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Three Trends Affecting Your Employees in 2011 From health care reform to policies and training, use this checklist to manage your team.

By Burton Goldfield

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While many business experts and industry pundits are predicting the economy will improve moderately this year, small businesses are continuing to look for ways to reduce costs while supporting their most valuable assets -- namely, their employees. By understanding the human resources trends and issues that will impact their business this year, entrepreneurs can continue to achieve more with less by heightening employee productivity while maintaining operational efficiency.

Below are three HR-related issues small companies should take into consideration during their 2011 strategic planning process:

1. Prepare For Healthcare Reform
While the Healthcare Reform Act is still being discussed and debated on Capitol Hill, small business owners should take a prudent approach by ensuring they're aware of the proposed changes and being prepared to act accordingly. Check out the "Small Employers" page at Healthcare.gov to learn more about healthcare reform.

Many reforms will not come into play until 2014, but there are several aspects of the legislation that kick in this year. For example, starting in 2011 small businesses with 50 or fewer employees can earn credits that pay up to 35 percent of employees' healthcare insurance premiums. Additionally, small businesses willing to pay 50 percent of their employee premiums can have the federal government subsidize the remaining 50 percent.

Take a look at how you currently provide healthcare coverage to your employees and consider alternative healthcare options, such as less expensive coverage plans or health savings accounts.

2. Develop Social Media Policies
Employees spend more than one hour on social media sites daily, according to a recent study of 1,000 business professionals by People-OnTheGo. The study also showed that time spent on social media sites is more for personal reasons than for job-related activities, with less than 7 percent of respondents indicating they use social media exclusively for work purposes.

A number of problematic workplace issues can arise when your employees engage in social media activities at work without a formal company policy in place. They might divulge trade secrets, violate confidentiality and their productivity could decline, to name just a few.

This reinforces the need for small-business owners to take control by creating a social media policy. Consider the following when developing your company's rules about proper social media use by employees:

  • Assign a dedicated team to create and manage your social policies.
  • Research other companies' social media policies to identify the best practices that will work best for your organization. For example, IBM's social media policy book can serve as an effective reference point. IBM provides the following perspective about its employees use of social media: "If your use of social media helps you, your coworkers, your clients or your partners to do their jobs and solve problems; if it helps to improve knowledge or skills; if it contributes directly or indirectly to the improvement of your company's products, processes and policies; if it builds a sense of community; or if it helps to promote your company's values, then it is adding value."
  • Once you've developed your company's policy, follow the "Three Cs" to inform your staff -- communicate clearly, comprehensively and continuously.

3. Provide Leadership Training to Top Performers
For a small company to succeed, employees must have faith in leadership and feel they belong to an organization that recognizes outstanding performances. Investing in leadership training for top performers will not only help you retain your best and brightest, but others in the organization will be motivated by the understanding that management rewards those who excel on the job.

Leadership training doesn't need to be intensive or lengthy. Practical programs can quickly give managers the skills they need to lead successfully. TriNet, for example, recommends the "Situational Leadership" framework, in which a small group of employees identified as potential leaders meets regularly to discuss "what would you do if" scenarios. Hiring a consultant to facilitate the sessions and offer specific leadership-driven remedies is an effective means for ensuring the group stays focused and on track.

By preparing to manage forthcoming healthcare reform changes, developing and enforcing a corporate social media policy and instituting leadership training for high-performing employees, small businesses can improve operational efficiency and productivity while positioning themselves for growth in 2011 and beyond.

Burton Goldfield

President and CEO, TriNet

Burton Goldfield is president and CEO of San Leandro, Calif.-based TriNet, an HR outsourcing partner to small businesses. He is responsible for setting TriNet's overall corporate strategy and providing guidance regarding its human capital offerings.

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