Tag Archives: human resources

The Truth About Employee Disengagement

By Brad Wolff

Brad Wolff-employee disengagement Most companies struggle with employee disengagement. It’s costly in productivity, profitability and stress. Gallup’s engagement survey data published in 2017 found that 2/3 of U.S. workers are not engaged. American companies have invested billions of dollars per-year for many years to solve this problem. The results? The needle still hasn’t moved. How much has your experience been similar? Could this data simply reveal a general misunderstanding of the true causes of disengagement?

The Acme Corporation was suffering a 41 percent turnover rate. A recent survey showed that 85 percent of their workforce was disengaged. The general attitude of apathy, complaining and cynicism permeated the culture. This was puzzling to management since they attempted multiple efforts to improve engagement. These were well planned and executed programs such as team-building exercises, social events and pay raises.

All showed early enthusiasm and positive survey results that generated optimism. Unfortunately, the magic always wore off within a few weeks. In despair, Acme engaged a firm with a very different philosophy than their other advisors. This firm focused on helping executive leadership understand the root causes and solutions. Within nine months disengagement improved from 71 percent to 26 percent and turnover dropped to 19 percent.

The door to solving this dilemma opened when Acme management acknowledged that since their previous solution attempts were ineffective, their current way of seeing the problem must be flawed. This wisdom, humility and openness paved the way to learn the true root causes of their disengagement. Once root causes are clearly understood, the solutions usually become obvious. Addressing personal challenges that make you human will increase your effectiveness and fulfillment in every area of your life. Click To Tweet

Fixing engagement issues: What works?

The first step is for the company leaders to take an honest, objective view of the company culture (beliefs and behaviors that determine how people interact and do their work) that impacts and drives the way people think and behave. That’s why lasting change occurs when focusing at the culture level rather than specific individuals.

Below are the relevant human psychological needs that are the actual root causes of people’s engagement level. Examples of mindsets/philosophies that effectively address these needs follows each need. Engagement will improve when management’s actions align with people’s psychological needs.

  1. To feel valued and understood. Management earnestly listens to employees’ concerns, opinions and ideas with the intent to understand and consider their merits before responding. This replaces the common responses of defending positions or punishing employees for expressing contrary viewpoints. Management isn’t required to agree with the employees. What’s important is the sincere effort to listen, understand and consider their inputs.
  2. To express our gifts and talents. Management puts a focus on aligning roles and responsibilities with the gifts and talents of the individuals. We all bring a substantially higher energy and engagement (and productivity) when we do work that we like and are good at. As legendary management consultant Peter Drucker said, “A manager’s task is to make the strengths of people effective and their weaknesses”
  3. Meaning/purpose in what we do. This means that employees have a clear understanding of how their work impacts the mission and vision of the organization. Don’t expect them to figure this out on their own. People are much more motivated when they realize that their efforts truly matter.
  4. Internal drive for progress or development– Employees are at their best when there is “healthy tension” (not too low, not too high) to meet clear and reasonable standards. This means fair and consistent accountability and consequences based on performance relative to agreed-upon standards. Being too nice and lax harms engagement since people inherently desire growth and realize that standards and consequence help them do this. People are motivated when they focus on: “What did I achieve today?” What did I learn today?” How did I grow?”

What Doesn’t Work

In short, anything that doesn’t authentically address the root causes of disengagement is doomed to fail. If the message is “look at this nice thing we just did for you” rather than “this is how we value you as human being,” it’s highly likely to fail.

Examples of the “nice thing we just did for you” include most team-building events, social mixers, company newsletters, upgraded office environments, etc. Even pay and benefit increases have an initial rush soon followed by the familiar “right back where we were” rebound effect. That’s not to say companies should not do these things. They’re nice add-ons after the day to day essentials of human psychology are authentically addressed.

In summary, it’s understandable that we gravitate towards easy, quick-fix solutions to our problems. There are plenty of people to make these suggestions and sell them to us. They also don’t require us to identify our own personal contributions to the problems which we’d prefer to avoid. However, as in most things in life, there is no substitute for working at the cause-level and creating new habits of thinking and behavior. If you’re serious about creating the high engagement level lead to more profits with greater ease and personal satisfaction, this is what it takes. As a bonus, openly addressing personal challenges that make you human will increase your effectiveness and fulfillment in every area of your life.

Brad Wolff specializes in workforce and personal optimization. He’s a speaker and author of, People Problems? How to Create People Solutions for a Competitive Advantage. As the managing partner for Atlanta-based PeopleMax, Brad specializes in helping companies maximize the potential and results of their people to make more money with less stress. His passion is empowering people to create the business success they desire, in a deep and lasting way. For more information on Brad Wolff, visit www.PeopleMaximizers.com.

