Half of Workers Open to Working Elsewhere

dissatisfied employeeAs you walk through the cubicle farm/office maze/factory floor of your organization, know this: More than half the people you’re passing are open to finding a new job elsewhere, and of those employees, 44 percent are actively looking for new jobs.

That’s according to Aon Hewitt’s latest Workforce Mindset study, which surveyed 2,000 employees. What are the factors most likely to lure employees away from their current jobs? The following are the five key differentiators, according to the survey:

1. Above average pay (62 percent)

2. Above average benefits (61 percent)

3. A fun place to work (58 percent)

4. Flexible work environment (57 percent)

5. “Strong fit with my values” (56 percent)

Of course, the common prescription for avoiding turnover has been keeping employee engagement levels high. But that’s hardly a cure-all either, according to “The Dark Side of Employee Engagement,” a new Harvard Business Review piece by Lewis Garrad and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. They cite a number of studies showing that highly engaged employees can be too satisfied with the status quo, more prone to burnout and its attendant ill effects and “too positive” — in other words, highly engaged people can crowd out the more introspective, less-extroverted types who nonetheless are often key to a company’s overall success.

So what to do? Try “training employees to leave their jobs,” writes Hootsuite’s Ryan Holmes, particularly if you want to retain your star employees. Many workers, particularly younger ones, leave companies not necessarily because they’re dissatisfied with their compensation or their manager but because they want to try something new, acquire new skills and push themselves in new directions, he writes. Holmes found that giving employees stretch roles at Hootsuite to try out new positions and acquire new skills without having to leave the company has yielded positive results.

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NLRB: Grad Students Are Employees

In a 3-1 decision, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that graduate students working as research and teaching assistants at Columbia University are statutory employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act.

As the Washington Post reports, the ruling overturns a 2004 Brown University decision, in which the NLRB said graduate students engaging in collective bargaining “would undermine the nature and purpose of graduate education.”

The decision, which clears the way for these grad students to join or form unions, opens the door “to the full panoply of rights provided under collective bargains, and the effect will change the relationship between private sector universities and their students,” Joseph Ambush, a Boston-based attorney who filed the brief on behalf of the schools involved in this case (and who represented Brown in 2004), told the Post.

Philip Miscimarra, who offered the lone dissenting opinion in the Columbia case, voiced concerns that allowing students to collectively bargain could “wreak havoc” on their education, given the potential for strikes and lockouts, according to the paper.

That’s not all the decision could do.

Earning recognition as employees means that grad students working in teaching or research capacities “can bargain for larger stipends and better health coverage, especially if they have children,” according to the Post. “It also means they can get basic protections, such as unpaid leave.”

The ruling “could be huge,” says Laura Hung, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at American University. Hung, now working as an adjunct professor, told the Post that she’s making roughly the same salary (around $19,000) that she earned as a teaching and research assistant in her most recent academic year.

“The vast majority of my colleagues are swimming in student debt,” notes Hung, adding that her wages are “barely enough” to cover her $1,000 rent each month, and “certainly not enough” to pay for the health insurance offered by the university.

“The way things are right now obligates students to take out large amounts of debt to eat and live,” continues Hung. “There are students who are not going to find jobs that pay enough to pay that back.”

This struggle is real among young workers outside of academia as well. Pay attention, employers.

As HRE notes in an upcoming feature in our Sept. 2 print issue, the number of recent grads buckling under the weight of massive student loan debt is only growing. Recent data from the Plan Sponsor Council of America, for instance, finds 69 percent of students graduating college in 2011 and 2012 borrowed money to finance their educations, compared to 49 percent of 1992 and 1993 college graduates.

Some employers are recognizing this trend, and are responding. As we report in the aforementioned Sept. 2 piece, for example, Nvidia Corp. is helping its youngest workers start off their careers on the right financial foot.

Designed to help employees repay student loans up to $30,000, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based technology company’s Student Loan Repayment program is open to all full- or part-time employees who have graduated within the past three years and are working 20 or more hours per week and provides monthly reimbursement up to $500 or the worker’s monthly payment amount, whichever is less.

