Why your employees need integrative wellness benefits

As employers look for innovative ways to support employee health and well-being during the pandemic, many have been relying on telehealth options and apps. But these alternatives are leaving employees with critical care gaps.

“Conventional care has left people to manage their own healthcare,” says Bill Gianoukos, CEO of Goodpath, a personalized care platform. “There’s been an uptick in telehealth services that do one of the components, but we’re providing a single solution that manages your entire care.”

“People are stitching solutions together, which leaves the patient to mimic what's currently broken in the conventional care system,” he says. “The employee is going out and picking and choosing solutions that may not be right.”

His platform, Goodpath, addresses musculoskeletal, sleep, digestive and behavioral health challenges through an integrated care plan. Clients work with a coach and also receive a box of products, like exercise bands and posture correctors.

“We believe in treating the whole person versus just going after the symptom,” Gianoukos says.

In a recent interview, Gianoukos discussed the health challenges facing employees as COVID persists, and why employers may be hesitant to launch integrative wellness programs.

How does integrative wellness differ from more conventional healthcare solutions?

The U.S. healthcare system is built around things that affect life expectancy, not chronic conditions that affect quality of life. Conventional care has left people to manage their own healthcare — everything from taking prescription medication, to going to see a specialist, to doing imaging, to physical therapy — you're just left on your own to manage your care.

When it comes to behavioral health, people don't necessarily understand how much behavioral wellness affects overall underlying conditions. [At Goodpath], you come to us with a condition and we will take you through that journey. We will manage your physical therapy and exercise. We will create programs for nutrition. We will create and administer behavioral health programs. We look at all of the multimodal approaches to an integrative care program versus a conventional single-point solution.

What are some of the benefits to this approach, from a productivity and cost-saving perspective?

For back pain alone, an integrative approach might save $11,000 in costs per employee per year. There are many productivity gains, not only from days lost in the office, but productivity lost because of inefficiencies. The average person suffering from a musculoskeletal issue sees 12 days of productivity loss a year. We also make a coach available to you. We believe that any program that actually has a human component has a much higher adherence rate than a standalone digital solution.

Building an integrative approach is very difficult. We see upwards of 12 different specialties represented, from physical therapy to a nutritionist, to a pharmacist, to primary care, to pain management experts. It's very difficult to go and build these complete integrative solutions. So I don't necessarily think you're going to see a lot of companies trying to do this.

What health challenges do you think will see the most need in 2021?

We’re focused on three of the largest conditions afflicting the U.S. population today: musculoskeletal, which can be considered as back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain; insomnia, which also includes fatigue; and then digestive issues like IBS. All of these have a large emotional and mental well-being component. We continuously look at improving and offering more solutions. For example, we’ve trained our coaches on good office ergonomics. Our goal is to keep on offering higher quality solutions for each one of the programs that we're dealing with.

[Some employees] need more urgent care than can be provided through digital therapy. So that’s when we work with employers to integrate with EAPs. We definitely believe that EAPs add a lot of value — we're solving slightly different problems, but overall we're trying to improve the health and the quality of life for all employees at these companies.

SOURCE: Place, A. (25 January 2021) "Why your employees need integrative wellness benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/why-your-employees-need-integrative-wellness-benefits


What does work look like in 2021? Workplace experts share their predictions

No one could have anticipated the total upheaval to the workplace in 2020 — the transition to remote work, a new reliance on technology, persistent pressures on employee mental health and well-being, child care concerns — the year was a roller coaster of crisis management for organizations and HR leaders.

With the one-year mark since coronavirus engulfed the U.S. now here, employers and employees are starting 2021 with one question: What will work be like this year?

“We are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic. Companies are better able to plan and make decisions about what is going to happen in the next six to twelve months,” says Brie Reynolds, career development manager at FlexJobs, a remote job searching platform.

While the transition to remote work seemed challenging at the start of the pandemic, employers are feeling more confident about their business success in 2021. Forty-four percent of executives believe the economy will improve this year, according to a survey by the Employer Associations of America. That confidence is leading employers to make important business decisions regarding pay raises and hiring: 64% of employers plan to implement salary increases, and 26% plan to boost their recruiting efforts.

“The pandemic has forced companies to be agile and innovative during these uncertain times,” says Mark Adams, director of compliance for EAA, an advocacy group that helps employers stay compliant with labor laws. “While expenditures are being scrutinized now more than ever before, the need to invest strategically remains important as businesses seek to rebound in 2021 and make up for lost ground.”

Remote work is here to stay

At the start of the pandemic, employees struggled to meet the demands of the digital workplace without many of the resources and benefits of the in-person office. Almost one year later, there’s little doubt that remote work has changed the way we work forever.

“Companies made it through almost a full year of remote work with relatively few problems,” Reynolds says. “Most companies are reporting that remote work was successful, and employees want it to continue. Companies are ready to make the switch now that they’ve really had a chance to test it out.”

Seventy percent of employees would like to continue to work remotely part of the time post-COVID, according to Glassdoor. Not only has remote work boosted productivity for some groups, the trend has offered employees an opportunity for better work-life balance and the freedom to live and work away from expensive corporate hubs, like Silicon Valley and cities such as New York and Los Angeles.

“If you're able to open yourself up to remote work, you can get more diversity in your workforce in terms of people's experience and their backgrounds,” Reynolds says. “That’s becoming increasingly important for employers to pay attention to.”

While organizations like Facebook and Slack have announced their employees can work remotely indefinitely, they’ve also suggested they’d make potential pay cuts for employees living in areas with a lower cost of living. Twenty-six percent of employers plan to base compensation on location, according to Willis Towers Watson. But 62% percent of employees would be willing to take a paycut if it allowed them to work from home, according to a survey from software companies GoTo and LogMeIn.

Thirty-five percent of workplaces do not have a firm plan for fully reopening their office, while 16% hope to reopen during Q1, according to a survey by The Conference Board. Hanging in the balance is the ability to have protective policies in place so that the workplace population feels safe, says Gary Pearce, chief risk architect at Aclaimant, a workplace safety and risk management platform.

“Protection is a must, not a nice to have,” Pearce says. “If you can't demonstrate that you're protecting your own people, you're not going to be able to keep employees.”

Workplace safety and vaccination protocol

With two vaccines currently on the market, a return to pre-COVID life is becoming easier to imagine. But ensuring that employees get the vaccine before returning to the workplace is the newest workplace debate confronting employers.

Just half of employees believe their employer should require a COVID-19 vaccine before allowing employees to return to work, according to Eagle Hill Consulting. Gen Z employees were the most on-board with a vaccine mandate, with 62% supporting a requirement, compared with 50% of Millennials and 46% of Generation X and baby boomer employees.

