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SPECIAL REPORT FROM SHARON ARMSTRONG

Good morning,

Sharon Armstrong

I'm sending you this special newsletter this month from my colleagues, Scott Golden and Stephanie Cohen, owners of the Gaithersburg, MD health benefits firm Golden & Cohen.

They invited me to write an article about the importance of stress-free performance appraisals for this, their November newsletter. Since a revised edition of my 2003 book is currently at the printer (The Essential Performance Review Handbook will be out in the Spring), I was happy to participate.

I think you'll enjoy the following articles that focus on the current health care reform bill before Congress and the impact it will have on all of our insurance rates. Also below is an interesting Q&A between Stephanie Cohen and therapist Susan Richman about how to manage stress during the holidays. Since staying stress-free is so important - in every area from holiday madness to performance appraisals - I think you'll find Susan's advice useful and informative.

I thank you in advance for welcoming this special news blast into your inbox, and look forward to sending you the December newsletter from Sharon Armstrong & Associates in a few weeks.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Sharon Armstrong, president and founder, Sharon Armstrong & Associates
Author, Stress-free Performance Appraisals (second edition coming in 2010)
The Essential HR Handbook (www.theessentialhrhandbook.com

Affordable Health Care for America Act Passes in the House of Representatives

Stephanie Cohen, Scott Golden, Jack Cohen

Hello, and welcome to the November issue of our e-news blast. What a month it has been in terms of health care reform. As you know, the House of Representatives on Saturday, November 7 passed a sweeping health care bill by a vote of 220-215.

The passage of H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, gave proponents of health care reform a step forward. But whether the bill will become law remains uncertain because it's not yet clear when the Senate will vote on its bill - and if it passes, the House and Senate bills would have to be reconciled into one document and voted on again.

Soon after the House bill was passed, Scott Golden, CFO and co-founder of Golden & Cohen, was interviewed by Sheryl Nance-Nash of Insight magazine on the impact of proposed healthcare reform on the economy. Read that below.

This month, we'd also like to share some expert advice from two professionals that we work closely with.

First, HR expert Sharon Armstrong, owner of the human resourses brokerage firm Sharon Armstrong & Associates and author of Stress-free Performance Appraisals, gives insight into how bosses can better evaluate their employees.

In another stress-free story, therapist Susan Richman answers Stephanie Cohen's questions about how we can all stay calm during the stressful holiday seasons.

We hope you enjoy their advice as much as we did. Here's to keeping your life stress-free and healthy!

Regards,

Stephanie Cohen, CEO, stephanie@golden-cohen.com
Scott Golden, CFO, scott@golden-cohen.com
Jack Cohen, COO, jack@golden-cohen.com

Visit us online: Golden & Cohen, www.golden-cohen.com

GOLDEN & COHEN ARE IN THE NEWS

The impact of proposed healthcare reform on the economy

Just after the health care reform bill passed in the House, Scott Golden talked to reporter Sheryl Nance-Nash of Insight magazine about how the Affordable Health Care for America Act will likely play out

Scott Golden

INSIGHT magazine: What do you think will be the impact of proposed healthcare reform on the economy?

SCOTT GOLDEN: Although the intent of the bill is to help stimulate the economy, the proposed reform does nothing to curtail the cost of health care - and that's not going to help anyone. The real problem going forward will be how the proposal is funded. It appears that it will be through taxes, which I believe will just further serve to curtail growth.

I also foresee a good possibility that jobs will be re-distributed due to the changes that will occur as a result of the bill. Some healthcare jobs will no longer be needed. Other industries, including insurance brokers, may see real changes in how they do business. But it's too early to see how that will play out.

INSIGHT: What will be the impact on the quality of health care in America, and why? 

SCOTT: I do believe that the quality of care will be affected. That's because more people will now have access to health care, which puts a greater stress on the already overwhelmed system. I foresee a real shaking out coming, and project that we'll start to see a rise in concierge medicine.  Those with money are always willing to pay more for what they want - their doctors included.

INSIGHT: What are viable alternatives?

