DOL: Workers whose kids can't attend summer camp can take FFCRA leave

Dive Brief:

  • Employees can take paid leave under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to care for their children in instances where a child's summer camp or summer program has been shuttered due to the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) said in a June 26 field assistance bulletin.
  • The federal agency said a closed summer camp or program may be considered the place of care for an employee's child if the child was enrolled in the camp or program before the closure. It noted that "affirmative steps" short of actual enrollment may suffice to prove the summer program was intended to be a child's place of care.
  • A summer camp or program qualifies as closed for the purpose of an employee qualifying for FFCRA leave if the camp or program is operating at a reduced capacity because of COVID-19, the agency said. For children who would have attended, the same analysis — actual enrollment or affirmative steps toward enrollment — applies.

Dive Insight:

The Labor Department said in the bulletin that "the expectation that employees take FFCRA leave based on planned summer enrollments is not different from the closing of other places of care such as a day care center." DOL says it is not adopting a one-size-fits all rule because of "the multitude of possible circumstances under which an employee may establish (1) a plan to send his or her child to a summer camp or program, or (2) that even though the employee had no such plan at the time the summer camp or program closed due to COVID-19, his or her child would have nevertheless attended the camp or program had it not closed."

If proof of a child's summer camp enrollment is not available, DOL provided several examples of ways that parents can prove a child's planned attendance in a summer program, such as:

  • Proof of the submission of an application before the camp's closure.
  • Proof of a paid deposit.
  • Proof of prior attendance and current eligibility.
  • Proof of being on a waitlist.

The agency also said that an employee who requests FFCRA leave must provide the employer information in support of the need for leave either orally or in writing. Such an explanation must include the reason for leave and a statement that the employee is unable to work because of that reason.

SOURCE: Burden, L. (29 June 2020) "DOL: Workers whose kids can't attend summer camp can take FFCRA leave" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/dol-workers-whose-kids-cant-attend-summer-camp-can-take-ffcra-leave/580718/


As Jobs Disappear, Employees Hang On to What They Have

As the coronavirus pandemic has caused many to lose their jobs, some still have been able to hold onto their job that they had prior to the pandemic. Those who have been fortunate enough to keep that job, are now holding onto it. Read this blog post to learn more.


Employees spooked by continuing high unemployment are holding on to the jobs they have at rates not seen in nearly a decade.

While typically a sign of employee loyalty, low turnover these days can also signal fear, hopelessness and stagnation. Employers can head off those negative feelings and maintain morale and energy in the workplace by communicating with empathy and giving employees more control over decisions, experts say.

"Feeling trapped in a job can create a lot of challenges, leading to employee disengagement and burnout," said Dennis Baltzley, global head of leadership development at organizational consultancy Korn Ferry. Channeling that angst into helping the company meet the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic can improve engagement and the bottom line, he said.

'Quits Rate' Plummets

According to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, a monthly report compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees spent the past few years job hopping at historically high rates as the economy and their confidence in the future soared. Then in March 2020, the quits rate—which is the number of jobs quit that month divided by total employment—dipped below 2 for the first time in five years. It fell further to 1.4 in April, the lowest level since April 2011, when the job market was still recovering from the Great Recession.

Typically, quits outnumber layoffs by a wide margin, according to the federal data. But that trend reversed itself in a big way in March 2020, as states began issuing stay-at-home orders to counter the coronavirus pandemic. That month, 11.5 million employees were laid off while only 2.8 million quit their jobs.

In April 2020, another 7.7 million employees were laid off while just 1.8 million quit voluntarily. Meanwhile, only 3.5 million employees were hired into new jobs in April, a low for the 20-year series.

"Right now, most employees are just looking to hang on to the work they do have, rather than trying to find something better. This is particularly true of people in the retail and hospitality industries, areas that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus-led recession," according to an analysis of the data by Quartz. "The weak job market means more people are stuck in jobs that don't fully take advantage of their talents and are generally less satisfied."

Don't Assume Everyone Is Fine

Even if asked directly, employees afraid of losing their jobs aren't likely to express their unhappiness to supervisors. Baltzley recalled a chief executive who marveled at the high satisfaction scores from employees in a recent pulse survey. "I told him, 'They're not fine, they're just not telling you,' " he said. "People put on a brave face. They're going to be grateful to have a job. They will work hard to keep that job, sometimes in unhealthy ways."

To break through that fear and foster a healthier environment, Baltzley recommended that employers:

  • Give employees choices when possible to restore some sense of control. This could include the question of working from home. Employees have a range of feelings about returning to the workplace, with some eager to rejoin colleagues while others dread the thought of increased exposure. "You don't want people to feel it's a requirement if it doesn't have to be. If you give people a choice, you relieve the pressure of feeling trapped."
  • Listen and watch carefully to evaluate how employees are feeling, because they're not likely to tell you. "Are people short of patience, uncommunicative, not addressing the big picture? That could be a sign of being overwhelmed. If you're carefully listening, you can usually tell where people are."
  • Don't double down on control by monitoring remote workers. "You have a bunch of leaders who never had to manage people remotely. They might instinctively want more meetings, more reports, to be sure employees are working, but that is exactly the opposite of what you should do. You want people trying to figure out how to make things happen without you. If they're problem solving, they're more engaged. Otherwise, you will create a workforce that's waiting for instruction."
  • Project empathy, even if employees don't indicate they need it. Leaders can do this by describing what's been difficult or challenging for them during the pandemic. "During a crisis, communication is not about providing information. It's about connection."
  • Work hard to maintain the new level of trust that may have developed during the past few months of shared hardship. "This experience has broken down a bunch of barriers. You don't want to lose that."

