Opposing Office Politics

Hi, Anita:

Two groups of my co-workers have been at odds with each other for the past month. There was a disagreement over the way a project was handled and now it feels like the office is a war zone. I have tried my hardest to mind my own business but I can feel everyone involved trying to pull me in their direction. How do I stay out of the game of office politics?

Dear, Caught in the Middle:

Office politics is present in almost every work environment. Whether you are a forklift driver in a warehouse or an assistant in the executive suite, these games have been known to crash even the best office parties.

Office_GossipI have a few tips for you that will help you steer clear of political mumbo jumbo and center your focus on what matters most: your job!

  1. Do not engage in gossip. Avoid involving yourself in rumors and off-work topic discussions. Seriously, do not touch it with a 10-foot pole. All it will do is get you caught up in the games even more. You will be no better than your coworkers who are in the midst of this spat.
  2. Be a great listener. Not all gossip can be avoided, especially when it is shoved right into your lap. To not be rude or disinterested, practice your listening skills. The other person may need to vent about their opponent, but that doesn’t mean you have to give your opinion. Be a sounding board for their feelings and then politely carry on with your day.
  3. Keep your personal life private. Keep your personal information just how it should be: personal. To avoid conflict, do not discuss politics or religion while you are in the office. Your opinions and preferences that do not relate to work are on a need-to-know basis. As for your coworkers, they fall under the “do not need to know” category.
  4. Be positive and complimentary. Like your mother and I will always tell you, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all.” The same rings true in the workplace. You don’t want to start building a reputation of being a Debbie Downer.
  5.  Keep your interactions on an even keel. Be aware of how your interactions with your coworkers, superiors and subordinates are being perceived by others. Unequal treatment will be recognized immediately and could form a breeding ground for even more office politics.
  6.  Stay focused. Nothing can be better for you and your career than staying focused on doing your job well. If you keep your goals and tasks top of mind, you will not only be a more productive employee, but you will set a higher standard for your peers. The troublemakers will begin to see that you do not have time to engage in their quarrels or drama.

Readers, what tactics do you employ to avoid office politics?

Check out this video to see how to best avoid bad office politics:

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Warm Wishes,

Anita

Putting a Stop to Stealing

A reader writes…

Hi, Anita:

Employee theft has become a topic of discussion lately at my company, as we are evaluating how to reduce costs and increase profitability. What tips do you have to help prevent and stop theft in the workplace?

Stealing 2Hi, Office Police:

Theft in the workplace costs businesses massive amounts of money every year. A package of pens here or there could seem pretty harmless, right? Wrong. If you start to think that your employees wouldn’t possibly steal from you, well think again.

American Databank estimates that:

  • Employee theft costs U.S. companies over $120 billion a year.
  • 95% of all companies are victims of theft.
  • Only 10% of employee theft is actually discovered.
  • Over 2 million crimes occur in the workplace annually.

These statistics are hard to swallow but are important to keep in mind when deciding to develop a stringent anti-theft policy. Here are my tips to help prevent these problems from even making their way into your workforce.

  • Conduct pre-employment screenings. This includes verifying experience, contacting references, conducting criminal background checks, and administering drug tests. As Stealinghard as it is to believe, up to 40% of information on applications and résumés is falsified or misrepresented. Companies like Select Staffing conduct extensive screenings before placing seekers on assignment with a client.
  • Develop and clearly post your zero-tolerance theft policy. Ensure that all employees are informed of your expectations and the consequences of stealing or ignoring theft by other co-workers.
  • Install surveillance cameras in areas that are prone to theft. These areas could include your supply/stock room, employee break room, parking lots, sales floor, or back office. These alone are a huge deterrent to thievery.
  • Implement several steps of controls and auditing into your standard routine. Have reports created and pulled that evaluate inventory levels and cash inflows/outflows.
  • Have auditors from an independent agency audit and evaluate your financial records.
  • Only hire bonded employees for positions where they will manage company finances and inventories. This will protect your company in the event of loss through the employee’s actions.

Employers and managers, what do you do to prevent theft in your place of business? Have you had to terminate an employee for stealing?

Best wishes,

Anita

Time Theft: Is It Really a Crime?

A reader writes…

Hi, Anita:

One of my co-workers always shows up to work right at 8:00 a.m. and clocks in. After she makes her mark on the time card, she is out the door to park her car in the lot down the street and then to the cafeteria to get breakfast. By the time she actually starts working, it is at least 30 minutes past. Is it just me or is there something seriously wrong with this picture?

