The Seven Worst Communication Habits

January 1st, 2013

The quality of your communication is always important, and increased skillfulness offers many benefits. Yet in more difficult times, such as when the economy is in recession, the quality of your communication becomes even more important. Sometimes the cost of poor communication is immediate, and sometimes it takes a bit longer for the negative consequences of unmindful communication habits to become evident.

The good news is that if you know what some of the nastier, poor-communication habits are, you can become more mindful and look for ways to increase your skillfulness. The positive results can be seen in interpersonal interactions as well as improvements in the quality of your marketing communications and networking.

So what are some of the worst communication habits? Here are seven candidates:

The Big Seven

The seven worst habits of communication are bad enough when they happen occasionally. They become “big and bad” when they’re practiced habitually. And they do, ultimately, exact a cost, whether it be in miscommunications, lost projects, lowered productivity, missed opportunities, or poor relationships. The Big Seven bad habits are:

Contacting Others Only When You Need Something.
You’ve no doubt experienced this, or perhaps (if you’re honest with yourself), you can recall doing it yourself. Maybe it’s even one of your own bad communication habits. The person who perpetrates this bad habit is the one who routinely surfaces when they’re job hunting, when they’ve got a problem, when they need a reference, or when they want ideas from you. Between their “periods of need,” you don’t hear a peep from these folks, and they might not even respond to your communications. Telephone and email messages go unreturned. Ick! Whatever the reason that people do it, it’s unpleasant for those on the receiving end. Let’s face it–no one likes feeling that they’ve been used. What’s more, as the pattern becomes evident, more and more of “the used” become reticent, if not resentful, and reach a point where they don’t care to be used any longer.

Not Following Up, Or Closing The Loop.
This is a sibling habit of the aforementioned, and is pretty much self-explanatory. This is when someone asks for your advice, requests a reference for an upcoming job interview, seeks out contacts for their job search networking, or asks for (or receives from you) a referral for a new project. You get the gist. These are all normal enough activities, but where this habit goes bad is when the person fails to follow up or close the loop by letting you know how things turned out, or even saying “thank you.” In the worst cases, the next time you hear from this person is when they need something from you again.

Not Returning Telephone Calls Or Email Messages.
As with other breached hallmarks of civility, this bad habit is becoming fairly typical. In some corporate work cultures, it’s actually a norm. But that doesn’t make it anything other than what it is: A nasty, inconsiderate communication habit. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about returning automated sales calls here, which one can be forgiven for ignoring. Rather, we’re talking about telephone messages, personally written notes, and email messages from real, live human beings, that go unanswered and unacknowledged. Nasty habit!

Foregoing Basic Courtesy.
At its most simple, this nasty habit shows itself in an individual’s failure to say “please” and “thank you” when requesting and receiving something. They might not send a thank you after being treated to lunch, or they might send a snappish email that is more of a demand than a request. The three previous nasty communication habits are also examples of discourteous behavior. Basic courtesy goes by the wayside for a number of reasons: people are in too much of a hurry, they might have an attitude of entitlement or self-absorption, or they might not have ever been taught basic courtesy. But each failure to be courteous contributes to an uncivil workplace and community, and exacts a cost because people don’t tend to like being treated rudely, and are less likely to extend themselves on behalf of someone they consider rude.

Not Listening.
You’d be shocked at how many unpleasant and costly situations arise from a failure to listen. Medical malpractice suits often cite poor listening skills as a key problem, for example, when physicians fail to listen to what a patient is saying, and allow their own egos and assumptions to prevent them from truly hearing crucial information. A similar pattern can be found in other types of work environments, too. One hallmark of poor listening is a person who won’t ask any questions. Another hallmark is that he or she might repeatedly paraphrase incorrectly, or “put words in your mouth” that you neither say nor agree with. On an interpersonal level, poor listening skills result in miscommunications, lost opportunities, lower productivity due to mistakes or redundant efforts, employee turnover, and other costly scenarios.

