Stuff We're Reading
  • Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck--Why Some Thrive Despite Them All
    Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck--Why Some Thrive Despite Them All
    by Jim Collins, Morten T. Hansen
  • Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
    Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
    by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics
    The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics
    by Michael Maslansky, Scott West, Gary DeMoss, David Saylor
  • The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
    The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun
    by Gretchen Rubin

Five Signs Your Employees Might Not Be Engaged - Part 1


Recently, a young man we worked with left his plumbing job. He was excited about the field, he enjoyed getting up in the morning and he liked the people at the organization. In fact, he hoped to obtain his apprenticeship by going to school in the fall. Why, then, did he leave the position? The answer is simple. Young and mobile, he was constantly sent to jobs out of town. While his meals and accommodations were paid by the company, the constant travel kept him from his family and friends.

Welcome to the age of the Millennial! He, like many others his age, finds the need to be with his family and friends just as, if not more,Workforce Planning important than his desire to grow his career. For many of the younger generations, instant gratification seems more important than planning for the future. Had the plumbing company taken time to understand and accommodate this young man’s needs, he would still be with the company today. Instead, they lost a valued employee.

Today, more than ever, employers need to include their staff in decisions – not necessarily about the vision of the organization, rather in how to get there. Businesses now are not like the businesses that current leaders – read Baby Boomers – started 20 or even 30 years ago, it’s different. People want to be heard and to have input into how to reach organizational goals and to know their role in achieving those successes. Ensuring that employees feel like they are a part of the decision making process, is a key to engagement. According to a Gallup poll 70% of the US workforce admits to either being disengaged or actively disengaged in the workplace. Lack of engagement often contributes to employee turnover

How can you tell if your organization has an employee engagement issue. Many organizations conduct Employee Engagement Surveys to provide information on how engaged employees are and how the organization is meeting the needs of its employees. A great idea! However, sometimes employees provide only positive feedback to these surveys, fearing a lack of confidentiality in their responses. Later they may share different information with others, both inside and outside of the organization. Glassdoor is a website that provides an opportunity for employees, both current and former, to comment about their employers, even anonymously if they wish. Sometimes these comments are not positive and conflict with the results of engagement surveys. Organizations should monitor and take into consideration employee posts on this and other social sites to get a full picture of how employees perceive the company.

Whether conducting an engagement survey or not, there are many tell-tale signs why employees of any age might leave their current employers. Today we will look at two of the five these posts will focus on.

Sign 1: Irrelevant Work or Under Utilization

Talent ManagementEveryone wants to feel they are part of the solution and contributing in meaningful ways. If people are performing mundane, repetitive tasks and cannot see how it benefits the organization’s goals , it is very possible the employee will leave. Yes, everyone performs tasks at work that, if they had a choice, they would not do. However, individuals need to do meaningful work that utilizes their skills to the fullest extent possible to help the company move forward.

We frequently see this when people are “all over the place” doing “everything as required.” Often an expectation exists of saving money by having staff perform those tasks that nobody wants to do. However, it becomes a critical engagement issue when it’s the employee’s primary responsibility and the work doesn’t match or underutilizes the employee’s skillset.

Often organizations present employees with tasks that do not connect to their skill sets, training or education. Management then cannot understand why employees are unhappy. It’s not surprising, then, that these employees become disengaged and either leave the company physically, or at least emotionally. By increasing the correlation between employee skillsets, assigned tasks and organizational goals employee engagement increases and the costs from employee turnover decrease.

If the employee perceives these tasks as irrelevant, he or she will likely leave. Note the word “perceives!” It not only matters how relevant the work is to the outcomes of the department, it also matters how relevant the work is to the individual and his or her skill set. The connection between organizational goals and engaged employees is the difference between profit and losses for your organization. A Gallup poll found that lost productivity of actively disengaged employees costs the US economy $370 billion a year. This same study found that 86% of engaged employees very often feel happy at work, as opposed to only 11% of disengaged employees expressing a similar sentiment. 

Talk with your employees and ensure the majority of their work aligns with their passions, skills and expectations. Doing so will lead to more receptivity to do those tasks that nobody wants to do.

Sign 2: Absenteeism and “Presenteeism”

New Role IntegrationWhen employees are not engaged they often find ways to not be “present” at work. This may mean being absent from the work place physically. Lack of engagement can reduce the immune system, causing people to catch colds, get the flu and just generally feel more groggy. The result – they stay home. Billions of dollars are lost daily in the workplace due to physical absenteeism.

