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October 1, 2014

Unlimited Vacation – Is it Really that Easy?

Filed under: Engagement,General HR Buzz,Work/Life Balance6:54 am

In the last decade traditional leave programs have been replaced with Paid Time Off (PTO) programs.  PTO is believed to reduce unexcused absences, since employees may use their time off for vacation, sick, or personal reasons.  Employees have welcomed the added flexibility of using PTO as they want to or need to in their quest for work-life balance.

A new trend, though, is taking hold for a few companies.  Some may explain it as an experimental leave program that employees would take advantage of, but those who have adopted it report increased productivity.  It is called Unlimited Vacation time.  Most recent to join the ranks of those not tracking vacation and time off is Virgin.  Founder, Richard Branson, announced that his company would be offering unlimited vacation following suit with Netflix and a handful of others.

An unlimited vacation program is designed to give employees the ability to decide when they will be gone as they need to recharge and avoid burnout.  However, they are held accountable for completing their work, meeting deadlines, not leaving their team in a bind, and coordinating with other employees to cover for them.  The program encourages autonomy, which boosts morale and creativity, fostering satisfied employees.  And, we all know that happy employees are productive employees!

Is unlimited vacation time for your company?  We’d like to hear your comments.

Read more about this unique time off initiative here.


February 27, 2014

Are You Ready for a Vacation?

I remember as a child returning to school after summer break.  It was so exciting because on the first day of school, as a method for young students to get to know each other, the teacher would ask what we did on our summer vacation.  We would then share our stories with all the other students of our visits to Grandma’s house, our trip to Mexico, playing outside in the hot summer sun, and swimming every day possible.  Summer vacations as a child were really a lot of fun!

This made me wonder why so many employees find it hard to take time off from work for vacation.  It could be a number of reasons.  Heavy workloads may place added pressure on an employee, the boss’s negative attitude toward those employees using their earned benefit, and the squeeze of the economy could all add to an employee’s hesitance to take their time off.

According to a survey by U.S. Travel Association, “Americans left an average of 3.2 PTO days on the table in 2013, totaling 429 million unused days among U.S. workers.”  The survey went on to say that “nearly 34 percent of employees indicated that their employer neither encourages nor discourages leave, and 17 percent of managers consider employees who take all of their leave to be less dedicated.”  (Fortunately, that leaves 83 percent of managers who do not feel that way!)

In fact, most employers recognize the importance of providing time off for employees to relax, refresh, and rejuvenate.  Employees personally and physically benefit by disconnecting for a short time and companies enjoy happy, more engaged workers and increased productivity.  When vacation time is encouraged by management, it works as an excellent retention tool as well.  So, what are your vacation plans?


Source:  U.S. Travel Association.


September 9, 2013

Do You Have a Great Place to Work?

Filed under: Work/Life Balance6:00 am

Many organizations strive to be a cool place to work, a best place to work, or to be designated as one of the best and brightest.   What are these organizations doing within their businesses to receive these coveted designations?   Is it that they have a ping pong table in the lunch room?   A casual work environment?   A robust wellness program?   Could it be that they have a 401(k) with a match or generous PTO policies?  Are they committed to community involvement?   Experts say it’s a combination of these attributes, but most importantly it’s a culture that encourages employee engagement.  It’s a company that takes down the barriers to productivity so that the real work can be done.   Above all it’s a company where employees trust one another, take pride in what they do, and enjoy the people they work with.

What kinds of things can you be doing within your organization to engage employees and create a great place to work?   According to the Great Places to Work Institute, a great place to work is one in which the relationship between the employer and employee is one that fosters loyalty, commitment, and a willingness to contribute to organizational goals and priorities.  This relationship is formed by molding policies and practices around five key areas:  credibility, respect, fairness, pride, and camaraderie.

Credibility is an organization’s ability to build and maintain trust with its staff.   A company that communicates its vision openly and carries out its vision and goals with consistency and integrity will inevitably build trust with its staff. Credibility is also a company’s ability to follow through on its commitments; they do what they say they are going to do.

