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On Staffing

2011: Year in Review

Posted by Aaron Green December 23, 2011 09:00 AM

As 2011 winds down and we prepare to welcome 2012, here is a look at how the HR practices at Boston area employers evolved over the past year and what their expectations are for hiring, recruiting and HR expenditures in the year ahead. 


The data on Boston employment trends and issues was taken from a quarterly survey of Boston-area employers conducted by my company, Professional Staffing Group. For the past two years we have surveyed our clients each quarter about their plans for staffing and hiring, salary and compensation, concern over retention and recruiting talent and budgets for HR spending.


When we surveyed our clients at this time last year, results revealed the most positive outlook on hiring and compensation since the recession began. At that time,

  • Many more employers expected to add staff is 2011. The number of employers planning to add staff spiked in the fourth quarter of 2010. 54 percent of employers said they planned to add staff over the next 12 months. 
  • Uncertainty about employment was decreasing. In the third quarter of 2010 25 percent of respondents answered "unknown" when asked about headcount levels for the year ahead, but in the fourth quarter only 10 percent answered "unknown" when asked to predict headcount levels in the next 12 months.
  • Compensation was increasing. More employers said they had increased compensation for their staff by the end of 2010 and 82 percent said they expected to increase compensation in the year ahead. 
  • Employers were holding the line on expenditures. The majority of respondents answered that they planned to keep budgets at the same level when it comes to tradeshows/conferences, seminar attendance, travel in general, internal training and development, professional certification, and reimbursement for continuing education.
  • The number of respondents who said employee engagement is a significant problem doubled from those who were asked the same question the previous quarter (18% in Q4 vs 9% in Q3)
  • Employers were starting to feel the strain when it comes to recruiting: The number of respondents who answered "not a problem" (29%) or "significant problem" (18%) remained essentially the same, but the number who said recruiting top talent is a minor problem jumped to 50% from 37% in the previous quarter.

Three months later, things were still looking good. Respondents to our Q1 2011 survey indicated that:

  • Compensation increases were continuing and more employers were giving higher increases
  • Employers were positive about hiring, but cautious
  • HR budgets largely remained flat
  • Although concern over retention hadn't changed much, employers expressed more concern about recruiting and employee engagement

However, by the mid-point of 2011 many employers and HR managers were putting the brakes on. In our Q2 survey we found that:

  • Planned employee headcounts had leveled off
  • Compensation increases had also leveled off
  • Employers continued to hold the line on expenditures
  • Employee training and development was the one budget that employers said they planned to increase 
  • Recruiting continued to become more of a concern

Three months ago we posted the results from our Q3 survey, which found:

  • Staffing level expectations had continued to moderate
  • While less robust, hiring expectations were still positive
  • Compensation increases slipped slightly
  • Spending on HR-related items was expected to level off

It's clear that 2011 didn't produce the growth that employers were optimistically seeking back in Q4 2010. However, by most indications the worst we can say about the past year is that employers proceeded cautiously by tempering compensation increases and hiring and holding steady on HR expenditures. 


A look at the November report from the state's Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development is encouraging. According to the report, Massachusetts' unemployment rate in November fell to its lowest level in nearly three years as employers added jobs for the second consecutive month. Other signs that the state's hiring levels may be picking up: more employers, both large and small sized, say they plan to hire; online job advertisements have increased; and fewer people are applying for unemployment benefits.


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the chairman of the American Staffing Association's Board of Directors. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Evaluating the Annual Performance Review

Posted by Aaron Green November 28, 2011 11:47 AM

In recent years the annual performance review has undergone a makeover. For instance, now we no longer assume reviews only occur annually and most are no longer delivered "top-down" but incorporate input from multiple sources, including the employee being reviewed. Some companies have experimented with the frequency of performance reviews and some have tried eliminating them altogether. But, in some form or another, performance reviews play a necessary role in company culture. 


Performance reviews are an essential part of our workplaces, they just might look different these days. Here's what's new:

Performance is reviewed more frequently - whether it's because a new generation of employees has expectations of instantaneous feedback or whether the work we are doing is more project based and easier to review upon project completion, managers are increasing the frequency of their feedback as this Wall Street Journal article asserts.


Reviews are moving online - paper-based files are indeed a thing of the past, but it's not just online accessibility and file sharing that companies are taking advantage of. Now, some firms are using social media conventions to highlight performance and share feedback. Social media enables organizations to be more transparent and share goals, expectations and status updates. Social media can also make it easy to recognize and reward good work, e.g. through endorsements, recommendations or 'badges' for excellence. In a few years we may be used to a whole new form of online reputation management.


Workers aren't always visible - as the number of remote workers increases, managers face challenges in communicating, making accurate evaluations and 'connecting' with their staff. Reviewing the performance of a telecommuter or remote worker is similar to the review of a traditional office worker, but along with the benefit(s) of working remotely comes additional responsibilities and remote workers should also be evaluated on their ability to participate in group or department meetings and events and their ability to communicate and report on progress.


Self-evaluation - while 360 degree reviews seem to have seen the last of their 15 minutes' of fame, self-evaluations are in vogue and perhaps here to stay. From having employees take a "first cut" at their evaluation, to implementing a back-and-forth comment-response approach, performance reviews aim to be more interactive.

Probably the only thing that hasn't changed over the years is the dread that some employees and managers have for them. I'd like to say that the changes we've seen have resulted in a more positive experience for everyone involved but getting to that point that appears to be a tough balancing act.

On one hand, employers use performance reviews to benchmark career advancements and distribute merit rewards. On the other, they use performance reviews to give constructive feedback and motivate performance. Too much of one and not enough of the other can result in miscommunication, misperception and unhappy workers. Another reason performance reviews get a bad rap is because they involve people - and people bring their own biases, personalities and politics to the process.

As employers and HR representatives, there are several steps we can take to aim to improve the performance review process.

First, ensure the frequency of the review fits the circumstances. Not all work is suited to a formal review just once a year. Take a look at the various types of work performed in your organization and shape the review process to that schedule. For instance, it may make more sense to evaluate your product developers after the launch of the latest product release. 


It's also important to avoid surprises at the time of the evaluation. Layering your feedback throughout the review period helps to "set the stage" for a formal discussion and also helps the employee prepare for a more interactive and constructive discussion.


In recent years there's been talk of doing away with formal performance reviews, but personally I can't imagine running an effective HR function without them. Performance reviews are necessary contributors to company goal-setting, feedback and coaching and useful for setting performance expectations and establishing parameters for reward. Perhaps the most important step we can take to make them more effective is to explain their role in our organization and how they are linked with other important business metrics.

Please share your thoughts on making performance reviews more effective in the comment section below.


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Twitter for HR

Posted by Aaron Green November 4, 2011 08:54 AM

By now, most of us know what Twitter is even if we don't use it extensively. But what you may not be aware of are all the ways HR practitioners are finding value on Twitter. Just as the number of people with accounts on Twitter has grown (up to 100 million), so have the uses for this free application.

From recruiting to networking to staying on top of industry developments, here are a few of the ways HR pros are using Twitter:

Recruiting - Twitter is a free medium for sharing posted job openings with an expanded audience. You can also use hashtags, e.g. end your tweet with #jobs or #FinanceJobs, to make your posts findable by a wider audience. Inc. Magazine published this article on using Twitter for recruiting

Networking - Like LinkedIn and Facebook, Twitter can be used as a social network for staying in touch with people you already know or those you admire and would like to know better.

Education/sharing information - Billed as a micro-blogging platform, Twitter's initial purpose was to promote links to blogs, which makes it a great way to access articles and blogs you're interested in reading. Following HR news organizations, associations, legislators, vendors or consultants on Twitter is one way to get the latest industry news.

Chat - Twitter allows you to connect and communicate with others one-on-one or in a one-to-many format. Chats are a good example of the latter. Chats are organized by topic and run by a moderator but open to anyone who wants to participate. This Google docs spreadsheet offers a guide to over 500 different Twitter chats including: #CareerChat, CareerBuilder's #CBjobchat, the #ConnectingHR community's #CHRchat, #GenYjobs, #HFchat (part of #HireFriday community project) and #jobhuntchat.

Share experience of live events - tweeting live events or webinars has become pretty common. Doing so enables the attendees to participate in "side"conversation and the non-attendees to follow what's happening or being said.

Build your brand - Twitter is more than another way to broadcast company news. It also gives you a chance to connect with and share your perspective with followers.

Want to get started? Here's a list of 50 HR experts to follow on Twitter.   


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions, or @PSGStaffing on Twitter. He is also the chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Planning Tips for Staffing a Contingent Workforce

Posted by Aaron Green September 19, 2011 09:00 AM

Reports on contingent staffing show that up to a quarter of jobs in many organizations are filled with contingent staff, and that nearly 90 percent of employers have either maintained or increased the size of their contingent workforce since September 2008, the beginning of the economic crisis. 

 
Contingent staff includes a wide range of employee types, including: temporary employees hired through an agency or directly by the employer, part-time employees, outsourced jobs and job functions, retirees who return to work, consultants, freelancers, independent contractors and on-call workers.


Why is contingent staffing an attractive workforce option right now? In times of economic uncertainty many employers are wary of investing in full-time hires but see contingent staff as a way to mitigate risk. As I wrote in a previous column, contingent staffing is also attractive because it offers employers flexibility (for bringing in skills only when needed), cost savings (by not carrying a worker's salary during slow periods) and the opportunity to "try before you buy"with a new employee.


Whether you're considering contingent staffing or already employing flexible staff, here are some tips for incorporating it effectively and determining the right mix for your organization:

Consider factors that impact contingent staffing -- most often this means considering financial factors, such as salary, benefits, cost of training, and determining if it's beneficial to have the same work done by contingent staff. Your ability to predict staffing needs 6 months or more into the future is also an indicator -- if you don't have certainty around your medium-term staffing needs, short-term contingent staff could be a good option. Other factors include the type of work involved and whether the talent pool for that type of work job is deep.


Ask yourself if this is the right time to bring on contingent staff -- Are you gearing up for a big project, production cycle or seasonal demand? Do you need certain skills, but only for a finite time period? Do you want to make long-term staff increases, but prefer to take baby steps first? 


