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Maryland PHCC Contractor | Fall 2012


MD PHCC NEW MEMBERS........ Tom Walters TOMCO, Inc. Millers, MD


Fall 2012

Michael A. Sipes Sipes Plumbing, Inc. Queenstown, MD

ADVERTISER SUPPORT..... Senior Editor - Diane P. Kastner Maryland PHCC Contractor Magazine is the official magazine of The Maryland Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors and is published four times annually. The Maryland PHCC does not necessarily endorse any of the companies advertising in this publication or the views of its writers. Maryland PHCC Contractor Magazine is designed and published by Blue Water Publishers, LLC. Articles and information published in this magazine may not be reproduced without written consent of The Maryland PHCC or Blue Water Publishers, LLC. The publisher cannot assume responsibility for claims made by advertisers and is not responsible for the opinions expressed by contributing authors. For more information on advertising, contact Jim Aitkins Blue Water Publishers, LLC 22727 - 161st Avenue SE, Monroe, WA 98272 360-805-6474 / fax: 360-805-6475

Aireco Supply page 18 Bradford White 23 Cummins-Wagner 15 FastEst 15 Grundfos 9 Hodes Co. 12 Liberty Pumps 24

Parts Unlimited 2 PHCC National Association 7 Quality Service Contractors 9 Rheem 5 ROI Marketing 12 Saniflo 7 Service Roundtable 20

Slant Fin 13 T&S Brass 15 Viega 4 Virginia Marketing Associates 18 Woodford Manufacturing 11

CONTENTS .......... President’s Message - Katharine K. Stradley


Gerry Kennedy, PHCC Executive VP - PHCC: Still Blazing Strong after 130 Years


Emergency Preparedness Planning


Calendar of Events


Managing and Motivating a Changing Workforce


Water Cooler Politics


Maryland PHCC Backflow Certification Course Information


Backflow Certification Course Application


OFFICERS 2012 ............................. PRESIDENT KATHARINE K. STRADLEY WEST FRIENDSHIP, MD (410) 442-2221 (410) 442-7626 FAX FIRST VICE PRESIDENT ALBERT REED BALTIMORE, MD (410) 483-3312 (410) 866-5427 FAX SECRETARY A. DAHLE AMENDT, II BALTIMORE, MD (410) 426-3888 (410) 426-8866 FAX TREASURER FREDERICK WOLF BALTIMORE, MD (410) 327-4750 (410) 563-1611 FAX SERGEANT AT ARMS TIMOTHY FELDMAN ELKRIDGE, MD (410) 536-5700 (410) 536-5705 FAX

DIRECTORS THOMAS KELLER ELLICOTT CITY, MD (410) 203-1741 (410) 203-2638 FAX JIM BERNDT BALTIMORE, MD (410) 254-7473 (410) 256-4787 FAX STEVEN M. SCHAEFER WESTMINSTER, MD (410) 876-6825 (410) 857-0011 FAX BRUCE J. SOLOMON REISTERSTOWN, MD (410) 833- 2188 (410) 833-9023 FAX RONALD STIEGLER ELDERSBURG, MD (410) 876-6825






Fall 2012 | Maryland PHCC Contractor




Katharine K. Stradley


the Viega System for Black Iron Pipe


an you imagine a dentist who does not belong to the American Dental Association? How about a doctor who doesn’t belong to the American Medical

Association? Dentists and doctors know the importance of belonging to a trade organization. How about you? Do you belong to one of the oldest trade associations in Maryland - the Maryland Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Association? Why not? I am still hearing contractors saying that they were unaware of the lead free law that went into effect January 1st of this year. Their argument for non-compliance is that they have no way of knowing or keeping up with changes in the laws that directly affect their business. State and Federal Legislation is continually changing, codes and regulations are updated often, technology and every day business practices are always evolving. As a business owner it’s impossible to keep up with it all on your own. Thankfully, you don’t have to do it on your own.

