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Getting Over the Dog Days of Summer

Written by Mary Lake on .

The dog days of summer are upon us. The temperature is rising and employees are either on vacation or daydreaming about the ones around the corner. While taking a break from work can be crucial for employee productivity, at times, these lulls in energy can impact the office. It happens every year, so what can an organization do to overcome this? The answer – inject a bit of fun in the office space!

According to author Gary Keller, “studies over the last two decades” have revealed when workplaces make fun a factor, it creates happier employees that feel more satisfied and ultimately better at their jobs. Fun in the workplace fun has been linked to:

  • Enhanced motivation
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced stress
  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Improved task performance

In addition, having fun is one way of effectively managing and improving employees’ emotions. It’s also proven to improve teamwork, build trusting relationships and increase employee retention.

However, before you get started on injecting fun into the workplace, it is important to consider some do’s and don’ts:

Fun in the workplace should be:

  • Appropriate for the workplace
  • Inclusive – the fun should be shared with as many people as possible
  • Sensitive to how people might react

Workplace fun and humor should not:

  • Be racist, sexist or vulgar
  • Offend anyone
  • Make fun of anyone
  • Be sarcastic
  • Detract from core business
  • Damage the reputation of individuals
  • Damage the reputation of the organization

Whether you have a backyard BBQ, water balloon fights, photography contests, popsicle breaks or even a good ole fashioned watermelon seed spitting competition, the sky is the limit when thinking of fun and unusual things to do in the office.

Keep in mind though that what is fun for one person is not necessarily fun for another. Recognize and value the fact that there will be a diversity of fun styles and be sure to ask for input from all levels of your workforce. What you do isn’t as important as doing something to lift the spirits of the employees during those lazy, hazy days of summer.

Keeping National Politics out of the Office

Written by Mary Lake on .

Over the past year, the American public has been inundated by our political process, with a large number of potential candidates and ideas vying for votes and support. Although the number of potential candidates have decreased as the national conventions draw near, the nation is increasingly drawn into debates and heated discussions about both candidates and political issues.

While the presidential election is still six months away, many employers are seeing politics brought into the work environment. The question is how to keep the differences of political opinions from becoming divisive in the office. In Susan Milligan’s article for SHRM “Political Debates in the Workplace: Where to Draw the Line” she points out that “attempting to ban political discussions is not only illegal, but also impossible to enforce from a practical perspective.” However, there are a few things that employers can do to keep personal and political feelings from intruding on the typically genial office atmosphere. The following is a list of Do’s and Don’ts that will helpfully be beneficial in reaching this goal.


  • Make sure that employees are aware of any company restrictions on bringing political paraphernalia such as buttons worn, political T-shirts, posters etc., to the office.
  • Keep your political views and beliefs private. Lead from the top and restrain from discussing your political views or your views of the candidates.
  • Ensure that voting policies are equally administered and enforced. If the company policy is to allow all employees time off to vote, make sure that any employee who wishes to vote is able to do so.


  • Allow solicitation of funds for a political candidate. Also, do not make donations for individuals in your office under the umbrella of your organization’s name.
  • Attempt to forbid the discussion of politics in the office. This is illegal and impractical.
  • Allow your company name to be associated with a political candidate.

Politics can often be a very heated topic in any organization or group of people. Sending an email by the leadership of your organization recognizing this fact and reminding employees that the general ambiance of the office can be disturbed if each individual does not self-monitor their thoughts and words in discussions with others can be very beneficial in maintaining the positive vibe of the office. The good news is that heightened political awareness typically only appears every four years. Once you’ve gotten through the political minefield of 2016 you can breathe easily until 2020!

Job Descriptions – The New Year Resolution Worth Keeping

Written by Mary Lake on .

The first two weeks of January, 2016 are behind us. Many resolutions have been made, both personal and professional, in the hopes of making our lives healthier, happier and more organized. As you set off to tackle these resolutions, I would suggest an additional one that will have the same impact on your employees and organization – update the job descriptions for all of your employees.

