Where’s the Best City to Live?

SFMercer has just released its latest annual Quality of Living rankings of the world’s cities based on their quality of life. As in prior lists, European cities — with their quaint downtowns and superb public transportation — dominate the top of this year’s rankings, joined by cities in Australia and New Zealand.

Coming in at No. 1 is Vienna, followed by Zurich, Auckland (N.Z.) and Munich. The highest-ranked city in North American is Vancouver, coming in at No. 5 and the region’s only city to make the top 10. San Francisco is the highest-ranked U.S. city, at No. 27, followed by Boston (34), Honolulu (36) and Chicago (43). New York City and Seattle are tied at 44.  Montevideo (Uruguay) is the highest-ranked South American city at 78, while Singapore (25) takes that honor for the Asia-Pacific region. Dubai, at 74, is the highest-ranked city for the Middle East-Africa.

And where’s the worst city to live, based on Mercer’s rankings? That would be Baghdad, coming in at 230. Joining the Iraqi capital in the bottom five are Port-au-Prince, Khartoum (Sudan), N’Djamena (Chad) and Bangui (Central African Republic).

Mercer conducts its annual rankings as a way to help multinational companies and other employers compensate their employees fairly when sending them on international assignments with respect to factors such as hardship premiums, etc.  The cities are ranked based on factors including political and social environment, crime rates, economic environment, medical and health considerations, public services and transportation, schools, recreation and housing.

Twitter It!

The Thick Glass Ceiling

According to a new piece on the New York TimesTheUpshot section, fewer large companies are run by women than by men named John.

If that seems like an unlikely thing to consider, that nugget of information was dug up from what the Times calls its Glass Ceiling Index, explained thusly:

Among chief executives of S.&P. 1500 firms, for each woman, there are four men named John, Robert, William or James. We’re calling this ratio the Glass Ceiling Index, and an index value above one means that Jims, Bobs, Jacks and Bills — combined — outnumber the total number of women, including every women’s name, from Abby to Zara. Thus we score chief executive officers of large firms as having an index score of 4.0.

The GCI is inspired by a recent Ernst & Young report, which computed analogous numbers for board directors, according to the piece. That report yielded an index score of 1.03 for directors, meaning that for every one woman, there were 1.03 Jameses, Roberts, Johns and Williams — combined — serving on the boards of S.&P. 1500 companies.

While the methodology behind the figures is certainly interesting and unique, the NYT piece notes that it also points to the sad truth “that in many important decision-making areas of American life, women remain vastly outnumbered.”

Twitter It!

Job Seekers: Speak Up and Sound Smart

speak up“The medium is the message,” said Canadian academic and author Marshall McLuhan.

He may not have had resumes in mind when he coined that phrase in his 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, but a new study suggests the old axiom could apply to the way jobs are landed or lost in 2015.

Nicholas Epley, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Juliana Schroeder, a PhD candidate at the school, conducted a series of experiments in which M.B.A. student job candidates developed written or videotaped pitches to present to the company for which they would most like to work.

In an initial experiment, a group of evaluators judged the spoken pitches by watching or listening to the video recording, listening to the audio only, or by reading a transcript of the pitch. Those who heard pitches rated candidates as more intelligent, thoughtful and competent than candidates whose transcripts were merely read by evaluators. Meanwhile, those who only saw video did not rate applicants any differently than those who heard pitches, according to a University of Chicago press release.

In another experiment, evaluators listened to trained actors reading candidates’ written pitches aloud, and assessed those applicants as being more intelligent and desirable for the job than did those who read candidates’ written pitches to themselves.

In the job hunt, presentation should certainly count for something. But, assuming all other things are equal, how likely would HR and hiring managers really be to lean toward a candidate they’ve watched and/or heard, as opposed to only seeing on paper?

More than they may even realize, says Greig Schneider, U.S. managing partner at Egon Zehnder International, a New York-based global executive-search firm.