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That is one of the greatest benefits of belonging to the Maryland PHCC. Our Legislative Committee and Lobbyist work hard to keep you informed of proposed and new Legislation. We travel to Annapolis to support, fight and defend bills that directly and indirectly affect our industry. Our goal is to help protect the contractors as well as the consumers. Becoming a member and attending the MPHCC meetings is a great way to learn about what is currently happening in our

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industry. What better way to learn than from each other; sharing our ideas, tips, stories of successes as well as our failures. It’s

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always better to learn from someone else’s mistake than to make our own! Our members have always been the backbone of this association as well as leaders in our industry. Why not become a member today, and start learning for your future. Visit our new website at to see more benefits in becoming a member of MPHCC.


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Reduce installation costs through time and material savings with SPIDERfire commercial condensing water heaters–a full line of 100-gallon and new 80-gallon models perfect for high volume hot water customers including restaurants, laundromats, hotels and schools.


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By Gerry Kennedy PHCC National Association Executive Vice President

PHCC: Still Blazin’ Strong After 130 Years


o far, the year 2012 is sizzling, and it’s not just the weather. Tax cut extensions, health care reform and the economy are just a few of the topics currently under fierce debate as America prepares for the upcoming presidential election. However, as I write this in August, those who are affiliated with PHCC can relax knowing that your association is hard at work to protect your interests and provide the tools you need to succeed. Here are some examples: Hot Issues in Washington Having a strong voice in Washington, D.C., has been a trademark for PHCC since its inception 130 years ago. This year, that influence is even more powerful. On issues like extension of the tax cuts, permanent repeal of the estate tax, a more workable EPA Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule and appropriate workforce guidelines for the federal weatherization program, we’ve “got your back.” And with expanded grassroots communication coming directly from our members, key lawmakers and regulators are being contacted from all directions about important PHCC issues. In the 112th Congressional cycle alone, PHCC members generated more than 4,000 letters to Capitol Hill and the U.S. Dept. of Energy. The commitment of our members to get involved is why we are players in Congress, and will continue to be so. New Business and Risk Management Tools We’re told that our new quarterly member benefit mailings are a hit! The April issue included the how-to guide, “The True Cost of Running a Business.” Besides helping contractors understand overhead costs and how to price services to make a profit, the guide can be used to educate employees about the [6]

Maryland PHCC Contractor | Fall 2012

difference between what is charged for services and what they receive in their paychecks. If you didn’t see this mailing, you may want to go find it because there’s an order form for the PHCC Educational Foundation’s Overhead and Profit Calculator — with a special 25 percent discount. You should have also received a second mailing dealing with risk management plans and safety issues. It offers helpful tips for reducing workplace and jobsite-related injuries through safety awareness and training, preparing for natural disasters and selecting an insurance partner. Resources provided by PHCC’s Corporate Partner Federated Insurance were very helpful in the development of this publication. If you missed these mailings for some reason, you can access them in the Member Center (Contractors) section of CONNECT 2012 Everyone is excited about PHCC’s CONNECT 2012, to be held Oct. 3-5 in Philadelphia. Come discover how to “Accelerate Impact” on your bottom line. Learn about new federal requirements for lead-free plumbing products, new federal energy efficiency standards, opportunities in the whole building retrofit market and effective ways to work with all generations in the workplace. This is also a great time to meet other contractors with whom you can share ideas and learn new tips and business practices.  And of course you’ll want to bring home a 130th anniversary coaster as a souvenir! Register by visiting www. or calling (800) 533-7694. Don’t let 2012 be a scorcher! Stay active in PHCC and enjoy the many benefits that can help you become the most profitable, knowledgeable and technologically savvy plumbing and/or HVACR professional out there!

