The SESCO Report – August 2014


Special Report: Why Your Employee Survey Doesn't Work

Employee surveys have become quite popular, particularly within the healthcare and service industries. Many organizations are surveying their employees several times a year in an effort to create positive, proactive communications that will help identify potential service and morale issues. Management then can address issues in an effort to improve the quality of service and develop a culture that retains employees. However, most surveys on the market are simply a waste of time and money — a mere exercise of, "Our organization conducts employee surveys, therefore we are a proactive employer." The falicy is that just conducting a survey doesn't mean that it is effective, efficient or provides management with the necessary information to truly assess the organization.

In analyzing whether or not an employee survey program is effective and produces the communications and information that management truly needs we must first consider why employers should conduct a survey. If you are currently conducting surveys or have "shied away" of conducting surveys for fear of the process and feedback, consider SESCO's staff recommendations.

A well-designed and effective survey will provide the following answers to important management questions:

A. What are our strengths — what are we doing right? So many surveys focus on the negative. Organizations must understand and/or emphasize what the organization is doing right.

B. How can we improve our recruiting and employee retention practices? So many employers are concerned about finding and keeping the right and best employees and a good survey will help you answer these questions.

C. What suggestions do employees and management have to improve efficiency and quality of service or production? An effective survey needs to focus on the total organization and not just what employees dislike.

D. As an organization, how can we improve our employee relations thereby creating an organization and community perception of "a good place to work?" Thereby allowing us to attract and retain a high-quality workforce which equals efficiency and bottom line profitability.

Why most surveys are ineffective — a waste of money and time:

A. The survey uses a 5-point scale commonly ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. These surveys simply water down the results producing skewed results. The information provided is distributed across the 5-point scale and does not provide management with clear, understandable results. Many organizations and managers like the 5-point scale simply because it does, in fact, skew the results and doesn't provide an accurate report card. SESCO recommends a favorable/unfavorable response system just like any public opinion pole or survey. The favorable/unfavorable survey process is the most effective in driving meaningful and understandable results.

B. The survey doesn't ask the tough questions specifically as relates to levels of management, including frontline supervisors. Most employee relations issues stem from an ineffective frontline supervisor and employee relationship.

C. Employees feel that the survey is a waste of time — it's not important. This is due to ineffective survey questions, lack of feedback and action planning on behalf of management and the fact that management believes just conducting a survey is enough and, frankly, over surveys their employees. An effective survey process includes:

• Employee feedback sessions conducted by the survey consultant.
• Detailed follow-up action planning.
• Communications of what the organization cannot do as well as what the organization plans to do with the results.

Frankly, if a survey is conducted correctly, the cycle of survey implementation should be no more than 18 months but on a normal cycle of two (2) years.

D. Employees feel that their answers will be traced back to them. Most surveys ask non-threatening questions and it is easy for employees to complete the question, especially on a 5-point scale where they can pick a non-threatening answer, re: "in the middle." If the survey is properly designed, tough questions will be asked and it is critical that the survey be conducted in such a way that employees feel 100% comfortable, or again, it is a waste of time. The most effective survey process would include:

• Onsite administration by an outside third party consultant.

• Mail-in survey process if it is carefully planned and administered utilizing outside third parties and preferrably introducing the outside third party onsite.

• Avoid surveys conducted on the internet or online. Yes, these are cheap and easy to conduct; however, most employees fear the process due to the lack of ability to ensure confidentiality.

E. President/CEO, top management is not visible during the process or in control of the process. The process is not taken seriously and the responses not being reviewed by a level of management that truly has the ability to drive change.

In working with our clients across the country, what we have found is that employers are conducting surveys because "it is the thing to do." Employers end up having to provide candy, gift cards, time off or other incentives for employees to complete surveys. If your organization is having to do this, then you know that your survey process is not working. Employees will simply complete the survey in a non-threatening manner to simply receive whatever gift is being offered. Thus, a clear waste of time.

Further, ask yourself or your survey consultant that you are currently using:

A. Has your survey been validated by an outside third party. SESCO's employee opinion survey program is the only program on the market today that has been validated (93%) which was conducted by the University of Tennessee — Knoxville, Tennessee.

B. Does your survey currently allow employees to respond and provide their opinion about the survey process itself such as:

"Is filling out this survey a good way to let management know how you think and feel about your job?"

C. Does the survey allow for multiple attitude categories?

D. Is the survey thoroughly reported? SESCO's computerized results provide 8,000 items of information from each question and survey categories alone.

E. Does the survey provide for satisfaction/ morale ratings?

F. Can the satisfaction survey be customized to include questions that are critical to your organization?

G. Is the organization a survey firm or an HR firm, re: SESCO consultants are human resource and employee relations consultants first and the survey is simply a tool to assist management. This is critical as an effective survey will need to be processed and consulted by a professional who can help management understand the results and more importantly, utilize the results most effectively.

