal characteristics, and lifestyle – have additional obligations under the FCRA. These obligations include giving written notice that you may request or have requested an investigative consumer report, and giving a statement that the person has a right to request additional disclosures and a summary of the scope and substance of the report. (See 15 U.S.C. section 1681d(a),(b)).” 

Additional information is available at…
http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus08-using-consumer-reports-what-employers-need-know

State and federal courts have recently set case law enforcing these notices and rights of appeal as related to not only agency checks, but also employment references and interviews. Several employers have found themselves embroiled in legal battle, settlements, fines and adverse publicity specifically over failure to notify candidates of their rights to be provided notice or appeal. A few of these found additional EEOC complaint by treating protected classes dissimilarly, thereby creating discrimination. 

In light of these and other risks, it becomes increasingly important to manage incoming and outgoing background check data. Employers who publish a policy denying reference checks will continue to find a demotivation and “What happens in Vegas…” attitude among staff. Employers must control information without avoidance of information.

Employers cannot ignore responsibilities for candidate background checks and have been held responsible for negligence by ignoring reasonable care in hiring. Additionally, bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQs) remain legitimate hiring criteria. Employers need to conduct these checks lawfully and fairly with consideration to comprehensive risk management.  

Crafting of policies considers the staging of notice, probabilities of disqualification, hiring steps, differentiation in screening among company job descriptions and unique employer compliance strategies. HRS recommends the incorporation of full scale screening permission, most recently including job-specific Internet records research, into the crafted notice. HRS is available for custom crafting of expert policies and permission/notice forms according to unique employer needs and practices.


Jessica Ollenburg - Tuesday, August 13, 2013

 





HRS Addresses the ACA: New Cures for the Lingering Headache

Update: Shortly after this article's publication, the US Federal Government announced a one-year delay of certain ACA mandates including the "pay or play" component.  Visit our January 2014 update. As of February 2014, the component has been pushed back again.  Stay tuned for more info. 

 

As employers sift through immediate and forward moving impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, PPACA or “ObamaCare”), we consulted with nationwide ACA experts to provide a quick blueprint of action items, FAQs and debunked myths. In respect to our expert unbiased objectivity, HRS employer clients have been asking us for credible and clear answers on this topic.

Preparation & Timeline

While some employers still believe they have until 2014 to make decisions, a more practical deadline is October 1, 2013, when health exchange notices need distribution to employees. Once these notices hit, employee questions will abound, and the risk of providing inaccurate or unsavory answers will impact employee retention, engagement, productivity and legal compliance. With employee access to health exchange, employer programs will find heightened scrutiny and explanations must be ready. In addition to impact upon talent resources, employer failure to meet ACA guidelines will result in substantial fine. While employers initially pledged to “pay” are shifting to “play,” due diligence is essential to “play.”

With minimum coverage covenants higher than ever before, minimum premiums are expected to increase as well. Employers are encouraged to anticipate this perception gap and to strategically educate employees as to the comparison between employer-sponsored and health exchange coverage. Summaries of benefits and coverage (SBCs) will not be enough to address this topic.

Matthew Weimer, Director of Employee Benefits Operations for Diversified Insurance Solutions, advises employers to prepare for employee surprise once the exchange opens. Weimer advises that many individuals are expecting exchange premiums to be lower than they actually will be, and an opportunity for an employer “win” is present. 

Karen McLeese, JD, Vice President of Employee Benefit Regulatory Affairs for CBIZ Employee Services, Inc., advises employers of all sizes to “work with insurers, TPAs, benefit consultants, brokers and other advisors to ensure compliance with all ACA market reforms.” McLeese further advises to be prepared to deliver notices to all employees, not just those covered by the health plan, by October 1, 2013; to be familiar with single source market place applications; to ensure summaries of benefits and coverage (SBCs) are properly distributed; and to properly classify and count workers. HRS, Diversified and CBIZ are addressing these mandates by providing guidance as to crafting exchange notices, counting employees, educating team members and selecting plans to meet affordability standards.

Criticism, Fact Versus Fiction & Recent Developments

The relentless politicizing and profit taking on this topic have created mistrust and frustration among employers, so HRS has stepped in. We have no vested interest in insurance program sales. Our interest and reputation are tied only to accurate top shelf information and legal compliance standards. We have additionally invited adjacent field experts who have responded with transparency and integrity to our news campaign.
 
