Creating a Culture of Wellness

Human resources goes through great lengths to ensure they’re selecting the right benefits provider that will offer the greatest options for employees. Although this has been a common benefit to ensure positive employee health and resources if/when needed, HR is also realizing that healthcare benefits aren’t the only option to help improve employee wellness. Employee wellness is vital, not just for the employee but also for the well-being of an organization.

When the economy struggled, many employees lost their jobs and benefits. Workers who were able to keep their job may have absorbed other job functions to keep the business afloat, creating stress due to the need to produce the amount of 2+ people. With recent increases in healthcare benefit premiums, employers may have had to cut back on benefit offerings (such as using a lower quality provider or cutting dependents) or stopped offering it altogether. In more positive situations, employers who are growing have been able to not only offer fantastic benefits but also have incorporated additional wellness programs through their Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) which provide additional support and resources for employees.

In my experience, I’ve seen HR actively keep employees informed. Sometimes benefits can be a bit too overwhelming to understand and other times, employees aren’t always aware of what they can use through EAPs. Aside from regular meetings, newsletters and so on, some companies’ HR departments have also incorporated initiatives to improve employee wellness. Some such things include weekly emails with tips on diet and exercise, on-site events for nutrition and fitness classes, and some companies also require employees to take a specific number of stretch breaks throughout the day. Lucrative companies have even splurged on cafeterias with healthy options (sometimes at no cost to employees), on-site fitness centers and unlimited PTO/vacation days.

Wellness programs are a good way to improve employee morale and lower stress levels, and is something more companies should consider. Although healthcare benefits are perfect for medical needs, wellness does not stop short of this and some wellness issues might not require a visit to the doctor. Additionally, some employees might not even be aware of situations impacting their wellness until it creeps up on them. This can include workplace stress, anxiety, sore muscles from sitting long hours or performing strenuous labor, eye strain from a computer, poor diet and so on. Over time, these things can add up and negatively affect the employee and organization. This can consist of unexpected absences and a general rise in absenteeism, reduction in performance and quality, turnover, low morale or even more long-term absences like LOA and FMLA. Although many HR departments are making an effort to boost wellness, it can’t only be up to them to be proactive about this. After all, they can’t be everywhere and they can’t keep a constant eye on every employee (despite what some might believe).

As part of a proactive wellness initiative, HR needs to get management involved to support the ongoing programs established. HR should train management regularly to be able to do the following:

  • Take stock of your employees: On many occasions, managers focus on the work that employees produce but may forget to pay attention to the employees as individuals. It’s important for managers to be aware of their employees, such as if they seem to be struggling, overwhelmed, distant/withdrawn or lack passion. These signs could be a tip of the iceberg that an employee is quietly dealing with. If you notice these things, be sure to reach out and see if there’s something you can do to mediate the situation.
  • Regularly check in: Along the lines of taking stock of your employees, it’s important to regularly check in with them even if you don’t notice any signs of struggle/lack of wellness. Checking in can be a practical approach to ensuring employees are prioritizing workloads correctly and managing their stress. Very similar to regular feedback sessions, this can be incorporated frequently and in a casual environment.
  • Create a culture of wellness and health: Time is money and some employees might work themselves into the ground to ensure job security or to help towards career progression. In other situations (and ones I’ve personally seen in the past), an office culture might be aggressive in the sense that employees seem to work an average of 10+ hours a day and respond to emails at all hours… and if you weren’t one of those employees, you may be shunned as the office slacker. Although businesses thrive on productive employees, there comes a point where working your employees too hard becomes counterproductive. Management should create a culture that offsets some of the pressures of rapid work demands, whether that means giving your employees breaks such as a longer lunch or an early dismissal, or just taking time to lighten up the atmosphere around the office.
  • Support employees who need it: As proactive as HR and management try to be to help wellness, sometimes it may not help an employee or maybe it’s too far past that point for them. An employee may not have spoken up sooner or asked for a mental break day because of guilt or the feeling of pressure from an overwhelming workload. Maybe some might feel like they don’t deserve a break because everyone works just as hard, so why are they the weak one? Whatever the reasons may be, if an employee finally reaches the point where they show signs or outright say they are having issues, management should take the stress of asking for help away. Being supportive, getting them in touch with HR about benefits, or encouraging them to take a day or two off to take care of things can help relieve any stress, guilt or anxiety they may have felt when asking for help.

Workplace wellness is more than just finding the right benefits provider; it’s about paying attention to the day-to-day of your employees. Underlying issues such as poor habits or workplace stress can be the cause of many issues and affect the health of an organization. Being proactive and finding ways to be supportive of your employees is essential to help promote a culture of wellness.