It is exhilirating to see those employees who are in the right jobs and how engaged they are with their careers. They love coming to work every day because they know they are making a contribution to the success of the organization and developing their careers. This level of engagement may be one reason many of these people do not let sickness stop them. A Towers Watson study on maintaining employee engagement found that retaining employees depends in large part upon the quality of their work experience, including factors seemingly always in the mix regardless of the economic situation or other outside factors. These factors include career advancement opportunities within the organization, the relationship with the immediate supervisor and overall work/life balance. Ensuring positive employee engagement in the workplace increases the likelihood that employees will stay in the organization and devote themselves to its success, as well as their own.

For example, we worked with one individual who contracted a very serious health condition that would easily have prevented her from working  as she went through treatment. Despite her condition, this engaged employee was at work often and she even worked from home on those days when she was too sick to travel to the office. Some may see this as foolish; so be it. The fact remains that this employee was engaged and wanted to continue to contribute to the organization’s success, even when seriously ill.

“Presenteeism” describes employees who come to work physically, yet mentally are somewhere else. Perhaps they are thinking of their impending holiday, wedding, divorce, a family member’s illness or a myriad of other things. When an employee is present but not productive, spends time staring off into space and not paying attention to the work, it could mean disaster, especially if there are safety issues to be considered in the position.

When employees are away often, whether it is physically or emotionally, it may be a sign that you have an employee engagement issue. If this is the case, then it is time to consider how this can be changed by exploring the “what” or the “how” of doing the job.


Managing the Fit between People and Positions

Historically, hiring usually migrates to the top of the business agenda as economies rebound.  With a changing demographic, organizations are likely to run into staffing problems. Not only will it be hard to find the right people, it will prove increasingly more difficult to find talented younger managers who will replace aging baby boomers. If history serves correctly, as the crisis mounts organizations are likely to react to hiring decisions as an emergency. The problem will be further exacerbated by outdated hiring practices that are typically ineffective at getting “the right people on the bus.”

Talent ManagementIn their Harvard Business Review article in May of 2009, Fernández-aráoz, Groysberg and Nohria report on a survey of CEOs and executive recruiters with respect to recruiting.  Their key finding?  Most employers rely on a very subjective approach to hiring that is influenced by their own personal preferences.  Further, those surveyed “held widely differing views regarding the desirable attributes of new hires.  They emphatically disagreed on whether it was best to hire insiders or outsiders, on who should be involved in the recruiting process and what assessment tools were most suitable, and on what the keys were to successful hiring and retention” (p. 76, HBR, May, 2009).  In a nutshell, hiring managers tended to rely on gut feelings derived almost exclusively from the interview process.  Not surprisingly, most new hires depart after only three years. A DHR study in 2008 found that without proper integration and onboarding programs, 40% of new hires and promotions fail within 18 months at an estimated cost of $1.5MM per year.

We advocate a balanced approach to recruiting that couples traditional employment interviews and reference checks with thorough personal assessments.  While candidates may feel overwhelmed by the process, they should take comfort in knowing that, when the decision is made, there is a greater likelihood that it’s the right decision for both parties involved.  We argue that assessments should augment the overall recruitment process instead of replacing it.

Talent ManagementHowever, one is left wondering what are assessment best practices?  It is very easy to find numerous assessments on the web, but these can pose some significant challenges to those that use them.  When considering the use of assessments, we recommend the following:

  • Take a balanced approach – No one tool can provide the requisite insights for the various positions in your organization. We advocate a selection approach that couples traditional employment interviews and reference checks with thorough personal assessments to increase the breadth of information available when attempting to fill an open position.
  • Don’t rely on one tool – No one tool can provide all the answers so don’t advocate that it is the only tool you will ever need – a battery of tools that derive a more holistic picture of an individual is more desirable.
  • Use only quality assessments – Good assessment instruments are current, based on extensive research and have solid reliability and validity.  The best have limits on who can and cannot administer and interpret them.
  • Avoid biased instruments – Some tools are inherently biased and may expose you to legal issues. For selection purposes, be sure to choose an assessment instrument that is designed to support the selection process in your organization.
  • Consider outsourcing – Training in the proper use and administration of the assessments is necessary with many requiring extensive post-secondary education credentials. As such it can be expensive to properly train staff in the administration of these assessments. Outside assessment providers can be less expensive and time consuming for individuals in your organization.

With a quality assessment process and the success profile for the role clearly defined, you can select the best candidates and shorten the runway to deploying the best talent available.

What is your organization doing to maximize the fit between people and positions?


A Business Case for the Use of Assessment Tools in Talent Management

Assessment Tools (aka psychometric assessments) are growing in popularity among businesses worldwide for talent management, as well as by individuals for personal professional development and career planning. A scientifically proven instrument can be of significant value for matching the right person to the right job, for identifying areas of strength in professional skillsets and for professional development by organizations and individuals seeking guidance in their own development.

