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Older Workers On the Rise: Benefits and Potential Drawbacks

The baby boomer generation has had a significant impact on society—and the workforce. That impact is predicted to continue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that, while only 11.9 percent of the labor force was 55 years or older in 1990, that percentage will increase to 25.2 percent in 2020. Many Americans are choosing to work longer these days, either based on the need for additional income or the desire to stay involved and active. Seniors in the United States are employed at the highest rates in 55 years according to a Bloomberg article.

An Aging Workforce

With the tsunami of aging baby boomers poised to finally exit the workplace, many companies have found themselves faced with concerns about whether they have the bench strength to fill these soon-to-be-empty positions. Engaging these older employees and keeping them in the workforce is one option to help minimize the impact of this exodus. Engaging with retirees to draw them back for special assignments or limited term engagement is another.

According to research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 79 percent of workers plan to supplement their retirement incomes by working.  In addition to their contributions as employees, older workers and retirees hold potential to give back to the organizations they’ve served, and future leaders, by serving in coach/mentor roles. Retirees can also serve as brand ambassadors, spreading the good word about the organizations they’ve worked for in the community.

There are obvious benefits for organizations in terms of retaining the institutional knowledge that older workers retain; there are some drawbacks though as well. Here we take a look at both.

Benefits of Retaining Older Workers

As the economy has begun to show signs of improvement, employers are starting to feel the pinch and finding it more challenging to recruit workers—especially for certain positions. The ability to retain older workers is one way to lessen that pinch.

In addition, as we’ve already alluded to, older workers have a significant amount of knowledge and past experience to bring to bear. The loss of that knowledge and experience can be a definite blow both in terms of finding someone to fill the gap and in terms of lost productivity. These experienced workers have also established relationships in- and outside the organization that also have value.

As Nathaniel Reade points out in AARP The Magazine, older workers “score high in leadership, detail-oriented tasks, organization, listening, writing skills and problem solving—even in cutting-edge fields like computer science.”

Because of the knowledge they have accumulated and the experience they have to share, some older workers are being called back to the workplace after retirement for short gigs or to mentor their younger replacements. These types of arrangements can be a win-win for all involved.

There are, though, some potential drawbacks that organizations should be aware of. In fact, Fidelity Investments recently made the news for its offer of a voluntary buyout package to 3000 employees, age 55 or older who had been with the company for at least 10 years. They’re not the only company to do so.

Drawbacks That Older Workers May Present

Why would organizations like Fidelity choose to offer older workers an incentive to leave? The bottom line.

One of the key drawbacks of older workers is that they cost too much. Having been in the workforce longer, and often receiving pay increases year over year, these older workers are more expensive than new hires might be. Their benefit packages may also be more costly—e.g. more accrued vacation or sick leave, higher costs of insurance coverage, etc.

Still, there are ways to get around some of these expenses. In recent years an increasing number of organizations have shifted to a market-based compensation strategy, rather than paying employees more as they gain increasing years of service. This can help to maintain a level playing field that benefits both employers and employees.

Another potential downfall? In some cases, regardless of their chronological age, employees who have been on the job for a longer period of time may become burned out or disengaged and disenchanted with the work they do. It may be time for them to leave and to insert new energy and enthusiasm into the position.

 

Each organization will have to weigh the pros and cons based on their own unique situations and workforce makeup. Despite organizations like Fidelity that are finding value in paying older workers to leave, other employers are taking advantage of the skills, knowledge and unique abilities that their older workers—and retirees—can bring to the workplace.

 

 

 

 

Social media tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and others, can be great tools for employees to use for learning and communication. The same is true of employers. But both sides need to know some important do’s and don’ts for leveraging social media channels effectively.

Rapid Adoption

According to an infoplease timeline, Friendster, the first of the modern day social channels, emerged in 2002; LinkedIn in 2003, Myspace and Facebook in 2004. The adoption and impact of these tools has been rapid—at least outside the workplace. In the workplace, many employers have been more hesitant to open the gates to allow employee access. In much the same way as many took a go-slow approach to employee access to the Internet, the same has applied here.

