Answering your questions on a mistake in the payroll department, preparing to attend a national meeting, and hiring the right person

Edited by Christopher S. Frings PhD, CSP

Mistake in payroll department

Q: Due to a staff shortage, two midnight techs were given a temporary $4/hour shift differential instead of the usual $2/hour shift differential. Three additional techs were hired, and for a period of two years, all five techs worked the same hours doing the same lab work. Due to an oversight in payroll, the initial two techs remained at $4/hour shift differential while the other three of us only received $2/hour until the error was discovered. Then the two techs were returned to the regular $2/hour. The difference in pay for a two-year period is approximately $8,000 per tech. My question for the panel is, what, if anything, would you do to correct this difference in pay? As you might guess, I am one of the techs that did not get the incorrect shift differential.

A: The panel is in total agreement on this one. There is really nothing for you to do. You were paid the correct amount. The fact that a mistake was made in a co-workers compensation and was corrected when found should be of no concern to you. You are not due any money.

The mistake may not have been in the payroll department. There is a greater probability that the mistake was made by the lab manager or supervisor who does payroll. That person probably failed to turn in the shift differential change. 

Alton Sturtevant advises, I feel that if you were paid the amount of money that you contracted for, then you were not wronged and nothing should be done for you. I would do nothing with your pay in regard to this incident. You did not mention the outcome of the overpayment to the other employees. Did the employees repay the erroneous payments? In the event the employees were completely aware of the erroneous payment and the intent of the scale, they owe the facility the money. They should have alerted the manager of the error when it was first detected and had it corrected. I expect that the employee handbook addresses that issue. My personnel policy states, The employee is responsible for immediately reporting to human resources any amounts over or under the accurate amount of pay or payroll deductions. I expect my staff to let us know if we are shorting their pay in any way, and I also expect them to tell me if we are shorting ourselves. That is also the moral thing to do as well.

Marti Bailey adds, The payroll department has two options, both of which probably will need approval by hospital administration and/or human resources. The hospital can either eat the overpayments by not requiring reimbursement of the overpaid amounts, or can work out a reimbursement schedule so that the amounts can be repaid out of paychecks over a period of time that will not put the two employees in financial jeopardy.

Bottom line. You and the other person who were getting paid at the correct rate are totally out of the picture. This is an issue strictly between the two techs who were overpaid and the payroll department. Anyone who is accidentally overpaid needs to disclose the oversight just the same as they would if they were underpaid. Not to do so is dishonest and constitutes theft.

Getting the most out of attending a national meeting

Q: I will be attending several national scientific meetings this year. What steps can I take before going to each meeting to make certain that I get the most from the experience?

A: Youre certainly right on to recognize that there is a positive relationship between your preparations and the benefit youll derive from the meetings. Early planning is essential. The following tips when used will help you get more done and obtain a positive result from attending a meeting. 

  • Prepare ahead of time. For example, make a list of questions you want answered at the meeting, seminar, or workshop. 
  • Make a list of people with whom you want to talk to and network.
  • Use the break times to network with your peers. This is a great time to make lunch and dinner plans with many different people.
  • Collect handouts from as many speakers as possible, even those sessions you dont attend.
  • Write notes on the handouts. Review the handouts on the way home. Use a highlighter marker to emphasize the important points. 
  • Conduct a mini-seminar when you return to work for your co-workers or team members on the key points of what you have learned.
  • After you attend an important seminar, workshop or meeting, all too often seminar notes get stuck in a file out of sight and out of mind. During your return travel, or first thing back at the office, go over your notes and highlight actions you want to take. Write them in your date book organizer (paper or electronic).

Larry Crolla recommends, You should review the program carefully and see what sessions you want to attend. I always bring and use a highlighter to emphasize the sessions in the program guide that I plan to attend. Also, if you are working on a special project or have special subject questions, you should try to arrange a meeting ahead of time with a subject matter expert. People are usually very busy at these types of meetings, so if you really need to talk to someone, dont leave it to a chance encounter. Make sure you leave enough time for exhibit viewing and have a list of the types of instrumentation you want to review. If you dont make a list, you will be looking at everything and may run out of time to see what is most important to you. Also, make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes on the exhibit floor, since most venues are concrete and several hours walking will take its toll on your feet.

