Tag Archives: employee productivity


Taking A Gamble On March Madness

Office pools and social gambling can be harmless fun — if the rules are followed

Every human resources department in Arizona would flip a chip if employees set up a poker table in the middle of the boardroom and started playing Texas Hold ‘Em in the middle of the work day. But somehow, gambling in March Madness office pools gets a free pass.

“For many of us, March Madness is a rite of passage in the spring,” says Pavneet Uppal, managing partner of Fisher & Phillips in Phoenix. “It’s a chance to build camaraderie with co-workers through office pools, a chance to reconnect with college friends during games and a chance to indulge in a few chicken wings with the family.”

March Madness — the nickname given to the NCAA basketball tournament — is the nation’s largest gambling event. Conservative estimates project that more than $2.5 billion will be wagered on the tournament, which doubles the amount bet each year on the Super Bowl. More importantly for employers, March Madness costs anywhere from $1.4 billion to $3.8 billion in lost employee productivity each year.

Lost productivity aside, is it legal to bet in March Madness office pools?

“Under Arizona statute, March Madness pools are not illegal if they meet the four criteria of legal social gambling,” says Melissa Costello, an attorney in Bryan Cave’s labor and employment group.

The four criteria of legal social gambling are:
1. All of the participants compete on equal terms.
2. Each participant is at least 21 years old.
3. The participants can only receive winnings, and no other benefit.
4. No non-participant will gain any benefit from the pool.

“If an office pool does not meet all of the criteria for legal ‘social gambling,’ a company that allows an office pool could be charged with a class 5 felony if it conducts, organizes, manages, directs, supervises, finances, or furnishes advice or assistance in promoting the office pool,” Costello says. “A felony conviction could subject the company to a significant fine.”

If the office pool does not meet the ‘social gambling’ criteria, the organizer of the pool could also be charged with a class 5 felony for promoting illegal gambling and, if found guilty, could be sentenced to jail time and ordered to pay a significant fine, Costello warns.

“There can be numerous (other) legal issues, particularly if the gambling crosses state lines,” says Craig O’Loughlin, a partner with Quarles & Brady. “There can be IRS issues with winnings, (and) whistleblower issues.”

Beyond the legal ramifications of office pools, a Spherion study found that 52 percent of human resources executives say their top priority this year is cost containment. March Madness — accompanied by excessive score-checking and an exorbitant amount of water cooler game analysis — erodes workplace productivity and can jeopardize cost-saving measures.

“Employers have every right to expect employees to devote 100 percent of their energies to the job between stated work hours, and as long as they act consistently, can fire employees who play fantasy sports instead of working,” Uppal advises. “Human resources teams should consider reviewing and communicating the company’s office policies on the topic to ensure good people aren’t destroying their careers in the name of March Madness.”

Uppal says many managers are beginning to recognize and accept that employees will spend a portion of their work day handling personal business or surfing the Internet. And some even run March Madness pools as a team-building activity.

“If the employer sponsors (March Madness pools), make the entry free, and have prizes for the winners,” O’Loughlin says. “Also, know the tax ramifications of the prizes.”

Even if employers feel disinclined to allow March Madness office pools because they are a drain on employee productivity and efficiency, the reality is that employees will likely still participate in pools outside of the office, Costello says.

“Office pools should not be official company events, but rather than spend energy prohibiting office pools that meet the ‘social gambling’ criteria, employers should consider using March Madness as a tool for developing employee relationships and increasing morale, such as by inviting employees to wear a shirt from their alma mater on game days, hosting viewing parties during lunch hours, or providing basketball-themed snack breaks in the afternoon.”

Arizona Business Magazine March/April 2012

Building And Maintaining A Green Office - AZ Business Magazine June 2010

The True Benefits Of Building And Maintaining A Green Office

When it comes to the design and operation of your office space, going green can actually green your bottom line. Consider the current findings: According to a 2008 study by the General Services Administration, commercial green buildings on average consume 26 percent less energy, can reduce overall operating cost by more than 10 percent and have a 27 percent higher occupant-satisfaction rate.

