Are you a serial emoticoner? In order to answer that question, you probably have to know what an “emoticoner” is: someone who sends emoticons, pictorial representations of facial expressions. Examples below:

;-)         :-)         :-P       :-(

Many of us use emoticons in everyday forms of communication such as texts to our loved ones or emails to our friends, but is the workplace, particularly workplace email, really the place for that?

Ten years ago you probably would have easily answered that question “absolutely not.” After all, emails at work were intended to be strictly business and written in formal context. But, email communication among clients and coworkers has become a lot more laid back over the years, thus opening the door to the “emoticon issue.”

HR Florida Review and the Florida Institute of Technology recently set out to uncover the science behind the use of emoticons and found the following: emoticons reduce the negativity effect in the business-related email message. Lots can be lost in email translation and sometimes the recipient may think you are being harsh, when a simple “smiley” at the end of the sentence lightens the mood and lets the reader know you aren’t angry and are still on good terms.  However, those who use emoticons, while perceived as more friendly, were also perceived as less professional.

Here’s what we think at HR Shield: email messages that are not clear or require some type of emoticon to let the person know how you’re really feeling should really be conversations you have in-person or at the very least on the phone. Additionally, there are other ways to let people know how you feel outside of emoticons. In an earlier entry “HR Shield’s Lesson on Office Email Etiquette” we noted two things that are rather relevant to this subject:

End Emails With Positive Salutations: The subject of your email may not always be positive, in fact you may be delivering bad news. But, never fail to let people know they are in fact appreciated. Sign off with “Thank you,” “Regards,” “Much appreciated,” or other nice sayings. (This is a much more professional approach vs. utilizing emoticons).

Think Twice: Reread all emails before sending. If the message is not clear, or is left up to too much interpretation, do not send it. Think of a way to reword the message before creating an avoidable miscommunication, or, as we said earlier: have the conversation in-person if possible!

Also, think about your workplace and the culture you’d like to uphold. Are emoticons too unprofessional and childish? How do you want to be perceived as a colleague, manager, client, or vendor each time you send an email?

HR Shield is committed to helping improve office atmospheres everywhere.  From HR best practices and basic office protocol to benefits and taxes, we’re here to help. Need more support than our weekly blog? Contact your HR Shield Advisor at (877) 636-9525!

This past month, the HR Shield team was fortunate enough to attend and sponsor the 2013 Dueling Chefs Competition here in Tampa Bay!

Since 2008, the people of our community have been coming together once a year at the Centre Club to watch 2 dueling chefs dish up delicious fundraising dinners. HR Shield’s very own Patrick Moraites serves as the Dueling Chefs Competition Founder and Chairman!

For those culinary masters brave enough to accept the challenge, each is provided with a “secret” ingredient…. The secret ingredient must make its way into a signature dish that both the people and the celebrity judges deem irresistible!

Since the event’s inception, eleven of the top restaurants in Tampa have accepted this challenge which aims to raise at least $25,000 for The Children’s Cancer Center of Tampa. On November 8th, attendees enjoyed an evening of sampling and socializing alongside the event’s silent auction, stocked with beautiful high end gifts and trinkets and heart-warming original artwork made by the children of the Center.

The two competing restaurants were local Chef Michael Buttacavoli of CENA and local Chef Suzanne Crouch of Ella’s American Folk Art Cafe. CENA took home the judge’s vote, and Ella’s won the vote of the people.

We were thrilled to play a part in giving back to our community and look forward to supporting the Dueling Chefs competition and other non-profit initiatives in the New Year ahead! What does your company do for community involvement? Do you have a formal giving plan?

Are you an HR or office manager that just recently got put in charge of “exploring benefits options?” Perhaps you’re a business owner in need of a plan for yourself and your employees a.s.a.p.!

Since benefits are often confusing for those just getting their feet wet, HR Shield has put together a cheat-sheet to navigate you through the main differences between an HMO and a PPO.

HMO: A health maintenance organization (HMO) plan requires that you have one primary care physician. Coordinating healthcare through one source (your physician’s office) helps to decrease the paperwork (for physicians, patients and insurance companies alike) and also helps to lower healthcare costs.