Terry Jo Gile advises, I make a spreadsheet with each day of the meeting across the top and the time of day in half-hour intervals going down the side from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. I then plot out the sessions I want to attend in the appropriate date and time slots. Next I put in exhibit times and allow at least two hours per day the exhibits are open to see the exhibits. Usually the first day I do a quick overview and note on the spreadsheet where the booths are that I want to talk to further. Then I separate the hall into thirds (usually the exhibits are open for three to four days) and work each area in depth. I always leave lunchtime for networking with colleagues and time in the evening for socializing with vendors and friends.

According to Alton Sturtevant, The following list should be helpful in arranging your time and priorities:

  • Review the agenda of talks/sessions ahead of time with fellow team members and supervisory staff, and then select sessions that would be good for you as well as others in your lab. You can get handouts and materials that you can use to train co-workers.
  • Determine equipment needs for the future and visit the vendors of equipment considered for future needs and get literature to help in acquisition decisions.
  • Determine reagent needs for the future and visit the reagent vendors considered for future needs and get literature to help in these decisions.
  • Attend sessions that speak to trends or issues considered to be on the forefront by industry experts so you can help your lab prepare for addressing those issues. Examples are HIPAA and the Negotiated Regulations.
  • Build on your personal focus/expertise and become an expert in something (and keep learning more about the topic) so that you will become more valuable to your facility.

Dr. Sturtevant adds, Some managers require that meeting attendees present an informal seminar or session to their co-workers as a follow-up to the meeting. Others require a written report detailing how the meeting helped the individual and how it is then going to benefit the institution. If you are not required to do this, volunteer to spread the knowledge to others. By demonstrating this initiative, you will be more likely selected to attend future meetings.

Marti Bailey points out, Youll probably save both time and money by making your travel and hotel arrangements as early as possible. Make sure your hotel is convenient to the meeting location. If they can be one and the same location, this is ideal. Study the meeting brochure carefully. If you can pre-schedule attendance at any of the meetings, it might be wise to do so for the ones that are high on your priority list. Prepare a meeting agenda for yourself well in advance so that you can optimize your time.

Ms. Bailey adds, At the meeting, take advantage of all possible opportunities, including meetings, personal contacts, trade shows, and vendor displays, etc. It just makes sense to get the most benefit from your expenses that you can. Be sure to collect as much information as you can that will be of value to yourself and others in your organization. When you return, summarize what you learned at the meeting, and make yourself available to make presentations to the appropriate co-workers or staff. If you have handouts or other materials that might be of interest, make copies of them available at your meetings. Circulating your newly gained knowledge is just another way to derive the most benefit from the money paid for you to attend the meeting.

Bottom line. There is a positive relationship between your preparations and the benefit youll derive from the meetings. Early planning is essential. Please refer to the numerous comments from the panelists for specific recommendations on how to get the most from attending a professional meeting.

Hiring the right person

Q: I am a new manager. Can the panelists give advice for how to hire the right person?

A: Larry Crolla recommends, Make sure you have a list of the necessary job qualifications and skills needed for the position. Do a good interview and a thorough resume check, although with all the legalities, it is hard to check past performance. Call past employers and ask if they would hire the person again. If they say yes, you will get a better feeling about the interviewee. However, if they say, All I can tell you is that the person was employed here, or wont answer the question, you have to go by the submitted resume and tickets (i.e. license, certifications, etc.). Remember, first impressions are usually the best, and you will know in five minutes whether you are compatible with the person being interviewed. The bottom line is there is no perfect way to select people sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

According to Alton Sturtevant, The first step is to ensure that you really understand the job and its requirements. Once you receive resumes, you should divide them into acceptable and unacceptable categories. Then rank the acceptable applications based on their qualifications from the submitted information. Next, verify their stated qualifications through calls to the references or to other people you know who may have input on the person. Then rank the applicants based on the resumes and references. The next step is to interview the people on the phone to form an opinion sight unseen. Then interview face-to-face those that you feel warrant the personal interview.

Dr. Sturtevant adds, During the interview, ask the person to repeat his/her qualification history, and talk generally to the person. Use this time to get a feel for their attitude, energy level, communication ability, a sense of his/her ability to get along with others, his/her self-confidence, etc. My next step in the interview is to pose situations or questions to him/her relating to the job responsibilities in an attempt to understand more of the above. I allow him/her to interview me to the extent that he/she wishes to further gauge their approach. After interviewing the applicants, rank him/her based on attitude, energy level and training and experience. I usually give as much or more weight to attitude and energy as compared to documented training. I rank the applicants one more time and make the offer based on number one.

Marti Bailey reminds us, Since bringing new employees on board is an expensive proposition, hiring the right person is extremely important. The right person is someone who will be a good fit for the job as well as the organizational culture. A well-written, accurate job description is an important tool of the hiring process. Its intended to give both the employer and the applicant a snapshot view of what life is like on the job. But its become painfully clear that unless you develop tools for assessing applicants personality, service-oriented behaviors, and past performance, youre at high risk for making the wrong choice. A skillful interview process is the key to turning the odds in your favor. And no feature of the interview process is more important than the interviewer being a good listener. Im sure a lot of you can recall being interviewed and barely getting a word in edgewise. This is totally opposite of what should happen. Although one of the responsibilities of the interviewer is to share information, I believe that interviewers who do most of the talking do so because they lack confidence. They are uncomfortable with lags and pauses in dialogue and try to avoid these by jumping in. But every time an interviewer fails to hesitate before going on to the next question or comment, they sacrifice an opportunity to learn more about the candidate. The same applies to asking the candidate if they have any questions without giving an adequate response time. The interview process needs to be managed so that both applicant and interviewer have an equal opportunity to gather the information they need.

Ms. Bailey suggests, Although its relatively easy to ascertain whether or not a candidate has the technical skills to perform the job, its a much more daunting task to assess other competencies needed to be successful such as good interpersonal skills, being a team player, flexibility, and commitment to high quality performance. Behavioral based questions can provide information about these other competencies. The following are examples:

  • Tell me about a situation you had working with a difficult person or one who had a very different personality from yours, and how you handled it.
  • Tell me about a time when you felt that you really went the extra mile for your employer. What specifically did you do, and what was the outcome?
  • What would you do if your supervisor asked you to take on additional maintenance duties that you thought someone else could more easily assume than yourself (others were not as busy as you)?
  • If for five days in a row your work assignment was changed from what was previously scheduled, how would you feel and would you take any action?
  • What would you do if you saw a co-worker doing something dishonest?
  • Tell me about your greatest success at your previous job an achievement you are most proud of. Then tell me about a failure you experienced. How did you handle it?

She adds, Definitely consider having a peer interviewer as part of the process. Supervisors dont have to work side-by-side with their new hires, but their staff does. If peer interviewing isnt right for you, at least give candidates an opportunity to meet some of the staff members they would be working with and perhaps some private time for them to talk. Remember that the goal is to find a good fit for both parties, so this is time well spent. Be sure to have candidates review how they spent a typical day at their previous job so that you can point out the similarities and differences with your open position. A lot of people look for a new job because they want certain changes. If any expectations they have are not met, it might not be long until theyre looking again.

Bottom line. A well written, accurate and up-to-date job description is critical for the hiring process. This gives both the employer and the applicant a snapshot view of what life is like on the job. Unless you develop tools for assessing applicants personality, service-oriented behaviors, and past performance, youre at high risk for making the wrong choice. A skillful interview process is the key to turning the odds in your favor. Being a good listener during the interview is critical. Make certain that you dont do most of the talking; you can learn a lot about the applicant from listening. Check references.

Christopher S. Frings is an internationally known consultant and speaker on the topics of leadership, managing change, time management, reaching goals, and stress management. His consulting firm, Chris Frings & Associates, is in Birmingham, AL.

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