All posts by Andrew McIlvaine

Vacation: All They Ever Wanted

If your organization is in the midst of planning its annual holiday party (and possibly stressing over what could happen during said party in this post-Harvey Weinstein era), then know this: Most employees would actually prefer more time off in lieu of a holiday celebration.

That’s according to a new survey from Randstad US, which finds that 90 percent of employees would choose extra vacation days (or a bonus) over a workplace holiday party.

Time off is a fraught subject here in the U.S., one of the few industrialized countries to not mandate some form of paid leave for employees. As we’ve previously noted, American workers take significantly less paid time off during the year than their European counterparts, much to the consternation of health and wellness experts who warn that too little time off can lead to burnout, stress and other health issues further down the line.

So just how much time off are Americans getting these days? The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans‘ just-released 2017 survey finds that, on average, salaried employees in the U.S. with paid-time-off plans receive 17 days after one year of service, 22 days after five years, 25 days after 10 years of service and 28 days after 20 years (this includes vacation, sick days, etc.). In terms of paid vacation days, salaried U.S. employees receive on average 12 days after one year of service, 16 days after five years, 19 days after 10 years and 23 days of vacation after 20 years of service.

Most employers let workers carry over their paid leave time from one year to the next, with 83 percent of employers allowing them to carry over some or all unused days in a PTO bank, while 74 percent allow hourly workers to carry over vacation days and 77 percent allow their salaried employees to do so. Approximately one in seven organizations let workers sell their vacation time back to the company for cash.

As for the upcoming holiday season, just about all (99 percent) of organizations that offer paid holiday time offer Thanksgiving Day as a paid holiday and 75 percent include the Friday after Thanksgiving as well. Just  under half (45 percent) offer Christmas Eve off as a paid holiday, but practically all (99 percent) offer Christmas Day off as well as New Year’s Day. And for some lucky employees, 13 percent of organizations shut down their operations and offer a full paid week of  holiday leave between Christmas and New Year’s.

The ‘Next Concept’ for HR

Starting January 1 of next year, the Northern California HR Association — one of the largest HR associations in the U.S. — will have a brand-new name: Next Concept Human Resources Association.

NCHRA CEO Greg Morton

There are multiple reasons for the name change, says NCHRA CEO Greg Morton. One of the most important, he says, is that the organization’s purview is moving far beyond its traditional base in Northern California/San Francisco Bay Area.

“We’ve got members in 23 states and three or four different countries, including Poland,” he says. “The HR profession is becoming borderless, and we want to support that and clarify that to the world.”

Formed as an independent organization in 1960, NCHRA became an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management in the later part of that decade. Last year, however, the organization decided to part ways with SHRM.

“I don’t want to bad-mouth SHRM, but we were finding that their focus on certain things was limiting to our relationship,” says Morton, citing SHRM’s controversial decision to stop supporting PHR and SPHR certifications in favor of its own brand-new competency-based certifications several years ago as one of the sticking points. Morton also says SHRM is heavily concerned with serving as a lobbying organization for the HR profession in the nation’s capital, while NCHRA’s focus is on continuing education for its members (which includes resources for those pursuing PHR and SPHR certificates from the Human Resource Certification Institute as well as the SHRM CP and SCP certificates).

With its new name, NCHRA wants to be seen as a source of learning amidst the big changes taking place within the HR profession, he says. Chief among those changes is, of course, the rise of artificial intelligence.

“We’re all going to be working alongside AI, and we’re going to need to know how to evaluate tech and use it for prescriptive means within our organizations,” says Morton. “The world of work is undergoing a ‘hyper state’ of change.”

With the name change, Morton also hopes to engage non-HR professionals, many of whom will need to be well-versed in HR concepts. “Our attitude is, anyone who’s looking to hire and develop talent — as a manager or an individual — is going to need those underlying skill sets,” he says.

These are challenging times for the association model, says Morton. Information that was once disseminated only to dues-paying members is now widely available via the internet, which means that associations need to come up with a new value proposition in order to stay relevant.

“The mid-1900’s association model is just not going to cut it going forward,” he says. “We’re looking to set a new trajectory here and we’re looking for like-minded associations to band together in figuring out how to better create a community for this era rather than 1960.”

