Factoring in a Freeze

In the wake of the Democrats political setback in November and concerns over the high government deficits, President Barack Obama caught some by surprise yesterday when he proposed a two-year pay freeze for civilian federal workers.  

“The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice, and that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government,” Obama told reporters. The freeze would require Congressional approval.

As might be expected, Republican lawmakers applauded the announcement, noting it was a move in the right direction of getting the deficit under control, while union leaders criticized the freeze, with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka calling it “bad for the economy” and “bad for business.”

But however this ultimately plays out, there’s no denying the proposed freeze comes at an interesting time, as many government agencies continue to brace for an exodus of retiring baby boomers, who now have one more item to factor into their decision making.

Report: Many Customer-Service Employees ‘Highly Disengaged’

The Corporate Leadership Council, part of the Corporate Executive Board consulting firm in Washington, has released its latest quarterly Engagement Trends report. The report measures employees’ discretionary effort, intent to stay and engagement levels and is based on responses from approximately 618,000 workers from every geographic region in the world (with 72 percent of respondents coming from the United States).

Perhaps not surprisingly, considering that the economy continues to recover (albeit slowly), the number of employees who said they have “high levels of intent” to stay in their current positions declined in the third quarter of this year, to 22 percent,  from a high of 27 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. On a more encouraging note, the number of participants who said they put out high levels of discretionary effort was up slightly, to 6.2 percent in the third quarter, from 6 percent in Q2—this was down from 7 percent in Q4 of 2009, however.

Disengagement levels remain high, according to the survey, which found that 21.6 percent of workers describe themselves as highly disengaged—down just a bit from a peak of 22.2 percent in Q4 2009. And which corporate functions have the most highly disengaged employees? Disturbingly, it’s customer service, with 25.2 percent of workers in this function reporting that they’re highly disengaged, closely followed by finance/accounting, at 22.5 percent. Manufacturing and sales were the areas with the lowest levels of highly disengaged employees, tied at 17.1 percent.

So, this holiday season, when you’re on the phone with a customer-service rep trying to figure out why your child’s new video-game console isn’t working properly, it might help to remember that the person on the other end probably wishes they were doing something else, too.

Jump in Job-Security Fears Impacting Holiday Stress

Some 68 percent of employees report having high levels of stress at work, with extreme fatigue and out-of-control feelings, according to the latest StressPulse survey by Chicago-based ComPsych Corp., a leading global employee-assistance provider. That represents a jump from 65 percent in 2009.

Although a much lower percentage, the biggest jump in the survey of employees from more than 1,000 ComPsych client companies, 20 percent, cite lack of job security as their primary cause of stress, up from 10 percent in 2009. The survey was conducted from Oct. 15 to Nov. 12.

“As the holiday shopping season begins [on Friday, officially], employees are trying to balance the urge to spend with the worry that they will retain their job,” says Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, chairman and CEO of ComPsych.

“We increasingly get calls from employees who are struggling to manage their daily expenses,” he says. “On top of that, they are now faced with gift-giving costs.”

His company and other EAP providers now provide financial coaching along with psycholgical counseling, Chaifetz says. Not only should employers be on the lookout for signs of acute anxiety and changes in behavior, but they should also be reminding all workers that their EAPs are there, especially in this season, to “help individuals set and stick to a budget, as well as get counsiling to keep stress levels in check,” he says.

The next highest jumps in the survey were employees who say they lose more than an hour a day due to personal tasks, from 10 percent in 2009 to 19 percent in 2010 (trying to fend off creditors, perhaps?) and those who say they come to work one to four days per year when they’re too stressed to be effective, from 58 percent in 2009 to 64 percent in 2010.

Granted, none of this is all that surprising in this economy, but just in case you were wondering how worried employees appear to be heading into December — and about what, primarily — I thought I’d share.

Kutik Speaks!

Our technology columnist, Bill Kutik, talks about the latest developments in HR, technology, talent management, recruiting and other critical subjects in a podcast on Total Picture Radio hosted by Peter Clayton.

In addition to speaking with Bill about his baby, the HR Technology®  Conference, some vendor consolidations and other technology news, Clayton poses these questions:

* Do you think the large job boards are still relevant?

* I sent out this tweet today: Dear HR: Linkedin and Facebook know more about your employees than you do. Agree?