Today, of course, while a wide range of companies in a number of industries have recognized the Internet as an important workplace resource for many employees, not all have equally embraced the use of social media. In fact, according to a 2013/14 survey by Proskauer, an international law firm, 90 percent of businesses, globally, are now using social media for business purposes. That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that they’re approving of employee use of these tools in the workplace. Only 43 percent of those responding indicate that they permit employees to access social media sites—a top of 10 percent since the previous survey!

With or without permission, though, employees report that they are using social media tools while at work.

How Employees Use Social Media in the Workplace

There are certainly some legitimate, business use cases that can be made for the use of social media. Chief among them: recruitment, with LinkedIn being a top tool for recruiters, HR professionals and managers to find and connect with potential employees. Social media tools have also become go-to resources for marketing communication professionals to connect with, and engage, external audiences. Research and information sharing are two other common applications from a business standpoint.

Pew Research Center surveyed 2003 American adults about their use of social media in 2014. Not surprisingly, the use of social media was prevalent—even in organizations that prohibited such use. The 77 percent of those responding who indicated that they used social media at work, whether or not their employer had policies regulating its use, indicated that they were most likely to use these channels to:

  • Take a mental break (34%)
  • Connect with friends and family (27%)
  • Make or support professionals connections (24%)
  • Get information that helps solve problems at work (20%)
  • Build or strengthen personal relationships with coworkers (17%)
  • Learn about someone they work with (17%)
  • Ask work-related questions of people outside their organizations (12%)
  • Ask work-related questions of people within their organizations (12%)

Their responses suggest a combination of both work- and non-work-related activities. Considering that many employees now have access to their own personal devices while at work, it has become increasingly challenging for employers to attempt to completely lock down employee engagement in social channels during the workday.

Benefits and Drawbacks

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) points to both benefits and drawbacks for employers allowing social media use in the workplace.

Benefits include:

  • Information discovery and delivery
  • Opportunities for discussion among employees
  • An opportunity for business networking
  • Ability to expand market research and deliver communications to others

Drawbacks noted include:

  • Potential for spam and virus attacks
  • Risk of data or identity theft or other negative impacts on computer security
  • Possibility for negative comments from employees about their companies
  • Risk of legal consequences if employees use these channels inappropriately

And, of course, just as with any other potential workplace distractions—like the Internet, the phone or the watercooler—employers are legitimately concerned about anything that might have a negative impact on productivity.

Do’s and Don’ts for Navigating the Social Terrain

At a minimum, employers should have a policy providing guidance to employees about the use of social media and the impact on the organization. Some key points to include:

  • Social media use, while at work, should be limited to work-related activities
  • Unless specifically authorized, employees should not post on behalf of the organization
  • Employees should not share proprietary company information; trade secrets; financial information which may violate Insider Trading Policies; or protected information about customers, clients or, in the healthcare industry, patients.

SHRM offers a helpful draft social media policy that can serve as a good starting point. Be sure, though, to have any policies you create reviewed by your legal counsel.

Taking a Marketing Approach to Attracting Talent

In many organizations, the marketing and HR functions operate independently—HR focused primarily on internal communications with employees and marketing focused primarily on external communications with consumer and business audiences that include both prospects and customers.

In some organizations, though, these two groups have teamed up to combine their expertise to boost overall communication effectiveness, internally and externally. One key area where the two are helping their organizations achieve success is in employee recruitment.

Following the Lead of Marketing

Last year, Mark Miller wrote a piece for TLNT (Talent Management and HR), “It’s Time for HR to Follow Marketing’s Lead and Develop Employee Personas.” Personas are a commonly used tactic in marketing circles that help marketers “get into the heads” of their target audiences. Miller writes: “If this is the best practice for companies connecting with customers, why shouldn’t HR professionals use this same concept to truly understand their employees?” Why indeed?

In fact, that question can be broadened to ask: “Why shouldn’t HR take a marketing approach to attracting top talent to their organizations?” The answer, of course, is that they should. The same marketing principles that can be applied to attracting customers to a company can be applied to attracting employees. The process is the same.

