Corporate Cranium Mentor Articles

How Can You Safeguard Your Workplace Against Violence?

By Sharon Berglund | Bergland HR Consulting | July 25, 2019

(CNN) “DeWayne Craddock, a 15-year public works employee, stopped in the men’s bathroom to brush his teeth near the end of his shift, like he did every day. But by late afternoon, instead of going home, he plotted to carry out a massacre at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. The gunman, who had submitted his letter of resignation hours earlier, killed 12 people (11 co-workers and a contractor). Craddock died after a gun battle with officers. It was the deadliest massacre in the country this year.”

As an HR Consultant and former HR Executive, this tragedy really struck home with me. I’ve personally been in a few ugly termination meetings where I feared for my life. In one situation, the employee pulled out a large silver bullet and handed it across the desk to me. While he fortunately did not pull out a gun, he was definitely sending a message to me and to the company. One of my colleagues had an employee pull a gun out during a termination meeting and was able to talk the employee into handing the gun over.

As business leaders we say that “employees are our biggest asset” but what are we doing to protect them in a situation such as the one in Virginia Beach earlier this year? With the trend towards open office space, is there protection should a disgruntled employee show up with a gun?

I never thought I would be saying this but today I agree with a policy that my most difficult CEO implemented about 20 years ago that at the time I thought was paranoid and not employee friendly. When any employee gave notice, he insisted they be walked out immediately regardless of their reason for quitting (with the possible exceptions of leaving to have a baby or retiring). We paid them two weeks of notice pay as a courtesy. At the time, it seemed like over kill and put the employee’s manager in a difficult situation of providing immediate coverage.

Many, if not most workplace violence situations are committed by an ex-employee and it gives me pause to rethink the termination policy that my mercurial former boss insisted I implement back in the 1990’s. We managed to make it work and there actually were some benefits of the policy. For example, there was far less gossip about employees being fired because it was impossible to tell who had quit versus who was fired. Additionally, it forced managers to have a back-up plan and cross training for all critical functions.

Changing your termination procedures won’t prevent every shooting but it’s worthy of consideration in today’s pro-second amendment rights culture. However, the very best defense against workplace violence is creating a workplace culture where employees feel valued and treated fairly; a culture that encourages people to receive counseling for mental health without stigma; a culture that encourages open communication and healthy conflict resolution.

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Hiring Mistakes and What to Do About Them

By Sharon Berglund | Bergland HR Consulting | January 28, 2019

Any leader that has hired more than ten people has made at least one hiring mistake. The problem is compounded in a small business because of the impact each employee has on your success.

One of the most common concerns I hear from leaders is that the person they hired is technically sound but they just don’t fit in. Below is an example of a scenario that I’ve seen play out:

You are the Owner/President of a small rapidly growing business and have been outsourcing payroll but decide it would be more efficient to hire an internal Payroll Administrator.  After interviewing a number of candidates, you make an offer to a man named Bill. Although Bill has had a number of previous jobs, he seemed to have the right experience and lots of confidence.

Bill starts and, at first, seems focused on learning the job. Just when you are starting to feel like you’ve made a good hire, one of your most seasoned managers comes into your office and shuts the door. He asks you who does Bill thinks he is to be questioning how the company is prioritizing service calls. You mean to say something to Bill but with the craziness of the day, didn’t have a chance. The next week, another manager pulls you aside and complains about the new guy, a real “know-it-all” who has an opinion on everything.

This time, you take a few minutes to check in with Bill and ask him how things are going. Bill says, “Just great, I’ve met everyone and already have lots of ideas on improvements.”  You gently remind Bill that his focus needs to be on administering payroll and making improvements in his own function first and foremost.

The next week your CPA expresses her concern that while Bill has learned the payroll system he already seems bored with his job and is more interested in giving her advice. They are both very strong willed.  Another month goes by and while Bill is completing payroll, you continue to get complaints and there seems to be a lot more conflict in the office. You try one more time to talk to Bill and he insists that he’s doing great and just trying to help the company with his suggestions.

Bottom line, this isn’t working out. You have a problem with job fit – your employee is technically sound but lacks self-awareness and is causing lots of disruption. He’s getting on everyone’s nerves including your own. You are regretting your decision to stop outsourcing payroll.

