GOP Platform: An HR Cheat Sheet

ThinkstockPhotos-504283950The Republican Party platform approved on Monday hasn’t exactly drawn much attention, what with all the other interesting things happening at the GOP convention in Cleveland. But a look at HR-related provisions in the document gives us a window into how the party is evolving.

Some provisions are largely the same as in the party’s 2012 document. Both platforms, for example, call for portability in health plans and pensions.

But others have changed. Some reflect changing economic conditions. Others reflect changing politics — in particular, the rise of nominee Donald Trump, whose positions don’t always align with the party’s traditional views.

Here’s a quick rundown of policy positions of interest to HR leaders.

International trade: The 2016 platform repeats a 2012 pledge to pursue “a worldwide multilateral agreement among nations committed to the principles of open markets.”

“We need better negotiated trade agreements that put America first. When trade agreements have been carefully negotiated with friendly democracies, they have resulted in millions of new jobs here at home supported by our exports. “

Trans-Pacific Partnership: Reflecting nominee Donald Trump’s opposition, however, the platform does not explicitly mention the proposed trade deal, which the party supported in 2012. It only hints at a go-slow approach.

“[The] American people demand transparency, full disclosure, protection of our national sovereignty, and tough negotiation on the part of those who are supposed to advance the interests of U.S. workers. Significant trade agreements should not be rushed or undertaken in a Lame Duck Congress. “

Workforce development:  With unemployment rates down from four years ago, the 2016 platform drops a proposal backed by 2012 nominee Mitt Romney to replace dozens of retraining programs with state block grants. It does keep language suggesting a greater role for private worker training, however.

“We need new systems of learning to compete with traditional four-year schools: Technical institutions, online universities, life-long learning, and work-based learning in the private sector … a four-year degree from a brick-and-mortar institution is not the only path toward a prosperous and fulfilling career. “

Regulatory activism: The 2016 platform adds language criticizing the Obama administration’s activist approach to labor issues on the regulatory front.

“They are wielding provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act from the 1930s, designed to fit a manufacturing workplace, to deny flexibility to both employers and employees.”

Targeting NLRB: In particular, the 2016 platform steps up criticism of the National Labor Relations Board. Among policies targeted is the board’s support  of project labor agreements, which guarantee union wages. The platform also calls for repealing the Davis-Bacon Act, which has a similar effect on federal projects.

“Their patronizing and controlling approach leaves workers in a form of peonage to the NLRB. We intend to restore fairness and common sense to that agency. “

Labor unions: This year’s platform reiterates language from 2012 that supports laws allowing workers to opt out of union membership or dues requirements, even if they are covered by a collective-bargaining agreement.

“We support the right of states to enact Right-to-Work laws and call for a national law to protect the economic liberty of the modern workforce.”

Minimum wage: Reflecting new potency of the issue, the 2016 platform add language — albeit briefly — opposing any change in the federal minimum wage.

“Minimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level.”

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Job Satisfaction Hits New High

According to the Conference Board’s latest job satisfaction survey, the rate of job satisfaction among U.S. workers is at the highest level it’s been since 2005, with nearly half (49.6 percent) of workers reporting that they’re satisfied with their jobs. The Conference Board notes that job-satisfaction rates have increased steadily since 2010.

Of course, this also means that half of U.S. workers are not satisfied with their jobs. The latest number is also a far cry from the highs hit in 1987 and 1995, when the Conference Board’s survey found that 60 percent of American workers were satisfied with their jobs.

The strengthening economy is a big factor in the higher job-satisfaction rates in the latest report, says the Conference Board’s Michelle Kan, who co-authored the report. “The rapidly declining unemployment rate, combined with increased hiring, job openings and quits, signals a seller’s market, where the employer demand for workers is greater than the available supply.”

In other words, employees today have more options than they’ve had in some time, and they know it — and HR needs to pay attention to their needs. Indeed, while the Conference Board report finds that workers are most satisfied with their colleagues (59 percent), interest in their work (59 percent) and their supervisors (57 percent), they’re much less satisfied with their organizations’ pay and promotion policies. In fact, the five job components with the lowest satisfaction are promotion policies (24 percent), bonus plans (24 percent), the performance review process (29 percent), educational/job training programs (30 percent) and recognition/acknowledgement (31.5 percent).

