Happy Holidays

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The True Cost of Employees

Dear Anita,

My wife and I have a mom-and-pop shop with a dozen employees. One of my workers acts like I’m being a cheapskate with his salary, hinting he deserves a big year-end bonus. I try to pay a competitive wage, but I have to make a profit, too. How can I communicate the economics of a small business?

Dear, Pops,

Total_Compensation_Statement

Payscale’s Total Compensation Statement shows the employer’s contribution in addition to the wages.

Employees often think that their salary is the only cost to the employer for their services. They often do not realize that taxes, workers’ compensation insurance and even the cost of “Mom” completing the paperwork can cost your business another 30 percent in payroll costs.

I assume that you have done salary comparisons for the job title in your geographic region to ensure that you are, indeed, paying a living wage that rivals your local competitors. If you are, a little education may illuminate the realities of employer-paid contributions to all of your employees.

“Total Compensation Statements” can include line items such as:

  • Base pay
  • Bonuses
  • Vacation/PTO/sick days and other paid leave
  • Payroll taxes (Social Security match, Medicare, state unemployment insurance tax)
  • Employer-paid portions of insurance plan premiums (health, dental, vision, life, disability
  • Employer contributions to employee’s retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or pension
  • Stock options or profit sharing
  • Annual usage value of a company car
  • Value of any other fringe benefits offered, such as:
    • Fitness club membership
    • Cell phone service
    • On-site child care
    • Free or discounted public transportation or parking
    • Tuition assistance/professional development
    • Company discounts

Non-quantifiable perks may include flex time or on-site facilities available for employee use. For new hires, include one-time benefits, such as relocation expenses or signing bonuses. There are handy Total Compensation Calculators online.

While a Total Compensation Statement can illustrate the true cost employers pay for an employee, it has the potential to backfire as a teaching tool. Workers may feel you are fudging the numbers if you “double-count” vacation or PTO and they don’t really receive additional pay. Also, if an employee does not use a perk, such as child care, then the value is moot for them. A pitfall with salaried employees may occur if they feel any overtime is not valued since it won’t be reflected in the compensation.

Employees who may be shocked to learn that their $40K annual salary is actually costing their bosses around $52,000 may be a little more grateful, or at least have a greater understanding of the realities their employers face.

Readers: Have Total Compensation Reports opened your eyes to the true costs your employer faces?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Thanksgiving Joys

Readers,

Whether you choose to spend the day with family and not darken the door of a single store (see the list of chains closed on Thanksgiving Day) or rush through the traditional turkey dinner to line up outside of the stores opening on T-day for early Black Friday specials, I encourage you to pause to count your many blessings.

Happy ThanksgivingWith a grateful heart for your continued readership,
Anita Clew

Readers: Will you, or won’t you, shop on Thanksgiving Day?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Family Leave Options

Anita,

My dad who lives in Florida just had a massive stroke. I need to help my parents arrange for long-term healthcare and sell their house to pay for it. Is there a way I can assist them temporarily without quitting my job in California and moving across the country?

Dear, Worried Daughter,

I’m sorry your family is going through this difficult time.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted to assist in situations such as yours. The FMLA allows eligible employees at companies with 50 employees or more to take unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons without losing their jobs or health coverage. Covered employees who have worked at least one year and have accumulated 1,250 hours within that year are entitled to 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

  • a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
  • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
  • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
  • any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty” (military caregiver leave allows servicemembers themselves 26 workweeks of leave)

California also has a similar California Family Rights Act. The CFRA would run concurrently with the FMLA, but there are some differences (for instance, pregnancy is not covered as a serious health condition by CFRA, but is under FMLA). View the California Department of Human Resources’ chart for a comparison.

Your employer may require you to use any paid time off (PTO) before taking FMLA leave. And just like the requirement to get out of gym class back in school, you’ll need the customary doctor’s note to be excused from work under FMLA.