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Virtual Employment for Attraction and Retention

You belong somewhere you feel free

During the HCI event last month, several employers expressed the changes they’re seeing in employment trends. More employees and candidates are aggressive when attempting to progress in their career path and many are willing to make risky moves to get there. Additionally, it was noted that more people are becoming mobile in order to reach their career objectives. Because of this, employers are seeing an influx in voluntary turnover and shorter employment tenure. So, why aren’t employers considering telecommuting or virtual work to help retain their employees?

Over the last two years, I’ve been a full-time virtual employee. I typically receive the same responses whenever mentioning this to new acquaintances, ranging from curiosity, skepticism, envy or disapproving. Many people ask me if I feel isolated or if the lack of face-to-face time has prevented me from moving up within the company. Surprisingly, I’ve progressed faster in my career, learned more and had stronger development opportunities in a virtual setting than I ever had in the office.

Virtual work requires a person to hone in on specific skills or build new ones. It’s all about adaptability and identifying resources to use to your advantage. You learn to be independent due to the lack of “crutches” (aka constant coworker/superior feedback) or validation. This forces you to rely on your own decisions. Also, accountability is a must. The lack of micromanagement allows you to focus on producing results and perfecting processes. Of course, this only can happen if an employer has the infrastructure, processes and leadership to allow employees to succeed. Additionally, communication and collaboration tools are necessary to understand employees’ skillsets and help develop them for career succession.

Over the last week, I spent some time researching if more employers have embraced virtual employment options. Much to my dismay, the majority of the positions I’ve come across dealt with customer service (contact center, reservations, etc.), sales, consultants for software development and recruiting. Many of the positions were contract or freelance opportunities. I was surprised that more employers aren’t opening up to additional full-time positions that can be virtual, nor creating opportunities for internal mobility to higher-level positions. I’ve been someone who’s experienced both… and I continue to be successful this way. Sky’s the limit for my career potential as long as my employer has opportunities to support it.

Virtual employment can help retain employees for a couple of reasons:

  • It allows them to have better personal opportunities: We all hear about work-life balance or work-life blending. The point is, people have other needs outside of the workplace. For example, my fiancé recently got a fantastic job promotion that would require us to relocate 1,000 miles away. There were no second thoughts about accepting it. All I did was take a couple of PTO days to move and I was set. I didn’t have to worry about quitting my job or dealing with a lapse in compensation when I was struggling to find work. The process was very seamless.
  • It allows employers to find and develop talent: there are plenty of people within the country that may possess some amazing skills but might not be located near a major branch or headquarters. Organizations can utilize this talent by offering them employment without requiring them to relocate. This can be the same deal if an employee is ready to be promoted but can’t relocate. Rather than giving them the less-than-ideal options of staying underemployed, relocating or forcing them to consider another employer in order to move up in their career, a virtual option can help retain an employee while giving them internal mobility.
  • It focuses on what matters: Results. Much like the purpose of ROWE (results only work environment), virtual work can be supportive of a results-focused situation. Micromanagement is disengaging and sometimes people don’t perform their best work during normal business hours. Being strapped to a desk can lower productivity. And maybe some people thrive when they’re blasting music, while others might prefer a quiet workspace with no distractions. Virtual work makes it easier for people to find their happy place without having to deal with formal requests or pushback from their peers.

Virtual employment can be a fantastic opportunity for both employer and employee, as long as it’s done right. Consulting an Organizational Development Specialist and researching technology to ensure a virtual environment can function the same as a traditional environment will be necessary.

If you’re curious to know more how virtual employment and virtual internal mobility works, ask me! I’ll be happy to tell you about my ongoing career story. Connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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Recap: HCI’s 2014 Strategic Talent Acquisition Conference

HCI

While living in South Carolina, I obtained the majority of my professional development though social media discussions, webinars and networking calls. Although these were tremendous in helping me learn about things outside of my education and work experience, I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing an instrumental piece of my professional growth and believed conferences and workshops were going to be a major player in taking it to the next level. When I first found out I was moving to Boston, I was excited about the possibility of attending professional networking events. As luck would have it, two months after I moved, I was given the opportunity to attend the Human Capital Institute (HCI) event in the Seaport District last week. And it was exactly what I needed.