Telling Lies.
Intentions for and examples of lying run the gamut from telling “little white lies” to avoid hurting someone’s feelings (something few people like to do to others) to purposely misleading whole groups of people for the purpose of one’s individual material gain (something we saw en masse during the dot-com boom and subsequent string of corporate ethics and accounting scandals). The former is often deemed understandable, if not optimal, and the latter is seen as unforgivable. Both are examples of someone not being truthful. Truthfulness requires courage and, ideally, skillfulness. With courage and skillfulness, and a bit of self-awareness, we can find ourselves telling the truth in both cases, and all of the cases in between. The truth may occasionally hurt, but lies tend to be far more destructive.

Spewing Chronic Negativity.
Everyone can see and point out flaws, which is an essential element of problem solving. And we all entertain opinions that are focused on or sharpened by things we don’t like. But the chronic negativity spewer takes it to a more toxic, less discerning level. He or she is ardently negative–about a lot of things–and delivers his negative opinions energetically and regularly. Imagine meeting with such a person, who from the first to the last minute of your time together has nothing positive to say about anyone or anything. He might use powerfully angry, negative language, and repeat phrases such as, “I hate…” or “…stupid idiots.” When you’ve had an interaction with negativity-spewing Ned or Nellie, you feel like you’ve been slimed, and may even feel a bit in shock from the sheer force of their negative energy. A chronic Negative Ned or Nellie can have a dampening effect on his or her whole work group.
Fortunately, these and other nasty communication habits can be averted or changed by cultivating habits that are nasty-habit opposites–meaning, in this case, more skillful and considerate. For example, in order to enjoy the many benefits of more positive, skillful communication, you might commit yourself to speaking honestly, cultivating “right speech,” treating others more courteously, and so on.

Copyright © 2002-2003. Reprinted with permission from Ivy Sea, Inc., San Francisco, CA (www.ivysea.com).

Assessment Tools for Making Better Hires

October 31st, 2012

Having the right tools at your disposal can make hiring a lot easier—and a lot more successful. Here is a quick overview of different assessments tools you can use, beyond the basic job interview:
Qualifications Screens – simple questionnaires determine if an applicant has the minimum requirements to perform a job (availability, minimum age, years of related experience, etc.).

Job Simulations / Work-Sample Tests – These require the candidate to actually demonstrate or perform job tasks. Simulations may be conducted: as written tests, as role-playing exercises, on a computer, or even in real-life conditions. By design, they generally show a high degree of job-relatedness.

General Abilities Tests – Generally used for entry-level jobs or for applicants without advanced degrees. They measure broad mental abilities such as reasoning, quantitative, verbal, and spatial abilities.

Specific Ability Tests – Test for distinct mental and physical abilities, such as typing speed, reading comprehension, strength, and mechanical aptitude.

Knowledge and Skills Tests – Determine how much an individual knows about a very specific, advanced subject area such as software programming or mortgage laws. Knowledge tests are similar to specific ability assessments, but examine more sophisticated skills.
Talent Measures / Personality Inventories – Measure a candidate’s natural personal characteristics like: leadership and management skills; problem-solving ability; motivation; self-confidence; and communication styles.

Culture Fit Inventories – Assess how well an applicant will fit into your corporate culture and work environment, to help ensure organizational commitment.
Background Investigations – Gather information from outside sources, such as former employers and police records. Employment, criminal record, and reference checks all help employers avoid potentially catastrophic hires.

Drug Screens – Use a physical specimen from the candidate (hair, urine, etc.) to determine past drug or alcohol use. Employers use drug screens to prevent industrial accidents, work-related injuries, and excessive absenteeism.

If you would like more information about any of the above assessments please contact us today.

POINTING THE WAY TO JOB SUCCESS Designing Effective Orientation Programs

September 20th, 2012

You carefully recruited, screened, and tested several applicants for that new position. When the time came to make a hiring decision, you confidently selected the most qualified candidate. But two months later, the new hire resigned, confessing that she “never felt part of the company.”