Respect is the second attribute of great work places.   A respectful company is one that supports its employees with professional development and includes relevant stakeholders in making important decisions.   Creating a positive work/life balance is also a key component to fostering a positive relationship with employees.  Providing internal education to prepare employees for leadership opportunities within the organization conveys they are highly esteemed and trusted by the company.

Fairness is also a key attribute in creating a great workplace experience.  Employees expect that employers will be fair in terms of reward.   They also have an expectation that objective decisions will be made in terms of hiring and promoting into more responsible positions.   Employers who lay out clear expectations for success and hold employees to similar standards are more likely to be trusted and to have a more engaged staff.

Pride and camaraderie are the final building blocks to a great work experience.   Employees strive to make a difference in the company with what they do and how they positively affect not only their company, but the surrounding community.   Commitment to community involvement is one of the principal ways in which employers help to foster employee pride in their work.   Employees enjoy their jobs, because the company’s values align with their own and positive relationships among coworkers lend themselves to creating a sense of camaraderie in the work environment.

Creating a great place to work is sometimes about out of the ordinary benefits and quirky perks, but when all the layers are peeled back, it is clear that the foundation of any great work place is not what we are doing, but how we are getting to the end result.  Employees who trust the company, take pride in their work and look forward to coming to work are the building blocks to any company meeting and exceeding its goals and objectives.


September 4, 2013

Working for the Weekend or Working on the Weekend?

Filed under: Work/Life Balance7:54 am

We just finished a nice long, relaxing weekend.  At least nine percent of us did!  A recent survey by Jive Software, Inc. found that 91% of adults work during personal time.  The survey said that 11% of U.S. employees report working 7-10 hours during their “off-time.”

Do you think vacation time is sacred?  Well, think again!  The survey reported that half of American workers spend some time performing work duties on vacation, while 14% just don’t take vacations.

The time we are supposed to spend relaxing and refreshing has been interrupted by personal mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.  An employee can work nearly anywhere, which I think is truly amazing!  Having easy access to documents in the cloud makes working at any time, virtually (no pun intended!) a few clicks away!

Is this healthy?  Another study performed by a doctoral student, Sarah Asebedo, at Kansas State University, says that “working overtime may cost you your health.”  How?  Asebedo and her colleagues define a workaholic as those who regularly work 50+ hours per week.   They found a link between workaholics and reduced physical and mental well-being.  They measured these results by “skipped meals” and “self-reported depression.”

How can employers help workers to achieve work-life balance?  Open communication is key.  Encourage employees to be more efficient in their use of time, by controlling the things they can, like email.  Schedule time for each work responsibility, including email, and stick to it!  During busier work periods, employers can help employees be aware of their physical and mental well-being and encourage short rest/walk/stretch breaks during the work day and unplugging at night.  By making time for meals and physical activity, workers will be more satisfied and much more efficient!


May 22, 2013

Is Stress Affecting Your Employees’ Job Performance?

Filed under: Work/Life Balance6:00 am

Stress is a very normal part of life.  It can be helpful when we have deadlines to meet or need to accomplish a task quickly.  However, there is the other side of stress that is harmful.  When we experience harmful, long-term stress we will begin to see physical manifestations of the constant barrage of stress hormones on our bodies.  Long-term stress causes depression, anxiety, pain, heart disease, and various other maladies.  Stressors such as public speaking, being late, money worries, or conflicts with coworkers can affect individuals differently.  It is good to note that something stressful to one person may not be stressful to someone else.