What’s the best way to handle the situation without a costly and time-consuming lawsuit?

  • Document as much as you remember from your coaching sessions with Bill.
  • Decide how you want to handle payroll going forward – if you decide to outsource again, you have the perfect objective business reason to let Bill go.
  • If you don’t choose to outsource, take your CPA into your confidence to ensure she can handle payroll until you hire a temp. Consider a “temp to hire” to assess job fit with less risk.
  • I highly recommend offering Bill a severance agreement with a full release of claims (Bob Halagan is brilliant at putting these agreements together). Payroll jobs are plentiful and his tenure is short so 3-4 weeks of pay should be adequate.

Meet with Bill and inform him you are making an organizational change that unfortunately means he will be leaving the company. Be kind and respectful, thank him for his service and offer to be a reference for his next job.  Keep the meeting short and sweet.

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How to Navigate Workplace Relationships in the #MeToo Era: Practical Advice for Business Owners/Leaders

By Sharon Berglund | Bergland HR Consulting | November 1, 2018

Not since the days of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings has there been so much talk about sexual assault and sexual harassment. Just about everyone has an opinion about the Christine Blasey Ford/Brent Kavanaugh hearings and Justice Kavanaugh’s recent confirmation into the Supreme Court. To complicate matters further, divisiveness in our Country is worse than it was in 1991 and opinions and arguments are publically displayed on social media.

As a business leader, how do you monitor and navigate these discussions without alienating your employees? From my perspective as a Human Resources Executive with many years of investigating sexual harassment claims, let me offer a story to illustrate some “Do’s” and “Don’ts” in this situation. 


You are a white male business leader. You are politically a moderate conservative and while you thought Ms. Ford was credible and Mr. Kavanaugh was a bit “over the top,” you ultimately support the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh.

One day you return from lunch to a loud argument between two of your most valued employees in the Break Room. It is clear they vehemently disagree about the recent confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Their voices are raised and other employees are starting to gather around them, and they can be heard in the reception area where customers are waiting.

  • Kristin, your Customer Service Manager, is a Republican who is convinced that the Democrats were behind Ms. Ford’s and Ms. Ramirez’ complaints. She believes Judge Kavanaugh was wronged and his reputation forever ruined.
  • Samira, your Finance Director, is a Democrat, has been involved in the #MeToo Movement as a protester and is strongly critical of the way the Republican majority and the President handled the Confirmation Hearings and FBI investigation. She believes Ms. Ford was disrespected in the process.

You are irritated by the public nature of their argument and your first instinct is to pull them aside and admonish them for their behavior. How do you confront this situation?

  • Don’t discipline them (assuming this is an isolated incident). Instead use it as an opportunity to build stronger relationships with both women.
  • Don’t share your personal thoughts and experiences. As the Leader and person in power, you must be neutral and willing to hear both sides.
  • Do take a deep breath and approach them in a calm, non-threatening way and ask them to continue the exchange in your private office.
  • Do acknowledge you have great respect for them both. Communicate that you understand there are strongly opposing viewpoints on this situation and we each view the facts through our own lens.
  • Do ask them if they might find common ground with their viewpoints. There are very few absolutes in this world. Ask them to try to look at the situation from different perspectives, i.e., as a woman who is a survivor of sexual assault, as a man who has been wrongly accused, as a woman who fears for her sons, and how that might change their perspectives.
  • Do acknowledge as a male who has never experienced sexual abuse, you are willing to learn more about the #MeToo movement to better understand the perspective of people who have experienced abuse, assault or harassment.

If you are willing to go one step further and build open communication and employee engagement, reach out to your employees in a meeting or email and acknowledge that you encourage sharing of ideas with colleagues on this or other controversial topics as long as it remains respectful of all viewpoints. If there is a lot of interest in further exploring a controversial topic, consider bringing in a facilitator to host a brown bag lunch session.

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Growing Profitability for Your Business Through Employee Engagement

By Sharon Berglund | Bergland HR Consulting | August 6, 2018

If you own or manage a business it is no secret that there is a war for talent. With McDonalds paying upwards of $15 per hour for entry-level high school students it is a major challenge to recruit high quality employees.