Gad Levanon, the Conference Board’s chief economist for North America, tells the Wall Street Journal that the high satisfaction rates of 1987 and 1995 are unlikely to be repeated soon.

“It was a whole different world in terms of employee-employer relationships,” he said. “There was much more loyalty. People looked to their employer for more than a job, in many cases.”

Nevertheless, said Levanon, a satisfaction rate of 55 percent may be achievable.

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Are You Giving Job Seekers What They Want?

The gender gap. The generation gap. The wage gap. The skills gap …

Disparities abound in the workplace, unfortunately. And, according to Randstad U.S., we can go ahead and add “attributes gap” to the lengthy list.

The HR services provider’s recent survey of more than 200,000 respondents—designed to measure “the market perception of employers with the largest workforces” in 25 countries, according to Randstad—found salary and employee benefits, long-term job security and a pleasant working atmosphere to be the top three employer characteristics that job seekers value most.

These same attributes, however, scored fifth, sixth and eighth, respectively, on the list of attributes that would-be employees feel companies actually offer.

The same poll finds employers excelling in other ways, of course. The problem is that job seekers don’t seem to care that much about the things that organizations are good at delivering.

For example, the attributes that job seekers feel U.S. employers score highest on—financial health, strong management and quality training, in that order—rank fifth, ninth and seventh on jobseekers’ list of most-desired employee attributes.

“These findings reveal an ‘attributes gap’ between what U.S. job seekers want and what they perceive potential employers to be best at providing,” says Jim Link, chief human resource officer at Randstad North America, in a statement.

“What this should signify to employers is a growing disconnect that can be detrimental from an employee engagement, retention and, ultimately, cost perspective.”

Naturally, Randstad offers employers and HR executives suggestions on bridging this gap, such as “evaluat[ing] where you stand versus companies with which you compete for talent and determin[ing] the best steps to take to improve upon performance and/or perception.”

In addition, the firm recommends developing a three-year plan to “anticipate the future needs of your employees and what employer attributes talent will view as most important,” advising HR leaders to “arm yourself with insight leveraging talent analytics and predictive workforce intelligence to stay ahead of changing workplace dynamics.”

While organizational and HR leaders “may not be able to influence every workplace desire, managing workers’ wants and needs should not only be done from a macro-level by the organization,” says Link, “but also much more frequently from a micro-level by managers to ensure alignment.”

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Should Employers Say No to Pokémon Go?

By now, the Pokémon Go phenomenon has quickly swept the nation (yours truly excepted) into a fever of using smartphones and tablets to “find” and “capture” digital creatures from the Pokémon universe that virtually appear at specific locations in the real world.

(If you need any proof that it’s not just a game for kids to play, Forbes contributor Paul Tassi has been posting tips and tricks on its site for all the business world to see and use.)

Now, it may sound like an odd — or perhaps paranoid — question, given the seemingly harmless nature of the game, but could Pokémon Go actually have negative effects on employers and organizations, beyond a dip in worker productivity?

Well, of course it could, according to a few different sources.

According to the International Association of IT Asset Managers (IAITAM), fans of the game “do not include the corporate professionals who deal with Information Technology Asset Management (ITAM) designed to keep phones, tablets, and other devices secure in the workplace.”

And that’s why the group has called on corporations to ban the installation and use of Pokémon Go on both corporate-owned, business-only (COBO) phones/tablets and “bring your own device” (BYOD) phones/tablets with direct access to sensitive corporate information and accounts.

Here’s IAITAM CEO Dr. Barbara Rembiesa discussing the dangerous world that players enter when tracking down the fanciful creatures on the phones, tablets, etc.:

Frankly, the truth is that Pokémon Go is a nightmare for companies that want to keep their email and cloud-based information secure. Even with the enormous popularity of this gaming app, there are just too many questions and too many risks involved for responsible corporations to allow the game to be used on corporate-owned or BYOD devices. We already have real security concerns and expect them to become much more severe in the coming weeks.

The only safe course of action, she advises, is to bar Pokémon Go from corporate-owned phones and tablets, as well as employee-owned devices that are used to connect to sensitive corporate information.

