Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

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Workers Cheer Living Wage Victory in Austin

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Barbara DohertyConstruction workers and others in the Austin, Texas, area are celebrating a coalition victory this week after Travis County commissioners approved a first-ever economic development policy that includes a living wage requirement.

The policy requires contractors asking for tax incentives to move into the county to pay all employees at least $11 per hour. It’s a significant improvement over the prevailing construction hourly wage of $7.50.

On the same day the county provision passed, a subcommittee of the Austin City Council passed a similar policy, which will come to the full council in the coming months. As reported in the Austin American-Statesman, both the city and county have been criticized about generous tax incentives offered in recent years to major companies such as Apple and Marriott.

Along with faith-based and student organizations, the Texas Building and Construction Trades Council, the Laborers (LIUNA), the Electrical Workers (IBEW), AFSCME Local 1624, Education Austin (AFT) and Texas State Employees Union (TSEU)/CWA Local 6186 participated in the yearlong campaign spearheaded by the Austin-based Workers Defense Project (WDP). The 1,000-member WDP has worked for 10 years on wage theft and other workers’ rights issues.

Austin Interfaith and United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) were among others that supported the campaign.

“Really, what this means is construction workers are starting to have a say in their working conditions and their pay,” WDP organizer Greg Casar told a celebratory crowd after the county commissioners voted.

This post was originally posted on November 30, 2012 at AFL-CIO NOW. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Barbara Doherty: My dad drove a laundry delivery truck in San Francisco and I came to appreciate unions sitting in the waiting room at the Teamsters vision center there. More than 30 years ago, I joined the international SEIU publications staff (under the union’s legendary, feisty president, George Hardy). Living in California, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., over the years, I have contributed countless news and feature articles, as well as editing, to the publications and websites of unions in the public and private sectors and the construction trades.

Poor Leaders Can Decrease Worker Productivity By Up to 40 Percent

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Mark Harkebe

As Newswise reports, based on employee engagement research by Florida State University business school professor Wayne Hochwarter,

recession-based uncertainty has encouraged many business leaders to pursue self-serving behaviors at the expense of those that are considered mutually beneficial or supportive of organizational goals.

This plays out in behaviors that Hochwarter’s team classified using the biblical Seven Deadly Sins as a framework.  While the percentages attached to each of those “behavioral sins,” based on feedback from more than 700 mid-level workers, is interesting, what appears further down in Newswise’s article caught my attention more from a productive workplace standpoint: FSU found that employees with leaders who committed any of these “sins” said they cut back on their contributions by 40%.  Notably, they were also:

  • 66% less likely to make creative suggestions, and
  • 75% more likely to pursue other job opportunities.

Hochwarter’s findings tell me that workplace qualities that some leaders might consider as soft (or at least far down on the totem pole of what they need to worry about day to day), such as trust, respect, and fairness, are not just “nice to do’s” – they have a real impact on product/service delivery and quality, and company spending on recruiting and retraining.

This is one of the reasons that Winning Workplaces revised our Top Small Company Workplaces award application for 2011 to take a more in-depth look at how things like rewards/recognition and employee leadership development strategies impact business results.  Year after year of our small workplace award program, we see that happier, more highly engaged employees lead to better outcomes, while the opposite lead to a path of lower profitability and competitiveness in the marketplace.

This post is cross-posted on the Winning Workplaces Blog.

About The Author: Mark Harbeke is Director of Content Development for Winning Workplace. He helps write and edit Winning Workplaces’ e-newsletter, IDEAS, and provides graphic design and marketing support. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University.

Companies That Care About Workers' Rights: Apply Now to be Named a 2010 Top Small Company Workplace

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Inc. magazine and the nonprofit I work for, Winning Workplaces, have partnered to find and recognize exemplary workplaces; those that motivate, engage and reward people. A model workplace can offer a critical competitive edge, ultimately retaining employees and boosting the bottom line.

Together, Inc. and Winning Workplaces will identify and honor those benchmark small and mid-sized businesses that offer truly innovative, supportive environments, thus achieving significant, sustainable business results.