“If you're going to have that requirement, you have to have all the administrative processes in place. How do you verify as an employer that somebody went and got it? What documentation will suffice?” Pearce says. “I think the best case is when it doesn't have to come down to a mandate, but rather people are persuaded by having been given the best information, that this is the right thing to do to protect their family and to protect their fellow workers.”

Other safety precautions like frequent testing, social distancing and mask wearing will become a new way of life back at the office. The Conference Board found that 82% of employers plan to purchase safety equipment like masks, cleaning supplies and contactless entry devices, and 80% will enforce policies like limiting the number of employees allowed in the workplace at a time.

“You can't lose those safety protocols,” says Judi Korzec, CEO and founder of VaxAtlas, a vaccine management company. “It's going to take time to get to that point where you say, ‘Enough [employees] are vaccinated.’ If you're vaccinated, you don't need the test, but you need one or the other to keep your population safe.”

Implementing programs that incorporate consistent COVID testing and other safety precautions will be critical to establishing trust with employees after a year of mixed messages and ever-changing protocols, Korzec says.

“Employers are trying to do the very best they can and get their businesses back and follow the rules, but those change very quickly. It was so hard to keep up with and there probably was a little bit of lost trust there,” Korzec says. “The more tools and communication and orderly processes employers bring to the table, they’ll regain [employee] trust, because everyone wants their life back.”

Continued reliance on technology

Despite the challenges of COVID, employees have an overall positive attitude toward their employers and the way they’ve been supported during the pandemic. Seventy-eight percent of employees say their employer has handled the challenges of the pandemic appropriately, according to McKinsey. More than a quarter of employers have boosted employee benefits since the start of the pandemic, research by Fidelity Investments found.

Employers have looked seriously at ways to better support their workplace population, often turning to technology to fill in the gaps. Virtual nutrition programs, online access to therapy and holistic mental health care, virtual parental support groups and other programs will continue to be a critical component to help employees balance the demands of their work and home lives.

“When organizations systematically show that they care for their employees, they get better results,” says Laura Hamill, an organization psychologist at Limeade, an employee experience software company. “I think that something that is front and center to everybody in HR right now is the well-being of our employees and there have been a lot of impressive ways that organizations are emphasizing that.”

Employers must be empathetic to the challenges their employees have continued to face during this crisis, Hamill says. An ability to share openly can be key to building a more loyal and resilient workforce during COVID and beyond.

“It's time to have a radical change in how we think about work. In order for real change to happen, you have to be able to envision it first. You have to be able to say, ‘I could see how caring for people and being more human at work could happen in my company,’” Hamill says. “This global pandemic has forced us to see that when you treat people like human beings, when you care about them, it's just better for the employees — and it's better for your business.”

SOURCE: Place, A. (25 January 2020) "What does work look like in 2021? Workplace experts share their predictions" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/workplace-trends-for-2021


Can employers mandate workers be vaccinated before returning to work?

With COVID-19 vaccines now being administered in the U.S., planning for a post-pandemic future could soon be a reality. As employers prepare to reopen offices, they have to consider whether they are going to require employees be vaccinated, and have the processes in place to support such a mandate.

“Protection is a must, not a nice to have,” says Gary Pearce, chief risk architect at Aclaimant, a workplace safety and risk management platform. “If you can't demonstrate that you're protecting your own people, you're not going to be able to keep employees.”

The Pfizer vaccine has been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and will provide 100 million doses of the vaccine by the end of March, 2021. A second vaccine from Moderna is undergoing authorization from the FDA this week. Moderna has also promised 100 million doses by March.

Sixty percent of Americans say they would "definitely" or "probably" get a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Pew Research Center. Twenty-one percent say they do not plan to get vaccinated.

Employers may be tasked with mandating employees be vaccinated before returning to work. This tactic could be challenging because of personal opinions about vaccines, as well as the timeline of the roll out.

“There's still a lot of objection about vaccinations. Part of it is concern and part of it is ignorance,” Pearce says. “Given the reality, it won’t be like we’re flicking a switch. The vaccine will roll out over time.”

While employers are eager to return to the physical workplace, ensuring the safety of their employees must be top priority, Pearce says. Employers should communicate frequently and openly with employees to ensure they feel heard and their concerns are being met. He shares how employers can navigate vaccine mandates for COVID-19 and the best way to enforce these rules before returning to work.

 Can employers require employees to have the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to work?

It's pretty clearly established that yes, [individual] employers can require mandatory vaccinations, as a matter of prior health crises and common law. There'll be some industries where it's going to be a mandate, like in healthcare, for example. But private employers generally can require their employees to be vaccinated.

There are some exceptions. If somebody has a medical condition that puts them at a reasonable risk, then you have to go through the traditional Americans with Disabilities Act dialogue of determining whether a reasonable accommodation can be provided or whether having to provide such an accommodation would constitute an undue hardship. The second big issue is that if you have somebody who has a bonafide religious objection, you have to take that into consideration. You might want to make an accommodation, but that obligation is not absolute.

 How can employers enforce this rule?

If you're going to have that requirement, you have to have all the administrative processes in place. How do you verify as an employer that somebody went and got it? What documentation will suffice? How will you ensure confidentiality of this medical information?

If somebody is very resistant to this mandate, they could be a workplace disrupter. If ultimately you say, ‘You’ve had the opportunity to follow the mandate,’ then what else are you willing to do to make good on that? You should be prepared to find qualified replacements.

You can't just base your program and processes around what COVID-19 regulations are, because they are almost always retroactive to real world developments. Instead, base it around what the right thing is to do for your workforce, and use your relationships with your employees as a way to shape and inform the program you establish.

What are some alternatives to an employer mandate to get employees on board with this policy?

There's a certain trust culture and an existing relationship you have with your workforce. The science and information regarding COVID is constantly changing, and there will be a lot of questions. So where will employees turn for guidance and information? One of the places they're going to turn is their employer. The employer is going to be a source of information as the vaccinations roll out, so they need to ensure they’re conducting business safely to make employees confident in what they're doing. Employers need to be proactive and repetitive in terms of communication with their workers.

Employees are going to have a sixth sense for whether they trust the message from their employer. They may not like it, but at least if it's credible and they understand the reasoning and that the employer is trying to balance the needs of the public and fellow workers, people are going to get with the program. I think the best case is when it doesn't have to come down to a mandate, but rather people are persuaded by having been given the best information, this is the right thing to do to protect their family and to protect their fellow workers.