The group outlines three of its greatest concerns when it comes to the game:

* DATA BREACHES. The original user agreements for Pokémon Go allowed Niantic to access the entire Google profile of the user, including their history, past searches and anything else associated with their Google Login ID. This has since been corrected, but for COBO devices the result was, by definition, a data breach. It is unclear of the extent of data breaches that took place prior to the changes, what happened to the information accessed, and how that information was stored and/or destroyed. Further, there is nothing that would prohibit Niantic Laboratory from once again seeking access to all or some of this information.

* RISKY KNOCKOFF COPIES. There are now reports that some versions of the Pokémon Go app available from non-official app stories may include software allowing cyber crooks to remotely control the user’s phone or tablets. Unsophisticated users may not understand that third party app providers should be avoided due to the risks involved. The online security firm Proofpoint already has detected knockoff Android copies of Pokémon Go in the wild containing a remote controlled tool (RAT) called DroidJack.

* ENCOURAGING BAD BEHAVIOR. One of the most important things for employees using COBO devices, in particular, is the need to stick with approved software and apps. Pokémon Go must be considered a “rogue download,” which is any software program downloaded onto a device that circumvents the typical purchasing and installation channels of the organization. Rather than simply banning Pokémon Go, corporations should also use this as a learning opportunity to encourage maximum employee understanding of the rationale against rogue downloads, particularly the security risks they represent.

Also lending his voice to the chorus of concern is Philippe Weiss, Chicago-based lawyer and managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work.

Weiss offers managers five “valuable strategies to safely manage Pokémon Go perils” at work:

Prioritize Performance over Pokémon: Start watching your employees’ timeliness and attendance with greater attention than usual in the coming weeks. Follow-up on even small delays in work/task completion while the Pokeman Go craze is upon us. – Note any employees walking around with gazes fixed on their smartphone screens (and exhibiting an accompanying semi-spaced-out demeanor). – Train your managers to know when and how to safely tell employees: “Pokemon STOP!” (And train them not to set the wrong example, themselves, by playing Pokemon Go during work time).

Train on Pokemon Go Protocols: Give security people and managers simple scripts to use when they encounter any wandering/errant players. The key is to “Respectfully Reroute” players, quickly and safely.

Patrol Possible Player Pathways (especially if you operate any outdoor facilities): Regularly check all doors, gates and access ways to unauthorized areas to confirm that they are effectively secure. (And do not leave any hazards exposed. You don’t want distracted players falling into a floorboard gap followed by a 30 foot drop to the sub-basement.)

Use the Power of Your Policies: Remind everyone at work about your electronic device policy and ask that smart phones be turned off at all meetings. Don’t cede your power to the Pokemon.

Consider the Potential Poke-Payoff: On the plus side, if your store or business is near (or is itself) a Poke Stop or Pokemon Gym, you most likely have already seen increased foot traffic. Businesses can also purchase an in-game module called a “lure” to attract Pokemon (and thus, more players/potential customers) for a 1/2 hour period.  However, be ready for the possible resulting Poke-mayhem. If that happens, take steps to ensure that your own employees continue to focus on their work.

“The phenomenon is here,” Weiss notes, “but Pokeman GO need not mean that Performance STOPS!”

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Mercer’s Take on ‘Why HR Needs to Change’

There weren’t any huge surprises in Mercer’s recently released HR Transformation report, “Why HR Needs to Change,” but it certainly underscores the continuing clarion call for HR to better develop its 450744473 -- women business leaderown and prepare for significant changes to the profession.

The report cites Mercer’s recent Global Talent Trends Study, which finds that, while only 5 percent of employers polled say HR is seen as a strategic partner in their organization and more than 80 percent say their talent processes need an overhaul, a measly 13 percent say they have a systematic curriculum for developing HR professionals.

Granted, the pressures on HR to change that are cited in this latest report are all pressures we’ve reported on: the growing digital workforce, businesses’ needs to become more global yet remain local, the rising tide of data analytics, flexible workplace designs and the evolving role of the manager, to name the first five.

Also well-documented already are the challenges in executing a viable HR business-partner model — “originally designed to add business acumen and consultative skills in HR [but too often implemented in organizations] with little more than a title change and without discussing how generalists can acquire the skills needed to take on new responsibilities and [remove] existing administrative tasks from their job[s],” as the report states.

