Incivility in the Workplace

Are we becoming a nation of uncivil servants? The January shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords prompted numerous politicians and media to illustrate how uncivil and hot-headed our nation has become. There were subsequent calls for “civil discourse” and our government attempted to lead by example by pairing Republicans and Democrats as seat-mates for the President’s State of the Union address. It’s easy to see how our hurried, stressed and litigation-prone society can be less fun to be around and some have noticed that attitude carrying over to the workplace. Uncivil behavior in the workplace is unpleasant and costly, but can be prevented.

What is incivility in the workplace?
According to Wikipedia, workplace incivility has been defined as: “low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target… Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others.”

Examples of uncivil behavior at work can range from:

  • losing one’s temper or yelling at someone in public
  • rude or obnoxious behavior in the workplace
  • badgering or back-stabbing in the workplace
  • withholding important customer/client information
  • sabotaging a project or damaging someone’s reputation

To more subtle acts, such as:

  • arriving late to a meeting
  • checking e-mail or texting during a meeting
  • not answering calls or responding to emails in a timely manner
  • ignoring or interrupting a colleague in the workplace
  • not saying “please” or “thank you” when customary

In the book The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, authors Christine Pearson and Christine Porath interviewed workers at 800 employers, and found:

  • 96 percent have experienced incivility at work
  • 48 percent of employees claim they were treated uncivilly at work at least once a week
  • 10 percent said they witnessed incivility every day
  • 94 percent of workers who are treated uncivilly say they get even with their offenders

How did we get here?
It’s not hard to find examples of stress and hardship that could make people less civil: the tough economy, less than ideal employment situations, even the effect technology has on speeding up our communications and decision making, and lengthening our work hours by increasing our accessibility.

Some workplace observers even blame the slip in civility on the shift toward casual dressing, which causes more casual behavior and communication, in turn lowering standards of behavior. While casual dressing may or may not be a cause for incivility, it’s an example of the many workplace practices that have changed in our culture. When evaluating causes of incivility, employers should consider all the changes in their environments including the increased use of technology, teams that are more widely distributed geographically, and the increase in diverse workforces, to name just a few.

Workforce Management featured a January 2011 article, The Degeneration of Decorum, which reported that: “Incivility tends to rear its ugly head in organizations that have distinct pecking orders, where people are separated by rank…some experts say the worst fields for incivility are education and health care, where the abuse comes from the top and leads all the way down to the school playground or the operating room.”

The cost of uncivil behavior in the workplace
An uncivil workplace is an undesirable place to work or do business with. Incivility has wide-reaching impact on efficiency, effectiveness and job satisfaction in the workplace. Where uncivil behavior is found, it’s common to find poor communication and ineffective use of meetings, lower standards for customer service, decreased workplace productivity and lower rates for employee recruiting and retention.

As reported by Workforce Management: “In polling thousands of managers and employees about the effects of incivility, Pearson and Porath found that after being the victim of on-the-job rudeness and hostility, two-thirds of employees said their performance declined. Four out of five said they lost work time worrying about the unpleasant incident, while 63 percent wasted time avoiding the offender. More than three-quarters of respondents said that their commitment to their employer had waned, and 12 percent even quit because of bad treatment.”

What should employers do?
Employers and organization leaders are responsible for creating a foundation or environment where employees can shine. Office culture is often set from above, meaning that the management team needs to lead by example. Increasing awareness around incivility and its impact is a good place to start and, if necessary, create workplace policies around civil behavior where standards for acceptable behavior are established (just as you might create a policy for the use of social media).

HR managers can ensure that civil language and practices are imbedded into every level of an organization, including job descriptions, hiring practices, training policy and the day-to-day code of conduct. For example, use the hiring processes you’ve got in place, such as personality tests and reference checks, to look for signs of incivility in a candidate or new hire.

Other tips for fostering civility:

  • Recognize and reward employees who model strong civil habits – or empower employees to recognize their peers
  • Provide training and coaching to help employees identify problems
  • Foster open communication practices such as forums for sharing ideas and input, safe environments for sharing concerns or reporting incidents, and explain the importance of good communication and its impact on organizational success

Reducing incivility not only makes your organization a more enjoyable place to work, but it also has a positive impact on the bottom line through improved employee retention and performance.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

 

Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law

Both the IRS and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have had a heightened interest in misclassified independent contractors in recent years. The Federal and State governments have recently announced additional funds being allocated to hire more auditors because they anticipate a good return on investment. More auditors = more tax dollars found.

