Monday, November 09, 2015

Some Monday Humor...

Monday, November 02, 2015

How Not To Answer Series

Really love this series from The Muse looking at the best way to answer the most common (and worst) interview questions:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Do Your Hiring Practices Reflect Your Organization’s Culture?

Organizational culture has become a greater focal point for employees, candidates, and employers in recent years. According to the 2015 Best Companies to Work For list, most of the top employers appear to apply the Marriott philosophy: “Take care of the associates and they will take care of the customers.”  By ensuring that associates feel like they belong to their organization, employers ensure that employees are able to do their best at work.  In this issue of Astronology, we will explore some unique hiring and recruiting practices that focus on workplace culture.

The Marriott Hotel chain has for some time used gamification to stir recruitment. In 2011 the organization created a Marriott themed game called “My Hotel,” in which potential employees are exposed to the usual challenges of running a hotel, starting with multitasking in a hotel kitchen. Quixey, a mobile technology company focusing on mobile apps, created a game called “The Quixey Challenge.” NBC reported that “Hopefuls can register for one of the site's challenges, which are created and run by job recruitment platform Readyforce. If they can fix the challenge's programming bug in less than a minute, they win $100 and a chance to interview with the company.” uses a simple game of Jenga. Prospective employees are invited to a game of Jenga with their potential managers. Each Jenga block has a question on it that has to be answered by the person who pulls it. This particular ice breaker game opens up discussion and allows for everyone to see how well they could possibly work together. also uses game-like rapid-fire question sessions.

Peer Evaluation
          utilizes a “bar raiser” program in their hiring processes for non-warehouse workers. Current employees nominate themselves to essentially take a second job as “bar raisers.”  The “bar raisers” perform an estimated 20 work hours related to this role, on top of their usual workloads. Five to six bar raisers will interview one candidate on their own, either in person or on a phone call. At some point during the process, the candidate may be asked to respond to an interesting and intense question such as “Why shouldn’t you work at Amazon?”  Bar raisers who’ve interviewed the same candidate will meet, discuss, and make a decision on whether the candidate is a good fit. Any objection to the candidate by any of the bar raisers means the candidate is eliminated for consideration. The goal is for every new hire to ‘raise the bar’ for the next hire, giving Amazon a continuously improving talent pool.  Says Jeff Bezos (Amazon’s CEO) in a 1998 interview, “I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.”

Overall Experience
          takes a totally different, all-encompassing approach.  The potential employees (applicants) are encouraged to complete a profile on the company’s social media site. They are urged to “show Zappos their true colors” by including video recordings on the profile as well as using Twitter to follow Zappos recruiters. The company then uses screening software and recruiters to find the best candidates. When a position needs to be filled, Zappos creates a candidate pool from those existing profiles.  After selecting some candidates for follow up, the interviews are conducted with the team the potential employee would be working with. This is done to ascertain if the candidate has the needed skills.  A second interview is done with Human Resources to ensure the candidate also has the organization’s core values at heart. Typical questions include “how weird are you?” or “who’s your favorite superhero?”.  This interview is to ascertain cultural fit, which carries a heavy weight in the decision making process. If hired, regardless of the position, onboarding includes training in different departments.  In addition, Zappos offers $2,000 to new hires to quit if the new hire truly does not want to be a part of the organization. Few actually take the offer.

Many of the organizations listed here have the wealth to support their unique, and even possibly risky, hiring and recruiting practices. Understandably, for smaller organizations, more can be at stake during the recruiting process. For many, the typical approach to hiring and recruiting in their particular industry can seem the most reliable. Astronology wants to know, does your organization have any unique hiring practices? Have there been talks to possibly change those practices? Share your thoughts with us and we may publish it at a later date!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Job Rotation: Can it Work for Your Organization?

In this issue of Astronology we explore job rotation. Has your organization used job rotation as an employee development tool?  If not, now is a great time to learn how it can help your organization to be successful!

In short, job rotation is an employee development tool used to help employees develop skills in a wide variety of areas in an organization.  After spending some time learning a position, the employee moves to another role in the organization.  This pattern may continue for several months, or perhaps a few years, depending on the employee’s skill set and level in the organization.  There are many advantages to job rotation, including

  • Overall employee development,
  • Development of knowledge, skills, and techniques for how to handle various levels of responsibilities,
  • Minimization of job boredom / job dissatisfaction,
  • Promotion preparation,
  • Decreased work burnout, and
  • Increased employee motivation and appreciation of organizational roles.
Workers’ Compensation expert Jon Coppelman remarked that when implementing job rotation in the garment industry, “The somewhat hidden benefit in this was that, when the workload increased in one area, or when someone went out sick, they had people who were cross-trained on a variety of machines so they were not short-staffed in one particular area; I don’t see any downside to people having a wider skill set, other than perhaps, increased training costs.”

