Retaliation for ‘Playing by the Rules’

There’s a troubling new HR-centric theme spinning out of the Wells Fargo illicit-accounts mess, according to today’s New York Times: A group of aggrieved Wells Fargo workers who say they faced retaliation in some form from their employer — by being either fired or demoted — for staying honest and falling short of sales goals they say were unrealistic.

These workers who claim that they played by the rules and were punished for it, the NYT reports, are starting to coalesce around two lawsuits that were just filed and that seek class-action status:

The first was filed in Los Angeles last week by former Wells Fargo workers who say that while their colleagues created unauthorized accounts to meet cross-selling quotas, they were penalized or terminated for refusing to do the same. The bank’s chief executive, John Stumpf, has often stated his goal that each Wells customer should have at least eight accounts with the company. That aggressive target has made the bank’s stock a darling on Wall Street, the lawsuit notes.

The story notes that a federal lawsuit with analogous claims was filed on Monday in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, seeking to create a class of current and former Wells employees across the country who had similar experiences.

“These are the people who have been left holding the bag,” said Jonathan Delshad, the lawyer representing the workers in both suits. “It was a revolving door. If you weren’t willing to engage in these types of illegal practices, they just booted you out the door and replaced you.”

One of those people, Yesenia Guitron, told the paper that she did everything the company had taught employees to do to report such misconduct internally. She told her manager about her concerns. She called Wells Fargo’s ethics hotline. When those steps yielded no results, she went up the chain, contacting a human resources representative and the bank’s regional manager:

In a statement on Monday, Wells Fargo said: “We disagree with the allegations in the complaint and will vigorously defend against the misrepresentations it contains about Wells Fargo and all of the Wells Fargo team members whose careers have been built on doing the right thing by our customers every day.”

No matter the ultimate resolution to this dark chapter of the venerable bank’s history, this latest twist to the story should serve as a reminder to HR leaders to ensure that the processes they have put in place to catch illicit activity in the workplace are actually doing their jobs.

 

 

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Tattoos at Work Can Be Positive?

Tattoos in the workplace — certainly not a new phenomenon. Almost a decade ago, HRE was airing the pros and cons of allowing this type 184877376-tattooof self-expression at work, and what employers could and couldn’t control, according to this story by then-Staff-Writer-now-Web-Editor Michael J. O’Brien.

The predictions then were spot on: As one expert — David Barron, a labor and employment attorney — said in that story: “Tattoos are clearly on the rise … I think there’s going to be increasing pressure from younger folks, as they move up into management [to change or relax body art regulations at work]. I’ve already seen the perception [of tattoos] change. Views have become more liberal.”

The cautions then also hold true today. Whatever dress-code restrictions you decide to assign to your employees regarding tattoos (and even piercings and any other outlying dress expressions), you’d better be applying to all employees or you could find yourself in a heap of legal trouble.

Seven years after that story ran, we featured this, proof positive that tattoos were becoming more commonplace and accepted. Here, two featured companies are actually encouraging their employees to tattoo their company logos on limbs or head locations of choice. In that piece, written a couple years ago, both companies claim that, aside from helping them literally stamp an identity and broadcast a brand, the corporate logo helps improve worker pride, loyalty, commitment and camaraderie.

Now, speed dial to this, a piece that ran on the Phys.Org site just 10 days ago, and you’ll have to agree the tattoo trend just got new wings (dare I say inked over the old?). That story — based on a study out of the University of St. Andrews — proclaims that tattoos can actually help job candidates land certain positions and can help certain employers look really cool to the types of employees they’re trying to attract.

Like bartenders — the hypothetical position researcher Dr. Andrew Timming used in his study of hiring managers, who weighed in more heavily in favor of the tattooed bartender-wanna-be than the non-tattooed one. According to Timming, they believed having a bartender with a tattoo would attract younger customers who thought body art was trendy. As he puts it:

“Visibly tattooed job applicants can present as attractive candidates in the labor market because they can help to positively convey an organization’s image or brand, particularly in firms that seek to target a younger, edgier demographic of customer. Tattoos, especially in pop-culture industries such as fashion retail, are an effective marketing and branding tool.”