Managers usually notice when an employee is not happy.  Productivity can decline when an employee is stressed whether at work, at home, or both.  It is important to address any productivity issues early by helping employees identify and resolve concerns that affect job performance.   Managers can help if they keep the lines of communication open between themselves and the employee.  These few steps may prove to be invaluable in managing stress and improving productivity:

  • Prioritize tasks – - Such action reduces the feeling of being overwhelmed.
  • Reduce clutter – - Both physical and mental clutter can lead to a sense of hopelessness and exhaustion.
  • Focus/concentrate – - Complete only one task at a time without the distraction of interruptions, i.e. email, television, mobile devices.
  • Plan ahead – - List activities and mentally frame them as to how they will be completed. (Expect that even the best laid plans may not come to fruition, so have a back-up plan!)
  • Relax – - Granting yourself time to relax, interact socially, and to foster close friend and family relationships will do wonders for reducing stress levels.
  • Be positive – - Make a conscious effort to be positive at home and work. Positive people live longer!

Achieving work/life balance by reducing stress is essential to one’s livelihood.  Take stress seriously and don’t wait until you become a burned out member of society to make yourself healthy and happy!

Check out the tips for managing stress and share them with your employees!


April 17, 2013

“Yes, Boss!”

Filed under: Work/Life Balance8:55 am

Just how far would you go to please the boss?   We all want peace and harmony at work, minus the harp music, but there has to be a line that neither you nor the boss will cross!  Healthy work environments tend to foster friendships in the workplace, even between employees and their bosses.  If you and your boss are friends, great!  On the other hand, we”ve been cautioned not to “friend” our boss or employee on social media, because that friendly environment could quickly turn litigious and maybe ruin what was simply a good friendship!

Another thing that could possibly ruin the interpersonal relationship of a boss and employee came to my mind when writing this blog.  I recall that one time the CEO (boss) asked an employee (his administrative assistant, not me!) to pick up his dry cleaning.  Another time he asked if he could borrow some cooking pans from her because he didn”t have any and was having company that liked to cook.  OK, I know what you are thinking . . . that was a bit much, but read on, my friend, and see what came up with when they asked more than 3,500 workers to share the most unusual things their bosses had asked them to do.   A few follow:

  • Boss asked employee to be prepared to delete all emails and computer files at a moment”s notice
  • Boss asked employee to be a surrogate mother for her – more than once
  • Boss asked employee to buy a rifle for him, and he would reimburse the employee
  • Boss asked employee to fire his (the boss”s) brother
  • Boss asked employee to remove her stitches
  • Boss asked employee to scour an abandoned office building for furniture and supplies they could use

You can read the rest of the unusual requests here!   According to Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder, “The study shows the majority of workers have a good relationship with their bosses, where they feel supported and valued.”  She added, “If your boss is asking you to do something outside of your scope of work responsibilities, it”s important to have open communications around what is appropriate.”

As for the admin I mentioned above.  She was a trouper; she loaned him her cook pans!


January 9, 2013

Presenteeism and Wellness – Time to Make the Connection

Filed under: Work/Life Balance — Tags: 6:00 am

Are your employees physically at work, but not really at work?  You know, present, but not really there.  Presenteeism is the name of this behavior.  It is defined by as “the practice of coming to work despite illness, injury, anxiety, etc., often resulting in reduced productivity.”  And, because of the reduction in productivity that accompanies presenteeism, one manufacturing company, Whirlpool Corporation, embarked upon an in-depth analysis of the effect of presenteeism on their employees and the impact to their bottom line.

As reported by, Debbie Brandt, a senior manager of health and wellness at Whirlpool Corp., and her colleagues decided to analyze the underlying issues of presenteeism in their workplace.  They hoped to find what actually causes and influences employee presenteeism.  They discovered, “Presenteeism difficulties accounted for 53 percent of lost productivity costs running into the tens of millions annually . . . based on feedback from nearly 14,000 employees.  The three leading complaints linked to productivity issues were depression, fatigue, and neck or back pain.”  In response to their employees’ needs, they added health support – in the form of a health coach, a pharmacist, and an Employee Assistance Program counselor – at their nine primary work sites in 2010.  They have made good strides forward at resolving the issue and hope to have more data for analysis at the end of 2012.