The Right Fit Makes the Difference

Ten Steps to Better Hiring

 By Kate Zabriskie

Kate ZabriskieI don’t understand what happened. He Difference interviewed so well. But its six months later, and it’s obvious. He’s not a good fit.

We should have known better. She’s just not detail oriented, and this job requires a lot of repetitive work. She’s a creative, she’s bored, and she’s leaving. I wish we had somewhere we could use her talents, but we don’t.

Why do we have such a hard time getting on the same page? We rarely agree on who to hire when we have a new position, and from day one it seems as if only half of us are invested in a new hire’s success. It’s just sad. We could do better. We need to do better.

When bad hiring happens, everyone suffers.

Finding the right person for a position is part art and part science. While some people certainly have gift for finding good people, everyone can improve their success rate by following a methodical step-by-step process.

Step One: Know what you want.

First and foremost, it’s important to envision what work will look like with a new person. What will he or she do? How do you envision interactions looking and sounding? What do you expect in terms of quality and quantity of work? What temperament do you envision working best? Does the person need to be creative? Is the work basically the same each day? If this person is going to interact with people other than you, who are they, and what do they want from a new hire? Knowing what you want is essential.

Step Two: Create a robust job description.

Once you are clear about the kind of person you want to hire, it’s time to put pen to paper and craft a job description. When you list the duties the person will perform, if you begin each of your sentences with a verb and write in everyday English, you’ll be well on your way to solidifying your expectations.

Step Three: Think about what it’s going to take for someone to be successful.

Experience and education are essential to success in some jobs, and for others, they’re not. If education isn’t a deal breaker, do you want to exclude candidates by making a degree mandatory? What you require can widen or narrow your applicant pool—potentially in ways that could hurt your chances of finding the right person. Think long and hard about what’s essential before moving to the next step.

Step Four: Create a strong job ad.

Just as candidates are selling themselves, you are selling your company and the position you are filling. An ad is your opportunity to attract talent. Whether you’re working with a recruiter or doing the recruiting yourself, spend time creating strong job title, telling your organization’s story, and briefly describing your essential requirements. If you have a great location, solid benefits, or some other selling point, include that information too. Your ad should quickly paint a robust picture of why you’re great, what you’re looking for, and why they should want to work with you.Great hiring is about good discipline and patience. Click To Tweet

Step Five: Promote your position.

The type of job you want to fill should dictate where you’ll promote it. Many options exist. Regardless of which you choose, it’s important to have a plan and to understand how each promotional avenue works.

Step Six: Craft your screening questions.

In tandem with crafting your ad and promoting your position, you’ll need to develop your questions for screening candidates and interviewing those with whom you eventually choose to meet. This step is essential for several reasons. First, it helps you follow a repeatable process. Second, it helps those who interview to ask relevant and legal questions. Finally, it ensures you are fair and can gather answers you can compare with relative ease.

Step Seven: Evaluate candidates and set a phone screening schedule.

Once your job closes, it’s time to review the qualifications of those who met your position’s criteria and set a screening schedule. Depending on the number of responses you get, you may choose to screen everyone or rank candidates and screen the top group. Either way, you’ll want to talk to applicants before you bring them in to meet in person. Phone interviews offer several benefits. They allow you to get an initial impression of a candidate without having people’s physical appearance influence your thinking. They are also an efficient way to address some basic questions.

Step Eight: Determine who you will invite to interview in person, and prepare your interviewing team.

After you’ve concluded your screening process, it’s time to prepare your interviewing team and invite candidates into the office. Getting ready is essential. Both you and the prospective employees are auditioning. Your interviewing team needs to be just that, a team. You should discuss the welcoming process, the interviewing order, the questions each person will ask, and how you will close your meetings with candidates and send them on their way. Leave little up to chance. You are on stage. Depending on the position you are filling, you may decide to conduct more than one round of interviews. Regardless of what you choose, you must have a plan.

Step Nine: Gather feedback, and rank the candidates.

When you’ve finished interviewing people, it’s time to rank them. Because you’ve asked each person the same questions, this should be easier than it could be if you hadn’t.

If you find your team disagrees, think before you make an offer. If none of the candidates is exactly right, again, think before you make an offer. The wrong person now is rarely as good as the right person a little later.

Step Ten: Make your offer.

Assuming there are no obvious roadblocks, it’s time to make an offer. Be excited when you do, and recognize this is only the first step in effectively integrating an employee into the fabric of your organization.