* What do you think will be the biggest issues around recruiting and HR in 2011?

You can read some of the other questions he asked on the site before listening — but listening to Bill is always entertaining and informative.

Most Read Stories on HREOnline™

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* Bill Kutik’s latest column: When Will They Ever Learn?

The learning management vendors, now solidly selling talent management, are bubbling these days. Cornerstone OnDemand has announced its intention to go public; Plateau has shucked off its heritage of selling installed systems in favor of SaaS; and Saba (already public) is pioneering collaboration tools for corporate use.

* Chilling Worker Speech on Facebook

The NLRB’s case against an ambulance company that fired an employee for a posting on Facebook really boils down to traditional labor law, experts say. Can a worker be fired for bad-mouthing a supervisor who denied them access to union representation? The decision will have implications for company policies on social-media use.

* A New Era for HR Perks?

Increased public scrutiny has probably contributed to the leveling off of executive perquisites, but a recent analysis shows that two-thirds of HR executives receive some form of perk. The larger the company, the more likely HR leaders would receive perks, although there were industry differences.

* HR’s Role in ERISA Regulation

New regulations have been handed down from the U.S. Department of Labor related to fiduciary requirements for fee disclosures in retirement accounts, including 401(k)s. HR can play a key role in compliance by effectively getting the new information out to employees, experts say. 

* Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes in Congress

As the United States braces itself for a Republican-led House of Representatives after the sweeping GOP victories in the midterm elections, experts weigh in on what it all means for HR. 

Views on Healthcare Reform

A new survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington breaks down views of the healthcare reform law based on the type of insurance the individuals have.

Interestingly, people with consumer-driven health plans and high-deductible health plans are more likely to think the new law will affect them, compared to those with traditional healthcare coverage.

Nearly one-half (46 percent) of those with CDHPs and about four in 10 (42 percent) of those with HDHPs expect a mostly negative impact from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, compared to 37 percent of traditional-plan enrollees.

Paul Fronstin, a senior research associate at EBRI, which is nonpartisan, says it could be party affiliations driving the difference. Those with CDHPs, he says, are more likely to be Republicans while those with traditional plans are Democrats.

But , regardless of plan type, many individuals expect their costs to increase under the PPACA: 59 percent of those with CDHPs, 50 percent of those on traditional plans and 41 percent of those with HDHPs.

A significant number also expect benefits to be cut: 41 percent of those with a CDHP, 39 percent of those with a HDHP and 30 percent of those with traditional plans. And about one-third of all the respondents expect a mostly negative impact on quality of care.

Some of the negative feelings may have to do with the fact that Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Savings Accounts no longer allow individuals to purchase over-the-counter drugs with those funds, Fronstin says. The law also increases the tax for using HSA monies for non-qualified purchases.

For HR, the takeaway is to focus on educating workers about the impact of health reform on their benefits, Fronstin says.

As the EBRI survey notes, fewer than 5 percent of the individuals surveyed — regardless of type of health insurance — say they are extremely knowledgeable about the law.

The study was based on an August 2010 online survey of 4,508 privately insured adults between the ages of 21 and 64.

Some Heartfelt Apologies from a First-Time Boss

Granted, this blog post by Roberta Matuson that I came across today speaks more to employees than managers, and certainly more to employees than HR executives, but it’s a very “from the heart” apology from a former first-time boss that’s a good read on all three accounts.

The e-mail from Matuson’s PR folks alerting me to her post, Confessions of a First-Time Boss: An Apology, makes the point that in this economy, with companies reorganizing and re-engineering, “thousands of people are finding themselves tossed into management every day.” And with training programs “going the way of the 401(k) match,” it says, “new managers have to fend for themselves.”

Matuson is an HR expert who appears pretty regularly on television and in news and business publications. She’s the author of a new book entitled Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around. She’s also one of the top bloggers for Fast Company and is the president of Northampton, Mass.-based Human Resource Solutions. She’s also real good at being real direct.

What she shares in her post should be good food for thought for anyone whose job it is to make sure first-time managers are trained properly. Like the propensity for new — often young — managers (like she was at 24) to come across as know-it-alls who fail to trust or delegate to their teams, who fail to manage down and up at the same time, who try to be a friend instead of a boss and who put their own political needs before the financial, career and work/life needs of their subordinates. The list goes on.

