5 Important Ideas: Vaccines in the Workplace

5 Important Ideas: Vaccines in the Workplace

18 months ago, it might have been reasonable to think that the COVID-19 pandemic would last a few weeks (or months at most!). Also, we might have hoped that by staying indoors we would be able to get back to our normal lives shortly thereafter. 

We’ve come a long way and our definition of ‘normal’ has certainly changed. We now see that COVID-19 will impact the business decisions we make well into 2022 – and for who knows how long beyond that. Right now, companies of all sizes are wrestling with how to safely return their employees to the workplace – or whether to do so at all. 

There are no easy answers. News about the virus keeps changing, and employers – from multinational corporations to the federal and provincial governments – have rolled out policies that, while appearing firm today, may need an update tomorrow. 

Given all the change and uncertainty, our outsourced HR professionals compiled 5 key ideas that will help you navigate the uncharted terrain ahead.

covid vaccine and syringe
  1. Survey Your Team

We recently looked at the power of employee surveys as a tool to better understanding your team. They can be especially beneficial here, when many of your employees will be understandably nervous or concerned by a barrage of sometimes-conflicting news reports. Some employees may be ready to get out into the world and back into the office, while others will have understandable reservations. 

Survey your team members, and do so anonymously. Ask them how they feel, and where their comfort level is with returning to the workplace on either a full time or hybrid basis. Those answers should inform how you draft your policies and your return to work schedule. If a large percentage of your team is ready to return, start looking at a gradual return based on the advice of public health authorities in your area. If your employees are uniformly not ready to go back, you will need to look at options that jointly address their comfort and your business needs.

“There are certainly softer and more compassionate approaches available, such as permanent work from home or rigourous testing policies.”

woman standing up in front of colleagues during meeting and showing papers

2. Draft Your Policies Carefully

You’ve likely seen the news about some of the biggest employers instituting ‘mandatory’ vaccination policies. This is often misinterpreted as ‘forced’ vaccination policies, but there are important differences and you may want (or need) to clear the air with your team.

First, any mandatory vaccination policy must take into account the same human rights exemptions as any other workplace policy. The Province of Ontario recently launched firm guidelines as to who would qualify for a medically-based vaccine exemption, and naturally any discrimination for such an exemption is forbidden. Employees may also seek an exemption to such a vaccine policy for religious reasons, which – if granted – would be similarly valid and protected from discrimination.

The other question that will come up in drafting a vaccine policy is what to do with those employees who are unwilling to take the vaccine without a governmentally-validated exemption? Remember that mandatory vaccines do not mean ‘forced’ vaccines; no one can legally hold you down and jab you with a needle. 

Employers are in a tough spot as they decide how to handle their unvaccinated workers. In the extreme, it is true of most employees in Ontario that their employment can be terminated at any time – and for any reason – so long as they are paid severance. That said, there are certainly softer and more compassionate approaches available, such as permanent work from home setups or rigourous testing policies. This also allows flexibility for grey areas and cases not covered by our Human Rights Code but that could still merit accommodation. 

woman in collared shirt

3. Rights to Privacy

As an employer, the best advice for talking about vaccinations while in the workplace is to be very careful. A person’s vaccination status is private medical information, and employers have a duty not to disclose that to others. So even though it’s become a popular topic of conversation within most of our families and social circles, discussing vaccination status in a workplace can accidentally reveal information about an individual that by all rights should remain private.

Keep your employees’ vaccination status as private and discreet as possible, and strongly encourage them to do the same. Workplaces that have been promoting in advertisements that their teams are fully vaccinated may be well-intentioned, but unless they’ve received permission, they are unknowingly violating their employees’ right to privacy. Do not encourage discussions around sharing everyone’s vaccination status, and remind colleagues why doing so can be problematic. 

crop woman in mask passing through turnstile in metro

4. Vaccine Records are not the New Employee Swipe Card

Just as there is no truly mandatory vaccination policy, there is no mandatory unveiling of vaccination status by requiring a record of vaccination to enter the workplace. Ontario does have upcoming regulations for entering some spaces on September 22, 2021, but an individual’s medical information is still private – and they can always opt not to enter. 

As a matter of policy, we recommend that employees should not be made to show their vaccine record to enter the workplace through a check-point. There is just too much potential for revealing private information (however inadvertent) and even discrimination. There are other ways to verify entrance eligibility that will reduce risk and observe the right to privacy.

pile of white and black boxes

5. Accommodations are not One-Size-Fits-All

Think about how you plan to accommodate employees that are exempt from vaccinations. Will they be allowed to work from home permanently, or will they be allowed back into the workplace but subjected to regular testing? Will accommodations be available to those who are unwilling to take the shot, or will you be terminating those employees? Remember that the former group cannot be terminated for their exemption, but the latter group can while following regular applicable laws.

Working from home may be a reasonable accommodation in some situations, but moving some employees to a permanent work from home while making others return full-time may appear arbitrary to employees and can quickly breed resentment if not handled carefully. A carefully-crafted accommodation policy can help avoid these pitfalls, and a strategic review of the business will help determine exactly which employees are needed physically in the office and when. 


If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is! We have never dealt with such a widespread pandemic in this age of technology, and advice can change frequently under new legislation and changes in public health directives. 

Whatever happens though, our team is here to help. Our outsourced HR consultants serve as your fractional HR team, and can help guide you through this difficult terrain. Take a look at our calendar below to schedule time for an initial consultation. 

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The 5 Keys to a Best-in-Class Interview Process

The 5 Keys to a Best-in-Class Interview Process

We recently did a deep dive on why it’s so important to hire for values over skills. But if you don’t have a great interview process to begin with, the candidates you want – the ones that share your values – are not going to accept your offers.

If only you could build a process that finds you the right people and has them scrambling to say yes…

Well, read on!

crop businessman giving contract to woman to sign
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com
  1. Transparency from the Start

Your candidates should know a fair bit about your process even before they apply. Why? It’s a natural filter to save your time and theirs. If your process takes 3 months and they need a start before then, no amount of interviews is going to make it a good fit. Or you may do rigorous reference checks, and candidates might need time to line those up. Think of this as a professional kindness.