In general, business people tend to be more familiar with the IRS rules regarding independent contractors than with the state rules. The IRS follows a “common law test” for assessing the classification of contract workers, which is meant to reveal how much direction and control the business retains over the worker. The IRS developed a list of twenty factors to be used as an aid to apply the common law test. In addition to the federal test, Massachusetts employers have the state law to consider, which I am focusing this article on because:

Massachusetts law is more stringent than federal law
The Attorney General issued an advisory which stated, “The Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law (MICL) excludes far more workers from independent contractor status than are disqualified under the IRS common law test.”
As employers we should be paying closer attention to Independent Contractor law at the state level. Here are the requirements of Massachusetts law and their effect on businesses.
Massachusetts Law requires a three part test
The MICL creates a presumption that an individual performing any service is an employee. To overcome this presumption, the party receiving services must establish:

1.  that the worker is free from its control and direction in performing the service, both under a contract and in fact; and

2.  that the service provided by the worker is outside the employer?s usual course of business; and

3.  that the worker is customarily engaged in an independent trade, occupation, profession or business of the same type.

The law requires that all three parts of the test (sometimes called prongs) must exist in order for an individual to be classified as anything other than an employee. The burden of proof is on the employer, and the inability of an employer to prove any one of the prongs is sufficient to conclude that the individual in question is an employee.

Some examples of how the law will apply
Based on my interactions with businesspeople, prong two seems to be the most problematic and least understood, so I will illustrate the application of the law in this regard:

Example #1: An accounting firm brings in a painter to repaint their office and classifies as an independent contractor. Assuming this person meets the tests for prongs one and three, the classification is allowed because the work being done is outside the firm’s usual course of business.

Example #2: An accounting firm brings in an accountant to assist them during their busy season and classifies as an independent contractor. This would be a violation of prong two because the service provided is not outside the employer’s usual course of business.

It is significant to note that the MICL does not take into account where the work is performed as part of this assessment. I took the time to point this out because it is a common misconception that if an independent contractor works outside of the employer’s place of business (i.e. from home), that fact satisfies the requirements to be classified as an independent contractor when this is not the case; where the person works is not relevant.

Consequences of misclassification

When employers don’t understand the application of the law and misclassify someone as an independent contractor, there can be costly repercussions. Employers can potentially be responsible for FICA and Medicare taxes and can even be responsible for the federal and state taxes that “should have”been withheld from the employee. In addition, they can be responsible for state unemployment taxes, worker’ compensation, and overtime if applicable. Penalties can accrue and in certain cases (i.e. overtime) treble damages can be assessed. Even if unintentional, what is often intended as a cost savings strategy can turn into a costly oversight.

Summary

While the use of independent contractors is extremely important to many companies, it is an approach fraught with inherent risks. The increased government attention to independent contractors and the large penalties involved take these risks to a dangerous level for Massachusetts businesses. Businesses need to examine their independent contractor relationships to ensure they comply with the rules or alternatively consider taking the appropriate steps to restructure their relationships.
Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Compensation Challenges Will Increase in 2011

For the past couple of years many employers have had the luxury of not needing to spend much time or energy on compensation issues. Loyal employees were happy to have a job and contribute to their organization without expecting pay increases. Now these employees feel it is time to be rewarded for their loyalty or at least be paid what they feel is fair for the work they are performing.

One might ask how I know employees are feeling this way. Two reasons: 1) surveys and other data and 2) first-hand experience.

  • Survey results suggest upcoming compensation challenges

According to a Right Management national survey released this week, 84% of employees plan to actively seek a new position in 2011.

The Labor Department’s survey known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (also released this week) shows that advertised job openings are at their highest level since August 2008.

While these surveys don’t necessarily say employers will experience compensation challenges, they do say employees are open to new positions and new positions are becoming available. Combining these factors leads me to believe employees are going to be looking for raises to stay with their current employers.

