The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Monday, January 21, 2013

Do Your Employees Really Need Training?

During the economic recession, companies cut back on employee training. Now that the economy is recovering, many companies are renewing their training programs. In some cases this renewed commitment to employee training and development is needed to increase employee engagement. However, some companies view training as a "one size fits all" solution to decreased employee engagement.

Before you jump on the training band wagon, you might want to consider performing a training needs assessment (TNA). A TNA is an activity that helps to determine if training is needed. 

Why should you perform a TNA? First, a TNA will prevent you from implementing training for performance issues when those issues are not related to the employees' lack of knowledge, skills, and/or abilities (KSAs). Second, a TNA will ensure that your training program has the correct objectives, content, and methods. Third, a TNA will help you to determine if your employees have the basic skills to understand the training material(s). Fourth, a TNA that involves upper and middle management as well as experienced employees will help you gain the support you need to implement an effective training program.

A TNA has five parts:
  1. The reason(s) for the training. Examples of the reasons for training include new laws/regulations, poor employee performance, new products or technology, customer satisfaction, and so on.
  2. An organization analysis determines organizational goals, if the organization has the resources (personnel, equipment, or money) to perform the training, and if poor employee performance is caused by a gap in KSAs or a lack of motivation.
  3. A task analysis identifies the tasks that employees perform to do their jobs. The task analysis includes how frequently the task is performed, it's importance in performing the job well, and if the task requires previous experience or training in order to be performed well (difficulty). Also, the task analysis should include the KSAs that employees need in order to perform the task.
  4. A person analysis determines if employees have the basic skills needed to understand the training material and if employees understand the training's relevance to their job duties.
  5. The desired outcomes are basically what you expect employees to learn from the training.
There are many methods you can use to obtain the data necessary to perform these analyses: annual reports, questionnaires and surveys, employee performance appraisals, subject matter expert panels, interviews, market research, existing job and/or task analyses, or manuals and handbooks. 

The bottom line is this: by not performing a TNA, you run the risk of wasting the company's money and time on a training program that is irrelevant, unnecessary, or incomprehensible to employees. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

At Will Employment: A Case Study

In the previous post we defined what at-will employment is and examined some of the exceptions to at-will employment. At this point you might be saying, "Charity, discussing at-will employment is like beating a dead horse." I disagree. The term "at-will employment" is one that has been used so often that everyone assumes that we understand its implications, and we do not.

What happened to pique this interest in the "at-will" verbiage and disclaimers?  My partner, who I will call "Rufus" for the sake of his privacy, was injured at work. His employer sent him to an occupational health doctor who diagnosed the injury as knee strain. The doctor gave Rufus some pain relieving balm, told him to rest the knee, and sent him back to work. Two days later, Rufus’s knee had worsened and his employer sent him back to the same doctor. The doctor diagnosed the injury as "arthritis," advised Rufus to take ibuprofen for the swelling, and sent him back to work. 

Three days later, Rufus's condition was still worsening and his employer refused to send him back to the doctor because of the doctor's previous diagnosis. Rufus advised his supervisor that he was unable to perform his duties safely and effectively due to the knee injury, stated that he would seek medical attention for his knee, and left work early. 

Rufus didn't have insurance and decided to go to an urgent care facility the next day because it was cheaper than going to the emergency room. The next day Rufus called his supervisor and the site's HR manager 3 hours before his shift started to inform them that he was going to urgent care to have a doctor examine his knee and would be absent for the day. The urgent care doctor examined Rufus's knee and advised him that the knee was sprained.  The doctor advised Rufus that he could not stand for long periods of time and placed Rufus on work restriction for three weeks.

Immediately after the doctor's visit Rufus called the site’s HR manager to advise him of the work restriction. The HR manager advised Rufus that his employment was terminated due to "attendance" and refused to consider the circumstances surrounding Rufus's absences. Rufus had not been counseled or disciplined for absenteeism, he passed the post-accident drug screen administered by his employer, and Rufus had been clear that his absences were caused by his work-related injury. We then consulted with a lawyer who advised us that we had no case against the employer.