Usually I follow trends and conference updates by checking out the live hashtag streams. For example, the hashtag for this particular conference was #HCIevents and I made sure I made good use of it. Aside from seeing some of my coworkers and meeting ones who I haven’t met yet, I was able to take everything in through my own perspective. Overstimulated doesn’t quite cover my experience, but I mean it in the best way. From checking out some of the vendor booths and learning about new technologies, to attending presentation sessions and networking opportunities, I felt like I learned a lot.

Three sessions I really enjoyed the most were:

  • “Engaging Your Community Intelligently” presented by GE’s Recruitment Technology Manager, Shahbaz Alibaig. Talent communities have continued to be a hot topic in talent acquisition. Even now, I’m currently part of a task force to research, identify and develop one for a current client, which has been both exciting and frustrating. I’ve built my own ideas by pulling together pieces of theory and concept and considered the uses for our current needs. However, I had yet to see a successful talent community that I could compare it to. Thankfully, the presentation Shahbaz shared was rich with information, both confirming the concepts were on the right track and also sharing information worth thinking about, such as how workforce planning and forecasting impacts the community engagement goals.
  • “Employment and Consumer Brands: The Heart and Soul of Your Company” presented by Royal Bank of Canada’s Director of Employment Brand, Estela Vazquez Perez. At the close of 2013, I identified my 2014 professional goals and employment branding was one of them. During the presentation, Estela shared some interesting statistics and metrics that made it clear which key drivers were behind a strong brand. It isn’t just about promoting your company as the best of the best, but rather forming your brand to shift focus on candidate and employee trends. Understanding their values, drivers and needs is a starting point for companies to link the dots between those things and find a meaningful connection. Where can this information come from? The HR department. Employment branding initiatives NEED to include HR more, as their information is going to make the difference.
  • “How HR Innovators are Reinventing the Future of Talent Acquisition” moderated by Elance, with panelists from Krash, CustomMade and Bit9. This conversation was very unique and eye opening because they were able to emphasize the changes in talent acquisition from their own hiring experiences. With these companies focusing on the “free agent” and independent employees, it was important to learn that these types of workers will be making up 50% of the workforce by 2020. Not to mention, gen Y is changing the game, consistently raising the bar, ramping up quickly and is not afraid to move on to better opportunities. HR and talent acquisition need to invest in workforce forecasting and planning as the years press on. With long-term employment becoming a thing of a past, what are we doing to prepare AND accommodate the change in employment trends?

After all was said and done, I had a moment to sit down and charge up my phone. As I was waiting there, I ended up chatting with a few other attendees. Needless to say, it was so nice to “nerd out” with people who are in my industry, know what I’m talking about and are equally as passionate. Simple conversations with strangers had taught me just as much as those sessions and I can’t wait until the next opportunity to attend another conference.

Interested in these topics? Be sure to review the #HCIevents hashtag on Twitter.

Employee Retention: Is Offering More Time Off the Answer?

Out of office

Losing an employee can have negative impacts on an organization, even if the separation was initiated by the employer. Despite terminating an employee for poor performance or something else unsavory, the cost of replacing them can add up. From recruiting costs, time and lack of productivity due to being short-staffed, employers need to consider all that goes into this. But what about voluntary turnover? How can this unexpected disruption in the company’s workforce make a difference?

Regardless of the situation, human resources professionals understand the importance of employee retention and are consistently considering ways to make their offerings, benefits and perks better to stay competitive and attractive to their employees and future hires. Offering things like free lunch, tuition reimbursement, bonuses/incentives, training and development or flexible work schedule have all been things companies incorporated into their offerings, but what happens if that’s not enough?

All of these things can cater to different employees’ needs, but truth be told, employers can’t always offer everything that matters to employees. As we discuss the importance of work/life balance, employees are consistently encouraged to take their vacation time but with a capped amount of paid time off, many employees have actually taken less time off despite having it. This could be due to various reasons, ranging from: stress from getting behind in work and/or coming back to a large workload; determining what’s worth taking time off for; or worries something important will come up after all paid time off (PTO) has been used. I know I’ve even been guilty of saving vacation time only to reach the end of the year and realize I have a ton of days left that will be lost. So what can employers do? Remove the limit.

