Articles Posted in Employee Engagement

The United States Supreme Court will hear argument next month in United States v. Windsor, which addresses the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  Nearly 300 private-sector employers joined forces in opposition to the law, filing a joint amici brief.  Among the employers who oppose the law are Citigroup, Google, Facebook, and Starbucks, reports the L.A. Times.goose_thumb

The employers voice a number of objections to the law, all arising from the conflict between state and federal law.  Twelve states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriages.  But federal law, pursuant to DOMA, prohibits the recognition of same-sex unions.

This contradiction puts employers-particularly those operating in multiple states-in a difficult position as they attempt to reconcile what they must do according to state law, what they must not do according to federal law, and, for many employers, what they want to do according to their own policies of anti-discrimination.

We discussed a similar conundrum in October of last year, when Nordstrom, Amazon, Microsoft, Nike, and others, took a stand in favor of Seattle’s same-sex law, Referendum 74. A similar theme is heard in the Windsor briefing-smart employers know that equality and fairness are essential to a productive and efficient workforce.  Employers lose when employees are treated unequally in the workplace.

So it makes sense that smart employers would speak out in opposition to government-imposed inequality.

If you’re a die-hard fan of The Who, you may not want to read the rest of this post.  Don’t misunderstand, I, too, am a fan.  Which is why I was all sorts of excited to see them in Atlantic City on Friday night. stick figure businessman in spotlight_thumb

The band did not disappoint.  Overall, I’d say the show was pretty good.  Guitarist Pete Townshend, though, was far better than “good.” Townshend was great; and I mean great.  Well worth the price of admission.

Lead singer, Roger Daltry, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired.  Daltry was, well, a diva. He barely sang at all-or at least not as much as I’d hoped.  Mostly, he sort of stood there, swinging his mic around-sometimes catching it and sometimes not.  As he stood at the edge of the stage, not singing, shirt unbuttoned so to expose way, way, too much skin, it was as if he was saying to the audience, “Yes, it’s me.  I am really here on the stage before you.  Try not to faint from excitement.”

I assure you, I did not.  Clearly, he was very impressed with himself.  I, however, was far less impressed.  And what’s the tie in to HR and employment law, you ask?  Have faith, dear readers. I’m getting there.

The lesson is to be aware of the tipping point with rock-star employees. If you’ve had an all-star employee in your workplace, you probably learned this lesson a long time ago. Rock-star employees are those who out perform their colleagues. They’re worshipped by their managers and their direct reports, alike.  They have skills that far outshine the skills of their peers.

The trick with rock-star employees is keeping them happy enough to keep them productive. At some point, you may find that you’re investing more than you’re getting in return. This is particularly true if you compromise your culture or principals because the rock-star demands it.

If the rock star can no longer belt the tunes, you should ask whether you should be giving him special benefits and, well, treating him like a rock star.  It may be time to tell the rock star to button up his shirt and pass the mic along to someone else. (In the case of The Who, that someone would be guitarist Simon Townshend, brother of Pete, who stole the show on Friday night).


See also:

Going Gaga over the Not-So-Little Overtime Monster

Bob Dylan’s HR Lesson- Mandatory Retirement

Why Top Performers Are So Hard To Please

I am writing this post from a train on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional line. The train’s next stop is Bridgeport. But that is not my stop. I am heading all the way to New London, Connecticut. For those of you lucky enough not to have the train schedule memorized, my destination means I’ll have been onboard for about 5 hours by the time I depart.

I really hate riding the train. Yes, I know, “hate” is a strong word and, perhaps, too strong in this context. But I really dislike taking the train. I get lo-grade motion sickness–just enough to drain my energy but not enough that I could justify not taking the train for certain trips.

I don’t like co-passengers who ever-so-slowly eat tuna-salad sandwiches that they brought with them. I don’t like Amtrak’s promises of “Wi-Fi Hot Spot,” which is repeated on stickers plastered all over the interior of the train but which must have been intended as a joke because I have yet to get an Internet connection that lasted for more than 30 seconds. I don’t like mean women in the Quiet Car, who “shhhhhh” and wag their fingers at any passenger who dares to so much as cough.

And I really don’t like that I have get back on this train tomorrow and do it all over again, just heading in the opposite direction.

