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Article of the Week: Absenteeism in the Workplace: 7 Ways to Resolve this Bottom Line Killer PDF Print E-mail
By: Caron Beesley, SBA.gov

Employees are the lifeblood of a small business but they are also human and need time off to deal with sickness, manage family needs, and fulfil civic commitments like jury duty.

Personal time off is essential, but what happens when it becomes a problem? Persistent absenteeism (habitual and intentional time off) is a chronic problem for U.S. employees costing $3,600 per hourly employee per year, and $2,650 per salaried employee per year (source).

Not only does absenteeism affect your bottom line, it increases everyone’s workload leading to poor quality output and a sour atmosphere all round!

Absences occur for many reasons – burnout, stress, bullying, low morale, job hunting, etc. There’s also a generational element when it comes to absenteeism. Research suggests that millennials are more likely to skip a day when they feel anxious, whereas as baby boomers value showing up for work, even when they are under the weather.

Whatever form absenteeism takes, it’s bad for business. But here are seven ways to resolve persistent absenteeism:

1. Try to Identify the Root Cause

There’s often a good reason behind that call you just got from an absent employee excusing themselves from work and your gut instinct can guide you on this one. However, if you are noticing an excessive pattern and finding it hard to take your employee’s word for it, then it’s time to take action. If an employee is just not bothering to show up or giving you advance notice, then an intervention is essential. Start keeping a paper trail and records of absences.

2. Give Employees an Opportunity to Explain Themselves

The first thing you can do is give employees an opportunity to explain themselves. When they return to work, have a one-on-one discussion about their absence and express your concern. This is not a disciplinary discussion, but more of a fact-finding mission. Your goal is to understand what’s happening and try to solve the issue. For example, if stress is a factor, then you may need to discuss strategies that can help, such as shifting workloads, reducing responsibilities, etc.

Very often, employees are pleased that they have been given an opportunity to air their problems or grievances. But be warned, you may learn things that you don’t want to hear, particularly if it turns out that your management style is the problem. Try to remain objective during the discussion and use it as a platform to change things.

3. Put a Performance Improvement Plan in Place

If the tactic above doesn’t work, then you need to put a performance review plan in place that sets specific goals for improvement, attendance being one of them. Put the plan in writing and clearly explain the timeframe of the plan and the consequences of not fulfilling its requirements.

4. Develop and Communicate a Clear Leave Policy

A written policy won’t stop absenteeism, but it will help you deal with it more effectively. It will also demonstrate to all employees that you don’t tolerate absenteeism. Use the document to clearly explain paid and unpaid leave policies and the consequences of unexcused absences. If you have a company newsletter or intranet, use these to promote your policy.

Note that the law doesn’t require you to provide common leave benefits, but it does require employers to provide leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Be sure you know what the law is. Read more about the FMLA leave entitlement qualifying medical events in SBA’s Employee Benefits Guide.

5. Review your Management Style

It’s hard to acknowledge, but one of the more common reasons for employee dissatisfaction is management style. Could your style be encouraging employees to harbor grudges or lose morale? Step back and assess what you can do differently. Is your open door policy really that open? Do employees really feel valued? Plan on setting side more management time for your team, discuss their professional goals, and share your vision for the continued growth of your business and their role in it.  

6. Consider Introducing Incentive Plans

While they’re no guarantee you can control absenteeism, incentive plans and employee programs such as flex-time, wellness programs (by the way, the Affordable Care Act rewards employers who operate wellness programs), and project completion perks, are proven to increase morale and productivity. A survey by the business-to-business division of Staples, found that employees that participate in such programs have made them:

  • Feel more valued (85%)
  • Happier and more motivated (70%)
  • More loyal to their employer (66%)
  • More productive and results-driven (~60%)

7. Terminate Repeat Offenders

If you’ve exhausted all these intervention measures and aren’t seeing improvement, then termination may be your only option. Follow your HR policy to the letter on this one and refer to the law as it pertains to terminating employees, final pay checks and more.

Absenteeism happens, but don’t ignore it. Find out why it’s happening, be empathetic to the needs of your team, and establish clear policies so that everyone understands what’s acceptable. Finally, be prepared to take the necessary action when required. It’s your bottom line that’s at stake after all.

