Balancing Empathy and Accountability with Remote Workers

Written by Hannah Kirkland

Maintaining a supportive environment while still encouraging employees to be productive is a tough balancing act. Requiring employees to work from home with family staying hone as well, adds a new element to the balancing act. However, there are a handful of ways that you can maintain contact with employees this balance and ensure that your employees will come out of this situation productive and happy with your organization. 

Empathize

Staying productive while working through a traumatic event is hard. It’s essential that you and your managers are available to all employees. Leaders can help work through this time of uneasiness by setting a positive tone for employees and creating a calm presence that maintains a composed environment so employees can focus on their work. Additionally, consider encouraging self-care practices while people are working from home. With the daily overabundance of COVID-19 updates, encourage your workers to exercise, establish a routine, and take walks throughout their day. And remember to take this advice for yourself as well.

Initiate stress checks

Many employees will adapt well to working from home. But even in the best of cases, there are distractions, surprises and challenges that all employees will face. This will result in one of two things, added stress or reduction in performance. While HR and Managers need to be flexible and understanding, the work still needs to be done. Ensuring you have some scheduled time to check in on how employees are doing in this difficult time is more important than ever. But time is limited. Try checking in with your whole group using surveys to let your employees know you care. Or set up a group chat where workers can reach out to each other, their manager or HR. so they know they are not alone. There are a number of of different programs that are easy to setup, including Slack or Microsoft Teams. Consider asking questions regarding if they feel like there is enough communication throughout their team, if it is clear what their goals are, and if they have all necessary items to complete their work.

Establish clear performance expectations

We all know that you can’t hold employees accountable for requirements that they do not clearly understand. With remote work, it is easy to miss a message or misunderstand what is meant in a written message as opposed to a discussion. This is a great time for HR to spend some time working with managers on how to effectively communicate direction and clear goals. It is expected and encouraged that they will be empathetic to their employees challenges and fears right now, but that conversation needs to move into what is needed to ensure the work is also getting done. This requires clear communication on a regular basis. These can be one-on-one meetings or in small groups. They can be via email or chat, but expectation communications are best done via video chat to ensure everyone is providing their full attention. These types of meetings will work to provide support while also measuring a worker’s success and productivity. Which will provide a smoother transition when it is time to return to work.

Offer flexible schedules, time management resources, and clear work-from-home rules 

In order for your employees to be productive and reduce time theft, it is important to be flexible with working hours when possible. Employees that are allowed to break up their work day while working from home will often get more work done due to having more time when they can focus. This doesn’t mean that you need to allow employees to work when they want, just to have a means to allow for work outside of the standard 8-5. Providing a time management system Allows managers insight into where employees are spending their time, and allow employees to communicate when they will be working so that teams can schedule proper interaction and ensure workflow is effective. Working with employees to determine hours that will work within their home, especially if they are trying to manage their children’s homeschooling schedules can create loyalty, reduce stress, and make it more likely that the employee will return when this time is behind us. And communicating clear rules of when employees are required to be available and when they can have flexibility will ensure coverage for customers and that deadlines are met.

Make sure your employees have what they need to be productive

For many, working remotely is more difficult than coming into the office. More than likely, your company is already working from home if it is possible due to most states being under Stay-At-Home orders. In order to hold employees accountable at this time, it is up to the employer to provide the tools needed to get the work done. Encourage workers to have a dedicated workspace if there is an area in their home where they can do so. Provide a means of communications for employees who realize they do not have something that they need to do the work. Provide guidance on how to set up an ergonomically friendly workstation at a table or desk. Allow employees a small budget for obtaining items that are generally available at the office, such as file folders or a stapler, that they might not have at home. And most importantly, ensure the proper so software and/or applications needed to discourage employees from downloading solutions that may be damaging to your IT infrastructure or their individual devices. establish a working routine, and ask them if they are unable to fulfill certain aspects of their job because they are not in the office. 

