All posts by Andrew McIlvaine

How to Address the Labor Crunch

It’s the best of times for U.S. workers, it’s the worst of times for U.S. employers. Unemployment is at record lows while wage growth is at record highs, and many companies are hitting a wall trying to find qualified new hires to fill their ranks.

Jobs — particularly in industries such as construction — are going begging. And unless something changes fairly soon, this is going to have a big impact on economic trends. As Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, tells NY Times business columnist Eduardo Porter for a recent column, “Over the next 20 to 25 years, a labor shortage is going to put a binding constraint on growth.”

One of the biggest factors in the current talent scarcity is the withdrawal from the labor force by working-age (25 to 54) American men. The nation’s labor-force participation rate of this demographic is nearly the lowest in the industrialized world, Princeton University economist Alan B. Krueger tells Porter. Many of these men lack the skills that today’s new jobs require, while others have been lost due to disability or opioid addiction.

What to do? Porter cites a new study from researchers at the University of Maryland that recommends a number of policy solutions that may appeal to conservatives and liberals alike. The researchers, Melissa Kearney and Katharine Abraham, say improving access to high-quality education and providing more child-care resources will help people upgrade their skills while making it easier for working moms to re-enter the workforce. Expanding the earned-income tax credit may also entice nonparticipants to get back in the job-hunting game.

And, although support seems to be growing for raising the minimum wage ( to as high as $15 per hour in some quarters, in order to equalize it with the inflation-adjusted minimum wage from decades ago), Kearney and Abraham express caution about doing so, noting that it will price some job seekers out of the market. They also recommend reforming disability insurance to encourage recipients to seek jobs. And, they say, limiting immigration will only exacerbate the labor shortage, notwithstanding the stated conviction of many Americans that immigrants take jobs from deserving citizens.

These are all common-sense proposals, but they require political unity and some expenditure of public funds. That’s a tall order, of course. So maybe it’s time the nation’s employers take it upon themselves to be activists on this front, for the sake of the labor market and the economy.

GE is Reinventing Talent Management

The Sept.-Oct. issue of the Harvard Business Review has an interesting package of articles on the 16-year tenure of recently retired G.E. CEO Jeff Immelt (including an essay by the man himself on what he learned during his time leading the company). One of what may be among his lasting impacts on the company is the campaign to use algorithms to transform the way GE develops and retains its 300,000 employees.

As writer Steven Prokesch notes, GE is now positioning itself as a tech-focused industrial company and has hired thousands of software engineers and other digital natives. These employees tend to have little patience for bureaucratic processes and a thirst to grow in their careers. As a result, GE’s HR team is coming up with a raft of analytics-based applications to help them develop their careers and networks, identify high potentials and match them up with training opportunities. “It’s GE’s version of Match.com,” James Gallman, who helped lead the effort at GE and is now Boeing’s people analytics director, told Prokesch.

GE’s analytics push is focused on six areas of talent management: career and succession planning, training, high potentials, networks, talent retention and cultural change. The tool for career and succession planning is the furthest along, writes Prokesch. It uses data on the “historical movement of GE employees and the relatedness of jobs (which is based on their descriptions”) to help users identify potential new opportunities throughout the entire company, not just in their own business or geography. The app is also intended to help leaders do a better job of succession planning by identifying “nonobvious candidates,” for example. “When we’re thinking about who could possibly fill a particular role, we have a technology that helps us come up with additional possibilities,” HR exec Paul Davies told Prokesch.

GE’s training app, still in the prototype stage, recommends training to help an employee do a better job and advance in his or her career. The company plans to connect it to an existing performance-development app for GE’s salaried employees that provides them with a steady stream of constructive feedback from their managers (Under Immelt, GE did away with the forced-ranking model implemented by former CEO Jack Welch, which has fallen out of favor in most of corporate America).

GE’s HR team is also building an app that uses a technique called the “Pareto frontier” to draw on “outcomes” data such as salary increases, bonuses, promotion rates, etc., to identify high-potential employees. It’s also building an app for networking that’s designed to  help employees identify others within the company they can go to for help or advice on a particular problem.

The team is also testing an app for talent retention that’s designed to predict, within a six-month window, when managers and employees in a given function are likely to jump ship. It will identify certain circumstances — such as when a team member leaves — under which people often quit, so that managers can intervene by, for example, talking about the next roles they might play.

