Recent News

What’s Your “Waffle House Index” for Success of Your Total Rewards Programs?

Derek Irvine
November 17, 2014

What metrics or systems of measurement do you use to understand the impact of your Total Rewards approach? I imagine common success measurements for compensation and benefits plans might be:

I’m sure there are many more. But today, I wonder what other measures or gauges are currently in place that perhaps we just don’t see. Let me explain by sharing this story on the “Waffle House Index” (an American restaurant chain that serves breakfast all day):

“[Craig] Fugate, [head of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency at the time], observed that Waffle Houses were able to defy the will of nature. He used this curiosity to create a back-of-envelope disaster rating system, one which resonated colloquially, called the ‘Waffle House Index.’ A ‘green’ rating means that the Waffle Houses are open, with full menus, minimal to no damage, and with working power. A ‘yellow’ rating means that the restaurant is serving a limited menu, indicating low food supplies and/or struggles with power (perhaps the establishment is using a backup generator). And when the Waffle House is closed?  The Waffle House Index hits a ‘red’ rating.  That’s rare, and, as Fugate noted in a speech (per Christian Science Monitor), ‘that’s really bad. That’s where you go to work.’”

I like the elegance of the Waffle House Index. It’s a good indicator of “if life is normal, then work continues as normal.” Where might we find similar indices in our workplaces regarding HR's ability to meet (and even exceed) the needs of employees to give their best every day?

Here are three:

1. Relationships between employees.

Research shows peer relationships are critical to the modern work experience. As we spend more time at work, the relationships we form with colleagues become central to the quality of our lives. Indeed, these work friendships increase commitment to the company. Our engagement, trust in leaders, satisfaction, and intent to stay hinge on having friends at work. The more friends we have, the more committed we become to our companies. (There’s a reason why one of Gallup’s 12 questions to measure employee engagement is “I have a best friend at work.”)

2. Informal gratitude, appreciation, and other expressions of recognition.

Strong company cultures in which all employees thrive are based on building a Positivity Dominated Workplace where every employee is not just empowered, but actively encouraged to pick their heads up out of their own work to notice and appreciate the excellence happening around them every day. This kind of positive feedback loop feeds on itself. It highlights for everyone what behaviors, contributions and outcomes are most desired by immediate peers and colleagues, the team, and the company as a whole.

3. Voluntarily engagement in outside-of-work activities.

A colleague of mine tells stories of company events from her prior career. She refers to these as “forced family fun” events – programs or parties usually planned by HR that people feel obligated to attend, often asking each other, “How long do you think we have to stay before we can slip out?” Alternatively, when employees are planning events for themselves – an after-hours cocktail meet-up at the local pub, a field trip to the local animal shelter to give-back to the community – then you know employees have developed a different level of commitment to each other and, ultimately, the organization.

There are many more similar “Waffle House” metrics we likely see in our organizations that are also a very good indicator of employee engagement, satisfaction, intention to stay or leave, and general willingness to not only advance their own careers, but those of their colleagues (and friends), too.

What alternative metrics do you see in your organization? Are they telling you a good story, or are they indicating an area of concern?

As Globoforce’s head of strategic consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience. Reprinted with permission from Compensation Café (, a blog founded by Ann Bares, managing partner of Altura Consulting Group LLC



Employment Law Update

Michael Patrick O’Brien
November 14, 2014

In early October of 2014, the United States Supreme Court recently declined to hear appeals from decisions striking down state same sex marriage bans in Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Indiana and Virginia. The ruling has the effect of legalizing same sex marriage in those states and in the states also governed/bound by the same federal courts of appeals. As a result, now counting these states and those states that have legalized same sex marriage in other ways, some 60% of the United States population lives in the 30 states (and DC) where same sex marriage is now legal. Here is a good summary of the state-by-state status of same sex marriage recognition.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s action, Utah county clerks have once again begun issuing  marriage licenses to same sex couples and the State’s Governor and Attorney General sent letters to all Utah state officials instructing them to recognize same sex marriages and bestow the same legal rights and benefits on such couples as are accorded opposite sex marriages.

Could the Supreme Court Later Ban Same-Sex Marriage?