SCOTT: I see several possible alternatives, such as certain legislative fixes such as tort reform, and a change in the rules that would allow the government to negotiate better with drug companies, especially for Medicare patients. I also believe that it would be extremely beneficial to target people who know they have the potential to develop a disease - due to being overweight or smoking - and enrolling them in wellness and healthy lifestyle programs before they get sick.

INSIGHT: What could all this mean to the finance profession?

SCOTT: Whenever there is a big change in the economy, there is an opportunity for the financial profession. I see this as a great time for the finance community to reach out to help people fund their healthcare needs, similar to how they help families fund their children's college educations.

INSIGHT: Anything else you'd like to add on the topic?

SCOTT: Expect changes, but incrementally. Life will not change dramatically - especially in the short-term. 


EXPERT ADVICE

Performance Appraisals: Can They Really Be 'Stress-free'?

Sharon Armstrong

In an era when the economy is tough and managing employees can be tougher, HR expert Sharon Armstrong, author of Stress-free Performance Appraisals, offers advice on how a business owner and manager can do a better job.

By Sharon Armstrong
www.sharonarmstrongandassociates.com / www.theessentialhrhandbook.com

Performance appraisals are one of the most important responsibilities of a supervisor…and one of the most dreaded. Why? Perhaps the better question is: What can we do to remove the 'dread factor'?

One way is to identify the five most important tips and make sure all your managers get a copy.

    Tip #1 - Take time to prepare
  1. Start by familiarizing yourself with the form and the ratings. Think about the goals each employee has been working on, the employee's strengths and areas for development. Pull out all the examples and observations you've collected throughout the review period and add them to the appraisal form to support your ratings.
  2. Plan your discussion in detail - not just compliments, but also areas for improvement.
  3. Then, schedule the meeting and plan enough time for a thorough discussion. Select a time when you and the employee are not under pressure.
    Tip #2 - Start the meeting in a positive way
  1. Always conduct a warm-up and try to put the employee at ease. Stress the routine nature of it and tell the employee you have many positive things to say (if that's true).
  2. Outline what you want to cover and in what order. Let the employees know he or she will have a chance to raise issues and be an active participant in the meeting.
  3. Explain that appraisals are designed to help the employee know how he or she is doing. Make sure you are on the same track in terms of realistic goals and priorities.
  4. Provide a forum for problem resolution and feedback to help the employee succeed.
    Tip #3 - Plan the discussion in detail
  1. Start with the positives. Say things like "You've made important contributions this year." "I'm impressed by your performance on _________." "You've been more conscientious about ________." "I was pleased to see ______________."
  2. Work your way through each section of the form- use it as a tool for facilitating discussion.
  3. Review significant accomplishments - give praise and credit (nothing is more stimulating/motivating).
  4. Ask open-ended questions to get a general reaction. Many start with "How do you think things have been going?" "Do these ratings seem fair?" "What would you do differently?"
  5. Consider asking other questions to facilitate discussion:
  6. What did I do for you in the last 6 months that really helped your performance?
    • What hindered your performance?
    • What can I do in the next 6 months to help you?
    • What do you want most from your job?
    • Under what conditions do you do your best work?
    • How would you like to receive suggestions for improving your work?
    • How can I help you reach your career goals?
    • What inhibits your best work?
  7. Discuss areas where the performance falls short - with specific examples. "I was concerned _______________." Focus criticisms on performance, not personality characteristics.
  8. Don't discuss areas for improvement in a way that will seriously disturb a good employee. The net result is to be encouraging. Identify specific actions the employee can take to improve performance. Ask for their suggestions.
  9. Work for understanding rather than complete agreement. You can agree to disagree.
    Tip #4 - Close the meeting in a positive way
  1. It's just as important to end the meeting in a professional and positive manner, as it was to start the meeting. You want the employee to leave the discussion with a positive impression of the process.
  2. Ask the employee to summarize what was discussed.
  3. If the employee introduced issues that would make you consider changing their evaluation, apologize for your oversight and tell the employee you would like a few days to consider how this information might effect your evaluation.
  4. Settle on a plan for the future. It's important to let the employee have input. Write goals together. Make them measurable, challenging but achievable.
  5. Offer your help. Express confidence that the two of you can successfully work through any issues.
  6. Think about training, skills development, opportunities or added responsibilities.
  7. Ask the employee to add any last thoughts/questions/reactions to the performance appraisal meeting; ("What's been learned?" "Surprises?" "Was it fair?" "Your general reaction?" " If you have more reaction later, my door is open.").
  8. If the employee disagrees with any points brought out, let him or her know he or she has the response options offered by your organization.
  9. Share your ideas on where the department is headed. Employees want to be in the loop.
  10. Close on a friendly note - let them know they're part of the team, that their performance matters to the company and the department.
  11. Both sign and date the form. Explain that signing the form merely indicates that the form has been discussed with him or her and indicate the date of the appraisal discussion.
  12. Tell them you'll continue to give feedback throughout the year.
    Tip #5 - Remember your follow-up responsibilities
  1. Follow up on commitments you've made for support, training, etc.
  2. Begin observations for the next performance discussion with employees and record them!