Many Still in Survival Mode 

In normal times, the lack of potential for advancement or promotion could lead to employee resentment. But Kimberly Prescott, a human resources consultant in Columbia, Md., who works with a range of small and mid-sized employers, said it's too soon to worry about that.

Prescott noted that safety is one of the most basic needs in Maslow's five-tier hierarchy of motivation. Until a sense of security and safety is restored, most employees won't have the bandwidth to worry much about their status or feelings of accomplishment.

"I think people are happy to have a job right now, based on what I've been hearing," she said. "Job satisfaction at this point is secondary to survival. People are still kind of holding their breath. We're in survival mode: 'I'm alive. I have a job. I have food to eat.' "

To help restore a sense of security and alleviate stress on their workers, employers should go out of their way to communicate the status of the business and what they are doing to ensure the company's survival. This is especially true for employees who've been furloughed and are waiting to be called back.

"This is the time for overcommunicating," Prescott said. "People are hungry for meaningful communication, especially around next steps and business plans. You cannot communicate too much, even if you're saying the same thing week after week. Even if it's just a survey asking how you're feeling, are you able to come back to work?"

SOURCE: Cleeland, N. (02 July 2020) "As Jobs Disappear, Employees Hang On to What They Have"  (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/afraid-to-leave-job-covid.aspx


3 tips for a successful virtual internship program

The coronavirus pandemic has created many disruptions for the workforce and many workplaces. Another disruption that has been caused has been a disruption in career development that is gained through internship programs. Read this blog post to learn more.


The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted all manner of talent development and acquisition activities, including internship programs.

Talent acquisition software firm Yello found in an April survey of college students that more than one-third (35%) of those who had accepted internship offers had seen their internships canceled, while 24% said their internships would be virtual. A separate April poll of employers by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found 22% of employers revoked offers to interns but that generally, "employers are adapting their summer 2020 internship programs by moving as much programming to a virtual space as possible."

Indeed, a number of larger employers have announced in recent months an intent to move internships to virtual status, similar to other roles. Microsoft, which was set to host 4,000 interns this summer, announced its shift to a virtual program in April. Kathleen Hogan, the company's executive vice president and chief people officer, previously said that students would be encouraged to "co-create their summer experience" while the program would also help shape the company's broader virtual employee experience.

Below are three ways employers can enhance their virtual internships.

#1: Choose accessible tech tools

In the scramble to move operations remote, employers have likely settled on solutions for video chat, team communication, presentations and other organizational functions. But it's important that these tools are available and accessible to interns, Bo Goliber, Head of Philanthropy at marketing agency Fingerpaint, told HR Dive in an email.

"We have some tools that work best for smaller, internal meetings, and others that we use for our clients," said Goliber, who is the creator and manager of Fingerpaint's internship program. "Our interns have access to anything our full-time staff would be using."

Shared software can enable interns to work in company systems using their own computers. That's the approach taken by Fannie Mae this summer: The mortgage financing company's nearly 140 interns use programs like Microsoft Teams, Whiteboard and Cisco Webex, Teresa Green, vice president of talent acquisition programs, told HR Dive in an interview. To keep in touch with team members, Fannie Mae's interns also have access to Yammer, a social networking service, as well as a dedicated Microsoft Teams site.

#2: Ensure equity

Even before the pandemic, employers considered a variety of factors, including manager reviews, when assessing interns' performances. In a virtual environment, managers at Fannie Mae work with interns to develop summer work plans that outline an intern's tasks and target skills to be developed and later used as the basis for evaluations, Green said. The company is also collecting feedback from other team members on their interactions with interns.

At Fingerpaint, both managers and interns fill out evaluation forms with questions that focus on areas including communication, presentation, performance and overall skills, Goliber said. The company schedules additional check-ins with teams, managers and the internships facilitators at each of its individual offices.

"Our expectations for both interns and managers remain high, and we ensure proper training to navigate through any possible challenges that may arise from being virtual," Goliber added.

The issue of compensation has been one of concern for recent graduates as they endure the pandemic. Previous research cited in a 2019 analysis by researchers at the Stanford University Institute for Economic Policy Research showed that college graduates who started their working lives during a recession earned less for at least 10 to 15 years than those who graduated during more prosperous years. As COVID-19 impacts interns, some companies have publicly stated their intent to pay interns through the pandemic, sometimes regardless of delayed start dates.

Neither Fingerpaint nor Fannie Mae are changing the ways their interns are compensated this year, Goliber and Green said. In fact, Fannie Mae is also continuing to offer payments to interns for summer housing and commuting costs that have been offered in previous years. "We still honored that, because they made some of those investments already and we didn't want to put them at a disadvantage," Green added.