So we’re not even talking negatives anymore — as in, the things you need to know and be wary of in the case of body art in the workplace. We’re talking positives.

Now mind you, this study does hail from St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland, where attire in general can be very different from the United States, and where dress codes might already be more relaxed. (Why is there an image of the movie Braveheart coming to mind, pitting the well-coifed Brits against Mel Gibson’s rebellious and revolutionary William Wallace, and his cohort of skirt-clad warriors? I have no clue really. Please forgive me, I digress.)

Back to reality, Timming’s reality anyway, and I might have to agree with him that “there has been, in recent decades, what might be called a ‘tattoo renaissance’ in which body art has figured more positively in mainstream society and popular culture.”

And work.

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Culture Change: Chicken or Egg?

Which comes first, culture change or increased profits?

I touched on this chicken-and-egg issue in our October 16 cover story, “Culture-Change Agents.” The article looks at how Microsoft CHRO Kathleen Hogan and her team have been working to develop a “growth mind-set” among 118,000 workers at the tech giant.

Some experts argue the best way to get the culture you want is to rack up some business successes first. Bob Herbold, a business consultant and former Microsoft COO, says it’s no different than getting a football team on a winning streak. First you need to win, and then use employee excitement to create a virtuous cycle.

“The primary ingredient for changing the culture is winning,” he told me. The key, he says, is to get employees “to realize that we’re having fun, I have stake in this, I feel part of it.”

It’s a lot tougher to create success by first changing the culture, he says. “To try to create an ‘up’ culture in a ‘down’ business is almost impossible.”

But there is some evidence that culture change can improve the bottom line, says Felix Meschke, an associate professor of finance at the University of Kansas School of Business.

Research by Meschke and several of his colleagues in Lawrence, along with others, “suggests that a positive work environment is associated with higher firm performance,” he told me in an email interview over the summer as I was working on the Microsoft story.

Meschke worked with Minjie Huang , Pingshu Li  and James P. Guthrie on a study published last year in the Journal of Corporate Finance. It found that in family-owned companies, at least, having a “human-capital-enhancing culture improves firm performance.”

Meschke says that study looked at a large number of companies and controlled for many variables. “Based on large-scale statistical analysis,” he told me, “I am quite confident that, in general, corporate culture can be an asset for companies that benefits shareholders and other stakeholders.”

But he notes that isn’t the same as saying a specific HR initiative at a specific company, like Microsoft, improves profits. Measuring the effect of a such an effort requires something that’s impossible: a “control” that researchers can use for comparison — a company that is identical in every way except lacking the culture change.

“In a nutshell,” Meschke wrote, “Is it plausible that the HR approach improves performance? Yes, it is. Is there a way to attribute its impact on MSFT’s performance through quantitative analysis? No.”

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War for Talent Hits Retail

Although seasonal hiring for the retail industry is expected to be mostly flat compared to last year, finding employees to fill positions for the holiday season is expected to be tougher this year, given changes in the economy and in the retail sector itself. Macys, Target and Toys R Us have announced they’ll hold their first-ever nationwide recruiting events for seasonal workers at all of their stores and facilities during a single day or over several weekends, CNBC reports.

The lower unemployment rate and higher minimum wages in many states and localities means that finding workers to fill seasonal retail positions this year will be more difficult and expensive for retailers than last year — average hourly pay for seasonal workers is up by $4 from last year, to $14 per hour, according to Snagajob. But the growth of e-commerce means that they’ll be struggling to fill warehouse positions at fulfillment centers as well as cashiers and the like — and those jobs can be tougher to fill.

Retailers encountered difficulty filling warehouse jobs in areas such as central Ohio, Memphis, Tenn. and Louisville, Ky., Steve Osborn, a director at the Kurt Salmon consulting firm and supply chain expert, told CNBC.  “The same group of [retailers] that were fighting over people last year will be fighting over people this year. And there’s a few less people to fight over and a few more positions to fill,” he said.

Unlike most customer-facing positions, warehouse jobs tend to be more labor-intensive, which can make them less appealing, Osborn said. Plus, the facilities tend to be located in rural areas, where land is cheap but people are few, he said.

