The Williamson Difference: HR Answers That Work

How Much Flexibility Is Right for Your Organization

May 8, 2018

By Hannah Woolsey, JD

Workplace flexibility – are you all in, not having it, or on the fence (but feel like you are being pulled down)? It’s no secret that the modern workforce values flexible work arrangements, but do employers have to conform to the wishes and demands of this younger generation? No. But, you might want to consider flexible work options if doing so can maximize employee performance, increase overall productivity, and decrease turnover, all while saving the company money.

Say what? Statistics, polls, surveys, and articles galore cite workplace flexibility as a significant factor in whether employees accept a position, are satisfied at work, perform well, and/or ultimately leave the company.  

What types of flexible work options are available, you ask?

Flexible work arrangements can come in many shapes and sizes, and must be tailored to effectively meet your business needs. When we think about workplace flexibility, we often think about employees working remotely from their homes or utilizing a flexible schedule rather than the traditional 9am-5pm arrangement. While they are two common examples of flexible work arrangements, those options will not work for every position in every company. For example, it isn’t practical for a dental hygienist to work from home, or a middle assembly person to come in three hours late. So what are your options if your employees generally can’t perform their job duties from home and they can’t come in late or leave early due to business needs?

Here are a few options to consider:

  • Summer hours: reducing your hours on Fridays during the summer to allow employees a longer weekend.

  • Compressed workweeks: employees work the same amount of hours in fewer days.

  • Reduced schedule: reducing the number of hours an employee works each week.

  • Job sharing: two employees share one position.

  • Phased retirement: employees reduce their hours over time in preparation for retirement.

  • Arranged break schedules: employees provide input regarding the timing of scheduled breaks.

  • Part-time transition period: employees gradually return to work following a major life event.

  • Part-year work: employees work during your busy season only.

  • Alternating locations: employees work at multiple locations for one company.

  • Additional or unlimited paid time off: increasing the amount of paid time off provided to employees.

Employers should not agree to flexible work arrangements that they do not understand and support, because it will be apparent to employees that the arrangements, while theoretically available, are frowned upon by management. This, in turn, will drastically impact utilization and any benefits that could have been derived from the arrangement. Flexible work arrangements should be crafted as a part of your strategic plan for attracting and retaining talent, increasing employee engagement and reducing costs related to absenteeism and turnover.

While flexible work arrangements can be beneficial to your organization, they also create varying shades of gray where black lines once defined your policies and expectations. You should consider consulting an employment attorney prior to implementing flexible work arrangements to ensure that you are taking the steps necessary to protect your organization from exposure to legal claims.

Hannah Woolsey is a HR Consultant at Associated Benefits and Risk Consulting. She advises employers on leave policies, discrimination, harassment, accommodations, wage and hour obligations and any other issues that may arise in the workplace. In addition to providing practical solutions to employment law matters, Hannah has extensive private practice experience. Her focus included early intervention advice and solutions to employers, as well as representing them in the defense of administrative claims. She now works on a team dedicated to providing solutions for employment law and compliance matters for employers of all sizes. Hannah graduated from William Mitchell College of Law, after receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Winona State University.

Getting Real About Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

May 8, 2018

By Jessica Miller Merrell

Early in my HR career, I worked for an employer that faced a class action lawsuit stemming from 20 EEO claims from employees who believed they were discriminated against at the location. The class-action lawsuit grew to 65 people from surrounding business locations who also said they experienced discrimination. The situation was hostile. My car was keyed and I was repeatedly threatened. I had to leave the location with another person, not because I was the one who had done anything wrong, but because I was caught in an escalated situation that included angry employees, picketing, and regular visits from the legal team and various corporate leaders.

I was assigned to work at the new location where I spent hours combing over employee records, cataloging employee promotions, raises, performance conversations, and even attendance, documenting all these incidents on a series of spreadsheets. This was before paperless HR. We pushed through seven years of employee files, job changes, terminations, and employee and manager conversations for a location that had 150% turnover on average and a staff of 200-250 employees.

What is Unconscious Bias?

What we were looking for was a pattern of discriminatory behavior, whether implicit or unconscious. The legal team took statements and talked in detail with all employees at my location in addition to the 65 people involved in the class action lawsuit.

As human beings, we are creatures of habit whether we know it or not. Our culture and experiences shape our decisions. Some of these decisions are made without a real understanding of why they came to be. When one of those decisions becomes a habit that happens without knowing the “why” or the “how” behind it, it becomes unconscious. It becomes bias when that decision or action targets or discriminates against a type of person.

