Articles from May 2010



Tanks for the Memories

Fort Knox–long known as the Army’s symbol of strength and impenetrability–has formally changed over from the home of the U.S. Army’s tank warfare division to its new role as headquarters for the Army’s recruiting, training and human resources functions.

From the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal:

Base leaders on Thursday cut the ribbon on the 883,000-square-foot, $210 million Human Resources building, known as the Maude Complex, so large it can accommodate nearly 4,000 workers who will be responsible for soldiers from recruitment to health benefits and retirement.

“Today the torch passes,” said Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, Fort Knox’s new top commander, who argued that the base’s importance wouldn’t diminish under its new motto: “Strong Starts Here.”

Disputing the Value of Social Media

Tim Bevins on nGenera’s Wikinomics blog disagrees with Peter Cappelli’s recent HREOnline™ column on the Promises and Limitations of Social Media, in which Cappelli concludes that social media will eventually be used mostly by the recruiting and sales functions, where networking is most important.

Bevins ofters some good counter-arguments to each of Cappelli’s points — which is probably not too surprising since nGenera Insight is headed by Don Tapscott, who told an enthusiastic audience at the HR Technology® Conference last year that social media is the new operating systems of corporations.

But I don’t see this disconnect ending any time soon. Evangelists for social media will continue to praise it, use it and profit from it, while many — and maybe even most — business leaders will remain wary.

It takes time to explore the opportunities of social media, to learn it and leverage it. And with time at a premium, there are only so many senior-level executives who are going to make that effort — or allow their workforce to do so when the risks of doing so remain a valid concern.

They may stick their toe in the water here and there, but until the next generation takes control (a generation that grew up using it), I think such use will remain mostly a curiosity instead of a crucial part of corporate strategy.

Three Tips

Very active in the online world herself, Sue Marks, CEO of Pinstripe, a Brookfield, Wisc.-based recruitment-process outsourcer, offers her own three pithy tips for any executives who want to create social-media policies for employees.

During her session at the Social Media Plus conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday, she said:

* Don’t say anything stupid.

* Be nice.

* Don’t give out any company secrets.

Simple and succinct. And even better, employees will actually read the memo — as opposed to the two pages of legalese your corporate counsel may want to use instead.

On the Clock: Men vs. Women

The New York Times Economix blog has an interesting post and graph this morning that takes a look at the composition of the American workforce by time of day.

In the post, Casey B. Mulligan, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, posits that one of the reasons women are typically paid less than men is because women work more “desirable schedules.”

According to Mulligan:

“The vast majority of workers perceive work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to be more desirable than work during the off-hours, and many of the off-hours workers are compensated with higher pay for the less desirable schedule. A variety of factors — including, some economists and many women’s rights advocates say, gender discrimination — may cause women to be paid less than men, but part of the reason may be the hours they choose to work.”

A Real HR Nightmare

Nine suicides have occurred — so far — this year at a manufacturing plant in China, which provides electronics components for some well-known brands of computers, and the affected company is taking some drastic actions, but not necessarily what you’d expect.

According to the New York Times:

“Company executives say Foxconn is planning to hire psychiatrists, counselors and monks, and intends to bring in 2,000 singers, dancers and gym trainers to improve life on its two sprawling campuses in Shenzhen.

“China’s state-run news media also reported Tuesday that Foxconn was building tall fences at its dormitories to prevent workers from jumping to their deaths.”

So apparently the Chinese attempt at amelioration is to bring in singers and dancers and build tall fences.

One wonders just how different an American company’s response to such a horrific event would be. In fact, has this sort of phenomenon ever happened at an American company before? 

 

Google’s Pac-Man Chomps 4.8 Million Hours of Productivity

When people opened Google.com on Friday, they were treated with a new version of the old classic video game Pac-Man, but it seemed to cost the American workforce in productivity. 

At first it seemed like just another day that Google used its logo to pay homage to a holiday or pop culture event — and May 21 was the 30th anniversary of the release of Pac-Man. In the past, the company’s logo appeared with reefs and Santa hats for Christmas and has appeared in Morse code to celebrate the birthday of the father of the language, Samuel Morse.

