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Organizational Sexual Harassment Training Recommendations

Written by Tiffany Aukema on .

If you search online for “Sexual Harassment Training,” you will find 6,530,000 hits in the News section alone.  It should come as no surprise that many of these articles have been posted over the past few weeks with fresh allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct coming to light daily across business, politics and entertainment industries .  In the wake of what is becoming known as the “Harvey Weinstein Effect,” many employers are scrambling to dust off their sexual harassment policies and offer trainings.  Other employers may already have solid policies in place and regularly offer training; however, they are asking themselves, “what can we be doing differently?”

Now, more than ever, employers should be encouraged to take a more insightful approach to their sexual harassment training and policy.  So, as an employer, what can you be doing differently in 2018?

Consider Live Training.  Many organizations offer sexual harassment training online.  While online training allows organizations to reach employees quickly and across diverse geographic locations, many feel that it isn’t the best method to effectively cover this topic.  If we are being honest with ourselves, how many of us multi-task while only half listening to online trainings?  Yes, live training demands more time and resources, but if delivered effectively, it will benefit both the employee and employer through greater participant engagement.  Live training offers an unrivaled opportunity for questions and participant discussion which offers greater understanding of the training materials.

Live training also allows employers to discuss real life workplace scenarios.   Realistic examples help employees connect the dots and understand that sexual harassment goes way beyond amplified stories in the news and is relatable to their workplace environment.

Focus on Respect.  Most sexual harassment training programs focus on the laws and employer obligations.  While this focus often checks a box for most organizations from a legal protection standpoint, this type of training can often create a misconception that sexual harassment politicizes are simply a bureaucratic activity driven by leadership to protect an organizations.

While clearly legal definitions are an essential component to sexual harassment training, however, employers who choose to equally focus on the law and creating a work environment based on respect and civility, will find greater success and effectiveness in their training. Employees want to work in an environment that is based on trust and mutual respect.  This is fundamental in creating workplace that is truly free of harassment.

See Something, Say Something.  Sexual harassment policies and training typically focus on behaviors of the harasser and the options available to the victim to address the issue.  Employers should equally emphasize the responsibility of the entire organization to “see something, say something,” when it comes to sexual harassment both through organization-wide training and policies.

Anyone who witnesses harassment or inappropriate behavior should be empowered to do something.  Simply because an employee was not the direct recipient of inappropriate behavior, he or she should take action.  “Bystanders” should be encouraged to speak directly with the person who was harassed.  Employees who are recipients of harassment are often uncomfortable and may welcome the support of a colleague.  A bystander should also be encouraged to speak with a manager, human resources, and even directly to the employee who exhibited the inappropriate behavior.

Be Clear about Consequences.  Recent news highlighting the dramatic downfall of many prominent men can actually cause some victims to be reluctant to come forward.  In most instances, the victim wants the behavior to stop and that doesn’t always equate to the firing of the harasser.  Employers should be clear that there are many different appropriate consequences depending on the severity of the situation.  The media has shown a light on gross sexual misconduct where the appropriate consequence is indeed termination, however, in many cases, termination is not wanted, needed, or appropriate.  Employers should be clear that a fair investigation will follow a complaint and the employer will respond appropriately and proportionately.

Invite the Conversation.  Employers should not only train often on this topic, but open up the dialogue as a normal part of doing business.  Managers have often shared with me that they fear an uptick in complaints after facilitating training on sexual harassment.  The irony is that this is a desired outcome of providing training and opening up conversation about sexual misconduct and harassment.  The EEOC actually has suggested that employers reward managers if harassment complaints increase, at least initially.  It shows that employees have faith in the system and believe that their concerns will be heard and addressed.

Let’s find one silver lining in the “Harvey Weinstein Effect” and use this as opportunity to look closely at our policies, training, and communication around sexual harassment.  Creating an environment founded on respect and support from colleagues, managers, and human resources is a constant evolution and not an end goal.  Current events has proven that we can always do better.

Gender Pay Equality – Are We There Yet?

Written by Tiffany Aukema on .

