How Does Bullying Affect Bystanders?

In case you needed further evidence of workplace bullying’s toxic and far-reaching effects …

In a new study, a University of North Texas professor finds that an office bully’s boorishness not only distresses the employee on the receiving end of such behavior, but is harmful to those who witness it as well.

Michele Medina, an adjunct professor in the department of management at UNT’s College of Business, studied how exposure to an in-office bully influences interpersonal attitudes, including employees’ expectations for how colleagues should treat one another. Medina also analyzed how individuals react internally to seeing a co-worker targeted by an office tormenter, and how witnesses’ empathy affects these factors.

“When people react to events emotionally, it has a direct influence on their attitude or how they behave,” says Medina, in a UNT statement. “And that can spill over into work.”

For the study, Medina enlisted 300 participants to serve as bystanders to office bullying. These observers watched a faux employee training video that showed either an actor berating a co-worker or a benign exchange between colleagues.

Their reactions “say a lot,” notes Medina.

For example, witnesses who observed peer-on-peer bullying report believing that they might become a target for bad treatment at work. Study participants also said they would often be inclined to disassociate from the bully, while those with higher levels of empathy would be more likely to relate to co-workers who had been bullied. In addition, witnesses of the same gender as victims of bullying behavior said they are less likely to identify with the perpetrator.

These conclusions do say a lot. And little of it bodes well for workplaces where bullies are present—and going unchecked.

“There’s a price to pay,” says Medina. “Kids who are bullies tend to grow up to be adults who are bullies. It doesn’t necessarily go away. Understanding how bullying affects everyone at work, and which employees are most likely to be affected, allows companies and organizations to address all aspects of workplace bullying properly.”

The Trouble With Leadership

Unless you’ve been hiding under a fairly large rock lately, you’ve no doubt heard that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was asked to resign from the company he co-founded, which went from a mere prototype in 2009 to a monster with a market valuation of $70 billion earlier this year. Of course, along with that (paper) wealth generation a whole lot of other things went on, including a series of ethically questionable decisions and allegedly rampant harassment and disrespect of workers by managers, including Kalanick and his direct reports.

Mr. Kalanick has plenty of company: Senior leaders in general are failing the grade, at least according to the employees who work for them. Less than half of U.S. employees (45 percent) have trust and confidence in the job being done by their organization’s top leaders, according to Willis Towers Watson’s latest Global Workforce Study. That’s down from 55 percent who expressed trust and confidence in their organization’s C-suite denizens for a similar study in 2014. Only 47 percent believe leaders have a sincere interest in employees’ well being, while just one in four (41 percent) think their organization is doing a good job of developing future leaders.

These low scores don’t bode well for an organization’s long-term success.

“The fact that a significant percentage of workers don’t believe their leaders are as effective as they can be is worrisome, given that strong leadership is a key driver of employee engagement,” says Laura Sejen, WTW’s managing director for Human Capital and Benefits. The Global Workforce Study includes survey responses from 3,015 U.S. employees from 441 American companies, out of a total of 31,000 employees and 2,004 companies from around the globe.

Employees tend to view their immediate managers much more favorably, the survey finds: 81 percent of U.S. workers say their managers treat them with respect, 75 percent say managers assign them tasks that are well-suited to their skills and abilities and 60 percent say their managers communicate goals and assignments clearly.

Unfortunately, there’s much room for improvement as well: Just a bit more than half (56 percent) say their managers make fair decisions about how performance is linked to pay and only half (50 percent) say managers have enough time to handle the “people aspects” of their job. Only 40 percent say their managers coach them to improve their performance.

What’s the solution? No clear-cut one, obviously, but it might be wise for HR leaders to help their organizations get serious about building a stronger pipeline of future leaders and helping current managers become better coaches.

“Given the increasingly important role that managers and supervisors are playing in defining the work to be done, motivating workers and ensuring a sufficient talent pipeline, many organizations are taking a keen interest in how manager behavior affects engagement and how managers can build more engaged teams,” says Patrick Kulesa, WTW’s director of employee research.