Dear, Time Sensitive:Time

What a great question! This applies to everyone from employees and supervisors to managers and business owners. Your belief that this practice is unethical is spot on. The official term for this type of behavior is “time theft.” Time theft happens when an employee is paid by their employer for work that has not actually been done. Many people may not even know they are doing something wrong but, in reality, they are costing their employers thousands of dollars a year.

There are a few types of time theft that everyone should be aware of. Your employees, co-workers, and even you may be guilty of time crimes.

  • Time Clock Theft: Employees who do not show up for their scheduled shift and have a friend clock in for them are committing time card fraud. This can also include our reader’s co-worker who comes in to work and clocks in but gets to work later than the start of hershift. Most of us are not being paid just to be in the building. We are paid to work and produce results. Forging time sheets to show additional hours worked is another way that unethical employees are trying to cheat the system.
  • Excessive Personal Time: Most managers and employers understand that their employees have lives outside of their jobs that may require attention during work hours from time to time. But when this becomes a routine, that is where the time theft concern arises. Non-work-related calls, emails, personal discussions, and social networking are the primary time wasters that are making employers pay the price.
  • Over-Extended Breaks: Employees are due a break or two during their shift according to federal labor laws. The most common instances of time theft occur when employees either take more breaks than allotted during their shift, do not clock out for breaks that they take, or extend the break time without making up the time.
  • Using Sick Time Inappropriately: Sick time is set aside to help employees in the event that they are ill and cannot be at work. Sometimes, employees will use these days to receive pay when they are taking a personal day off.

For a better understanding of how much these small actions can affect your productivity and profitability, take a look at the following chart from Acroprint. It shows how much arriving even five minutes late and leaving five minutes early can cost employers on a typical, full-time (250-day) work year.

Number of employees

2

5

10

25

50

Hourly Pay

Cost/Minute

Profit Loss

$8.00

$0.1333

$1,333

$3,333

$6,667

$16,667

$33,333

$12.00

$0.20

$2,000

$5,000

$10,000

$25,000

$50,000

$15.00

$0.25

$2,500

$6,250

$12,500

$31,250

$62,500

As you can see, even a small bending of the time rules can cost employers thousands of dollars.

While I applaud you for doing the ethical thing and not committing time theft yourself, I do suggest that you keep your co-worker’s behavior to yourself. Eventually, your supervisor will catch on and the employee will have to face the consequences. It is best to only be concerned with your work ethic and your performance. These issues typically work themselves out in the end.

Readers, do you find time theft occurring in your workplace? What would you do if you noticed your co-workers bending or breaking the rules and committing time crimes?

Best wishes,

Anita

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Declining a Job Offer Professionally

A reader writes…

Good Morning, Anita:

I have great news to report! After searching high and low for job opportunities, I was able to get not one but two job offers. I have taken both into consideration and analyzed the pros and cons of each position. Now that I have made my decision, I need to tell the other employer that I am not going to take their offer. How can I politely decline the position so as not to burn any bridges for the future?

Dear, Job Offer Juggler:

Congratulations on this exciting news! It is always great to hear from readers who have successfully found employment. For all you out there on the hunt for a new job, this is proof that you can and will find something!

Job offerAs for your question, I think that it is very important for your professional reputation to politely decline the other job offer. Just as you do not want potential employers to leave you hanging, you should show them the same courtesy. Who knows, the hiring company may have a future position you are interested in pursuing, and you do not want to sour a positive relationship.

Just as we previously discussed in my post Thank You for the Interview, it is important to be courteous and professional with your communications to the hiring manager. This will most likely be the last chance you have to leave an impression on them, and you want it to be a good one. Below are some rules to follow for declining the offer.

  • Use the appropriate means of communication. If you have been working with the hiring manager through email, you can  respond in that format. In some instances, a formal letter and even a phone call may be more appropriate. Choose  to communicate the news in whichever way  is more relevant to your experience.Job offer2
  • Take the time to plan your message. At this point, the hiring manager has spent a lot of time considering you for the position, and you need to be respectful of this. A well thought out message will show that you greatly appreciate the offer and will leave a more positive impact.
  • Be prompt with your response. Once you have made the decision to decline their offer, you need to let them know. They will have to make other arrangements and contact other candidates when you refuse, so try to make this process as timely as possible.
  • Keep the details to a minimum. The employer does not want to hear about how much better the other offer is. Let them know that you were impressed by their company and that you took all aspects of the offer into serious consideration before making your decision. A great “out” is that the job opportunity was not the best fit for you at this time.
  • Keep it short and sweet. There is no need to carry on about how great the company is and how much you wished it would have worked out. Think of it like ripping off a Band-Aid.

