Stephen Koppekin's Blog

The New Interview Questions

According to The Job Network, the following questions are deemed the most challenging questions seen at an interview this past year. Whether or not all of these questions would work for you and your company, it can be helpful to see what others in the field are doing and asking.

  1. How much would you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?

The beauty of this question is that the answer is virtually unknown to the majority of people. Is the applicant ready for out-of-the-box thinking? How well do they react on their feet?

What to look for:

The impressive applicant will follow up with more questions. Is the position hourly? Are you able to hire others to help or is this a solo-task?

  1. Explain a database to your eight-year-old nephew.

Used frequently by Google, this question tests the communication levels of future hires. While companies desire applicants who are qualified in the related field, they’re also deeply interested in hiring people who can explain what they do in a clear and simple manner.

How to use this:

If you work with clients on a regular basis, imagine how the applicant would communicate with your base.

  1. What did you have for breakfast?

This question tends to reveal a lot about an applicant’s personality. It also catches an applicant off guard. Interviewers look for honesty and a bit of humor. It’s critical that the hire fits in well with the culture and that culture fits well for the applicant.

How to weave it in:

Save this for later in the interview to help loosen up a nervous applicant. Questions that are unrelated to the job at hand help humanize the process, and you.

  1. Describe the color yellow to someone who is blind?

If you’re working in any sort of creative field, this question can test the innovative tendencies of your hires. Because there’s no right or wrong answer, you’ll be assessing the applicant’s communication style, insightfulness, even sensitivity.

  1. If you sat down at your desk and found 1,000 emails in your inbox but you could answer only 300 of them, how would you choose?

Time management lies at the heart of this question. All employers seek to fill their staff with hires who are able to prioritize what must get done today; and what can be done tomorrow.

The winning answer:

Look for answers that cater to responding to emails that are high-priority, meaning anything from top clients, your boss, etc.

What may sound concerning:

The employee who starts at the bottom and works his way up. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach, the employee may miss time sensitive information in lieu of completing the task in a traditional manner.

  1. Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with your manager. How was it resolved?

This question really asks: how well do you work with others? Are you able to take orders, criticism, and/or help from a supervisor? More importantly, are you able to let go of the past?

The winning applicant will keep her cool and refrain from badmouthing a former boss.
What questions do you use in your interview sessions? Have you shifted your approach in the last few years to find the best applicants?

It’s a Dog’s Life: Pets in the Workplace

It’s not unreasonable to say that the professional workplace has changed dramatically in the past fifty years. From business attire to flexible work schedules, today, many employees experience a relaxed atmosphere that accommodates their lifestyle and preferences.

Perhaps the most extreme example of the dramatic shift in workplace culture is the increasingly common practice of allowing dogs to join their owners at work. You may associate pets in the workplace with young startups or tech companies like Google, but more companies are visiting this topic in favor of the furry companions.

It’s A Dog’s Life

We’ve heard the phrase a million times. We’ve used it to describe the easy life or how we spent our time on vacation. But the phrase’s origin outlines a much different scenario.

First used in the 16th century, the term described a home’s guard dog, who spent the majority of his life outdoors, who was fed scraps, and generally lived a short life. Today, dogs have it a bit easier. From organic dog food to pet insurance, the canines we keep today truly live the good life.

Dogs at Work

Do you allow pets to join their owners at work? Chances are, you’ve had an employee or two ask you to consider the policy change. No matter where you stand on the issue of pets, there are benefits to consider.

Reduced Stress

There’s something about a dog that seems to ease an atmosphere in a good way. In recent years, there’s been a rise in therapy dogs at schools and hospitals. Adding a dog or two to your workplace may provide a small amount of stress reliever for your employees. Think about it. If a tired employee spends a few minutes in the morning petting the office dog, chances are he or she will return to work in an improved mood.

Boost in Productivity

While this may not be the case in every situation, owners who are allowed to bring their pets to work typically rate their jobs higher. Pets also bring the necessity of needing to take bathroom breaks throughout the day. Use this to your advantage and encourage employees to take a five minute stretch break. Returning to work refocused is an excellent way to boost productivity.

Can You Make it Work?

Of course, there will always be situations where allowing employees to bring their dogs to work simply won’t work. For example, if you work in a restaurant or medical facility where sterilization is critical, dogs won’t be a great addition.