“If you have two candidates—one candidate that you’ve spoken to on the phone and another for whom you’ve just received a resume—you’re naturally inclined to favor the person you spoke to on the phone, at least according to this data,” says Schneider.

But, as with any single factor in the hiring process, recruiters and hiring managers shouldn’t put too much emphasis on how candidates lay out their bona fides, he says.

“You need to make sure you’re diving into what is really needed for success in the job, and not cutting out someone who has a great background and competencies, but maybe isn’t a great talker.”

HR and hiring managers, just like everyone else, “pick up a lot of important information from how someone speaks,” says Schneider.

“When you hear someone’s cadence, their tone, you’re going to form an impression about their intelligence. It’s unavoidable. The challenge is determining whether this is an accurate portrayal.”

Twitter It!

Second Stand-Down for Safety is Set

Citing even more compelling reasons this year than last for getting the construction-safety message out, the U.S. Department of 465986031 -- constructionLabor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced it will be holding its second annual National Fall Safety Stand-Down in May.

“With the economy on the rebound and housing starts on the rise, now is the time for all of us to renew our commitment to sending workers home safe every night,” says Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez.

According to OSHA, falls are still the leading cause of death in the construction industry, as hundreds of workers die each year and thousands more suffer catastrophic, debilitating injuries. Yet, lack of proper fall protection remains the most frequently cited violation by the agency.

Building on last year’s widespread participation in the one-week event, which Staff Writer Mark McGraw wrote about in this blog post,  OSHA decided to expand it from one week to two weeks, now scheduled for May 4 through 15. During that time, the agency notes in its release, “employers and workers will pause during their workday for topic talks, demonstrations and training on how to use safety harnesses, guard rails and other means to protect workers from falls.” It adds:

“Underscoring the importance of this effort, industry and business leaders, including universities, labor organizations, and community and faith-based groups, have already begun scheduling 2015 stand-downs in all 50 states and around the world.”

The stand-down initiative is part of OSHA’s fall prevention campaign, launched three years ago with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH’s National Occupational Research Agenda and The Center for Construction Research and Training, according to the announcement on Feb. 18. It cites numerous other partners for this year’s event as well.

“Given the tremendous response we’ve received, it’s clear that this is an important issue to a great number of people across this nation,” says Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels.

In the added words of NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard, “no child should lose a parent, no wife should lose a husband and no worker should lose [his or her] life in a preventable fall.”

I plan to follow this and perhaps report on this year’s participation to get an idea of just how committed the business community is to improving safety, and reducing these injuries and deaths. Stay tuned.

Twitter It!

The Push for Gender Wage Equality

On the heels of Patricia Arquette’s call for wage equality at last Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, Arjuna Capital issued a press release yesterday referencing Arquette’s remarks and calling attention to eBay’s decision to oppose the wealth-management GettyImages_478267645firm’s gender-pay-transparency proposal.

Could proposals like this one be a preview of things to come? I would think many HR leaders probably hope they won’t be.

Here are some specifics from the Arjuna’s release …

“eBay’s Board has committed to publicly oppose a shareholder proposal filed by Arjuna Capital … requesting eBay publicly report the pay disparity between male and female employees and set goals to close the gap.

This is the first year the issue of gender wage equality has been put to the proxy ballot of a U.S. corporation and the Company’s opposition comes in the face of public outcry and regulatory efforts … .

The eBay Board has stated that it believes that implementation of this proposal is not in the best interests of eBay and its stockholders.”

Arjuna’s proposal calls for eBay to issue a report that would be “adequate for investors to assess eBay’s strategy and performance” and “would include the percentage pay gap between male and female employees, policies to improve performance and quantitative reduction targets.”

In case you’re not familiar with Arjuna (I certainly wasn’t), here’s a snippet from its website …

“Our mission is twofold: Through our research and activism, we seek to advance the understanding of what sustainability means for investor returns and corporate profitability.