Some companies are responding to the challenge by opening “micro hubs” closer to large urban areas. “This not only helps them get goods to customers faster, but it solves some staffing issues pressing on them,” Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger told Multichannel Merchant. “They can find more people willing to do that work in city neighborhoods, who don’t want to do an hour commute to the exurbs or have transportation issues.”

Other companies are adding perks such as on-site child care to their facility, offering eight-hour days with no work requirement on the weekends, and removing their English language requirement to attract more Hispanic workers. “We have bilingual staff and our temp agencies support us with bilingual supervisors and coaches,” Christine Miller, director of operations for American Eagle Outfitters in Hazleton, Pa., told Multichannel Merchant.

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The Toll of Talking Politics

It’s fair to say that this very unique presidential race has engendered plenty of, let’s say, spirited conversation.

Even if you abstain from political chatter at the office, you’ve probably heard at least one co-worker offering an in-depth analysis of the candidates and the issues shaping the 2016 election season.

And, as we enter the homestretch, employees are growing weary of such talk, and months of discussing politics—and hearing others discuss politics—is starting to take a toll on the workforce.

So says new research from the Washington-based American Psychological Association. The organization’s Politics in the Workplace: 2016 Election Season survey recently polled 927 employed American adults, and finds workers feeling stressed (17 percent), more cynical and negative on the job (15 percent) and less productive (13 percent) in the midst of political chit-chat.

Overall, 27 percent of workers reported at least one negative outcome stemming from political banter. Younger employees (age 18 to 34) are feeling the most ruffled, with more than one in four saying they’ve experienced added stress due to political talk in the workplace. In addition, more than twice as many men said election-related conversations are making it more difficult for them to get work done.

The especially vitriolic tone of this year’s race isn’t helping, either. Overall, 47 percent of employees said individuals are more likely to talk politics in the workplace this election season than in the past. On the bright side, though, a majority of respondents (60 percent) said co-workers are generally respectful toward those with differing political views.

That said, more than a quarter (26 percent) have seen or heard colleagues arguing over politics, with 11 percent of employees admitting they’ve entered the fray themselves at some point. Twenty percent of respondents, meanwhile, say they’ve taken to avoiding certain co-workers because of their political views.

“The workplace brings people together from different backgrounds who might not ordinarily interact with each other,” says David W. Ballard, director of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, in a statement.

“When you add politics to the mix—a deeply personal and emotional topic for many—there is potential for tension, conflict and problems for both employees and the organization.”

Indeed. And there might not be much that our major political parties agree on at the moment, but employees from both sides of the aisle seem to acknowledge that election fatigue has set in.

“Regardless of political identification, the heated discussions and divisive rhetoric this election season have the potential to take a toll on people’s well-being and even affect their job performance,” says Ballard.

“While employers may not be able to limit political discussions in the workplace, they can take steps to ensure those conversations take place in a civil, respectful environment. A psychologically healthy workplace is particularly critical during challenging and polarizing times, and these survey results highlight the fact that, despite conventional wisdom, people are often more alike than they are different.”

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Successful C-Suite Psychopaths

Higher-than-expected levels of psychopathic traits exist among people found in the upper echelons of the corporate business sector, and companies should undertake psychological screening to help identify ‘successful psychopaths.’

That’s according to new research presented at the Australian Psychological Society’s Congress, which was recently held in Melbourne.

Forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks says emerging studies show that, while one in 100 people in the general community and one in five people in the prison system are considered psychopathic, these traits are common in the upper echelons of the corporate world, with a prevalence of between 3 percent and 21 percent.

Brooks says the term “successful psychopath,” which describes high-flyers with psychopathic traits such as insincerity, a lack of empathy or remorse, egocentric, charming and superficial, has emerged in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, prompting a range of new studies.

To arrive at their conclusions, Brooks and colleagues first examined psychopathic traits in the business sector. One study of 261 corporate professionals in the supply chain management industry showed extremely high prevalence rates of psychopathy, with 21 percent of participants found to have clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits — a figure comparable to prison populations.