But HR experts I reached out to about it do agree the message — call it a warning, if you will, that HR better change or cease to exist — is a good and necessary one, a warning HR practitioners and leaders need to be paying attention to.

John Boudreau, professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, and a handful of like-minded HR leaders including Eva Sage-Gavin and Kaye Foster-Cheek, recognized this problem years ago and established the CHREATE initiative in 2013 to — in the words of its online description — “map how HR must evolve to meet the future challenges in 10 years, to identify pivotal initiatives to accelerate that evolution, and to design the actions needed to make the future a reality.” I especially like this description of its mission, posted by CHREATE:

“Through the power of open-source collaboration, participant diversity, volunteerism and a unique combination of in-kind and financial resources, we aim to continue and extend the community of senior HR leaders who will reimagine a profession equipped to address the challenges of the future.”

Boudreau pointed me to this piece he posted on the Visier site back in April, in which he describes the “evolving work ecosystem [as one that] requires ‘retooling’ HR issues using the best thinking from disciplines such as engineering, finance, neuroscience, marketing, operations and supply chain.”

He lays out in that piece the future roles required to meet the challenges of this new ecosystem, and I must admit I noticed none of these roles contain the letters “HR”:

“The Organizational Engineer is an expert in facilitating virtual teams, developing leadership wherever it exists, and talent transitions.  She is an expert at talent and task optimization.  She is the knowledge resource on principles such as agility, networks, power and trust.

The Virtual Culture Architect is a culture expert, advocate and brand builder.  He connects current and potential workers’ purpose to the organization’s mission and goals.  He is adept at principles of values, norms, and beliefs, articulated virtually and personally.

The Global Talent Scout, Convener, and Coach masters new talent platforms and optimizes the relationships between workers, work and the organization, using whatever platform is best (e.g., free agent, contractor, regular employee, etc.).  She is a talent-contract manager, talent-platform manager and career/life coach.

The Data, Talent & Technology Integrator is an expert at finding meaning in big data and algorithms, and how to design work that optimally combines technology, automation and humans.

The Social Policy & Community Activist creates optimal synergy between goals that include economic returns, social purpose, ethics, sustainability and worker well-being.  She influences beyond the organization, shaping policies, regulations and laws that support the new world of work, through community engagement.”

Indeed, if organizations will be needing their HR professionals to transform themselves to this degree, a great, great deal of in-house HR development will be needed across the business community and profession. Far more than a 13-percent commitment.

Boudreau, Sage-Gavin (former chief human resource officer for The Gap Inc.) and Foster-Cheek (former CHRO for Johnson & Johnson) wrote about their group’s mission and vision for the future of HR in a recent issue of People + Strategy.  I like what Mark Sokol, executive editor, says about his contributors and the profession they know so well in his introduction to the pieces (pages 8 through 10):

“Perhaps you know the William Gibson saying, ‘The future is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed.’ Some people really do get to the future sooner than others, and we would be wise to learn from them. … [Sage-Gavin and Foster-Cheek] describe the future of work and human resources — a future that has arrived for some of us and, in time, will involve all of us. This is not just their opinion, but reflects a consensus of experts across our profession.

” …  Boudreau reminds us that [the two former CHROs aren’t just writing about] forecasting trends; [they’re writing about] changing how we see and define the world of work — and that can fundamentally change everything we do in human resources.”

Mind you, CHREATE — which stands for a Global Consortium to Reimagine HR, Employment Alternatives, Talent, and the Enterprise — does a very different kind of dive into how HR must change, but no doubt the researchers at Mercer would agree the time for such fundamental change has come.

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Wait … Work Is Good for Your Health?

A compre200400993-001hensive survey of American workers this week offered some predictable findings about health and employment. But there are some happy surprises as well.

Perhaps most interesting was a finding that 28 percent of workers said their job was good for their overall health. That’s considerably more than the 16 percent who said it was bad.  (The rest, a slight majority, said their job had no effect on their overall health.)

Why the upbeat view? Researchers didn’t ask, and declined to share any thoughts about what respondents meant. But we can find some clues on our own by looking at this poll and other research. And those clues offer some encouragement for HR professionals.

