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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Town Hall Meetings Get Real

By Brian Anderson, Chief Marketing Officer at POPin

As new tools, analytics and technology transform the traditional workplace, "town-hall-style" gatherings remain popular forums for employees at all levels to engage with one another and have direct contact with senior management.

Beyond the camaraderie, the issues at hand and the need for consensus gathering, transparency, feedback and input make town halls an attractive option. As such, the agenda setting, post-meeting action items and feedback loops can hold as much weight as the meeting. But corporate town hall meetings often fall flat; employees see them as lip service rather than places for their voices to genuinely be heard, and senior management perceives them as precarious attempts at transparency with a low yield on organizational alignment.

This disconnect shows a failure to source feedback from employees prior to meetings so that management can plan to address the right topics. Despite efforts to gather the whole team, it is challenging to prioritize agenda items, figure out what’s really top of mind across the board, and discern how best to address issues with a constructive, results-based approach.

Below are a few tips to drive more actionable insights on important company-wide issues in a town hall setting:

Before the meeting:

Crowdsource questions. By crowdsourcing questions from employees before the town hall starts, companies can set a structured agenda for the meeting. Managers can use these questions to gauge which issues are the most pressing and should be prioritized. By using software to crowdsource questions from employees, management also minimizes the risk of spending the majority of the meeting discussing a topic that isn’t a primary concern for employees.

Enable anonymity. Candid feedback is key to company improvement, and by remaining anonymous, employees can be more honest with their feedback without the fear of retribution. Employees should be allowed to anonymously ask questions and provide feedback to senior management. Crowdsourcing technology makes it easy for employees to submit anonymous comments.

During the meeting:

Encourage dialogue. Real-time questions allow the audience to engage with the presenter during the town hall. However, employees can be intimidated when the CEO asks the audience for questions. To prevent this, companies can use mobile technology to allow employees to anonymously submit questions during the town hall.

Swap the schedule. During most town halls, CEOs and upper management can seemingly dominate the allotted time with presentations and monologues, leaving little time for a Q&A session at the end.

The goal of a town hall is to gain insight and feedback from employees. By limiting the presentation time for executives and scheduling a longer Q&A session, management will have ample time to address employee concerns.

After the meeting:
Leverage analytics. Companies should have an analytics platform in place to quantify how effectively the messages of their town hall meeting was transmitted. Analytics empower managers to bridge identified gaps and build closer relationships with their employees.

Provide insights. In addition to providing a recap of the town hall, managers should provide all employees with insights gained from the meeting. A crowdsourcing platform can help managers use analytics to provide insight in a constructively.

For managers, corporate town halls are a great way to drive transparency within the organization and cultivate meaningful conversations with their employees. Town halls provide employees with an open forum to ask questions and provide feedback, which will ultimately help the company improve. Despite best efforts to hold interactive town halls in which workforce concerns are heard, it’s still difficult to discern exactly what employees need. By leveraging new tools and analytics to facilitate anonymous, organized town halls with employees, managers can ensure that these meetings will provide fruitful results.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Employee Burnout and What Companies Can Do to Fix It

By: Suresh Parakoti, Founder and CEO,

Employee burnout is a very real phenomenon, and it’s proving to be more and more prevalent in the workplace. More often than not, managers tend to see an exhausted and frustrated employee as a personal failure to find the right candidate to join their team; in their mind, the person is unable to handle responsibilities, is incapable of rising above stress, or quite simply, just isn’t cut out for the job.

Every employee—even the high-performing rock star—is susceptible to feeling depleted and unmotivated some of the time. Burnout is driven by many different factors, and many thought leadership articles have shared some of its causes. For example, an article from Fast Company earlier this year listed the following five contributors to burnout:

      Poor compensation
      Unreasonable workload
      Excessive overtime or uncompensated after-hours work
      Poor management
      A disconnect from overall corporate strategy

Similarly, the Harvard Business Review shared three more causes:

      Excessive collaboration
      Weak time-management disciplines
      Overloading the most capable workers

Though the causes of employee burnout vary, most sources suggest that it’s less of an individual concern and more of an organizational challenge. This view may seem to absolve the employee of any accountability and put all the responsibility on management, but it has the power to put company leadership in control. In turn, leadership can take the necessary actions to turn things around.

Over the years, many companies have underscored the importance of work-life balance and actually managed to successfully implement it. A high percentage of these have also offered employee benefits that go beyond the usual medical, dental, vision and 401k packages to cultivate an environment that gets employees excited about going to work. These benefits include, but are not limited to:

      A full-service cafĂ©.
      Flexible hours.
      No dress codes.
      Shopping discounts.
      Gym reimbursements.
      Paid maternity and paternity leave.

Companies not only offer these perks to keep the morale high among current employees, but also highlight them all over their careers page and job listings as a means to attract quality top talent. Some companies have gone above and beyond to ensure that their employees feel seen, attended to, and cared for. Zappos, for instance, offers nap times for employees to rest and rejuvenate when they need to; SAS’s shows their high regard for family with subsidized, on-site childcare centers and college scholarship programs for the children of their employees; Arianna Huffington has even implemented an email-deleting tool that unburdens her Thrive Global employees when they go on vacation.

Many management teams have recognized the reality of employee burnout as well as its implications within their companies. Loss of productivity, for one, has a tangible, quantifiable consequence. Employee turnover is similar. As work, environment and many other company-specific factors vary, so have the solutions and preventative measures for employee burnout that management teams have implemented. The bottom line is that leaders within the company have the ability to empower their employees, increase productive output, and reduce burnout. In doing so, they give their employees the drive to work, which ultimately drives the company’s success.