When you need a healthcare professional or services outside of your primary care physician’s expertise, a referral is required from your physician. So, for example, if you needed to visit a podiatrist for a bothersome foot, you’d need to first visit your physician. If he or she cannot help you themselves, they would then make a referral to another professional within the HMO plan’s designated network. If the referral made is to a professional outside of your network, this typically will not be covered by your plan. Therefore it is important to double check before visiting a new office, and try to always stay within your plan’s network.

The only time a referral is not needed is if you are a female visiting a gynecologist or OB/GYN within the network for routine or well-woman visits.

PPO: A preferred provider organization (PPO) plan gives you more flexibility. You can go to any health care professional (directly) without a referral from your primary care physician. In fact, having a primary care physician is not even necessary in a PPO.

While you can choose to stay inside or outside of your network based on your practice preferences, it’s imperative to know that staying within your network will result in smaller copays and full coverage. Going outside of your network can add up quickly with higher copays, and all services may not be covered, resulting in more out of pocket expenses.

It’s important to note that the above mentioned details only really begin to skim the surface of options available when looking to establish an employer group or individual plans for your employees. If you need assistance, or would like a benefits recommendation/referral, contact your HR Advisor at HR Shield. We have access to a wide range of resources to help meet your employees' needs and your company's budget.

Continuing education has gained quite a bit of popularity in the past decade. Many people want to better themselves and learn something new – for personal reasons, for their families, and/or for career advancements.

But did you know that in addition to individuals bettering themselves, supporting these individuals could actually help better your business?

Continuing education is a pretty broad term. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean that someone is going back to school to get their master’s degree. Continuing education includes a number of post-secondary learning activities and programs including degree-credit courses, personal enrichment courses, career training, workforce training, interest groups, experiential learning and more.

The education opportunities that could particularly benefit individuals AND your workplace include:

  • Foreign Language Courses: Would your business benefit by offering customer service in two or three languages? Would you be able to generate more income if you could deliver work or execute proposals in several different languages? Could you establish stronger relationships with some of your existing accounts?
  • Computer Training:  A general computer course could benefit many of us within the workforce. How many hours a week have your employees wasted trying to figure out something in Excel or PowerPoint? Or worse, how many other employees do they need to ask for help on any given day – resulting in lost productivity for more than one person!
  • Typing Class: Those that type faster and more accurately, often complete projects and communicate faster!

Continuing education makes for a stronger, smarter workforce. It can even help save the cost of needing to replace or rehire in the future.  Employers can support continuing education in many ways including:

  • After-work Programs for Those Interested
  • Educational Stipends as a Form of Employee Benefits
  • Tuition Reimbursement Programs

Need some help with your company’s continuing education program? Call your HR Shield Advisor today at (877) 636-9525.


There’s no denying that employees waste time at work on non-work related browsing, communications, and transactions – everybody does it now and then. Or, is it much more than  “every now and then?”

Earlier in the year, a Kansas State University researcher studied cyberloafing (wasting time at work on the Internet) and the results were quite shocking: between 60 and 80 percent of people's time on the Internet at work has nothing to do with work.

For business owners trying to build a profitable business model through effective and efficient personnel, this statistic is nothing short of a nightmare! But is there anything you can do about it in an office that needs to utilize computers all-day, every-day?

Fortunately, yes. No business owner or HR manager likes to play “bad cop,” but having a social media policy or computer-usage policy within your employee handbook can help. But, this is a two-step process. As many of us are well aware, policies that are never or rarely enforced don’t get the best of results.

In order to determine who is wasting countless hours on sites like Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter each day, and to actually enforce your Company’s social media policies, you’ll need to recruit the help of those in IT. Employee internet monitoring is an option, as is setting up your network to prohibit logging on to select sites. Because the computers are company property, usage can be restricted and/or observed, while keeping the company within compliance standards.

Keep in mind that many companies have a social media presence; you may even have a social media manager or coordinator on staff. In this type of scenario, certain employees do need to be logged on to social media sites as part of their job description. But again, this is something that needs to be outlined and defined within the employee handbook so that certain employees don’t feel as if they are being treated unfairly or discriminated against.

Did you know that each HR Shield Membership comes with an Employee Handbook Review? This includes the review of all social media policies. Sign up now online or call us at (877) 636-9525 for more information.

Added Bonus: To watch a video on social media policies, click here!