Having a standardized process also shows that you’re limiting some biases. The opposite – a subjective flow – lets the interviewer decide who the candidate should speak to next, or possibly even to make the hiring decision right away. Stick to the process, and being transparent up front means you’re committed.

At Castle HR, we post our interview process directly as part of our job description. Candidates know exactly with whom they will be meeting at each stage so that they can do their homework. We also include a short description of each step and an estimate of the overall timeline.

“Scoring for values is the difference between a grocery list that says ‘get something for dinner’ and one that has an itemized list of ingredients for a four-course meal.”

flat lay photography of vegetable salad on plate

2. Value-Based Scorecards

This sounds simple, right? And using a scorecard should be – that’s the point. But how you create the scorecard is critical.

Scoring for your company’s values is the difference between a grocery list that says “get something for dinner” and one that has an itemized list of ingredients (with measurements!) for a four-course meal.

Interview scorecards – designed well – can also be a huge asset in removing bias. How you word your questions and how you teach your team to evaluate candidate responses cannot be neglected.

crop illustrator coloring apparel sketch at table

3. The “Show, Don’t Tell” Approach

Behavioural-style interview questions (“tell me about a time when you…”) are quickly moving out of fashion. They not only put candidates on the spot, they leave room for errors in memory and deception (no matter how well-intentioned).

Instead, design your process to have the candidate show you what they can do. The key here is to not ask for too much. They’re not working for free, after all.

Set a task that lets them show off their chops, and also allows for some creativity. This is a great opportunity to align the conversation around your values, too; a fun-loving team might put a goofy spin on the task so you can’t help but laugh together. Does the person take it way too seriously? Maybe they aren’t the best fit.

multiethnic colleagues discussing contract on paper

4. Empower Your People

This could arguably be titled, “Let decisions happen.” Don’t overcomplicate by requiring sign off from every executive unless the role really calls for that. Decide in advance who’s making the decision, and then let them.

A surefire way to lose a promising candidate is to leave them waiting, and waiting, and waiting. If the person who would decide is going to be on vacation, you should be able to know that in advance and deputize someone else.

This not only makes for a more efficient process that doesn’t trip and stumble over preventable details, it shows candidates that you’re serious about them! They’ll also see that you’re a company that trusts the people they hire. You want them thinking, “the CEO was away, but clearly has a lot of faith in their team – I want to be a part of that!”

brown and clear hour glass

5. Trust in the Process

When you build a good process it will find you quality candidates.

Earlier this year we released a video about eliminating ‘interview insecurity,’ where you think you’ve found the perfect candidate, but you just want to meet 5 more to see how they measure up.

Then suddenly that perfect candidate gets snatched up by your competition because they didn’t hesitate! This paralysis-by-analysis is a great way to lose skilled talent.


It’s time to sit back and let your interview process do its thing. That’s why you put so much effort into it, right?

Our fractional HR team is here to help guide you in creating a stellar interview process. Contact us today to learn how we can help.

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4 Steps to Harness the Power of Employee Surveys

4 Steps to Harness the Power of Employee Surveys

Make no mistake – your employees are talking. They’re speaking with each other after hours, behind closed doors, on private message threads, and during weekend hangouts. They’re sharing with each other their individual perspective on some things your business is doing right, and everything that they think your business is doing wrong.

As an employer, wouldn’t it be nice to know what they’re saying? You want to know what’s working, and what could be better. Unhappy employees means lost productivity and spikes in turnover costs. But unless you provide a channel for honest communication direct to your leadership team, they’ll probably just keep talking to each other.

Enter the survey. It’s not a revolutionary tool, but when you do these 4 steps you’ll get great results.

woman wearing teal dress sitting on chair talking to man
Photo by Jopwell on Pexels.com
  1. Understand the Why, the When, and the How

Why: Think of a workplace survey like a doctor’s check-up for your team. While you may not think of going to the doctor if you don’t feel that anything is wrong, you truly never know what is happening beneath the surface. Regular medical check-ups can catch the beginnings of serious problems and allow you to take action before a problem spirals out of control.

The same is true of employee surveys.

Employee surveys are where you can truly get a sense of your employees’ happiness and their level of satisfaction with the company. 

When: Numerous large organizations with thousands of workers routinely run at least an annual survey, wherein employees are questioned about their level of job satisfaction and even their likelihood of recommending the workplace for other applicants. Smaller teams have even more flexibility, and can easily do routine surveys (twice a year, or even quarterly) to gauge employee satisfaction and measure the improvement over each interval. 

How: Employee surveys should always be conducted anonymously. Just as you feel comfortable discussing your private medical concerns with a doctor because you’re assured of their discretion, employees should feel comfortable discussing their concerns about the workplace without fear of public exposure and humiliation. While some of the feedback may be a tough pill to swallow, it’s important that your team has a confidential outlet to voice their honest opinions. 

Employees can often be wary of surveys, and this is mainly for two reasons. The first is the concern about anonymity. Even if you promise confidentiality, there may still be some team members who will worry about being ‘discovered’ and penalized for providing honest feedback. The surprise for most employers is that negative – and even positive – feedback, does not always come from the places that you would expect. The employees who appear to be the most ‘happy-go-lucky’ may be the most comfortable expressing their frustrations anonymously, and the quietest employees may actually be the most satisfied.

“As an employer, the most important thing you can do with a survey is take it seriously. Set an action plan that responds to the feedback received, both positive and negative.”

white paper with note

2. Make an Action Plan and Communicate It

Some employees have given feedback before, only to see nothing come of it. They may have come from a workplace that routinely did a workplace engagement survey, but never actioned any of the concerns employees raised during the process. Without solid action that the team knows about, surveys will quickly lose their power. After all, how many times would you be willing to give your opinion when you know it won’t be counted?

As an employer, the most important thing that you can do with an employee survey is take it seriously. Set an action plan that responds to the feedback received, both positive and negative. Discuss the feedback received with senior leadership, and review what changes and improvements in process and facilities may be required. 

Then, share your plan with the team. This reinforces that they have been heard and that their voices count. It also creates a layer of accountability for leadership to complete the forecasted changes.

Employees will not expect everything to change overnight, and they will be far more receptive to the process when they can see the road ahead.