SHRM in the Big Easy

The heat and humidity of New Orleans in mid-June didn’t keep folks away from the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2017 annual conference, which, according to the association, drew a crowd of more than 15,000 attendees.

In her Monday morning remarks, the SHRM Board Chair Coretha Rushing noted that it was the largest SHRM ever.

If you’re an HR leader, I suppose you can read this to mean that employers are continuing to invest in their HR teams.

Held under the theme “All In,” reflecting the need for HR professionals to be fully engaged in what they do, the conference represents the final one under the stewardship of SHRM President and CEO Hank Jackson. In January, Jackson, 65, announced he would be retiring at the end of the year as head of the 290,000-member association. Earlier this month, SHRM announced his replacement: one-time SHRM chair Johnny Taylor, who is currently chairman and president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

SHRM continued its tradition of releasing its annual Employee Benefits survey at the conference.

According to the latest study, one-third of the 3,227 HR professionals who responded said their organizations increased their overall benefits in the past 12 month, suggesting that benefits continued to be an important tool for recruiting and retaining talent. Health and wellness were the two areas most likely to experience increases, cited by 22 percent and 24 percent of those responding, respectively.

Roughly one-third of organizations (34 percent) indicated they offered healthcare coverage to part-time employees, compared to 27 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, about three of every five organizations (59 percent) said they have a general wellness program for employees.

Just 6 percent of the organizations decreased their overall benefits, with healthcare and wellness topping the list of areas being cut.

Workplace flexibility also experienced a modest uptick, with telecommuting and flextime both experiencing increases from a year earlier. Roughly three out of five organizations (62 percent) allowed some type of telecommuting, and 57 percent offered flextime, allowing employees to choose their work hours within limits established by the employer.

Ellen Galinsky, a senior research advisor to SHRM who also serves as president of the Families and Work Institute and is chief science officer for the Bezos Family Foundation, noted that the flexibility findings are consistent with other research she’s done.

“Why are companies helping employees with flexibility?” Galinsky asked during a press conference that gave a first look at SHRM’s Effective Workplace Index, which uses seven components to measure workplace effectiveness. “We found it’s retention, retention, retention.”

In a national study of employers, she said, 39 percent identified retention as the major reason for adding these initiatives. Recruiting was naturally a key factor as well.

Of course, as Laszlo Bock suggested in his Monday morning keynote at the conference, giving employees the freedom to choose what they’re working on also goes a long way to keep them engaged in what they’re doing—and inevitably will lead to greater retention.

Bock, the former senior vice president of human resources at Google who recently announced the launch of a jobs startup called Huma, told those in the audience that “you want to give people a little more freedom than they’re comfortable with.”

The end result, he said, will be increased “productivity and happiness.” (Bock will be keynoting our HR Tech Conference this October, focusing on the role HR can play in building organizations that innovate.)

Bock shared three principles during his remarks.

First, Bock said, companies need to give work meaning. “The most important thing you can do is create an environment that … instills meaning in the work people are doing,” he explained. “If you can connect your work to something more meaningful, [people] will be more productive.”

Second is trust, he said. “Trust comes down to a fundamental question: Do you think people are good or evil? If you believe people are fundamentally good, you’re going to treat them that way. But most organizations [structure themselves in such a way that they] actually don’t assume that they’re good.”

Instead, Bock said, companies need to be more open and transparent with their employees. “One of the things Eric Schmidt at Google always used to do [at every quarterly meeting] was share his entire presentation,” he said. “I don’t know if they’ve been doing it in the last six months, but it never leaked while I was there, and it let people know they were trusted.”

A third principle Bock shared is to “always, always, always, always hire people better than you.”

Know what you’re interviewing for, he said. “I don’t mean the job description. I mean, What are the attributes a job needs.”

He advised HR professionals to not let hiring managers make the hiring decision. Why? “If you’re a hiring manager, you are susceptible to not just the bias inside your own brain, but pressure from outside people.”

Instead, Bock said, establish a hiring committee, one that doesn’t including anyone who’s going to work with the person. The committee’s whole job is to ensure quality, he explained. Was the assessment fair and unbiased? Was it valid?

