Mobility’s 10-Year Journey

A PricewaterhouseCoopers study, the 2012 Survey of Global Mobility Policies, recently confirmed a trend experts have long been telling us: Global companies have been replacing longer-term assignments with non-traditional workforce mobility programs, such as commuter and short-term assignments.Perhaps even to a greater extent than some previously might have thought.

The PwC report (exploring developments over the past 10 years and echoing some of the findings of a Cartus study I reported on earlier this year) also found that these programs tend to be much broader in reach, affecting more than 10 percent of employees, compared to traditional short- and long-term programs that impact only 1 percent.

Often, companies will launch an HR program and then forget about it. But for one of every two respondents in this PwC study, that hasn’t been the case for mobility.  Exactly 50 percent reported they’re focused on refining their policies. (Of course, the word focused is open to interpretation.)

No doubt cost is a key driver here. “Two or three years ago, there was huge pressure to take out costs,” says William Sheridan, vice president at the National Foreign Trade Council in New York. Because of this, he adds, employers have paid a lot closer attention to selecting the right people to send and the length of their assignments.

I suspect this greater scrutiny is also behind some of the study’s other findings:

  • Forty-six percent offered permanent transfer policies, compared with 29 percent in 2002;
  • Thirty-seven percent had localization policies, compared with 20 percent in 2002
  • Twenty-one percent offered commuter policies, compared with 8 percent in 2002; and
  • Seventy-one percent had extended business travel policies, compared with 30 percent in 2002.

At the end of the day, says PwC Principal Eileen Mullaney, it’s all about choice. Choice for both the employer and the employee. “Mobility packages,” she says, “should offer multiple options so business leaders as well as the employees can choose what works best for their specific situations or interests.”

In the coming years, that advice could certainly prove useful for those expanding into growing markets facing talent shortages. As examples, Sheridan points to the energy sector in Africa. Or perhaps slightly a bit closer to home (for me, that is): remote areas like North Dakota, where energy exploration is booming today.

A Study in ‘Talent’ Contrasts: Apple Vs. Google

In the midst of the raging death match between heavyweights Apple and Google, Forbes contributor Eric Jackson uncovers some philosophical and educational differences in the makeup of the management teams of two of the most popular brands in the tech ring — or any other ring, for that matter — today.

Jackson’s deep dive  — which includes a listing the alma mater and degree level of the members on both management teams — brings up more than a few interesting nuggets, including this one: “The number of Ph.D.s on Apple’s Management Team: 0.  The number of Ph.D.s on Google’s Management Team: 6 – or 8 if you include Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin].  Google also sports two Rhodes Scholar and a Fulbright Scholar to boot.”

So what does it all mean to Jackson?

Putting on my armchair psychologist’s hat, I’d say that Larry and Sergey obviously — and over time — created a team of people, through their hiring and promotion decisions, to reflect people that they admire and reflect who they are (or who they wish they were): Ph.D.s, lots of Stanford people, elite colleges and grad schools.

By contrast, Steve Jobs and now [Apple CEO Tim] Cook seem to have eschewed elite educational credentials (or perhaps discounted them) in favor of other (publicly undefined) factors which they value — presumably work ethic, loyalty, innovation, ethics, and probably others.

And, despite the differences he’s uncovered, Jackson also finds something in common:

I find it fascinating that two titans of tech can both succeed (to this point at least) with such a different view of what it means to be “talented.”

What Do Employees Want Most? More Money!

It’d be nice to think that employees are, in general, long-term planners, always taking into account the big picture in terms of what they and their dependents will need the most further down the road: adequate retirement funds, money put aside for unforeseen medical expenses, perhaps some long-term care insurance. And then there’s reality: When 10,400 workers in 10 key markets around the world were asked in a recent survey to choose from a list of benefits the ones they’d most like to have, the No. 1 choice was a salary increase (The exception were respondents in Canada, where paid time off proved slightly more popular).

Who can blame them? Well, Mercer doesn’t seem too happy with their choices. Mercer conducted the survey, titled Making Smart Benefit Choices. Dave Rahill, president of Mercer’s health and benefits business, had this to say: “Employees valuing more time off and increased pay in the current stress-filled environment may be understandable, but there are other benefits that have the potential to create more income protection through health benefits and income replacement through retirement and savings vehicles.”