We bring the fruits of those efforts to our clients in the form of the most diverse, sustainable, profitable and suitable investment opportunities on offer.

We work to build and preserve our clients’ wealth while serving the common good through enlightened engagement in the capital markets.”

In its response to Arjuna, eBay wrote …

“We remain committed to our ongoing efforts to promote diversity in the workplace and strongly believe we continue to make demonstrable progress in building a diverse eBay. As such, the Board feels that the proposal would not enhance the Company’s existing commitment to an inclusive culture or meaningfully further its goal and efforts in support of workplace diversity.”

Natasha Lamb, director of equity research and shareholder engagement for Arjuna Capital, said the eBay proposal is Arjuna’s first and only attempt to seek information on pay gaps. “But our goal,” she explained, “is to invest in companies committed to the innovation and success diversity fosters, and we intend to continue to seek more transparency on these issues.” (She said she’s heard similar proposals, independent of Arjuna, were sent to the boards of ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart for the current proxy season.)

Lamb said she was surprised by the board’s opposition, since the eBay proposal is clearly in the interest of enhancing shareholder value.

Of course, not everyone agrees that would be the case.

Yesterday afternoon, I spoke with Alan Johnson, managing director of Johnson Associates, a New York-based compensation-consulting firm, who told me he wasn’t at all surprised eBay’s board would reject the proposal.

“In terms of eBay,” Johnson said, “the assumption is being made that the jobs are the same, but the reality is that that may not be the case. eBay, for instance, may have a big call center staffed by females. If that’s true, it would skew all the numbers.”

Johnson noted that the Arjuna proposal is an attempt to put “a lot of pressure on fixing something that may not be correctable” and could ultimately “do a lot of harm” by encouraging employers like eBay to offshore jobs or hire part-time workers.

Apparently not one to mince words, Johnson described the effort as “naïve” and a “big, expensive distraction.”

Like I said, not everyone agrees the proposal is a good idea.

Twitter It!

The Long Lost Art of Listening at Work

It’s tough to be a good listener in the workplace these days — even if you consider listening one of your strengths. That’s according to #ListenLearnLead, a new survey out from Accenture today based on responses from 3,600 professionals from 30 countries.

Nearly all of the respondents (96 percent) consider themselves to be “good listeners,” yet 98 percent report that they spend part of their workday multitasking and 64 percent say that listening “has become significantly more difficult in today’s digital workplace.”

Interestingly, though, despite the plethora of smartphones, tablets and other must-have yet highly distractable devices in today’s modern office, the most-cited distractions by the respondents were of the more old-school variety: When asked what interrupts their workday the most, 79 percent cited telephone calls and 72 percent cited unscheduled meetings and visitors. That compares to the 30 percent and 28 percent, respectively, who cited instant messaging and texting.

Rampant multitasking is a routine part of the workday, judging by the survey’s results: Eight in 10 respondents say they multitask on conference calls with work emails, instant messaging, personal emails, social media and reading news and entertainment. Perhaps this is something to keep in mind for your next conference call: if you’re the presenter, try and keep things lively, quick and fast, otherwise your presentation could lose out to the latest goings-on of the Kardashian clan as bored attendees seek relief via their smartphones.

In keeping with general trends, respondents have mixed views on the benefits of technology in the workplace: 58 percent believe technology enables leaders to communicate with their teams easily and quickly, and nearly half cite its ability to enable flexible work from anywhere. However, 62 percent of women and 54 percent of men view technology as “overextending” leaders by making them too accessible. Majorities also agree that information overload (55 percent) and rapidly evolving technology (52 percent) are among the top challenges facing leaders today.

 

Twitter It!

A ‘Smarter’ Look at Transparency

Here’s an interesting twist of business-world irony: While a  company’s culture of transparency may help increase accountability, collaboration, knowledge sharing, innovation and productivity, it can also undermine it.

At least that’s the view being espoused by Harvard Business School’s Ethan Bernstein in a piece that recently appeared on the Wall Street Journal site.

Bernstein, an assistant professor of leadership and organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School, writes that quantity should never trump quality when it comes to how an organization approaches the issue of transparency:

The problem, I believe, is the conviction that when it comes to transparency, “more is better.” But more transparency isn’t necessarily better. Rather, smarter transparency is better. If leaders can adopt a transparency strategy that strikes a balance between openness and privacy, that tears some walls down while leaving others in place, they are more likely to get the results they want.

In the piece, Bernstein shares three guiding principles employers should follow in order to strike the right balance of openness and opacity within their organizations, including his take on open-office designs.

One global company Berstein studied had recently transformed its headquarters from traditional to open offices, he writes, and so he measured face-to-face and electronic interaction of its staff both before and after the redesign.

After the redesign, interactions between individuals who weren’t on the same team jumped more than 50%. Sounds good, right? Except that interactions between individuals who had to work together to get things done fell by almost an equivalent amount, and the total amount of interactions actually fell.

The moral of that particular story, he writes, is that organizations adopting transparent workplaces “need to think even more about who should observe whom, not just leave it to chance.”

And the key for organizations, he writes, is for company leaders to strategically consider when observation will improve productivity, and when it will undermine fertile soil for innovation:

As with all transparency efforts, a lot of good can come from putting everybody on stage some of the time.

But, he concludes, requiring “a constant performance [by employees] comes with a high price: the loss of experimentation and learning. It’s a price that companies should be unwilling to pay.”

Twitter It!

FMLA Update Redefines ‘Spouse’

same sex marriageAnd the reverberations of the United States v. Windsor decision continue to be felt.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced yesterday that workers in legal, same-sex marriages—regardless of where they live—will now have the same rights as those in opposite-sex marriages to federal job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a spouse with a serious health condition.

The announcement comes not quite nine months after the DOL issued a proposed rule to change the FMLA’s definition of “spouse” in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision.

That June 2013 ruling, of course, struck down the Defense of Marriage Act’s provision interpreting “marriage” and “spouse” to be limited to opposite-sex marriage for the purposes of federal law.

According to the DOL, the rule change updates the FMLA regulatory definition of “spouse” such that an eligible employee in a legal same-sex marriage will be able to take FMLA leave for his or her spouse, regardless of what state the employee calls home. The previous regulatory definition of “spouse” didn’t extend to same-sex spouses if an employee resided in a state that did not recognize the employee’s same-sex marriage.

Under the new rule, eligibility for federal FMLA protections is based on the law of the place where the marriage was entered into, according to the DOL. This “place of celebration” provision allows all legally married couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, to have consistent federal family leave rights regardless of whether the state in which they currently reside recognizes such marriages.

We’ll see what this means for employers and HR. But yesterday’s announcement marks a step toward fulfilling the “basic promise of the FMLA,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in announcing the updated rule.

That guarantee, he said, “is that no one should have to choose between the job and income they need, and caring for a loved one.

“With our action today, we extend that promise so that no matter who you love, you will receive the same rights and protections as everyone else,” added Perez. “All eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages, regardless of where they live, can now deal with a serious medical and family situation like all families—without the threat of job loss.”

Twitter It!

Making Workplace Meditation Work

Mindfulness appears to be alive and well in Fort Collins, Colo. Or at the Fort Collins Housing Authority anyway.

139980668-- meditationJust before the holidays, I came across this release about the FCHA completing a month-long mindfulness program for its staff.  Seems the organization’s top leaders took its annual wellness survey seriously when a common complaint came back suggesting improvements in work/life balance and health and general well-being were needed.

In the words of FCHA Chief Executive Officer Julie Brewen: “We are committed to implementing new programs for the health and well-being of our staff.”

In an industry that deals with tough issues such as poverty, homelessness and families in crisis, she says, the program was a step in the right direction. The program consisted of daily, hour-long sessions during work hours that blended presentations, group discussion and meditation practice.

The results? According to Brewen, lowered stress and depression, and an increase in work/life balance.

What’s even more impressive is what she shared with me just recently, that her organization’s commitment to this lives on, with additional mindfulness training planned for this year, and some added questionnaires and wellness-survey questions designed to keep a close eye on the workplace well-being meter.

“Many of the participants [intend] to continue [their] meditation and mindfulness exercises” into the rest of 2015, she says.

Of course, putting this kind of program together takes a huge and collective commitment to the idea and the practice. It needs to come from the top and be ingrained into the culture, as this column a year ago (to the month) by our benefits columnist, Carol Harnett, suggests.

Her column also suggests the concept could use some booster shots in the business community. “In my experience,” she writes, “most employers pay scant attention to stress and defer to employee-assistance programs as check-the-box solutions — despite poor utilization of this service.”

So what’s it going to take for the Fort Collins approach to become the approach of most? Perhaps when employers start acknowledging they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, even as it relates to your brand and reputation. As Harnett writes:

” … mind-body curriculums will please a growing portion of your employee population and improve your workers’ perceptions of the workplace culture. And that may be an employer’s greatest consideration of all.”

Twitter It!

Rethinking a Few of the Millennial Myths

At the risk of exceeding our quota for stories about millennials (both our Jan./Feb. and upcoming April issues explore different aspects of this workforce demographic), here’s some new research coming out of IBM yesterday that’s worth a closer look.

485373695Not surprisingly, the study titled “Myths, Exaggerations and Uncomfortable Truths” identified the difference between millennials and older employers when it comes to things like digital proficiency. But on issues such as career goals, employee engagement, preferred leadership styles and recognition, the study shows that Gen Yers share many of the same attitudes as their Gen X and baby boomer counterparts.

More precisely, the IBM research took aim at the following five myths:

Myth 1: Millennials’ career goals and expectations are different from their elders (i.e., unrealistic).

Rather, millennials want financial security and a diverse workplace just as much as their older colleagues.

Myth 2: Millennials need endless praise and think everyone should get a trophy.

For Gen Yers, the idea of a perfect boss isn’t someone who pats them on the back, but someone who is ethical and fair, and shares information. Thirty-five percent of boomers and millennials listed this as the top quality they seek in a boss. (Someone who asks for their input is last on their list of priorities.)

Myth 3: Millennials are digital addicts with no boundaries between work and play.

Not really. The research reveals that they are less likely than older generations to use their personal social-media accounts for business purposes. Twenty-seven percent of millennials said they never do so—compared to only 7 percent of baby boomers.

Myth 4: Millennials can’t make a decision without crowdsourcing.

Millennials value others’ input, but the research suggests they are no more likely to seek advice when making work decisions than Gen Xers. (Even though they think gaining consensus is important, more than 50 percent of Gen Yers believe that their leaders are most qualified to make business decisions.)

Myth 5: Millennials are more likely to jump ship if a job doesn’t fulfill their passions.

The IBM research suggests that millennials change jobs for the same reasons other generations do and are no more likely than older colleagues to leave a job to follow their passions. In fact, millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers are all two times more likely to leave a job to enter the “fast lane”—i.e., to make more money and work in a more innovative environment—than for any other reason, including saving the world.

In light of these findings, IBM’s advice to employers is to stop relying on generational stereotypes when planning and serving their workforce. Instead, they should be pursuing more robust, nuanced talent strategies and analytics to better understand employees as individuals to make the most of their skills.

Considering the source, it’s no surprise IBM might offer up such advice. But that said, there’s no denying that placing entire generations in single buckets is never a good practice and treading carefully as you formulate strategies like this usually is a sound idea. (As most of us know only too well, there’s often another study lurking just around the corner that could turn the latest one on its head.)

Twitter It!