Articles from September 2011



The Latest in Workplace Vocabulary

Are you so busy with work these days that you missed the latest phrase invading the business lexicon? In these trying times of doing more with less, it’s certainly understandable if you have.

And that’s exactly where this newest phrase – “worker intensification” — comes from.  

According to the good folks at Workplace Options, a Raleigh, N.C.-based provider of work/life programs, the term refers “to the increasing demands placed on workers — asking them to do more with the same amount of time and resources.”

Recent survey data from the firm indicate that “worker intensification” is indeed intensifying, with 62 percent of respondents saying their employers were trying to do more with less as a result of the lingering economic conditions (postponing hires, maximizing utility of each employee, etc.) and 55 percent who say they have taken on additional job responsibilities – with 70 percent of this group reporting it has done so with no pay/compensation increase.

Complete survey information can be found here.

Says Workplace Options’ CEO Dean Debnam:

“In times of economic uncertainty a lot of the burden falls on workers. Employers are forced to make ends meet with fewer resources and turn to their staff for help. It’s important for managers to recognize the size of their requests and the weight of added responsibilities for their employees.”

So next time you are able to get a break from work (which includes reading blogs about work!) go ahead and as your colleagues if they’re feeling more “intensified” at work. Chances are good that they are…

 Tip o’ the cap to the Vancouver Sun‘s bloggers, where I first came across the the term here.

 

 

CEOs Urged to Pledge their Commitment to Wellness

Ever since the wellness movement began, we’ve been hearing — and writing — that a corporate commitment to wellness starts at the top. Unless the CEO and other C-suite leaders buy in to the idea, a wellness initiative will likely fall flat, and often does, we’ve heard — and written.

Enter the nation’s first-ever National Physical Activity Plan to spur that buy-in on, through it’s CEO Pledge. By taking the pledge, CEOs vow to improve their employees’ health and wellness by producing opportunites and resources for physical activity before, during or after the workday.

The Pledge was unveiled last week at the HERO Forum (the annual conference of the Health Enhancement Research Organization) in Phoenix. Earlier this week, on Tuesday, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association put out its own battle cry urging all C-suite executives to take the pledge.

“The CEO Pledge makes it clear that business leaders have an influential role to play in addressing our country’s health and healthcare crisis,” says Joe Moore president and CEO of IHRSA. “With most working adults spending roughly half their waking hours on the job on the days that they work, it is incumbent upon business and industry leaders to become part of the solution.”

 

What’s Up, Amazon?

According to a recent story in the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call, workers at an Amazon.com warehouse facility near Allentown were forced to put up with some pretty horrendous working conditions during the record heat waves that scorched the U.S. earlier this summer.

The story, by Morning Call reporter Spencer Soper, is based on interviews with 20 current and former workers at the facility, which–like many Amazon warehouses–has a large staff of  temporary employees who are paid between $11 and $12 per hour. It’s tough work, with workers graded on how many items they can pick and sort within a specified time–those who can’t keep up the fast pace are quickly shown the door, the workers said.

That brisk pace did not slow down even when the heat index inside the warehouse exceeded 110 degrees this summer, according to the story. In fact, during the heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics in ambulances stationed outside the warehouse to treat workers who suffered from dehydration or other forms of heat stress. Sources told Soper that at least two pregnant workers had to be attended to by nurses during one heat wave. The conditions led an ER doctor at a nearby hospital to contact OSHA to report “unsafe conditions” at the site after he treated several Amazon workers for heat-related ailments. One former worker told Soper that at Amazon, unlike other warehouse facilities where he’d previously worked, loading dock doors were kept shut during heat waves because the company was concerned about theft.  “Imagine if it’s 98 degrees outside and you’re in a warehouse with every single dock door closed,” the worker told Soper.

After OSHA inspeacted the facility following complaints, Amazon took steps to mitigate the heat in the facility, which included installing more fans and cooling units and providing workers with fresh fruit, water and popsicles during hot weather. However, one source told Soper that even after the changes were made, conditions on the warehouse’s upper floors during heat waves were “like working in a convection oven while blowdrying your hair.”

Amazon declined to be interviewed directly for the story, but it sent the reporter a statement, attributed to the warehouse’s general manager, that said “The safety and welfare of our employees is our No. 1 priority at Amazon, and as the general manager, I take that responsibility seriously. We go to great lengths to ensure a safe work environment, with activities that include free water, snacks, extra fans and cooled air during the summer.”

Given the nature of Amazon’s business, the need to maintain a very fast pace in its warehouses is understandable.  Its concerns about theft, or “inventory shrinkage,” in industry parlance, are also understandable. But I can’t help wondering why a company like Amazon,  renowned for its technological prowess, can’t figure out a way to keep its employees from feeling like hot dogs roasting on a spit while they work like madmen to keep the warehouses running smoothly? And why should a savvy company like Amazon need an OSHA inspection to motivate it to take such basic steps to keep the environments in its warehouses somewhat bearable? You’re telling me  Amazon can’t figure out a way to prevent theft without keeping all the doors in its warehouses tightly shut during 100-degree plus weather? For all the fussing going on these days about the NLRB’s allegedly pro-union bias, it’s important to remember that stuff like this is what really encourages the unions to come a-knockin’.

