High-tech communication isn’t always best … even at a high-tech company



By Darrin Tonsfeldt
Division Director
The Village Business Institute

I recently had the opportunity to tour Menlo Innovations and hear its CEO, Richard Sheridan, speak on the way they work. The company is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan and does software design and development. It’s the kind of business you would expect to have a very high-tech work environment. Well… there is high-end software design going on but their approach to process and teamwork is downright old fashioned. Not what I had expected.

One of the first things you notice as you walk into the facility is a relaxed, casual, open work environment. Work stations, with computers, are surrounded by people who are actually talking with each other. And it quickly becomes clear they are not just chit chatting; they are working.

As an introduction, Richard gave us an overview of the company and how they organize work. They use great big bulletin boards with cards listing projects and time estimates; with color-coded sticky dots to indicate the stage of the project. Richard made it clear they do not use project management software; their approach is high-touch and high-communication both with employees and customers. When asked why, Richard said it’s because direct communication, face-to-face, is far more efficient and effective. This is coming from an engineer who builds software.

Many of the employees at Menlo appeared to be of the millennial generation, folks we typically assume to be most comfortable with electronic communications. When asked how this generation has adapted to the Menlo culture, Richard said that team members understand programming takes place on the computers, while resolving problems and communicating with team members takes place by talking and interacting with each other. He said they not only get it—but they thrive in and enjoy this kind of work culture.

The takeaway, for me, from the tour at Menlo Innovations was to not get too carried away with e-mail, being paperless, web-based meetings, etc. The best solution to having a productive and fun work environment may just be having a culture that encourages people to talk to each other as they work together on project planning and completion. Richard Sheridan’s book “Joy, Inc.” is definitely on the top of my reading list.


If you want to talk about the culture in your workplace, call us at The Village Business Institute. We can help you explore how you can make your organization the kind of place where people want to work. Contact The Village Business Institute at 1-800-627-8220 or www.TheVBI.com.

Prejudice on “The Voice”



The Voice is a very popular television program that is half talent show and half game show. Singers enter the program as contestants in blind auditions, in which four judges can pick them to be on their team. The most talented singers typically have multiple judges trying to convince them they are the best person to help with their career. After all the teams have been selected, the competition heats up between singers and continues until one singer/one team is crowned champion. Initially, I didn’t pay much attention to this program, but my wife liked it and it started to grow on me. This is one of a handful of shows we watch together.

On a recent evening, a talented singer came on whose voice and style of singing did not match his persona. No big deal as auditions are blind, so voices are judged solely on their quality and not on preconceived notions of who should sing what style of music. It wasn’t until after this contestant was selected and all the judges turned around that some questionable, maybe prejudicial, comments came up. The comments, maybe intended to be complimentary, were about it being a surprising performance from a “white boy.” Initially the reference to color and gender kind of went by me. But then several similar comments were made and it struck me—why wasn’t this just a great performance? What did being white and male have to do with it?

I understand The Voice is entertainment—but would such comments be considered appropriate if they were referencing another color, boy or girl? Probably not, as such comments have so often been used to demean or diminish the accomplishments of people whose skin color or gender did not match the expectations of the time or situation. I don’t think the judges were purposefully trying to be demeaning, but negative biases can be insidious in nature. The contestant was happy to be selected and unlikely to say “Don’t call me boy.” Even if he was offended and wanted to say something, he wasn’t in a good position to tell the judges–who held his opportunity in their hands.

Why is this an important discussion? It points to the need for each of us to be aware of the biases and prejudices that influence the decisions we make. As leaders we need to be self-aware. The decisions we make influence not just the opportunities of individuals, but also the success of our organizations or businesses. It is why quality organizations spend time talking about diversity and how to use multiple talents and perspectives to strengthen team and organizational performance.

Awareness is key and at The Village Business Institute we help organizations, leaders, employees, be self-aware and in tune with the business imperative of being a safe and respectful place for all employees and customers. To learn more, contact me at The Village Business Institute, 1-800-627-8220, www.TheVBI.com.