Over time, he said, companies that hire better than their competitors will emerge as winners.

Solve a Puzzle, Get a Tech Job

British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover announced yesterday that it would be recruiting 5,000 people this year, including 1,000 electronics and software engineers.

While that announcement alone may not seem worthy of inclusion in the esteemed pages of the New York Times, how the upscale carmaker is conducting this recruitment process certainly is: The paper reports the carmaker “wants potential employees to download an app with a series of puzzles that it says will test for the engineering skills it hopes to bring in.”

While traditional applicants will still be considered, people who successfully complete the app’s puzzles will “fast-track their way into employment,” said Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by Tata Motors of India. Applicants are invited to explore a garage belonging to the band Gorillaz and assemble a Jaguar sports car. Once they complete that stage, they are confronted with a series of code-breaking puzzles.

The Times notes that the carmaker’s recruitment effort is “unusual but far from unique,” adding that increasing numbers of employers are using alternative methods to hire workers. The story goes on to cite Marriott hotel and a British communications agency as other examples of organizations changing their recruitment techniques to keep up with the pace of change in today’s marketplace.

“The nature of jobs is changing, and what we should be looking for is changing,” Barbara Marder, senior partner at Mercer, a consultancy that specializes in human resources and has a stake in Pymetrics, a company that makes games for recruitment purposes, told the Times. She added that such games had not been in use long enough to provide ample data on their effectiveness. Still, she said, they could be more useful than traditional tests and interviews.

Games offer additional benefits, she said, explaining: “They’re very attractive in attracting candidates and keeping the short attention span of millennials. That’s not an insignificant challenge.”

 

Life at Ground Zero

If anybody in HR sits in the middle of  the  chaos over U.S. immigration rules, it might be Vicky Turk. She works for SimCorp, a Copenhagen-based maker of advanced financial software with 1,376 employees all over the world. Based in New York, she’s  head of HR for a region that includes both the U.S. and Canada.

Lately, that hasn’t been easy.

Over recent months, the Trump administration has twice shut the door on visitors from certain countries, only to be stymied each time by the courts. The legal battle is far from over; in fact, it could move up to the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this week.

Turk says the North American division of SimCorp has had two employees blocked by the travel ban as they tried to return from overseas.

At the same time, the administration has tightened restrictions on H-1B visas, which are especially prized by tech companies. SimCorp often uses “H and L” visa types to bring workers into the U.S.

“Hiring people is difficult,” Turk says. “We have to get them from Copenhagen.”

On top of all that, there is morale to worry about. With uncertainty stalking the visa programs and the travel ban still in place, many SimCorp employees “are really worried about what it all means for them,” Turk says.

 

What’s Wrong with Workplace Culture

We’re all expected to be doing more with less these days (just like last year, and the year before that and … oh never mind). But a new survey of U.S. workers by American Express finds that today’s companies may not be doing enough to help their employees be more productive; in fact, their workplace cultures may actually be standing in the way.

Take jargon, for example (no really, please take it): 88 percent of U.S. workers admit to pretending to understand office jargon, even when they really have no idea what it means, according to Amex’s Get Business Done Survey. However, two-thirds (64 percent) say they use jargon words or phrases multiple times a week — as in, “Let’s table that and circle back when the deliverables have greater impactfulness.”

Then there are meetings: One third of the employees say they spend nearly 1,200 hours a year in meetings they would call “pointless.” As Sonny Corleone said in The Godfather, “No more meetings!” Or at least, no more meetings that run on for so long that attendees’ attention starts to flag — the survey finds that when this happens, employees’ “top distractions of choice” include thinking about running errands (43 percent), taking a vacation (32 percent), wondering “What were they thinking?” about coworkers’ wardrobes (29 percent) or inserting a witty joke to make the meeting more fun (27 percent).

Email is yet another factor, as employees in the survey admit to responding to work email at less-than-productive times of the day such as after 10 p.m. (36 percent), on vacations (36 percent), while out on dates (15 percent) and eve as late as 3 a.m. (19 percent). Nothing sad about that, right?