Article of the Week: Six Habits of The Best Conversationalists PDF Print E-mail
By: Stephanie Vozza, FastCompany.com

Some people have the gift of gab, and can talk to anyone about anything. And some people struggle to make small talk. What separates the two isn’t knowing what to talk about; it’s polishing up your communication skills so you can keep a good conversation going.

"Good conversations require a give and take, just like keeping a ball in the air during a game of catch," says Anne Green, president and CEO of CooperKatz & Company, a communications and media-training firm with clients that include Richard Branson. "When someone directs a question your way—when the ball is thrown to you—you should always respond with an answer that will continue the flow of dialogue, passing the ball back and never letting it drop."

If a musician is asked, "What kind of music do you play?" for example, Green says the response "many different kinds" will shut down the conversation. "The key is to answer and elaborate," she says. "A more effective response to that same question would be, ‘I play many different kinds of music, but I spent my early twenties in the South playing a lot of country music, which I’ve since brought to my music career in New York City.’ That gives the other person something to work with, creating a more stimulating conversation."

Thinking of a conversation as a game of verbal tennis will keep things flowing, but becoming a good conversationalist requires having more skills in your communication toolbox. Here are six habits that the best conversationalists have mastered to practice every time you enter a new situation.

1. They Listen More Than They Talk

The irony of being a good conversationalist is that talking isn’t the most important piece; listening is what makes you memorable. Unfortunately, listening is a skill that not many people master; most people would rather talk, said Celeste Headlee, host of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s On Second Thought.

"When I'm talking, I'm in control. I don't have to hear anything I'm not interested in. I'm the center of attention. I can bolster my own identity," she said in a 2015 TED Talk called "10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation."

The other reason we’d rather talk is because it’s easy to get distracted when we listen. The average person talks at about 225 words per minute, but we can listen at up to 500 words per minute, said Headlee. "So our minds are filling in those other 275 words," she said. "It takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can't do that, you're not in a conversation."

2. They Don't Always Interject Their Experiences

Good conversationalists don’t interject themselves into the topic when it’s not needed. If someone is talking about having lost a family member, don't start talking about the time you lost a family member, said Headlee.

"If they're talking about the trouble they're having at work, don't tell them about how much you hate your job. It's not the same," she said. "It is never the same. All experiences are individual. And, more importantly, it is not about you. You don't need to take that moment to prove how amazing you are or how much you've suffered. Conversations are not a promotional opportunity."

3. They Admit What They Don't Know

A good conversationalist isn’t afraid to show they don’t understand, says Mark Levy, president of the branding firm Levy Innovation and author of Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight and Content. "So many people shoot themselves in the foot, because they’re trying to come across as all-knowing or perfect, but letting the other person in on your lack of understanding can actually be flattering to them," he says.

If you’re confused, Levy suggests asking, "I want to make sure I really understand what you mean. Can you say what you just said in a slightly different way?"

"Not only will the other person feel heard; they’ll likely love having to explain their point in a way that’s different than normal," he says.

4. They Are Well Read

Be a person of interest by reading and informing yourself on a variety of topics from world affairs to business and culture, says Suzanne Bates, author of All the Leader You Can Be, the Science of Achieving Extraordinary Executive Presence.

"Be bold in getting beyond pleasantries to introduce high interest topics likely to enliven a conversation," she says. "Be attuned to each person to meet them where they are and be curious about their views."

Being well read allows you to introduce ideas and stories from other domains, adds Levy. "When a businessperson wants to make a point in conversation, they’ll often rely on an idea, opinion, or story from the world of business," he says. "After a while that gets old. We’ve all heard the same business stories, and we start to mentally check out."

5. They Look For Clues

Good conversationalists "seed a conversation with jolts," says Levy. "If you’re talking about, say, workplace productivity, it’s fine to talk about [the Civil War battle] Pickett’s Charge or black holes or an idea from an Elizabeth Gilbert book that, in some way, relates to workplace productivity. Bringing in ideas from other domains keeps people awake and interested, and it’s actually how paradigm shifts are born."