Bring attention to company resources for mental health

Your benefits program is a good place to begin. Ensure employees understand and know how to access medical, and mental health providers covered under their plan or an Employee Assistance Program. Communicate relevant policies such as paid leave, benefit continuation or work-related product reimbursements. Don’t just explain these benefits one time. Provide regular communications regarding local and state provisions avaiable to those who are ahving difficulties managing such as food distribution. Suggest taking mental health breaks including yoga, meditation or walking outside. You may even want to provide a resource for employees to use such as an online exercise program. As uncertainty mounts and we are unsure of when we can go back to the office, workers will need different resources at different times. So ensure communication is plentiful.

Offer opt-in team building activities

Working from home can be isolating and mentally taxing. Offer different ways that employees can continue to interact with each other. Examples could include a virtual “water cooler” lunch every Friday, playing trivia games with each other, and creating humor channels on Slack (or whatever messaging system you use). It will be beneficial for employees to interact with their coworkers in ways that are not solely work-focused. This can help to raise organizational morale. Be mindful that these events should be optional, but available to all. 

Throughout this time, HR and managers should work together, listen to employees’ concerns, and engage everyone individually and also as part of a group, so that productivity and support both remain high. 

Don’t forget to download your FREE copy of the Employers Guide for Post-COVID-19 “Plan to Return Your Employees to Work”.

A Successful Work-from-Home Parenting Transition

work from home
A Note from the CEO:

When the COVID-19 Pandemic came upon us, InvestiPro quickly responded by taking the same actions as most of the non-essential businesses in the U.S. We transitioned to a work-from-home scenario. And as many of you have found, it isn’t quite as easy as it seems. One of the primary reasons is that our children were also transitioned to a teach-from-home situation, requiring parents to a new course for day-to-day life. While many of us struggled to figure this out, some employees were quite obviously more successful. So I asked one of our managers, Christi H., how she made it look so utterly manageable, and her advice was so good, I asked her if I could share her advice with you. If you have any questions for Christi, please feel free to leave comments below.

CHRISTI’S WORKING FROM HOME TIPS

We are currently four weeks into working from home with our 9-year old son attending distant learning school. It’s not easy but we have found the following tips to help keep our busy family on track each day. I want to be clear; I’m not saying I have it all figured out just simply saying it is possible. A bit messy but possible.

Create a workspace
  • For you and your kids
    • Dedicate a space and include everything you need to get your job/schoolwork done. If you don’t do this, you’ll be tempted to finish that load of laundry you have tumbled 5 times already.
    • Take time to make sure it’s comfortable. This will help you feel like you are “going to work” each day. My husband likes to put jeans on to make it more official but I’m pretty sure that just makes him an overachiever. 
Create a schedule
  • Set expectations
    • Set some ground rules for both your family and you.
  • Plan for interruptions
    • There will be distractions and that’s okay. Learn what they are and how to limit them.
    • Create a “Be Quiet” sign when you are on a call, so your child knows not to interrupt unless it’s an emergency.
  • Make time for your family during the workday
    • Eat lunch together or take the dog on a walk. We find this to be a great time to reset and check in with our son abut the work he has completed and still needs to finish for the day.
  • Give kids options
    • If they finish all their work, they should feel empowered to move on to the next activity. Give them options that they can do by themselves with little to no help at all. Some examples are:
      • Art time
      • Legos
      • Listening to music
      • Reading
      • Physical activity outside
Seek help
  • Setup weekly Skype or Zoom calls
    • Have your child(ren) interview family members to get to know them better. (Feel free to download the Family Interview form below)
    • Try to schedule time every week for them to talk with their friends.

Most importantly, try to make the most out of the situation and appreciate the extra time with your family. We are all in this together and we will get through it.

Explaining the Importance of a Workplace Investigation Process to the Board

Board of Directors Meeting

In this post #MeToo Era, Executives and Board Members alike may be feeling that the Sexual Harassment crisis is under control and therefore it’s back to business as usual. After all, training has been done, policies have been updated, and employees are clearly aware of the reporting process and seriousness of sexual harassment claims. But in many cases, there are two important facts that are being overlooked.

