Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Best Parts of Working from Home

A while back I promised a deeper dive into working from home--something I'm currently doing everyday. Today we start with the pros of working from home--why it's great, why I love it and why companies should be very happy about providing that option for their employees.

Zero commute

It's nice to get out of the house, but in the Northeast, especially, there's way too many days where a commute entails dealing with the elements (rain, snow, extreme heat, humidity, etc) and delays (train delays, car traffic, buses breaking down, etc) that sometimes it's nice to not have to worry about what it's like outside and how that's going to affect your day. As an employer, that means more time working, and less time commuting. And for the the environment, that means one less person commuting to work.

Save money/time on lunch

Yes, we all could make lunch every day, but running out of the house every morning, making a sandwich or a salad or even grabbing leftovers is sometimes the last thing on the agenda. When you're working from home, you have time to run to the fridge and make a sandwich or prepare a salad or even cook something quickly. Not only is this quicker and cheaper, it is usually a healthier option than grabbing something to go at lunch time. All of this is great for employers who can not only save on subsidizing lunches but also on downtime for employees.

Dress Code: Optional

For a few summers I had an internship at a bank and the worst part about every morning was knowing that I had to put on a long sleeved shirt, dress pants, a tie, and sometimes a jacket when it was 90 degrees outside. Now, when it's 90 degrees outside like it's supposed to be later this week in NYC, I wear shorts. During the winter, when it was cold and I didn't want to get out of my pajamas--well, I didn't. When I go to visit clients I still put on appropriate wear but it saves me a lot of money, time, cleaning costs, and sweat not to have to put on that suit.

Get more done in all aspects of life

I think the number one reason that employers should love their employees working from home is the productivity that increases with it. If they're sick, they can work from home without infecting anyone else. When they have the cable guy coming, they can do work while they wait for him to arrive in his 4 hour window. When the babysitter forgets they have to be a concert that night, they can be home to take their kid back without having to travel all over town. And when they don't have to commute, they can work longer hours and be happier doing so.

There are certainly negatives to working from home--and we'll get into those in another post--but there are a lot of reasons an employee and their employer should love it. This is the start of the outlining of those but hopefully those are enough of a reason even before you get into the money saved from office space or the happiness the employee gets with the flexibility. It also helps when the employer gets over the idea that working from home doesn't mean "not working" and actually can mean "working more efficiently".

Monday, May 20, 2013

Saying Goodbye to The Office

Last Thursday was the last episode of The Office and with it ends a great workplace comedy. Between Office Space and The Office, the American workplace has been characterized and made fun of in great detail. But the best part of both of them--especially The Office in its better years--was that it was so relatable to our every day lives.

I mean who hasn't had a boss like Michael Scott (or Bill Lumbergh, for that matter)? Who hasn't had a by-the-book, cooky co-worker like Dwight? And we've all sat in a group of cubicles where it felt like we knew who was the Angela who was the Oscar and who was the Kevin. One of the show's most frustrating characters for most HR folks was Toby as he was unable to create the type of order needed to control this office, but, in the end, that led to all the hijinks that occurred.

But where the show really shined was showing a group of co-workers who were forced to spend their weekdays together and how they not only got through that as a group, but made the most of their relationship. Early on in the series Michael refers to his co-workers as his family and that's really what everyone became. And aren't the best offices you've been in where everyone feels that close and really works together towards a common goal (even if on The Office, the common goal was sometimes to get out of doing the work)?

So while we must say goodbye to The Office (and for a few seasons, I think most couldn't wait for it to happen), we won't lose the references and lessons that came along with it. It could get extremely cringe-worthy like in "Diversity Day" or the barrage of "that's what she said" jokes, but deep down the show was a really sweet look in the good in us all and how we can get through something as mundane as selling paper when we're able to get along with our co-workers. If Dundler Mifflin taught us anything, it's that we all work best when we work together.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Effective Performance Appraisal Processes

The yearly task of carrying out employee performance appraisals can be an arduous task when considering employee attitude and the clarity of communication between the employer and the employee.  In this edition of Astronology, we consider the topic of performance appraisals, how they can be instrumental in monitoring employee performance and rewarding employees, and techniques to make the process more effective for all involved.