What are some drawbacks of job rotation? From a labor relations perspective, experienced employees may not be pleased with revisiting entry-level positions.  Organizations that have unions may need to look into how collective-bargaining agreement clauses could encumber some job rotation programs. Naturally, overtime pay also can be an issue if not handled properly. Another concern can be work quality. Work done by a new trainee vs. work done by a trained worker can be completely different.  Depending on the type of work and the sensitivity of the end result, some positions may not be well suited for job rotation.

Things to consider when establishing a job rotation program
·       “Job Rotation must start with an end goal: If the goal is for all employees to be cross-trained to do every job, the structure will have to be carefully created to avoid issues related to overtime and unions. If the goal is to train employees for eventual promotion, or to decrease job boredom, the structure will be different in regards to frequency and extent of work.
·       “Job rotation must be carefully planned”: This links back to the original program goal.  One series of questions to consider are
·       How will the program measure employee participation?
·       Will it be mandatory or optional?
·       What restraints will be placed on it?
·       Will employees pick out the areas where they would like to learn more?
·       What policies will need to be put in place to avoid abuse of the program, as well as protect employees from becoming overwhelmed?

Of what legal obligations do I need to be mindful? 

  • Employees are able to assess whether the job rotation is achieving the goals”: Making the program transparent will help employees to see how well they are doing. How will you make the program transparent enough for employees?
  • A mentor, internal trainer, or supervisor / trainer is provided at each step of the job rotation plan”: This additional support communicates seriousness and can assure to the employee that his / her time is valued. It also ensures for the organization that the employee completes the goals outlined for the job rotation program.
  • Written documentation, an employee manual or online resource enhances employee learning”: Job descriptions are a must, but outlines for job rotation will also be helpful.
Now that you’ve learned more, will you consider job rotation as an option for job development in your organization? If so, how do you plan to implement it? Share your thoughts with Astron!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

3 New Rules to Protecting Employer Brand in the Social Era

Amazon’s employment practices were under fierce scrutiny last month after the New York Times published a scathing piece on the company’s “bruising workplace,” as described in full testimony by ex-Amazon employees. Their accounts portray an Amazon workplace culture defined by overwork, sabotage, and in-fighting.

The news was shocking. What was not shocking was how these harrowing tales of Amazon work-life all came from former employees.

The 2015 CareerArc Employer Branding Study found that 38 percent of survey respondents, who were once terminated or laid off, left at least one negative review of that former employer on a review site, on social media, or with a personal or professional contact.

Just about a decade ago, employer review sites and social networks did not exist.  With these innovations come immense opportunities for you to both amplify and protect your employer brand. While navigating this relatively new landscape, here are three new rules to keep in mind:

  • 1.     Organizations big and small are more vulnerable than ever to threats against their employer brand.

Attacks against your employment brand need not be delivered through a headline, nor written by the hand of a reputable journalist. Today they can come in the form of anonymous ratings on an employer review site, remarks left on an online forum, or posts on social media. On the web, these words are searchable and may never expire.

  • 2.     Social media and review sites are the new tools-of-choice for the modern job seeker.

Social media and review sites have become staple research tools for job seekers who want a real peek into the culture and workplace practices of an organization. The CareerArc study found that 62 percent of job seekers visit social media channels to evaluate employer brand. Moreover, 75 percent of job seekers consider an employer’s brand before even applying for a job.

  • 3.     Vying for top talent grows more difficult and complex.  Employer brand strategies must evolve to answer these challenges and complexities.

Traditional employer branding and marketing practices focus on the candidate experience, often overlooking those who can potentially be your harshest critics--employees exiting your organization. However, in the digital and social era, this oversight is a luxury employers of any size cannot afford. Employers who build a comprehensive employment brand strategy will have the highest chance in covering all points of brand vulnerability.

Focus on Points of Vulnerability: Treat Your Transitioning Employees Right

Waiting for bad reviews to surface, then reacting, is not a strategy--it’s a firefight. The most impactful way to protect your brand is to prevent bad reviews from sprouting up. Although employers cannot control employees’ opinions, there are several ways to truly improve processes and influence employee outlook.