When people realized the Google Pac-Man game was actually playable (you just had to wait a few minutes), presenteeism went sky high.

PC World revealed that all that Pac-Man fun cost companies 4.8 million hours of lost productivity.

At least I made it to 45,000 points, an office high score.

New Target-Date Fund Guidance

In case you didn’t see this latest guidance from the federal government on target-date funds, also known as life-cycle funds, take a look and bookmark!

The guidance, issued jointly by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Security Administration and the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission, is intended to help investors and plan participants understand the operations and risks of target-date fund investments.

For all the new ways the current administration seems to be adding to HR leaders’ administrative responsibilities (double-use of word intended), this guidance truly does appear to make your job a little easier by supplying, in one place, the information you need to help your retirement-plan participants navigate some complicated territory.

Fed Intern Program Comes Under Fire

The Office of Personnel Management’s internship program came under fire during congressional hearings yesterday.

A story posted on the Washington Post’s Web site reports OPM Director John Berry was the recipient of “pointed questions” pertaining to the government’s Federal Career Intern Program and its use by federal agencies to circumvent hiring practices.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) told Berry she was “ ‘shocked’ to learn that almost half of the federal hires are done outside the normal competitive process,” according to the report. The story notes that the internship program is “designed to allow agencies to quickly hire for certain vacancies, without the need to follow rules that apply to competitive positions.”

Obama has instructed Berry and the OPM to evaluate the federal government’s internship program and suggest possible changes. Considering the grilling he received on Capitol Hill regarding this issue, perhaps the issue is now a bit higher on his priority list.

Workers are Wearing Your Health on Their Sleeves

Probably pretty intuitive, but definitive nonetheless. A new study from Gallup-Healthways shows people working for employers that are in a hiring mode tend to have brighter outlooks on their own personal lives than those working for companies in the midst of layoffs.

No duh, right? Fair enough. But when you consider that as many as two-thirds (68 percent) of the 20,000 employed adults polled who were working at growing companies said they were thriving in their personal lives versus less than half (49 percent) working at downsizing organizations, it does cause pause to wonder: Is there something more HR can and should be doing during layoffs to help the survivors stave off depression? Translated: absence, loss of productivity, possible long-term disability?? (The ratings, by the way, were based on the Cantril Scale, which many organizations use to determine individual well-being.)

Granted, there’s not a whole lot HR leaders can do with this except maybe drum up even more satisfaction detectors and morale boosters than you already have in place to counter the layoff-survivor blues — or get some going if you have nothing at this point.

But consider this too: Even the simple fact that a reorganizing company is spending time, energy and money to ensure the survivors don’t go into emotional tailspins carries the subliminal message that things there can’t be that bad. Right?

The Never-Ending Saga of Hard-to-Fill Jobs

Surprisingly, with all of the layoffs and restructurings that have taken place in the last year or two, the survey of more than 35,000 employers in 36 countries found that 31 percent of employers are having a difficult time finding the right talent. In 2009, that number was 30 percent.

The most difficult jobs to fill in the United States are in the skilled trades, sales reps, nurses and technicians, according to the just-released Manpower Talent Shortage Survey.

Jonas Prising, Manpower president of the Americas, attributes the problem to “a talent mismatch. There are not enough sufficiently skilled people in the right places at the right times.”

Making it worse, he says, is employers “are seeking ever more specific skill sets or a rare combination of skill sets.”

Seems to me that’s all the more reason that employers should ramp up their training and development programs — an issue that Wharton professor Peter Cappelli explored not that long ago in one of his HREOnline™ columns.

In “Difficulties in Finding Qualified Workers“, he writes: “There is no shortage of people with the appropriate education credentials for any jobs I’ve seen. The skills that are in short supply are work-based skills, the kind that are only learned on the job: Experience with these vendors, knowledge of these work practices, an understanding of this industry.”

So why are so few employers willing to train and develop the people they need to implement their business strategies? That’s another difficult question to answer.