Steps to Developing an Employee Recruitment Process Based on Marketing Principles

Following are some specific steps that HR leaders can take to boost their recruitment efforts through a marketing process:

  1. Make sure you’re effectively managing your “employer brand.” What does that mean? It means understanding how you would like your organization to be perceived compared to how it is actually perceived—and taking steps to close those gaps. How can you determine how you’re currently perceived? You can ask employees—even job candidates. You can glean information from online review channels like Glassdoor.com. Or you can conduct your own research with the employee populations you are recruiting from. A key point here—your messaging must reflect reality. As marketers say: “You need to live the brand promise.”
  2. Build an employee persona. What does your “ideal” candidate for a given position look like? As Miller stresses in his article, taking this step can help ensure that you clearly understand your potential employee audience, their interests and concerns. One way to develop a persona is by “profiling” top candidates that currently hold the position, or who have held the position. What are the traits that make them valuable to the organization? These are the traits, or attributes, you would seek in prospective employees.
  3. Understand what is important to the candidates you hope to attract. This can be done by reviewing secondary data online (e.g. research from trade organizations, comments and profiles of similar types of individuals on LinkedIn or polls/interviews/focus groups with existing employees.
  4. Analyze the competition. Just as companies have competitors for their products and services they also have competitors for staff. What companies do you compete against locally, regionally or nationally (depending on the scope of your search)? What attributes do these companies have that position them favorably against you? What attributes do you have that position your company more favorably based on what you know about what’s important to your target audience of potential applicants? These considerations will help to direct your messaging.
  5. Identify communication channels. How will you connect with potential candidates? LinkedIn is clearly a top site for recruiting today, but it may not be your only—or even you primary—source of candidates. Much will depend on the type of position you are recruiting for. For instance, if you’re looking for business professionals (e.g. accounting, HR, marketing, etc.), LinkedIn is likely to be a good communication channel. If you’re looking for tradespeople, however, (e.g. roofers, electricians, plumbers) it may not be such a good channel. On LinkedIn, its relatively easy to see what the field of candidates looks like by doing a people search within the geographic range you’re recruiting from. Other channels, depending on your target audience, might include trade publications, online directories—and even traditional classified listings.
  6. Create messaging. Your communication efforts related to recruitment should leverage the unique position you hold compared to competitors as well as emphasize the benefits of working for your company based on what you know about the target audience.
  7. Measure, monitor and modify your approach based on which communication channels and messaging yield the highest quality of applicants, the most hires, the most valued employees, etc.

Throughout the process, don’t hesitate to call on your marketing communication colleagues for assistance. They have a wealth of knowledge that can be applied to your recruitment efforts to ensure that you are using proven strategies to position your company as a great place to work.

Are Wellness Programs Wasted on the Well?

Wellness programs are increasingly common these days in organizations large and small. But some believe that participants tend to be those who were already well, or planning to get there. Is there evidence to suggest that employees who really need to avail themselves of these offerings are doing so? What best practices are organizations using to ensure that their investments in wellness programs are paying off?

Numbers Matter

Intuitively, and based on broad coverage of the general value of wellness programs for employees, it’s logical to think that the programs provide benefit. When working with the C-suite, though, intuition isn’t enough. HR leaders need to be able to link real results—quantified through actual costs savings—back to companies’ wellness initiatives.

For example, according to Fitbit, in 2014 Dayton Regional Transit Authority’s employees spent 8 hours a day sitting behind a wheel, had company-wide health problems and a yearly healthcare spend of $7+ million. They implemented Fitbit into their corporate wellness program and began offering onsite fitness classes. As a result, the company’s employees dropped an average of 17 glucose and 12 LDL cholesterol points and saved $2.3 million healthcare costs after one year.

Making the Connection

Making this type of cause and effective connection between wellness initiatives and some real, and relevant, bottom line impact helps to provide evidence in support of the time, effort and investment that these programs may entail. Yes, there are likely to be some general benefits that companies receive through their employee wellness efforts, including employee satisfaction, decreases in absenteeism, etc., but these soft benefits need to be augmented through quantifiable data.

The best time to think about making these types of bottom line connections, is before an initiative is implemented. Specific outcome measures should be identified at the beginning of any wellness program. In what ways do you believe the effort will generate results? What metrics will you monitor?

