December 2014 HR Brain Teaser

Brain Teaser Courtesy of EPLI Pro™

End of Year Employee Gifts

Your company has had a fantastic year! You know that your employees deserve a lot of the credit for the success, and you’d like to give them a holiday gift. Maybe you could give choices of cash, gift cards, or one of those delicious honey baked hams – save them from having to cook.

You remember something about gifts being taxable, but don’t remember if:

A.  You can give your employees any gift of any value without it being taxable;

B.  All employee gifts are taxable income to the employee;

C.  Gifts up to $100 are not considered taxable;

D.  Nominal gifts are not taxable, but cash and gift cards always are.

Answer:  D     One would certainly think you could give an employee a gift without creating a tax consequence for them. However, under the IRS guidelines, only “De Minimis” benefits may be excluded from an employee’s wages.

A de minimis benefit is any property or service you provide to an employee that has so little value that accounting for it would be unreasonable or administratively impracticable. Of course, if you provide the de minimis benefit every week, it should be taxed; but once a year, it would not be taxed.

Examples of de minimis benefits include nominal gifts for birthdays or holidays, holiday turkey or ham, flowers, plaques, a gold watch for retirement, occasional parties or picnics, occasional tickets for theater or sporting events, or parking for the month, so long as the value is less that the statutory limit for qualified transportation fringe benefits. Cash or gift cards/certificates will always be taxable under IRS guidelines. For those employees who choose cash or gift cards, you would have to impute the tax based on the value.  Our recommendation for the holiday gift? The scrumptious honey baked ham or other nominal gift. You can give it without a tax consequence for your employees, which employees always appreciate!

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How Does an Employer Create an Employment Brand?

Our reputation as an employer is important. Our image affects talent attraction, engagement, and retention strategies. In this competitive marketplace, HR has become a marketing arm for employees just as traditional marketing departments apply tools for attracting and retaining clients and customers. Here are some tips for creating a relevant employment brand:

Define your attributes

  • Success – It is a magnet for employees who want to be successful. Create it, document it, then talk about it.
  • Construed external image – An insider’s assessment of how outsiders view the company. It is not the same as how outsiders actually see the organization (organization reputation).
  • Product or service characteristics – The salient aspects of what you do/sell and how employees/prospective employees engage with your company offering

Acknowledge and assess alignment

You are visible to the market through stated and expressed values. In the war for talent, be sure that your employment brand works in your best interest, or change it! Do your values and employment brand match? A right-fit employee will align with the company, what it sells, and how it sells. For example, I cannot go out networking in cowboy boots. If my company were a feed store – that would be ok! – but we’re not so I wear a suit. We have a client company that distributes sexual healthcare products. Their employment brand makes it very clear that if you have a problem with what they sell, then you should not work there. We admire that kind of approach.


Discouraged that a high-tech company might “outshine” your mature industry employment brand? Don’t be. Beer, jeans and kicking back at 4 p.m. on a Friday does not make it a great place to work. We encourage you to start with “why” (Simon Sinek). Our goal at The Applied Companies is to be a great place to work. We define that as an employer with open communication, meaningful work, and quality of life. Other companies may have an employment brand that states, “Make as much money as we can.” Which company do you believe will have higher employee retention?

Modeling the way through thought leadership

Research demonstrates that nearly half of a company’s employment brand is: 1) tied to the CEO and; 2) how well they are positively perceived in the community. Be known for your employment brand best practices. Write about them in visible ways. Be available to reporters and communicate your willingness to discuss trends with them.

Look at your company culture. Does your employee value proposition define your organization’s employment offer? Is it competitive in the marketplace? If not, maybe working on your employer brand should be your New Year’s resolution!

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace.  Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

Why Not Hire a Narcissist?

The original narcissist was Narcissus, a hunter renowned for his beauty. He was proud and disdained those who loved him. Nemesis, goddess of retribution against those who succumb to excessive pride, attracted Narcissus to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He fell in love with it, was unable to leave his own “beauty,” and eventually died there.

There are many types of Narcissism. Arguably, humans are all narcissistic to some degree. We exhibit a healthy narcissism and concern about our well-being, which protects us from falling victim to predatory behavior of others. Malignant narcissism, a psychological syndrome comprising an extreme mix of narcissism, antisocial personality disorder, aggression, and sadism, is typically harmful in the workplace.

Spot one

Weed out the narcissist using the following characteristics:

  • Exploitative/entitlement – believe they are entitled and manipulate to their advantage
  • Leadership/authority – prefer these roles and always have the “one” right answer
  • Self-importance/arrogance – believe they are inherently better than others
  • Fantasy/Preoccupation – they must have unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Self-absorption/lack empathy – they are the center of the universe and require excessive admiration


Avoid a hire

Narcissists do well at interviews. Confidence and boasting in this “natural environment” often creates a positive impression because they make eye contact, tell jokes and ask the interviewer relevant questions. Ask them questions that seek the person’s locus of control (extent to which individuals believe that they can control events that affect them). Locus of control is either internal (the person believes they can control their life) or external (they believe that their decisions and life are controlled by environmental factors that they cannot influence, or by chance or fate). We want the former.

Acknowledging the dark side

These grandiose individuals enjoy raising hostility levels, undermine their work environment, and tend to dehumanize others. Detrimental in a team context, they tend to be abrasive, dismissive and may breed an unhealthy form of competition. They may fool you for a while but then the house of cards falls.

Get them out

Please do not get stuck in “I will never find anyone to replace this person.” Narcissists never bring enough to the table to make the destructive part of the personality worth it. Manage them right out the door and listen to the collective sigh of relief.

One of the sports examples I like to use is the San Francisco Giants. As long as Barry Bonds – coined “The Great Narcissist” – was with the Giants they never won a world series. He was a seven time Most Valuable Player and yet the Giants never won the trophy when he was a member of the team. Makes you think doesn’t it? When will you address the narcissists in your company in order to win?

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article