M&As: Keeping Talent Long-Term

Mergers and acquisitions are hard, but post-merger success can be harder: Up to 90 percent of mergers end up failing, according to the Harvard Business Review. While mergers are complicated and the factors that can contribute to failure are many, one of the biggest impediments to success is when talented employees from both organizations decide not to stick around post-merger.

Willis Towers Watson’s 2017 Global M&A Retention Study finds that, while acquiring companies have been increasingly successful in retaining at least 80 percent of their employees who’ve signed retention agreements through the end of the retention period, only about half retain at least 80 percent of such employees a year after the retention period ends.

“It’s a tale of two results,” says Mary Cianni, WTW’s global M&A practice lead. “Acquirers have made good strides at keeping key talent for an initial period, but there’s room for improvement one year later.”

Companies are failing to use the retention period to capture these employees’ “hearts and minds” for the long term, she says. Retention bonuses — the primary financial award used by companies — are important, but are only part of the equation, says Cianni.

“Personal outreach by leaders, strategic promotions and employees’ participation on task forces are also beneficial and will pay dividends in the years ahead,” she says. Total rewards (learning and development and career opportunities for hi-pos, in particular) can also be key.

The report (based on data from 244 respondents in 24 countries) finds that companies which prioritize early communication with senior leaders — 24 percent of the acquiring companies asked senior leaders at their target companies to sign retention agreements prior to the initial merger agreement signing — tend to have better luck at retaining those leaders than those that do not.

Of course, culture is also important: Nearly half (44 percent) of the employees who left prior to the end of their retention period blame the new or changing culture of the combined organization as the reason for leaving. Other top reasons for leaving include being aggressively pursued by competitors (36 percent) and not liking their new role (25 percent).

“The most successful acquirers realize retention agreements can buy time, but not loyalty,” says Scott Oberstaedt, WTW’s director of executive compensation. “And by not using their arsenal of tools to build loyalty during what can be tumultuous periods, companies often lose talent that would serve them well in the long run.”

LGBT Employees Report Bullying

If you’re a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender employee, you’re 11 percent likelier to have been bullied in the workplace than your non-LGBT colleagues. That’s based on a new Careerbuilder survey out today which finds that two in five (40 percent) of LGBT workers say they’ve been subjected to bullying, compared to the national average of 29 percent for all workers. Of those, 56 percent say they’ve been bullied repeatedly.

What does this bullying look like? Sixty one percent said they’ve been falsely accused of mistakes they didn’t make, while 49 percent they were subjected to different standards or policies than other workers. Forty two percent said they were picked on for personal attributes such as race, gender or appearance, while 28 percent said belittling comments were made about their work during meetings.

The bullying of LGBT employees extracts an economic as well as a psychological toll. Consider a survey out earlier this year by the Kapor Center for Social Impact, which found that LGBT employees working in the tech sector reported instances of bullying and public humiliation (20 percent and 24 percent, respectively) at rates notably higher than non-LGBT employees (13 percent. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the LGBT survey respondents said bullying contributed to their decision to leave their company. In other words, an industry that’s already strapped for talent is losing more people thanks to the insensitive jerks in their midst.

Transgender employees face some of the most blatant instances of bullying. Rachael Booth, a Navy veteran and a transgender computer programmer, said her company forced her to carry a bright red sign whenever she had to use the bathroom at work and hang it on the bathroom door, she writes in the recently released book To My Trans Sisters. If someone was using the restroom, Booth had to wait around while holding the conspicuous sign, she writes.

Here’s hoping that experiences such as Booth’s will soon be a thing of the past. Companies have made great progress over the years in treating their LGBT employees as equals, as evidenced by the Human Rights Campaign’s Rainbow Awards. But as the Careerbuilder survey suggests, there’s more work to be done.

Bersin: Massive Disruption for HR

Companies are living in a paradox right now: Brilliant new technology is flooding the workplace and changing business models, and yet, employee productivity and engagement levels are going down in the U.S. and around the world, said Josh Bersin during his closing keynote at this year’s HR Tech Conference.