About the blogger
Darrin Tonsfeldt has a background of program administration, employee supervision, and clinical experience, as well as 20 years of experience in organization consulting and planning. He provides oversight of The Village Business Institute, Regional Counseling Services, and The Village Financial Resource Center. He also provides consulting services that include strategic planning; career, leadership, management, and executive coaching; corporate training and group facilitation; crisis response in the workplace; and organizational consulting.

 

Protecting Your Employees from Workplace Violence



Have you or any of your friends or family ever experienced violence while at work? To help answer this question a definition can be helpful. One I often use when talking about violence in the workplace is from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): “Workplace violence is any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting. It includes, but is not limited to beatings, stabbings, suicides, shootings, rapes, near suicides, psychological traumas such as threats, obscene phone calls, an intimidating presence, and harassment of any nature such as being followed, sworn at or shouted at.”

As the definition states, violence at work encompasses much more than just homicides. It includes a wide range of non-fatal incidents–which occur at a much higher rate than fatal incidents. Not all of those incidents are perpetrated by employees; increasingly acts of violence are brought into the workplace by non-employees.

I recently presented “Violence in the Workplace” training to an association of safety professionals. I discussed the concept of concentric consequences of violence, fatal or non-fatal. The concept is basically this; when violence occurs to anyone in the workplace, the consequences have a ripple effect across the organization. Violence does not just affect the primary victim, but everyone in the organization with a relationship to either the victim or perpetrator. The ripples can become riptides that pull co-workers apart, creating a work environment that feels unsafe. And, as the safety professionals at this training could tell you, unsafe work environments become under-performing businesses.

At the end of the training, we discussed programs and policies aimed at helping prevent or intervene on acts of violence. Of particular concern to the audience was domestic violence and the question, “Should employers require victims of domestic violence with orders of protection to mandatorily report such orders to their supervisor?” The experienced safety professional who posed this question was concerned about potentially violent perpetrators seeking out their spouses at work. It appeared to be his belief that having such a mandatory policy could act as a preventative measure and help the company head off any problems. Although the belief seems plausible, consider the following two points before agreeing:

  • How would you feel about having to tell your supervisor about being a victim of abuse? Most victims of domestic abuse feel a great deal of shame and powerlessness and may feel re-victimized if they are required to report an order of protection to their employer.
  • Now picture yourself as a supervisor disciplining a victim of violence for not reporting to you an order of protection. Good human resource practices tell us that when you make a policy mandatory you do not optionally enforce it. Therefore employees who do not comply with a mandatory policy are in violation of company rules and subject to disciplinary process.

The intent of such a mandatory policy is honorable in that it seeks to protect both the victim and his or her co-workers. The reality is such a policy is no guarantee of protection. Some employees may choose to ignore the policy, some supervisors may choose not to enforce it, and there are better ways to enhance safety. One is to have a policy that encourages employees to voluntarily report orders of protection to their employer and provides them with reporting options. Such a policy needs to consider the employee’s right to privacy while taking steps, on a need-to-know-basis, to make proper security arrangements.

A second area of importance when it comes to enhancing safety is the quality of the employee/supervisor relationship. An employee who feels they are treated fairly and respectfully by a supervisor are much more likely to let the supervisor know what is going on. The supervisor can then be helpful to the employee and make reasonable security arrangements—rather than unnecessarily spending valuable time enforcing a mandatory policy.

If you are concerned about safety at your workplace, make sure your supervisors know how to recognize and respectfully attend to employees who have experienced violence. Hiring, training, and retaining outstanding supervisors is a must, as is having a quality employee assistance program [EAP]. Supervisors who build trusting relationships with their employees know there will be times they need the resources of an EAP to provide help to employees struggling with domestic violence, drug and alcohol issues, difficulties at work, and more.

To learn how you can access high quality consulting, training, and employee assistance programs to prevent or deal with workplace violence, call The Village Business Institute at 1-800-627-8220, or visit our website at www.TheVBI.com.

About the blogger
Darrin Tonsfeldt has a background of program administration, employee supervision, and clinical experience, as well as 20 years of experience in organization consulting and planning. He provides oversight of The Village Business Institute, Regional Counseling Services, and Financial Resource Center programs. He also provides consulting services that include strategic planning; career, leadership, management, and executive coaching; corporate training and group facilitation; crisis response in the workplace; and organizational consulting.