In larger organizations pilots can be set up to demonstrate the difference in employee populations that were, and were not, included in an initiative. For instance, suppose you were to provide employees with wearable devices of some type to monitor the number of steps they walk each day and challenge them to walk 10,000 steps a day for some period of time. You might decide that your outcome measures would be impact on absenteeism during the initiative and impact on specific types of healthcare claims over some period of time. You might do this pilot in one area of your organization and change nothing in other areas, then do a pre/post comparison of the data to determine if any positive change occurred.

Building Alliances

While this type of data certainly can be tracked, the process of tracking can challenge internal resources particularly in smaller organizations. In these cases, HR leaders may wish to consider partnerships with other companies or groups. In Hawaii, for instance, the Hawai’I Health at Work Alliance (HH@WA), a statewide initiative has measured attitudes toward worksite wellness programs and assessed the impact of the programs were having. According to this group’s research 69 percent of participant organizations saw an increase in employee productivity, 68 percent saw an increase in employee satisfaction and 61 percent reported an increase in company revenue that they tied back to their wellness programs. It is also of interest to note that only 38 percent of the companies surveyed had wellness programs in place.

Can these programs work? Yes. But HR leaders are well advised to ensure that they are implementing programs for reasons tied to company benefit and that they are measuring, monitoring and reporting on the benefits they achieve.

New Ways of Thinking About Performance Management

Face it. Performance management and employee reviews are the bane of existence for most managers—and the employees they manage! It’s unfortunate that a practice that should be designed to improve employee performance and contribution to the company, while developing career-related skills that are personally important, often becomes a dreaded—and, sometimes, contentious—once-a-year interaction. It doesn’t have to be that way; here are some new ways that HR is approaching the performance management process.

From Episodic to Ongoing

The idea of having a formal meeting, once a year, between an employee and his or her manager to get useful feedback to drive effectiveness and performance improvement is clearly flawed. In an era where jobs were narrowly defined, goals were clear, and the internal and external environment was very stable, that approach may have worked to a certain degree. It really doesn’t work today, though.

More companies are moving to more frequent ways for employees and managers to have conversations related to performance.

Adobe has gone from an annual performance review process to a Check-in approach that requires managers to meet with employees regularly to provide feedback. The result, according to Adobe, more engaged and empowered employees.

A Focus on Measurable Outcomes

What does a “3” really mean on a scale of “1-5”? That question has been the source of much conflict and consternation for both employees and managers as they attempted to navigate the often qualitative application of quantitative metrics to employee performance.

Google has been at the forefront of taking a more metric-driven approach, guided by KPCB’s John Doerr who encouraged Google to adopt Intel’s approach to using objectives and key results (OKRs) in performance evaluation, as outlined in a Fast Company article.

A key point made in a Harvard Business Review article, “The Performance Management Revolution,” by Peter Cappelli and Anna Tavis, is this: the biggest drawback to annual reviews is their focus on past, rather than future, behavior. “With their heavy emphasis on financial rewards and punishments and their end-of-year structure, they hold people accountable for past behavior at the expense of improving current performance and grooming talent for the future,” say the authors.

It’s a good point. Whichever model of, or approach to, performance management you take, a focus on how the process will serve to positively impact performance, productivity and profits should guide your decisions.

Tapping Into the Contingent Workforce

A report from Ardent Partners found that “35% of today’s total workforce is considered non-employee: freelance, independent, external, extended, contingent, etc.” In addition, “95% of organizations today perceiving their contingent workforce as important and vital not only to day-to-day operations, but also to ultimate enterprise success and growth.” This is a new staffing model for many employers and one that may hold both rewards and risks.

Often referred to as contractors, or contingent workers, this group of workers has also become known as the “gig economy.” Gigs are projects of short, but varying, lengths of duration that are performed for a wide range of clients. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are certain occupations that are more likely to lend themselves to gig work than others. These include:

  • Art and design
  • Computer and information technology
  • Construction and extraction
  • Media and communications
  • Transportation and material moving

While these have traditionally been the types of jobs most likely to lend themselves to contingent or contract work, rapid advances mean that other industries are becoming amenable to this type of employment relationship, including the healthcare industry.