Further, if you do decide to allow pets in the workplace, you’ll want to adopt a standard policy. Mandating that dogs arrive with all proper immunizations, are healthy, house trained, and friendly, are absolutely necessities.

With more and more dogs returning to work, we can’t help but question if the pendulum will swing once more to its initial origin. Maybe in 100 years, the phrase will once again conjure a feeling of hard, laboring work. One thing is for certain: these dogs at work are having a much easier time at it than their 16th century predecessors.

US Productivity: What is it? Should We Care?

MarketWatch recently reported the the US productivity dropped for the third straight quarter, an unexpected development that suggests a larger economic problem that leaves many economists worried. What does this drop mean for the US economy? How will it affect the years to come? Read on for a short overview of what productivity is and its significance in the determining the strength of the US market.

What is productivity?

Productivity is the marker of how much hard our nation works each hour. When productivity is high, employees are working more per hour. This commonly leads to increases in wage and a higher standard of living because more goods or services are produced at an efficient rate. When productivity is low, wages tend to be more stagnant.

How do we measure it?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to measure the productivity level, we compare the amount of goods or services produced with the materials that were used during production. Labor productivity is an important marker to watch. To produce products, companies are required to input a significant amount of wages–or salaries–for their employees to produce the goods. This is the measure we use to report quarterly levels.

What is the current productivity level?

In the most recent report, the current level of productivity fell by 0.5% during the last quarter. Experts had anticipated a 0.4% growth. This is the third straight drop this year.

What the drop suggests?

The drop suggests that despite the increase in the nation’s hiring stats, output levels lag. This is an impossible relationship to continue and economists warn that an increased amount of workforce will be unable to increase levels naturally.

How we can get increase levels of productivity?

It’s important to note that productivity can be mismeasured. Many experts warn that the formula to measure our economy’s growth does not accommodate newer technologies and industries, where innovation continues to skyrocket at a fast clip. Companies can also look to increase the efficiency of the labor by investing in better technologies. Increases in product or service pricing is also another option.

The Benefits of a Diverse Workforce

Business success is hardly something that can be boiled down to a single factor. Innovation, resourcefulness, a clear vision. But one aspect repeatedly is left behind in a company’s building and planning phase: diversity. This critical aspect can be a company’s ultimate downfall.

When most people think of workplace diversity, their minds likely jump to the gender and ethnic makeup of an organization or team within that organization. They think of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action laws and acts, but far too often does the real benefit of diversity within an organization fall through the cracks. Diversity in and of itself extends far beyond just which bathroom you use or from what country your grandparents originate.

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Study upon study upon study have time and time again proven, by this point conclusively, the benefits that a diverse workplace can have on a company. A McKinsey study  conducted between 2008 and 2010 and published in 2012 showed increases in both ROE and EBIT margin in diverse workplaces. These leaps, which sat globally at 53 percent and 14 percent respectively, were even more evident when the United States was examined specifically. The ROE for US businesses ranking in the top quartile for diversity was 95 percent greater than those in the bottom quartile, while the EBIT margin was 58 percent higher.

Among the wealth of benefits of a diverse workplace–a list which includes lower turnover costs, greater share of the consumer market and greater economic growth, to name a few–is a greater array of varying minds. A Forbes study found that 85 percent of large global enterprises surveyed agreed that diversity was key in “fostering innovation in the workplace.” We’ve mentioned before that risk can breed innovation, but how can diversity accomplish that same task?

Imagine a scenario in which someone–anyone–is presented with a problem. Here, the specifics do not matter. Perhaps an individual is rescuing an abandoned puppy from the other side of a river. What does matter immensely is whether that problem gets solved, and more importantly,  how the problem is solved.

The “someone” in this above scenario is going to play a key part in how to rescue the puppy, particularly, that someone’s background. If the someone is a particularly strong swimmer, he or she may simply dive in, swim across and rescue the pup by hand. What if “someone” were a carpenter who may build a bridge, or a sailor who could sail right across?