  1. The standard workplace investigation process is still antiquated and inconsistent;
  2. Investigations are required for many things, not just sexual harassment.

The media made the need for investigations very clear for sexual harassment claims. HR needs to make the case for a better, more consistent and civil investigation process. But when it comes to communicating this need to the Executive Team or the Board of Directors in order to obtain budget and procedural buy-in, HR can often be at a loss for words.

Recently a blog post was posted by Corporate Board Member on the risks and benefits of conducting internal workplace investigations that did a brilliant job of making a clear picture of the reasons why the board should support a strong investigation process, and regular use of the process for everything from legal violations to company Code of Conduct and Policy violations. Here’s a quick summary of the most important key factors. But I highly recommend reading the entire article yourself. The Risks and Benefits of Internal Investigations.

  • If handled properly, an internal investigation can prevent harm to the company.
  • An internal investigation is not just an emergency tool. Rather, it is a way to proactively deal with issues of compliance before they fester. 
  • An investigation can aid in:

Putting the company ahead of the problem,
Preventing other occurrences of the same issue,
Sending a positive message to stakeholders,
Leading to a (relatively) pain-free resolution with the government or whistleblowers, and
Establishing good corporate governance in the post-Enron era.

  • By conducting an investigation, the company demonstrates that it is taking the alleged wrongdoing seriously, and subsequent remediation demonstrates that it expects its employees hold themselves to higher standards by following all laws and company policies.
  • Failing to investigate may lead to increased scrutiny by government investigators and will strengthen the government’s resolve and basis for imposing civil and criminal penalties. 

When you’re ready to how an automated process can reduce liability and save time on every investigation, we’re here to help. www.investipro.com.

5 Common Misnomers Re: Employer Retaliation

We all know that the laws enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) make it illegal to fire, demote, harass, or otherwise retaliate against either job applicants or employees based upon the individual doing any of the following:

  • filing a charge of discrimination,
  • complaining to their employer about discrimination on the job, or
  • participating in an employment discrimination proceeding, such as an investigation or a lawsuit.

In addition, most state anti-retaliation laws provide remedies for any discrimination or “adverse employment action.” But there is still a lot of misunderstanding about the extent of the definition of retaliation. As a rule of thumb, if the action could look like retaliation from the outside, stop and think through the entire situation before taking action. Otherwise, you might find yourself having to defend your actions.

The following are the 5 most common misunderstandings to watch out for:

  1. It’s not retaliation if the employee quits.

It is not uncommon for an individual to resign after an uncomfortable conflict or investigation. In some cases, this result is for the better for both the individual and the company. However, employers and managers need to ensure that they did not deviate from normal practices in order to urge the employee to resign. When courts conclude that the employer was trying to get the worker to quit, or made working conditions intolerable, then they declare a “constructive discharge,” and allow the victim full remedies after quitting. Protection: Establish a process of getting back to work after a conflict or investigation that ensures the affected employee is treated fairly and appropriately.  

  1. We’re going in to slow season, so they can’t prove retaliation if we reduce her hours.

We hear of this often, especially in seasonal industries where a reduction in hours is common at certain times during the year. However, this does not automatically provide protection for the employer. For example, an employee complains that her supervisor is making lewd gestures at her and she is fearful about walking to her car at the end of her shift. An investigation results in a reprimand to the Supervisor. The Supervisor is a high performer and the company decides not to terminate. At the end of the busy season, the Supervisor is asked to provide a list of those employees who he suggests should have their hours reduced or be laid off, and the complainant is at the top of the list. The Supervisor says she is a bit slow and not friendly to guests. On the surface this seems like a legitimate reason to reduce hours. But when customer surveys are reviewed, she consistently has high scores. Yes, this is likely retaliation. Protection:  Review recent actions with any employees that are subject to adverse actions, even when it is a regular occurrence such as seasonal layoffs, to ensure the basis for the action is sound.