The current issue of HRE also features a story by Julie Cook Ramirez about how HR can weed out psychopaths in the workplace:

What sets a psychopathic leader apart is the way in which he or she manages or interact with people, says William Spangler, associate professor of management and organizational behavior at the School of Management, State University of New York at Binghamton.

“Psychopathic leaders are toxic individuals who manage subordinates [with] a combination of fear, threats, punishment and public humiliation,” says Spangler. “They present a positive persona to their superiors and are often promoted for what is perceived to be their effectiveness, but they can [cause] great harm to the organization by destroying relationships, damaging work units and putting the entire company at risk for legal action.”

Ramirez also quotes A.J. Marsden, assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla. who says that, by hiring a person who demonstrates these types of tendencies, “you are putting your other employees at risk for bullying and other abuse.”

“The organization may end up losing many good employees [and] facing harassment suits against the psychopath,” says Marsden. “At higher levels of employment, psychopaths may engage in unethical and illegal behaviors, such as embezzlement, just to look successful.”

 

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Ratedly Review-Tracking App Rates

I guess my biggest surprise after speaking recently with Joel Cheesman — creator of the new Ratedly anonymous employee-review monitoring service for employers that launched in May — is that competitors don’t seem to be furiously chasing or even nipping at his heels since the launch.

Joel Cheeseman and his Ratedly app.

Joel Cheesman and his Ratedly app.

Equally surprising is Cheesman isn’t that concerned about competition or heel-nipping at all. He’s doing just fine with the 10 primary review sites he spiders to — including Glassdoor and Indeed — and Ratedly’s slow-but-steady clientele growth.

But the app — which he was good enough to demo for me — is so simple and straightforward, and the most logical next step for helping employers through the employee-review revolution, you’d think other vendors would be clamoring to partner with him or give him a run for his money. If either of those things happens, he tells me, “we’ll welcome it.”

Bottom line, he adds, “we want to be the best at what we do, so we’re not against people looking into what we’re doing and trying to take us on.”

At the same time, says Cheesman, without giving away too many numerical specifics, “there’s no pressure to make a ton of money real fast here. We’re building customers at a rate that I’m comfortable with. It’s all going well, and self-funded, and I’m going to keep it that way.”

It didn’t take long for Cheesman, a 20-year veteran of the recruiting and employment industry, to walk me through his brainstorm several days ago. It’s really that basic. Resembling a Twitter feed, if you will, Ratedly is, in essence, a mobile-enabled real-time index for iPhones, iPads and iPods that constantly checks for subscribers’ company pages and or company mentions on anonymous employee-review sites.

“Employers waste so much time these days hitting the refresh button to track reviews about them online,” he says. “We saw a real need out there to take that task off the plate of HR professionals across every industry category. No one is immune to anonymous reviews.” He adds:

“The days of putting your head in the sand are over. Companies NEED to know what’s being said out there. If you have someone flaming your company and you don’t know about it, you’re at a real disadvantage. People you’re interviewing are going to these sites. That’s your brand … not what you’re spending on your website. If the community at large says you ‘suck,’ all that [other] branding stuff [you’re doing and paying for] doesn’t do any good or make any sense at all.” 

Anyone who signs up for the $150-a-month service gets automatic access to the data Ratedly’s bot scrapes every day from the 10 main review sites in its arsenal. Clients can also ask that custom feeds be added if their company happens to be showing up regularly on an additional site as well. They can bookmark whatever comments they choose and/or share them with whomever they want.

They also get push notifications whenever their company is mentioned so they can get on with the work they’re supposed to be doing, as opposed to constantly watching and waiting for what employees and job candidates think of them. Or worrying about missing another anonymous review. In addition, Ratedly will warn them if their reputation appears to be trending up or down on any given week.

Next on Cheesman’s to-do list is enhancing the analytics and metrics with word-search capabilities, being able to tie an organization’s trending reputation to stock fluctuations and company news, and getting more consultancies and agencies involved with the product.

“A lot of agencies are being sought right now to help employers with their reputations and employer brands,” Cheesman says, “so working more with and in that space will be our next big thing. That will be huge.”