This scenario, while basic and seemingly unrelated at first glance, can be widely applied to diversity in the workplace. Different minds from different backgrounds bring different ways of thinking and problem-solving to a business. Not all problems can be solved with the same approach, this is a central tenet of corporate brainstorming sessions and weekly meetings. These meetings would accomplish little if each chair was occupied with an Ivy League educated 65-year-old business major with 40 years in the industry who likes fishing, George Orwell and the San Diego Padres. Instead, diversifying your meetings, and your workplace, can open new doors and solutions that would otherwise go untouched.

If you’d like to talk more about the benefits of a diverse workforce or how you can recruit, hire, and retain a talented staff, contact Koppekin Consulting, Inc.

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How Employers Can Boost their Company’s Culture

What is company culture? Why is it important?

Company culture refers to the health of a company’s employee base. As an employer, you may hear this term often. Most commonly, it describes the mission, values, health, and happiness of your employees. While you may not see culture as a significant aspect of focus, your employees are the heart of your business. Take the time to understand what they enjoy and dislike about their current responsibilities. A healthy workforce is able to achieve far greater accomplishments due to a sense of fulfillment and purpose.

How healthy is your culture? Forbes outlines a list to help employers measure the health of their current office culture. While culture is a difficult thing to track and analyze, it’s always possible to find better ways to make your workplace a better place to work and grow.

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Clarity of purpose

How well informed and aware are your employees on the long-term mission and growth strategies related to your company? Chances are, if you employees do not understand the larger picture, they’ll be more challenged to find inspiration on their day-to-day activities. Make an effort to share your vision with all employees. And, make it clear how each position in the company plays a valuable role.

Employee engagement

Once your employees understand the larger mission, how fulfilled are they when performing their tasks? To measure employee engagement, you must be willing to ask tough questions that may need revised answers or systems. An engaged employee will be on the hunt to discover new ways to help the larger goal. Do what you can to positively enforce this behavior. Innovation and insight from your employees can be invaluable tools for your business.

An environment of trust

Building an environment of trust is a slow process. You want your employees to feel like they’re on the same team–and that each of their voices can be heard. Here, you’ll need to rely on your team of managers. By leading with a positive and open attitude, the rest of your staff will feel comfortable voicing opinions, ideas, and critiques. Consider having your management team lead weekly meetings with individual members of their team. This can help build trust quickly. Weekly meetings are also great to motivate and track the work each member contributes to the company. Take a step back and ask yourself: is my company a safe place to work where employees feel trusted and heard?

If you’d like to talk more about developing strategies to advance the positive culture at your workplace, contact Koppekin Consulting for additional support.

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Ban the Box Legislation: What You Need To Know

Over the last fifteen years, civil rights organizers have successfully forced an issue into the spotlight that benefits more than 70 million Americans who have criminal records.

The movement’s official name, Ban the Box, refers to the space listed on an application which mandates that applicants check whether they’ve been convicted of a crime. Historically, these applicants have received far fewer opportunities from employers who often base their decisions solely off of this box.

But with millions of Americans released from prison each year, this practice not only excludes them from a fair hiring process, it creates a trap that makes it increasingly hard for a felon to turn around his or her life.

This has been the heart of the work for thousands of civil rights organizers who wish to make these ‘second chances’ for past felons easier and less stigmatized.

“It’s time for him to give millions of Americans a second chance and a fair chance at employment and opportunity,” said Nancy Zirkin, Vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Zirkin addressed her opinion to President Obama last fall. She was joined by more than 70 groups and union organizations who continue to lobby for the removal of the box.

The movement continues to grow at a fast rate. Today, more than 100 jurisdictions have adopted the removal of the box in favor of more equitable hiring practices. The ultimate goal? Federally mandating a national standard that will help all individuals and communities return to work and recover faster.

As an employer, it’s important to understand the hiring guidelines enacted in your jurisdiction. Nationally, the EEOC suggests the following guidelines to make hiring decisions more fair

  • The nature and gravity of the offense
  • The time that has passed since the conviction and/or the completion of the sentence
  • The nature of the job held or sought

When hiring, it’s advisable to  avoid making blanket assessments. Blanket assessments have traditionally excluded individuals with criminal records, however, utilizing an individualized approach when assessing a candidate is preferred. This includes interviewing an applicant based on his or her merit, not on past mistakes. It’s also advisable to allow applicants to speak on the behalf of their criminal records. Often times, these records hold false information that should not be used when making hiring decisions.