Last week, Hilary Clinton became the first woman to claim the status of presumptive nominee for a major American political party.  This week, top female influencers in business, politics, entertainment, and the arts met in Washington, D.C. as part of the White House United State of Women Summit.  The summit was designed to celebrate what women have achieved to date and how they are going to take action moving forward.  On the same day as the summit, President Obama announced that the historic Sewall-Belmont house on Capitol Hill will be a national monument in tribute to all those who have fought for women’s equality.  Sounds like exciting times for women.  Are you aware that April 12 was designated Equal Pay Day?  Wait, what?

Equal Pay Day is not a celebration, but rather a public awareness event to illustrate the wage gap between men and women.  This day fluctuates every year and represents how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.  Currently, women earn $0.79 for every dollar their male counterparts earn for the same job.  This gap is even wider for minority women.  In 1963, when JFK signed the Equal Pay Act to address this pressing issue, women earned $0.59 for every dollar their male colleagues earned.  Improvement has been made; however, 20 cents in over five decades is hardly significant or acceptable.  According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, if this trend continues, women will not earn equal pay until 2059.

While the issue continues to garner attention in the White House and on Capitol Hill, employers can take control and ensure they aren’t contributing to the problem. Here are a few things that employers can do to ensure equity:

  1. Be transparent: Transparency in how an organization makes pay decisions is a simple and effective way to alleviate employee concerns of unfairness and inequities. Establish compensation ranges that are consistent.  Communicate the criteria to employees so they understand how salaries are determined.  Employers should perform regular analysis on salaries.  Often there are reasonable and appropriate explanations for gaps in salary; however, employers should be proactive in ensuring inadvertent pay gaps between gender aren’t being created.
  2. Encourage and be open to discussion: Employees are often reluctant to discuss salary with their managers for fear of retaliation or being seen as a complainer. Employers should encourage open, but private, discussion on compensation between managers and employees at least once per year.
  3. Allow for negotiation: There is a stereotype that women aren’t capable of effective negotiation when it comes to salary. Fast Company posted an article on this topic citing a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which found that, “women tend to be more timid when negotiating on behalf of themselves, fearing backlash, but are effective when it comes to negotiating on someone else’s behalf.”  In response to this and in order to help alleviate wage gaps across an organization, some firms have adopted a ‘no negotiation’ practice. While the practice has positive intent, it may contribute to the wage gaps. Employers should be open to negotiation and allow employees to have some control in determining their salary.
  4. Skip the salary question: One of the most frequent questions during the application and interview process is, “How much are you currently making?” While employers may find this question useful in determining the experience level of a candidate, it also may be contributing to the wage gap.  If a female employee was underpaid in her previous position and a new employer uses this salary as basis for a hiring salary, she is automatically disadvantaged in contrast to her appropriately paid male peer.
  5. Provide leave options and flexible schedules: In general, the wage gap widens as workers age. This may be attributed to the fact that many employers don’t provide adequate time off for maternity and parental purposes forcing women to step out of the work force to tend to family needs.  Consider offering more generous leave options and flexible schedules for parents to encourage women to stay in the work force and stay active in the wage game.
  6. Ensure equal distribution of work: We all have unconscious biases that may lead us to assign work the employees we relate to most.  If the best work assignments are always given to the male employees, the female counterparts are denied the opportunity to demonstrate their true worth.
  7. Educate your staff: Lastly, but most importantly, educate your staff. President Obama created the National Equal Pay Task Force to bring together the EEOC, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, and the Office of Personnel Management to help understand the full scope of the wage gap, enforce current laws already prohibiting pay discrimination, and ensure employers and employees are educated on rights and obligations.  Keep abreast of this topic.  Train your leaders about the unconscious biases and communicate clearly about how your organization makes pay decisions.  There are many great resources on this topic.  The Society for Human Resources published a relevant article in the June 2016 HR Magazine, “9 Tips for Closing the Gender Pay Gap.”  In an effort to keep abreast of issues, employers can visit whitehouse.gov and unitedstateofwomen.org for the most updated information.

The year 2059 is a long way off.  This isn’t a male/female issue or a company/employee issue.  It’s doing what is right for your business by doing what is right for your employees.  Compensating your employees equitability and competitively, regardless of gender (or race, or sexual orientation) will help you attract and retain a talented workforce while providing an environment where everyone feels valued.  And in an election season when there’s so much talk about winners and losers, isn’t it nice to have both sides win?