One common point of employer brand vulnerability is at the end of employment. As observed through the CareerArc study, terminations and layoffs can leave a strong, negative impression on your workforce. Improving the experience of employees who exit your organization can positively impact the way they perceive and share your brand at their next employer.

If you are preparing for a separation event, below Robin D. Richards, CEO of CareerArc lists his key pointers on how to successfully handle a reduction in force:
  •   “Be organized. Dismissals can bring shock and stress to an employee, so it’s important for companies to try and ease any uncertainties they can by preparing them for their transition down to the details: Know how much unused vacation time the employee has, and provide paperwork for benefits like COBRA and outplacement or career transition assistance.”
  • “Dismissed employees all have one question on their minds: ‘What’s next?’ These days, you better have an answer. Help them take that next step: provide career transition assistance to everyone affected. These services have become more accessible thanks to tech advances ushering an end to outplacement reserved only for C-level execs. The days of costly job hunt workshops across town are fading away. If the long-term unemployed are indeed more vocal about their negative views of employers, getting employees transitioned to their next job quickly will benefit your employees and your employer brand.”
  • “Be human. Even when it comes to turnover, for whatever reason, treat your departing employees the same way you’d like to be treated. Showing compassion and respect during this difficult moment will go a long way. How you treat employees at this difficult moment will be the last impression you leave with employees transitioning out of your company and into another. Be remembered as an ally to their future success.”

CareerArc is the leading HR technology company helping business leaders recruit and transition the modern workforce. Our social recruiting and modern outplacement solutions help thousands of organizations, including many of the Fortune 500, maximize their return on employer branding.

Learn more about CareerArc’s award-winning outplacement solution at

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Developing Meaningful Performance Goals

An essential part of a successful performance review is developing meaningful performance goals for employees to achieve in the following year.  This positive approach to performance development cannot be applied universally, however.  Rather, one must tailor performance review goals to take into consideration the size of an organization, the variety of departments / specialties, the personality of the staff, and the organization’s culture. In this issue of Astronology, we provide helpful tips for how to develop performance goals that will be meaningful for your organization and, more importantly, your employees.

Know your System

As mentioned in a previous issue of Astronology, the most effective approach to the performance appraisal process is one that facilitates communication and professional growth.  One size does not fit all.  Rather, each organization’s performance review system must give consideration to the size of the organization, varying work specialties and departments, and the organization’s culture and staff.  The facilitator / supervisor of an employee’s performance review must be able to comprehend how the appraisal system works, and explain it clearly to each employee.  Through that process, the employee comprehends how he / she is being measured. Clear communication helps open the door for open assessment and a more productive review.

Be Prepared

Employees expect honest feedback on their work efforts. BEFORE the performance review, review the employee’s record of employment, which should include both achievements and moments of misjudgments.  Managers should reflect on their own interactions with the employees.  Select the areas to highlight for the employee based on his / her strengths and noticed weaknesses, and integrate into potential performance goals for the coming year.

Recognize that Goal Developing is an Interactive Process

Although the employee expects to receive feedback both positive and negative, he / she should never feel like the performance review is one-sided. Be prepared to hear where the employee thinks she has succeeded and perhaps fallen short. Ask the employee open ended questions to get his opinions if an employee may be hesitant to share his viewpoints. When establishing future goals, allow the employee to voice where he / she would like to improve and how he / she sees that improvement coming to fruition.  Managers must be willing to find areas where they can help employees become better.

Make Sure the Goals Align with Both the Organization and the Employee

Developing meaningful performance goals requires keeping in mind not only the employee’s work pace and personal goals, but also areas where the organization would like to grow within the next year.  Are there areas within the organization that management would like to see further explored or developed?  These organizational opportunities should be presented to the employee to determine interest in participating and associated developmental goals.

In addition, perhaps the employee sees other areas within the organization where he / she could provide value and insights during the upcoming year, for both organizational and personal growth and success.  If so, these areas are another opportunity for mutually beneficial performance goals.   

Make Sure to Schedule a Follow-Up

Depending on the type of goals that are set, and the organization’s frequency for performance reviews, follow-ups need to be scheduled throughout the relevant time period.  Managers must ensure they schedule follow-ups when establishing new performance goals, so that employees stay on track, unanticipated resources can be allocated, and goals can be adjusted in light of previously unknown information.  During the following quarter, the manager and the employee might see that goals need to be adjusted.  Be flexible for success!

Developing performance goals can be an enjoyable experience for both the employee and the supervisor / reviewer.  To make the most of the process, ensure that open communication permeates all discussions, and be prepared to offer insightful highlights, constructive criticism, and actionable suggestions.  Through this process, both individual managers and the organization at large will surely watch the employees & the organization grow and enjoy mutually beneficial success.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Can We Pay a Living Wage?