Job descriptions play an integral role within an organization. They set expectations, goals and objectives, are crucial as recruiting tools and help potential candidates and all employees to clearly understand the responsibilities for their position within the organization. However, what I’ve discovered over the years is that too often job descriptions are only updated when a vacancy needs to be filled or there are compliance issues.

In today’s hectic and ever changing business environment, roles and responsibilities are constantly changing. New technology, organizational processes and procedures, and increases and decreases in staffing, all have an impact on a job function and expectation. It is essential that job descriptions are reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis to ensure that both employee and employer understand the exact parameters of each position and how it impacts the overall organization.

During 2015, HR Advisors Group assisted several clients with their review of organizational job descriptions and career paths in several different capacities. During these engagements, we offer three paths to our clients to update their job descriptions by taking into account the number of employees, the size of the HR staff and the resources available to the individual organization.

  1. Have supervisors and employees update job descriptions during employee reviews
  2. Charge HR with the responsibility to review and update all current job descriptions
  3. Outsource the responsibility for job description review and updating to a consultant

Let’s take a quick look at each option and examine the benefits and shortcomings inherent to each.

Have supervisors and employees update job descriptions during employee reviews – This is an excellent opportunity to go directly to the source. The employee has the chance to review and discuss in detail all responsibilities associated with the position and identify any changes that have occurred in the last year. The supervisor can examine these responsibilities and make appropriate changes. The disadvantage to this approach is that often reviews can be a delicate conversation and there isn’t enough time to discuss job descriptions as they have to address immediate concerns with an employee’s performance.

Charge HR with the responsibility to review and update all current job descriptions – Today’s HR professionals are familiar with creating comprehensive job descriptions and career paths. Their involvement ensures that they contain language that meets all legal requirements. This option does require HR to connect with employees and supervisors to confirm any adjustments to the job description due to organizational changes in processes and technology. This option can require significant resources dependent on the size of the organization. In addition, the timeliness of completing the initiative will be dependent on the other responsibilities competing for the HR representative’s time.  A solution would be to make this a “goal” for the individual HR representative or HR Department.

Outsource the responsibility for job description review and update to a consultant – When the size of the organization and the time requirements for a thorough review of job descriptions require more time and resources than is available internally, working with an outside consultant is often a fiscally sound option for reviewing job descriptions. A competent, outside HR consultant will have deep experience with writing job descriptions that contain the legal language necessary for a comprehensive description. The consultant will be able to review current organizational processes and procedures and identify positions where they will need to be updated. After an initial review of the job descriptions, the HR consultant can meet with employees to confirm any changes or additions to the job requirements. Upon completion of the updated job descriptions, the HR consultant can review the changes with a member of the HR Department for accuracy.

Regardless of which option is chosen, it is vital for any organization to go through a periodic review of job descriptions. This exercise will ensure that all job descriptions are accurate and that the current and future needs of the organization are met.

Fall into a Healthier Workplace

Written by Mary Lake on .

With the tress exploding with color and falling temperatures bringing the season’s first frost, I’m constantly reminded that fall is here and winter is just around the corner. While I love this time of year, I dislike the inevitable decline in my activity levels. With the holidays almost upon us, so too are the additional calories to my regular diet. Sitting behind my desk all day, I find a real lack of motivation to exercise since it’s dark and cold by the time I get home.

I know I’m not alone when it comes to this issue. So, what can organizations do to help their employees maintain a healthy lifestyle, especially around this time of year? Many companies are offering their employees wellness programs at work. Some are elaborate, while others are quite simple. My son’s employer provided their employees a Fitbit to encourage them to maintain their health and wellness. They also provide a stipend to use at gyms, tennis clubs, and yoga studios. IBM, Virgin and Google all offer extensive programs, but not all companies have the resources of these large corporations. Many of our clients are creating minor to major programs, so organizations should try to identify what they can do and what works best for their employees.