H. Does your survey provide for open-ended responses that are typed verbatim?

In summary, employee surveys are a vital communications tool that every employer no matter how large or small should implement. However, it is critical that you review and consider the effectiveness of your survey process. Make sure that you consider the recommendations as noted above or you will end up simply wasting time and money and eventually, management will lose credibility because the survey process is not effective and employees will see that it is a waste of time, that management truly doesn't care and the results will be so watered down that management cannot understand or utilize the information.

SESCO is very proud of its survey process which was developed over 50 years ago and as stated, validated by the University of Tennessee. Our survey is not for "the faint of heart" as it will produce results that are not watered down. In essence, it is a true report card of how your organization and management team are performing.

We welcome the opportunity to send a free overview of our survey process and forms for consideration.


Exempt or Nonexempt – 10 Common Employer Mistakes (Continued from June Newsletter)

6. Allowing clerical tasks to defeat administrative exemption — Here's one more reason to double-check your job descriptions: Some exempt employees may try to claim they're entitled to overtime pay simply because they spend a fair amount of time on filing and typing.

Make sure their job descriptions emphasize that the employee's primary duties involve the exercise of discretion and independent judgment, and don't mention clerical tasks.

These days, few employees have the luxury of a secretary. Many perform their own administrative tasks, which they previously assigned to hourly support staff. But even exempt employees who find large chunks of their day devoted to such mundane tasks don't lose their exempt employee status.

So long as their major responsibilities involve discretion and independent judgment, employees won't be entitled to overtime pay simply because they perform some clerical work.

Case in point: Diane O'Bryant worked her way up from an hourly clerical position to become an administrator for a Reading, PA, city agency. Her job entailed processing fair-housing complaints and doing a weekly TV show on housing issues. But she spent much of her time filling out forms, filing and typing. O'Bryant sued, alleging she was entitled to overtime pay because she devoted a lot of time to clerical tasks.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and tossed out the case. It reasoned that even if she spent more than 40% of her time on clerical work, her main responsibilities were to enforce laws and produce a TV show, which required discretion and independent judgment. Therefore, she was exempt, not hourly.

7. Looking only at the degree, not the job, to classify learned professionals — Just because an employee holds an advanced degree or professional certification doesn't automatically qualify him or her for the "learned professional exemption." What counts are the person's job duties.

The position must be one that requires the job-holder to have specialized college-level train¬ing in a field of science or learning. Look at the job requirements, not the person holding that job.

Case in point: An engineering firm fired property assessor Cyrus Stell, who has a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and is a licensed engineer in Texas and Arizona. He sued, demanding overtime plus double damages. He alleged the company wrongly classified him as exempt under the learned professional exemption.
The company argued that Stell's degree and certification showed he was a "learned professional." But the court said proof that Stell was a degreed engineer wasn't enough. The employer, which had the burden of proof to show its classification was correct, couldn't show that the job Stell held required him to apply that specialized knowledge. The court then ordered a trial.

8. Wrongly assuming all medical staff qualify for the professional exemption — Not all medical employees with advanced training and licenses meet the "learned profession" exemption, which allows employers to pay lawyers and doctors by the hour and still not pay them overtime. That blanket exemption applies only to lawyers who practice law and doctors who practice medicine, not other related professionals.

Many employers in the medical field assume that the exemption includes highly trained and licensed physician's assistants and nurse practitioners, so they pay those employees on an hourly basis. But the first federal appeals court to consider the issue ruled that such classifications aren't legal.

Case in point: Nurse practitioners and physician assistants in five states sued their employer, EmCare, after the company refused to pay them overtime. EmCare said the employees were hourly medical professionals who were exempt from overtime.

The Labor Department sided with the employees, saying nascent professionals such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants still had to be paid on a salary basis to be deemed exempt under FLSA rules.

A court agreed, saying those professions are still in need of protection against "the evil of overwork as well as underpay."

Advice: The simple fix is to pay nurse practitioners, physician assistants and all other quasi¬ professionals in the medical field who otherwise fit the "professional" exemption on a salary basis.

9. Jeopardizing exempt employees' status if you pay them extra — Do you pay exempt employees extra for working extra hours? If you do, make sure you clearly indicate that you still consider the employees exempt. That way, should you stop making the payments, you haven't created unreasonable expectations.

Never refer to the payments as "overtime"! Instead, clarify that they are bonuses paid to exempt employees.

The key is to make sure you have sound reasons to back up the employee's exempt classification. Incorporate those reasons into the job description, and you'll be able to defend your position if the employees balk at the removal of extra payments.

