Check Your Vocabulary for These Toxic Words in the Workplace

Words have power

All words carry weight. And we must carefully choose the words that we use to represent us, particularly in the workplace.

Though it’s standard for professional work environments not to condone certain words – curse words (you know, the ones for which your grandmother would threaten to rinse out your mouth with soap), insulting or demeaning words and language, among others – there are other, seemingly innocent words to watch for in your vocabulary.

Crystal Barnett, senior human resource specialist with human resources consulting company Insperity, offers these seven words (and phrases) to watch out for at work:

  • “Honestly.” The word “honestly” is by no means an offensive word. However, the thoughts that come afterwards should be carefully considered before being spoken. Telling a trusted boss how one truly feels is expected and encouraged at many companies. However, in some organizations, giving an unvarnished assessment can be dangerous if done without careful consideration beforehand. For example, attempts to be honest while criticizing another team member’s work in a public setting can not only damage relationships, but it can also create the impression that a worker is willing to promote his or her own efforts by attacking others.   
  • “That’s not fair.” The concept of fairness is taught to most children. However, in the workplace, as in life, things are not always fair. While raising issues of fairness are acceptable in many work settings, the time, place and audience should be carefully considered beforehand.
  • “I.” While giving credit where credit is due, employees should reinforce teamwork and try not to highlight personal efforts over the work of others.
  • “This is the way we’ve always done it here.” Newer employees proposing alternative approaches for solving workplace problems have likely heard this phrase before. While all new ideas are not good ideas, failing to consider alternative approaches may mean the company is missing out on new opportunities for improvement.
  • “Yeah, but…” This phrase often follows an instruction or request from a supervisor or manager. Asking clarifying questions or proactively identifying issues is not a bad thing. However, doing so in a negative sounding way suggests an unwillingness to follow instruction or worse yet, a challenge to a leader’s authority. Often, simply avoiding “Yeah but…” is a better way to go.
  • “Just.” “Just” can be a loaded word in some contexts. For example, if a manager says to an employee “I just want you to finish those reports before the end of the week,” the comment often sounds highly negative on the receiving end. It can also convey the impression that the listener is being difficult or combative. A better approach might be to say “Be sure to get me those reports by the end of the week.”
  •  “Yes.” In many scenarios, saying yes is a good thing. But not always. Some top performing workers have problems saying no and therefore always say yes when asked to perform additional work.  This may result in a lower quality product, simply because the employee in question is stretched too thin. In addition, the dangers of burnout should be considered. In companies where the hardest working employees are “rewarded” with the greatest amount of work, saying “yes” at all times can have negative impacts and end up hiring the employee in the end.

What to do When Poor Workplace Culture Emanates from the Top

Horrible bosses

One of the headlines dominating recent news is the revelation of numerous allegations of sexual abuse against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

As the stories continue to roll out about the ever-widening scandal, the picture is becoming clearer: many people knew about the disastrous workplace culture at Weinstein’s company and its impact not just on employees, but on others throughout the industry.

Aside from what Weinstein is accused of doing in private, there are plenty of stories of how he treated people publicly. He’s not the first, of course, to be noted as a notorious boss (a quick Google search offers a list of names that fit that description). Hollywood itself has taken on the topic through movie examples: 9 to 5, The Devil Wears Prada and aptly named Horrible Bosses (and its sequel) – and the fantasies of getting back at those bad bosses.

While everyday employees aren’t about to kidnap their boss and teach them a lesson in humility, as the fed-up employees did in 9 to 5, what can companies and employees do when the boss is the problem?

Michelle Kavanaugh, Indiana Chamber director of human resources, offers a few insights on this topic. First, companies should have a very strong harassment policy in place and a clearly structured reporting system, she offers.

“Some companies have anonymous call lines, which work better for larger organizations to keep callers truly anonymous,” she says.

Other steps to take include: having a zero-tolerance harassment policy, working with company leaders on the issues so that the culture is set at the top and making sure enforcement happens from the top down. Another protection is working with legal counsel to come up with an action plan before something happens.

And for employees who are dealing with harassment, the first step to take is to directly point out the behavior as inappropriate and request that the behavior stop.

