Encourage Employees to Take Much-Needed Vacations

Fool's Errand

Fool's ErrandAt The Fool we have a “take what you need” vacation policy. When we need a sick day, an extra day to get over jet lag, or to travel on off-peak days, no one in HR is counting our vacation time as long as we get our job done. And that line blurs even more as we get more tethered to our iThings. It’s not unusual for a Fool to check email in airports and take calls from home.

So how much vacation do you actually need?  Most Fools take between three and four weeks.  Some years Fools take more, some years we take less. Here’s the flip side: In a job where vacation time is limited, employees often feel like they need to optimize their free time and use all the time they’re allotted. Where vacation time is “free” it’s hard to tell if it’s ever okay to take any. Some Fools don’t really take much at all, and because we are all so connected we often forget to take a break.

To counteract some Fools’ tendencies to never take a vacation, we implemented a unique benefit called “The Fool’s Errand,” a monthly randomized drawing where the winner gets two consecutive, paid, no-contact-with-work weeks off. And it has to be taken within the month. So you’ve got two weeks to plan a two-week vacation and get all your ducks in a row before you leave.

Besides being a great surprise for one Fool each month, there’s also specific business purpose to the Fool’s Errand: It’s a great way to test our sustainability in a fun way. Typically an unplanned absence is a result of something unpleasant like illness, and only then the team learns where the single points of failure are. This way Fools can get a much needed and enjoyable break, while we as a company can make sure everyone is cross-trained in the event someone on our team needs to take time off unexpectedly.

What is your company’s policy on vacation? How do they encourage (or discourage) employees to take vacations and breaks?

Kara Chambers wrote this post before embarking on her very own Fool’s Errand! Her colleagues and her dog miss her very much but we all hope she has fun.

Make Saving for Retirement Fun and Easy

401(k)s

401(k)sWhen you’re an adult, you get to do awesome things, like occasionally eating ice cream for dinner. But with that freedom comes responsibility – paying taxes, taking out the trash, and saving for retirement. And you should save for retirement! Every ten years you wait to start can cut your potential future nest egg by half.

Like many companies, the Fool offers a 401(k) program to its employees. What’s a 401(k)? It’s an investment account that allows you to contribute to your retirement directly from your paycheck before taxes are taken out. You pay taxes once you begin taking that money out of the account after you retire. Many companies (the Fool included) will match your contributions – if you set aside a certain percentage of your salary for your retirement, your employer will kick in a matching amount. It’s free money!

So why would people choose to miss out on the employer match? Some just aren’t able to save at that moment, some never get around to filling out the paperwork, and some are so confused by 401(k)s that they put off getting started. Many companies try to counteract the confusion with thick information packets and boring annual informational meetings, but the Fool refuses to make anything boring.

Enter Robert Brokamp: Rule Your Retirement advisor, personal finance expert, and wearer of amusing Halloween costumes. Bro (as we affectionately call him) teaches a monthly 401(k) class for new employees, funny-ing up his presentation with photos from Awkward Family Photos. Thanks to our investing-minded culture, 87% of Fools contribute to a 401(k) (compared to 77% of eligible workers in the U.S.). Bro aims to increase that number of Fools and non-Fools alike by making saving for retirement simple and accessible.

What are some things your company does to teach employees about their 401(k) options?

 

 

There’s No Perfect Job Candidate, But There Are Foolish Ones!

Ideal Candidate

Ideal CandidatePeople applying to jobs often go through the string of questions: Did I go to the right school? Did I pick the right major? Did I do the right internships? Does my resume have enough details of what I do? Is my resume too long/too short? Does my cover letter summarize how I can do the job?

In my opinion, there isn’t a right answer to these questions because there is no such thing as the perfect applicant.

Many companies or organizations go down a checklist for candidates:

Bachelors degree – check

Proficiency in office applications – check

3-5 years of experience – check

1-2 years of experience in relevant field – double check

I am happy to say that at The Fool, our checklist is bit different.  Here at The Fool, people come to us from all walks of life.  We have former bartenders and biology teachers turned investors and MMA fighter (Mixed Martial Arts) turned techie. We’ve hired Fools ranging from baristas to Tigger and Goofy from Disneyworld to NASA rocket scientists.  We do things different in all of our business aspects, so why not recruiting?

When you apply to our positions you see that we want cover letters that don’t bore us and we ask questions that aren’t the norm.  Other recruiters might ask how this helps us find the right candidates.  To us, the ideal, not perfect, candidate embodies what we call Foolishness (with a capital F) and these questions let Foolishness shine through!

So how do you prepare to be an ideal candidate?