In my career, I’ve come across many companies that have removed the limitations of PTO. Some of the most interesting concepts I’ve come across are as follows:

  • Breaks for learning: A little over a year ago, I came across a few technology companies that offered their employees several weeks off a year for learning. I thought this was brilliant and felt the employer most likely would progress because employees are bringing back outside learning and applying to their work. Employees are given the freedom to learn about the things that truly inspire and interest them without the stress of having to take time off to do it. And the employer benefits because these new insights can help the organization progress in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise.
  • Sabbaticals: A company I interviewed with about 3 years ago offered month long sabbaticals for every three years of employment. Throughout my career, I’ve had many coworkers quit their jobs to take time off to travel, find their calling or soul search. Perhaps this is more common in younger generations before they have the responsibility of taking care of children, pets and mortgages, but with the influx of generation Y coming into the workforce, it’s something employers need to be prepared for more and more. Rather than lose employees due to their wanderlust or desire to get involved in personal projects, employers offer these sabbaticals to allow them to do the things they want to do without losing their key employees. Pair this with good workforce planning, and employers would be likely to incur less costs than if an employee quit.
  • Unlimited vacation time: Another company I’ve interviewed with also offered unlimited vacation time. I asked them how this affected productivity if employees took time off constantly but learned that it didn’t make much of a difference as if they were capped. The reason was because this structure led to accountability and reward. Employees are able to take unlimited time off if they finished projects and completed work on time. This offered them a little more flexibility in their schedules to get their work done and the reward for finishing projects early or on time was something that kept the team motivated.

Are these options feasible for every employer? Of course not. But in the pursuit to find retention initiatives, this should be considered. Employees can’t get everything they want out of life from their employer and may occasionally come to a crossroad between work and personal desires. Employers offering better PTO benefits might help mediate a person’s individual work/life balance needs.

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Why Sourcers are Crucial for Talent Acquisition

An American judge must decide who is right between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate and a Sherlock Holmes expert

When I first heard of sourcers, I’ll be honest, I had no idea what their purpose was. The job duties seemed similar to a recruiter and I couldn’t discern the need to divide the role into two. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to work as a sourcer that I learned how essential they are to the talent acquisition process. After being in the industry for years, I was actually surprised more companies hadn’t used these individuals sooner. Sourcers really make an impressive impact.

Below are some top duties I performed as a sourcer. I truly believe these things are what made the recruitment process more successful than any recruitment role I had been involved in the past:

  • Support for recruiters and deep mining of candidates: Recruiters can be bombarded with a lot of tasks that take away from their ability to seek out top candidates. These tasks range from coordinating/communicating with hiring managers, managing ATS, administrative duties and so on. Although these things are essential to keep the process flowing, it prevents them from taking the necessary time to find passive candidates, post jobs in unique places, build relationships with distinct professional organizations and so on. Sourcers aren’t bogged down with all the irrelevant duties and can focus on mining for talent, which increases talent pipelines and creates better opportunities for quality candidates.
  • Market research: Just as stated before, time can be limited for recruiters. Sourcers have the ability to not only mine for talent but also to perform deep research on the talent markets. They can determine the supply vs. demand, competitor intelligence, best places to find talent and more. Having this market research can help companies reposition their strategies to be more attractive and proactive.
  • Employment branding: Of course posting to job boards is important for getting candidate applications, but sometimes recruiters are only able to have enough time to do just that. Sourcers can get creative with the job postings. For example, when I was sourcing for software developers in San Francisco, I took the time to craft postings for jobs, social media, and tech specific groups (i.e. GitHub). I would highlight interesting things about the company, teams, products and what not. It made the opportunity more “three dimensional” and helped it stand out from the typical noise.
  • Initial screening: Time is precious and we can only screen so many candidates. Unfortunately, automatically screening out candidates before speaking to them can cause companies to miss out on hidden gems. Sourcers can provide a better candidate experience by performing initial screening processes, allowing candidates to have a chance to speak to a human and not feel like their resume went into a black hole.

Although the listed tasks above might seem very basic, it really is surprising how much it can help the talent acquisition strategy. As a sourcer in the past, I believed I made a difference in the process by finding quality candidates, unique candidate referral sources, creative ways to promote the brand and jobs. I also felt like the added support to recruiters helped cut down time-to-fill, which is always a huge bonus.

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Performing with Purpose

 

When reflecting on my career progression, I recall the early years when I first started working. I relied on delegated orders, would dutifully fulfill them and wait for new assigned tasks. It was an endless cycle of repetitiveness and I often found myself on autopilot. Sometimes I even found myself disengaged when I couldn’t identify the intent of some of my responsibilities. But, being young and not feeling like I was experienced enough to have a voice, I continued performing without ever questioning it…that was a mistake.

As I’ve made my way through my career, obtained a degree and became more involved in understanding business and organizational development, I started to see that never questioning anything has done a disservice to my growth and a disservice to the betterment of the organization I was working at. Asking thought-provoking and well-structured questions won’t make anyone question your competency (as I often feared it would), but it gives you a chance to perform better. At this stage of my career, I make it a point to perform with purpose. And to do this, you have to start with one simple question – Why?

