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Fair Workweek Rules – What Employers Need to Know

By | Articles, Employee Morale, General HR, Manager Training, Newsletter, Retention, Turnover | No Comments

Predictive scheduling, or Fair Workweek Rules, seem to be the latest trend in workplace regulations to protect hourly workers. When San Francisco first enacted these laws in 2015, the intent was to provide more advance notice regarding work schedules and to ensure schedules were fair. For employers, however, these laws have signaled greater fines and penalties. With several more cities and two states now following suit, what exactly are the rules? Are they really necessary? And will they soon be coming to a city near you?

What are the Fair Workweek Rules?

There are four primary rules consistently found among the Fair Workweek regulations:

  1. Two-weeks’ notice: Schedules must be made available to employees for a minimum of two weeks in advance.
  2. Minimal changes: If the scheduler must make changes within that minimum two-week notice window, they must be documented and have good reason. Employers may also need to pay premiums to employees for any schedule changes made within that window if it’s for anything outside of filling in for a sick employee.
  3. No “clopenings” allowed: Employers cannot enact the practice of “clopening,” which is scheduling employees to work closing shifts and then having them return hours later to open the business. Employees must be allowed a rest period (11 hours) between the end of one shift and the start of another. If an employee must return prior to the rest period ending, the employer must pay a premium.
  4. Maintain records: scheduling records now must be retained for three years, including original hours, schedule changes, time off requests, shift swap or change requests, shift cancellations, and more.
Fair Workweek Rules

Whether or not you are currently impacted, ask your timekeeping solution about their implemented adaptations to comply with the Fair Workweek Rules, such as flagging potential violations and allowing employees to easily trade shifts.

Who is affected by the Fair Workweek Rules?

The Fair Workweek rules are primarily aimed at large employers in the retail and restaurant sectors and have already been enacted in San Francisco, San Jose, Emeryville, Seattle, New York City, Oregon, Washington DC, and New Hampshire. If your business is not in one of those industries or areas, you may still need to prepare since these regulations are likely to drive changes to other businesses that employ blue-collar workers nationwide.

Are the Fair Workweek laws necessary?

At first glance, these laws seem a little extreme to employers. However, the working class that these laws are trying to protect are typically those with the lowest incomes (see statistics here).  Many of them work more than one part-time job and/or are caretakers that have to juggle multiple schedules. Because these employees tend to experience greater work-family conflict and related stress due to their irregular shift times, these laws are to help employers consider the implications before mandating any last-second schedule changes.

What should employers do about the Fair Workweek Rules if they aren’t currently affected?

Rather than wait to be acted upon (and be penalized for violations), employers should start today by adopting the principles within these rules:

  • Provide employees with two weeks’ notice of their schedules.
  • Try to make very few schedule changes within the two-week window.
  • Avoid scheduling employees for any “clopening” shifts.
  • Consider allowing employees to choose their own schedules and/or request their input:
    • Would they prefer to have the same, more or less hours?
    • Which nights would they be available as back-up to come in if customer demands require additional working staff?
  • Provide incentives for employees who were needed to clock in when they weren’t otherwise scheduled.

Adopting employee-friendly practices that include employee feedback will not only help employees feel valued, it will also create loyalty and help reduce turnover. Your proactive efforts may also improve manager relations with employees, particularly when it comes to dealing with scheduling problems. For more information about this or any other workplace regulation, please contact our HR experts at HR@stratus.hr.

Our Stratus.hr team provides expert guidance for compliance and other employee issues. For more information, simply fill out the form below and our business development team will be in touch with you shortly.









Dealing with a Bully Boss

By | Corrective Action, Employee Morale, General HR, Manager Training, Newsletter, Performance, Recruiting, Retention, Termination, Turnover | No Comments

Scenario: a once highly-competent employee was promoted to manager, but their lack of people skills has created more of an authoritarian bully boss. Because they’ve built rapport with their years of service to the company, and because they have significant knowledge and expertise, it’s become a delicate situation for upper management to even want to acknowledge there’s a problem. What do you do?

Employers: How to Deal with a Bully Boss

What are the risks of retaining a bully boss? Beyond motivation and morale concerns, a bad manager may create issues such as poor productivity, stifled recruiting efforts, difficulty retaining key talent, legal issues, and even public backlash. Consider the lessons learned from Uber’s HR nightmare, which stemmed from upper management not listening to employee complaints.