 In a word, yes, but such a ruling would pose huge practical problems coming in a world where same sex marriage is now legal in 30 states. There are other pending federal court appeals challenging other state bans on same sex marriage. If one of those federal appeals courts upholds such a ban, there will be a conflict between the federal appeals courts. Traditionally, the Supreme Court will step in and resolve such conflicts. If the court did so, and ruled that states can legally ban same sex marriage, it is likely that many states (like Utah) will renew their bans too. While such an outcome is possible, some doubt it would occur because by that time, there would be thousands and thousands of same sex couples who have lawfully married each other. In other words, some commentators think that same sex marriage will be so common that as a practical matter, the Supreme Court could not stop it. Although the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear appeals does bring some greater clarity to the same sex marriage picture, the issue is not completely in focus yet. The best thing for an employer to do is get the best possible legal counsel and comply with the laws that apply to you and your employees.

What Does the Court Ruling Mean for Employers?

The legalization of same sex marriage will have a practical impact on employers. Employers must now treat same sex spouses the same way they treat opposite sex partners in terms of legal rights and access to benefits. It would be wise to immediately contact your benefits broker or provider (e.g. for health care benefits) and ask how and when you can do so. Some providers are allowing immediate access to plans for same sex spouses as new dependents if done within a reasonable time following the Supreme Court ruling. Others might allow employees to add same sex spouses during open enrollment periods. And by the way, this ruling creates a new wrinkle for your open enrollment periods, right? Make sure you work carefully with benefits providers to properly consider the new development.

What Does the Court Ruling Mean for Laws Like FMLA?

The Supreme Court’s action also impacts implementation of laws like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Among other things, FMLA allows an employee to take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a spouse with a serious health condition. What does the same sex court ruling mean for this law? Current FMLA regulations define “spouse” as “a husband or wife as defined or recognized under State law for purposes of marriage in the State where the employee resides, including common law marriage in States where it is recognized” (emphasis added). As one commentator has noted, “in the case of same-sex marriages, the FMLA focuses not on whether the marriage is lawful in the state where the employer is located, where the employee works, or where the marriage occurred, but whether it is recognized in the state in which the employee resides.” The commentator also notes how the variations in state, employer location and employee residence affect the applicability of “spouse” under the FMLA (key: “SSM” refers to the states in which same-sex couples are permitted to marry or recognize same-sex marriage; “Non-SSM” refers to the other states):

Employer’s State

State of Employee’s Residence

Is Same-Sex Spouse a “Spouse” for FMLA Purposes?













 Thus, a Utah-based employer would have to recognize, for FMLA purposes, the same sex spouse of an employee who resides in Utah or any other state that recognizes same sex marriage, but not for an employee who resides in a state (e.g. Alabama) that does not currently recognize same sex marriage. The Obama Administration Department of Labor has announced plans to issue new FMLA regulations clarifying these issues and simply saying that spouse includes any same sex spouse from a valid marriage, regardless of where it occurred or where the employee currently resides.

A TIME FOR EMPLOYERS TO ADAPT TO CHANGE: Whatever happens to other same sex marriage bans in other states during other court appeals, the bottom line on the recent Supreme Court ruling appears to be that employers now must adapt/evolve their thinking. The word spouse has a new and evolving meaning. This change has clear implications for not just benefits and legal compliance, but for issues of workforce diversity, culture and tolerance. One clear truth emerges from both Eastern and Western cultures about times of change such as this one. Charles Darwin, someone who knew something about change and evolution, once said, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” An ancient Chinese proverb said the same thing, but did so just a bit more colorfully: “A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.”

Michael Patrick O'Brien is an employment attorney with Utah law firm of Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough. He also serves as the Legal and Legislative Director for Utah’s Society for Human Resource Management chapter. Contact him at 801-534-7315 or

Does Your Referral Program Provide the Right Candidate Experience?

Kris Dunn
November 3, 2014

My friend Tim Sacket was over at CareerBuilder recently doing his thing—saying the whole concept of candidate experience in recruiting is Slim Shady at best.

His point (and I think it’s a good one) is that as long as you meet the minimum level of service to candidates, you're probably good to go. I think at times we probably craft some deep process maps to deliver a great candidate experience, and then we fail to deliver on the standard we set—which is worse than simply meeting the minimum expectation.

