U.S. Chamber’s Address a Plea for Return to Job Growth

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce used its annual Labor Day briefing today to call on the Obama administration and Congress to get rid of regulations choke-holding U.S. businesses and take immediate steps toward job growth.

According to its release following the 10 a.m. briefing in Washington, the Chamber plans to send a jobs plan to the president and Congress next week “outlining specific, practical steps we can take to help quickly create new jobs,” including approve pending trade agreements and “remove the regulatory barriers that are weighing down our economy.”

“The economic data tells the story,” said Martin Regalia, the Chamber’s chief economist. “The current policies coming out of Washington are not creating economic growth. Both the administration and Congress need to come together to remove the barriers to job creation and open up new markets.”

Randy Johnson, the Chamber’s senior vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits, pointed out that employers are spending close to $8 trillion on total compensation and $1.5 trillion on employee benefits, while covering 170 million Americans with health insurance and more than 100 million in pension plans.

“Businesses want to expand and hire more workers,” he said, “but they continue to be held back by a rising mountain of burdensome regulations … .

“Still, we are in difficult economic times,” Johnson said, “and it is distressing that [increasing regulations continue to impose] uncertainty and increased costs on employers.”

The Last Straw

You probably know the old stress-relief mantra: Don’t sweat the small stuff, and try to remember that it’s all small stuff.

That may not work if you’re trying to keep talented employees, though. Witness the case of Professor Dan Middlemiss, who is one of 20,000 faculty and students at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Unfortunately for them, the university only has 2,000 parking spots, he told CBC News in Canada.

“It’s ridiculous, in my view, and the university just keeps pretending that it’s not the problem that it is.”

Middlemiss said parking has always been a problem at Dalhousie. But this time, he simply had enough.

A defense specialist, he had worked there for 31 years.

So, you may want to sound out some of your employees on the small annoyances in your organizations. Such problems could be more easily fixed than the one at Dalhousie.

(via Inside Higher Ed)

Where Are the Qualified Workers?

According to a new survey from HireRight, the Irvine, Calif.-based provider of employment screening solutions, good workers are indeed hard to find in spite of increased unemployment and a large pool of available workers.

Forty-nine percent of the report’s 1,800 surveyed professionals reported that finding and retaining quality talent was one of their top business challenges. Within the field of talent management, attracting and retaining experienced workers was reported as the number one issue, according to the survey.

“With unemployment numbers topping nine percent, most people assume that every company has their pick of hundreds of qualified workers for every job,” said Rob Pickell, HireRight senior vice president of customer solutions, in a press release announcing the findings. “In reality, employers appear to be experiencing a different phenomenon today. This year’s benchmarking survey results and other third-party reports suggest that many companies are having difficulty in filling critical positions.”  

The survey’s findings show that America has a work/skill gap that is contributing to the employment problem, Pickell went on to say.

“While 90 percent of organizations expect no decline in their workforce and 51 percent anticipate an increase in hiring, the obvious challenge is finding the right candidate for the role,” he said.

Here’s hoping those companies looking to increase their hiring will consider all avenues of applicants — including older workers and those who have been unemployed for a long period of time — to help fill those new positions.

TDFs Make a Lasting Impression

Looks like 401(k) participants are taking stick-to-it-ness to a new level, at least when it comes to target-date funds.

Just released research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington found that roughly 90 percent of those investing in target-date funds in 2007 stuck with them in 2009. The rate was even higher for those auto-enrolled in them—95 percent.

“Target-date funds are still very new in 401(k) plans, but these results suggest that once they are used, TDFs are very likely to continue to be used for a number of years afterward, certainly in the short term,” says Craig Copeland, senior research director at EBRI. 

EBRI’s research also includes some interesting demographic data, finding that younger 401(k) participants were more likely to use TDFs and to continue to use them than those who were older. 

No question TDFs are relatively new and there’s only so much one can read into just three years of data. (EBRI stresses that point in its press release.) But that said, the EBRI research does shed some important, much-needed light on what employers might expect as they add TDF options to their plans and implement and tweak features such as auto-enrollment in the months ahead.