The right first impression is everything, and a poor employee orientation can cost you dearly. It’s a fact: those who don’t start right don’t tend to stick around long. And high turnover means you must find new people all over again. What’s more, turnover takes a high toll on the morale of those who do stay behind. They begin to wonder whether they too should be looking for another job.

To retain new employees, it’s critical to have an effective orientation program. Staff members who are properly trained and welcomed at the beginning of their careers feel good about their choice of employer, fit in quickly with colleagues, and readily contribute new ideas. They also represent the company more confidently to customers, business partners, and suppliers.

Keys to a Good Orientation Program

Now is the time to review your orientation program. The following ideas can help new staff members succeed in your department or organization.

1. Create comfort and rapport

To help new staff feel accepted, give them opportunities to interact with co-workers and managers. Diversify the time and nature of these meetings. For formal presentations, meeting rooms work well. For informal conversation, lunches and after hours get-togethers are a good choice.

In addition, allow new employees to visit other company departments and customer facilities. Spending a week, a day, or even an afternoon in a different part of the business or with a customer helps new employees understand the company’s entire operation, and it also builds rapport.

2. Introduce the company culture

New staff usually want to follow accepted norms and values (e.g., dress, punctuality, hours worked). But understanding actual company culture happens gradually through formal presentations, informal dialogue, and personal experience.  Over time, “official” positions are compared to what gets said “confidentially”  over lunch.

Because company culture is not determined solely by formal presentations, it’s helpful to extend your positive influence beyond them. Create a buddy system or mentor scheme to match your most sincere and enthusiastic staff with your incoming employees. Be sure to give the mentor relationship real support: pay for a few lunches, allow time in the weekly schedule for conversations, acknowledge mentor services in annual staff appraisals, and show appreciation to mentors with tokens of recognition.

3. Show the “Big Picture”

New staff need quality answers to the following questions:

  • Where has the company been? Where is it today? Where is it heading?
  • Who are our customers? What do they say about us?
  • Who are our major competitors?
  • What is our market position?
  • What is our current focus: are we expanding operations, going regional, and launching new technologies? Or are we trimming costs, rationalizing product lines, and streamlining operations?

Introduce new staff to these “Big Picture” issues with a well-designed presentation.  Using transparencies, slides, video, or multi-media, highlight your history, outline your current goals, and introduce your future plans.  Keep the “Big Picture” presentation upbeat, lively, and up-to-date.

4. Explain job responsibilities and rewards

Clarify expectations from the beginning. Ensure new staff are thoroughly familiar with their job responsibilities and accompanying levels of authority. Explain and demonstrate your staff appraisal system. Show new staff a copy of the actual appraisal form and explain how good performance is assessed, measured, and rewarded. Use career paths of those who have come before them to illustrate possibilities and potentials in the job.

5. Handle administrative matters

There will always be paperwork. Employment agreements, tax forms, insurance policies, benefit packages, charitable contribution forms… the list goes on and on. While these documents are important, resist the temptation to “get through them” in one long sitting. Instead, spread administrative tasks over a number of short sessions during the first few weeks. Requiring new employees to spend hours filling out forms on their first day is no way to generate enthusiasm about the dynamic nature   of your organization!

6. Provide reality checks

Make sure your orientation accurately reflects the nature of your company. If your program shows only the bright side of the business and the happy side of daily work, don’t be surprised when new employees come back shell-shocked after two or three weeks on the job. Be open and candid about pressures associated with your company, your team, your customers, and your competition. This truthful approach produces staff who understand the workplace and wish to make it a better place.

7. Gain full participation

Give everyone in the organization a role to play in new employee orientation. Involve co-workers in your mentor schemes, engage managers in talks and panel discussions, put colleagues in charge as hosts and guides during cross-department visits. Invite the families of new staff members to a special “Meet the Company Day” and take lots of photographs. Later, mail the best photographs to your new employees’ home addresses-with copies of your company’s newsletter and hand-written ‘thanks for coming” notes.