How does your job affect your _____?
Good impact Bad impact No impact
Overall health 28% 16% 54%
Eating habits 15% 28% 56%
Stress level 16% 43% 39%
Sleeping habits 17% 27% 55%
Weight 19% 22% 57%
Social life 27% 17% 56%
Family life 32% 17% 50%
Source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Make no mistake, there are plenty of concerns raised by this survey, which was performed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in conjunction with National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Researchers polled 1,601 working Americans across a range of ages, ethnicities, income levels and industries. The margin of error for the full sample was 2.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

NPR stories about the survey this week have highlighted how workers with disabilities often struggle at work, how lack of sick leave can drive some families into financial crisis and why so many employees go to work while sick.

Among other troubling — if unsurprising — findings was that 43 percent of respondents said work added stress to their lives. A news release from the university quoted poll director Robert J. Blendon concluding that “The takeaway here is that job number one for U.S. employers is to reduce stress in the workplace.”

But what might workers be thinking when they say their job is good for their health?

One obvious point is that having a job means having an income and (often) having insurance. That’s definitely good for your health. But I wonder if many respondents were really thinking at that level of abstraction.

There’s also research suggesting that, in fact, work is good for your health. One frequently-cited research overview conducted in the United Kingdom concluded that meaningful, safe work generally offers physical and mental-health benefits. Being active and having a purpose is good for us.

But were many respondents thinking about arcane findings in the field of occupational health?

Perhaps a more plausible explanation is in the new poll itself — findings that suggest wellness programs really matter. More than half of respondents said their company had a formal wellness program.

Even more significant: Of those workers, a whopping 45 percent said that program was “very important” to their health. Nearly as many said it was “somewhat important.”

Wellness programs don’t offer any clues about some other surprising findings in this poll, alas. Respondents also apparently think work is good for their social life and (even more mysteriously) their family life. Let’s hope researchers some day will drill deeper to find out what’s really going on here.

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The Political Season and the Workplace

There's no reason political discussions at work can't be civil and respectful.

There’s no reason political discussions at work can’t be civil and respectful.

Next week, the Republicans will hold their nominating convention in Cleveland — today, the party released a list of speakers at the event, who will include former Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow and Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It’s an unconventional list of speakers for a political convention, but that’s fitting because it’s been a thoroughly unconventional political season and will no doubt only get stranger still as Election Day approaches.

The anger and controversy the season has generated is resonating at many workplaces, of course, and today CareerBuilder released a survey of thousands of workers and managers that finds three in 10 employers and nearly one out of five employees have argued with a co-worker over a particular candidate this election season. Donald Trump has been the subject of most workplace arguments (13 percent), followed by Hillary Clinton at 8 percent.

Thirty percent of managers and 17 percent of employees have argued with a co-worker over a political candidate, the survey finds, and younger workers (ages 18 to 24) are the most likely to engage in heated political debate at work, at 24 percent.

In his campaign, Trump has stressed that political correctness is “killing our country,” and many employees share his concern: 50 percent of employees and 59 percent of managers say the American workplace has become “too politically correct,” with more workers saying it has hindered their business (34 percent) vs. the 22 percent who say it makes their business stronger. One third of employees (33 percent) say they’re afraid to voice certain opinions because they feel they may not be considered politically correct.

Of course, “political correctness” is a notoriously fuzzy term, and what some may consider overly PC behavior others would describe simply as common courtesy. In fact, PC behavior can actually boost productivity on male/female work teams, a 2014 study by Cornell ILR finds.

A few companies have fired employees for their political activity, prompting a conservative organization to call on large U.S. companies to publicly commit to respecting their employees’ rights to express their political opinions. That said, HR obviously needs to remind IT employees (who are the most likely to engage in political debates, at 47 percent, according to the CareerBuilder survey), manufacturing workers (37 percent), professional/business services employees (30 percent) and everyone else that –questions of free speech aside — if you can’t discuss a topic calmly and respectfully, it’s probably best to just leave it alone.

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A Mixed View of Volunteer Work

When employees volunteer in the community, how do co-workers view these efforts? As genuine acts of kindness? Or subtle self-promotion? And can taking part in altruistic endeavors outside the office actually help one get ahead at work?