So there you have it. Ten steps can make all the difference. Great hiring is about good discipline and patience. The better you are at establishing and following a strong inclusive process, the stronger your results will be. Now go find that candidate!


Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

Keeping Invisible Disabilities in Mind When Planning Company Events

By Tracy Stuckrath

It’s the first day of your company’s annual sales meeting for twenty-five people. While you ate a hearty breakfast at home before the meeting, you’re starving and ready for lunch. As you walk into the break room, you see that your boss’ administrative assistant ordered pizza for lunch.

Your stomach flips and your heart sinks. Pizza is not a safe or viable meal for you because you have celiac disease. What makes it worse is that despite the fact the pizza place she purchased from offers gluten-free pizza, she only ordered “regular” pizza and a large tossed “salad.” As you prepare to eat the salad, you read the ingredients on the salad dressing and find out it too, contains gluten. It will just be iceberg lettuce and a few tomatoes for lunch for you.

You felt very left out and overlooked—and now, even hungrier than before. You’ve worked here for a few years and the office is not that big. You thought she knew better.

Did you know that celiac disease, food allergies and intolerances are considered invisible disabilities? Did you know that people with celiac disease, diabetes and/or food allergies have the same protections afforded by the ADA as others with disabilities?

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) defined a disability as any individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The 2008 extension of the Act was written to add additional terminology to major life activities—eating, digestive system, immune system, and cardiovascular system—and, in turn, providing civil rights protections for individuals with allergies, including food allergies, and other dietary needs, like celiac disease. In an essence, it was updated to better recognize invisible disabilities.

These invisible disabilities affect many of your employees, and it’s important to be mindful of them when planning office activities, meals, or outside functions. Below are some of the most commonly encountered food-related invisible disabilities, and some ways to keep them in mind when hosting meals at the office.

Food Allergies

Triggered by eating, touching or inhaling a food protein, reactions can range from mild (hives, coughing) to severe (throat closing, chest pain, fainting) and can be potentially fatal.

While more than 170 foods are known to cause allergic reactions, eight foods—wheat, egg, milk, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish and soy—cause more than 90 percent of all allergic reactions.

Before food is served at work, ask employees if anyone has food allergies and what you need to avoid to keep them safe. Label all foods with the allergens they contain. Depending on the severity of the allergy and the trigger, inform all employees of the need to not bring that food in the workplace.


A life-long genetic disease requiring a person to closely manage their diet daily. A healthy meal for diabetic is generally the same as healthy eating for anyone—low in fat, moderate in salt and sugar, lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and fruit. Avoid serving only heavily processed convenience foods—fried foods, food and beverages with added sugar and foods that have excess butter, cheese and/or oils—in the office.

When this discomfort or worse, life-threatening dangers, are ignored, you are not only ignoring your duty of care, you are endangering people with an invisible disability. Click To Tweet

Digestive Disorders, Such Celiac Disease

Disorders of the digestive system which cause a person’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract to not work properly or at all. Many triggers for these disorders—celiac disease, Crohn’s, diverticular diseases, colitis, colon polyps and even cancer—are food related and require people to avoid specific foods to avoid severe pain, missing work or going to the hospital.

Heart Conditions

Diet is an important risk factor in avoiding and possibly reversing heart diseases. Some medications for heart disease do not interact well with specific foods and can decrease the effectiveness and/or cause adverse effects—high blood pressure, heart failure and/or strokes. If an employee lets you know that they must avoid specific foods, they may be doing for an invisible medical disability.

These are just a few examples of the many diseases, conditions, dysfunctions, and alternative ways of experiencing the world that fall under the classification of invisible disabilities. Most who understand the world of invisible disabilities understand that the existence of ‘normal’ is an illusion.

The disability of extremely high importance is food allergies, food intolerances and other medically-necessary diets, like celiac disease. Yes, these are protected under the ADA. And because they don’t require an assistive device, like a wheelchair, cane, glasses, or hearing aid, food allergies and intolerances are an invisible disability.

In most cases, participating in meetings and events at work or while traveling for work makes it close to impossible to completely avoid allergens, either because they can’t avoid the ingredient or they can’t control for cross-contamination.

When this discomfort or worse, life-threatening dangers, are ignored by those hosting meetings in the office, you are not only ignoring your duty of care, you are endangering people with an invisible disability.

Food allergies, celiac disease, heart disease and diabetes are not choices your employees make. They are invisible diseases—and disabilities—that require managing their diet very closely and specifically so they can maintain their health, their life and their job.