Most important, gain full participation from the new employees themselves. Resist the temptation to provide only “one way” information from the company.  Instead, have new staff generate their own questions by exploring the company, researching the competition, and meeting the customers. When the time comes, involve your new employees in welcoming the next batch of incoming staff. Such participation helps your orientation program stay fresh and makes new staff feel like company veterans-experienced, involved, and able to contribute.

Effort Well Spent

It takes a lot of work to make sure your new employee orientation program is thoughtfully designed and carefully delivered. But the time, money, and human resources you dedicate can become valuable long-term investments that reduce turnover, smooth out learning curves, strengthen employee commitment to your company, and make human resource management easier and less costly.

This article was adapted from Ron Kaufman’s “It Pays to Help New Staff Start Right.” Ron is a leading author, trainer, and keynote speaker in the fields of improving service quality and implementing customer focus.  Based in Singapore, he has helped hundreds of clients, including Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and associations around the world. More free ideas, techniques, articles, and information are available at  www.ronkaufman.com.

HR Relief Million Dollar Jobs Stimulus Package  

July 12th, 2012

 At HR Relief we understand that HR Departments and HR Professionals are operating at maximum capacity in this current economic climate.  We want to do our share to match open HR positions with qualified individuals while relieving the sourcing burden for the HR Department.

During the next 12 months we will provide our services for placing HR Professionals free of charge at Arizona corporations.  Our goal is to place individuals in positions that will result in an aggregate annualized salary of $1,000,000.  In doing so, we will forgo $200,000 in placement fees.  Search for our information at #EmployAZHR on Twitter.

At HR Relief we offer a full spectrum of staffing solutions for a variety of industries.  We are locally owned and operated.  When you work with us you are supporting a local business entity.  Find out more about our business at
www.hrrelief.net .  Access us on LinkedIn, Twitter and FaceBook from our home page.

Here are the particulars for Employers to participate:

HR Relief will offer a 1 placement maximum per company

Offer applies to HR positions only

Must supply job description and pay range for position

Confirmation of the annual salary for individuals placed (to measure against our $1,000,000 goal)

To inquire about our program please follow this link http://hrrelief1.wpengine.com/contact-us/ .


The Benefits of Workplace Humor

June 20th, 2012

It seems that humor is serious business. According to a report published in Science Daily, it’s ok — and even encouraged — to have a little fun at work!

Chris Robert, who is an assistant professor at the University of Missouri (MU), along with a business doctoral student collaborator, Wan Yan, analyzed hundreds of sources on the theories of humor. Robert professes that humor in the workplace isn’t just clowning around, but has a powerful impact on workplace cohesiveness and the quality of communication among workers. Robert, who teaches psychology at MU, says that laughter actually causes people to bond more because of the physiological effects on the body. Other benefits of workplace humor include its ability to reduce job stress, spark creativity, boost morale, relieve burnout, energize, and put things in perspective.

So, what happens physiologically when we laugh? In the short-term, when we laugh, blood flow and oxygen is increased throughout the body. When you take in more oxygen-rich air, your muscles, lungs, and heart are stimulated. Laughter also helps to increase endorphins released by your brain, which makes you feel good. In the long- term, it’s thought that positive thoughts can improve your immune system and ability to fight off illness, reports the Mayo Clinic.

But implementing humor in the workplace isn’t without its caveats. Humor shouldn’t be used to poke fun at someone, but rather to laugh about things or events. Nor should you joke about very serious subjects that may be painful to someone else, like physical disabilities, illness, or death. Be careful about humor in multi-international organizations where differences in sensibilities and senses of humor may be present, as Robert and Yan note.