Good conversationalists listen with their eyes, looking for body language or changes in mood that provide information about the other person’s interest level in the conversation. This can help them redirect or improve the conversation in the moment, says Parker Ellen, professor of management and organizational development at Northeastern University.

"It also would equip individuals with an awareness about other parties, including their goals, as well as any underlying motives the other party had for the conversation," he says. "Apparent sincerity would enable individuals to present comments and pose questions in a manner that seems genuine, such that it builds trust." This could be crucial to getting other people to open up more and build rapport.

6. They Let Go Of The Details

We've all been in a conversation where the speaker derails the topic by struggling to remember a date or name. Small bits of information add verbal clutter, and good conversationalists don’t burden the subject with years, names, dates, and tiny details, said Headlee. "[The listener doesn’t] care," she said. "What they care about is you. They care about what you're like, what you have in common. So forget the details. Leave them out."


Article of the Week: How To Keep Your Rising Leaders From Leaving PDF Print E-mail

By: Elena Bajic, Forbes.com

If you’re running a high-growth (or even a not-so-high-growth) company, whether you’re a startup or you’ve been around a while, one thing you will always need is a pipeline of up-and-coming leaders. High-tech companies need them most of all because they generally want aggressive growth and they have the highest proportion of Millennials in leadership positions—30 percent, according to the 2014/2015 Global Leadership Report from The Conference Board and the consultancy DDI World.

Businesses that rely on a larger supply of younger leaders face unique challenges. That Conference Board report found that Millennials are less engaged in their roles within their organizations and are more likely than other generations to be intent on leaving their jobs in the following 12 months. Investing time and money to cultivate and developing younger leaders is crucial to the long-term success of a business but if those rising leaders don’t stay, the business is in trouble.

Growing companies need strong leadership bench strength to sustain them, so it’s important to be proactive—rather than reactive—when it comes to creating an environment that encourages young leaders (and everyone else) to stay put. Especially in high-tech industries, landing great employees who appear to be senior leadership material isn’t easy, so do what it takes to retain them.

Don’t assume your highest potential leaders are highly engaged.

A study by Jean Martin and Conrad Smith, both senior executives at the Corporate Executive Board in Washington D.C., studied and wrote about the mistakes companies make in trying to retain their top talent. They found that 40% of rising stars have “little confidence in their coworkers and even less confidence in the senior team;” 20% believe their personal aspirations are very different from what the company has planned for them. And a recent Gallup poll found that worldwide, only 13% of employees are engaged at work.

The employees you’ve identified as working harder and better than their peers—those you want to progress into leadership—typically thrive when given stretch projects that stimulate growth and when shown a growth plan that allows them to grow a little every day.

Coach them.

Your biggest stars need coaching, in the same way that superstars in other fields need it—whether they operate on a basketball court or an opera stage. In the end, it’s all about performance and measuring that performance. Coaching on an individual basis shows an emerging leader that the company is invested in their future success. Many companies, especially startups, think keeping their best employees is all about the perks. And although perks are nice, they are icing. If the cake beneath is falling apart, no one will eat the icing anyway. The best way to retain your rising leaders is to create an environment where they have the chance to do their best work, and learn something new, everyday.

Pay fairly.

If one of your most talented employees feels she or he is being underpaid, by the time you realize that and give them a raise, they’ve already got one foot out the door. No matter what people say, compensation is important and good people will get good offers from your competitors. If you’re running a startup, as soon as you can afford it pay market rate, especially for your rising stars. (If you’re an established business, then you should be doing this now.) Your best people aren’t going to ask for a raise, they will simply get frustrated and jump ship.

Talk to them.

Traditional annual reviews may serve a purpose for your organization but what you want from your rising stars is real feedback and you want it every quarter in an informal, one-on-one chat. Do this in a quiet, informal way, so that it’s not a big deal the way an annual review is, but rather a way to let your employee know you value their feedback and are concerned with their satisfaction and their long-term future. Ask about any frustrations with the work, what they want to be doing and aren’t yet getting to do. These are the conversations that will let you know if someone is feeling stagnant or stalled as well as if they are engaged and excited.