  • First-hand experience

I manage a staffing firm that is currently experiencing an inflow of candidates who are looking for new opportunities solely because of money. While I’m excited to have the opportunity to represent these talented candidates, I want to help my readers and mention that in many cases it would not have taken much to retain these employees. In other words, employers are losing employees that they really shouldn’t be losing. To be clear, I am not talking about mercenary employees who constantly shop the highest bidder; I’m referring to otherwise loyal, talented employees who enjoy their existing job except for feeling underpaid and/or underappreciated.

My suggestions for managing compensation challenges:
Proactively address compensation challenges before they become an issue

Once a talented employee concludes that they are unfairly compensated and decides they would consider another job, it is probably too late and their employer has an uphill challenge trying to retain that person. Employers really need to address this challenge before it gets to the point where the employee feels taken advantage of. I can’t tell you how many times I talk to candidates who get counter-offers from their current employer and decline them. It typically does not even matter if the counter-offer is for more money then the job they are leaving to take. Don’t let this happen to you: address true compensation issues before it is too late.
Consider internal equity as well as the larger marketplace for talent

For many people the amount of pay is less important than its perceived fairness or equity. It is only natural for employees to compare their pay to someone who is doing the same job within the same organization. Some employees will compare their pay to employees doing a different job in the organization or with someone doing the same job in another organization.

Many times the comparisons are not exactly fair to the employer. Employees use positions that are not really comparable at all as benchmarks. Or they ignore parts of their compensation package and only focus on the parts that compare unfavorably. For instance, Employee A who has a high base salary and low bonus only wants to talk about his bonus and why it is lower than Employee B who has a low base salary. Regardless of whether the comparisons are fair or not, employers will need to deal with fairness issues if they want to retain staff.

It really is crucial to know the “market” wages for your company’s positions. There is a lot of information available: try the internet, industry trade organizations, or staffing firms- most will be happy to provide the information free of charge. The key is to be educated about fair pay in the marketplace; otherwise you run the risk of losing people.
Get creative with compensation and benefits

While we would like to pay everyone all they want to be paid, in the real world budget constraints exist. Look to maximize your budget by getting creative; I’ll give a couple of examples …

  • Flexible schedules

At my company we allow certain people very flexible schedules. The employees have certainly earned this benefit and they carry significant responsibilities. This benefit of a flexible schedule does not cost the company anything in hard dollars or even in management time to accommodate the flexibility. Yet the value to the employees is tremendous; from the employee’s perspective the quality of life value is worth tens of thousands of dollars. It is truly a “win-win” situation. I’ll mention that it took us some effort to make these situations work so that responsibilities could be managed, but the effort was well worth it.

  • Incentive based compensation

Let’s say you are faced with a situation where you just can’t pay someone any more money; maybe you are constrained by internal equity issues or maybe you have a budget challenge and you simply don’t have the money to spend. Consider developing a creative incentive plan that rewards the employee if more value is created from their work. If the employee is truly delivering more value it might justify the additional compensation or benefit. Incentive plans are certainly easier to create in sales environment but with some effort can be developed for all employees. My favorite incentive plans reward innovation and/or customer service.
Don’t “set it and forget it”

Commit to regular reviews of your compensation packages to ensure they are fair, equitable and competitive. Loyal employees may not mind waiting until their review date to bring up compensation concerns, but if there is no date or mechanism to raise their concern, the employee may get frustrated and leave.

Many employers will see compensation challenges in 2011. Don’t be caught by surprise; proactively manage compensation at your organization so you can retain your talented employees.
Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

 

2010: A Look Back

by Aaron Green

The beginning of 2010 was still a dark period for most Boston workplaces. Salaries and compensation packages were static, employers and employees were tasked with doing more with fewer resources and in general there was still a lot of fear and unknown regarding the future. Since then, the economy has slowly improved. The unemployment rate has fallen; employers in the state have added nearly 50,000 jobs; and the state is doing better than the rest of the nation in terms of unemployment and economic expansion rates.  However, we’re certainly not back to pre-recession levels as unemployment is still historically high and there are still approximately 120,000 fewer jobs than when the recession began. In fact, many Massachusetts residents don’t feel a recovery has begun. A survey that my firm, Professional Staffing Group, conducts each quarter with our HR clients echoes this mixed outlook. Looking back at the quarterly surveys and reports we’ve produced with our clients, as well as the daily interactions we have with hundreds of Boston HR departments, here’s a snapshot of how far we’ve come this year and where we are now:

The Boston economy showed incremental improvement in 2010
Our economy is certainly not robust and not yet back to pre-2008 levels, but employers are adapting. According to our survey, most kept HR expenditures at a static rate throughout the year. And while the BLS projects that overall employment will increase by 10 percent in the next 5 years, Boston-area employers are only mildly optimistic. For the past 6 months, the HR managers and employers we’ve surveyed have said they plan to add staff (8 times as many said they’d add as those who said they’d cut staff). Yet, 52 percent say they expect staffing levels to remain the same.

Employer purse strings are starting to loosen
Employers are starting to offer compensation increases after having shelved these for several months.  In our most recent survey, 82 percent of employers said they expect compensation to increase in the next 12 months, up from 77 percent who said they expected an increase in last quarter’s survey.  Sixty-seven percent of employers surveyed said they actually increased compensation during the past 12 months, up from 54 percent in our last quarter’s survey.

The labor market is becoming tighter for certain positions
Although the US unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, the US unemployment rate for job seekers with a college degree drops to only 4.7 percent. If we look at rates in Massachusetts we see that unemployment rates are much lower. The overall Massachusetts unemployment rate at 8.1% is 1.5% less than the national average of 9.6%. I’m not aware of a measurement of the unemployment rate for college graduates in Massachusetts but given the 1.5% difference in the overall rate, it seems likely to be in the mid 3% range. Therefore employers seeking degreed candidates and employees with specific credentials and skills, e.g. professional or managerial skill sets, have an even narrower field of candidates to choose from. Our latest quarterly survey found that 42 percent of employers plan to add staff in the next three months and 73 percent of employers say that staffing levels are too low. In what I think is an effort to promote from within, our latest survey shows that five times the number of employers said they’ll increase internal training over the number who said they are reducing that expenditure.

HR departments and resources have been stripped down
One of the most popular areas in the workplace to see cuts during the great recession was the HR function, leaving many HR departments with too few staff and resources. Now that the economy has improved, many HR departments are in re-building mode. Short-staffed firms have difficulty recruiting, screening and hiring new employees as quickly as they need them and, as a result, are turning to outsourced or contract recruiters or are re-tasking HR employees with recruiting to the detriment of other duties.

Retention is still not a major concern for most employers
According to our survey results, about half of employers say retention is a minor problem; only 9 percent see it as a major problem and 34 percent say it’s not a problem at all. These results are consistent with the previous quarter’s survey findings.

My personal feeling is that more employers should be concerned with retention and take actions now that will prevent it. I base my opinion on three factors: 1) Surveys of employees show a high percentage of employees would consider another job 2) Employer are preparing to hire (see above, 42 percent of responding companies plan to add staff in the next six months) 3) There is limited downside to taking actions to prevent turnover.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Helping Employees Re-enter the Workforce

by Aaron Green

The reality today is that more employers are hiring workers who have been out of the workforce for a period of time. Perhaps your new employee is a former stay-at-home-mom who decided it was time to get back to work, or perhaps she was enticed out of retirement after her employer discovered her skills couldn’t be easily replaced. Some new workers will have recently experienced a prolonged period of unemployment because of the current economic conditions. Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that over the past year the median duration of joblessness has been more than 19 weeks, which is the highest level it’s been since the BLS started tracking it in 1967.

Whatever the scenario, employers should be aware that employees re-entering the workforce may initially be more productive if provided with some extra care to make their transition back to work smooth and successful. Here are some tips for helping the formerly unemployed successfully re-enter the workforce:

One of the first steps is to help new employees calm their new job jitters. Many employees who re-enter the workforce experience anxiety and fears of performing poorly. Keep an eye out for stress-related symptoms like low self-esteem, fear of making mistakes on the job, difficulty concentrating or insomnia. Some specific ideas are to:

  • Create a personal plan for success – a plan that articulates what is expected in the new job, how they will be measured and defines success will help the new employee focus and alleviate assumptions and miscues.
  • Pair them with a mentor – introduce and connect the new employee with a veteran staff member who can not only ‘show them the ropes’ but also provide perspective on workplace culture. The mentoring can be informal — where you simply make the introduction and let the new employee know that the veteran is there if they need them; or more formal, in which case you orchestrate planned meetings or events.
  • Offer counseling – if a valued employee is struggling with adjusting to the workplace it may be beneficial to arrange for professional counseling sessions. Depending on the need and your organization’s resources, these could range from sessions with the internal HR department, group workshops with an outside professional or one-on-one sessions with a specialist.