SOURCE: Place, A. (10 December 2020) "Can employers mandate workers be vaccinated before returning to work?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/can-employers-mandate-workers-be-vaccinated-before-returning-to-work


Three Communication Tips to Raise Productivity

Communication is often the key to success especially within the workplace and during team projects. If communication expectations are laid out and shown to employees, the chance of higher productivity is more common. Read this blog post for helpful tips.


If you're looking for ways to bump productivity, rescue slumping performers or improve teamwork, start with your expectations. These subtle—but very powerful—elements of your leadership toolkit can produce lasting results.

Raising your expectations doesn't require you to adopt a perpetual cheery optimism, but it does require you to make a brutally realistic assessment of current conditions. If productivity is low, cycle time is horrible and/or quality is poor, you need to acknowledge the facts—or you'll never be able to improve performance. And part of that brutal assessment requires looking in the mirror. Perhaps, without realizing it, your underlying beliefs are contributing to the performance situations you see around you.

Three components make up the messages you send: the words you use, the way you say them and your nonverbal cues.

Words

Here are some examples of how to frame your expectations for performance improvement in three different situations.

  • If productivity is down, you might say: "Well, as we look at productivity, we can see that it's 2 percent below where it was last year. I know we can get back to where we were—and eventually beyond—because we have the horsepower right in this room to do it." In selecting these words, you've acknowledged where performance is and expressed confidence about improvement.
  • If you're making progress in an area—but more progress is required—the message might be: "While we're making progress on quality, it's still not where it needs to be. I know we can get to where we need to be by continuing our Six Sigma efforts. Let's look and see where we need to put our resources next."
  • If performance is good and you want to boost it more, the message should be: "Cycle time is good, never been better. Let's look at how to cut it even further. I know we can do it if we work together to figure out how."

In each example, your words describe the present situation in simple and direct terms and also express confidence in moving to further improvement.

Verbal Intonations

The tone of your voice is the second element of your message. Everyone has experienced situations where the words sent one message and the tone of voice sent another. When there's a conflict, most people believe what is conveyed by the tone of your voice. So, make sure that your tone matches the positive message of your words. Not only should you avoid the obvious mismatch, but also the unintentional mismatch—those occasional situations where your words say one thing and your tone of voice says another.

Nonverbal Cues

The bulk of the meaning lies here. You can say the words, and your tone of voice can match the words. But if you're looking around, tapping your fingers, shaking your head "no" or doing any one of the hundreds of other seemingly little things that say, "I don't believe in you," you're not going to get the performance you want. Here are five categories to check yourself against:

1. Body position. If your arms are crossed, your legs are crossed away from the person you're communicating with or you're giving the "cold shoulder," then you're sending negative messages. On the other hand, if your body position is open—you're facing the person rather than looking away—you communicate honesty, warmth and openness. If your posture is erect rather than slumping, you communicate positive beliefs. And if you're leaning slightly forward, you demonstrate interest in the other individual.

2. Hand gestures. Avoid tapping your fingers ("I'm impatient"), hiding your mouth ("I'm hiding something"), wagging your finger (the equivalent of poking someone with your finger) and closed or clenched hands ("I'm upset"). These gestures all conflict with an "I believe in you" message. Instead, use open hands with palms up ("I'm being honest with nothing to hide") or touching your hands to your chest ("I believe in what I'm saying"). Both of these emphasize a positive message.

3. Head. If your head is shaking back and forth or tilted off to one side, you're sending a message of disbelief. On the other hand, if your head is facing directly toward someone and you're nodding up and down, you're delivering a nonverbal message of belief and confidence.

4. Facial expressions. Smile, and keep your mouth relaxed. Show alertness in your face and act like you're ready to listen. Do these regularly and you'll have created an open communication pattern with someone who will believe in your sincerity. On the other hand, if you're tight-lipped, are clenching your jaw muscles and have only a grim smile, no smile at all or a frown, you'll send a message that says: "No way can you possibly succeed at this project."

5. Eyes. Maintaining good eye contact is one of the most important nonverbal signals you can send. It conveys the message, "I'm interested in you and when I say I believe in you, I really do." Making sure that your eyes are open wide is also helpful. Squinting can deter the recipient. Worse yet is looking around, paying attention to other things and not paying attention to the person or topic at hand.

Communicate high expectations well enough and you may even have to step aside to avoid getting run over by a team of committed players whose performance is accelerating.

SOURCE: Connellan, T. (29 September 2020) "Three Communication Tips to Raise Productivity" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/three-communication-tips-to-raise-productivity.aspx


Offices struggle with COVID-19 social distancing measures

Across the nation, many are beginning, if they have not already, are allowed to work from their offices, instead of having to work remotely. Now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are several new protocols that many may struggle to maintain. Read this blog post to learn more.


Millions of workers in recent months have returned to offices outfitted with new pandemic protocols meant to keep them healthy and safe. But temperature checks and plexiglass barriers between desks can't prevent one of the most dangerous workplace behaviors for the spread of COVID-19 — the irresistible desire to mingle.

“If you have people coming into the office, it’s very rare for them consistently to be six feet apart,” said Kanav Dhir, the head of product at VergeSense, a company that has 30,000 object-recognition sensors deployed in office buildings around the world tracking worker whereabouts.

Since the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, the company has found that 60% of interactions among North American workers violate the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s six-foot distancing guidelines, as do an even higher share in Asia, where offices usually are smaller.

Most people who can work at home still are and likely will be until at least mid-2021. But as some white-collar workers begin a cautious return, it’s becoming clear how hard it is to make the workplace safe. A bevy of sophisticated sensors and data are being used to develop detailed plans; even IBM’s vaunted Watson artificial intelligence is weighing in. In many cases the data can only verify what should be evident: The modern office, designed to pack in as many workers as possible, was never meant to enforce social distancing.

To date, the coronavirus has infected more than 8 million Americans and is blamed for 220,000 U.S. deaths. So far, efforts to get large numbers of workers into the office haven’t worked out very well. Some workers at Goldman Sachs Group and JPMorgan Chase tested positive after they returned to work and were sent home. With infection rates rising again nationwide, many companies have told most employees to work from home until next year, or even forever. Michigan’s governor approved new rules last week that bar employers from forcing workers back to the office if they can do their job at home.

For those employers pushing ahead with a return to the office, sensors that measure room occupancy are proving to be a necessity, said Doug Stewart, co-head of digital buildings at the technology unit Cushman & Wakefield, which manages about 785-million-square feet of commercial space in North and South America. Most offices are already fitted with sensors of some kind, even if it’s just a badging system or security cameras. Those lagging on such capabilities are now scrambling to add more, he said.

