The Hanging Gardens of the Future

greenIf you’ve always wished you could have visited the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World,  perhaps you’ll take heart from “Organic Grid+,” the winner of an architectural contest to design the “Workplace of the Future.”

Designed by London-based architects Sean Cassidy and Joe Wilson, Organic Grid+ is intended to meld together innovations such as green walls, open-plan offices and vertical greenhouses into a soothing, healthy, light-filled space. The proposal would entail attaching  multistory vertical greenhouses — or “sky gardens” — onto existing skyscrapers in which employees could both work and … harvest fresh vegetables for their lunch. As they write:

… Sky gardens provide fresh food for employees to enjoy, as well as natural cooling and acoustic buffering throughout the building. The intrusion of green spaces into the structure itself also generates a more welcoming and overall pleasant atmosphere in which to work, ultimately boosting morale for those inside.

Naturally, there are potential downsides: John Metcalfe of The Atlantic’s CityLab blog writes that “What’s worse than chatty coworkers interrupting your flow? How about a dude harvesting zucchini from a vertical garden falling and crashing through your desk in a hollering heap?” Putting aside the snark, however, innovations such as green walls, office gardens  and workplace farmers markets are becoming increasingly popular — although still rare — as a way to not only provide relief from the drab concrete and industrial carpeting of the traditional office space but encourage healthier living by employees. Who knows: in the future maybe we’ll be bringing gardening gloves to work in addition to our smartphones and travel mugs.

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For the Record Book?

In the name of fun—and, oh yes, employee wellness!—some 1,800 University of Washington faculty, staff and student employees assembled at Husky Stadium yesterday to take part in an umbrella dance with the hopes of earning a Guinness World Record. (Promotional video is embedded below.)

The participants performed their would-be record-breaking dance to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off,” with the goal of kicking off “a new year of community and wellness,” according to UW.

In case you’re wondering, the previous record for the world’s largest umbrella dance was set across the Pacific in Japan by 1,688 participants last August.

To break the record, dancers are required to perform a synchronized routine for five minutes. In preparation, these participants held six group dance rehearsals. In addition, dancers took part at UW campuses in Bothell and Tacoma.

You can check out the actual event here at the Seattle Times website.

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Men Need Not Apply?

76161057That’s the message Ruby Tuesday Inc. is sending some of its workers, according to a lawsuit recently filed by the EEOC, which accuses the restaurant chain of excluding male employees from consideration for coveted temporary assignments at a Utah resort.

Brought on behalf of male Ruby Tuesday employees Andrew Herrera and Joshua Bell, the suit claims an internal Ruby Tuesday job posting violated equal opportunity employment laws from the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991.

More specifically, the EEOC claim alleges that, in the spring of 2013, Ruby Tuesday posted an internal announcement within a 10-state region advertising temporary bartender and server positions in the chain’s Park City, Utah location, with company-provided housing for those selected. Herrera—a Ruby Tuesday employee since 2005 in Corvallis, Ore.—was one of at least two male workers who wanted to apply for one of the positions, “because of the chance to earn more money in the busy summer resort town,” according to an EEOC statement.

The announcement, however, stated that “only females would be considered, and Ruby Tuesday in fact selected only women for those summer jobs, supposedly from fears about housing employees of both genders together,” according to the EEOC.

What may be most surprising about this particular case is “that Ruby Tuesday was pretty upfront about wanting only women to apply for the positions,” according to a recent Washington Post article.

Ruby Tuesday did not immediately respond to the Post’s requests for comment. But if the Maryville, Tenn.-based chain did in fact make clear it would only seriously consider women for these roles, such a move would be a “rare” and “explicit example” of gender discrimination, says William R. Tamayo, a San Francisco-based regional attorney for the EEOC.

“This suit is a cautionary tale to employers,” says Tamayo, “that sex-based employment decisions are rarely justified, and are not consistent with good business judgment.”

This certainly does seem like a unique case, and we’ll have to wait and see if more suits like this one begin to emerge.

But making positions such as those sought by Andrew Herrera and his male colleagues available to men could not only boost overall labor conditions, but may actually help level the playing field for women in some industries, according to UCLA Law Professor Noah Zatz.