To the survey participants’ credit, it’s not as if they’re unaware of their retirement challenges: In general, the percentage who indicated they’re fairly or very concerned about retireemnt ranged between two-thirds and three quarters. Mercer notes those concerns are valid, pointing out that in markets outside of Asia, approximately 75 percent of employees are putting aside less than 10 percent of their total compensation towards retirement savings.

The survey also asked employees to rank the “voluntary” benefits (extra benefits, such as home, auto and life insurance, that are typically paid for by employees but usually include a group discount) they’d be most willing to pay for themselves. The top three benefits U.S. employees were willing to pay for are disability, life and auto insurance. Accident and hospital indemnity insurance was also fairly popular, while legal assistance and identity theft insurance proved the least popular.

Keeping Benefits Costs in Check

With the 2012 election season behind us and President Barack Obama returning to the Oval Office, the fate of the Affordable Care Act seems secure.

For many employers, this means exploring ways to contain benefits costs they project to increase once ACA provisions take hold in 2014.  

Now would be a good time to start, and if a recent survey from New York-based consultancy Mercer is any indication, many companies are already well on their way.

Mercer’s National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans finds employers held 2012 health benefits cost growth to the lowest average annual increase since 1997. The poll of 2,809 employers found growth in the average total health benefits cost per employee slowing from 6.1 percent in 2011 to 4.1 percent this year.

The cost averaged $10,558 per employee in 2012. Large employers—those with 500 or more employees—experienced a higher increase (5.4 percent) and higher average cost ($11,003). According to the survey, employers expect another fairly low increase of 5 percent in 2013. This bump, however, reflects changes companies plan to make to reduce cost, according to Mercer. Cost would rise by an average of 7.4 percent for companies making no changes.

Employers are “very aware that, in 2014, when the health reform law’s provisions kick in, they will be asked to cover more employees and face added cost pressure,” said Julio A. Portalatin, Mercer president and CEO, in a statement. “They’ve taken bold steps to soften the impact, and it’s paying off already.”

One step some employers have already taken to “reset” plan value in 2012 included offering a lower-cost consumer-directed health plan, according to the study. Others have raised the deductible of an existing PPO plan, for example.

Companies are also looking at new ways to purchase health insurance as well as influence the quality of care employees receive, according to Mercer. Among participating companies with 5,000 or more employees, the use of high-performance provider networks rose from 14 percent to 23 percent in 2012, with the use of surgical centers of excellence increasing from 18 percent to 35 percent.

Still, while organizations “deserve a lot of credit” for containing cost growth this year, “no one silver bullet will end cost escalation forever,” and companies must make containing benefits costs a priority in the year ahead and beyond, noted Tracy Watts, a partner in Mercer’s Washington, D.C. office.

Health reform has presented us with a new set of challenges, and we have to keep thinking one step ahead.”

OK with Cyber Monday?

What better way to spur the economy than from your own work desk on the first day back from Thanksgiving break?

Employers seem to be OK with it, according to a new poll from Robert Half Technology: The percentage of more than 1,400 employers polled by the staffing company saying they block computer access to online shopping sites plunged to 33 percent, down from 60 percent in 2011.

But most – 55 percent – said they allow access to retail sites but monitor use, up sharply from 23 percent last year.

Now everyone back to work, or shopping, as the case may be.

(T/H to the Virginian-Pilot)

A Toast to the 17 Percent

It’s almost lunchtime on the last work day before Thanksgiving here in America, and it feels (and sounds) like I very well may be the only person working in this office today. I can’t even recall hearing a phone ring once this morning.

But my pity party is short-lived, as I just came across CareerBuilder’s annual Thanksgiving survey, which finds that 17 percent of more than 3,900 workers surveyed say they will be at work this Thanksgiving.

The survey reveals that hospitality workers are the most likely to be on the clock on Turkey Day, at 44 percent, followed by:

·         Retail – 31 percent

·         Transportation – 30 percent

·         Healthcare – 28 percent

·         Information Technology – 14 percent

So it seems appropriate to take this opportunity — on behalf of the 83 percent of workers who get to enjoy tomorrow’s festivities at home (myself included) — to simply say thanks to those 17 percent for showing up and doing their jobs.

After all, could you imagine a day in a world with no working public transportation, no emergency healthcare services and no IT workers around to keep our various and ubiquitous devices working?

Or, perhaps worse yet, no retail workers to process our pre-Black Friday purchases?

A Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Black Friday This Year Will Be Interesting

Wal-Mart, the 8-million pound gorilla of retailing, is feeling the heat and responding forcefully. OUR Walmart, a coalition of disgruntled WalMart employees that is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, is staging a series of walkouts and protests by Wal-Mart employees at locations throughout the country, to culminate in protests at more than 1,000 U.S. stores this Black Friday. The organization says the workers will be protesting against what they say are unfair labor practices by the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer. Wal-Mart has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board seeking an injunction against the protests on the grounds that the planned protests violate a section of the National Labor Relations Act that limits picketing by a union seeking recognition to no more than 30 days. The NLRB has promised a ruling within a few days–an extraordinarily fast turnaround time, by the agency’s standards.

In its complaint, Wal-Mart maintains that the protests represent an ongoing attempt by the UFCW to unionize its workers and that the protests have exceeded 30 days. OUR Walmart has denied that its protests are about seeking union recogniation — instead, it says, they are designed to call attention to what it says are unfair wages and working conditions at Wal-Mart and retaliation taken by the company against employees who’ve spoken out. Wal-Mart has denied the allegations and says it’s confident the protests won’t dent its bottom line: “We don’t think what the unions are planning will have any impact on our business at all,” it told the Financial Times.

Meanwhile, Casey St. Clair, a 24-year old employee at a Target store in Norco, Calif., started a petition on calling for the retailer to grant its employees Thanksgiving Day off after she learned she was scheduled to work on Thanksgiving night. Target joins WalMart,  ToysRus and other large retailers that have begun opening their stores as early as 8pm on Thanksgiving night to accommodate the hordes of Black Friday shoppers who aren’t content to wait until the early morning next day to get their holiday shopping started. St. Clair’s petition has already garnered 365,000 signatures as of today. According to USA Today, had 91 petitions against Thanksgiving Day sales as of last Friday — the final tally of such petitions this Thanksgiving is expected to exceed last year’s total of 150, said spokeswoman Charlotte Hill.

As someone who isn’t crazy about shopping to begin with, I just don’t get the need to line up at a store at 8pm on Thanksgiving Day — unless, that is, you really despise sitting around with family. I expect to spend that time lounging away the effects of turkey-generated tryptophan, and I sympathize with the desire of my fellow Americans to be accorded that same right. That said, I question Ms. St. Clair’s decision to close her petition letter with “The world won’t end if people have wait 7 more hours to buy useless junk that will be outdated in a year anyway.” Kind of counterproductive to insult not only your employer but the customers who support it.

Better Not Keep the NLRB Waiting!

If you think a request for information from the National Labor Relations Board is irrelevant and you have more important things to worry about … and you’ll just let it sit awhile … better think again.

An NLRB panel recently found that an employer had violated the National Labor Relations Act by failing to respond in a timely manner to a union’s requests for information, even though — as this alert from Barran Liebman points out — “the NLRB ultimately determined that the request for information was, as the employer argued, irrelevant … .”

In short, the board found — in its Oct. 23 ruling in the case of IronTiger Logistics Inc. and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO — that an employer has a good-faith duty under the NLRA “to respond in a reasonably timely manner to a union request for ‘presumptively relevant’ information—even when the employer believes it may have actual grounds for not providing that information” — this from another alert from Ballard Spahr.

“This decision,” it says, “expands the duty of employers by holding that they must respond to requests for what may be irrelevant information.”

For the record, and for a complete understanding of the NLRB’s reasoning behind the decision, this link takes you to the actual ruling. (Scroll to the free PDF download marked Oct. 23.) As the ruling states: “The Respondent was obligated to inform the union in a timely manner that it would not provide the information and the reasons for its refusal. An employer cannot simply ignore a union’s information request.”

According to Ballard Spahr’s rundown of the case,

[It] arose from a dispute about the apportionment of freight-delivery assignments between IronTiger and TruckMovers, two transportation firms that shared common ownership. The union represented IronTiger’s drivers but not TruckMovers’ drivers. After filing a grievance concerning the dispatch of loads to TruckMovers’ drivers, the union requested information related to all units of work dispatched to both companies’ drivers. Four and a half months passed before IronTiger even acknowledged the request, claiming generally that it was ‘harassment, burdensome and irrelevant.’ By then, the union had filed an unfair labor practice charge because IronTiger had provided no response.