A great site to look at for examples and different ways to craft your letter can be found at Harvard Business Review blogger Jodi Glickman’s post Turning Down a Job Offer. It does a great job of laying it out for you, so take advantage of her advice!

Job seekers and employees, what would you do if you were offered two or more positions?

Managers and business owners, how would you like a possible candidate to break the bad news to you?

Best wishes,

Anita

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Importance of Annual Résumé Updates

A reader writes:

Hi, Anita:

I have been working at my current job for about two years. From the time that I started until now, my job responsibilities have grown. Even if I am not planning on leaving my current position, should I keep updating my résumé? If so, how often?

Dear, Résumé Refresher:Annual Updates 2

Thank you for your question! Keeping your résumé up-to-date is very important to your current and future career success. Creating a résumé that is high quality and worthy of attracting future employers takes a lot of time and effort to produce. Don’t let the cobwebs build up and cover up what made you shine in the first place. Even if you are not planning on making a job change anytime soon, it is important to keep your CV current and include your recent accomplishments and duties. With the way the employment market and economy has been over the past few years, it is always good to be prepared in the unfortunate event that you are laid off.

As a good rule of thumb, everyone should plan on updating his or her résumés at least every six months. Be sure to include recent accomplishments, newly bestowed responsibilities, and anything important that is representative of your current position. If you have joined new professional organizations or become involved in new community groups, be sure to include this as well. It is important to add these as you go along because we all have a tendency to forget important details. What will also be helpful is to make what I like to call a “kudos” file. In this file, you can keep copies of performance reviews, recommendations, or testimonials to show how great of an employee you are!

Annual UpdatesAnother thing to do is to review job postings that are similar to your field and pick out the important buzzwords. With the high number of companies using keywords to filter out unqualified applicants, it is an important step to add a few to your résumé. In the chance that your dream job comes knocking at your door, you won’t find yourself scrambling to have a strong and relevant résumé.

By staying on top of your CV now, you will be in better shape later, prepared for anything that may come your way! If you need more advice on how to make sure your résumé stands out from the crowd, see my post Reasons for No Résumé Responses for tips.

Here is a great video about  how to update your résumé effectively!

Readers, how often do you update your résumé? What tips do you have for making your résumé the leader of the pack?

Best wishes,

Anita

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

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Obamacare and Employees

For the past two weeks, I have written about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, and how it affects large and small businesses. (Click here to view last week’s post.) I have also heard from several employees who are concerned about how this legislation will impact their lives. In truth, the law already has been in effect for over 3 years, but January 1, 2014 marks a new milestone in the way businesses and their employees are impacted. American workers are wondering if the cost of their health care premiums and coverage will go up as a result of this game-changing legislation.

Doctor_PatientWill your paycheck be affected?

Funding for all of the new expenses resulting from the ACA has to come from somewhere. Instead of increasing the deficit to fund the program, President Obama has introduced 21 new taxes; it’s estimated those taxes will negatively impact the incomes of only 2% of Americans, whereas 98% won’t see any change in their take-home pay. Click here for a full list of Affordable Care Act tax provisions.

However, on average, employers are expected to see a 6.5% rise in their rates from insurance companies, and that could create additional premiums for their employees. Obamacare forces insurance providers to offer coverage to all Americans, even those with pre-existing conditions, and those insurance companies may pass that increased expense onto employers. According to Mercer’s 2012 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, 58% of employers plan to pass a portion of their increases to their employees. It is at your employer’s discretion whether they will pass along that burden in some form or fashion; however, the Obama administration anticipates that benefits from the ACA will offset any reduction of income employees might see.

Will your coverage change?

The American Action Forum estimates that, under Obamacare, 35 million Americans will lose employer-sponsored health care coverage. Those employees will be forced into government-run exchanges, which the government is working to make affordable. The good news from just last week is that the exchanges may be even more affordable than previously thought. The Washington Post noted that the heavy competition among providers in California and Oregon is driving down costs to lower than what the Congressional Budget Office had anticipated. What plan you choose dictates what coverage you will have, which may or may not be different than what you were receiving previously.

Some Americans and their families will receive a tax break when purchasing their insurance plans through the exchange. The price for plans is capped at no less at 1.5% and no more than 12% of their income for health insurance premiums under the new law. The amount you will pay is determined using a sliding scale.

Health careIf your employer does not offer health insurance and you choose not to get an individual plan, you will be subject to a penalty of $95 or 1% of your income (whichever is greater) for noncompliance in 2014. Readers, you should expect this to rise in 2016 to $625 or 2.5% of income.

How should you prepare?