All-in-all, humor in the workplace can be a powerful tool to inspire people to creativity and greatness by working in an environment where people can feel free to let loose, but also valued and trusted.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071031130917.htm      http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-relief/SR00034

Seven Costly Legal Myths About Managing Independent Contractors

February 12th, 2012

In an effort to trim labor expenses, many businesses have cut costs by replacing employees with independent contractors. Some savings are certain-employers don’t pay employment taxes to the IRS or benefits to these workers. But with independent contractors, the risks-and the hidden costs-may reduce or even wipe out the savings!

This article focuses on seven legal myths, and what you can do to protect your business.

MYTH #1:

Employers should use the IRS’s “20 Common Law Factors Test” to determine worker status as employee or independent contractor.


The IRS no longer applies its long-standing, much-publicized and frequently used “20-Common Law Factors Test” to determine a worker’s status as employee or independent contractor. The IRS has replaced this test with a new approach focusing on three categories to determine if a worker is an employee or independent contractor:

  1. Behavioral Control
  2. Financial Control
  3. Type of Relationship

Companies relying on the “20 Common Law Factors Test” today risk costly fines and penalties for worker misclassification by IRS auditors.

The IRS is specifically targeting companies that laid off employees then hired back independent contractors to perform the same work (even those that rehired the same person as a contractor). Uncle Sam wants his payroll taxes, and to be safe you must classify your workforce properly, complying with the agency’s new tests.

MYTH #2: 
Employers can avoid costly worker misclassification risks by complying with the IRS Worker Status Test.

The overwhelming focus on the IRS’s worker status tests has led many employers to believe they can avoid worker misclassification entirely by pleasing Uncle Sam. However, the IRS’s worker status test only applies for employment tax purposes. Many other federal (and state) laws govern the workforce, and each has its own tests to determine worker status. Four examples are:

  1. Employee benefits: A 12-factor test determines whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor under ERISA, the federal law governing employee benefits.
  2. Immigration: the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) applies a 7-factor test to determine worker status.
  3. Employment discrimination: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) applies a test based on the “right to control the means and manner of worker’s performance” in federal employment discrimination cases.
  4. Wage and hour laws: the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) applies an “economic realities” test including six factors to determine whether the worker is economically dependent on the business to which the services are provided.

While it is important to learn the worker status rules under the various laws and regulations governing the workplace, just knowing that “all worker status tests are not the same” is an important first step in reducing legal risks.

MYTH #3: 
You can avoid costly worker misclassification liability by complying with federal statutes and regulations governing the workforce.

Even if your company complies with all the laws and regulations governing the workforce, you still risk liability for misclassifying workers as independent contractors who our Courts and the IRS consider to be “common law employees.”
The IRS defines a common law employee as “any individual who, under common law, would have the status of an employee…a person who performs services for an employer who has the right to control and direct the results of the work and the way in which it is done.” For example, the employer provides the employee’s tools, materials, and workplace, and can fire the employee. 
Our Courts and the IRS will find that workers are employees if they meet the common law employee criteria, whether they are hired as independent contractors, free-lancers, temporary or other “contingent” workers. 

Many high-profile worker misclassification lawsuits, whose staggering costs to employers made national headlines such as Vizcaino v. Microsoft (settled for $97 million in June, 2001), were based on courts’ findings that plaintiffs were common law employees.

MYTH #4: 
An employment contract expressly stating that a worker is an independent contractor means that the worker is an independent contractor.

In a series of recent cases, several Federal Appeals Courts across the country have ignored or rejected employment contracts that expressly designated workers as independent contractors. These and other courts have considered written contracts less important than the actual working relationships, control of worker performance and other factors when worker status is at issue. 
In December 2001 the EEOC filed a $2 billion lawsuit against Allstate Insurance Company after its life insurance agents signed written agreements to convert from employee to contractor status as part of a company-wide restructuring program. The agency recently charged Allstate with “coercive and intimidating practices” when it forced its agents to sign written statements agreeing to the change of status from employee to independent contractor.

MYTH #5: 
Hiring CEO’s, CFO’s and officers as independent contractors rather than employees is an acceptable, routine, legal business practice.