With a number of things at risk, take a step back to observe whether you actually have a bully boss employed as a manager. Is the team sufficiently producing results? Have you noticed a drop in morale? Are good employees quitting or getting fired? Are incompetent employees still employed when they should have been fired? Have you received employee complaints? Any combination of these factors could point to a manager problem.

Next, it’s time to gather feedback from employees. Find out about their interactions and feelings toward the manager. If there is any apprehension about giving candid feedback directly, allow employees to provide their thoughts anonymously. You may want to contact your HR rep for help with setting up a 360-degree manager effectiveness evaluation.

Finally, have a candid conversation with the manager about the issues brought to light by employees. Develop a performance improvement plan that documents specific areas needing improvement and include a description of performance issues and consequences for any repeated misbehavior. Allow the manager to be part of the collaborative improvement process. Solutions may include manager training, communication skills training, personality sensitivity training, role realignment (where available), and so on. Consider providing a points-based assessment completed by employees working under the manager to regularly provide feedback about the manager’s performance.

Employees: How to Deal with a Bully Boss

In an ideal work environment, your manager and/or HR department would be a comfortable place to disclose any feelings of being bullied. If, however, your manager and/or HR is the bully, try implementing some of these self-defense strategies.

1. Treat the situation as a work project.
Be cognitively aware of how you behave at work and stay unemotional. More than ever, be sure your outward appearance (hair and clothes) is calm and tasteful. Maintain a positive attitude and be determined to not react poorly.

2. Stay social and avoid isolation.
Make a conscious effort to keep up personal relationships with other coworkers. If you need to interact with the bully, try to be around others of “importance” that will make you less likely to be bullied. If you’re being pursued, never enter a bathroom or other area of isolation.

3. Use excuses or distractions.
In the event of an uncomfortable encounter with the bully, make an excuse and say you’re late for an appointment or need to use the restroom. You could also pick up a file or note with a customer’s phone number that needs to be called as a form of distraction.

4. Control what you say.
Avoid talking to coworkers about your situation in a way that could be perceived as gossip. Write down the interactions that have you concerned and discuss with a close confidant outside of work to hear their perspective. If they concur that this is a bully situation, and you haven’t yet done this, take your concerns to another member of HR or upper management.

As an HR company, we advise employers to take employee complaints seriously and to immediately investigate any incidents of wrong-doing. For more tips and information, please contact our HR experts at HR@stratus.hr.

Bully Boss

Here are some questions to ask when deciphering between an employee’s “dirty laundry” versus truly having a manager problem.
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Post OSHA Summary Feb 1 – Apr 30

By | Newsletter, Risk Management | No Comments

It’s that time of year when *employers with 10+ full-time employees are required to keep record of all reportable worksite injuries and illnesses that need treatment beyond first aid that occur on the worksite. The complete record is maintained on their OSHA 300 logs (page 7 of the OSHA 300 booklet) and includes details such as where and when they occurred, the nature of the case, the job title of the injured employee, and the number of work days missed (or on light duty) due to the work-related illness or injury.

Then, from Feb 1 – Apr 30 of the following year, these employers must complete OSHA 300A, which is a summary of those injuries and incidents (page 8 of the OSHA 300 booklet) and post it in a conspicuous place for employees to see, such as a break room. According to osha.gov, all work-related cases must be recorded if they involve any of the following:
• Death,
• Days away from work,
• Restricted work or transfer to another job,
• Medical treatment beyond first aid,
• Loss of consciousness, or
• A significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed healthcare professional.

If any employees do not have access to where the summary is posted, perhaps because of a remote worksite or travel requirements, they must be sent a copy of the report.  Even if no injuries occurred in the previous year, employers are required to post the summary to meet the requirements of this law.

Stratus.hr clients who are required to post the OSHA Summary and for whom we administer their Workers’ Comp policy should receive their OSHA 300A Forms prior to Feb 1. Please ensure this form is posted in a visible place to employees from Feb 1 – Apr 30. For more information about this OSHA requirement, please contact us at wc@stratus.hr.

*To see if your industry is on the partially-exempt list that is not required to post OSHA injury and illness records, click here.

Small business: Is your applicant tracking system working against you?

By | Articles, Company Growth, Human Resources Information System (HRIS), Newsletter, Recruiting, Retention | No Comments

I remember when we all hired from resumes. Really, it wasn’t long ago, but it was a very slow and sometimes painful process.

That’s why I was thrilled when the first ATS (applicant tracking system) hit the market. Because they make short work of screening candidates so the cream rises to the top, these solutions were quickly adopted by big businesses looking to fast-track quality hiring.

