HR Solutions

By May 1, 2003
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HR Magazine, May 2003 Appraising Performance, ‘Hoteling,’ Volunteering.

Q: Our managers hate to do performance appraisals. What can HR do to smooth this process and make it more acceptable to the managers?

A: Performance appraisal is one of the most universally hated tasks that managers undertake, and one of the most important tasks they have. In the crush of time that is the workplace, many managers do not make the effort to give timely feedback to their staff. At performance appraisal time, feedback is given that is out of date and often a big unwelcome surprise to the employee. Both parties are tense and uncomfortable with this sort of appraisal.

Performance feedback once a year is just not good enough; the performance appraisal process should be happening all year long. HR can bring managers into the performance process and make annual performance reviews less onerous by conditioning them to believe that managing performance is a continuous process that is built into their job every day.

Train the managers to give performance feedback to their employees on a regular basis. A weekly, or monthly, chat with each individual on how things are going would not be too much.

Train them to have brief informal exchanges, where managers can let staff know how they are doing and review any critical incidents that occurred recently. The manager can discuss both those things that went badly and those things that went well, and the role the employee played in both productive and nonproductive incidents, while the time period is still fresh in everyone’s mind.

The discussion of critical incidents and why they occurred could indicate the need for training or career development for the employee and give that person an opportunity to improve poor performance. It also can give managers an opportunity to take note of excellent performance that may lead to bonuses, awards or merit increases; or to document poor performance that may lead ultimately to disciplinary action.

These brief and informal discussions are a great time for managers to get feedback from their staff as well. Employees have good ideas about processes and products, and how things could be improved at work if they are given an opportunity to contribute. An atmosphere of open two-way communications makes employees feel comfortable with making suggestions or bringing problems to the managers’ attention.

Managers dislike having discussions with employees when poor performance occurs because most people neither give nor respond well to criticism. Train them to present objective performance facts openly and positively, and not to attack employees on a personal level. Employees respond more positively when they are presented with facts and asked for suggestions for how the situation can improve, rather than being told they are “problem employees.”

If managers keep a simple log of conversations held with employees each week or month, over the year a record develops with examples of each employee’s progress or lack thereof. When that dreaded annual performance review day arrives, the managers have documentation readily available that already has been discussed with employees. The record will show improvement or the lack of improvement, training opportunities pursued and whether goals were met or missed. There won’t be any surprises for either party, and the performance discussion can be smooth and productive.

Deborah Keary, SPHR, is director of the SHRM Information Center.

Q: My company is considering "hoteling" as an expansion of our telecommuting program. Can you provide some information on the topic?

A: Hoteling is a fairly new approach to reducing the cost of office space accommodations. There are challenges, but it is a resourceful method for workplace utilization. Basically, hoteling involves rotational use of office space when there are employee absences.

By analyzing employee absence data, employers can determine a percentage of space that is generally available from day to day. Employee absences can vary due to travel, vacation, sick leave, telecommuting or if employees work at a client site.

If office space is not being used, there is a lack of effective space management. Hoteling can provide an effective alternative to ineffective office space usage.

To determine whether hoteling is a viable option for a company to pursue, management must first assess internal work patterns through a comparative analysis. There should be a reasonable determination of the number of employees who are out of the office. Once that has been determined, decisions must be made about what space is available to use when. In addition, employers need to set up a system for employees to reserve that space. Employees can then book workstations and reserve appropriate network access and communication equipment requirements. This is similar to reserving a hotel room. When employees are ready to physically come in to work, they would book a workstation along with appropriate accommodations through the workstation administrator.

There are benefits to hoteling. For example, real estate costs can be reduced and employees often have the ability to book stations closer to their home away from the central office location if the employer has provided for that option. There are also down sides to hoteling. In addition to the loss of face-to-face communication, there would be a need for significant training of staff, administration of logistics, and the scheduling of events that would promote opportunities to network and enhance employee relations.

Hoteling can prove effective as an additional work-life benefit to employees. Employers would have to weigh the cost and determine the relevant benefit.

Dyane Holt, SPHR, is information specialist for the SHRM Information Center.

Q: Every year we have a booth at a particular trade show held on a weekend. Can we let our employees volunteer to work at the booth? Who can volunteer at the booth?

A: Generally, in the private sector no one can volunteer to do what others are paid to do. There are, however, some employers that can receive volunteer services under certain circumstances. If you are a for-profit company, it is likely that no one can volunteer for you. You will be required to pay the employees who work at the booth. Even if you hire people for just the show, you must pay them at least the minimum wage.

Volunteers typically are engaged in some sort of hospice activity for some charitable or religious organization. According to a Department of Labor (DOL) opinion letter signed by Wage Hour Administrator Maria Echaveste, September 11, 1995, DOL has “…a longstanding policy of limiting volunteer status to those individuals performing charitable activities for not-for-profit organizations. On a rare occasion, [they] have considered as volunteers, and not employees, individuals who perform activities of a charitable nature for a for-profit hospital, where the hospital does not derive any immediate economic advantage from the activities of the volunteers and there is no expectation of compensation.”

If you aren’t making money from the work that the “volunteers” will be doing, and you are a not-for-profit charitable organization, you may be able to receive volunteer services. Otherwise, you must pay the volunteers for the work they do at the trade show. The aforementioned Opinion Letter says, furthermore, that employees of a for-profit organization may not “…donate their service without compensation for activities such as staffing a booth at a function where the employer displays its goods or services… .”

With a different focus, another DOL Opinion Letter signed by Office of Enforcement Policy, Fair Labor Standards Team member Daniel Sweeney, April 12, 1996, says “…under the FLSA, individuals may not volunteer services to private sector employers…individuals can volunteer services to public sector agencies.” Public sector employees in most cases may volunteer to work in the public sector in a capacity other than their “regular jobs.” A police officer for example, may volunteer in a different capacity in, say, a public school of the same employer or can volunteer to perform law enforcement in a different jurisdiction than where she is employed.

Ruhal Dooley, PHR, is an information specialist in SHRM’s Information Center

Please note: This material is provided as general information and is not a substitute for legal or other professional advice. National members may reach the Information Center by calling (800) 283-7476 and choosing option #5.

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