Some might say that filling out an application or preparing for an interview was a lot easier ten years ago.  The hardest, and most asked, question to prepare for used to be, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”  Today, this question doesn’t carry the relevance it once did.  We’ve become a culture of change; change in what we want to learn and when we want to learn it all the time. Our passions and dreams change and therefore so do our career paths.

The other day I received an email about the 25 strangest interview questions.  The subject said it all…strangest.  There were questions on the more bizarre side of how many cows there are in Canada or estimate how many windows there are in New York to tell us your favorite song and perform it for us.  I often think that the people asking these types of questions are abusing the system. I can tell you I’m an extrovert and I would not get up and perform a song in an interview!

In our applications and interviews, we aren’t trying to embarrass you or make you feel uncomfortable but rather we want to know what makes you…well YOU!  Letting us in, even just a little bit, to see different sides of you is all we want.  How will we know if we want to sit next to you everyday? Or if you might participate in our office banter?

I recently had a friend tell me that she would hate to sit through one of my interviews because she wouldn’t like being put on the spot with some of my questions.  I thought a lot about her comment when I went into my next interview and realized that it really isn’t about what the answer is but more the insight it gives me into the person.  Answering with one word doesn’t provide much to me but answering with something that starts a conversation and shows your interest in something…that is what we want to see!

So next time you’re applying to a job, writing a cover letter, or preparing for interview, think about what makes you you and let that come out!

Inexpensive Employee Benefits: Boost Your Culture for $3 per Employee

Employee Benefits

Employee Benefits

By Tamsin Green
Office Dynamo

A great office culture doesn’t require millions of dollars (or a slide in the middle of the office). What it does require is a focus on the employee and a commitment to infusing fun into the work day. Here are a few ways to brighten employees’ days for minimal cost.

1. The Art of the Food Cart

What: A few times a year we roll around a cooler or cart with food or beverages for employees. In the past we’ve handed out ice cream treats on the first really hot day of summer, offered drinks, and most recently served hot pretzels to congratulate employees on a successful product launch.

Why: Free food is great, but in many places it’s frequently leftovers from board meetings, client meetings, donor meetings, and the like. Free food specifically for employees (especially brought to their desk) shows appreciation that room-temperature chicken and vegetables just can’t match.

Tips: The more variety the better, as it lets people choose. The cost of the more expensive Skinny Cow ice cream bars is offset by the low cost of those sundae cups you used to get in the school cafeteria.

Cost: Generally under $1 per item, plus extras (ice, dipping sauces, etc.)

2. New Employee Gifts

What: When employees start at the Fool they each receive a jester cap.

Why: The jester cap let’s people know that we’re serious about being a Foolish community. It reflects our organization’s culture and immediately welcomes new Fools.

Tips: Buy wholesale rather than retail to reduce costs and make sure you always have the item in stock.

Cost: Depends on the item, but it can be done for $3 or less per employee.

3. Mark Employee Anniversaries

What: Every year on an employee’s Fooliversary (the anniversary of their hiring date), Fools receive a gift and a balloon. For 5, 10, 15 and soon to be 20 year anniversaries, employees receive balloon bouquets.

Why: Marking employee anniversaries sends a message of recognition for the employee’s time and service.

Tip: If gifts fall outside of budgetary constraints, even just balloons can make a big impact.

Cost: Balloons can vary in cost but can be purchased for very little. A disposable helium tank costs around $30 and can fill 30-50 balloons depending on size. Gifts can vary in cost depending on your budget.

It’s Time to Stop Workplace Bullying

Bullying

BullyingI read quite a few blogs on management and hiring practices (kudos to my favorite, Ask A Manager), and recently I fell down the rabbit hole of clicking links to related articles at the bottom of a post. That’s how I came to learn about the Workplace Bullying Institute (or WBI), “the first and only U.S. organization dedicated to the eradication of workplace bullying.” The site is filled with fascinating research, tips for targets of bullying, and training materials for managers. The resources WBI provides are very useful, yet they make me incredibly sad.

Why? Because an organization like this is needed in the first place.

According to a 2010 WBI survey, 35% of workers in the U.S. reported being bullied at work. An additional 15% of workers witnessed the bullying of others. That means half of workers in America are affected by bullying. Meanwhile, a National Center for Education Statistics study (PDF) that came out in 2009 showed that bullying affected 28% of students ages 12 through 18 (this doesn’t include cyber bullying, but rather in-school bullying like being called names, being made the subject of rumors, or being physically harmed).

So 28% of pre-teens and teens are the victims of bullying, while 35% of workers are. Who are the adults here?