Determine the right mix of contingent staffing for your firm -- The "right"mix varies by industry, it varies by company, and it even varies over time for individual companies. You should look at your particular circumstances and assess the right mix for your organization.


Consider the impact of contingent staffing on permanent hiring -- Contingent staffing provides a great opportunity to try out people before you hire them permanently. You may want to consider some level of contingent staffing as a recruiting source.


Ask a professional -- it may make sense to bring in a workforce planning expert to help you determine the right staffing strategy, particularly if you don't have many in-house HR resources or if you find there a great number of variables to consider in your planning process.


Employers have numerous options when it comes to contingent staffing and how to fit those options into their workforces. With smart utilization of contingent staffing, employers can better meet their product and service demands while mitigating certain financial risks relating to hiring permanent staff.


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the Treasurer of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.


Recruiting: Knowing your sources

Posted by Aaron Green August 15, 2011 08:24 AM

Knowing what sources bring prospects to your organization is quite important to companies with ongoing hiring needs. If you know what is working, you can direct more resources toward these successful sources and/or save money by reducing expenditures on low-yielding sources.


Unfortunately Source of Hire Data is Typically Wrong

Most HR professionals I speak with feel their source of hire data is inaccurate and they want to know how to improve their system to capture the correct information. In getting to the solution, we first need to understand why the data is wrong; some of the typical reasons include:

  • Recruiter apathy -Not all recruiters value the source of hire information, therefore coding applicants accurately is just not important to them. For instance: maybe coding activity is done inconsistently, maybe it is not done at all, maybe the first drop-down selection for source of hire is picked.
  • Incentives/conflict of interest - If management values a particular source over another, recruiters may provide biased responses. Some recruiters even think the information will be used against them, or to make them seem less necessary.
  • Inconsistent system - If the way the question is posed to candidates is inconsistent, the results will be less reliable. Who is asked (recruiter vs. applicant) and when it is asked matters.
  • Applicant bias - Applicants may tell you the answer they think best positions themself to get the job. If you record the response at the wrong time you run this risk. For instance, the applicant that has been desperately calling for weeks and applying to multiple corporate website postings might think they have a better chance of landing the job if they say a recruiter called them.


An Easy and Effective Solution = Ask the New Employee Post-Hire

New employees will respond more thoroughly to questions because they often want to help their new employer. Furthermore you are getting the information straight from the source without any recruiter bias or apathy.

I would suggest asking the new employee during onboarding. First explain why you want the information to get maximum cooperation. I recommend not limiting possible responses to just one answer. Instead, provide choices of multiple factors based on responses from past hires and also leave a blank field. If the new hire does have multiple responses, ask for the responses to be ranked.

Two questions on source are necessary:
1. What source originally made you aware of our company?
2. What source made you aware that we had a current opening in your field? Or, if you were not aware of an opening, what source made you think to contact us? Or if we contacted you, what was the source of contact?

Lastly, don't forget to ask for referrals. The best time to ask is when a new hire starts employment. Correction, the best time to ask is anytime, but it is really effective to ask new hires.


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Internally Mobile Workforces

Posted by Aaron Green July 21, 2011 01:00 PM



Giving employees opportunities to advance their career by moving up or even moving laterally to other jobs in an organization is a good way to maintain employee engagement and retention.



Now is the time

As this recent Boston Globe article points out, nearly two-thirds of workers want to leave their current position. About the same numbers of employers say they'll be hiring this year, according to a quarterly survey of HR professionals conducted by my firm, Professional Staffing Group.

Internal mobility can be a win-win for employers and employees. It gives employees relief from a job they may have grown tired of without forcing them to give up the security of their current workplace. It gives employers a way to place experienced workers, who are already accustomed to the company and may have a shorter learning curve, without the expense of recruiting and training new external workers.


Most Companies Don't Handle Mobility Well

Many organizations do not handle internal mobility well and therefore pay the price in terms of employee turnover. Such organizations cling to the hope that the employee will be satisfied in his or her current job or they let company politics come in to play and allow managers to block transfers.


Best Practice Recommendations

Have realistic expectations - It is important not to hold internal job candidates to unreasonable standards, expecting them to be the perfect fit. Companies risk doing damage to their culture when they reject an internal candidate then turn around and hire someone from the outside who is not any more qualified for the job. Sometimes knowing too much about internal candidates can get in the way; you know more about internal candidate's flaws as compared to external candidates who don't try to show you their shortcomings in the interview process. Unless the flaws are critical and impact the employee's ability to do the new job, don't let minor shortcomings stop you from making the transfer.

Ensure company culture and senior management support the initiative - Senior management's visible support is necessary to develop and maintain a culture that allows for and even encourages internal mobility. Without high level senior management commitment to mobility, internal politics can take over and managers can block transfers or even discussions of transfers. Senior management should reinforce the long term benefits (retention and job satisfaction) of maintaining a culture that encourages internal mobility.


Make it easy - Most barriers that companies construct around internal hiring are well-intentioned; they are designed to prevent inter-departmental poaching and to promote transparency. But they can also make it restrictive for employees to take advantage of internal mobility and in some cases make it seem easier to look for a job outside the organization. Employers can make internal mobility as easy as possible by eliminating the need for applications, or for updated resumes, or permission from managers when applying to internal job postings. 


Market your internal mobility policy -Management should consistently support and promote internal mobility at meetings, through email communications, signage in common areas and any other internal communication opportunities.


Pay internal candidates the same as you would pay an external candidate - Compensation should be in-line with what you would expect to offer an external candidate with similar qualifications. In other words, don't lower the compensation just because your internal transferee is currently making less money; such actions serve to motivate employee to look for external opportunities.


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Charitable Giving at Work

Posted by Aaron Green July 1, 2011 09:44 AM

Epic flooding, wildfires, hurricanes, tsunamis, wars, a nuclear meltdown. Combined with ongoing need and the increased demands felt during our economy's last recession, it seems there have never been more opportunities to support those in need. Because there is power in numbers, workplace philanthropy is an effective way to support others in need.

According to a study commissioned by the United Way Worldwide, just over one-third of full-time employees work at a company offering some type of workplace giving campaign. Almost one-quarter of employees with a workplace campaign were asked to give to more than one cause during the year and 54 percent of those asked to give to a workplace campaign donated. 

Workplace giving campaigns offer benefits to the office as well:

  • Workplace giving campaigns can improve employee engagement by instilling a sense of pride toward their employer, a sense of accomplishment for making a difference, and a greater connection to co-workers
  • Studies also show that if employees are philanthropic through their work, they are more likely to recommend their employer
  • The newest generation of workers takes a company's charitable efforts very seriously. According to a USA Today article, 61 percent of people aged 13-25 feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world. Additionally, 69 percent consider a company's social and environmental commitment when deciding where to shop, and 83 percent will trust a company more if it is socially/environmentally responsible. Most importantly, 79% said they want to work for a company that cares about how it affects or contributes to society.
  • Giving campaigns can be part of branding and marketing efforts if the campaign is linked to the company's mission or industry, e.g. a building supply company that donates to construction repair efforts

However, workplace giving campaigns can backfire if employees feel pressure to participate or feel that the effort is not a company-wide one, i.e. senior management does not participate. Asking employees to give above and beyond their job responsibilities can be a delicate task and should be handled sensitively. It's also important to establish a company-wide policy -- how extensive and formal the policy is depends on the organization.

When determining how to set up a workplace giving campaign or set policy, here are a few recommendations:

  • Look for innovative giving campaigns that can advance your company's broader corporate responsibility goals and strategies. Seek philanthropic partners who understand and work with the company's commitment to support brand strategy while providing value to employees and consumers beyond the dollars they raise. 
  • Utilize technology to reduce the resources and time needed to run a campaign while expanding the options for sharing campaign information.
  • Support causes that resonate with your employees; they'll be more enthusiastic if they're working for a cause they believe in or have a hand in choosing to support
  • Have senior leadership set the tone and demonstrate involvement
  • Understand that workplace giving is a long-term commitment. If a giving campaign isn't successful or doesn't seem to resonate with employees, shift tactics and learn from the experience to establish a new campaign that is successful.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Job Outlook for 2011 College Grads

Posted by Aaron Green May 23, 2011 04:01 PM

Prospects for this year's college graduates are better than they have been in the previous two years. The Massachusetts economy continues to grow: the state unemployment rate hit a two-year low in April and employers added nearly 20,000 new jobs. Massachusetts' unemployment rate, at 7.8 percent, is well below the national average of 8.8 percent and for job seekers with college degrees it is about half of that. Many of the colleges and universities in Boston celebrated their commencements this month. Here's a look at the job market for this year's college graduates:


The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) predicts that employers will be hiring 19.3 percent more college graduates this year compared with last year. CareerBuilder also asked employers about their plans to hire college graduates and nearly half (46 percent) of the 2,800 surveyed said they plan to hire recent graduates. 

Twenty-six percent surveyed by CareerBuilder said they plan to offer higher starting salaries than they did in 2010. Salaries are up from the previous year for the first time since 2008, with an average starting offer of just over $50K. Engineering and computer science jobs are among the highest paying jobs for new graduates.  

The Class of 2011
The U.S. Department of Education projects 1.7 million students will graduate with bachelor's degrees in this 2010-2011 winter-spring graduation cycle. Females outnumber males with the Department of Education reporting 140 females to every 100 males in the Class of 2011 (58 percent of college graduates are female, with 42 percent male). This class is the most indebted in history with an average personal debt of $23K after graduation. 


In general, the Class of 2011 is a wary bunch used to seeing their classmates leave campus without a job to move back home with parents and put other adult milestones - like buying a home - on hold.  

Many will have held at least one or two internships during their college years, which is a good idea career-wise as forty percent of entry-level jobs are being filled by former interns.

