Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Cure for the Ailing Workplace

Research shows the benefit of compassionate communication within the workplace

WASHINGTON, DC — Compassionate communication within an office can help prevent workplace burnout, and promote healthier work environments. Sarah Tracy, Ph.D., Director of the Project for Wellness-Work Life at Arizona State University, has some tips for how managers can use compassionate communication to enhance the workplace.

To create a better working environment, managers should encourage positive, compassionate communication between employees. There are three components involved when communicating compassion: recognizing, relating and responding.

Recognizing refers to the process of noticing and understanding details about another person, in order to act appropriately towards them. This includes observing nonverbal cues, listening to what the others have to say, and opening oneself up to feedback. Managers need to ensure that employees are regularly interacting with each other, and are aware of nonverbal clues about possible suffering.

Relating occurs when people identify, feel for, and connect with another person. Relating is fostered when employees are encouraged and rewarded to find connections with each other. This can also decrease the “us versus them” attitude they may have with peers and clients.

Responding is when employees engage in communication or behaviors that focus on another person’s suffering or distress. This can be as simple as acknowledging the presence of someone waiting in line, or as direct as providing praise as a show of support. The act of responding has the potential to greatly improve unsavory workplace situations.

“Workplace stress, bullying, and burnout are important issues that occur in many different forms throughout the workplace. They can lead to dissatisfaction and high rates of turnover among employees,” says Tracy. “Positive communication including energy, vitality, affection, and compassion can help improve employee relations at work.”

Positive interactions have been shown to help decrease stress. Teaching compassion-related skills like recognizing, relating and responding, can help create healthy and successful work environments.

About the author:
Sarah J. Tracy is an Associate Professor and Director of the Project for Wellness and Work-Life in the High Downs School of Communication at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. Tracy was invited to write an essay for Communication Currents, a publication of the National Communication Association.

To read Tracy’s essay, click here.

About the National Communication Association

The National Communication Association advances communication as the discipline that studies all forms, modes, media and consequences of communication through humanistic, social scientific and aesthetic inquiry.

The NCA serves the scholars, teachers, and practitioners who are its members by enabling and supporting their professional interests in research and teaching. Dedicated to fostering and promoting free and ethical communication, the NCA promotes the widespread appreciation of the importance of communication in public and private life, the application of competent communication to improve the quality of human life and relationships, and the use of knowledge about communication to solve human problems.

NCA is the largest national organization to promote communication scholarship and education. A non-profit organization, NCA has over 8,000 educators, practitioners, and students who work and reside in every state and more than 20 countries.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Top 10 Human Resources Trends of 2010

"Challenging times inspire creative solutions, and the volatile economy has forged many changes in the human resources sector," says Jeff Fenster, founder of CanopyHR Solutions. "Businesses are trimming excesses in order to succeed, and that means human resources has become a more integral part of business planning than ever before."

Stretching the Compensation Dollar. Although 2010 showed some signs of recovery, HR managed workforces that were considerably smaller than just a few years ago. HR's role in managing productivity through ancillary projects while maintaining employee morale and well-being was challenged by the parallel expectation that workers be twice as productive. Innovative HR professionals instituted creative programs such as gift card giveaways and lottery prizes to boost employee enthusiasm in lieu of raises and bonuses.

Embracing Social Media. Social networking's undeniable impact hit the big screen in 2010, and it hit workplaces in a number of ways as well. Managers learned to be on the lookout for lost productivity as employees grew increasingly concerned with checking in with their favorite social networking sites. On the upside, savvy HR pros saw a shift in the landscape as hiring and firing trends played out online. Posts cost some careless employees their jobs as HR monitored Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Smart employees landed new gigs by harnessing the power of social networking to market themselves and share information about job openings. Policies were developed to communicate clear boundaries and expectations and to attract top talent with the latest tools-with some even canceling subscriptions to and shifting to social media recruiting.

Keeping the Communication Lines Open-Especially Amid Health Care Reform Anxiety. Maintaining employees' trust in the company and its business decisions through the ups and downs of health care reform was a must. Smart senior management kept communication lines open to demonstrate accessibility and willingness to answer questions and address concerns as they arose. That applied not only to top-down communication, but to lateral lines as well. Human resources professionals were charged with bringing functional departments together; communications, legal, payroll, and IT departments-everyone had to communicate a unified message to maintain employee trust.

Retaining Top Talent. When soaring unemployment numbers left many top performers handling increasing workloads for the same old salary, human resources departments had to focus on retaining company stars. Some of these high performers got antsy as compensation froze and expectations rose. Many continued to struggle with the lingering losses they've felt after company layoffs. This delicate situation required that HR pros soothe sore nerves and keep these folks from looking for greener pastures with creative incentives and sincere appreciation.

