Mark Quoted In SHRM Article – How About Ditching the Annual Holiday Party?

Service projects, ‘mystery trips’ are among employers’ alternatives

Is the annual company holiday party still a thing?

In recent years, many companies have downsized their holiday parties to less lavish affairs or hosted other types of events that replaced the traditional after-hours holiday soiree.

The decision whether to host a holiday party may come down to cost or employee interest.

Moving away from the traditional party “seemed to come along with businesses becoming more budget-conscious in the aftermath of the recession, but it is also consistent with the business trend of focusing on company culture,” said Catherine Wragg, senior vice president for human resources at TriNet, headquartered in Dublin, Calif., which provides HR services to small and midsize businesses. “Using that holiday budget to have more meaningful team-building activities throughout the year helps employees engage with the company on a more consistent basis and contribute their time and skills in a way that is focused on building community.”

Could a Holiday Party Become a Liability?

One reason companies may choose events other than the traditional party to celebrate the holidays could be the desire to avoid potential liability. An employer could be held responsible for any activities that happen during the party, and some companies have decided the risk may not be worth it, Wragg said.

 Employment attorneys agree that holiday parties can be risky for employers.

“More bad behavior occurs at company holiday parties than at any other time of year,” said Mark F. Kluger, attorney and partner at Kluger Healey LLC in Fairfield, N.J. “The combination of the holiday season, pent-up feelings about co-workers and, most importantly, alcohol often lead to uninhibited behavior ranging from sexual harassment to expressions of intolerance.”

Adam Gutmann, an associate practicing employment law at Cozen O’Connor in Houston, noted that “given the prevalence of the #MeToo movement, some employers are giving common risk factors [at holiday parties]—namely alcohol—additional thought.”

Last year, Kluger Healey decided to throw a nontraditional holiday event—a bowling outing for employees and their significant others. This year, the firm is having a “hatchet-throwing party” in lieu of a workplace holiday party. The event will be hosted at Stumpy’s Hatchet House, where participants literally throw weapons at targets.

Community Service Projects, Team-Building Trips Might Be Preferable.

Jim Bell Sr., president and founder of Abel HR based in Cranbury, N.J., said one of his favorite ways to celebrate the holiday season is to have employees participate in a service project together.

“One idea is to distribute toys to underprivileged and needy children in the community,” he said. “I always recommend choosing a local organization to partner with to have an impact where employees live and work. When employees end their workday at noon and spend the rest of the day together having a light lunch and wrapping presents for others, it becomes a team-building activity while increasing the holiday spirit.”

Other community service projects, such as collecting items for a local food pantry or running a mitten and hat drive for a homeless shelter, can also be strong team-building activities during the holiday season.

Katy Cooper, an event planner at NKP Medical, a medical marketing agency in Los Angeles, recommends doing a “mystery trip” as an alternative to the standard holiday party.

Dave Green, founder of Mystery Trip in Los Angeles, is a former HR professional who sought to unite employees through fun experiences. Participants go on an hours-long or daylong excursion and follow clues that lead them to a surprise at the end of the event.

“Doing a mystery trip opens the door to encourage team building and building relationships among people in the different teams of the company; doing this leads to experiences and memories that will last longer than a cocktail party,” Cooper said.

Employers might want to consider not doing an event at all. According to a TriNet survey, 73 percent of employees would prefer a cash bonus during holiday time, while 51 percent favor having extra paid time off between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Because December can be a busy time for many people, a traditional holiday party could feel like an obligation to employees, Wragg noted.

“Some employers are noticing this and are opting for low-key employee lunches during business hours or a party in January or [at] another time of year,” she said.

Elaina Loveland is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C., area.

Mark Quoted In Convene CULTURE How Sexual Harassment and HR Policies Have Evolved in the Wake of #MeToo

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many ugly truths have been exposed surrounding sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct. With so many more people coming forward with the kinds of mistreatment they have experienced, many companies are working to reframe and think harder about their protocols and politics surrounding sexual harassment. As #MeToo evolves, the workplace must adapt as well.

A 2017 study found that people who spoke up about workplace harassment experienced retaliation.

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, out of the 90,000 complaints they received in 2015, almost one third included an allegation of workplace harassment. Two years ago, in 2016, the organization released a comprehensive study that found “anywhere from 25% to 85% of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.”

 

Major Change Requires Major Strategy

One way companies are trying to make their workplaces more inclusive is by working with gender strategists.

The job of gender strategists is to help companies create spaces with more diversity and where people feel comfortable  speaking up for themselves. This occurs through workshops, lectures, seminars, and other instances where employees and leaders can learn approaches that make everyone feel welcomed and safe, from first interviews all the way to the way people speak to each other.

Max Masure, a gender inclusion strategist and co-founder of Argo Collective, has been working with companies to help them create more inclusive work environments, with an emphasis on gender-based inclusion issues and discrimination.

“We usually start with a pilot workshop about gender inclusion where we go through the basics of gender identity, sexual orientation, and pronouns followed by a group activity where we review some best practices to have an inclusive company culture,” says Masure.

They continued, “Those discussions allow everyone to be on the same page in terms of knowledge and good behavior. We then offer progressive advanced workshops where we help with more specific needs, like recruiting in an inclusive way, how to design in an inclusive way or develop policies and make sure they are followed in an empathetic way every day.”

Masure and their company advises businesses to have a diverse staff and establish inclusion as a central aspect of their environment early on. They also tell companies to increase representation throughout the company and promote underrepresented people in leadership.