 

U.S. Chamber Enters the Anti-NLRB-Poster Legal Fray

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has put some legal teeth into its anti-National Labor Relations Board radio ad campign by doing what the National Association of Manufacturers did on Sept. 8: Like NAM, it too has now filed suit challenging the NLRB’s new rule requiring private-sector employers to post notices explaining employees’ rights to unionize.

The U.S. Chamber has joined with the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce to file the suit — Chamber of Commerce, et al. v. National Labor Relations Board, et al. – in the U.S. District Court of South Carolina, alleging that the NLRB rule violates federal labor and regulatory laws as well as the First Amendment.

“The NLRB has no authority to impose any of these requirements,” says Robin Conrad, executive vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center, the Chamber’s public-policy law firm. “This is nothing more than labor regulation run amok.”

Not only does the Chamber claim the rule violates the National Labor Relations Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Regulatory Flexibility Act and the First Amendment, it also claims it creates a new unfair labor practice, expsong businesses to costly liability for failure to comply.

In my blog post on Sept. 15, I link to the actual poster and the NLRB’s reasoning and arguments in favor of the new rule. In an earlier post, from Sept. 6, I offer up a few more specifics on the rule and the rights that must be posted …

… including the Nov. 14 deadline for tacking them to your walls should these lawsuits fail to stop this poster train on the tracks.

 

 

NLRB Backlash Heating Up

It’s getting pretty testy out there in the private sector as the Nov. 14 deadline for posting the National Labor Relations Board rules creeps closer.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., introduced a bill he’s referring to as the Employer Free Choice Act that would repeal the new NLRB mandate issued in August — with the deadline so noted above.

“It is unacceptable for the NLRB to force businesses to display posters that serve as nothing more than a de facto endorsement of unionization by the federal government,” he says. “If employers want to distribute information on the ways employees can unionize, then that should be their choice — not Washington bureaucrats’. Clearly, this arbitrary mandate is simply another favor for big labor made possible by their friends in the Obama adminstration.”

As for the poster, which the NLRB has made available for download free of charge, NLRB officials don’t see the requirement as all that burdensome — and, in fact, they believe the posters are long overdue. As Nancy Cleeland, NLRB spokeswoman, told The Huffington Post in a recent story, “We’ve been one of the few agencies that enforce workplace laws that haven’t had some kind of posting up.”

One week ago today, on Sept. 8, the National Association of Manufacturers sued the NLRB in U.S. District Court in Washington to stop the new private-sector poster regulation, which is already in place for federal employers. Here’s a report from The Hill on that lawsuit.

NAM also last week launched a radio-ad campaign urging lawmakers to vote for legislation that would strip the NLRB of its legal authority to order a company to relocate its operations — in response to the board’s recent ruling mandating that Boeing not be allowed to move some of its airline manufacturing operations from unionized Washington state to right-to-work South Carolina.

(Just today, the bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives, though it has little chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it has yet to be scheduled for a vote.)

Even more recently than NAM’s radio blitz, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched its own much-broader radio-ad campaign simply trying to educate lawmakers and the public about what it describes as the NLRB’s “aggressive and radical pro-union agenda.” Here’s my blog post on that campaign.

All in the name of keeping you posted on all this as best I can.

Wanna Work Here? Answer This Crazy Question First!

If you’re the sort of person (and there may be a lot of you) who, during job interviews, likes asking brain-teaser questions and then sitting back and watching the sweat bead up on the interviewee’s forehead as he or she struggles to deliver a reasonably intelligent answer, then you’ll really enjoy Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? (Little, Brown), a soon-to-be-published book by author William Poundstone that examines the various brain teasers and other seemingly inscrutable questions candidates may encounter during interviews.

Faced with tons of desperate jobseekers, more and more companies are devising ever-more-rigorous interview questions to uncover the potential stars, Poundstone writes. In many cases they’re throwing open-ended mental challenges at candidates to see how they think and, in this category, Google reigns supreme. Here’s a typical question asked during an initial job interview at Google: “You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and tossed into a blender. The blades start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?”

Early on in the book, Poundstone narrates the story of “Jim,” a Google job candidate who’s asked this question within minutes of sitting down for his first interview at the Googleplex, the company’s famed headquarters in Mountain Valley, Calif. After delivering the blender question, the interviewer looks up from his laptop “grinning like a maniac with a new toy.”