Employment stands as one of the most significant ways to help individuals with criminal records transform their lives, their families, and their communities. Contact me if you’d like to discuss ways you can amend your hiring practices to make for more inclusory decisions that will affect and benefit your entire workforce.  

Understanding the New Job Report

In early July, the new jobs report was announced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and published by various national news sources. While the report itself is clear on the data, the translation of its message is worth examining.

If you’re not certain on the discrepancy, one can simply Google ‘Jobs Report 2016’ to understand the question at hand. The top ten results appear to describe the same report, yet depending on the media source, the news is touted as either positive, or exceedingly negative. What can we conclude from the opposing press?

The facts

The job report provided the following data for June 2016

  • The total payroll employment increased by 287,000
  • the unemployment rate rose to 4.9 percent

The Daily Signal offers an accurate reflection and blames ‘statistical noise’ for the fluctuation in employment rates. While May’s report showcased a plunging loss of jobs; June’s resurgence should be taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn is that short-term trends are often the cause of this statistical noise. The better practice to employ is to look at longer-term reports. An analysis of quarterly or annual data is far more reflective of the current statistics.

A New Plan for Social Security

In 1935, Franklin Delano Roosevelt embarked on a radical social plan to help Americans live happier and healthier lives in their old age: Social Security. Created as part of the FDR’s New Deal, the social fund’s goal was keep the majority of the elderly population from living in poverty. And for the rest of the 20th century, the plan succeeded.

The premise behind Social Security is simple. Every working American contributes money to the plan’s trust each year in the form of taxes. This trust allocates funds to the population that currently qualifies to collect the monthly stipend.  

Today, Social Security is so deeply embedded into our society that we often forget or fail to examine its origin and intent. It’s also impossible to not worry about it’s future.

The plan’s alternative beginning

Few people are aware of the FDR’s desire for the Social Security plan during its infancy. A desire that may have spared us the challenges we face today. Challenges that will tough to mitigate and even tougher to implement policies to affect the current and future obstacles.

We’re living longer, more productive lives. While this may mean that we’re able to push off retirement by a few years or find part-time work to supplement benefits; the fund will ultimately be paying people money for a longer amount of time.

Social Security Cards

Additionally, health plays a significant role in the longevity question. We may be living longer lives, but Americans are facing more health issues than any other generation before them. This means high hospital bills and long-term medication bills.

Rise of the Nuclear Family

The year 1920 marked the first year in American history where a larger part of the population resided in cities than farms. This trend towards urbanization led to many significant changes, most notably, with the decrease in extended family living. Coupled with the longer lifespans, the United States population faced a new challenge. How to best support and care for the aging population who may not reside or benefit care from the rest of their family?

FDR’s Other Deal

FDR proposed a different plan than we know today; a plan that might offer a silver-lining to the challenging environment that social security continues to face.

In FDR’s Legislative packets in 1925, he suggests the following system:

“In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles: First, non—contributory old—age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. Second, compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self—supporting system for those now young and for future generations. Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age. It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one—half of the cost of the old—age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self—supporting annuity plans.”

Roosevelt signs Social Security Bill

Roosevelt signs Social Security Bill

While the first two principals are now ingrained within our current system, let’s take a look at the importance of the third.

Referred to as annuity bonds, the individual could invest money towards their future, which they would cash out when the time was deemed appropriate. These certificates of deposits would offer a minimum guaranteed interest rate.

But how would this third option help us today?  

While there’s no easy way to implement such a dramatic shift in the government’s core social programming, we can observe the effects in a country that sits halfway across the world.  

Social Security Down Under

If this plan seems obscure, one can simply look towards Australia for a direct comparison. In the 1980’s Australia adopted a similar plan to FDR’s alternative option to Social Security. Facing a high percentage of older, retired citizens, the country adopted a three-prong program, initiated by the government labor organization and various union groups. This program was created to support its retirees in a long-term, resourceful way.

The way it works is simple. First, the fund mandates that employers provide a hefty amount of savings towards each employees’ future. Additionally, employees are encouraged to save at least 9% each year. Over time, workers accumulate a large nest egg of savings that is funded in part by their workplace and themselves. To ensure that the nest is large enough, an additional government supported program will allocate money to residents if, or when, their fund runs dry.