He also plans to work harder with clients’ CEOs and other top leaders such as CHROs to get them more personally and regularly involved with social media, especially as it pertains to employee-review sites. In his eyes, this will speak volumes to younger workers and job candidates. Think about it, he says:

“You’re a CEO. You go out and find a positive comment posted by one of your younger employees on Glassdoor. Instead of moving on, you take the time to post [to Twitter, Facebook, etc.] something like, ‘Hey, another happy employee!’ with a link to Glassdoor. That shows that young person [and all his or her friends] that you’re a CEO who’s on top of social media and took the time to notice someone’s post; that looks really, really good in the public eye.”

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What Drives Retention Rates?

Around the world, pay matters most to workers. But other factors that keep them loyal vary quite a lot, a new study finds. And they’re changing as the nature of work evolves.

The results are part of the 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey by Willis Towers Watson. Every other year the company surveys workers around the globe to see what rewards and conditions keep them happy or attract them to new jobs.

This year’s survey, conducted in April and May, included 31,000 employees in 29 markets. In studying retention factors, the London-based consulting firm ranked eight countries, including the United States. (See the full results at the bottom of this post.)

Pay was the top priority in each, says Laura Sejen, managing director for talent and rewards at Willis Towers Watson.  After that, the No. 2 retention driver in most countries, including the U.S., was career advancement opportunities.

For multinational companies, those two factors are fundamental to attracting and retaining workers, Sejen says. Workers want clear expectations not only for their current job, but also for what they need to move up.

For a global employer, “If I could only do two things right, I would focus on those,” Sejen says.

Career advancement opportunities wasn’t the No. 2 retention driver everywhere, however. In China it was the physical work environment. In Brazil it was the length of the commute. In India it was job security.

Sejen notes that work environment has been moving up in the list of priorities globally. She thinks longer hours and a trend toward open offices and shared workspaces may have increased employee awareness of the physical environment as a factor in their job satisfaction.

“That, I think, is just a reflection of how the work environment has changed,” Sejen says. “It’s important. We spend a lot of time at work.”

Among the eight countries studied, job security was No. 2 only in India. But it’s slowly rising in importance around the world, Sejen says.

How workers define job security varies, however. Few workers expect a job for life. But many worry about losing financial security, and others worry about their jobs changing.

Sometimes mundane local conditions like traffic congestion influence the rankings. It makes sense that commute times would be important in Brazil, because cities there tend to be dense, sprawling and challenging to navigate, Sejen notes. “If you’ve ever been to Sao Paulo, you can appreciate that.”

Retention drivers Globally Brazil Canada China Germany India Mexico U.K. U.S.
Base pay/salary 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Career advancement opportunities 2 3 2 3 2 3 2 2 2
Physical work environment 3 4 2 5 3
Job security 4 7 3 3 2 6 3 3
Work-related stress 5 6 4 5 6 7
Trust in senior leadership 6 5 4 4
Relationship with supervisor 7 5 7 7 6 7
Length of commute 2 4 4 4 5 6
Retirement benefits 6 6 4 5
Flexible work environments 5
Challenging work 6
Opportunity to learn new skills 7 7 7 5
Source: 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey by Willis Towers Watson
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Steady Rise in Workers’ Drug Use

173779091--cannabisThe percentage of workers in the United States testing positive for illicit drug use has reached a 10-year high, according to Quest Diagnostics’ latest Drug Testing Index, released today at the Substance Abuse Program Administrators Association annual conference in Louisville, Ky.

“Our nationally representative analysis clearly shows that drug use by the American workforce is on the rise, and this trend extends to several different classes of drugs and categories of drug tests,” says Barry Sample, Quest Diagnostics’ senior director of its employer solutions unit. “The 2015 findings related to post-accident testing results should also be of concern to employers, especially those with safety-sensitive employees.”

The Drug Testing Index examines illicit drug use based on an analysis of de-identified results of nearly 11 million workforce drug tests, including 9.5 million urine, 900,000 oral fluid and 200,000 hair laboratory-based tests performed by Quest Diagnostics last year. The analysis shows that the positivity rate for the urine drug tests increased to 4 percent in 2015, compared to 3.9 percent the previous year and up by 14 percent over the 10-year low of 3.5 percent in 2010 and 2011. The last year that the positivity rate for urine drug tests in the combined U.S. workforce matched or exceeded 4 percent was in 2005, when it was 4.1 percent, said Quest.