“Use consideration, state your position and make your request,” Kavanaugh notes. “There is probably an intimidation factor. You have to work through that and state your concerns. Using ‘I’ statements are also psychologically a good way to approach the subject.

“If the behavior continues, and it is the business owner or person at the top, find someone else within your organization that you trust and hopefully the organization has a policy in place to deal with the behavior.”

If that doesn’t help, finding a confidant outside your workplace to assist you is another avenue. Should more extreme measures become necessary, avenues to consider include retaining legal help or filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Department of Labor.

“This is just scratching the surface of this subject. Employers working closely with good legal counsel can protect the company and employees and help instill a culture where toxic environments and abuse are not the norm,” Kavanaugh adds.

We also offer the Indiana Guide to Preventing Workplace Harassmentnow in its fourth edition. Written by a team of experts from Indiana-based law firm Ogletree Deakins, the guide is a simple and comprehensive manual covering topics employers need to know to identify, deal with and prevent workplace harassment and discrimination.

Recognizing Signs of Domestic Violence at Work

Domestic violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Unless you or someone close to you has experienced domestic violence, you might think of it as something that only impacts people at home. Unfortunately, abuse is often subtle and happening to people of all socio-economic classes, ages, races, genders, etc.

There’s a fine line to employers getting involved in the personal lives of employees. But often domestic abuse doesn’t stay within the confines of a home’s walls. And the sheer number of people impacted by domestic violence are staggering: Nearly one in three women and one in seven men are victims of domestic violence during their lifetime. Even more numbing is that 53% of people know someone who has been a victim of abuse.

Domestic violence harms the health and well-being of your employees. And it can hurt a company’s bottom line through lost productivity and missed work.

Domestic Violence Network statistics show that 74% of women who are abused were harassed by their abuser while on the job. More than half were late for work at least five times per month because of abuse. Nearly 30% had to leave work early at least five days a month. And 54% missed three or more full days of work per month due to abuse.

Abuse is estimated to cost employers over $5.8 billion a year; $4.1 billion of that is directly related to medical expenses.

In a workforce of 50 people, approximately 27 people know someone impacted by domestic violence. If the employee mix is equal (25 female and 25 male), approximately eight females and three males are victims of abuse. And the U.S. Department of Justice statistics estimate that four women and one man per day are killed by abuse from an intimate partner.

Central Indiana statistics are sobering: agencies received 22,758 calls in 2016 related to domestic violence, according to the State of Domestic Violence Report.

Employers should understand that this violence won’t always be obvious. Abused employees will not always come to work with bruises or other injuries; if they do, it’s a safe bet that they’ve been emotionally abused for much longer.

Here are common abuse signs to watch for in employees:

  • Increase in absenteeism and/or tardiness: abusers may start fights prior to work, take vehicles to prevent the abused individual from getting to work, etc. Or the absences may be due to injuries if the abuse has reached the physical stage
  • Increased distraction: someone may suffer from poor concentration, anxiety and isolation. They may always keep a cell phone nearby and answer it quickly and then appear nervous or upset after answering the call or reading the text
  • Changes in social interaction: employees may stop doing things socially with co-workers. They may stop going to lunch with others and may avoid certain people
  • Increased or frequent visits by the abuser: visits alone aren’t enough to indicate something is wrong, but if the individual has negative reactions when the abuser is there or right after, there could be a problem

What are employers able to do for employees they suspect may be in an abusive situation? If you suspect your employee is a victim of abuse, the first thing you can do is offer a safe place for discussion.

If you suspect an employee is being abused, show kindness in your approach. Ask the employee if there is anything that you can help with and avoid telling him or her you think that abuse is occurring. If the employee is showing up with physical evidence of abuse, an employer should ask, “Is someone hurting you?”

If the answer is no, accept it. The employee may not be ready to share the abuse or may not yet see themselves as victims. Let the employee know you care and that you are there to help if you can. Refer them to a local domestic violence network or shelter if necessary.

Hoosiers Need More Zzzzzzzzs (Employers Can Help)

Sleepy worker

Ten years ago, sleep was not one of my top priorities.