The plan may be young, but it’s effects have already received tremendous praise from its citizens.

Is the U.S. Ready for such a Plan?

It’s estimated that 10,000 Baby Boomers edge into the realm of retirement each day. The large majority of the individuals collect monthly social security. For many of the cases, this monthly allotment cannot cover living expenses, medical bills, rising costs of living in major urban centers.

While many may point to several strategies regarding reformation of the current program; there are few that consider turning towards a private option.

Transforming the fund from a government run program to a private system would require a tremendous amount of restructuring. Not to mention the political fissures that would ensue. But how we attack this problem now will set a precedent for the future.

Preparing for the Millennial Stampede

We may be struggling to accommodate the Baby Boomer generation today, but what happens in the future, when the next generation overcrowds the already strained system?

The Millennials, individuals born between the years of 1982 and 2004, will pose an equally difficult strain on the fund. Medical advancements will only continue to allow humans to live healthier, longer lives. The culture of the human race will eventually shift to accommodate a longer lifespan, possibly pushing back all life stages, including retirement. Yet for an immediate generation, like the Millennials, this cultural shift will not be fully realized. In fact, the majority of young people anticipate retiring at a similar age to those retiring today.
While the issues concerning today’s fund may be more relevant, we must look towards the future and make plans accordingly. Privatization offers a way to plan better and save more.

New Overtime Rule

On May 18, 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a new rule increasing the minimum salary requirements for overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The rule, which goes into effect on December 1, 2016, applies to executive, professional, and administrative employees. To be exempt from overtime these employees must earn at least $913/week or $47,476 annually.

For highly compensated employees (HCE) the new test is $134,000 subject to the minimum duties test.

Additionally, a new mechanism was put in place to update these levels every three (3) years.

As an employee, you must determine the following:

  1. Review your company handbook and policies to reflect the new rules
  2. Review overtime policies to limit costs
  3. Be mindful of hours actually worked
  4. Review whether a salary increase is a better alternative than paying overtime to those employees at the salary threshold
  5. Review what impact the new rule will have on cost of eligibility for benefits.

As an employer, you can make several changes to keep the cost of this rule to a minimum. Such changes include eliminating overtime; increasing salaries to get above the minimum, or even (although not preferred) reducing hourly compensation. Lastly, it is very important to track the hours worked by these employees.

This shift will primarily hurt businesses who have relied on paying younger individuals less money with the promise that in time, the opportunity will reward itself. While this culture may seem prevalent in major cities, it often comes a high price for those struggling to make ends meet. This law seeks to place more responsibility on companies to fairly compensate their employees. It may be efficient to hire a new team of recent graduates each year, however, this places an enormous strain and stress on those employees. Worse, the promise of opportunity does not always equate into a guarantee. 

If you’d like advice on how to find the best solution for your company, reach out to me at Koppekin Consulting, Inc. The sooner you plan for these changes, the smoother your transition will be this winter.

 

 

Employee Arbitration Clauses

Does your employee handbook cover dispute resolutions? For employers, the preferable method is to have the single choice of solely arbitration as the remedial device. Arbitration keeps the cost down, compared to civil litigation and can be handled with or without the use of an attorney. One issue that is constantly in dispute is how broad can the arbitration clause be?

Employers would like it to encompass every employee dispute. Government agencies, however, frown upon this. Recently, the issue has received a lot of attention in the news and press. And the battle continues. The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals continue to disagree on the issue of an employer requiring its employees to sign an agreement that would resolve all employment-related claims through arbitration.

In a recent decision, Murphy Oil vs. NLRB, the Fifth Circuit followed its earlier decision in the D. R. Horton Case and concluded that, contrary to the NLRB finding, it is not an unfair labor practice for an employer to require that employees relinquish their rights or collective claims in all forms by signing an arbitration agreement.

The NLRB, not withstanding the “Horton” decision, found contrary in “Murphy”. The 5th Circuit Court again disagreed. One caveat such as arbitration language should be careful not to overreach and preclude the use of the NLRB for the claims and remedies that it provides.

If you don’t have an employee handbook or you are in the process of reviewing one, contact Stephen. Koppekin Consulting will help you navigate the process from start to finish.

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