Following these simple steps will eliminate the stress and uncertainty usually associated with performance appraisals. Now your managers can start to focus on making the performance appraisal a powerful management tool.

ABOUT SHARON ARMSTRONG

Sharon Armstrong has over 20 years of experience as a Human Resources consultant, trainer and career counselor. Since launching her own consulting business in 1998, Sharon Armstrong and Associates, she has consulted with many large corporations and small businesses. She has facilitated training, completed HR projects and provided career transition services for a wide variety of clients in the profit and non-profit sectors.

Sharon received her Bachelor's Degree from the University of Southern Maine and her Masters Degree in Counseling from George Washington University. She is a certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR).

Sharon is the co-author of a humor book, published by Random House. Heeling the Canine Within: The Dog's Self-Help Companion was published in 1998. Career Press published her first business book, Stress-free Performance Appraisals - Turn Your Most Painful Management Duty into a Powerful Motivational Tool in July 2003. The Essential HR Handbook - A Quick and Handy Resource for Any Manager or HR Professional was published in August 2008. Her next book, The Essential Performance Review Handbook will be published spring 2010.


The Family and Medical Leave Act

Department of Labor Logo

We wanted all of our clients to know about the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was amended on January 28, 2008. Administered by the Employment Standards Administration's Wage, and Hour Division within the U.S. Department of Labor, it provides an entitlement of up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave during any 12-month period to eligible, covered employees for the following reasons:

  1. Birth and care of the eligible employee's child, or placement for adoption or foster care of a child with the employee;
  2. Care of an immediate family member (spouse, child, parent) who has a serious health condition; or
  3. Care of the employee's own serious health condition. It also requires that the employee's group health benefits be maintained during the leave.

The District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA) is an even more parent-friendly version of the law, which provides 16 weeks of job-guaranteed "medical" leave to qualified employees with a serious health condition every 24 months.

"This is an important Act, because it can effect both the employer and employee - and both parties need to understand their obligations as it's spelled out in the law," says Stephanie Cohen, CEO of Golden & Cohen.

For more information visit the Department of Labor website:. For details about the DC Family Medical Leave Act, visit dcbar.org


COMING NEXT MONTH:

  • Attorney Brian Leventhal will tell us about the importance of writing solid business contracts, and how to create ones that are binding and useful.
  • Our NFP partner Potomac Basin is offering new HR and compliance benefits. We'll tell you more about that new service.
  • Starting in December, we'll be featuring a new column that we plan to turn into a book called, "You gotta laugh: What I've learned from being in the trenches of the health insurance debacle," by Stephanie Cohen. We'll share our war stories, and how we helped solve some health insurance doozies.
  • We want to hear from you! If you've had trouble getting a health insurance claim processed, or have ever wanted to pull out your hair because you couldn't get a straight answer from your insurance provider - let us know. Send your tales of insurance woe to our newsletter editor and PR director, Hope Katz Gibbs, hope@inkandescentpr.com.
 

Managing Holiday Stress

Health insurance expert Stephanie Cohen asks therapist Susan Richman for insight into how to keep sane amidst the festivities

Sharon Armstrong

With the start of the holidays just around the corner, we thought this would be a good time to consult our colleague, therapist Susan Richman, about ways we can stay cool, calm, and collected during this frenetic season. She offers her down-to-earth wisdom, which we think you'll appreciate as much as we do.

