8 new year’s resolutions for employers

Employers at this time of year might be hoping that their employees are making new year’s resolutions to set clearer goals, work more efficiently, or stop spending so much work time hanging out on Facebook. But what about new year’s resolutions for the employers themselves? Here are eight resolutions for employers that could significantly improve both their workplaces and work products.

1. Let employees have their evenings and weekends back. American workers are increasingly finding that their previously 9-5 jobs now expect them to be available to answer calls and emails over the weekend and well into the evening hours. While some jobs truly do require this, many don’t – and it’s simply happening because technology has made it easier. As this trend impacts ever more people, employers that get serious about limiting intrusions into employee’s time off will have an easier time attracting and retaining good employees who want to be able to leave their jobs at the office. Relatedly…

2. Help people take time off. Many employees don’t use all the vacation time their benefits package entitled them to, either because they don’t feel their workload allows or it because their manager or workplace culture signals that time off is for slackers. But well-rested, refreshed employees are more productive and won’t burn out, and you’re likely to have a stronger staff in the long-run for it.

3. Do more to guard against racial and gender bias at work. For example, educate managers about the research showing that women are often labeled abrasive, aggressive, or rude when displaying the same behavior that in men is seen as evidence of strong leadership, and that African-Americans are often perceived as having a “negative attitude” while white employees who behave similarly get a pass (“she’s tired,” “he’s assertive,” etc.). And in hiring, find ways to combat unconscious bias, such evaluating candidates against a clear list of must-haves rather than factors that don’t truly correlate with success on the job (such as rapport with the interviewer or an Ivy League degree); using evidence-based methods to evaluate candidates, such as job-related exercises and simulations; and even removing identifying from applications and/or exercises so that evaluators can assess candidates without knowing their race or gender.

4. Distribute perks evenly or based on merit, not based on who asks the most loudly. In many offices, people who ask for extras – like more time off, better projects, professional development, or a higher raise – are more likely to get them. But not everyone will speak up and ask for extras, which means that your most outspoken employees may get a disproportionate share of resources. Instead, make a point of examining how perks and benefits are distributed, and resist the easy path of giving more based on who speaks up first or negotiates the best.

5. Put more into training and developing staff. As companies have tried to do more work for less money, it’s often been their employees who have borne the brunt of that. Budgets for training and development have taken a particular hit, which has left employees in a position where they’re expected to produce results and stay current on trends without getting much (or even any) training and professional development. Make 2016 the year you invest in your employees as a long-term investment in your organization. And speaking of development…

6. Give more feedback. The vast majority of mangers don’t give nearly enough feedback to their staff members, even though feedback is one of the strongest tools managers have for getting better results from their teams. Simply articulating the areas in which you’d like to see an employee improve or describing what you’d like to see done differently can go a long way toward making that change happen. And positive feedback will generally keep people motivated and displaying the behaviors that drove the praise in the first place. Employers should push managers to make feedback a regular, normalized part of their conversations with staff members (for example, by setting aside time for it in weekly check-ins).

7. Take on performance problems. Managers should measure their own performance by the lowest performers on their teams. Managers are often tempted to take the credit for what their top performers achieve, but the real measure is how they handle people who are struggling. Yet too often, managers shy away from the tough conversations, coaching work, and accountability that’s crucial to a truly high-performing team.

8. Appreciate people. Employers often underestimate the impact of simply making sure that great employees hear regularly that they’re valued and why. If you want to retain your best people, ensure that their contributions are recognized – both through open praise and by compensation that reflects their worth to your organization (and gives them a reason to stay!).

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. Holly*

    Re 2: don’t make your employees feel guilty for asking for time off by being all reluctant to give it – even if it’s just the hemming/hawking/long pausing/hmmm sort of reaction. I’m experiencing this currently…only been turned down once but all the emotional build up to getting a yes has lead to many days coming in sick as hell.

    1. Holly*

      That’s why I don’t *ask* for time off, I state I am going to be taking X days off. You are entitled to your vacation and sick time, for a manager to hem and haw is just a power trip. I’m rather confused by your comment regarding coming in sick as hell…do you mean you have to ask for sick time and await a response? Hell, no. Call in sick or better yet, email in sick and stay home!

      1. Regina 2*

        But what if you’re asking at a time like the holidays, when presumably lots of people want to take off? Or a busy season? I’ve never been at a culture where you could just state you were taking time off, even the ones that were 100% supportive of letting people take their vacation. You always have to ask.

        1. Sadsack*

          I do not ask when I am sick. I state it and address if there’s anything important that will be impacted. As far as vacation time goes, I usually say that I am planning to take off whatever days.

