Improve Your Organization with Structured Workplace Practices

beehive

Organizations can learn a lot from bees. Bees have a quality product, an inspiring leader and a skilled workforce. The beehive is one of the most efficiently operated organizations known to exist. The key to the hive’s success is its workforce and workplace environment. The roles and responsibilities of worker bees are clearly defined by, and consistently enforced through, the hive’s structured management system. The hive’s structured work operations may seem rigid but they yield optimal performance and, of course, sweet golden honey.

Likewise, organizations that want to improve ‘worker bee’ performance need a structured workforce management system in place. Here are some essential tips to improve workplace practices.

Have an employee handbook, and have it updated annually. An employee handbook is an important communication tool that clearly lays out an organization’s policies and procedures, explains legal rights and obligations and contains other work-related information. It should be given to all employees and contain an acknowledgement of receipt. A good employee handbook serves as a useful guide to an employer’s rules, resources and practices, and also sets the structure for workplace issues to be addressed properly, fairly and consistently.

Know employment laws. There are so many different federal, state and local employment laws and they are constantly changing. Organizations need to protect themselves through continuing education on employment law compliance. Periodic training should be given to those at the manager level who supervise others and can affect employment terms or conditions. Law firms with employment practices typically offer onsite employment law training programs and seminars. Other resources and information about employment laws are also available from government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Labor and the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

Give clear expectations about workplace roles and responsibilities. Work roles and rules should be clear and in writing. That includes job descriptions, work schedules, rules of conduct, disciplinary procedures, performance evaluations and the like. Workers function best when duties are defined, expectations are set, performance is evaluated and achievement is rewarded. Also, rules mean nothing if they are not consistently enforced, so effective workplace practices should include appropriate consequences – for example, progressive discipline for not following them.

Use enforceable employment agreements. Employment agreements allow a potential employee and potential employer to negotiate and specify the terms and conditions governing the work relationship. They vary in nature and can address compensation, benefits, scope of work, duties and responsibilities, proprietary rights, confidentiality, termination, noncompetition and many other issues depending upon the circumstances. While lots of employers use employment agreements for executives, upper-management, sales and similar positions, they are not necessarily advisable in all cases. One caveat is that employment agreements typically end the at-will employment relationship.  As such, if not carefully written, they can limit an employer’s flexibility in terminating employment.

Involve a skilled professional in workplace issues. Today’s workplace issues run the gamut from coworker conflict to compensation to social media. It is important to get help from knowledgeable and experienced professionals, especially concerning legal issues. It is always more cost-effective to get good legal advice before taking employment-related action than to defend against a claim after the fact.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author and should not be considered or interpreted as legal advice, nor is it intended to create a lawyer-client relationship. You should not act upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel.

Lauren Blair

About Lauren Blair

Lauren Blair is a partner at Pedersen & Houpt. A member of the firm's Litigation and Dispute Resolution Practice Group, Ms. Blair focuses her litigation practice in the areas of commercial, family law, employment law, and state environmental law. In every area of her practice, she thrives on working closely with clients to develop sound end-game strategies and is tenacious about delivering desired results. As a member of the firm's Labor and Employment Law Practice Group, Ms. Blair also counsels large and small corporate clients on employment law compliance, including on-site training for supervisors and non-supervisory employees and drafting/auditing employment policies, practices and handbooks. She also protects and defends employers against federal, state and local employment discrimination claims, and she's president of Goodman Theatre's Scenemakers Board, a group of young, diverse professionals whose mission is to support the Goodman in audience development, fundraising and membership. Her blog titled “Working It” offers a lawyer’s perspective on issues, trends and hot topics in the business community.