Starting off the New Year is a great time to look back at what work-ed—and didn't—as far as your business operations, your work crew and perhaps even your hiring practices.
As we embark on a fresh year, some business owners might just be asking themselves: “How can I stop hiring problematic employees?”
This a very common question that tends to follow a Workers' Compensation claim “going bad”— and many times a business never sees it coming.
Frustration doesn't begin to describe your feelings. You go through all the necessary steps to find the “ideal” employee who has the skills, education, focus and attitude to be able to complete their job with high efficiency and do it safely. You believe they are going to understand their job duties, that they are responsible, and that they can accomplish their duties without constant supervision.
You feel like you've just won the “HR Lottery”...until you realize you've misread one of the numbers on the ticket.
You look back and try to figure out where it all went wrong. It still looks like the candidate passed all your tests. It looked like the perfect fit, but something went wrong.
Most likely, you threw them to the wolves too soon. We see many good hires go bad for the simple fact that a company does not conduct a proper orientation in order to indoctrinate the employee into their safety culture immediately.
The steps are quite simple:
Orientation — Begin indoctrinating employees through a proper orientation program, which is not just about the history of your company, paperwork and meeting everyone; it should be much more.
Safety begins at the point of hire, so your orientation also needs to start with and continually emphasize safety. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requires you to provide certain trainings to new employees before they actually start, such as hazard communication, but the process should go beyond this.
New employees must understand the culture of your organization in order to do their job safely, not just productively. They need to understand that you have a “zero-injury culture”—that no job is important enough to lose life or limb—and that accidents don't “just happen.” The orientation needs to convey that the employee is responsible for themselves and their team, and that everyone is working in a safe environment.
Immediately after completing the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9, you should conduct the new employee's safety orientation. Employees need to go through appropriate safety training before they even set foot on the job. This will elevate the goal of working efficiently and safely to being the main priority.
Many employers make the mistake of waiting for the next safety meeting, or the next safety training session, to start the process. This can be a month, two months, even six months away, depending on how often the company conducts trainings. It's like handing someone the keys to a Formula-1 race car before they know how to drive.
Orientation should also emphasize the culture of your organization, the employee's expectations, and what you expect them to do and how to do it. Educate them on who to report to, what should be the chain of command, what should they be striving for and achieving, and how often you will conduct performance reviews. It should also spell out the process of reporting any issues they identify—immediately.
Post orientation — Is it any surprise there is a higher percentage of new employees injured in the first six months compared with those working in the position longer than six months?
After you conduct your orientation, it is critical to train employees for any skill gap they have that relates to their job. Many employers make the mistake of providing quick “on-the-job training,” or letting employees learn as they go, without a clear process of delivering the training and measuring the employee's progress.
The quicker you close the employee's skill gap, the quicker they will be safe and productive for you. When you start an employee in their position, or move an employee to a new position, train them for that specific job, rather than showing them once or twice how to do something. And don't just simply toss them a manual before leaving them on their own. Consider starting a mentoring program instead, where a more experienced employee—one who does things the proper way—is able to monitor and make sure the new employee:
1. Conducts his or her tasks properly and safely;
2. Does not slip into any bad habits that will be more difficult to break later on; and
3. Does not have any skill gaps that need to be addressed.
The mentor does his or her part by:
1. Working with the new employee for a period of time;
2. Being responsible for monitoring and making sure the employee knows what he or she is doing;
3. Assessing if the employee is conducting the job safely and correctly; and
4. Acting as a sounding board for the employee to ask questions while learning his or her new position.
The bottom line is this: The more rapidly you get employees to the point where they truly understand their job and how to conduct it, and have the necessary skills to perform it, the happier, safer and more productive they will be. After you reach this point, be sure to provide periodic assessments and consistent reviews of their performance.
On an ongoing basis, you should identify not only the areas where you can help them improve, but also commend them for the good things they accomplish. Also, look for feedback on how they feel they or the company can improve.
You would be amazed how often your employees will be able to identify safer and more productive ways to accomplish tasks, or have ideas on how the company can grow as a whole.
By mentoring, monitoring and retesting, you can determine if you actually have an employee who needs minimum training and education to complete the tasks of the job, or one that needs a little more “heavy lifting” in order to be the employee you thought you were hiring.
By hiring new employees and then not training them to fill skills and education gaps, it's a workers' comp disaster waiting to happen. You might as well pull out the checkbook now because, like death and taxes, higher premiums are sure to happen. And this will not be the worst-case scenario. That will be reserved for loss productivity, a shrinking bottom line, upset customers and potential loss of life on the job.
Accidents don't “just happen,” but neither do problem employees—at least not if you take the time and effort to bring them up to speed on how to do their job correctly, efficiently and, most importantly, safely.
Now that's a winning ticket to a successful New Year.
David R. Leng is vice president of the Duncan Financial Group in Irwin, Pa., and author of Stop Being Frustrated & Overcharged. He also is an instructor for the Institute of WorkComp Professionals and can be contacted at [email protected]. For more information, visit his website at www.StopBeingFrustrated.com.