In a 2-1 vote, the Board affirmed the Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ) holding that IronTiger had violated Section 8(a)(5) of the [NLRA] by failing to respond in a timely manner to the union’s request for information. The Board began with the well-established premise that ‘a unionized employer must provide, on request, information that is relevant and necessary to the union’s performance of its duties as collective-bargaining representative.’ The Board further stated that ‘an employer must timely respond to a union request seeking relevant information even when the employer believes it has grounds for not providing the information.’

In other words, the NLRB ruled that, because the union’s request for information involved unit employees, it was “presumptively relevant,” entitling the AFL-CIO to a response within a reasonable time. It didn’t define a “reasonable time,” but — says Barran Liebman — “made clear that 4.5 months exceeded this perimeter significantly.” That alert goes on:

In dissent, one board member argued that the majority’s ruling gives unions the latitude to ‘hector employers with information requests for tactical purposes that obstruct, rather than further, good-faith bargaining relationships.’

While this opinion governs an employer’s obligation to respond only to a ‘presumptively relevant’ request, it serves as a reminder to employers to pay attention to their response times. An internal deadline of 30 days to respond is prudent, even when the employer’s response simply explains why a particular request is irrelevant.



Advantage Employer?

A recent federal district court decision may give companies a useful weapon to defend themselves in litigation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In the case of EEOC v. DHL Express, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has granted the logistics provider’s motion to compel the EEOC to make all claimants in the case available for deposition.

In the suit, a group of 94 black drivers and dockworkers for DHL Express in Chicago claimed they had been unlawfully given less desirable, more difficult and more dangerous route and dock assignments than white employees. In addition, the claimants alleged they were typically assigned routes in predominantly black areas.

The EEOC had refused to let DHL depose all of the claimants involved, contending the vignettes the EEOC had provided for each claimant in the interrogatories were sufficient, as were the company’s depositions of 34 of the plaintiffs. Further, the agency argued that deposing each claimant would be unnecessarily expensive and redundant.

The court, however, determined that “expenses are being incurred based on how the EEOC has decided to prosecute this case overall, including hiring an expert to analyze route assignments. The court will not jeopardize DHL’s opportunity to defend itself in order to accommodate the expense of plaintiff’s litigation strategy.”

This was just one court’s opinion, and others may not apply the same reasoning in the future. But the DHL decision may give the EEOC cause to rethink its approach to litigation going forward, says Jeff Nowak, partner and co-chair of the labor and employment practice group at Chicago-based law firm Franczek Radelet.

“Over the past few years, the EEOC has pursued an aggressive agenda to expand the scope of its charge investigations to focus on systemic discrimination,” he says. “As a result, it regularly subpoenas employer documents that far exceed any semblance of reasonableness. Unfortunately, it has a track record of approaching litigation in a similar fashion.”

The ruling in the DHL Express case, however, levels the playing field to some extent, “in that employers now are better able to confront purported charging parties and class members to test the veracity of these individuals’ claims and mount an adequate defense,” says Nowak.  

Will [this decision] stem the tide of EEOC litigation against employers? No. But it sends a message to the EEOC that it must carefully evaluate potential litigation before filing suit, and set aside any ‘hide the ball’ tactics when engaged in litigation.”

Leaders Behaving Badly, Cont.

The big news on Friday was the surprise resignation of Gen. David Petraeus as head of the Central Intelligence Agency after he admitted to an extramarital affair. In a statement announcing his resignation, Petraeus—a highly decorated veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—said: “After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair,” Mr. Petraeus wrote. “Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours.”

Not an hour after that story broke came an announcement from giant defense contractor Lockheed Martin that its CEO-to-be was also a goner for involving himself in a situation similar to Petraeus’. The company released a statement in which it said the board of directors had “asked for and received” the resignation of Christopher Kubasik, who had previously been scheduled to become CEO in January, after an ethics investigation uncovered evidence of an affair between Kubasik and a subordinate at the company.  He had been serving as vice chairman, president and chief operating officer. His replacement will be a woman: Marillyn A. Hewson will take over his current position and will become the new CEO in January.

While it’s unfortunate to see leaders like Petraeus, in particular, done in by poor judgment, these two resignations at least serve as a reminder to rank-and-file employees that ethical violations—at the CIA, indiscretions such as Petraeus’ could have left him vulnerable to blackmail—have consequences at the top of the pyramid, not just the bottom.