Why did the lawyer say that we had no case? After all, what the employer did should be illegal since it violated state laws regarding worker's compensation thus Rufus's case should be covered by the public policy exception. Unfortunately, Rufus needed to prove the employer's intent and was unable to do so. Rufus was fired due to excessive absenteeism and the reason for Rufus's absences was not documented. Simply put, Rufus could not prove that the employer fired him because of his work-related injury.

You might be asking, "What about the disciplinary procedures in the employee handbook? Wouldn't that pertain to Rufus's situation?" No, because Rufus lives in a state that does not recognize implied contracts. Lastly, it may seem that Rufus's situation was not handled in "good faith." While that assessment may be true, it does not apply to Rufus because he lives in a state that does not recognize the covenant of good faith exception.

What I hope you will understand is the fact that as an employee (or HR student), you need to be aware that the ability to leave one's job at any time comes at a price. It is up to you as an employee to understand what that price is and what your rights are before you agree to those terms. It is up to HR associates to explain the benefits and consequences of at-will employment to applicants and employees in plain language.

If you are interested in learning what your rights are, you can Google "[state name] labor department." Also, the U.S. Department of Labor offers a webpage, DOL Services by Location, which provides links to your state's labor department.

Thank you for reading, and best wishes.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Value of Undercover Boss

It's important for the boss to get a hands-on sense of how the business is operating and who's responsible for keeping the ship afloat. Some bosses simply don't have a sense of what the business is about until they (quite literally in some instances) get their hands dirty with the typical grind. That's why "Undercover Boss is so important to business executives.

There are far too many instances of executives who run a business by top-down orders and who don't try to find out what's actually happening on the floor or in the field that makes those orders unrealistic.

More importantly, those in the job market have an opportunity to do business and company research about opportunities either in that company or else in that industry. People have the ability to see more than the typical job out there waiting to be filled.

At-Will Employment Simplified

In the previous post we discussed my struggle with creating an at-will employment disclaimer for the staffing manual. It was mentioned that many applicants may not understand the potential benefits and consequences of at will employment and we will pursue this train of thought in this post.

Before we go any further in this discussion, it is important to understand what at-will employment is. In short, at-will employment means that your employer can fire you or ask you to resign at any time, for any reason or no reason, and with or without notice. Conversely as an employee, you can leave your employer at any time for any reason or no reason and with or without notice. You might be thinking, "There's an exception to every rule." If so, then you are correct. There are a few exceptions to at-will employment.

The first exception is called the "public policy exception" which means that an employer cannot fire you if the reason violates state law, or if you refuse to violate state law.

The second exception, "implied contract," means that any policies and written or oral promises that are made by your employer may constitute an employment contract (some call this a "gentleman's contract" or "handshake agreement"). However, many states support disclaimers that are used to invalidate the policies and promises made that guarantee the terms of employment. Also, some states do not automatically assume that the presence of a disclaimer cancels an implied contract and a few states do not recognize implied contracts (with or without a disclaimer). In short, even if your employer has outlined a disciplinary process in its employee handbook or promised you employment for a specific period of time, your employer may not have to follow that process or wait before firing you.

Finally, the "covenant of good faith exception" states that an employer cannot fire an employee in "bad faith." Simply put, this means that your employer cannot fire you for dishonest reasons such as to avoid paying for retirement or severance benefits. However, most states do not recognize this exception.

Hopefully this has helped to better your understanding of the at-will disclaimers that you see on employment applications or in your employee handbook. The next post will demonstrate the importance of understanding these disclaimers before you sign an application or an employee handbook.

Thank you for reading, and warm regards.

Monday, January 07, 2013

At-Will Employment: An Employee's Perspective

During the winter break I prepared some work samples to share with readers and prospective employers.

While putting the final touches on the staffing manual that is included in the work samples, I recalled struggling with the application form because of the legal verbiage that is seen on the last page of many application forms. This verbiage asks the applicant to confirm that the information the applicant provided is true to the best of her/his knowledge, that the applicant understands that a job offer may be contingent upon factors such as drug test and criminal background check results, and the disclaimers that discuss the terms of employment.