 

Trained Employees Waiting at the Station

“How much do I invest in my employees?”—an age old question asked by many business owners and leaders who sometimes fear that trained-up employees will leave for another job opportunity, taking the training with them. On the flip side, if you don’t train your employees, you end up with untrained employees stuck at work stations underperforming, or worse yet, driving customers away.

So what is an employer to do, train or not train? As with many questions, this question does not have a black and white, yes or no answer. It is reasonable to expect applicants for jobs to have skills applicable to the position they are applying for. It is also a reality of our current economic and technological times that the pace of change has increased and the regulatory environment has gotten more complex. The applicant who was highly qualified and able to perform all the essential functions of the job can quickly become the employee with outdated skills. I think we need to reframe the question—is this particular employee worth training?

In our consulting work, we sometimes run across what Mitchell Kusy and Elizabeth Holloway refer to in their book, “Toxic Workplace,” as the toxic employee. (If you want to learn more about toxic employees, you might want to pick up a copy of the book. Or give me a call at 701-451-5027 and I’d happy to visit with you about it.) We have found little remedy for the truly toxic employee other than assisting them in transitioning to a different line of work. Typically, a toxic employee is not worth the investment of more training and development dollars.

A good candidate for training and development is the loyal employee with a positive attitude who has been productive but whose skill sets have become outdated. These are the kind of folks you want to invest in. Sit down with them to create a professional development or training plan that will get them back to full productivity. While not every employee will be interested, most will recognize the need to keep honing their skills. Training and developing this type of employee usually provides a very good return on investment in terms of retaining a loyal employee and returning to or exceeding former levels of productivity.

Top performing high maintenance employees provide a particular challenge. These are the most creative folks in organizations who come with eccentricities that can put off team members and cause serious difficulties in the work culture. They aren’t toxic, however, and training and coaching services for such employees can create a high return on investment. These top performing high maintenance employees often need assistance with issues such as teamwork, communications, management, and leadership skills. And because they are high performers, they are usually worth the investment.

Mandatory trainings, like sexual harassment prevention, drug free workplace, universal precautions, etc. , are the kinds of trainings smart employers invest in because they know it decreases their risk for lawsuits and regulatory infractions. We do see employers who try to slide by and not provide the mandatory trainings. Not all get caught but those who do take huge hits to their reputations and finances.

Again the primary question is not whether to provide or not provide training to employees. The question to be asking is which employees do you want to retain and keep productive? Well trained and appreciated employees are much more likely to stay on the job and less likely to be looking for new opportunities.

If you have questions about how The Village Business can help your business or organization provide high quality training, contact us at 1-800-627-8220 or visit our website at www.TheVBI.com.

About the blogger
Darrin Tonsfeldt has a background of program administration, employee supervision, and clinical experience, as well as 20 years of experience in organization consulting and planning. He provides oversight of The Village Business Institute, Regional Counseling Services, and Financial Resource Center programs. He also provides consulting services that include strategic planning; career, leadership, management, and executive coaching; corporate training and group facilitation; crisis response in the workplace; and organizational consulting.

Benefits Brokers Posing as Consultants


Is your benefits consultant really a benefits broker? Would you know the difference, and should you care? I work with brokers and consultants as both a vendor and as an employer, and most have been upstanding and dedicated professionals. So I am cautious about the rant I am about to go on, as I would hate to see a broad brush applied to all benefits consultants and benefit brokers. Keeping that in mind, I do have concerns about brokers who try to pass themselves off as consultants.

First, let’s back up for a few moments and differentiate between brokers and consultants. Benefit brokers are representatives of particular benefit products—they are marketing the products and services they wish to sell. There is nothing wrong with this—it is the nature of commerce. A consultant, using Peter Block’s definition from Flawless Consulting: “is a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, a group, or an organization, but who has no direct power to make changes or implement programs.” By expanding this definition to benefits consultant, we get, “a person who neither provides nor manages benefit products or services, rather they are a source of objective advice on the products and services that will best meet management’s needs.”