With all of the new laws, taxes, and regulations, it is important to plan ahead and prepare for the changes that are certain to take place. Your situation is likely to change in one way or another. You should start budgeting for an increase now, and be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t come. If you have concerns over what will happen to your health care plan at your workplace, now is the time to have a conversation with your benefits administrator or human resources manager.

Readers, what are your employers doing to prepare for Obamacare in 2014? Have you developed a strategy of your own?

Best wishes,

Anita

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Seeking Solutions for Obamacare

A reader writes…

Hi, Anita:

As the HR Director of a company with 56 people, Obamacare is on the top of my mind. My company is on the fence about what we should do. We don’t want to let go 7 people to be under the magic number of 50, but we want to avoid the steep penalties. What are your thoughts on how to best handle this new law as an employer or business owner?

Dear, Seeking a Solution:

Thank you for the question! Business owners and employers are all struggling with the looming question of how they will handle the coming implementation of Obamacare’s penalty provisions. I am glad to hear that my readers are already thinking about the subject and beginning to get their strategies in order now. In your situation Doctor_Handswith just over 50 employees, you are in the category that must provide affordable health insurance or face hefty fines.

After doing some research and evaluating the options, I have determined that the best course of action for businesses like yours is to move your excess employees over to a staffing firm’s payroll. Here is how I came to this conclusion.

  • By migrating 7 workers to a staffing firm’s payroll, you can cut your “full-time equivalent” staff below the 50-person limit, which means your company will not be subject to fees and penalties. The staffing company becomes the official employer of record and is responsible for providing health care or absorbing the penalty. In our reader’s case, if they were to move Medical_Filesthe 7 people from their payroll to a staffing company, it could save them $14,000 in penalties and potentially even more in insurance costs.
  • Some staffing firms offer health benefits to their temporary employees, relieving you of any moral concern or burden. My favorites are Select Staffing, RemX Specialty Staffing, Remedy Intelligent Staffing, and Westaff.
  • Lower insurance rates for your employees.  Larger staffing firms have so many employees on their insurance plans that they are able to negotiate great group rates. This cost savings can be passed on to you.
  • By moving your a portion of your workforce to a staffing firm, you will not be required to comply with the complex reporting requirements. The employer must report regularly to the IRS, its employees, and to all states in which the company does business. This will reduce costs and provide a savings in administrative overhead.

On a recent episode of his CNBC show Mad Money, financial analyst Jim Cramer noted that the demand for temps is mushrooming, “fueled in part by the pending implementation of Obamacare.” He says: “Businesses of all sizes are searching for ways to cope with this law, and the easiest way to avoid paying these expenses is to hire more temps.”

Employers, what are your plans for managing the Obamacare mandate? Will you be turning to staffing firms for help?

Best wishes,

Anita

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Obamacare Effects: Employers

A reader writes…

Hi, Anita:

I am a small business owner with about 45 employees and have some questions about Obamacare. I have heard a lot of buzz about the subject but not much concrete information about the effects of its implementation. Can you help shed some light on how my business and I need to adapt to these changes in the law?

Dear, Unsure About Obamacare:Dr_Woman

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has been on the minds of business owners and  managers across the country. Though the next round of changes isn’t scheduled to begin until January 1, 2014 (can you believe we are halfway through May already!), now is the time to get the facts straight and figure out what steps you need to take to prepare. Below are some basic points all employers and managers need to keep in mind:

  • The Affordable Care Act applies only to employers that have 50 or more employees or full-time equivalents. Because you have 45 employees, you will not be required to “pay” (a $2,000 penalty for each employee after the first 30 not covered by insurance) or “play” (and provide coverage for each of your full-time-equivalent employees) come 2014. However, if your business grows and you need to add 5 or more full-time employees, you will be subject to these rules. Note that “50 full-time-equivalent employees” means that the total hours among all full- and part-time employees equals the amount of hours worked by 50 full-time employees.
  • State exchanges will provide individuals and small employers (those with less than 200 employees) a marketplace to purchase group health coverage plans.
  • Comprehensive health plans used by employers to leverage employment deals and keep the best talent on staff are subject to an additional tax. In 2016, health benefits that are valued at $10,200 for single coverage or $27,500 for family coverage will be taxed at 40%.
  • If the health care plan you offer your employees is too expensive and exceeds 9.5% of their income, you will be subject to a hefty fine. This piece is a growing concern for employers like manufacturing firms, restaurants, and retail establishments that offer positions at a lower wage. Employers will be facing a penalty of $3,000 if the plan is deemed unaffordable or inadequate.

If your head is swimming, you’re not alone. It’s a complex law but an important one for everyone to understand, especially you as a business owner. Because I’ve also received questions about Obamacare from employees and job seekers, I’m going to be writing a series of posts on this subject over the next couple of weeks. So check back next Tuesday!