The survey also cites some non-culture-related distractions that impede productivity, such as social media (52 percent say it hinders their productivity) and current events (30 percent said they’re “glued to the news”).

While HR may not be able to do much about the last two items other than block access via the company network (possibly a futile move in this age of BYOD), it can certainly provide managers with some tips on structuring shorter meetings and communicating effectively in a  jargon-free manner. These moves may certainly “positively impact the organization’s ability to achieve maximum deliverables in a shortened timespan.”

A Nation of Apprentices

According to U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, only 3 percent of the American workforce are apprenticeship graduates. But if President Trump’s new apprenticeship program delivers as promised, that number will soon be a lot higher.

Indeed, the Trump administration is now focused on getting universities and private companies to pair up and pay the cost of such learn-to-earn arrangements., according to the Washington Post, which noted that the president has accepted a challenge from Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff to create 5 million apprenticeships over five years.

“Our program will be geared toward all industries and all jobs,” Acosta said during a White House press briefing Monday. “The point here is to foster private-private partnerships between industry and educational institutions … so that when [students leave the program] they have the skills necessary to enter the workforce,”

President Trump also spoke about the need for a more robust apprenticeship program during his first full Cabinet meeting on Monday: “Apprenticeships are going to be a big, big factor in our country. There are millions of good jobs that lead to great careers, jobs that do not require a four-year degree or the massive debt that often comes with those four-year degrees and even two-year degrees.”

Many employers and economists on both sides of the aisle welcome the idea of apprenticeships as a way to train people with specific skills for particular jobs that employers say they can’t fill at time of historically low unemployment, according to the Post piece, which notes the most recent budget for the federal government passed with about $90 million for apprenticeships, and Trump so far isn’t proposing adding more.

More from the Post:

But the Trump administration, like President Barack Obama’s, says there’s a need that can be met with a change in the American attitude toward vocational education and apprenticeships. A November 2016 report by Obama’s Commerce Department found that “apprenticeships are not fully understood in the United States, especially” by employers, who tend to use apprentices for a few, hard-to -fill positions” but not as widely as they could.

The shortages for specifically-trained workers cut across multiple job sectors beyond Trump’s beloved construction trades. There are shortages in agriculture, manufacturing, information technology and health care.

George Brooks, leader of People Advisory Services at Ernst & Young, applauds the decision to focus on apprenticeships.

“Apprenticeship programs look like a win-win solution for employers, employees and society,” he says, before adding that companies must play their part.

“What resonates beyond the announced apprenticeship program is the need for companies we work with to fill many new types of jobs that will be in heavy demand, such as cyber, drone management, robotics management, etc., that are growing too quickly to wait for four-year STEM students to graduate or for older workers to go back to school,” Brooks says. “By the time these people have the traditional degree, technology will have evolved even further. That workforce challenge is why we see leading organizations starting their own training-apprenticeship-mentoring programs, thus building their own future workforce.”

 

 

Risk on the Moral High Road

If, as an HR leader, you’re going to take a stand on ethical grounds, you had better be ready for the backlash if you change your mind later on.

That seems to be a key lesson to emerge from the findings of research recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

For their study, Tamar Kreps, an assistant professor in the department of management at the University of Utah, and Kristin Laurin, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia, conducted a series of 15 online experiments that involved more than 5,500 participants between the ages of 18 and 77.

In each experiment, these individuals were provided information about political or corporate leaders who had changed their opinions on a particular subject. Some participants were told that the leaders staked out their original positions on moral grounds, while others were informed that these initial stances were based on a more pragmatic view, such as “it was good for the economy.”

Across the multiple studies Kreps and Laurin conducted, they found that participants saw leaders who changed their minds after taking a moral stand as being hypocritical. In most cases, these individuals also perceived these leaders as “less effective and worthy of their support than leaders whose initial stance was pragmatic,” according to a statement.

“Leaders may choose to take moral stances, believing that this will improve audiences’ perceptions. And it does, initially,” says Kreps.

“But all people, even leaders, have to change their minds sometimes. Our research shows that leaders who change their moral minds are seen as more hypocritical, and not as courageous or flexible, compared with those whose initial view was based on a pragmatic argument.”