There are several different methods for conduct performance appraisals. One is not the best, nor is there a “right” or “wrong” option.  The most effective approach is the one that facilitates communication and professional growth while taking into consideration the number of employees in the organization, the types of jobs employees hold, and the organization’s culture.  The four most common performance appraisal approaches, according to The Houston Chronicle Online, are the following:

  • Rating Scales: The employer establishes the key areas used in evaluation, such as job skills, teamwork, communication skills, reliability, and flexibility.  Reviewers rate these areas accordingly on a scale, such as three points, five points, or even 10 points.  There are additional customization options to consider when implementing this approach.  For example, certain evaluation criteria may weigh more than others, depending on the nature of the position being reviewed.
  • Critical Incidents: In this approach, recordkeeping is key.  Managers create a detailed analysis of occurrences where the employee performed well and / or needs improvement. Some employers combine this method with a rating system to give a rating for each performance occurrence.  For example, the scale can include key areas such as teamwork or communication skills, with employees reporting detailed incidences of when the employee performed well or poor in these areas.
  • Management by Objectives: In this highly collaborative method, employers and employees together create a list of specific and measurable objectives that are realistic and practical.  The employee then receives these items as goals to strive towards within the coming year.  During the scheduled yearly employee review both the employee and his / her manager assess if the initial goals were met, where success was had, and where opportunities for enhancement lie.
  • 360 Degree Feedback: This is another performance appraisal method that is quite collaborative. A 360 degree feedback approach includes input about the employee from the employee’s fellow co-workers, internal and external customers, and management.  This process of gathering feedback can be done via survey or interview, depending on the scope of outside involvement and the number of items to be evaluated.  Such feedback is then consolidated based on demographic, such as co-worker or customer, and shared with the employee.  This approach provides a more rounded perspective on the employee’s overall performance throughout the review period.

When considering the use of a 360 degree review system, think carefully before implementing.  A 2011 SHRM article quoted a leadership coach stating, “I’ve seen departments blow up and employees leave companies because the 360 wasn’t handled properly.”  Feelings may be hurt, reviewers may feel overwhelmed, and a general lack of understanding may prevail.  However, such issues are not limited to 360 degree reviews.  Proper execution should be considered before implementing any performance appraisal method. If a manager only provides negative feedback, without balancing the review with positive comments where truly applicable, or positive encouragement towards achieving professional growth, the employee may perceive the review as unfair or biased.  Similarly, reviews with all praise and no areas of improvement can provide employees with an inflated sense of accomplishment that could backfire, leading to casual performance afterward.

It’s essential to also remember that in order for any performance appraisal method to work, Human Resources and management need to be diligent and accurate in their recordkeeping. Moments of high performance, moments that lack professional performance, and disciplinary actions recorded for yearly review all help the appraisal team to achieve a well-balanced view of an employee and his / her contribution to organizational success.
When conducting a performance review with an employee, it’s essential to conduct homework first.  Begin with preparing the performance appraisal document. Some organizations have employees do self-evaluations to examine during the review.  Such an approach enables the reviewer to obtain both a better understanding as to where the employee feels his / her level of performance is for the year and the employee’s buy in.  Preparing a self-review also gives the employee time to prepare comments that he or she may want the opportunity to express, considering the privacy of such reviews.

For a performance review to be successful, it needs to become a way of working.  As such, always plan the next step: the follow-up action.  Follow up actions can include establishing new goals, discussing areas needing improvement and associated development steps, and when tied to salary increases, confirming the employee’s wage for the year. Schedule a follow up meeting for matters that can’t be resolved in the moment of the performance review.

Performance review need not be challenging from a technical perspective.  If you would like to learn more about your organization’s performance appraisal or performance management options, give Aston Solutions a call.  Our Web-Based Talent Management System Flare™ includes a performance appraisal module that will allow your organization to automate your performance appraisal in a web-based platform that will allow for easier performance review meetings!

“No matter your performance appraisal approach, it’s essential to take action and provide feedback to employees,” states National Director Michael Maciekowich.  “Performance appraisal is an essential part of the total rewards equation.  Those organizations not taking advantage of this opportunity to enhance performance risk disengagement and negative bottom line results.  In today’s competitive landscape, performance appraisals are essential to sustained organizational success.”

Friday, May 03, 2013

The Astron Road Show and Our Social Media

The Astron Road Show
With the end of April upon us, the 2013 Astron Road Show is beginning to take shape!  While our first official dates on the road won’t come until June, you can get a sneak peek by visiting our website!  We look forward to seeing you again this year at one of many upcoming HR related events.  Please be sure to let us know if you’ll be attending any of these conferences.  We’ll keep an eye out for you!

Connect with Astron on LinkedIn and Facebook
Did you know that Astron Solutions has a LinkedIn group and Facebook page?  We’d love to see you on these social media sites!  Please join us on LinkedIn and “like” us on Facebook!  We look forward to many conversations with you in these groups, and thank you in advance for your support!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Getting Paid Like a Superhero

You may feel like you're a superhero at work but are you being paid like one? Well 9GAG has a list of all the superheroes and what they're making per year:

So while Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne are occupying the 1%, Peter Parker, Clark Kent, and Steve Rogers are working hard to get by. Being Spider-man, Superman, and Captain America, respectively, doesn't hurt, though. And Thor, well, let's just say that he gets paid like a God.

