HR Solutions Challenge


HR Solutions Challenge Logo 

July 2013 Winner

Merrill VanLeuven, PHR, compensation manager at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Utah, is the July winner of the HR Solutions Challenge.

photo of Merrill VanLeuvenThe challenge: What advice do you have for a recent college graduate who wants to break into HR? So many entry-level jobs require HR experience. How can a new graduate gain experience?

VanLeuven's solution:
Experience is a key component to getting your foot into the HR world. It was a great struggle for me to get in as my bachelor’s degree was not a business-related degree. I decided to go to graduate school and work on my master’s degree in HR management. This allowed me an opportunity to secure a management internship at a major retailer, where I learned about employee relations and recruiting and staffing. That was how I got my foot in the door.

My first HR job was an HR assistant which was actually a temp job for a small, but quickly growing, engineering firm. That turned into a permanent position after five months there. To prove to my employer that I was super serious about the HR profession, I joined SHRM and enrolled in classes to prepare for my PHR exam, which I passed less than three years later.

If you are trying to break into HR and can’t get an HR job, consider going back to school or getting a job with related responsibilities outside of HR. I have had a lot of colleagues land in HR because there was a critical need, and they performed well enough in their current roles, which extended from customer service to sales, that they were placed in HR. Many of them have thrived. Credentials are important. But employer hiring decisions are based on your ability to demonstrate that you are confident in what you know pertaining to the position.

Contest Details. This is the final HR Solutions Challenge winner. The contest has ended.

Contest Rules and Disclaimers: Published responses may be edited for length and clarity. Multiple entries are permitted. The winner will be chosen by SHRM staff at SHRM’s sole discretion. SHRM employees and their immediate relatives are ineligible. The questions are hypotheticals derived in part from queries fielded by HR Knowledge Advisors in SHRM's HR Knowledge Center. Posted responses should not be construed as legal advice.

Have a question? Submit your own question to SHRM's HR Knowledge Advisors, who are ready to respond to your HR-related questions from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

June 2013 Winner

Terria England, SPHR, compensation and HRIS analyst for Exeter Finance Corp. in Irving, Texas, is the June winner of the HR Solutions Challenge.

photo of Terria EnglandThe challenge: What kind of restrictions, if any, should we impose for parents wanting to bring their children in to work?

England’s solution:
Many times, parents bring their children to work to introduce them to other co-workers or to show the children their work environment.  I believe this type of engagement can encourage the children to seek similar or better jobs than their parents.  It gives the children a sense of pride that their parents are productive workers.

From the co-workers' standpoint, the children's visits allow them to see the softer, human side of their associate, who may appear stern and highly business-focused. That said, imposing restrictions on parents wanting to bring their children into work may be required, depending on the industry.

For example, in the finance or banking industry or in a government-secured facility, restrictions may be necessary, limiting children or other visitors to the reception area or lobby. If this is the case, a clear written policy should be developed and communicated so that every employee knows and understands the rules. Signs should be posted indicating that it is a restricted area.

If such restrictions aren’t necessary, and it’s during normal work hours, limited visits should be acceptable, unless the children are loud and disruptive.

If they are disruptive, the manager should communicate to the parent that he or she needs to remove the children from the work area. Hopefully, the parent will not need to be told, but will have the instinct to initiate the relocation.

If the visit is during nonwork hours, and the presence of the children will not affect others, then there should be no restrictions to the visit, with the exception of limiting their presence to their immediate work space or office. The children should not be allowed to move around freely and tamper with others’ work spaces or offices.

May 2013 Winner

Julie Callender, SPHR, HR manager for talent systems and reporting for Altria Client Services Inc. in Richmond, Va., is the May winner of the HR Solutions Challenge. Altria Client Services has 1,500 salaried employees who provide HR, legal and other services to companies within the Altria Group.
photo of Julie CallenderThe challenge: We'd like to offer our employees some flexibility in their summer work schedules. What are some innovative ideas? What are some problems to avoid?

Callender’s solution:
Our company is implementing a summer hours program. Summer 2012 was a pilot; the program was so successful and our leadership team received such positive feedback that the program will be offered again this year at our nonmanufacturing locations. Identifying ways to increase flexibility in how we accomplish our work is part of a larger, on-going effort in our organization.

How it works:
From Memorial Day through Labor Day, participating departments offer employees the opportunity to work a full work week from Monday through a half-day Friday. Our standard work week is 37.5 hours. Employees in participating departments may rotate taking pre-scheduled half-day Fridays off, beginning at 1 p.m. on Friday, every other week, work permitting.

Schedules are worked out so that departments and work groups maintain adequate coverage and high-quality services at all times. Communication with managers and colleagues is key to the success of the program. The program is communicated approximately 30 days prior to Memorial Day in order for department managers to plan scheduling.

Among the problems to avoid:
Entitlement. While it was not a problem in 2012, there is no guarantee that this program will continue for years to come. Balancing the work against the positive employee experience around this program will be critical to success in the future. Even employees who—due to work obligations—are not able to participate as often are very grateful that the program exists and the opportunity to take advantage of it is there.
Negative perception if departments decide to opt out of the program. While we did not have any opt out last year, if any departments decide to do so in the future, it could be viewed very negatively by employees working in those groups.