My favorite “confession” is the last one: “Being more concerned about my image than your paycheck. In my efforts to be a team player, I may have dimmed your light more than I should have. After all, how could I have more than one person on my team who exceeded expectations? In retrospect, I should have done everything in my power to make sure that your light shown brightly for all to see. My political aspirations took me to a place where my need to succeed trumped your needs. I know now that leadership is about making others look good. In turn, you’ll get what you deserve, and so will your team.”

Survey: Fewer Corporate Holiday Parties This Year

The economy may be improving (slowly), but the workplace holiday party scene is not, at least according to the annual holiday-party survey from New York-based exec-search firm Amrop Battalia Winston: 79 percent of companies plan on holding some type of holiday celebration this year, compared to 81 percent last year and in 2008. This represents the lowest number since ABW started doing the survey 22 years ago.  

For those that will be holding celebrations, just over a quarter (28 percent) say their parties will be more modest than in years past; this is on top of 49 percent who cut back on the lavishness last year.

There is a silver lining, for a very few lucky souls: 11 percent of respondents plan to hold more lavish parties, which is up from 1 percent last year and 2 percent in 2008. The survey did not specify what “lavish” means, so it could refer to a dinner of prime rib and shrimp cocktail accompanied by a live orchestra to serving crackers with cheese this time. The number planning to serve alcohol this year is also up, to 79 percent, compared with 73 percent last year. Sixty-one percent say their parties will be “at the same level” as in years past.

Most workers should not plan on bringing a spouse to this year’s celebrations: 69 percent said their parties will be “employee only,” while a quarter (26 percent) intend to invite employees and their families to gatherings.

On a sadder note, fewer than half of the surveyed companies (47 percent) are planning to get involved with charity events (donating money, food, clothing, gifts and/or volunteering), compared to 66 percent in 2009 and 74 percent in 2008. Here’s hoping they at least encourage employees to donate what they can to a charitable cause. As we all know, the need has hardly subsided.

Testing HR’s Knowledge

WorldatWork released an interesting study today on the ability of HR professionals to determine the truth about various pay and incentive information. 

The HR professionals were asked to identify whether 10 statements were true or false — and a majority of the 641 respondents did well on eight of them. All of the statements were taken from academic research findings.

Wanna try? Here are four of the statements. True or false:

T or F * Some raises are too small to cause employees to put forth additional effort.

T or F * When pay must be reduced or frozen, there is little a company can do or say to reduce employee dissatisfaction and dysfunctional behaviors.

T or F * When workers understand how their pay is determined, organizational commitment and job involvement increase, but pay satisfaction does not.

T or F * When pay rates are based on political factors (liking, favors, etc.) rather than objective performance, employee performance and company performance suffers.

The answers? True. False. False. True.

Some of the answers seem obvious, of course, especially that final question, but it’s an interesting exercise.

See all of the questions in the full study (PDF): The Connection Between Academic Research Findings and Total Rewards Professionals.

The study’s author and research director, Brian Moore, says organizations and HR leaders should understand that “the combination of case studies, common practices and controlled scientific studies can come together to create something more powerful than any of them can deliver alone.”

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Enough with the Generation Studies!

Peter Cappelli’s new column on the entire industry that has grown around the concept that differences exhibited by the younger generations are long-lasting and important for employers to understand and accommodate. But what if the younger generation today is similar in most respects to the younger generations of past years? 

Despite Recession, Labor Shortage Looms

Career interest from high-schoolers graduating this year is much lower than the projected job openings in the five fastest-growing industries for 2018. But how can companies even address a potential labor shortage when unemployment is currently so high?

Reassessing Work/Life Balance

As a result of the recession, employees are re-evaluating what work really means to them, according to new academic research, and the results aren’t pretty. But therein lies an opportunity for HR to step up and make a difference, experts say.

Defining the Employee Relationship Chain

This article by Ed Cohen and Priscilla Nelson addresses the three stages of a successful employee relationship — which converts to strong retention. The relationship begins with onboarding and evolves into alignment with the organization and recognition for his or her contributions. The final stage, which often is not achieved, is when the employee views the organization and its leaders as trusted advisers.

Lattice vs. Ladder

Some companies are finding retention and engagement benefits in encouraging employees to consider lateral career moves as new paths to success.