So let's talk about a single piece of the recruiting process—employee referrals. You love employee referrals. You want employee referrals.  When it comes to delivering on the candidate experience (and the employee experience—the person who referred) for referrals, it probably makes sense to do more than the minimum.

But be careful about process mapping more than that—because it’s a big trap.  Here are your choices related to candidate experience with referrals:

  1. You treat them like normal candidates. If you have the same processes as most of the country, that doesn't seem like a great choice. They apply or they get emailed to you, and you treat them like normal people. FAIL.

  2. You roll out the red carpet for employee referrals, even going to the extent of making the organizational commitment that every referral is going to get at least a phone screen, if not a live interview. This is common in founder driven companies of both the small and medium variety. I've seen it in the last month in a company with 2,000 employees. FAIL. That's a colossal waste of time, because even though there's gold in employee referrals, there's still plenty of fool's gold and bad candidates. You've got better things to do with your time.

  3. You hit the middle ground. You don't treat them like normal candidates, but you don't treat the toothless guy with bad breath like he just matriculated from Google either. SUCCESS.  Best way to do this? Make the organizational commitment to give all employee referrals a quick read on whether they are a candidate or not within a week of applying via the employee referral process. Could be email, could be phone. Don't wait, handle that 3 minute piece of business early in the process, and you're a winner.

Are you doing No. 1?  You're broken and need to fix that. Are you doing No. 2?  You need to stand up to the leader who's requiring that and give him/her analysis of how much time is being sucked out of the organization by attempting to deliver on that standard.  
Candidate experience doesn't mean you should over-promise. It probably does mean you should over-deliver.

Kris Dunn is chief human resources officer for Kinetix, an RPO firm for growth companies. Reprinted with permission from his blog at

Strong Internal Controls Reduce Employee Dishonesty

Theran Colwell
October 29, 2014

When a credit union catches an employee embezzling funds or committing other fraud, it must investigate and implement procedures to close the security breach.

Don’t wait for an incident to occur. Take steps now to prevent a security breach—and don’t let a good track record make you complacent.

According to 2013 CUNA Mutual Group data, a dishonest employee’s actions often are not discovered until upwards of $140,000 has been stolen over the course of 18 or more months. Furthermore, more than 20% of these cases involved losses of at least $1 million.

Just one undetected employee theft can siphon more from your bottom line than hundreds of more common losses. Even if the crime is detected, the perpetrator is prosecuted, and the loss is covered by insurance, your credit union’s reputation among members and the community can take a costly hit.

Here are four steps to establish strong internal controls against employee fraud:

  1. Lead from the top with a written policy. Top executives should present a dishonesty policy to employees that will be signed annually. This establishes accountability and reminds employees the credit union is serious about following its security policies and procedures.

  2. Create a system of checks and balances, including a clear segregation of duties. This example from claim files illustrate how giving one person too much control opens the door to fraud: A loan officer had the authority to originate, approve, and disburse funds for the same loan. She created fraudulent loans for her minor grandchildren (who had different last names than hers) and kept the money.

  3. Thoroughly check job candidates. At a minimum, require background and credit checks in addition to checking all references prior to making a job offer to any applicant.

  4. Review cash-handling procedures and refresh staff training. Strict cash-handling procedures sometimes make transactions less convenient for staff and members. It’s easy for discipline to occasionally slip, but shortcuts can quickly become habit.

Theran Colwell is CUNA Mutual Group’s director of risk management.

Employment Law Update

Michael Patrick O’Brien
October 27, 2014

An employment lawyer who typically represents employees against employers recently published this list (on HR Daily Advisor) of the top fourteen things employers do that make it easier for a plaintiff’s lawyer to sue them and win.

Here is the list:

(1) the employer gives no reason for termination or relies on at-will employment;

(2) the employee is fired for performance but recently got a good evaluation;

(3) the timing of the termination bad, e.g. an internal protected complaint is followed closely in time by termination;

(4) the employer ignored prior notice of a legal issue:

(5) the company had had prior complaints about the same issue or person;

(6) the employer did an internal investigation that was superficial;

 (7) the employer believed the employee was just trying to get in the retaliation protection bubble (e.g. “She’s only bringing up her complaint because she just got written up.”);

(8) the employer submits an EEOC charge response that is not well done;

(9) the employer does not follow its own policies;

(10) the company issues a gag order once a charge is filed;

(11) the company ignores a pre-lawsuit letter from a lawyer, thus missing a chance to make a lawsuit go away;

(12) company witnesses seem ill-prepared, too clever or even clueless while testifying about what happened;

(13) the employer humiliates or dehumanizes the plaintiff; and

(14) employer documents are missing or inadequately prepared.