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Fall 2012 | Maryland PHCC Contractor


Emergency Preparedness Planning


usiness emergencies take many forms. Mother Nature may be venting her fury on your operating area in the form of earthquakes, tornados, flooding, electrical storms, blizzards, or ice storms. Terrorist threats, rapid spread of contagious disease or just an accident or sudden illness may place unique demands upon your employees as well as generating unique customer needs for service. Because of the vital nature of the services that PHCC members provide, your customers will look to your business to be part of the solution to the problems created by particular emergencies. Are you prepared? Are there systems in place to protect employees and customers, to maintain continuity of operations, to protect resources, to remain in compliance with applicable federal and state regulations; thereby maintaining your unique standard of service levels? The importance of emergency planning is emphasized by the OSHA requirement that facilities with ten or more employees have a written emergency action plan (EAP – not to be confused with an Employee Assistance Program). Organizations with fewer than ten employees should also have an EAP but it may be communicated orally to workers without stepping out of compliance with the OSHA requirement. Protecting People Under normal operating circumstances, most businesses have safety net programs in place to meet basic welfare needs of employees and customers. Health, life, accident and workers compensation insurance programs protect employees. Liability insurance, licensing, bonding and compliance with local permit requirements protect both customers and employees. Proper pre-hire screening, including drug and background checks, help ensure that employees will treat customers appropriately. Proper maintenance of equipment and vehicles protects the safety of employees and customers.


Maryland PHCC Contractor | Fall 2012

But what happens under extraordinary circumstances? Who takes the decision-making lead at the worksite? At headquarters? Is that individual appropriately trained to assess and respond to such compromised safety conditions as hazmat accidents, injuries, sudden illnesses, leadership voids, communications failures, technical failures, and the like? Human safety and basic needs in emergency situations will be better protected if a strong EAP does the following: 1. Defines the nature of anticipated emergencies and the challenges that may be presented. 2. Identifies the individual(s) authorized to take a leadership role in emergency circumstances. 3. Provides identified leaders with relevant training to meet emergencies such as CPR, first aid, equipment failure, fire, flood, etc. 4. Establishes a communications plan for closing notifications, accident reporting, and employee status reports (“I’m ok” check-ins). 5. Provide communications capability such as cell phones, walkie-talkies or radios to maintain contact when the grid is compromised. 6. Establishes capabilities to maintain safety of such basic employee needs as equipment, vehicles, protective gear, etc. 7. Establishes processes and systems to maintain continuity of employee pay cycles. 8. Addresses FLSA-related pay issues under such circumstances as office closings, work stoppage, discontinued projects, etc. 9. Avoids lapses of insurance policies due to delayed payments. 10. Provides employees with “people protection” related training.

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‘‘ I have made more progress in the growth,

professionalism and internal communications of my company in the last 10 years as a QSC member than the previous 27 years before that. I only have QSC and everyone associated


with it to thank.

Roger Fouche Schaal Heating & Cooling Des Moines, IA

Our members say it best! Quality Service Contractors (QSC) is an elite professional association that assists plumbing and HVACR service and repair contractors. We help each member reach their potential in our increasingly demanding industry. As a member, you benefit from business management services and state-of-the-art training to enhance your image and enable you to better serve the needs of your clients.

SAVE OVER $950 Join QSC now, get 15 months for the price of 12 Offer ends December 31, 2012. For more information call (800) 533-7694 or e-mail Fall 2012 | Maryland PHCC Contractor