Fingerpaint has not wavered from the compensation promised to interns in the company's offer letters sent back in February, Goliber said: "Because the capabilities and expectations of our interns did not change, we believe the interns should be paid for their talent and work, no matter where they are physically performing it."

#3: Keep traditions and culture alive

Experience has been a key point of focus for HR departments as employees remain socially distanced, and Fannie Mae has extended this focus to internships by creating "business mentors," a new internal role, according to Green. Business mentors work with interns on building relationships, connecting them with other employees and identifying mentorship opportunities.

The initiative is in part meant to provide a replacement for the lack of "casual collisions," or chance interactions, interns might otherwise have with other employees in a normal office setting, Green said. Fannie Mae interns have connections with their managers, "but we knew they needed more than that," she added. "We needed to create another way to engage with them and show them other areas across the company."

Virtual meetings have replaced coffee runs and lunches for many employers, but interns should have the opportunity to participate as well, Goliber said, which is why Fingerpaint designates times for virtual meetings that allow interns to connect. "We want to ensure everyone feels seen and heard — not only as an intern team, but also as individuals," she added.

Employers should also plan to keep annual traditions alive, however small. Fannie Mae interns will still receive t-shirts, Green said, but they also have the opportunity to participate in virtual community service events. The company confirmed to HR Dive that its interns will participate in a virtual event with the nonprofit Love for the Elderly, collecting homemade cards and mailing them to global older adult communities.

SOURCE: Golden, R. (30 June 2020) "3 tips for a successful virtual internship program" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/3-tips-for-a-successful-virtual-internship-program/580803/


Rethink Work-from-Home Employee Perks

Working from home has become a new normal for many employers and employees. With that being said, it may be time to rethink employee perks that expand flexibility and customize work schedules. Read this blog post to learn more.


As working from home stretches into the summer and beyond at many companies, some firms are adopting interesting, innovative incentives to maintain engagement and productivity among telecommuting employees.

Most common among such perks is the expanded flexibility for personal time off and customized work schedules. But many employers consider those options to be table stakes and are raising the ante. Perks related to food and drink, camaraderie, dress code and new technology are being introduced as HR rethinks and adjusts company culture.

"Pre-COVID, working from home was considered a top employee perk," said Cheryl Fields Tyler, CEO of San Francisco Bay-area firm Blue Beyond Consulting. "Now, it's practically considered an entitlement. And with executives [seeing] how effective their home-working employees have been during this situation, it's likely to stick around even after the recovery."

At her firm, "our teamwork has really stepped up. People are supporting each other more and finding new ways to handle responsibilities to get through this, which will be the lasting benefit of this 'change'."

At IBM, CEO Arvind Krishna created and shared a special eight-point pledge that went viral as a model for other C-suites to follow, putting a "human touch" on his entire workforce.

"With employees and companies making such strides in work-from-home execution, there's going to be a massive rethinking of just how you build culture," Fields Tyler said.

Informality Catches On

Many companies are creating clever ways to connect remote employees during and after the workday ends, usually with fun in mind.

Tampa HR consultant Michelle May Griffin, SHRM-CP, has clients who have created a virtual coffee klatsch once or twice a week, designed with an impromptu gathering-in-the-breakroom feel. "Supervisors aren't invited," she said. "Staff can come and go. It's very informal. People can eat lunch or have a cup of coffee and just talk about anything they wish."

At Centurion, a health care company based in Vienna, Va., HR created a voluntary lunch-time video meeting for employees on Zoom to talk about things other than work, said Jennifer Tyrrell, SHRM-SCP, senior director of HR. ‎

"We did one that was called 'Get Up and Move' based on fitness videos so employees could be active, but that didn't draw a huge crowd," she joked. "Others had better participation, such as 'Just Social: Brown Bag Lunch Buddies' for remote workers to take a break and have virtual lunch to catch up with co-workers, and end-of-day Friday happy hours, including one where we played Pictionary."

Griffin shared another story of a small client. On one Friday afternoon, HR reached out to all employees and took drink orders. It then set up a virtual happy hour on Zoom where employees used their drinks—that the company personally delivered to their homes—to toast another great week.

"The company did a good job, packing them in baskets with other goodies," Griffin said.

As for food, some larger companies are offering stipends for daily lunch pickups or delivery, which has become an unanticipated expense for remote employees "now that they aren't able to take advantage of full cafeterias at work every day," said Chris Hoyt, president of CareerXroads, a membership-based talent community of more than 150 companies.

Zoom Fatigue

Virtual meetings have become so common at most companies that "there is more and more talk of blocking out meetings on multiple days each week to reduce stress and prevent 'Zoom fatigue,'" Hoyt said. "For some, there are entire days where either no meetings are called, or at least none that involve a video log-in. That's a well-being perk."

As for home offices, tech equipment stipends can make work and life easier. Hoyt said one organization gave its remote employees full access to a virtual ergonomic assessment that could help determine what equipment they would need to work most productively and funded those purchases.

At Iona, a social services group in Washington, D.C., employees were provided with office furniture and computer technology delivered to their homes, with set up-help provided, said Stacey Berk, a managing consultant with Expand HR Consulting in Maryland. "They bent over backwards to help their employees," she said.