If you're among the 46 percent of employers who will be hiring recent college graduates this year, it's important to keep in mind that these candidates don't have the same resumes or interviewing skills as more experienced job seekers. I recommend these six essential questions for interviewing recent college graduates.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Responding to Rejected Candidates

Posted by Aaron Green April 28, 2011 10:29 AM

Right now human resources professionals are inundated with candidates they can't hire. While this situation is not new, the volume is increased and candidates seem to be more sensitive to how they are treated. Last month, the Boston Globe ran an interesting article on candidates' reactions to the manner by which they are rejected. The challenge for many HR professionals is simply responding to all rejected candidates.

Why don't applicants get a response?

There are a number of factors that have made it difficult to respond to all applicants:

  • Technology enables an overwhelming amount of employment inquiries. Email and online submission processes make it easy for job seekers to quickly apply for numerous open positions. On the other hand, employers need time to evaluate and screen each of those submissions. 
  • The down economy and higher rate of unemployment means more candidates are applying for positions.
  • HR departments are stretched thin. Many organizations cut back on HR resources to weather the recent recession and are ill-equipped to handle the current workload.
  • Intercompany communication can lag. Sometimes an HR manager doesn't know what to tell the candidate because they have not heard back from key participants in the hiring process.

Return on investment: why it is worth the effort to create a process and culture that ensure all candidates receive a response

Availability for future positions: The candidate you reject today might be perfect for a future opening; treat candidates well today and keep them interested in your organization.

Referrals: While the candidate might not be right for your company, if you treat them well they still might refer other people.

Candidate gains new skills: The candidate you reject today might go on to gain new skills and be desirable to you down the road.

Public relations: Being unresponsive to candidate can really generate intense bad feelings which can hurt your employment brand as well as your overall brand.

What should employers do?

Employers should develop a process that ensures all candidates that apply to your company get a response. The process may define who responds and how they respond depending on how deeply the applicant went in the interview process. For instance, if the applicant went on three rounds of interviews, you may want a senior person to have a live phone conversation with them explaining why they were not selected. On the other hand, it might be acceptable to send a standard email to an unqualified applicant who applied online to a job board posting.

In addition, employers need to create and maintain the proper culture which values treating candidates with respect and adhering to the process.

While responding to rejected candidates can be time consuming, in the long run I believe it is time well spent.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.


Incivility in the Workplace

Posted by Aaron Green March 21, 2011 01:55 PM


Are we becoming a nation of uncivil servants? The January shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords prompted numerous politicians and media to illustrate how uncivil and hot-headed our nation has become. There were subsequent calls for "civil discourse" and our government attempted to lead by example by pairing Republicans and Democrats as seat-mates for the President's State of the Union address. It's easy to see how our hurried, stressed and litigation-prone society can be less fun to be around and some have noticed that attitude carrying over to the workplace. Uncivil behavior in the workplace is unpleasant and costly, but can be prevented.

What is incivility in the workplace?
According to Wikipedia, workplace incivility has been defined as: "low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target... Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others."

Examples of uncivil behavior at work can range from:


  • losing one's temper or yelling at someone in public
  • rude or obnoxious behavior in the workplace
  • badgering or back-stabbing in the workplace
  • withholding important customer/client information
  • sabotaging a project or damaging someone's reputation

To more subtle acts, such as:

  • arriving late to a meeting
  • checking e-mail or texting during a meeting
  • not answering calls or responding to emails in a timely manner
  • ignoring or interrupting a colleague in the workplace
  • not saying "please" or "thank you" when customary

In the book The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, authors Christine Pearson and Christine Porath interviewed workers at 800 employers, and found:


  • 96 percent have experienced incivility at work
  • 98 percent of employees claim they were treated uncivilly at work at least once a week
  • 10 percent said they witnessed incivility every day
  • 94 percent of workers who are treated uncivilly say they get even with their offenders


How did we get here?
It's not hard to find examples of stress and hardship that could make people less civil: the tough economy, less than ideal employment situations, even the effect technology has on speeding up our communications and decision making, and lengthening our work hours by increasing our accessibility.

Some workplace observers even blame the slip in civility on the shift toward casual dressing, which causes more casual behavior and communication, in turn lowering standards of behavior. While casual dressing may or may not be a cause for incivility, it's an example of the many workplace practices that have changed in our culture. When evaluating causes of incivility, employers should consider all the changes in their environments including the increased use of technology, teams that are more widely distributed geographically, and the increase in diverse workforces, to name just a few.

Workforce Management featured a January 2011 article, The Degeneration of Decorum, which reported that: "Incivility tends to rear its ugly head in organizations that have distinct pecking orders, where people are separated by rank...some experts say the worst fields for incivility are education and health care, where the abuse comes from the top and leads all the way down to the school playground or the operating room."

The cost of uncivil behavior in the workplace
An uncivil workplace is an undesirable place to work or do business with. Incivility has wide-reaching impact on efficiency, effectiveness and job satisfaction in the workplace. Where uncivil behavior is found, it's common to find poor communication and ineffective use of meetings, lower standards for customer service, decreased workplace productivity and lower rates for employee recruiting and retention.

As reported by Workforce Management: "In polling thousands of managers and employees about the effects of incivility, Pearson and Porath found that after being the victim of on-the-job rudeness and hostility, two-thirds of employees said their performance declined. Four out of five said they lost work time worrying about the unpleasant incident, while 63 percent wasted time avoiding the offender. More than three-quarters of respondents said that their commitment to their employer had waned, and 12 percent even quit because of bad treatment."

What should employers do?
Employers and organization leaders are responsible for creating a foundation or environment where employees can shine. Office culture is often set from above, meaning that the management team needs to lead by example. Increasing awareness around incivility and its impact is a good place to start and, if necessary, create workplace policies around civil behavior where standards for acceptable behavior are established (just as you might create a policy for the use of social media).

HR managers can ensure that civil language and practices are imbedded into every level of an organization, including job descriptions, hiring practices, training policy and the day-to-day code of conduct. For example, use the hiring processes you've got in place, such as personality tests and reference checks, to look for signs of incivility in a candidate or new hire.

Other tips for fostering civility:


  • Recognize and reward employees who model strong civil habits - or empower employees to recognize their peers
  • Provide training and coaching to help employees identify problems
  • Foster open communication practices such as forums for sharing ideas and input, safe environments for sharing concerns or reporting incidents, and explain the importance of good communication and its impact on organizational success

Reducing incivility not only makes your organization a more enjoyable place to work, but it also has a positive impact on the bottom line through improved employee retention and performance.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law

Posted by Aaron Green February 14, 2011 09:00 AM

Both the IRS and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have had a heightened interest in misclassified independent contractors in recent years. The Federal and State governments have recently announced additional funds being allocated to hire more auditors because they anticipate a good return on investment. More auditors = more tax dollars found.


In general, business people tend to be more familiar with the IRS rules regarding independent contractors than with the state rules. The IRS follows a "common law test" for assessing the classification of contract workers, which is meant to reveal how much direction and control the business retains over the worker. The IRS developed a list of twenty factors to be used as an aid to apply the common law test. In addition to the federal test, Massachusetts employers have the state law to consider, which I am focusing this article on because:

Massachusetts law is more stringent than federal law
The Attorney General issued an advisory which stated, "The Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law (MICL) excludes far more workers from independent contractor status than are disqualified under the IRS common law test."


As employers we should be paying closer attention to Independent Contractor law at the state level. Here are the requirements of Massachusetts law and their effect on businesses.


Massachusetts Law requires a three part test
The MICL creates a presumption that an individual performing any service is an employee. To overcome this presumption, the party receiving services must establish:

  1. that the worker is free from its control and direction in performing the service, both under a contract and in fact; and
  2. that the service provided by the worker is outside the employer?s usual course of business; and
  3. that the worker is customarily engaged in an independent trade, occupation, profession or business of the same type.


The law requires that all three parts of the test (sometimes called prongs) must exist in order for an individual to be classified as anything other than an employee. The burden of proof is on the employer, and the inability of an employer to prove any one of the prongs is sufficient to conclude that the individual in question is an employee.

Some examples of how the law will apply
Based on my interactions with businesspeople, prong two seems to be the most problematic and least understood, so I will illustrate the application of the law in this regard: 

 
Example #1: An accounting firm brings in a painter to repaint their office and classifies as an independent contractor. Assuming this person meets the tests for prongs one and three, the classification is allowed because the work being done is outside the firm's usual course of business.

Example #2: An accounting firm brings in an accountant to assist them during their busy season and classifies as an independent contractor. This would be a violation of prong two because the service provided is not outside the employer's usual course of business.

It is significant to note that the MICL does not take into account where the work is performed as part of this assessment. I took the time to point this out because it is a common misconception that if an independent contractor works outside of the employer's place of business (i.e. from home), that fact satisfies the requirements to be classified as an independent contractor when this is not the case; where the person works is not relevant.

Consequences of misclassification
When employers don't understand the application of the law and misclassify someone as an independent contractor, there can be costly repercussions. Employers can potentially be responsible for FICA and Medicare taxes and can even be responsible for the federal and state taxes that "should have"been withheld from the employee. In addition, they can be responsible for state unemployment taxes, worker' compensation, and overtime if applicable. Penalties can accrue and in certain cases (i.e. overtime) treble damages can be assessed. Even if unintentional, what is often intended as a cost savings strategy can turn into a costly oversight.


Summary

While the use of independent contractors is extremely important to many companies, it is an approach fraught with inherent risks. The increased government attention to independent contractors and the large penalties involved take these risks to a dangerous level for Massachusetts businesses. Businesses need to examine their independent contractor relationships to ensure they comply with the rules or alternatively consider taking the appropriate steps to restructure their relationships.


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group  and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Compensation Challenges Will Increase In 2011

Posted by Aaron Green December 20, 2010 09:00 AM

For the past couple of years many employers have had the luxury of not needing to spend much time or energy on compensation issues. Loyal employees were happy to have a job and contribute to their organization without expecting pay increases. Now these employees feel it is time to be rewarded for their loyalty or at least be paid what they feel is fair for the work they are performing.

One might ask how I know employees are feeling this way. Two reasons: 1) surveys and other data and 2) first-hand experience.

  • Survey results suggest upcoming compensation challenges
According to a Right Management national survey released this week, 84% of employees plan to actively seek a new position in 2011.