While arguments abound, opponents of the Act assert that the “Patient Protection” provisions can be mutually exclusive to the “Affordable” provisions, and employers need to address this concern.  Some employees will undoubtedly be forced to buy more coverage than perceived necessary. Whereas the counter-argument is that these forced coverage levels will ultimately decrease overall health care costs, we cannot ignore and must address the initial sticker shock. Along that same line of thinking, Weimer addresses that many of his insured clients are already electively providing coverage levels that exceed ACA standards, and therefore, when employee premiums exceed health exchange premiums, the gap must be addressed to safeguard employee trust and engagement. Under affordability standards the employer must absorb the majority of premium costs, and therefore, while employees may pay higher premiums through the employer, it is imperative that they fully understand the value received and that the employer is absorbing the majority of excess benefits costs.
   
Employers were justifiably concerned by the initial ACA language which required employer review of “household income” in determining affordability. Not only did this pose an infeasible burden of costly administration but also a grave concern over privacy rights and employee discomfort. Affordability measurements have been thankfully addressed by updated calculation methods to include the W-2, rate of pay and federal poverty line (FPL) methods. These investigations are simpler, less invasive and consider only employee income rather than household income. As the federal ACA regulations shift substantial administrative burden to individual states, HRS urges employers to research state regulations and not just the federal. As the federal regulations do not protect spousal coverage, look to states for spouse and domestic partner rights. 
 

Strategies & Caveats

Employers will choose plans based upon overall compensation scheme, labor intensity and workforce demographics. Benefits should be tailored to unique team attributes and perceived needs. Several HRS clients are employing primarily young, entry level, and therefore typically healthier teams who prioritize basic health but would rather receive other forms of compensation over benefits plan upgrades. For these employers we suggest consideration of a Minimum Value (MV) plan offering optional buy-ups. By deploying this strategy, the employees see premiums competitive to the exchange but also see their employers willing to absorb costs toward employee-elected upgrades. Employers who determine to trade plans down without proper employee education will likely find disaster rather than reward by this practice. “Design your health plan in such a way as to facilitate attracting and retaining your employees.  Design the program to maximize personal engagement.” advises McLeese.

Some of the most common pitfalls will likely be linked to employer size, affordability and minimum value coverage. Small businesses (less than 25 FTEs) are offered conditional tax credits but not for business owners. Large businesses (50+ FTEs) will be fined for offering inadequate coverage. Minimum Value (MV) and Actuarial Value (AV) are impractical to calculate for most employers, and therefore working with insurance brokers and carriers you trust becomes more important than ever before. Safe harbor rules allow employers a small margin of error. Weimer advises employers to look to carriers for proper disclosure of MV and AV data. He tells us Diversified is overseeing these calculations for insured clients. McLeese adds that employers should properly classify employees as a new hire routine and to “work closely with a payroll provider who can assist in these recordkeeping requirements.”
 
Matt Weimer, Karen McLeese and HRS are all addressing proper FTE calculation methods. Weimer and Diversified have released a webinar rich with affordability calculators and employee counting rules. McLeese adds to these metrics a few cautions, including proper classification of employees versus independent contractors. HRS advises that improper 1099 classification is suffering more scrutiny and penalty than ever before, and not just with regard to ACA guidelines but also overall taxation and FLSA compliance impact. McLeese summarizes “Determine which employees are full-time, part-time, variable or seasonal. Decide whether to take advantage of a look-back (measurement) and stability period, and if you're not using a measurement/stability period, analyze status each month.” “Know your shared responsibility risk.  How many full-time employees are offered minimum essential coverage? Is it affordable? To avoid a penalty risk, offer adequate coverage at an affordable rate. It is the offer, not the take-up rate, that matters,” continues McLeese.

McLeese recommends to “Establish a wellness program that promotes health and well-being; and ensure it is compliant with new ACA rules.  If a wellness program currently exists, review it to ensure compliance with new ACA rules.” The ACA addresses wellness programs, and Weimer adds that wellness, HRA and HSA programs are under current review for their rightful position in coverage ratio calculations.

ACA guidelines will continue to address access and will require annual open enrollment for employer-sponsored plans. Employees will need to be offered health exchange notice within 14 days of new hire following group notification by October 1, 2013. Many employees will not be eligible to purchase insurance on the exchange but must be advised by employers as to availability for application.