Small businesses, however, were frequently left behind in this process: an applicant tracking system was expensive, standalone software. Although reading only a handful or resumes for an occasional available position was doable, requiring paper resumes was not only a waste of some occasional spare time, it was limiting the applicant pool. Fortunately that’s changed, since now small businesses can affordably access applicant tracking software, too.

My question now for small business isn’t “when are you going to adopt the technology,” it’s “are you using your ATS right so you get the best candidates?”

How to use an Applicant Tracking System

Back when we read resumes and used our own wits to assess which applicants moved to the screening round, it was pretty rare that a really amazing candidate got past anyone. But it was even rarer that key roles were filled in a timely manner, which put those amazing candidates at risk of finding another job in the mean time.

Problems arise, however, when you either have your ATS do too much or too little. Like all HR technology, your applicant tracking software needs support from experts. Companies that sell you access to an applicant tracking system but don’t provide guidance on how to get the right candidates could saddle your hiring efforts with the following problems:

Thesaurus unwanted — so is creativity. When you set up a job in an applicant tracking system, you’ll include keywords that you want the ATS to find in the application. Candidates are graded on the usage of these keywords/terms, and scored based on the number of times specific keywords appear (“keyword density”). Our ATS is no exception. For some roles, however, we caution against relying on keywords too much: really great candidates may also be very creative causing them to steer clear of repetitive descriptions for jobs. They may also use terminology that was unique to a former employer. You can tell your applicant tracking system to look for synonyms, but I’d also suggest consulting an HR pro and taking a quick glance at any application that doesn’t quite make the cut but seems awfully close. That way you’re not eliminating truly creative minds.

The slacker who found the right article. Have you ever Googled “Applicant tracking system?” It’s why I wrote this article — because of the plethora of articles for job applicants that look at how to talk to the ATS, not to the prospective employer. Each of these articles centers around one thing: maximizing an ATS score without increasing experience. While I could never fault a candidate who speaks the language of their audience, if your small business is only inviting the top 10 applicants from the applicant tracking system to an in-person interview, you want to fill the interview slots with the best applicants. Period. Your ATS scores should single out the top candidates … but it’s still advisable to review anyone who scores a “close second” to ensure you’re getting candidates with the greatest potential to excel at the job, not the application process.

Experience is all wrong … but not really. You need your applicant tracking system to send you people with the most relevant experience. Be sure, however, you consider the following:

  • Limiting experience to 2-8 years could rule out great candidates with 12 years of experience. Not everyone is concerned about upward mobility in a company — sometimes candidates just want to be experts at the one thing they love to do.
  • Rigid job titles and levels might eliminate applicants who held relevant positions in companies that used different titles and hierarchies. “Manager” seems like a pretty straightforward title, but at some companies, every frontline employee is deemed a manager; at other companies, senior managers are labeled as “group leads” or “strategists.” You just never know.
  • Screening for MBAs-only could cause candidates with three undergraduate degrees, a JD or an MFA to score lower, even with relevant experience that far exceed the MBA candidate.
  • Ignoring a candidate with a recent work history gap could mean you might miss a strong contributor who took a few years off to raise a child, write a book, care for a parent, start a business, travel, or finish an advanced degree. Imagine what that background could do for your business.

HR technology is one of the best ways to make employee management easier for companies of all sizes. But if your small business relies solely on technology without expert guidance to back it up, you may be missing the mark in everything from compliance to recruiting and hiring.

Today’s applicant tracking systems are pretty incredible, but it’s still a good idea to consult with an HR professional when you start using one and to ensure your team is trained in more than just how to use the system. Ask the provider of your HR tools if they offer training on how to write effective job descriptions and how to conduct screenings and interviews, too (if they don’t, it’s time to move elsewhere — training and accessible expertise are essential for small teams). While you no longer have to buy a big-business, big-expense applicant tracking system to tap into the productivity advantages that enterprise-level counterparts have, you do have to stay competitive by finding the right candidates for your small-but-growing team. Just be sure technology is working for you, not against you.

applicant tracking system

How to ensure you’re getting the most from your applicant tracking system.
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the real cost of employee turnover

Vacancies can add up to big costs for businesses (see infographic above); when you’re staring down a stack of 90 applications for a single opening, your applicant tracking system is a lifesaver.

Are you ready to start using an applicant tracking system? Contact your Stratus.hr rep today! If you aren’t currently a Stratus.hr client, please fill out the information below and we’ll be in touch with you shortly.









Are you the reason employee engagement stinks?