The Labor Department's survey known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (also released this week) shows that advertised job openings are at their highest level since August 2008.

While these surveys don't necessarily say employers will experience compensation challenges, they do say employees are open to new positions and new positions are becoming available. Combining these factors leads me to believe employees are going to be looking for raises to stay with their current employers.


  • First-hand experience

I manage a staffing firm that is currently experiencing an inflow of candidates who are looking for new opportunities solely because of money. While I'm excited to have the opportunity to represent these talented candidates, I want to help my readers and mention that in many cases it would not have taken much to retain these employees. In other words, employers are losing employees that they really shouldn't be losing. To be clear, I am not talking about mercenary employees who constantly shop the highest bidder; I'm referring to otherwise loyal, talented employees who enjoy their existing job except for feeling underpaid and/or underappreciated.


My suggestions for managing compensation challenges:


Proactively address compensation challenges before they become an issue

Once a talented employee concludes that they are unfairly compensated and decides they would consider another job, it is probably too late and their employer has an uphill challenge trying to retain that person. Employers really need to address this challenge before it gets to the point where the employee feels taken advantage of. I can't tell you how many times I talk to candidates who get counter-offers from their current employer and decline them. It typically does not even matter if the counter-offer is for more money then the job they are leaving to take. Don't let this happen to you: address true compensation issues before it is too late.


Consider internal equity as well as the larger marketplace for talent

For many people the amount of pay is less important than its perceived fairness or equity. It is only natural for employees to compare their pay to someone who is doing the same job within the same organization. Some employees will compare their pay to employees doing a different job in the organization or with someone doing the same job in another organization.

Many times the comparisons are not exactly fair to the employer. Employees use positions that are not really comparable at all as benchmarks. Or they ignore parts of their compensation package and only focus on the parts that compare unfavorably. For instance, Employee A who has a high base salary and low bonus only wants to talk about his bonus and why it is lower than Employee B who has a low base salary. Regardless of whether the comparisons are fair or not, employers will need to deal with fairness issues if they want to retain staff.

It really is crucial to know the "market" wages for your company's positions. There is a lot of information available: try the internet, industry trade organizations, or staffing firms- most will be happy to provide the information free of charge. The key is to be educated about fair pay in the marketplace; otherwise you run the risk of losing people.


Get creative with compensation and benefits

While we would like to pay everyone all they want to be paid, in the real world budget constraints exist. Look to maximize your budget by getting creative; I'll give a couple of examples ...

  • Flexible schedules

At my company we allow certain people very flexible schedules. The employees have certainly earned this benefit and they carry significant responsibilities. This benefit of a flexible schedule does not cost the company anything in hard dollars or even in management time to accommodate the flexibility. Yet the value to the employees is tremendous; from the employee's perspective the quality of life value is worth tens of thousands of dollars. It is truly a "win-win" situation. I'll mention that it took us some effort to make these situations work so that responsibilities could be managed, but the effort was well worth it.

  • Incentive based compensation

Let's say you are faced with a situation where you just can't pay someone any more money; maybe you are constrained by internal equity issues or maybe you have a budget challenge and you simply don't have the money to spend. Consider developing a creative incentive plan that rewards the employee if more value is created from their work. If the employee is truly delivering more value it might justify the additional compensation or benefit. Incentive plans are certainly easier to create in sales environment but with some effort can be developed for all employees. My favorite incentive plans reward innovation and/or customer service.


Don't "set it and forget it"

Commit to regular reviews of your compensation packages to ensure they are fair, equitable and competitive. Loyal employees may not mind waiting until their review date to bring up compensation concerns, but if there is no date or mechanism to raise their concern, the employee may get frustrated and leave.


Many employers will see compensation challenges in 2011. Don't be caught by surprise; proactively manage compensation at your organization so you can retain your talented employees.


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

2010: A Look Back

Posted by Aaron Green November 24, 2010 09:00 AM

The beginning of 2010 was still a dark period for most Boston workplaces. Salaries and compensation packages were static, employers and employees were tasked with doing more with fewer resources and in general there was still a lot of fear and unknown regarding the future.

Since then, the economy has slowly improved. The unemployment rate has fallen; employers in the state have added nearly 50,000 jobs; and the state is doing better than the rest of the nation in terms of unemployment and economic expansion rates.  However, we're certainly not back to pre-recession levels as unemployment is still historically high and there are still approximately 120,000 fewer jobs than when the recession began. In fact, many Massachusetts residents don't feel a recovery has begun

A survey that my firm, Professional Staffing Group, conducts each quarter with our HR clients echoes this mixed outlook. Looking back at the quarterly surveys and reports we've produced with our clients, as well as the daily interactions we have with hundreds of Boston HR departments, here's a snapshot of how far we've come this year and where we are now:

The Boston economy showed incremental improvement in 2010
Our economy is certainly not robust and not yet back to pre-2008 levels, but employers are adapting. According to our survey, most kept HR expenditures at a static rate throughout the year. And while the BLS projects that overall employment will increase by 10 percent in the next 5 years, Boston-area employers are only mildly optimistic. For the past 6 months, the HR managers and employers we've surveyed have said they plan to add staff (8 times as many said they'd add as those who said they'd cut staff). Yet, 52 percent say they expect staffing levels to remain the same.

Employer purse strings are starting to loosen
Employers are starting to offer compensation increases after having shelved these for several months.  In our most recent survey, 82 percent of employers said they expect compensation to increase in the next 12 months, up from 77 percent who said they expected an increase in last quarter's survey.  Sixty-seven percent of employers surveyed said they actually increased compensation during the past 12 months, up from 54 percent in our last quarter's survey.


The labor market is becoming tighter for certain positions 

Although the US unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, the US unemployment rate for job seekers with a college degree drops to only 4.7 percent. If we look at rates in Massachusetts we see that unemployment rates are much lower. The overall Massachusetts unemployment rate at 8.1% is 1.5% less than the national average of 9.6%. I'm not aware of a measurement of the unemployment rate for college graduates in Massachusetts but given the 1.5% difference in the overall rate, it seems likely to be in the mid 3% range. Therefore employers seeking degreed candidates and employees with specific credentials and skills, e.g. professional or managerial skill sets, have an even narrower field of candidates to choose from. Our latest quarterly survey found that 42 percent of employers plan to add staff in the next three months and 73 percent of employers say that staffing levels are too low. In 

what I think is an effort to promote from within, our latest survey shows that five times the number of employers said they?ll increase internal training over the number who said they are reducing that expenditure.

HR departments and resources have been stripped down
One of the most popular areas in the workplace to see cuts during the great recession was the HR function, leaving many HR departments with too few staff and resources. Now that the economy has improved, many HR departments are in re-building mode. Short-staffed firms have difficulty recruiting, screening and hiring new employees as quickly as they need them and, as a result, are turning to outsourced or contract recruiters or are re-tasking HR employees with recruiting to the detriment of other duties.

Retention is still not a major concern for most employers
According to our survey results, about half of employers say retention is a minor problem; only 9 percent see it as a major problem and 34 percent say it's not a problem at all. These results are consistent with the previous quarter's survey findings.

My personal feeling is that more employers should be concerned with retention and take actions now that will prevent it. I base my opinion on three factors: 1) Surveys of employees show a high percentage of employees would consider another job 2) Employer are preparing to hire (see above, 42 percentof responding companies plan to add staff in the next six months) 3) There is limited downside to taking actions to prevent turnover.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group
and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Helping Employees Re-enter the Workforce

Posted by Aaron Green October 26, 2010 09:00 AM

The reality today is that more employers are hiring workers who have been out of the workforce for a period of time. Perhaps your new employee is a former stay-at-home-mom who decided it was time to get back to work, or perhaps she was enticed out of retirement after her employer discovered her skills couldn't be easily replaced. Some new workers will have recently experienced a prolonged period of unemployment because of the current economic conditions. Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that over the past year the median duration of joblessness has been more than 19 weeks, which is the highest level it's been since the BLS started tracking it in 1967.

Whatever the scenario, employers should be aware that employees re-entering the workforce may initially be more productive if provided with some extra care to make their transition back to work smooth and successful. Here are some tips for helping the formerly unemployed successfully re-enter the workforce:

One of the first steps is to help new employees calm their new job jitters. Many employees who re-enter the workforce experience anxiety and fears of performing poorly. Keep an eye out for stress-related symptoms like low self-esteem, fear of making mistakes on the job, difficulty concentrating or insomnia. Some specific ideas are to:

  • Create a personal plan for success - a plan that articulates what is expected in the new job, how they will be measured and defines success will help the new employee focus and alleviate assumptions and miscues.
  • Pair them with a mentor - introduce and connect the new employee with a veteran staff member who can not only 'show them the ropes' but also provide perspective on workplace culture. The mentoring can be informal -- where you simply make the introduction and let the new employee know that the veteran is there if they need them; or more formal, in which case you orchestrate planned meetings or events.
  • Offer counseling - if a valued employee is struggling with adjusting to the workplace it may be beneficial to arrange for professional counseling sessions. Depending on the need and your organization's resources, these could range from sessions with the internal HR department, group workshops with an outside professional or one-on-one sessions with a specialist.

If it's a life change that has kept someone out of the workplace, e.g. caring for family, tending to health issues or other personal reasons, try to understand the life change and its impact on the person's work performance. And if possible be flexible to the employee's needs while holding the person accountable to results and high performance.

Perhaps your new employee is actually a former employee as well. According to a Career Builder survey of 2,924 hiring managers, 26 percent of employers who had laid people off in recent years were planning on bringing some of those layoff casualties back. There are a lot of benefits to rehiring former employees, including cost-effectiveness, efficiency, higher retention rates and faster on-boarding processes.

For employers looking to maintain relationships with former employees and incorporate them in a candidate pool, an online alumni network can be extremely helpful. Whether you create a custom web site or intranet for this purpose, or utilize Facebook and/or LinkedIn, an online network allows you to keep alumni updated on company news and job openings. The effort you make toward alumni relations can range from maintaining a database with individual contact information and skill sets to organizing events for alumni.