April 2013 Winner

Marge Rzeszut, PHR, HR director at Leader’s Casual Furniture in Largo, Fla., is the winner of the HR Solutions Challenge for April.

The challenge: Some longtime employees are spreading malicious rumors about how some recently hired workers got their jobs and what they're being paid. The rumors are mostly untrue, but some new workers are being paid more than longtime employees. What can the HR team do to stop the rumors?

Rzeszut’s solution:

When rumors like this spread, communication is always the key.

Sometimes, it can appear that you are “penalizing” someone for their loyalty. Make sure your evaluations and salary increases are up-to-date so your long-term employees feel they have been treated fairly. Explain that when they were hired, salary ranges were lower. Tell them you cannot jump their salaries 15 percent or 20 percent. I would explain that they have received their annual raises (hopefully) according to the work being performed and their evaluations.

I would ask the department head to meet with those employees and go over their annual evaluations and raises. Make sure they are aware of how many raises they have received. They will not remember unless it is shown to them. Ask if they are happy in their positions. If not, maybe if a better position comes up, they could be transferred. But you won’t know how they feel unless you sit down and talk with them.

When I was working for another company several years ago, a person was hired at the same level of management as me and was paid just $2,000 less than me. I had been there for several years, so I wasn’t thrilled. Before I spoke to the company president, I went online and pulled job descriptions on all my daily job responsibilities. I ran salary ranges on each position that I held under the HR manager title. I wanted to be paid for my worth, nothing less, nothing more. It worked out very well for me. But I had to talk to the president. He was unaware that I was unhappy.

March 2013 Winner

Margo Callis, HR manager for Longstreth Sporting Goods in Parker Ford, Pa., is the winner of the HR Solutions Challenge for of Margo Callis The company has 50 full-time employees and 25 seasonal employees.

The challenge: Our managers often ask for suggestions on what to do with the individuals they are mentoring. What are some specific mentoring activities that can be done with two people?
Callis’ solution:
Early in my career, I received one-on-one mentoring. From the very start, my mentor made it clear to me that what was said would remain private between us and that our discussions were a time when I should feel safe to say anything without fear. I knew that he was on my side and that he wanted me to be successful. This is the foundation I use when I mentor others.

Another thing I learned from my mentor was that if a specific situation exists, by all means talk about it. But always be ready to bring up a hypothetical situational scenario that can be used as a teachable example. When I was mentored using real situations, I would fall in the trap of having my mind on myself, whereas the hypothetical scenarios allowed me to stay focused without emotional distractions. This seems to be the case with those I have mentored.

Here is an example of a hypothetical scenario I might pose: “You get a report that a new employee has created animosity with some of her co-workers by constantly complaining about problems in her personal life and that she is also complaining about the work her boss assigns to her. How would you handle it?”

I make sure that discussion includes a description of how to analyze the situation, the probable causes, the compliance implications, ways to handle it and the possible outcomes. I will often probe and challenge by asking questions like:

  • What would be the right thing to do?
  • How do you think the other person would feel and react to what you would say to them?
  • Can you think of another way to handle the situation?
  • If you were in that person’s shoes, what could be said to you to get a positive outcome?
  • If the person becomes highly emotional and irrational in response to what you are saying, what do you think you should do?
  • Have you ever come across a situation like this in real life? What happened?

Whether real or hypothetical, the result of these discussions is that the person feels fortified with the know-how to properly analyze and handle difficult situations.

Although my mentor passed away years ago, to this day, I often remember and use what I learned in my discussions with him. Mentoring others is rewarding in many ways. It is incumbent on those of us who have received the benefits from mentoring to pass them along to others.

February 2013 Winner

Candace Henfrey, PHR, is the winner of February’s HR Solutions Challenge. Henfrey is assistant vice president of payroll and benefits at 251-employee Ohnward Bancshares Inc. in Maquoketa, of Candace Henfrey

The challenge: We have an administrative assistant who reportedly is moonlighting with an escort service at night. Can we limit an employee’s off-duty conduct and fraternization? What should we do?

Henfrey’s solution:
Many companies have policies in place that discourage staff members from obtaining outside employment and request employees to obtain approval from their immediate supervisors before accepting outside jobs. That said, the economy is tough and in particular, it is increasingly difficult for lower level employees to make ends meet.

The employee was reportedly moonlighting. If the employee’s job performance at your company is being affected by the second job, then meet with him or her to discuss that issue and determine if there is a solution to improve the employee’s performance at your company. The conversation would focus on a solution to the problem of decreasing performance, possibly including voluntarily limiting the outside employment.

If the employee’s job performance is not being affected by the second job and you don’t have a policy in place regarding moonlighting, then you have no reason to approach the employee with the reports. And, it’s time to write that policy into your employee handbook.

Your policy should state that employees must not hold outside jobs that:

  • Interfere with the employees performing the duties expected of them by the company.
  • Involve the sharing of confidential company information.
  • Directly compete with the company.

