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Paid Time Off

The Importance of Taking Time Off Work

Today, most employers offer some paid vacation time off (Vacation/PTO) as an added benefit, even though, unlike every other industrialized nation, there are no federal, local, or state laws requiring them to do so.  But, are you taking full advantage of your Vacation/PTO?

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 90% of private industry received paid time off.  However, according to a study conducted by Glassdoor, 9% of Americans take no vacation time off during they year, most only take half of the days their employer gives them each year; only 23% take all their available vacation.  An even more interesting statistic in that study of 20,000 workers found that 54% of those who took time off worked during their time off!  So, what does that say about the work-life balance? 

If you are someone who struggles to plan and optimize the use of your time off, or who feel that you cannot fully unplug from work while away, this article provides some ideas and considerations. 

So, here are some things to consider to make the best use of your accrued time off.

  • Know What You Have and How It Works

Of course, PTO or vacation policies vary by employer, industry and even employee classification.  For instance, part-time employees may be on a different plan when compared to full-time employees; executive levels may also be on a different plan than the rest of the employee population, and policies often provide more time off for employees with more seniority.  So the first step is knowing what your employer provides you.  How much vacation do you earn each year?  Do you earn it per pay period or is it front loaded at the start of the year?  Is there a cap?  Can you lose it if you don’t use it by a certain time (such as by the end of the year?)?  If you have an unlimited plan, what is a reasonable amount of time you can take each year?  Can you purchase additional time off or borrow against a future balance (sometimes seen by allowing a negative balance)?  Also, is this time just for fun or is it all intended for other purposes, such as sick leave.  If the latter, make sure you leave some time in reserve so you can take time off to recover should you become ill.  The first step to ensure you are making the most of your available time off is knowing how your plan works.

  • Don’t procrastinate

You may think: the longer you wait to plan your time off, the more time you’ll accrue.  However, the problem with that is the fact that time passes by quickly and like some people, before you know it, you find yourself approaching the holidays with a ton of PTO to burn through.  Though bear in mind that just because you have accrued PTO, you still need your manager’s approval to use it, as they have to manage workloads and ensure the work gets done while you are away.  So developing a plan on how and when to use all your time off is critically important.

  • Get creative but keep it simple

For some, planning things is easier said than done, but you should make it a habit to plan out the use of your vacation each year.  If you are like most Americans, you will be working for about five decades.  Taking regular breaks during that time is necessary for ensuring good mental health and to avoid job burnout and boredom.  Contrary to popular believe using time off work does not always mean planning to take a “vacation.” While vacations can be fun and exciting unless you spend lot of money on a travel agent, planning one involves a lot of work and pressures.  In addition, if you overdo it, at the end of it all, you may find yourself needing a vacation from your vacation.  In light of this, getting creative with planning your time off will ensure you make the best use of it.  For instance, you can request a Friday or Monday to enjoy a long weekend.  Or you can plan a “staycation” where you simply hang out at home and enjoy time with your family, friends, pets, or just by yourself.  Attending local events and festivities are also great ways to enjoy your time off without the stress of travel.  Last but not least, consider taking a “mental health” day off.  On your mental health day, you can book yourself a massage, meditate, go for a walk, read a book, go for a hike or simply binge-watch your favorite shows.

  • You’ve earned it, so Enjoy it!

Once you’ve scheduled your time off, it’s time to enjoy it doing the things that you deem valuable, important and enjoyable.  Whether you find youself on a couch binge-watching your favorite shows, or watching the sunset as you enjoy on cocktail at the beach, give yourself the pleasure of truly enjoying your time off.  This means not checking in with work on your scheduled time off.  Before leaving work, identify a person (such as a co-worker or perhaps your boss) who can cover anything critical that arises while you are out of the office and secure their agreement such matters can be redirected to them to be handled until you are back at work.  Perhaps you can return the favor when they are on vacation.  Then make sure your voicemail and email notifications are on advising anyone trying to reach you that you are out of the office, not checking message, and who to contact in the interim (along with their contact information) if the matter is critical and cannot wait until you return. In conclusion, you’ll find that disconnecting from the on-demand and always-on world we live in will do you good.  It will also benefit your relationships and your effectiveness on the job.  Finding ways to escape everyday struggles;  pausing to reflect on the things that really matter, listening to ourselves and others, loving and being loved and find enjoyment and fulfillment are all important elements of our life experience.  The most important thing to keep in mind about how we go about our experiences in life and the joys thereof, is that it’s entirely up to us and taking time off work can be a good starting point.