In the recent situation involving Starbucks, the company is trying to determine if the actions of the manager in question (who asked African American customers who weren’t making a purchase to leave and who then called the police) if those decisions were not only discriminatory, but also if the manager knew that these decisions were made based on race without even realizing it, thus implying unconscious bias.

Implicit Bias Potential Considered In Every Employment Action

I’m not here to debate whether or not the decision was unconscious or conscious. I can be certain, however, that I have been in similar situations, having worked in retail management, working in HR, and also serving (on occasion) as the manager on duty. In my career, I’ve asked many customers to leave who have made disturbances or loitered without making purchases. I’ve called the police to have people escorted off the property, and I’ve banned individuals from returning to my store location. Never once was this decision or choice made because of race, rather because I was concerned about the safety of my store, my employees, and the customers for whom I was responsible. I can’t, however, speak for the Starbucks manager or for Starbucks.

Unconscious bias isn’t new. Working in HR, it’s something I’ve had to consider when I’ve been part of any employment decision. Is there a pattern of discrimination that exists in the employment actions of the company, a specific location, or a manager? I look at the 20,000 foot view of every single employment decision to consider if bias can be implied. Then I work with both the legal team and leadership to help them understand the potential liability of a specific employment decision that might have a pattern or bias, whether made unconsciously or purposefully.

Unconscious and Implicit Bias Training Is a Great Starting Point

To combat the implicit bias that exists, it’s important to educate your leadership, managers, and employees, and to drive awareness through training, development, and continuous coaching and conversations. While I applaud Starbucks announcing unconscious bias training as a great first step, there is more to be done. Companies need to find easier ways to identify and uncover these types of bias, whether customer or employee-focused, so that they can be immediately addressed. Change starts with a cultural shift and increased awareness that allows all employees to bring these type of issues to light.

My hope is that what unfolded recently at Starbucks helps all companies add unconscious bias training. Employees must feel comfortable and supported for reporting bias. It’s the only way we can make the workplace inclusive and accessible for everyone.


Jessica Miller-Merrell is a workplace change agent focused on human resources and talent acquisition. Named to Haydn Shaughnessy’s 2013 list of top 50 social media power influencers, she's the founder of Workology (formerly Blogging4Jobs). She can be contacted on Twitter at @jmillermerrell.


A Case for Celebrating Life's Biggest Moments at Work

May 8, 2018

By Sarah Payne 

Someone once told me that in life everything seems to stay the same forever...until one day, everything is completely different.

I know a little bit about this. Last fall I experienced three major (but happy!) life events. I got engaged, bought a house, and had a baby. I remember the day after I got engaged, we toured the house we would eventually buy. Two days after we signed the papers on our house, I had my baby shower. And a little more than a month after that, we welcomed our sweet Mabel Marie. Now it’s hard to imagine my life without her. And getting a full night’s sleep? I totally forget what that feels like! In the span of just a couple of months, my life, my priorities, my perspective had all been turned upside down.

I’m not unique, of course. Your employees are learning, growing, and evolving every day. These life events are all part of our shared human experience. So if we want to create more human work cultures for our people, it only makes sense that we would share in these happy moments with our teams, the people we often spend more time with than even our own families.

Earlier this year, Globoforce published a report with SHRM that delves into this idea of humanizing the employee experience. We surveyed more than 700 HR professionals to see what the latest trends are when it comes to catering to the whole human at work. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Three out of five organizations (60%) are actively involved in helping employees celebrate life events.

  • Employees are nearly two times as likely to agree that their company is a good place to work when they are very/somewhat satisfied with how life events are celebrated.

  • When employees are very/somewhat satisfied with the celebrations of life events, the organization is 95% more likely to have won awards for its culture.

I remember how grateful I felt to work on a team that acknowledged and celebrated these huge moments in my personal life – even though they happened almost simultaneously! And based on the data we found, that gratitude and appreciation often translates into goodwill that employees give back in the form of discretionary effort and/or recommending their company to friends. These celebrations also strengthen social connections at work, which WorkHuman speaker Shawn Achor tells us is the greatest predictor of long-term happiness. In fact, the 2017 WorkHuman Research Institute report showed that as the number of life events an employee celebrates increases, so too does their sense of belonging with their team and their company.

We should also acknowledge that every team in your organization is different. Some may be more attentive than others when it comes to life event celebrations. If you want to ensure that every employee – no matter where he or she sits in the organization – has a positive experience, I encourage you to check out Globoforce Life Events, a WorkHuman Cloud® application that packs an emotional punch and invites more voices into the celebration.