        2. Menacia*

          Hi Regina, yes, busy times and holidays are usually either first-come, first-served, or based on seniority, but I always state I plan to take time off, I don’t ask and then wait for someone to approve it. When you state your intentions you usually get a faster response (though the response could be no, at least you aren’t left wondering).

    2. Enginerd*

      Give them enough notice and tell them you’re taking the days off (IE don’t come to your boss Friday afternoon and tell them you’re out next week). Usually a week or two in advance is more than sufficient but you may need to jump on it earlier during the holidays. Asking them for the days off gives them the option to say no, and most of the people I’ve worked for will opt to not give you the time off. If they really can’t be without you those days they’ll counter and tell you we really need you here or too many other people are taking that day off already, but put the burden on them to give you a reason you can’t take vacation that day, don’t give them the option to say no.

      1. Duncan*

        But most places I’ve worked do say time off is at management discretion and must be approved, so to just inform my boss (or to have an employee inform me when I was a manager) would not be taken well. As a manager, I always tried to approve requests and was very flexible, but I had to work within my company’s parameters, too, and I couldn’t approve having a large percentage of the team off at the same time. School vacations and the holidays were always tough, so we advised people to get those requests in during a certain period so we could review them all at once and try to be as fair as possible if we couldn’t approve all requests.

        In essence, vacation time is not an entitlement and you do have to play by the company rules. If the company is too strict with it, though, then you may want to find a different job for a company that is more flexible.

        I don’t think anyone needs permission to use sick time, which is typically unplanned since nobody plans to get sick. Even if you use it for a planned reason, like for a medical appointment or to have a minor procedure, you typically don’t need permission for using it. There are usually notification procedures, but that’s not the same as a request process.

  2. Menacia*

    I can’t stress enough the importance of being singled out and being given praise for a job well done (and a raise if possible). While I work on a team, we are not one person, we are each individuals with strengths and weaknesses that should be managed separately. My boss is famous for sending out blanket emails regarding policy and procedures because one person is not following them. My boss is also famous for using complimentary manipulation “You’re the *only* one I can possibly trust to do this project, and this project, oh, and that project..”. Um, if I’m the only one, out of the 5 of us, that you trust, there is a PROBLEM. I am determined that this year I will not be saddled with all the major projects (and have already stated the same to my boss). If someone cannot, or will not complete a project (without having to run to her every 5 minutes wringing their hands) then some serious decisions and changes will need to be made.

  3. Anonymous Educator*

    I’m so glad to see #4 on the list. There seems to be far too much “Ask for a raise, employees” advice and not enough “Give you employees a raise, employers” advice out there. If you give it to only those who ask instead of those who merit it, you’ll be rewarding the squeaky wheel, much like a teacher rewarding a grade-grubber instead of a student who really delivered A-quality work.

  4. mina*

    7 & 8 – how much better my life would be if my boss would simply put forth this effort. Instead of hiding in his office because that is easier.

    1. JM in England*

      Have been in a similar position to you, mina. It’s certainly a sure-fire way to drain morale!

  5. Regina 2*

    Realistically, what are some ways to get this message in front of your company when they could stand to implement every single one of these? I mean, we can suggest these things until we’re blue in the face, but unless there’s an immediate financial impact, I don’t think most employers would bother. They don’t even think they have a problem. The fact is, unless this message comes from the CEO at my company, it won’t be heard. Is there any way for a lowly working stiff to bring this up? It’s not supported by my immediate manager (I’ve tried), so that is not a path to get this message to go up.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It depends to a large degree on on your standing and your role in the company. You’ve generally got to be well-positioned in those two areas for it to have an impact.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      And related to that, I think my management is doing reasonably well, but this still would be a nice list for them. But, how do I get it to them? Email the link to my manager? That seems a little …I don’t know… not quite right.

  6. Anonymosity*

    Re #1–yes. I’m worried about this at the moment–my boss is retiring and I spoke with my new boss yesterday, and she was all, I want you to help me rebuild this castle. She asked me to think about stuff over the weekend that we could do. Well, first, I’m basically a peon and she doesn’t get that (she was asking me about stuff I had done before, like have you ever approved vacation? No, because I’ve only ever been a receptionist before this, and that doesn’t happen on any planet I’m aware of. That’s a manager thing. And I’m not an executive assistant and don’t want to be one.) And second, I don’t think about my hourly job on the weekend. That’s my time.

    I’m really nervous that she will want me to spend all my time / stay late / be available constantly during this build. I have never worked with her and have no clue what she will want to do. All I know is that my entire job is changing. I hope it doesn’t change so much I have to start living at the office or taking it home with me.

