October 2016 HR Newsletter
Welcome to the October edition of our HR Newsletter! This month we cover performance management and office donation drives. We also take a look at what at-will employment means and doesn’t mean.
The Performance Evaluation Cycle
Many people look forward to annual performance reviews the way they look forward to oil changes and tune-ups. Sure, these are standard operating procedures, but they can be a hassle and they could reveal bad news. As a result, performance reviews are often done poorly. They’re treated as an afterthought and rushed when the time comes. Or they’re not done at all.
When done effectively, reviews provide employees with feedback about their performance, clear expectations for performance going forward, and goals for the next year. And they give employers the documentation they need to justify pay increases, decreases, or other employment decisions. Really, though, reviews should be just one part of a larger performance management process.
The purpose of the performance evaluation process is to align individual employee goals with departmental and company goals. It links what an employee is doing on a day-to-day basis with the company’s long-term strategy.
Performance management is an ongoing process, with feedback and coaching happening regularly throughout the year. A well-oiled performance evaluation process helps the business run smoothly. It improves morale, builds trust and loyalty, and increases productivity.
And if coaching is done on a regular basis, there should be no surprises when it comes time for performance evaluations.
Steps of the Performance Management Cycle
The performance management cycle ensures that you have a highly performing organization by maintaining or continually improving individual performance.
It begins with performance planning, in which the employee and their supervisor collaborate to develop a performance plan that details the goals and objectives for the coming review period. This step is also a good time for the employee to discuss their career goals and aspirations.
Throughout the review period, there should be ongoing coaching aimed at continuous improvement, and managers should provide regular feedback and support. All of this is critical to ensure that the employee understands what is expected of them and whether or not they are meeting their goals.
Prior to the review, the manager should assess the employee’s performance based on the employee’s completion of their goals and on other objective, job-related criteria. These criteria should be understood by the employee in advance.
Finally, the performance review should be completed based on an assessment of how well the employee completed their performance goals and an evaluation of performance in core competency areas.
Most performance evaluations use a rating system. Rating scales can be numeric, such as a scale from one to five. They can correspond with a description such as “satisfactory,” “excellent,” or “meets expectation.” Or they can describe how often the behavior is exhibited — “consistently,” “most of the time,” or “rarely,” for example.
If you use ratings, clearly define each level, and make sure that managers are trained in the system and that they understand what performance at each level looks like so that the levels are applied consistently.
Goal Completion and Evaluation
In addition to competency and rating information, the manager review should have information about how well the employee completed their goals from the last cycle. It helps to have SMART goals—goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Be sure that projects the employee completed are captured in the review and that any feedback about them is given.
You’ll also want to capture general feedback about the employee’s performance. Assess performance and don’t sugarcoat your written evaluation. It is amazing how often we hear that a client wants to terminate a poor performer, but the employee has glowing reviews on file. Leaving out performance shortcomings doesn’t help an employee develop and could hurt the company later in the event that termination becomes necessary.
The purpose of the self-review is make employees think about their own performance and to take a critical look at how they did over the review period. Self-reviews take advantage of the employee’s familiarity with their day to day work. They also highlight the parts of performance that are important to the employee.
In addition, the self-review enables the manager to see if employees have an accurate understanding of their own job performance. It also enables a manager to ensure that no key accomplishments have been left out of the manager review.
One caveat: self-review should not be used as a substitute for the manager’s review. Performance evaluations have much less value when managers don’t give their own input to employees.
Be specific with your input. Don’t tell an employee they are very creative. Instead, tell them that it was great when they thought of that new way to improve efficiency around the office. Rather than tell an employee you enjoy their positive attitude, tell them that it’s great when they greet everyone with a smile and offer to help out when others are swamped.
For your poor performers, the review is an opportunity to demand that things improve. Remember that you want to be specific, and you want to focus on behavior, not the individual.
Finally, you’ll want to finalize any paperwork related to the review and ensure that it ends up in the employee’s personnel file.
Seven Tips for Organizing an Office Donation Drive
Have you thought about conducting an office donation drive? Done well, it’s an easy, low-stress way for businesses to help people in the community and gain a reputation for compassion and community service. Here are our tips for running a smooth donation drive:
1. Call local donation centers to see what items are most needed. These places may have a surplus of some items, but be in great need of others. They’ll be able to tell you which is which so you can conduct a drive that truly benefits the community.
2. Consider the costs of items needed and the finances of your employees. Employees who make less money or have less ability to give may feel excluded if the requested donations are on the expensive side.
