HRA Blog

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.

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 and 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?

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!

What Do You See Through Your Generational Lens?

Written by Cyndi Branciforte on .

Consider these multi-generational facts: In my home, we have three different generations – two Generation Xers (to which I belong), a Millennial and a member of the newly defined “Cloud Generation.” This means we have three generational groups represented, each expecting to coexist, contribute, administer and follow the house rules and receive recognition as part of our total family unit. While we have the same goals, each of us has formative values that were influenced by a different baseline of social, environmental, political and technological factors – – all of which are “normal,” but, different from each other.

Some believe these challenges stem simply from Millennials (those born generally between 1981-2000) who are upsetting the apple cart with their “new” ideas, expectations and/or ways of doing things. So I decided it was time to further explore the driving factors that influence generational issues in the workplace and expand my own understanding.

My research and participation in workshops reinforced what I am hearing from clients. Changing employee demographics will continue to powerfully impact the way we conduct business and interact with each other in the workplace. Consider the fact that by 2020 (a short four years from now), Millennials will make up 50% of the US workforce. These current and future employees were shaped by world events/socio-economic climate; technology and cultural values that are very different from prior generations.   It’s these personal development factors and events that change the expectations of each group and what they expect of and from the others.

Developing this greater contextual understanding of these workplace demographics is only the first step of building an efficient multi-generational workforce. It’s important to incorporate this expanded generational knowledge, sensitivity and awareness and look at your employee and leadership training and development through this new generational lens. Doing so will help eliminate misunderstandings of generational issues and provide clarity on why different generational groups approach work differently.

Some examples of looking at key training areas through a generational lens:

  • Leadership Development: To know your workforce and their values allows you to work more effectively and consider the unique motivators, perspectives and strengths of each generation.
  • Mentoring & Succession Planning: Both are perceived differently by different generations. What works for one won’t necessarily work for the other.
  • Employee Development and Career Progression: The way in which different generations regard career movement and promotion within an organization is one of the biggest gaps that exist in the workplace today.
  • Communication Literacy: Different generations have different comfort levels and expectations with communication tools and approaches.
  • Conflict Management and Stress Alleviation: Clarifying generational perspectives, expectations, motivators and values helps to eliminate workplace conflict and reduce stress.

Helping your organizational leaders and employees to better understand the different factors that influence the way they live and approach work as well as those that influence other generations will help to eliminate generational barriers that stand in the way of creating a culture of trust and acceptance. As with generations before them, Millennials and those that follow bring new ideas to the workplace that drive change and innovation. The quicker we help to eliminate generational misunderstandings, the quicker we can all enjoy the success!


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, We can’t ignore our quiet colleagues; nor should we. In Jenna Black’s recent blog on, 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.

Move Over, You’re in My Personal Space!

Written by Cyndi Branciforte on .

Last week I was confined to my home with my children and husband during the blizzard that pounded the east coast for over a week. I work from my home, which meant there were constant interruptions, requests for activity ideas and more!

Over time and through much self-reflection and personal analysis, I’ve come to realize the importance of having personal space and time alone. As a young adult, I assumed that staying busy with multiple social and networking engagements meant that I was excelling in life. Now I find that when I have a schedule packed with business and social activities I crave my alone time.

Great thinkers such as Jeff Bezos, Leonardo da Vinci and Katherine Graham valued and embraced time alone with great reward. However, in our busy lives, with the added distraction of social media, it is becoming much more difficult to find that quiet time and space to reflect.

In the US, many organizations encourage collaboration and shared workspaces.  Open floor plans and eliminating private offices, as Citigroup’s headquarters recently adopted, are becoming the norm.

While there are significant benefits to these open spaces such as greater social interaction to stimulate energy and enthusiasm, many still believe that it is in quiet reflection that optimal operations, creative ideas, and plans are formulated and clarified.

More and more research supports evidence that allowing your brain time to free think and be “quiet” adds great value to your role as a leader and individual contributor. In the recent Harvard Business Review blog, Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire advocated that solitary reflection feeds the creative mind.

Think of times when you’ve come up with a plan while jogging; had an “ah-ha” moment in the shower; or identified presentation topics when stuck in traffic. Kaufman and Gregoire offer that these are times when we are “letting the mind wander or dip into our deep storehouse of memories, ideas, and emotions — the brain’s default mode network is activated” and thus presenting creative, original ideas.

As my colleague Barbara Irwin recently wrote, employees should spend more time reflecting, meditating and allowing their minds to think freely. These strategies can all have a big impact on identifying strategies, clarifying problems, solidifying solutions.

As you personally explore the gift of silence and stillness consider the following:

Within your organization

  • Identify a quiet place in your organization such as a conference room or office space where employees can go to work and think without interruptions
  • Establish ground rules for quiet places and communicate them to employees so that they will understand, respect and value the gift of silence
  • Identify social gathering places for employees such as lunch rooms to encourage team building and idea sharing
  • Encourage telecommuting and/or flexible works schedules
  • Establish a culture, procedures and practices that values individual time for reflection in order to produce the best strategies and creative ideas
  • Incorporate wellness programs that include yoga, mediation and breathing techniques

As a leader

  • Listen more, talk less
  • Encourage team members to use their vacation time to refresh and rejuvenate themselves
  • Prior to a presentation, meeting or negotiation, spend time alone in order to crystalize your thoughts and purpose
  • When asking your team for creative ideas, ask for them in writing; or send the details of your request ahead of a brainstorming session to allow team members to reflect and strategize
  • Practice mindfulness by:
    • Scheduling time to sit and think without a purpose or agenda – – see where your mind takes you
    • Establishing a routine that incorporates a walk or time alone without a colleague, book, activity or agenda
    • Making an effort to put down or turn off your electronic devices to eliminate distractions
    • Giving yourself permission to say no once in a while

I realize the impact and value that spending time alone has had on both my personal and professional life and make sure to find time for myself. Most importantly, I don’t feel guilty for giving myself a time out in this hustle and bustle work life we live, and neither should you!