Simple changes can make a big difference, such as making concerted efforts to make work a safe space for female co-workers and focusing more on their work and less on their appearances. Also, using the correct gender pronouns people identify as, and having them added to their social media accounts, email signatures, and other online professional profiles can also help promote inclusion.

 

Legal Considerations

There is a legal component that needs to be considered when creating new HR protocols. Mark L. Kluger is a lawyer who has worked with companies to develop their harassment policies and promote safe and fair work environments. Additionally, Kluger has also worked with people in HR departments with properly conducting sexual harassment investigations.

“There are certain legal requirements that must be included in (sexual harassment) policies, such as the definitions of a hostile work environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment,” says Kluger “The policy must also incorporate a complaint procedure which identifies to whom complaints must be brought.”

Kluger added, “If there is no HR Department, I always recommend that at least one female senior manager be included on the list of those available to receive complaints.”

Training and communication to prevent sexual harassment is another important consideration. One HR consulting firm, Simply HR, recently came up with an ingenious way to discuss workplace sexual harassment that is literally flipping the script in the era of #MeTo. They created “Define the Line,” a comic book that works as a training tool for companies.

 

A New Landscape

Julie Dacar, founder of TalEx, a Washington, DC-based staffing firm has witnessed first hand the positive effects of the #MeToo movement has had.

“There is a level of understanding and empathy that didn’t exist pre-#MeToo. There is a genuine effort on the part of company leadership to implement clear policies on how to most effectively address assault and harassment accusations. C-suite executives and HR departments know that the days of excusing predatory behavior or ignoring accusations are over and there is a new seriousness,” says Dacar.

She continued, “Now, policies are becoming clearly defined and plans of action are being implemented in no uncertain terms. We are hearing a lot less, ‘boys will be boys,’ or ‘we’ve always had a casual workplace.’”

#MeToo has resulted in a more candid conversation surrounding sexual harassment and has made companies review and rethink their approaches. There is a shift towards making work environments that are healthier overall and do not tolerate behavior where employees are mistreated. This is vital in helping all employees feel empowered and safe in their places of work, and is making companies deal with harsh realities that would have previously landed them in trouble.

Mark Quoted In SHRM Article

Women should not have to meet higher standards than men to be promoted, a recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit suggested. Employees instead should be evaluated for promotion by objective criteria applied equally to all workers.

Those criteria might include job performance, tenure with the company and skills, noted Kofi Semenya, an attorney with Isaac Wiles in Columbus, Ohio.

Intangibles may be factored in as well, such as how employees considered for promotion get along with others, noted Myrna Maysonet, an attorney with Greenspoon Marder in Orlando, Fla. But she said that if employers hope to win cases challenging denials of promotion, they must use the same objective criteria with everyone.

“You want to try and give everyone an equal shot and hopefully wind up with the most skilled person,” she said.

Mentorship Program Requirement

The EEOC alleged in an Aug. 20 lawsuit brought against Ferman Management Services in Tampa Bay, Fla., that Ferman failed to promote Virginia Duncan from sales manager to general manager at one of its motorcycle dealerships because she is a woman.

Ferman required Duncan to participate in a mentorship program to be eligible for promotion but did not require the same of nine different men promoted at Ferman’s dealerships from March 2012 to January 2015, according to the EEOC. As part of the mentorship program, Duncan had to prepare book reports and write letters of appreciation to co-workers, the complaint alleges. She also allegedly had to meet regularly with Ferman’s vice president, who the EEOC said often rescheduled or failed to appear for their meetings.

The EEOC sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on sex. “Although Title VII was passed more than 50 years ago, women nationwide continue to be passed over for promotion because of their sex,” said Robert Weisberg, EEOC regional attorney for the Miami district office.

Ferman did not respond to requests for comment.

Other Failure-to-Promote Claims

Duncan isn’t alone in her allegations. In fiscal year 2017, the EEOC received 1,162 failure-to-promote charges on the basis of sex.

On Aug. 22, the EEOC settled a claim with a Coral Gables, Fla., automobile dealership, AutoNation Chevrolet Coral Gables, that agreed to pay $150,000 to a former assistant parts manager to resolve a sex-discrimination lawsuit. A woman who was an assistant parts manager for 10 years was allegedly barred from applying for a vacant parts manager position and was purportedly told she was the most qualified candidate but the position “needed a man.”

Under the settlement, the dealership’s general manager must deliver a message in person to the workforce regarding the importance of equal employment opportunity and diversity, including sex diversity in hiring and promotion. The settlement also requires annual training for three years covering nondiscriminatory recruiting, interviewing and hiring.

AutoNation Chevrolet Coral Gables and AutoNation declined to comment.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Equal Employment Opportunity]

Common Objective Criteria

It’s common for employers to promote people who’ve earned high marks for performance in their current jobs, Semenya said. But Maysonet noted that sometimes high-performing workers make terrible managers. “When you’re a manager, the train of thought has to be completely different—not just thinking about you but about the team,” she said. Another management skill might be the ability to write and communicate, which can be tested objectively, she noted.

Requiring someone to pass a class on management is another good way to see if he or she has what it takes to be a manager, Maysonet noted.

Semenya recommended that employers require workers to have been with the company at least one year before promoting them. That ensures that the candidates for promotion are familiar with the company’s work processes, he said.

Mark Kluger, an attorney with Kluger Healey in Florham Park, N.J., cautioned, “An employee with less time at the company but maybe more or better experience at a previous job might be promoted over a longer-term employee, who will no doubt feel that the promotion is unjust.”