Applicable to various types of loans—Federal Perkins loans, private student loans and subsidized Stafford loans, for instance—the repayment program also helps employees who go back to school for an advanced degree.

Beau Davidson, vice president of human resources at Nvidia, describes the effort as a “bridge program” geared toward helping recent grads transition into the working world.

“This kind of assistance might help them get started in an apartment, put a down payment on a car, and get themselves situated and ready to work,” says Davidson. “It’s one less stressor to worry about.”

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The Motherhood Tax at Work

New research out of the United Kingdom shows the gender-pay gap widens significantly after the birth of a child, otherwise known as the “motherhood tax.”

According to a new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 12 years after giving birth for the first time, women are making 33 percent less per hour than men.

On average, women in work receive about 18 percent less per hour than men, down from 23 percent in 2003.

While the wider gap for mothers is not because women see an immediate cut in hourly pay after childbirth.

Possible explanations include mothers missing out on promotions or accumulating less labor market experience, the authors said.

“Comparing women who had the same hourly wage before leaving paid work, wages when they return are on average 2 percent lower for each year spent out of paid work in the interim,” the IFS wrote.

(Tip of the hat to CNN Money.)

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Beware of the ‘Food Altar’ at Work

ThinkstockPhotos-178634141Anthropologists tell us that sharing food is nearly universal in human society. And that includes the office.

Some workplaces have raised the custom to a high art. Think of Doughnut Day. Strawberries from the garden. Cookies from home. Leftovers from a lunch meeting. M&Ms in a bowl on the boss’s desk.

These rituals humanize the workplace. They break up the monotony of work. And who doesn’t like to eat?

One problem: Much of that food is unhealthy. And the cornucopia can undercut both company wellness programs and individual efforts at healthy eating. What good does it do to put bananas in the vending machines or carrots in your lunch bag when Susie in accounting brings brownies?

One recent study about this problem says there’s a term for that place in every office where food gets piled. They’re called “food altars,” according to four researchers at the University of California Davis.

Published in the June issue of the journal Food, Culture & Society, the study was by Carolyn Thomas, Jennifer Sedell, Charlotte Biltekoff and Sara Schaefer. They studied the eating habits of 25 university office workers to draw some conclusions that could apply to many workplaces.

They found that while health-conscious employees might have elaborate systems to control consumption, their efforts often were “sabotaged by food that simply materialized in the workplace.” Food altars, they wrote, are “responsible for the majority of unplanned and ‘unhealthful’ eating decisions in the workplace.”

The result: “A workplace-sanctioned system of food-choice challenges.”

Anyone who’s worked in an office will recognize the problem. Yet how can we control it? No one wants to be the Grinch who refuses to bring in bagels when it’s their turn. Or to be the boss who issues a memo declaring the office a carrot-cake-free zone.

The study authors don’t propose a solution. But at least they’ve identified a problem and given it a name. The rest, alas, is up to us.

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Jobseekers Seeking Attention

seeking attentionThe unemployment rate may have dropped to its lowest level since before the Great Recession, but there are still plenty of people out there seeking work (or a better job than the one they have), and some of them will go to some pretty amazing lengths to try and nab that position. Witness CareerBuilder’s latest survey results on “13 Unusual Things Job Seekers Have Done to Get Noticed,” in which hiring managers offer examples of some of the unusual tactics they’ve seen. Here are the standouts:

1. Candidate had a priest contact the hiring manager and ask for the candidate to be hired.

2. Candidate bought a first-class upgrade to sit next to the hiring manager on a trans-Atlantic flight.

3. During the month of October, candidate came dressed in a costume for Halloween.

4. Candidate asked hiring manager to share an ice cream cone.

5. Candidate sent a pair of embroidered socks with a note saying he would knock the company’s socks off if hired.

6. Candidate sent a shoe with a flower in it as a thank you after the interview. The note said “Trying to get my foot in the door.”

7. Candidate mailed the hiring manager money in an envelope.

And finally:

8. Candidate kissed hiring manager.

Of course, in order to land a job interview in the first place, job seekers need to get noticed — and in certain highly competitive  industries, such as advertising, hiring managers tend to see even crazier stunts than what’s on CareerBuilder’s list. These have included challenging a firm’s co-founder to a one-on-one basketball tournament and hacking into a firm’s internal communications system and sending emails to its creative directors with links to the jobseeker’s work samples.