If it’s a life change that has kept someone out of the workplace, e.g. caring for family, tending to health issues or other personal reasons, try to understand the life change and its impact on the person’s work performance. And if possible be flexible to the employee’s needs while holding the person accountable to results and high performance.

Perhaps your new employee is actually a former employee as well. According to a Career Builder survey of 2,924 hiring managers, 26 percent of employers who had laid people off in recent years were planning on bringing some of those layoff casualties back. There are a lot of benefits to rehiring former employees, including cost-effectiveness, efficiency, higher retention rates and faster on-boarding processes.

For employers looking to maintain relationships with former employees and incorporate them in a candidate pool, an online alumni network can be extremely helpful. Whether you create a custom web site or intranet for this purpose, or utilize Facebook and/or LinkedIn, an online network allows you to keep alumni updated on company news and job openings. The effort you make toward alumni relations can range from maintaining a database with individual contact information and skill sets to organizing events for alumni.

Many of the tips I mention above are considered good general workplace practices for all employees, and are particularly important now in order to adjust to a “new normal” workplace that includes managing employees whose career paths have been affected by the Great Recession.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

This article was originally posted on the On Staffing HR Column on Boston.com.

 

Tips for Managing in the Flexible Workplace

by Aaron Green

Flexible workplace options can be great perks to offer workers. Polls have shown that they are the most desired work benefits among employees and they are also a good way for employers to attract or retain talent. However, if flexible work options are not managed well they can be ineffective or even counterproductive.

Flexible work options range from flextime to flexplace and include: varying starting and finishing times to the workday; part-time work schedules, working from home or telecommuting; job sharing, workers selecting their own shifts, and flexible leave or time-off provisions.

Following are some tips for managing employees with flexible work arrangements:

Understand that flexibility is a mindset – offering flexible work options means acknowledging that there is more than one way to do things. It’s also recognition that workers have a life outside their jobs and that each employee has different life/work needs and desires and that those can change over time.

Communicate, communicate, communicate – to work well in a non-traditional setting, the flexible working employee must have strong communication with their manager, their team and anyone else they work with. Communication should be frequent, easy to do and take various forms (in-person, phone, email). Communication will help everyone understand the work being done but can also help managers gauge when the flexible work situation is working effectively.

Use technology to facilitate flexible work situations and good communication – a flexible-working employee won’t be able to succeed if their technology is inferior to traditional workers. Incorporating new technologies or devices – such as video conferencing, instant messaging or web-based file sharing – can improve the experience as well.

Remember that a flexible work arrangement is a benefit – employees and employers should treat it accordingly. Set clear expectations that there has to be effort from both sides in order for the situation to work. The benefit may be one that is “earned” or that is offered when an employee proves they can handle the option or agrees to meet certain expectations. Managers should maintain benchmarks for checking on employees’ progress and success.

Set clear expectations – in order to gauge success, you’ll need to establish clear ground rules and make sure appropriate evaluations are in place. In the case of remote workers, managers can’t rely on an employee’s presence and activity to gauge his or her efforts; they’ll need to measure deliverables and results (which should be the gauge for all workers anyway). While providing clear instructions, guidelines and deadlines is important with all employees, .these activities take or an even greater importance with employees working remotely or who are not in the office when their boss is.

Don’t give up water cooler exchanges -flexible work arrangement can make it more difficult to gauge important employee attributes, like effort and attitude. In traditional work situations managers rely on casual and unscheduled ways to check-in with employees and ensure workers are engaged and on track. Don’t overlook the importance of providing remote employees with motivation and confirmation of their work’s value.

Consider career growth– as employers, we arrange flexible work situations because we value our employees so it’s important to allow for and encourage career growth within the flexible work arrangement. In other words, don’t let the fact that a valued employee has a flexible schedule stifle their career and the value they can bring to your organization.