Now here is the rant. Everything would be great if brokers and consultants stuck to the above definitions. The reality though is that a few players in the benefits market have been doing some serious blurring of the lines between what a consultant advises and what a broker provides. One such way the blurring takes place is when a benefits broker [vendor] presents their sales people as consultants. A second is when a benefits broker establishes within their organization a separate entity of business to provide benefits consulting. The third is when an independent benefits consultant only recommends products and services for which they earn a commission.

Let’s take each of the three and look at them more closely to see if they really are obstructions of vision, or maybe just reasonable business practices. In the first example, it is not unreasonable to ask what is so bad about a broker calling himself a consultant—particularly if the broker is truly transparent about any connections to specific products and services they get paid for selling. Part of a broker’s job is to advise clients on the products and services that will best meet an employer’s needs. Where the problem arises is when brokers hide or don’t declare their financial connections to products and services they sell, and then try to pass themselves off as objective consultants. Are they being transparent, are they being honest? Not really, and most of us would not feel too good about the advice we get from someone like this. Fortunately, I have not run into a lot of brokers passing themselves off as consultants, though they are out there.

The second example is somewhat more common, particularly among larger brokerages. If the brokerage’s consulting department is truly independent and has provided objective advice including recommendations to use products and services not vended by their brokerage division, this would seem to be a consulting service you can trust. Unfortunately what we see more often from these consulting departments is the rubberstamping of the products and services offered by their parent company. When we hire consultants, we expect them to be objective, so just rubberstamping their own products would seem to raise some questions about their integrity. How would you feel about trusting the well-being of your employees to a consulting department that only recommends products their parent company sells?

In the third example, our experience with independent benefits consultants is that most truly are a resource employers can trust to make objective decisions about health benefits. In other words, they work for the employer, not a benefits broker or vendor, and typically work on straight consulting fees. If they do have a financial connection, commission, with a particular vendor, they let their consulting clients know and most consultants make sure any commissions are clearly identified in any requests for proposals. Independent consultants who hide these financial relationships are inviting employers to doubt their objectivity, professionalism, and trustworthiness. Even with that said, some independent consultants have sweetheart deals with certain vendors. Before you hire a consultant, make sure you ask if they have any financial connections with vendors.

As I said in the beginning of this post, most of the brokers and consultants I have encountered have operated with integrity and full disclosure. If you are looking for someone to help you select the best health benefits for your organization and employees, do your research and ask the right questions so you find “one of the good ones.”

If you have questions about how you can provide health and wellness services for your employees, give us a call at The Village Business Institute 1-800-627-8220 or visit our website www.TheVBI.com.

About the blogger
Darrin Tonsfeldt has a background of program administration, employee supervision, and clinical experience, as well as 20 years of experience in organization consulting and planning. He provides oversight of The Village Business Institute, Regional Counseling Services and Financial Resource Center programs along with consulting services that include: strategic planning; career, leadership, management, and executive coaching; corporate training and group facilitation; crisis response in the workplace; and organizational consulting.

 

The End of the World

Is it the end of the world—12/21/12, fiscal cliffs, and Christian Ponder who can’t throw a pass from the pocket. Most us of don’t think the world will end on 12/21, though going over a fiscal cliff may happen, and for heaven’s sake, who knows what would happen if Ponder ever threw a completed pass for more than 30 yards. It could be earth shattering. My concerns aside—what’s on your mind? And if you’re an employer or supervisor, what do you think your employees are worrying about this time of year?

Our employees are facing plenty of very real uncertainties and some of them are more than just a little scary. Health Care Reform [is it good or bad?], budget short falls, unknown impacts of increasing and changing regulations on employers and more, all coming at a time of year with expectations of peace, joy, and human kindness. It is not surprising to find employees feeling more “bah humbug” than “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah.”

Most of us will work our way through the season and into the New Year dealing with our own personal ups and downs, anxiety and joy. It is a common human experience to have mixed emotions and there have and will always be uncertainties in life we need to cope with. I wonder though about those who lose the resolve to cope… would you recognize when someone you know truly feels like it is the end of the world?