Many of the tips I mention above are considered good general workplace practices for all employees, and are particularly important now in order to adjust to a "new normal" workplace that includes managing employees whose career paths have been affected by the Great Recession.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Tips for Managing in the Flexible Workplace

Posted by Aaron Green September 20, 2010 09:00 AM

Flexible workplace options can be great perks to offer workers. Polls have shown that they are the most desired work benefits among employees and they are also a good way for employers to attract or retain talent. However, if flexible work options are not managed well they can be ineffective or even counterproductive.

Flexible work options range from flextime to flexplace and include: varying starting and finishing times to the workday; part-time work schedules, working from home or telecommuting; job sharing, workers selecting their own shifts, and flexible leave or time-off provisions.

Following are some tips for managing employees with flexible work arrangements:

Understand that flexibility is a mindset - offering flexible work options means acknowledging that there is more than one way to do things. It's also recognition that workers have a life outside their jobs and that each employee has different life/work needs and desires and that those can change over time.

Communicate, communicate, communicate - to work well in a non-traditional setting, the flexible working employee must have strong communication with their manager, their team and anyone else they work with. Communication should be frequent, easy to do and take various forms (in-person, phone, email). Communication will help everyone understand the work being done but can also help managers gauge when the flexible work situation is working effectively.

Use technology to facilitate flexible work situations and good communication - a flexible-working employee won't be able to succeed if their technology is inferior to traditional workers. Incorporating new technologies or devices - such as video conferencing, instant messaging or web-based file sharing - can improve the experience as well.

Remember that a flexible work arrangement is a benefit - employees and employers should treat it accordingly. Set clear expectations that there has to be effort from both sides in order for the situation to work. The benefit may be one that is "earned" or that is offered when an employee proves they can handle the option or agrees to meet certain expectations. Managers should maintain benchmarks for checking on employees' progress and success.

Set clear expectations - in order to gauge success, you'll need to establish clear ground rules and make sure appropriate evaluations are in place. In the case of remote workers, managers can't rely on an employee's presence and activity to gauge his or her efforts; they'll need to measure deliverables and results (which should be the gauge for all workers anyway). While providing clear instructions, guidelines and deadlines is important with all employees, .these activities take or an even greater importance with employees working remotely or who are not in the office when their boss is.

Don't give up water cooler exchanges -flexible work arrangement can make it more difficult to gauge important employee attributes, like effort and attitude. In traditional work situations managers rely on casual and unscheduled ways to check-in with employees and ensure workers are engaged and on track. Don't overlook the importance of providing remote employees with motivation and confirmation of their work's value.

Consider career growth- as employers, we arrange flexible work situations because we value our employees so it's important to allow for and encourage career growth within the flexible work arrangement. In other words, don't let the fact that a valued employee has a flexible schedule stifle their career and the value they can bring to your organization.

Change the culture - Certain employees with traditional work arrangements may feel resentful of colleagues with flexible arrangements. Take the time to explain why your company has the flexible arrangement. Try to win skeptics over by explaining the advantages of the flexible approach to the employee as well as how it benefits the organization. Yesterday's detractor could find their personal situation has changed and they now value a flexible arrangement of their own.

Know the law - Flexible work arrangements can sometimes add a layer of complexity to the workplace. You will want to make sure you know what your rights and responsibilities are under employment law. When necessary, get advice from experts.

Measure results not time served - The driving idea behind many flexible work arrangements is that results matter more than the amount of time an employee spends working in the office.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions.  He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Reference Checks are More Important Now than Ever Before

Posted by Aaron Green August 16, 2010 09:00 AM

While reference checks have always been an important part of the hiring process, recent employment trends have made them even more important.


Recent trend - covering gaps in employment with inaccurate information
The recession has kept large numbers of people out of work for extended periods of time. In fact, 4.3 percent of the labor force has been out of work for more than six months-a level much higher than after any other recession since 1948.


Some companies exclude any and all unemployed candidates from consideration. Candidates know companies may view their lack of employment negatively and some cover gaps with inaccurate experience. While I am not a proponent of universally ruling out unemployed candidates (in fact, I recently blogged about how excluding unemployed candidates is a bad recruitment strategy), dishonest candidates must be ruled out. What to look out for:

  • Self-employed candidates: You need to assess if any meaningful level of work was actually performed. I respect candidates with a good work ethic who did whatever they could to earn income during the recession, but be careful to not be fooled by candidates who embellish too much.
  • Working for family or friends: Same concern as with self-employed candidates. I once did a reference check to a family member who told me the candidate didn't really work there. Rather than cover for the candidate, the family member was concerned about a bad reflection on her business so she told me the straight story. I never would have known had I not performed the reference check.


Recent trend - fabricating in-demand skill sets
In spite of high unemployment, certain skill sets remain in high demand. While it is acceptable for candidates to highlight their most desirable skills, there is an increased number of candidates who cross the line and simply make up skills and work experience that they don't have. If you hire these deceptive job seekers, you run the risk of finding out the hard way that their experience was not what you thought it to be.


Recent trend - Media inspired lies
Sensational stories in the media about employees who lied their way to money and power while duping employers and co-workers along the way cause some candidates to think telling lies about their background is acceptable conduct.


Best practice for reference checks


Use the back door
Standard reference checks are of limited use. By standard I mean you call the references that the candidate provides. Expect these hand-picked people to say only good things about the candidate. You need to use your network and speak with someone at the organization where the candidate worked who will give you candid information (or, alternatively, a customer the candidate serviced). Many people in recruiting refer to this as a "back door reference."


The goal here is not necessarily to "dig up dirt" on the candidate but rather to get a more complete and unbiased picture of the candidate in order to make the most informed decision possible. Be discrete and take care not to create any problems for a candidate who is conducting a confidential search.


The challenge is finding a person who will be honest and open with you. It is easy if you know someone at the organization where the candidate worked; if you don't know anyone, work at it. Try social networking sites (i.e. Linked-in), send an email around your office or to your friends or alumni group, simply ask "do you know anyone who works at XYZ Company?" If your candidate worked locally it is highly likely that you will get a hit if you reach out to your contacts. Back door references are well worth the extra effort since they can prevent bad hires or provide the information that prompts you to make the right hire.

Good advice
For excellent guidance on how to conduct reference checks, read the book "Who" by Geoff Smart and Randy Street. Smart and Street recommend a total of seven reference interviews for key hires: three past bosses, two peers or customers, and two subordinates. To save yourself time and increase the likelihood you reach you reach the reference, they recommend you ask the candidate to contact the reference to set-up the interview. Smart and Street also recommend five simple questions to ask on reference calls:


1. In what context did you work with the person?
2. What were the person's biggest strengths?
3. What were the person's biggest areas for improvement back then?
4. How would you rate his/her overall performance in that job on a 1-10 scale? What about his or her performance causes you to give that rating?
5. The person mentioned that he/she struggled with __________ in that job. Can you tell me more about that?

Since many people don't want to provide negative information on reference calls you will need to pay attention to both what people say as well as how they say it and press for details. A positive reference will be unmistakable; it will be full of unqualified compliments.


Following the above guidelines will help ensure that you're getting what you want in a candidate and making informed hiring decisions. While I am sympathetic to the struggles of job seekers in these difficult economic times, desperation is breeding dishonesty and hiring managers must remain diligent about candidate screening and reference checks.


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Five Ways Social Media Can Help Your Recruiting Efforts

Posted by Aaron Green July 19, 2010 09:00 AM

Hiring activity is predicted to increase for the second half of 2010, so recruiters must have their candidate pipelines primed to compete for talent. Here's why social media, such as blogs and social networking sites (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook), should be part of your recruiting strategy:

Blogging drives traffic to your site and builds brand recognition
If you have the resources, i.e. the time, energy and a bit of skill, regularly blogging about your industry or about career-related issues can generate significant brand awareness and drive traffic to your website. A blog on your domain can attract links, attention, publicity, trust and increase your site's search rankings. (Because blogs are generally updated more frequently than regular website pages, they can rank higher in searches.) Offering comments that add value to someone else's blog is another way to generate a following.

Online professional networks can increase the quality of hire
Social networks aren't just for sharing photos and updates about where you are or what you're doing at a given moment. They can also be an important tool for networking professionally. Professional networks range from industry-specific or job-specific groups on LinkedIn, to community websites for a particular industry, to corporate alumni networks. Members tend to keep their contributions on a professional level and share information or gather data related to their industry or profession. Job searches are typically a key component of these networks and job queries or posts can uncover candidates that wouldn't also appear in response to a job board post. Mining alumni networks is another tactic that yields high-quality candidates, as they are already familiar with the company and have an easily accessible performance record.

Social media enhances job postings
It is widely accepted inside the recruiting industry that online job postings are not a very effective way to find job candidates. In fact, recruiting through job board postings are often referred to as "post and pray" because it's a strategy based on hope rather than action. Of the countless training programs designed to help recruiters find the best candidates, none of them emphasize job boards as a strategy - rather, they focus on networking and direct recruiting. And since many social media tools emphasize networking it is natural to reason that combining job postings with online networking will yield better results. In fact, incorporating your Facebook fan page and LinkedIn groups into your job posting strategy can increase your chances of success. For one, they increase the number of people that see your posting. Secondly, they make the job posting an interactive discussion by allowing interested folks to comment on the post and by allowing you to immediately see who is interested in the post and all of their profile information. And for those of us who can't ignore job boards altogether, social media can help us drive more qualified candidates to our job posts. 

Social media allows you to customize messages to your audience
In the same way you may be using different email campaigns to target different distribution lists, you could establish multiple brand personalities on Twitter. One Twitter account could be the official company brand, one could be a "Jobs@OurCompany" Twitter account that only tweets about job openings (or related info) and one could be a "personal" Twitter account for senior leadership that reflects the personal musings and lends personality to your social media efforts. This practice allows followers to select the "channel" or voice they're most interested in. The end result is more qualified and higher quality followers who are more likely to engage and respond.