A Lesson in Succession

When it comes to product development and marketing, Apple can do little wrong. iPod. iPhone. iPad. Well, I suppose the same could now be said of Apple’s handling of Steve Jobs’ somewhat sudden, though not entirely unexpected, announcement yesterday that he was stepping step down as CEO of the company because of his ongoing health issues. (He will continue there as chairman, however.)

CEOs step down all the time. But in the case of Jobs, who’s been such an instrumental force behind Apple’s success, his announcement yesterday became front-page news.

Previously, Apple had come under fire for not having a viable CEO succession plan in place. (Shareholder groups recently had pressured Apple to reveal its succession plan annually.) But Jobs’  recommendation to the board, in his letter of resignation to them, that it follow through on Apple’s succession plan and appoint COO Tim Cook to the CEO post, and the board’s immediate decision to name him Jobs’ successor, confirmed to the world that was hardly the case. 

I asked communications expert Merrie Spaeth earlier today what she thought of Apple’s handling of Jobs’ resignation. “Brilliant! I’d give them very high marks,” she told me, noting that the added visibility given to Cook lately helped to soften the blow for Wall Street, as well as Apple employees and enthusiasts.

She felt Cook’s subsequent letter to employees one day later (leaked to the press) was especially well crafted.

Shareholders and others certainly have good reason to worry when someone as important to a company as Steve Jobs falls ill. But as yesterday’s news demonstrated (and made undeniably clear), Apple’s board, despite criticism to the contrary, was more than ready for that day.

Wall Street seems to agree, with Apple’s stock ending the day better than the major indexes.

3M Pays $3M in Age-Discrimination Case

Global technology giant 3M has agreed to pay $3 million in relief to some 290 former employees who the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims were illegally laid off due to their ages.

The EEOC lawsuit charges that the company discriminated against the workers, all of them over the age of 45, during a series of reductions-in-force from July 1, 2003 through Dec. 31, 2006 aimed at saving money. (Here’s the EEOC’s release about the case.)

The agency also claims older employees were denied leadership training and laid off to make way for younger leaders. It’s investigation found an employee email describing then-CEO Jim McNerney’s “vision for leadership development” as “we should be developing 30-year-olds with general manager potential” and “he wants us to tap into the youth as participants in the ldeadership development.”

In addition to the payments to those employees, 3M has also agreed to implement a review process for termination decisions and training on how to prevent age bias.

In a statement published in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), the company said the settlement wasn’t an admission of guilt or liability. “3M’s human resource practices are fair, comply with federal and state laws, and are widely recognized as ‘best in class,’ ” the company told the paper, adding that it “needs and values contributions from all of its employees.”

Pretty hefty price to pay for something it didn’t do.

Man Sues Over Skimpy Suit?

Thanks to our good friends at the New York Daily News (via AP) for digging this story out of the sands of New York’s beaches.

It involves a 61-year-old lifeguard who is suing the state after he says he was unfairly fired as a lifeguard because he refused to wear “skimpy swim trunks” for the annual lifeguard test:

Roy Lester tells the New York Daily News he was forced out of the job after 40 years in 2007 when he wanted to take the swim test in biking shorts instead of the tiny swim trunks.

He filed a lawsuit against the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in 2009. The lawsuit had been dismissed but was reinstated by an appeals court last week.

Lester is a triathlete, but says no one his age should be wearing tiny trunks. He says the bathing suit requirement was aimed at getting rid of older lifeguards.

State officials declined to comment.

While the story itself may seem a bit humorous to most, it should also caution HR leaders that older workers can still be an asset to your organization even if they don’t necessarily look good in a bathing suit.


Workers’ Finances Looking Up … Sort of

Workers’ finances seem to be improving, albeit not by much. The latest survey by CareerBuilder of more than 5,200 American workers shows the number of workers living paycheck to paycheck has finally hit pre-recession levels, according to this release on the company’s website.

Consider this incremental climb: 42 percent of workers say they usually or always live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet, over 43 percent in 2010 and in line with levels seen back in 2007; one in five (20 percent) say they have missed payments on bills in the last year, up from 22 percent this time last year; 14 percent of workers making six figures say they live paycheck to paycheck, down from 17 percent last year; and less than one in 10 (6 percent) say they can’t make ends meet every month, an improvement from 8 percent last year.