However, even with the recent evidence supporting the value of green design, it is estimated that only one out of nine new construction projects are designed with green building attributes. Perhaps the misconception that green design costs substantially more, along with limited knowledge and resistance to change, are to blame for the missed opportunity to save money, increase workspace efficiency and occupant well-being, and conserve our limited natural resources.

Healthy performance
One of the greatest benefits of green design, although sometimes difficult to measure, relates to the overall health, happiness and satisfaction that building occupants report in green office spaces. As indicated in the Journal of Sustainable Real Estate 2009, occupants working in a green office space are found to be 30 percent more productive than in a conventional working environment. These benefits come in the form of lower absenteeism, fewer headaches at work, greater retail sales and easier reconfiguration of space, resulting in less downtime and lower costs. In addition, the contribution of a green office space has been estimated by sources such as the Annual Review of Energy and the Environment to save companies $17 billion to $48 billion in total health gains, and $20 billion to $160 billion in worker performance.

Connecting ROI to the bottom line
Now is the time to make the business case to go green. If the performance issues related to employee productivity aren’t enough to convince you, consider that building sale prices for energy-efficient structures, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), are as much as 10 percent higher per square foot than typical, high-energy consumption buildings. In addition, average occupancy rates of green projects are 3.5 percent higher.

Regarding the investment to build green, a study titled, “The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings: A Report to California’s Sustainable Building Task Force,” determined that an upfront investment of just 2 percent in green building design, on average, results in life cycle savings of 20 percent of the total construction costs — more than 10 times the initial investment. As more building owners and occupants strive for this transparent green business case, the backing of these recent financial findings and case studies has made it more viable to gain confidence that your minimal upfront investment will be more than worthwhile. Obviously, no one-size-fits-all solution exists in the design and construction of green buildings, but a knowledgeable, integrated sustainable design team can make well-informed, project-specific ROI estimates. Building and designing green is certainly a smart option for those who plan to own a building for several years, as value-impact results derive from not only rent, but also lower operating expenses and lower capital rates.

The benefit of third-party certification
Understanding these benefits of green design to your business is a foundation for change. If you are planning an upcoming major renovation to your space or relocation, start by pursuing a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for your project. LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system providing third-party verification that a project is designed and built utilizing strategies for improving performance across these metrics: energy efficiency, water conservation, carbon emissions reduction, improved indoor air quality and limited use of our precious natural resources.

Developed by the USGBC, LEED provides building owners and operators a comprehensive approach to identifying and implementing green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. Clearly the cost of going green varies by market and location, but as a generalization, initial costs associated with a basic LEED certification for your project hover just 0.6 percent above the total construction cost. Contracting the services of an educated and experienced team (designer, engineer and contractor) will best guide you successfully on this path.

A greener way to work
If you currently occupy an office space and have no intention of planning a major renovation or moving to a new building, opt for a variety of options to retrofit your space into a healthy, holistic, low-impact environment:

Include your staff, improve morale and ask for volunteers to create a Green Team to generate creative ideas, such as reducing consumption and waste in the office.

Stay home:
Flexible work schedules, including telecommuting, can save you time, reduce company overhead expenses and increase staff satisfaction. This can be easily achieved due to current technological advances such as instant messaging, video conferencing and other innovative workflow tools.

Shed light:
Change out standard incandescent bulbs to more energy-efficient CFLs (compact fluorescents), and install electronic motion light sensors in an effort to conserve energy.

Cut paper:
Consider purchasing or leasing more energy-efficient printers and copiers. Opt for models with double-sided printing capabilities. Select eco-friendly office products, such as those made from recycled paper.

The greenest paper is no paper at all. Explore options for a paperless environment by promoting electronic filing procedures and defaulting computers to low-energy settings.
Consider adjusting your current office layout for optimizing views to nature and gaining access to natural light. Not only could this improve staff morale, productivity and overall satisfaction, it also may reduce your energy bill with more emphasis on utilizing daylight.