Note also that if you make a contribution toward your group health insurance premiums that is normally deducted from your paycheck, you will have to pay for this out of pocket while on leave. In fact, if you don’t have an emergency fund, 12 weeks of unpaid leave may not be feasible. Unemployment is generally not an option, as you voluntarily went on unpaid leave and you must be available to work to qualify. (Tip: Some utilities such as cable providers may allow a “seasonal hold” while you are away from home, which can be less costly than turning off and then having to pay to reconnect when you return from your leave. Mortgage lenders and landlords may or may not be as willing to defer payments.) If your parents are financially able, they may be able to compensate you for your caregiving time with a personal care agreement. For elderly parents with few assets other than their home, Medicaid’s Cash and Counseling program (available in about 30 states) may help them pay for home health care services – including cleaning, meal preparation, or transportation – from whomever they choose.

Four states have approved paid family leave programs – California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington (whose program has been deferred due to budget shortfalls). If you are eligible, you may receive a percentage of your base wages for a period of time. Here’s a handy chart showing eligibility and coverage by state.

Readers: When and how has the Family Medical Leave Act benefitted you?

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Earthquake Preparedness

Anita,

I recently moved from the Midwest to Los Angeles to take a great management job. As part of my initiation, my new team took me to see that movie “San Andreas.”  I have to admit, it made me nervous! Do you have any earthquake safety tips that will soothe my fears?

Dear, Shaking in Your Boots,

Seismic_Building
Every region has its natural disasters. If you’re from the Midwest, tornadoes were probably your biggest threat. The southeast has hurricanes (the “best” of all natural disasters, in my opinion, because you get plenty of advance notice.) Wherever you live, learn how to prepare for a natural disaster, and then try to stop worrying. As the saying goes, “Most of the stuff people worry about never happens.”

Building_EarthquakeMillions of people worldwide will participate in the Great Shakeout Earthquake Drill on October 15 at 10:15 AM. You can register your company to, as the website says, “have peace of mind that you, your family, your co-workers and millions of others will be better prepared to survive and recover quickly from our next big earthquake.” Go directly to the Resources page to peruse the appropriate manuals, posters and flyers for an earthquake drill.

The most important thing to remember is Drop, Cover, and Hold On if you are indoors during an earthquake.

  • DROP to your hands and knees.
  • COVER your head and neck under a sturdy table or desk.
  • HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops.

In a high-rise building, stay away from windows, and don’t use the elevator. To avoid collapsing windows or building facades, remain inside if you are inside. If you are outdoors, find a safe area clear of buildings, power lines, trees, and signs.

To prepare for any disaster, keep an emergency supply kit on hand. Visit Ready.gov for a list of recommended items.

Readers: Will you be participating in The Great Shakeout?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

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Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

Police officer on radioReaders,

In light of the recent Umpqua Community College shootings in Oregon, I wish to express my heartfelt sympathy for the victims and their families.

Sadly, active shooter incidents are becoming more frequent. Having a preparedness plan for workplace violence could help save lives.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notes that there is typically no pattern in the selection of victims in an active shooter incident. There are three basics to remember if a coworker or stranger opens fire in your building:

  1. Run: If there is an accessible escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises. Call 911 when you are safe.
  2. Hide: If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you. Lock and blockade the door, hide behind or under large items like file cabinets or desks, and remain quiet (mute your cell phone). If possible, call 911 to alert police to the shooter’s location.
  3. Fight: As a last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter.

It’s just as important to react appropriately to law enforcement when they arrive, so they know you are not the threat.

This 3.5-minute video, while dated, is a succinct visual reference for an active shooter situation:

For further resources, consult the extensive DHS Active Shooter preparedness list. The U.S. Department of Labor plan covers the broader scope of workplace violence, including early warning signs of violence from an employee.

Readers: Does your company include Active Shooter Response in its Emergency Action Plan?

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“Poaching” Employees

At a recent business mixer, the topic of stealing away an employee from a competitor was hotly debated. Is swiping talent legal? Is it ethical? I’m torn. What’s your take on employee poaching, Anita?

PoacherDear “Open Season,”

You’re asking someone in the recruiting business?! Well, I’ll try to be unbiased.