    1. Menacia*

      Hi there, I think you have to help your boss understand your role in the organization. Perhaps she’s too new to fully grasp the tasks that you perform, why you do them and how long they take, and how things would change should she start giving you many more tasks to perform. I don’t think there is anything wrong with you taking on some additional tasks, but only if they don’t interfere with your current position. Being a receptionist means you are first and foremost the meeter/greeter for the organization, and as such, you need to be available to do that, as well as answer the phones, take messages, etc. You may want to think about what you currently do, and the hours you do it to figure out if you have time, what tasks would fit in with your workload/lifestyle.

      1. Anonymosity*

        Well I’m not a receptionist now–I used to be and that’s why I didn’t ever do anything like that, because in most offices I worked, only managers or supervisors handled them. We did go over my daily stuff and someone else will be handling my tracking (! noooo I like doing that!) but I can’t tell what she will want from me by our conversation yesterday. She’s not new to the company, just the department (replacing my manager).

        We are having a big meeting next month to go over stuff so maybe it will be more clear at that point. I’m hourly, also, so I’m guessing there won’t be a lot of overtime and I doubt the company will pay me the new exempt threshold for what I do. I think maybe I should make a chart or something.

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      It sounds like if you wanted to advance, this is a good opportunity. You could end up in an office manager / receptionist hybrid (with a subsequent raise) if you play your cards right. This is, in a way, your chance to make your position what ever you want it to be. You should be honest, but open to new things. So “have you ever approved vacation?” “No, not previously, but I’d be willing to take on that role going forward if you would like.” Or, “I’d be interested in doing that; let’s talk about what my new position should be called and how it should be compensated.”

      1. Anonymosity*

        I’m not a receptionist–I was one previously until I got this job. Wild horses couldn’t drag me back to the front desk.

        I’m cool with learning how to do more/different stuff, but I don’t want to be a manager at ALL. So I hope it’s more of a better departmental admin type thing and not glued to my boss 24-7 / supervisor things. I just like to do my job behind the scenes and then go home. Getting a new boss is scary because you never know if he/she will be the one to come bang on the side of your house at night!

  7. Bwmn*

    For #1 and #2 I can not stress how important it is for managers/leadership to model taking off nights/weekends and vacation time.

    All of the messages in the world of “senior staff works more because of their compensation, you should feel ok to go home/shut down” just don’t seem sincere if it’s never modeled at higher levels. For all of those employees looking for better projects, promotions, greater responsibility – if what they’re watching is their manager sending emails at 8:30 am on a Saturday and commenting on *never* taking vacation or sick days, the likelihood of mirroring that behavior sky rockets.

    I think too often messages about taking time off ends up being sandwiched in between contradictory statements. I genuinely had a conversation with my organization director that started with “I’m concerned with you becoming burnt out and not taking off time” and finished with him saying “I’ve lived this entire year out of my suitcase traveling between sites and have only taken 1.5 vacation days”.

    1. Nerfmobile*

      Yes, one of the things I appreciate about my current company is our sabbatical program, and more importantly how EVERYONE takes a sabbatical, even VPs and the CEO. We are eligible for a 6 week sabbatical after every 4 years of employment, and as a company with pretty long employee tenures that means that people are routinely going out on leaves. There are always some negotiations about exact scheduling in each case of course, but everyone gets used to the idea that people take big chunks of time off and the organization adjusts and things carry on. I think it makes it easier culturally to manage other long leaves (like for maternity) or other vacation planning as well.

  8. I'm a Little Teapot*

    Yes, yes, yes, yes to all of these.

    Might I also add:

    Corollary to #2: actually offer everyone vacation and sick time in the first place. Yes, even low-ranking employees. They’re human beings with human needs, just like everyone else. And you’d never know it from this site (or most other career-related discourse online), but a very significant portion of the US population (including myself) has no PTO at all.


    1. The Sugar Plum Fairy*

      I couldn’t agree more. My fiancé only has 5 days a year of combined PTO/sick time for his full-time job. He has been in his position for over a year. The first year, he didn’t get any days. And yes – he is looking for a better job with real benefits and decent time off.

  9. KS*

    RE: #3 I work in technology and this is a MAJOR issue I face all of the time. I’ve brought this to my managers attention and he seems to think it’s not an issue or I’m being too ‘sensitive’. I work with men who are praised for saying the same thing I brought up in a meeting, only to be told I’m being to ‘Aggressive’. There needs to be a major overall in training managers on this issue. No one should be made to feel that their input is not valued.

    1. Camellia*

      YES! When I and a new-to-the-team male coworker butted heads over something, guess who got called on the carpet for it? Yeah, good guess, it wasn’t him.

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