If you’re not compelled to do something about this in your own office, think of it this way. Your company is creating a culture of incivility and fear. How much is this costing you? Employees calling in sick more frequently, increased turnover (hiring a new employee equals one and a half times the salary of keeping an existing one), lower productivity because teams don’t function well, and HR spending time counseling victims of bullying and investigating their claims. Imagine how much better our workplaces would be if bullying was not tolerated? If bullies were given specific and stern feedback about their behavior one time and then fired if they didn’t improve? If employees knew they could report bullying without consequences or retaliation, and that once they did, a thorough investigation would take place? According to WBI research, bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal harassment, yet it’s a silent epidemic in corporate America.

If you’d like to learn more about the financial and emotional effects of workplace bullying, and ways you can help bring about change, I highly recommend Robert Sutton’s intriguingly-named book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. After you read it, anonymously leave it on the desk of your office bully!

Let’s bring kindness back into the workplace. It’s good for your business, and even better for your employees.

More Tips on Standing Out in a Sea of Job Candidates

Application Tips

Application TipsI wrote a post last January that generated a lot of traffic – tips on how to get your job applications to stand out. It seems a lot of you are here (rightly so!) to learn about career opportunities and how to get them. Since then, I’ve read through countless more applications and made lots of connections at conferences and networking events. So what else can you do during your job hunt to make it a success?

  1. Make sure you’re applying to the actual job that’s listed. If the opening is, say, for an editor, and you go on and on about how you want to work in market research, you’re not the ideal candidate for this job. It’s better to spend more time on fewer applications and make sure they’re the best they can be and appropriate for the job opening, rather than sending generic applications out to hundreds of places a day. Quality, not quantity.
  2. Do some research about the company you’re applying to. Let them know what you learned in your application. Mention how your skills would fit into the company’s work.
  3. Actually write a cover letter. A real one, not just “I’m applying to this position. You can reach me here.” This is a marketing document. Brag about yourself! List relevant accomplishments! Show the recruiter your personality! An amazing cover letter fills in the gaps on your resume. Are you looking to switch career fields? Your resume will show no relevant experience, but a cover letter can list your transferable skills. Are you a recent graduate just starting your career? Your resume might be a little empty for now, but your cover letter can discuss student leadership roles, volunteer work, and other ways you got experience even though you haven’t held many jobs yet. Trust me – applications with no cover letter get eliminated from consideration immediately at a lot of companies!
  4. Show gratitude. A lot of people helped you get to where you are, so write them a quick thank-you email. The recruiter who interviewed you? Always send a follow up email to thank them for their time and reiterate interest in the job. The person you met through a friend who answered your questions or introduced you to someone who was hiring? Thank them too! No need to send flowers – just a nice, sincere note.

Create a Better Workplace by Breaking the Rules

Rules

RulesWhen my son was eight years old and in the 2nd grade, he mentioned to me that he sometimes pretended to have to go to the bathroom at school.  This was curious to me.  As I probed further, he revealed that sometimes he needed a break to be alone, breathe, and think.  At school they aren’t allowed to have that kind of break.  So he learned to follow the rules, stay out of trouble, and sneak out under the guise of a bathroom pass to be who he is and find what he needs to succeed.

I was sad to see that, at such a young age, he had already learned what so many professionals know: You have to find ways to work the system and hide your needs if they don’t seem to fit the protocol.  I will admit to, in my adult, professional life, pretending to go potty simply to get a break. I just can’t sit in the all-day, off-site meeting with chicken salad wraps and endless coffee without time to myself to think and breathe.

I am always quick to admit to being a poor businessman in the traditional sense.  I’m more the guy in the back row coloring during the classes I don’t find interesting, but I’ll sit front row center for the ones I love.  I’m not good at pretending to be something I’m not.  I’m really bad at following rules.  That can get you in trouble in business life.  The lessons we learn as children carry into our work life – that it is often better to appear to go along with the rules, but secretly take an afternoon nap in our parked car, lie about being sick to skip work, wear crazy socks hidden under boring black pants, or sneak in the occasional gin and tonic at lunch.

Getting people to conform and follow the rules, or catching them breaking rules, is often the focus of the HR profession.  That is why I don’t often refer to my work as HR.  At The Fool our focus is to unleash the individual.  We are working every day to embrace how people like to work and getting out of their way.  We don’t presume that every person works best the same way, on the same schedule, at a desk, with the same system, wearing the same suit.

If my son worked at The Fool we’d identify that he needs some time to himself.  We’d support his work style and look for ways to double down on how he is most productive.  This work takes a big team of coaches and a lot of one-on-one connections.  But in the end, the value for our business far outweighs the cost, and people are simply happier.