Jim responds that he would throw spare change into the blender’s motor to jam it up, thus preventing the blades from turning. “The inside of a blender is sealed. If you could throw pocket change into the mechanism, then your smoothie would leak into it,” responds the interviewer. Jim (no doubt beginning to sweat) then describes how he would rip his shirt into strips and, with his belt, fashion a rope, attach his shoes to the end of the rope, throw it over the side of the blender and, using the shoes as a counterweight, pull himself out of the blender. The interviewer is having none of it: “The ‘weights’ are just your shoes. How would they support your body’s weight? You weigh more than your shoes do.” He spends a few more minutes demolishing the candidate’s proposed solution, then stands up and extends his hand to Jim: “It was nice meeting you.” So long, Jim.

Personally? My answer to the question would be: “I’d see if I could crawl under the blades, since I’m as small as a nickel, and see if I could lie under them, because the blades in a blender point up, right?” Hmmm …

 

Revisiting the Value of Farming Out Work

Pretty much everyone agrees the nation needs to do something about getting the federal-deficit under control. There seems to be little agreement, however, when the discussion turns to what that something is.

Well, if you think part of the answer lies in using more contractors to do federal work, a just released study by the not-for-profit Project on Government Oversight (POGO) suggests maybe you should think again.

Among other things, this first-of-its-kind study found the federal government, on average, paid contractors 1.83 times more than the government pays federal employees in total compensation, and more than two times the total compensation paid in the private sector for comparable services.

Of the 35 job classifications POGO looked at, 33 had contractor billing rates that were significantly steeper than the average compensation for federal employees (with benefits factored in). (The two exceptions: groundskeeper and medical records technician.)

So how does HR management work, in particular, fare? POGO reports that HR contractors received nearly twice the amount it would have cost were it done in-house—$228,488 versus $111,711.

In a story appearing in yesterday’s New York Times about the study, James Sherk, a policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, said he was skeptical of the findings “because it’s not a real apples to apples comparison.”

But despite some obvious flaws—including some noted by POGO in the report’s methodology—the study should, at the very least, give federal entities reason to pause and reconsider the pros and cons of farming out certain work, as well as what they’re paying.

Chamber’s Radio Ad Slams NLRB’s and DOL’s Agendas

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has upped the anti-Obama-Administration ante. Yesterday, the Washington-based business federation launched a new radio ad campaign to educate lawmakers and the American public on what it describes as the National Labor Relations Board’s and the Department of Labor’s “aggressive and radical pro-union agenda.”

If you haven’t heard the ad — entitled Common Sense — yet, here’s the Chamber’s release about it, along with a link to the ad on Window’s Media Player. So far, it’s only airing in Florida, Missouri, Montana and Virginia, but chances are it might be coming to an airwave near you in the near future.

“When Congress failed to pass the card check bill, we know it was only a matter of time before the administration began using the regulatory process to tilt the playing field in organized labor’s favor,” says Randy Johnson, senior vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits for the Chamber. 

Nancy Cleeland, director of the NLRB’s Office of Public Affairs, says her organization is “declining comment” about the ad at this time. A spokesperson from the DOL’s Office of Public Affairs says her agency has no comment as well.

Recruiting: It’s Getting Social Out There

The ties between social media and recruiting vendors just keep getting stronger. Monster has rolled out “BeKnown,” a Facebook app that lets Monster users create career connections and access career content via the social-networking megasite. Then there’s BranchOut, a San Francisco-based startup that wants to make it easier for companies to share their job openings via Facebook and Twitter and for jobseekers to see whether they have any “inside connections” at companies they may be interested in.

The latest is an arrangement between Taleo and LinkedIn that will let candidates use the career history in their LinkedIn profiles to apply for jobs at  Taleo Recruiting customers, rather than manually entering such information. The goal is, according to Jason Blessing, Taleo’s executive vice president of products and technology, to reduce the “drop-off rate” that occurs when candidates tire of repeatedly filling out applications and elect to discontinue the application process. Additionally, recruiters using Taleo Recruiting will now be able to their LinkedIn Recruiter accounts to see which LinkedIn profiles have already been viewed by their colleagues, identify candidates and track their progress during the application process. The official announcement is being unveiled at the Taleo World users conference in San Francisco this week.

“Enterprise software absolutely has to pay attention to what’s going on in social media,” said Blessing.  

 

Phoenix Suns’ Gay CEO/President Resigns

Courtesy of our friends over at The Arizona Republic (via ESPN.com), we just heard the news that the National Basketball League’s Phoenix Suns’ CEO and President Rick Welts has resigned his post after nine years of running the team’s business side:

“The most important thing for me is to get my personal and professional lives better aligned,” Welts told the newspaper. “They’ve probably never been aligned. I’m 58 years old and it’s time to do that.”

Welts is believed to be the first man in a prominent position in men’s sports who is openly gay, according to the reports.

And while we all cheered when Welts first “came out” and thus knocked down a big wall in professional sports a few months back, we can only hope now that his departure is for the reasons he stated, and not because of any backlash he may have received — either directly or indirectly – at the hands of the National Basketball Association’s players, coaches and executives who may not be as open-minded as the rest of us.