I slept whenever I wanted (outside of my work hours). It was glorious.

Now that I’m a parent of two small children and come home to chores and tasks and homework and all the things you have to squeeze in to a 24-hour period (along with any sort of relaxation at the end of the day … Netflix on the couch, anyone?), sleep is the thing that gets squeezed out of my schedule.

I know skimping on sleep is not a healthy habit and that I need to make it more of a priority. But, like other busy people, I have a lot of priorities. What’s the motivation for more sleep?

It turns out I’m not the only Hoosier with this particular challenge. A recent article in the Indianapolis Star reports that more than 38% of Hoosiers say they don’t get the recommended amount of sleep per night (at least seven hours).

The article’s headline claims Indiana is the 8th most tired state. While we beat out Hawaiians (who came in last), the residents of South Dakota are seemingly very well rested.

Why should employers care if their employees aren’t prioritizing their rest?

Obviously, sleepy employees make for less productive employees. That’s not surprising.

What is surprising is how much the unrested employees might cost employers. The National Safety Council this week revealed a cost calculator to show the impact of sleepy employees.

Other concerns for employers include health care-related costs – from paying more over time for employees with sleep disorders who require medicine or machinery to get their required rest to the correlation to Indiana’s obesity rate, which can impact sleep quality. All of this can cost employers in terms of health care expenses and absenteeism issues.

So what is an employer to do? For one, the Wellness Council of Indiana offers employers a road map to implementing wellness programs in the workplace. Whether or not your wellness game plan directly targets the sleep of your employees, you can take steps to encourage your employers to eat, move and sleep better. Here are a number of resources you might find useful, including this article on sleep habits; one on workplace fatigue risk management; and this newsletter focusing on the dangers of insomnia and suggestions for how to deal with the condition.

You can also simply ask your employees if they feel well-rested and if there is any other way you can motivate them to get better rest. Perhaps an internal policy change regarding work hours or flexible scheduling could make a bigger impact than you realize. Even encouraging employees to make sure they take advantage of their vacation time could help ensure rested, rejuvenated employees who are ready to work.

What other ideas do you have for encouraging employees to get more rest (at home)?

Recruiting Outside the Box: Indiana Dual Career Network

Recruiting has become something of a dance. It’s no longer as simple as placing an ad and waiting for candidates to knock on your door. Recruiters must be creative and utilize a multitude of tools to source talent.

The standard avenues for recruitment still exist – word of mouth, employee referrals and job boards. There is one piece, however, that has been a challenge for individuals recruiting for highly specialized fields: What happens to the spouses of the candidates being courted?

Recently, I was invited by a colleague at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) to participate in a group called the Indiana Dual Career Network (IDCN). Laura Farkas, interim president of IDCN, summarizes the goal of the group:

The IDCN is a network of professionals throughout the state who are involved with talent recruitment, with the added focus of paying attention to Dual Career issues, which is another way of saying “Trailing Spouse” challenges. In other words, as Indiana companies and institutions of Higher Ed are trying to recruit talent to their organizations, a pool of talented spouses and partners develops alongside them, who will be wanting to envision compelling work for themselves. Instead of a problem, we want to engage with each other and share information, resources, and networking contacts to make sure we all see “Trailing Spouses” as opportunities.

IDCN started a little under four years ago specifically for the academic world. Department heads at a number of Indiana universities were having difficulty attracting talent and realized that often the reason a candidate rejected a position was the lack of job opportunity for the trailing partner.

Farkas shared a recent IDCN success story: A candidate for a job at Purdue University had received six offers, but chose Purdue because of the additional job search assistance available to their partner.

This is creative networking at its best. Communicating through ListServ, the group can spread the word within the academic world and to surrounding business partners and work to secure employment for those partners of job prospects.

IDCN’s goal is not only filling positions, but also attracting and keeping talent in Indiana. I definitely will continue to reach out to this group for upcoming open positions.

Judge Strikes Down Obama-Era Federal Overtime Rules

A federal judge in Texas last week struck down an Obama-era federal rule on overtime pay that would have added to the regulatory burden and increased the salary threshold for overtime-eligible workers – thus increasing employers’ labor costs.