Sarah Payne writes for Globoforce, where she supports the marketing programs team in creating intriguing content for lead generation, presentations, and events. She can be reached at


3 Ways to Improve the Candidate Experience

May 8, 2018

By Sharlyn Lauby

Organizations that have a candidate experience strategy in place realize the work isn’t over simply by having a strategy. They need to regularly audit their process to ensure it’s working the way they intended. The organizations also need to look for trends that they might want to incorporate into their strategy. There will always be reasons to improve the candidate experience.

The most obvious way to improve the candidate experience is by treating candidates with respect, so I’m not going to include that in the list. Every organization needs to understand that candidates are also interviewing and making decisions about the quality of the company. The hiring process is a two-way street. That said, there are a few other tactics that organizations might want to consider.

1. Market the company. The Talent Board North American Candidate Experience Research Report noted that most candidates continue to take control of their job search, with 75% of candidates conducting their own job search research across multiple channels before actually applying. Candidates find company values and employee testimonials to be the two most valuable types of marketing content when they are considering a company, at 42% and 36% respectively.

Organizations can include their employee values on their company website and career webpages. They can also add information about their values to the company pages on social sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Additionally, organizations can use employee testimonials as soundbites in job advertisements or compile them as a video to be housed on the company website or shown at job fairs. The Cheesecake Factory once put together a testimonial video asking employees to finish the sentence, “The Cheesecake Factory is a great place to _____________.” Employees talked about having “cheesecake in their veins,” said, “I have a family here,” and that “the company cares about me.”

Recruiters cannot assume that everyone knows about the company or that if the company builds a new career website, people will automatically visit. Recruiters need to make sure that the company message is reaching the places where candidates are. Similarly, if employees love working for the company, find a way to share that with candidates.

2. Educate candidates. At a recent TAtech conference, I had the opportunity to hear Lindsay Stanton from Digi-Me and Katie Roth of Aureon talk about engaging candidates and enhancing the experience through educational videos. Aureon is an Iowa-based company that provides business service solutions. It partnered with Digi-Me to create candidate videos that would not only help promote job openings, but demystify the hiring process as well.

It might be tempting to think that video is expensive and difficult to create. And that used to be true. However, candidates today want the truth and authenticity, not necessarily a high-cost or slick production. Don’t get me wrong; there are still times when high-quality production value is important. The point here is not to discount video.

Consider adding some video to the candidate experience. It could be about the company, the department, the job, the work environment, and the benefits of working there. Take it one step further and create a video about the recruiting process. It shouldn’t be a secret to candidates.

Want to really kick it up a notch? Consider filming a couple of videos about how to interview well and about the best ways to follow up after the interview. That’s information a candidate can use in any job search. The videos can reside on your careers web page and could be a way to keep job-seekers engaged with your company.

One last thing: Don’t assume that these suggestions about adding video to the candidate experience are only for executive positions. According to Roth, Aureon achieves a high response rate from skilled trade positions using video. The digital age is changing the experience, and video can create a competitive advantage.

3. Respond to candidates. I’ve always worked in industries in which candidates could be customers. It made me realize that I didn’t want to be responsible for losing a candidate and a customer at the same time. One of the ways we were able to improve the candidate experience at my previous employers was by closing the loop with every person who applied. Please note: I didn’t say that every person got the answer he or she wanted to hear or received a personal phone call, but everyone did receive some sort of acknowledgment.

47% of candidates were still waiting to hear back from employers more than two months after they applied, according to the 2016 Talent Board North American Candidate Experience Research Report. Plus, only 20% of candidates received an e-mail from a recruiter or hiring manager notifying them they were not being considered, and only 8% received a phone call from a recruiter or hiring manager notifying them they were not being considered.

The good news for employers is that today’s technology solutions allow companies to create standardized responses with personalization options, so candidates aren’t left wondering. While they may not receive the response that they were hoping for, they will remember the fact that the company provided closure in a respectful way.

(Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from my new book, The Recruiter’s Handbook: A Complete Guide for Sourcing, Selecting, and Engaging the Best Talent(SHRM, 2018) SHRM members can order a discounted copy at the SHRMStore. Enjoy!)

Sharlyn Lauby is the author of HR Bartender (, a friendly place to discuss workplace issues. When not tending bar, she is president of ITM Group, Inc., which specializes in training solutions to help clients retain and engage talent. She can be contacted on Twitter at @HRBartender.

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