Whirlpool is not alone in their desire to help their employees be healthier.  The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently conducted a poll of 405 SHRM members regarding wellness initiatives and how they can positively impact health care costs.  They reported that only 55 percent of companies offered a wellness program to their employees.  However, they found that 84 percent of respondents associated wellness initiatives with a reduction in overall health care costs.  SHRM also reported that 96 percent of respondents believe wellness programs can assist workers to develop healthier lifestyles.

While wellness programs have grown in popularity in the past few years, I believe we will see more organizations jump on the wellness wagon and work to motivate their employees to improve their lives.  The connection between healthy, happy, and well employees can be measured by the savings of previously wasted dollars spent on higher health care costs and presenteeism.

So don’t just be present at work, be there!


November 14, 2012

Workplace Flexibility Toolkit

Filed under: General HR Buzz,Work/Life Balance — Tags: 6:00 am

Workplace flexibility is becoming more and more intriguing to employers.  Many are realizing that flexibility can be mutually beneficial to both the business and the employees. But, just how to go about meeting the needs of each through changes to the time (when), location (where), and the manner (how) in which an employee works has become the challenge.  Through careful planning flexibility can result in superior outcomes for both employer and employee.

In an effort to help meet the need for a strong balance between work and life, the U. S. Department of Labor has introduced a Workplace Flexibility Toolkit developed by The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and the Women’s Bureau.  This unique toolkit provides useful and valuable workplace flexibility strategy and information to employees, employers, policymakers, and researchers related to time and place, and also around the task involved.  The toolkit provides case studies, fact and tip sheets, issue briefs, reports, articles, websites, other toolkits, and frequently-asked questions.

In this toolkit, the terms Workplace Flexibility, Flexible Work Arrangements, Work-Life Balance, and Flexible Workplace Options are used interchangeably to describe all types of workplace flexibility.

This exceptional toolkit offers links to narrow the number of resources that are relevant to what you need.  Each link includes the number of resources available.  Currently, the toolkit includes 172 resources.  What types of workplace flexibility have you implemented or plan to implement in your workplace?  Please add your comments – we’d love to hear from you!


October 29, 2012

It’s Almost That Time – Time Off to Vote!

Every four years we have a presidential election rolling around that causes us to pull out our policy manual and check our “Time Off for Voting” policy.  I would suspect that most company policies regarding this are pretty standard; generally allowing for a reasonable amount of work time off (paid or unpaid) for employees to stop by the polls and cast their ballots.

However, the process may be a little more complicated.  Your policy may need to be revised based on the state(s) in which you have employees.  State laws vary with respect to whether such time off must be paid; the amount of notice employees must provide to their employer; and whether employers may designate the hours taken off to vote.

Below is a list of states that have the most notable state law requirements.  If you have employees working in these states, be sure to go to that specific state’s website to find out the details so you are in compliance.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland,

Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio,

Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Keep in mind these laws apply every year, not only when there is a presidential election.  For more information regarding company policies, including time off to vote, check out our HR Suite product by clicking


October 22, 2012

Take a Stand – Improve your Health and Efficiency!

If you watched the Presidential debates last week, you probably noticed that President Obama and Mitt Romney stood during the Town Hall meeting format. It seemed the debate had a faster pace and exuded more energy than the previous debates. Whether or not they took the lead from a concept at Ohio State University is unknown, but it is certainly something worth noting.

Based on research that links too much time in the chair to poorer health, leaders at Ohio State University launched a campaign to encourage more stand-up time. As part of the project, 50 sit-stand desks will be installed by year’s end. Other initiatives include more standing at meetings or while answering the phone, and walking to communicate with coworkers rather than picking up the phone and dialing.

What are the benefits? The study published in 2010 in the American Journal of Epidemiology found significant links between sitting and increased risks in cardiovascular health, back strain, and negative impact to metabolism. The simple act of standing tends to promote productivity and an action-oriented environment. Companies who have initiated standing into their culture often find meetings are completed in half the amount of time as usual. With the addition of a standing conference table, the additional expense of chairs can be eliminated.

Whether your motive for incorporating standing into your culture is for health, cost-savings, or productivity, it’s worth a try. We’d like to hear how it works for you!

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