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3. Start Somewhere. (E.g. “Return to Office“)

If you like the idea of conducting a survey but are unsure where to start, try asking employees about their thoughts on returning to the office. We recently wrote about how to return to the office successfully and offered employers some helpful tips and tricks. Even if you’ve already begun sketching out your plans for a large-scale return, a short anonymous email survey can tell you honestly if your employees are excited, reluctant, or even hesitant about the idea. 

Create some multiple choice questions and short-answer ones, so you can gather quantifiable data and also let your team communicate on their terms. Multiple choice questions will show you some great data slices like what percentage of the time your team would feel comfortable returning to the office, and when. Short-answers will give people the chance to express their ideas more fully, including on topics you could not have predicted.

Data from this survey is instrumental for guiding your return to office strategy. If you envision a full return in the coming weeks and then learn that your employees are still hesitant to be working indoors, you’re effectively setting your team up for an unhappy experience. Instead, make sure employees know that you are listening to their concerns and that you are making best efforts to build in flexibility while maintaining a safe and productive workplace – wherever that may be. 

round silver colored chronograph watch
  1. Set – and stick to! – a Cadence for Surveys

With our clients, we always recommend running employee engagement surveys at least every 6 months. For us, they’re as helpful as a doctor taking your temperature or blood pressure. Quantifiable data points over time show us trends in progress and opportunities alike. 

The combination of a regular schedule and visible results empower employees to open up, and often they report emerging issues that can be addressed before they become something bigger.

This is the power of the survey.

Our team of fractional HR professionals routinely helps our clients run surveys effectively, and develop a strategy for how to implement the resulting feedback. As outsourced HR, our arm’s length approach allows us to really look inward, and help you assess what may need changing, and when those changes should be a priority. We love nothing more than seeing employee satisfaction scores climb year over year, since at the end of the day we’re only as happy as our clients, and they are only as happy as their team members. Contact us today to set up a consultation and to learn more about how we can help.

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How to Successfully Return Your Team to the Office

How to Successfully Return Your Team to the Office

If you’re an owner or manager in your business, you may have been back to the office at least a few times (or even regularly) over the past 16 months. Some owners dropped in weekly just to check mail and water the plants. Others headed in more regularly to escape the distractions of working from home, or simply because they felt they needed to make use of the space they were committed to renting.

Most other team members though have likely been working from home since March of last year, and many have decidedly mixed feelings about going back to the office now that vaccination rates are high. Some employees have expressed concerns about health and safety, and how to handle unvaccinated coworkers. Others are dreading the idea of returning to a regular commute, and the rigors that come with an inflexible daytime schedule. 

Several of our clients have made the decision during the pandemic to permanently surrender their office space, and have transitioned to a permanently remote-work model. Others though are grappling with how to plan a safe and effective return to office strategy. Here are a few tips and tricks to make your difficult planning process a little bit smoother.

green leafed plants
Photo by Marc Mueller on Pexels.com

Listen to your team’s concerns

Because return to office planning has been difficult to pin down due to the changing public guidelines, your team members are likely confused, scared, and generally on edge. The surest way to aggravate a difficult situation is to thrust the decision upon them without any consultation or input.

Instead, see if you can make the planning a collaborative process within your team. You may still dream of a full-scale return, but that will likely have to happen in slow increments in order to be successful. Survey your team members, have private conversations, and ask them directly what it would take to make them comfortable enough to return to the office. You may not be able to incorporate every idea put forth, but you’ll likely hear some excellent ones that will only serve to improve the working environment as you work your way back.

Also, one final tip on that note – don’t call it ‘return to work.’ Return to work is a legal term for those coming back from a layoff, and for any team members who were formally laid off then it would actually be a return to work. Most of your staff though have likely been working from home almost the entire pandemic while simultaneously juggling health and family responsibilities, so the phrase ‘return to work’ suggests that they’ve been on one long extended vacation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Employees will catch on quickly if they feel that a ‘collaborative process’ is just paying lip service. Ignoring suggestions outright will only harm office morale…”

man in red polo shirt thought a good idea

Implement those good suggestions

Listening to your team is helpful, but employees will catch on quickly if they feel that a ‘collaborative process’ is just paying lip service. Ignoring those employee suggestions outright will only harm office morale, and lead to employees believing that their concerns aren’t being taken seriously.

Employees likely have good reasons for wanting to implement some sort of hybrid or flexible office/home model. While employers are required to accommodate employees who have significant child or elder care obligations with no other reasonable workaround, many employees have likely amended their living situations during the pandemic in order to better balance work and home life in general. Some have even taken advantage of the hot real estate market and moved further out of the city since they’ve begun working exclusively from home.

See how many of the suggestions are actually feasible to implement, even if they’re better suited for a later date. Your employees will be more inclined to stick with a company that they know is sticking with them.

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Focus on Health and Safety First

Even if all COVID-19 mandated protocols are suddenly lifted, it would be foolhardy to rush headfirst back into full occupancy. The initial mandated maximums will likely be at a 50% of office capacity, and even those should be heeded with caution.

Take the extra time to plan out your physical space. Make sure that employees can sufficiently distance from each other, and that contact is minimized unless necessary. Rules may be amended to allow employees to eat at their desks so that they are sufficiently distanced, or even recommend off site dining until conditions improve. Mask mandates should still be encouraged to avoid unnecessary transmission. Lastly, confirm with property management that the premises will be cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis to help allay employee’s fears.  

cheerful asian girl sitting under mother practicing yoga at home

Stay flexible!

 We all learned lessons over the past year and a half about workplace flexibility. Practically overnight we improvised home offices, shuffled our schedules, upended our social lives to move entirely virtually, and learned that nature has crazy ways of breaking our rigid plans.

That flexibility will be just as important in returning to an office. Scientists are already speaking about a likely fourth wave of infections this Fall, even though it’s predicted to be smaller and less catastrophic given our high vaccination rates. Even still, infections will continue, so flexibility means planning around the fact that employees may be off for several days because they or a relative have contracted the virus. Flexibility also means that provincial guidelines may change, and capacity regulations may increase or decrease accordingly. It is well worth having several plans in place in order to account for a variety of scenarios.

Lastly, when it comes to the vaccine, privacy is paramount.

Canada has benefitted from great adherence, but the reality is that not everyone will receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Some have religious objections, others are medically inadmissible, and others may be refusing for personal reasons. 