At some companies, encouragement to take a summer vacation is a well-received perk. "Having spent so much time over the past few months working from home, [employees] are pivoting to summer rentals in remote places instead of theme parks or family reunions," Berk said. "Some employers are allowing staff to extend that time away if they split their work time, and may offer to pay for Wi-Fi connections, additional temporary office resources and supermarket gift cards for these types of vacations so that they can productively work in this capacity."

Wellness Well-Done

Berk sees a trend where clients are providing wellness "relief" to their workers by having group stress-relieving exercises, guest virtual speakers or even comic relief, such as themed summer dress-up days. Hoyt agrees that wellness has become an emerging front for many HR leaders.

"Some have been pushing for the ability to incorporate ideas and strategies for years and now are realizing that the pandemic [is the final catalyst] to get initiatives off the ground and running," he said.

"Some company fitness centers are offering virtual workouts much like commercial gyms do," Hoyt added. "A few employers' in-house trainers are getting creative with programs for people who may not have equipment at home but can do workouts with whatever equipment they might have around."

Personalized mental-health care program offerings also are gaining popularity, Hoyt said, such as LyraHealth and Headspace. Both focus on mindfulness and meditation for stress, anxiety, sleep, attention and fitness and enable participants to track their progress. Other popular programs include MeQuilibrium, a well-being and performance platform that helps employees identify and manage stress; and Sleepio, a digital sleep-improvement program featuring cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

Gifted and Talented

At BHI Insurance in Newark, Del., which boasts 28 employees, HR Director Maria Clyde, SHRM-SCP, offered everyone a list of electronics to choose from as a thank-you gift for adapting well to working from home. She budgeted $40 to $60 per gift.

"We thought that was fitting since everyone who is working remotely is looking to make their lives (and their kids' lives) easier," Clyde said. "I've also seen companies providing headphones and streaming services like Netflix or Disney+ for the kids. People are getting really creative!"

Charitably conscious, Hoyt said some companies are matching or double-matching employee donations to local organizations or for anything related to front-line workers and PPE creation and distribution.

Other benefits that companies can define as perks, Berk said, are a relaxed summer dress standard and the ability to work outdoors, which shows up as an employee's background in virtual meetings. "By not having to wear a blouse or dress shirt, think of the money employees are saving in dry cleaning because they can dress casually," she said. "It's not a lot of savings, but it helps."

Giving employees a greater voice can be considered a perk for some employees. Organizations that previously conducted one employee survey a year—or even every couple of years—are now conducting them more frequently, Berk said. "This gives employees more of a chance to be heard and to have a voice in some policy decision-making, which is one perk you cannot put a price tag on."

Tyrrell said Centurion has conducted more employee surveys recently and found that 90 percent of employees expressed confidence in how the C-suite has been dealing with the crisis, while at-home distractions ranked second lowest among employee challenges.

Many companies are creating incentives for work-from-home employees to voluntarily return to the office. Campus Advantage, an owner and manager of off-campus university student housing, has 70 employees assigned to its Austin, Texas, headquarters.

"Many workers are still afraid to come back," said Angela L. Shaw, SHRM-SCP, vice president of HR. "Our office has a mojo committee that creates fun office events, and we've offered those in the office breakfasts, Taco Tuesdays and yoga classes. On average, we'll have about five employees come in. The others are happy to continue working from home."

Perks on the Chopping Block

Many companies are planning for the next wave of the coronavirus, one that is expected to hit them hard financially during the second half of 2020 and beyond, Berk said. Traditional employee perks likely will be impacted, at least for the short term.

"Expect perks like traditional staff-wide wellness benefits, such as gym memberships, discount programs and celebratory gatherings, will be cut or eliminated and replaced with more modest offerings," Berk said. "Companies are quickly adjusting forecasting and budgeting for the coming year based on the realities of the pandemic. The reimagined office layout and sanitation will be at the forefront for HR and executives, and you could see companies reducing employee benefits, eliminating increases, bonuses, education stipends and executive perks. With the post-pandemic workforce, they have to account for a big in-office sanitation budget and potential reduced profits."

SOURCE: Bergeron, P. (01 July 2020) "Rethink Work-from-Home Employee Perks" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/rethink-work-from-home-employee-perks.aspx


A new tool for employee temperature checks ensures safety and security of workers

As employers begin to move employees back into the workplace, they have to be mindful of new legal guidance that has come from the CDC and HIPAA. In regards to new legal guidelines set into place, employers and management teams will now have to check employee temperatures. Read this blog post to learn more.


Temperature checks will be mandated at workplaces once employees return to the office, due to legal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but privacy concerns could heat up among workers concerned for their security.

“It’s now permissible to take employee temperatures, but if employers store it and keep track of it, there’s no exemption from HIPAA and identity laws,” says Dan Clarke, president of IntraEdge — an Arizona-based tech company.

IntraEdge developed a kiosk that privately takes employees’ temperatures, and only shares the results with the employee, keeping any health information concealed from HR. Instead, managers are simply notified if the kiosk gave their employee permission to enter the office, or not, which completely eliminates the potential for HIPAA violations, Clarke says. The kiosk, called Janus, can also prevent sick employees from entering the office if their temperature is too high.