The rule would have made about 4 million people eligible for overtime that were not previously eligible and would have impacted the “white collar exemption” of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Mike Ripley, Indiana Chamber vice president of health care and employment law policy, pointed to the overreach of the previous administration’s Department of Labor (DOL) rule and that the judge’s decision makes way for more reasonable agreement and discussion between employers and the DOL.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue released this statement about the judge’s decision:

“(The) decision is another victory for the effort to free our economy from the regulatory stranglehold of the last eight years. We have consistently said that the last administration went too far in its 2016 ­overtime rule, and we are pleased that Judge Mazzant granted a final judgment that makes permanent his previous ruling against the overtime rule.

“This means that small businesses, nonprofits, and other employers throughout the economy can be certain that the 2016 salary threshold will not result in significant new labor costs and cause many disruptions in how work gets done. The Obama administration’s rule would have resulted in salaried professional employees being converted to hourly wages, reduced workplace flexibility and remote electronic access to work, and halted opportunities for career advancement. 

“We look forward to working with the Department of Labor on a new rule to develop a more appropriate update to the salary threshold.”

A coalition of national and local business groups challenged the rule in 2016 and the Indiana Attorney General’s office filed on behalf of the state of Indiana.

The Department of Justice this week dropped an appeal to save the rule after the judge’s decision.

Don’t Forget to R-EAP the Benefits of Employer-Sponsored Plans

While salary, vacation time, insurance payments and creature comforts are the highly-touted employer benefits offered to employees, there’s an extremely valuable resource that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves: the Employee Assistance Plan (EAP).

Though benefits change from plan to plan, an EAP often covers services such as free counseling or therapy sessions, phone or internet-based counseling options, assistance with elder care/child care, financial assistance, stress management, help with legal concerns, addiction and recovery assistance, concierge or convenience services and more.

While not all companies offer the plans, over three-quarters of employers named to the 2017 Best Places to Work in Indiana list reported offering an EAP to their employees. And as the top-rated workplaces in the state based on their own employee surveys, they must all be on to something.

I sat down with the Indiana Chamber’s director of human resources, Michelle Kavanaugh, SPHR, to discuss why EAPs are sometimes underutilized and what human resources professionals can do to help boost involvement. She points to the EAP often getting lost in the open enrollment or new hire process.

“The benefits process and open enrollment can be overwhelming to people; they’re just trying to figure out the medical side of insurance and a lot of times the extras get missed,” she offers. “The EAP benefits that people hear about, you just sort of put them away and don’t think you’ll ever need to use it.”

Another issue is the stigma that surrounds mental health.

“There is also a misconception about reaching out for help with mental health issues that prevents people from utilizing it too,” she adds.

Her recommendations for getting the word out include utilizing existing communications methods – highlighting various pieces of the EAP in a company newsletter, for example. And using personal testimonials from employees who have benefitted from the resources can make a big impact.

My personal testimonial is this: I was never aware of the benefits of an EAP myself (I have no idea if any of my previous employers even offered such a service) until the time came that I needed additional help outside of the office, particularly after my first daughter was born and I struggled with post-partum anxiety. My first piece of advice to any friend or family member dealing with myriad issues is, “Does your employer offer an EAP? Go talk to your human resources representative and find out.”

Employers benefit from offering the programs as well. While I don’t have return on investment numbers to share, it’s well documented that emotional and mental well-being are critical to employee performance and productivity. If employees are able to manage their stress – financial, emotional, family and otherwise – outside of the workplace, they’re less likely to have those issues impact their performance on the job.

Help your bottom line by ensuring your employees know they have valuable resources available to them. Or, if you don’t have an EAP, talk to your benefits provider about how to get started. And don’t forget to spread the word to your employees – it only works if they use it!

Management Performance Hub Picks Up Speed

The Indiana Chamber has been a key advocate for Indiana’s Management and Performance Hub (MPH) by recently supporting legislation to codify and fund it so it can achieve more.

MPH is a data hub that can link and aggregate state agency datasets with other data to help improve the performance and outcomes on many issues, including education/workforce, the opioid crisis and traffic safety. Think of it as a depot, where data can be assembled and studied to further outcomes and make better data-driven decisions.