High employee engagement is the solution. While serving in my former role as the Chief Human Resources Officer for the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities, engagement was my highest priority and I studied it extensively. This article will share some of my research with you and provide some solutions. As a non-profit, the Y paid less than many other organizations yet they were able to attract and retain talent and lower the turnover rate by having a robust employee engagement strategy. Word gets around through Glass Door and other organizations about your culture and reputation as an employer.

According to a study conducted by Corporate Executive Board, the companies with a highly engaged workforce had the following results:

  • Employees will work 57% harder and are 9 times less likely to leave
  • Average three-year revenue growth of 20.1% as compared to industry average of 8.9%

High engagement leads to increased productivity and more profit. Gallup research conducted a study in 2012, which examined about 1.4 million employees in 192 organizations across the globe, and found that companies with a highly engaged workforce are 22 percent more profitable. Gallup found that high engagement results in increased quality of life, wellness, higher productivity and decreased absence and health insurance costs

Additionally, in a recent study, conservatively the average cost of turnover for an entry-level worker is 16% of their annual salary and for a mid-level worker, 20%. That equates to $3,994 for a $12 per hour employee and $10,000 for a $50,000 per year employee.

So, the million dollar question is, how do I achieve a highly engaged workforce? The ideas below are based on my 30 years as a Human Resources executive and extensive research:

  • Genuine two-way communications with your employees
    • Annual employee engagement surveys
      • I recommend the Gallup 12 questions and adding the NPS (net promoter score) question: “On a scale of 1-10 how likely are you to recommend this company as a good place to work to your close friends and family?” A score of 9-10 is a Promoter, 7-8 is neutral and 6 or below is a Detractor. Measure the results of your survey and set improvement goals for your leaders – many times employees leave the supervisor and not the company
    • Quarterly Town Hall meetings with all employees to provide the opportunity for them to understand the company’s objectives, celebrate successes, ask questions and connect with colleagues
    • Publicly acknowledge their accomplishments and privately speak with them about their mistakes.
      • As an HR professional one of the most frequent complaints I received from employees was that their supervisor did not listen to their side of things. When an employee makes a mistake, always ask the employee his or her side of things before imposing any corrective action (this is also highly recommended from a legal standpoint). For example, if you heard from a customer that your employee was rude, give the employee the benefit of the doubt and use open-ended coaching questions. “Bob, I heard that you treated X with disrespect on X date, I’d like to understand from your perspective what happened and why? Listen first and coach the employee in how they can improve their customer service skills. If more complaints occur, listen first and depending on their response follow your disciplinary policy.
  • Have fun and celebrate
    • Fitness competitions and challenges, i.e., which department can get the greatest number of employees doing 10,000 steps a day
    • Celebrate birthdays and anniversaries – some organizations celebrate monthly or quarterly at the Town Hall meetings
    • Contest for each department to make a fun video of what they do
    • Chili tasting contest – have employees make their favorite recipes and award a prize for the best
  • Be fair and transparent. Employees always know more than you think they do. If you start paying new hires more than your existing team, word will get around fast and existing employees will feel unfairly treated. In this situation you have two options depending on your financial situation:
    • Raise your existing employee’s pay to match the new hire’s pay (the best solution)
    • If you can’t afford to pay everyone at the new rate, candidly address the issue and communicate with your employees that you realize that this is an important issue but the company is not financially in a position to raise everyone’s pay at this time; however, it is a top priority and you will do your best to equalize pay incrementally over X timeframe
    • It’s okay to pay your top performers more or provide one-time bonuses to recognize them but base it on objective performance measures
  • Invest in your employees’ training and development. Employees will not stay long in this market if they are not being developed or do not see opportunities for upward mobility. Annual or every other year career discussions are a great signal to your employees that you care about their development.
  • Promote work life balance and respect boundaries, i.e., keep after hours emails and calls to a minimum, don’t impose last minute overtime demands (if you must, tell them why it’s important), etc.

In summary, your company will reap many benefits by treating your employees as well as you treat your customers. Employees have basic emotional needs that are universal: feeling connected, respected, fairly treated and appreciated. As a business owner or leader employee engagement must be a top priority for your company to maximize your profitability and beat your competition.

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Berglund HR Consulting
6470 Balsam Lane North
Maple Grove, MN 55369
Phone: 612-803-9750
Email Sharon

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