HRS is addressing the Affordable Care Act with three new dedicated initiatives: 1) PPACA News Campaign, 2) Individualized Employer Workshops, and 3) Employee Education Tools. We remind that much of law is based upon case precedents rather than statutory language. Look for PPACA to be taking shape for years to come. Please consider us a resource, and stay tuned for more information.

 

Article by Jessica Ollenburg, HRS Senior Executive Consultant & CEO. Summary bio

Matthew Weimer is Director of Employee Benefits Operations for Diversified Insurance Solutions. Matt’s extensive insurance industry knowledge and leadership helps to keep the entire benefits department abreast of legislation. He is Diversified’s Health Care Reform onsite expert and sits on the Board of Directors for the Independent Insurance Agents of Wisconsin (IIAW) along with several other industry and legislative committees. Matt has served on a number of advisory councils for the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and still meets regularly to discuss state and federal insurance regulations. Matt holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration and Marketing from Carthage College. 

Karen R. McLeese, J.D., is Vice President of Employee Benefit Regulatory Affairs for CBIZ Employee Services, Inc., a division of CBIZ, Inc. McLeese serves as in-house counsel with particular emphasis on monitoring and interpreting state and federal employee benefits law. She follows and analyzes trends and provides information and technical support in response to technical questions regarding employee benefits.  McLeese is a member of the Employee Benefits Committee for both the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association and the Missouri Bar Association. She is also a member of the Health Law Forum and the Labor and Employment Law Section of the American Bar Association. She has spoken professionally on wide variety of topics related to employee benefits, including HIPAA, COBRA, Welfare, Medicare, FMLA benefits. McLeese serves as an editorial board member for the publication Benefits Law Journal and is a graduate of Notre Dame and Duke Universities.


Jessica Ollenburg - Wednesday, June 26, 2013

 





Mobile Workforce Solutions Are In Flight, On the Road and In the Home!

Whereas it took decades to carefully pioneer and wait for technology to catch up, HRS became a fully mobile business in 2009 with new triumphs in 2013, and we are likely not going back! We enjoy a blend of fixed and flex offices, and we travel by appointment in between sites. We enjoy entirely web-hosted work tools. As we began pioneering this new wave of organizational development thirty years ago, we have managed the risks and replaced challenge with reward. We endured the pitfalls so that our clients need not follow. We now have a turnkey solution and blueprint for client use. We could not be more pleased with our success.

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, advises “Many employees who work from home are extremely diligent, get their job done, and get to spend more time with their families. They waste less time commuting and get a better work/life balance. To force everybody to work in offices is old school thinking.”

To be truly mobile, work from home is somewhat inevitable, and HRS offers consulting to employers seeking this transformation. We have endured the work from home challenges, and we have conquered.  We have learned that we (at HRS) really never stop working anyway, so boundaries are impractical. That being said, we at HRS do take “power breaks” to recharge for the next great thing, and we strongly promote wellness routines. We advocate certain “home hygiene” when establishing in home offices.

Not all businesses can break down the brick and mortar, but as we are in the information business, we can. Our manufacturing and distribution clients are learning the efficiencies of mobile solutions where possible.

Our greatest challenge in creating a mobile workforce has been employee supervision. We have developed a number of custom and proprietary trade secrets which have addressed this concern. Mostly, we have changed how we hire, whom we hire, and how we measure work. We at HRS are entirely pleased with outcomes, and we have adapted our business model to capture these new opportunities.

Hidden benefits include improved documentation and better communication habits. Work from home policies must achieve balance between personal privacy and company risk management. Accepting in person visits only by appointment allows improved focus upon the customer and spontaneous client needs. Our clients deserve our immediate attention and top priority. A mobile workforce allows us improved client access. We offer more satellites with nationwide and global reach, and we can be where the clients want us as needed through flex offices.


Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, May 23, 2013

 





Gamechangers: New Rules in Employee Motivation

Culture of entitlement, questions regarding capitalism, redefining “success” and Gen Y characteristics are some of the many gamechangers affecting today’s organizational outcomes. While we do not advocate creating a leadership culture that entertains repetitive and burdensome employee questions, we do advocate an employer-driven commitment to education which enhances engagement and motivation toward shared employee-employer success. This article discusses considerations and blueprints toward that success.