By | Articles, Employee Morale, General HR, Manager Training, Newsletter, Performance, Retention | No Comments

Personally, I love your pool table. The last thing I want you to do is stop having stress relievers available to employees, especially when they commit so much time to be at work. However, if employee engagement, motivation, or morale seem off, it’s not because you need to add to your collection of stress-relieving toys; it may just be YOU that’s the problem.

Moi? Yes. Workplace leadership both directly and indirectly drives employee engagement. I’m not saying that you or your leaders are bad bosses (those exist, they just don’t read articles like this). But you may be missing some easy opportunities to make your workplace better — even without a climbing wall.

You can start by asking yourself these six questions. Each one points to a pretty simple but necessary solution that you need to keep employee engagement high.

1. Are you giving employees the services they need … and want? If your business is small enough, you may not be required to provide health insurance (if you have fewer than 50 employees). Or you may have opted to keep expenses down by offering only a  high-priced/low-benefit plan. Either of these could indirectly hurt employee engagement. How? Because high-priced or low-coverage health insurance frequently carries the following unintended side effects:

  1. Employees (and recruits) look for employers that offer better coverage plans.
  2. Employees avoid treatment until the situation escalates because of the cash outlay required.
  3. Employees spend time fighting with doctor’s offices over bills.

Advice: Offer a competitive insurance plan. Yes, these do exist, even for small employers.

2. Are morale-building efforts actually a distraction? Anytime you’re attempting to build morale, you’re doing a good thing. Just remember that employees want and need to be productive, too.  Advice: Limit the number of big events to just one or two per year and add smaller-scale, drop-in activities at the workplace that have similar impact without the commitment. For example, schedule company-wide potlucks once a month in the breakroom or a Friday afternoon ice cream social on the front lawn. Small get-togethers not only improve morale, they can increase productivity, too.

3. Do bigger cultural issues slip by? Today’s news is filled with stories of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. These aren’t isolated incidents affecting just the victim or where responsibility lies only with the accused. Advice: Don’t try to do everything yourself. Work with your HR rep to set up employee training to review your company’s anti-sexual harassment policy and protocol to ensure compliance. This training in should be held on an annual basis.

4. Do employees know they’re appreciated? There’s a need in everyone to feel valued, to know that they’re making a contribution that matters. Advice: Praise employees one-on-one for a job well done. Set up simple appreciation programs, like an employee-of-the-month. (Want an affordable reward? How about access to a reserved parking space during the month that follows.) You could even set a goal for yourself: seek out one employee each day, shake their hand and thank them for a very specific thing they did — that way they know you’re paying attention. That little bit of effort can go a long way towards improving employee engagement.

5. Have you asked your employees how you can make the workplace better? The best workplaces survey their employees regularly and act on the results. Advice: Set up a survey today to gauge employee engagement, but keep it simple — even just three to five questions can provide you with great insight. You may also be able to use surveys to help you decide on workplace changes and new expenditures, like updated office chairs vs. a meeting room scheduler.

6. Do your employees know whether they’re winning or losing at work? This can be defined by whether you’ve set clear expectations and goals for your employees. If an employee always knows what is expected, where they stand, and how their individual work aligns to the company’s overall mission and goals, they are much more likely to be engaged and perform at a higher level. 

Boosting employee engagement starts by ensuring the workplace is working well first. By asking yourself a few simple questions, you’ll get a better view of what you can do to make affordable improvements. Be sure to talk to your Stratus.hr expert whenever you need help!

employee engagement

The solution to your employee engagement problems might be discovered in these six simple questions.
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One of the reasons your full-time employees give up 8+ hours of each weekday is because they want to provide comfort and security for their families — and that includes matters of health.

Sometimes formal, event-style, morale-building activities take a big bite out of schedules and result in employees working off the clock to make up for time spent having fun.

As an employer, it’s essential that you provide a safe, comfortable work environment for all employees.

When people are heads-down at work every day, it’s easy to forget that what you’re doing matters.

The answers your employees provide on an employee survey may include great ideas for improving the workplace, even if you don’t want to sign on for a Friday afternoon dessert cart.

If your only clarification of employee performance is from an annual evaluation, that leaves the rest of the year for employees to wonder whether they’re helping the company reach its goals, or if their behavior and actions are actually working against them.

Interested in learning more about how Stratus.hr can help improve your employee engagement? Simply fill out the form below and our business development team will be in touch with you shortly.