“Growing, privately held companies have always excelled at competing based on the people they employ,” states Jane Berentson, Editor of Inc. magazine. “Their innate ability to innovate is woven throughout their cultures, including the way they manage and motivate their employees. Inc.’s partnership with Winning Workplaces is a great opportunity to fully recognize private company excellence in supporting their human capital.”

Click to apply for Top Small Company Workplaces 2010“Winning Workplaces is thrilled to partner with Inc. as we honor truly exemplary organizations who have created workplaces that are better for people; better for business; and better for society,” said Gaye van den Hombergh, President, Winning Workplaces. “These organizations are an inspiration to business leaders looking for ways to leverage their people practices to create more profitable and sustainable companies.”

The application process is open through January 22, 2010. To apply, go to tsw.winningworkplaces.org. The Top Small Company Workplaces will be announced in a special issue of Inc., which will be available on newsstands June 8, 2010, and on Inc.com in June. An awards ceremony, honoring the finalists and winners, will be held at the national Inc. On Leadership Conference in October 2010.

About Inc. magazine
Founded in 1979 and acquired in 2005 by Mansueto Ventures, Inc. magazine (www.inc.com) is the only major business magazine dedicated exclusively to owners and managers of growing private companies that delivers real solutions for today’s innovative company builders. With a total paid circulation of 724,110, Inc. provides hands-on tools and market-tested strategies for managing people, finances, sales, marketing and technology.

About Winning Workplaces
Winning Workplaces (www.winningworkplaces.org) is an Evanston, IL-based not-for-profit, whose mission is to help the leaders of small and mid-sized organizations create great workplaces. Founded in 2001, Winning Workplaces serves as a clearinghouse of information on workplace best practices, provides seminars and workshops on workplace-related topics and inspires and awards top workplaces through its annual Top Small Company Workplaces initiative.

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.

Why Today's Workplace Readers Should Think About Attending The ROI of Great Workplaces Conference

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

You found this blog, or return to it, because you’re interested in workplace rights and employers that follow the law to a tee, right?  Well, you’ll find the latest, best information on both and meet some dynamic business contacts to boot at Winning Workplaces’ 2009 annual event that will be held in Chicago on October 1-2.  We’re calling it the ROI of Great Workplaces Conference.

Click here to:

  • View event summary
  • Add event to your calendar
  • Watch a short highlights reel from our 2008 conference
  • View fees and agenda (note that the agenda is still coming together)
  • Learn about the location
  • Book your room at the event hotel at the special Winning Workplaces rate

Besides the short video of last year’s conference at the above link, you can get a sense of what attendees experienced by checking out my photo recaps on our blog here and here.

Here’s more incentive to attend: Be one of the first 100 people to register and get $100 off your registration.  Just click here and enter coupon code FRSTHUND when prompted.

Some of my favorite moments at this event happen when I meet new business people in between sessions.  This was the case last year when I was finally able to meet and sit down with your host on this blog, Paula Brantner.  I hope I’ll be able to do the same with you this year.

Register now for this event.

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.

What's Wrong with This Picture?

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

The following is cross-posted on the Winning Workplaces blog. I thought it was appropriate for Today’s Workplace’s focus on taking back Labor Day. After all, this holiday should offer pause not just for workers, but for company leaders to reflect on how they can do more with less in this difficult economic environment. Enjoy, and feel free to drop a comment below.
– MH

According to two new, independent employer studies – this one and this one – while more than half of employers are planning to hire full-time employees over the next year, over half also don’t offer paid maternity leave (and those that do provide only around 50% pay, on average).

This recruiting/retention picture doesn’t add up for me.  Companies that believe they’re seeing light at the end of the economic tunnel should focus on pleasing their current workforce and getting employees engaged – especially if they’ve had to make some wage or other concessions since the beginning of the recession.  This is all part of sharing the recovery as well as the pain with workers.