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The Art of Good Communication in the Workplace

The Art of Good Communication in the Workplace

Considering the frequent use of email, videoconferencing, face-to-face meetings, text messages, phone calls, and hand-written notes, one could assume that employers as well as employees have mastered the art of communication in the workplace.  However, for most, the frequency by which we use means of communication has no impact on how effectively we communicate.

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently shared that small businesses lose an average of $420K and large businesses lose $62.4 million annually due to poor communication in the workplace*.

So, where does your company stand when it comes to communication?  How effective and articulate are your leaders?  How about your staff?  I want to share some ideas that should help your business identify and address potential communication problems.

Leverage communication as a recruiting tool

Before you make a hiring decision, be sure to put a candidate’s communication skills to the test.  During the interview process, be sure to ask questions that provoke critical thinking and elicit articulate answers.  You should also see how well they listen and what questions they ask.  Additionally, you may ask them to submit a draft response of a sample inquiry.  This allows you to review and evaluate their writing style, tone, grammar, punctuation, etc.

Set Expectations – establishing standards

For existing employees, you should set communication standards, based on simple, common-sense concepts.  Your communication standards should include the following components:

  • What means to use – inform your staff when to use email versus a phone call, face-to-face meeting, etc.  If writing an email, how to clearly state a request, call-to-action, and timing expectations if/when required.
  • Tone – Whether communicating verbally or in writing, the tone we use to express our thoughts is what matters most.  Finding a balance between what you want to say and how you need to say it takes practice, but it is essential for strong communicators.   Understanding your audience and their perception is vital to mastering this skill.
  • Responses – When communicating, stress the importance of clearly stating if/when a response is needed, and by when.  For customer-facing staff, you may set customer response time standards, etc.  Ambiguity can lead to misunderstandings and potential problems.
  • Out-of-Office Procedures – Be clear on who does what when someone is out of the office, and make sure everyone is aware of their responsibility during your time away.  Make sure you never double out-of-office, meaning the person someone has designated as their contact also has their out-of-office reply on.
  • Conflict Resolution and Flushing out Concerns – Avoiding misunderstandings using strong communication is the best way to avoid conflicts altogether, however, it is important to set a process to address potential conflicts that may arise from time to time.
  • Escalation Procedures – Make sure you outline a clear process by which your staff can escalate matters that require attention or impartial intervention.
  • Peer-to-peer collaboration – Leveraging the skills of our peers can be a great way to collaborate and fine-tune our communication skills.  Whenever you are in doubt as to how to respond or say something, you can reach out to a peer and solicit their feedback.

You may choose to roll out your communication training company-wide or by department through a video or teleconference meeting.  Also, be sure to make it a requirement for new hires to complete.

Lead by example

Last, but not least, for this to work, it is important to not only keep it simple but hold everyone in your organization accountable to your standards. This means starting from the top down.  By doing so, you’ll send the most powerful message, backed by your actions and not just by words.  As a result, your employees will appreciate your executives and managers setting the example and will be further encouraged to work harder and to get better at communicating in the workplace.

*The cost of poor communications. SHRM.

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work opportunity tax credit sign on desk

WOTC Legislative Update — December 17, 2019

We are pleased to announce that, early this morning, the House Rules Committee issued a Rule and manager’s amendment to H.R. 1865 “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020.” The amendment grants the extension for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), including VOW to Hire Heroes Act Credits, through December 31, 2020. It also grants a retroactive extension of the Federal Empowerment Zones and Indian Employment Credit through the end of 2020.

Continue reading “WOTC Legislative Update — December 17, 2019”

Partner UI News: Michigan Taxable Wage Base for 2015 Updated

Barnett Associates, a key strategic Walton partner and expert in Unemployment Cost Control provides update regarding Michigan taxable wage base for 2015.

Beginning with the third quarter of 2015, the Taxable Wage Base (TWB) — the maximum annual wage on which an employer must pay unemployment taxes — will be lowered from the current rate of $9,500 to $9,000. This means that non-delinquent contributing employers will pay less in unemployment taxes for the upcoming quarters. Continue reading “Partner UI News: Michigan Taxable Wage Base for 2015 Updated”

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