The law is still being ironed out when it comes to this specific vaccine, and it may take a few years still for cases to move through the legal system. Generally speaking though, employers should tread cautiously when it comes to implementing vaccine policies that would attempt to either mandate vaccines, or punish those who don’t receive them. Exceptions must always be made on human rights grounds, including disability and religious freedoms, but there are greater concerns as well. Courts have generally ruled in similar situations that such policies are only acceptable in safety-sensitive workplaces, and an office environment will likely not meet that threshold. 

Instead, keep doing what you’ve done so far – encourage employees to get vaccinated, and offer them ample opportunity to do so. If an employee is unable to receive the vaccine and concerned about working from an office, examine if working from home or some other protections may be reasonably available. Employers are required to accommodate employees on the grounds of disability and must do so discreetly, so set up an HR consultation with one of our team members if you need any guidance on making these arrangements.

Return to office planning isn’t an easy task, but we are here and ready to help. Our fractional HR team is available to serve as your HR professionals. We can offer guidance on how to best re-integrate your team into the office environment while focusing on keeping everyone safe and secure. Remember, in-person collaboration may be beneficial to your company, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of health, safety, or team morale. Contact us today to set up a consultation.

Want your team to have a smooth, and SAFE, return to the office? We can help!

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Why you Need to Hire for Values Over Skills

Why you Need to Hire for Values Over Skills

If your business has ever done sales then you’ve done the work of defining your ideal client. When your salespeople can picture their dream customer, fewer such opportunities will slip through the cracks. Whether your ideal client is the perfect buyer for your product or someone who could really use your services, they are very likely to be someone who will recommend you to others. 

Have you tried applying this same approach to your hiring process?

You may have a very clear sense of when you’re speaking with an ideal client, but what about your ideal job candidate? 

The job market uses broad terms like ‘culture fit,’ but what the heck does that even mean? 

Outside of checking the traditional boxes available on a resume, how do you know when you’ve found the right person?

Believe it or not there IS a right type of candidate, and identifying them goes way beyond how they present ‘on paper’. 

graduate with papers and laptop excited about getting job
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Aligning Values

Do you remember the days when you were applying for jobs? Aside from asking about your experience, you were probably hit with predictable scenario questions about your past experiences in difficult situations or asking how you might handle a hypothetical. Either way, the question required you to think on your feet and formulate an answer using your intuition as a guide.

That’s because the interviewer wasn’t invested in the outcome of the situation in your example. They were interested in your behaviours and outlooks because those things are great indicators of your values. No surprise, a candidate whose values align with the company at which they are interviewing has a higher chance of success – both in interviewing and in the role itself.

For example, if honesty is a top priority in your organization then you’re going to search for candidates that can demonstrate that they value honesty in everything that they do. At Castle HR, we look for candidates who have Grit (read as: Hustle & Heart), so we know they will give their best effort and care about the results. We ask questions that reveal “gritty” qualities and elicit stories that demonstrate working towards success. That’s a great indicator that they align with our values, and will succeed in our environment.

Apple specifically seeks out happy, calm, easygoing personalities to work in their stores. Expert knowledge about technology is less important because it can be learned.

Predicting Success

Many of us have not been into an Apple store for a while, but we know what the experience of the store is like. But what about the people working there? Have you ever noticed that even though the store is always full of customers, the employees seem cheerful and unfazed? No matter how frenzied the activity around them, Apple employees are famous for maintaining this happy sense of calm and staying upbeat.

man passing an apple store

Amazingly, this isn’t because Apple employees are all technological wizards that gain comfort from having all the answers always, or that they love standing on their feet all day answering the same questions over and over again. Apple employees are happy working at Apple Stores in large part because Apple hires the type of people who would be happy being just about anywhere. 

Apple specifically seeks out happy, calm, easygoing personalities to work in their stores. Expert knowledge about technology is less important when considering a candidate because it can be learned – and of course they’ve developed processes to download that information. Rather, it’s the soft skills and personality traits that are harder to learn and say much more about a person’s values. Speaking broadly, those easy-going employees at Apple value positivity and kindness, and you see that in how they interact with customers. 

We see parallels in the legal world, too. In some areas of law that focus on litigation, lawyers and hiring managers look for students and junior lawyers who are bold, passionate, and strong-minded. The reasoning is the same: they can teach a young lawyer the fine details of the law, but the passion that it takes to get on one’s feet in court and advocate for a client can be daunting, and is harder to learn because parts of wanting to be that advocate come from your values.

a woman holding a tablet and a pen

Know Your Subcultures   

A candidate who does not align well with your company’s values is unlikely to be a great fit on any of your teams. That should be pretty obvious. But looking at this in the opposite direction presents an interesting distinction: 

Your company has core values, but each team can have its own sub-set of values too. And just because someone matches with the core values does not predict that they will be a good fit for the subculture of any given team.

Imagine a respected company, with a team of successful salespeople that has a reputation for being a bit abrasive. On this team, the ability to push people’s buttons is important. The kind of drive for success it takes to treat people this way is a value of the sales team subculture. But you wouldn’t want someone like that on a team that highly values empathy. Imagine them taking customer support calls! Yet both teams and their very different subcultures must coexist within this organization.

For another example, consider a team of developers compared to a marketing team. The former might value adherence to rigid industry standards and best practices, while the latter could prioritize exploration and unorthodox approaches to new problems. 

It’s easy to see how hiring for alignment with your company values and for the subculture of the role’s team are both important.

man people woman coffee

The Takeaway

Values are the pieces that you cannot instill in the venue of new hire training. They come from within, and are very difficult to change. If a person’s values do not align with your organization’s, they are probably not the right fit no matter how strong their technical skills.

Know the values that your organization prizes and behaviours that demonstrate them. You’ll need to figure out what interview questions will uncover whether a candidate shares those values.

Later on this month we’ll be taking a closer look at interviewing, and how to assess if that promising-on-paper candidate really is the right fit for your company, and for the team they would join. In the meantime, we are available to assist you at any time with your HR needs. Our fractional HR setup means that we do not need to be onsite to be able to lend a helping hand. Contact us today to learn more about our services.

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When did you REALLY last check in with your team?

When did you REALLY last check in with your team?

This time last year, all eyes and ears in HR were focused on employee mental health. We were in the midst of a difficult pandemic with no clear end in sight. Employees in all industries were thrust into work-from-home (“WFH”) scenarios with little advance warning, and into setups that simply were not conducive to a functioning home office environment. Worse still, school closures and virtual schooling meant most working parents were left doing double duty, suddenly forced to teach grade school curriculum as well as maintaining their standard job duties.

Employers were broadly understanding and sympathetic. While government subsidies helped businesses to keep paying rent on the physical premises that were now suddenly vacant, employers made great strides in accommodating employees. Allowances were made for flexible hours to allow for midday parenting and household necessities without any penalties for interrupted workflow. Managers would smile politely if a toddler or pet wandered into a videoconference, understanding full well that their employee was likely pulling double or triple duty. Most importantly, employers recognized that their employees’ mental health was perilous due to the multiple stressors they now faced, and employers had no hesitation checking in and offering to help.

Fast forward one year later.

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

While an end may now be in sight, the pandemic is still not over. Working parents have dealt with another year of on and off school closures, with working while teaching now becoming the new normal. Employees everywhere are suffering from ‘Zoom fatigue,’ physically exhausted from having to appear bright and chipper on video conferences day after day to maintain the appearance of good health. They have been burdened by the stress of worrying about variants, procuring vaccines, caring for relatives, and attempting to slowly navigate what a post pandemic world might look like.

So when was the last time that you really checked in with your employees, and asked about how they are coping with the pandemic after 15 grueling months?

While external stressors such as the now-known ‘pandemic fatigue’ may be outside of managerial control, employers and managers are still responsible for how it impacts their employees’ health.

It’s in your best interests to do so. Companies that have a more engaged workforce are likely to be 78% more profitable, 40% more productive, and even have a higher valuation than their competitors who are not making those same efforts. It is unquestionably more challenging to keep a workforce engaged when you are all physically separated and undergoing significant stress, but that is all the more reason to try. 

Despite the pandemic, maintaining employees’ overall health and wellbeing is still an employer’s responsibility. While external stressors such as the now-known ‘pandemic fatigue’ may be outside of managerial control, employers and managers are still responsible for how it impacts their employees’ health. 

Under the law, employers have a ‘duty to inquire’ if they suspect that a mental health issue may be impacting performance. Taking automatic disciplinary action without stopping to question the situation first and if it may be related to disability (including mental health and addiction, all fall under protected human rights grounds) may have serious consequences. If an employer terminates a poorly performing employee who was later found to be suffering from a mental health issue, that employer could be on the hook for significant human rights damages depending on the circumstances. 

But the conversation about mental health doesn’t need to be all doom and gloom. There are solutions available that can promote a positive and healthy work environment, and can address small issues before they become chronic problems in your workplace.

woman holding a magnifying glass

First: Open your eyes

Recognize the signs of burnout in your employees, and learn to catch the warning signs before burnout becomes chronic and habitual. Encourage your employees setting boundaries, especially in precarious WFH setups that offer little physical separation between a makeshift home office and a larger home life. Remember, not every employee will have the physical space to work in a separate room from where they cook/eat/relax/sleep. 

Make sure that your expectations of working hours are clear, and encourage employees to walk away and recharge during those non-working hours. If you do start to notice unhealthy habits or patterns in your employees’ work hours or work spaces, make sure that you speak with them to figure out a solution. Addressing the problem early can help avoid serious negative impacts on mental health and productivity. 

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Second: Give a little bit

Remember that just because we are over a year into the pandemic, your employees’ home lives and personal needs may have changed over the last 15 months. Babies have been born and children have grown up who now have different care needs than they did last March, as have relatives who may be ill, or other personal circumstances that have arisen. While you can largely expect your employees to stay working during working hours, remember that employees are simultaneously juggling complex home needs throughout their work day. A bit of compassion and creative flexibility will likely encourage them to remain productive, and avoid employees burning out from unrealistic expectations. 

Have honest conversations with your employees, not just a cursory ‘are you okay,’ but ask them what you can do to improve their mental health. Take a look at your employee benefits package, and consider revising to make sure that it incorporates their suggestions. Increased days off or flex time, sponsored gym memberships, and benefits for counselling can all be helpful. Even a low-cost solution such as sponsored memberships to mental health apps such as Calm or Headspace can be helpful. 

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Third: Promote good mental health

Make no mistake, this goes a step beyond simply opening up the dialogue. While you may not be a mental health professional, there are plenty of low-cost or no-cost resources available where you can direct all employees, so that they have the right tools when in need. Check in with employees regularly, and be genuine when you do. Ask them if they need more support to manage or balance their workload; the question alone may offer them a sense of relief knowing that they are supported. 

Take a hard look at your company culture. Are your values being respected, or do they need to be revamped to meet new accommodations? Do you promote and value the connections formed between coworkers? Is it a culture where expectations are made clear, and resources are promoted if anyone begins to feel burnout? If strained mental health is a common problem then a cultural shift may be in order. Remember that good mental health should be seen as a priority alongside any other in the business, and not just a waste of time or pleasant afterthought. Participation is key.   

At Castle HR we are passionate about workplace mental health because we’ve been there ourselves. We have worked in environments in the past that promoted high performance over wellness and balance, and we remember what it’s like when adequate supports are not in place. Our team of fractional HR professionals understand how much good workplace mental health can mean to a small organization, and we’re experienced in building and implementing solutions that help your team thrive. Contact us today to learn more about our services. 

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4 Really Clever Employee Referral Programs

4 Really Clever Employee Referral Programs

How have you found your top talent? Have you gone the traditional job board route, and sifted through countless resumes from a handful of job sites before finding that diamond in the rough? Were you introduced to a friend of a friend of a friend at a time when you weren’t looking to hire, only to realize that they would be a perfect fit for your team? Hiring the right individuals while in growth mode is always challenging, but as your team continues to scale you may want to look at a different approach.

Employee referral programs are not a new invention. Large organizations have for years offered their employees some sort of nominal employee bonus for helping to refer a friend who then lands the job. While the approach is a cost saving measure – LinkedIn for example found that each referral saved them roughly $7,500 per hire – the cash does not act as a significant incentive. Instead, several of our colleagues in the tech space have gotten creative with their employee referral programs, and the results have been as stellar as the new hires that they’ve found.

[Some] companies have found new methods of offering monetary rewards, such as a diversity bonus … or a tiered bonus for each successful stage of the hiring process.

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4 Really Clever Employee Referral Programs


The Indian multinational mobile advertising company sought to design a rewards system that worked for their employees no matter where they were in the world. They displayed a new bicycle, a universal method of transportation, at the entrance of each of their offices to keep employees incentivized. For successful referrals, employees were given a choice. They could have a new bicycle, or a trip to Bali, Indonesia. Bali may be more enticing for those of us in colder climates, but employees in warmer countries may have certainly appreciated the bike.

Fiverr Team


The Israel-based online marketplace for freelancers turned their employee referral program into a game. Employees were allowed to collect points for each referral, and cash in those points on a quarterly and yearly basis for rewards or prizes of their choosing. If an employee was seeking a specific reward, the company could then help them achieve it. It effectively turned the company’s employee referral program into a continuous indoor arcade. 

4 Really Clever Employee Referral Programs


San Francisco’s consumer data platform company is still growing, but they have done so partially by using their referral system as an internal competition system. They’ve created a leaderboard, and the person to successfully refer the most candidates winds up naturally on top of the leaderboard. The company states that they are planning on introducing other incentives soon, but even without any monetary rewards Segment has found 40% of their newest hires through this system.

Salesforce Team


The tech giant offers its employees a traditional monetary rewards system for successful referrals, but they have added an extra element. Instead of receiving cold applications where it can be difficult to get a feel for a candidate on paper, the company has introduced Recruitment Happy Hours. Employees can bring potential candidates into the office, where they can meet directly with hiring managers in a less formal setting. Not only does this put both parties more at ease, but it offers hiring managers an early opportunity to see how a potential employee engages with their company culture. 

As more and more companies in the digital space look for unique solutions to age-old problems, they continue to invent new hiring solutions as well. Other companies have found new methods of offering monetary rewards, such as an additional diversity bonus for candidates hired from diverse backgrounds, or a tiered bonus for each successful stage of the hiring process. This way employees do not need to feel like referring a candidate into a seemingly large talent pool is an ‘all or nothing’ approach.

Referral bonus programs can be a huge credit to your organization, and can make you a more attractive workplace for future candidates. A recent survey by Career Builder showed that these programs have the strongest return on investment for employers, which is no surprise. Yet no two programs are identical, and no single structure has a one-size-fits-all approach. When designing your referral program, here are a couple tips to keep in mind:

  • Ask questions. Consider surveying your employees to see what may be of value to them, and consider your corporate culture as well. If your team is generally incentivized by earnings, then a monetary reward may be fruitful. Otherwise, see where else their priorities lie.
  • Set your budget. The average successful employee referral bonus is about $2,500, but some companies can go even 10 times that amount for the right hire. Find an amount, whether cash or some other reward of equal value which will motivate your team to support growth while still making the system a cost-effective endeavour. 
  • Be clear about your expectations. Your team needs to clearly understand your expectations for an ideal candidate if they have any hope of successfully finding that person. You would not hire a recruiter and then give them a vague notion of who you were looking for – do not treat your employees that way either.
  • Make the program interactive. A rewards program needs to be user-friendly in order for it to remain successful. Make your employees aware of exactly how the program works, and what needs to happen for them to qualify for a reward. Designate a person to answer any questions that they may have about the position so that they can narrow down their search. Also, provide feedback throughout the referral process so that employees can have an even clearer idea of your expectations in a candidate.
  • Celebrate the wins! Remember InMobi keeping a bicycle at the front of the office as a visible reminder, or Segment creating a very public leaderboard? A successful candidate referred by an employee is a win all-around. The business benefits from a great hire, and the employee is engaged by their resulting reward. Celebrate these wins publicly – it shows your team just how much you appreciate their involvement in your overall growth. 

We work regularly with our clients to design employee referral systems that align with their corporate culture and motivate their existing employees to take part. Our fractional HR consultants learn your corporate culture, and work with you to design a program that will incentivize employees without breaking your budget. Contact us today to learn more about our services, and how we can find unique and innovative ways to help your team grow.

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HR Termination Checklist: How to Terminate an Employee

Termination Planning: What You Need to Know

Terminating an employee can be like playing with fire. Whether an employee’s role has become redundant, or whether the employee is no longer meeting expectations (or even committing serious policy violations), sometimes employment relationships need to end. Just as in the end of a romantic break-up, termination is not a fun or pleasant process, but can definitely be the healthier choice for both parties.

Yet terminating employees has something else in common with playing with fire – taking advanced care and precaution can skillfully avoid a tremendous amount of pain. Otherwise, much like fire, a poorly-planned, or poorly-conducted termination meeting can go horribly awry. Most large employers have an arsenal of horror stories of employees becoming overly emotional, disruptive, or in horrible cases even violent. Even if an employee appears to take the news relatively well, employers must always be cautious that they are not met with a legal claim for wrongful dismissal soon after. 

“[T]aking advanced care and precaution can skillfully avoid a tremendous amount of pain. Otherwise…a poorly-planned or poorly-conducted termination meeting can go horribly awry.”

There are, however, right ways to conduct an employee’s termination meeting, and as HR professionals we are experts in doing so. We have a longer termination checklist available for those interested, but we wanted to take this opportunity to share some of our wisdom that we have collected over the years. 

Two Woman Dressed in Black Learn About Employee Termination | Castle HR
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Do your homework before the termination meeting

The worst thing you can do prior to terminating an employee is fail to do your homework. Gather and review all of the relevant documents pertaining to that employee, including their performance reviews, attendance records, and any other key documents that you may have on file. Calculate what sort of payment they will be owed, both at law and under the terms of their employment agreement. If they have no written employment agreement, remember that they are owed at least their legal minimums including any termination, severance, and outstanding vacation pay.

If their contract entitles them to more, then ensure that those terms are met. These are tricky calculations to make, and there is no precise formula for amounts above the minimum legal entitlements. Remember, if you are only offering their minimum amounts, nothing is in place to prevent them from suing for more money. Similarly, if you are offering more money than the employee is entitled to under their contract, remember that that can come in exchange for a release preventing them from making a legal claim.

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Write a thorough termination letter

One benefit of having policies is that you do not have to do the heavy lifting at every turn. Policies can assign duties and responsibilities to other managers within your team, especially when it comes to reporting or enforcement. Vacation requests, for example, can become the responsibility of a direct manager. As the team grows, other managers can take on additional responsibilities under these policies, taking some of the weight off of the C-Suite’s shoulders.

Your termination letter does not have to list the cause for their dismissal, as most dismissals in Ontario are without cause, and cause only matters in the most serious of cases. It should, though, outline exactly what you expect from the employee, and exactly what they should expect from you.

This includes items such as what date the employee can expect to receive their final payments, how long their benefits will continue to run, how they can submit any final expenses, when their Record of Employment will be completed, and any other items that they should know in writing. The termination letter can also include the employee’s responsibilities in this process, such as informing you when they become re-employed (if they are being paid out on a salary continuance option), and their responsibility in returning any company property. Remember, this is the letter that sets out your official position, and once it is provided to the employee there is no turning back. 

Listen, Think, Answer Scrabble Tiles | Castle HR

Handle the meeting with care

Termination meetings should be handled with extreme caution to avoid that risk of proverbial broken glass. There are varying schools of thought for the best time of day/day of the week to conduct a meeting, but there is no perfect time. They should though be done discretely, in a private room away from the prying eyes of colleagues. Be sure to have a second person present whenever possible. Stick to your planned agenda for the meeting, and take the time to go through the termination letter with the employee even though you will send them a copy via email or post.

Do not let them sign anything during the meeting – they should be reminded both verbally and in writing that they have the opportunity to review the situation with a lawyer before agreeing to your terms. 

Most importantly though, even though this is a business meeting, remember it might also be the worst day of someone’s life. Do not hesitate to bring kleenex, give the employee a few minutes to collect themselves, and if meeting in person ensure that they have a safe ride home.  

Man and Woman Inside Building After Successfully Terminating an Employee | Castle HR

Follow through on next steps

The termination process does not end as soon as the employee leaves the meeting. The Record of Employment must be completed 5 days after the last day of work and sent to Service Canada for processing. If there is an imposed deadline for an employee to respond to a termination offer, make sure that a line of communication (not through the business’ internal network) remains open until the end of that deadline. Lastly, remain tactful and professional when informing colleagues of the departure. Hurt feelings are often the motivator for claims of wrongful dismissal, and may be easily avoidable by keeping the employee’s dignity intact wherever possible.

This is just some of the wisdom that we have amassed over the years. There are several more technical aspects of termination meetings in our work, such as determining how to best structure an appropriate exit package to avoid litigation, or how to carefully draft a release that protects your business in exchange for an enhanced exit package. These are often challenging questions, and require both knowledge and skill to resolve with minimal noise. 

Our team of fractional HR professionals is only a phone call away. We are well-equipped to provide outsourced HR services such as termination strategy and planning so that you do not have to stumble through this process alone. Mistakes in this process can be costly, such as overpaying for termination pay, or setting yourself up for unwanted legal exposure. We provide our clients materials to educate them on their requirements, their risks, and the best practices that will help ensure success moving forward. Contact us today for a copy of our termination checklist and to learn more about our services. 

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Put It In Writing: 4 Reasons Why Your Business Needs A Handbook

Put It In Writing:

4 Reasons Why Your Business Needs A Handbook

If you’re like me, you started your career working for someone else. You may have had several jobs prior to your current role, and each one of them formed you into the business owner that you are today – I know mine did. 

Whether your experiences were wonderful or challenging, your brain was likely taking mental notes about how you intended on running your own business someday.

Even if you had fantastic mentors, you may not have always agreed with their every decision. There are numerous occasions in your career development where you’ve said to yourself, “when I’m in charge, I am going to do ___ differently.” You may choose to emulate some of your mentor’s choices, or do a complete about-face on others, but every environment that you have worked in gave you a sense of how you would want to run your own operations.

woman sharing her presentation with her colleagues

Now you are in charge as a business owner, and you’re the one making the rules. This is a tremendous power – as a business owner you can run your workplace practically however you want so long as you stay within the limits of the law. Yet to run that workplace effectively, there are a few things to remember when making the rules: they should be clear, they should be consistent, and they should be communicated to everyone. The best way to meet those thresholds is by creating an employee handbook. 

“[T]o run a workplace effectively, there are a few things to remember when making the rules: they should be clear, they should be consistent, and they should be communicated to everyone.”

Let’s be honest – no one reads a policy handbook for fun! They may be long, and even a little dry, but they can go a long way towards protecting your interests while allowing you to run your business as you see fit. If you’re not familiar with handbooks, you may well be raising an eyebrow. Here are just a few reasons why handbooks are important:

close up of gear shift over black background

Ramp up new hires faster and introduce them to your workplace culture:

While some standard workplace policies are common to most employee handbooks (think vacation, overtime, and leave policies), additional contents are entirely at your discretion. If you want to implement a specific dress code, put it in the handbook. Do you want a policy about animals in the workplace? How about one on visitors, outside food, or internet usage? All of those go into a handbook as well. If there were ever rules that you wanted to implement for your workplace, the employee handbook is the place for them.

photo of people doing handshakes

Communicate expectations to the team to lighten your own burdens:

One benefit of having policies is that you do not have to do the heavy lifting at every turn. Policies can assign duties and responsibilities to other managers within your team, especially when it comes to reporting or enforcement. Vacation requests, for example, can become the responsibility of a direct manager. As the team grows, other managers can take on additional responsibilities under these policies, taking some of the weight off of the C-Suite’s shoulders.

my secret plan to rule the world book

Protect your business by documenting your compliance with the law:

When used properly, the handbook can become a staple of your workplace. It may never become daily reading, but all employees should be familiar with its contents as a reference point in order for it to be effective. New and existing employees alike should sign off agreeing that they are familiar with the policies, and acknowledge that those policies govern your workplace. If someone violates a policy by way of innocent mistake, they can be gently reminded and re-educated about the policies and your expectations. If violations are more serious, or occur repeatedly, discipline measures as outlined in the policy may be appropriate.

crop businessman signing contract in office

Defend lawsuits from exiting employees by showing that you took the right steps:

Taking serious disciplinary action such as termination of employment in response to serious or repeated policy violation may lead to a claim for wrongful dismissal. Should that happen, your policy handbook may turn out to be an integral part of your defense. In order to effectively discipline an employee for policy violations, you will need to clearly prove that you had an established policy in place, the employee was aware of that policy (hence the sign-off), and that they were reasonably disciplined according to the measures taken in the policy. That policy handbook is not just a manual; it may also shield your business from unwanted liability.

Wondering if your business needs a handbook? Here are some key questions to ask:

  • Are you over 15 employees? Above that threshold it can be tricky to manage every little thing yourself, so a handbook can be incredibly helpful.
  • Are your policies piecemeal? Did you grab a few off a friend, or download them from a generic website? If that’s the case, then you’re probably missing some key ones.
  • Did you customize your policies for your business? Having a well-tailored policy means more than just swapping out another company’s name for your own. If it isn’t suited to your business, it likely isn’t protecting your business either.

If you need to draft your workplace policy manual (and we recommend that you do), it’s best not to go it alone. Policies should be written carefully so that they communicate expectations clearly, and do not violate human rights law (most every policy will have inherent exceptions built-in where human rights conflicts may arise). Most importantly, the discipline warnings for any violations should be carefully crafted in order to protect your business against potential legal claims that may arise. 
We are happy to help go through your policies and make sure they properly protect your business. Our Fractional HR team can conduct a free review whatever policies you have in place and give them a score from 1-10. If any of your policies are out of shape, we’re happy to work with you on a plan to build out a proper handbook that can help you and your team move forward. Contact us today to learn more about our services.

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5 Reasons You Need To Outsource Your HR

5 Reasons You Need To Outsource Your HR

As a business owner, HR is probably the last thing on your mind. There is no shame in this – you have spent the past months and years juggling other key priorities, and putting out countless fires along the way. The need for formal policies, procedures, and contracts was quickly taken over by the need for sales and business development. Your eyes are laser-focused on growth and revenue because you know how precarious your enterprise can be in those initial years. Your goal is to win, and to do so with the right team behind you.

Yet hiring and maintaining that right team is a more fragile prospect than you might think. Whether your business started with a few loyal friends in a cramped office or by yourself in a basement apartment, you have spent the early years of growth working with people who you know intimately and trust implicitly. They have been your cheerleaders and the engineers behind your rise to success. What is more – the template employment agreements you’ve established work perfectly fine…until they don’t. 

Your tech startup … is so focused on revenue that the thought of paying for a full-time HR person … is likely out of the question. The solution is outsourced HR.

As your team grows, HR issues will inevitably come up. New team members will join as others depart, and this is simply the ordinary course of growing a business. Staffing needs may change quicker than you initially expected, or a new staff member may not be meeting your expectations. The reality is that a solid HR foundation is a necessary step in protecting your business. Written professional employment contracts, structured and established policies, modern performance management reviews, and comprehensive workplace training will not just keep you compliant with the law, but will ensure that your business is following best practices as it continues to grow. 

5 Reasons You Need To Outsource Your HR

The number one reason small businesses avoid HR is the perceived cost. Your tech startup of 10 or 20 employees is so focused on revenue that the thought of paying for a full-time HR person at the early stages of growth is likely out of the question. The solution is outsourced HR. Today an outsourced HR consultancy firm can serve as your Fractional HR department, and provide all of the services that you need to grow. Fractional HR offers a wide array of modern HR solutions without straining or breaking your budget. Here are 5 key reasons why outsourcing HR is the right solution for your business:

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1. Savings

A dedicated HR professional may be an unfeasible staffing cost at this point in your development. Many small businesses do not consider a full-time HR person until they are over 50 employees, and this is often to the detriment of those first loyal 49. Outsourced HR services are able to offer customized packages to suit your size and needs. Fractional HR offers your growing business the full resources of a modern HR department, but at a fraction of the cost. 

group of people in a meeting

2. Onboarding

Onboarding new team members is an exciting process, but it can also be daunting. It can take a significant investment in time and money to bring someone up to speed quickly, when the reality is that you likely needed them off and running even before they were hired. An outsourced HR professional can help systematize your onboarding procedures, and ensure that each new employee receives the comprehensive training that they need to succeed. Moreover, a smooth approach to onboarding leads to improved staff retention, which helps to avoid future staffing headaches. 

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3. Risk

Up until now, you’ve probably handled your own HR needs – this is not uncommon in the tech world. If you needed a particular contract, you might have asked your corporate lawyer to draw up something standard, and so far you have not had any issues. Unfortunately though, that lucky streak is almost guaranteed to run out as your team grows. Utilizing an outsourced HR professional ensures that your contracts, policies, and procedures not only fit your business but are compliant with the latest legal standards. This compliance is key to risk management – failing to keep your policies in line with legislation, or offering employees exit packages that violate their legal entitlements can result in costly fines and expensive litigation. 

clear light bulb

4. Culture

There is a common misconception that HR is only in place for problem solving, but HR professionals can bring so much more to a workplace. An outsourced HR professional can work with you side-by-side to build the values that establish your workplace culture. As your business grows and your hiring expands, you will garner a reputation for the type of workplace that you operate. A strategic approach to culture helps establish what type of workplace that is, and they can set the ground rules to ensure that your environment stays true to your vision even as you are positioned for growth.

photo of woman showing frustrations on her face

5. Proactivity

If you dismiss or ignore HR issues as your business grows, you will constantly be in problem-solving mode as problems continue to arise. As a business owner, this can make it feel like you are continuously putting out fires that are easily avoidable. Utilizing outsourced HR services allows you to take a proactive approach to your day-to-day operations. You can implement solutions before problems arise, and avoid the extra costs of being reactive. Whether you need to implement a new policy change or discipline poor conduct, you will have an established routine for doing so and will not be left scrambling or guessing at next steps. 

Castle HR offers our clients the ideal Fractional HR solution. We have knowledgeable, talented HR professionals who offer our clients a ‘full stack’ of HR services including creating a set of values, custom employee handbook, modern performance review, and of course unlimited expert advice. Our Fractional HR ensures that your business has an appropriate level of oversight without changing its core character. Contact us today to set up a consultation, and let’s work together to ensure that your business is set-up for continued success. 

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