HR Solutions

Complaints, Workforce Composition, Productivity, Organizational values

By Amy Maingault, Regan Halvorsen, Rue Dooley and Liz Petersen January 1, 2009

HR Magazine, January 2009 Q: I just got an anonymous call feeding me negative information about an employee. Should I take this kind of call seriously?

A: How much credence to give anonymous calls is a matter of opinion and judgment. In some cases, anonymous calls are made by people not associated with the employer who simply wish to sabotage your employee’s work life. However, other times calls are made by concerned individuals who have legitimate claims.

First, make notes of what the caller says so you can remember details to make an effective decision. If your phone has caller ID, make note of the phone number.

Consider the impact that the claims would have if they are true. In some cases, the accusations are not related to the employer’s operations and should be disregarded as idle gossip. In other cases, if the claims are true, there would be serious implications to the employer. For example, suggestions that your employee is defrauding the company are more serious than claims that an employee spends time off doing something embarrassing.

Also consider the demeanor of the caller. Some callers may seem credible, while others may rant incoherently. The caller’s credibility can be assessed by considering the logic of the train of thought, whether he or she includes details that make sense, and whether he or she states the case calmly. You may be able to assess whether the caller has information only an employee or a client would have.

Consider situations at work that would corroborate the caller’s claims. For example, if the caller claims that your employee is abusing illegal substances and the manager has noticed erratic behavior and absenteeism, you may pay more attention to the complaint.

If you determine that you can’t dismiss the accusations outright, in most cases you would investigate. Sometimes, though, if the situation is urgent, you may need to contact law enforcement officials or your attorney before taking steps.

—Amy Maingault


Q: What workforce composition trends should we monitor for strategic planning?

A: The available workforce is ever-changing, and its current state has a significant impact on the way businesses are staffed. This in turn affects an organization’s strategic plan. Employers can examine a number of resources—many at no cost—to assess workforce composition. Some of the critical factors include the following:

Age. The availability of older workers and entry of younger workers affect the workforce. When are older workers retiring on average, and when are younger workers entering the workforce?

The economy. The unemployment rate and conditions specific to your organization’s industry affect the workforce composition.

Diversity. The workforce is becoming increasingly diverse, so leverage available data about diversity to accomplish your strategic plan.

Immigration. Whether international workers are projected to be employed will affect the current workforce composition.

Government. Examining trends in regulation can also serve the strategic plan.

—Regan Halvorsen


Q: How can HR professionals improve employee productivity to contribute to the company’s bottom line?

A: Three key HR responsibilities can be used to improve company productivity: employee relations, training, and compensation and benefits.

Employee relations—including discipline, communication and performance management—is critical to improved productivity. It is important to correct unproductive behaviors through discipline and to encourage productive behaviors through performance management and by communicating well with employees—giving them the information they need to be productive and the information they need to feel engaged in the work they do.

Also, HR professionals can help improve productivity by rewarding employees who produce at and above par. This will be an incentive to both the top performers and the employees who perform in a less-than-stellar manner. Additionally, HR professionals can directly affect productivity by teaching managers how to properly and effectively administer performance appraisals and how to coach, mentor and counsel employees when necessary.

Training can contribute to improving productivity. Training should be designed to improve job performance functions. To verify improved productivity, HR professionals can do one of the following:

Calculate the return on training investment by measuring the productivity of a group, department or employee before training and then measuring the productivity of the same group, department or employee after training. The “after training” productivity should be more, better or higher.

Use a control group of untrained employees to compare groups.

Compensation and benefits can be used to show a direct correlation between, for example, raises and increased productivity. HR should monitor compensation systems to ensure that the company’s compensation philosophy is clearly understood by employees and that the compensation plan, including incentive pay, is plainly communicated. Further, it is fair to expect employees to stretch themselves to improved levels of productivity when there is an incentive to do so.

—Rue Dooley


Q: Can our company’s vision and values be reflected in our performance management system?

A: Yes. Such a system would establish company, team and individual goals that directly align each employee’s efforts with the corporate objectives and values.

The initial piece is setting an appropriate incentive plan. Some organizations may have different incentive plans or payouts for individual, team and organizational goals, including merit increases, individual and team incentive bonuses, and company profit-sharing or gainsharing programs.

The executive team is responsible for communicating the overall strategic objectives and defining the organization’s shared value objectives. The executive team also establishes companywide performance goals based on these objectives and value statements.

For example, if your organization’s vision includes achieving high performance or employee development, then a companywide goal may require employees to obtain some form of professional development (PD). Each employee could be required to work with his or her supervisor to develop a PD goal.

Examples of PD include attending a job-related seminar, participating in a webcast, cross-training in a different department, and working toward a certification or degree. To emphasize the importance of achieving this goal, consider having supervisors and managers be responsible for their own PD goals, and facilitating the achievement of their staffs’ PD by providing the appropriate tools, time and budget.

Next, the chief executive officer will work with direct reports to develop group and individual goals for executive team members that align with the strategic objectives and value statements. Then, the executive team will meet with their staffs in the same manner to develop team and individual goals at their staffs’ levels. This process continues for each level of the organization.

Through this goal-development process, each division, function and position will review each value statement and strategic objective to determine how it can best support the values and objectives. There are some strategic objectives that may not touch every department or employee, but trying to establish a direct connection between each employee and most strategic objectives can allow employees to take ownership of their roles as strategic players within your organization.

—Liz Petersen


Amy Maingault, SPHR, is the quality and training manager for the SHRM HR Knowledge Center. Regan Halvorsen, SPHR, Rue Dooley, SPHR, and Liz Petersen, SPHR-CA, are HR knowledge advisors in the center.

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