This is not to say that companies that see more demand shouldn’t hire more talent to meet it.  But while they make plans to do so, they should use this time as an opportunity to ramp up their benefit packages and other methods for improving productivity and commitment so their existing knowledge base is fully on board for the increased workload – and so they can serve as better ambassadors to acclimate new hires to the organizational culture.

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment that the above-mentioned studies represent conflicting human capital strategies?

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.

Another Reason to Create a Winning Workplace: Less Litigation

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

In recent posts on our blog I’ve mentioned the following as ROI for small organizations that define employee engagement, build and utilize practices to engage employees, and turn to manager team building to create a strong culture that trickles down from leadership:

But there’s another one that has perhaps a greater impact on the bottom line than any of the above: greatly decreased chance of a stakeholder (employee, supplier, customer) bringing forth a lawsuit against your business.

I was astounded to read on HR Daily Advisor recently that according to a survey by the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., close to 4 out of 5 companies experienced new litigation in 2008.  Compare that to cases you could count on one hand among the 70 companies that make up our Top Small Workplaces Winners and Finalists over the last two years.

And virtually all of those were due not to egregious behavior by the managers or the leadership (not as a result of a toxic company culture), but by natural oversights or miscalculations in contracts and other arrangements between employees and the company.  In addition, to my knowledge these cases were settled quickly and amicably.

So if you want your organization to fall among the 21% that are litigation free, your seemingly “soft” focus on fostering good team building can go a long way toward making that happen.

Your thoughts?

Cross-posted from the Winning Workplaces blog.

About the Author: Mark Harbeke is Director of Content Development for Winning Workplaces.  Mark’s role is to ensure that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University.Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.

What Will First Lady Michelle Obama's Work-Life Balance Efforts Look Like?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

We have heard for some time that Michelle Obama’s pet concerns on the campaign trail, which she hoped to be able to continue while in the White House – and will indeed be able to after last week’s dramatic election finish for her husband, President-Elect Barack – are helping families create a healthy work/life balance and easing the struggles for military families.

It’s no wonder the former is an issue that’s close to Mrs. Obama’s heart.  This article from the UK-based Telegraph newspaper talks about her own work/life balance struggles, in three distinct phases of her life: while growing up on the South Side of Chicago and seeing an ailing father continue to work hard, and leave business matters at the office; while herself transitioning from the legal field to civic and community work after marrying Barack and having their two daughters, Malia and Sasha; and most recently while Barack was on the campaign trail.

Mrs. Obama even wrote a heartfelt essay on the topic of work/life balance last month on the popular BlogHer community of women bloggers.  Here’s how she spells out the plight for working women:

As we all know, our country is in the midst of a major economic crisis.  And we’re all feeling the effects.  …

And folks are feeling it at the workplace.  Because right now, thousands of women across the country don’t have family leave at their jobs.  And those who do can’t afford to take it because it’s not paid.  And 22 million working women don’t have a single paid sick day.

That’s just unacceptable.  Families shouldn’t be punished because someone gets sick or has an emergency.

This is from the employee perspective, but Obama’s cause has direct implications for small and midsize business leaders.  Morra Aarons-Mele, a graduate student specializing in women and leadership, framed this exceptionally well recently on The Huffington Post,

Why should we care about “work life” issues when our savings and retirement funds are literally halving by the day?  Because “work life,” as nondescript as it may sound, is the stuff that keeps American families afloat.  Work life refers to issues ranging from sick leave to health care to early education and child care.  It also encompasses flexibility and better work-life balance, which have strong effects on companies’ bottom lines and employee productivity.

So what would organizations’ employee engagement activities geared toward helping workers achieve a more harmonious balance look like – ideally – four or eight years from now?  Obama hinted at this during a plenary address she gave at our annual small business leadership conference two years ago, when she spoke about creating relationships between businesses and the community.

Community organizing didn’t just help Barack become President-Elect; it has also helped his wife use resources at her present employer, the University of Chicago (and later its Hospitals) to transcend both entities from simply a “name” in their neighborhood to a visible, tangible source of inspiration and assistance.