Suicide is a reality at this time of year, and as employers and co-workers, being aware of the possibility of suicide in the workplace can be lifesaving. It can help us to know when to reach out and truly care about others. The American Association of Suicidology has an easy-to-remember mnemonic devise to help remember the warning signs of suicide, “IS PATH WARM.”

I Ideation
S Substance Abuse

P Purposelessness
A Anxiety
T Trapped
H Hopelessness

W Withdrawal
A Anger
R Recklessness
M Mood Changes

One or two of these signs by themselves do not necessarily mean someone is suicidal though they may be sad, anxious or even depressed and in need of some help. The more signs someone exhibits the greater concern we should have for their well-being. To get more information on these warning signs and signs of acute risk go to www.suicidology.org.

When you recognize these signs it is very important not to ignore them and assist the person in getting help or finding someone who can help them. The Village Business Institute’s Employee Assistance Programs provide employers a resource to help their employees and their family members with anxiety, depression, and drug abuse—which are often issues people struggle with before choosing to take their life. If you do not have an EAP with The Village, help is also available through The Village’s Counseling programs—call 1-800-627-8220 for more information or to make an appointment.

In situations where someone is threatening to kill themselves or harm others, do not hesitates to call 911 immediately.

If you have questions about how your business or organization can provide health and wellness services for your employees, call us at 1-800-627-8220 or visit our website at www.TheVBI.com.

For Lack of a Thank You

Have you ever been in a store and as you checked out with your items, the clerk just stared at you, or didn’t even look at you? Or have you been in a restaurant when the server made it very clear you should be thanking them? Leaves me wondering if the whole process of customer service etiquette; “Please,” “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome” has gotten very confused or lost.

Something happened the other day that got me thinking about this topic. I was standing in line behind a woman as she was unloading a cart full of items onto the check-out conveyor belt. One by one the clerk dutifully scanned each item and bagged it. After the last item was scanned the woman slid her credit card through the reader and then loaded her bags back into her cart. As she handed the woman her receipt, the clerk said in a flat voice, “Here is your receipt Ma’am.” There was a pause and then as the woman put the receipt in her purse she said, “Thank you.” The clerk turned away, saying nothing, and started scanning my items.

It struck me there was something missing in terms of customer service and just plain old being polite in this exchange. I wondered how satisfying of an experience it was for the woman to be a customer at that store, and I wondered if the clerk had ever been trained on the importance of being appreciative to customers. When it was my turn to take my receipt I also paused, looked at the clerk, and waited for her to say something. She faintly smiled, said nothing, and turned to the next customer.

Was I upset, angry, or incensed that I did not get a thank you from the clerk? Not at all, it was not that big of thing compared to all that goes on in the world, and I got the items I wanted. Did I feel appreciated or was any kind of customer loyalty encouraged by the clerk’s actions—“No.” For me, the lack of a thank you from a clerk made my experience at that store unremarkable at best. Will I go back there? Maybe or maybe not, but I do tend to frequent stores or businesses who appreciate me as a customer far more often than those who don’t.

Did I blame the clerk for the part she played in this far less than a great customer service experience? In part, yes, because each of us is responsible for our own actions and how we treat others. In part, no, because I understand how much an employer’s work culture affects employees and the level of customer service they provide.

Employees often treat customers in ways they feel treated by their employers. Sometimes as employers we unintentionally send the wrong messages about what we expect of our employees. And, at times, actions like cutting training or benefits to save money can backfire and cost the business in terms of lower productivity, decreased customer service, and employee turnover.

As an employer, do you train supervisors to train and appreciate their employees? Do you provide a safe place to work? Do you offer meaningful and worthwhile benefits to your employees to help them be productive and well? All those things matter and impact how your employees treat your customers.

If you have questions about how your business or organization can provide remarkable customer service, give us a call at The Village Business Institute, 800-627-8220, or visit our website at www.TheVBI.com.