Key Management Continuity Imagine this scene – the business owner falls off a ladder and is admitted to the hospital for what will be at least a month’s stay. What happens next? Who will sign paychecks on Friday? The business owner and key management team are vital to the maintenance of daily operations. But an accident or serious illness may suddenly create a void in the management structure of your business, constituting a unique and serious emergency situation. Without proper planning, the organization may experience a period of “drifting” until leadership can be restored. Strong organizations anticipate this need by installing and periodically updating a management succession plan. Consultant Jack Shand tells us that a solid succession plan contains the following basic elements: 1. Identification of the key position(s) for which succession planning is vital to the operational continuity of the business. 2. Identification of the logical successor(s) – individuals with the knowledge, skill, potential and interest to take on leadership responsibilities. 3. Up-to-date outline of the requirements of the job(s) in question. 4. Process for providing development activities for identified individuals to ensure that key competencies are in place. 5. Key person development progress analysis. 6. Outline of steps to be taken at the immediate outset of a leadership transition including communication/notification steps, provisions for interim leadership as necessary, and ensuring the continuation of key financial operations including payroll and check writing. Keeping employees safe also forms the bedrock of a plan that is geared toward maintaining operational continuity in extraordinary circumstances. Employees comprise an organization’s core resource, without them, service could not be provided. The systems that employees rely on must be protected in an emergency too. Power outages and other utility failures could render those systems useless, necessitating work-a-rounds for key functions and a delay in problem solving. A strong EAP will address the following: 1. Data protection – equipment maintenance, back up and security against hacking. 2. Communications capabilities – equipment maintenance and identification of alternatives if equipment is disabled. 3. Alternative communications procedures. 4. Alternative power supplies. 5. Fleet management and maintenance. 6. Maintenance of availability of emergency-related supplies. 7. Worksite protection, maintenance and repair. 8. Provision for sheltering in place in extreme circumstances. 9. Provision of sustenance necessities for employees (food, sleep) in extended work situations. [ 10 ]

Maryland PHCC Contractor | Fall 2012

Maintaining Compliance with Federal and State Employment Laws Federal and state employment laws are applicable and enforceable in extreme circumstances, as they are within the context of “normal” operations. In fact, dangerous situations can call attention to possible employer liability. It may be helpful to remember the following: 1. All prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of any of the protected human attributes (age, disability, race, gender, sexual orientation, genetic information, pregnancy) remain in place. Violations are all the more visible in extreme situations. 2. Organizations continue to be bound by rules and requirements that pertain to health and safety. OSHA is a valuable resource for information on required standards and means of meeting them. The burden of recording injury and death data as per OSHA reporting requirements can easily come to light in extreme situations. Having a process firmly in place and operational will make meeting that responsibility more routine, even in an emergency. 3. Because extreme circumstances can call for heroic levels of performance, it is imperative that attention be paid to the requirements that affect employee pay. Many of your employees will be hourly workers. Rules that pertain to Fair Labor Standards classification, equal pay for equal work and overtime could be subject to closer scrutiny in extreme circumstances simply due to the increased number of hours that need to be worked. Be mindful of related safety issues as exhaustion, physical capability and fairness. It is important to remember that violations of these laws in extreme circumstances will be considered all the more egregious because of the enhanced seriousness, severity, and danger therein. Implied employer/service provider liability can and often does become an issue. Ensuring Continuation of Quality Service During an emergency, your customers will look to you more than ever as a key resource for reestablishing health, safety, and comfort capabilities. They will be frightened, anticipate danger and feel totally helpless and inadequate to meet the situation at hand. Emergencies invariably affect your ability to deliver service. Power supplies may be restricted or incapacitated. Worksite access may be limited or barred totally. Extraordinary damage solutions, such as debris removal, may be required before your employees can get back to work. Maintaining the maximum level of operational capability possible under extreme circumstances will not only establish your business as one that takes its responsibilities for the safety and effectiveness of its employees and customers to heart, but also as one that can be relied upon to help a community survive a disaster.

Zero or even below, the Woodford 65/67 series commercial wall hydrants will tolerate any temperatures without freezing. All drain automatically, even with a hose attached. The 67 models include an ASSE Standard 1052 approved backflow preventer connection‌and all come with Woodford quality, durability, and the ability to tolerate anything Mother Nature can throw at them.


Model 67 Freezeless Wall Hydrant with backflow prevention The ASSE 1052 approved double check is field testable. Designed to complement modern architecture. The Model 65 offers the same features with an ASSE 1019 vacuum breaker.

RB67 Round Box Freezeless Wall Hydrant Fits through standard 6� diameter cored hole. Supplied with a ASSE 1052 approved double check backflow preventer that is field testable. Designed especially for tilt-up wall construction. Also available as the RB65 with ASSE 1019 approved vacuum breaker.

B67 Freezeless Wall Hydrant with double check backflow protection A rectangular version of our RB67, with backflow prevention. Also offered as the B65.


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Represented in Eastern MD by Barger & Associates 757-873-4574 Represented in Western MD by Virginia Marketing 804-569-0360

Choose from backflow prevention (67 series) or anti-siphon vacuum breaker (65 series) hose connections.

Fall 2012 | Maryland PHCC Contractor

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Parting Recommendations • If you don’t have an Emergency Action Plan, write one that is specific to your own unique business, skill requirements, locale, and business goals. Many state regulators concerned with health and safety offer guidelines for key elements that should be contained in an EAP. • Once an EAP is in place, review it at least annually. Make sure that it is revised as related elements in the work environment change. • Communicate, communicate, communicate! Make sure that your employees fully understand what they might be called upon to do in an emergency situation and what systems you have in place so that they can work safely and effectively to help meet serious needs. • Periodically train to the EAP. We all forget details. Make sure that employees have easily remembered access to key tools ranging from such things as emergency supplies to key contacts for emergency management updates and information. • Consider providing such emergency training as CPR and First Aid. • Do some creative thinking as to how your employees might bridge differences in language capability. Awkward as it may seem, role playing may help. • Stress the importance of providing for the safety of your customer base. By being prepared for an emergency, you can limit the impact of unexpected events on your operations. With proper preparations, your company might find itself as the only one in town who can provide services after an emergency. By helping your employees and customers get their lives back to normal, you can enjoy a reputation in your community as an employer and a professional business that truly cares. This content was developed for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc. ( Please consult your HR professional or attorney for further advice, as laws may differ in each state. Laws continue to evolve; the information presented is as of May 2012. Any omission or inclusion of incorrect data is unintentional. Please note this article is not intended to provide legal advice or to substitute for supervisor employment law training. The PHCC Educational Foundation, a partnership of contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers was founded in 1987 to serve the plumbing-heating-cooling industry by preparing contractors and their employees to meet the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting the Foundation by making a contribution at http://www. [ 12 ]

Maryland PHCC Contractor | Fall 2012


ROI Parts Depot


The ROI Parts Depot stocks residential and commercial water heater repair parts allowing contractors the ability to provide faster service on State water heaters and those AO Smith water heaters having parts in common with State models.

Over 1200 Parts in STOCK! NOW IT’S FASTER THAN EVER TO RECEIVE REPAIR PARTS FOR STATE WATER HEATERS New ROI Training Center (ROITC) Training on "live fire" residential and commercial heaters, tankless water heaters and boilers. Please review the class schedule at For more information Contact Contact Chris Kidwell for ROI Marketing after-hour emergency parts 1-800-441-8188 (410)-703-1790 *Additional fee for after-hour pick-ups

NEW LOCATION 733 Generals Highway, Millersville, MD 21108.

Operating Hours are M-F, 7 A.M-5 P.M


For information on the location and dates for the Plumbing Code and Gas Fitters Training classes call the MPHCC office (410) 461-5977.

October 12, 13, 14, 2012 November 9, 10, 11, 2012 32 Hour Backflow Certification Course Thos. Somerville Co. 1510 Tilco Drive Frederick, MD October 13, 2012 November 10, 2012 8 Hour Backflow Re-Certification Course Thos. Somerville Co. 1510 Tilco Drive Frederick, MD

October 26, 27, 28, 2012 November 16, 17, 18, 2012 32 Hour Backflow Certification Course Dundalk Community College 7200 Sollers Point Road Dundalk, MD October 27, 2012 November 17, 2012 8 Hour Backflow Re-Certification Course 7200 Sollers Point Road Dundalk, MD

NYPHCC712_CHS_7.5x5_Layout 1 6/27/12 4:08 PM Page 1

There’s a new player on the board. Make the right move.

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Fall 2012 | Maryland PHCC Contractor

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aChanging Workforce

Prepared for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc.


or the first time in American history, our workplace has four generations working side-by-side:

“Traditionalists” - Also known as “Veterans” and the “Silent Generation,” born between 1922 and 1945

“Baby Boomers” - Born between 1946 and 1964

“Generation X” - Also known as “Gen X,” born between 1965 and 1980

“Millennials” - Also known as “Gen Y,” “Nexters,” and “Echo Boomers,” born between 1981 and 2000

The diverse perspectives, motivations, attitudes, and needs of these four generations have changed the dynamics of the workforce, and have challenged [ 14 ]

Maryland PHCC Contractor | Fall 2012

managers to balance a generation gap of more than 50 years between the oldest and youngest employees. Many “seasoned” (read Traditionalist and Baby Boomer) managers grew up with the expectation that they would work in one field and at one, or perhaps two, jobs for years, gradually being promoted to more senior positions, and earning a guaranteed retirement package.  By contrast, members of the Gen X and Millennial generations expect to have five or six different careers and many more jobs in their lifetimes, and are seeking employers who can offer better work/life balance with flexible schedules, professional challenges, rapid career advancement, and frequent recognition and feedback. As background, let’s start with a brief overview of each generation, as highlighted in the following table, keeping in mind that these generational descriptions are generalizations only and will not uniformly apply to all members of each group.

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They all got their start in California, and they all swept the nation. Although California led the way with the AB1953 legislation mandating low-lead faucets, it’s only a matter of time until they are required in all states. And T&S is ready — all of our faucets are low-lead compliant and are available across the country. And, as always, T&S faucets are as rugged and reliable as they come, and meet the requirements of the Buy America Act. Contact your sales rep for more information.

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Generational Perspectives Different experiences that occur during a generation’s formative years create different perspectives, but differences in generational perspectives and communication styles are certainly nothing new. Each generation clashes with and attempts to distinguish itself from the one before, shaping attitudes and providing a common identity to the generation’s members. The “rebellious” long hair and rock and roll of Baby Boomers have become the tattoos and piercings of the Millennials. Understanding these different perspectives can help managers bridge generation gaps that occur in the workplace, thereby averting many minor and major confrontations and misunderstandings.

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Maryland PHCC Contractor | Fall 2012

Generational Workplace Characteristics As each generation’s defining events and common experiences shape its members, so does each generation influence change the workplace. The table below gives an indication of the evolution in approaches to work and the workplace that has occurred as Generation X and the Millennials have joined the Traditionalists and Baby Boomers in the world of work. Such differences in perceptions and approaches that characterize the four current generations can’t help but create challenges for managers.

Leveraging Generational Differences Each generation brings unique strengths to the workplace and the most effective managers recognize the strategic advantages of leveraging generational differences to most effectively achieve organizational goals. For example, Traditionalists tend to be experienced and loyal team players who get along well with others in the workplace, but are less technologically savvy than Millennials. Pairing a Traditionalist with a Millennial in a mutual-mentor relationship can result in increased technological knowledge for the older worker while at the same time providing the younger worker with a repository of valuable experiential and institutional knowledge that will allow him or her to move more quickly up the learning curve. On a personal level, members of the two “bookend” generations tend to share many common characteristics, including an appreciation of family life (though they may define the family unit differently) and a high level of patriotism not generally shared by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Likewise, many Baby Boomers have spent most of their working lives in pursuit of higher salaries, more responsibility, and increased perks, putting in whatever hours were needed to “get the job done,” but often at the expense of family life and leisure activities.  As they begin to wind down their careers and move out of the workplace, they can profit from the perspective and practices of Gen Xers who have placed a high value on work/life balance and flexibility and who are expert at adapting to change.   Managers who become adept at recognizing and highlighting to employees the advantages of such symbiotic

relationships will see the results begin to play out both in improvements in day-to-day interactions as well as in organizationally beneficial strategic alignments that result from employees’ greater appreciation of the strengths of their generationally diverse colleagues.     Managing and Motivating Going Forward As Traditionalists and Baby Boomers continue to transition to retirement, the most effective managers will adapt their styles to maximize their effectiveness with the succeeding generations.  This will mean moving away from an emphasis on “face time,” and instead managing from a perspective of what needs to be accomplished in order to meet and exceed the company’s objectives. Flexible work schedules and telecommuting options will serve to attract, retain, and motivate key talent, not only because employees personally desire such arrangements, but also because Millennials in particular are concerned about the ethics and social consciousness of the companies for which they work, and telecommuting arguably has a positive impact on the environment. Gen Xers thrive in a hands-off management environment; micromanaging is anathema to them.  They value freedom and autonomy in achieving desired goals and work best when managers tell them “what” and “when” and then leave them alone to determine “how.” They tend to have a visceral dislike for endless meetings (loved by their Baby Boomer predecessors), feel no need for personal interactions with their supervisors, and are motivated by flexible schedules and challenging assignments. Fall 2012 | Maryland PHCC Contractor

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Millennials are excellent multitaskers and prefer to communicate through various electronic and social media. Employers will need to embrace a culture of flexibility and support text messaging, tablets, and other technology tools that will allow employees to work remotely and remain connected 24/7. Immediate feedback, targeted recognition and rewards, and frequent reassurance motivate this generation and keep them involved. Unlike previous generations, Generation X and Millennials view themselves as independent entrepreneurs with skills to “sell” to companies. Members of these generations witnessed first hand their parents and grandparents giving their loyalty and dedicating long hours to companies that subsequently laid them off when it became financially expedient to do so. Consequently, Gen Xers and Millennials will give their all to companies that offer them challenges, increasing responsibility, growth potential, and creative opportunities, but they will not hesitate to leave an employer if that ceases to be the case. Savvy managers will recognize that the generations that are succeeding the Traditionalists and Baby Boomers bring a very different and very vital perspective to their work, their employers, and their world. They are smart, creative, optimistic, achievement-oriented, and technologically astute. They seek creative challenges, personal growth, and meaningful careers and will gravitate to employers and managers who are highly engaged in their professional development. This content was developed for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc. (www. Please consult your HR professional or attorney for further advice, as laws may differ in each state. Laws continue to evolve; the information presented is as of July 2012. Any omission or inclusion of incorrect data is unintentional. Please note this article is not intended to provide legal advice or to substitute for supervisor employment law training. The PHCC Educational Foundation, a partnership of contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers was founded in 1987 to serve the plumbing-heating-cooling industry by preparing contractors and their employees to meet the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting the Foundation by making a contribution at [ 18 ]

Maryland PHCC Contractor | Fall 2012

Water Cooler Politics Prepared for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc.


n times of economic uncertainty, employees are often fearful about losing pay, benefits, or even their jobs. Not surprisingly, these concerns can translate into water-cooler discussions about who may be next to get the ax, or who is making how much money. Now conveyed by e-mail, text messages, IMs, blogs, and Twitter, word can spread beyond the company walls instantly and to virtually anyone. At a time when companies are facing serious business challenges, office gossip is yet another hurdle to clear. Gossip generally takes two forms. It can consist of rumors about company changes such as financial troubles, layoffs, promotions, or staffing changes. It can be personal gossip centered on who in the organization is doing well, having an affair, or grappling with personal problems. Both kinds of rumor mongering—business gossip and personal gossip—can be detrimental to the workplace. Even seemingly casual remarks between co-workers can disrupt an otherwise peaceful workplace. Some effects are: •

Time Wasted - The time spent on office gossip takes away from time that should be devoted to work. Plus, the morale of the employee who is the focus of gossip will decrease, along with that employee’s ability to be productive.

Legal Liability - Office gossip that targets individuals based on legally protected characteristics such as race, age, sexuality, gender, pregnancy, or disability can expose the company to legal action for violation of anti-discrimination laws, harassment laws, and other civil rights statutes. Assuming that the gossip is not true, there also may be a cause of action for defamation. If an employee’s confidential health information is the subject of gossip, there may be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Management Breakdown - If management takes no action in response to injurious office gossip, or management participates in the gossip, employees may view management as completely ineffective. Employees may also assume that inaction means that other kinds of misbehavior, such as harassment or discrimination, also will be ignored or implicitly permitted.

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Employee and Third-Party Reaction - If employees hear that the company is considering layoffs, or may be in financial jeopardy, they may begin to look for other employment. The employees who will most easily find other employment opportunities are probably the very people the company would like to retain. Additionally, if rumors of financial failure or other negative company performance indicators become common knowledge, competitors may take advantage by poaching talent & customers or by other means.

Realistically speaking, organizations can’t expect to put a complete stop to workplace gossip. But employers can take the following measures to minimize gossip and its negative effects: •

Communicate - Employees want to know what is going on within the company—how it is doing and what the future holds. In the absence of information provided by management, someone will fill the void with information that may or may not be accurate. Fill the void by communicating. The gossip mill will be in full gear if questions arise and employees are unable to approach management for information. By quickly revealing decisions, such as office relocation, promotions, lay-offs, etc., you can allay some of the anxiety that helps to fuel the rumors and gossip.

Confront Rumors - Organizations should deal with rumors promptly, particularly when they involve individual employees and personal topics. You should be direct but tactful talking to employees involved, individually and in a group. It is very important to listen to both sides, set up one-on-one meetings between the injured party and anyone involved in spreading the rumor, and schedule follow-up meetings for everyone who might have been involved. Employees who are spreading rumors should be warned that their behavior is not acceptable and may lead to termination.

Develop Policies - While developing a specific policy pertaining to rumors and gossip is not practical, companies are wise to develop broad ethics, company values, and professionalism policies. These types of policies should outline appropriate behavior and actions at work.

Additionally, the company should have an electronic communications policy that prohibits the sending of messages that may be considered harassing or otherwise inappropriate. Finally, the company should have a policy that prohibits all employees from communicating any confidential information regarding the company to any third party in any form, including electronic communications. One very important cautionary note - It is considered an unfair labor practice for an employer to prevent employees from

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Maryland PHCC Contractor | Fall 2012

discussing the terms and conditions of their employment, which includes compensation and who may be affected by an impending layoff. If the employer does tell employees that they may not discuss these issues among themselves, they would be subject to action by the National Labor Relations Board. That action may include being required to post notices informing employees that they in fact have the right to hold these discussions. By fostering a work environment that encourages honesty and open communications, you can often avoid the undermining and negative behaviors that can result from gossip and rumors. It is essential for companies to set appropriate boundaries and a tone of mutual respect. This content was developed for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc. ( Please consult your HR professional or attorney for further advice, as laws may differ in each state. Laws continue to evolve; the information presented is as of May 2012. Any omission or inclusion of incorrect data is unintentional. Please note this article is not intended to provide legal advice or to substitute for supervisor employment law training. The PHCC Educational Foundation, a partnership of contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers was founded in 1987 to serve the plumbing-heating-cooling industry by preparing contractors and their employees to meet the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting the Foundation by making a contribution at


Fall 2012 | Maryland PHCC Contractor

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Maryland PHCC Contractor | Fall 2012

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MD PHCC Contractor, Fall 2012