Why Contingent Work, Why Now?

As a May 2017 Forbes piece points out: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some of the occupations with the highest projected growth in employment through 2024 include accountants, software developers, and nurses—the healthcare industry actually hired the largest portion of contingent positions in 2016.”

The rise in number of individuals who are engaged in the gig economy has been linked both to the millennial generation’s observation of the uncertainty of job security for their parents and this generation’s desire for flexibility and independence.

Services like Uber and Lyft are highly talked about examples of the burgeoning gig economy. A Pew Research study from 2016 found that 72 percent of Americans had “used at least one of 11 different shared and on-demand services.”

Benefits for Workers and Employers

Both those who are members of the contingent workforce and those who employ them can benefit from the relationship.

The workers benefit from the independence that comes from selecting the types of projects, and clients, they wish to work with; the variety involved in their work and access to employers not necessarily located in their geographic area.

Similarly, one big benefit for employers is the ability to recruit talent from a broader geographic region—even, in some cases, from around the globe. Employers also benefit from the ability to pay for talent when they need it, avoiding taking on the long-term liability of full-time employees.

Some Drawbacks

Gig work isn’t for everyone, of course, and there are disadvantages for contingent workers. These include the uncertainty of a steady flow of contingent work and lack of the traditional benefits they might receive from a traditional employer.

Employers see some negatives as well. Contingent workers, by definition, work for a variety of clients; employers are subject to their availability based on their schedules, not employer mandates. The biggest drawback for employers, though, relates to the ability to accurately define who is, and who is not, a contingent worker.

Being Sure They’re Not Employees

One major area of risk for employers working with contingent, contract or freelance employees is ensuring that they are, indeed, not considered employees and not subject to income, Social Security, Medicare and unemployment tax withholding requirements. There are stiff penalties for employers who fail to classify their employees correctly and, in recent years, the IRS has become more aggressive at finding and fining those who are not following the guidelines.

There are three broad categories that can help employers determine whether or not an employment relationship exists:

  • To what extent does the employer control how the work gets done. Is the individual truly independent or is the employer telling them when and how to do their work?
  • This includes such considerations as who sets the rate of pay, whether expenses are reimbursed and who provides tools and supplies.
  • Type of relationship. What written contracts exist? Does the individual receive benefits such as pension, insurance or vacation pay.

Additional information can be found on the IRS.gov site. While these criteria may seem fairly straightforward, the distinctions can be complex. Employers are advised to seek legal counsel to ensure that employees are being classified correctly.

Where to Find Them

Where can employers most reliably and conveniently find contingent workers? Staffing agencies are, of course, one reliable source of qualified individuals across a range of fields and professions. Contingent workers are also often online looking for their next great project. The traditional social media channels like LinkedIn, in particular, can be a great way to connect with these individuals. In addition, there are a wide range of websites that focus on bringing together contingent workers and clients—sites like Upwork (formerly Elance), Fiverr, Toptal and TaskRabbit are just a few examples of companies that are part of a rapidly growing way to connect companies and talent.

The Future

As technology continues to develop and change the way that work gets done, as well as where it gets done, and competition heats up globally, it is likely that the prevalence of contingent workers will increase. For many employers, the opportunity to find and leverage top talent that may otherwise be hard to find, and the flexibility of the gig economy, outweigh the potential downfalls.

The Balance Between Hiring for Fit and Inclusion

Talent managers these days talk a lot about “hiring for fit” and the concept is sound. After all, to create and maintain a strong corporate culture, companies are well served to ensure that those they hire will fit into that culture.

But, there’s a flip side to this commonly held wisdom. Building a culture based on “fit” can serve to keep those who are “different” in some ways out of the organization. That can create risks both from an EEOC standpoint and, perhaps more importantly, from an innovation standpoint. If your organization is built of people who look, act and think the same what innovative ideas and opportunities might you be overlooking?

The Argument for Fit

Culture could be thought of the morals and mores that hold an organization together. That shared beliefs that define “how work gets done here.” Fit, we’re told, is an important factor that goes into determining whether, or not, an employee will be successful at an organization and organizations are uniquely known for their individual cultures.