Is poaching ethical? Hiring someone who is already employed in your line of business or industry pretty much goes without saying, when it comes right down to brass tacks. I think the biggest definer of poaching is who is reaching out to whom. If you are posting an ad, and a competitor’s hot-shot performer applies, you’re totally in the clear. If, however, you approach said hot-shot, that could be considered unscrupulous by some (particularly the star performer’s current employer). I counter that it’s an employer’s obligation to keep employees so happy that they wouldn’t even consider working elsewhere.

There are also some highly specialized professions with such a small talent pool that there is no choice but to poach from competitors.

Is it legal for companies to hire away talented personnel from rivals? There are circumstances where poaching could get an employer in legal hot water, depending on your state’s laws. Higher-level employees with non-compete agreements or nondisclosure of trade secrets clauses may come with a risk to your company. Interestingly, Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel and other tech giants got in trouble for the opposite of poaching when they agreed to suppress wages by not actively recruiting each other’s employees.

If you’re worried, you can distance yourself by hiring a recruiting firm; these companies know the subtle yet effective ways to reach out to employed candidates not actively seeking a new job who may be a perfect fit for your open position. If you just want a zero-drama life, institute a no-poaching rule, and hope that the competition doesn’t headhunt on your turf.

Managers: What’s your policy on poaching personnel?

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Thermostat Wars

Anita,

The women in my office are at odds with the men over the temperature. If we dress appropriately for the warm weather outside, we freeze to death in the office. It’s hard to concentrate on your work when your fingers turn into blue Popsicles! Can you help us find a happy medium?

Dear “In a Cold Sweat,”

Adjusting the heating thermostatAfrican american man push button digital climate control

 

It’s a tale as old as… well, the invention of modern air conditioning, circa 1902. The gender divide is apparent when it comes to the preferred thermostat setting. I’ve known women who keep a polar fleece jacket or blanket at their desks, or who sneak a space heater next to their feet (Smokey the Bear would definitely not approve). While I won’t go so far as to call it a sexist conspiracy, the predicament does seem to affect women more than men – except for those unfortunate males who work for a female supervisor in the sweltering throes of a hot flash, jealously guarding the key to the AC.

Clothing, age, even your weight can affect how you experience temperatures. If your office has a suit and tie policy for the men, the extra layer of clothing is going to make the guys hotter under the proverbial collar. To be fair, guys can’t really strip down to the sleeveless tops that are acceptable for women to wear at work. It is easier to add a clothing layer to warm yourself up than it is to cool off when you can disrobe no further!

If Team Cold and Team Hot can’t keep their hands off the thermostat, your company may have to institute a climate control policy. OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) recommends indoor temperatures between 68-76° F, which is a pretty broad range. Most building thermostats follow a thermal comfort formula that was developed in the 1960s. Researchers at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands claim the formula is based on a 40-year-old, 154-pound male, not an average female office worker with a lower metabolic rate. Women and men generally have a five degree difference in temperature preference, the researchers found. But, alas, “personal environmental modules” with individualized temperature controls in office buildings haven’t gone mainstream yet.

Over a decade ago, Cornell University put the thermostat wars to another scientific test, finding that warmer office temperatures improve productivity. Researchers increased office temperature from 68° to 77° F, and found that typing errors decreased by 44% and output jumped 150%.

Finnish counterparts at Helsinki University of Technology ran their own study. Their findings: The highest office productivity occurs at temperatures around 22° Celsius or 71.6° Fahrenheit. Hmm, those test subjects closer to the Arctic Circle seem a bit more tolerant of lower temperatures.

If the productivity arguments don’t convince your facilities manager to set the temperature above polar levels, hit ‘em in the pocketbook. Most energy companies recommend keeping the AC set no lower than 78° in summer. According to MyEnergy.com, your company can save 1-3% in energy costs for each degree the air conditioning is set above 72.

Readers: Are you “hot and bothered” at work, or given the “cold shoulder”?

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Motivating Back Office Employees

Dear, Anita,

I manage a back-office department in a large company. My team doesn’t interact with the clients nor upper management very often. The work can be repetitive and sometimes boring. How can I keep morale up on my team?