  • Asking questions: Once I started to know why certain tasks relevant, I was able to get a bigger picture. Asking what or how always helped too, but I felt the “why” was the most important thing to know. Questioning this allowed me to gain insight into the overall purpose of each function, what the expected outcome was, etc. Knowing this information not only helps you do your job better, but also sets you up to do MORE.
  • Performing better: knowing key details as to the purpose of your task and what’s the expected outcome can help drive the direction of your performance: It gives you a starting point, a path and a goal that you are aiming to meet or exceed.
  • Continuous innovation: set up time regularly to review the information you gathered from asking questions and critically analyze it. With the fast changes in business, it’s important to constantly reevaluate processes to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. Even if you aren’t in a role to implement change, your analysis and suggestions can help leadership see ways to positively impact the business.

No matter what level employee you are or how swamped you are at work, I urge you to take the time to ask questions, find ways to perform better and look for opportunities to innovate. I’d personally rather take the time to do these things and ensure every function I’m performing has a purpose than keep my head down. To help your professional growth and your organization’s growth, its things like this that can help move everything forward.

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What Questions Should You Ask When Considering Virtual Employment?

 

breaking chains.208145743 std Breaking the Mold

We hear a lot about the challenges organizations face when they consider virtual employees or telecommuting options. These challenges are even more predominate when discussing flexible work options or results only work environment (ROWE). How can they evaluate an employee’s performance? How can managers ensure that they’re working full-time? Will there be backlash from employees who work in a traditional capacity? After working as a virtual employee for almost a year and a half, I can honestly say that it works… sometimes.

There are a lot of factors that affect the success of these flexible options. Before a company or an employee decides that this is right for them, consider the following:

  • Employee personality: As an employee, it’s important to really understand yourself as an individual and as a professional. For me, virtual work was ideal because I knew that I have a type A personality and my morale is higher when I don’t feel the watchful eyes of a micromanager. Additionally, I can produce better results more frequently in my private (and quiet) office than I would at a distracting workplace. Although this has worked for me, many people informed me that they would probably go crazy without social interaction. Others have admitted that the leniency of being home could distract them for work. It would be best to think about these things if considering this as an option.

 

  • Employee functions: As a company, you need to determine if full-time telecommuting or ROWE work for this particular job. Does an employee need to be available at certain times to interact with other members of the company or clients? Can the employee handle tasks remotely or are there some things that require the employee to be on-site? Does their status/level cooperate with the type of employees in it, such as, are they responsible and can self-manage?

 

  • Restructuring of management functions: This might be one of the toughest areas to figure out but it’s definitely not impossible. In my current experience with virtual employment, I have the privilege of working for a company that seems to have this sorted out. Even if it isn’t perfect, they take the measures needed to ensure ongoing improvements. Somehow their ability to increase support through communication and measure productivity without micromanaging has actually helped me feel a stronger connection with my leadership team and direct managers. Despite the fact that I’m not physically working in front of them every day, they have taken the time to recognize my achievements as well as areas I’ve struggled in. Does it take extra time out of their week to pay attention to their individual employees? Sure, but it’s the best experience I’ve had with a manager thus far.

 

  • Benefits: For companies, there can be plenty of benefits as far as cost savings go due to reduction of overhead. When it comes to hiring, it allows employers to find diverse talent and top candidates because they aren’t limited to one specific area. As an employee, it can be really beneficial for your everyday life. I’ve been told that mothers enjoy the ability to be available to their children when they are home or sick. Military spouses like the mobility aspect when their significant others move around.  I personally like it because I don’t feel restricted to a particular area. If I wanted to move to another state or travel, I could do it tomorrow. I also love the fact that I don’t have to waste time commuting or spending money on clothes or gas. Instead, I actually have more time to actually do the things that matter, like work.

 

  • Challenges: Of course, there are always challenges. How can managers keep morale high if on-site employees feel like virtual workers have it easier? Can managers ensure the virtual workers have the same exposure to internal mobility? How do managers know that their virtual workers are being productive? These are just a few things that companies face when developing and implementing flexible work options.

I’m an advocate for virtual work, telecommuting and flexible options. I don’t think employees should be limited or confined and that some of these options can actually help employees performed better and allow companies to retain talent. Of course, I’m aware that this doesn’t always work and that a great deal of thought and strategy has to go into the development and management of it. However, for me personally, I would love to stay in a virtual position for as long as I can.

Want to know what others think about this? Check out the discussion on #TChat tonight at 7pm ET. Take a look at a preview here.

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