Amazon, for instance, is reputed to be cut-throat and competitive. REI, on the other hand, is known for a culture where employees can give “life to their purpose.” It’s a team-based environment where employees collaborate rather than compete.

What makes a culture “good,” of course, will be highly dependent on each individual employee’s preferences. Competitive employees, for instance, may find Amazon to be a much better culture than REI. Those who prefer a collaborative environment, on the other hand, would be wise to steer clear of organizations like Amazon.

That dichotomy underlies the argument for hiring for fit, as many top companies—like Google, Southwest Airlines, Zappos and more are widely known to do.

But, in the process of hiring employees who “fit” are companies also at risk of minimizing the value that can come from diversity of thought—and background? Is a focus on a more inclusive, rather than homogeneous culture more beneficial?

The Argument for Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are two closely tied concepts that a growing number of organizations are focused on today. Diversity generally refers to the differences among people. In a workplace, those differences might be related to sex, age, race, religion—and a wide range of other factors. Inclusion, in a work environment, refers to the ability to include—or allow—a wide range of thoughts and opinions to flourish. It’s not just about having a diverse workforce; it’s about ensuring that the diverse ideas of that diverse workforce can be leveraged.

Differences of opinions, and diversity of thought can lead to breakthrough thinking that can fuel innovation and lead to new discoveries—new products, new markets, new processes. If everybody thinks the same, common wisdom would suggest, breakthroughs are less likely to occur.

Bringing the Two Together

Can cultural fit and diversity coexist in an organization? Of course. The answer lies in ensuring that we are considering these constructs appropriately.

When we’re talking about cultural fit we’re talking about shared values or philosophies about how we will interact and work with each other. Fit shouldn’t be, as it sometimes is, used to consider how well you might “get along with” or “agree with” individuals. Fit, for instance, isn’t about ensuring that a high-tech company is staffed with Gen Y and Gen Z employees because Baby Boomers “aren’t like us.”

When we’re talking about diversity we’re not just talking about differences in the way we look. Importantly, we’re talking about—or should be talking about—differences in the ways we think, the unique background and perspectives we can bring to bear to ensure that conversations that take place can drive innovation. And, yes, our different ages, sex, ethnic backgrounds and religions all serve to provide us with important differing perspectives that can open new ways of approaching the work we do.

Southwest Airlines, for instance, has a strong cultural focus on customer service and fun. That means that hiring managers will look for employees who value serving others and value having fun. That doesn’t mean that they will avoid certain segments of employees based on perceptions that they “aren’t fun.”

Yes, it is okay to hire for fit when you’re looking for employees who will uphold your organization’s values based on objective criteria that indicate whether, or not, they will do so. No, it’s not okay to hire for fit and base decisions on biases or misperceptions. “Older people aren’t flexible.” “Women can’t be tough.” “White males are too conservative.”

For organizations to succeed in an increasingly competitive and increasingly faced-paced business environment they need to draw upon the input and wide range of backgrounds and opinions of employees they select to join their organizations. Cultural fit does not mean the employees you hire all look or think alike. It means that they have the likelihood of thinking differently, together, with a shared focus of supporting the organization’s mission, vision and values.

APN Encourages a Culture of Giving

APN Consulting recently sponsored the latest fundraiser by inFusion to benefit the Hugs for Brady Foundation.  inFusion brings together a group of selfless and talented teens with a passion for music and a desire to use their abilities to make a difference.  The group holds regular live music events showcasing their unique musical talents with the proceeds going to various charities.  Learn more about this amazing group here:  http://infusion2017.blogspot.com/

APN CEO Vedant Pathak was truly touched by the mission of the Hugs for Brady Foundation and wanted to do more to help.  Vedant has long believed in inspiring employees to make positive contributions to society and encourages volunteer work by providing staff with volunteer hours.  He invited founder Sherrie Wells to the APN Consulting headquarters to talk about the mission of the Hugs for Brady Foundation.  Sherrie and her husband started the Hugs for Brady Foundation in 2009 to help children with cancer following the diagnosis of their own son Brady.  Brady succumbed to the disease in 2010, but his legacy lives on in every child helped by the Hugs for Brady Foundation.