“Within the last two years, 90 percent of companies have said their business models are under disruption by technology and the problem isn’t the technology—it’s the people,” said Bersin, principal at Bersin by Deloitte. Employees lack the skills to use the technology properly and companies can’t find the people who do, he said.

A big part of the problem, said Bersin, is “the overwhelmed employee.” “One of the most popular pieces my team has ever written is about this phenomenon,” he said. “Technology is doing things to us. It not only affects our productivity but our personal lives as well.”

Employees are being bombarded by emails and texts, at all hours of the day in some cases, and are suffering from FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” said Bersin. They’re stressed over which message to respond to first. All of this is undermining productivity and engagement. The solution, he said, is to find ways to help employees be more productive in the face of this constant change. But how?

The structure of work must be changed, said Bersin. The most cutting-edge companies, like Amazon and Cisco, are doing away with hierarchy and replacing it with teams. At Cisco alone, he said, 20,000 different teams are working on a variety of projects. What’s notable, he pointed out, was that none of this was reflected in the company’s HR database. HR departments—and the vendors that serve them—aren’t adapting their services and tools to support organizations that will increasingly resemble a network of teams.

“This really concerns me,” said Bersin.

Automation is also remaking the nature of work, with Deloitte research showing that 38 percent of companies expect to be fully automated within five years, he said. Seventy-seven percent of companies anticipate that automation will result in “better jobs,” while only 20 percent expect it will result in job reductions. More than 50 percent of companies plan to retrain their employees to work side by side with robots and artificial intelligence. The problem, he said, is that in 65 percent of those companies, HR is not involved in these efforts at all.

“My message is this: You guys have to be involved in the recrafting of work around automation,” Bersin told his audience.

The HR tech vendor community has plenty of tools to offer in this and other areas, with money pouring into the sector from venture capital funds, he said. “HR tech is now a hot marketplace—since 2014, VCs have invested $5.5 billion in HR tech start-ups.”

Meanwhile, more established vendors are investing heavily in making their core HR products more appealing to end users, with ease of use a primary objective. “We used to rate HR software on the number of features it had,” said Bersin. Now, he said, it’s judged based on how quickly employees can master it to become more productive.

The hottest area of investor interest is talent acquisition, said Bersin, with new funding and innovation making it “an incredibly dynamic space,” spurred by record-low unemployment rates that have led to “an arms race among employers to arm themselves with data and create a wonderful employee experience.”

Video interviewing is seeing some of the biggest strides in innovation, he said, with vendors like HireVue creating tools that “can capture a million data elements from one 15-minute interview.”

These tools can analyze candidates’ “micro-expressions” to determine, for example, whether they’re unsure about their answers to questions and assess their micro-expressions against those of the company’s top-performing employees, said Bersin.

Another area that’s seeing lots of disruption is performance management, with “continuous assessment” replacing the annual year-end reviews that Bersin jokingly referred to as “drive-by shootings.”

“I’ve been through around 46 of those myself, and out of all of them, maybe one was a pleasant experience,” he said.

A number of vendors are building tools for continuous assessment, coming at it from “a number of different directions, and the question of how to select the right one is going to be an ongoing challenge for you,” Bersin told the audience. The good news is that continuous assessment—although it can initially feel disruptive to employees—typically leads to increased engagement, he said.

Learning is another sector of HR tech that’s become a hotbed of innovation. “I’m heartened to see that after a period of stagnation, there’s a lot going on, especially in the areas of micro-learning and continuous learning,” said Bersin.

He predicted that the market for employee well-being tools and services “will explode,” noting that “well being” has been steadily trending upward as a Google search term since 2004.

“The idea of corporate well-being has been around for 200 years,” said Bersin. “But it was previously focused on things like safety and reducing insurance rates. Yet as we’ve become more overwhelmed as employees, we’ve changed the issue to be one about human performance—as in, help us learn how to be healthy and well and productive at work.”

“There could be an entire HR tech conference just on well-being—that’s how huge it is,” he said.

From people analytics to performance management, HR technology is being brought to bear on the employee experience, said Bersin: Giving employees the tools and knowledge they need to be productive and well in a period of sustained change.

“The bottom line is, HR tech is reinventing itself,” he said.

Are You Lonely Today?