“A better employment picture in the United States has brought more steady incomes into households and workers are paying much closer attention to spending decisions and savings, says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “The majority of U.S. workers — 72 percent — reported they are more fiscally responsible since the recession and have made a variety of changes to their living and spending limits.”

Still, you have to wonder how much better is “better” when improvements are so fractional and when more than one in five (21 percent) say they have reduced their 401(k) contributions and/or personal savings in the last year just to get by. Or when nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of female workers and 17 percent of male workers say they’ve have missed a bill payment over the last year.

Don’t start letting up just yet on your efforts to make sure all workers know where they can get help and what benefits are offered, including voluntary financial-aid services. And keep keen eyes on the red flags, like workers in hushed phone conversations with creditors or news accounts suggesting we’re headed for the big Double D.

By no means are we out of the woods yet.


Drug Maker Sets Sights on Shift Workers

Are your shift workers having trouble staying alert on the job? Well, if so, pharma maker Cephalon contends it might be time for them to ask their doctor, “Is Nuvigil right for me?”

So reports a story titled “Do Sleepy Shift Workers Need a Pick-Me-Up Pill” in yesterday’s Bloomberg Businessweek, which says that Cephalon is stepping up its marketing campaign aimed specifically at shift workers suffering from “shift work sleep disorder.”

“Cephalon’s media campaign is its first to widely trumpet alertness pills by stressing the recognition of shift work disorder by doctors and sleep experts, who estimate the malady may affect one in four shift workers,” the article says. The story mentions a Cephalon study of 359 shift workers that found 77 percent those who took the pill were more alert for the last part of their shift or drive home, compared with 57 percent who were given a placebo.

But the story also points out that not everyone is convinced employees should trade in their second or third cups of coffee for the pills, noting that they are “possibly addictive” and could have serious side effects.

 “We as a society rely too much on pills and medication,” Robert Basner, director of Columbia University’s Cardiopulmonary Sleep and Ventilatory Disorders Center, is quoted saying. “That’s not always the best approach. Caffeine is a very good wake-promoting agent, and it’s a lot cheaper.”

In an age when everyone is looking for quick fixes, I guess it’s not surprising to learn that more than a few shift workers are swallowing Cephalon’s message and pill. Sales are reportedly growing 50 percent annually. But I was also glad to see that the Businessweek story—and the experts quoted in it— didn’t understate the need for such workers to consider the pills as a last resort, trying “life-style changes first.”

The Workplace Subject That Dare Not Speak Its Name

With thousands of business books published annually, it would seem that just about every workplace-related topic has been thoroughly exhausted–many times over–by the armies of experts who churn out these things. Not so. For there’s a workplace activity that few dare to speak about but millions engage in every day: Going to the bathroom at work.

Now, thank goodness, two Brits (but of course) have ridden to the rescue: How to Poo at Work is a soon-to-be-published guide on how to avoid flushing one’s career away through inadvertant breaches of bathroom etiquette. Seriously, this is an actual book, to be published this December by the Penguin Group, complete with charts, diagrams and bullet points. Topics covered include what to do if you’re on your way (urgently) to the restroom and your boss stops you in the hallway to engage in a long-winded discussion about his dog or family, the importance of avoiding eye contact in the restroom, how to deal with the fact that the bathroom is immediately adjacent to the office gossip’s desk, etc.

The book (whose authors are “Mats” and “Enzo” and who, according to the press release, “live and poop in France”) is clearly humorous, but there’s practical career advice lurking within as well. After all, who hasn’t had to excuse themselves in the midst of an important presentation to attend to some necessary bodily function? Does your company’s intranet have an advice section on topics such as this? I’m guessing not! Think of all the talent in your organization desparately straining to find advice on, say, what to do when they discover their stall is out of toilet paper … looking them in the eye, handing them a copy of How to Poo at Work and muttering “You’ll thank me later” just may land HR in that coveted seat at the table … or not.