It has been estimated that more than 20 million assessments have been used by employers in Canada to assist in the hiring process, succession planning, training and development of employees. Organizations who use assessment tools claim to receive the economic benefits in areas such as improved hiring success rates, reduction in employee turnover, increased employee productivity and strengthening of overall corporate culture. The key is selecting the correct tool with the right intentions. All too often, we hear of organizations not using the best assessment to achieve the results they desire.

Why is the use of assessment tools to augment the selection/screening process becoming increasingly more appropriate?

Four 21st century reasons

  • Talent Management

    Job applicants are becoming progressively more skilled in the interview process  
  • A shortage of qualified applicants continues to hamper efforts to find the right skill set among job applicants
  • Ongoing business pressure hinder the availability of hiring managers to interview candidates in a timely manner
  • Getting valid reference information is increasingly more difficult to obtain.

There is an old adage; “people are hired on skills and fired on fit.” Skills testing assures the candidate actually has the knowledge required for a position, while job fit testing provides information on whether the candidate will be comfortable addressing the demands of the position in terms of things like ability to assimilate new information quickly, conscientiousness, interest in working with people, capacity to deal with stress, etc.

Does this sound familiar?  After an extensive search for your manager, finally one candidate stands out. They appear to have the right qualifications and the relevant work experience, and they also said all the right things during the interview and presented themselves very well. The hiring manager gives the “all clear” to make an offer and you hire. Whew!

Then, not three months later, the hiring manager calls raising questions.  You hear concerns about things such as relationships with peers, or the team appears irritated or perhaps morale has dropped and productivity is below expectations. Upon further review and after speaking with a few key team members, you realize there is a disconnect, a mismatch. Your new hire is not a good fit and the time and cost in rectifying the situation is expediential.

Cost-to-hire data is generally collected by larger companies that have a recruiting department or by recruiting firms. I’m sure you’ve had some experience dealing with these. Where I try to get organizations to focus is more on the cost of turnover. In other words, what is the cost of a bad hire? What is fairly well-known is the cost to replace a bad hire. The harsh truth is estimated to be in excess of three times the compensation for the initial hire, depending on the extent of recruiting and training costs that are related to the position. So, if you can reduce turnover by even as little as five to ten percent, the cost of testing the best two or three applicants for a position is pretty minor relative to the return – and that ignores the cost and interruption to the performance of the manager and fellow workers.

Talent ManagementIn my experience with the assessments tools we support, you can expect that they more than pay for themselves from the first hire made where assessments are used during the process. Most employee and new hire turnover is caused by lack of job fit – things such as communication and communication style, the inability to close sales, reluctance to make business calls, failure to make timely decisions, failure to complete and deliver reports, personal interactions or failure to lead effectively. Information from valid and reliable job fit assessments can provide insight into the characteristics that cause these behaviors and, just as importantly, whether or not those are behaviors that have been proven to drive success within your organization.

Here are five key reasons for companies to use assessments in both hiring and other talent management initiatives. They are extracted from an article in Workforce Management written by Ashley Shadday entitled “Assessments 101”.

  1. Screening or Job Fit: “Assessment tests, when used as part of the hiring process, provide employers with an effective way of deciding which candidates are the most qualified for a specific job. Though it may seem that selecting talent would be easy in the present climate, hiring managers have their work cut out for them with many more résumés to weed through.”
  2. Get a Better Read on Job Applicants: “Assessment tools provide managers a more in-depth read on the individual seeking employment, leading to more accurate and long-lasting hiring decisions. Assessments go beyond the typical means of analysis to highlight candidate qualities that might not be evident during a more basic interview process.”
  3. Reduce Turnover & Save Money: “… losing an employee is costly. ….replacing valued performers can reach more than two times an employee’s salary for high-level or specialized positions. Even replacing entry- to mid-level employees can be expensive, once training and recruitment costs are taken into account.
  4. Improve Fairness of Your Hiring Process: “… assessment testing provides the ability to improve fair hiring practices by standardizing the hiring process. Assessments, when properly created and validated, should treat all applicants in the same, non-subjective manner and should not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, disability or age.”
  5. Corporate Career & Succession Planning: “Assessments can be used for employee development to determine a person’s best role. …workers’ roles and responsibilities change over time …Testing … allows organizations to move workers into roles that make the most of their unique qualifications.

‘Tis the season – World Cup soccer has returned, and so too may absences

June 13, 2014 First Reference Talks: 

As any soccer fan knows, the FIFA World Cup games are played live during the day, thus during work hours. Not surprisingly, studies show that absenteeism soars during special and major sporting events such as the World Cup.