This doesn't exactly jive with SimplyHired, however, who lists the average pay of a superhero as $71,000. But, as the website states, "average superhero salaries can vary greatly due to company, location, industry, experience and benefits." Let's just say that Clark Kent and The Daily Planet may have something to discuss next time he comes up for a performance review.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Harnessing the Power of Flare™

In November of last year, Astronology explored the basics of a Human Resource Information System, or HRIS. As we mentioned in that article, such technology can be beneficial in assisting with HR administration. It is also an effective tool for boosting efficiency & productivity, and removing physical paperwork off one’s desk.  In response to readers’ requests, in this Astronology article, we give you a closer look at Astron Solutions’ Flare™ and many of its different modules.

What is Flare™?

In short, Flare™ is a cloud-based framework that allows you to track your employees from their first days of work to their last days with your organization. You can customize your Flare™ suite to fit your organization’s needs. All data stored in the system is password protected and housed on secure servers with 99.9% uptime. You have the ability to upload employee information & reporting relations, and store an unlimited number of users and employees.  Some of Flare™’s most attractive features are the customizable modules and the individual, reasonable pricing per module. 

But what’s included in Flare™?  Let’s dig deeper into some of the more popular modules.

Performance Appraisal Module

According to a 2011 SHRM poll, 98% of organizations reported that they have a formal employee performance evaluation process. Although you may have one in place, are your performance reviews completed on paper?  Why not cut time and resources with an online performance review system? With Flare™’s performance appraisal module you can eliminate the hard copy and streamline everyone’s work by having employees’ appraisals pre-populated with their job description and other desired demographics.  In addition, this module is designed with features to ensure all sections are completed prior to submission, to perform mathematical calculations for accurate scoring, and to check for potential legal issues.  Other user favorites include these features:
  • Self-Reviews,
  • HR approvals,
  • Summary reports, and
  • Electronic or traditional paper signatures.
Pay for Performance / Merit Increase Module
“While there are pros and cons to using a merit increase approach, in today’s world a majority of organizations attempt to link pay increases to employee performance,” explains National Director Jennifer Loftus.  “With limited merit increase budgets typically around three percent of pay, it’s essential that organizations make clear distinctions in pay increases between the high performers and low performers.”

If the thought of working with multiple spreadsheets and checking formulas makes you dizzy, however, consider Flare™’s pay for performance module.  In three easy steps you will be able to assign all employees with proper merit increases, meeting your merit increase budget and having the necessary reports for senior management. This module is able to calculate increases as a percent of base pay, lump sum, or a combination of both. Factors such as position in range and performance appraisal score can also be taken into consideration.

Job Description Module
According to Jennifer, “the Department of Labor is stepping up their investigations of wage and hour complaints.  One of your best defenses in an FLSA audit is up to date and accurate job descriptions.”

Need an accessible place to keep record of your job descriptions?  Need reminders to update your organization’s descriptions more frequently than every five to ten years?  Flare™’s job description module is for you.  This module allows you to design a job description template so all job descriptions are consistent in content type. Authorized staff can prepare draft updates to job description content to be approved by HR.  The Flare™ job description module also contains tests for FLSA compliance and a point factor job evaluation system to streamline your work and reporting systems.

Staff Advancement Monitor™

About 52% of respondents from the 2013 Global Assessment Trends report listed developing leaders as a top priority for their organization. Is leadership development a priority for yours?  If so, Flare™’s Staff Advancement Monitor™ module assists you in developing custom primary and secondary competencies and developmental activities for future leaders.  The results tracked in this module can be used for employee promotion recommendations.  Additional features include a listing of all participating employees, their mentors, and targeted goal positions.

Finders Keepers™

The 2013 Global Assessment Trends report also mentioned that 55% of respondents cite engagement of the workforce as a priority this year. Do you want to know if your valued employees are engaged with their work… or with your organization? Would you like to get opinions on where managers can make improvements? With the Finders Keepers™ module, you can! This module allows authorized users to create much needed customized surveys to gather employee opinions, new hire perspectives, and even exit interview data.  On-line, real-time reporting makes data analysis a breeze!

Total Rewards Statements

77% of organizations feel as though they communicate employee benefits effectively. If you want to ensure that your employees are aware of your organization’s reward program, consider Flare™’s Total Rewards Statement module!  With this module, you will be able to securely inform your employees of the value of their total compensation packages in real-time.  Information captured and reported by Flare™ in both narrative and graphic formats include and are not limited to salary, variable compensation, and benefit cost and value information.

Flare™ has many more modules for you to explore, including Applicant Tracking and On-Boarding, Time and Attendance, Pre-Employment Testing, Human Capital Audit, HRIS, and Learning Management System.  Are you curious to see where Flare™ could fit in your organization, and with your existing HR technology?  Reach out to Astron Solutions today and inquire about a demo!

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