Change the culture – Certain employees with traditional work arrangements may feel resentful of colleagues with flexible arrangements. Take the time to explain why your company has the flexible arrangement. Try to win skeptics over by explaining the advantages of the flexible approach to the employee as well as how it benefits the organization. Yesterday’s detractor could find their personal situation has changed and they now value a flexible arrangement of their own.

Know the law – Flexible work arrangements can sometimes add a layer of complexity to the workplace. You will want to make sure you know what your rights and responsibilities are under employment law. When necessary, get advice from experts.

Measure results not time served – The driving idea behind many flexible work arrangements is that results matter more than the amount of time an employee spends working in the office.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

This article was originally posted on the On Staffing HR Column on Boston.com.

Reference Checks are More Important Now than Ever Before

While reference checks have always been an important part of the hiring process, recent employment trends have made them even more important.

Recent trend – covering gaps in employment with inaccurate information
The recession has kept large numbers of people out of work for extended periods of time. In fact, 4.3 percent of the labor force has been out of work for more than six months-a level much higher than after any other recession since 1948.

Some companies exclude any and all unemployed candidates from consideration. Candidates know companies may view their lack of employment negatively and some cover gaps with inaccurate experience. While I am not a proponent of universally ruling out unemployed candidates (in fact, I recently blogged about how excluding unemployed candidates is a bad recruitment strategy), dishonest candidates must be ruled out. What to look out for:

  • Self-employed candidates: You need to assess if any meaningful level of work was actually performed. I respect candidates with a good work ethic who did whatever they could to earn income during the recession, but be careful to not be fooled by candidates who embellish too much.
  • Working for family or friends: Same concern as with self-employed candidates. I once did a reference check to a family member who told me the candidate didn’t really work there. Rather than cover for the candidate, the family member was concerned about a bad reflection on her business so she told me the straight story. I never would have known had I not performed the reference check.

Recent trend – fabricating in-demand skill sets
In spite of high unemployment, certain skill sets remain in high demand. While it is acceptable for candidates to highlight their most desirable skills, there is an increased number of candidates who cross the line and simply make up skills and work experience that they don’t have. If you hire these deceptive job seekers, you run the risk of finding out the hard way that their experience was not what you thought it to be.

Recent trend – Media inspired lies
Sensational stories in the media about employees who lied their way to money and power while duping employers and co-workers along the way cause some candidates to think telling lies about their background is acceptable conduct.

Best practice for reference checks

Use the back door

Standard reference checks are of limited use. By standard I mean you call the references that the candidate provides. Expect these hand-picked people to say only good things about the candidate. You need to use your network and speak with someone at the organization where the candidate worked who will give you candid information (or, alternatively, a customer the candidate serviced). Many people in recruiting refer to this as a “back door reference.”

The goal here is not necessarily to “dig up dirt” on the candidate but rather to get a more complete and unbiased picture of the candidate in order to make the most informed decision possible. Be discrete and take care not to create any problems for a candidate who is conducting a confidential search.

The challenge is finding a person who will be honest and open with you. It is easy if you know someone at the organization where the candidate worked; if you don’t know anyone, work at it. Try social networking sites (i.e. Linked-in), send an email around your office or to your friends or alumni group, simply ask “do you know anyone who works at XYZ Company?” If your candidate worked locally it is highly likely that you will get a hit if you reach out to your contacts. Back door references are well worth the extra effort since they can prevent bad hires or provide the information that prompts you to make the right hire.

Good advice
For excellent guidance on how to conduct reference checks, read the book “Who” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. Smart and Street recommend a total of seven reference interviews for key hires: three past bosses, two peers or customers, and two subordinates. To save yourself time and increase the likelihood you reach you reach the reference, they recommend you ask the candidate to contact the reference to set-up the interview. Smart and Street also recommend five simple questions to ask on reference calls:

  1. In what context did you work with the person?
  2. What were the person’s biggest strengths?
  3. What were the person’s biggest areas for improvement back then?
  4. How would you rate his/her overall performance in that job on a 1-10 scale? What about his or her performance causes you to give that rating?
  5. The person mentioned that he/she struggled with __________ in that job. Can you tell me more about that?