Tax Reform – What it Means for Employees

By | Articles, Health Reform Updates, Newsletter, Payroll, Press Releases | No Comments

With the late December tax reform bill, many employees are wondering how this will impact them in 2018. We’ve written a brief summary below of some of the frequently asked questions regarding tax reform and their impact on individuals.

When does the new tax law take effect?

The tax law won’t apply to the taxes you’re about to file for 2017. Most provisions that affect individuals and businesses take effect January 1, 2018, meaning your 2018 paychecks should see more take-home pay as soon as tax charts are updated by the IRS. If you would like to adjust your W-4 per the new tax law, you are able to do so via Stratus.hr Mobile. However, the IRS has emphasized that the new tax reform information “will be designed to work with the existing Forms W-4 that employees have already filed, and no further action by taxpayers is needed at this time.”

What are the new tax rates per tax reform?

New individual tax rates go into effect January 1, 2018. These individual tax rates will sunset after 2025, meaning a new congress will need to determine whether they are extended or discontinued at that point. See the previous tax rates versus the 2018 tax rates (per the new tax reform bill) in the image on the right-hand side.

What is the standard deduction under the new tax law?

The standard deduction, or the dollar amount that can be subtracted from income before income tax is applied (for non-itemizers), jumps from $6,500 to $12,000 for single filers, and increases from $13,000 to $24,000 for joint filers.

What is the child tax credit per the new tax law?

The child tax credit doubles from $1,000 to $2,000 (up to $1,400 refundable – even if you don’t owe taxes, and depending on your earned income) per qualifying child. Learn more about the child tax credit here. There is also a new non-refundable “family” tax credit of $500 for qualifying dependents that are not children.

What changes to tax reform affect the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)?

One major change included in the tax reform law impacts Obamacare: the individual mandate will be repealed with this new tax law as of 2019. This means persons will no longer be required to “secure health insurance or pay a penalty.” Many project this to be the official unraveling of Obamacare, as the individual mandate is a critical element to making it sustainable. (If healthy individuals will choose not to have coverage with the elimination of the individual mandate, the balance of those who are insured will tip towards those who are sick, which will increase the cost of healthcare overall.) Employers with 50+ employees still have to provide ACA- compliant health coverage and reporting requirements will remain intact.

When will the IRS have more guidance about tax reform?

As of December 26, 2017, the IRS issued this statement:
“We anticipate issuing the initial withholding guidance in January, and employers and payroll service providers will be encouraged to implement the changes in February… Use of the new 2018 withholding guidelines will allow taxpayers to begin seeing the changes in their paychecks as early as February. In the meantime, employers and payroll service providers should continue to use the existing 2017 withholding tables and systems.”

For questions or concerns about how tax reform may impact you personally, please contact your tax professional.

Tax Reform - Employees

After the IRS updates tax charts, employees should see more take-home pay.
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Tax Reform Chart

Click the image to compare 2017 tax rates with the new 2018 tax rates.

Benefits 101: Health Insurance Definitions Every Employee Needs to Know

By | Benefits, Employee Morale, Newsletter, Retention | No Comments

Providing a great benefits package is critical to being a competitive employer. But if employees are confused by the terminology, they may not recognize just how great their benefits package is. Here’s a breakdown of the most common terms found on a health insurance policy.

Premium

Premium is the amount you and/or your employer pay each month towards an insurance policy. At Stratus.hr, each month’s premium is divided in half for semi-monthly or biweekly payroll, or divided by four when employees are paid weekly. This helps spread the cost for premiums which are then collected throughout the month. If an employee is paid biweekly (let’s say every other Friday) and there are three paydays in one month (since there are usually 26 Fridays in a year), premiums will only be collected on the first two paychecks. The same is true for weekly payrolls when there are five paydays in a month; premiums will only be collected on the first four paydays of the month.

Month-in-advance premiums

When premiums are collected one month in advance, it means that money paid over the course of a month is collected and spent on the following month’s coverage. For example, premiums collected in January are for February’s coverage. This enables the employer to pay February’s insurance bill at the beginning of February and allows the employee to have coverage for the entire month, even if the employee quits on February 1.

Deductible

A deductible is how much you pay before insurance kicks in to cover any remaining expenses. For example, let’s say you have an individual deductible of $500 and a family deductible of $1,500 and you end up in the hospital after falling off a cliff. If this is the first time you’ve been in the hospital all year and your plan says it will pay 80% of services after you’ve met your deductible, you must pay the first $500 and then expect to pay 20% of the remaining expenses charged by the hospital. If, however, your family has had a year of medical expenses where several family members have collectively paid $1,500 of deductible-worthy expenses (let’s say your 9-year-old had a tonsillectomy, your spouse had a hernia, and your 14-year-old broke his leg), then congratulations! Your family members have already met the $1,500 family deductible and you will only be responsible for 20% of the expenses of your hospital stay. The deductible may not apply to every service (such as office visits), so check your plan for coverage details.

