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Obama urges states to nix non-compete agreements – does this make the rich richer?

(EDITORIAL) Common in most states, non-compete agreements are frequently the subject of court battles over their validity and enforceability. Will this be a victory or a flop?

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A third of the workforce

In the waning days of the Obama administration, the President is attempting to influence employers to drop their reliance on non-compete agreements, which currently affect approximately one-third of companies and 20 percent of the workforce in the United States.

“(Workers) can’t reach their true potential without freedom to negotiate for a higher wage with a new company, or to find another job after they’ve been laid off,” Vice President Joe Biden said, speaking on the matter earlier this year. Non-compete clauses effectively prohibit employees from working for employers in the same or similar fields for a set length of time after they leave their job. These clauses are alleged to disproportionately affect employees who make lower salaries, with 14 percent earning less than $40,000 per year.

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A common dispute

Common in most states, non-compete agreements are frequently the subject of court battles over their validity and enforceability.

Courts are generally asked to rule on length of time that the agreements span, their geographic impact, and the access employees had to protected trade secrets.

These are not limited to specialized or technologically-based fields, either. Sandwich maker Jimmy John’s agreed to drop non-compete clauses they had with employees at franchises in the state of New York this summer. Affected employees signed agreements prohibiting them from working for direct competitors. It also prohibited former employees from working in any company that makes more than 10 percent of its revenue from sandwiches within two miles of a Jimmy John’s store for two years after their last day of work.

Effect on the common man

Jimmy John’s felt their employee training was so incredibly valuable and revolutionary that they would not only prohibit former employees from taking their talents to a Subway or other direct competitor, but also a bodega or gas station with a small side business making sandwiches. For two years. Two years.

“Non-compete agreements for low-wage workers are unconscionable,” Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, said at the conclusion of the case. “They limit mobility and opportunity for vulnerable workers and bully them into staying with the threat of being sued. Companies should stop using these agreements for minimum wage employees.”

Making these types of agreements standard for employees limit their options both now and in the future. A pernicious cycle of lower job mobility and ability to test the free market to improve salaries is created, thereby enriching the company without providing similar value to the employee.

The other side

Not everyone holds to President Obama’s position that non-compete clauses are bad, however. “In states with poorly educated workers who have little or no employment history, non-compete agreements give employers incentives to hire and train unskilled workers, free from the worry that a nearby competitor will swoop in and hire away the best workers shortly after they’ve received the valuable training and work habits provided by their original employer,” writes Jonathan Macey in Fortune. “Hiring unskilled workers without non-compete agreements turns employers who do provide valuable training into suckers.”

Employees should have the ability to test the market for their skills and wages in much the same fashion customers of those companies test the market for quality and price, going to a competitor for their services when a better value is perceived or realized. Training employees to do a job well does not make your company a “sucker”, as Mr. Macey asserts. It makes you responsible to your customer to provide a workforce competent to meet their needs.

The importance of quality training

High quality training programs are vital in any age, but especially in one in which customers have grown to expect courteous, error-free service at each engagement. Coupled with the ability to provide instant feedback to millions when those expectations aren’t met, training’s importance increases.

What’s the payoff for having a rigorous culture of staff development and employee learning regardless of the skill level of the position?

Enhanced employee satisfaction and a satisfied customer base, every time.

The final word

Tying low-salary, low-skill, and low-technological positions to modern-day serfdom, employers show lack of confidence in their own ability to properly incentivize roles their customers face.

Employers demonstrate an unwillingness to innovate ways to staff roles that meet the needs of the market, the employee, and the company.

Instead of operating from a position of fear for these types of positions, create a workplace, culture, and rewards system that dares competitors to attempt to steal your staff away and makes your employees foolhardy to do so.

#NonCompete

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Opinion Editorials

5 insights into building a culture with your remote teams

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) The end of pandemic lockdown is a possible reality, but creating a strong culture while dealing with a remote team is more critical than ever.

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Remote teams having a meeting with some of the team in the room around a table, others on a large screen.

As more companies ponder the future of remote work, it’s going to be important to keep remote teams engaged with your business and brand. For the past 6 years, I’ve been a part of BKA Content, a award-winning company based in Utah, that has maintained a good reputation among its writers for creating an excellent remote working environment and known for its high standards.

According to Matt Secrist, co-founder and COO, BKA has over 600 independent contractors and 20 employees, all of whom work remotely. Over 200 of those writers have been with the company for two or more years. About 30 writers have been with the company for more than 6 years. It’s not easy to keep freelancers on board that long without some strong ties to the company.

