How do unimaginable amounts of snow impact business outcomes?

The better question might be: How do they not? I sit hear writing as it snows outside, but it barely makes the local weather report today as we’re only getting an inch or two. Now local meteorologists say things like ‘we might get a blizzard this weekend’ or ‘there’s only 10 inches of snow coming Tuesday’. Working in the Boston area, I remember many winters past when 10 inches was a lot. This winter, I’ve experienced a foot or more the last 3 Mondays – not a great way to begin the work week.

My backyard: Yes - that is a fence.
My backyard:  Yes – that is a fence.

You’ve seen it on the national news. At this point, people are officially getting depressed. Feeling trapped – like they are “going crazy.” I choose to find the comical side of all of this. It’s not like we can change it. Let’s make the best of it. Laugh about the ridiculousness of it all. Enjoy the view. Share stories about the first time you saw a woman get out of her car to help push a stranger’s car out of a drift as he was getting onto a highway. I sat mesmerized thinking it would never work, but it did.

 

So what are a few of the ways bad weather impacts employers?

Unplanned Absences

Simply put, less work is getting done, especially if those absent are unable to work from home. There may not be enough staff available to meet business demand. The staff members that come in are probably more stressed as they are trying to pick up the slack. Production levels go down. Customer service and revenue can suffer. Labor budgets can quickly bust as contract workers are called in and full-timers go into overtime. SHRM and the Workforce Institute have found ways to help mitigate this impact.

Employee Housing Costs

For many businesses that operate around the clock, such as hospitals and hotels, working from home isn’t an option on a snowy day. The businesses typically put up employees in hotel rooms before and during a big storm to ensure they have enough staff on site to operate. Some local hospitals house employees at the hospital itself and cover meals. These expenses add up and influence the bottom-line.

Transportation

This is the first time I can remember Massachusetts’s mass transit system, the MBTA, being shut down for over an entire day. Employees without a car can’t even get to work if they want to, especially if they can’t afford a cab ride.

Image via MBTA

Over 1900 flights were canceled during the last storm. Think of all the canceled sales meetings and customer visits canceled due to Boston area employees unable to get to their destination. When the next big storm happens, because I know it will, I’ll focus more on the employee experience during this ridiculous weather pattern.

 

 

 

If you’re lucky enough to live in a warm climate, please enjoy. I promise – we’re not resentful – much. After all, we Bostonians have the autumn leaves, Fenway Park, and of course the Patriots. Those make up for it all.

Image via Patriot’s Facebook Page

 

 

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3 Ways to Optimize Employee Work Schedules

The term ‘optimized’ tends to get thrown around a lot, especially when talking about employee scheduling. But what does it really mean?

The basic dictionary definition – “to make as perfect, effective, or functional as possible” – is good, but a bit vague when it comes to workforce management. Perfection is an unrealistic goal since even the best planned schedules typically require some fine-tuning.

EmployeeScheduleRulesAndPreferencesHow do you make complex schedules, even close to perfect, when there are so many variables to consider? From taking skills and certifications into account, to avoiding excess overtime and meeting fluctuating demand, planning best-fit schedules is no easy task.

Here are 3 important ways to optimize employee schedules:

Align labor to meet fluctuating business demand.

Overstaffed? Employees are standing around on your dime. Understaffed? You’re losing sales, customers, and production volume.

By aligning labor to business demand, employees are much less likely to feel overworked. Assign more employees in busy times; less people in slower times. Sounds easy, right? But it’s not when you take company policies, legislation, overtime, skills, etc., into account. Some leading organizations balance workload even further by categorizing the level of difficulty of the task at hand – then balancing difficult tasks amongst the team.

Balance skills and experience to form highly effective teams.

Scheduling teams with a mix of skills and proficiency levels decreases stress, increases productivity, and minimizes labor cost waste. Who wants to be the only experienced person, working with a team of people who joined the company yesterday, at the busiest time of day? Not many. Conversely, it doesn’t normally make sense for all of your most experienced employees to work together, often at higher pay rates. Balancing experience levels can also balance labor expenses.

It’s not just about tracking skills to see who’s qualified to work a particular job. It’s about having a mix of employees with varying skills and experience that can collaborate by working together to achieve common goals.

Business VisibilityRequire the visibility to re-balance schedules when the unexpected arises.

Even the best planned schedules often require adjustments. Perhaps the flu has hit one department. Perhaps a customer order was canceled in another. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the visibility across the organization to move available and qualified employees between departments or job roles to manage over- and under-staffing? Providing staffing managers the tools to make this an easier process helps minimize the need to change employees’ hours and maintain business as usual.