About the blogger
Darrin Tonsfeldt, director of The Village Business Institute, has a background of program administration, employee supervision, and clinical experience, as well as 20 years of experience in organization consulting and planning. He provides oversight of The Village Business Institute and Fargo Counseling Services programs along with consulting services that include: strategic planning; career, leadership, management, and executive coaching; corporate training and group facilitation; crisis response in the workplace; and organizational consulting. Tonsfeldt is a MN Licensed Psychologist, ND Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor, Certified Employee Assistance Professional, and Senior Professional in Human Resources.


 

 

 

Bashful Employees

How important is customer service to your business and what kind of person does it take in your industry to provide exceptional service? Does a bashful employee come to mind? Typically, we don’t think of bashful employees as being exceptional customer service folks. They don’t fit the customer service stereotype of being outgoing and wonderful at small talk, with great eye contact and a hardy handshake; though those bashful types or behind-the-scenes employees may be the most important customer service providers on our teams.

Savvy businesses understand not all of their customer service folks are comfortable at the front of the room meeting and greeting people. Some of our most important employees are folks who work in what can be considered non-customer contact positions. These are the workers who fill orders, machine-tool parts, handle accounts payable functions, etc. Very often these people are the service providers behind the sales.

A study conducted by Northwestern University’s “Forum for People Performance Management & Measurement” looked at the impacts of non-customer contact employee’s attitudes and behaviors on company performance. In brief, they found that there is a direct link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction, and between customer satisfaction and improved financial performance. In addition they reported the key characteristic explaining employee satisfaction was the quality of communication both up and down the chain of command. So what does this mean in terms of our bashful employees?

There are a few things to keep in mind. Getting someone who is shy or bashful engaged in a conversation requires sensitivity to the stress the individual experiences if they are put on the spot in front of a group. One-on-one conversations are often the better way to initially build rapport and trust and get information to and from the bashful employee. In such conversations, help the employee understand their input, ideas and creativity are needed to ensure the success of the business.

As trust builds, provide opportunities for the bashful employee to find success in speaking to small groups or providing input in team meetings. The expectation is not that they become extroverts or dramatically change who they are. The goal here is for the employee to become an engaged member of the team.

Being a non-customer contact employee does not necessarily mean a person is bashful; however, when you have an employee who is not speaking up or participating on your team it can be an indicator of barriers to successful communication. Barriers limiting quality communications up and down your businesses chain of command can have an adverse impact on your financial performance.

Consultants at The Village Business Institute are experts in helping businesses improve communications, employee engagement and customer satisfaction and in turn help your business be more financially successful. To speak to one of our highly qualified consultants call us at 800-627-8220 or visit our website at www.TheVBI.com.

About the blogger
Darrin Tonsfeldt, director of The Village Business Institute, has a background of program administration, employee supervision, and clinical experience, as well as 20 years of experience in organization consulting and planning. He provides oversight of The Village Business Institute and Fargo Counseling Services programs along with consulting services that include: strategic planning; career, leadership, management, and executive coaching; corporate training and group facilitation; crisis response in the workplace; and organizational consulting. Tonsfeldt is a MN Licensed Psychologist, ND Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor, Certified Employee Assistance Professional, and Senior Professional in Human Resources.

 

Not Quite Ready for Some Football!

It has been awhile since my last post. I took some time off to enjoy the end of summer and all those good outdoor things that go with it. Now, as my attention has turned towards fall and the inevitability of winter on the northern plains, watching a little NFL from the comfort of my family room has taken on an appealing quality. I still like to go on some outdoor adventures, but I really do not like getting bone-chilling cold.

Earlier this week I was checking the sports apps on my phone and read about a big fracas between ESPN and Hank Jr. Seems Hank said something slightly confrontational—well now that’s quite a surprise. I wondered, “Is this another Charlie Sheen kind of situation?” and started looking into what was said and who said it.

In Sheen’s situation, he made some fairly pointed derogatory comments about his employer and seemed bent on creating embarrassment for the company signing his checks. Not a smart move and not something an employer has to tolerate. Even if some of Charlie’s comments were justified, he does not have a constitutional right to be verbally abusive towards his employer or fellow employees—they also have rights. In private employment there is no constitutional right to free speech; however there are protections against harassment, discrimination, and abusive treatment.