That perception can be tough to shake, too. According to the authors, they “tried to test various factors we thought might weaken the effect” across several studies. For example, the authors asked participants how they would feel if the leader “did not rely on popular support and therefore would have no reason to pander” or “used the same moral value in the later view as in the earlier view.”

Still, no dice.

“None of those things made a difference,” says Kreps. “Initially moral mind-changers consistently seemed more hypocritical” to those taking part in the study.

While opining that moral beliefs tend to stay constant over time, Kreps cautions that leaders should take the ethical high road on a given issue only if they genuinely feel that way.

“Taking an inauthentic moral view to try to pander to a moralizing audience could backfire,” she says, “if a leader needs to change that view later on.”

CEOs Make Giant Diversity Pledge

More than 150 CEOs from some of the largest, best-known companies on the planet have just signed on to the “CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion,” an effort that includes leaders from Accenture, Deloitte U.S., GE and some other fancy blue-chip names. It’s quite a big deal: The CEOs are pledging to take action to, among other things, share  successful — and unsuccessful — actions shared across organizations via a unified hub and “cultivate a workplace where … employees feel encouraged to discuss diversity and inclusion.”

This effort is one that will be watched here at HRE with a mix of excitement and profound skepticism. After all, here in one of the most diverse countries on the planet, we haven’t exactly mastered the art of talking to one another, rather than past each other. And yet, as the press release states, when we feel respected and valued for who we are — and can see our colleagues (and neighbors, etc.) for who they are, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity — then great things can happen.

One component of the program will include implementing and expanding unconscious-bias education, which is a potentially powerful tool because it encourages everyone to identify and address their own biases. After all, nearly everyone of us has biases — and these can include biases against, say, a rural white person who speaks with an accent. Research has shown that when we let ourselves be guided too much by our unconscious biases, then potentially valuable talent — from all corners of the country and the world — gets left on the floor, and that hurts us all.

One of the effort’s toughest challenges will be, of course, the part about cultivating workplaces in which honest conversations about diversity and inclusion can take place. As you know, talk may be cheap, but the wrong kind of talk — unfiltered, taken out of context, etc. — can get very, very expensive. Companies like EY, Accenture and GE have the resources to afford the very best in training so that these potential issues can be addressed and avoided in a skillful manner. But what about the workplaces in small to mid-sized organizations — you know, those places where 99 percent of the U.S. workforce lives? Hopefully, the solutions that will be shared on CEOAction.com’s platform will be accessible to, and workable for, the companies with much more limited funds.

Is One Watchdog Better Than Two?

The Trump administration wants to combine the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with another federal watchdog agency—and both worker and business groups are worried.

The issue got attention on Wednesday as new Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta testified before a House subcommittee about how President Trump’s proposed budget will affect his department.

Among other proposals that would cut Labor department spending by 20 percent overall, Trump’s budget also proposes merging the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs into the EEOC, an independent agency.

Acosta told skeptical Democrats on the panel that the merger made “common sense” and would not hurt workers, the Associated Press and other news organizations reported.

Off Capitol Hill, the merger idea has drawn fire from communities that often disagree—business leaders and worker-rights advocates. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition that includes labor unions, the ACLU and others, wrote the administration and Congress on May 26 that the merger would effectively shutter the OFCCP by folding it into the EEOC.

“Both OFCCP and EEOC help advance and protect equal employment opportunity, but they are distinct in their enforcement approaches and expertise, and they should remain separate,” said Leadership Conference CEO Wade Henderson in a prepared statement. “We strongly urge Congress to reject this proposal, which would lead to an erosion of key civil-rights protections for working people.”

Though the merger idea got an early boost from the business-friendly Heritage Foundation, some corporate leaders agree with critics that the agencies should remain separate. Some, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, fear the merger would create a mega-regulator with too much power.

”There is a fear in the business community that this newly formed grouping might result in the worst of all worlds from both agencies,” said Randy Johnson, a chamber senior vice president, in a prepared statement. He noted that the EEOC has legal powers the OFCCP does not.