  1. As long as I don’t tell HR about the complaint, I can just move the employee to another department and the problem is solved.

At company A, employees submit their time-off requests to their department manager who generally approves the time as first come first served, but also considers the reason for the time off request. Jose has requested time off on several occasions with the reason of attending family matters such as a church services or funerals. After a couple of his requests being denied, Jose complained to his manager that he and a couple of other Hispanic employees are frustrated that their time-off requests seem to be denied more often the other non-Hispanic employees. The manager comments that Hispanics have so much family that they can’t expect to get all of their requests approved and maybe they should stop having kids. Two weeks later, a new employee with a specific skill set is moved into their department, and the Manager sees this a great opportunity to move Jose out of the department into a position that is on a less desirable shift. This is not an easy answer. It’s retaliation. Protection: HR should have a policy in place to talk with each employee that is being moved to ensure they understand why is it a company decision. Generally, if the employee believes that it is due to other reasons, such as retaliation, they will bring it up at this time. 

  1. The victim is protected, but the complainant is a gossip who always stirs up drama, so we can terminate her without it being retaliation.

We expect and require employees to participate in a workplace investigation when they have information that could be useful in determining the outcome of the case.  Often, the organization would not be aware of problems in the workplace without employees coming forward. However, most of us have dealt with the employee who feels it is always her job to report everything…..personal matters, gossip, what the rumor mill says, you know the type. But a complaint is a complaint, and the complainant has protection rights the same as anyone involved in the incident. Often supervisors and managers are not aware of these rights and by changing the way they act toward this employee, they could be guilty of retaliation. Protection: Train all supervisors, managers, and executives about the potential liability from retaliation. And remind everyone involved in a complaint or investigation of their rights and responsibilities every time. 

  1. An employee who has complained can be terminated for violating company policy as long as it is unrelated to the topic of the complaint.

Although employees cannot be terminated for participating in protected activity, this only applies as long as their behavior is lawful and does not violate the company code of the conduct. That being said, employers must look at the severity of the action, and the reason for the action, in order to determine if the action could be construed as retaliation. For example, Sherry has a physical confrontation with Ally. After the incident, Sherry notifies HR and an investigation ensues. Ally is terminated for hitting Sherry, and although the company feels Sherry may have provoked the incident, there is no proof and Sherry is not disciplined. The next day, Sherry’s manager finds that she has been using her company email for personal business in violation of company policy. This is reported to HR and Sherry is terminated. Sherry report this matter to the EEOC and claims that others use their company email often, including her manager, and are not reprimanded. In addition, Sherry claims that the personal email use was to set up a security service to walk her to her car after work as she was frightened that Ally might return to do her harm. The outcome, Sherry got her job back with back pay and penalties. Protection: Before using violation of policy as a reason for terminating an employee, ensure that the policy is consistently upheld and the penalty is appropriate.

Sign up for the HR Investigator’s Blog to stay on top of the laws and best practices and ensure liability protection. And when it is time to investigate, www.GoinvestiPro.com – Simplifying the way employers conduct investigations.

Your Employee Called the EEOC. Now what?

Any employee who feels he/she has been discriminated against or harassed can file a complaint against her employer with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or State Fair Employment Office.  Whether or not the complaint has merit, the employer must then spend time, effort, and often money to defend their position. Knowing what steps to take can help an employer show cooperation, while positioning themselves for defense if needed.

Once the EEOC receives a complaint, the employer will be notified by letter within 10 days. The letter does not imply findings against the employer. Rather, it is the first step the EEOC will use to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe a violation has occurred. The letter will request a “Statement of Position” from the employer. This document is where the employer tells their side of the story. However, the information provided may be used for or against you. Therefore, there are three things to consider before submitting your position statement:

  1. If you have an attorney, it may be wise to notify him or her of the complaint and ask for a review of the position statement prior to sending it to the EEOC.
  2. If you have an Employer Professional Liability policy (EPL), chances are it requires you to contact the carrier prior to submitting the position statement.
  3. You must report only the facts. These facts will need to be verifiable, and opinion is not advised.

