Taking Control of Your Attendance Problem

June 29th, 2012

Poor attendance and sick leave abuse are two expensive problems that often reflect an underlying ailment in workplace culture. Of course you’d like your employees to take attendance seriously, especially if our business is driven by deadlines and customer service. And ideally, you’d like your employees to bring the same competitive spirit and enthusiasm to their attendance records that they bring to every other aspect of their jobs. But high attendance is usually a general reflection of morale, that mysterious element that supports a productive social and cultural environment, and morale issues are a management responsibility. You simply can’t force people to want things, and you can’t bully people into showing up cheerfully when they’d rather take a mental health day.

Start by obtaining clear numbers. Exactly how bad is your attendance problem? Gather your attendance records together and thoroughly review them. Are your absentee rates higher than those of similar industries during similar times of the year? If not, they could still be better. And if so, you have a problem. The following tips can help you set things straight.

First, begin paying closer attention. Have your managers keep an eye out for patterns. You don’t need to introduce disciplinary measures or record every late entry or early exit in a formal file, but make note of who’s coming and going and when.

Take a closer look at the positions of the worst offenders. Do some of these positions need to be restructured or arranged in a new way that keeps them fresh and challenging? Employees want to be elsewhere when they’re bored or have lost their passion. If they’re chronically bored and passionless, something about their jobs may need to change.

Find out if something else is affecting attendance, and if so, address the problem at the source. Are employees running to catch the train that leaves at 4:50, because the next one doesn’t leave until 6:00? Are they taking advantage of a loose record keeping system? Are they trying to beat rush hour gridlock? Try increasing your flexibility. Let train commuters come in at 10:00, so they can work a full day and leave at 6:00. Let drivers avoid rush hour by occasionally working at home.

Finally, start looking for ways to reward excellent attendance records. Don’t punish; Punishing absenteeism will only make the problem get worse and the offenders get sneakier. Instead, develop financial incentives or provide public recognition for those with the best attendance records. Make sure the rewards you offer have an appealing place in your company culture.

Recognize Employment Scams

June 22nd, 2012

It’s an age-old truth that desperation attracts bottom feeders, and any pocket of society that contains a high amount of desperation will also become a breeding ground for those who wish to turn the urgent needs of others into cash for themselves. Unemployment offers just such a pocket. There will always be scammers lurking around the unemployed, hoping to take advantage of those who will do anything for a job.

The best way to avoid scams is to keep your desperation under control. Maintain a cool head and don’t let the urgency of your situation get the best of you. Your bank account may be dwindling, but that’s no reason to leap without looking, abandon your dignity, or sign anything without reading the fine print. A foolish move is a foolish move, no matter how long you’ve been out of work.

Remember that you aren’t alone. Your situation may feel unique, but it isn’t. There are many others out there treading the same paths and making the same decisions in pursuit of the same goal. Once you realize how common these paths and these decisions are, you’ll be less likely to view an opportunity as one-in-a-million, tailor-made just for you, or only available for a limited time.  Don’t get excited about anything that seems too perfect or too perfect for you.

If you find yourself drawn toward something because it seems easy, lucrative or made for you, then investigate if you must, but do so with one hand on your wallet. If the offer in question is a legitimate job, money will flow to you, not away from you. Don’t sign on with anyone who asks you to pay them. They should be paying you. If a job requires you to invest any money or pay any upfront fees, just walk away.

As a general rule of thumb, walk away from anyone who offers you a chance to work at home making as much money as you want. See the rule above: Your desires are not unique. Everyone in the world wants to work from home, and everyone wants flexible earning power. Also, steer clear of any job posting that seems too eager to sell, rather than buy. If an advertised job seems to offer everything and require nothing (no specific skills, experience, qualifications, education or sacrifice) then it probably isn’t a job. Be skeptical if a post contains too many exclamation points or italics. These plus a few misspelled words should be a terminal red flag.

Before you complete any forms that ask for your personal information or social security number, make sure you activate every one of your internal scam sensors. And remember: desperation makes you vulnerable, but a cool head can protect your interests and keep you safe. If you sense anything fishy, back away, stay calm and confident, and just keep looking.

How to Read– and More Important, How to Ignore– Body Language During an Interview

June 14th, 2012

When you walk into the lobby to greet your candidate, she squeezes your hand hard and stares you in the eye like a hungry lioness. A minute later her laser-like focus relaxes and you think you’ve made an honest connection. That is, until she laughs way too loud at an idle remark you didn’t intend as a joke. The next candidate leans forward in his chair, listening intently to your every word. But when you stop to ask him for his thoughts, he looks momentarily blank and stricken. He was trying so hard to appear attentive, he didn’t catch the last ten words you just said.