Pay Attention to Me…Quietly

Written by Tiffany Aukema on .

So often throughout my career, I have heard the words, “You were quiet during the meeting. Is everything ok?” The truth is, I’m actually doing great. While you were talking, I was absorbing and processing. While you were brainstorming out loud, I was taking notes and thoughtfully considering your ideas. And at the same time, I was formulating ideas of my own from a different perspective. I’m not shy. I’m an introvert.

My second year in college, I was approached early in the semester by my professor of Shakespeare Literature, who told me that I was failing the class. Completely perplexed and panicked, I set up a time to meet with her and discuss my failing efforts. I hadn’t even turned in my first paper yet! I brought my paper with me and prepared myself for an uncomfortable conversation. What happened next was entirely different from what both my professor and I expected. We had a lively and interesting conversation about our readings. I offered my thoughts, opinions, and questions on the text. She loved my paper. See, she thought I wasn’t engaged. She thought I hadn’t been keeping up with the materials. In reality, I was on top of it. I was thinking, processing, learning, and organizing my thoughts. The reason I was failing was because in a world where we are expected to “live out loud,” I come across as shy and unengaged. Thus began my journey as a self-proclaimed introvert.

As a leader, have you ever mistaken the quiet person for the poor performer or the person who seems disassociated during meetings? You just might have an introvert on your team. We work in different ways and are often mysterious beings to those who like to “live out loud.” We are often made uncomfortable by our extroverted peers in the workplace. We like our quiet, we like personal relationships, and we like time to think.

Thankfully, there is much discussion on the power of introverts in the workplace today. Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” has given introverts a voice. Did you know that 50% of workers self-identify themselves as introverts and 96% of leaders self-identify themselves as extroverts? (Quiet Leadership Institute, www.quietrev.com). We can’t ignore our quiet colleagues; nor should we. In Jenna Black’s recent blog on Huffingtonpost.com, she observes the different ways that introverts bring value to an organization. My favorite is: “Listening and observing is one of the quiet powers of an introvert. We love nothing more than to watch and listen so we can serve immense value that truly hits the mark.” In other words, we may not always speak up, but when we do, you can count on it being thoughtful.

When we act as coaches and look to put together teams, we need people who can play different positions. Introverts and extroverts can’t play the same role and shouldn’t be expected to, just as a goal tender isn’t expected to score goals. To be successful, you need a mix of both.

If you know or believe that you have introverts working for you, I encourage you consider them differently. Think about how you can maximize their unique strengths and balance their contributions with your extroverted players.

Consider these simple ideas to maximize your introverts:

  1. The open floor concept, which is very popular in the modern day workplace, can be stressful to your introverts. Consider providing them with a quiet and more private space to work. Telecommuting, on occasion, is an option.
  2. Introverts actually are social people! Introverts tend to prefer more intimate gatherings. Offer alternatives to the noisy happy hours to provide your introverts a way to socialize in a less noisy environment.
  3. Introverts need time to think. Scheduling back to back meetings can be draining to the introvert. Introverts prefer to structure their own day. They will get the work done, but might need to have more time to reflect and less time group brainstorming.
  4. If you want an introvert to share his or her thoughts during a meeting, be sure to give him or her time on the agenda. Introverts like to choose words carefully and don’t always enjoy being put on the spot to provide their best work.

As you look forward to planning your teams and motivating your staff, I challenge you to pay attention to the not-so-squeaky wheel. That quiet employee just might have the fresh idea or solution you are looking for.

Unwrapping the True Meaning of Respect in the Workplace

Written by Tiffany Aukema on .

I’ve spent the last several months facilitating respect in the workplace training to various organizations, discussing strategies to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination. I’ve extracted some incredibly rich lessons from the employees and managers who participated in these trainings which I believe are useful guidance for HR professionals moving into the New Year.

Every training was kicked off by asking a simple question, “What does respect mean to you?” The majority of time I was met with silence and blank stares. While occasionally someone would break the ice by launching into Aretha Franklin’s Respect, most of the time the participants would look uncomfortably at one another unsure how to answer.

At first blush, it seems like a simple response, but I completely understand the hesitancy of the participants or the perceived variance in responses. However, once the conversation started, there was one simple definition that we could all agree on – treat others as you wish to be treated.