Clean green:
Considering the importance of healthy indoor air quality means choosing green cleaning products and supplies. Conventional cleaners often contain chlorine, phenol, ammonia or formaldehyde, which are toxic. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, inside air is typically two to five times more polluted than the air outside, and in extreme cases 100 times more contaminated, largely due to common products and cleaners. Inquire with your building management or cleaning company about options for less toxic, more environmentally friendly options.

No excuses:
The results of a green office can be astounding. Greening your office demonstrates environmental responsibility with the added benefit of a positive financial impact, and most of all, it can be a place where your building occupants and employees work happy and healthy.

Arizona Business Magazine June 2010

A Solid Health Management Program Can Be A Good Investment For Any Company

Many population health management programs face closer scrutiny when a company is faced with difficult budget decisions during a tough economy. But health and health care costs are a strategic priority for every business whether they acknowledge it or not — and most readily do.

In times of economic downturn, companies might want to consider increasing their spending on health and wellness initiatives. Why? Because in an economic downturn, maximizing productivity and reducing costs are more important than ever.

The true cost of poor health includes indirect costs, as well as the more obvious direct cost of medical claims. The more bad health habits or risks employees have, the lower their productivity; and health risks directly equate to higher health care costs, both direct and indirect. A number of medical conditions, if left unmanaged or poorly managed, become catastrophic, ending in hospitalization and reduced functioning, thereby reducing productivity. Lastly, health and wellness programming is a relatively low cost and important item. It decreases disease, but also influences whether employees like their jobs and feel cared about by an employer, which in turn affects productivity and absenteeism.

There are some key preventive measures a company can take that help keep people from slipping into a high risk, high-cost category. First, know what the most common or costly conditions are in your population and offer programs targeted to help your people manage these conditions. Encourage the local medical community to be an active partner with innovative management tools and strategies. Also increase the employees’ stake in the equation, but not regressively. Again, making disease management easy and affordable will likely save money. Lastly, look for quality in the medical care your employees get. Help your employees find quality care for catastrophic, high-cost conditions, and make helpful, quality information easy to access. There are now a number of good Web-based sources of quality medical information, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Library of Medicine, and mayoclinic.com.

When prioritizing program elements during tough economic times, companies can minimize downstream health costs and productivity impacts if they focus on initiatives that prevent the onset of high-cost, productivity-lowering diseases such as diabetes. In most health promotion and disease prevention programs, we know there is a three-to-one return on your investment, and you get the pay back in one to two years.

For mild conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes, company policies should make it easy to treat these conditions, and encourage medication and behavioral approaches. Make common medicines cheap to the end user, and encourage regular use of prescribed medications. Back it up with multimodal messages throughout the year. Make talking to a human easy when people have questions about their condition or medications with telephonic coaches, disease management professionals, group classes, or an onsite nurse.

Online personal health managers are a new consumer tool that will likely play a key role in helping people take their medications and manage their conditions. Using an online personal health manager also forms a bridge to doctors, and can give personalized day-to-day support and guidance to people via the Internet.

Keep healthy people healthy to prevent downward risk migration that can make health costs jump, and engage as many of your employees as possible in something positive. The first step is to get their attention. A health assessment tool provides a teachable moment and a jumping off point for engaging people in the wellness options you may offer.

Tracking data can often represent a significant time and dollar investment that may be difficult to keep up with during lean budget times. But the old adage of you can’t manage what you don’t measure is true in population health management. Maintaining a database of health status and trends is critical for making informed decisions on what interventions will have the most impact for your particular population. It also helps you justify the expenditure by showing whether you’re making a difference over time.

Use a health assessment as your baseline data set. It allows immediate feedback to the individual and gives group data for needs assessment and program development. It allows tracking of change over time, an early warning system and modeling of pay back from various program options. And it’s low cost, especially the online versions.

When faced with difficult budget decisions, if you are contemplating cuts to your health and wellness programming, stop and think about the downstream implications. Preserving these programs not only will help you keep your bottom line healthy, but also may improve your employees’ health, productivity and morale.