Do you see a pattern here? Scheduling is a balancing act. Take the guesswork out of scheduling by automating the process of aligning labor to demand and gaining better visibility to employee attributes. More often than not, there is room to further optimize a schedule for better bottom-line results and better employee satisfaction.

What do you consider to be an optimized schedule?

Is recruiting employees from a struggling competitor a proven talent acquisition strategy?

If one of your largest competitors is struggling, is that a prime time to poach their top talent? Would recruiting employees from that competitor be considered good gesture in an effort to avoid employee hardship, or a calculated talent acquisition strategy?

By now the entire country is aware of the situation with Market Basket Supermarkets – the executive disagreement, employee protests, and pending collapse of the overall business. The HR industry has been especially interested in this saga, as seen here on The Workforce Institute’s blog and on the local news channels daily here in the northeast. My colleague Joyce Maroney was interviewed just last week as you can see here.

Personally, I am a Hannaford Supermarket customer (primarily based on proximity to my home) and am in my local store multiple times per week (the result of having 4 teenagers). On a recent visit to the store, I saw one of the most interesting talent acquisition strategies I’ve ever witnessed.

At the entrance my Hannaford store was a big, pink sign with a handwritten message:

MB SignMarket Basket Employees

Let us help you through this difficult time.

Hannaford is hiring temporary help for the remainder of the boycott.

Inquire within for details.”

I wasn’t sure if this was a kind gesture, a marketing ploy, or a strategic hiring initiative?

Needless to say, if the Market Basket employees were so loyal to their former CEO that they chose to boycott their employer and risk losing their job, the idea that they would actually leave and go to a competitor seemed far-fetched.

Yet with recruiting, and talent acquisition being such a challenge for so many organizations, particularly in retail, landing one skilled, experienced employee from this effort could prove highly beneficial. The idea is by no means unique. There are dozens of blogs and news articles on how to recruit talent from your competition.

I am curious to know if recruiters look for competitors that suddenly face an issue that could impact their workforce and target them specifically. Let me know what you think.

Staffing for early Independence – Avoiding Arthur causes labor management crisis

Unpredictable weather has always been a factor in the northeast US. More often than not, the winter months are when New England especially is susceptible to weather-related interruptions of plans, traffic, school and work cancellations, etc. So when an early July hurricane unexpectedly comes barreling up the east coast, it’s a big deal. When it is scheduled to arrive on July 4th in Boston, you get a July 3 & 4, 2009 Boston July Forth Fireworks Spectacular Images by Jay Connordifferent type of fireworks…

Yesterday the city of Boston decided not to postpone its annual Independence Day celebration, which includes the outdoor concert by the Boston Pops Orchestra and massive fireworks display. Instead, the city decided yesterday, July 2nd to move the festivities up to today, July 3rd. What a nightmare for scheduling all of the labor needed to support the change.

  • Public works, city workers and vendors setting up for the tens of thousands of visitors for the fireworks lose an entire day of work, likely requiring overtime and additional staff
  • The police and transportation workers that are needed not only to support and provide security for the event but the logistics of managing the traffic. Most businesses are open in the city today (whereas many are closed on the 4th). Many roads are planned to be closed at noon today, likely causing nightmare traffic scenarios
  • The retail, dining and hospitality businesses who must also make drastic last minute schedule changes for the tourists and visitors coming in today, vs. tomorrow.schedule1

Automated scheduling can be a huge time savings here. On the fly schedule adjustments, identifying employee availability & potential restrictions, managing pending overtime costs efficiently with projected hours features are all benefits of a workforce management system with advanced labor scheduling. Even sending an “all hands on deck” text message to employees that can help fill shifts via a mobile phone is now a reality with these systems.

4th-of-july-in-boston-4So while Arthur may bring some rain tomorrow, Boston will celebrate our independence as usual. The Pops will play at the esplanade and the fireworks will light up the sky over the Charles River, thanks to the many workers scheduled to work extra hard to make it happen.

Happy 4th of July!

Kronos Compliance Court Now in Session at SHRM 2014

Guest blog post by Kristen Wylie, Product Marketing Manager at Kronos, Inc.

More than 14,000 HR professionals are gathered in Orlando this week for the annual SHRM Conference and Expo. As wage and hour lawsuits skyrocket, it’s no surprise that this year’s conference agenda includes more than 25 sessions focused exclusively on compliance. Here at the Kronos booth, we’re educating attendees on how workforce management solutions can help reduce compliance risk.

