I’m a calendar junky. There, I said it. I believed that in order to feel accomplished, and important, I needed to fill my calendar, every day, every moment. I filled it with meetings, calls, appointments, lunch dates, product reviews, sales pitches, networking meetings, board meetings.
I was busy, but I was not productive. All the things I was involved in served only to take up valuable time, and then I would find myself working late into the evening, and yes, on the weekends, doing actual work I was being paid to do. I had a hard time saying no.
As an HR Department of One, our job is never just “HR.” We wear many hats, payroll, event planning, accounting, executive assistant, travel planner, safety, facilities, heck sometimes we even do maintenance! Not to mention the countless interruptions we get throughout the day. You know the knock on the door followed by “Got a minute?” turns into 30 minutes, and another task to add to your calendar.
So, how do we transition from being busy, to being productive?
- Eat That Frog! - You may know Brian Tracy’s famous “eat-a-frog”-technique from his classic time-management book, Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. Right when you start your day, choose the most unwanted task, and just get it done.
- Learn to say “no.” – Busy people say yes to everything; productive people say yes carefully. Be honest with yourself about deadlines, the time commitment required, and how your skill set fits in to determine what you should devote your time to. You’ll learn to say yes strategically rather than saying yes to everything.
- Think Smaller – Set smaller, measurable goals. Align your to-do list with your calendar. By blocking out time on your calendar to tackle to-dos, you won’t be derailed by meetings and lingering action items.
- Focus on one project at a time. Multitasking is interrupted productivity. Instead of doing multiple tasks at once, you are switch-tasking and this start-and-stop process prevents you from hitting a state of flow and engaging in deep work.
- Close the Door – This is a hard one. Learning to close the door is like learning to say no. By closing the door, you let everyone know that you are not to be disturbed unless it is an emergency, sometimes adding a sign to the door helps. By shutting out all distractions, you can focus and efficiently use your time without being interrupted.
At the end of each day, ask yourself, “did my work today bring me closer to my goals, or did I just have a busy day? Honest introspection should become a daily practice as you find out which productivity methods work best for you. Take a few moments at the end of each day to meditate on what went well and what didn't. takes notes and adjust!
An employment application should not include any questions that will produce a response that would indicate an applicant’s protected class such as age, race, national origin, disability, etc. Such inquiries may be used as evidence of an employer’s intent to discriminate, unless the questions asked can be justified by some business purpose of the employer.
It’s important to note that Information needed to conduct background checks should be obtained on a separate form authorizing the employer to conduct the check.
Some common inquiries to avoid on your application are:
Birth dates: Making inquiries about an applicant’s birth date can give the perception that the employer is using age as a decision-making factor in the hiring process. If federal law or the employer’s state law requires a minimum age for employment for certain occupations, then the employer can ask applicants if they are at least the minimum age required for employment.
Graduation dates: Making inquiries of an applicant’s school graduation date can reveal an applicant’s age. To obtain information on whether an applicant holds a degree or a diploma, the employer can simply ask if the applicant has graduated and what degree was obtained.
Military discharge information: Questions that are relevant to work experience and training received are permissible. However, an employer should not ask an applicant the reason he or she was discharged from the military or request to see military discharge papers, except when directly related to the job or to determine veteran’s preference.
Race inquiries: An applicant’s race or color should not be asked on an employment application. Some employers may track their applicants’ race for affirmative action plans or compliance with the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, but this should be done apart from an application. This information is not used in the selection process and is voluntary for the applicant.
Citizenship: Inquiries about an individual’s citizenship or county of birth are prohibited and can be perceived as discrimination on the basis the individual’s national origin. An employer can inquire if an applicant is legally eligible to work in the United States and inform the applicant that proof of his or her eligibility to work in the United States must be provided if selected for hire.
Maiden name, Miss, Mrs. and Ms.: Many states prohibit marital status discrimination, making any questions related to that status possible evidence of discriminatory hiring practices.
Social Security number: Although asking applicants for their Social Security numbers is not unlawful, requesting this information from applicants is not recommended due to identity theft and privacy concerns. Employers do not need this information until it is time to run a background check or complete a W-4; therefore, including it on an application carries unnecessary risk.
Salary History: Some states prohibit an employer from requesting salary history information from candidates. These laws are designed to promote greater pay equality by forcing employers to develop salary offers based on job requirements and market pay levels.
During the holiday season, employers are often faced with employee time off requests, holiday pay, and planning holiday parties. Here are some tips for managing these issues during the holiday season.
Managing Time-Off Requests
The holidays are a popular time for employees to request time off. To help maintain adequate staffing, consider granting time off based on seniority, a first-come first-served basis, scheduling needs, or a combination of these factors. Or, consider establishing blackout periods when employees may not take vacation, or provide employees with incentives to take time off during less desirable times of the year. Whatever strategy you use, train supervisors and apply your policy consistently.
Under federal law, employers with 15 or more employees are generally required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees' sincerely held religious beliefs and practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship. This may include providing unpaid time off. The EEOC suggests best practices for providing religious accommodations, such as facilitating voluntary shift swaps and permitting flexible scheduling.