Clarke spoke in a recent interview about how Janus can help employers protect their workforce, while adhering to privacy laws.

How does Janus help prevent the spread of COVID-19?

If we want to limit exposure to COVID-19, we can’t assign someone in the office to take everyone’s temperature; it’s not efficient and it puts more people at risk. Employers need a digital solution, one that puts them in compliance with HIPAA and privacy laws.

Janus uses an accurate thermal camera to take the temperature of the user. Before using it, employees would need to sign up online and provide information to confirm their identity. After that’s done, they’d go to the kiosk and present their identification through their phone. The kiosk will ask them a few questions about how they’re feeling and the camera will take their temperature. The normal temperature range for each employee is personalized based on the individual’s age and medical history. Many people don’t realize our normal temperature increases as we age. If an employee reads at an unhealthy temperature, they’re not allowed inside the office.

How does this help employers stay compliant with HIPAA and other privacy laws?

Employers don’t have access to their worker’s medical history, or the temperatures read by Janus. The kiosk doesn’t display an employee’s temperature on screen. Instead, the employee will receive a text message telling them their temperature and whether they’re allowed inside the office. Printouts are also available for employees who don’t have smartphones.

Is HR or a manager notified when employees aren’t allowed in the office?

Janus doesn’t share with HR what employees’ temperatures were, only if they were given a “yes” or “no” to enter the office. They can receive a text message whenever an employee is given a “no.” This helps employers stay compliant with HIPAA and privacy laws because they never see the full results, and they’re not stored. But it also helps them keep track of their workforce.

It can also be programmed to notify a security officer that someone didn’t pass the temperature check to ensure compliance. We can also program the kiosk to distribute security badges only to employees who pass the temperature check.

Before coronavirus, employees sometimes came to work sick out of fear their colleagues/managers would question their dedication to their job. Do you think this product will help change that after the crisis is over?

I think the crisis is changing the perception of remote work enough that people will be comfortable saying they’re going to work from home when they don’t feel well. Janus can definitely help enforce it, if the employer chooses, but we wanted to ensure it was useful for employers after the crisis is over. It can also be used to clock employees in and out for work and as office security.

SOURCE: Webster, K. (08 June 2020) "A new tool for employee temperature checks ensures safety and security of workers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/a-new-tool-for-employee-temperature-checks-ensures-safety-and-security-of-workers


Marinate Your Chicken This Fourth of July with Saxon

Happy Fourth of July! In celebration of Independence Day, the Saxon crew has decided to share one of our favorite summer recipes for this month’s Fresh Brew! We hope you all have a safe and happy holiday! 

Marinated Chicken and Onion Kebabs

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c.  plain yogurt
  • 2  plain yogurt 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp.  lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 11/2-inch pieces
  • Canola oil, for grill grates
  • 1 medium-size red onion, cut into 1-inch wedges, then halved crosswise
  • 4 pieces flatbread or naan
  • Cucumber and Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

Directions

  1. Combine yogurt, garlic, ginger, garam masala, turmeric, lemon zest and juice, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a bowl. Add chicken and stir to combine. Let marinate 15 minutes.
  2. Heat grill to medium. Once hot, clean and lightly oil grill grates. Thread chicken and onions onto six large skewers. Grill, turning occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and onion is just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Grill flatbread until lightly toasted, about 1 minute per side.
  3. Serve kebabs and flatbread with Cucumber and Cilantro Yogurt Sauce alongside.

This recipe was provided by Country Living. If you’d like to visit the original source, please click here.

Give It A Try & Share It!


Working from home has improved employees’ connections to their pets

The coronavirus pandemic has caused many employees to work from home for months. Many of those employees have found that working from home has improved their connection with their furry friends. Read this blog post to learn more. 


Richa Namballa, a data scientist and project manager with software company SAP, has been working from home since mid-March due to the coronavirus. She and her 14-year-old dachshund-mix Miles, are living with her parents as they wait out the pandemic. Miles has an enlarged heart and congestive heart failure, so he requires a lot of attention, but working from home allows Namballa to provide him with the care he needs. But Miles isn’t the only one who is benefiting from this arrangement. Having her beloved dog at her side while she works has been a boon to her productivity and mental health.

“Miles has definitely made working from home a lot more enjoyable,” Namballa says. “He's a good distraction once in a while, when you're kind of starting to burn out a little bit. It's definitely nice to be able to talk to him, pet him and take care of him.”

Being at home with Miles also helps to alleviate the worrying she typically does while at the office, as Miles’ vast healthcare needs can be distracting.

“I've had him since he was eight weeks old, so he's been here for a really long time,” Namballa says. “Being at home has also been good because I'm not as worried about him as I was when I was at work.”

Pets have played a huge role in improving a person’s physical and mental health, both pre-pandemic and throughout the coronavirus crisis. Owning a pet can reduce depression and improve a person’s mood, as well as lower cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure, according to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute.

For employees now working from home, those who are doing so with a pet have said they feel a greater bond with their pet and have felt more positive since the start of the pandemic, according to a survey by Banfield Pet Hospital.