A pair of researchers from the University of Georgia Terry College of Business sought to answer such questions in a pair of recent studies, and found answers that suggest employees who do volunteer work might be seen in a less-than-charitable light by some of their colleagues.

Volunteering is “something that can be done with your kids’ school or through your church,” notes lead study author Jessica Rodell, an associate professor of management at the Terry College, in a statement.

“But it turns out that this behavior can have a real impact on how people view you at work.”

In an effort to get a sense of that impact, Rodell and co-author John Lynch, an assistant professor of managerial science at the University of Illinois-Chicago, first conducted a field study that involved 120 employee-colleague pairs. Employees directly reported information about their volunteering activities.

Roughly four weeks later, the authors asked the colleagues to provide an evaluation of the employee’s reputation (the credits and stigmas they associated with the person), the attributions the colleagues made for employee volunteering, and their general interactions with and treatment of the employee.

The second study relied on an experimental design to further demonstrate the types of credits and stigmas assigned to people who volunteer. Students in a large introductory management course were asked to evaluate profiles of potential teammates, which included a description of that person’s volunteering and their motives for volunteering. In total, 305 students participated in this experiment.

In the course of their research, Rodell and Lynch found that employees often have mixed feelings about their colleagues’ volunteer efforts, with their perceptions largely shaped by what they believe to be a co-worker’s motives.

When an employee is seen as being “personally compelled to volunteer,” for example, both supervisors and co-workers tend to hold the volunteering employee in high regard, according to the authors.

Colleagues and managers tend to form a more negative opinion, however, when an employee is viewed as “a showboat who volunteers to enhance his or her image or score brownie points.”

In the grand scheme of things, a person’s volunteer work in the community may just be one piece of data “that we use to determine someone’s character,” says Rodell, “which affects how we treat them.”

In some cases, participating in volunteer activities may even help alter one’s career trajectory.

Take, for instance, two employees whose performance ratings are identical. One of those workers, however, has done volunteer work “for what appeared to be good reasons,” says Rodell. “That person would be more likely to get a raise or promotion because that volunteering positively affects their reputation at work.”

Naturally, the second worker in this scenario may harbor some resentment over such a decision, stewing in the belief that a colleague is getting a bump at least partly because of work that he or she did that wasn’t at all job-related.

Managers and organizational leadership shouldn’t discount this type of reaction, and workers should be made aware of the possible workplace repercussions of volunteering.

“Employees should know that, if they’re going to volunteer, it’s going to have consequences, depending on how they manage it,” says Rodell. “And, if done for the right reasons, it’s ultimately going to benefit them.”

While the authors acknowledge employees’ views on volunteer work as “a mixed bag” with both positive and negative connotations, co-workers are generally “OK with the fact that someone might personally benefit from their volunteer work,” she concludes, “with the caveat that they are also doing it for good reasons.”

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Cultivating a More-Innovative Workplace

Further evidence of the connection between workplace design and innovation was released earlier today, this time in the form of ThinkstockPhotos-178089032Gensler’s U.S. Workplace Survey 2016.

In its press release, Gensler, the San Francisco-headquartered architecture and design firm, says it “uncovered a statistical link between the quality and functional make-up of the workplace and the level of innovation employees ascribe to their organization.”

The survey of more than 4,000 workers across 11 industries finds that the most innovative companies provide employees with “a diversity of well-designed spaces in which to collaborate and to focus.”

As Gensler Co-CEO Diane Hoskins put it …

“Employees truly flourish when they have room to not only collaborate but also have space to focus, and are empowered to work when and how they work best—both within their workplace, and in other locations outside it.”

To arrive at its findings, Gensler created an index aimed at identifying the most innovative organizations, comparing the behaviors and spatial attributes of those at different ends of the innovation spectrum.

The research found that employees at the most-innovative organizations spend only 74 percent of the work week at the office, compared to 86 percent for less-innovative workplaces; are at least 2 times more likely to have access to cafeterias, coffee shops and outdoor spaces; have 2 times more access to amenities including specialty coffee, restaurants, gyms and child-care facilities; and have 2 times more choice in when and where to work.

In light of findings like these, I suppose it’s no surprise that we would continue to run across employers that are pushing the envelope when it comes to their workplace designs. Take Amazon, for example, which was featured the other day in a New York Times story titled “Forget Beanbag Chairs. Amazon is Giving Its Workers Treehouses.