SHRM1Organizations of every size across every industry can be susceptible to wage and hour and other compliance violations. No company wants to be charged with criminal or legal suits. But labor laws are complex and frustratingly fluid, making it increasingly difficult to manage compliance. Consider this:

SHRM2No matter what the compliance issue, when an employee files a claim or an auditor shows up, you need to respond with confidence and speed. In our booth at the SHRM conference, we staged a “compliance court,” helping attendees to evaluate how prepared they would be for an audit or investigation:

  • Are you compliant with I-9 regulations?
  • How would you respond to an audit from the EEOC?
  • Can you ensure time cards are in accurate and complete reflection of actual hours worked?
  • What documentation do you have for your defense against wage and hour claims?
  • How will you address the variety of regulations presented by the affordable care act?
  • How do you gather enough detailed information to determine if an absence qualifies for FMLA?

Kronos Workforce Ready customer Pioneer Metal Finishing showed SHRM attendees how to successfully navigate our compliance court by being prepared with accurate workforce data. Disconnected software applications and manual processes for managing employee data – one system in HR, another in payroll, and another for time and attendance – mean your data may be out of sync and out of date. Pioneer explained that with Workforce Ready, organizations are better able to identify, monitor, and resolve compliance risk before issues have a chance to spark wildfires and result in fines or lawsuits.

Stress-Free Workforce Management Implementation – Is It Possible?

Guest blog post by Kristen Wylie, Product Marketing Manager at Kronos

When you implement a new workforce management solution, the goal is to get up and running as quickly and efficiently as possible with minimal disruption to your organization. And the least stress possible for you. But the implementation will falter – regardless of the technical strengths of the software you’ve selected and the skills of an experienced implementation team – if you’re unable to achieve effective user adoption. Bringing more stress your way.

Craig Menzie, an analyst at Forrester, recently commented: “In many critical transactions … not providing the right helpful and accurate information at the right time will create doubt … that can lead to stress.” Although Menzie’s comments were focused on a stress-free customer experience, the same philosophy applies to a stress-free workforce management implementation.

The key to increase user adoption from the outset is to focus on employee awareness and engagement initiatives in conjunction with effective product and process training (collectively referred to as change management) early and often throughout your workforce management implementation. Read on to gather some of our top tips for a stress-free workforce management implementation.

Education Jumpstarts Success

According to research from analysts at Aberdeen Group, 76% of organizations with a formal training program in place are satisfied with their technology, compared to 50% of organizations with no formal training in place – a clear indication that employees are using the system and operating more efficiently. In other words, when employees are trained to use workforce management technology, organizations are more satisfied with their technology investments.

Stress-Free Tip #1: Training resources and schedule. Identify training resources upfront and define a training schedule early in the planning process to ensure effective product training. Organizations should incorporate project team training early in the implementation — as well as early and ongoing end-user training — as part of their overall product rollout plan.

Stress-Free Tip #2: Project team training. Get your project off to a strong start by empowering your project team and end users with training and information they need to unlock the value of your workforce management system — from day one. Project team training builds the expertise in-house to address any future concerns. Individual, role-based learning prepares your project team for implementation so you get up and running quickly.

Stress-Free Tip #3: End-user training. Comprehensive end-user training increases user adoption and drives early success. Aberdeen stresses that the true value of a training program is not only in the basic training during deployment, but also in an ongoing program that will help employees with varying skill sets feel comfortable learning over an extended period. Some workforce management solutions, such as Workforce Ready from Kronos, make this step easier by delivering role-based product training accessed directly from the product at any time.

Managing Change

Research from Gartner found that organizational change management accounts for 17 percent of the success of an IT project. The research indicated that among clients whose system implementations had failed or were at risk of failing, mishandling of the project’s organizational change effort was a key contributor to the failure. Instead, Gartner recommends embedding organizational change management into the program structure as early as possible and treating it as being of equal importance as the technical aspects of the implementation.

Unfortunately, as Bob Clements, a board member of the Workforce Institute at Kronos, commented in a recent blog, change management is often the first thing to get cut or scaled back during a workforce management implementation. This only creates more stress – not only for you, but also for all of the employees about to use the new software. Don’t fall into this trap.

Stress-Free Tip #4: Change Management. Best practice guidance provided by Aberdeen suggests that change management plans for workforce management should not only include comprehensive training, but also a formal and systematic communication and employee engagement strategy. This strategy should incorporate the who, the what, and the why associated with the new workforce management solution:

  • WHO needs to support the change;
  • WHAT type of communication needs to occur to explain the change; and
  • WHY is the organization automating workforce management.