As founder and chief connecting officer of thrive!, Tracy Stuckrath helps organizations worldwide understand how food and beverage (F&B) affects risk, employee/guest experience, company culture and the bottom line. As a speaker, consultant, author and event planner, she is passionate about safe and inclusive F&B that satisfies everyone’s needs. She has presented to audiences on five continents and believes that food and beverage provide a powerful opportunity to engage audiences on multiple levels. For more information about Tracy, please visit: www.thrivemeetings.com.

What to Do When an Employee Becomes a Cybercriminal

By Bryce Austin

The FBI caught David Yen Lee at his home before he could depart for the airport where his flight was waiting. The hard drives the FBI sought were in his possession. On those drives were the trade secrets of a very well-known USA-based paint company, and David had purchased a one-way ticket to Shanghai, China where he intended to illegally hand over those trade secrets to Nippon Paint. He served over a year in prison for his crime.

Today’s cybercriminals come at your company from many angles. Their motivations are often more practical than many law-abiding citizens would expect:

  • They want money, and you have information they can monetize.
  • They can use data to manipulate business or personal situations in their favor.
  • If your company dominates an industry or owns critical trade secrets, others wish to take that power away from you and use it for their own advantage. Cybercrime is one way to accomplish that goal.

Motives such as these changes the way cybercriminals operate. They are organized. They share information amongst each other. They are often well-funded. These things make them more dangerous. In the example above, David Yen Lee is an internal cybercriminal. He is one of your employees.

This is a difficult topic. While it’s true that internal employees are responsible for a large number of cybersecurity breaches, it’s also true that most of these are unintentional. They are a result of good people doing something they shouldn’t, either out of ignorance or because a cybercriminal tricked them into doing it (if you saw the movie Catch Me if You Can this is Frank Abagnale’s social-engineering behavior). Statistics on the exact percentage of “insider” cyber breaches that are deliberate vs. inadvertent vary widely, but the opinion can be held that the vast majority of insider threats are not malicious. No matter which statistic you believe, everyone agrees that many insider threats would have been prevented if the insider had understood how his or her behavior allowed a breach to occur. It’s easy to see why a good cybersecurity awareness training program is so important to the success of your company.

With that being said, there is a risk of an employee with malicious intent to breach your sensitive data. Whether it be to share sensitive details to a competitor, profit from your data, or a disgruntled employee looking to carry out revenge against your company. If your company falls victim of a malicious-intentioned employee, finding out what happened is even more difficult because they often have high level system privileges that allow them to erase their tracks.

If your company is one of the unlucky ones where an insider deliberately caused a security breach, then you are automatically in the highest risk category of those susceptible to cybercrime. The keys to mitigate this risk are simple:Your employees are your most valuable asset, but can also be your greatest liability. Click To Tweet

Educate Your Employees

  • Establish a strong mandatory and frequent cybersecurity awareness training program for your employees that clearly lays out the policy for cybersecurity and the consequences of violating the policy.
  • Don’t allow employees to take home devices that contain sensitive files due to the risk of the device being stolen or sensitive data being transmitted over insecure networks at their home or other locations.
  • Instruct your employees to never share their passwords.

Know your People

  • Perform background checks on your employees to assist in identifying those that may take deliberate actions that would harm your company.
  • Know which people have access to the most sensitive data.

Guard your most sensitive data

  • Limit your employees’ ability to obtain access (intentional or unintentional) to sensitive information via a least-privileged approach to your data.
  • Identify your most sensitive and valuable data. Then assign that data the highest safeguarding and most persistent monitoring.
  • Remove “local administrator privileges” from your users to their company-provided laptops or desktops. A “local administrator” is someone who can do anything he or she chooses to with a computer, such as install programs, delete files, change sensitive security settings, and so on.
  • Turning on “egress filtering” on your network and limiting the use of USB “thumb drives” will make it harder for anyone to make copies of it and move them outside of your organization.

Ensure that you have forensics available to you

  • Tracking down an internal cybercriminal requires logging of network activity, especially for any access to sensitive information.
  • Any logs need to be stored in an area that is limited to the fewest number of employees as possible.

In short, your employees are your most valuable asset, but can also be your greatest liability. They need to be trained on best practices to keep your data safe, and they also need to understand that you have forensic systems in place that will likely catch them if they attempt to access data they should not. A “trust but verify” approach regarding employee access to your critical intellectual property is an important part of your company’s cybersecurity program.

Bryce Austin is the CEO of TCE Strategy, an internationally-recognized speaker on emerging technology and cybersecurity issues, and author of Secure Enough? 20 Questions on Cybersecurity for Business Owners and Executives. With over ten years of experience as a Chief Information Officer and Chief Information Security Officer, Bryce actively advises companies across a wide variety of industries on effective methods to mitigate cyber threats. For more information on Bryce Austin, please visit www.BryceAustin.com.