Top Ten Supervisor Employment Law Errors

Speaking of good tips from HR Daily Advisor, it also recently published this great list of the top ten mistakes supervisors make regarding employment law matters:

(1) making unlawful pre-employment inquiries;

(2) delivering “dishonest” evaluations that do not accurately evaluate performance;

(3) too vague in discipline and performance write-ups;

(4) making rash disciplinary decisions;

(5) making uninformed responses to medical leave requests;

(6) not realizing the power of the supervisor (e.g. “Let’s go out for a drink after work. Then maybe we’ll grab dinner.”);

(7) not knowing and not enforcing policies;

(8) making wagehour blunders (e.g. “We’re out of overtime…can you clock out and then set up for tomorrow?”);

(9) letting problems fester; and

(10) making “side agreements.”

Do your supervisors do any of these things?

EEOC Files New Lawsuits for Transgender Employees

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed two new lawsuits aimed at protecting transgender employees from workplace discrimination. Contrary to the rulings of some courts, the EEOC has held that employment decisions based on a person’s transgender status are inherently based on gender and thus in violation of the law. One lawsuit claims that a Florida-based organization of health care professionals discriminated based on sex in violation of federal law by firing an employee because she is transgender, because she was transitioning from male to female, and/or because she did not conform to the employer's gender-based expectations, preferences, or stereotypes. The other lawsuit was brought against a Detroit-based funeral home for allegedly discharging a funeral director because she informed them that, as part of her gender transition from male to female, she intended to return to work presenting consistent with her gender identity as a woman. The EEOC’s position has been adopted by the federal government, which describes its own nondiscrimination policy. Although some courts have disagreed with the EEOC (the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded, about ten years ago, that one’s status as transgendered is not protected by federal law), a number of other courts have recently also adopted the Agency’s reasoning on this point. Some jurisdictions (about half of the states and almost 20 cities and towns in Utah) also protect employees from discrimination based on their gender identity. Under the Salt Lake City ordinance, gender identity “means a person’s actual or perceived gender identity, appearance, mannerisms, or other characteristics of an individual with or without regard to the person’s sex at birth.”

Preservation of Cell Information in Employment Lawsuits

Many employers involved in employment litigation are being challenged for failure to preserve cell phone data related to the lawsuit. In a recent case, a court advisor expressed concern about the employer’s failure to preserve and the overall scope of the defendant’s data loss. The involved employer allowed for both “company-issued, personally enabled” (COPE) devices and for “bring your own devices” (BYOD). The COPE devices were not put under a litigation hold until it was too late and some were wiped clean, resulting in the loss of over 26,000 messages. The employer did not issue a litigation hold on the BYOD phones at all, even though several key employees later confirmed that they used their personal mobile devices rather than work-issued devices for work-related purposes. The court advisor declared that the employer’s conduct was a “mockery of the orderly administration of justice.” The resulting prejudice to the plaintiffs in the employment case led the court advisor to recommend an order of default judgment and other sanctions against the employer.

Trend Prohibiting Discrimination against the Unemployed

Did you ever consider not hiring someone because they are currently unemployed? Such a decision could be a problem, depending on where the applicant lives. There is a recent growing trend favoring the adoption of rules prohibiting discrimination against the unemployed. No federal or Utah law prohibits such discrimination, but the EEOC is studying the issue. Moreover, a growing number of states and municipalities, including New Jersey, Oregon, D.C. and New York City now ban discrimination against the unemployed. These new laws are based on studies indicating that the longer one remains unemployed, the fewer chances he/she will have to become employed. Thus, the laws are an effort to encourage hiring of the unemployed.

Michael Patrick O'Brien is an employment attorney with Utah law firm of Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough ( He also serves as the Legal and Legislative Director for Utah’s Society for Human Resource Management chapter. Contact him at 801-534-7315 or

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