Arizona Business Magazine

February 2010

Keep Workers Working

Ways To Keep Workers Working In A Troubled Economy

Our current job market is struggling through one of the worst periods of unemployment in memory. The unemployment rate continues to creep toward the unspeakable double digits, a number not reached in Arizona for more than 25 years. Whatever name is attached — downsizing, rightsizing, re-sizing, layoff, offboarding, reduction-in-force, restructuring — the result is the same: lost jobs in the name of economic turmoil that has no conscience.

Whether you are amazed at the statistics or whether you are one, there is no doubt you have watched the economy take a frightening toll on your workplace. Those who are fortunate enough to still earn a paycheck have had to watch their co-workers walked out in myriad reduction-in-force actions that have dominated news media from California to Florida. Few companies have been spared in their attempts to balance their books by slashing one of the most expensive items on their check register — payroll costs. It’s an ugly story that plays out in all corners, and there is little confidence that the worst of the cutbacks is behind us.

Local public job assistance resources have been overwhelmed. According to Patrick Burkhart, assistant director at Maricopa Workforce Connections, the no-charge centers have approached capacity in their attempts to provide local job seekers with a head start on hunting for new positions. The MWC has experienced a 100 percent increase in year-over-year traffic in its centers, which currently assist up to 500 job seekers per day in each of the two “one stop” centers. While laid-off workers range from the highly skilled to laborers, preparing them for their next opportunity is often an exercise in futility. With so few available positions, and no job growth predicted for 2009, it becomes a cruel parody of “all dressed up and no place to go.”

Corporate executives cannot be blamed for adding to this unemployment quagmire. Their directive is to ensure financial survival through any legitimate means available. For most, that means a consideration of reducing work force costs, which may include not only wages, but also significant associated costs of health and welfare benefits, matching 401(k) contributions, profit sharing, tuition reimbursement, training or other company-provided benefits or perks. There is also an indirect impact on the company; a deterioration of employee loyalty, decreased customer confidence, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of apprehension among employees in fearing a loss of their own jobs. The result may have an effect on employee productivity and in retaining and attracting the best and brightest talent for the future.

It is no wonder then that reducing headcount is considered a last resort among decision makers. But what should companies do to prevent having to announce the dreaded “L” word, as 60 percent of surveyed U.S. companies plan to do in 2009, and thereby disrupt internal work operations for perhaps the long term? Executives first need to create a realistic vision of the direction of their business, attempt to recognize the timing of the “bottom” for their industry, and then set a plan in place to preserve a profit margin that will sustain the business. This analysis has become the key leadership initiative that guides decision making, and may ultimately affect the survival of the company.

It is said that desperate times call for desperate measures. If so, companies are often cornered into making tough sacrifices in the name of survival. Human resources can play an integral role in the strategic analysis of the business plan, and while cost reductions must be considered to save jobs, there may also be time for process improvement opportunities.

Among budget initiatives to be considered:
Freeze unnecessary discretionary spending — Travel for other than customer visits, employee “business” lunches, social events, overtime, temporary help, consultants, new software, advertising, and conferences or training that are not critical can be curtailed.

Wage considerations — In addition to a bonus and wage freeze, consider a salary reduction, perhaps only for those earning above a targeted salary. Depending on work requirements, consider a reduced workweek in exchange for the wage reduction, or have a temporary company shutdown. Suspend any policy that allows employees to cash-in vacation or paid time off (PTO) accruals, and instead mandate they use the time.

Company contributions to employee programs — For companies that need to make a more serious dent in expenditures, cutbacks may be made in the health care plan design, tuition reimbursement, 401(k) match, or company paid life insurance or disability plans.

Don’t expect employees to express appreciation for these types of actions, but every wage earner in today’s work force understands the reality of a balance sheet and its affect on his or her job. While employees usually bear the brunt of company cutbacks, there are actions HR can propose that might soften the impact.

Cross training and skill enhancement — A business slowdown is an excellent time to prepare employees to assume additional job skills for the future through on-the-job cross training.

Solicit employee input — Using employees to provide savings suggestions will enhance their buy-in and may even improve morale. Above all else, they want to keep their jobs and when viewed as a partnership with the company, will help foster mutual respect.

Job transfer — Either as an assignment of temporary resources or a long-term solution to unbalanced workloads, employees may be interested in moving to a new function with a different career path.