What’s wrong with these candidates? Their body language seems to be on overdrive. Every tic and twitch (and there are plenty) seems to reveal volumes of information and vast insight into how well prepared they are for the job…but it probably doesn’t. These candidates are just nervous, and they’ve been coached to adopt clumsy, unnatural gestures in order to make them seem confident. In short, they want you to like them and they’ve never taken professional acting classes.

Neither of these are a crime. In fact, they’re almost universal among well-adjusted human beings, and being overly rattled or turned off by an expression of nerves might cause you to accidently dismiss an excellent candidate. Or worse, hire the wrong candidate simply because his body language put you at ease.
Nerves can express themselves in odd ways. A candidate who touches her nose a few times during the interview may not, in fact, be a chronic nose-toucher.  A leg-crosser, a paper clip fiddler, or a fake laugher may also not be flawed on a cellular level. As a general rule of thumb, nerves are not a bad sign. In fact, the opposite may hold true. A bit of unnatural jumpiness or a sweaty palm may be far preferable to a candidate who glazes over and has no interest in impressing you at all.

But in either case, don’t be drawn in or overly influenced by any of these things. Let the candidates worry about body language issues. They’re the ones who must actively control their inner turmoil. The task of the interviewer should be to look past the rebellious nerves, awkwardness, and clumsy coaching to find a candidate who can adapt to the culture and handle the demands of the position. Put applicants at ease if you can, don’t worry about it if you can’t, and above all, stay focused on the job at hand.

Combating Turnover: Don’t Let Talented Employees Slip Away

June 5th, 2012

It’s a frustrating fact that the most valuable candidates—those who are talented and those who are ambitious—are also the ones most likely to be drawn away after an expensive hiring and training process. Human capital is exchanged in an open marketplace, just like most other products and services, and to attract and the retain the best employees, you need to be willing to compete. You also need to be willing to keep a close eye on your company culture.

Here are five of the top reasons for high turnover and a few ways to create a counterforce that can keep valuable employees on your team.

1.    The lure of higher paying offers

First, make sure your pay rates are competitive. This may seem like a no-brainer, but a surprisingly large number of inexperienced small firms simply review their own budgets and set salaries based on what they can afford (or what they choose) to pay. Don’t do this. Investigate your competitor’s rates and the rates for similar jobs in other industries. If you underpay, your savings will be reduced by the constant need to hire and train new staff. If budget restrictions prevent you from paying competitive rates, try to expand your perks and benefits, like health insurance and flex time.

2.    Boredom or stagnation

If a talented employee wants to learn new skills or take on increasing responsibilities, find a way to make this happen or prepare to lose her. If you can’t promote her because there’s simply no higher position available, change her job title and expand her role in any way you can. Be creative. Many surveys show that employees will sometimes forego higher pay in exchange for non-monetary recognition, novel experiences, or the chance to learn new things.

3.    A frustrating company culture

At the end of the day, high turnover is a management responsibility. Your turnover is likely to stabilize if you invest in high quality human resource staff and excellent managers and directors. A depressing workplace, an unpleasant culture, or confusion about responsibilities and expectations can all drive excellent employees away. Some toxic cultural aspects (For example, out-of-control competition, bullying, or weak leadership) can actually attract terrible, underperforming employees while simultaneously driving good ones away. Keep an eye on this, and make sure you hire managers who take workplace culture seriously.

4.    Life changes and a corresponding need for flexibility

As employees move from their twenties into their thirties and forties, their lives change in often-predictable ways. They have children, their children grow up, and they begin to care for aging parents. Managers should not be caught off guard by these relatively common events. Inflexible or unsympathetic policies may alienate excellent employees, and since most people put family loyalty above company loyalty, employees with limited options will start looking for work elsewhere. A five year investment in a talented employee should not be lost over an unwillingness to make reasonable accommodations.

5.    The lure of the unknown  

Sometimes young workers leave a company to travel, enter graduate programs, or pursue unique experiences. Combat this by keeping the lines of communication open between managers and employees. If an employee wants to travel, you may be able to offer her position on an overseas account. If she wants to get her master’s degree, maybe you can fund her program in exchange for a three-year commitment to the firm. Listen to your employees and stay in touch. If you can, use annual performance reviews as a way to check in with employees about their long term plans and life goals.

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