Managing Three Generations of Work Styles. As young Millennials entered the workforce, companies had their hands full integrating three distinct generations: Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. The aging Boomers believe strongly in security and loyalty. They don't always see eye to eye with hard-working Gen Xers who have more of an independent streak. The Millennials shook things up with the attitude that if they don't like what's happening at work, they'll go home to Mom and Dad. This generational juggling was best handled with management training that stressed the characteristics of these disparate groups and how to motivate and inspire the most productivity from them. Succession planning also came into play as firms prepared for the replacement of retiring Boomers with less motivation to stick around now that they're feeling overworked and underpaid.

Sharing an Ounce of Prevention. Healthcare reform drew the spotlight to employee wellness issues in 2010, shifting more emphasis to preventive programs like smoking cessation and obesity reduction. Ben Franklin's proverbial "ounce of prevention" may finally see its day in the sun in 2011 workplaces, as employers continue the 2010 trend of encouraging employee participation in wellness programs in order to increase productivity, reduce absenteeism and boost the health of their staffs. For some, it's also a long-term strategy to avoid higher health coverage costs for increasingly overweight and unhealthy American employees.

Clearing Up Confusion. Another obvious consequence of healthcare reform's starring role in 2010 was employee confusion and uncertainty about health benefits. It became an imperative for human resources staffers to communicate benefit changes in advance, whenever possible, and explain changes in terms of how they would affect individual employees and their families. A crucial piece of that puzzle was often dispelling the misperceptions that dominated the public conversation-from dire cuts to death panels. Few changes have occurred yet, so this trend will persist in 2011 and beyond, compelling HR teams to closely monitor things like free flu shots, effective dates and the details of grandfathered health plans-and of course, clearly communicating these details to employees in a timely manner. The smartest pros will keep arming themselves with concise answers to difficult questions that will continue to arise as changes are implemented and look for new ways to reach employees with relevant information.

Managing the Virtual Workplace. Tech advances continued to lure employees into new territory, especially when it came to virtual work and telecommuting. The trend came with pluses and minuses. Some companies slid into this trend with ease, as exempt Gen Xers with no defined hours blended work and personal responsibilities into an organic off-site workday. Other companies struggled with non-exempt workers. Meticulous time tracking was required to ensure proper payment of overtime and the like. Most of the latter companies discovered the concept was detrimental to business. It's a lifestyle management issue that will continue to show up on HR radar screens in 2011 and could be further impacted by additional tech developments.

Working Together. Leaner, more streamlined companies must share information laterally to get the most from scarce resources. HR teams took a leadership role in reaching out to other departments and "sharing the sandbox." More than ever, employees in every department have a sense of facing adversity together. Strategic-minded businesses used the momentum to support strong teamwork and innovative solutions that crossed department lines for everyone's benefit.

Riding Out the Recession. As much as circumstances have improved, the recession we battled against throughout 2010 continues to impact companies and individuals-a trend that will likely continue beyond 2011. HR departments and executives need to tune into their resources and prioritize more than ever before. True innovation is the best way to establish solid initiatives without a solid budget. Successful firms will continue to prioritize wisely, focusing on the most effective tools to enhance business strategy and achievements and develop new business.

"Uncertainty breeds fear in everyone from employees to executives," says Fenster. "Perhaps the most important take-away from the major shifts we saw in 2010 is that the best HR professionals are those who are best at managing uncertainty and allaying fears. That means always reaching out for new information and reliable answers and communicating that information clearly. It also means creating new ways of helping managers and employees move forward, even when the future remains uncertain. Great change requires great innovation, so I think we're going to see some exciting programs and strategies come out of this adversity."

About this list.

This list was compiled by CanopyHR Solutions: Based in Irvine, Calif., CanopyHR Solutions is a progressive payroll and human resources company dedicated to helping its customers maximize the power of their people, increase business efficiencies, lower costs and focus on what they do best. Canopy HR Solutions first disrupted the status quo of the payroll and human resources in 2008 with a customer-first business model that allowed its customers to select only those service modules they need. Their innovative style and superior, consultative approach to service has allowed the agile company to thrive by arming customers with the tools and technology to support their payroll, benefits and HR administrative needs from recruitment to retirement at an unbeatable price point. For more information, visit

Thursday, December 9, 2010

End of the Year Employee Satisfaction and Engagement Surveys

When was the last time your company took a good hard look at itself? And I don't mean the books?

Looking for a great gift to give your employees this holiday season? How about a year end soap box? Some of the best consulting advice can come from in house. Our research has shown that organizations are significantly more likely to have a high acceptance of changes to day-to-day operations if those changes are the result of suggestions coming from employees.