Coinsurance

Coinsurance is the amount you pay after you’ve met your deductible, which is usually calculated as a percentage. In the example above, the 20% is your coinsurance. Let’s say the remaining hospital expenses are $20,000 after you’ve met your deductible of $500. Your final bill at 20% coinsurance will then be 20% of $20,000, which equals $4,000.

Copay

A copay (i.e. copayment) is a fixed cost for a service anytime you have that service. If you have an in-network copay for an office visit of $15, then you can expect to pay $15 anytime you see a family doctor within the insurance network. (Specialists, or doctors that are more specialized than a general practitioner, will typically have a higher copay than a regular doctor.)  If your out-of-network copay is $25, then you’ll pay $25 for visiting a doctor who is not within the insurance network. Co-pays don’t typically go towards meeting the deductible, meaning your in-office copay of $15 will not reduce your individual $500 deductible to $485.

Out-of-Pocket Maximum

An out-of-pocket maximum is how much you and/or your family will pay during the policy period. This can be a calendar year policy (January through December) or a plan year policy that follows your plan renewal date, say from September through August. The out-of-pocket maximum amount usually includes the deductible and co-insurance amounts that you and/or your family pay throughout the policy year. If you satisfy the out-of-pocket maximum during the policy period, the insurance carrier or plan will then pay 100% of the allowed amount for any additional services. For example, let’s say your individual out-of-pocket maximum is $4,000. In the example above, you would pay $500 for the hospital deductible and then your remaining portion would cap at $3,500 because of your out-of-pocket max.

Understanding basic insurance terminology will help employees make good choices about their medical services. For help with understanding your health insurance policy, please contact our benefits department at benefits@stratus.hr.

Health Insurance Definitions

If your employees are confused by health insurance terminology, here are some common terms and definitions to help them better understand their health insurance policy.
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Holiday Decorating Safety Tips: Christmas Lights, Ladders and More

By | Newsletter, Risk Management | No Comments

Ready to display some holiday cheer around the workplace or home? Whether you’re stringing lights inside or focusing solely on outdoor holiday decorations, it’s a good idea to start with the following safety tips.

Safety Tips for Christmas Lights

It’s been a year since you used last those lights, which means you need to do more than plug them in to see if they’re working — you also need to visually inspect their condition.

Frayed wires? Those go straight to the trash, as do lights with any other wire damage. Replace broken lights, too. Remember, strands of lights and bulbs are cheap, but homes, offices, and lives aren’t.

Next, avoid overloading your power supplies, particularly if you’re daisy-chaining lights together. It’s easy to check: just plug in all lights in the desired configuration, leave them on for a few minutes, then touch the male end of each string of lights and any extension cords you’re using. If any of them feels warm, you’re overloaded. Remove a few of the strands from the chain and wire those into different plugs, then check again.

By the way, you may not need to wait to feel the heat. If you happen to “POP” a breaker in the panel, you’re definitely overloaded. Fix the problem rather than just resetting the breaker.

Here are several other safety tips to prevent Christmas light damage:

  • Never leave lights burning when you’re away.
  • Buy lights that have a fusible link (fuse in the plug).
  • Never connect more than three strands of lights together.
  • Make sure the plug you’re using fits your extension cord. In other words, DO NOT alter the plug end.
  • Don’t run extension cords through doorways.

One more tip: the plastic coating on the strands of Christmas light frequently contains low levels of lead. While it’s not sufficient to be considered harmful, always wash your hands carefully after working with lights, just to be safe.

Ladder Safety Steps for Holiday Decorating

Ladders are the common denominator in most holiday decorating injuries. Our advice: start smart. For example, when placing a ladder against a wall, use the 1:4 ratio to ensure a stable working platform (see image).

When using an A-frame stepladder, always check that the brace is locked into place. If climbing onto another surface, like a roof, make sure your ladder extends at least three feet past the platform you’re climbing onto.

