Best Books for Small Business Owners – Multipliers

While it’s essential to business and career success, continuous learning is easier said than done, especially for small business owners who wear many hats. That’s why we’ve created the Monthly Must-Reads series with our selection of best books for small business owners. We not only share the best books for small business owners, but also aim to save you time by helping you quickly determine whether each business book is worth your valuable time.

Keep up with current innovation, management and workforce trends by reading the right business books for your situation. With each featured book, we share the main focus, key take-aways, and even reader reviews. For December’s best books for small business owners, we’re sharing Multipliers by Liz Wiseman. For a list of past Monthly Must-Reads, like October’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, check out the bottom of this article.

Business Book:

Multipliers, by Liz Wiseman


It helps you understand how to bring out the best possible performance in your employees.

Main Idea:

There are two types of leaders: Diminishers and Multipliers. Multipliers inspire their employees to willingly reach for and achieve outcomes that they may never have thought possible.

Great for Small Business Owners Who:

Want to get exciting results from lean teams with few resources.


Wiseman presents real-life anecdotes that illustrate two distinct leadership styles by analyzing data from more than 150 leaders: Diminishers and Multipliers. She then identifies each one’s habits of thought. She explains that Multipliers enjoy a higher rate of success and more impressive results by making everyone around them more productive, engaged and creative.

Wiseman empowers her readers to learn how to lead like Multipliers by contrasting Multipliers and Diminishers in the following ways:

  • Talent Magnets vs. Empire Builders
  • Liberators vs. Tyrants
  • Challengers vs. Know-It-Alls
  • Debate Makers vs. Decision Makers
  • Investors vs. Micromanagers

After digesting this guidance toward becoming a Multiplier, readers are invited to take a self-assessment via Wiseman’s website to identify where they lie on the scale from Diminisher to Multiplier.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Multipliers create more intelligence around them while diminishers’ leadership habits often stifle their team’s creativity and problem-solving skills.
  • Multipliers:
    • Attract talented people because they become known for empowering team members and using them at their highest potential
    • Foster safe places for people to share, collaborate and unlock their best ideas
    • Outline challenging opportunities that inspire their people to stretch themselves
    • After you hear all points of view, make decisions based on stimulating, healthy debates.
    • Invest in their people, empowering them to take ownership of their roles and outcomes

Reviewers Say:

“Seeing as I’ve read [Multipliers] three times, I can’t believe I haven’t written a review yet. No exaggeration, this book can be a life-changer both at work and in your personal life. I admit that the first time I read it I thought, ‘Ok, this is so clear as to be obvious; I’ve seen these types of people for years at work.’ But, so what? I never thought it through, and Liz [Wiseman] has done the research, so my anecdotal evidence is supplanted by the real thing. Chapter by chapter, the concepts were illuminated with great examples and stories. This is no flavor of the month. These are concepts that can be used easily at work. And if applied, they work. I can attest to that.”

“We’ve all heard—and said—that less is more. Sometimes it’s true. But in most cases it’s still the reality that more is more, and is usually the preferred ROI of resources, whether those resources are of time, money, manpower, brain-trust, whatever. Best of all is getting more from less, and that is what Liz Wiseman’s fine book teaches us to do. Using a wide-range of varying case studies and examples from the world over, Wiseman itemizes the symptoms of a variety of leadership illnesses that sicken a corporate culture and disable its employees. You may well find yourself hiding in these pages somewhere; I know I did. Fortunately, after helping us see where we are minimizing rather than maximizing the human resources at our disposal, Wiseman clearly articulates the prescription(s) to fix the problem(s). It has the added advantage of being an engaging, thoughtful and well-written treatment.”

Monthly Must-Read Business Books:

August – Blitzscaling

September – The E-Myth Revisited

October – Influence: This Psychology of Persuasion

November – Built to Last

Uncover and Promote Employee Leadership in Your Business

Employee leadership is considered one of the most promising aspects of human resources and training within organizations. After all, leaders have to come from somewhere!

There are obvious benefits to building up leaders from within:

  • They have a deeper understanding of the company’s mission than a new hire from “outside.”
  • They will work hard to justify the company’s faith in promoting them to leadership positions.
  • Workforce morale overall rises when employees see “one of their own” moving ahead. (It could happen to them, too.)
  • The organization itself benefits from promoting a motivated, talented, and experienced employee.

Given these favorable outcomes, what can you do to recognize, encourage, and reward employee leadership?

Learn to identify potential leaders.

Part of the leadership cultivation process is keeping an eye out for the most promising candidates within the organization. Generally speaking, such individuals won’t be hard to miss. They display genuine enthusiasm for their job responsibilities, frequently go above and beyond, and are more than willing to assist co-workers with important tasks.

But it’s important to watch for other key signs. At company meetings, for example, see which employees contribute the most and come up with the most striking, out-of-the-box ideas. Consider inviting these individuals to sit in on a higher-level meeting. Encourage them to take part, contributing ideas and insights based on their professional experience.

Ask the right questions.

Savvy business owners also take time to identify a potential leader’s ambitions and needs. They ask probing, foward-looking questions like:

  • Are there other positions in the organization you’d like to explore?
  • What skills do you possess that you feel aren’t being utilized by our company?
  • Which current skill would you like to improve?
  • Are there new skills you’d like to develop?

The answers you receive will prove to be a helpful guide as you oversee the individual’s progress towards leadership.

Look for alignment with your company’s vision.

Employees who “get” the organization’s vision and mission statement are often the most promising leadership candidates. It’s up to you and your executive team to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to understand this vision (and feels comfortable asking questions to gain a deeper understanding).

This alignment “gives [employees] ownership of what they create and helps them support organizational causes with more purpose,” notes Inc.

Offer training opportunities and mentorship.

Budding leaders often learn most when they have access to training and development opportunities (classes, webinars, conferences, etc.). Since the cost and time-commitment of formal training can be daunting, offer to foot the bill for work-related development opportunities and invite employees to take part.

Employees can benefit hugely from working with mentors, too. LMBC, a professional services solutions provider, suggests enlisting “older generation leaders” to act as mentors and role models to employees. This experience “will help future leaders learn the ropes more quickly and form good habits from leading others.”

Give potential leaders challenging assignments.

Ambitious employees often want to test themselves and build their portfolio of talents.  However, this is only possible if the organization enables them to tackle a challenging project or initiative–even if the end-result isn’t “perfect.”

One option is appointing them to manage a small group of fellow employees on a special project. In addition, you can invite them to appoint a team of their own to brainstorm solutions to nagging organizational and/or customer service issues.

The key, says Forbes, is letting the potential leader struggle, if necessary. No one is saying you must “force prospective leaders to swim or die,” and you or a manager should pitch in if things get too difficult. Most important, you should be sure to refrain from rushing “to their aid at the first sign of danger,” because it’s more desirable that they “make their own decisions and find their own solutions.”

Reward performance and initiative.

As you work to promote employee leadership, always remember to provide tangible rewards. For example, don’t hesitate to praise the employee in public or through company-wide communications. In addition, you should include performance objectives and achievements in the employee’s annual or semi-annual evaluations and congratulate them for their efforts. Offer personalized guidance or advice, when necessary, and always in an upbeat fashion.

With the right level of support and training, you can develop the next generation of leaders within your organization. Think of the time and resources you’ll save by not having to look beyond your company walls and not having to rely upon “outside” candidates to fill leadership positions.

Employee Taxes: Are Your Employees Withholding Enough Income Tax?

In 2019, many Americans had a rude awakening: their tax refunds weren’t as big as they’d expected. Many people owed instead of getting a refund. Employee taxes, such as federal income tax withholding, seemed to have been under-withheld.

Changes to the tax code left employers and employees alike wondering what steps they could take to avoid tax surprises in future years.

The key to helping employees avoid under-withholding is taking a proactive stance on employee taxes. The experts below can help your team understand what happened with the changes to the tax code. From there, they offer actionable advice to help employees get their withholdings updated to minimize surprises.

Why some taxpayers were caught off-guard

“You fill out a W4 when you get a new job, and then you don’t think about it again until you have the next first day of the next new job,” says Ben Watson, CPA and CFO of Dollar Sprout. The “set it and forget” nature of the W4 form means that life changes, but the information on your W4 form doesn’t. Out-of-date information can lead to under-withholding employee taxes, especially in a year with significant changes to the tax code.

Even if employees had taken steps to update their W4, the form itself might have been the reason for under-withholding. “It’s possible that the current version of the W4 form hasn’t been the best tool to help employees get the right withholdings, even if they go step-by-step through the worksheet,” says Brenda Soucy, an IRS Enrolled Agent and manager with Lopez, Chaff, & Wiesman Associates Inc.

Soucy adds that multiple income streams can also create an under-withholding situation. “If you have a bunch of smaller jobs where you make $20,000 on each job, your withholding on those jobs assume this single job is your only income,” she says. “But if you have three of those $20,000 jobs, that’ll put you in a higher tax bracket.”

The rise of the gig economy adds to the scenario Soucy describes. Jobs like rideshare driving and delivery services typically don’t withhold employee taxes. Employees might not have increased withholdings at their full-time jobs to account for their increase in income, leading to under-withholding.

New tools to estimate withholdings

While launching a year later than changes to the tax code, there are new tools that will help with adjustments.

The first new tool is a revised W4 form. Estimated to arrive for employer use in December 2019, Soucy says the new form “takes many new factors into account, like dependents, other income, and multiple jobs.”

These changes point toward more accurate estimates for withholdings moving forward.

The IRS has also released a new online withholding calculator. Employers can distribute a link to the calculator to employees and invite them to update their W4 form withholdings, even before the new W4 form is released.

Steps employers can take

In addition to the new tools from the IRS, employers can help educate employees about changes to the tax code.

Watson suggests that employers partner either with their existing financial services partners or look to firms in the community to provide education.

“Reach out to your tax firm. Reach out to your payroll provider. Ask them, ‘What do we need to know?'” he says. “By inviting partners to share information about tax code changes, the burden doesn’t fall on employers to pass this information on to their employees.”

Atiya Brown is a CPA and consumer debt management specialist who also advocates for employers to bring in specialists to keep employees up-to-date each year.

“The changes that happen in an employee’s life aren’t necessarily something employers know about or even think about,” she says. “By having someone come in and explain all these new changes – changes to deductions, the W4 form, the new online withholding calculator – employers are taking a proactive stance.”

Brown also adds that employees can forget that they’re in control of their withholdings. “When employees have the perception that an employer under-withheld their taxes, their employer does what the employee told them to do on their W4 form.”

By empowering employees with up-to-date tax information annually, your company can play a role in demystifying a seemingly complex process.

To put your company ahead of the pack, here are a few additional tips from the experts above that can help pave the way to more accurate withholdings.

Don’t forget about employee benefits.

“Don’t just offer benefits. Offer the education to help employees understand the tax implications of their benefits,” says Watson. When you invite financial partners to educate employees, make sure they thoroughly address the breadth of your company’s benefits. And, just as important, how each of these benefits impacts an employee’s tax situation.

Have open conversations about gig income.

Brown wants employers to embrace the reality that many employees might have a side hustle to make ends meet. “Employees should know that they can increase their withholdings at their employer to account for income from a gig job,” she says. “Employees can even specify a specific additional dollar amount to be withheld from each paycheck.”

Conversations like these can also help employees avoid end-of-year tax surprises.

Engage Human Resources.

“Have HR put together a week each year with the sole purpose of encouraging employees to update all of their information on file with the company,” says Watson. HR departments can build annual agendas that include lunch-and-learns and “CPA Days”.  During these events, employees can receive general tax information, benefits education and enrollment, and more. Employee taxes are a very human topic with wide-reaching effects on an employee’s life beyond the workplace.

While companies could see payroll taxes as something unpleasant to discuss, employers can lead a narrative that creates happier employees.

“As an employer, you want your employees to be happy,” says Brown. “If employees perceive that their under-withholding is something that’s their employer’s fault, that’s a source of tension in your company. Education has the potential to create happier, more empowered employees. Whichever avenue employers choose to pursue employee education, whether a webinar or lunch-and-learn, that’s a step toward decreasing potential tension.”

Supercharge Your Employee Benefits With These 5 Out-of-the-Box Perks

When you think of expanding your company’s employee benefits, you might be blinded by dollar signs. When mega-companies offer perks like free meals, luxury on-site gyms, and complete student loan forgiveness, sprucing-up your own game can seem like an expensive endeavor.

However, not all high-value benefits are costly to offer!

Here are five ideas for low-cost, high-value benefits to offer your employees. With a small investment, you might find that you significantly increase employee satisfaction.

Flexible Savings Accounts

Better health, dental, and vision benefits are top of the list for many when it comes to employee benefits. Expanding your benefits to include flexible spending accounts (FSAs) can instantly make your health coverage more robust.

These accounts let employees contribute tax-free dollars into a special savings account. This account can be used throughout the year to pay for qualified health expenses. Additionally, with a low per-employee cost (some plans are under $10/employee per month), it’s an easy benefit expense to absorb.

Flexible Spending Account

Source: NueSynergy

Health Add-Ons

Want to expand your company’s health benefits? There’s an app or membership for that. Technology’s given rise to apps and physician membership programs that can provide your employees an edge on their care.

Here are a few lower-cost add ons to boost your company’s medical benefits:

  • One Medical – Offers concierge-level care for a much lower monthly fee, including telemedicine with zero copay and app-based health support.
  • Maven – If you’re a majority-female workplace, don’t miss Maven. They have specialty medical plans tailored toward a woman’s every stage of life.
  • Doctor on Demand – This app can help your employees connect with a doctor via their phone — no waiting for virtual primary care.

Pet Insurance

Your company’s pet parents could be hungry for benefits that recognize their furry dependents. Pet insurance is a low-cost offering with a high appreciation rate.

In fact, many of the nation’s leading pet insurance providers have zero enrollment fees for employers. Your company can sign-up as a partner, and employees will have instant access to preferred partner rates.

If you’re looking to attract younger talent, keep in mind that millennial pet ownership just surpassed the baby boomer generation. Because of this, pet insurance can help your benefits package seem more robust to a younger field of workers.

Source: Nationwide

Wellness Apps

Today’s workforce is more attuned to their mobile devices than any other generation. Why not add benefits that tap into those devices?

Wellness apps can help your employees lower stress, get fit, and zone out with purpose. Check out meditation apps like Headspace; group activity apps like Fitbit Health Solutions; and team challenge apps like MakeMe. These apps all have corporate plans with low investment with the potential for high return and employee satisfaction.

Personal Care Perks

Beyond the apps and subscriptions, you can amp-up your benefits by scheduling personal care days throughout the year. By working with local salons, spas, and barber shops, you can host in-house events like free to low-cost beard trims, blowouts, group yoga classes, or massages. A single day each month can help your employees feel valued and appreciated and for a low, scheduled investment.

With these five low-to-no-cost employee benefits ideas in your pocket, you’re one step ahead. Expanding your benefits doesn’t have to be a high-cost endeavor. In fact, you might even find higher employee satisfaction by spending less.


Employee Burnout: The Risks and Ways to Combat It

Are your employees stressed out at work to the point that they are feeling burned out?

Employee burnout is a common problem businesses face in the U.S. and around the globe — so much so that the World Health Organization recently addressed the issue during its World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.

The WHO concluded that “burnout” is an “occupational phenomenon” and “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

The agency even updated its International Classification of Diseases, which is the global information standard for the identification of health trends and statistics, to include the following indicators of the syndrome:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

And not managing workplace stress may have more risks than you think.

According to Mayo Clinic, ignored or unaddressed job burnout has significant consequences, including:

  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness, anger or irritability
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Vulnerability to illnesses

Health problems such as these can potentially cause low job performance, disengagement, missed work or high employee turnover, to name a few.

However, the good news is that there are ways to combat employee burnout and mitigate associated risks. Here’s how.

Create a Flexible Work Environment

Lessen employee burnout at your business by providing a flexible work environment. You can do this by establishing communal work areas, multi-use furniture or unassigned desks. Unlike a traditional office space which often consists of private offices or high wall cubicles, this set up can help facilitate collaboration between employees who might otherwise have minimal interaction.

More importantly, a flexible work design increases employee comfort and productivity and improves employee well-being, according to TurningArt. Therefore, this effort may indeed reduce burnout. As an added benefit, a flexible work environment can help your business maximize spatial efficiency and reduce costs.

Flexibility in terms of employee schedules is also an integral piece in keeping your employees happy and less likely to burn out. By allowing flexible work hours, your employees will be able to adjust the time or place their work is completed. This arrangement can help accommodate their personal needs, such as to better manage a long commute or to allow parents to take their children to school.

Overall, flexible schedules can enable your employees improve their work-life balance and feel less stressed at work — factors that may help prevent burnout and improve employee retention. In fact, according to a 2018 Work Environment Survey, 73 percent of full-time office professionals say a flexible schedule is in their top two reasons to stay with a company.

Conduct Wellness Programs

Another way to prevent employee burnout is by offering wellness programs to promote healthy habits. And there are many wellness programs for small businesses that don’t require a lot of time and money.

For instance, stock your breakroom vending machine with granola bars and flavored seltzer water instead of high-fat and sugary items like candy bars or sodas. You can also regularly stock your breakroom with complimentary fresh fruit, for instance, apples, oranges and bananas, to give your employees a healthy treat and energy boost.

You can also wrestle burnout by implementing daily 15 minute nature walks to allow your employees to get some fresh air and exercise. To boost employee camaraderie, try initiating workplace walking or running clubs. For an added incentive, support leading participants with a monthly prize or a half-day off.

Offer Professional Development

Professional development can mean more to your employees than just job training and educational opportunities, it can help mitigate employee burnout. That’s because it provides the opportunity to connect with your employees in a more personalized way. For instance, instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach to employee growth, give your employees a development plan that is tailored-made for them.

A targeted approach to professional development based on each employee’s specific skill set and strengths will not only help them achieve their personal career goals, but will also make them feel more valued. Solidify this connection by asking your employees for regular feedback or ideas for business improvements and then take action on some of those ideas to show that they are appreciated.

When offering professional development, relay your business’s mission and how each member fits as an integral part of the team. This is also an opportunity to relay job expectations so your employees feel more comfortable at work. To avoid members being overworked or working exclusively on their own responsibilities, which can lead to burnout, offer social support by facilitating peer connections and encouraging mentorship.

Recognize Your Employees

Help create a positive work environment and reduce burnout by taking the time to recognize your employees for their solid performance. There are many easy, low cost ways to recognize your employees on a regular basis. For instance, a simple shout out in the monthly newsletter or email to relay an employee achievement can go a long way. You can also give a handwritten note expressing gratitude for their work.

Another idea is to offer high performing staff a day off or allow them to work from home for a day. This can help support work-life balance, so your employees return to work recharged and less likely to burnout. You can take it a step further by adding PTO or implementing quarterly bonus incentives. Recognize a group of employees by having a quarterly party or treating them to a meal at a fine restaurant. All of these ways can help your employees feel valued, less stressed and more motivated to succeed in their jobs.

Employee burnout poses risks to not only your employees, but also to your business. However, by providing the right opportunities and incentives, you can help your employees strike a balance between their personal lives and work and take the edge off burnout.

Is your workplace safety plan up to snuff?

Maintaining a clean workplace safety record in your business is no accident. It takes both clear safety procedures and planned remediation strategies for destructive events beyond your control. Even if nothing bad happens, employees will know you care about their welfare.  And you can enjoy some peace of mind. But where do you start?

Workplace safety begins with an inventory of the hazards your business faces – starting with risks for injuries to employees – to build a plan around. Physical hazards for manufacturing operations or others involving the use of machinery and power tools are straightforward. If you have such a business, chances are you’re already familiar with federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules specific to your business that address particular hazards.

But every business can be the scene of a workplace injury or medical crisis, including ones involving your customers. It could be a slip-and-fall, or a sudden health emergency such as a heart attack or stroke. And then there are the risks of a fire, gas leak, electrical shock, and so on.

Plan to Save Lives

You’ve also got weather-related events to consider. Do you operate in a hurricane, flood, tornado or earthquake zone? Keep them in mind. How about an extended power outage? And while the odds are surely extremely thin, you can’t ignore the possibility of an active shooter on your premises. Planning for that could save lives.

The mission of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is to prepare the public for nearly every kind of physical calamity, from active shooters to wildfires. This page on its website catalogs some 30 hazards (not limited to worksites) and offers response plans for each.

Much thinking about such contingencies, and how to make a plan to deal with them, has also already been done for you by OSHA. And be aware that making a contingency plan probably isn’t even optional for you. “Almost every business is required to have an emergency action plan” (EAP) to foster workplace safety, according to OSHA. You can use an OSHA online tool to determine whether you’re one of those businesses. But even if you aren’t, it’s a good idea to have one anyway. Plus, it might be required by your property-casualty insurance carrier. If it’s not, it will at least make them happier to do business with you.

Mandatory Emergency Action Plan

An OSHA-mandated EAP needs to include procedures for the following areas:

  • Reporting a fire or other emergency
  • Emergency evacuation, including type of evacuation and exit route assignments
  • For employees who remain to operate critical plant operations before they evacuate
  • Accounting for all employees after evacuation
  • To be followed by employees performing rescue or medical duties

The EAP also needs to include the name and job title of every employee who may be contacted by employees who need more information about the plan.

Under OSHA rules, if you have at least 10 employees, the plan needs to be in writing. Otherwise, it can be delivered orally. In either case, it needs to be presented to all employees. But since you’ll need to write it up to create the EAP (unless you can keep it all straight in your head), you’d might as well give employees a hard copy version even if not required to do so. They can refer to it when needed.

OSHA’s mandated workplace safety plan (classified as Standard 1910.38, should you want more detail) also requires you to designate and train employees to help evacuate other employees in an emergency, as well as any other specific tasks you might decide to assign them. You’ll also need to establish a communication system, possibly including an alarm, so that everybody will know what’s happening and what they need to do.

One way to ensure that employees know what’s in your safety plan is to involve some or all of them in creating it in the first place. They may be better acquainted with some potential safety issues and ways to address them, than you. Depending on the size of your staff, creating a safety committee could formalize the process.

Keep Your Emergency Plan Current

Your safety needs and the best ways to address them can evolve over time. That means you’ll need to revisit your EAP periodically to ensure that it’s up to date. Similarly, as you bring new employees on board, include presenting your EAP to them as part of their orientation process.

There’s more to workplace safety than following OSHA standards. For example, employees’ health—mental and physical—often play a role in workplace accidents. Government agencies do set standards for the maximum shift for employees with certain kinds of jobs, like truck drivers and airplane pilots. Otherwise, the only rule you have to follow is paying overtime for wage-based employees whose average weekly hours worked exceeds 40.

Naturally, physical fatigue can lead to serious accidents. But so too can employee job burnout. Among other effects, it can lead to increased mental distance from one’s job, according to the World Health Organization, not to mention serious health consequences. Being on the lookout for signs of employee burnout and confronting the sources of the problem can be an integral part of a workplace safety program.

Focusing excessively on every conceivable workplace safety risk could cause you to burn out, too. Avoid that by acting proactively to assess your risks and minimize them, then move on with the business of running your business.

FMLA Compliance & ADA compliance: What You Need to Know

Starting and building up your own business is an exhilarating experience. The trick is to stay focused on the core issues.  Which means become sidetracked by necessary but potentially distracting employer responsibilities like FMLA compliance and ADA compliance. You can avoid getting bogged down by learning the basics of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). That way you can address issues proactively and stay ahead of the game.

The federal government enacted The Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.  Three years later the government enacted the Family and Medical Leave Act. The scope of ADA compliance extends beyond the employment relationship, but only employee rights under the ADA are discussed here.

The ADA’s employment provisions, applicable to employers with at least 15 employees, seek to prevent employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities in any facet of the employment. Those include how employees are recruited and hired, fired, laid off, paid, trained, assigned tasks, promoted, granted leave, employee benefits, and “all other employment-related activities,” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency with primary responsibility for enforcing the law.

Disability Defined

ADA compliance first requires knowing how the law defines disability. The law involves general principles, not a list of conditions. It basically boils down to this. An individual is deemed to have a disability if they:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity
  • Has a record of a substantial impairment
  • Is regarded as having a substantially limiting impairment

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. For example, what does “is regarded as having” mean? The answer, according to the EEOC: The individual “is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA based on a condition that is not transitory or minor.”

What about the meaning of “major life activity?” They include seeing, speaking, breathing, performing manual tasks, walking, caring for oneself, learning and working. The government tightened up the ADA in 2008. At this time it was made clear that the fact that a person with some disabilities can take steps to mitigate them (e.g. with medication) does not mean the person is without a disability.

For employers, the crux of the ADA often comes down to the the terms “reasonable accommodation” and “undue hardship.”

ADA compliance doesn’t require you to hire, promote, and so on, every person with a disability without regard to whether it prevents the person from actually performing the job. But you are required to make a reasonable accommodation to enable the person to function effectively despite the disability, without causing undue hardship to your business.

ADA Reasonable Accommodation

Examples of reasonable accommodations include:

  • installing a wheelchair ramp
  • altering a workspace
  • job restructuring
  • furnishing training materials in Braille
  • providing a sign language interpreter,
  • possibly  “providing a quieter workspace or making other changes to reduce noisy distractions for someone with a mental disability”

However, if your business is small, those accommodations might bankrupt you. So, the general standard for “undue hardship” offered by the EEOC would be an accommodation that “would be unduly costly, extensive, substantial or disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business.”

You can find the more nuanced meaning of these ADA terms in detailed regulations and court rulings. The same applies to FMLA compliance, a federal law that applies to employers with at least 50 employees. In a nutshell, the law requires those employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid “job-protected” leave to eligible employees within a 12-month period.  And, in some cases involving military service members, you may have to provide up  to 26 weeks. An employee can take the leave all at once, or in small segments adding up to the 12-week maximum.

FMLA Job-protected Leave

Job-protected means the employee can return from leave—not necessarily to the same job, but at least a comparable one.

FMLA lets employers restrict leave eligibility to employees who have worked for you for at least 12 months. Those 12 months don’t have to be consecutive.  However, you can require the employee to have logged at least 1,250 hours of service during the prior 12-month period.

If it’s built into your regular leave policy, you generally can have an employee’s FMLA leave time run concurrently with the employee’s accrued paid leave. This is the case whether it’s vacation or sick leave time. That would prevent an employee from adding accrued paid time off to the maximum of 12 weeks unpaid FMLA leave.

Also, the 50-plus employee threshold for being subject to FMLA compliance gives some (temporarily) larger employers a break.  Your headcount could exceed 50. But, only if you had a spike in your payroll pushing you above the 50-employee threshold due to seasonal staffing.

FMLA Leave Categories

Assuming you are subject to the FMLA, the question arises: What reasons for the leave request are covered by the law? Here’s a rundown supplied by the Department of Labor:

  • The birth of a son or daughter or placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption
  • To care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition
  • For a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job
  • For any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that a spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a military member on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status

That covers a lot of territory. However, some FMLA compliance requirements apply to employees as well. For example, they can’t simply spring a FMLA leave request on you and waltz out the door. They need to satisfy the same notice requirements you have in place for other kinds of leave.  An employee may be required to provide you with a 30-day notice if the need for their leave is foreseeable. An example of a foreseeable need is the birth of a child.

Also, if you want confirmation that the condition (such as a serious illness) giving rise to the leave request really exists, you can request a medical certification, including a second and third opinion (those two at your own expense) if you’re skeptical about the first one. You can also have the employee periodically re-certify the condition.

Maintain Health Benefits

If you provide health benefits to your employees, you must keep an employee out on FMLA leave on your plan under the same terms as other employees. In that situation it would be inaccurate to call FMLA leave “unpaid”.  Why?  Because you’ll still incur the cost of the share of the employee’s health benefit that you were paying. However, the employee must continue to pay the employee share.

Finally, as noted, you must give the employee his/her former job, or an equivalent one in duties and pay. An equivalent job, according to the Department of Labor, is one that’s “virtually identical to the original job in terms of pay, benefits, and other employment terms and conditions including shift and location.”

However, “key” employees, defined as salaried workers among the highest 10 percent of your workforce within a 75-mile radius, don’t have to be given their old job (or an equivalent one) back.

By keeping this FMLA / ADA overview in mind, you’ll be better equipped to begin the process of addressing disability, family and medical leave issues as they arise. Those laws have been on the books long enough for a mountain of regulations and court decisions to pile up addressing the finer points of the law. Consult with an expert to make sure you’ve covered all your bases.  And, of course, avoid getting sidetracked from the core priorities of your business.

Should you Re-Hire a Former Employee?

In today’s highly competitive job market, the option to re-hire a former employee could prove invaluable to many small businesses.

Hiring a typical job-seeker–that is, someone completely new to your organization–is fraught with all the expected risks. Does he or she really have the skills to do the job? How well will they fit in with their co-workers and our culture? What if we’ve made a huge hiring mistake?

On the other hand, recruiting and re-hiring an ex-employee (or what’s become known as a “boomerang employee”) may eliminate some of these nagging questions. Of course, since no hiring outcome can be absolutely guaranteed, there are additional risks to consider.

Here’s a look at the pros and cons of the decision to re-hire a former employee:

You know what you’re getting.

Generally speaking, you can rely upon your knowledge and experience of a former employee when considering whether or not to re-hire them. In many cases, you can access the individual’s prior HR record and take a close look at his or her performance evaluations during their time of service. As a result, there’s often less risk when contemplating a re-hire move.

The boomerang employee knows your business.

An ex-employee is already familiar with your culture, products, customer service strategies, internal processes, and so on. This can sharply reduce the need for training (and the costs/time involved).

They bring a fresh outlook.

Let’s say the employee originally left for a “better” opportunity. Employees who wish to return, notes Forbes, might have “gained valuable experience during the time they were gone,” perhaps a “new skill set, more leadership experience, or even experience and insights into how other companies handle situations” that can be of value in your workplace.

The returning employee can motivate your current staff.

At one time or another, all employees wonder if the grass is greener somewhere else. The presence of a re-hired boomerang employee “can improve department retention efforts by attesting to improvements made since they left,” according to Glassdoor.

With these positive elements in mind, you should also consider the impact of some potentially negative factors:

They were let go for compelling reasons.

A former employee who you terminated for poor performance or inappropriate behavior is obviously a bad candidate for re-hiring. As Insperity notes, “the underlying behavior behind performance problems and personnel issues … is not easily changed.” A person who “was a problem employee before will probably be a problem again.”

They harbor lingering resentments.

Sometimes, a departing employee feels mistreated or otherwise slighted in some way. It’s vitally important that no such lingering grudge is still present; otherwise, the personality fit won’t work.

Coincidentally, rehiring an ex-employee might trigger anger among your current workforce, and prompt other staff defections.

They cling to old habits.

A former employee who seems stuck in “old” ways of doing things might not meld nicely with your new, improved company culture. If you cling to “how I did things in the past”, you can do a disservice to your operational processes now.

So how can you go about determining if the “pros” outweigh the “cons” of rehiring?

Ask tough questions.

Be sure you interview an ex-employee just as you would any other job candidate (same questions, same scenarios, etc.). But go further. Ask open-ended questions designed to uncover what types of knowledge and experience they’ve acquired since leaving your company. Also, ask questions that help you better understand their feelings towards your business, both in the days of their exit and now. You may or may not get sincere answers, but reading between the lines may help clarify the situation.

Talk with other team members.

Depending on the circumstances, there may be several current employees who remember the person now being considered for re-hire. Talk to your HR staff about the best way to approach these employees, with the goal of discussing the impact (favorable or otherwise) of bringing the ex-employee back on board. If you encounter great enthusiasm among staff members, the decision might become clearer. But if the former employee’s return generates considerable resistance, it’s a red flag you should seriously consider.

In past job markets awash in candidates, there were always new people to contemplate hiring. When qualified job candidate selection is more limited, the idea of hiring a boomerang employee can make a great deal of sense. Explore various opportunities and then use your best judgment about that final hiring decision.


Want to Improve Productivity? Whittle Down Your Choices

Humans make upwards of 35,000 decisions each day. Would your ability to make 40,000 help you improve productivity?

It turns out that the exact opposite is true.

All humans experience decision fatigue. In the simplest of terms, the more decisions people make in a defined period, the lower the quality those decisions become. That’s probably not the impact you want your decision-making to have in your company. What’s also true, however, is that too many options can make you over-thing and jam-up sound decision-making, too.

That’s called analysis paralysis, and it can do a real number on your productivity, and not in a good way.

Let’s have a look at analysis paralysis – what it is, why it’s a problem, and tips to help you avoid it. By taking a few simple actions, you can improve productivity throughout your company and leave the logjam of analysis paralysis far behind.

Do more choices improve productivity? No.

“Think about when your computer is sluggish, lagging, and not operating well,” says Joanne Ketch, a licensed therapist well-versed in how the brain makes decisions. “You bring up Task Manager. You see all the programs and processes that are running, using your system’s resources whether you are aware of them or not. They are slowing your computer and getting in the way of its functioning, reducing the computer’s productivity. Look at humans as having a Task Manager.”

Ketch says that people aren’t always aware of what they have running in the background, slowing productivity. The key to boosting productivity is becoming aware of what’s running in the background.

When you’re in a position of leadership, decision-making is literally your job, and you likely have a myriad of pressing matters running in your background. There’s so much on your plate, and you don’t know where to focus first. How do you choose where to focus your time when you have so many options?

“We all get to choose where we focus,” says Neen James, author of Attention Pays: How to Drive Profitability, Productivity, and Accountability. “When our attention spans are split, we’re allowing them to be split between multiple stimuli, inputs, devices, and decisions.”

When your Task Manager is on overload, you’ve allowed too many pieces of input into your machine. That’s what causes analysis paralysis. To improve productivity, smart leaders decrease their input. They reduce what’s running in the background.

Tips to decrease analysis paralysis

To help take control of your Task Manager, there are active steps you can take to help both yourself and your teams.

Reduce distractions

“Turn off all bells and whistles, notifications, and stimuli that are wasting your attention. Focus on the evidence you have and trust your experience,” says James. Distractions add to what’s running in your background.

Consider outsourcing

“A cleaning service or even an errand in your personal life,” says Ketch. “From the business side, look at what roles and responsibilities it’s time to outsource or delegate.” Even important decisions and critical data can be distractions if they’re drawing your attention away from decisions that most need your attention and expertise.

Ask bigger, better questions

“Does this get me closer to my goals? Is this in line with our strategic objectives? Will this move the project/initiative/goal forward?” James says. Questions like these will help you decrease distractions, keep you from over-thinking and help you to identify areas where you can delegate or outsource. They’ll also help you focus on the most critical decisions to move your company forward.

Set boundaries

“Productivity drain often comes down to boundaries,” says Ketch. “Boundaries from a personal or work relationship standpoint are barriers to success and distractions.” Ketch suggests that leaders explore working with a mentor, life/business coach, or therapist to identify areas and activities that could be hampering productivity.

Set timelines

“Set a deadline, make it public, and honor it. Hold yourself accountable,” James says. By being public and forthcoming about schedules, you’re also helping your team know when it’s time to end the idea gathering/brainstorming phase and switch over to narrowing down options to those most promising. Analysis paralysis often happens when teams fail to make the switch from gathering ideas to narrowing them down.


“Build business retreats and self-care into your planning,” Ketch says. “Do not rely on what’s leftover to sustain your energy.” If you’re not taking care of yourself and encouraging your teams to do the same, productivity isn’t likely to accelerate or improve.

Now, you have six actionable ideas to improve productivity and keep both decision fatigue and analysis paralysis at bay. When you can shift your input and focus to the matters where you’re the most crucial decision-making component, you’ll free up the mental energy needed to make better decisions faster and with fewer distractions.

How Better Listening Makes You a Better Leader

Talking, rather than listening, seems to be a common trait among leaders in business, culture, politics, and elsewhere. The presumption is that anyone who attains the status of “leader” must have important things to say, and don’t have to bother hearing what anyone else wants to tell them.

In fact, the opposite is true.

The most effective business leaders get more accomplished because they know how to listen. While, of course, it’s important to weigh in on business strategy and organizational design, there’s a great deal to be gained by listening to what others have to say. The alternative–not paying attention to others and often not understanding what they are trying to tell you–is a good recipe for business failure, and should therefore be avoided at all costs.

If you want to improve your ability to hear those around you, keep the following tips in mind:

Stop thinking about what you’ll say next.

When in conversation, we’re all guilty of thinking more about what we plan to say next, rather than making the effort to truly hear what’s being said.

But as The New York Times points out, it’s more important to be “comfortable not knowing what you’re going to say next.” Rely on your ability to “think of something in the moment based on what the other person just said,” because this “sends a powerful signal to the other person that you’re truly listening to them.”

Tune out distractions.

It’s become a challenge for all of us to clear our heads in order to listen to what someone else is saying. But it’s imperative to make the effort. In a conversation with a customer, employee, vendor, or other stakeholder, do the following to listen better:

  • Shut off mobile devices.
  • Look away from your computer screen.
  • Close your office door to screen out external noise.
  • Avoid interrupting the other person.

Also, refrain from jumping in when there’s a pause in the conversation. “Never rush a speaker by completing his or her sentence,” notes Right Management. Being patient “will go a long way to building trust and rapport.”

Observe non-verbal cues.

People communicate through non-verbal cues and body language almost as much as they do through words. Effective listeners closely watch the speaker’s gestures, facial expressions, and their tone of voice. From these “clues,” they often deduce the real meaning behind what the other person is trying to articulate.

Expert listeners use their own body language to communicate, as well. While listening, they nod at appropriate moments, engage in friendly and welcoming eye contact, and display “open” body language (that is, not standing or sitting at a distance, with arms crossed). These non-verbal cues let the other person know they really are the focus of your attention.

Ask the right questions.

A good listener demonstrates his or her focus by following up on what the other person has said with a pertinent question. (This is also a good way to ensure you grasp the point of the conversation.)

When the moment is right, ask questions that drill down beneath the surface of the discussion. Avoid questions the other person can only answer with a “yes” or a “no.” Instead, ask open-ended questions that invite deeper commentary or invite the speaker to offer examples of what they’re talking about. These exchanges have the potential to yield far more effective insights that benefit everyone involved.

Listen to your team.

The strongest business leaders have abandoned the need to dominate a conversation. They understand that empathy grows out of genuinely hearing what others have to tell them and that they can make better decisions because of what they’ve learned.

This is often particularly true with people who make up your workforce. Leaders who “fail to truly listen to their employees run the risk of losing them,” notes Medium, adding that employees “who don’t feel listened to are more likely to feel resentment at their job and seek other opportunities.”

Business leaders who listen have a competitive edge over people who never stop talking and who neglect the growth that comes from listening to others.

How Not to Micromanage Employees

Bosses often fight the urge to micromanage employees, but unfortunately, many don’t even recognize they are doing it. If you’re grappling with retention, it could be because you or one of your supervisors is micromanaging employees and driving them away.

Worse yet, micromanagement can hinder the growth of creativity within the organization. “Innovation is stifled because mistakes, which are a necessary part of learning and growing, aren’t tolerated,” notes Inc. Also, when supervisors are essentially doing someone else’s job, “they aren’t doing their own as well as they could be.”

Here are tips on how to let go of the micromanaging impulse and give your team members greater latitude to do their jobs:

Start by trusting your employees.

No workplace can function for very long without a foundation of trust. Presumably, your employees are individuals who have demonstrated they possess the skills and/or experience to handle their job responsibilities. By assuming an attitude of trust, you help them gain the confidence needed to work out problems or challenges. This may not happen right out of the gate–even veteran employees coming from other businesses need time to acclimate to your company culture. But trusting them to succeed helps achieve the desired goal.

Let employees know what you expect.

Some micromanagement occurs because employees don’t understand the directions they’re given. Or, they have to guess at what their boss wants. A more effective approach involves outlining expectations at the start of a project or assignment. Let your team members know what “success” will look like.  Better yet, share examples of past initiatives that are similar in nature.  And remember to provide them with the resources needed to get the task done.

Admit you can’t do everything yourself.

Many business owners started out as entrepreneurs who had to do everything themselves. When you need to hire others in order to grow the business, it’s sometimes difficult to “acknowledge that others can do some tasks better than you” and “even harder to accept that others will do the same task differently”–but until you let go of these stubborn preconceptions, your employees won’t be as productive as they could be.

Delegate more.

If you’re hesitant about how much you can delegate to the team, try assigning a small or short-term task to individuals and let them “run” with it. The outcome of that assignment will determine your next step: (1) continue giving the individual more substantial projects; or (2) take some time to counsel the individual on how to improve their process and be more successful.

Always Communicate.

Providing feedback isn’t the same thing as trying to micromanage employees. As individuals assume more responsibility, check in with them from time to time.  Be sure to offer general comments on how well they’re proceeding. If progress is slow, provide constructive feedback that spurs them to take a different approach. If they come to you with an idea about trying something new, be open to suggestions and encourage more creative work habits. Employees gain confidence when the boss displays an attitude of tolerance and support.

Effective managers schedule regular check-ins with employees, at least once a month. “Once you get in a groove, accountability conversations help your team members to make adjustments in the moment and ward off major catastrophes,” Forbes notes.

Micromanagement can be a sneaky thing, and supervisors may not even realize they’re doing it. But by paying attention to red flags–such as a visible dip in workplace morale or an exodus of valued employees–business owners can work to minimize the urge to micromanage and do more to foster creativity and independence.

Not only will this approach generate greater confidence and innovation among your team members, it can significantly improve your retention efforts. Employees are far less inclined to seek work elsewhere if they feel valued for their efforts within your organization.

7 Things To Do Before Choosing An HR Cloud Solution

You’re thinking about investing in a cloud solution to address your HR pain points, but aren’t sure where to start. Here are 7 things to consider before choosing an HR cloud solution.

Recognize Your Pain Points

Know exactly what your HR problem areas are before contacting vendors for an HR cloud solution. Doing so will prepare you to effectively communicate your pain points to the vendor. It will also help to ensure that you’re acquiring the right product. Many HR cloud solutions will address a myriad of problems, but that doesn’t mean they will solve your existing issues.

Consider Your Processes

It’s best to find an HR cloud solution that functions like your business. To reduce the risk of implementing a product that doesn’t work as expected, you’ll need to look at or identify your own processes and existing workflows. This will help you determine what HR tasks are the most important to either streamline or improve.

Decide What Software Features You Need Now and Later

HR cloud solutions offer many features, such as performance management, employee self-service and attendance and applicant tracking. To help narrow things down before you decide on a solution, you should prioritize a list of core features.  This list should begin with those features you’ll need to meet your business requirements.

Keep in mind that some businesses may be satisfied with the feature set in an entry-level cloud solution.  Others, those with more complex requirements, may need a software that specializes in a certain area, such as benefits administration, for instance. Also, think about how well the software will scale as your business grows.  This will help you to ensure that it offers the necessary features and capabilities you’ll need down the road.

Determine Integration Capabilities

Before choosing an HR cloud solution, you’ll need to determine if the software must integrate with your existing infrastructure.  For instance, will you need it to integrate with your legacy software packages, corporate website, email client, enterprise resource planning apps and other back office software?

Furthermore, keep into consideration HR programs or other programs you already use, such as payroll and accounting software, to ascertain if those items have the capability to integrate with your new solution.

Establish a Budget

Determine an appropriate budget for an affordable solution that best meets your business requirements before shopping for vendors, and consider your company size and functionality needs. This will ensure your budget ties into your HR strategic goals and can handle purchases that help grow and support your business.

Try Before You Buy

Before committing to a particular software, test the solutions that meet your needs by attending demos or participating in free trials, if available. This will help determine how user-friendly the system is and how much user training will be needed. Also, check if the solution offers phone support, video tutorials, setup wizards and 24/7 live chat to help aid your decision. Read customer reviews to help ascertain what the software will or will not do for you.

Think About Cloud Security

As with any cloud-based technology, you’ll need to look into how the solution protects customer and employee data before purchasing, as this information is stored online. Be sure to ask every prospective vendor questions regarding its security certifications, incident response plans, access controls and encryption options to protect critical data.

By considering these 7 topics, you’ll be on your way to choosing an HR cloud solution that adds value.

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