Article of the Week: 6 Tips for a Great Social Media Marketing Campaign PDF Print E-mail
By Anita Campbell, SBA.gov

Social media can be a huge driver of website traffic, awareness of your brand and, of course, new business leads, and online and offline sales.

Social media can also be a time suck that eats resources but doesn’t yield results. 

How do you prevent that from happening?  Simple: treat social media marketing with the same discipline and level of planning as any other marketing.  Don’t just engage in random sharing and chatting. Instead, plan and execute real campaigns.

Here are 6 tips for a great social media marketing campaign:

1. Define your goal - in detail

What’s the one goal you want out of your campaign? Is it to drive people to fill out a lead form on your website? Are you trying to increase e-commerce sales? Do you want to drive in store traffic?

Define it as an action you want people to take. Be specific. “I want people to [insert verb].”

If you aren’t clear about your goal, the rest of your campaign is likely to be vague and may disappoint you. Get this step right and the rest falls into place easier.

2. Specify a measurement

The next step is to define a number that you would consider a successful result. This could be a flat number such as adding 500 email subscribers. Or it could be a dollar number, such as driving $20,000 in online sales.  Your number could be a percentage growth as well, such as driving 15% growth in new leads.

Assigning a numerical goal gives you something to drive toward and later measure your success against. Just as important, it serves as a gut check to assess whether the resources you are about to devote will be worth the desired outcome, and whether the goal is a stretch yet attainable. If not, it’s better to set a different goal for your campaign.

3. Focus on one platform

Unless you’re an accomplished marketer, you’re going to want to focus on a single social media platform. By focusing on a single platform you can devote more effort to understanding the platform features and implementing the techniques to leverage them well. 

More campaigns fail through poor execution than any other reason, in my experience.  Often that stems from not understanding the right steps to take or not knowing the social platform well enough to use advanced features that really can move the needle.

4. Create a written campaign plan

Take the time to write out the tactics you are going to perform, timing, who on your team has responsibility for what - from start to finish.  Again, it’s all about the execution.

5. Build in a visual element

Today the most successful social media campaigns have some type of visuals involved.  An image. A video. An infographic. Visuals bring social media to life. A visual catches more attention better than text alone. Visuals are more likely to go viral or at least get shared by others.

Visuals may take time to create, especially if you’re commissioning a custom image.  Allow enough planning time for this step if you are creating special visuals.

6. Monitor and tweak

One of the biggest mistakes newbies make is to not look at analytics tools or assess progress until the end. Marketing campaigns are not truly “set it and forget it.”  While the campaign is going on, be sure to check progress early and often. For this you will need some kind analytics tools -- whatever tool is relevant to your campaign goal.

If one technique is working well, you might want to do more of it.  For instance, if you have a Facebook advertising campaign under way, with 3 different ad messages, and one results in more conversions than the others, you might want to allocate more budget to it. If another tactic gets a poor response, do less of that.

The point is, if you’re monitoring closely, you can adjust tactics on the fly.  Learning that information after your campaign ends doesn’t help nearly as much.

Follow these 6 steps to make your next social media marketing campaign run like a well-oiled machine. And get amazing results.

Article of the Week: 5 Leadership Styles Good Bosses Avoid Like The Plague PDF Print E-mail
By: Abby Wolfe, Forbes.com

It’s not crazy to think that you’ll become a leader in some capacity within your lifetime, whether a middle manager, senior director or even a CEO. This advance is likely to be accompanied by the following: a bump in salary, a title change and most importantly, increased responsibility.

People often forget about that last part when they’re dreaming of titles. But let me tell you, it isn’t easy. Leading others is a big undertaking in which you need to be able to manage not only your own tasks, but your employees’ workloads and goals, as well as the team dynamic, too. With so many things to keep track of, it’s easy to become one of those bosses no one can stand. (And I know that in your head you’re picturing one of those people right now and getting annoyed.)

According to Dr. Travis Bradberry, President at TalentSmart and co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, being managed by someone who really isn’t good at it can be a deal breaker. Says Bradberry, “Managers tend to blame their turnover problems on everything under the sun, while ignoring the crux of the matter: people don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.”

So if you’d like to steer clear of your employees calling it quits because of you, try to avoid the following management styles.