While hiring corporate chief executives, as independent contractors may be a common, routine and legal business practice, it carries its own legal risks for creditors, employees and shareholders. Our current corporate accountability crisis is exposing these risks every day. Consider the Enron case. When Enron hired Stephen Cooper as its new CEO his contract designated him as an independent contractor, not a full-time employee. SEC investigators characterized the designation as “inappropriate” and scolded the company for its independent contractor designation. The SEC forced Enron to change Cooper’s contract status to “full- time employee” to promote corporate responsibility.

MYTH #6: 
All contractors are the same when it comes to legal compliance.

All contractors are NOT the same. The IRS considers independent contractors to be self-employed. Each is a business owner with the right to choose from various forms of business entity, including a corporation. An independent contractor’s business entity can affect the potential liability of any company that hires or manages that person when legal disputes arise. Recognizing that all contractors are not the same can help reduce the costs of future potential legal disputes in contractor workforce management.

MYTH #7: 
Workers compensation policies protect employers from liability for work-related injuries suffered by employees, but not independent contractors.

This is true, however the risks of potentially costly legal consequences also need to be considered. Because independent contractors aren’t covered by an employer’s workers compensation plan, hiring independent contractors (or converting employees to independent contractor status) can open the door to personal injury lawsuits when contractors suffer work-related injuries. Because they are not employees, independent contractors who are injured on the job can bring a personal injury lawsuit alleging negligence, defective machinery or equipment, or other grounds for liability just like any other business customer or client. Employers need to recognize the real costs of losing the protective shield that workers compensation provides against such lawsuits.

 As businesses strive to enhance profits, alternative staffing arrangements should be considered. However, to avoid being faced with unexpected, costly legal surprises, business managers need to educate themselves-and understand the real legal risks in independent contractor workforce management and the potentially high costs of ignoring these costs in their business planning.

Ron Wainrib, Esq., is editor and publisher of Temp Law On Line, at www.contingentlaw.com, a unique, one-stop legal information resource center for staffing agencies and other parties invovled in “contingent” workforce management. He publishes the Contingent Employment Law Manual, Temp Law Update newsletter, and “Contingent Workforce Forms Book”. Ron teaches staffing agencies how to avoid costly legal risks such as co-employment liability through his interactive seminars and articles. He can be reached by e-mail at Needtokno@comcast.net.


The information in this article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also, please remember that state laws may differ from federal laws.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match

November 3rd, 2011
As a hiring manager, you might feel as if finding the right employee is like searching for a soulmate: sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince. Working with a staffing service can eliminate the frogs. If the service does its job, the only candidates you’ll interview are the ones you want to “take home to mother.”
Authenticity: Online dating has its share of losers who claim to be young, hot millionaires, and online resumes can be equally misleading. A staffing service weeds out the fakes. It authenticates a candidate’s background and verifies the person’s education, work experience and skills. A service only presents you with honest, reliable candidates. Integrity is non-negotiable.
Compatability: A staffing service helps you find candidates who play — and work — well with others. Every work group has its own personality. An agency understands the attributes you’re looking for to fit your organization’s culture, and it connects you with individuals who have those attributes.

Good Looks: A staffing service doesn’t screen out applicants who aren’t good looking, but it does find applicants who make you look good. A couple in love turns heads, and a fully-staffed, well-functioning team gets people’s attention. You deserve the credit you’ll get for putting the team together.

When it comes to finding the right partner, it’s a jungle out there. Don’t take chances with blind dates, and don’t go it alone. A staffing service can help you meet your next match.


Assessment Tools for Making Better Hires

August 28th, 2011

Having the right tools at your disposal can make hiring a lot easier—and a lot more successful.  Here is a quick overview of different assessments tools you can use, beyond the basic job interview:
Qualifications Screens – simple questionnaires determine if an applicant has the minimum requirements to perform a job (availability, minimum age, years of related experience, etc.). Read the rest of this entry »

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