The story explains how the online retail giant is growing actual plants (more than 3,000 species of them) about a half-hour’s drive from its new corporate headquarters in downtown Seattle. They will eventually be housed in one of three transparent spheres adjacent to the complex that will serve as greenhouses.

Amazon employees, the story says, would be able to “amble through tree canopies three stories off the ground, meet colleagues in rooms with walls made from vines and eat kale Caesar salads next to an indoor creek.”

As lead architect Dale Alberda points out, the whole idea behind the project is to “get people to think more creatively, maybe come up with a new idea they wouldn’t have if they were just in the office.”

Remember the good-old days, when high-tech companies would rely on a couple of strategically positioned ping-pong tables for those same results?

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Don’t Get Blindsided by Family-Leave Laws

Ever wonder what a typical case of family-responsibility discrimination involving elder care might look like? Consider this 538047854 -- elder carescenario laid out in a piece by Tom Spiggle that posted on the Huffington Post in June:

“You have an elderly parent who suffers from Alzheimer’s. He requires continuous care. You have worked at the same job for five years with a strong, positive work history. To better care for your father, you move him out of assisted living into your house. A paid caregiver takes care of him during the day, but leaves at 6, which means that you have to be home then.

“Your performance at work remains strong, but you are no longer able to take part in the informal after-work get-together frequently arranged by your boss. After missing these for a month, your boss stops by your office to ask why. You tell him. He responds ‘How long will this go on?’ You tell him maybe years. After this, things change at work. For no apparent reason, your boss begins to criticize your work. At one point, HR puts you on a performance-improvement plan.

“Although you do everything they ask and more, nothing seems good enough. One day, your father falls at your house, breaking an arm. You have to leave work early to get to the hospital and miss work the next day. You call HR, letting them know what happened and put in for [Family and Medical Leave Act] leave to cover the absence. When you return, the axe falls; you get fired. The last communication you receive from your boss is an email: ‘I’m sorry it had to end like this. You will be missed. I hope that this gives you the time that you need with your father.’

“That would be discrimination under the Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Granted, his piece speaks primarily to employees, but there are some nuggets worth reviewing for employers, such as a little-known fact (little known by me anyway) that some bosses seem fine and accommodating with the first child, “but their attitude is that one child should have been enough,” writes Spiggle, an employment lawyer and founder of the Spiggle Law Firm, based in Arlington, Va.

(Note to anyone reading this who considers this a familiar occurrence in his or her organization: Time for some manager training!)

Here’s another nugget: Employees claiming they were discriminated against or weren’t accommodated under family-leave law have much stronger cases if they ask for the law’s protection while they’re still working for you. Spiggle elaborates (remember, this is directed at employees, so interpret between the lines):

“Let me give you an example. Suppose that your boss says that you are a shoo-in for a promotion. Before things become official, you announce your pregnancy. Next thing you know, the promotion goes to a man who is your junior. When you confront your boss, she shrugs and says, ‘Them’s the breaks. Next round.’ Let’s suppose things only go downhill from there and you get fired, even though your performance remained unchanged.

“Here’s the thing: If you had complained about being skipped over for the promotion because you were pregnant before you were fired, you’d have a second claim of retaliation, which is easier to prove and gives you more leverage.

“There’s also a chance that, by reporting your concerns, you might get the problem fixed. Sometimes companies do the right thing when they learn that a rogue manager is violating the law. By reporting what happened, you give the company a chance to fix it.”

Probably the most telling piece of information he shares though — as does Mark McGraw in this HRE Daily post from May — is the fact that the number of family-responsibility-discrimination cases are going way up. McGraw and Spiggle both cite a report, Caregivers in the Workplace: Family Responsibilities Discrimination Litigation Update 2016, showing a 269-percent increase in the number of family-responsibility-discrimination cases between 2006 and 2015.

Many of our HREOnline.com news analyses have also mentioned this increase and the fact that far too many employers still don’t seem to get it when it comes to proactively turning that trend around.

Consider this a reminder, then, to get your anti-family-caregiver-discrimination house in order. And make sure you’re up on the nuances involved, including who has what rights and when — and precisely what this form of discrimination looks like.

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