A wellness program can have many elements to it. From health education to on-site screenings, the approach to supporting employee health and wellness can vary greatly. In November of 2012, Forbes provided four great steps to implementing a corporate health and wellness program.

Step 1. Determine the need of the employee and the employer. It is important to identify the needs of the employees and what they are looking for in a wellness program. An employee survey will help you to see what needs are pressing and what employees’ thoughts are on a wellness program. It is also important to understand the organization’s goals and available resources for providing a wellness program.

Step 2. Analyze the data and create a plan. Once the needs, goals and resources have been identified, analyze the data and develop a wellness program that will meet those needs. Be realistic and accept that everything may not be implemented at once. Do you bring in health screeners first, perhaps someone to provide flu shots? Or is your priority to provide an on-site education program or fitness classes? Perhaps providing a fitness stipend is what will work best for your employees.

Step 3. Create a communication plan. Developing a wellness program is an important initiative and will require communication to your employees. Develop a communication plan that will not only inform your employees of what is being done, but will also encourage them to participate. Keep the communication going throughout the year to keep it on everyone’s mind.

Step 4. Put an incentive plan in place. We all know that breaking old habits is difficult, but is often easier when there is an incentive to do so. Put an incentive plan in place for your employees such as bonuses, reduction in insurance premiums or create team challenges. Make participation in the wellness program fun and worthwhile!

Healthier employees are happier employees. Happier employees are more productive and engaged employees. Helping employees maintain or develop healthier lifestyle choices through the cold weather will help us all to avoid some of the winter doldrums that we face as the weather turns cold and days grow shorter. It is a win-win for all!

The Hidden Biases of the Workplace

Written by Mary Lake on .

The most important asset any organization has is its people. Being able to hire and retain the right individuals is important to any organization’s overall well being. At HR Advisors Group we have been involved in many searches where resumes are reviewed and potential candidates are phone screened in an effort to identify the crème de la crème for our clients to interview. Other times, clients do their own preliminary reviews and ask us to participate in the in-person interviewing process so that we can provide our input on the final candidates they have selected. We have helped many clients find the most qualified candidate who is the right fit for their culture and organization. Our clients strive to be Equal Opportunity Employers and we have enjoyed assisting them in this goal.

I have recently completed some research on implicit bias that I hope will allow both our clients and HR Advisors Group to do an even better job in ensuring that the best candidate is selected. One of the sources of my research has been the book “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People” by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald. Their very readable study on hidden biases of good people brought out some very interesting points and questions about what I knew about my own thought processes. As I was reading their book, I began to gain a greater understanding on how my own life experiences affected how I thought and reacted to people and situations and the implications this can have on truly being an Equal Opportunity Employer.

Benaji and Greenwald contend that our life experiences influence our expectations unconsciously and therefore cause biases in our behaviors that we are not only unaware of, but of which we consciously wouldn’t approve of. One of the examples in Benaji and Greenwald’s book is the practice of blind auditions for symphony orchestras across the country. In the 1970’s most professional, symphony orchestra musicians were male. In the 1980’s the practice of concealing an applicant’s gender on an application and having the audition performed behind a screen where the applicant was heard and not seen, increased the number of women who were successful candidates.

While it is not possible for most employers to do the blind auditions that were done by the symphony, there are some things that we can do as employers to minimize the impact of implicit bias. The first is to remove, or block out the candidate names on the resumes that we review. Surnames will often identify the nationality or ethnicity of a candidate and a first name can at times identify a candidate’s race. In addition, names such as Latisha Washington or Jamal Jones are often identified as African American names. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research “Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback.” See the National Bureau of Economic Research for further information. Removing the ability to view candidate names removes any unintended implicit bias that employers might have in selecting candidates to interview.