Social media can help you identify and engage with passive candidates
Passive candidates are candidates who aren't openly seeking and applying for jobs. Although they may not respond to a job board post, they could be active online as part of a social network, blog community or Twitter list. Connecting with them or with groups of their peers allows you to build a relationship so that when they are ready to seek a new job (and make the transition from passive candidate to active candidate) you will already be engaged with them.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Excluding Unemployed Candidates is a Bad Recruitment Strategy

Posted by Aaron Green June 21, 2010 08:07 AM

I feel the need to comment on a recent recruiting trend, which is that an increasing number of companies are only interested in hiring people who already have a job. My feeling is that this strategy is misguided and results in missed opportunities for top talent.


Let's start by looking at the reasons why companies might take this approach. In general there are two reasons why companies exclude unemployed candidates:


1.  Companies believe that most unemployed candidates are not working because they are less qualified than employed candidates.  


Making this blanket assumption is simply off-base. While some candidates may be less qualified, many are highly qualified. There are many reasons why people end up unemployed that have nothing to do with the person's talent, work ethic, and overall value as an employee.


2.  Efficiency: Since there are so many people unemployed, recruiters get bombarded with applicants for job openings. Screening out unemployed applicants makes the process more efficient.


While I'll agree taking this approach might make the hiring process more efficient, it does not make it more effective. This approach is a short cut, and there is a cost to this short cut; excluding unemployed applicants potentially eliminates top talent from consideration. On certain searches you might be able to get away with the short cut approach, but I would suggest you resist the temptation. Instead raise your standards and look at a wider candidate pool which includes unemployed applicants.


I'll provide two more reasons why considering unemployed applicants is beneficial:


  • The Federal government has been making it more enticing for employers to hire unemployed workers. A 2010 tax break just took effect stating that employers who hire an unemployed worker are exempted from paying that worker's FICA (social security) contributions for the rest of the 2010 calendar year. Firms that hire unemployed workers and keep them employed for one calendar year are also eligible for an additional $1,000 credit. 


  • Unemployed top talent may be more willing and eager to start work and come with fewer strings attached than someone who has to leave their current employer. If you are looking to move quickly to fill a role, you will likely end up saving time by finding a qualified applicant who may be available to start sooner and with less reservation.


While it's not illegal for recruiters or hiring managers to require candidates to be currently employed, it is an unproductive practice for employers interested in hiring the very best talent available.


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Retention: Employees' Plans and Employers' Views Do Not Connect

Posted by Aaron Green May 24, 2010 12:00 PM

It is official: the recession has receded and Massachusetts employers are starting to hire again. Last week, Boston Globe writer Robert Gavin reported on a forecast prepared by Northeastern University economist Alan Clayton-Matthews which estimates that Massachusetts added more than 12,000 jobs in the first quarter of this year and predicts that 200,000 Massachusetts jobs will be created in the next five years.

In addition, I have some first-hand information that employers are hiring. My company, Professional Staffing Group (PSG), regularly surveys our Massachusetts clients, and our latest survey compiled in April showed that almost half of employers expect to increase staff in the next 12 months. Looking back to PSG's Q4 survey, when companies were asked when they expected staffing levels to increase, the most common response was "unknown." In the April survey, only 8% responded "unknown" in regard to hiring plans for the next quarter; contrasting these responses tells me that employers are becoming more confident regarding hiring.

Employers are not very worried about retention

The recent PSG survey told us that employers aren't expressing great concern about retention and employee engagement issues. Only 12% of employers view retaining top talent as a significant problem, and 19% of employers view employee engagement as a significant problem.

Employers are not spending money on HR programs related to retention

Our survey also asked employers whether they anticipated increased spending in areas such as reimbursement for continuing education, professional certification, training and development, travel, or tradeshow or seminar attendance. In all HR areas except for one, employers don't expect to spend any more money than they did in last year (2009 was a year when most employers cut spending). Internal training and development stands out as the only area in which substantially more employers expect to increase spending than those expecting to decrease spending (3 to 1 ratio). The fact that employers do not expect to spend much in this regard will not help retention.

Employees plan to make career changes

Last August, during the height of the recession, a survey of 1,000 employees by CareerBuilder.com found that more than half of employees polled planned to make a career change or go back to school when the economy recovered.

The Disconnect

If Massachusetts is going to be adding jobs as forecasted by Alan Clayton-Matthews and as represented by PSG's clients who responded to our survey, where are the employees going to come from to staff these new positions? Sure, unemployment will decrease but that won't cover the gap. Even now certain in-demand skill sets are in short supply. It is simply unrealistic to believe that a substantial number of jobs will be created in the local area and also believe that retention will not be impacted.

A call to action for employers

Think again about the CareerBuilder survey result that more than half of employees polled plan to make a career change or go back to school when the economy recovers. What would you do if half your employees left their jobs? It is a scary thought. Hopefully your company has already taken steps to build or maintain employee loyalty (see my article on building employee loyalty during a recession). Now is the time to evaluate your programs and policies to ensure you are doing all you can to retain your employees.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.


Six Essential Questions for Job Interviews with Recent College Graduates

Posted by Aaron Green April 19, 2010 09:00 AM

With the economy improving and a new crop of college graduates getting set to enter the workforce, hiring managers have a busy season ahead. Interviewing recent college graduates (RCGs) is slightly different from interviewing other job candidates in that most don't have deep employment experience and many lack polished interviewing skills. However, by incorporating these six essential questions into your interview process, you'll be more likely to uncover top talent in this candidate pool:

1. What are the candidate's qualifications?

You will review the candidate's work experience, including internships, but it's also important to consider non-work or non-paid experience that qualifies them for the job. Did they work on a relevant school project? Were they involved in extra-curricular groups? If so, what was their role? Look at these experiences, as well as internship experience, in a non-linear way to see if the candidate has developed skills or gained experience that make them well-qualified for the job. For instance, someone who assisted in alumni fundraising telethons might be suited for a sales career.

2. How have they demonstrated motivation?

Invariably you will ask the candidate how they heard about the job opportunity. If they were recommended by someone it might show they have networking skills. Ask questions that help you get a sense of the candidate's work ethic and gain more perspective about their record. Perhaps their grades were lower because they had to work to support themselves through school or because they juggled a terrific non-paid internship with a paid job on campus. Not all internships are created equal; some are required for class credit while others are undertaken through the student's own initiative. Also, gauge the quality of the internship experience by asking questions about the work performed in the internship, including specific projects.

3. What would you find if you Googled the candidate?

Many prospective employers perform online searches as part of the hiring process. In general I suggest employers be appropriately forgiving in this regard. If you see a major red flag, fine; but keep in mind that most employers want employees with normal social lives and that college students are used to living online. That said, online searches can help you better understand how applicants spend time online for professional purposes and how they would fit into your corporate culture. Is their college research or thesis searchable online? Have they posted to any relevant blogs? Do they participate in any chats? Do they visit or have membership in an online professional community? Who are they connected to on LinkedIn?

4. Does this job fit their career objectives?

Screening for career fit is important. Given the weakness in the job market, the class of 2010 will be more open to positions that veer off of their intended career path. If you're not trying to fill an immediate need and are hiring for longevity, the last thing you want is to hire someone who is not interested in your company or the industry long-term, and who has a good chance of switching fields when the employment market improves. Another opportunity to screen for career fit is when you are asking about their internship experiences - try to determine why the candidate chose a particular internship opportunity over another.

5. Where do mom and dad live?

At first glance I acknowledge this seems like a strange question. However I was intrigued with a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and wanted to share the information. The survey found that a job's proximity to their parents' home is a top consideration for new graduates. Many graduates leave college with sky-high debt from student loans and find it difficult to afford rent on their own in a city like Boston. In addition I have plenty of first-hand experience experiences hiring people with no roots in the Boston area who left to go back "home." In other cases, a candidate moves to Boston to be with a boyfriend or girlfriend; if that relationship does not last there is a pretty good chance your employee will move somewhere else. Be cautious with candidates who don't have roots in the area and ask questions to get an understanding of the candidate's motivating factors.

6. What are their salary/compensation requirements?

Asking about salary requirements is an expected question in the interview process. If you're spending time trying to hire the right person, you won't want to waste time with an offer they're not going to accept. Find out this number before you make the offer.

I hope these six questions make your next interview with a recent college graduate more productive and I'd like to hear what questions you find most useful with this candidate pool. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

The Workplace of the Future is Contingent

Posted by Aaron Green March 23, 2010 12:00 PM

Companies are likely to increase their use of contingent staff relative to permanent staff. Use of contingent staff has been on the rise for decades, and now the recession has impacted companies' workforce planning such that companies want the flexibility inherent with contingent staff. Labor law firm Littler Mendelson predicts that contingent labor could rise to as much as 30% to 50% of the U.S. workforce. When referring to contingent staff, I'm talking about all types:

  • Temporary employees hired through an agency
  • Temporary employees hired directly
  • Part-time employees
  • Outsourced jobs & outsourced functions
  • Retirees who return
  • Consultants/Freelancers/Independent Contractors
  • On-call workers


It's easy to see why contingent staffing is attractive to employers:

Flexibility - With increasing frequency, businesses today are finding they don't need a particular skill set on staff full-time, year-round. When they need the skill they hire someone on a contingent base, in a just-in-time type model. In a special report last fall, Workforce Management magazine compared the use of contingent staffing to working on a movie set where workers are grouped together by functional crews, brought in when they're needed, then disbanded when their project is finished. Business today is starting to look more like movie making in regard to how they staff.

Cost Savings - Even if the contingent staff member's wage is the same as a permanent staff member, cost savings can result because you are only employing the contingent staff when you absolutely need them. Therefore the company saves money by not carrying the salary during slow periods.

Reduced risk - Contingent staffing allows employers to "try before they buy" and evaluate performance and cultural fit before making a permanent staffing decision.

Access to a larger pool of candidates - Certain people with unique skill sets or hard-to-find work experience may only be available on a contingent basis.

Overcome uncertainty - Overstaffing can lead to diminished profitability and competitiveness and understaffed can mean missed opportunities for the business. Turning to contingent staffing solutions can help businesses get through periods of uncertainty.

As employers and HR managers re-think their business plans and staffing needs to meet new demands they'll be wise to reconsider the role contingent staffing can play in the organization.