Beyond improving state government performance and enhancing transparency, there is the ability to provide useful information to external partners including researchers, the business community and not-for-profit organizations. There will be an external-facing component of MPH to determine protocol on how this information can be utilized for maximum benefit.

The Indiana Chamber is a member of an advisory group to review guidelines and policies being established by MPH. We are also part of the Indiana Open Data Council to provide advice and guidance as MPH evolves; this includes the state and researcher and community advisors to help further MPH’s goals, scale innovation and increase utilization of the MPH.

For more information about the latest with the MPH, read its newsletter.

What To Do About Negative References

Reference checking is often viewed as a routine matter. But not for the company or the job seeker when certain information is shared.

Allison & Taylor, a company engaged in the reference business for more than 30 years, offers the following:

It’s an all-to familiar scenario – a job seeker with strong employment credentials has interviewed well, and received positive feedback from a prospective employer.  After being asked to provide a list of references, communications suddenly stop; no explanation is provided, and the job seeker’s attempts to follow up elicit a vague “we decided to go in a different direction” statement.

What is happening here?

While there may be multiple reasons why a prospective employer has suddenly lost interest, one possibility is that a reference they’ve contacted has offered negative commentary about the job seeker.  When this happens, the employer begins to see the job seeker as an employment risk, and it’s highly likely that the entire process will stutter to a stop.

The employment process can be tricky, and there are three common ways that an unfavorable reference can derail even the most promising job prospect:

  1. The Supervisor Dilemma – A potential employer will often ask, “May we contact your former supervisor?”  If they are told “no”, it sends up a red flag and makes the employer wonder what a job seeker has to hide.  If the contact is permitted, a job seeker runs the risk that the reference may offer some negative feedback – supervisors often give a mix of favorable and unfavorable commentary about their former subordinates.    
  2. HR’s Influence – Human resources, which most former employees feel is a “safe” reference bet, can actually be quite problematic.  While company policy may not allow them to provide damaging commentary, they may indicate that the employee is not eligible for rehire or suggest that the separation was due to involuntary, unfavorable circumstances.  
  3. “Do Not Hire” – Still another possibility is that a job seeker is on a former employer’s “do not hire” list.  This could be due to any number of reasons, including a failed background check, minor corporate infractions or resume fraud. While most U.S. hiring managers rarely admit that they keep such records, they do exist.

Allison & Taylor reports that approximately half of all reference checks it conducts reveal negative input from the reference.

Job Losses Have Lasting Impact

The ripple effects of large-scale job losses linger for years and can keep adolescents from attending college later in life, according to new research carrying significant ramifications for policy makers, college recruiters and counselors.

Poor middle school and high school students who live through major job losses in their region attend college at significantly lower rates when they are 19 years old, according to new research published in the journal Science. A 7% state job loss when a student is an adolescent is tied to a 20% decline in likelihood that the poorest young people will attend college.

Local job losses hurt adolescent mental health, researchers found. Job losses also cut academic performance. The negative impacts are not limited to children from families where parents lost jobs – they extend to those who witness their friends, neighbors and others in the community being affected by layoffs.

Researchers argue that large-scale job losses are not simply economic events touching directly affected families. They are community-level traumas, said Elizabeth O. Ananat, an associate professor of public policy studies and economics at Duke University who is one of the lead authors of the paper appearing in Science.

“Worse mental health and worse test scores, they are all going to be blows to you that knock you off the path,” Ananat said. “That was a difficult path to begin with.”

In the economic theory, a student may have watched their father lose his job when a mine closed. Or they watched a friend’s mother be laid off when the local factory downsized. Those students should then be drawn to a college education because of the promise of larger financial returns and more stable employment in the newly developing knowledge economy.

In other words, economic theory has tended to focus on the idea that a shrinking pool of blue-collar jobs increases the relative return on investment of a college education. But it’s not working that way in the real world.

“Economists tend to think about it as a change in relative prices – the return changes,” Ananat said. “They miss the fact that it’s an emotional blow, like another kind of community trauma would be.”