1. The Know-It-All

Yes, you were chosen for a reason. But that reason is not because you know everything about everything. No matter what your title is, there’s always something to learn. Especially from your own team who works day in and day out on your part of the business. They’re likely to have smart and innovative solutions and ideas–possibly to problems you’re not even aware exist.

“Being the best isn’t about knowing the most. Being the best is about confidently admitting you don’t know it all, while embracing every opportunity to learn and grow from the wisdom of others. Have confidence in your ability to learn, not in the amount of information you already know. Always remember that wisdom comes from gaining knowledge and experience over the course of time—not a day or a week—but over a lifetime, so never stop learning,” says Amy Rees Anderson, Managing Partner of REES Capital.

When someone you manage (or anyone, really) has a better idea than you or knows something you don’t, that’s not a bad thing. It actually makes your job easier, because you don’t have to have all the answers.

2. The Micromanager

Managing people can be daunting—the performance of your team reflects directly back on you. And this may tempt you to hold their hands every single step of the way to ensure the job is done right.

But this is a major productivity roadblock. When you spend a good portion of your time breathing down their necks, you’re limiting the amount of time you can dedicate to your own work. Not to mention, it also puts you at risk for losing track of the big picture.

As Eytan Dallal, Vice President of IT at Land of Lincoln Healthexplains, “Managers should delegate and manage from a distance. Employees should be held accountable for their decisions and work product, and need to be empowered with the ability to own their decisions and take risks. Most importantly, employees need managers to stand behind them, not on top of them.”

That means that if you insist on standing on top of them, you’re likely stifling their creativity, making them feel incompetent and just plain bugging the crap out of them. None of this is fun—and you’ll just end up with a bunch of annoyed and disengaged individuals.

3. The Absentee Boss

Sure, managers should manage from a distance, as Dallal said, but that doesn’t mean you should disappear completely.

It may be nice at first to have a boss who never checks in, but after a while, having a supervisor who is never seen nor heard gets old. Employees want and deserve a certain degree of autonomy, yes, but they also want and need guidance, feedback and validation that they are on the correct path.

Being MIA can only really result in one of two situations—your employees feel unsupported and don’t know where to go, so they halt progress and do nothing. Or, they decide to move forward sans your input, everything goes haywire and you have no way to explain it to your boss. Neither is good.

4. The Self-Server

Self-serving leaders will do whatever it takes to make themselves shining stars in their own boss’ eyes. And they don’t really care if they have to use someone else to do it.

The employees being used, however, will most definitely care and will start to resent you. Furthermore, they’re likely to stop offering up ideas or working any harder than necessary. After all, where has it gotten them so far?

The worst part about managers with a self-serving agenda? Not only will they take all the credit for the good things that happen, but they’ll deny, deny, deny and point fingers at others—including their own team—when goals aren’t met.

5. The Best Friend

When you spend five days of the week working closely with others, it can be easy to develop a bond with them. But becoming besties with your direct reports is a tricky situation to put yourself in.

It could cause you to give someone a pass where you wouldn’t normally (“Oh, you forgot to submit the application for the grant on time? No biggie! We’ll try again next year”), or not provide him with 100% honest feedback in fear of hurting his feelings.

While your employees may appreciate it in the moment (after all, you’re a cool, chill, laidback boss!), they most likely won’t in the long run, as your failure to provide them with constructive criticism limits growth. Not to mention, when they know every intimate detail about your personal life, they’ll find it harder to respect you as a leader.

This doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with the people you work with; you just need to redefine what this type of friendship means. As Kristi Hedge, Principal of The Hedges Company, Managing Partner of Element North, and author of The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others, says, “You have those lifelong friends that let you cry on their shoulder, and you have business friends who you laugh and commiserate with over workplace follies. Both are equally legitimate friendships – the relationship dynamics are just a little bit different.”

When you get a chance to lead others, pat yourself on the back—you worked hard and you deserve it. Though it may be intimidating, you have it in you to be a great boss. Remember: The main part of your newly acquired duties is not simply making sure your team hits goals, but how you get those people to accomplish that. By just avoiding the leadership styles described above, you’ll be well on your way to getting there.


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