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Gender Parity: Lead the Way, HR

For a study to find that women are underrepresented at the chief-executive level is not at all surprising. That much we already knew.

New research from Korn Ferry provides more evidence of the disparity between men and women in the executive ranks. The same study, however, finds one segment of the C-suite where something resembling gender parity may actually exist: HR.

Overall, the Los Angeles-based people and organizational advisory firm’s analysis found just 5 percent of the CEOs at the top 1,000 U.S. companies by revenue were women; a percentage that remains flat from 2015.

By industry, the highest percentage of female CEOs can be found in the consumer sector (9 percent), followed by energy (6 percent), financial and technology (both 5 percent), industrial (4 percent) and life sciences (less than 1 percent).

The numbers aren’t much higher throughout the C-suite. For instance, just 12 percent of CFOs across industries are women, while 19 percent of women occupy the chief information officer’s seat, and 29 percent of chief marketing officers at the top 1,000 revenue-generating companies are female.

You get the idea. There aren’t a lot of women holding the top spots within the top organizations. Except in HR, where 55 percent of CHROs are women, according to the Korn Ferry study.

“In our research, we find that women rank higher on key competencies needed in the CHRO role, such as collaboration and negotiation skills, the ability to balance multiple constituencies and an appreciation for the dynamics of the overall business,” says Joseph McCabe, vice chairman in Korn Ferry’s Global Human Resources Center of Expertise, in a press release highlighting the firm’s recent C-suite analysis.

“Interestingly, other Korn Ferry research shows a distinct correlation between CEO and CHRO competencies, but women are still not making it to the very top spot at the rate they should.”

In the same statement, Peggy Hazard laments the glacial pace of progress on this front.

“Study after study shows that diverse senior teams provide better corporate results,” says Hazard, managing principal at Korn Ferry. “Having more women at the top is a priority for our clients. However, the needle is not moving as quickly as any of us would like to see.”

A collaborative effort will be required to get things moving more briskly in the right direction, in HR and elsewhere, she says.

“In every industry we analyzed, there’s a tremendous need for improvement to bring more women to the C-suite. This is a joint responsibility of the women to seek out experiences and development that can help them lead and succeed, and for organizations to create an environment where women feel empowered to progress in their careers at all levels.”

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Transforming the Workplace

I just came across this interesting piece on Forbes’ site about the different ways organizations are transforming the way business gets done in the modern workplace.

From office furniture with built-in tracking devices to measure users’ activity rates to desks that don’t stay put themselves, the experiments are indeed pushing the envelope of what’s to be expected in the workplace:

“There have also been some interesting approaches to encourage work/life balance among employees, with a Dutch startup called Heldergroen installing desks that literally get pulled up into the ceiling at 5:30 p.m. to force employees to go home.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, Greek designers NL Studio developed a desk that converts into a bed. While the aim is to perhaps encourage ‘power naps,’ it could also facilitate all-nighters at the office.”

The piece goes on to explore the merits of “encourag[ing] external people to come onto company premises,” which include:

1. They allow employees to rub shoulders with interesting people they might not ordinarily meet.

2. They allow HR folks to keep a much closer eye on potential talent to bring on board.

3. They allow those in the merger and acquisition team to keep tabs on interesting startups and spin-outs in their industry.

It’s an interesting, forward-looking piece and you can read the full story here.

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‘HR Lady’s’ Security Breach

177870130 -- credit card securityI’m imagining you, too, would stop your web browsing for one minute and read an article titled How we tricked your HR lady into giving us access to every customer’s credit card number. I obviously did.

The piece posted by network and security firm Netragard on its website lays out in pretty compelling detail all the steps the company went through to test one of its clients, unbeknownst to the client of course, for its level of vulnerability and/or security through a method it calls penetration testing. For the sake of the anonymity of the large retail corporation being tested, Netragard refers to it as Acme Corp.

What got my attention reading through the piece was just how clever and good hackers have to be, not to mention the companies offering their services to protect them from their covert ways.