Dear, Back on Track,

Every company has internal operations departments performing business-critical functions that may not be, well, very sexy. The sales team or research & development may get all the glory, and these hard-working back office employees may feel out of the loop or under-appreciated.

WeSpire’s annual employee engagement survey reports that engaged employees have managers that care about them, are recognized frequently, and feel they are contributing to their teams in a meaningful way.

Use some of your regular staff meetings to keep employees posted on what other departments are up to. You may wish to invite upper management to give brief corporate updates quarterly. The goodwill from an annual visit and interest in your team from the CEO would be remembered for months.

Occasional team-building events away from the office can break up a monotonous routine. Be sure to celebrate birthdays and note work anniversaries (if your team is large, observe all the birthdays in the month with one cake). A quarterly potluck lunch is a great way to enhance camaraderie. You could even come up with silly contests for your corner of the world (for instance, the first one to reach a particular weekly milestone gets a $5 Starbucks gift card, or every time someone encounters a last name starting with Z, they ring a bell).

Not all motivation is touchy-feely. Money talks… (and I’ll leave the last half of this common colloquialism unsaid). Make sure your employees are paid adequately, and offer real bonuses (not just coffee shop gift cards) for measurable performance results. Don’t wait until the annual review to give feedback; offer verbal pats on the back frequently. Hold regular one-on-one meetings with each team member, and you’ll be able to gauge when one of your employees may be spiraling into discouragement.

The real key to create lasting job satisfaction is to get employees to buy in to your company’s mission. Explain the “why” along with the “how” for departmental duties. Day-to-day tasks feel less onerous when there is an understanding of how they affect the company as a whole.

President Kennedy was touring NASA in the 1960s, and he encountered a janitor with a broom. When asked by the POTUS what he was doing, the custodian replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” The takeaway: No matter how small the role, everyone contributes to the success of an organization.

Managers: What are some of your best employee engagement strategies?
Employees: What could your manager do to keep your morale high?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

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Hire for Culture

Dear, Anita,

I am interviewing for a replacement member of our team and have narrowed it down to the two top applicants. They are equally qualified in almost every way. How do I decide between two really stellar candidates?

Dear, (Eenie, Meanie, Miney,) Moe,

Square Peg in a Round HoleWhat a great problem to have! I often hear complaints that there are not enough qualified applicants for open positions.

It sounds like you have thoroughly analyzed their hard skills, but what about their soft skills and interpersonal rapport? These traits can be harder to quantify. You want to make sure the potential hire is a good fit with your company’s culture – the tacit attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of your organization’s management and employees.

If you haven’t already, invite both to interview with your manager, HR supervisor, or even the company president. (If you are the head honcho, schedule another informal interview in a more relaxed setting, such as a coffee shop, to get a different take.) Here are some sample questions used to determine cultural fit:

  • Tree_iStock_000021275060Describe the work environment and management style with which you are most productive and happy.
  • How would your coworkers describe your work style and role within the team?
  • What is most important to you in making your next career move – money, recognition, stability, challenge, or environment?
  • What motivates you to come to work every day?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • What is your super power?

Try to avoid nebulous questions like Barbara Walters’ infamous, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” or just plain odd questions like Stanford University’s “Who would win a fight between Spiderman and Batman?” unless you work for Marvel or DC Comics.

After the interviews with other managers, confab to get their impressions of the two candidates. You don’t want to make a decision solely on the fact that one candidate likes the same football team as the rest of you, but the applicant who is sports-oriented may fit in to your company more readily than the equally-capable bookworm.

Arrange for each applicant to spend a few hours or a half day shadowing the employee they are replacing or attending a department meeting. While they’re bound to be a little nervous and may not be able participate fully, you’ll get valuable insight seeing them interact with your team. And they may self-select out once they see what it’s really like in the trenches! Cultural fit is a two-way street.

There is no clear-cut test for cultural congruence. When it comes down to it, you’ll need to make a gut decision between two awesome candidates. Chances are, either one will work out, but paying closer attention to the culture issue could make all the difference.

Readers: How does your company screen for a cultural fit?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

Subscribe to receive weekly emails with career tips and advice for job seekers, employed people, and managers and supervisors.

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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