So why, then, am I on the train? Because I can’t say “no.” Well, that’s not entirely true. I can’t say “no” to people I like. Which is why, when my boss “suggested” that I should accept a speaking engagement in Connecticut in late October because it would be “great exposure for the firm,” and I “suggested” that I probably shouldn’t due the already dizzying number of commitments I had in late October, and he continued to “suggest,” and I continued to “suggest,” eventually, I was the first to abandon my suggestion and accept the gig.

As I boarded the train this morning, miserable utterances just waiting to be uttered, I had to remember that I was the only one to blame. Had I stuck to my initial answer, which I knew was the right one, I wouldn’t be spending 11 hours in 2 days on this train with lo-grade motion sickness.

But I didn’t stick with it. I caved. I said “yes,” when I knew that “no” was the right answer. And I am the only fool to blame. Learning when to say “no” and how to actually stick with it are important skills. And, for me anyway, they’re learned skills that take lots of practice, apparently. I’m still hoping that I’ll figure it out one of these days.

In the meantime, though, I know that, once I de-board, free of the smell of tunafish, I will have a great time in Connecticut. And I’m sure that the event will be a hit, that I’ll meet at least a few new people, probably see at least one person I already know. And the post-presentation seminar high that I will surely have will make at least part of the train ride home tomorrow less nauseating.

Here’s to hoping!

A post on the Harvard Business Review blog, titled, “Your Body Language Speaks For You In Meetings,” caught my eye immediately. Several years ago, I brought this very issue to the attention of one of our senior paralegals. The paralegal was a critical player on our team–well respected by everyone and for good reason. During meetings, she had a place at the table equal to the most senior partner present. If she doubted a particular strategy, you could bet that we’d go a different direction.

Being the oddball that I am, I was often the one offering an out-of-the-box idea. I held the paralegal in the highest regard, so it really hurt when she was disapproving or skeptical of my ideas. Finally, I decided to deal with the issue head on. Leaving the conference room after a meeting one day, I asked her why she was always so critical of my ideas.

She looked at me, shocked, “Huh?” I looked back, equally shocked. She really had no idea what I was talking about. I took a deep breath and said, “You never like my ideas. You always look so critical when I offer a suggestion.”

It was clear–very clear–that she had no idea that she had been communicating this message and certainly had not intended to do so. We had a quick talk about it and agreed that we’d pay more attention to the signals we were sending at future meetings.

At the next meeting, though, I was disappointed that my idea was met with the same familiar hostility as before. After the meeting, I called her aside and asked her, “What happened to our truce?” Again, she gave me that same shocked look. “I was totally receptive and positive! Didn’t you hear my comments?!”

As it turned out, I hadn’t. I hadn’t heard anything. It’s what I’d seen that had me so convinced she was not going to support my idea. I explained that, when I started to speak at the meeting, the paralegal had turned sideways in her chair, slung her arm over the back of it, and looked at me over the top rims of her reading glasses. As soon as she “got into position,” I would pretty much shut down.

It didn’t take long before we realized that our troubles were a result of the messages she had been sending unintentionally with her body language. So, being two reasonable adults in search of a solution to our miscommunication missteps, we did what anyone would do–we googled it. And here are some of the tips we found:

  • sit facing the table squarely, instead of turning to the side;
  • put both feet flat on the floor; and
  • keep your hands in view and in front of you.

At the next meeting, the paralegal sat down in a chair across the table, looked at me, and, slowly adjusted her hands on the tabletop, squared her shoulders towards me, and smiled a huge grin, telling me–without words–that she was applying the tips we found online. And that conscious effort, followed by the big smile, was all the body language I needed to get the message loud and clear–she wanted to support me and was signaling that she was darn sure going to try.

I can’t imagine my job without her support over these past many years. I am eternally thankful that she was so open to trying a different approach, despite not having any reason to, other than being a really good team player.

Everyone likes a compliment. Believe me when I say that I am no exception. In fact, I’ve been accused on more than one occasion of being a real sucker for a compliment. A guaranteed way to win me over is to compliment this blog. Works like a charm just about every time.

There’s a difference, though, in appreciating when others take notice of your work and working in the hopes that others take notice. I would write the blog, subject to the approval of my employer, of course, regardless of whether anyone ever complimented it. There are so many benefits to blogging that any compliments or recognition that I may get is, truly, a bonus.