Simply by implementing a year end employee engagement and climate survey can immediately improve:

  • Employee satisfaction
  • Employee confidence
  • Employee performance and productivity
  • Employee - Managerial interaction
  • Over all morale

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Safety Incentive Plans

When examining your own safety reward program or when building one from scratch, consider the following guidelines:
1. Keep Rewards Small

Material rewards should not be perceived as the major payoff. The promise of incentives and rewards should only serve as reminders to work safely, and delivery of such rewards should be viewed by employees as a token of appreciation for performing the desired safe behaviors. If the focus is on the material reward, then the focus is not on working safely. A good rule of thumb is to try and equate the value of the safe behavior with the value of the reward. Therefore, giving away a $20 gift certificate to everyone who completed their observations for the month might be excessive.

2. Involve Workers

Include as many workers as possible in the construction, selection, and delivery of the reward system. By doing this, buy-in is generated up front and support or lack thereof will be evident early on so changes can be made prior to launching the program. Also, by involving workers, you are more likely to choose appropriate reinforcers rather than having management choose what they THINK workers would like. Here is a great link to an employee survey template.

3. Specify The Behaviors You Desire

Behaviors required to achieve a safety reward should be clearly spelled out and perceived as achievable by participants. If safe behaviors are not specified, then employees will not know what they need to do in order to receive the reward and interest will soon wane. Bad example: Receiving a reward if you haven’t had any accidents in the past year. Good example: Receiving a reward for achieving a percent safe goal for a behavior or set of behaviors on a checklist.

4. Collect Data And Post It

Progress toward achieving a safety reward should be systematically monitored using checklist data, and publicly posted for all participants. If safety performance is not monitored, then it will be impossible to accurately determine which employees deserve the reward.

5. Provide Meaningful Rewards

Carefully determine the rewards given as a part of your program. If employees do not find the rewards meaningful, then the reward program will not be an incentive to work safely. Some organizations have done plant-wide surveys to determine what types of social, tangible, and work process rewards are meaningful to employees.

6. Never Penalize All Group Members For Failure Of One Member

Groups of employees should not be penalized or lose their rewards/incentives for the failure of one group member. Group rewards should be tied to the overall performance of the group, but some control must be in place to assure that each member of the group who gets the reward actually earned it.

7. Give The Reward To Everyone Who Meets The Criteria

You should design a reward program with this principle in mind. If you can’t afford to reward everyone who meets your criteria, you should reinvestigate your criteria. Everyone who meets the behavioral criteria you have specified should be rewarded. Otherwise, some employees who have worked safely will not be rewarded. These employees will perceive they have been punished. Some guidelines to follow:

It is better for many participants to receive small rewards than for one person to receive a big reward. Example: An organization decides to use a lottery incentive program where there is a raffle for a television set, a stereo, or a vehicle; usually participants accumulate chances for the drawing and then at the end of a specified period of time, the drawing occurs. One person wins. The problems with this are:
  • Everyone worked safely many times but was not rewarded.
  • The person who won did so by chance.
  • The focus might be on the big prize, not safety.
One group (or individual) should not be rewarded at the expense of another group (or individual). Everyone should have equal opportunity to achieve the reward. The process by which the incentive is given should not be a formal competition where one group "beats" another. Healthy competition can be very effective in generating high levels of safe performance but be careful not to set up a win-lose situation. Those employees who came close to winning will feel punished because they worked safely, but were not rewarded.

8. Keep The Program Rules Simple

The most successful reward programs are also usually the simplest. The less complicated the program, the better the chances that all workers will understand and participate in it, and that the safe behaviors will occur consistently. Launch the program with a special kick-off event or as part of your behavior-based safety program kick-off event to let everyone know the "rules," and to show that the program has the support of management.

9. Follow Through With Rewards

Nothing kills a reward program quicker than failure to deliver the promised rewards. Make a commitment to follow through with all aspects of the program. It may seem frivolous, but an effective Safe Performance Reward Program can play a very important role in workplace accident prevention.

All of these guidelines can be applied to safety programs that focus on automobile fleet safety, employee safety to control Workers’ Compensation costs and the WC Experience Mod, or customer/3rd party safety as it relates to General Liability.

About our Guest Author:

John Keller is a Certified Risk Manager and consultant with Praxiom Risk Management in Tampa, FL. Praxiom is a full-service outsourced Risk Management consulting firm specializing in Workers’ Compensation safety, loss prevention, claims management, insurance placement, and is comprised of veterans of the risk management and financial services industry. Praxiom works with clients nationwide. Comments and questions are welcome at Click here for John's full bio.