Sherrie recounted her painful story and shared some of the amazing things they’ve been able to accomplish thus far.  The money they raise goes directly to:

  • Advanced cancer research at centers such as The Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
  • Special projects such as funding the region’s first sedation-free MRI project at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital
  • Helping families defray the costs of cancer treatment for their sick children
  • Providing computers, TV’s, furniture and video games for children at oncology units like the Robert Wood Johnson Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital’s Hematology/Oncology Unit
  • Organizing Life-Saving Blood Drives

APN staff was moved by Brady’s story and inspired by the Wells’ ability to turn their grief in to something positive to honor the memory of their beloved son.  Following the presentation, Sarah Bunales, head of APN’s healthcare staffing division, presented Sherrie with a donation in honor of the division’s first anniversary.

We are all proud to be a part of APN and as individuals we strive to continue paying it forward in our daily lives.  Stay tuned for more information about how APN staff are using their volunteer hours!

 

Communicating When You Don’t Have All The Answers

HR professionals are finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place these days as they attempt to communicate with employees about impending legislative and policy changes that may affect their healthcare coverage, their benefit options, and more. Employees want answers, but HR and company leaders often don’t have those answers. How can you successfully respond to employee questions and address concerns in an era of uncertainty?

Work to Build a Climate of Openness and Trust Always

The best time to work at building a strong climate of openness and trust—one where employees feel comfortable asking even the toughest questions and where they trust the answers they receive—is before the need for sensitive communication exists. When employees know they can trust their leaders and HR representatives to be straightforward and honest with them, they’re more likely to accept “no-response responses” like “we don’t know right now, but we’ll let you know when we do.”

Develop Multiple Channels for Two-Way Communication

While HR and organizational leaders will often have messages that they will be sending to employees via various channels, it’s important that employees also have the opportunity to share information, to ask questions and to seek information. Two-way communication channels like suggestion boxes (even the “old-fashioned kind,” online chat rooms and open door policies help to ensure that employees have the information they need—and that leaders and HR professionals have a finger on the pulse of employees interests and concerns.

Be Transparent

While not all information can be shared, it’s important to be transparent about why. For instance, for publicly held organizations some information of a material nature must be carefully guarded to avoid running afoul of the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) guidelines. In regulated industries—like banking, healthcare or the energy industry—other rules and regulations may govern when certain information may not be released.

It’s important for employees to understand, though, the restrictions that the company may face and why those restrictions exist. And, of course, to trust that when the time is right, they’ll receive the information they need.

Keep Track

It’s important to stay on top of the types of questions and issues that concern employees regardless of how they emerge. Devise ways of easily capturing their information—through technology or through management feedback channels. This can provide you with insights about issues that are of concern—and help you avoid overly focusing on issues that really aren’t of that great concern to employees.

Tracking these inputs can also help you arm managers and leaders with FAQs and responses that can help them respond to questions that employees may be asking.

Let Your Employees Be “The First to Know” Whenever Possible

Employees are an important audience for any organization. When they feel respected and important they’ll serve the company well. Whenever possible, make sure that your employee audience is one of, if not the, first to hear any important message. Employees don’t like to be blindsided by friends, neighbors or relatives who ask them questions about information they’ve heard on the news that employees weren’t aware of. Arming them with that information can help them spread the company message accurately.

Recognize That Employees Are All Part of a Larger Communication Ecosystem

Employees “get it” so give them credit for being aware of the bigger picture related to many of the issues that impact them. Employees know, for instance, that the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”) is up in the air right now. Consequently, they understand that you don’t have answers. They know when the economy is declining, when competitors enter the market—and when business is booming.

Give them credit for that awareness and take advantage of the opportunity to build your messaging based on the broader messages that employees have already been exposed to.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say, “We Don’t Know”

Finally, don’t be afraid to say, “we don’t know.” Sometimes you simply don’t. Being open about these situations, and ensuring that employees trust that when you do know, you’ll provide them with the information they need, build trust.

Follow Up!

While it’s okay to not always have all the answers, it’s also important that when you do learn the answer you share that information with employees as soon as possible.