Employers may be concerned about unusually high rates of absenteeism or lateness in the office, but also time theft in the case where employees show up for work but are actually accessing games online through their work computers or smartphones or tablets. This means that employees may be effectively absent while at work, engaging in “virtual absenteeism”.

What can employers do?

There is no vaccine for World Cup Flu, and there’s not much that can be done once a person catches it. Since there is simply no cure once the employee has contracted the illness, employers must be able to recognize the symptoms, including, a desperate need to watch as many games as possible, the inability to talk about anything but soccer, devotion to at least one team, and the inability to sit still or speak to anyone during a game.

The most disturbing symptom is that, at the height of the flu, judgment may become impaired, and a person may be tempted to call in sick and miss work to watch a game. I confess: I am a passionate soccer fan, and I have already contracted the World Cup Flu (it does not take long to become full blown). I completely understand both sides here.

In my experience, the only way to be both a dedicated employee and enthusiastic soccer fan is to watch the repeats after work during the week. Alternatively, I record the games and watch at my convenience. But this means that soccer enthusiasts must make sure that they do not talk to anyone about sports results or watch, listen to, or read any news until they get home to watch the game(s). Employers may need to implement a policy called, “Don’t discuss soccer results in the office” and encourage employees to watch the games after work.

Employers could also encourage employees to use their unused vacation time or any accumulated time in lieu of overtime to enjoy the most exciting matches live. Alternatively, employers could implement a flex-time policy for employees, at least for the most critical games near the end of the tournament. Employers may be able to dodge the problem of having employees reach the height of World Cup Flu by trying some of these strategies, instead of having to discipline employees for absenteeism, lateness or time theft.

Of course, employers may find that the rate of physical or virtual absenteeism is out of control and can only be stopped by disciplining employees for unauthorized absences. If so, employers are recommended to use progressive discipline and start with a warning and escalate from there. It is important to remember that any discipline must be proportional to the misconduct. It is important to remember that you would need to monitor and track the employee’s absence, productivity and work hours to be able to do anything.

Employers are recommended to adopt a flexible and fair approach when allowing time off as a business perk, and when disciplining employees for absences related to World Cup sickness.

Employers should prepare – and I’m warning you now – the Women’s World Cup soccer is in Canada next year!


The latest: When does a constructively dismissed employee have to stay with their employer? 

June 9, 2014 Alison J. Bird (First Reference Talks)

In 2008, the Supreme Court of Canada issued Evans v Teamsters Local Union No. 31, [2008] 1 S.C.R. 661, one of the leading decisions on constructive dismissal in Canada. In that case, the Court held that a constructively dismissed employee must mitigate their damages by continuing to work with the dismissing employer if a reasonable person would accept this mitigation opportunity. In determining whether it is reasonable to mitigate by working for the dismissing employer, the Court stated that one should consider the following factors:

  • The history and nature of the employment;
  • Whether the offer of re-employment was made while the employee was still working for the employer or only after he or she had already left;
  • Whether the salary is the same;
  • Whether the working conditions are substantially different or demeaning; and
  • Whether the working relationships are acrimonious.

The Supreme Court of Canada also indicated that it is important that the non-tangible elements of the situation, including work atmosphere, stigma and loss of dignity be included in the evaluation.

Since Evans v Teamsters was issued, lower courts have struggled with the question of whether a constructively dismissed employee should be required to mitigate by continuing to work in the changed position during the reasonable notice period. The Ontario Court of Appeal recently provided further guidance on this issue in Farwell v Citair Inc. (General Coach Canada), 2014 ONCA 177.

In Farwell v Citair, the trial judge held that Farwell had been constructively dismissed and that he had not failed to mitigate his damages by refusing to remain in his changed position during the notice period. The employer appealed the decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal. The Court dismissed the appeal and found in favour of the employee, Mr. Farwell. The Court stated that while there may have been an obligation on Farwell to mitigate by working through the notice period, this was dependent on the employer clearly offering Farwell the opportunity to work through the notice period. The Court stated that this offer must be made by the employer after the employee refuses to accept the changes to the terms of his employment and takes the position that the changes constitute constructive dismissal. The Court found no evidence that the employer had extended an offer to Farwell to work in the changed position as mitigation during the notice period after he alleged constructive dismissal. The Court stated that this was an “insurmountable obstacle” for the employer and that, as a result, the employer could not establish that Farwell failed to mitigate his damages. As a result, the Court dismissed the appeal.

This case indicates that if an employer wishes to take the position that an employee should have mitigated their damages by working through the notice period, they have to meet more than just the factors enunciated in Evans v Teamsters. The Court will also look for evidence that after the employee refused the changes to the terms of their employment and took the position that they were constructively dismissed, the employer offered the employee the chance to mitigate by working through the notice period.