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How To Create A Home Personnel Folder — And Why Bother

How To Create A Home Personnel Folder — And Why Bother

    Do you keep copies of your medical records? What about your tax returns? Most people do, because the information in those documents is important enough that it doesn’t matter whether your doctor or the IRS has a copy — you want to have a copy, too. The same goes for a wide variety of employment documents that many people keep at the office, if they keep them at all. But there are plenty of arguments against keeping your personnel information at work. Instead, it’s worth considering keeping copies at home and creating a home personnel folder.

    There are plenty of reasons you may need to check your copies of your employment information even when you aren’t at work: if you’re out with the flu, that memo on sick leave isn’t going to do you much good in your office. The same goes if you get a better job offer and you want to check your current contract. And if the worst happens and you lose your job, you may not be able to get copies of all the files left in your desk.

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    Documents That Belong In Your Home Personnel Folder

    Employment Contracts: While not all employers require written contracts, many do. They can take the form of formal offers of employment, letters of agreement or other documents — but no matter what form it takes, you should have a copy at home. While many people feel comfortable shredding their contracts as soon as their employment ends, it’s worth keeping your contract around for quite a bit longer. At the minimum, you should keep a contract through the expiration of any clauses (i.e. non-compete clauses), although it’s reasonable in most cases to keep copies of your contracts indefinitely.

    Benefits: From your parking space to your dental insurance, your benefits package is full of important information. As your benefits technically make up a portion of your compensation, it’s worthwhile to keep a copy on hand — and make sure that you’re taking full advantage of what your employer offers you. Furthermore, because your benefits can affect your home life — health insurance, anyone? — being able to consult that information at home can be crucial.

    Performance Reviews: In theory, performance reviews are your employer’s way of telling you where you’re doing a good job and where you can improve. In reality, most companies treat performance reviews as an easy way to determine promotions and raises. Keeping track of such information can help you find an opportunity or two with your employer.

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    Payroll Records: If things go south at your company and you find yourself in a position to file for unemployment insurance, you’re likely to be asked for certain payroll records. If there’s a problem processing your claim, you could be asked for several years worth of documentation. They’ll also want at least some of your tax records — in the U.S., most states require at least a copy of your W-2 form. The requirements may differ dramatically in other countries.

    Updates: All those memos and updates that get passed around the office regarding your health insurance, reporting times and anything else your supervisor or human resources manager comes up with seem like great wastepaper liner. But a surprising number of them are worth keeping, at least in the short term. It requires discretion to determine which updates are worth filling, but generally those affecting either your compensation or your responsibilities are worth keeping.

    Job Description: Your job description may change during your time with your employer, but it’s important to keep a copy of each version. It’s not so that you can argue against doing a task just because it’s not in your job description — but if you’re routinely taking care of tasks above your pay grade, bringing a copy of your job description to your supervisor might help you get a raise. If possible, it’s worthwhile to keep a copy of your resume at the time you receive each job description so that you can show your progression in terms of skills and experience.

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    Documentation of Problems: There are problems in every office situation, and some of them may require documentation. If, for instance, a co-worker is behaving inappropriately, you may feel the need to keep a record of the issue. Keep a copy of that record at home — in some cases, it might be worthwhile to keep the only copy at home. Such records can actually cause problems if they’re found laying around the office.

    Your Actual Personnel Record: In most places, you have a legal right to take a look at your personnel record any time you care to march down to the Human Resources department. You might consider asking to do just that — frame your question in a way that won’t lead those HR folks to file you in the back of the drawer when you’re done, though.

    Keeping Track Of All The Paperwork

    All these records can add up to a nice stack of paper. Ideally, you’ll go out and buy a bunch of folders and a filing cabinet — but that may not be a realistic option. Instead, any neat organization system that allows you to easily access any papers that you’re after works just fine. Tabbed folders and a box may be the best solution for you (as long as you store it somewhere dry).

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    You’ll want to hang on to most of this paperwork for a while. If there’s a problem with your employer (or former employer), you might be asked to provide documentation reaching back several years. If you haven’t run into any problems after four years, you’re generally considered to be in the clear. That’s the same length of time your employer is required to keep documentation.

    If you have any other suggestions for documents that need to go in a home personnel folder, please share them in the comments.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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