Bullish on Wellness

Good news out of the Society for Human Resource Management yesterday for those looking to move the needle on greater employee buy-in for wellness.

174186054According to the association’s Strategic Benefits survey, more than one-half (53 percent) of the 380 responding employers said employee participation in wellness programs climbed last year. This follows similar findings in 2013 and 2012, when 56 percent and 54 percent of the respondents, respectively, reported a jump.

What’s more, more than two-thirds of the employers that offered wellness indicated that their initiatives were either “somewhat effective” or “very effective” in reducing the costs of healthcare in 2014 (72 percent), 2013 (71 percent) and 2012 (68 percent).

The SHRM study also found two-thirds (67 percent) of organizations with such initiatives in place offered incentives or rewards aimed at increasing participation, representing an upward trend from 2013 (56 percent) and 2012 (57 percent).

Of those organizations offering wellness incentives or rewards, 85 percent said these incentives were “somewhat” or “very” effective in increasing employee participation.

The study also found the number of organizations with wellness programs was on the rise in 2014, with about three-quarters (76 percent) of the respondents saying they offered some type of wellness program to employees last year, an increase from 70 percent in 2012.

In all, these findings paint a fairly positive picture as far as wellness is concerned. But one weak link uncovered in the SHRM research, not surprisingly, continues to be on the measurement front. Few companies, SHRM reports, are actually measuring the ROI or cost-savings analyses of their efforts (18 percent and 30 percent, respectively).

Nine in 10 (90 percent) of the respondents whose organizations had wellness initiatives said their organizations would increase their investments in its wellness initiatives if they could better quantify their impact.

(Some critics would argue that, were they to measure the effectiveness of these programs, they might not be nearly so bullish.)

The SHRM research also looked at flexible-work arrangements, finding that about one-half (52 percent) of organizations provided employees with the option to use FWAs, such as teleworking. Of those offering employees such options, about one-third (31 percent) said participation in these initiatives increased last year, compared to the year before. Just 1 percent indicated employee participation had decreased.

Though one in two employers provided employees with the option to use flexible-work arrangements, the survey found only one-third (33 percent) reporting that the majority of their employees were actually allowed to use them.

Something I would think employers will need to address, sooner rather than later, considering Gen Yers (big proponents of flextime) are projected to represent the majority of the workforce in the not-too-distant future.

 

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The 15 ‘Scariest’ Issues for HR This Year

It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times: Society seems to be changing at breakneck speed as acceptance of LGBT rights, evolving immigration patterns and technological and scientific breakthroughs continue to remake society into something that alarms traditionalists while giving comfort to those who’ve historically been relegated to its margins. Yet, celebrate them or condemn them, someone has to translate these changes into workplace policies — and that someone is, of course, HR.

Our friends at online compliance firm XpertHR have just released their list of the 15 Scary Employment Issues of 2015. It’s a comprehensive list, covering everything from marijuana legalization to e-cigarettes to the growing movement for universal paid-sick-leave. And speaking of scary: Colorado, Washington and other states may have legalized the personal use of marijuana yet it remains classified as an illegal drug by the feds. Then there’s paid sick leave: XpertHR calls efforts to mandate it “one of the hottest trends in states and municipalities,” yet who must determine how it is accrued, the purposes for which it can be used and the procedures for using it? The answer is two letters. (I’ll give ya a hint: the first is “H.”)

The full list is below. (And I’ll remind you that “scary” refers to the burden of implementing processes for compliance and not to one’s personal stance on these issues.)

1. Off-duty Use of Medical and Recreational Marijuana

2. Paid Sick Leave

3. Affordable Care Act Mandate

4. Immigration

5. Protecting Company and Employee Privacy in the Digital Age

6. Safe Driving Laws

7. E-Cigarette Use in the Workplace

8. Reasonably Accommodating Pregnant Women

9. Wellness Programs Conflicting with ADA, GINA and FMLA

10. Growing Acceptance of LGBT Rights and Same-Sex Marriage

11. Workplace Bullying

12. Addressing Domestic Violence

13. Minimum Wage and Wage and Hour Laws

14. Providing Workplace Protections to Interns and Volunteers

15. Ban the Box

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Not Ready for the Real World?

college studentsBrace yourselves, HR leaders: Some recent research suggests you may have your hands full with this next wave of employees about to join the workforce.

Earlier this week, the Association of American Colleges and Universities released Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success, which finds today’s college students ill-equipped to make the transition from campus to career, at least in employers’ eyes.

The report, conducted by Hart Research Associates, summarizes findings from two national surveys: one of business and non-profit leaders, and a second poll of current college students.

In the first survey, only about one-quarter of 400 employers said that recent graduates are well-prepared in terms of critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written and oral communication, complex problem solving, innovation and creativity, and applying knowledge and skills to real-world settings. Around 30 percent said the same with regard to new grads’ ethical judgment and decision-making skills.

Not surprisingly, students disagree with this assessment, as more than 60 percent of the 613 college students surveyed rate themselves as well-prepared with respect to critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written communication, teamwork skills, information literacy, ethical judgment and decision making, and oral communication.

This report’s release comes on the heels of a Council for Aid to Education test of nearly 32,000 students, the results of which suggest that four in 10 U.S. college students graduate without the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work. For example, the 40 percent of tested students who failed to meet a standard deemed as “proficient” were “unable to distinguish the quality of evidence in building an argument or express the appropriate level of conviction in their conclusion,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

The exam, known as the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus, was administered at 169 colleges and universities throughout 2013 and 2014, in an effort to measure the “intellectual gains made between freshman and senior year,” evaluating “things like critical thinking, analytical reasoning, document literacy, writing and communication—essentially mimicking the baseline demands for professionals,” according to the Journal .

Taken together, the data from these studies paint a grim portrait of college kids’ prospects for success in the working world, at least early on in their careers.

Employers taking part in the AAC&U have some suggestions for making that picture a bit brighter.

These companies strongly endorsed putting an emphasis on applied learning, with 87 percent saying they are “somewhat more likely” or “much more likely” to hire a college graduate if he or she had completed a senior project in college. Sixty percent said all students should be expected to complete a significant applied learning project before graduation, while 96 percent said all students should have educational experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own.

These are just a few specific steps toward better preparing the workforce’s next generation for taking the leap into the workplace, of course. But, in a broader sense, one theme emerging from this research is that more employers are seeking the prized—if increasingly elusive—blend of both field-specific and more wide-ranging knowledge and skills.

“Very few [organizations] indicate that acquiring knowledge and skills mainly for a specific field or position,” the AAC&U report notes, “is the best path for long-term success.”

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Are There Desks in Paradise?

While the concept of co-working centers is certainly not a new one, incorporating elements of vacation into the mix is helping to push the idea on to some companies’ radar screens, according to today’s New York Times :

These new centers are an offshoot of co-working spaces, which offer the benefits of an office environment on a temporary basis. But they also provide a place to sleep, have fun and mingle with colleagues — not in humdrum office parks, but in exotic locations around the world, in the European countryside close to urban centers or in warm-weather destinations like Bali.

The piece quotes Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research, an independent research and consulting firm in California, who says the trend to blend co-working with living started about five years ago.

 Advances in technology that allow people to work from anywhere there is fast Internet, the round-the-clock work mentality and the move toward more people traveling and rejecting the traditional work schedule are all factors in the growth of such accommodations, he says, adding that he expects the market to grow quickly in the future.

“I would be surprised if there were more than 20 to 30 co-working/co-living spaces around the world,” he said. “But I think there’s going to be very rapid growth.”

And Liz Elam, founder of Link Coworking in Austin, Tex., and executive producer of the Global Coworking Unconference Conference, a network of co-working conferences, told the Times the “co-working in paradise” concept could be a boon for employers looking to retain its young workers:

“More young people want work-life balance,” she said. “Maybe vacations completely unconnected are not feasible anymore; maybe people won’t take traditional vacations. But they can go to work in paradise for two months.”

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Favoritism is No Friend of Diversity

469735239  -- workplace diversityI thought Martin Luther King Day might be a good time to reflect on the forces that make workplaces less diverse than they can and should be. Many are well-known and well-documented, including discriminatory hiring and promoting practices, lack of disability accommodations, insensitivity to gender-identity issues, unequal pay … the list goes on.

But as this recent piece in the Kansas City Star points out, it’s not just about tangible practices and accommodations — or lack thereof. It can be far more subtle and hard to pinpoint, writer Michelle T. Johnson says, when your diversity culprit is favoritism. As she writes:

“What does favoritism even look like? Favoritism is usually about choice. In some workplaces, the work and the people who do it don’t have much variance in how the work is done and who does it. However, in other workplaces, work decisions are made frequently — assignments, shifts, territories, days off. With most decisions come subjective judgments. Every industry and workplace is so different, yet everyone can probably relate to some area of the job that bosses influence [subjectively] at least weekly.”

Her advice to all managers and HR leaders is to always be examining “why you make the personnel decisions you do.” She continues:

“People are quick to defend their decisions, saying they base them on the best person to do the job. But over time, what conditions have you created to allow, for example, one person to inevitably do the job better than another? And if that has happened, what is the reason? Is it that the person reminds you of yourself or has similar interests, or because the person has a personality you find easier to get along with?”

Favoritism can be just that simple, she says. Some people make you spontaneously smile when they walk through the door. Others make you instinctively come up with an exit plan out of a conversation. “Know who those people are and go from there,” she says.

Granted, not all employers can be as proactive as Intel was in its recent announcement that Andrew McIlvaine blogged about earlier this month. Specifically, CEO Brian Krzanich shared in his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas his company’s plans to spend $300 million dollars over the next five years to improve the gender and racial diversity of its U.S. employee base, and of Silicon Valley at large.

Though he made the announcement, the real powerhouse behind this initiative is Intel President Renée James, as this Fortune piece suggests. Since taking over the presidency in 2013, it says, James “has pushed to review a decade’s worth of diversity data and commissioned a new hiring program that incentivized managers to hire more women and minorities.”

Whichever end of the initiative spectrum you and your organization currently find yourselves on — boldly spending and going where few have gone, like Intel, or simply taking the kind of inward look at your management and personnel choices suggested by Johnson — there’s no better time than now to start thwarting your business’ inequality and no better day to get started than this one.

 

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When It’s OK to Fake It

grin“Be authentic!” today’s leaders are urged. But what if they don’t know how? Worse yet, what if — in being authentic — they bare their soul to their direct reports in a way that causes them to lose confidence in said leader?

Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, tackles this subject in the cover story of the Jan/Feb Harvard Business Review, “The Authenticity Paradox.” Today’s leaders are under pressure to be “their true selves” as an antidote to the record-low levels of trust and engagement among employees today, she writes. However, new leaders also have a relatively short time frame in which to gain the trust and confidence of their direct reports — should they unwittingly alienate or lose the confidence of those employees within that time by failing to adapt their leadership style to the situational demands, then their goals will be that much harder to achieve.

Ibarra cites the examples of “Cynthia” and “George.” Promoted into a high-visibility role that included a 10-fold increase in the number of her direct reports, Cynthia sought to establish her role as a leader who valued transparency and collaboration by sharing with them her trepidation and need for their help.  But her candor backfired when she lost credibility with people who were looking for a strong leader. George, an executive at an auto-parts company where chain-of-command and consensus were paramount, felt conflicted when the company was acquired by a firm with a much more freewheeling culture: Urged by his supervisor to sell himself and his ideas more aggressively, George felt he was being pressured to be a “fake” by subsuming his modest nature.

Career advancement requires most of us to move beyond our comfort zones at some point, writes Ibarra. Yet, because going against our true inclinations can make us feel like impostors, “we tend to latch on to authenticity as an excuse for sticking with what’s comfortable,” she writes.

However, moments like these can help us grow into better leaders — if we take advantage of them, writes Ibarra:

The moments that most challenge our sense of self are the ones that can teach us the most about leading effectively. By viewing ourselves as works in progress and evolving our professional identities through trial and error, we can develop a personal style that feels right to us and suits our organizations’ changing needs.

Learning often begins with behaviors that may feel unnatural and fake to us, says Ibarra. But the only way to avoid being pigeonholed and to ultimately become better leaders “is to do the things that a rigidly authentic sense of self would keep us from doing.”

 

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Summer Jobs on the Decline

Leading up to his State of the Union later this month, President Obama has been giving folks a taste of some of the issues he’s likely to address.

466488753Among this sampling is a proposal he started talking about last week to make “the first two years of community college free for everybody who is willing to work for it.”

In a videotape message posted on Facebook, the president said: “It’s not just for kids. We also have to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to constantly train themselves for better jobs, better wages, better benefits.”

Few specifics were mentioned, but I would imagine the proposal is going to meet some serious opposition in today’s Republican-led Congress. Whether it succeeds or fails, though, there’s no denying a lot more work needs to be done to prepare our nation’s youth for the workplace. The issue is simply too important to overlook.

One reminder arrived in my email yesterday morning in the form of a press release from JPMorgan Chase & Co. In it, JPMC issued a report—“Building Skills Through Summer Jobs: Lessons from the Field”—that showed summer employment programs aren’t meeting the needs of young people seeking summer work, with fewer than half (46 percent) of those applying for such programs getting into them in 2014.

The report—a part of JPMC’s $250 million, five-year “New Skills at Work” initiative to address the mismatch between employer needs and the skills of job seekers—found a nearly 40 percent decline in summer youth employment over the past 12 years. One would think we could do better than that.

According to the JPMC report, the employment shortage disproportionately impacts low-income youth and young people of color. In 2013, the study found, low-income teens (with family incomes at less than $20,000) were 20 percent less likely to be employed than high-income teens (with family incomes of $60,000 or more); and the employment rate among white teens was 39 percent, roughly 27 percent among Hispanic teens and 19 percent among black teens.

The study is based on a qualitative analysis of 16 summer youth employment programs in 14 cities around the nation.

“Funding goes up and down, because it’s in the context of the local economies,” JPMC’s Head of Workforce Initiatives Chauncy Lennon told me. “But if you look at the macro picture, the slope of the funding is consistently downward.”

Lennon said there’s good employer participation, from the standpoints of both investments and partnerships, but the study suggests that more work needs to be done. Besides more slots being created, he said, greater effort needs to be made to ensure that those slots are of a higher quality and are tied to workforce needs.

The report goes on to highlight key opportunities to improve the ROI of summer youth employment programs …

Strengthen infrastructure and connections among programs: There is tremendous innovation across summer youth programs. But the cities and programs surveyed in the report identified the need for infrastructure to capture what’s being learned and to expand best practices to more cities. To strengthen quality and sustainability, summer programs need to be connected to each other and to local workforce systems … .

Deepen private sector engagement: Summer youth employment programs are looking for both resources and jobs from private sector employers. But they are also looking for deeper engagement that can improve the quality of these experiences for young people … .

Bring a skills focus to summer youth employment: Adding a focus on skills that are currently in demand by employers to summer jobs programs can better prepare young people to compete in the workforce … .

If you want to learn more about these programs, check the JPMC report out.  Among other things, it features a number of innovative programs currently under way.

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Bigger Raises on the Way?

465463337The numbers have been awfully similar, and awfully stagnant, for some time now.

Employees in the U.S.—those lucky enough to get a raise—have been receiving, on average, something in the neighborhood of a 3 percent bump in pay each year. And there have been no shortage of experts forecasting comparable increases in the months ahead.

Still, there’s reason to be optimistic that things will start looking up in 2015, according to New York Times senior economics correspondent Neil Irwin. In an online piece appearing this week, Irwin asks whether pay raises will become more commonplace this year, and sees at least three recent signs that may point to “yes.” Specifically:

  • The number of available jobs in the U.S. rose to 4.97 million in November—the highest that figure has been since 2001—as seen in the Labor Department’s latest monthly job openings report.
  • The recently-released National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Survey finds overall optimism among small businesses at its highest point since 2006, with the proportion of small businesses planning to increase compensation in the next three months 17 percent higher than those that planned decreases.
  • Hartford, Conn.-based health insurer Aetna has announced that, beginning in April, it would set a minimum hourly pay rate of $16 for its workers, which Irwin described as “the most interesting piece of evidence for rising wage pressure.” This increase equates to a roughly 11 percent jump in pay for 5,700 claims administrators and various low-level workers at Aetna.

The company is “counting on the raise to make it easier to retain good employees and recruit for vacant positions,” says Irwin, who posits that continuing job growth could find organizations that fail to raise wages “at a competitive disadvantage, losing their best workers to companies like Aetna that try to get ahead of the curve a bit with pre-emptive raises.”

Whether that scenario plays out remains to be seen, of course. Irwin acknowledges as much, allowing for the possibility of the job growth rate flattening as the U.S. inches closer to full employment, and/or the millions of people no longer in the workforce re-entering in large numbers and subsequently holding down wages.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned developments present “a coherent, consistent story,” says Irwin, with employers looking to fill more openings, small businesses expecting to raise pay and “one giant employer … doing exactly that.”

“Add it up,” he says, “and Aetna workers may not be the only ones seeing raises this year.”

Indeed. Aetna employees will certainly not be the only ones receiving raises in 2015. But it will be interesting to see if more large organizations follow Aetna’s lead and begin to break the 3-percent threshold that’s been the norm for so long.

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Supremes Look at EEOC’s Role in Conciliation

Today the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in Mach Mining v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — a key employment case that addresses whether a court may enforce the EEOC’s duty to conciliate discrimination claims before filing suit, legal experts say.

In the Mach Mining case, the EEOC alleged that Mach Mining had discriminated against a class of female job applicants at its mine near Johnston City, Ill. The EEOC notified the company of its intention to begin informal conciliation, and while the parties discussed possible resolution, they did not reach an agreement.

In the federal case, Mach Mining argued that the suit should be dismissed because the EEOC failed to conciliate in good faith. Then, in 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that an alleged failure to conciliate is not an affirmative defense to the merits of an employment-discrimination suit brought by the EEOC.

Gerald Maatman Jr., co-chair of the class action defense group of Seyfarth Shaw, says the Mach Mining case has significant implications for employers that are dealing with the EEOC.

“If the Supreme Court sides with the Seventh Circuit, employers will lose a powerful defense against the EEOC’s aggressive litigation tactics,” he wrote recently in Seyfarth’s Workplace Class Action Blog.

Maatman also says the Seventh Circuit’s decision had “far-reaching, real world significance to the employment community, for it means the EEOC is virtually immune from review in terms of the settlement positions it takes… prior to suing employers.”

In the amicus brief in support of Mach Mining on behalf of the American Insurance Association, Mr. Maatman and Seyfarth Shaw argue that insurers and employers facing EEOC litigation require detailed information in order to accurately set reserves and ensure that any settlement not only promptly and fairly compensates meritorious claims, but also satisfies the interests of insurance regulators.

Their brief contends that the Seventh Circuit’s ruling is “wrong as a matter of policy, since it is fundamental to the litigation process for a party to have fulsome information relative to the claims at issue. The Congressionally-mandated conciliation process was intended to provide that core knowledge;

“This is particularly important in EEOC-initiated litigation, where one of the government’s fundamental mandates is to achieve voluntary and informal compliance with anti-discrimination laws.”

And some of the reasoning behind the Seventh Circuit’s decision, as well as similar reasoning in the briefing the EEOC recently submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court—i.e., that it is essentially “too difficult” to articulate a workable standard for determining whether the EEOC met its good-faith conciliation requirement—defies practical experience, adds Steven Pearlman, partner and member of Proskauer’s employment litigation & arbitration group.

Moreover,  says Pearlman, if no limiting principle is imposed in this context, “the EEOC will be empowered to employ an unreasonable ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ approach to pre-suit settlement negotiations. In fact, courts recently have chided and even sanctioned the EEOC for engaging in such tactics.”

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Marijuana Acceptance Marches On

It’s still highly unlikely that any employer will ever have to allow an employee to work while he or she is stoned, whether there’s a safety 146967521 - smoking dopeor security risk or not, but the chips seem to keep falling away from those sturdy walls that made marijuana unacceptable, illegal and disallowed for years.

The latest indication that pot is going mainstream comes in this Illinois Appellate Court ruling (found on the Canna Law Blog site) affirming a Circuit Court’s ruling that just because a worker was fired for violating his employer’s drug-and-alcohol-free workplace policy doesn’t mean he can’t collect unemployment benefits.

Seems this maintenance worker for the Jefferson County Housing Authority fessed up to his employer — just before a random mandatory drug screening — that he might not pass because he had smoked pot several weeks earlier while on vacation. He was fired, even though his tests results were negative, and was turned down for unemployment benefits because of the nature of his termination.

The Housing Authority’s policy prohibits employees from being under the influence of any controlled substance “while in the course of employment.” Both the Circuit Court and Appellate Court agreed “course of employment” was interpreted too broadly by the Illinois Department of Employment Security to include off-duty hours.

“Among the reasons the Circuit Court found the agency’s interpretation unreasonable,” the blog states, “was the fact that marijuana is now legal in some states and the fact that it unreasonably restricted off-duty time while serving no legitimate public purpose.”

Yes, indeed, marijuana is absolutely now legal in some states, as this news analysis and this blog post by me indicate. But it’s more than going legal, as I also indicate. It’s becoming big business. Make that a huge industry.

Just this month, news releases came across my screen announcing a Cannabis Career Institute opening in San Diego as well as three others in Florida, Illinois and Nevada, all designed, as the releases state, to teach “ganjapreneurs how to succeed in the marijuana industry as the green rush continues.”

Attorneys and experts I’ve talked to assure me employers will always have the legal right — and responsibility — to keep their workplaces safe and drug-free. I just wonder how all this nudging from the “cannabusiness” community and the courts is going to impact how those employers sleep at night.

 

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