Today’s Gen Y career entrant speaks in terms of “I feel,” phraseology we Baby Boomers were taught to be unacceptable. America’s leadership postures for votes by touting principles of entitlement, birth right, refusal to work and socialized benefits.  These characteristics feed a de-motivation to work harder or smarter than the next person. In an era where state government leaders can organize an initiative to refuse work which arguably outweighs their initiatives to demonstrate work, how can we expect impressionable youth to grasp real work ethic? When we are willing to question our constitution, why shouldn’t employees question workplace rules?

Collective bargaining was created in an era where employees worked hard and employers often lacked principle and know-how to properly keep checks and balances toward mutual economic success.  Today we find employers committed to lifelong learning while many employees cannot construct a meaningful sentence. Checks and balances are once again off while the best workers in America are held back by concepts of seniority and union dues, at least until employers have as much power as self-serving, dues collecting unions who are among the biggest businesses of all… next to government.  Nonetheless, we recommend employers do not entangle with the NLRB unless willing to wage a costly war.  Except for some successful adjustments by Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, employers need to recognize that unions have more “solicitation” leverage than that allowed of employers.  The general population continues to listen to the loudest voice in the room.

Financial success is being undermined, capitalism and its complexities are in question, and profiteers take advantage of conflict, sensationalizing every issue. Employees are more uncertain than ever before as to their own goals and how to attain them. 

Amidst this chaos we have worked hard to simplify the steps for employer response. The blueprint for workplace best practices is a 6-step program:
1) Problem Recognition:  Accept and understand the larger de-motivation of the community at large.  Accept reasons behind de-motivation where it exists.
2) Apply Appreciative Inquiry:  Assess and create focus upon what the organization does best.  
3) Evaluate Unique Organizational Demographics & Motivation Trends: Assess the motivation culture of your company’s own workforce and evaluate trends. Consider the power of workplace outcomes and how they are affecting the overall mindset of employees. Each organization is unique and is affected uniquely by the impact of the community at large. Local success can overpower widespread deficiencies. If it is not broken, do not attempt to fix it.
4) Tap Into 3rd Party Solutions: Reach out to field experts as means to deploy proven toolsets, to optimize credibility and to avoid appearance of bias. Refuse to experiment in this risky area offering noteworthy ROI for success. Consider HRS as an expert resource here.
5) De-Politicize the Company Stance and Comply with NLRA Regulations: Work ethic, wealth and big business versus small business topics all evoke personal politics. Today’s politics are quite polarized. Avoid biases and stick with the facts. Discussion of unions and collective bargaining risks NLRB repercussions or heightened collective bargaining activity. Stress merit-based outcomes without indicting union methodology. Derive merit-based incentives that work well and are easily communicated. 
6) Be Consistent, Build Trust and Deliver on Promises: False promises will create long term damage, but failure to inspire will cause such short term damage that the long term becomes jeopardized.  Apply practices consistently and within policy. Create and troubleshoot an action plan before broaching this highly essential topic.

Democracy is complicated, and motivation remains fragile. HRS recommends a keen eye on changes and a quick and accurate response to keep engagement on track.  Case studies and specific solutions are available upon request. 


Jessica Ollenburg - Monday, February 11, 2013

 





Social Media: Back to the Future to Improve Your Business?

Social media. It’s different and unique. We’ve never seen anything like it. We’re fascinated by it, yet we’re not sure how it can help most businesses, especially ours. A totally new, modern paradigm, right? Maybe not. 

In the mid-1990s, nearly every business leader had some degree of fascination with the “Worldwide Web.” They suspected it was important to have a “page” on the “Information Superhighway.”  But for what? Well, most weren’t sure, but everyone was doing it and the Internet seemed to have mysterious potential, so everyone jumped in. Thousands and sometimes millions of dollars were spent, often times with very little ROI or alignment to business goals. And some got burned. Yet we learned and the Web proved to be an integral part of the way we do business.
 
Fast forward to today. For many, the feeling about social media is similar. A vague, uneasy, queasy feeling. “Social media might be good,” you say, “but what if it’s too early for my business to embrace it?” Or “What, if anything, can it do for a business like mine?” Or “I want to do something with social media, but I don’t want to look stupid or waste money!”
 