Finally, GE’s “cultural change” app would help it identify factors within its organizational structure that may affect its efforts to become a nimbler, more customer-focused entity. For example, the app — still in the early stages of development — would measure whether people serving on large teams feel differently about the company than do people serving on smaller teams.

As Cade Massey, a professor at Penn’s Wharton School, tells Prokesch, although none of these apps will be a magic bullet for talent retention and development, they will give GE much more to rely on than intuition and bias in terms of what works and what doesn’t. “As analytics progresses, it offers a chance to make more rigorous those intuitive methods and to de-bias some of that judgement,” he says.

Trump Nominates HR Veteran for OPM

Jeff Tien Han Pon is President Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management, which oversees HR policies for the federal government’s two million-plus employees.

Pon currently serves as CHRO and strategy officer for the Society for Human Resource Management and was chief operating officer for Futures Inc., an organization that helps military veterans find civilian careers, reports Government Executive magazine. He’s also served as a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Trump had previously nominated George Nesterczuk to be OPM chief, a move that drew the ire of federal employee unions who objected to his role in implementing the National Security Personnel System, a failed attempt to introduce performance-based pay to the federal workforce during the George W. Bush administration. Nesterczuk withdrew from consideration in late July.

If confirmed, Pon will have his work cut out for him. The federal government’s personnel system has been widely derided as in dire need of fixing; in July, the National Academy of Public Administration released a report that dismissed piecemeal attempts to fix the civil service system in favor of a broad overhaul that would give individual federal agencies more flexibility over their processes for hiring, firing and promoting employees. Under this decentralized scenario, the OPM’s role in overseeing federal workers would likely diminish.

However, federal employee unions have expressed wariness toward the NAPA proposal, saying that it would undermine civil service protections for government workers. “Flexibility … is a common dog whistle for at-will employment,” union leader Lee Stone wrote in an email to the Washington Post.

The Blessing/Curse of Social Media

Anyone who’s been following coverage of Tropical Storm Harvey’s rampage through Texas and Louisiana knows the invaluable role social media’s played in helping victims get the word out to rescuers. The advent of social media has brought us many gifts — and curses. Witness the effect it’s having on our children, as documented by researcher Jean M. Twenge in her new book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–And What That Means for the Rest of Us.

Social media can — as Twenge and others have pointed out — both infantilize and enlighten us. And it can also have interesting effects on organizations, as a new survey out today from the Northern California Human Resource Association reminds us. That survey, which queried 20,000 HR professionals about social media and transparency, reveals that 59 percent agree with the statement that “The rise of social media has made my organization more transparent.”

“Transparency” isn’t always a good thing, of course — the good folks at Google could certainly tell you that, as they continue dealing with the fallout from engineer James Damore’s memo arguing that fewer women than men hold technical positions because of biological differences, not discrimination, and the company’s subsequent decision to fire him. The memo, which was posted on an internal company blog, was widely disseminated via social media, as was the reaction to it by other Google employees and Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s stated reasons for firing Damore.

The Google episode (and an earlier episode at Uber) were addressed in NCHRA’s survey, which asked respondents whether their organizations have changed their views/philosophy on how employees should utilize social media in light of those events. Only 24 percent of respondents said they felt their organizations had changed.

Another interesting finding: 68 percent of male respondents feel their organization has become more transparent due to social media. but only 54 percent of female participants said that was the case. And, while 69 percent of respondents from large organizations with 10,000 or more employees say their organizations have become more transparent thanks to social media, only 50 percent of those from organizations with between 201 and 1,000 employees say the same.

“Within the HR community, transparency is usually regarded as a positive attribute within the organization, because it can be used to cultivate trust,” says NCHRA CEO Greg Morton. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen several instances in the news recently that illustrate how that transparency can backfire if the organization has underlying cultural issues that haven’t been addressed.”

Well said. In other words, it’s probably best if HR be vigilant about listening carefully to employees and addressing any issues that are uncovered first, rather than waiting for transparency to do the job — and cause plenty of avoidable problems.

When Toxic Workers Attack

The jerk at work is at it again: Whether it’s snide comments he’s making about a co-worker, goofing off while colleagues race to make a deadline or cracking racist jokes in the office parking lot, his (or her) toxic behavior is costing your organization productivity, money and talent.

A big part of the reason why toxic employees can wreak havoc in the workplace is that most of their colleagues feel there’s little they can do to address the behavior. A survey of 1,000 full-time employees in the U.S. finds that more than half (53 percent) say they handle toxic employees by ignoring them, while only 24 percent confront these individuals directly.

Employees may feel there’s little recourse other than to ignore co-workers who are annoying or worse because they lack faith in management’s ability or willingness to address the problem: Although 18 percent of the survey respondents say they complain to management about a toxic colleague, 41 percent say management does nothing about the situation once it’s alerted.

“These results clearly show a lack of action on behalf of employees, certainly due in part to an absence of conversation and confrontation skills,” says Stacey Engle, executive vice president of Fierce Inc., which conducted the survey. “Company leaders need to ensure that all employees are empowered with the tools to address these toxic individuals in a productive and ultimately successful way.”

What defines a toxic employee? Fierce’s survey finds a majority of respondents citing negative attitude, followed by laziness. Over half of respondents (54 percent) believe a negative peer, manager or company leader are equally detrimental to an organization. Through their behavior these employees raise stress levels and decrease morale and productivity, with 10 percent more women than men reporting that toxic employees increase their likelihood to seek employment elsewhere.

So what should management and HR do when confronted with a toxic employee? Most survey respondents (67 percent) are unsure whether the person should be fired, while just over a quarter (27 percent) believing the person should be fired. The best approach is to assess the situation first and then provide coaching, workplace dynamics expert Amy Gallo wrote last year in the Harvard Business Review. Georgetown University Professor Christine Porath told Gallo that meeting with the employee and trying to determine the source of their poor behavior — personal struggles, frustrations with co-workers, job unhappiness — and suggest resources to help address the root of the problem.

Toxic employees are often unaware of their effect on the workplace, Porath said. Use concrete examples to help them understand the impact of their behavior and why they need to address it, and help them create a plan for doing so, she said.  “What do you expect them to change? Strive for clearly defined, measurable goals,” said Porath.  “You’re giving them the chance to have a more positive impact on people.”

 

Where’s the Best Place to Interview?

Glassdoor’s released its annual Candidates’ Choice Awards for the 100 Best Places to Interview, and topping the list are three companies that are hardly household names: #1 is Dignity Health, followed by Horizon Media at No. 2 and Cadence Design Systems coming in at third place. Rounding out the top five were Salesforce and J. Crew.

What makes for a good place to interview? Glassdoor relies on input from job candidates and employees, who rate and review their interview experience with a company, and ranks organizations based on the percentage of positive reviews they get. Dignity Health, a San Francisco-based healthcare system with 400 care centers (including hospitals) in 22 states, received a 93 percent “positive interview experience” score, while second-place winner Horizon Media got 91 percent and Cadence Design Systems got 86 percent.

Dignity Health interviewees frequently cited a “relaxed and friendly environment” during panel interviews, with one candidate who interviewed for a nursing position describing the entire experience as “wonderful and educational.” The typical interview lasted for about 30 minutes, according to the reviews. Candidates who interviewed at Horizon Media, a New York-based media-services agency, frequently cited transparency as a positive experience there, with HR generally doing a good job of keeping them in the loop regarding their status. Those who interviewed at Cadence Design Systems, a San Jose, Calif.-based IT firm that’s also on Fortune’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, the tone of the reviews was a bit more critical, with many describing a complicated process consisting of multiple technical interviews (many of the positions were for software engineer, which may explain that) and in a few cases hiring managers who were late to the interview or recruiters who failed to follow up at all. In general, however, they described the process as smooth and efficient.

Glassdoor’s Best Places to Interview includes a few well-known names as well, including Walt Disney Co. (at No. 25 on the list), United Airlines (28), Nike (34) and Starbucks (39). The length of the hiring process and interview difficulty also play a part in determining winners, says Glassdoor.

Face it, it’s tough to attract and hold on to talented employees these days, and a positive candidate experience matters more than ever. Just ask the organizers of the Candidate Experience Awards, who will hold their own awards ceremony for North American winners this October in Nashville. (And you’ll be able to hear directly from some of those winners at this year’s Recruiting Trends & Talent Tech Conference).

The Rise of ‘Side Gigs’

Have you ever taken a stroll through your company’s parking lot and noticed an Uber decal here and there on some of the vehicles? It may be that the employee drives for the ride-share service during nights or weekends, and if so he or she is far from unusual: Nearly a third of all U.S. workers (32 percent) have a “side gig” — a job outside of their regular work hours — to supplement their income, according to a CareerBuilder study released today.

Side gigs are prevalent throughout the workforce, the study finds, although women are more likely than men to have them (35 percent vs. 28 percent) as are workers younger than 35 (41 percent to 27 percent). African-American workers (46 percent) and Hispanic workers (40 percent) are more likely than Caucasian (29 percent) and Asian-American (26 percent) workers to have a “side hustle.”

Selling Amway or performing some consulting work after (or even during) work hours has long been a way for Americans to supplement the take-home pay from their regular job, but the ease of downloading an app such as Uber, Instacart (which lets you sign up for jobs delivering groceries and the like on your own time) and TaskRabbit have made it easier than ever to find side gigs. Plus, record-high levels of student debt and stagnant wages are also contributing to the allure of side gigs.

“While we continue to be at what is considered full employment, the quality and pay of jobs isn’t always what workers want, causing them to seek out new ways to supplement their full-time income,” says Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s CHRO. “We’re no longer in a world where there’s just one employee-employer relationship. It’s easier than ever to download an app that allows you to drive around passengers, pick up babysitting gigs or sell your unwanted furniture, and employees are willing to take on these extra responsibilities for cash.”

Although they’re more common among relatively low-paid employees, the appeal of side gigs spans all pay levels: One in four workers making more than $75,000 annually hold side gigs as do 19 percent of those making in excess of $100,000. Thirty five percent of workers making less than $50,000 and 36 percent of those making below $35,000 are working side gigs.

Money is not the only attractant for side gigs — dissatisfaction with one’s regular job is also a factor. More than eight out of 10 of the 3,696 full-time workers (82 percent) who participated in CareerBuilder’s survey say they’re not in their dream job, and 33 percent of those workers have side gigs. With that said, most of those with side gigs (67 percent) say they’re not looking to turn their side hustle into a regular full-time job, while 42 percent say they’re more passionate about their day job than their side gig (32 percent).

For employers, the reality of employees with side gigs would seem to be a bit of a double-edged sword: Working a job on the side leaves less downtime for the employee and could lead to greater stress and exhaustion, not to mention distraction. Then again, the nimbleness and initiative required for successfully managing a side gig could ultimately lead to a more-valuable employee, not to mention the chance to pick up more skills that can be applied to one’s regular job. Regardless of the ultimate impact, this is clearly a trend that isn’t going away anytime soon.

Candidates Want the Personal Touch

Does your candidate experience resemble this?

A new study from Randstad US bolsters this point, with 82 percent of survey respondents agreeing that they are often frustrated with “an overly automated job search experience.” Ninety five percent of the 1,200 respondents to the survey agree tech should supplement, not replace, the recruitment experience and 87 percent agree that it’s made the search process more impersonal.

The top two aspects cited by respondents as contributing the most to a positive impression of an employer (aside from an actual job offer) were “the degree of personal, human interaction during the process” and “the recruiter/hiring manager I worked with.” Factors contributing to a negative impression of an employer included the length of the hiring process and “the communication level throughout the selection process.” One-third of the respondents who said they’d had a negative experience reported that they’d never apply to the organization again and would not refer a friend or family member there.

We’ve certainly touched before on how lengthy hiring processes and lack of communication can alienate candidates and undermine employers in their search for talented candidates. But now more than ever, jobseekers want a candidate experience that’s similar to or even surpasses the one that consumer-focused companies provide to their customers.

As Randstad North America CEO Linda Galipeau says, “Employers today, and in the future, will be judged by the experience they create for prospective hires. In a technology-driven world of talent, it’s not only about how a company markets itself, but what others say about the company that has a positive impact on employer branding.”

The High Cost of Caregiving

You may or may not be familiar with the story of Kristian Rex, a New Jersey man who cares for his elderly father, a former boat captain who once had “arms like Popeye” and who now — thanks to a debilitating stroke — is unable to perform basic, daily routines such as shaving himself. As shown in a recent award-winning commercial (for Gillette, no less), Rex Jr. must perform these and other tasks for his dad, and he does so with care and grace, as any good son would.

Many of us will find ourselves in Rex Jr.’s shoes one day, as the number of elderly in the U.S. continues to grow. In fact, an estimated 40 million Americans already serve as family caregivers and of those, 24 million juggle those responsibilities with holding down a job (Rex Jr. is a bit of an outlier, as women make up the majority of caregivers for elderly parents.) Nearly one in five adult children provide care for at least one elderly parent at some point, according to Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. These caregivers spend an average of 77 hours per month with their parents, the Center finds, or the equivalent of about two weeks of work. Caregiving also exacts a mental and physical toll on health, with women caregivers reporting more pain and significantly higher out-of-pocket costs for their own healthcare, a study by the Center for Retirement Research finds. The study also finds that both male and female caregivers say they’re more depressed and suffer from poorer health because of parental care.

Many employers recognize the burden that caregiving employees shoulder: A new survey by the Northeast Business Group on Health (undertaken in partnership with AARP) finds that more than three quarters of the 129 mostly large employers surveyed agree that caregiving will grow in importance to their companies over the next five years. Respondents cited increased productivity, decreased absenteeism and reduced healthcare costs as the top drivers that would make a compelling case for investing in benefits that would make them “caregiver friendly” organizations.

“Family caregiving is an issue that affects the vast majority of us,” says AARP Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond. “We are either caregivers now, have been in the past, will be in the future or will need care ourselves.”

Fewer than half of the companies surveyed have programs or benefits designed specifically for caregivers, such as caregiver support groups, subsidized in-home back-up care for those being cared for, or counseling services. For those that do make such offerings available, communication appears to be an issue, with most saying their employees are only “somewhat” or “not very” aware of these benefits and services.

Plenty of compelling reasons exist for employers to get serious now about offering — and communicating — these services.

“The implications of this trend are significant not only for workplace productivity but for employee population health and healthcare costs,” says Dr. Jeremy Nobel, Executive Director of NEBGH’s Solutions Center. “Caregivers tend to abandon their own physical and emotional needs and employers need to plan for how to respond.”

Back From Vacation — And Stressed

That week in the Bahamas was everything you’d hoped it would be. And now it’s Monday, your first day back at the office — and life stinks.

If this scenario rings true to you (regardless of whether said vacation was in the Bahamas, Disney World or your own backyard), then take heart in knowing you’re hardly alone: Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of 1,000 full-time U.S. workers polled by training and communications firm Fierce Inc. say they’re either more stressed or have the same level of stress upon returning to work after taking paid time off. The reasons why aren’t that surprising, with most respondents citing having to catch up on missed work, followed by having to readjust to “a work mindset” and needing to resolve major issues that arose while they were away.

Not all employees feel equally stressed, however, with only 14 percent of respondents who said they were “very satisfied” with their job feeling more stressed returning from vacation. Meanwhile, 38 percent of those who reported being unsatisfied with their jobs said they felt more stressed returning to work.

“The fact that returning to work is a stressful situation speaks volumes to the lack of support many employees feel both leading up to, and returning from, vacation,” says Stacey Engle, Fierce’s executive vice president of marketing.

Interestingly, while more than half of employees believe their managers support and encourage them to take time off, only 40 percent say the same of their co-workers. Once again, there’s a correlation between this factor and job satisfaction, with 57 percent of those unsatisfied with their current job saying no one encourages or supports them in taking paid time off, while just 18 percent of those who are very satisfied say the same. Lower-paid employees also report a lack of support, with 45 percent of those with annual household incomes of $50,000 or less saying no one encourages them to take a vacation. Meanwhile, less than 30 percent of employees who make $100,000 a year or more say no one encourages them to take time off.

Then there’s the perennial issue of under-vacationed Americans: Although a third of the Fierce survey respondents say they receive 20 or more vacation days each year, one in every five say they receive less than 10. Not surprisingly, younger and lower-paid workers tend to receive the least PTO days. By way of comparison, countries within the European Union require a minimum of four weeks (20 days) of paid leave for all workers, while a number of them(such as Germany and Switzerland) are even more generous.

Given that there is no national law requiring paid time off in the U.S., employees and HR need to keep the lines of communication open regarding the issue of vacation. As Fierce’s Engle says, “employees need to feel empowered to ask for what they need, and managers must be open to hearing concerns of these employees.”