The systems were used before the pandemic to jam as many people together in the most cost-effective way, not limit workplace crowding or keep employees away from each other, Stewart said. With that in mind, companies can analyze the data all they want, but changing human behavior — we’re social creatures, after all — is harder, he said.

“Just because technology identifies it, and the analytics is flagging it, doesn’t mean the behavior will change,” Stewart said.

Because office crowding can show up in air quality, proper ventilation has replaced comfort as the focus for building managers, said Aaron Lapsley, who directs Cushman’s digital building operations with Stewart. Measuring the amount of carbon dioxide or the concentration of aerial particles can determine if airflow needs to be adjusted — or whether some people need to be told to leave a specific area. Employees are now more likely to use smartphone apps to receive alerts and keep tabs on the health and safety of the building, he said.

Something even as trivial as a trip to the bathroom or coffee machine has to be re-examined, said Mike Sandridge, executive director of client success at the technology unit of Jones Lang LaSalle, which oversees about 5-billion-square feet of property globally. Some restrooms have had to be limited to one person, and a red light will come on to let others know whether it’s occupied, based on stepping on a switch. When it’s free, the light turns green. Companies can also monitor whether the snack area is getting crowded, he said.

To help get some of its 350,000 employees back to its 150 offices around the world, International Business Machines is using its problem-solving Watson AI to analyze data from WiFi usage to help design and adjust office occupancy, said Joanne Wright, vice president of enterprise operations.

Understanding worker habits is more useful if you have a way to nudge them into new patterns. Since the pandemic began, Radiant RFID has sold 10,000 wristbands that vibrate when co-workers are too close to each other. The technology was originally designed to warn workers away from dangerous machinery, not other people. So far, the wristbands are responsible for reducing unsafe contacts by about 65%, said Kenneth Ratton, chief executive of the company, which makes radio-communication devices. At this point, the data on more than 3 billion encounters shows the average worker has had about 300 interactions closer than six feet lasting 10 minutes or more.

“The biggest problem is we as Americans haven't really been socially distanced, ever,” Ratton said.

Nadia Diwas is using another kind of technology: a wireless key fob she carries in her pocket made by her employer, Semtech, which tracks her movements and interactions, making it useful for contact tracing if someone gets sick, which is as important as warning people they are too close. The technology originally was developed by Semtech to help devices such as thermostats communicate on the so-called internet of things.

The reality is that people still need to work together, and if you’re back in the office, that means face-to-face interaction, said Diwas, who works in an electronics lab with two and sometimes three other people. She said she comes in contact with more people at the grocery store than in the office.

“It does make me more aware and more careful,” Diwas said in an interview. “The way I picture it in my head is that if both of us stretch our arms out, we should not touch each other.”

For most office workers, the best way to keep a safe distance from colleagues for the foreseeable future will still be on Zoom.

SOURCE: Green, J. (26 October 2020) "Offices struggle with COVID-19 social distancing measures" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/offices-struggle-with-covid-19-social-distancing-measures


Three keys to creating remote team chemistry

The chemistry between team members is often a key building block in successful communication and growth. Now that most workplaces are working remotely and team members are not face-to-face each day, creating a powerful and positive team takes a more delicate approach. Read this blog post to learn more.


Scottie Pippen once said, “Chemistry is a very important element for any team that wants to be serious about winning.” As a six-time NBA champion, Pippen knows a thing or two about winning. His chemistry with Michael Jordan and the Bulls’ supporting cast created one of the greatest dynasties in sports history.

Chemistry — the way teams work together — has always been the X-factor in success stories. Today, in a world where working from anywhere is becoming the standard, creating and harnessing chemistry is newly challenging but just as important as ever.

One of the great challenges of working remotely is replicating the interactions and relationships that develop naturally in a physical office. Camaraderie and morale, huge factors in developing positive team chemistry, can’t be forced. Chemistry isn’t quantifiable or trackable; it’s an organic quality that changes over time, much like company culture. Leaders can’t force chemistry to happen nor should they try. Instead, creating a powerful, positive team chemistry remotely takes a more delicate approach.

When it comes to chemistry building, consider being both active and passive. If you’re too active in promoting bonding and friendship, your efforts may end up ringing hollow. If you’re too passive, you won’t know what’s going on with your team. A healthy remote management style will go a long way in promoting chemistry but won’t get you all the way there. You have to supplement good managerial practices with procedures designed to promote trust and kinship between team members.

 Create a space for chemistry

One of the first steps to establishing remote chemistry is to provide people with a space to talk about non-work matters. When you had an office, this space already existed in the form of hallways, breakrooms, the moments before and after a meeting, and more. Creating a virtual water cooler (you can even set specific hours for it in Zoom) will encourage people to discuss their lives outside of their careers. These discussions bring people together, making them more likely to trust and rely on one another.

Better than just providing a space for these talks is giving folks something to talk about. Creating a book club, fantasy football league or TV-watching group will ensure that people will have common experiences to talk about. If you want to go full meta, you could even watch the Emmy-winning documentary series “The Last Dance” about the Chicago Bulls and discuss team chemistry itself.

Welcome new team members

If you’ve added new employees during 2020, you know how hard it can be to make them feel like a part of the team. Odds are, new hires have never met the people with whom they are most closely collaborating. It’s not hard to see how that could create a problem. To avoid a world where new team members feel like anonymous hired guns, you have to actively create warmth and kinship.

New hires should receive both formal and informal introductions to their new coworkers. A structured meet and greet will allow people to learn quick facts about each other, work preferences and other essential details. A virtual happy hour will give people a chance to get to know each other in a less rigorous way. By the end of a new employee's first week, they should have experienced both.

Share challenges and victories alike

Nothing brings people together like shared experiences. When you go through a tough client experience with fellow team members, you grow closer to them. When somebody helps you on a project that yields great results, you trust them more than you did before. The essential value of team chemistry comes from a sense that you’re all in this together. To make people feel that way, you have to let them talk about what they’re going through.

Talk about Zoom fatigue. Talk about the clients who struggle to accept a tech-heavy reality. Talk about what’s working and what isn’t. Talk about how hard it is to juggle a family and work with everyone under one roof. Talk about it all. When it comes to team chemistry, conversation is never an enemy.

SOURCE: Vetter, A. (05 October 2020) "Three keys to creating remote team chemistry" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/list/three-keys-to-creating-remote-team-chemistry


8 Diversity Recruiting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Diversity in the workplace involves taking a close look at each step within the recruiting process, and companies must commit to their diversity in the hiring process to complete the hiring puzzle. Read this blog post to learn more.