My sense of what Hank said is that it is nothing like what Charlie did. Hank said, “President Barack Obama and House Speaker Rep. John Boehner golfing together was like Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu playing a round.” Anyone following the political landscape in this country and the divide that exists between Congress and the president gets this vivid, and purposefully outrageous analogy. Most people cringe at analogies that involve Hitler, but kept in context, how does this personal comment about our country’s political contrasts hurt ESPN? Especially knowing Hank is a paid entertainer who sings to introduce football, not a commentator speaking on behalf of the network. HE was not representing his employer, ESPN, or football, just his own thoughts.

As employers we deal with employees saying things they shouldn’t have said all the time; and yes, sometimes we fire them for it. When there is a complaint or concern about something an employee said, it is our responsibility as thoughtful employers, to weigh out those comments, investigate them, and make reasonable decisions regarding any necessary disciplinary action.

But, I believe this situation may be a good example of how employment actions can move too far too fast. It is a reminder that saying something that may be disagreeable to some does not alone make it a hanging offense if the harm to the organization is not there. As employers, we are capable of being more thoughtful in how we approach issues like this. The questions to ask are, “How does this situation hurt the company or its employees?” and “Does this constitute harassment, discrimination or abusive treatment?”

Granted…the answers to these questions aren’t always easy. If you are dealing with a difficult employee situation and need help talking through your options, call The Village Business Institute. Our professional consultants have the experience and training to assist you with all types of employee and human resource issues. For more information, contact The Village Business Institute at 1-800-627-8220 or www.theVBI.com.

I Feel Your Pain

“I feel your pain” was a line often attributed to Bill Clinton during better economic times than we are now experiencing. Today, despite lower U.S. Initial Jobless Claims (Dept. of Labor), banks with solid financial performance, and a large number of corporations flush with cash, theU.S.stock market is reeling and rolling down hill. In its tumbling wake goes the confidence of consumers which ultimately impacts the demand for goods and the economy’s potential for creating jobs. Employers have been left with an uncertain and unpredictable political and regulatory landscape managed by bureaucrats interested only in creating more rules and bureaucracies, and politicians either unwilling or too inept to deal with the issues at hand.  

As employers, how do we help our employees and ourselves navigate through this economic tempest and still manage to put out a product or service? Too many employers are reacting by cutting training, reducing benefits, not filling positions and, worse yet, shipping off jobs to places where a subsistence wage is considered good and the people working for them can’t even afford to purchase the products or services they are providing. Of course not all employers do this and there are sound business reasons to expand the production of products and services to other countries. As in most things, how this is done indicates the difference between an employer who is simply a profiteer versus one who builds and cares for its workforce regardless of location.

There are certain things all living systems need to be successful and thrive, whether it involves individuals or a complex network of employees. Number one is good executive functioning where leaders think clearly, integrate, and articulate what they are thinking. Two, people need to be connected because we are social creatures and without meaningful connections we decay and die. Three, people need to have a sense of purpose greater than themselves. And four, we need to feel with some certainty we are able to care for ourselves and those we care about. It is my sense that our employees certainty about being able to care for themselves and their loved ones is the most challenged at this time.

How do we influence this anxiety of economic uncertainty? We counter it with certainty. Now more than ever, our employees need to depend on their managers and leaders to be great communicators, visionaries and purposeful in action. We need to lead by example and demonstrate care of ourselves and care for others. On an organizational level, it is about staying true to a focus on customers, both internal and external, and knowing that by doing so, the customer will than take care of the business or organization.

I am concerned that our government has lost its sense of who the customer is and regardless of who is in power, our government will remain on the course of being self-serving. Can we change that on a macro scale? Probably not. However, at the individual level, department level, c-suite level, we as leaders can influence and create some certainty for our employees in these uncertain times. Being a stable force can be challenging to even the most skilled leaders. If you are dealing with issues of uncertainty in your organization, The Village Business Institute has services and resources that can help. Contact The Village Business Institute at 1-800-627-8220 or www.theVBI.com.