If you do not have or choose not to contact your attorney, I highly suggest reviewing the EEOC resource guide on effective position statements.

Next, the EEOC follows up with a formal Request for Information. The RFI may ask the employer to submit policies, the charging employee’s personnel files, the personnel files of other individuals and other relevant information, such as proof of training and contact information for potential witnesses. The EEOC may also request a visit to the workplace to view evidence and interview potential witnesses.  Although this can speed up the information gathering process, it can also be disruptive to the company and create an over-exposure of facts.  If the EEOC does not come on-site, they will likely still contact employees who may have pertinent information or may be witnesses to the case. They have the right to do this with non-management employees without the employer’s knowledge or permission.

It is important to provide all information requested by the deadline provided. In the case of unforeseen circumstances that make it impossible to meet the submission date, an extension must be requested from the EEOC Investigator. Once submitted, the EEOC will review the information to determine whether the complaint merits further action. One or more of the following actions will then take place.

  1. A Dismissal and Notice of Rights will inform the employee that the EEOC has dismissed the case, yet she still has the right to file a lawsuit with the federal court within 90 days.
  2. A Letter of Determination will state that there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination/harassment has occurred and invite the parties to join the agency in seeking to resolve the charge through an informal process known as conciliation.
  3. If conciliation fails, the EEOC has the authority to enforce violations of its statutes by filing a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the employee or issuing the employee a Notice of Right to Sue, and she may file a lawsuit in federal court within 90 days.

Although this process can be a time burden, preparing ahead by conducting and documenting prompt, thorough and impartial investigations can put a quick end to the fact-finding process, and limit liability exposure. InvestiPro can help. See our demo at www.goinvestiPro.com.

 

 

How Do You “Deal With It”?

In the February edition of the SHRM HR Magazine, (Yes, I know it’s March but I am a bit behind on my reading. Aren’t we all?), I read an article about dealing with difficult employees that I found to be quite interesting. I know that this topic isn’t new, but I liked the fact that they included stories by HR people who attained positive results by changing the way they interacted with and thought of the difficult employee. Let’s be honest here, no matter how much we wish for problem employees to change, nothing will change until we dig into the reasons why they act the way they do. In the article, the HR representatives took the time to talk to the difficult employees, respectfully and honestly, in order to get to the core of the problem. And then they took it one step further by working with the employee to find a way to make things better. Sometimes the only way to make things better is to find a way to help the employee move on, but this doesn’t happen as often as you might think. In most instances, once the difficult employee has been heard, they become much easier to deal with.

This same approach can be used in workplace investigations. When the investigator takes on the problem with the attitude that they will get to the core of the issue, and find a resolution that best works for everyone, the investigation itself becomes a much calmer process. As a general rule, the best way to diffuse an irate person is the more upset and loud they get, the quieter and more calm you remain.

The key here is wrapped up in the last section of the article. Stay calm and show respect. Remember, employees have a choice in their actions. And sometimes those actions result in discipline. When administering that discipline, showing respect for the employee can diffuse an otherwise combative situation and leave a dignified way out for all parties.

This is a short article, but worth the read. How Do You Deal With Difficult Employees?

Top 10 Investigation Challenges – Part 6; Hygiene, Bodily Functions and other Uncomfortable Conversations.

Every manager and HR Representative has to deal with this type of complaint at some point during their career. As a matter of fact, these complaints are reported in the work place much more often than you might imagine. There are your everyday complaints, “Danny comes in to work smelling like garlic and has such bad gas that I need you to move my desk away from his.” Some complaints are less frequent such as, “Sally is taking bathroom breaks a few times every hour and it is interrupting the work flow”. And then, the doozies like, “Frank’s body odor is so bad that I have to run when I see him coming to avoid him approaching me. I can’t work with that guy!”  Yes, they even get much worse than that, but we will leave the restroom complaints for another time.

You may be asking, “What does this have to do with investigations?” The simple answer is, everything. Continue reading