Employers are re-evaluating workplace diversity at their organizations, starting with being more thoughtful about recruiting from a broader range of talent.

"An effective diversity recruitment program involves taking a close look at every step of the recruitment process, from sourcing and recruitment marketing, to screening and interview practices, to how you present an offer," said Matt Marturano, vice president at executive search firm Orchid Holistic Search in the Detroit area.

Companies must commit to their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, and hiring is one of the most critical pieces of the puzzle, said Liz Wessel, CEO and co-founder of WayUp, a New York City-based jobs site and resource center for college students and recent graduates. "Most employers think that the reason they aren't hiring enough diverse people is because of a 'top of funnel' problem—not getting enough diverse applicants. However, in most cases, an equally big problem is the funnel itself, meaning they have parts of their hiring process and criteria that don't bode well for underrepresented candidates."

WayUp produced a report identifying eight of the most common barriers to attracting and hiring diverse candidates for emerging professional roles, along with tips for eliminating bias and improving diversity in the hiring process.

1. GPA Requirements

Recruiters can increase the number of Black and Hispanic candidates to their jobs by eliminating GPA minimums.

"By setting a minimum GPA for early-career candidates, companies are inadvertently creating an employment test that disproportionately hurts Black, Hispanic and Native American candidates," Wessel said. That's because data suggest that since Black, Hispanic and Native American students are more likely to come from lower-income households and work longer hours in college, their GPA suffers, she said. She added that data show GPA is rarely correlated to performance.

2. Relocation Stipends

Offering financial support for moving expenses is important to attract diverse, early-career candidates given that low-income students without the means to relocate for a new role are disproportionately Black or Hispanic. Black candidates are almost twice as likely as other candidates to be unwilling to relocate for a position if there is no stipend provided, WayUp found. "This means that Black candidates will be less likely to apply or more likely to drop out of your process or reject your job offer entirely," Wessel said. "Relocation stipends level the playing field for people of all socioeconomic statuses," she added.

Recruiters and hiring managers assume that everyone in college has the financial ability to move to take a job, said Margaret Spence, founder of The Employee to CEO Project, aimed at coaching diverse women to attain C-suite leadership roles. "The reality is that for most minority students, they are existing from a community putting together funds for them to be in school," she said. "They are financially strapped and already working to get by. Recruiters must have cultural awareness to understand that their candidates are coming from different backgrounds."

3. Interview Scheduling

When and how interviews are scheduled can impede engagement with minority candidates. That's because there are millions of low-income students—disproportionately Black or Hispanic—who work while in college, which leaves them less time to schedule interviews during traditional business hours.

"When I was a student, I worked full time as a waitress," Spence said. "That is the reality for many students right now. If you are asking someone to do an interview at 11 a.m., maybe that person is in a class or working a part-time job. It would be better to create a calendar opportunity that allows a student to go in and pick a time when they are available."

4. Interview Technology

The trend toward using video interview technology is growing, but the method presents a challenge to low-income job seekers who don't have access to the technology required. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, only 58 percent of Black respondents and 57 percent of Hispanics reported owning a desktop or laptop computer. And just 66 percent of Black respondents and 61 percent of Hispanics reported having Internet access.

"Leveraging AI or video to help screen candidates seems like an easy win from an efficiency perspective," Wessel said. "But if you're trying to hire diverse entry-level talent, our findings suggest you should rethink that strategy."

The tools and tech-related skills that are needed to be hired are not equally available to everyone, Spence said. "Talent acquisition should get more involved with college career-development programs to teach people how to build a LinkedIn profile and how to apply for a job virtually, instead of just throwing the tech at them. The technology is an enhancement; it cannot be the only tool."

Wessel said the solution is to embrace high-touch recruiting. "Avoid using prerecorded interviews as a method to screen candidates if you can," she said. "Instead, build trust with your candidates by removing bias from the candidate screening process, including the interview itself."

5. Paid Internships

According to Wessel, this one couldn't be more simple: Unpaid internships perpetuate inequality. Most people cannot afford to work for free. The average cost of an unpaid internship for students is $6,800, according to WayUp, and that number only goes up based on the hottest job markets.

Spence shared that a client told her it was having problems getting minority interns to show up on day one. Managers thought they were being ghosted. But when recruiters inquired with the candidates, they realized many people didn't have the money to travel or live as unpaid interns. All the hired interns showed up the following year once the company offered a stipend and housing.

6. Job Posts

A common type of unconscious bias can be found in how job posts are written. "The bias in your job post predicts who you'll hire because the language changes who applies to your job," Wessel said. "Job-posting language can deter diverse candidates, but it can also drive more minority applicants when done well," she said.

"It's been an issue for years now," said Tai Wingfield, senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion in public relations firm Weber Shandwick's corporate practice. "That also goes for unconscious bias in how interviews are conducted and the types of questions that are asked. These biases have the potential to disqualify diverse talent capable of driving significant innovation."

Marturano said it's easy for stereotypes and bias to creep into job-post language, and taking the time to fully consider what job posts say and how they say it "speaks volumes to diverse candidates about how your organization operates and if seeking an interview would be worth their time and effort."

Wingfield added that "using words like 'fearless,' 'go-getter' or 'will work around the clock' can be very off-putting to those who are very capable but who struggle to maintain an 'always-on' work culture while prioritizing the education of their children during this time. Think about working parents."

Marturano recommended that organizations integrate diversity imperatives into a mission statement, include diverse benefits in the compensation package, and highlight possible career trajectories and any active employee resource groups.

7. School Sourcing

If your company focuses on the same select schools or only the elite schools for campus recruiting, the available talent pool is already diminished.

"By focusing your recruiting efforts on the same schools every year, you're focusing on the same type of candidates and likely discriminating against diverse students who don't get targeted by your company because they don't attend a top school," Wessel said.

Likewise, she said, employers shouldn't just focus on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to reach diversity hiring goals. "While HBCUs are incredible schools, we recommend taking a more holistic approach," she said. She noted that Spelman College, an HBCU in Atlanta, has just over 2,000 students, most of whom self-identify as Black, but Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., has nearly 3,000 students who self-identify as Black.

"HBCU outreach is critical, but I was a student at the University of Maryland, where we had more Black students in our undergraduate class than nearby HBCU Howard in Washington, D.C.," Wingfield said. "Yes, companies should look beyond the HBCUs, but diversity recruiting requires culturally competent recruiters. Most large colleges and universities have affinity groups to partner with. I was a part of the Black student union. We held networking events and career fairs. Working with the student chapters of professional organizations on campus will also help recruiters find diverse talent from a broader bench of schools."