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions.  He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Workforce Planning in an Uncertain Economy

Posted by Aaron Green February 25, 2010 02:00 PM

Workforce planning is a strategic response to changes in workforce demographics, business models and economic conditions.

There's no doubt that the current economy has wreaked havoc on some workforce plans and has made it difficult to conduct workforce planning for the future. However, it's in just such a climate that workforce planning is more necessary than ever.

My company, Professional Staffing Group (PSG), has been surveying our clients on their HR Planning over the past two quarters of this economic downturn. The latest survey results can be found on our web site.

Respondents have felt the impact of the current economy and its affect on their workforce planning. We've found that:

Uncertainty is prevalent: Employers have high levels of uncertainty regarding their 2010 staffing levels and hiring plans. When asked about anticipated changes in staffing levels, the most common response was "unknown." Many employees are uncertain about the future of their current jobs too. According to a Conference Board survey only 45 percent of workers are satisfied with their jobs.

Pay raises are not anticipated: 63 percent of respondents do not expect to raise pay in 2010; 35 percent expect small increases of 0-2%; and only 2 percent of respondents expect to give pay raises over 2%.

Employees have many concerns: the perceived level of employee concern is quite high in a number of areas: shrinkage of career opportunities (72% perceived their employees to have either a considerable or moderate level of concern); impact of economic downturn on organization (72% perceived their employees to have either a considerable or moderate level of concern); decrease in job security (68% perceived their employees to have either a considerable or moderate level of concern); and increased workload due to recent layoffs (47% perceived their employees to have either a considerable or moderate level of concern).

Employers have concerns too: the most common concerns are retention of top talent, employee engagement, staffing levels that are too low and recruiting top talent.

Spending is not expected to increase: HR budgets were cut drastically in 2009, but employers expect to keep those levels intact for now. Training and Development is the one area that may see a spending increase in the short term.
In summary, there's a lot of stress on Human Resource professionals' efforts to recruit, retain and motivate the workforce, and it's difficult to predict long-term supply and demand.

My first recommendation is to take on the uncertainty by considering these three questions:
1. Where do we have clarity or minimal uncertainty?
2. Where do we have a degree of certainty but many things are unknown?
3. Where are we relying simply on best guesses?

Steps Toward Better Workforce Planning
Once you've outlined the uncertainty it's possible to reduce its impact through strong communication. I recommend involving your entire organization and communicating your three categories of (un)certainty with your employees. Also communicate the possible scenarios for handling the uncertainties and how employees could be impacted. Through this exercise you will also create benchmarking and milestone opportunities.

Our recent survey also found that uncertainty over rates of attrition, turnover and retention is a major HR challenge in 2010. In fact, staffing is the most uncertain area for HR right now. Thirty-one percent of the survey respondents don't know what their staffing level changes will be in 2010 and 29 percent don't foresee a change. Thirty percent of the respondents anticipate increasing headcount in 2010 but are almost equally divided on which quarter that hiring will occur.

One way to mitigate this uncertainty is to utilize flexible staffing. Flexible staffing can include: temporary employees hired through an agency or directly, part-time employees, independent contractors, retirees who return to work, consultants/freelancers/contractors, on-call workers or outsourced employees.
In a recent special report on contingent staffing, Workforce Magazine reported that 73 percent of employers in a recent study said they anticipate some level of increase in their contingent workforce by late 2010, with nearly 35 percent planning increases of 50 percent or more. Workforce also wrote that the labor law firm Littler Mendelson predicts that contingent labor could rise to as much as 30 to 50 percent of the entire U.S. workforce, triple the average of 13 percent that a Staffing Industry Analysts survey estimated it to be in 2008.

Headcount and talent are two key elements in workforce planning and looking at both will help you determine where your workforce gaps are. Smart HR managers evaluate their current workforce, as well as the talent that is becoming available and the expertise that is leaving, to understand where the gaps are, or in some cases, where they are likely to be in the future. You can then work on filling the gaps with recruiting, retention, motivation, succession planning and contingent staffing efforts.

No matter what you think the current economy dictates to your business, retention always matters. Unmanaged attrition can be disastrous to your organizational health. For example, if a company loses employees primarily from the bottom rungs of the organization, it could wind up with a disproportionately older workforce than it had before. In contrast, if it loses employees primarily from the middle, it could lose an important cadre of skills and future leadership. If it loses primarily older workers, it could be losing considerable experience and knowledge.

The most popular recruiting and retention strategies among Boston HR managers who were surveyed are to invest in low-cost training, change recruiting focus, develop a succession plan and develop a new talent management plan.

Don't let the uncertainty of today's economy prevent you from making smart investments in workforce planning for the future. Instead, think about how you can use uncertainty to your advantage. Start by preparing multiple view scenarios for the future that include your relative certainties and uncertainties (the three categories), review your projections and periodically update them. Doing so will ensure that your organization is best positioned to succeed through demographic change and economic uncertainty.


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Cost Effective Recruiting

Posted by Aaron Green January 25, 2010 09:00 AM

These are interesting times for human resources professionals who are tasked with recruiting. During the recession many organizations deeply cut their human resources and recruiting budgets; organizations that were not hiring new staff enjoyed a short-term cost savings as a result of these cuts. However, now an increasing number of organizations are finding they do need to hire new staff, as employees are needed to replace those lost to attrition and upturns in business are creating a need to add staff.

Many companies are now finding they lack staff and resources to recruit needed employees. Recruiters are caught in the middle and are being asked to do more with less. Here are my suggestions for successful recruiting on a tight budget:

Build an Employment Brand
Coordinate with your marketing resources to promote your organization as a positive environment for employees so that candidates and prospects will already be 'warmed up' and interested in coming to work with you. Cost-effective ways to do this include building your web presence (the HR page on your company's main web site, a Facebook Fan page, and Twitter, for example), nominating your company for awards such as Best Places to Work contests, being involved in community events, and making yourself available for PR efforts so your messages can be communicated via the media. Having interested candidates contact your company is obviously the most cost effective way to recruit; the challenge is earning the reputation that puts your company in that position.


Utilize your Current Workforce
If your professional recruiting resources are limited, deputize other employees and have them participate in recruiting efforts. Referral bonuses and other financial incentives for bringing in candidates and/or signing new employees will motivate your employees to become involved in your company's recruiting efforts. Involving co-workers in awareness campaigns and giving them incentive to do so is a cost-effective way to recruit and build morale at the same time.


Spread the Word
Let people know you're hiring and what they can specifically do to help. Cost-effective ways to do this include updating your company web site and email signatures with links to details on open positions, and letting customers, suppliers, partners and others know what positions you have open. Be as specific as possible; telling them "we're hiring" is not as effective as saying "we need a chemical engineer with 8-10 years experience." You'd be surprised at how word travels.


Network, Network, Network
Identify the professional associations, affinity groups, and other industry events and groups that are most important to your organization (and for what reasons) and then make sure you are properly and consistently represented in those groups. By way of example, if you are looking for an accountant, you could contact the Massachusetts Society of CPAs and the Boston Chapter of the Association of Latino Professionals in Accounting and Finance. Not only will this help you build a candidate pipeline but it can also help you spread the word about open positions faster and more effectively.


Try Alternative Job Boards
While the major job boards like Monster and Careerbuilder can be effective, they are also expensive. If your budget is tight, look into free and low-cost alternatives. Some reputable alternatives include Craigslist and Google Base. Local papers will often also have an inexpensive job posting section in their online edition. Social networking sites such as TweetMyJobs and business networking sites like LinkedIn have also become increasingly popular as alternatives to job boards. In addition to having a LinkedIn company page that can build your brand and advertise jobs, recruiters can search profiles within their network to discover potential candidates they might already be connected to. Joining groups within these social and business networking sites also allows you to advertise your openings for free via discussion boards. Leverage other online networks and community sites that specialize in your industry or in the career specialty that you want to recruit, including diversity organizations that assist job seekers. If you are seeking entry level or part time candidates, reaching out to local colleges that will often have resources to help their students connect to employers (such as job boards on their websites or career centers), is often a free and easy way to find candidates.


Staffing Firms
While utilizing staffing firms costs money, they can be a cost effective solution in many instances. If you have limited resources and time, paying a staffing firm for a successful contingency search can be less expensive than the alternative. If you don't have an up-to-date network/candidate pool it can be quite costly in time and opportunity cost to start a search from scratch.

In addition, staffing firms can typically provide temporary employees or short notice as well as temp-to-hire candidates that you can test out prior to making a decision and/or while you look for a permanent hire.


Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO)
If you have a large number of similar positions to fill, RPO (Recruitment Process Outsourcing) could be a cost-effective option. RPO means transferring all or part of your recruitment activities to an external vendor. Those recruiting activities can include sourcing, screening, testing, interviewing, background checks, coordinating offer letters, and orientation. The RPO provider is an outsourced recruiting department equipped with a package of skills, tools, technologies and activities. With RPO, you avoid paying an agency for each search and you get access to more and better resources than you could likely afford by doing it yourself.


The above-mentioned tactics work in any economy, and will be useful to any of my fellow recruiters who strive to maintain quality hiring practices on a limited budget.


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group  and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at Aaron.Green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

Looking Ahead: Top Challenges for HR in 2010

Posted by Aaron Green December 21, 2009 05:00 PM

Looking ahead to 2010, here's what I am hearing from HR professionals about what will be the top staffing challenges in the year to come:

1. Retention
Even if they aren't happy in their jobs, many employees have been sticking around and riding out the recession. There are reasons employees have stayed put: they fear that being the "last one in" at a new company means they'll be the "first to go" if that employer has to make job cuts, they may be concerned about the financial stability of a prospective employer, and there's a general attitude that the "devil you know beats the devil you don't" mentality. Once the employment climate improves, many employees will look to leave their jobs. This pent up desire to leave will create real problems for employers who don't manage properly. HR and senior management teams should have their retention plans and hiring plans in place now to combat the challenges this issue will present in 2010.

2. Doing more with less
Many organizations have cut their HR budgets substantially. As companies start to grow again, there are simply fewer resources to handle HR duties. Already, some Human Resources teams are overwhelmed with the process of finding new employees - they just don't have the staff to handle the workload required to properly recruit, screen and hire while keeping up with other key HR priorities.