Being able to work alongside a pet has “really helped create a sense of well being [during] this pandemic,” says Melissa Marshall, vice president of people and organization at Banfield Pet Hospital. “Pets actually being by our side creates a decompressive environment and it's been very positive.”

That bond has grown as employees spend more time at home. Twenty percent of the surveyed employees say they prefer working alongside their pets over their human co-workers.

And the pets are benefiting too: One-third of owners believe their pets appear to be happier (38%) and more playful (35%) during this time. Pets are also receiving extra love, with 65% percent of owners saying they are showing them increased affection.

However, employees are already preparing to transition back to the office as coronavirus restrictions lift, and are grappling with increased anxiety over how to manage without their pets at their side. Seventy three percent of people are concerned about going back to the office and spending time away from their pets, with 59% worried their dog or cat may suffer from separation anxiety once their new work schedule begins, according to the Banfield study.

For pet-owners anxious about what the future has in store, Marshall has several strategies employees can utilize to make the return to work as easy on their pets as possible.

For instance, employees should ease their pets into a new routine, so there isn’t such a shock for the animal when the owner isn’t there on a 24-hour basis anymore. Another tactic would be to give the pet their favorite distraction leading up to the moment of departure to pivot their attention on to something else.

“There's an element of fear. You've been spending all this time with your pet, and you have to go back to your [pre-pandemic] normal, so it shifts that human-pet bond that's been created,” Marshall says.

Employers are now tasked with figuring out how to incorporate the needs of their pet-owning employees into their return-to-work plans. Pet benefits are currently offered by 15% of organizations, and employers like SAP, Wolverine Worldwide, and Microsoft all offer employees a pet benefit such as dog friendly work environments, dog daycare or pet insurance.

Employers like SAP have recognized the role pets play in employees’ lives during COVID and beyond, and as such have enhanced their pet benefits. Recently, SAP teamed up with retailer Petco to offer a discounted wellness benefit and additional pet insurance coverage for accidents and illnesses, preventive care, and discounts on supplies and services at Petco.

“We recognize that pets are often important members of the family and can help our employees feel safe and secure — especially during times of stress,” Jason Russell, head of North America total rewards for SAP, says. “Offering pet insurance and pet bereavement leave aligns with our overall goal of supporting SAP employees and their families at work and in their everyday lives.”

Pet-friendly benefits like SAP’s pet insurance have helped Namballa afford the extensive medical bills for her dog Miles.

“I don't have to worry about if there's a huge medical expense, like an emergency room visit, because that's going to be covered. It also covers some preventive care,” she says. “I would have never thought about signing up for pet insurance before it was offered as an employee benefit.”

The benefits have also helped Namballa feel appreciated and seen by her employer, especially during times of high stress and anxiety.

“I struggled with mental health problems pretty much my whole life, and having a pet is one of the best therapies that I can think of. Pets are members of your family and they do give you unconditional love,” Namballa says. “I really appreciate it when employers acknowledge how important pets are to their employees. Pet insurance and pet bereavement leave are some of the most important benefits to people like me, and it's just it feels really reassuring when your employer recognizes that.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (23 June 2020) "Working from home has improved employees’ connections to their pets" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/working-from-home-has-improved-employees-connections-to-their-pets


Viewpoint: 12 Tips for Return-to-Work Communications

While employers begin to move their employees back into their offices, communication between team members may not be as strong as they were before working remotely. Read this blog post for helpful tips on communicating when returned to work.


While the move to working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic happened quickly, the return to work will be slower and more complicated.

Employers that haven't made movement back to workspaces and office buildings should think carefully about the implications of the new six-feet-apart world. How will you handle an employee who refuses to wear a mask when required? When will you open the kitchens and make coffee and water available? How many people will you allow in a restroom at a time? Do people have to walk clockwise around the space? Where do you put hand sanitizer stations? Setting aside all of the logistics, how do and will employees feel?

Connect with Employees

Like any other workplace change, making sure employees are aware and understand this new world will be equally as important as the actual changes themselves. Training, education and effective communication are key to returning employees to the workplace.

Below are a number of tips to keep in mind as you communicate return-to-workplace situations:

  • Develop a clear and detailed safe work plan, reviewing any policies that need to be updated.
  • Write in plain, easy-to-understand language.
  • Use images and diagrams where appropriate.
  • Outline what building management is doing, how the company is supporting this effort and clear expectations for employees.
  • Partner with legal counsel. They can help you steer clear of perceptions of discrimination and other potential employee relations or legal issues.
  • Get input from your senior leaders. They should be knowledgeable and included well before you communicate to employees.
  • Train your managers and supervisors on the safe workplan and what is expected of them. They are the front line of employee communications.
  • Use different media to supplement a written plan. Hold a webinar and record it. Create a video, leverage your online employee portal, or do a podcast.
  • Make good use of signs throughout the office to help with key behaviors, including directions to walk down aisles in one direction or to designate one stairwell for walking up and another for walking down.
  • Be clear where employees should go with questions.
  • Start communicating before workers are allowed (or expected) to return to the workplace, and keep communicating to address new issues and concerns as they arise.
  • Explain that the situation is fluid and manage expectations by noting that when new information becomes available the plan will be updated. Communicate those key changes with leadership and employees.