8. Technical Assessments

Technical assessments are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to bias in the hiring process, Wessel said. Hiring should never be based solely on one of these tests, she said. "Much like standardized tests, technical assessments are unfair to students who don't have access to training. Many universities, especially wealthier ones, are more likely to teach students how to take coding assessments. The same cannot be said for students who attend less economically advantaged universities." Instead, the technical assessment could be used as a guide to help recruiters and hiring managers determine a candidate's weaknesses and strengths, and point out areas for skilling, she said.

Spence said employers that want candidates to be proficient with certain technical skills should be partnering with schools on curriculum. "To move the needle on diversity in the tech space, employers will have to get more involved in developing the education they're seeking," she said.

SOURCE: Maurer, R. (28 September 2020) "8 Diversity Recruiting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/8-diversity-recruiting-mistakes-how-to-avoid-them.aspx


How to Help Your Small Workplace Team Succeed

Often many small workplace teams have higher rates of productivity, due to a lesser amount of disruptions. Although there are more projects put onto single people instead of groups, it may not be a bad thing. Read this blog post for helpful tips on how to help your small workplace team succeed.


Are small workplace teams effective? Some savvy business innovators think so. After all, it was Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos who once said, "If you can't feed a team with two pizzas, it's too large."

Academia agrees. A 2019 Harvard Business Review study leans toward smaller teams. The study suggests that small workplace teams can "disrupt" conventional wisdom and get things done, according to authors Dashan Wang, a management professor at Northwestern University, and James A. Evans, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago.

"Our research suggests that team size fundamentally dictates the nature of work a team is capable of producing, and smaller team size confers certain critical benefits that large teams don't enjoy," Wang and Evans stated.

The study sought to "measure the disruptiveness" of workplace teams using "an established measure of disruption that assesses how much a given work destabilizes its field."

"This told us how the research eclipsed or made us rethink the prior 'state of the art,' setting a valuable new direction for others to follow," Wang and Evans wrote.

Why Small Teams Can Succeed

As Bezos and the Harvard Business Review study authors show, bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to workplace teams.

"Given the right resources, small teams can be incredibly powerful," said Michael Solomon, co-author of Game Changer: How to Be 10x in the Talent Economy (HarperCollins Leadership, 2020) and co-founder of 10x Management, a technology talent recruiting firm in New York City.

Solomon deploys an armed forces analogy to highlight the effectiveness of smaller workplace teams.

"If we think about the military, special ops are usually small units of highly trained, highly synchronized individuals who have prepared extensively, know each other incredibly well and are working toward a common goal," he said. "If companies can create a culture for small teams where there is a shared mission, a safe environment for constructive feedback and trust, there is little that can't be done."

For one project at his company, Solomon said, a team of between three and five people replaced a group of 35 to rebuild a product. "It was the right group of people with the right skills in the right culture, and they were able to literally achieve 10 times the result" of the larger team.

While smaller, more-nimble teams are commonplace at small businesses and startups with tight budgets, the concept can work at any company.

"Small teams can definitely be competitive against bigger teams, but the strategies are different," said John Doherty, chief executive officer and founder of GetCredo.com, a digital marketing company in Denver. "For instance, bigger teams will often have a lot more meetings and voices at the table, whereas smaller teams tend to motivate around a singular goal and focus. It really depends on what a company wants to achieve."

Getting Results with Smaller Teams: Top Tips

Team-building experts advise managers to consider these tips when building small teams:

Build an "ownership" mindset. Emphasizing ownership in a specific skill set is a great way to build small teams.

"Giving each person on a team an area of ownership helps small teams become more effective," Doherty said. "For example, I own business and marketing, my business partner owns the technology/software side, and we also have specialists on accounts, operations and finance."

Doherty's team uses Front, a business management tool, to steer tasks to the right person. "If something comes into our respective e-mail inboxes that should be handled by someone else, we can easily assign it to them and keep moving forward," he said.

Make accountability non-negotiable. Since fewer staffers are available, holding team members accountable is a must for small workplace teams.

"A smaller workplace team needs a combination of ingredients to succeed," said Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com, a business startup services provider in Calabasas, Calif.

Sweeney lists several traits she looks for when building smaller, efficient company teams:

  • They must own their responsibilities. "Team members must be accountable for their work and for being able to drive assignments and initiatives."
  • They should be accessible. "There must be an understanding of how to reach a team member with open communications leading to answers."
  • They must be flexible. "Being flexible is important, as things quickly change and each member of a team must be nimble enough to handle those changes."
  • They must be creative. "Smaller workplaces have fewer resources and less budget than companies with more money and team members. Creativity allows you to brainstorm ideas with your team that are cost-effective. These ideas may help differentiate your brand [from] an expensive option."

Start planning early. Waiting until the last moment to get an assignment started and accomplished is a non-starter for those managing smaller teams.

"Sometimes, starting late cannot be helped, as some assignments come through with tight deadlines," Sweeney said. "When that happens, it's critical that managers address the new priority with their teams, put a hold on existing work, and divide and conquer to quickly get the item with the most urgency completed."

When possible, managers should also encourage small teams to work ahead. "If they're caught up with one piece of their workload, have them start a piece that has been set aside for later," Sweeney added.

Curb team meetings. "With a smaller staff, I strive to avoid meetings," said Lotus Felix, founder of Flawless Content Shop, a content marketing company in West Palm Beach, Fla. "Conventionally, meetings may appear as the backbone of businesses, but there is so much your team can achieve when you slice down the frequencies of these meetings. At Flawless Content Shop, we have been able to up our monthly output by 175 percent by keeping some days entirely meeting-free."

Felix said having a full day without meetings allows his team to build incredible momentum. "This way, my staff can get fully enveloped in their daily to-do lists," he said.

Give your team flexibility, across the board. Felix strives not to "drown staffers in overbearing professionalism.

"For example, we don't have a strict dress code," he noted. "Personally, I have gone to the office in slippers. I wear ripped jeans on casual days, and most Fridays I Rollerblade to work."

Felix said he views this as "a deliberate attempt to unshackle my small team, giving them more vacuum for creative expression."

Measure performance and value. Focus on how your workplace team adds value using three measures: how they help make money, save money or reduce your company's risk.

"Keep track of your team's accomplishments and, as much as possible, determine the return on investment for your smaller team's contributions to the company," said Terry McDougall, owner of Terry B. McDougall Coaching, in Highland Park, Ill. "When you can demonstrate a positive return on investment, this is generally when C-suite leaders feel confident that increased investment in your team will result in a greater return for the company."

