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Article updated: 8/9/2012 4:57 PM

HR panel: Take care of your 'superstars'

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Although economic uncertainty has kept business growth in limbo, it's important to take care of the "superstars" in your organization to make sure they are not lured away and to assure your company's future success.

That was the consensus of a panel of human resource and insurance experts speaking Thursday to suburban executives and business leaders at the Daily Herald Business Ledger's Newsmakers Forum on HR, Insurance and Benefits. The event was held at the Hyatt Lodge at McDonald's Campus in Oak Brook.

The experts acknowledged that during these tough economic times, it is especially important to focus on top-performing employees to assure they remain loyal and productive. Tom Callam, director of HR for Corbett, Duncan and Hubly PC in Itasca, stressed that employers should make sure their "superstars" know that they are valued by the company.

"You have to know who are the keepers, who are the future of the company, then you have to focus on them," Callam said. "You know who the superstars are, and you need to keep those superstars."

Callam also stressed that employers need to be open and honest to employees about their performance. By doing so, he said, you reinforce the good performers, as well as have leverage when dealing with poor performers.

"In this environment, it's too costly to be carrying dead weight (of underperforming employees)," he said. "If you let go of the poor performer, it raises your esteem among the other employees."

The panel agreed that having a good, knowledgeable HR staff is important for a business to handle various issues facing it now. In addition to the uncertainty about changes coming in health care, the experts noted an increased push for workplace compliance from federal agencies has added a new burden on business owners.

"This is really not getting any easier," said Jennifer Lollino, vice president for HR consulting services at Sikich LLP in Naperville. She noted workplace claims to the EEOC and other agencies have increased to record levels, and federal agencies have been collaborating more when conducting business audits,

"The Labor Department could report an audit to the IRS, and then you could be getting a call from them a month later," she said.

Her concerns were echoed by Mary Lynn Fayoumi, president and CEO of the Management Association of Illinois, who added agencies like the National Labor Relations Board have issued rulings that could be "scary for employers." She noted given the number of rulings and laws that target employee protection, it's even more important for supervisors to be versed on how the laws affect their dealing with employees -- especially when interviewing prospective employees.

"Make sure your supervisors know how to supervise," she said. "They need to have to training, resources and support to add talent in a legally acceptable way."

Fayoumi and Lollino pointed out the key to that support comes from having a knowledgeable and proactive human resources team, whether it's in-house or outside the company.

"Make sure your HR staff is well engaged to handle all the challenges," Lollino said.

As the Affordable Healthcare Act begins to take effect next year, the experts stressed business owners must start making plans on how they will comply with the changes. One key decision is whether businesses will offer health care coverage to their employees or risk being fined by the government. Bret McKitrick, HR consultant for Associated Bank Group, said that while it may make financial sense to some companies to pay the fine rather than provide health care coverage to employees, several other key factors come into play.

He noted that the act does provide options to consider for employees beyond traditional health care coverage, such as focusing on wellness programs and incentives for employees.

"This is not a trend. This will be a paradigm shift," McKintrick said.

In addition, he pointed out that a health plan is a benefit that continues to be attractive to employees, and dropping that could be a big negative for companies looking to attract new talent.

"It goes far more than if the cost of insurance would be 'x,' but the penalty would be 'y,' " McKintrick said,

Presenting sponsors for the Newsmakers Forum were Associated Bank and Corbett, Duncan & Hubly PC.

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