Post-accident drug testing of workers also yielded more positive results last year, up by 6.2 percent compared to 2014 (6.9 percent versus 6.5 percent). The 2015 number represents a 30-percent increase since 2011, when it was 5.3 percent.

The urine-test positivity rates for heroin, amphetamines and marijuana have increased steadily among U.S. workers since 2011, with amphetamine positivity up by 44 percent, marijuana positivity up by 26 percent and heroin positivity (as indicated by the presence of the 6-acetylmorphine marker) up by 146 percent, according to Quest Diagnostics. Nearly half of U.S. workers who test positive for any drug substance in 2015 showed evidence of marijuana use, the company reports.

The silver lining in the report is that the oxycodone positivity rate has declined for each year since 2011, confirming that opioid prescriptions have declined in 49 states since 2012.

“This report shows a welcome decline in workplace drug test positives for certain prescription opiates but a disturbing increase in heroin positives,” says Dr. Robert DuPont, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “This rise in heroin should concern both policymakers and employers. Substance abuse is a safety risk for everyone.”

Although some may be tempted to point a blaming finger at states like Colorado and Washington, which were among the first to legalize the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana, positivity rates among workers in those two states did not grow from 2014, Sample told the Wall Street Journal.

“We’ve heard concerns from employers [in those states] about the difficulty in finding and hiring workers that will pass the drug test primarily because of marijuana positives, but when we look at our macro picture, our data doesn’t necessarily bear that out,” he said.

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Don’t Forget About Boomers

It’s easy to get caught up in how to attract and retain the millennials and members of Generation Z who will comprise the overwhelming majority of the workforce before too long.

Then there are the Gen Xers to consider—so crucial to your success today, as they settle into vital management roles within the organization.

But what about baby boomers?

We all know that boomers are hitting retirement age, but many are staying on the job. Much has been made of how companies will replace the knowledge and experience that boomers will take with them when they do leave the workforce, but a new survey from the Futurestep division of Korn Ferry looks at what this generation is bringing to the business now, and what motivates these employees most.

The poll asked more than 1,300 global executives to evaluate the role of baby boomers in their organizations. More than half (55 percent) of respondents said that boomers were willing to work longer hours than other generations, and were considered the second-most productive cohort, after Generation X.

Naturally, these seasoned employees require little hand-holding on the job, with 31 percent of executives saying boomers need less feedback than their younger colleagues, “demonstrating how boomers are also seen as reliable, in addition to hardworking,” according to a Korn Ferry Futurestep statement.

How do these dedicated workers find fulfillment on the job? Fifty-four percent of executives said that offering boomers the opportunity to make an impact on the business was the best way to retain boomer talent.

“This far outstrips the ambition of other generations, with just over a quarter (28 percent) of executives surveyed indicating that making an impact at work was the key motivator for millennials,” according to Korn Ferry Futurestep, “highlighting just how integral baby boomers are to businesses today.”

Most companies recognize as much, of course, and are eager to take advantage of boomers’ wealth of knowledge, with 50 percent considering “experience and expertise” as the main reason for bringing them into the business.

Once boomers are on board, how do you retain them?

It’s not necessarily money. Just 6 percent of respondents cited regular pay raises and promotions as the best way to retain boomers in their organizations. No, as previously noted, 54 percent of respondents said boomers most value the opportunity to make an impact, followed by “creating a culture that aligns with their values,” at 22 percent, management responsibilities (10 percent) and work/life balance (8 percent).

“While many in the baby boomer generation are working longer to provide more financial security after seeing their retirement account balances tumble during the Great Recession, their desire to extend their careers is not entirely financially motivated,” says Jeanne MacDonald, president of global talent acquisition solutions at Korn Ferry Futurestep.

“What is often overlooked is the fact that the majority of the people in this generation are highly motivated, enjoy what they do, and they provide great experience and value within the global workforce.”

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