Let go of bad performers. Above all else, don't let underperforming team members stick around, because total team performance can suffer.

"With smaller teams, one bad apple can really destroy the culture of a team," Solomon said. "Believing that you can overlook one underperforming or difficult member of the team may be the biggest mistake managers make in running small teams."

In his book, Game Changer, Solomon talks about workers with a "sabotage impulse" who "avoid responsibility for their own actions and are very quick to blame others. No one is eager to have them around because they never feel safe with someone around ready to blame others for their own mistakes."

Too often, team leaders overlook these behaviors in hopes that the worker will rectify his or her behavior.

"In reality, these types of individuals … can be incredibly destructive for small workplace teams," Solomon said. "It's very important to remove them quickly to avoid an adverse impact on the rest of the team."

SOURCE: O'Connell, B. (29 September 2020) "How to Help Your Small Workplace Team Succeed" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/helping-small-teams-succeed-.aspx


HR Professionals Struggle over FMLA Compliance, SHRM Tells the DOL

In addition to the daily struggles that HR Professionals have to resolve, they are faced with many frustrations that have stemmed from the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Read this blog post to learn more.


In a Sept. 15 letter to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) highlighted many of the challenges and frustrations that confront HR professionals as they comply with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

"SHRM supports the spirit and intent of the FMLA, and our members are committed to ensuring employees receive the benefits and job security afforded by the act," wrote Emily M. Dickens, SHRM's corporate secretary, chief of staff and head of Government Affairs. "While it has been more than 25 years since FMLA was enacted, SHRM members continue to report challenges in interpreting and administering the FMLA."

The letter, developed with input from SHRM members, was in response to a request for information issued by the DOL's Wage and Hour Division on July 17. The DOL solicited comments and data "to provide a foundation for examining the effectiveness of the current regulations in meeting the statutory objectives of the FMLA."

According to Ada W. Dolph, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw who practices labor and employment law in Chicago, “SHRM’s comments echo what we are hearing from clients in terms of their challenges in implementing FMLA leave, particularly now with the patchwork of additional state and local leave requirements that have emerged as a response to COVID-19."

She added, "Our experience shows that regulatory gray areas add significant costs to the administration of the FMLA and impact the consistency with which the FMLA is applied to employees. We are hopeful that [the DOL] will implement SHRM’s proposed revisions, which provide much-needed clarity for both employers and employees."

Wide-Ranging Challenges

In its comment letter, SHRM addressed several issues its members have reported:

CHALLENGES WITH CONSISTENTLY APPLYING THE REGULATORY DEFINITION OF A SERIOUS HEALTH CONDITION

"Continuing treatment by a health care provider" as currently defined in federal regulations creates uncertainty for SHRM members on how to treat an absence of more than three consecutive days, according to SHRM's letter. "If there is not 'continuing treatment,' then it does not constitute a 'serious health condition' under the regulations," the letter explained. "However, if the employee does receive additional treatment, it's not clear whether these initial three absences are related to a serious health condition."

SHRM pointed out that several members "have suggested increasing the time period of incapacity, indicating they spend a lot of time processing employee certifications for missing four days that they believe more readily falls under sick time or paid time off."

Further guidance, including criteria and examples of when employers may obtain second and third medical opinions, "would be helpful, as many SHRM members reported declining to challenge an employee's certification at all because the conditions under which they may challenge those certifications are unclear or cumbersome," SHRM said.

Members also reported that obtaining documentation from health care providers on the need for employees to take leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition was difficult, and that doctors were often vague about identifying how the employee fits into the caregiving equation.

CHALLENGES WITH INTERMITTENT LEAVE

SHRM members reported that intermittent leave-taking is the most likely FMLA leave to be abused by employees.

"Employees are permitted to take incremental leave in the smallest increment of time the employer pays, as little as .10 of an hour, which members reported allowed employees to use the time to shield tardiness or other attendance issues," the letter read. "SHRM strongly urges [the DOL] to increase the minimum increment of intermittent or reduced schedule leave that is unforeseeable or unscheduled, or for which an employee provides no advance notice." SHRM suggested several alternative approaches.

For instance, the DOL could:

  • Require that employees take unforeseeable or unscheduled intermittent or reduced schedule leave in half-day increments, at a minimum.
  • Establish a smaller increment, such as two hours, that automatically applies in any instance in which an employee takes unscheduled or unforeseeable intermittent or reduced schedule leave.

Additionally, when an employee takes intermittent or reduced FMLA leave, an employer may transfer an employee to an alternative position. However, under current regulations, employers may only require such a transfer when the leave taken is for "a planned medical treatment for the employee, a family member, or a covered servicemember, including during a period of recovery…."

"Given the potential burden and hardship that intermittent and reduced-schedule leave have on employers, SHRM believes that an employer should be permitted to temporarily transfer an employee on intermittent or reduced-schedule leave to an alternative position, regardless of whether the leave is foreseeable or unforeseeable or whether it is scheduled or unscheduled," SHRM told the DOL.

CHALLENGES REGARDING EMPLOYEES WHO ARE CERTIFIED FOR INTERMITTENT LEAVE FOR CONSECUTIVE YEARS

Employees continue to regularly exhaust and replenish their 12-week FMLA entitlement, based on the rolling 12-month entitlement period, SHRM members reported.

"Combined with the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act requirements to accommodate absences under some circumstances, these unrelenting absences become unreasonable and unduly burdensome to employers," SHRM commented.

Similarly, many SHRM members reported being frustrated that there weren't more mechanisms to challenge potential abuses of intermittent leave (e.g., when employees take every Friday or Monday off).

FRUSTRATION WITH EMPLOYEES NOT PROVIDING SUFFICIENT NOTICE OF THE NEED FOR LEAVE

Many employees provide notice of even foreseeable leaves after the leave has begun, noted SHRM, which recommended that notice of foreseeable leave be required prior to the commencement of leave and not "as soon as practicable."

SHRM also suggested that "a more definitive requirement be imposed so that employees understand clearly that they must provide notice of leave prior to beginning leave," and that "if an employee does not give advance notice, it should be the employee's burden to articulate why it was not practicable to provide such notice prior to the start of the leave. If they are unable to meet this burden, the regulation should permit and specify the consequences."

DIFFICULTIES OBTAINING TIMELY RESPONSES FROM EMPLOYEES AND THEIR PHYSICIANS TO SUPPORT THE REQUESTED LEAVE

If an employee fails to provide sufficient information to demonstrate that he or she may seek FMLA leave, then the employee can be required to provide additional information "to determine whether an absence is potentially FMLA-qualifying," SHRM explained. "However, there is no deadline by which the employee must provide this clarifying information, resulting in extensive, continued delays and continued administrative burdens."