Case in point: When a nuclear power plant decided to save on labor costs by eliminating extra payments to technical writers it had already listed as exempt employees, the writers balked and sued. They alleged they were wrongly classified as exempt.

But the plant trotted out job descriptions and testimony that demonstrated the technical writers operated independently with little supervision.

Although they had a set of guidelines to follow, the writers were free to come up with individual and novel solutions within those guidelines. The court concluded they were exempt under the -FLSA's administrative exemption.

10. Not ensuring store managers' primary duty is management — Employers today are seeing a lot of lawsuits involving store managers, who often work 60 to 70 hours per week for a set salary. Since much of their time is spent working side-by-side with hourly staff, helping serve customers and cleaning up, these employees are claiming they're nonexempt workers due overtime pay.

The key to avoiding such FLSA lawsuits: a careful analysis of managers' actual job duties (not their titles).

For managers to be truly exempt, they must do more than work the floor. Their duties should include tasks that rely on discretion and independent judgment and are clearly related to management, not just serving customers.

But, as a recent ruling shows, exempt managers still can spend a good portion of their time performing tasks that look like hourly work, as long as their "primary" duty is management.

Case in point: Kevin Keevican and Michael Terrazas were exempt Starbucks store managers working between 55 and 70 hours per week.

They sued, alleging they should be nonexempt employees who were due overtime pay.

Both estimated they spent up to 80% of their time making drinks, running the register and cleaning. But they also were responsible for the overall success of the stores, plus they ordered inventory, hired other baristas and scheduled employees.

The court dismissed their cases, concluding that working side-by-side with their subordinates didn't mean they, too, were automatically hourly employees. Their primary function was still management.


Labor Relations Alert — NLRB Applies Micro Unit Decision

The NLRB is applying its controversial Specialty Healthcare Decision which allows for a union to carve out "micro units" for the purposes of unionization. This application allows for a union to carve out a small unit of pro-union or disgruntled employees from a larger unit of employees which typically were included as the potential bargaining unit.

For example, recently a large automotive dealer lost a narrow election due to the NLRB applying this micro unit concept. The union argued that a small group of body shop techs should be "carved out" as a unit from all other technicians. Before this decision, all technicians within a dealership would be considered a bargaining unit. Most of the technicians within this automotive dealership as defined were anti-union. But the union was able to receive a favorable decision by the NLRB which enabled them to carve out this small group of body technicians and thus won the election.

Unions are no longer focusing their efforts on large employers. They are seeking small groups, small employers, micro units and they are finding much success: 75% plus.

Therefore, SESCO's staff recommendation is that employers must be mindful of this potential issue in preparing for and responding to union activity, union campaigns and unrest. An employer may feel that a majority of its employees are pro-company or anti-union; however, due to this NLRB micro union decision, employers must be careful because the unions are increasingly seeking to organize even the smallest subset of employees which they believe will vote for the union.


SESCO Client Feedback

"Bill, thanks so much for the time you spent with us yesterday! Our team loved it! Here is some feedback I received today about your class! Great job! We are thoroughly pleased!!!!" ~ Jenny Bellamy, Senior HR Generalist — Lee Health & Rehab Center

"I just wanted to say thank you for allowing me the opportunity to sit in on the meeting yesterday. I found that to be one of the most informative meetings I have ever been to, I learned a great deal yesterday, things I had NO clue about." ~ Rikki Smith, Unit Manager — Lee Health & Rehab Center

SESCO Product of the Month

Special Pricing on SESCO's Human Resource DVD

One (1) hour DVD containing four (4) separate topics:

• Screening and Hiring
• Workplace Harassment
• Wage and Hour
• Employee Discipline and Termination

Retainer Clients: $29.99 Non-retainer Clients: $49.99

Special Pricing on Federal and State Posters

• Five-in-One (less than 50 employees) (laminated) (Last revised 2/2013)

• Six-in-One (50 or more employees) (laminated) (Last revised 2/2013)

• State Poster Kits (all required state posters) (Most current)

Federal Posters: $19.95 State Posters Kits: $19.95


SESCO Client Inquiry — Staff Response

Question: When do group health plan benefits terminate for an employee on a non-FMLA leave of absence?

Answer: Continuation of group health plan benefits during periods of leave may depend on the type of leave an employee is on. When an employee is on Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, a covered employer is required to maintain group health insurance coverage for an employee and his or her family under the same terms and conditions held prior to the leave. However, when an employee is not on FMLA leave, an employer may need to determine if the leave falls under other federal or state leave laws. Some states have leave laws that provide time off similar to the federal FMLA leave. Employers should review applicable state leave laws to determine benefits continuation during periods of leave not covered by FMLA.