The theory of Benaji and Greenwald’s study is that if we know our unconscious biases we can put actions into place to counteract those biases. The problem comes in identifying our hidden biases. If you want to test yourself with this concept, you can take an anonymous test to identify your hidden biases.  The Implicit Association Test measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to express. The IAT measures the strengths of associations between concepts and evaluations or stereotypes.   If you are interested in taking the test, visit the Harvard Project Implicit website. The test results combined with further reading on the topic (readily available through an Internet search) is a start in understanding ourselves, our life experiences and influencers in hidden bias.  I would not suggest that the IAT will answer all of your questions about whether or not you are looking at hiring without bias, however, it may help shape and enhance your current hiring practices.

Caring About a Family-Oriented Workplace

Written by Mary Lake on .

Last month the Northern Virginia Family Services (NVFS) held their annual CARE Awards Launch (Companies as Responsive Employers). HR Advisors Group has had the privilege of being involved in this worthwhile event for the past three years. I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of the background and details of this awards program that recognizes best practices and programs relating to family-friendly employers.

Since 1992, when the first CARE Awards were awarded, there has been national focus on meeting the needs of employees regarding family related issues. Some of this focus has been through public laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), the Affordable Care Act of 2010. More recently, President Obama held the first White House Summit on Working Families in June, 2014 where business leaders and workers were brought together to talk about addressing the challenges that working parents face.

Although organizations like the NVFS, the CARE Awards and national laws are essential to the promotion of family-oriented policies in the workplace, companies large and small should examine their own policies. Creating a family-friendly culture benefits employees by reducing stress in finding a work/life balance and benefits employers by creating an environment where employees are more productive. The following checklist is taken from the Community Tool Box and provides many options that employers can provide to create a family-friendly culture.

    • Flex-time. For employees with family obligations, control of their time may be the most valuable benefit an employer can give.
    • Job sharing. Two (or more, but that’s very unusual) employees may share a single position, by each working a fraction of the necessary time.
    • Temporary or permanent switch to part-time. A full-time employee might be allowed to change to a part-time position – either as part of a job share, or simply as a reduction in working hours – and still continue in the same position.
    • Allowing work away from the worksite. An employee may work from home or some other remote site some or all of the time.
    • Maternity/paternity leave. Part of an employee benefit package may be paid or unpaid leave for the birth, adoption, or acceptance of the foster placement of a child.
    • Parental leave. This is a short-term option that allows a parent to take an afternoon or a day off to pick up a sick child at school or tend to one at home, attend a school performance or athletic event, or otherwise minister to a child’s needs.
    • Flexible emergency leave. This offers a certain number of days a year to attend to medical or other emergencies, usually with pay.
    • Employee and family health benefits. These may include not only generous health and dental insurance, but on-site wellness centers, on-site fitness centers or subsidies for joining a gym, and even health-and-fitness-oriented programs for employees’ children or spouses.
    • Child care. On-site day care isn’t the only option here. An employer might subsidize employees’ child care, paying all or some part of approved arrangements. Other possibilities are to provide referrals to reliable child care, or reserve slots at particular facilities for employees’ children.
    • Elder care. Although very few employers, if any, actually provide elder day care or home care, many provide resources and referrals – and even subsidies – for such care.
    • Family-oriented events. Many employers arrange company picnics, Christmas parties, and other events to include employees’ families.
    • Family-oriented environment. Some employers, particularly smaller ones, make it possible for people to bring their children to the workplace from time to time when necessary. These employers may set up a playroom, with toys and children’s videos to keep children busy at those times.
    • Tuition for employee education.
    • College scholarships or loans for employees’ children. An employer may award one or more scholarships a year, on a merit or need basis, to the children of employees, or may actually pay or lend some amount of tuition for each employee’s child who attends college.
    • Including family issues as part of an employee assistance program. An employer may offer seminars and workshops on parenting, keeping kids off drugs, education, and other family-oriented topics.


I realize that it is highly unlikely that an organization can implement every policy on the checklist, but there is no doubt that every firm can take steps that provides a more robust family-friendly work environment.  If your organization is taking steps to promote these practices and you’re based out of Northern Virginia, you should consider applying for the CARE Awards before May 15. Either way, I hope that you will take the time to examine the suggestions and explore what policies will work best for your organization.