SHRM recommended tightening this time frame to seven days and that the DOL "endeavor to provide firmer and clearer deadlines and notice requirements throughout the regulations."

SHRM members also reported that health-provider fees for completing paperwork often slowed or halted the certification process and asked whether providers' ability to impose these fees could be limited.

New FMLA Forms

Overall, SHRM members expressed satisfaction with recently updated FMLA forms. However, members continue to report that the information received from medical providers is often unclear and that they struggle to determine whether the reported condition constitutes a serious health condition.

The new forms do not account for the possibility that an employee does not qualify for FMLA because the employee doesn't meet the requirement of being unable to perform the functions of his or her job. "As such, we suggest that the medical provider be given the option to indicate that an employee does not meet this requirement," SHRM wrote.

Many members suggested that the DOL allow completion of online forms to speed processing times and reduce the administrative burdens of processing FMLA leave.

Among other issues, SHRM members also reported struggling with how to effectively reconcile FMLA with other leave laws enacted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

SOURCE: Miller, S. (21 September 2020) "HR Professionals Struggle over FMLA Compliance, SHRM Tells the DOL" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/hr-professionals-struggle-over-fmla-compliance-shrm-tells-the-dol.aspx


Pandemic Forces Organizations to Get Creative in Prepping Young Employees for the Workplace

Many are still having to work remotely, and become introduced to a company while not in an office setting. This may be hard for many entry-level beginners, interns, and recent college graduates. Employers are now trying to find ways to creatively prepare young employees for a non-traditional workplace. Read this blog post to learn more.


Pairing remote "buddies" with interns, creating leadership boot camps and hosting virtual presentations with college students are a few of the ways employers are preparing young employees for the workforce at a time when the pandemic has forced many employers to adopt a work-from-home culture.

"This pandemic has necessitated all employers to be agile and adapt to a 'new age' workforce and workplace—namely, a decentralization of employees and ability to work remotely," pointed out David Owens, director of campus recruiting at Addison Group, a national staffing and recruiting firm based in Chicago.

"Prepandemic, the majority of internships and entry-level employment opportunities were in-office or involved a majority of in-person daily responsibilities and tasks. Thankfully, in today's climate, we have the capability and technology to shift these in-person or in-office duties virtually. Leading organizations were already transitioning to a more modern concept of work," he said.

"This has been a hot-button inquiry from new graduates and this incoming generation of talent, many of whom are looking for their future workplace to be flexible and agile. More and more organizations will be tested on their adaptability to offer similar work options."

The pandemic has created a need for more in-depth and strategic partnerships with colleges and universities for recruiting students, Owens noted. Hosting a virtual panel or presentation for students is a better option right now than setting up a booth at a widely attended career fair, he said.

"I also recommend forming strategic partnerships with related student organizations and clubs that have a strong presence on campus. Additionally, be an ally to students, many of whom are stressed-out enough adapting to a hybrid or entirely virtual school year. Offer resume reviews, mock interviews, short-stint internships and networking events. Even if they don't apply for a full-time position, it helps to build brand recognition, and they could even end up applying to work at your organization down the road."

Online Networking

"We've been hosting online network events for individuals who are looking to come into the industry," said Carla Diaz, co-founder of BroadbandSearch, a company with 15 employees who all work remotely. Her company helps clients find the best Internet and TV service.

"Since we have connections within the world of ISPs [Internet service providers] and the like, we thought it would be a great idea to give up-and-coming professionals the chance to meet people within the industry—especially since many networking events were canceled as a result of COVID-19."

The events are not large, she said, but they can help young adults make important connections. Some, for example, have led to internships at Broadband.

'Firsthand Exposure'

Synoptek, a global systems integrator and managed information technology (IT) services provider headquartered in Irvine, Calif., designed DiscoverIT for recent college graduates in the U.S. It is a six-month, highly intensive training in technology, project management, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, security and leadership. The program includes mentorship and technical and leadership boot camps, according to Danielle Andersen, vice president of global human resources at Synoptek.

The company continued its college recruitment program during the pandemic, hiring six employees during the summer.

"The program gives fresh college graduates firsthand exposure to IT consulting," she said.

And its 12-month mentorship, which pairs mentees with a company business leader at its various sites, has been using Microsoft Teams during the pandemic to meet semimonthly. It's a chance, Andersen said, for mentees "to gain more in-depth knowledge about our business model, polishing their professional image and building overall leadership skills."

The coronavirus outbreak should not be a hindrance for young professionals, said Sonya Schwartz, managing editor at Her Aspiration in the Jackson, Miss., area and founder of Her Norm, a relationship website. Her fully remote company, which employs six workers, hires at least one new graduate per department annually and plans to continue to do so, she said.

"I make sure to expose them to the ins and outs of the company to make them more familiar with the whole working process. There is a specific employee assigned for their virtual training, and chatrooms designated for them are made to ensure that all of their questions or clarifications are answered," Schwartz said.

A senior employee assigned to train a new employee also serves as the new hire's guide for daily tasks.

"Initially, we ask the new grad which part of their career they want to focus on and enhance so that they could undergo training, and, once they have decided, we will assign them to the person who we believe can contribute and can train them well in that field and will also serve as their immediate superior," she said.

Trainees attend meetings with potential clients to learn the importance of effective communication and are assigned minor projects, such as conducting research and minor layout of content. They also are given social media management tasks to develop industry-related skills.

Buddy System

The Expense Reduction Group in Baltimore stresses role modeling as a way to prepare and transition emerging professionals, according to founder and CEO Michael Hammelburger. The company, which opened in 2019, employs four staffers.

"Each new hire is unique; that's why I have implemented a buddy system for them," said Hammelburger, financial consultant for small and midsize businesses.

"We assign each of our newbies a tenured employee they can ask any question about the company to make them feel more comfortable as they adjust to their new workplace." During the first six months of hire, each buddy does a daily Zoom meeting, and there are weekly team meetings that include the buddy's new-hire cohort.

"It also breaks away from the formal onboarding seminars that are dull and boring. During our feedback process, our new hires always mention how easy it became for them to adjust."

SOURCE: Gurchiek, K. (23 September 2020) "Pandemic Forces Organizations to Get Creative in Prepping Young Employees for the Workplace" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/organizational-and-employee-development/pages/pandemic-forces-organizations-to-get-creative-in-prepping-young-employees-for-the-workplace-.aspx