Since many people don’t want to provide negative information on reference calls you will need to pay attention to both what people say as well as how they say it and press for details. A positive reference will be unmistakable; it will be full of unqualified compliments.

Following the above guidelines will help ensure that you’re getting what you want in a candidate and making informed hiring decisions. While I am sympathetic to the struggles of job seekers in these difficult economic times, desperation is breeding dishonesty and hiring managers must remain diligent about candidate screening and reference checks.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

This article was originally posted on the On Staffing HR Column on Boston.com.

Five Ways Social Media Can Help Your Recruiting Efforts

by Aaron Green

Hiring activity is predicted to increase for the second half of 2010, so recruiters must have their candidate pipelines primed to compete for talent. Here’s why social media, such as blogs and social networking sites (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook), should be part of your recruiting strategy:

Blogging drives traffic to your site and builds brand recognition
If you have the resources, i.e. the time, energy and a bit of skill, regularly blogging about your industry or about career-related issues can generate significant brand awareness and drive traffic to your website. A blog on your domain can attract links, attention, publicity, trust and increase your site’s search rankings. (Because blogs are generally updated more frequently than regular website pages, they can rank higher in searches.) Offering comments that add value to someone else’s blog is another way to generate a following.

Online professional networks can increase the quality of hire
Social networks aren’t just for sharing photos and updates about where you are or what you’re doing at a given moment. They can also be an important tool for networking professionally. Professional networks range from industry-specific or job-specific groups on LinkedIn, to community websites for a particular industry, to corporate alumni networks. Members tend to keep their contributions on a professional level and share information or gather data related to their industry or profession. Job searches are typically a key component of these networks and job queries or posts can uncover candidates that wouldn’t also appear in response to a job board post. Mining alumni networks is another tactic that yields high-quality candidates, as they are already familiar with the company and have an easily accessible performance record.

Social media enhances job postings
It is widely accepted inside the recruiting industry that online job postings are not a very effective way to find job candidates. In fact, recruiting through job board postings are often referred to as “post and pray” because it’s a strategy based on hope rather than action. Of the countless training programs designed to help recruiters find the best candidates, none of them emphasize job boards as a strategy – rather, they focus on networking and direct recruiting. And since many social media tools emphasize networking it is natural to reason that combining job postings with online networking will yield better results. In fact, incorporating your Facebook fan page and LinkedIn groups into your job posting strategy can increase your chances of success. For one, they increase the number of people that see your posting. Secondly, they make the job posting an interactive discussion by allowing interested folks to comment on the post and by allowing you to immediately see who is interested in the post and all of their profile information. And for those of us who can’t ignore job boards altogether, social media can help us drive more qualified candidates to our job posts.

Social media allows you to customize messages to your audience
In the same way you may be using different email campaigns to target different distribution lists, you could establish multiple brand personalities on Twitter. One Twitter account could be the official company brand, one could be a “Jobs@OurCompany” Twitter account that only tweets about job openings (or related info) and one could be a “personal” Twitter account for senior leadership that reflects the personal musings and lends personality to your social media efforts. This practice allows followers to select the “channel” or voice they’re most interested in. The end result is more qualified and higher quality followers who are more likely to engage and respond.

Social media can help you identify and engage with passive candidates
Passive candidates are candidates who aren’t openly seeking and applying for jobs. Although they may not respond to a job board post, they could be active online as part of a social network, blog community or Twitter list. Connecting with them or with groups of their peers allows you to build a relationship so that when they are ready to seek a new job (and make the transition from passive candidate to active candidate) you will already be engaged with them.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

This article was originally posted on the On Staffing HR Column on Boston.com.

Excluding Unemployed Candidates is a Bad Recruitment Strategy

by Aaron Green

I feel the need to comment on a recent recruiting trend, which is that an increasing number of companies are only interested in hiring people who already have a job. My feeling is that this strategy is misguided and results in missed opportunities for top talent.

Let’s start by looking at the reasons why companies might take this approach. In general there are two reasons why companies exclude unemployed candidates:

  1. Companies believe that most unemployed candidates are not working because they are less qualified than employed candidates.  Making this blanket assumption is simply off-base. While some candidates may be less qualified, many are highly qualified. There are many reasons why people end up unemployed that have nothing to do with the person’s talent, work ethic, and overall value as an employee.
  2. Efficiency: Since there are so many people unemployed, recruiters get bombarded with applicants for job openings. Screening out unemployed applicants makes the process more efficient.