Private employers are generally not required to provide paid holidays to hourly non-exempt employees, unless the employer has promised otherwise (in another policy or handbook). If you close for a holiday but do not offer paid holidays, hourly employees are generally not entitled to pay. However, salaried employees must still receive their full salary, as long as they work any part of the workweek.
During the holiday season, some employers see an increase in the number of employees calling in sick, particularly before and after a company holiday.
To help reduce unnecessary absences, some employers require hourly non-exempt employees to work the day before and after a company holiday in order to receive holiday pay, unless they have scheduled the time off in advance. Employers may not apply such a policy to salaried exempt employees.
If you plan on hosting a holiday party, consider the following:
Insurance coverage: Check with your insurance provider to determine what your coverage and liabilities may be during the party. For example, if an employee is injured during a company-sponsored event, he or she may be covered under your workers' compensation plan. Such coverage may depend on a variety of factors, including when and where the injury occurred.
Pay: If you plan to host the party during work hours, employees will likely be entitled to pay for time spent at the party. Generally, attendance should be voluntary and employees should not be pressured to attend or disciplined for failing to attend.
Serving Alcohol: Prior to the party, consider consulting legal counsel regarding the potential liability for serving alcohol at company events. If you prohibit alcohol, remind supervisors and employees well in advance of the party. If alcoholic beverages will be served, limit intake and ensure there is plenty of food as well as non-alcoholic beverages available.
Reinforce code of conduct and expectations: Prior to the event, remind employees that they must act responsibly and that you will enforce workplace rules, such as dress codes and anti-harassment policies, regardless of whether the party is held during work hours or on company premises. Managers and supervisors who attend the party should monitor the event and enforce company rules on a consistent basis.
To help manage your workplace obligations during the holidays, plan ahead and have clear policies and procedures in place.
Employers have a legal responsibility to protect their employees from a range of dangers and under occupational health and safety legislation, the onus is on employers to carry out due diligence by conducting workplace hazard assessments and implementing effective control measures to remedy any hazards that might have been identified as part of this process.
If you were on the witness stand and the government attorneys are asking you about your safety program, compliance and enforcement, could you answer the following with confidence?
- Are you familiar with your company’s safety program?
- Do you discipline employees for not following the rules of your safety program? How can you prove that to us?
- Do you conduct periodic safety audits (unannounced of course) to ensure employees are following your safety program and being safe? Why not? Isn’t safety important to you? How about compliance?
4 Things You Need Before Tragedy Strikes…
- Safety Program
This is more than a general safety statement in your employee handbook! Create a separate safety handbook that emphasizes the hazards your employees encounter most often. Make sure the policy is readable, understandable, and accessible to your employees. Get your supervisors on board with fully embracing the policy and its enforcement.
- Safety Training
Who does your safety training? Are they qualified? Do you give safety training both at point of hire and recurring? Classroom training alone is not enough, demonstrations are key. Practice emergencies and rescues.
The BEST Safety Program and the BEST Safety Training will fail without enforcement! If you are not writing up your employees and supervisors for failing to follow the safety program and training, you cannot show that you take safety seriously. Maintain a separate safety violations file.
Do you have regularly scheduled auditing of your safety program? If you do, your employees will always appear to be following your safety program, because they expect you, and you are actively observing! Random, unannounced is the only way to go. This is critical to having an effective workplace safety program.
Probably one of the most difficult situation for manager of a family owned business is when the need arises for you to give a friend or family member negative feedback, put them on a performance plan, or discipline them. So how do we keep things from getting personal? Here are four tips to help you get though those difficult conversations.
- Be honest and timely. You might be tempted to put off this impending responsibility, but putting off the inevitable is just going to cause you more anxiety. It’s better off if you confront this situation honestly and quickly.
- Prepare. The best way to make sure that this conversation goes as smoothly as possible is to prepare ahead of time:
- Review the details: Why exactly are you having this talk? Have you noticed the quality of their work has suffered lately? Have other employees registered complaints? Is this about a specific incident that was reported? Have your facts straight and have several examples ready (if applicable). The more information you have, the easier it will be to keep your dialogue focused on work.
- Have an objective for your conversation. What is your desired outcome to this conversation? Do you need to get them to sign a Performance Improvement Plan? Do you need to make sure they understand certain feedback? Knowing this ahead of time will help you to keep the meeting on track.
- Do not tell anyone else, besides your own manager and/or HR about this talk, especially not your mutual friends or family. One way to make this situation worse is discussing it with people that you both know. Imagine how you would feel if you found out that everyone you work with knew about a problem you were having at work and talking about it behind your back? If your friend or family member wants to talk to others about it after your conversation is over, leave that decision up to him or her.
- Be direct, professional and empathetic. Remember, not only are they receiving negative feedback or disciplinary action, but they might feel even worse knowing that their friend AND boss is disappointed. Stay on task and be professional. If you start to feel the conversation is getting too personal, remember your objective. Be sympathetic, but don’t let it keep you from accomplishing your goal before ending the conversation.
- End the conversation once your objective has been achieved. Don’t drag on the meeting, which is likely to make you both uncomfortable. Resist the urge to apologize to them or nag them about how they are feeling. Let them be in charge of their own next steps.