If you’re wondering, I write the blog because it’s a tremendous service to my clients; because it keeps me up-to-the-minute current in my practice area; because it’s wonderful to make connections with other e-law bloggers; because it serves as a research repository for me and my colleagues; and because it’s a great creative outlet. These are just some of the many reasons that I devote time every day to read other blogs and to write interesting posts that our readers will find valuable. It is, indeed, a labor of love. And that is why the occasional complimentary word about the fruits of my labor mean so much to me. But, again, the kind word or recognition is not the reason, it’s just one of the results.

Which leads me to the actual topic of this post. Yesterday, HR Examiner released its list of the Top 25 Employment Law Online Influencers. Apparently, I didn’t make the list. Truth be told, I would never have known about the list–or the fact that I’m not on it–but for Twitter and, more specifically, Dan Schwartz. On my walk home from work last night, I was skimming my Twitter feeds and saw a whole flurry of posts that mentioned me.

As it turns out, Dan, who writes the award-winning Connecticut Employer’s Law Blog, is on the list, as are a few other employment lawyers. Dan thanked the authors of the list and was kind enough to note that he felt the list was incomplete without me and our friend, Jon Hyman, of the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog. This, of course, was totally gratuitous on Dan’s part and an all-around super nice gesture.

Following a lengthy Twitter exchange about who should and should not be included on the list, Dan decided to simply make his own list–an excellent idea, indeed–and did so in a post today. Jon and I both made Dan’s list, I’m proud to say.

But here’s the more important story. Although it can be easier said than done, we should try to remember that it’s not the recognition that motivates us. If we love what we do–and I do–then the work motivates us. The rest of it is great when it happens; and it’s perfectly fine when it doesn’t. We can’t be named to every list or win every award, nor should we try. Lucky for me, I am the recipient of far more kind words than I deserve. It’s my job to make sure I pass it forward and continue to at least try to earn the compliments that I am given.

Thanks, Dan. And thanks to all of our loyal readers! Now, go check out Dan’s list and the 9 other bloggers who made the cut. Then say something nice to someone who is trying hard to get it right.

Sheldon Sandler took the picture below during a recent trip to Granada. Yes, it’s a real picture of a real sign on the outside of a real factory.


Admittedly, the picture evokes mixed emotions for me. Part of me cheers, happy for the employer who attempts to set a positive tone for workers about to start their workday.

On the other hand, though, the sign seems to send, well, a bit of a mixed message, doesn’t it? Nothing like beating someone with a baseball bat imprinted with a motivational message as a technique to motivate workers, right?

Either way, the sheer extremity of the sign makes me laugh. And that’s enough of a reason to post it as this Friday’s Funny. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Today is my daughter’s 7th Birthday. She got out of bed early and excited. She gave extra special attention to the clothes she picked out, and triple-checked her pony-tail was just so. Walking into school with her birthday cupcakes, she bounced with each step. As we approached her first-grade classroom, her teacher exclaimed “the birthday girl is here!” and her classmates shouted out in unison “Happy Birthday Gianna!” and proceeded to embrace her in a group hug. She was grinning from ear to ear the entire time, because she felt special. gift wrapped with pink paper and bow

Watching the morning unfold for my daughter got me thinking about birthdays and feeling special. There are not many opportunities in our adult lives where we feel like a 7-year old on her birthday. A lot of press has been given lately to what is viewed as “excess” in some public employment positions. Indeed, in these tough times, the public does not- and probably shouldn’t – have much tolerance for such perks. One public agency in New Jersey was recently assailed for, among other things, giving employees their birthdays off (or a bonus if they worked on their birthday). The horror! Birthdays off??

WAY back in 2007, in pre-recession time, employers devoted considerable time and energy to how to recruit and retain talented employees. In today’s economy, where most employees are just grateful to have a job, this topic is much more rarely discussed. But it costs money to hire and train new employees in any economy, and when the economy starts to turn, employees who feel under-appreciated will seize the first opportunity to take their talents to another employer who, for whatever reason, holds the promise of a happier place.