Ask for Feedback

On a regular basis, perhaps annually, ask employees for feedback on how you’re doing at providing them with the information they need. Do they feel that the organization communicates with them effectively? Do they believe that management and the HR department is open and transparent with them? Do they trust the messages they receive from the organization? What issues do they feel most/least educated/aware of?

The answers to these questions can help you identify areas of opportunity for improvement to ensure that the communication climate in your organization remains positive—even when you don’t have all the answers.

Developing Your Employee Brand Ambassadors

Companies exert a great deal of time and effort to build their brands and position themselves positively, and effectively, relative to the competition. Much of that time and effort is focused externally—on creating marketing messages that are disseminated through a wide range of communication channels from the traditional (print, broadcast and outdoor) to the digital (websites and social media). The external audience is certainly an important area of focus, but there’s another audience equally, if not more, important—the internal audience, or your employees.

Employees are in a great position to either make, or break, a company’s brand. As they interact with friends, neighbors, relatives and others, they’re often turned to as a source of information about the companies they work at—and the products and services those companies offer.

When that happens, what kinds of message and information are they sharing?

Employees as Ambassadors

HR has an important role to play in ensuring that employees are positioned to serve effectively as brand ambassadors–from hire, to onboarding, and throughout the employee life cycle. Beyond that, of course, the HR function plays a pivotal role in making sure that the work environment is supportive, positive and conducive to being called a great place to work.

As an article in Business 2 Community (B2C), by Dan Hickey, pointed out earlier this year, “fully engaged employees can become ambassadors for the brand.” The flip side of that statement should be obvious: disengaged employees are unlikely to be strong brand advocates.

If you think about your own experiences as a consumer, it’s abundantly clear that what employees have to say about the companies they work for and the products and services those companies offer can have a significant impact on decisions to buy those products and services.

Cultivating a cadre of supportive brand ambassadors, though, requires a focus both on the work environment itself and on ensuring that employees have the information and knowledge they need to help support the organization’s message.

It’s not a simple process and not one that occurs in a linear fashion. There are a number of factors that impact to what extent employees are positioned to serve as ambassadors to help spread positive, brand-supporting messages.

Partnering With Marketing

Do an online search for “HR is the new marketing” and you’ll generate more than 103 million results (on Google). For good reason. More companies are recognizing the value that employees bring to the marketing equation. That elevates HR’s role as an important element of supporting brand value. It also requires HR and marketing staff members to work together to ensure alignment, consistency and relevance of key messages to support employees in a brand ambassador role. There are tasks for both sides to take on:

HR:

  • Take on a leadership role in working to ensure that the work environment and culture are strong and supportive; monitor and measure employee satisfaction and engagement and take steps to address potential areas of concern
  • Provide managers and supervisors with the information and training they need to create a positive work environment and support the corporate culture
  • Ensure that the recruitment messages are brand aligned, carrying the same key points as other corporate communications
  • Ensure that the hiring process screen candidates for the traits and capabilities that will position them to serve effectively in a brand ambassador role
  • Establish policies and guidelines to ensure that employees understand their role in communicating company information, how to participate in social media channels, when they can (and, perhaps, can’t) act on behalf of the employer, etc.
  • Reach out to connect with marketing colleagues to create positive working relationships and opportunities for ongoing interaction

 

Marketing:

  • Provide HR with the messaging and support needed to ensure that their employment communication materials are aligned with marketing messages
  • Ensure the HR department is updated and aware of new communications, campaigns and initiatives
  • Provide training, coaching and support to help HR colleagues understand general marketing principles and best practices
  • Reach out to connect with HR colleagues to create positive working relationships and opportunities for ongoing interaction

Both:

  • Identify areas where employees may not have the information and knowledge they need to serve effectively in a brand ambassador role
  • Develop messaging and support to provide employees with ready access to the information they need
  • Communicate internally about the importance of employees assuming a brand ambassador role
  • Commit to working together to support both the employer and company brand

 

The employee audience is often overlooked as an important channel of information to help support the brand and provide reliable, credible and timely information to key audiences. Don’t make this mistake. Take steps to build relationships between HR and marketing, to identify desired outcomes and to work together to develop brand ambassadors.

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