Here are several more ladder-safety tips to follow anytime a ladder is in use:

  • Secure tall ladders by lashing or fastening the ladder to prevent movement.
  • Always face the ladder when climbing or descending.
  • Keep both feet on the ladder — never put one foot on a rung and the other foot on a different surface.
  • Do not climb higher than the second rung on stepladders or the third rung on straight or extension ladders.
  • Never stand on the top or the paint shelf of a stepladder.
  • Keep your belt buckle (if you have one) positioned between the rungs so it doesn’t catch.
  • Never leave ladders unattended — kids love them.
  • Work with a friend who can hand decorations to you (climbing a ladder carrying a wreath is no fun) and help steady the ladder, too.

Remember, the holidays should be fun. Play it safe when decorating and you’ll help keep them injury-free, too.

For more safety tips, please contact us.

Holiday Safety Tips

Holidays are never as much fun in a cast! Our advice: be safe when decorating.
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ladder safety

When using a ladder, place the base one foot away from whatever it is leaning against for every 4 feet of height.

The Best Employee Gifts for Increasing Loyalty

By | Employee Morale, Newsletter, Performance, Retention | No Comments

Most employers enjoy giving gifts to employees as a little extra “boost” during the holiday season, but sometimes it’s hard to know what is the perfect gift. So we asked employees: what gift did your boss or company give you (or your spouse) that made you feel more loyal to that company? Here are some of our favorite responses.

The best employee gifts, according to employees

“No lie, the owner pulled me aside and told me how much she appreciated me. Nothing major, but made my day.” –M.B.

“[My husband’s] company has the ‘fist bump club’ and they took him and four other people in front of the company and handed them each $500 just for doing a good job. They do this each quarter for different employees. Then his boss sent him a random email for no reason saying how happy he is to have him on their team. It was the boost he needed to know that he is right where he belongs.” –L.E.

“Roses for my wife and a family trip to Disney World for completing a successful deal.” –C.M.

“I got a gift card to Starbucks on the first day at a job and an Amazon gift card as a Christmas present. It wasn’t so much the actual gift, but the thought.” –E.H.

“One company I worked for had us show up for our normal work day, only to learn they had actually rescheduled all the patients and were instead loading us into cars for a day of shopping and dining. They even gave us spending money!” –A.O.

“Right before my wedding, my boss gave me 8 hours of paid leave to take before or after the wedding…this was in addition to my days off. It showed me that she really cared about what was going on my life outside of work, and wanted me to be happy.” –K.A.

“I have been given ‘time off’ awards with an accompanying letter of appreciation.  I could use it any time within a year. It made me feel like they recognized how hard it is to balance personal, family and work responsibilities and how precious time with my family is. I have received award money, too, but it didn’t mean as much to me. My boss started periodically checking with each of us to see what means more to each person: money, a gift, or time off. (Even if we chose one, we could let him know we changed our mind at any point.) Awards don’t come often, but it means a lot when they do, especially if it’s something you really want.” –M.E.

“When we managed apartments, the owner would randomly stop by for inspections. Every now and then during these inspections, he would give us cash, usually $50-$100, or he would tell us to go buy a nice dinner and send him the bill. He was always so generous and it was always at random times.” –A.F.

What gift should you give your employees?

Employers also gave us some ideas of what has worked well for them as employee gifts. Many mentioned the value of paid time off or even “surprise days off” that were outside of regular PTO plans to help employees recharge. Other ideas were embroidered swag and apparel, luncheons, murder mystery dinners, spa vouchers for anniversaries, short trips that include spouses and/or families, desk décor, and baby gift baskets. Corporate cell phone plans that include spouses are another great idea, with phone accessories as an additional gift. Perhaps the most thought-provoking comment about employee gifts was this: “To build loyalty, one must make the employee the hero in the eyes of their family.”

At the end of the day, employees will appreciate any thoughtful gift, whether it’s a thank-you note that expresses genuine appreciation, or an item that is purchased. The best insight we got from workers, however, is for employers to get to know their employees; learn what makes them tick and keep notes! Whether you’re developing a reward system for random awards throughout the year or simply want to provide a holiday boost, your meaningful efforts to reward them in a way that motivates them the most will pay off significantly with increased loyalty and a desire to work harder.

To get more morale-boosting ideas, please visit our Employee Morale category.

employee gifts

Looking for some employee gift ideas? Here are some suggestions.
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Guidelines for Awarding Merit Pay Increases

By | Manager Training, Newsletter, Payroll, Performance, Retention | No Comments

When you’re a small business owner, it can be hard to know how and when to award pay increases, particularly ones that are tied to performance. While most companies provide at least an annual wage increase to maintain competitiveness, how and why you give a pay increase can greatly affect the impact of both the salary boost and performance evaluation.