Layoffs and cut-backs have resulted in rock-bottom employee morale at many workplaces. There are a number of things that employers can do to boost morale, of varying costs. Maybe, just maybe, making employees feel special one day a year by giving them their birthday off is not such a bad idea after all!

Managers often underestimate the power of a simple compliment. A timely, sincere compliment costs nothing to give but can yield terrific returns. Yet, many leaders regularly fail to take advantage of this tool. And some people yearn for compliments more than others. With these employees, recognition of a job well done or praise for a victory is even more powerful. Compliments can be given directly to the individual or they can be communicated to the individual’s peers, colleagues, or supervisors.  

Recently, a former colleague of mine was put up for a promotion. It would have meant a great deal to her–and to her commitment to her employer.

She didn’t receive the promotion. To say she was disappointed would be a gross understatement.

starHer manager felt terrible about the turn of events. When he told her the bad news, he hurried through the explanation, failing to properly explain exactly what had occurred. Perhaps believing that the less he said and the shorter the discussion, the less she’d suffer. Wrong.

After she’d had time to digest the course of events, her only real complaint was not about her disappointment in not getting the new job. It wasn’t even about the company’s handling of the promotional process. And it wasn’t about the manager’s short explanation of what had occurred. Her only real complaint was that she felt so unappreciated at the end of it all. Had her manager only taken a moment to say that, despite the setback, the employee was still a highly valued member of the team and to assure her that the outcome of the selection process was not a reflection of the contribution she made to the organization.

In the case of my former colleague, a difficult setback for the employee could have been softened considerably by a simple compliment.

See other posts on Employee Engagement

A recent spate of highly-publicized stories about employees quitting their jobs have given our attorneys a good laugh-and caused us to think about good employer-employee relationships.
The most popular story so far is that of Steven Slater, a JetBlue flight attendant who quit after he was hit in the head with a piece of luggage while trying to convince an unruly passenger to stay in his seat. It appears that after being hit, Mr. Slater lost his cool, used the airplane’s intercom system to curse at the unruly passenger, grabbed a beer from a beverage cart, and then made a dramatic exit from the grounded plane by deploying the plane’s emergency shoot. CNN reports that during his intercom rant, Mr. Slater stated that “I’ve been in this business 28 years and I’ve had it.”

A similar story involving a woman named Jenny is also making the rounds. Jenny apparently quit her job in a series of pictures circulated to her entire office. Jenny was spurred to action after overhearing her boss call her a HOPA, which she later learned stood for “hot piece of ___.” In response to her boss’s inappropriate remarks, Jenny shot 33 pictures of herself holding a whiteboard. Each picture included different text on the whiteboard, describing the unpleasant treatment that Jenny had suffered as an office assistant. Among the pictures was one revealing that her boss spent 19.7 hours per week playing online games.

Both Steven and Jenny are currently receiving a tremendous outpouring of support online. This support likely derives from the fact that everyone has had a bad job, and wished that they could quit with gusto! As TIME noted, Slater “got to do what so many people wish they could do-tell off a rude customer, then quit, triumphantly. Which makes him, for today at least, an Internet folk hero.”

While these stories are endlessly entertaining to the on-line community, no employer wants to be on the receiving end of this type of publicity. So treat your employees well, and minimize the incentive for them to quit with a flourish. A new rule of thumb might be that if you wouldn’t want your conduct circulated to the office via 33 whiteboard images, you probably shouldn’t be acting that way.

{Update: The day after this post was published, the “HOPA” story was revealed to be a fake. Nonetheless, the lesson for employers–be nice to your employees–is still applicable.}

Some small businesses have managed to come out on top–despite the difficult economy. In this month’s edition of Inc. Magazine 20 small businesses are celebrated as the Top Small Company Workplaces.  The winners and 20 finalists are selected by Winning Workplaces and are recognized for achieving business success through exemplary people practices and outstanding workplace cultures.image

Winning Workplaces reports some of the highlights of the 2010 award winners:

  • 100% of winners profitable in 2009
  • 90% of finalists profitable in 2009
  • 36% average revenue growth, 2007-09
  • Ability to weather bad times with the good: average of 28 years in business
  • High average employee tenure of 7 years
  • Low average turnover of 8% across 18 diverse industries

More information on the winners and finalists of this award is available at the following links:

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