Although at the end of 2015 New York State’s minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $9.00 per hour, the recent New York State “fast food” minimum wage has been approved to increase to $9.75 per hour, and eventually reach $15.00 per hour.  If you do not work in the restaurant industry, or in New York State, you may think this recent change doesn’t affect you. However, as of late, many industries are concerned that this change in the restaurant industry may have a quick domino effect on other industries. Astron Solutions discusses the challenges this new change presents other industries and the overall economy today.

A recent New York Times online article expressed that this recent decision to raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to $9.75 per hour “thrust(s) New York State to the forefront of the current experiment.” The article goes on to state that “based on projections from government data, the proposed $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers could represent more than 60% of the wage of a typical New York City worker when it takes effect at the end of 2018...” The New York Times online article highlights the 2003 minimum wage increase of Santé Fe, New Mexico, to compare and predict New York’s possible future. Despite a concentrated analysis with current modern tools, economic analyses of the Santé Fe increase suggest it had little effect on employment.

Astron Solutions’ Michael Maciekowich notes that the impending changes have caused quite a stir. According to Mike, “numerous Astron clients in New York State have called, concerned that the ‘fast food’ minimum wage will in essence become the new state minimum wage, in that these organization compete for entry level staff with the fast food industry. As the ‘fast food’ minimum wage increases to $15.00 over the next four to six years, organizations that compete for staff with this industry will have no choice but to raise their minimum wages to compete.  This will also have a domino effect, in that this increase in the entry wage will create pay compression with coordinators and supervisors in the same work units.  This compression will add unforeseen additional budgetary impact.  For non-profit organizations, this will just add to concerns of how to address increasing pay expenses to already shrinking revenue dollars."

A Forbes online article highlights a portion of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement speech about the minimum wage change: “The taxpayers of this nation have been subsidizing the workers at McDonald’s and Burger King at a cost of over $7 billion annually and that’s just wrong.” Forbes expresses how welfare payments are not by and large subsidies to employers.  Through a quote from Arindrajit Dube, a scholar in support of minimum wage hikes, the Forbes article reminds us that for employers to truly have public subsidies, their wages would have to be lower. “Depending on where one is on the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) schedule, that policy can increase work incentives.” Analysis from UC Berkeley’s Jesse Rothstein alludes that for every $1 EITC workers use, post-tax income rises by only $0.73. Also of note is that these primarily affected businesses are franchises, not major corporations. The money projected that restaurants such as McDonald’s and Burger King collect annually does not reflect how much a franchisee will actually earn.  According to Forbes, franchises are more similar to a “Mom and Pop store” than a giant corporation.

Concern for this change is coming from all angles. Franchisees are wondering if they can really afford the increases.  Organizations outside of the fast food industry are concerned they may lose some workers to fast food positions that pay more. What can be done?

A Fast Company online article examines the popular fast food chain Chipotle, and how they could address the living wage issue. Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesman, mentioned in an e-mail to Fast Company that “we have never taken a position on the minimum wage and believe that a minimum wage or starting wage tells only part of the story; We already pay above minimum wage and over benefits that are more than competitive.” Some of those benefits include paid sick & vacation days and tuition reimbursement. The Fast Company Online article explains that even if the company had the CEOs’ paychecks reduced to $1 per year and divided the compensation among the current employees, it would result in only a $0.55 increase per hour for an employee working 40 hours per week. So what could they do? In San Francisco, this year the minimum wage increased to $12.25, and will increase to $15 by 2018. Coincidently, it has been noted that Chipotle raised its menu prices in the city by 10%. Such a move sends the message that customers have to share in the responsibility of lifting minimum wages. In short, if you can afford an $11 burrito, then you can probably pay for the same burrito with the cost increased by $1. Time will tell if this will work.

Could you adopt this approach if you own a franchise? Could you adopt this approach if your industry becomes affected by the fast food wage changes? Have you prepared other solutions? Write to Astronology. We’d love to hear your input!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Decoding the Possible Fair Labor Standards Act Changes

For most of July, many Human Resource professionals have been discussing the recent proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act regulations. Some aren’t aware of the possible impact the new proposals could have on their organizations.  Considering the Department of Labor (DOL) projects that if enacted, this adjustment could impact roughly 4.7 million workers, the proposed changes should be reviewed. In this issue of Astronology we look into these potential changes to the FLSA and what they mean to you.