“Jobs constructed as being for women pay less [and] have fewer promotional opportunities,” Zatz told TakePart.

“Busting up that single-sex monopoly in waitressing, in-flight service and nursing, for example, could be a strategy for disrupting the ways jobs are disadvantageous to women.”

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Facing ‘Double Jeopardy’ in STEM

One hundred percent is normally associated with a perfect score in something, but a new academic study on race and gender in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is now casting that figure in a very imperfect light.

University of California Hastings School of Law Professor Joan C. Williams and the Center for WorkLife Law just released the report titled Double Jeopardy? Gender Bias Against Women of Color in Science, which demonstrates how subtle—and not-so-subtle—bias shapes the daily work lives of women in STEM, and how women’s experience of gender bias is shaped by race.

“This is the first time someone has asked women whether they have encountered in actual workplaces the specific types of gender bias documented in social psychologists’ labs,” said Williams.

Given the amount of attention recently paid to the lack of gender diversity in the tech space,  it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that women working in STEM fields have experienced some form of bias or discrimination in the workplace.

But perhaps the most startling result of the research was this: 100 percent of the women interviewed reported some sort of gender bias.

“But studies of gender bias generally focus on the experiences of white women, leaving unanswered the major question of whether the same patterns of bias extend to women of color,” Williams said. “This report finds that women of color experience pervasive gender bias—but in ways that often differ from the ways white women experience it.”

In essence, women of color working in the STEM fields find themselves in “double jeopardy” when it comes to dealing with bias in the workplace.

Significant findings of the report include:

  1. 100% of the women interviewed reported gender bias.
  2. Black women are more likely (77%) than other women (66%) to report having to prove themselves over and over again.
  3. The stereotype that Asians are good at science appears to help Asian-American women with students—but not with colleagues.
  4. Asian-Americans reported both more pressure than other groups of women to adhere to traditionally feminine roles and more pushback if they don’t.
  5. Latinas who behave assertively risk being seen as “angry” or “too emotional,” even when they report they weren’t angry; they just weren’t deferential.
  6. Latinas report being pressured by colleagues to do admin support work for their male colleagues, such as organizing meetings and filling out forms.
  7. Both Latinas and Black women report regularly being mistaken as janitors.

From the looks of the findings, there’s definitely a great deal of work to be done before the STEM playing field evens out. But the report introduces a new approach to organizational change to interrupt gender bias, called Metrics-Based Bias Interrupters, developed by Professor Williams last year.

Bias Interrupters uses a four-step iterative process: 1) survey women to find out whether they think gender bias is playing out in basic business systems (recruiting, assignments, evaluations, etc.); 2) develop objective metrics to test whether women’s perceptions are accurate; 3) implement “Bias Interrupters” to interrupt bias in real time; 4) see whether the relevant metric improves and, if it doesn’t, strengthen or modify the intervention.

Here’s hoping these “bias interrupters” can put a dent in that imperfect 100-percent score the next time research is done on the topic.

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Top Five Top Executive Career Mistakes

We all receive hordes of lists at the end of one year and the start of the next. Top 10 this of 2014. Top 5 that. So on first take, I was 185784831 -- executive interviewprone to ignore a release from JMJ Phillip Executive Search on the top five career mistakes executives made in 2014 when pursuing a career move.

Mind you, these “mistakes” aren’t even confined to HR executives. All the more reason to disregard.

But on second read, I decided to share it because every executive, HR or otherwise, could use pointers on what not to do to get where he or she wants to go. And these were put together by an executive search firm — “the top five mistakes our search consultants witnessed in 2014,” as its release states — so they’re not exactly being pulled from thin air.

The first no-no is to focus too heavily on a hypothetical bonus that may or may not come from your current, soon-to-be-previous, employer. As one “high-level executive” told Phillip’s researchers:

“You cannot keep looking backwards. Your future is in the hands of your new employer. So I lost some bonus money, not every step is forward and career growth certainly isn’t linear. If the job is worth taking, it’s worth taking whether you get your bonus from the old company or not.”

As Phillip’s release puts it, “one thing to think about before you sit down to talk compensation, if you’re flinging out wild numbers about a bonus that ‘may come,’ your chances of getting the job are going to go down.”

Second, the consultants found, was what they list as “relocation bi-polarism.” While executives “know the game [and] how to make a career change …,” they write, “we witnessed something in 2014 that was a bit disturbing. Companies often complained about candidates, be it from a firm or their own internally sourced, backing out in the 25th hour because of relocation.” They go on:

“If you don’t want to move, you need to figure that out early on in your career search, ideally before the first interview and absolutely no later than after the first interview. If you fly out somewhere three or four times only to back out, wasting people’s time may not go well for your reputation.”

Third is playing “hide the compensation.” In short, the release says, “nothing seems to stop an offer in its tracks faster than withholding what you are currently earning.” It continues:

“We know it’s a point of leverage and you don’t want them to lowball you, but we look at it from a different light. If the company see’s your value, [it’s] going to pay you what you are worth. Likewise if you are trying to get a 30 percent-to-40 percent raise by playing the hide the compensation game, the company can equally say you’re just looking for a pay day, not a career. Be honest with the company about your compensation, tell them where you would like to be AND WHY, then let the chips fall where they may.”

Fourth, be careful who you’re tempted to say you know in the company you’re interviewing with. Their opinion of you may not align with your perception and they might not even want you working there “because you have dirt on them,” the researchers write.

Lastly, they say, make sure your social-media profile aligns with your resume. As they put it,

“It seems everyone in their life took a position or two that didn’t work out. Maybe they only lasted three months because it was a bad cultural fit or the company wasn’t what they expected. So what do you do? You leave it off your resume but it’s listed on your LinkedIn profile or some other lead gathering site has your information listed and you cannot have it removed. So it only takes one simple Google search for someone to find that discrepancy and question your integrity.”

There you have it. Forgive me if I’m stating the obvious, but these weren’t exactly obvious to me.

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Bullish on Wellness

Good news out of the Society for Human Resource Management yesterday for those looking to move the needle on greater employee buy-in for wellness.

174186054According to the association’s Strategic Benefits survey, more than one-half (53 percent) of the 380 responding employers said employee participation in wellness programs climbed last year. This follows similar findings in 2013 and 2012, when 56 percent and 54 percent of the respondents, respectively, reported a jump.

What’s more, more than two-thirds of the employers that offered wellness indicated that their initiatives were either “somewhat effective” or “very effective” in reducing the costs of healthcare in 2014 (72 percent), 2013 (71 percent) and 2012 (68 percent).

The SHRM study also found two-thirds (67 percent) of organizations with such initiatives in place offered incentives or rewards aimed at increasing participation, representing an upward trend from 2013 (56 percent) and 2012 (57 percent).

Of those organizations offering wellness incentives or rewards, 85 percent said these incentives were “somewhat” or “very” effective in increasing employee participation.

The study also found the number of organizations with wellness programs was on the rise in 2014, with about three-quarters (76 percent) of the respondents saying they offered some type of wellness program to employees last year, an increase from 70 percent in 2012.

In all, these findings paint a fairly positive picture as far as wellness is concerned. But one weak link uncovered in the SHRM research, not surprisingly, continues to be on the measurement front. Few companies, SHRM reports, are actually measuring the ROI or cost-savings analyses of their efforts (18 percent and 30 percent, respectively).

Nine in 10 (90 percent) of the respondents whose organizations had wellness initiatives said their organizations would increase their investments in its wellness initiatives if they could better quantify their impact.

(Some critics would argue that, were they to measure the effectiveness of these programs, they might not be nearly so bullish.)

The SHRM research also looked at flexible-work arrangements, finding that about one-half (52 percent) of organizations provided employees with the option to use FWAs, such as teleworking. Of those offering employees such options, about one-third (31 percent) said participation in these initiatives increased last year, compared to the year before. Just 1 percent indicated employee participation had decreased.

Though one in two employers provided employees with the option to use flexible-work arrangements, the survey found only one-third (33 percent) reporting that the majority of their employees were actually allowed to use them.

Something I would think employers will need to address, sooner rather than later, considering Gen Yers (big proponents of flextime) are projected to represent the majority of the workforce in the not-too-distant future.

 

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The 15 ‘Scariest’ Issues for HR This Year

It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times: Society seems to be changing at breakneck speed as acceptance of LGBT rights, evolving immigration patterns and technological and scientific breakthroughs continue to remake society into something that alarms traditionalists while giving comfort to those who’ve historically been relegated to its margins. Yet, celebrate them or condemn them, someone has to translate these changes into workplace policies — and that someone is, of course, HR.

Our friends at online compliance firm XpertHR have just released their list of the 15 Scary Employment Issues of 2015. It’s a comprehensive list, covering everything from marijuana legalization to e-cigarettes to the growing movement for universal paid-sick-leave. And speaking of scary: Colorado, Washington and other states may have legalized the personal use of marijuana yet it remains classified as an illegal drug by the feds. Then there’s paid sick leave: XpertHR calls efforts to mandate it “one of the hottest trends in states and municipalities,” yet who must determine how it is accrued, the purposes for which it can be used and the procedures for using it? The answer is two letters. (I’ll give ya a hint: the first is “H.”)

The full list is below. (And I’ll remind you that “scary” refers to the burden of implementing processes for compliance and not to one’s personal stance on these issues.)

1. Off-duty Use of Medical and Recreational Marijuana

2. Paid Sick Leave

3. Affordable Care Act Mandate

4. Immigration

5. Protecting Company and Employee Privacy in the Digital Age

6. Safe Driving Laws

7. E-Cigarette Use in the Workplace

8. Reasonably Accommodating Pregnant Women

9. Wellness Programs Conflicting with ADA, GINA and FMLA

10. Growing Acceptance of LGBT Rights and Same-Sex Marriage

11. Workplace Bullying

12. Addressing Domestic Violence

13. Minimum Wage and Wage and Hour Laws

14. Providing Workplace Protections to Interns and Volunteers

15. Ban the Box

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Not Ready for the Real World?

college studentsBrace yourselves, HR leaders: Some recent research suggests you may have your hands full with this next wave of employees about to join the workforce.

Earlier this week, the Association of American Colleges and Universities released Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success, which finds today’s college students ill-equipped to make the transition from campus to career, at least in employers’ eyes.

The report, conducted by Hart Research Associates, summarizes findings from two national surveys: one of business and non-profit leaders, and a second poll of current college students.

In the first survey, only about one-quarter of 400 employers said that recent graduates are well-prepared in terms of critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written and oral communication, complex problem solving, innovation and creativity, and applying knowledge and skills to real-world settings. Around 30 percent said the same with regard to new grads’ ethical judgment and decision-making skills.

Not surprisingly, students disagree with this assessment, as more than 60 percent of the 613 college students surveyed rate themselves as well-prepared with respect to critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written communication, teamwork skills, information literacy, ethical judgment and decision making, and oral communication.

This report’s release comes on the heels of a Council for Aid to Education test of nearly 32,000 students, the results of which suggest that four in 10 U.S. college students graduate without the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work. For example, the 40 percent of tested students who failed to meet a standard deemed as “proficient” were “unable to distinguish the quality of evidence in building an argument or express the appropriate level of conviction in their conclusion,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

The exam, known as the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus, was administered at 169 colleges and universities throughout 2013 and 2014, in an effort to measure the “intellectual gains made between freshman and senior year,” evaluating “things like critical thinking, analytical reasoning, document literacy, writing and communication—essentially mimicking the baseline demands for professionals,” according to the Journal .

Taken together, the data from these studies paint a grim portrait of college kids’ prospects for success in the working world, at least early on in their careers.

Employers taking part in the AAC&U have some suggestions for making that picture a bit brighter.

These companies strongly endorsed putting an emphasis on applied learning, with 87 percent saying they are “somewhat more likely” or “much more likely” to hire a college graduate if he or she had completed a senior project in college. Sixty percent said all students should be expected to complete a significant applied learning project before graduation, while 96 percent said all students should have educational experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own.

These are just a few specific steps toward better preparing the workforce’s next generation for taking the leap into the workplace, of course. But, in a broader sense, one theme emerging from this research is that more employers are seeking the prized—if increasingly elusive—blend of both field-specific and more wide-ranging knowledge and skills.

“Very few [organizations] indicate that acquiring knowledge and skills mainly for a specific field or position,” the AAC&U report notes, “is the best path for long-term success.”

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Are There Desks in Paradise?

While the concept of co-working centers is certainly not a new one, incorporating elements of vacation into the mix is helping to push the idea on to some companies’ radar screens, according to today’s New York Times :

These new centers are an offshoot of co-working spaces, which offer the benefits of an office environment on a temporary basis. But they also provide a place to sleep, have fun and mingle with colleagues — not in humdrum office parks, but in exotic locations around the world, in the European countryside close to urban centers or in warm-weather destinations like Bali.

The piece quotes Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research, an independent research and consulting firm in California, who says the trend to blend co-working with living started about five years ago.

 Advances in technology that allow people to work from anywhere there is fast Internet, the round-the-clock work mentality and the move toward more people traveling and rejecting the traditional work schedule are all factors in the growth of such accommodations, he says, adding that he expects the market to grow quickly in the future.

“I would be surprised if there were more than 20 to 30 co-working/co-living spaces around the world,” he said. “But I think there’s going to be very rapid growth.”

And Liz Elam, founder of Link Coworking in Austin, Tex., and executive producer of the Global Coworking Unconference Conference, a network of co-working conferences, told the Times the “co-working in paradise” concept could be a boon for employers looking to retain its young workers:

“More young people want work-life balance,” she said. “Maybe vacations completely unconnected are not feasible anymore; maybe people won’t take traditional vacations. But they can go to work in paradise for two months.”

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Favoritism is No Friend of Diversity

469735239  -- workplace diversityI thought Martin Luther King Day might be a good time to reflect on the forces that make workplaces less diverse than they can and should be. Many are well-known and well-documented, including discriminatory hiring and promoting practices, lack of disability accommodations, insensitivity to gender-identity issues, unequal pay … the list goes on.

But as this recent piece in the Kansas City Star points out, it’s not just about tangible practices and accommodations — or lack thereof. It can be far more subtle and hard to pinpoint, writer Michelle T. Johnson says, when your diversity culprit is favoritism. As she writes:

“What does favoritism even look like? Favoritism is usually about choice. In some workplaces, the work and the people who do it don’t have much variance in how the work is done and who does it. However, in other workplaces, work decisions are made frequently — assignments, shifts, territories, days off. With most decisions come subjective judgments. Every industry and workplace is so different, yet everyone can probably relate to some area of the job that bosses influence [subjectively] at least weekly.”

Her advice to all managers and HR leaders is to always be examining “why you make the personnel decisions you do.” She continues:

“People are quick to defend their decisions, saying they base them on the best person to do the job. But over time, what conditions have you created to allow, for example, one person to inevitably do the job better than another? And if that has happened, what is the reason? Is it that the person reminds you of yourself or has similar interests, or because the person has a personality you find easier to get along with?”

Favoritism can be just that simple, she says. Some people make you spontaneously smile when they walk through the door. Others make you instinctively come up with an exit plan out of a conversation. “Know who those people are and go from there,” she says.

Granted, not all employers can be as proactive as Intel was in its recent announcement that Andrew McIlvaine blogged about earlier this month. Specifically, CEO Brian Krzanich shared in his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas his company’s plans to spend $300 million dollars over the next five years to improve the gender and racial diversity of its U.S. employee base, and of Silicon Valley at large.

Though he made the announcement, the real powerhouse behind this initiative is Intel President Renée James, as this Fortune piece suggests. Since taking over the presidency in 2013, it says, James “has pushed to review a decade’s worth of diversity data and commissioned a new hiring program that incentivized managers to hire more women and minorities.”

Whichever end of the initiative spectrum you and your organization currently find yourselves on — boldly spending and going where few have gone, like Intel, or simply taking the kind of inward look at your management and personnel choices suggested by Johnson — there’s no better time than now to start thwarting your business’ inequality and no better day to get started than this one.

 

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