Communicate — Employees may be more understanding of the company’s plight if they are able to share the news along the way with no surprises.

Today, we still find ourselves in the middle of a sluggish economy that has turned into a marathon, but the finish line must be somewhere down the road. Leaders who can see that far will make the right strategic decisions in the best interest of their organization and its employees. Those who consistently communicate that vision, and take action to save jobs wherever possible, will find a loyal work force ready and willing to enjoy better times ahead.

Mobility is part of a larger trend in technology called "unified communications."

Make Sure Your Mobile Work Force’s Technology Is Secure

Business mobility seems to be the wave of the future and that future is now. Besides just being “cool,” business-managed mobility systems may be the answer to quite a few of your business challenges.

Mobility is part of a larger trend in technology called “unified communications,” which is bringing voice, video and data communications together in new ways to improve productivity, efficiency, and customer interaction, driving satisfaction. The new trend of mobility allows employees to connect to the office from just about anywhere in the world. More than just e-mail, employees can now securely access company files, open documents, complete forms and submit new items for record.

But to allow all of those things to happen, business grade mobility systems today must be secure and reliable. Advances in security encryption technologies and device durability are allowing mobility enabled devices to sky-rocket employee productivity and customer satisfaction, positively impacting the bottom line.

The key to implementing mobility is understanding who will be using it and how they will be using it. Executive and managerial-level staff have been using e-mail enabled PDAs for a while now, but the new age of mobility is much more than e-mail on a cell phone. The new age of mobility brings in a whole new group of users whose daily job relies more on process than communication. These users are diverse with very specific application requirements driven by their job duties; they may be able to use hand-held devices or may require full-size computing devices. It is important to note that mobility is not exclusive to users working outside of the office, but includes any non-desk bound user that requires continuous connectivity while working free of wired connections.

Software applications such as Microsoft Dynamics, which includes Microsoft CRM and Sharepoint, offer companies the flexibility to develop systems that match the individual employee’s requirements, even as they vary between types of mobile workers. Mobile sales staff can enter opportunity information on site through Web-enabled customer relationship management (CRM) applications, while mobile technicians can complete service tickets online with custom forms accessible through company intranet portals. In either case, duplication of data entry is eliminated, reducing the chance of error, increasing the speed of information transmission and providing a faster solution to the customer. Of course, CRM and service tickets are only two examples of productivity enhancers available with mobility applications.

Security should be a primary consideration by a business before deploying a mobility solution. When transmitted data is no longer limited to the cables connecting one device to another, additional measures should be employed. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) allow any device connected to the Internet to create a secure connection with the business network. VPN technology requires multiple, continuous authentications between the device and the base network. However, the authentication process is mostly behind the scenes and unknown to the user.

There are two primary kinds of VPN connections — IP Sec and SSL. IP Security (IP Sec) VPN connections require pre-installed client software on the accessing device. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) VPN connections use the accessing device’s native SSL encryption and do not require pre-installed software. This allows any Web-enabled device in the world access to controlled parts of your company’s network after providing qualified credentials. Of course, the quality of the remote connection will be reliant upon both the wireless connection and the company’s base network. Both offer specific access controls and should be discussed with an IT professional before making a selection.

Despite the effort required to determine a proper mobility solution for your organization, the rewards are numerous. With continuous connectivity, employees have access to your company databases of information so they can find answers to difficult questions without leaving the customer. Online forms reduce the amount of time required to complete a single task because information is only entered once. Also, being connected to your company’s network in real time can keep the field worker instantly apprised of up-sell opportunities and promotions. Employees have greater flexibility to get the job done, whether in the office or not, possibly answering the question of what to do with rising gas prices. And customers receive the service they expect in the time they want, leading to continued business and revenues, even in a tightening economy.

Business mobility options are diverse and vast, but can take your business to new heights in customer satisfaction, employee productivity and overall efficiency. Before deploying a mobility solution, talk with a mobility solutions expert who can provide guidance on the best solution for your business needs today and into the future.

Sommer Decker is a marketing specialist for Network Infrastructure Corporation, www.nicweb.com