As we spelled out in our article summarizing her remarks at our event, Obama pointed to the creation of such initiatives as school “Principal-For-A-Day” and community fitness programs as ways to not only bring the University’s and Hospitals’ employees out in the open, but to better connect their passions to their work.

This model has been readily adopted, to great effect, by some of the firms we’ve since honored as Top Small Workplaces.  For instance, 2008 winner The Redwoods Group, an insurance provider for YMCAs and Jewish Community Organizations that’s based in North Carolina, requires its 100 employees to volunteer 40 hours of service annually to nonprofits.  A condition of their employment, the company argues this has contributed directly to their steady employee growth (27% over the last two years) – including the ability to recruit cost effectively – and industry-low turnover (less than 6% on average the last two years).

So one plausible – again, ideal – work/life balance scenario is the government serving an encouraging, perhaps advisory role in helping small business leaders adjust their employee engagement best practices so employees can focus their passions on helping their communities, while at the same time benefitting the organization through enhanced workplace team building and lower rates of absenteeism and presenteeism.

Do you concur?  Or do you see Obama’s work/life-related efforts playing out differently?

Cross posted at Winning Workplaces

How Small Business Could be Reshaped After Today's Election

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be an endorsement of any party or candidate but, rather, an exploration of issues affecting small business as shaped by what will *most likely* happen at the polls today.

Today’s election will be historic, no matter the outcome.  If you’re anything near the political junkie that I am, you’ve been watching for the last few days the result projections of some of the major pundits from the basic and cable news networks, as well as from some of the bookies.

If there is a commonality here, it is that Barack Obama looks poised to win fairly big or really big; and that the Democrats will make gains in both the House and Senate – although the Senate “magic 60″ number is still a far cry as of this writing.

Yet, if we assume the above, as David Gergen has noted on CNN, even without the Dems getting a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, they would still have a greatly enhanced ability to push through legislation that supports their agenda, with a president ready (on most issues) to sign it into law.

How would this scenario affect small businesses?  A look at four issues that are central to their survival and success – two of which have been covered at length by candidates of the two major parties and the media, and two of which have been largely ignored – offer a clue.

Taxes

  • Obama’s plan, as detailed on his website, stresses cuts in capital gains taxes and additional tax cuts for corporations that create jobs in the U.S.
  • The Democratic Party website also talks about efforts of the majority Democratic Congress (elected in 2006) to “slash regulations on small companies.”
  • Point of contention: The now-familiar “Joe the Plumber” caveat: Entrepreneurs who start businesses that generate more than $250,000 in annual revenues would see their taxes go up – albeit to 1990s levels.

Healthcare

  • Obama: Establishment of a new Small Business Health Tax Credit to help small firms provide affordable health insurance to their employees.  He has also talked about creating an insurance pool that individuals and small firms can pay into and receive the same benefits that members of Congress receive.
  • Democratic Party: Emphasis on cutting bureaucratic waste – chiefly by standardizing electronic medical records – that would, along with incentives to increase competition among health plans, reduce company-paid premiums over time.
  • Point of contention: Nationalizing healthcare, which would mandate the coverage of children, would keep costs high.

Changes in Labor Laws – Specifically Enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)

  • Obama: A Proponent of the EFCA; wants to make it easier for employees to form unions.
  • Democratic Party: Behind the EFCA. They also list a goal of raising the minimum wage.
  • Point of contention: The EFCA and federal increase in the minimum wage are both hotly contested issues, with adoption of both falling pretty squarely in the “workers, yay; business leaders, nay” columns.  Since the federal minimum wage was just raised in July, the EFCA bill, if it were highly modified, might stand a better chance of gaining the support of small business leaders in the shorter term.