3. Determine the logistics of the drive. You’ll need a location on site to place collection bins—preferably a spacious and high-traffic area. The bins will need to be visible, easily accessible, and clearly marked. And you’ll need to coordinate transportation of the donated items to wherever they need to go. Some collection centers may be able to pick up items. Others may need you to deliver the goods.
4. Promote the drive through your standard communication channels. A week’s notice is good. A couple weeks’ notice might be better. Once the drive is underway, the donation bins will likely do the promotional work for you as long as they’re visible and clearly marked. That said, if the deadline is approaching and it appears that not many employees have participated, a company-wide reminder email or announcement may be in order. Procrastination is common, and if employees aren’t warned that they’re almost out of time, they may miss their window of opportunity.
5. Some employees may choose not to participate. That’s okay. Don’t single anyone out based on their level of participation.
6. Take the drive as an opportunity to build camaraderie among your employees. Give them a collective goal, encourage them along the way, and afterwards let them know how well they did.
7. Thank everyone who donated or otherwise participated in the drive. People like to be recognized for what they’ve done, even if the recognition wasn’t their motivation. And be sure to share any feedback you receive from the donation center or others in the community.
Question and Answer
Q: What is at-will employment?
A: In every U.S. state except Montana, employment is presumed to be at-will, meaning either the employer or the employee can legally terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without notice, and with or without cause. The employer has not guaranteed employment for a period of time, and the employee has not promised to stay; therefore, either party can end the relationship without financial penalty. There are, however, exceptions and limitations to the at-will relationship, so employers should still be careful when terminating an employee.
A collective bargaining agreement or employment contract, for example, could change the relationship so that it’s no longer at-will. And it’s important to keep in mind that at-will employment does not permit an employer to terminate employment based on the employee exercising a legal right or belonging to a protected class (e.g., race, sex, religion, national origin); such a basis would be illegal and could lead to a discrimination claim.
Consequently, the safest way to terminate an employee is to have documentation that justifies the legitimate business reasons behind the termination. This documentation would include infractions of policy, instances of poor performance, and any disciplinary or corrective action taken. The more an employer can do to show that they gave a terminated employee the chance to improve, the better.
The bottom line is that while at-will employment makes it sound like you can terminate employees at any time, with or without notice, and with or without cause—and to a degree you can—legitimate and documented business reasons are always your best bet.
Did You Know?
The Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t require that employees be given breaks. However, about two-thirds of states have their own statutes mandating that employees receive meal periods, rest periods, or both. Whether required by law or not, giving employees some mid-shift downtime has been proven time and again to benefit employers’ bottom lines.
Sustained attention to a certain task or project will eventually cause a person to lose focus and their productivity to decline (in as little as 20 minutes, in fact). But short breaks are remarkably effective at getting the brain back on track. Those that involve physical activity, like a trip to the gym at lunch or even a brisk walk around the block, will boost creativity and productivity for up to two hours afterward. And even if a little cardio isn’t in the cards, the mere act of getting up for a cup of coffee or tea will help get an overstimulated brain back on track.
The takeaway for employers? If you aren’t required by state law to offer breaks, consider doing so anyway. And if you already offer meal or rest periods, encourage employees to actually get up from their desks or assigned area and move around, have a non-work related conversation, or take in a breath of fresh air.
Tip of the Month:
Non-exempt employees don’t fly free! Rules around compensation for travel time haven’t changed, but if you don’t know what they are, now is the time to find out—especially as more employees will be classified as non-exempt under the new overtime rules.
As a general rule, employees need to be paid for any time spent traveling during their regular working hours, regardless of the day of the week and regardless of whether they are a driver or passenger.
Example: An employee usually works Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. They travel to a conference and are on a plane for four hours on Sunday between 1 pm and 5 pm. They need to be paid for all four hours, because those hours fell during the employee’s regularly scheduled work hours. However, employers generally don’t have to pay for time spent traveling outside of regular work hours if the employee is a passenger. So if the employee is on a plane from 4 pm to 8 pm on a Sunday, they need to be paid for their time up through 5 pm, but they do not need to be compensated for the last three hours of the flight.
Travel time pay is an area where state law may be stricter than federal law, such as requiring travel time pay even for time outside of normal working hours, so take the time to investigate before making any travel planning decisions.
October 10: Columbus Day & Indigenous People’s Day
October 16: World Food Day
October 31: Halloween
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