Like many a hacker, no doubt, Netragard started out by identifying a job opportunity posted on LinkedIn, in this case for a senior security analyst. Here’s just a small portion of the company’s lengthy description of the ploy:

“Interestingly, the opportunity was not posted on Acme Corp.’s website. When Netragard reviewed the opportunity, it contained a link that redirected Netragard to a job-application portal that contained a resume-builder web form. This form was problematic because it worked against our intention to submit an infected resume to HR. We backtracked and began chatting on LinkedIn with the lady who posted the job opportunity. We told her that the form wasn’t loading for us but that we were interested in applying for the job. Then she asked us if we could email our resume to her directly, and of course we happily obliged.

“Our resume contained a strand of RADON 2.0. RADON is Netragard’s zeroday malware generator, designed specifically with customer well-being and integrity in mind. … Shortly after delivering our infected resume, RADON called home and had successfully infected the desktop belonging to the nice HR lady [who] we chatted with on LinkedIn. Our team covertly took control of her computer and began focusing on privilege escalation.

“RADON was running with the privileges of the HR employee that we infected. We quickly learned that those privileges were limited and would not allow our team to move laterally through the network. To elevate privileges, we impersonated the HR employee [who] we compromised and forwarded our infected resume to an IT security manager. The manager, trusting the source of the resume, opened the resume and was infected.

“In short time, RADON running on the IT security manager’s desktop called home. It was running with the privileges of the IT security manager who also happened to have domain administrative privileges.  Our team ran procdump on his desktop to dump the memory of the LSASS process. This is important because the LSASS process contains copies of credentials that can be extracted from a dump.  The procdump command is ‘safe’ because it is a Microsoft standard program and does not trigger security alerts. However, the process of extracting passwords from the dump often does trigger alerts. To avoid this, we transferred the dump to our test lab where we could safely run mimikatz to extract the credentials.

You with me still? The good folks at Netragard then used those credentials to access all three of Acme Corp.’s domains and extract their respective password databases. They then exfiltrated those databases back to their lab and successfully cracked 93 percent of all the current and historical passwords for all employees at Acme Corp.

The total elapsed time between initial point of entry and password database exfiltration was 28 minutes. Let me repeat that: 28 minutes. That’s less than half an hour. And at that point, the company had reached what it calls “an irrevocable foothold” in Acme Corp.’s network. “With that accomplished,” its post says, “it was time to go after our main target,” the cardholder-data environment.

And this, mind you, was a company whose principals had told Netragard that they were highly confident they could withstand any attempted security breach or inadvertent lapse, and that no vendor (or hacker to their knowledge) had ever breached their corporate domain let alone their CDE.

Thank goodness Netragard was simply trying to protect them by revealing their weakness — a “nice lady” sitting in the HR department. Perhaps, on reading this post, you might want to set up some special communications with all the nice folks in your HR organization (?)

As Netragard’s post implores:

” … the differences between compliance and security are vast. In the past decade we’ve seen countless businesses suffer damaging compromises at the hands of malicious hackers. These hackers get in because they test with more talent, more tenacity and more aggression than nearly all of the penetration-testing vendors operating today. For this reason, we can’t stress enough how important it is that businesses select the right vendor and test at realistic threat levels.”

And self-promoting though it may be, I couldn’t resist including its sign-off:

“It is impossible to build effective defenses without first understanding how a real threat will align with your unique risks. At Netragard, we protect you from people like us.”

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Orchestras Out of Tune with NLRB

dv1970026Anyone who’s been watching employment law the last few years knows that the National Labor Relations Board has been steadily expanding the boundaries of union activity. One realm where this is happening is a place many probably don’t see as a workplace at all: the stage of a symphony hall.

In a pair of recent decisions, the NLRB has ruled that orchestra musicians are employees entitled to unionize even if they perform just a few times a year in concerts that last only a couple of hours. Even though they are free to take a gig or not. Even though they use their own instruments.

We’ll get to the reasoning in a minute. But first, a disclosure: I’m an amateur French horn player and in my college days made a meager living by playing with semi-professional orchestras in the San Francisco Bay Area. It wasn’t much money — a few hundred dollars for several rehearsals and a concert or two — but the gigs added up and my standard of living was low at the time. I was, for several years, a card-carrying member of the American Federation of Musicians Local No.6, AFL-CIO.

Big professional orchestras across the country — anything from the New York Philharmonic, say, to the San Antonio Symphony in Texas — hire musicians as full-time employees with contracts that provide often healthy six-figure salaries with benefits. But even many smaller orchestras, with far smaller budgets, commonly have union contracts as well — even if their musicians make peanuts.

While performing is typically a hobby for musicians in a small-city orchestra, some players can make a living by cobbling together work with many local orchestras and teaching. Plus, there’s a tradition of unionization in live music that dates back to the days before television. So it’s more complicated than you might think.

While unionization is a given in many markets, some orchestras have resisted it. But they’re not getting a sympathetic hearing from the NLRB under the current administration.

In April the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld a board ruling against the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra, based in south-central Pennsylvania. The board ruling held that the orchestra’s musicians were not independent contractors, but employees entitled to union representation. With similar reasoning, an NLRB regional director in late July ruled in favor of musicians who perform with a Boston theater company.

Those cases are aren’t alone. Along with its original ruling in the Lancaster case in 2011, for example, the NLRB issued similar findings for orchestras in Cape Cod, Mass. and Plano, Texas.

The board majority’s reasoning sheds an interesting light on the usual test of whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee. In the 2011 Lancaster ruling, the board noted that the musicians have a choice whether to perform on a given concert set or not, which weighs in favor of independent contractor status.

But that is outweighed, the board majority found, by other factors favoring employee status. The musicians have no control over their working conditions — from what they wear to how they behave on stage — and in many other respects are subject to strict control by the conductor.

In a minority opinion, dissenting then-member Mark Hayes weighed the balance differently. He argued that many factors, including the musicians’ ability to skip a concert set to take other work or for any other reason, made them independent contractors.

Another issue is hovering quietly in the background: Most small-city orchestras are barely able to make ends meet. I remember a conversation with a conductor backstage before a performance one night. All it would take for the orchestra to go bankrupt, she said, would be for the musicians to decide they wanted just a little more money.

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Getting Incivility Under Control

Does incivility take a toll on today’s workplace?

Well, if we’re to believe the findings of a recent study out of Michigan State University, the answer is yes—and maybe more than we’d like to think.

ThinkstockPhotos-579244800To capsulize, the researchers, who have published their work (titled Who Strikes Back? A Daily Investigation of When and Why Incivility Begets Incivility) in a recent issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that experiencing rude behavior reduces employees’ self-control and leads them to act in a similar uncivil manner. (In doing their study, they asked 70 employees to fill out a survey relating to incivility and its effects three times a day for 10 consecutive workdays.)

Of course, this finding is not all that surprising. As human beings, we’re easily influenced by those around us. Right? Probably the more interesting finding is the unintentional nature of so-called “incivility spirals”—i.e., when acts of incivility lead to subsequent acts of incivility.

As Russell Johnson, an associate professor of management at Michigan State University and the study’s lead author, explains …

“When employees are mentally fatigued, it is more difficult for them to keep their negative impulses and emotions in check, which leads them to be condescending and rude to colleagues. This happens even for employees who desire to be agreeable and polite; they simply lack the energy to suppress curt and impatient responses.”

That’s certainly a troubling thought, especially if you work at an organization in which incivility is clearly visible at the highest levels.

The study also found that incivility spirals occurred in workplaces that were perceived as political (i.e., where co-workers “do what is best for them, not what is best for the organization”).

Because the “intentions and motives of others are less clear” at such organizations, the researchers report, employees have a harder time understanding why they were targeted and how best to respond.

You’ve got to think, I might add, that this inevitably would take a serious toll on employee effectiveness and productivity.

In response to what they found, the researchers emphasize the need for managers to provide employees with clearer feedback on “the types of behaviors that are desired,” both informally through day-to-day interactions and formally through the performance-management process.

Certainly great advice. But is it enough to prevent incivility from spiraling out of control?

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