It’s a brave new world, so it’s understandable that the business benefits from social media might seem nebulous. Sure, consumer goods companies and entertainment entities have been embracing social media for several years, but the rest of the B2B and B2C herds are still trying to figure out how to use it, and many are even avoiding it altogether. Sure, you might have personal accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or even Pinterest, and you might even use blogs or mixed content strategies at work, but that doesn’t translate into having a clue about how social media can work for your business, right?
 
Of course, you might delay or hide, but you know social media, like the Internet, is not going away. In fact, depending on your business goals it might already be a necessity for your business—regardless of what your business is or whether it’s B2B or B2C—in the same way the Internet became a necessity in the late 1990s. Don’t believe it? According to an industry survey done in early 2012, 93 percent of B2B companies and over 95 percent of B2C companies use social media to market their businesses. Moreover, over 56 percent of B2B marketers and 45 percent of B2C marketers acquired new business partnerships via social media.
 
While the methods and tools might vary depending on your business, you should at the very least be seriously considering how social media can be an effective part of your strategy. Here are a few tips to help you get up to speed and make your social media efforts successful:
 
Social media will be an evolution for you, but you should already be using it. Social media itself is evolving daily. It will also be an evolutionary tool for your business, just as the Internet was “back in the day.” That said, it is imperative you take it seriously now, else you’ll be well behind your competitors who are already learning and growing with it. And they are learning and growing with it, right now!

Social media will be a continuum for you. Perhaps you are already using Facebook and Twitter as simple announcement forums to post press releases, product or event announcements, or even job openings? Not good enough. Social media is not a PR megaphone—it is first and foremost a listening post! Even if you are savvy enough to post questions in an attempt to elicit a response—“Hey, what do you think of our new product?” —your audience smells when they are being told rather than being asked. You’ll see that in the few responses you get. Once customers are doing the talking, then you should evolve that into using strategy. Strategy then leads to the ultimate goal: client and community engagement. Depending where you are on the listening/strategy/engagement continuum, you will have different social media needs.

It’s not about the number of followers you have. The number of followers you have is merely an outcome of your efforts. What you’re ultimately looking for is highly-engaged customers who actively embrace your social media efforts, help you improve your business, and increase the bottom line, so quality trumps quantity. Social media allows you to engage with your customers at moments when they’re not normally thinking about you. Moreover, the viral nature of social media is the equivalent to an old-school concept every businessperson understands: referrals. Each time a visitor shares your Facebook post, re-tweets a link you posted on Twitter, or re-pins an infographic you posted to a Pinterest board, they are creating new relationships for you.

Your social media messaging needs to align and integrate with your other brand messaging. A business-to-business software company I know, one whose audience is mostly male and over 40, recently posted a link to a positive quarterly earnings announcement. Innocuous enough, except below it they also posted a meme, a picture of a puppy with the caption “Who’s awesome?!” Not so good. Social media can indeed provide a unique way to humanize and personalize your brand, and can give it a softer, friendlier tone. But any humanization must be in sync with your other messaging. Unless you’re targeting a youthful consumer audience, avoid being too cute. In your effort to appear personable and likeable, you erode respect for your business and credibility for your brand. 

Don’t believe the smoke and mirrors. There are many firms that claim to be social media experts. Because the genre is evolving so quickly, few are. They are just trying to capitalize on a new service that businesspeople are only now embracing. Find a communications firm that talks first about your business, then about the methods to reach your goals. The firm should talk about aligning your social media efforts to your business goals and desired results. If a firm uses daunting language you don’t understand, they are not the right firm for you. You don’t need a specialty firm or Madison Avenue agency that tries to dazzle you with social media gobbledygook and expertise—you need one that takes a “business-first” approach to your marketing. Social media is a marketing tool, and it needs to work well with all the other tools in your toolbox. Use a firm that understands your overall communications needs and has experience integrating social media as part of your larger goals.

Social media for use in everyday marketing communications is still new and evolving, but it needn’t be scary, and you needn’t have perfect knowledge to use it effectively today. Just make certain to focus on your business goals, define the long-term business results you’re looking for—Building brand or product awareness? Stronger lead generation? Better prospect conversion rate? Being seen as a thought leader?—and use people who are holistically focused on your business and brand rather than just the social part of social media. Because as the Internet era taught us, it’s all about the business.

- By Dar Hackbarth


Dar Hackbarth serves the HRS Education Council as Senior Brand Strategist. Summary Bio
 


The Team At HRS - Thursday, November 15, 2012