Careful Not to Overdo It

Especially now, employees want to understand what you are doing to keep them safe and to believe that you care. But you don't want to overdo it, either. Whether it's due to a lack of trust or excess worry, some organizations are holding more meetings than usual to "check-in," which employees can find invasive and intrusive.

If "eyes on your employees" was your primary form of performance evaluation, you might be feeling unsettled in this new work-from-home arrangement. In most situations, you've likely hired responsible, talented people who want to, and will, do good jobs under any circumstance. Trust they will, and reward them when they do.

Tip: Let them dictate the check-in frequency. Be willing to tailor your approach to the communication needs of the individuals or groups. Then, over time, survey your employees and ask them how it's working, especially the frequency and content of communications.

Wherever you are along this journey, don't forget employees' needs have shifted and will likely continue to change. Be flexible and willing to adjust your communication approach constantly. Look for that Goldilocks communication approach—not too much, not too little, but just right.

SOURCE: Foster, D. (26 June 2020) "Viewpoint: 12 Tips for Return-to-Work Communications" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/12-tips-for-return-to-work-communications.aspx


The benefits and pitfalls of remote hiring

Hiring employees remotely can have several benefits, but can also come with several pitfalls. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, employers have turned to virtual meetings for several things which also includes virtual interviews. Read this blog post to learn more. 


Companies operating remotely over the past few months have found that hiring, onboarding and training can be done virtually, in a way that’s effective and efficient, thanks to today’s technology.

Since stay-at-home orders went into effect, 51% of respondents have interviewed a candidate remotely, and 42% have extended an offer remotely, according to a report from Addison Group, a national staffing and recruiting firm.

And remote hiring could be here to stay, as 21% of hiring managers believe virtual interviewing will be a permanent benefit moving forward. This can help expand a company’s candidate pool, as people who can’t get time off from work or have problems with childcare can still interview for the available position, says Peg Buchenroth, SVP of human resources at Addison Group.

“For larger teams with several interview rounds, it’s not uncommon for candidates to have more than three interviews ahead of an offer,” she says. “The widespread use of virtual interviews in initial interviewing rounds accelerates the process, saves the hiring organization excess expense and shows respect toward a candidate’s time.”

But the technology can also be the reason an interview goes wrong.

“A technical error could reduce face-to-face time or reflect poorly on the party responsible for the technical difficulties,” Buchenroth says. “Ensure any tools you need, such as Skype or Zoom, are properly set up and working well before the interview.”

The rapid transition to remote hiring routines isn’t always easy — for 56% of hiring managers, this is the first time they performed hiring activities remotely, the Addison Group report finds. For job candidates and employers who are used to, and more comfortable with, in-person interviews, adapting to the new normal of remote hiring can be both stressful and frustrating.

“I think there are some positions where an in-person interview can be hard to replicate, especially if that position is going to require a lot of in-person interaction at some point,” says Candace Nicolls, SVP of people and workplace at Snagajob, a staffing firm for hourly and essential workers. “Sometimes that can be hard to assess remotely unless you have a clearly thought out process.”

With many candidates having kids at home, or not having reliable internet access, it’s also important that employers are compassionate and understanding of potential issues that the work-from-home environment can impose, Nicolls says. Managers should take time to explain the process, and leave room for technical difficulties.

“I think the advantages [of remote hiring] far outweigh the disadvantages,” she says. “But when there are circumstances that people just aren’t able to control, that's actually a real opportunity for hiring managers to show empathy, and it can be a really powerful way to show your brand through all of this.”

Having a standardized remote interviewing process, where all candidates are given the same set of questions, can also help improve diversity and decrease adverse impact and bias, Nicolls says.

“Asking objective questions will help you assess candidates based on a criteria that everybody’s already decided on,” she says. “When people are interviewing face-to-face, those initial first impressions can override some of the candidate answers. We know that relying on that gut instinct when someone walks through the door isn't the best way to make hiring decisions.”

Additionally, remote hiring can be a solution to the safety concerns brought on by COVID-19. Candidates do not have to worry about taking physical safety precautions while entering an office, and employers can keep themselves and their employees safe too, says Kevin Parker, CEO of HireVue, a software company that provides pre-employment assessment and video interview tools.

“As you think about all the challenges that we face, whether in the office or not, having long lines of people coming to the office for interviews — with all those risks associated to both the candidate and the hiring company — has jumped up pretty high on the list of concerns,” Parker says. “Companies are having to re-imagine that in a more virtual way.“

With all the benefits of remote hiring, there’s reason to believe it will be the new normal after the pandemic settles, Parker says.

“We almost made a 10-year leap in 90 days in terms of the way we think about work, remote work and hiring and access to talent,” he says. “The employers are looking more broadly than they ever had before, and recognize that they can find good people almost anywhere. And candidates are recognizing that if they can work from home 20 miles from the office, they can work from home 200 or 500 miles away from the office.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (24 June 2020) "The benefits and pitfalls of remote hiring" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/the-benefits-and-pitfalls-of-remote-hiring


How to Overcome Your Fear of Making Mistakes

During the time of the coronavirus pandemic, there could have been a rise of fear due to each scenario that has gone on around society. Many may feel as if they fear the missteps which may lead to making mistakes. Read this blog post for helpful tips on how to overcome fear. 