In the meantime, you might want to watch the video below, in which CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen explains which parts of health care have changed or will change soon as a result of Obama’s health care reform.

Stay well,

Anita

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Power of Productive Teams

Hi, Anita:

Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom with my team and me. We look forward to your post every week and have a question for you. What elements or structure do you need to have a highly productive and effective group of employees? We are looking to boost and build our team to the next level!

Dear, Eager Leader:

It warms my heart when I get questions from my faithful readers. There isn’t much that will put a bigger smile on my face than you all do. Okay, I’ll lay off the mushy stuff. As for your question, I have seen plenty of professional teams, both good and bad. Through my observations and research, I have whittled down the big picture to find the special ingredients for a flexible, efficient, and effective team. I hope you’ll find them beneficial.Productive_Teams_1

  • Clear goals. As a manager, you must set clear goals and expectations for your team. This will make sure that each person both understands what is expected of them and has the direction to work toward a common goal.
  • Hire competent people. If you team does not have intelligent people that possess skills to contribute to the group, you might as well hang up your hat. Good people are the driving force to being effective and productive. Remember that you are only as good as your weakest link. If you do have a weak link, do yourself, your team, and the “link” a favor and let him go. Though it may be painful at first for all parties, everyone will be better off in the end, including the terminated employee.
  • Unified commitment. Each person on your team must be dedicated to achieving the end goal and willing to put in the effort  to get there.
  • Lead by example and set standards. Set the tone for your group by your example. Only deliver high-quality work and only accept it in return.
  • Create a collaborative environment. Encourage all members of your team to give their input and contribute ideas to the group. Being open and accepting will only make your unit stronger.
  • Recognize and support. When a member of your team or the group in their entirety accomplishes a task or works through a tough problem, by all means, celebrate. Recognition is a great way to motivate your employees and keep the momentum moving.

I hope you will implement (if you haven’t already) these key elements that I believe are the foundation for amazing teams. With a strong structure, clear understanding, and mutual respect, the possibilities are endless.

Manager/Supervisors: What element of your team do you think contributes most to your success?

Discussing a Job Offer

Hi, Anita:

I was contacted by a recruiter for a position at another company that is very intriguing. The opportunity would be a step up from my current position and offers a higher salary. It may sound like a no-brainer decision, but I really like my situation at my job now and have hopes of being promoted soon. What are your thoughts on discussing this job offer with my current employer? Can there be any benefit to bringing it up?

Discussing Job Offer Negotiate BlocksDear, Headhunted:

Luckily, this is a win-win situation for you. Most employees dream of finding themselves in this circumstance. Who doesn’t like being in demand and scouted for better opportunities? You should be very flattered. So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of your question.

Presenting this situation to your current employer does have its benefits, but only if you are serious about taking this other opportunity. Interest from a competitor or other firm can serve as a little reminder to your superiors of how valuable you are to the company and to the industry. You can use this to your advantage if you are in the position to either stay or make a move. Here are some tips to a situation like this to help boost your salary base and move you up the ladder.

  • Do not discuss the other opportunity with anyone at your current company. If word gets out that you are contemplating another offer and, as rumors do, it spreads like wildfire, things could turn out very bad for you. My advice: keep your thoughts to yourself until you have all the appropriate players in your current position in the know.
  • Think long and hard about what you really hope to achieve through negotiations with your current employer or by Discussing Job Offer Womanswitching to a new company. Are you entertaining this other offer seriously because the base pay is higher? Are there more opportunities for promotion? Do they offer a better benefits package?
  • Remember that hiring a new employee will cost your company money. This could put you at an advantage. The Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California at Berkeley reports that the average cost to replace an employee for all categories of workers is about $4,000. The average cost for managerial and professional employees may be as high as $7,000. This doesn’t even factor in the time and energy it takes to train a new employee! Just this alone could help lead you to an increase in salary.
  • Be prepared that the negotiations may not go as planned or your way at all. Your current employer may be unwilling or unable to meet your demands or the competitor offer. Even if they do raise your compensation to keep you, they may feel as if you’ve proven you’ll leave at the next good opportunity and feel resentful toward you. If you are going to bring the other offer to your current employer, you must be confident that the possible new position is a sure thing and that you are okay with making the move. If not, you may find yourself without a job and without a reference.

Be sure to properly analyze and take into account all angles of your situation. This includes your job performance, relationship with your boss, flexibility, and other factors. It isn’t just the salary number that makes people happy at their job.

Readers: Have you ever been in this situation? How did you approach your boss, and what was the outcome?

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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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