Communication
Secrist states, “I think frequent communication…(makes) a huge difference.” I concur with this statement. BKA sends out a weekly newsletter to all its writers. After six years, I still enjoy reading it because it always gives relevant information. Their culture comes through in the newsletter. It’s not preachy. Sometimes, they have fun games and contests that create camaraderie and give us fun things beyond writing. The newsletter also keeps us up to date with AP grammar and other industry items. But it’s never a newspaper, so it’s quick to read. We also have a Facebook group in which we can interact. The leaders are committed to keeping the remote teams engaged.

Organized processes
Starting with the training modules, BKA creates a strong culture through organization and clear goals. Their strong onboarding process set standards right away. Their writers were not left to their own device. I worked closely with one person for the first few pieces I turned in, which is core to their success in keeping excellent writers. Their business has grown so much that they have created teams for certain accounts. Secrist estimates that they have more than 150 individual teams. I deal with one account manager for each team, which strengthens the bonds between people. We aren’t just email accounts, but real people working together.

Clear goals and standards
I believe one of the keys to BKA’s success is that it is transparent with its goals and standards. Writers are required to turn in a certain amount every week, which means it needs to be part of our routine. Every account has a style guide with detailed instructions for writing for that brand. We are encouraged to contact the account manager with questions. The account managers always respond in a timely manner with professionalism. The culture of BKA is positivity. Even though missed deadlines can have consequences, there is grace and flexibility. In six years, I can say that they have always dealt with me fairly, which is a core value of the company.

Transparency
The leadership is always transparent with the writers. When we’ve had a hiccup with payroll, the CFO has always addressed it head-on and not prevaricated. It’s always been fixed as quick as possible. I had lost over $200 over a period of four months because one payment amount had gotten changed to $0 in the system. When I discovered it, the account manager had it corrected that day and added the amount to my next deposit. Dealing with issues, especially financial issues, quickly is key to keeping remote workers engaged.

Remote work is here to stay
Secrist supports my own insights by saying, (BKA has) “worked to build an online community where people feel valued and heard. Being kind to, invested in and interested in the people we rub shoulders with in a virtual setting has created an atmosphere of mutual respect.”

We may be seeing an end to the pandemic, but workers want remote work. Regardless of how that looks in your company, you have to address how to keep your remote teams engaged while giving them flexibility. Looking at other companies and how they do it can help you create a solid team who are on the same page.

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Opinion Editorials

Starting a new remote job? Here’s how to impress your team

(EDITORIAL) New world. New normal. New remote job? Here are three steps to help you navigate your new job and make a lasting first impression.

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new home office

My past gig selling ergonomic furniture seems so much more meaningful these days. That’s a real aluminum foil lining on a horrible, deadly, terrifying situation, but I’ll take it.

For those of us who can keep up the grind for that daily bread (sourdough apparently) from home, we’re in da house like it’s a late 90s video. Or a much much much lamer early 2000s video aping late 90s videos.

It’s been weird. Intellectually, I know taking breaks to roast Brussels sprouts, hang my delicates, or weep uncontrollably into the living room carpet is NOT what I’m being paid for but…I’m doing it. And I can because I know my coworkers, superiors included, are doing the exact same.

We’ve already built up the kind of rapport that says ‘So long as XYZ gets done, organizing your spice rack between calls is fine, because we are all going NUCKING FUTS, and whatever keeps us from starting fires without driving up company costs is all gravy. Also here’s a picture of my dog’.

Maddie

BUT, for those of us cranking the money mill in a whole NEW work situation… it’s gonna be… well. Not necessarily like that.

If my first off-color joke to my manager was over G-Chat instead of face-to-face, I can’t even IMAGINE what horror shows would go through my head if she say… went to go check her mail right as I hit send and just kinda left whatever it was I said about bras hanging there.

So what can you do to improve your new-person status when you can’t meet your team and cozy up face-to-face?

Make introductions

Imagine you’re taking a pre-covid19 bus. Some stranger taps you on the shoulder and says, “Hey, you wanna approve this invoice right quick?”

Not the worst thing you could hear on public transport by a long shot, but it’s still a little presumptuous, no?

That’s why you need to introduce yourself.

Not just in the general group chats or Zoom meetings. No one’s going to remember those (and there’s a 75% chance you don’t have your video on anyway).

Introduce yourself every time you ask someone new for something. Like this: “Hi colleague! I’m April, the new girl in 2nd shift goth ops, how are you? I had a quick question about our joy division, do you have a moment?”

I get that I’m an 87 year old biddy when it comes to matters of courtesy, but when you can’t actually see someone or offer to grab something from the communal fridge for someone, this stuff goes a LONG way. Bonus, you might get some extra positivity back! And we ALL need that.

Scroll back

Put that mouse wheel in reverse, what we’re gon’ do right here is go back. The cool thing about work chat-ware is that most versions will have a history you can scroll through! Your mission now is to creep through public, multi-person channels and see how your new peeps cheep.

You’ll get a great sense of who’s who, the general vibe, and even see frequent pain points and questions that come up before you have to ask about them (which you WILL).

Is this the kind of workplace where you can leave an ‘It’s Twerkin Tuesday!’ GIF, and get a whole bootylicious thread going to lift everyone’s spirits? Or do you work with more of an “Here’s an interesting article about twerking for spine health” kind of crowd?

This is how you find out.

Keep your own records.

Art Markman over at the Harvard Business Review mentioned a super fun and also true fact: “ Your memory for what happens each day is strongest around things that are compatible with your general script about how work is supposed to go. That means that you are least likely to remember the novel aspects of your new workplace” .

Ergo, it makes sense to keep a diary of everything that happens at work so you can get help with what you need most… because those ‘novel aspects’ are EVERYTHING, experience or no.

I personally suck at making my hands write as quickly as I think, so I suggest a diary in the form of Google docs, or even a private Tumblr/Twitter, etc, where you can hashtag what you need to look back at, and search your logs at your leisure later.

Make sense?

It’s not always easy to navigate a new position, even if you’re the naturally charming, adaptable type. Adapting to several major things at once is a lot for anyone! But hey, you’re doing the right thing by reading this as it is. Gold star!

Congrats on the new gig. Keep your head up, or whatever direction medical doctors recommend – you got the job. You’ve got this!

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Opinion Editorials

5 ways to grow your business without shaming the competition

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) We all need support as business owners. Let’s talk ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur that do not include shaming your competition.

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Entrepreneur women all talking around a meeting table.

The year 2020 has forced everyone to re-assess their priorities and given us the most uncertain set of circumstances we have lived through. For businesses and entrepreneurs, they were faced with having to confront new business scenarios quickly.

Perhaps you were forced to add virtual components or find new revenue streams – immediately. Regardless, this has been tough for everyone.

Every single person is having a hard time with the adjustments and at very different stages from others. We’re currently at the 6-month mark, and each of our timelines are going to look different. Our emotions have greeted us differently too, whether we have felt relief, grief, excitement, fear, hope, determination, or just plain exhaustion.

Now that we are participating in life a bit more virtually than in 2019, this is a good time to re-visit the pros and cons of the influence of technology and online marketing outreach. It’s also a great time to throw old entrepreneur rules out the window and create a better sense of community where you can.

Here’s an alluring article, “Now Is Not the Time for ‘Mom Shaming’”, that offers an example from about a decade ago of how the popularity of mommy bloggers grew by women sharing their parenting “hacks”, tips, or even recipes, and crafting ideas via online posts and blogs. As the blog entries grew, so did other moms comparing themselves and/or feeling inadequate.

Some of the responses were natural and some may have been coming from a place of defensiveness. Moms are not alone in looking for resources, articles, materials, and friends to tell us we’re doing OK. We just need to be told “You are doing fine.”

Luckily, some moms in Connecticut decided to declare an end to “Mom Wars” and created a photo shoot that shared examples of how each mom had a right to their choices in parenting. It seemed to reinforce the message of, “You are doing fine.”

I don’t know about you, but my recent google searches of “Is it ok to have my 3-year old go to bed with the iPad” are pretty much destined to get me in trouble with her pediatrician. I’m hoping that during a global pandemic, “I am doing fine.”

Now, comparing this scenario to the entrepreneur world, often times your business is your baby. You have worn many hats to keep it alive. You have built the concept and ideas, nurtured the products and services with sweat, tears, and maybe some laughs. You have spent countless hours researching, experimenting, and trying processes and marketing tactics that work for you. You have been asked to “pivot” this year like so many others (Sick of that word? Me too).

Here are some ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur (or at least, ideas worth considering if you haven’t already):

  1. It’s about the questions you ask yourself. How does your product or service help or serve others (vs. solely asking how do I get more customers?) This may lead to new ideas or income streams.
  2. Consider a collaboration or a partnership – even if they seem like the competition. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb
  3. Stop inadvertently shaming the competition by critiquing what they do. It’s really obvious on your Instagram. Try changing the narrative to how you help others.
  4. Revisit the poem All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and re-visit it often. “And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
  5. Join a community, celebrate others’ success, and try to share some positivity without being asked to do so. Ideas include: Likes/endorsements, recommendations on LinkedIn for your vendor contacts, positive Google or Yelp reviews for fellow small business owners.

It seems like we really could use more kindness and empathy right now. So what if we look for the help and support of others in our entrepreneurial universe versus comparing and defending our different ways of doing things?

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