Loneliness is a growing epidemic in society at large and the workplace, writes Dr. Vivek H. Murthy in the Harvard Business Review. Murthy, who served as Surgeon General in the Obama administration, cites recent research finding that 40 percent of Americans report feeling lonely (a number that in reality is probably higher, he writes) and that many employees and half of CEOs report feeling lonely in their jobs.

It’s bad for the workplace and bad for our health, Murthy asserts in the piece, titled “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.” During his work as a physician and as Surgeon General, he witnessed firsthand the ravages that chronic loneliness can have on people’s mental and physical health. “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness,” Murthy writes. Loneliness is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety, while in in the workplace it reduces task performance, limits creativity and impairs reasoning and decision-making.

Humans evolved as social creatures, depending on the cooperation of others to help fight off predators, find food sources and create shelter. We’re hardwired for socialization, Murthy notes, but in today’s society opportunities for socializing seem to be ever scarcer. The rise of telework, short-term gigs and screen-focused work — in which we sit in front of computers for most of the day, often with headphones stuck in our ears — means it’s increasingly likely we know next to nothing about the people we work with or sit next to.

That’s not just a sad state of affairs; it’s harming productivity and innovation, Murthy asserts.  He cites research by Gallup that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work. People with strong work connections can handle stress better and enjoy better health,  he writes, while workers who feel they have high-stress jobs have markedly higher healthcare costs than low-stress employees.

What to do? Murthy cites an example of what he did during his time as Surgeon General, where he oversaw a fast-growing staff of people who didn’t know each other very well. To bring people together, Murthy instituted “Inside Scoop,” in which staff members would take five minutes during weekly meetings to tell their colleagues something about themselves. In one case, a former Marine officer spoke about his complex relationship with his father and how his children’s musical talents reminded him of his dad. “As he spoke, his eyes glistened,” Murthy writes. “I felt a deep connection to him in that moment and was inspired by his honesty and compelled to reflect on my own relationships. Even though we were close before, my relationship with him became even stronger that day.”

Small steps can make a difference in making a workplace feel more warm and hospitable, and less lonely, Murthy suggests. On a deeper level, he writes, an organization’s leaders can make strengthening social connections a priority by modeling this behavior through building stronger connections with other team members and examining whether a company’s culture and policies support the development of trusted relationships.

Murthy’s own strong bonds with his colleagues eased his path through the many difficult and stressful moments of his medical residency, he writes, and helped make him a better doctor. The stakes are high, he warns, for the workplace and society at large:

If we cannot rebuild stronger, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and society. Instead of coming together to take on the great challenges before us, we will retreat to our corners, angry, sick and alone.”

Time to ‘Fix’ the Labor Market?

When it comes to evaluating job candidates, a college degree is often an over-used and overrated criterion that screens out otherwise-qualified people from good jobs and contributes to a worsening talent shortage.

So suggests the Rework America Task Force, a new organization that’s got some heavy hitters on its roster, including Siemens USA, Microsoft, IBM and Princeton University and is chaired by former Obama White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

Rework America’s stated goal is to “fix America’s broken labor market” by transforming it to a “21st century, skills-driven model.”

“The current labor market fails job seekers, workers and businesses,” says McDonough in a press release announcing the new organization. “Many workers have the skills employers are looking for to fill open positions, but don’t know it because too many job listings are written in a way that excludes qualified job seekers rather than attracting them.”

This includes requiring credentials such as a four-year degree as a proxy, McDonough says, instead of listing the actual skills needed for the job. That’s a problem, he adds, given that nearly seven out of 10 Americans don’t have a four-year degree, although they may possess skills that are actually relevant to the job.

Rework America is based on the Skillful Initiative, a partnership established last year between the state of Colorado and companies such as LinkedIn that helps companies use tools and data to create a skills-based hiring process that lets job candidates demonstrate the skills they can bring to an organization. Microsoft recently donated $25 million to Rework America’s parent organization, The Markle Foundation, to enlarge and expand the Skillful Initiative to another state.

A recent study by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte finds that six out of 10 production jobs remain open because of the talent shortage. Given this sad state of affairs, it will be interesting to see whether Rework America’s program can help fill this gap and ensure people with skills can find meaningful work.

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.