As the conversation transitioned to diversity and its impact in a workplace, we discussed different work styles, educations, family or cultural upbringing, and personal and professional goals. It got me thinking…should we really be treating others exactly as we wish to be treated?

Aside from the shared interest in the organization we work for, most of our coworkers are very different and don’t actually want or need the same things out of their professional careers. For example, consider the colleague who is dedicated and hard-working, but is also quiet and somewhat introverted in the office.  Would she want to be publicly praised during a staff meeting and asked to speak in front of the group spontaneously?  Probably not.  On the other hand, you may have colleagues who thrive in the spotlight and are motivated by public recognition.

As managers and employees, we must take a hard look and evaluate what motivates our staff and colleagues. Consider everyone’s differences and how can we build strengths from these differences.

Through all of the extensive discussions on this topic, I have learned that respect is really about being aware and sensitive of each other’s differences. It doesn’t mean we should completely disregard the “Golden Rule,” but rather challenge each other to think beyond and treat everyone as unique individuals. Sometimes, this means treating others a little differently than how we would prefer to be treated

As we close out 2016, consider making a New Year’s resolution of treating everyone with individual kindness and respect. This “twist” on the Golden Rule can help you build stronger relationships in the workplace and, in turn, keep your colleagues, managers, and peers motivated, happy, and energized throughout the year and serve as a foundation for a truly respectful workplace.

The Joys of Fall – Pumpkin Lattes and Benefits Plan Renewals

Written by Tiffany Aukema on .

Summer is over and fall has arrived, for many HR professionals it’s not all apple picking and pumpkin lattes, but managing the often painful process of their organization’s benefits plan renewal and open enrollment period.  The ever-changing landscape of healthcare often leads to many questions for organizations.  Is this the right plan for our employees?  Are we getting the maximum value for the company?  Are we in compliance?  Could we be doing better?   These are all legitimate questions and can make the process stressful, particularly for small employers.

Rather than looking inward, organizations should redirect these questions to their benefits broker.  Whether you are a large firm or one of less than 100 employees, you deserve top service from your broker.  Too many employers waste money on benefits that aren’t needed or don’t make sense for their employees.  Conversely, brokers often focus primarily on renewals and don’t take the time during the year to get to know their clients.  Employers should consider spending benefits  dollars differently and invest in a quality broker who will ensure the health and wellness plans they adopt meet their organization’s needs.

The good news is that there are many great brokers in the industry.  Rather than simply focusing on renewals, many brokers offer benefits customer service support throughout the year and make an effort to build relationships with their clients.  These brokers make an effort to help resolve claims issues and assist in navigating the complicated world of coverage levels, network services, and billing.  Many offer compliance related services and file annual reports, such as the 5500, and complete non-discrimination testing.

A good broker will take the time to understand your culture, industry, values, and goals. Their priority is to help define your benefits needs that will deliver the greatest value for your organization.

When selecting or evaluating a broker, the following basic administration questions should always be asked:

  1. How is your broker compensated?  Brokers are typically paid a commission from the insurance carrier or a flat fee from the organization for which they provide services.
  2. What is your overall strategy for keeping healthcare costs controlled? The broker may have relationships that will help in controlling price increases.
  3. Do you offer access to all insurance carriers? Some brokers only work with certain providers and may limit employer’s choices in plans.
  4. Do you annually market benefits? While employers don’t want to always be changing their benefits offerings, pricing out the plans annually can save employees money.

In addition, employers should also consider asking the following questions of their benefits provider to ensure they are investing in not only a service, but a strategic partner:

  1. Do you provide ongoing benefits’ support to employees beyond open enrollment? This is a great service for smaller employers or organizations with a lean HR department. Brokers can offer benefits support and/or act as the benefits department.
  2. Do you provide any proactive, customized communication strategies to employees that goes well beyond enrollment? Again, this service is helpful to organizations that are unable to provide pro-active support because of size and resources available.
  3. What type of technology resources do you utilize to manage benefits administration? Employees like having self-service access to their benefits. Many brokers offer and manage online portals that allow employees to research their own questions and make changes to their plans saving significant internal time and resources.
  4. Does our organization have access to one person who will understand and manage our plans? Having access to one person who understands the plans personalizes the benefits experience and minimizes the risk of receiving misinformation.
  5. Do you follow legislative updates, including healthcare reform, and pass along information? Keeping abreast of healthcare legislation is complicated. Brokers can ensure that employers are compliant in all benefits related areas, to include the filings of mandatory reports.
  6. Will you challenge your organization to think outside of the box to provide solutions that meet the needs of your workforce? A broker who understands their client’s business is able to best offer creative benefits solutions that offer the maximum value for the employees.
  7. Do you offer educational programs to your staff throughout the year? Employees are interested in more than basic healthcare coverage. Many are also looking for wellness, nutritional, and fitness ideas that promote healthy lifestyles.
  8. Are you familiar with our industry? Do you support other firms of our size? Brokers who are familiar with a particular industry are best equipped to ensure that employers stay competitive in their market.
  9. How many times per year are you willing to meet with our management team to assess our current plans? Regular meetings with the broker will help minimize surprises during the renewal period and will allow employers time to plan for change, if needed.

Organizations don’t have to settle for a broker who only manages transactional needs. HR should regularly evaluate their current broker’s services and consider whether they are providing all that is needed.

More importantly, it’s a beautiful time of the year, you should be enjoying the crispness of the air and preparing for the upcoming holidays, you shouldn’t feel stressed out about benefits planning.  Leave the benefits work to the experts by looking for a trusted advisor and strategic partner.

Employee Handbooks for the Modern Workforce

Written by Tiffany Aukema on .

Over the past several months, I have worked on three employee handbooks which often causes friends and colleagues to groan, roll their eyes and let me know how sorry they feel for me.  Ironically, working on employee handbooks is something I really enjoy and find rewarding!

I admit, workplace policies aren’t particularly glamorous and often seem antithetical to workplaces that are more often moving towards progressive ideas such as telecommuting, flexible schedules, and unlimited PTO. Even last week an HR colleague of mine suggested that companies need to scrap rigid policies and encourage creativity by allowing flexibility in all aspects of the work experience.

I am encouraged that companies are starting to think outside the box and come up with creative ways to work.  However, I would argue that as new ideas emerge, employment policies need to change, not be eliminated.

While employees want less stringent rules, they also need to understand workplace expectations.  Clear expectations help create a foundation of fairness, consistency, and organization.  Without a clear set of expectations, employers encourage the “I didn’t know…” mentality, which leads to frustration, decreased morale and, in more extreme situations, lawsuits.

The good news is that employers can get around the negative stereotype of employee handbooks.  Workplace policies can be progressive!

In creating an employee handbook, employers should consider the following:

  1. Take a close look at your culture. Employee handbook policies should accurately reflect the current environment both inside and outside your organization. It’s important to carefully read and thoughtfully reflect on each current policy. Revise any policies to mirror the values of the organization and represent the daily experience, and ensure the policies are written in a tone that is consistent with the company voice.
  2. Consider creating a two-pronged handbook that addresses the compliance needs and the culture. Certain policies are necessary to protect both the employee and the employer, but the entire handbook doesn’t need to be a stodgy set of policies. Know which policies are important for legal reasons and which policies are important to the employee work experience, creativity, and productivity. The EEO related policies can be drafted in a way that supports diversity as a company value rather than “because it is the law.”
  3. Ask your employees what is important to them. Creating a new employee handbook is a perfect time to engage staff and find out what is important to them. While employers shouldn’t expect to change the world with a new handbook, small and measured changes suggested by employees can be implemented.
  4. Once completed, have an attorney review your new employee handbook to ensure compliance with employer laws and that new policies are written in ways to avoid possible litigation.
  5. Thoughtfully introduce the new employee handbook with careful communication. Let employees know that the policies were written in a way that reflects your organization’s values. Help them understand why rules and expectations are important to a healthy workplace. The employee handbook serves as a central resource for workplace concerns.

As your organization looks to the future and you consider embracing progressive work styles and environments, don’t ignore the employee handbook and assume it doesn’t have a place in the modern workplace.  Leverage the handbook to reinforce your company culture, while at the same time, providing employees with a confidence that your organization is practicing policy with fairness and consistency.