Immigration Reform

  • Obama: Reduce the bureaucracy that slows the process for illegal immigrants to earn legal status, which he argues will “meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill.”  Crack down on employers that hire undocumented immigrants.
  • Democratic Party: Supports “economic development in migrant-sending nations, to reduce incentives to come to the United States illegally.” Long-term, this would ensure that tax dollars from businesses as well as individuals aren’t stretched as thin.  The party also echoes Obama’s above concerns.
  • Point of contention: This is a sticking point for leaders of some smaller firms that are actively hiring undocumented workers.  Most other business leaders seem concerned that their taxes are not raised for inadequate or unnecessary measures to secure our borders.

So, would a fly on the wall of a small organization in February 2009 see a noticably different landscape than in the same firm today?  Probably not.  Still, it doesn’t hurt to project how the probable shift in the balance of power in Washington after today will play out for these enterprises.  Who knows, it may even shape smaller-scale efforts – the things we love to talk about and help our clients refine – like employee engagement best practices and workplace team building.

What say you?

(Cross-posted from Winning Workplaces Blog)

What Makes a Job Great?

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

If you’ve paid attention to this blog, or the Workplace Fairness website, you know that we often have the job of sharing bad news, or the worst of what goes on in the American workplace. But what does it take to make a place a great one to work? With all of the bad news out there, we might be tempted to settle for just the absence of some of the worst legal violations and unfair practices. But there are some ways that employers can truly distinguish themselves, as acknowledged by some of the leading contests and recognition programs out there.

Around this time every year, Fortune Magazine names its list of 100 Best Companies to Work For (just in time for those starting their post-holiday job searches, perhaps?). The very best company selected, Google, didn’t even exist a decade ago, but has quickly developed a reputation as a great place to work — so much so that they receive 1300 resumes a day. It’s partially the perks: free meals with 150 feet of every desk, swimming spa, and free doctors onsite. And those are just the most noteworthy. But those who work there also say it’s the culture: “Life for Google employees at the Mountain View campus is like college. It feels like the brainiest university imaginable – one in which every kid can afford a sports car (though geeky hybrids are cooler here than hot rods).” (See Life Inside Google.)

It’ s certainly not the 9-5 hours: “Hours are long – typical for Silicon Valley – and it’s not unusual for engineers to be seen in the hallways at 3 a.m. debating some esoteric algorithmic conundrum.” (See Working in the Googleplex.) Google turns on its head the whole idea of work/life balance, in that those who get hired are often selected for their “diverse outside interests,” yet once they come to Google, they find “such a cozy place that it’s sometimes difficult for Google employees to leave the office” — which is precisely the point. (See Life Inside Google.)

A quality that Google and Genentech, the #2 best place to work, share, according to Genentech CEO and Google board member Art Levinson is, “the environment, one where they have an ability to pursue things largely on their own terms.” (See Life Inside Google.) So a sense of control over your own career destiny is certainly important as well. Let’s be honest, too — the stock options which have made many Google employees millionaires several times (or several hundred times) over don’t hurt either. There are some Google employees just waiting to vest, so many that they’re referred to “resting and vesting.” (See The Perks of Being a Googler.)

And having a good boss is important for most workers: a recent Florida State University study shows that nearly two of five bosses don’t keep their word, and more than a fourth of them bad-mouth workers they supervise to co-workers, creating problems for companies such as poor morale, less production and higher turnover. (See Orlando Sentinel article.) As the study author, Wayne Hochwarter, points out, “They say that employees don’t leave their job or company, they leave their boss.” (See FSU News.)

Our friends at Winning Workplaces have already found some of the best bosses out there, in their annual Best Bosses contest. Now they’re at it again, in a quest to honor some of the best small workplaces. Perhaps where you work will never be able to compete with the Googles and Genentech’s of the working world, but on a much smaller scale, you’ve got it pretty good. Then you’ll want to submit your nomination for consideration as one of Winning Workplace’s Top Small Businesses of 2007. You’ll need to hurry, though: the nomination deadline is January 31, 2007.

And in the meantime: if your job isn’t great, or your boss isn’t great — what will it take? Is there a role you can play in making the situation a better one? Or is it time to stop complaining and start looking? Comparing your job to either the best or the worst might be just what it takes.

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