Stress-Free Tip #5: Employee Communication and Engagement. With a new technology implementation, employees often don’t understand why a new solution is being introduced. They may not appreciate why the change is necessary and will likely experience resistance due to uncertainty and a perceived reduction of control and daily predictability. Don’t underestimate the resources and length of time required to help employees break away from existing technology or processes. (As a Kronos change management expert has noted, any initiative that could potentially alter employee pay or paychecks has the potential to generate even more anxiety within the workforce than would otherwise be expected!) Try presenting system benefits from a “what’s in it for me” perspective, while painting a clear picture of the new workforce management processes and capabilities.

Without proper training, employees won’t be able to get the most from the new technology, further increasing their resistance. Addressing these issues upfront with a plan that includes employee communication and training will help to ensure that employees will soon be using the new workforce management system effectively, efficiently and productively. Stress free? Not guaranteed, but an effective change management strategy will take you a long way in the right direction.

How the labor waste stole profits

‘Tis the season of giving. And nothing pleases a company more than receiving gifts of gold in the form of wasted payroll being identified that can go directly to the bottom line. Or, when operations managers can show higher profit margins through accurate job costing. With bonuses and earnings results on the line, opportunities to reduce labor waste and improve cost allocations become the gift that keeps on giving all fiscal year! For many companies, these hot gifts of 2012 are the result of detailed labor activity tracking being added to their workforce management strategy.

Presents for payroll & operations – labor cost details

What is an activity? While most organizations use scheduling systems to put staff onto shifts and time & attendance systems to convert worked hours to payroll, many lack visibility into what each employee actually does on the job. In other words, what is the data between the punch-in and the punch-out?

tws9-600-reindeerAn activity is a work order, grants, task, project, job number or part number that is assigned to labor and has a measurable output. The results of a completed activity can include measurements of quantity, scrap, waste, or quality. Even greater detail can be tied to a labor activity, such as equipment used, location or campaign. Measuring “productive time” provides the foundation for labor expense tied to a job. Tracking activities within the workday tells how much direct time (and expense) is spent on work orders, by labor and equipment. You can tell how productive your workforce is, and if that productive output costs more than you expected – and if it’s impacting profit margin. However, what is often lost is the wasted pay for non-productive paid time.

There are some types of activities that cannot be tied to measurable output. And, whether it’s planned or unplanned, these indirect charges and labor variance (often lumped into “overhead”) can have a dramatic and costly impact on profits. Activity such as meetings, set-up time, training, downtime, clean-up, maintenance, and administration/paperwork can skew labor standards and forecasts, potentially impacting job bids, quotes or service quality. Organizations must ask – how is this time and labor cost allocated? Is it tracked at all?

Reconciliation, WIP Visibility, Validation,

The addition of automated labor activity tracking to your workforce management strategy enables organizations to reconcile every minute of every shift, and allocate all labor costs appropriately and accurately – direct and indirect, planned and unplanned, regular and OT. Real-time visibility into current activities and WIP, including labor, equipment and output, allows organizations to make data driven adjustments based on status and progress towards delivery times, output or utilization rates. And provide accurate, confident commitments to external stakeholders and customers. Activity tracking can also provide labor with real time validation on expected output, task duration or sequence of events, ensuring quality and timeliness.

Electronic data capture tracks labor activity

Workforce efficiency and labor cost control start with data collection:  You need information about the work, who’s doing the work, and the outcome of that effort.  Of course, collection of this information can’t be cumbersome- inefficient data-capture defeats the purpose of improving productivity.  Leading labor management providers offer a variety of data collection options as part of a workforce management solution. Timekeeping terminals that can capture activity information with a simple badge swipe, barcode read, RFID, or even a fingerprint ID. More advanced organizations are leveraging mobile technology – on-board computers, handheld scanners, smartphones and tablets, to provide even greater data capture flexibility.

Increase profits, reduce labor waste, and reconcile expenses

Successful organizations not only plan in advance, they execute in the moment with agility to react to real-time situations. Using accurate labor forecasts and budgeting based on detailed labor activity to plan ahead, but then leverage their workforce as needed based on changing conditions (increase in patients, higher store traffic, a slow manufacturing line, employee absence, power outages, etc.) Today’s workforce management systems provide new levels of visibility into the activity status, resources and staff on hand to identify areas that need to be addressed – allowing managers to optimize their workforce and drive higher profitability.