Stephanie Cohen: Why do you think the holiday season is stressful for many of us?

Susan Richman: People tend to try to do too much during the holidays. They over schedule themselves and end up exhausted from all the shopping and holiday events. Healthy habits, like exercise, proper nutrition and adequate sleep, may take a back seat to socializing and entertaining, leading to more stress and fatigue. Plus, financial demands increase at this time with the added expenses of gifts, travel and entertainment. Overspending can lead to financial worries that will last long after the holidays are over.

Stephanie Cohen: Overindulgence in eating, drinking and spending certainly leads to more stress. How about relationships with friends and family?

Susan Richman: Tensions among family members are often heightened during the holidays, intensifying misunderstandings and conflicts. Some people associate the holidays with unresolved family issues or a painful childhood.

On the other hand, facing the holidays without a loved one with whom you have shared the holidays can be tough, leaving you feeling lonely and sad. Too much, or too little, togetherness with family and friends can be difficult for many.

Stephanie Cohen: Is that why the holidays can be so depressing for some people?

Susan Richman: Feelings of sadness, loneliness, and anger can intensify when contrasted with the joy expected of the holidays. Other factors that can contribute to holiday depression include having unrealistic expectations of family and friends; having an expectation that you "should" feel good; reflecting on losses or disappointments over the past year and coping with changes in family obligations, particularly after a recent marriage or divorce.

Also, those who indulge in excessive drinking to ward off negative feelings actually end up intensifying their depression.

Stephanie Cohen: What can we do to minimize holiday stress?

Susan Richman: Here are some tips:

  • Set priorities
  • Plan ahead
  • Don't over schedule
  • Simplify holiday commitments and routines
  • Make time for relaxation
  • Be realistic
  • Set and stick to a budget
  • Spend time with people you care about
  • Maintain healthy habits
  • Reflect on the spiritual significance of the holidays
  • Ask for help if you need it

Stephanie Cohen: When should someone seek professional help for stress or depression?

Susan Richman: If negative feelings are interfering with daily functioning, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Persistent sadness, anxiety, irritability and feelings of hopelessness, as well as physical complaints and sleep disturbances, are signs that should not be ignored.

Stephanie Cohen: How would someone find the right person to help him or her?

Susan Richman: If you have health insurance that covers mental health, consult your plan for a list of providers in your area. You may also check with your primary care physician for a recommendation, or ask friends and family for suggestions. Ideally you want to find a counselor with whom you feel safe and comfortable.

Stephanie Cohen: What services do you offer at Bethesda Counseling Associates?

Susan Richman: The therapists at BCA offer individual and group counseling for adults and adolescents on a wide range of issues. We do not accept health insurance but in the interest of making mental health care available to a wide population, we offer our clients a very reasonable hourly rate, as well as a sliding scale for those in need.

Stephanie Cohen: What kind of groups do you run?

Susan Richman: We currently offer support groups for new moms and for women going through divorce and separation. These groups are ongoing and open to new members.

Stephanie Cohen: How can people get in touch with you and find out more?

Susan Richman: They may reach us by telephone 301 654 1583, or by email. More information can be found at our website.

About Susan Richman

Susan Richman is a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor with an MS in Clinical Community Counseling from Johns Hopkins University. Most recently, she worked at the Montgomery County Commission for Women Counseling and Career Center in Rockville, MD, counseling adult women and men experiencing life and career transitions.

In that capacity, she worked extensively with people going through divorce or separation, as well as with victims of domestic abuse. She also provided supportive counseling to individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and anger management problems. Susan especially enjoys working with parents on a wide range of issues including new parenthood concerns, discipline techniques, and balancing home and career.

Susan also has worked with children and adolescents as a counselor in both private and public schools. She currently works at Grace Episcopal School in Kensington, MD as their part-time school counselor.

Newsletter by Inkandescent Public Relations
Writing by Hope Katz Gibbs, president & founder; Copyediting by Patricia Gray

© 2009 Golden & Cohen
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