The Covid-19 crisis and its fallout — including recession, layoffs, and uneven economic pain — as well as recent protests over police brutality and demands for racial justice have presented many of us with challenges that we’ve not encountered before. The high-stakes and unfamiliar nature of these situations have left many people feeling fearful of missteps. No one can reduce mistakes to zero, but you can learn to harness your drive to prevent them and channel it into better decision making. Use these tips to become a more effective worrier.

Don’t be afraid or ashamed of your fear. 

Our culture glorifies fearlessness. The traditional image of a leader is one who is smart, tough, and unafraid. But fear, like any emotion, has an evolutionary purpose and upside. Your concern about making mistakes is there to remind you that we’re in a challenging situation. A cautious leader has value. This is especially true in times like these. So don’t get caught up in ruminating: “I shouldn’t be so fearful.”

Don’t be ashamed or afraid of your fear of making mistakes and don’t interpret it as evidence that you’re an indecisive leader, or not bold, not visionary. If you have a natural tendency to be prevention-focused, channel it to be bold and visionary! (If you struggle to believe this, identify leaders who have done just that by figuring out how to prevent disasters.)

Use emotional agility skills. 

Fear of mistakes can paralyze people. Emotional agility skills are an antidote to this paralysis. This process starts with labeling your thoughts and feelings, such as “I feel anxious I’m not going to be able to control my customers enough to keep my staff safe.” Stating your fears out loud helps diffuse them. It’s like turning the light on in a dark room. Next comes accepting reality. For example, “I understand that people will not always behave in ideal ways.” List off every truth you need to accept. Then comes acting your values. Let’s say one of your highest values is conscientiousness. How might that value apply in this situation? For example, it might involve making sure your employees all have masks that fit them well or feel comfortable airing any grievances they have. Identify your five most important values related to decision-making in a crisis. Then ask yourself how each of those is relevant to the important choices you face.

Repeat this process for each of your fears. It will help you tolerate the fact that we sometimes need to act when the best course of action isn’t clear and avoid the common anxiety trap whereby people try to reduce uncertainty to zero.

Focus on your processes. 

Worrying can help you make better decisions if you do it effectively. Most people don’t. When you worry, it should be solutions-focused, not just perseverating on the presence of a threat. Direct your worry towards behaviors that will realistically reduce the chances of failure.

We can control systems, not outcomes. What are your systems and processes for avoiding making mistakes? Direct your worries into answering questions like these: Is the data you’re relying on reliable? What are the limitations of it? How do your systems help prevent groupthink? What procedures do you have in place to help you see your blind spots? How do you ensure that you hear valuable perspectives from underrepresented stakeholders? What are your processes for being alerted to a problem quickly and rectifying it if a decision has unexpected consequences?

Broaden your thinking. 

When we’re scared of making a mistake, our thinking can narrow around that particular scenario. Imagine you’re out walking at night. You’re worried about tripping, so you keep looking down at your feet. Next thing you know you’ve walked into a lamp post. Or, imagine the person who is scared of flying. They drive everywhere, even though driving is objectively more dangerous. When you open the aperture, it can help you see your greatest fears in the broader context of all the other threats out there. This can help you get a better perspective on what you fear the most.

It might seem illogical that you could reduce your fear of making a mistake by thinking about other negative outcomes. But this strategy can help kick you into problem-solving mode and lessen the mental grip a particular fear has on you. A leader might be so highly focused on minimizing or optimizing for one particular thing, they don’t realize that other people care most about something else. Find out what other people’s priorities are.

Recognize the value of leisure.

Fear grabs us. It makes it difficult to direct our attention away. This is how it is designed to work, so that we don’t ignore threats. Some people react to fear with extreme hypervigilance. They want to be on guard, at their command post, at all times. This might manifest as behavior like staying up all night to work.

That type of adrenalin-fueled behavior can have short-term value, but it can also be myopic. A different approach can be more useful for bigger picture thinking. We need leisure (and sleep!) to step back, integrate the threads of our thinking, see blindspots, and think creatively. Get some silent time. Although much maligned, a game of golf might be exactly what you need to think about tough problems holistically.

Detach from judgment-clouding noise. 

As mentioned, when people are fearful they can go into always-on monitoring mode. You may have the urge to constantly look at what everyone else is doing, to always be on social media, or check data too frequently. This can result in information overload. Your mind can become so overwhelmed that you start to feel cloudy or shut down. Recognize if you’re doing this and limit over-monitoring or overchecking. Avoid panicked, frenzied behavior.

On its own, being afraid of making mistakes doesn’t make you more or less likely to make good decisions. If you worry excessively in a way that focuses only on how bad the experience of stress and uncertainty feels, you might make do or say the wrong things. However, if you understand how anxiety works at a cognitive level, you can use it to motivate careful but bold and well-reasoned choices.

SOURCE: Boyes, A. (24 June 2020) "How to Overcome Your Fear of Making Mistakes" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/06/how-to-overcome-your-fear-of-making-mistakes