You can and should expect employees to behave in a manner that reflects well on the company, but limiting their off-duty conduct and fraternization, particularly if they are engaging in legal conduct, is not recommended.

January 2013 Winner

Michelle K. Preiksaitis, SPHR, is winner of the January HR Solutions Challenge. Preiksaitis is an assistant professor of human resource management at Keller Graduate School of Management, DeVry University, in Christiansted, U.S. Virgin Islands.

photo of Michelle K. PreiksaitisThe challenge: We have received complaints about some employees who exercise in their offices. For example, one employee is doing pushups in his office. Another wants to install a pull-up bar to work out. Still another is hula-hooping in her office at lunch. What should we do?

Preiksaitis’ solution:
Wellness and preventive care are significant elements of the new federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Savvy professionals in HR departments will welcome and encourage stories about employees taking fitness into and out of their offices.

That said, in professional organizations, sweaty gym clothing and exercise equipment may seem out of place in the office. Recommendations include:

  • Get a new perspective. Put exercise at the top of your “wish list” for employees and encourage the healthy behavior among all employees.
  • Get moving as a team. Consider establishing an on-site gym with equipment, trainers, fitness classes, changing rooms and even showers to encourage safe, regular workouts by all employees, not just those with private offices.
  • Have regular breaks for “moving” times. Using the company intercom, or other methods, announce a 5- or 10-minute “step up” break every few hours, and encourage employees to walk or march in place together. You might play catchy music during those minutes or use a Leslie Sansone walk-in-place video.
  • Offer rewards and awards. One might be for the employee who comes up with the most original and “catchy” fitness idea for the department or team to use each month. The prize could be a gym bag, a free month at a fitness center, or wrist weights for the employee who has a great suggestion.

Instead of looking at these employees as “problems,” view them as innovators who can help you create a wellness program. Hula-hoop contests are a great idea for your first group activity.

Kudos to runner up Edward Wick, SPHR, of Waynesboro, Ga. The leadership training manager at Shaw’s Power Group, Wick suggests: “Use the company’s health care provider for assistance to ensure no one engages in exercise that may cause harm through overexerting themselves. This also may be leveraged for discounting the cost of benefits.”

December 2012 Winner

Erin Huett, PHR, an HR generalist for the city of Richmond Heights, Mo., is the winner of the December HR Solutions Challenge. Huett has five years of HR experience.

photo of Erin HuettThe challenge: How should HR professionals respond when parents of minor employees want information regarding the employee’s work assignments, pay or disciplinary action?

Huett’s solution:
When the parent of a minor employee wants information regarding an employee’s work assignments, pay or disciplinary action, I refer the parent back to the child for this information. I would explain to this parent that the employment relationship is between the employer and the employee and that, by following this relationship, the minor child is learning responsibility and self-reliance.

If the parent was asking general employment questions, such as position pay rates or typical work assignments and schedules, then I would provide as much information as I would for other general inquiries. As the HR representative, I would offer the parent my direct contact information to pass along to the child for any employment concerns or questions the child may have.

While speaking with this parent, I would obtain the child’s name so that I could follow up with the child. Sometimes the minor employee may not feel comfortable walking into the HR department to ask a question or file a complaint, and sometimes the minor employee doesn’t know who to go to with a question or concern. By making the first contact, I would hopefully ease some of that discomfort and be able to address whatever issues he or she may bring forth.

For many minor employees, this may be their first job. They most likely are still learning how to interact and conduct themselves on a professional level. Minor employees may benefit from a supportive employment relationship in which they can continue to grow and develop their professional skills. HR professionals can help to facilitate this relationship by being proactive and available to assist minor employees. Occasionally, this may require parental involvement with the child’s consent. Without the child’s consent, I would simply refer the parent back to the child for employment information.

November 2012 Winner

Melissa Fulwider, the accounting assistant at Augusta Iron & Steel Works Inc. in Augusta, Ga., is our November winner. Fulwider handles the HR duties for her 49-employee company.

photo of Melissa FulwiderThe challenge: We want to thank our employees with holiday festivities, but we want to include people of all faiths. What guidelines do you recommend?

Fulwider’s solution:
With such a wide variety of religions and so many different beliefs, it can be difficult to stay neutral on religions for “holiday” celebrations. In short, keep it simple. Make it a general celebration for recognizing your employees and their work for the year. You decide the tone and make it your own.

At my small company, we host a breakfast where all of the managers cook for and serve the employees on the last day before our holiday break. (We close for the week between Christmas and New Year’s.) At the end of the day, the owner personally gives us each the same gift with a company logo on it, and he personally thanks us for our loyalty and wishes us well for our time off. This makes the celebration about our hard work and deserved time away. With several longtime employees, I would say this is a successful yearly tradition.

When I was employed at a larger company, our focus was simply to celebrate the holidays. We provided a meal, which included traditional holiday foods, and encouraged employees to bring in dishes to share that coordinated with what the company provided. Everyone was given the same gift. It was always something with a company logo and not specific to the holiday. In addition, we drew names for other items we purchased. With everyone eligible to win, it was always a great celebration.

So the key is to make it about your employees and their hard work. This will make for happy, loyal employees.


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect