HR Compliance 2019

A new year brings new compliance updates for 2019. BlueFire HR has compiled resources to help you start the new year right!

  • Labor Law posters – new labor posters are required for 2019. Posters should be prominently displayed in an area where all employees have access.
  • CA Minimum Wage Increase – the new minimum rate for small employers (25 or fewer employees) is $11.00 per hour and the new minimum rate for large employers (25 or more employees) is $12.00 effective January 1, 2019. See the schedule of additional increases here.
  • CA Salary Increase– the minimum salary required is tied to the state hourly wage so any increases to the hourly rate results in an increase to the minimum salary. The new salary for an exempt employee in CA is now $45,760 for small employers and $49,920 for large employers.
  • State and Local Minimum Wage Increases – many states have a higher wage than the federal minimum wage. In addition many cities, particularly in CA have their own schedule for increases even higher than the state minimum. Employers generally must pay employees the highest minimum wage prescribed by federal, state and local law. Check out this summary to see what the new minimum rates may apply to your employees.
  • Sexual Harassment Training – new regulations in CA requires employers with 5 or more employees to provide at least two hours of sexual harassment training to all supervisory employees AND at least one hour of sexual harassment training to all non-supervisory employees by January 1, 2020 and once every two years thereafter.
  • Salary History Bans – over 10 states including CA, HI, NY, NJ and CT prohibit employers from inquiring about an applicant’s salary history or relying on this information when determining what compensation to offer the applicant. Check out this summary to see if a salary history ban is effective in your state.
  • IRS Mileage Reimbursement Rate – increases to $0.58 per mile effective January 1, 2019.
  • Retirement Plan Limit Increases  – Employee 401(k) contribution limits increase to $19,000 for 2019. For participants aged 50 and over the additional “catch-up” contribution limit will remain at $6,000. You will need to update your HRIS and payroll systems with the new limits and inform employees to avoid any contributions over the new limits. This chart shows a summary of the new defined contribution plan limits for 2019 for most 401(K), 403(b) and 457 plans.
  • Employee Handbooks – An employee handbook is a valuable resource for employers to communicate their policies but it’s critical to keep it up to date. We’ve identified a few areas to pay particular attention to including sexual harassment policies, sick leave and family leave policies and pay practices. Update your handbook for 2019.

BlueFire HR can help you stay in compliance with new regulations that can have a major impact on your business operations. Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.

Bullying IS Harassment

We have all seen it. The manager who yells, screams, belittles, and is an overall bully to his/her employees and co-workers. In my career I have not seen many instances of overt sexual harassment – and it DOES exist, what I do see more often and in almost every organization is bullying, which can be a form of harassment.

In many cases, organizations don’t recognize bullying as harassment, but in many instances it is harassment and it does create a potential liability. Often the office bully is passive in his/her behavior. Below are 10 employee complaints and signs that may indicate you have a bully on your hands:

  1. You may hear complaints from employees who say they frequently feel as if they are being singled out and are being treated unfavorably. Complaints may include being left out of meetings, not recognized for their contributions, not given preferred assignments, not being allowed to take off time, or not being included in frequent lunches; which may make them feel like social pariahs. We have all seen it, the manager who hangs out with select employees socially and treats others differently – this is a concern.
  2. Complaints that another employee/manager is taking credit for a fellow employee’s accomplishments. I had a co-worker who was bypassed for a promotion because his manager took credit for a huge project that the co-worker had lead and the manager had no part in. This could be considered bullying.
  3. Complaints that an employee/manager frequently yells and screams at other employees. I have seen this up close and personal – it can be devastating and should never be tolerated. I actually learned that a manager was telling his employees to “yell back” to handle it – this is not a solution.
  4. You may have employees complaining that they are being treated differently than their co-workers. I once had an employee who was told by her manager that though her performance was excellent, she could not work from home because she didn’t have children, yet other employees with children were allowed to work from home. Another co-worker was told not to attend any meetings with a senior executive because the senior executive could not stand to see this employee. This is a huge liability waiting to happen.
  5. If you have complaints of employees/managers frequently swearing, sending political or offensive emails, etc., which creates a hostile or uncomfortable work environment – you have an issue on your hands. With the political season here this may well be prevalent at your workplace and you are unaware of it.
  6. You may have received employee complaints of being “thrown under the bus” or being blamed for issues in front of other employees. Haven’t we all seen this? I was once in a meeting where a manager made another employee cry. Even if there was a major issue with the employee’s work or conduct it should have been handled differently.
  7. You may also have employee complaints of being threatened to do “something” or else; or receiving threatening communications via email, in person, etc. I once had a co-worker receive an email from a senior executive that had “replied all” shaming the employee for something the senior executive completely misunderstood. At least in that circumstance there were many witnesses to the bullying behavior and plenty of documentation.
  8. If you are hearing concerns that a manager is constantly publically criticizing an employee’s behavior and/or work product, this might be an issue. Whether this is valid or perceived – there is a better way to provide feedback to the employee. I had a manager come to me about putting an employee on a performance improvement plan (PIP) and/or to receive coaching. By the end of our conversation, there really was no issue with the employee’s performance, but the manager seemed to just have a personal conflict with this employee. It turned out the manager needed the coaching.
  9. You may see frequent turn-over as well as unplanned absences in a specific department or division. When an organization sees more than 25 percent turnover without any massive organizational change or other organizational changes for the turnover this could be an indicator that there is an issue or a “problem child” creating havoc in the group or entire organization.
  10. Pitting employees against one another or speaking negatively about a direct report to another employee is a potential issue. Yes, everyone has a bad day and needs to vent, but there is a time and a place – possibly talking to Human Resources (HR)? The complaining manager could still be deemed as creating a hostile work environment and the behavior needs to be addressed.

Other signs to be aware of:

  • Isolating employees and not communicating with them or delegating work to them.
  • Teasing employees about their dress, accent, or other personal characteristics.
  • Retaliating or punishing an employee for minor issues.
  • Hindering an employee from changing departments or getting a promotion.
  • Forcing an employee to hire or utilize a service that is a personal friend or relative of the manager. The higher the person is in the organization (with more authority) the more often these situations can occur – this may happen over and over again if not addressed.
  • Threatening the employee for not releasing confidential information. True story – executives trying to force confidential information out of HR because of their position within the organization.

You may have seen many of these examples in isolation, but if you are frequently seeing any of these behaviors or you are receiving a number of these complaints you need to address the problem immediately.

How do you address this behavior? If you have had several complaints about a single employee or manager who exhibits any of the above behaviors it is best to address it before there is a legal issue on your hands. Start by sitting down with the employee, observing the employee in meetings, and/or talking with his/her manager. You may want to think about starting a formal investigation if the issue seems to be getting worse or is severe.

Think about putting the employee on a Performance Improvement Plan (Plan) or assign he/she a coach to address his/her management style or work ethic. Be careful here to warn the issue-employee that no retaliatory behavior will be tolerated and that his is a serious issue.

Think about a cultural assessment or team building sessions to open lines of communication and improve the productivity and overall health of the team or department.  

Also, it is important to remind employees about your harassment policy. You may need to update your policy to include all forms of unlawful harassment. Think about hosting a training session around creating a respectful workplace.

If you need help with any of these aspects, PIPs, coaching, cultural assessments, customized training, investigations, and creating a respectful workplace, BlueFire HR can always help – this is our expertise!!!

Stephanie H. Nelson, MBA, CHHR, CPC, & Certified PREP Administrator

BlueFire HR Consulting


Performance Reviews – Plan With Your Team

Performance Reviews – Plan With Your Team

It’s Performance Review time again! Where did the year go? What should I write?

Performance Reviews happen every year at most companies yet many managers are unsure how to plan and prepare for them. Many employees dread this time of year and just want it to be done with.

Ideally, reviews should be an on-going year-long activity between you and your team. Developing good relationships with your team and planning ahead will help you deliver more relevant feedback and enable you to chart the course of performance development together.

Setting Expectations and Goals

Set expectations and goals at the beginning of the year (or whenever your annual performance cycle starts). Meet with each of your employees individually to set goals; the key here is to be collaborative. You may have some very specific goals in mind but by encouraging employees to be part of the process you will develop more engagement and buy-in on their part.

One of the best ways to set goals is to use the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable and Time-Bound) framework.

Put the goals in writing and review with your employees on a regular basis. This ensures that everyone is clear on both the expectation and the timing when you meet to discuss progress.

Regular Touch Point Meetings

Schedule regular check-ins in advance so they don’t get lost in the shuffle. Your team will likely really appreciate you making this an important part of their development.

Use the check-in to discuss progress on goals and address any potential barriers or changes to the company strategy. Give regular feedback and be sure to engage the employee by asking them to share their own thoughts and ideas.

Plan Ahead

Before the actual review, plan ahead and meet with each employee to put together a summary of of their accomplishments, current project work and goals and objectives. The idea is to have the review become a regular part of the overall evaluation and have it flow naturally into setting goals and objectives for the following year.

Use this time to assess if the person is meeting goals and expectations. If not, what can you do to help turn this around? If yes, start thinking about recognizing and rewarding your high performers.

Review Day

By this time you should have several different sources from which to write the actual review. Use this time to develop talking points for areas that you want to cover – make it future focused. Include a summary of your future expectations and begin to plan for the next cycle. Include the employee in the planning process and tie goals into the business strategy.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog where you’ll learn more about setting SMART goals.

BlueFire HR provides Performance Management  strategies designed to meet your business needs. Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.


Succession Planning – it’s not just for CEO’s anymore!

Succession planning is a strategy to identify and develop future leaders at your company and is used to plan ahead for expected or unexpected employee turnover.

Do you have a plan for when your star performer informs you she’s leaving the company? Succession planning is critical but is often overlooked in managing a business day to day. It’s important to be pro-active in preparing someone on your team to be the next rising star to ensure the smooth running of your business. Searching for a replacement can be costly to your business productivity.

Here are some key steps you can take now to prepare:

  • Identify possible successors at different levels, not just the next person on the org chart. Look for people who are hungry for a growth opportunity and have strong interpersonal skills.
  • Communicate to your team that you value employee development and are invested in their career.
  • Performance management – make opportunities for development part of the performance discussions. Keep track of professional goals and ways that you are helping others to succeed.
  • Recognize and reward achievements – get creative! Give a PTO day, a bonus, or send an email blast letting the company know when someone went above and beyond their job duties.
  • Training and Development – good leaders develop over time; offer mentoring, job shadowing and training to prepare them for the next step.

BlueFire HR provides Leadership Coaching strategies designed to meet your business needs. Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.

New – Parent Leave Law in CA

The New Parent Leave Act went into effect on January 1, 2018 and considerably broadens the number of companies subject to family-friendly leave of absence policies.

The law requires employers with at least 20 employees to provide their employees with 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected parental bonding leave. The provision enables eligible employees to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption or foster care placement.

In addition, the leave is job-protected, meaning employers must guarantee employment in the same or a comparable position upon an employee’s return from leave. Employers must also maintain and pay for the employee’s continued health care coverage as if they had continued to work.

The act does not apply to employees who are already covered by both the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), both of which already provide very similar leave and job protection to employers with at least 50 employees.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Create a compliant leave of absence policy
  • Develop leave of absence forms and procedures
  • Update your Employee Handbook
  • Train your managers about the requirements of the act

BlueFire HR can create custom Leave of Absence policies and create a compliant Employee Handbook  to meet your business needs. Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.

Summer Internships – make it a rewarding learning experience!

It’s summertime and the labor market is tight – is hiring an intern the solution? Internships can be a great experience all around. Companies get an opportunity to bring on a new team member and develop their talent pipeline. Interns get the opportunity to learn new functions, gain work experience and build up their resumes.

To pay or not to pay interns – that is the question? Employers who hire unpaid interns might fall foul of labor laws. It’s important to ensure that the internship is a true learning and training experience, otherwise the intern could look a lot like an employee who isn’t get paid!

There are certain rules employers must follow to ensure that unpaid interns are receiving a learning and training experience.

These rules include…

  • Interns cannot displace regular employees.
  • Interns are not guaranteed a job at the end of the internship.
  • The employer and the intern(s) understand that the interns are not entitled to wages during the internship period.
  • Interns must receive training from the company, even if it somewhat impedes on the work of the organization.
  • Interns must get hands-on experience with equipment and processes used in the industry.
  • Interns’ training must primarily benefit them, not the company.

If these rules aren’t followed, the intern could be considered an employee who must be paid at least the minimum wage and earn overtime. If you’re not sure your internship program meets all these requirements then you can pay the intern minimum wage and hire them as a seasonal or temporary employee instead. With this scenario everyone wins!

BlueFire HR can develop custom Internship and Recruiting programs and strategies designed to meet your business needs. Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.


California – NEW City Minimum Wage Increases

Throughout California, local cities and counties continue to pass ordinances relating to minimum wage, paid sick leave, criminal background checks and more. On July 1, 2018, several local minimum wage rates will increase, and two new local ordinances will go into effect.

Minimum Wage Increases

The following cities and county will increase their minimum wage on July 1 to:

  • Emeryville: $15.69/hour for businesses with 56 or more employees; $15/hour for businesses with 55 or fewer employees.
  • City of Los Angeles: $13.25/hour for employers with 26 or more employees; $12/hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees.
  • County of Los Angeles (unincorporated areas only): $13.25/hour for employers with 26 or more employees; $12/hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees.
  • Malibu: $13.25/hour for employers with 26 or more employees; $12/hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees.
  • Milpitas: $13.50/hour.
  • Pasadena: $13.25/hour for employers with 26 or more employees; $12/hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees.
  • San Francisco: $15/hour.
  • San Leandro: $13/hour.
  • Santa Monica: $13.25/hour for employers with 26 or more employees; $12/hour for employers with 25 or fewer employees.

Eligibility rules may vary based on different locations.

New Minimum Wage Ordinance

Belmont enacted a new minimum wage ordinance that goes into effect July 1, 2018, setting the minimum wage rate at $12.50/hour.

New San Francisco Salary History Ordinance

In addition to San Francisco’s minimum wage rate increase, San Francisco’s new  Salary History Ordinance  will become effective on July 1, 2018. Under the ordinance, employers will be banned from considering the current or past salary of an applicant in determining whether to hire the applicant or what salary to offer the applicant. This regulation is very similar to an existing rule  A.B. 168, under CA state law effective January 1, 2018. New York, Delaware and Oregon have also passed similar laws.

The law will apply to all employers, including city contractors and subcontractors. It will also apply to all job applicants in the city—even those applying for temporary, contingent, seasonal or part-time work.

The purpose of the law is to combat gender-based pay inequities that continue over the course of a woman’s career. “The problematic practices of seeking salary history from job applicants and relying on their current or past salaries to set employees’ pay rates contribute to the gender wage gap by perpetuating wage inequalities across the occupational spectrum,” the ordinance states.

San Francisco’s pay question ban will prohibit employers from:

  • Asking about a job applicant’s current or prior salaries including the value of benefits or other perks.
  • Relying on an applicant’s salary history in determining whether to make a job offer or what salary to offer.
  • Retaliating against an applicant for refusing to disclose salary history.
  • Releasing a current or former employee’s salary history without written authorization—unless disclosure is required by law or the information is publicly available or part of a collective bargaining agreement.

However, an employer may consider a job applicant’s salary history if it is disclosed voluntarily and without prompting from the employer. This will allow job applicants to freely negotiate or present counteroffers during the selection process. However, employer requests for salary expectations should be done in a way that is intended to solicit salary history or put pressure on a candidate to disclose salary information

Action Items for Employers in CA and San Francisco

  • Ensure your labor law posters are up to date with the July 1 minimum wage rate increases.
  • Ensure your hiring managers and outside recruiters are aware of the salary history ban in effect.
  • Update applicant materials such as your Employment Application or any screening questions in your Applicant Tracking System. Employers in San Francisco must post the Employer Consideration of Salary History Poster at each workplace or job site.
  • Be prepared to disclose a pay range for open positions upon request from the candidate. When providing the salary range, employers may qualify it by explaining that the salary offered will be based on appropriate factors such as qualifications and experience.

BlueFire HR can help you stay in compliance with new regulations that can have a major impact on your business operations. Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.

Stay Interviews- what are they and how can they help retain talent?

When was the last time you interviewed your employees to learn about their career aspirations and why they work at your company?

If it was way back when you hired the person then it might be time to think about conducting “stay interviews” with your team.

A stay interview is an opportunity to ask for employee feedback to learn more about their experience with the organization, what keeps them motivated and engaged (or not!).

Conducting a stay interview can be a daunting prospect – but it doesn’t need to become an invite for employees to complain if its handled thoughtfully and with respect. Employees need to know their opinions matter and that employers will try to make improvements based on the feedback.

It may take time to earn the respect and trust needed to ensure that employees open up about deeper issues that they have hesitated to bring up before. Over time, if you can demonstrate that you really do want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly you will earn that trust!

It can also be a way to start a conversation with an under-performer about any skill development or tools they need to perform at a higher level.

Here are some tips to make the most out of a stay interview.

  • Make it important and schedule it outside of your regular check ins or performance reviews.
  • But, keep it light and informal too. Let the employee know the discussion is about how their job is going, how they enjoy working at the company and what you can do to support them – it’s a time to listen.
  • Keep the conversation going – Don’t shut down the employee if they bring up something you disagree with or potentially don’t have the budget for.
  • Thank the person for taking the time to speak with you. Set expectations that this is an opportunity to listen but not every suggestion can be acted on.
  • Identify any issues that were brought up multiple times – be creative in solving for issues such as requests for training that might not be in the budget. Maybe you could launch a mentorship program where newer employees can learn from more experienced co-workers.
  • Follow up is critical.  Let your team know if any desired changes could or couldn’t be made and why.

Stay interviews help your employees understand that you recognize and appreciate them and are taking an active role in their professional development. They also help you discover any “at risk” employees who might feel like they have plateaued in their current position.

Replacing your best employees can be time-consuming and costly. Stay interviews are a solid strategy to help you retain your business’s top performers.

BlueFire HR can create custom training and guidance in conducting Stay Interview strategies designed to meet your business needs. Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.

Elevating the Candidate Experience

It’s a candidate’s job market! A great candidate experience is a must have as part of your talent acquisition and planning strategy.

A great candidate experience is one that makes it simple and easy for passive candidates to apply and one that gets you the right fit for the position.

If your hiring process requires candidates to jump through hoops such as completing lengthy online applications, multiple interviews, long intervals between communications or requires candidates to complete a project on their own time, then it’s high time to reevaluate your processes.

Analyze the steps in the design of your hiring process from the job posting to the sending the offer letter to streamline your time to hire.

  • Define what skills and abilities you are seeking – the job posting should provide a strong sense of the company culture as well as the job responsibilities
  • Be selective and reach out to only the most qualified candidates; let under qualified candidates know they are not a match but encourage them to apply for other opportunities.

Here are some ways you can streamline your hiring process and still hire the best fit:

  • Applications: Keep the application process short and simple. If you use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) ask a few brief pre-screening questions.
  • Communication is key: Let candidates know you received their resume and when they can expect to hear from you. Communicate with candidates throughout the hiring process.
  • First contact: Your initial outreach sets the tone for all future communication and its important to be friendly and respectful.
  • Agenda: Prior to the interview let the candidate know who they will be meeting with and approximately how long it will take – be sure the candidate is aware of the time commitment and can be relaxed and comfortable. Offer refreshments and a restroom break in between interviews.
  • Interviews: decide in advance who should meet with the candidate; do they really need to meet with six different managers who will ask the same questions? Instead, decide on just one or two interviewers and prepare “areas of focus” for each interviewer to inquire about. One might tackle soft skills such as listening and empathy and the other could tackle the technical skills required to do the job.
  • Updates: if the candidate is not a fit, let her/him know as soon as possible.
  • Feedback is important: Many candidates are left feeling confused after having great interviews but not getting the job. Giving them brief feedback on the reasons for your decision and encourage them to apply for other openings you may have.

Ensuring candidates have a great experience will increase your chances of converting your candidate into a new team member!

Have you found the ideal candidate? – Fantastic! The step is to prepare the offer. Learn more about how BlueFire HR can help you create an irresistible offer package.

BlueFire HR provides full cycle recruiting and custom Recruiting and Hiring  strategies designed to meet your business needs. Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.


Gender Wage Gap and Salary History Ban- what employers need to know and actions to take now!

In a ruling that has widespread impact for employers, a federal court has ruled that employers can’t pay women less than men just because a woman made less at a previous job. To do this perpetuates the gender wage gap and is discriminatory.

The Equal Pay Act was signed into effect in 1962 was intended to eliminate gender pay disparities yet women are still paid less than men on average.

Employers need to take action to review hiring practices and use legitimate job related factors such as experience, educational background, and skills.

Six states – California, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York or Oregon have outlawed salary history inquiries meaning that employers may not ask about prior salary or use this as a basis for determining salary in hiring decisions.

In addition, California’s Equal Pay Act requires fair pay for men and women who perform “substantially similar work.”

It’s important that hiring managers, recruiters and others involved in hiring are aware of and trained in the regulations. Documents such as application forms and screening questions in applicant tracking systems will also need to be updated to comply.

Many employers are choosing to conduct a self-audit of their pay to proactively adjust any pay disparities. Demographics, job title, compensation bands and performance information should be reviewed as part of the process. Companies also need to consider any differences in pay among employees in similar positions but with different job titles and those who work in other locations.

BlueFire HR can review and assess your current hiring practices and help you conduct a fair pay audit. Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.


Stress Awareness Month

Stress Awareness Month

Many of us experience stress on a daily basis; stress due to parenting, work or a draining commute can affect us all at some time in our lives.

Some of the leading causes of workplace stress are unmanageable workloads, a lack of control over work activities, minimal support, role ambiguity and work-life balance. Many employers are pro-actively looking at how they are contributing to this daily stress in the workplace and and providing tools for employees to better manage their daily lives.

It’s important to look at how your organization is structured in order to make some positive changes. Do you have enough staff to get the work done? Are employee objectives in line with the company goals for growth? Do employees have the tools they need to succeed?

The way employees do their work is also important; a lack of control in the way work is organized, performed and evaluated can be a source of stress. Many performance reviews are backward looking and can feel punishing putting a strain on relationships. Instead, implement frequent one to one touch points where both the manager and employee set goals together and agree on the required business outcomes.

Employees should be encouraged to challenge current practices and to develop skills to help them take on new challenges vs seeing it as adding to the current pile of things to do. Roles should be clearly defined so employees understand the scope and impact of their position.

There are many things companies can do to promote work life balance by fostering a culture of working “smart” not “long.” Respecting that time away from work is key to resting, recharging and re-engaging with your team is a smart move!

BlueFire HR can develop custom employee programs and strategies designed to meet your business needs. Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.

Employee Engagement – what is it and how to improve it?

Employee engagement is crucial to the success of your business but what is it and how can you improve it?

Employee engagement is about the level of commitment and connection an employee has to an organization and how closely the goals and vision of an employee are aligned with the company’s goals and vision. High engagement levels are key to retaining high performing talent and in growing your business.

What drives Employee Engagement? Employee engagement is linked to both the leadership and management of the organization.

Leaders have a significant impact on engagement when the company:

  • Has a clear direction and communicates the strategy and goals at all levels.
  • Recognizes and rewards high performance based on results.
  • Is committed to employee well-being.
  • Focuses on career growth and development.

Effective management has a direct impact on employee engagement.

Employee engagement soars when employees experience a positive relationship with their direct supervisor or manager and when employees:

  • Are given the necessary tools to do the job well.
  • Feel they have authority necessary to accomplish their job well.
  • Have the autonomy to make work decisions.
  • Innovation is recognized and rewarded.

How to improve Employee Engagement?

There are numerous ways to improve employee engagement as part of your day to day practices including:

Talent Acquisition: select intrinsically motivated candidates – those that see work as challenging and rewarding.

Onboarding New Hires: develop a solid onboarding plan that supports new hires during their first 90 days and sets them up for success.

Performance Management: develop challenging but achievable goals that contribute to the overall company strategic plan.

Recognition: develop recognition programs that reward employees who view their role broadly (hint – not just the superstar salesperson – include the team that supports sales too)!

Development: Offer skill development training to increase job performance and satisfaction.

Strategic Compensation and Rewards: develop a performance based rewards program to incentivize the behaviors you want to encourage

BlueFire HR can develop custom Employee Engagement programs and strategies designed to meet your business needs. Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.


Recruiting In a Candidate Market

The labor market is getting tighter every day with the average time to fill now a whopping 42-68 days and costing a staggering 6-9 months salary in recruiting and training costs.

How does your company compare and what can you do to shorten this time? BlueFire HR is expanding our retained search services. We are pleased to announce that Toby Lund has joined the BlueFire HR team as Sr. Recruiter. Toby has an extensive background in full cycle recruiting using a highly targeted approach that zeros in on candidates with the best fit for your company.

Using our retained search is a cost effective and highly efficient solution to your hiring needs. With our vast network, we will ensure your talent is a perfect fit for the culture, the team and the position.

  • Targeted Search – seeking those candidates that are interested, qualified, and worth your consideration.
  • In-depth interviews and evaluations – BlueFire HR conducts in-depth evaluations of qualified candidates ensuring their credentials, cultural compatibility and behavioral assessments yield only the most qualified candidates.
  • Confidentiality – on the occasion we need to keep your search confidential due to your internal changes we can work completely anonymously on your behalf.
  • Efficient Time Management – with BlueFire HR’s extensive network and years of talent acquisition experience we only present top candidates that you will want to interview.

Hiring for fit is a key step in successfully integrating a new employee into your company.

Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.

Setting a Talent Acquisition and Talent Retention Strategy

How ready are you to attract new employees to your organization or better yet retain your employees?

Talent is key to the success of any organization. Talent Acquisition is an ongoing strategy that focuses on long-term human resources planning.

2018 is off to a great start – for job seekers that is! U.S. employers added 200,000 new jobs in January according to a new government report. In addition to lowered unemployment rates creating a smaller pool of active candidates, wages are expected to increase after several years of post-recession stagnation which in turn could lead to an increase in passive candidates jumping ship for higher wages. Are you ready to compete?

In this first in a series of blogs we will explore key steps to developing a more effective talent acquisition and talent retention strategy.

  • Branding  – If you don’t already have an attractive career website, build one! Use your site to promote what makes you special. Convey this message through all your marketing materials and social media channels to create an image of what it’s like to work for your company – this will attract candidates who are a better fit leading to shorter hiring times and greater retention.
  • Employee Referrals – Employee referrals are a great source for candidates and every employee should be a recruiter for the company. Offer a meaningful  incentive for referrals to make it worth their time.
  • Compensation – be competitive and transparent about what you have to offer. Being transparent about your total rewards and compensation package early on means less time spent on candidates that may ultimately decline your offer. Focus on what makes your company special, it could be the benefits including flexibility, free snacks or an eco-friendly workspace.
  • Be flexible with schedules and needs – the gig economy is booming and its estimated that about 34% of the current workforce are engaged in some form of gig or part-time work. Consider hiring part time workers to fill your needs and embrace flexibility.
  • Networking – develop relationships with potential new hires even before they become candidates – it all comes back to branding! Create effective networks where candidates can learn about your company and how they can make a difference.

BlueFire HR can develop custom Talent Acquisition programs and strategies designed to meet your business needs. Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.


Anti-Harassment training is no longer an afterthought – it’s become an absolute must do!

By, Aisling Byrne, Senior HR Consultant at BlueFire HR

Claims of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct in the workplace can be found in every industry including small and large corporations in law, education, non-profits and the financial sector. Never happened at your company? Don’t assume it’s not happening just because someone hasn’t complained (yet)!

Failing to prevent an issue—or overlooking or ignoring an existing problem—can have serious consequences. If the victim files a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) the company will be the subject of an investigation and a possible lawsuit by the EEOC on behalf of the victim.

How you handle a complaint—or even a whisper—of sexual harassment can have a significant impact by sending a message that unacceptable behavior is in fact acceptable.

Here are best practices and next steps to follow:

Develop, implement and practice a good anti-harassment policy. If you don’t have a policy, get one. If you have one, make sure your employees know about it. Include examples of unacceptable conduct and the consequences.

Train and educate your employees. Provide all of your employees with harassment training (not just managers) and ensure they are aware of what constitutes harassment and what options they have available to them.

Provide more than one option to file a complaint. Companies should have two or more unrelated ways that employees can complain about harassment, discrimination or retaliation. For example, if your policy states to go to your manager but that person is the harasser, your policy is ineffective. Make a confidential hotline available to your employees.

Investigate the conduct. Even if you do not have an official complaint, but merely whisperings in the office—or outside the office at an event or on social media—do not hesitate to properly investigate.

Take action if needed. Even if the person is one of your best performers or in the C-suite, sexual harassment is unacceptable regardless of the harasser.

Be preventive and proactive now not after a complaint is made. The costs of dealing with sexual harassment – such as litigation, destroyed reputation, loss of customers, clients or investors, inability to attract and retain talent, loss of competitive advantage and sustainability or a decline in morale – is far greater than making the investment in your culture.

BlueFire HR can help! From investigations, trainings, and/or a confidential hotline. We want you to be doing everything you can to create a respectful workplace.

Sign-up for BlueFire HR’s Monthly Membership and get a confidential employee hotline included.

BlueFire HR is now offering Train-the-Trainer classes on Anti-Harassment Training.

This offering includes:

  • Manager Training with skills practices (60 minutes)
  • Staff Training with skills practices (60 minutes)
  • A train-the-trainer session on how to conduct these sessions
  • On Call HR Mentor to talk to for up to one year
  • Ability to brand your sessions the way you want
  • All materials are yours to keep and use year over year.

For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.

S.M.A.R.T Goals – Set Yourself Up For Success in 2019

Set yourself up for success in 2019! Planning ahead is vitally important to ensure the performance review process goes smoothly. Goal setting is a critical part of the review process so that both you and your team members know exactly what your goals are.

One of the best ways to set goals is to use the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable and Time-Bound) framework.

S.M.A.R.T goals provide a structure to identify what you want to accomplish. Meet with each of your employees individually to set goals; the key here is to be collaborative. Put the goals in writing and review with your employees on a regular basis. This ensures that everyone is clear on both the expectation and the timing when you meet to discuss progress.

Specific – be specific about what you want to accomplish.

  • Who – consider who needs to be involved
  • What – provide details
  • When – set a timeframe
  • Why – what is the reason for the goal

Measurable – set metrics to measure progress. Include milestones by incorporating specific steps or tasks to accomplish along the way.

Achievable – make the goal attainable. Think about how to accomplish the goal and what it will take to get there.

Relevant – focus on something related to the business objectives.

Time-Bound – provide a target date; giving yourself a date to aim for will keep your sights on achieving that goal.

Sample Goal – I work in sales and want to improve my customer presentation skills to showcase our new service we are launching in Q1.

Specific – become proficient in the use of PowerPoint to improve my presentation skills

Measurable – be able to create presentations that incorporate media, photos, graphs and timelines

Achievable– learn one new PowerPoint skill each week

Relevant – to expand the number of customers and grow in my career

Time-Bound – in two months I should be able to create a new customer presentation before the service launches in Q1.

As business objectives change, so should your goals. You should evaluate your goals on a regular basis to ensure they are linked to your business strategy.

BlueFire HR provides Performance Management  strategies designed to meet your business needs. Reach out today and see how we can help! For more information, please contact us at, 773-793-1362 or at 888-892-9597.

Aisling Byrne, SHRM-SCP, CEBS, is a Sr. Human Resources Director at BlueFire HR specializing in employee engagement, performance management, coaching, leadership development and systems/process improvement.  

Restorative Teambuilding

Image result for team building


By Sam R. Lloyd

What is a team? The classic textbook definition is a group of people working to- gether to accomplish a common goal. That sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

Effective, successful teams require several ingredients including mutual trust, mu- tual respect, lots of communication, cooperation, collaboration and support for one another. The most effective teams often have a lot of affection for one another!

Many groups struggle to ever become a real team. Other groups complete the fa- miliar process of forming, norming, storming and performing and appear to be functioning as a team but closer examination reveals that they are not quite there yet!

Unfortunately, we human beings have a great talent for conflict and little prepara- tion for the kind of relationships described above! The great majority of people grow up in families in which we learn a lot about conflict and considerably less about open, honest, sharing, caring collaborative relationships. No surprise that people find it challenging to join a group of strangers and function as a team as de- scribed earlier!

Any group working to become a team or maintain effective teamwork will have many conflicts. Some will be very brief and relatively minor and others will be more serious and ongoing. Even the minor conflicts tend to result in accumulated bad feelings, an erosion of trust and, possibly, a considerable loss of respect for one another. This accumulation and some major conflicts can damage relationships quite seriously.

When a group reaches the point where miscommunication is frequent, trust and re- spect are shaky, power struggles are more common than collaboration, it is past time for the group to focus more on relationships and less on tasks. To not do so is to allow the team to continue down a path that leads to continuing sub-par perfor- mance and possible failure!

At this point, you might be thinking it is time for some team-building training. This might do the trick. Often, even good quality team-building training may not be enough to get the group back on track to functioning as a successful team.

Why? A number of factors tend to make it difficult to achieve or rebuild the ingre- dients for a successful team.


The typical team-building training tends to focus on a variety of exercises in which people experience goal-setting, working together to solve problems or figuring out how to help each other navigate a ropes course, climb a mountain, survive for days in an isolated environment, etc. These experiences can be challenging, fun for some, and rewarding for all who experience success but they often do not carry over into the needed improvements in the workplace performance. Many find it difficult to translate the learning experience into the every day realities of their work environment.

The kind of training that is more likely to help the group members become a true team is training that teaches interpersonal skills. It is the lack of such skills that creates the biggest challenges for good teamwork and that may have resulted in the group having more conflict than collaboration.

My decades of experience with providing interpersonal skills has provided plenty of evidence that brief interpersonal skills training programs will help a small per- centage of participants learn and develop the needed skills but the majority will quickly lapse back into their pattern of behaviors learned much earlier in their lives. Even with extensive and intensive training, some will not implement most of what they learned upon their return to work!

For this reason, more and more organizations are providing individual coaching for employees to help them develop skills and make desired behavior changes to im- prove their performance and success. Coaching can help someone learn, practice and develop new skills more effectively and permanently than training programs typically produce!

Most of my coaching clients have already experienced a number of training pro- grams before entering into a coaching relationship! The missing ingredient usually is a lack of follow-up positive reinforcement and debriefing attempts to use tech- niques and skills learned in training to learn more about what works and why something did not work. They get this when they work with a coach over a period of weeks and months and the emotional support provided by the coach also helps. Emotional support at work is rarely provided!

Even if each member of a group were to receive training and/or coaching, there is still a very important missing ingredient in the recipe for returning to successful teamwork.

The damaged relationships need to be repaired! Accumulated bad feelings need to be expressed and heard and people need the opportunity to apologize, accept re- sponsibility for contributing to past conflicts, and to work together to reach agree-

ment about how they will work together going forward to restore trust and respect and how to interact more successfully now and in the future!

The growing field of restorative practices has been developed to address this im- portant need. Restorative practices are often lumped together with other alternative dispute resolution approaches such as mediation and arbitration. It is important to understand the differences.

Mediation is used when parties in conflict decide (or are ordered by management or a court) to involve a professionally trained mediator to help them reach an agreement about how to resolve a dispute. This is a very valuable approach for identifying the key issues involved in a dispute, the concerns, wants and needs of each party, and the common ground that can help the parties to begin moving to- ward compromise.

The mediator’s role is to facilitate the communication process and to help the par- ties make these discoveries and develop alternative solutions. The outcome most often will be a compromise, which breaks the stalemate but can leave all parties less than completely satisfied.

In building or rebuilding teamwork, compromise falls short of what is needed!

Arbitration is a more formal process that can be dictated by contract or court order in which a professional arbitrator is brought in to examine the dispute and to learn the perspectives, goals and/or demands of the parties. The arbitrator decides what will be done and the parties are required to accept the decision. The result may be one party being very dissatisfied or all parties being unhappy about the outcome.

The Restorative Process can take various forms depending upon where it is used and the circumstances of the situation. For example, an increasingly common ap- plication is an alternative to criminal prosecution that is known as Restorative Jus- tice.

This approach involves an offender (or offenders), the victim or victims of the crime, supporters of these parties, the arresting officer, one or more community members and a facilitator (or co-facilitators). The participants meet with the facili- tators separately to learn how the process works and to allow the facilitators to learn about the incident from the perspective of each party before the actual restorative conference.

The restorative conference brings together all of the parties who sit in an open cir- cle (no furniture in the middle). Each party tells his/her story while the others listen

without interruption. Most often the offender speaks first, which allows the victim to hear what the person was thinking and feeling at the time of the offense, why the person decided to do it, why they were chosen as the victim, how the offender now thinks and feels about what he/she did. Often the offender will express remorse and give an apology.

As each party tells his/her story more and more information is provided for all par- ticipants, they learn how the incident had an impact on each person, and the harms are identified. This is an important step toward figuring out how to later reach agreement about how the offender will make restoration. After each party has been heard there is an opportunity for asking questions. The facilitators provide some information about the offender gleaned in the pre-conference interview to help the others know more about the person than just the single incident.

The final step in the process is for all parties to brainstorm ideas about how the harms will be repaired as much as possible. The possible actions must be relevant, reasonable, observable and measurable ways that the offender can repair harms and demonstrate that he/she is accepting responsibility for his/her harmful actions and for undoing the damage to the victim, the arresting officer and the community. From the list of possible restorative actions the group reaches consensus about which will be required of the offender and a contract is written. All parties sign the contract and the offender is required to complete all of the actions by the time limit (which must be reasonable) and provide documentation of the completion of each action to the law enforcement agency.

Failure to complete the contract results in the case being returned to the agency for possible prosecution of the original criminal offense. This is a powerful incentive for the offender to complete the contract.

The benefits of this approach include:

  • The victim has an opportunity to learn why the offender did what he/she did.Most victims want to know “Why me?” This opportunity does not exist in the criminal justice system.
  • The victim is involved in determining how the harms will be repaired, tohear the offender apologize and express remorse, and to achieve resolution that can help him/her feel satisfied with the result. (Victims are informed when the offender completes the contract.)
  • The offender learns how his/her behavior harmed various people in a setting that is very personal and often very emotional. It is quite common for the conference participants to experience a wide range of emotion, which is why tissues are always available!
  • The offender has the opportunity to make amends (financial restitution, community service, personal service, public apology, teaching others about the consequences of poor choices, etc.) and to make smarter choices in the future. (This process has an impressively low rate of repeat offenders!)
  • The community benefits by some form of community service in many restorative contracts and by knowing that offenders who participate in this process have accepted responsibility for their actions and are unlikely to cause harm to others in the future. The community also benefits because this process is much less costly than the criminal justice system of trials, appeals, incarceration and its very high rate of repeat offenders.How does this relate to our topic of teamwork? The same process can be used to help groups undo some damage and work together to reach agreement about changes in their processes and interactions to help them become a more successful team!


    I was asked by a construction company to facilitate a restorative process with a small team (3 people) who were experiencing serious difficulties. They had reached the point where they were avoiding contact with each other and one person had announced an intention to resign and leave the company. The Vice President of Finance and Director of Human Resources wisely decided to invest a little time and money in helping the three employees learn how to work together as a success- ful team. Compared to the cost of losing a valued employee, the cost of a facilitat- ed restorative process promised to be a real bargain!

    The facilitator (me) met with each person privately to learn about the incidents that had led to the current situation and to give each person an opportunity to be open and honest with an objective outsider with a signed agreement of confidentiality. Employees often are reluctant to be completely open and honest with employers because they fear retribution.

    After learning from each person, I met with all three people. Each person was asked to tell his/her story following prescribed guidelines. The person talking will…

  • Make no accusations or negative judgments. The speaker must describe words and/or actions factually without blame and without assumptions about the motivations of others.
  • Express his/her own feelings with “I-statements”. “I was hurt and angry.” “I felt disrespected.” “I was confused and surprised.”

• Explain the tangible harm or negative impact resulting from the behavior of the other person(s).

The parties listening will…

  • Listen without interruption and make a sincere effort to understand and re-spect the perspective of the person speaking.
  • When asked by the facilitator, will restate what the speaker said and ac-knowledge the feelings of the speaker that were shared or sensed.
  • Focus on the wants/needs of the speaker.After each person told his/her story, there were some questions asked about the reasons for some of the actions and to clarify some understanding and differing perceptions of what occurred with specific incidents. Each time the participants were asked to restate what they heard to help assure accurate understanding and continuing respectful interactions.

    All three parties expressed sincere and tearful regret for some of the things that had been said or done. Each person accepted responsibility for his/her role in the vari- ous conflicts. Each person also expressed regret and remorse about the damaged relationships and a strong desire to work together in peace and harmony.

    As facilitator I guided the discussion into brainstorming ideas about how to interact differently, how to resolve problems, how to repair harms, etc. The group devel- oped quite a few ideas for the whole team and several specific changes for each in- dividual. The final result was a list of commitments for each team member and agreement by all three to keep the commitments.

    The relief in the room was tangible! There were hugs and laughter and expressions of gratitude and affection.

    The employee who had planned to leave chose to stay and management reported to me later that the team had continued to work together quite successfully with ob- servable positive interactions, mutual support and occasional fun! The total time required was a few hours!


    A gaming company (race track, casino and hotel operation) contracted with me to facilitate a restorative process with a group of 18 upper management people. The group included the president of the company, several regional directors, the general manager of one of the properties and his direct report middle managers.

This group had experienced a number of conflicts that involved several others in the group and most people harbored some unresolved bad feelings and negative perceptions about others in the group. All had participated in various kinds of man- agement training and quite a few had many years of experience in the gaming in- dustry, but most knew little about relationships and dealing with conflicts.

The departing president contracted with me to facilitate a process designed to iden- tify some specific conflicts, to help the participants in those conflicts learn how they contributed, how others felt, how they were harmed, how others were harmed, and how the organization was harmed. Another objective of the process was to identify issues that were recurrent and that needed to be addressed to explore changes that could help to prevent or reduce conflicts and the harms.

Leading up to the day of the meeting some had expressed concerns and some skep- ticism about members of the management group being willing to discuss openly their conflicts with others in the group or to address some organizational structure issues that had contributed to the problems. This is a common problem in organiza- tions. Very little focus on relationships creates a culture in which people do not openly discuss emotions, do not provide helpful feedback to one another about be- havior that invites conflict, and do not initiate conversations about repairing dam- aged relationships and improving the quality of interactions.

Our process began at 10:00 am in a meeting room with chairs in a circle without furniture in the middle. When people entered the room they knew this would not be a normal meeting! They already had received a document that explained the pur- pose of the meeting and how the process would work. The document included guidelines for the discussion and a comparison of dialog and debate. We were go- ing to participate in a dialog, not a debate.

After brief introductions around the circle to help the facilitator know each per- son’s role in the organization and their expectations/hopes for the process, I (facili- tator) spoke briefly about how most people found teamwork to be more challeng- ing than expected and how important teamwork is for organizations to achieve suc- cess. I asked the group what groups have to do well in order to become a true team. They produced a list that included:

  • Trust one another
  • Communicate frequently & skillfully
  • Be respectful
  • Support each other
  • Have clearly defined roles
  • Help each other
  • Share a mission and goals

As facilitator I then explained how most people reach adulthood having learned lit- tle about how to build and maintain successful relationships and having learned be- fore reaching school age how to participate in conflict. One of the great challenges of teamwork is how often people in groups have conflicts with each other.

The last step before starting the restorative circle process was a brief explanation of the three roles that everyone learns to play in conflict situations (Persecutor, Res- cuer and Victim). The group also learned that each person has a favorite (default) role that he/she uses to initiate conflict with others or to respond to invitations from others to join in a conflict. Even though we do play all three roles (sometimes in a single conflict situation), we most often will play the one that we developed as our favorite during childhood. All 3 roles invite and create Win-Lose outcomes. (To learn more about conflict request my Handling Conflict With Skill article!) The group was asked, “How many of you are aware that you have had conflicts with others in this room?” Everyone raised a hand!

I then announced that it was time to talk about some past conflicts and how the conflict had harmed you, others and the organization. The group was reminded about the guidelines and was shown the “talking piece” (a red felt-tip marker). Only the person holding the talking piece was allowed to talk. The group was asked to be specific about what was said or done to initiate the conflict and to ac- knowledge how they had contributed to the conflict. You have conflict only when you choose to participate!

Immediately, one person asked for the “talking piece” and described an incident, how he had felt about another manager’s words and actions, how he still had bad feelings about the incident, and that he was reluctant to communicate with the oth- er person. The other manager requested the “talking piece”. I (facilitator) asked the second person to restate briefly what he had heard the first manager say before talking about his own role in the conflict. The second person apologized for his words and actions, explained his intent, and expressed his desire to work more ef- fectively with the first person. The first person asked for the “talking piece”, ac- cepted the apology and echoed his desire to have a cooperative relationship.

This process continued with almost everyone in the group talking about past con- flicts, the harms caused, which included a wide range of negative emotions plus continuing communication problems and other tangible costs. People learned a lot about how their own words and actions had contributed to some serious obstacles to teamwork. They learned about misinterpretations of situations, conversations and email messages. They learned about the intent of others and their wants and needs. They also learned some important things about one another that had never

been openly discussed before, including some very personal and emotional revela- tions.

There was a visible and tangible bonding improvement that occurred during the process. Several people commented later in the day how pleased they were that we were doing this because they felt much better about others in the group and felt great relief to get things out in the open.

The final stage of the process was to summarize about six important issues that surfaced repeatedly in the various conflicts and that all agreed needed to be ad- dressed to figure out how to make some needed changes. The group engaged in a “brainstorming” process to generate ideas about how to make changes in organiza- tional procedures and structure and changes in relationships to prevent or reduce future conflicts and problems. Several pages of flip-chart paper were required to record all of the ideas generated in this process. The pages were given to the in- coming company president for follow-up evaluation discussions and implementa- tion.

At the conclusion of the meeting (4:15 pm), the team members were in good spirits with a high level of energy and enthusiasm about the process and the many im- provement ideas that resulted.

The incoming president expressed his appreciation for the process and his agree- ment with the outgoing president that it was a helpful and valuable process to help move the organization in a positive direction.


Very few organizations and teams ever engage in this type of process. Most have recurring conflicts that are never discussed much less analyzed to identify causes and to make decisions about what to change to improve teamwork. It is quite common for negative emotions to be saved and harms to be ignored.

The result is damaged relationships and negative perceptions that remain in place, which act as filters through which current interactions are interpreted. This increas- es the probability that situations will result in conflicts and the conflicts often in- crease in frequency and severity. Teamwork is disrupted; productivity is affected negatively, and costs increase.

The cost of some training and a facilitated restorative process is slight when com- pared to the costs of ignoring the lack of teamwork. The return on investment of taking positive action can be impressive!


Sam R. Lloyd is founder and president of SuccessSystems, Inc. in Boulder, CO. His company provided training, coaching and mediation services for all types of organizations from 1977-2013. He is the author of numerous articles and eight books including Developing Positive Assertiveness, Coaching Skills for Leaders, Accountability: Managing for Maximum Results and Respectful Relationships: The Positive Approach To End Conflict & Harassment. His most recent book is a Kindle E-Book: The Supervisor’s Handbook: What To Do & How To Do It! Sam continues to provide training and coaching upon request. You can contact Sam at (303) 998-0248 .

You can learn more about his books at https://www.ama- Some of his paperback books are available as used books on Amazon (very cheap).

Most of his books can be purchased directly from the publish- er at