What is the Purpose of the FLSA?
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal government’s primary means to establish minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards for the private sector and federal, state, & local government employers. Currently, the standards, in summary format, are as follows:
  • Minimum wage: Federal minimum wage is set at $7.25.
  • Overtime: Employees classified as “non-exempt” through the FLSA exemption test process must receive overtime pay at a rate of not less than 1.5 times their regular rate of pay. Overtime is paid if the non-exempt employee works over 40 hours per workweek.
  • Hours Worked: The hours worked ordinarily, including time spent on the employer’s premises, on duty, or at a prescribed workplace.
  • Recordkeeping: Part of the standards for recordkeeping include displaying an official poster outlining the requirements of the FLSA, as well as keeping records of employee time worked and pay.
  • Child Labor: Designed to provide protection to educational opportunities of minors, and prohibit minors’ employment conditions that could be detrimental to their health and well-being.
The proposed adjustments affect the minimum wage and overtime regulations.

What are the Proposed Changes?
First, the proposal seeks to raise the minimum salary level used to identify exempt white collar employees. Instead of setting a salary amount, the FLSA proposal would set the minimum salary level equal to the 40th percentile of weekly earnings of full-time salaried workers, based on data released from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It is projected that in 2016, the year the proposal would be in effect, this level will be $970 per week ($50,440 per year). The salary and compensation levels would be indexed to this BLS data and updated annually, which would eliminate the need to make further adjustments in the future.
The Highly Compensated Employees (HCE) exemption would also be revised. The National Law Review online mentions that currently the exemption applies to employees who earn a total annual compensation of $100,000 or more, and “customarily and regularly” complete the duties of exempt employees or have responsibilities similar to that of an executive, administrative, or professional employee. The DOL seeks to initially raise the current threshold of $100,000 to $122,148 per year.

Am I Affected By These Possible Changes?
If you haven’t done a classification audit recently, perhaps. The National Law Review projects “The DOL’s proposed changes will likely only trigger more activity by private litigants and federal & state agencies.” They suggest to organizations that haven’t conducted a classification audit in some time to consider doing the following:

  1. Evaluate the classification status of workers carefully at the outset of the work relationship, to determine whether a worker is exempt or overtime eligible.
  2. If you inherit a large number of exempt employees, such as following an acquisition or a merger, perform due diligence to determine if there is potential for misclassification liability.
  3. Conduct a privileged audit of your exempt employees and positions to determine what portions of your workforce will be affected by the proposed new rules. For example, assuming that the DOL’s projections are accurate, employers should be prepared to increase the salaries of exempt workers who earn less than $50,400 per year, to reclassify those individuals to overtime eligible, or to take other measures to address the increased costs.
Also, keep in mind we are currently within the 60-day public comment period. The DOL is required to review and respond to all issues raised by comment.  JD Supra Business Advisor online comments:

  • What, if any, changes should be made to the duties tests?
  • Should employees be required to spend a minimum amount of time performing work that is their primary duty in order to qualify for exemption? If so, what should that minimum amount be?
  • Should the Department look to the State of California’s law, requiring that 50 percent of an employee’s time be spent exclusively on work that is the employee’s primary duty, as a model? Is some other threshold that is less than 50 percent of an employee’s time worked a better indicator of the realities of the workplace today?
  • Does the single standard duties test for each exemption category appropriately distinguish between exempt and non-exempt employees? Should the Department reconsider the decision to eliminate the long/short duties tests structure?
  • Is the concurrent duties regulation for executive employees, allowing the performance of both exempt and non-exempt duties concurrently, working appropriately, or does it need to be modified to avoid sweeping non-exempt employees into the exemption? Alternatively, should there be a limitation on the amount of non-exempt work? To what extent are exempt lower-level executive employees performing non-exempt work?
“Most importantly, during this period, in addition to comments on the salary level proposal, the Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division (WHD) also seeks comments on the following questions:It is important to note that the Federal Wage and Hour Commission has taken on an activist role when it comes to enforcement of FLSA regulations. According to Littler, “Wage and hour disputes have become the most common source of substantial, employment-related liability facing employers today. The number of class and collective actions has soared due to plaintiff-friendly laws, mounting government enforcement efforts and the increasing amount of information available to employees.”   As such, the Astron Solutions team urges all to remain vigilant with respect to both how jobs are classified and in how regulations are followed.

Astronology readers! Are you considering the possible effects the new proposal could have on your organization? You can voice your concerns to the WHD electronic through the Federal E-rulemaking Portal at