(Bilingual) Help Wanted

By Martin Cross

Janet, a personnel manager at a fast-growing start-up, hoped to give her company a competitive edge in an international field by recruiting bilingual employees. She got some unexpected results.

Her first big surprise was discovering that many applicants who made no mention of language skills on their resumes reported being able to speak two, three or sometimes even more languages, when asked about it in the interview. This made Janet wonder: How common is this hidden talent? So, she sent a questionnaire to her entire staff and was amazed to find that many them were in fact multilingual.

However, not all of Janet’s discoveries were positive. As a start-up, the company was very interested in what other businesses were doing, and the plan was to have the new staff spend some of their time translating advertising and documentation from foreign competitors. Armed with that information, they then planned to reach out to potential clients in those countries.

One of the new hires did well at the translation task but the others, despite having described themselves as fluent, were so slow that the company’s bottom-line costs exceeded the price for outsourcing the same service. To make matters worse, the engineers found the translations hard to read.

Meanwhile, a sales department recruit who had said, in the interview, that he was fluent in the language that his parents spoke at home, later told his supervisor that he was unable to make sales calls in that language.A multilingual workforce can respond more quickly and flexibly to both opportunities and challenges. Click To Tweet

There is more to language than conversation

Janet had been operating under the common misconception that someone who is conversationally fluent in a second language will be able to do everything in that language that they can do in English. The truth is that, while about a quarter of Americans can hold a conversation in a foreign tongue, conversational fluency is only one of a broad range of language skills.

Your ten-year-old nephew may speak English fluently, yet if you hand him your company’s year-end reports, the vocabulary and syntax will stump him before he has finished the first sentence. Likewise, being able to chat about the weather or sports in Spanish or Korean in no way means that you can speak business Spanish or technical Korean.

Even in situations that do not require any special jargon, such as telephone prospecting for sales leads, the ability to set the right tone and project confidence requires an exceptionally high level of linguistic skill. A person who has only spoken their second language at home with their family, or learned it during a college year abroad, is unlikely to have such mastery.

Skills are learned

The skills gap is even more pronounced when it comes to writing. While our high schools and universities do their best to instill good writing habits in their students, many of us have difficulty producing even an email that is completely free of errors.

As you can imagine, it’s harder still to write well in a second language. In fact, unless you have used a language as your primary work or study language for many years, it is nearly impossible to write at a level in keeping with corporate professionalism.

Another surprising linguistic fact is that even people who have mastered two languages, such as immigrants who began their careers abroad and have since settled into English, may not necessarily be good translators. Understanding what is written on the page and being able to choose the right words to recraft that same message in another language are two very distinct skills.

Many years of study and practice, as well as a host of specialized tools and resources, are needed for professional translators to reach a level at which they can work efficiently and confidently. Asking an untrained staff member to take on translation work may be counterproductive and expensive. It may even involve serious risk in the case of documents with the potential for major business impact, such as contracts, user manuals, or advertising.

For similar reasons, because interpreters (who convey the spoken word) need very different skill sets than translators (who work with written text), even translators with years of experience will likely struggle to serve as an interpreter at an ordinary business meeting.

Lessons learned

Janet wasn’t wrong in seeing bilingual recruiting as tool to boost international competitiveness, but she needed more information to make good decisions. Rather than simply asking candidates if they spoke any other languages, she should have gone one step further and inquired about the specific tasks she was hoping to have them perform.

She learned some important lessons: If you want someone to review technical documents in a foreign language, it’s best to ask them up front if they feel confident reading such material in that language, not to mention what related experience or education they have to support that confidence.

She also found that she needed to hire someone with foreign language sales experience if that person was to make sales calls overseas. Likewise, relevant training and experience was a must for translations and interpreting.

Linguistic capital is a powerful addition to any international team. It can open windows of insight and doors of opportunity. A multilingual workforce can respond more quickly and flexibly to both opportunities and challenges.

In fact, your company’s language skills could be your decisive edge, so it pays to get the right ones. By understanding your specific needs and diving deeper into the language skills of your staff and potential recruits, you’ll make the most of your “(Bilingual) Help Wanted” sign.

Martin Cross is the president of Patent Translations Inc., serving law firms and patent departments in the US and abroad, and an active corporate member of the American Translators Association. The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries. Along with advancing the translation and interpreting professions, ATA promotes the education and development of language services providers and consumers alike. For more information on ATA or translation and interpreting professionals, please visit www.atanet.org.