Suresh Parakoti is the Founder and CEO of, an online staffing firm that leverages artificial intelligence to connect top talents with employers and hiring managers.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Smart Onboarding Boosts Employee Engagement

By: Cord Himelstein, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Michael C. Fina Recognition

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in some industries, the average job tenure has shrunk to little more than two years. Now more than ever, building relationships and introducing new employees to the company culture early on is critical to fostering long-term loyalty. The first days, weeks, and to a larger extent, the first year at a company is a crucial time when the employee decides if their new job is a good fit. That’s why 23 percent of new hires turnover before their first anniversary. Replacing them also costs between 16-20 percent of their salaries!

No matter the employee, everything must be done to make those first moments of connection rewarding and invigorating. Integrating employee recognition into onboarding creates great opportunities for companies to connect with and support employees as they adjust to the culture. Even though layering employee recognition efforts into onboarding efforts can boost early engagement, a recent Michael C. Fina Recognition survey of HR professionals showed that only 33 percent of organizations currently do so. For shame!

A commitment to recognizing workers prior to their first day, on their first day, and throughout the first year of employment can help accelerate cultural adoption and greatly increase the chances of them staying longer. These efforts need not break the bank either. Here are some of the most popular budget-minded ways organizations are helping new hires feel welcome:

Onboarding Kits: Offering a customized onboarding kit with a personalized gift—and making an employee’s first day a recognition event—can help a new hire get acclimated more quickly. This can be something as simple as a swag bag with a customized t-shirt and other personalized gifts, although some companies create an entire onboarding experience to introduce employees to company values, expectations, and the overall work journey.

First Day Festivities:  Many organizations celebrate employees on their first day with a special breakfast or lunch with coworkers. This is a great opportunity to make personal connections with peers—an important factor in retention. Also, making sure managers spend a good amount of time on the introduction process can ease any anxiety a new hire might have as well as speed up the acclimation process.

Extra Manager Involvement: Beyond introductions to the team, establishing a positive manager-to-direct-report relationship is a silver bullet for voluntary turnover. According to Gallup, only 1 in 5 employees say their performance is managed in a way that encourages them to do outstanding work. Setting regular progress meetings and having informal touch-base conversations help ensure the new hire knows someone is always available for consultation and support.

The onboarding phase has grown in importance over the last decade but with job tenures shrinking it is becoming mission-critical. Integrating recognition program strategy with the onboarding experience is the best way to encourage personal relationships, show new employees your commitment to their satisfaction, and start building loyalty and engagement from day one.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

It’s Time to Make Mental Health in the Workplace Actionable

 By Jerry Ford, CEO of MarathonHealth

Mental Health America has found that depression ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals, coming in third behind family crisis and stress. Despite this issue, Mental Health America finds that depressed employees often don’t seek treatment due to confidentiality concerns and fears of the affect their diagnosis will have on their job. Ben Congleton, CEO of Olark, made headlines when praising an employee for taking time to focus on her mental health. Building on Congleton’s congenial gesture, senior leadership should ensure that all employees mind their mental well-being and take the time they need to stay healthy. With this in mind, here are three key steps employers can take to make a measurable difference in improving the mental health of their workforce:
1.     Identify a need for mental health services and address those needs. A crucial first step companies can take to assess the health of their workforce is to identify the population in need of assistance—learning who they are, how many there are, and what their pain points are. Sheetz, a privately held convenience store chain, saw the need for integrating mental health services into their healthcare plan after costs for mental healthcare continued to increase. Bill Young, director of total rewards, talent acquisition and risk management at Sheetz, noted that, “three of our top 25 prescriptions relate to behavioral health. It was clear that this needed our attention and that our traditional telephonic EAP solution was underutilized.” Coupling this with the fact that behavioral health was identified as the second leading condition for intervention behind musculoskeletal issues, Sheetz added mental health services as part of their comprehensive onsite health management program in 2014. 

2.     Offer a convenient, uplifting way for employees and their families to receive help that eliminates stigma. Nothing is more important than meeting your employees where they are, especially when the issues they are facing are sensitive in nature. After identifying the need for mental health services, Sheetz launched a pilot program to address rising behavioral health concerns and improve overall participation in EAP programs. Confidential, free, onsite counseling was offered on a part-time basis for employees and dependents but quickly turned into a full-time service and later expanded to their distribution facility in North Carolina. By offering convenient and confidential counseling that builds trustworthiness, employees and their families are more receptive to receiving mental healthcare and therefore more likely to be treated than to continue to suffer in silence.

3.     Motivate employees to take stock of their mental health from the top down. Full integration of mental health services via onsite health centers does not come overnight and relies heavily on senior leadership carrying the conversation. As we found with Ben Congleton’s words of encouragement, a personal reminder to take care of your health goes a long way. At Sheetz, employees are also made aware of the mental health program by way of newsletter stories, departmental meetings, lunch-and-learns, and executive support. Leaders like Bill Young will note that, “it is the right thing to do,” but beyond being the right thing to do—these services produce results. Seventy percent of employees require no further referrals after completing prescribed sessions, and the program has contributed to patient satisfaction rates averaging 98 percent overall. Of those needing a referral for more specific treatment, the counselors are able to assist them in providing the appropriate local resources. 
An important conversation has started that we cannot afford to let die out and must act upon. By identifying those who need assistance, meeting them at the point of care, and motivating all to see the importance in their mental health starts with those who are willing to lead the conversation for actionable change.

Jerry Ford is the CEO of Marathon Health, a provider of onsite health centers that enable employers to optimize the health of their workforce and business.. Ford spent 15 years as vice president of operations at IDX Systems Corporation, where he was responsible for 300 large and complex healthcare delivery system customers.