3. Changes in Benefits
In response to the recession and the financial pressures it brought, many companies cut employee benefits in 2009 which resulted in some bad will among employees. As employees assess benefits in 2010 they will be reminded of the benefit cuts. HR professionals will need to be actively involved in managing benefits, communicating with employees to minimize bad will, and looking for new and creative ways to improve their company's benefits package in a cost effective way.

4. A tightening labor market for certain positions
Recent reports cite Boston as among the best cities for managerial-level job seekers. In fact, although the national unemployment rate is about 10 percent, the unemployment rate for workers with a college degree is about half that. Recruiters and hiring managers who are looking for mid-career level professional talent have a closing window of opportunity to hire before facing decreased candidate availability.

5. Speed to hire
Before the recession better companies were conditioned to respond quickly to desirable candidates. To beat the competition they had the right mindset and the right systems to prevent top prospects from slipping away. Over the past year, organizations that were hiring had the luxury of not having to move quickly and could draw out the hiring process. In 2010 companies will need to move more quickly in order to land the best candidates, as highly qualified candidates are beginning to have employment choices again.

6. Promoting from within
For many companies the recession created a situation where there were less promotion opportunities. Employees were willing to accept the fate of a slower career path because they wanted to be a team player and help the company, or maybe they were simply happy to keep their job during a nasty recession. In 2010, with economic conditions improved, employees who are ready will be anxious to be promoted. Better employers will be focusing on performance assessments to see who's ready to move up and will be preparing employees with feedback on what they need to do to get promoted. Get the conversation going - talking about their future with the company helps employees feel more engaged and contributes to retention efforts.

7. Flexibility
While change is a constant in the world today, 2009 was by any standard an exceptional year for human resource professionals. For many organizations 2010 will bring just as much change. For companies that made adjustments to restore or ensure financial stability, that change may take the form of new initiatives to support growth or adapt to the newly shaped organization. Some companies may still require strategic organizational changes or cost cutting in order to compete. To excel in 2010, HR will need flexibility; plans developed at the beginning of the year might need to change quickly to capitalize on opportunities that avail themselves during the year.


Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group  and PSG Global Solutions. He is also the vice chairman of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at mailto:aaron.green@psgstaffing.comor (617) 250-1000.

HR Strategies for a Challenging Economy

Posted by Aaron Green November 16, 2009 05:00 PM

There's no question that the past year has presented plenty of challenges to Boston's human resources professionals. Recently my firm, Professional Staffing Group, received survey responses from more than 100 Boston organizations across 13 different industry groups about their human resources planning for the remainder of this year. The responses were a mixed bag with some organizations moving forward with recruiting, hiring, rewards and retention practices and other organizations remaining hunkered down.

We asked respondents whether they planned to make any changes in the way they reward, retain, and recruit employees in light of the current economic conditions.

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Getting the Most Value from your Staffing Firm

Posted by Aaron Green October 21, 2009 05:30 PM

I've been writing lately about how staffing firms can help your business in this economic climate. I've also written on Finding and Selecting a Staffing Agency. This article provides tips for maximizing the value you get from your staffing firm.

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Finding and Selecting a Staffing Firm

Posted by Aaron Green September 21, 2009 06:56 AM

Last month I wrote about how staffing firms can help you weather the recession and prepare for employment recovery. This month I'll provide some tips on finding and selecting a staffing agency that is best suited to your needs.

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Preparing for the Recession's End with the Help of Staffing Agencies

Posted by Aaron Green August 17, 2009 11:16 AM

Most economists are now saying the economic recovery has begun and the recession may even be over. At my staffing firm, Professional Staffing Group, we have seen a noticeable uptick in hiring of temporary employees by our clients over the past couple of months, and even more hiring is forecasted by clients. Historically in past economic recoveries, hiring of temporary employees precedes general hiring, and temp hiring is often viewed as a leading indicator of the overall employment market.

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Three Ways Social Media is Influencing HR Today

Posted by Aaron Green July 20, 2009 04:50 PM

Whether you love it or loathe it, use it or overlook it, social media is a part of our everyday life. For employers and HR managers, social media can be a powerful tool for communicating, researching and interacting with employees, job candidates, customers and the general public. Are you leveraging social media to the fullest in your recruiting, hiring and reputation management efforts?

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Hiring Challenges During High Unemployment

Posted by Aaron Green June 15, 2009 10:18 AM

Although the country is in the midst of a recession and the unemployment rate as I write this blog is at 9.4 percent, with 14.5 million people unemployed, recruiters and hiring managers are not strolling down easy-street. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 3 million jobs that employers are actively recruiting for but are so far unable to fill. And, although the unemployment rate has increased substantially, the number of unfilled jobs has essentially stayed the same since the beginning of the recession.

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2009 Provides a Unique Opportunity to Impact Employee Loyalty

Posted by Aaron Green May 18, 2009 01:22 PM

The current recession is bringing out the best and worst behaviors from managers. Management’s actions will have a significant impact on employee loyalty for years to come. Let’s take a look at some examples:

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What to Expect when Recruiting this Year’s College Grads

Posted by Aaron Green April 19, 2009 11:40 AM

This year’s class of college graduates will face their share of challenges in this new employment market. What can employers expect when hiring from the class of 2009 and what is the best way to approach recruiting this year’s college graduates?

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Boomers and Gen Y: Bridging the Generation Gap

Posted by Aaron Green March 16, 2009 12:00 PM

On opposite ends of the generation timeline in today’s workforce, Generation Y, or the Millennials, (those born after 1980) and the Baby Boomers (born before 1965) each have different approaches to their work. Both groups are influenced by their age, their experience and background, their peers, and their generation’s values.

While it would be too sweeping a generalization to tell you that all Boomers make the best managers or that everyone in Gen Y excels at working with new technology, it is important for HR managers to understand the differences in workers of these two very different generations, how to manage those differences in the workplace, and how they can best work together toward common goals.

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Tips for Working Successfully with Global Teams

Posted by Aaron Green February 16, 2009 12:00 PM

There are many advantages to utilizing global teams. Businesses will say that ‘going global’ gives them access to talent, helps reduce costs, increases flexibility and responsiveness, offers diverse perspectives and provides a local presence in countries where they do business.

However, successfully implementing, managing and growing global teams takes effort and involves elements not present when managing strictly domestic teams. Conflicts or lost productivity can arise from cultural differences, lack of clear and consistent communication and incompatible leadership.

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Retaining talent during a recession

Posted by Jesse Nunes January 20, 2009 02:13 PM

By Aaron Green

Many companies are reacting to this recession by laying off staff and instituting hiring freezes, as well as delaying raises and promotions under the belief that these actions will reduce costs -- and they do in fact reduce costs, in the short term. However, over the long term these measures often end up costing more than the initial savings. Here's why:

  • If you allow morale to drop, your competition can recruit your best people away, while low performers stay on, reducing productivity.
  • Decreased staff levels can result in overburdened employees who feel burnt out and frustrated; this situation negatively affects customer relationships.
  • Hiring freezes mean lost opportunities to hire available superstars who can improve your organization.
  • Replacing downsized employees may take a long time to achieve, and the qualities certain talented employees bring to your company may take years to be fully replaced.
  • Employees grow increasingly unhappy; and once they have the opportunity (i.e. when the economy improves), they quit just when you need them the most.
  • Your employment brand as a good company to work for is damaged, limiting your ability to hire and retain in the future.

Unfortunately circumstances sometimes necessitate cost cuts and there is just no way around it. As opposed to making company-wide staffing cuts and freezes, following are some suggestions that might fit your situation:

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How the recession impacts job outlook for the millennials

Posted by Bianca Strzelczyk December 15, 2008 09:15 AM

By Aaron Green

Since millennials, or Generation Y, entered the workforce they’ve only seen positive trends in demand for labor, career development opportunities and unemployment rates — until now.

The current recession is sure to have an impact on this youngest generation of workers, the millennials. Here are some trends to watch for in 2009:

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Recruiting rules are different during a recession

Posted by Bianca Strzelczyk November 17, 2008 09:16 AM

By Aaron Green

During an economic downturn, many recruiting practices need to be changed – but sometimes not in the ways you might expect.

Economic pressures on workers combined with a higher unemployment rate might lead you to assume that recruiting and hiring are easier during a downturn. Depending on the nature of your job openings, recruiting is not necessarily easier in a downturn, but it is different. Some of the challenges we are use to are still there and are easier to meet (e.g. fewer demands and less negotiating from candidates) but there are new challenges too.

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Hiring temp-to-perm: Is it for you?

Posted by Bianca Strzelczyk October 20, 2008 09:35 AM

By Aaron Green

“Temp-to-perm” is a short-hand term that staffing and recruiting professionals use when talking about filling a job with a temporary employee with the option of offering it to that employee on a permanent basis after a trial period. Temp-to-perm, also sometimes called temp-to-direct or temp-to-hire, can reduce guesswork and risk and raise the odds of finding a candidate who fits well within your organization. It can be a win-win situation for employers and candidates who get to do a test run before committing permanently. To determine if temp-to-perm is the right hiring strategy for you, answer the following five questions.

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Why the old rules of job hopping don't apply

Posted by Jesse Nunes September 15, 2008 10:03 AM

By Aaron Green

The old school view of job hoppers was to stay away from them, with the assumption that something must be wrong with them and/or that they will leave you too. Employers were reluctant to invest in employing and developing job hoppers. However, times have changed and progressive hiring managers realize that they need to adjust their perspective to the new norms around job hopping.

Why employees job-hop

Job hopping isn't limited to any one industry, job type or level. It's present in all industries and occurs for reasons ranging from chronic dissatisfaction with salary and work environment to job stress and staff downsizing. Job hopping can be particularly attractive to new workers who seek a broad range of work experience more quickly than one company may provide; they view themselves as free agents. Millennials, or Generation Y, the youngest generation in today's workforce, has been tagged with being job hoppers, a label supported by recent statistics. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of all 20-24 year olds had been with their employer less than 12 months.

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About HR Columns

Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.

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