While I’ll agree taking this approach might make the hiring process more efficient, it does not make it more effective. This approach is a short cut, and there is a cost to this short cut; excluding unemployed applicants potentially eliminates top talent from consideration. On certain searches you might be able to get away with the short cut approach, but I would suggest you resist the temptation. Instead raise your standards and look at a wider candidate pool which includes unemployed applicants.

I’ll provide two more reasons why considering unemployed applicants is beneficial:

  1. The Federal government has been making it more enticing for employers to hire unemployed workers. A 2010 tax break just took effect stating that employers who hire an unemployed worker are exempted from paying that worker’s FICA (social security) contributions for the rest of the 2010 calendar year. Firms that hire unemployed workers and keep them employed for one calendar year are also eligible for an additional $1,000 credit.
  2. Unemployed top talent may be more willing and eager to start work and come with fewer strings attached than someone who has to leave their current employer. If you are looking to move quickly to fill a role, you will likely end up saving time by finding a qualified applicant who may be available to start sooner and with less reservation.

While it’s not illegal for recruiters or hiring managers to require candidates to be currently employed, it is an unproductive practice for employers interested in hiring the very best talent available.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

This article was originally posted on the On Staffing HR Column on Boston.com.

Retention: Employees’ Plans and Employers’ Views Do Not Connect

by Aaron Green

It is official: the recession has receded and Massachusetts employers are starting to hire again. Last week, Boston Globe writer Robert Gavin reported on a forecast prepared by Northeastern University economist Alan Clayton-Matthews which estimates that Massachusetts added more than 12,000 jobs in the first quarter of this year and predicts that 200,000 Massachusetts jobs will be created in the next five years.

In addition, I have some first-hand information that employers are hiring. My company, Professional Staffing Group (PSG), regularly surveys our Massachusetts clients, and our latest survey compiled in April showed that almost half of employers expect to increase staff in the next 12 months. Looking back to PSG’s Q4 survey, when companies were asked when they expected staffing levels to increase, the most common response was “unknown.” In the April survey, only 8% responded “unknown” in regard to hiring plans for the next quarter; contrasting these responses tells me that employers are becoming more confident regarding hiring.

Employers are not very worried about retention

The recent PSG survey told us that employers aren’t expressing great concern about retention and employee engagement issues. Only 12% of employers view retaining top talent as a significant problem, and 19% of employers view employee engagement as a significant problem.

Employers are not spending money on HR programs related to retention

Our survey also asked employers whether they anticipated increased spending in areas such as reimbursement for continuing education, professional certification, training and development, travel, or tradeshow or seminar attendance. In all HR areas except for one, employers don’t expect to spend any more money than they did in last year (2009 was a year when most employers cut spending). Internal training and development stands out as the only area in which substantially more employers expect to increase spending than those expecting to decrease spending (3 to 1 ratio). The fact that employers do not expect to spend much in this regard will not help retention.

Employees plan to make career changes

Last August, during the height of the recession, a survey of 1,000 employees by CareerBuilder.com found that more than half of employees polled planned to make a career change or go back to school when the economy recovered.

The Disconnect

If Massachusetts is going to be adding jobs as forecasted by Alan Clayton-Matthews and as represented by PSG’s clients who responded to our survey, where are the employees going to come from to staff these new positions? Sure, unemployment will decrease but that won’t cover the gap. Even now certain in-demand skill sets are in short supply. It is simply unrealistic to believe that a substantial number of jobs will be created in the local area and also believe that retention will not be impacted.

A call to action for employers

Think again about the CareerBuilder survey result that more than half of employees polled plan to make a career change or go back to school when the economy recovers. What would you do if half your employees left their jobs? It is a scary thought. Hopefully your company has already taken steps to build or maintain employee loyalty (see my article on building employee loyalty during a recession). Now is the time to evaluate your programs and policies to ensure you are doing all you can to retain your employees.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

This article was originally posted on the On Staffing HR Column on Boston.com.