Our advice: strategically plan pay increases to ensure you’re using the best system possible to link pay to performance while also encouraging the achievement of specific company goals and rewarding top performers. Use the following three-step system as a guide to help you get started.

Step 1: Consider company budget and develop performance-based metrics.

Annual merit-based increases, which are pay increases that an employee earns based on performance, typically begin with the company setting a proposed budget. This is followed by managers’ assessments of their employees’ performance, which should be based on specific performance metrics.

Metrics used in merit-based pay raises may vary between jobs, roles and teams, or they may be company-wide, but they should tie into company and team goals. It’s also a good idea to make employees aware of the evaluation metrics at the start of the period being reviewed so they fully understand expectations. Some companies take this a step further and have employees set their own goals (usually in consultation with management), which they are then evaluated against.

Work with your HR consultant, who can provide guidance on performance metrics, help structure performance evaluations and merit pay increases, and create a meaningful performance review program custom-tailored to your company.

Step 2: Determine how performance will relate to an increase in salary.

Merit pay increases should be structured to fairly reward high-performing employees similarly across the company to reduce the risk of salary-increase inequality. Since pay increases are most frequently made as a percent of salary, that would mean a high-performing web developer would receive the same percent increase as a high-performing line worker.

Also consider the employee’s performance scorecard, current pay rate (whether they’re above or below the company’s pay midpoint), and the proposed budget for merit increases — each of these may affect the percentage your company can award an individual team member.

Step 3. Create an employee’s performance scorecard.

How did the employee perform through the year? Determining whether an employee was a high performer (i.e. excellent vs. a satisfactory) requires creating a scorecard. Your management team will determine how well each employee completed performance metrics. Note that some companies start this process with the employee conducting a self evaluation, which is then forwarded to his or her manager for approval or modifications.

Your scorecard may weigh some of the evaluation criteria more heavily so that more important goals are given greater value and ultimately impact the employee’s overall performance “score” more. In the following example, the total of all goal scores should add up to 4 points or fewer to align with the ratings. You may also choose to use a 100 point scale or another scale entirely.

Since the employee’s score was between a 3 (good) and a 4 (excellent), a manager may opt to give either a modified percentage increase (ex: 5%) or put the employee into either of the “good” or “excellent” categories.

How to know if your performance review system needs work

In the event your company only has “top performers” after performance reviews, it may be time to revamp your performance scorecard. To encourage managers to truly highlight the top performers over the satisfactory and low ones, you may want to shift your performance management system to a bell curve where only 20-25% can be considered top performers, 60-65% are midrange, and 10-20% are under performers.

Other modifications may include:

  • Company performance goals. In addition to individual performance, all employees may be rated on the company’s overall achievement of a key metric. For example, 60% of an employee’s pay increase may be based on company financial metrics, whereas 40% of the merit increase may be based on the employee’s performance review.
  • Cash recognition outside of merit increases. Pay increases may go beyond a bump in base pay. Cash recognitions may also be given throughout the year in the form of spot bonuses or other variable pay options awarded to high performers. These can be a great way to extend the impact of merit-based pay for a company with budget limitations and allow rewards to flow throughout the year. This may also help prevent the creation of a culture of expectation, where employees have stopped seeing a performance-related pay increase as merit-based.
When should you give employees a pay increase?  

Unlike annual cost-of-living pay raises, which tend to happen at the same time each year, merit increases aren’t always tied to a calendar. That means you can choose to conduct these as your company sees fit — either on a set date or time period, on an employee’s anniversary date, or as needed. Also understand there is no law regulating how or when you should increase an employee’s pay, outside of minimum wage and other FLSA regulations, although pay increases are frequently considered a valuable tool in building employee retention and loyalty.

Advice regarding compensation plans, performance reviews and merit increases

Compensation strategies should never be decided on a whim, particularly when pay is used as a motivation for employee performance. Before starting or revamping a merit-based pay increase system, consult with your HR professional or contact an HR consultant at Stratus.hr.

Merit-Based Pay Increase

Follow this three-step guide to create an effective merit-based pay system.

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The following example shows how pay increases may be structured (see Step 2):

Merit-based pay increase

Your scorecard may look like this (see Step 3):

Employee Performance Scorecard

When structuring your program’s performance review/merit increase plan and timing, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  1. Pay increases that are used to motivate employees are most effective when they are tied to performance, in contrast to cost-of-living increases.
  2. Performance-based increases should be awarded shortly after a performance review to emphasize the connection between performance and pay.

Is outsourcing right for your business? Find out today! Let Stratus.hr give you a free quote customized to your specific needs.