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Skilled HR Practices

By William Lynott

Running a business involves a full plate of challenges—not the least of which is being an employer. Knowing how to hire, train, compensate, and maintain employees while observing the maze of legal constraints requires a complex set of skills. Most large companies handle this problem by hiring a human resources (HR) professional. Owners of businesses too small for that luxury have to learn profitable employment practices on their own. These guidelines will help you to improve profitability by sticking with proven practices:

1. Use job descriptions.
While written job descriptions aren’t essential, they are valuable tools for maintaining a healthy work environment. “With a small staff, most employees will have to wear more than one hat, so you can’t necessarily capture everything in a single job description,” said Karen Young, author of Stop Knocking on My Door, Drama Free HR to Help Grow Your Business. “Instead, outline the basic purpose for each job and include one or two sentences about why the position exists. Don’t go overboard by including nonessential functions. Simply add, ‘All other duties as assigned.’ That covers the rest and prevents employees from being able to use the old ‘That’s not in my job description’ excuse. With a little forethought and diligence, you’ll find that the work you put into defining job descriptions now will pay off in the months and years to come.”

2. Clarify meal and rest period policies.
“Meal and rest period violations continue to generate new class action lawsuits every year,” said Todd Wulffson, labor attorney and managing partner at Carothers, DiSante & Freudenberger in Irvine, Calif. “It’s important to provide employees with a description of their rights to meal and rest periods. Post this information on the job site and train supervisors properly.  When the onus is on the employee to inform the company of any missed break, the legal risk is dramatically reduced with proper postings.”

3. Build emotional connections.
Every human has a powerful need to feel respected, to be accepted, and valued by others. This need touches every aspect of a person’s life, and nowhere more strongly than in a labor-intensive business environment. The work of an employee left with no reason to think that his boss respects and values his contribution is almost certain to fall well below his potential.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for an owner to overlook an employee’s need for recognition and self-respect. Doing so preys on the susceptibility of many workers at all levels of our workplace hierarchy who are starving for self-respect and the essential dignity that goes along with it.

Fortunately providing the kind of recognition that satisfies this important need is an easy task. One of the simplest and most effective ways to develop and demonstrate sincere interest in your employees is to take a little time to learn something about each one. Include such simple things as the names of spouse and children, employee hobbies, or special interests, and then following through from time-to-time with a little conversation that shows you remember them and are genuinely interested.

4. Avoid favoritism.
Favoritism, or even the appearance of it, can be a deadly enemy of positive employee attitudes. Make a constant effort to show appreciation to your employees in a fair and equitable manner. Any indication that you regard one employee with more respect or appreciation than any other is a certain path to negative employee morale. While it’s not always possible for you to avoid regarding some employees more highly than others, allowing that feeling to become obvious to others is a serious management failure, one that almost certainly will exact a costly penalty.

5. Provide recognition and other non-cash incentives.
A report by the research firm McKinsey & Co. on motivating people strengthened the importance of recognition and non-cash incentives in the workplace. In particular, the report points out that non-cash incentives is often a stronger motivator than traditional incentives such as bonuses and stock options. Non-cash awards can include such obvious things as a fruit or flower basket, dinner out with the boss, or the one often suggested as the most important of all: sincere praise and recognition from the boss.

None of this is to suggest that money in the form of wages isn’t the heart of positive motivation, only that money alone is not likely to inspire the kind of motivation that brings out the best of performance in your employees.

6. Be clear about expectations.
Job descriptions are an invaluable tool for defining the nature of what has to be done, but it’s management’s responsibility to clearly define how the work is to be done. Employees have a right to know precisely what management considers a good job, and they have a right to be kept informed as to how well they are living up to management’s expectations.

There are, of course, many other elements in a complete program of skilled employment practices. Many of these are best learned from one’s own and one’s company’s experiences. Most of these will come naturally if the importance of building a unique program is kept in mind.

Lynott is a veteran freelance writer who specializes in business management and personal and business finance. Reach him at or


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