I became so frustrated that I asked my mentor, Yvonne, if the ability to create this legal verbiage from scratch was relevant. She pointed out to me that HR students needed to understand what the legal verbiage meant because we would need to explain it to applicants and because we needed to understand the laws that the legal verbiage referred to. That was when it hit me. While many applicants and employees can recite the "at-will disclaimer" verbatim, they may not truly understand what it means or understand its implications. I know I didn't until I encountered a situation in my personal life that made me realize the benefits and consequences of at-will employment.

In the next post we will continue this discussion by defining what at-will employment means in plain English. Until then, thank you for reading.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Work Samples Now Available

The holiday season and the start of a new year usually marks a point in time in our lives when we reflect upon our accomplishments during the previous year and set goals to achieve during the new year.  Since I have been on winter break and preparing myself for another year of college courses, I have used this time to read, edit, and finalize past coursework to present to our followers and prospective employers as work samples.  I included the staffing manual that I have discussed in previous posts, ideas to improve public and employer acceptance of U.S. labor unions, a paper that discusses some sexual harassment terminology and why a sexual harassment policy is needed in organizations, a case study discussing off-duty behaviors and gender identity, 
ethical dilemmas in HR, a paper that discusses different forms of discrimination and offers solutions to prevent discrimination, and a marketing plan for a fictitious company that I created.

I will be adding more to this folder as I complete more course projects; this includes the training program I will need to develop for a real or fictitious company for the training and development course that begins on January 7th.  I will post updates to this blog when I add new content to the folder, and I will also alert followers via my LinkedIn and Twitter accounts.

You can follow this link to access my work samples on Google Drive without signing in.  Please feel free to share any ideas, comments, or feedback with me via this blog, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Earning Letters to Be a Leader

A recent community discussion was raised about the need for a degree and/or certification in order to be eligible for hire as a Human Resource professional. Many perspectives are offered in that discussion. Most lean toward experience and skill plus certification. I remember a lecture from my undergrad Management instructor about being a leader and the qualifications for that role. He set forth the concept that you don't need to have a degree nor a background in the business nor industry that you're leading. What you do need is a knowledge of how to run a business and how to lead. The other details can be delegated to trusted advisers and consultants who are experts in that particular area and who do not have some hidden agenda for power grabbing of their own.

A university degree says the individual has been taught how to think and reason through issues. They have been exposed to the latest principles and concepts. They have managed to pass the academic tests structured to evaluate how well they grasped those concepts. Unfortunately, it became vogue during the '80s and '90s to negotiate an A in whatever course was taken so that the true value of the grade was watered down. Even having a 4.0 academic standing now leaves room for speculation.

Certifications are good milestone checks for how well a person has gained a good understanding of the principles. To the extent they are required at periodic intervals and evaluate new practices and concepts in addition to the basics, they are very useful. But certifications are expensive propositions. In this economy, they are for those who have the funds to take them or work for an employer who is willing to sponsor taking the test.

Which brings me back to the qualifications of a leader. The person has proven experience from many situations and venues. They understand the importance of continued education and endeavor to stay abreast of technology and practices. They look to case studies for guidance where they have no direct experience of their own.

To the extent they demonstrate the essential characteristics of a professional in deportment, demeanor, appearance, and respect for others, in addition to using good judgment, the person without all the letters but with a great amount of experience is just as qualified in many respects.

As a closing thought, some years ago a woman who was a practicing lawyer talked with me at a networking function for recruiters and HR pros. She wanted to transition from law to HR but was getting a lot of resistance and being told she didn't have the necessary qualifications. What I interpreted was that HR folk are extremely territorial. Even though she had the advantages of being a professional from another industry as well as the necessary knowledge of the law as it would apply in essentially all of the situations that would present to her, the established population didn't want an outsider to infiltrate the ranks. Incidentally, I've checked her LinkedIn profile and it appears she finally broke through.

Sponsored Links: