Another Drowsy Day at the Office

sleepy employeeFor the average employee, a truly good night’s sleep may seem like a distant memory from the days before adulthood arrived with all sorts of grown-up problems in tow.

So, employees adjust and learn to function at high levels, even with less quality rest. But the effects of losing sleep to financial, familial and other worries can still be seen at work.

The Virgin Pulse Institute—the new research arm of Framingham, Mass.-based Virgin Pulse—recently surveyed 1,139 workers at three companies, in an effort to better understand sleep disturbances and offer insight on how to help employees sleep more soundly.

The study found nearly 30 percent of employees reporting they were “unhappy” or “very unhappy” with the quality or quantity of their sleep. More than 75 percent said they feel tired “many days of the week,” with 15 percent saying they doze off at work during the day at least once weekly.

What keeps employees tossing and turning at night, and, in turn, leaves them sluggish at their desks the next day? Environmental factors identified in the study as sleep disruptors included room temperature (85.2 percent), partners (71.9 percent), noise (68.6 percent), bright lights (52.8 percent), mattresses (40 percent) and young children (35.9 percent).

These findings only make sense, and it’s natural that poor sleep can lead to poor performance at work. But what can employers do about it? How can you help encourage employee behaviors that result in better-rested and, therefore, more alert and productive workers?

Jennifer Turgiss, vice president of health solutions at Virgin Pulse, director of the Virgin Pulse Institute and lead author of the study, offers a few suggestions.

“Employers have lots of opportunities to encourage employees to improve their sleep habits,” says Turgiss. “First, they can focus on creating awareness. Provide employees with tips and information about how to improve sleep. Host a brown-bag lunch with a sleep expert. Encourage employees to share tips on what works for them.”

She also urges HR professionals to review internal policies, to ensure the organization has procedures in place to help support improved sleeping habits among the workforce.

“For example,” says Turgiss, “a company could put in place a policy that makes it clear that managers don’t expect employees to respond to emails after certain hours or on weekends. This can help alleviate the worry and concerns that keep people up at night.”

Finally, she recommends that companies provide programs focused on improving sleep habits; an especially important offering at firms employing workers at risk of sleep deprivation—shift workers or frequent overtime workers, for instance.

Physical appearance and behavior are “great indicators” of an individual suffering from poor sleep, and HR and other leaders in the organization should also be asking themselves a variety of questions to help identify the signals of sleep-starved employees, says Turgiss.

Do [employees] look tired or sleepy? Do they fall asleep in meetings? Do they seem more irritable? Have they missed more days of work or has their output decreased significantly? Are they forgetful? Do they have trouble recalling details of projects? Have they made more mistakes than usual?”

Some workers may function better than others with little sleep, she says, ”but the telltale signs are usually there.”

HR Shakeup at GM

General Motors announced in a statement yesterday that it is replacing the executive in charge of human resources effective immediately, ”as it struggles with a string of embarrassing recalls that have led to congressional hearings and federal investigations,” according to the Associated Press.

John J. Quattrone takes over as senior vice president of global human resources for the car maker. Quattrone, formerly the executive director of human resources for global product development, purchasing and supply chain organizations, succeeds Melissa A. Howell who is leaving GM to pursue other interests.

“John brings to the job a deep and rich breadth of experience across all levels of the enterprise,” said GM CEO Mary Barra. ”This background is invaluable as we create lasting change that puts the customer at the center of how we work and how we measure ourselves going forward.”

Quattrone received his Bachelor of Science degree from Le Moyne College and earned a Master of Science degree from West Virginia University. Quattrone serves on the board of directors of American Society of Employers and previously served on the board of directors of Health Grades, Inc.

Barra praised Howell’s contribution at a key time for the company. “Through Melissa’s passion, the values that make up today’s GM are now becoming a central part of how we develop and guide our employees around the world,” said Barra. ”We are deeply grateful for her dedication to GM and all that she did to help build a stronger HR function to support our people and business.”

Howell joined GM in 1990. She was named senior vice president of global human resources in February 2013.

GM is in the midst of a crisis over safety of some of its older-model vehicles, the AP reports, including 2.6 million small cars worldwide that have been recalled to replace faulty ignition switches. GM says at least 13 deaths have been linked to the switch problem. Family members of those killed say the death toll is much higher.

GM spokesman Greg Martin told the AP the move is not linked to the recalls. He attributed them to CEO Mary Barra, who took over in January, making her own hires in key positions. “The changes are part of what any company expects during periods of transition, and Mary is building her own team,” Martin said.

But in response to the recall debacle, Barra also promised employees on a company blog that the company’s senior leadership will react quickly to tips from employees about safety problems; GM announced last Thursday a program to recognize and reward employees who speak up when they see something that could affect customer safety.

“This program is an important step toward embedding the customer- and safety-centered culture in every aspect of our business,” Barra said in the blog post.

The Cost of Cancer in the Workplace

I came across some pretty alarming statistics the other day regarding cancer’s impact on the workplace.

78770849-- cancer at workThe report, from the Integrated Benefits Institute, shows cancer typically costs employers about $19,000 annually per 100 employees in lost work time and medical treatments.

Broken down, lost work time and underperformance at work, the latter also known as presenteeism, due to cancer costs employers $10,000 per 100 workers, and medical and pharmacy treatments cost about $9,100. Employees with cancer, the report says, are absent 3.8 more days per year than workers without cancer, and also lose the equivalent of 1.8 more days per year to presenteeism.

In the words of Tom Parry, IBI president:

Cancers present complex challenges for the workplace. At a basic, human level, a cancer diagnosis is a frightening, sometimes emotionally devastating, event. It is natural that co-workers and supervisors will want to provide support to a friend and colleague when told he or she has cancer. At the same time, balancing privacy and workplace accommodation is a critical, but sensitive, issue. Many employees with cancer will frequently feel too sick to work, while others report that remaining on the job keeps them ‘connected’ and provides a sense of routine as they undergo treatment.”

Considering there are very few of us who have not been touched by cancer, myself included (my father is undergoing chemo as we speak), I’m thinking the disease must touch just about every workplace as well. So, given the prevalence and inherent challenges in addressing it, what are employers to do?

The IBI report suggests upping your commitment to workplace-based cancer screening and job accommodations. Here are some of those advantages, according to the study:

  • Compliance rates with cancer-screening guidelines are highest when there is access through insurance-plan coverage.
  • Workplace educational programs have been shown to raise awareness of and screening for colorectal cancer.
  • Workplace screening for breast cancer reduces lost productivity.
  • Employees whose breast cancer was detected early through on-site mammography experienced half as many lost workdays for treatment as employees whose cancer was detected later.
  • Providing job accommodations or other workplace stay-at-work or return-to-work opportunities has been shown to help employees with cancer remain on the job.

Also worth looking into, if you haven’t already, is the National Business Group on Health’s cancer guide, An Employer’s Guide to Cancer Treatment and Prevention, which I blogged about back in November.

In that post, I suggest we’re only going to see cancer cases at work grow as baby boomers age and stay in the workplace. It’s … well … increasingly part of life. And getting older. Ask my dad.

As Helen Darling, retiring NBGH president and CEO, puts it in the November post:

Today, more than ever, employers are facing the growing impact of cancer … . With significant gains in cancer survival rates and most cancer survivors staying at work during their treatment or returning to work after their treatment, employers need a comprehensive benefits plan to ensure that their current strategies to address cancer in the workplace complement the needs of their employees. Cancer casts a wide net, affecting not only those diagnosed with the disease, but also family members, friends, managers and co-workers. The impact on a company’s culture can be profound.”

 

Giving Workers a Reason to Quit at Amazon

Years ago, we reported on Zappos’ decision to offer employees a $1,500 bonus to quit during its intensive, four-week training period. The thinking being, if they’re not happy in their jobs 480491805at that point, why prolong the inevitable and suffer the consequences in the process.

Well, in case  you haven’t already heard, earlier this week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reported in his letter to shareholders that the online retailing behemoth has established a program called “Pay to Quit” that pays warehouse employees up to $5,000 to leave.

Bezos spells out “Pay to Quit” this way in his letter to shareholders

It was invented by the clever people at Zappos, and the Amazon fulfillment centers have been iterating on it. Pay to Quit is pretty simple. Once a year, we offer to pay our associates to quit. The first year the offer is made, it’s for $2,000. Then it goes up one thousand dollars a year until it reaches $5,000. The headline on the offer is ‘Please Don’t Take This Offer.’  We hope they don’t take the offer; we want them to stay. Why do we make this offer? The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want. In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”

In a story in The Tennessean, an Amazon spokeswoman says only workers in the fulfillment centers, where customer orders are packed and shipped, are eligible for the program and that only a small percentage of employees take the company up on the offer. (Back in 2008, when we first wrote about the Zappos program, we were told only 2 percent of the trainees took the online shoe-and-clothing retailer up on its offer.)

Hearing about Amazon’s decision to follow in Zappos’ footsteps (excuse the pun), I tried to find other attempts at this, at decent-size organizations anyway, but came up empty handed. (If you’re aware of any, let us know.)

But with Amazon’s program getting the press attention it has, could that change?

I asked that question this afternoon to Joel Garfinkle, founder of Garfinkle Executive Coaching in Oakland, Calif., and author of Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.

That’s certainly possible, Garfinkle told me. “ We live in a copycat world” and “a lot of people look to Jeff [Bezos] as the new Steve Jobs — someone who leads from the front and is willing to take risks,” he said.

Garfinkle believes the approach might have some merit. “If you’re neutral or positive about your job, you’re not going to take [the offer to leave],” he says. “But if you’re really on the fence or negative, it might be enough that you just might take it.”

Much still needs to be measured, he adds, but at the end of the day it could very well lead to higher overall productivity.

Your Words Matter

leadership wordsIt’s not news that men still outnumber women in leadership roles.

New research, however, suggests fewer women even apply for management positions. Why? Part of the reason may be found in the way companies word their job postings.

A team of scientists from the Technische Universitat Munchen in Munchen, Germany recently found women feel less inclined to respond to employment ads containing words such as “determined” and “assertive,” because such words are “linked with male stereotypes,” according to the researchers.

In their study, the TUM team showed fictional employment advertisements to approximately 260 test subjects, in an effort to study how leaders are selected and assessed. If an ad described a large number of traits—assertive, independent, aggressive and analytical, for example—commonly associated with men, female participants found the ad less appealing and were less likely to apply, according to researchers, who note that women responded more positively to words such as “dedicated,” “responsible,” “conscientious” and “sociable.” Male test subjects, however, found a job advertisement’s phrasing to be of no consequence.

In addition, investigators found that women may be selling their on-the-job abilities short. In conjunction with researchers at New York University, TUM conducted a separate poll of approximately 600 Americans of both genders, in which respondents considered women and men to be equally competent, productive and efficient on a fundamental level. Both genders, however, rated men’s leadership skills more highly. Women also reported believing themselves and other women to be, on average, less capable in terms of leadership abilities than male respondents perceived themselves and other men.

Such findings seem to echo an all-too familiar refrain in our workplaces, with regard to gender equality: We’ve come a long way, but still have a long way to go.

Claudia Peus, chair of research and science management at TUM, and lead author of the study, suggests that employers can help close this gap by choosing their words carefully when crafting employment ads.

“A carefully formulated job posting is essential to get the best choice of personnel,” said Claudia Peus, in a statement. “In most cases, it doesn’t make sense to simply leave out all of the male-sounding phrases. But without a profile featuring at least balanced wording, organizations are robbing themselves of the chance of attracting good female applicants. And that’s because the stereotypes endure almost unchanged, in spite of all the societal transformation we have experienced.”

Giving HR the Boot

A story in today’s Wall Street Journal, titled “Is It a Dream or a Drag? Companies Without HR,” focuses on several mid-sized companies that have decided to get rid of their HR departments or never even had one in the first place.

These companies include LRN, a training and consulting firm (which has also served as a source for several stories we’ve written here at the magazine). David Greenberg, LRN’s executive vice president, told the Journal that the 250-employee company did away with its HR department several years ago because “we wanted to force people issues into the middle of the business.”

The story notes that companies are jettisoning their HR function because they’re concerned it bogs down innovation and nimbleness with too many rules and too much bureaucracy — and that software can handle most of the transactional stuff. I should add that the story doesn’t cite much in the way of statistics or research to support its thesis — in fact, the only figures it cites are from a SHRM study showing that U.S. employers had a median of 1.54 HR professionals for every 100 employees in 2012, which is actually up from a low of 1.24 in 2009. Nevertheless, the anecdotes within the story are interesting and offer some food for thought.

Steve Miranda, managing director of Cornell’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, notes the benefits of having HR staffers available to protect companies from running afoul of federal laws such as the FMLA. And the story cites restaurant chain Outback Steakhouse, which created its HR department in the wake of a $19 million settlement with the EEOC over a sex discrimination lawsuit.

Yet companies such as Klick Health (which has also served as a source for at least one HRE story) have forgone creating an HR department because they believe training managers and employees to handle conflicts on their own is a better approach, according to the story. CEO Leerom Segal said that instead of an HR function, Klick Health has two employees with customer-service backgrounds serve as “concierges” — it’s their jobs to ensure a “frictionless work experience” for employees.  The concierges serve as part of what the company calls its five-person “mojo team.” However, a former employee told the story’s authors that he often worried about liability when he had to discipline or terminate a direct report during his time at Klick Health.

As regular readers of HRE well know, HR — at its best — does a whole lot more than just protect its company from liability. Smart HR pros help their companies attract, retain and develop their talent — no small thing in an era where innovation matters more than ever and employee tenure is shorter than ever. This is not something a piece of software can do, no matter how beautifully designed; it’s certainly not something a lawyer can do, nor can an outside expert substitute for an insider who truly knows the organization and its people. If you’re looking for greater proof of the value HR can add, just review some recent HR Execs of the Year or our HR’s Rising Stars feature.

Marking National Equal Pay Day

In honor of National Equal Pay Day, President Obama is set to sign two executive orders later today.

According to this CBS News report, one of the executive orders will prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries, while the other will mandate that the Labor Department collect data on the compensation for federal contract workers, organized by race and sex.

“These executive orders continue a trend by the administration to place new requirements on the federal contracting community similar to pending federal legislation,” said Connie Bertram, head of Proskauer’s Washington-based labor and employment law practice and co-head of management-side law firm Proskauer’s Government Regulatory Compliance & Relations Group. “In February, for example, President Obama issued an Executive Order to increase the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors and subcontractors to $10.10 an hour after a bill that would have imposed such a requirement on all employers failed to pass Congress.”

And while the debate rages on whether such executive orders will ultimately move the needle in favor of equal pay, the CBS News report also noted the White House is suffering through its own pay scandal of sorts:

The White House, meanwhile, found itself defending its own pay strategies after a study by the American Enterprise Institute found that female staffers in the White House earn 12 percent less than men, on average, or 88 cents on the dollar.

White House spokesman Jay Carney noted that figure was better than the national average, but that there had been extensive efforts to ensure pay equity at the White House. Case in point, he said: the White House has both a male and female deputy chief of staff, who earn the same pay.

“Everybody at every level here at the White House is paid the same for the same work, male or female, and that is reflected at the most senior levels here, where half or more than half of the department heads are women,” Carney told reporters Monday. “When it comes to the bottom line that women who do the same work as men have to be paid the same, there is no question that that is happening here at the White House at every level.”

Latest Wrinkle in Employers’ Severance Policies

More of a case has been made for some much-needed and immediate reviews of employers’ severance policies.

476619387 -- money and gavelAs this story from Bloomberg lays it out, the U.S. Supreme Court just decided in favor of the Obama Administration and its Internal Revenue Service in a dispute over taxes on severance compensation, overturning a lower-court decision that could have forced the IRS to refund more than $1 billion.

In its ruling in the case of Quality Stores Inc., the court has said payments to laid-off workers are subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act. In essence, the defunct company fired 3,100 workers when it closed its stores in 2001 and 2002, paid the taxes on their severance and then asked a bankruptcy judge to order the IRS to refund $1 million.

Obviously, this is a huge victory for the IRS, which has been fighting more than 2,400 refund claims from companies and their ex-employees. It’s also a huge wake-up call in the business community. As Bob Hertzberg — the lawyer representing Quality Stores before the Supreme Court — told Bloomberg: “The decision is a huge blow for employers and employees alike. In addition to the impact on Quality Stores and its former employees, this ruling has far-reaching implications for the thousands of other organizations and workers fighting for refunds.”

This news comes right on the heels of a news analysis by HRE Staff Writer Mark McGraw about a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit against CVS Pharmacy Inc. that experts say could also shake up how companies approach severance agreements.

In that case, the EEOC is charging that CVS “conditioned the receipt of severance benefits for certain employees on an overly broad agreement set forth in five pages of small print,” and interfered with their right to file discrimination charges and/or communicate and cooperate with the EEOC, according to the suit.

As A. John Harper III, a partner in the labor and employment practice group in the Houston office of Haynes and Boone, told McGraw, the provisions in the CVS separation agreement coming under scrutiny are “common in many severance and other employment-related agreements.”

Comments he got from Robert Hale, a Boston-based partner and chair of Goodwin Procter’s labor and employment practice, are worth repeating, too:

If the EEOC wins here, that would make it difficult for employers to reach agreements that prevent former employees who accept severance pay [from making] disparaging statements or [disclosing] personnel information that many employers understandably view as confidential.”

At the very least, as this case makes its way through the courts and as the Quality Stores decision continues reverberating, employers should be closely evaluating their severance agreements. As Hale puts it,

HR should work with counsel to take a hard look at existing severance agreement forms to determine whether any steps should be taken to reduce the risk that a decision in this case would make those existing agreements more vulnerable to legal challenge.”

Want This Job? Audition For It

auditionThis month’s edition of the Harvard Business Review (subscription required) includes a profile of the hiring process at Automattic, a tech firm that’s behind the free, open-source software platform WordPress. Founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg wasn’t happy with the traditional recruiting process (resume screening, in-person interviews, taking candidates out to lunch, etc.) his company was using, he writes:

As we considered the situation, it became clear that we were being influenced by aspects of an interview — such as someone’s manner of speaking or behavior in a restaurant — that have no bearing on how a candidate will actually perform. Some people are amazing interviewees and charm everyone they talk to. But if the job isn’t going to involve charming others, their interview skills don’t predict how well they’ll do as employees. Just like work, interviews can be “performed” without real productivity.

The more he and his team thought about it, Mullenweg writes, the more they recognized that there’s no substitute for actually working alongside someone in the trenches. Thus began Automattic’s “auditions” for job candidates, in which those who’ve made it through the firm’s resume-screening process (which it retained) work for the firm on a contract basis for three to eight weeks, 10 to 20 hours per week, performing real tasks alongside the folks they’d be working with if they’re hired. Candidates (regardless of the position they’re auditioning for) are paid $25 per hour and, thanks to the firm’s highly flexible work arrangement, can work nights or weekends so they don’t have to quit their existing jobs during the audition period.

The tasks candidates perform depends on the jobs they’re auditioning for: a customer-service candidate would interact with customers, an engineer would write code and a business-development candidate might run the numbers on a business proposal. The goal, Mullenweg writes, is to assess whether having the person work at Automattic would be a mutually beneficial relationship: The company can evaluate the candidate while the candidate evaluates Automattic.

Candidates are provided with feedback during the audition, Mullenweg writes — in some cases, if it becomes clear things aren’t working out, the company calls an end to the process as quickly as possible “out of respect for everyone’s time.” The auditions require a substantial investment of time from Automattic employees as well as candidates, he notes — in the engineering department, for example, four engineers oversee auditions for their department. The final step in the process is an interview with Mullenweg. Ninety five percent of the people who make it to that stage end up getting hired, he writes.

The extra scrutiny afforded by the auditioning process is important for Automattic because — unlike many software companies — the firm wants employees who will build long-term careers there and it needs to ensure employees will be able to handle its flexible-hours, limited-supervision work culture. About 40 percent of audition candidates are hired by the company, writes Mullenweg. The process has proven successful so far, he says: Of the 101 people hired last year, only two ended up not working out.

Although auditioning may not be ideal for every company, Mullenweg writes, it could be useful as an augmentation to a firm’s existing hiring process. It’s worth considering because so much is at stake, he writes:

Nothing you do for your company has as much impact as putting the right people around the table. The aphorism is true: You can’t manage your way out of a bad team.

Paying CEOs to Find Their Replacements

successorWant to pave the way for the organization’s next leader and light a fire under your current chief executive in the process? Rewarding your CEO for helping to find and groom a successor may be one way to go.

A recent Wall Street Journal article calls this practice the “hottest corporate fad,” citing firms including Avnet Inc., Intel Corp. and Marriott International Inc. as examples of large companies offering incentives to chief executives for their efforts in ensuring a smooth transition when they eventually turn over the organization’s reins.

Motivated at least in part by “investors’ anxiety over rocky corner office transitions,” these and other companies have taken to linking CEO performance awards to succession planning, with 16 Fortune 1000 firms disclosing such links in their latest regulatory filings, the article notes.

At the Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel, for instance, now-former CEO Paul Otellini has received $4 million in stock and cash since January 2013 for his part in bringing along Brian Krzanich, who took over Otellini’s old post in May of last year, according to the Journal. Otellini, who has already gotten $1 million in cash, can sell half of his $3 million worth of shares this May.

Other organizations are taking a slightly different tack. Phoenix-headquartered electronic component distributor Avnet is basing chief executive Richard Hamada’s next annual raise partly on his succession planning prowess. Promoted to CEO in July 2011, the 56-year-old Hamada told the Journal he “hopes to run Avnet for a total of eight to 10 years,” but noted that he now gives detailed succession updates at every board meeting.

Board members at Marriott International believe that “continuity of management is critical,” David Rodriguez, the Bethesda, Md.-based hotel chain’s CHRO, told WSJ.  As such, CEO Arne Sorenson’s ability to secure the board’s approval of his CEO transition agenda factored into the amount of his bonus in 2012, according to Rodriguez. He estimated that roughly 10 percent of the nearly $1.95 million bonus bestowed upon Sorenson reflected such individual achievements.

The Journal article may describe the practice as a fad, but, as directors become more involved in grooming future leaders, this type of reward system “will be commonplace in a decade,” Dennis Carey, vice chairman at Los Angeles-based Korn/Ferry International, told the paper.

In fact, the number of companies taking this approach is poised to triple in the next five years, according to Patrick McGurn, special counsel for proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services Inc.

Time will tell if that prediction is on the money, but McGurn makes a compelling—not to mention concise—argument for tying a CEO’s pay to his or her role in succession planning efforts.

“Nothing tends to focus CEOs’ attention,” he told the Journal, “like … good, swift kicks to their incentives.”