All posts by Jack Robinson

Jack Robinson is a senior editor at Human Resource Executive magazine.

Survey: 3-percent Raises in 2018

The economy is generally strong and low unemployment rates mean some organizations are scrambling for workers. But most companies are not planning to spend more on pay increases in 2018, according to a new survey.

Employers are prepared to open their checkbooks a bit wider to reward top performers, according to the global consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, which surveyed 819 U.S. companies in a range of industries from April through July.

Of companies surveyed, 99 percent expect to grant raises next year, according to a summary by Willis Towers Watson. The average 2018 raise forecast for most employees, including both professional and nonexempt workers, was 3 percent — the same as the average raise given in the last three years. The average expected raise for executives is about the same — 3.1 percent.

“Most companies are not under any significant pressure to increase their salary budgets in the near term,” said Laura Sejen, Willis Towers Watson’s managing director for human capital and benefits, according to a company announcement.

Employers continue to offer performance bonuses to their most valuable players, the survey found. Among companies surveyed, top performers received raises of up to 4.5 percent. Willis Towers Watson found some companies surveyed base their bonuses not only on performance, but on professional development.

“While organizations may be forecasting 3% increases, the landscape of how and when they are giving increases varies considerably,” said Sandra McLellan, North America rewards practice leader at Willis Towers Watson, according to the company announcement.

 

Diversity Memo Causes a Stir

The tech world is chattering today about a widely circulated internal memo from a male software engineer unhappy with Google’s diversity practices.

Posted in full over the weekend by tech-oriented websites Motherboard and Gizmodo, the memo argues that innate biological differences between men and women account for underrepresentation of women in the upper reaches of the industry.

“I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ, in part due to biological causes, and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership,” the memo reads.

The engineer also argues that Google’s diversity practices amount to a politically liberal orthodoxy “that can irreparably harm Google.”

In response to the memo, which drew a harsh response from some Googlers on Twitter, the company’s vice president of diversity, integrity and governance offered a memo of her own. Danielle Brown had been on the job just a few weeks when the controversy erupted.

“Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate,” she writes. “We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul.”

Addressing the complaint about what the engineer perceived to be a pervasive liberal ideology at Google, Brown writes: “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”

(By Tuesday, word emerged that Google had fired the engineer for violating its code of conduct.)

H-1B Visa Limits Ease — Just a Bit

Hold on, employers! The immigration roller coaster just took another turn. And it may — or, more likely, will not — help you.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced last week that on July 24 it resumed expedited processing of H-1-B visas – but only in certain cases.

The so-called premium service is effectively a fast lane that, for a $1,225 fee, speeds the hiring of foreign skilled workers in certain “specialty occupations” such as software engineer. The service ended in March, soon before President Trump issued his “Buy American, Hire American” executive order. The Trump administration signaled at the time that it would be scrutinizing H-1-B applications more carefully prevent fraud. The apparent targets include offshore staffing services that have been accused of scooping up technical workers in India, China and elsewhere, then placing them in American jobs using visas obtained in bulk.

The new policy applies only to employers not subject to a cap on H-1B visas — that is, universities or related nonprofits, such as institutes and medical centers. Government research organizations also qualify.

The immigration agency said that in June it already had resumed premium processing for physicians. Hospitals, particularly those in rural areas that struggle to find highly experienced doctors without recruiting abroad, had complained about the limit on expedited visa processing.

Reconsidering Your Office Layout

Gallup survey results  reinforce a key point of my recent story about the distracting acoustical problems of open offices: In the workplace, privacy matters.

Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace (full report is  here) finds that while an estimated 70 percent of U.S. offices use open floor plans to encourage collaboration, “people still want a personal space at work,” according to Annamarie Mann, who is Gallup’s employee engagement and well-being practice manager.

Her  sensible recommendations are summarized on Gallup’s site in an article titled “How to Make an Open Office Floor Plan Work.”

Mann’s suggestions include:

  • “Allow every employee to have a home base, even in a flexible, collaborative office.”
  • “Provide a variety of types of spaces—big group tables, booths, comfy chairs, soundproof areas, large and small meeting rooms— that allow employees the freedom to choose how they work best.”
  •  “Start a conversation about how your organization understands collaboration in relation to productivity.”

Analyzing the responses to Gallup’s surveys, Mann finds a link between office environment and employee engagement. The research found “employees who have a personal work space are 1.4 times more likely to be engaged at work” than other workers, Mann notes. (Gallup found only 52 percent of responding workers have a work space with a door they can close.)

And “employees who have the ability to move to different areas at work are 1.3 times more likely to be engaged than other employees,” she writes. (Gallup found 74 percent of respondents said they have that freedom.)

Bill Would Boost ESOPs

You may think the U.S. Senate has bigger fish to fry – uh, like healthcare reform? – but senators now have something new to consider that will be of interest to HR leaders: a bill with bipartisan support that would encourage companies to offer employee stock ownership plans.

Introduced July 12 by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the bill in part aims to give workers another way to save for retirement, according to a statement issued by Risch. ESOPs also may offer

business owners the opportunity for a comfortable exit.

Advocates for ESOPs also tout their power to inspire employee satisfaction, retention, engagement and loyalty in companies of any size. Risch says 13.5 million employees now  participate in 7,000 ESOPs nationally, reaping 12.5 percent more than their peers in wages and retirement contributions.

The bill is aimed at smaller companies that may not have easy access to the expertise needed to launch an ESOP. It calls for the nonprofit business-advisory group SCORE — which operates with support from the U.S. Small Business Administration — to provide those companies the information they need.

“ESOPs are the perfect transition solution for many successful closely held companies, benefiting both employees and owners,” says Corey Rose, founder of the National Center for Employee Ownership, quoted in Risch’s statement. “But despite their many tax, planning, and legacy benefits, few owners know that this is even a possibility. The outreach program proposed in this bill would be a very cost-effective way to address this issue.”

Unlimited Vacation and Productivity

Since the earliest days of unlimited PTO policies, supporters have argued they are more likely to help productivity than hurt it. A new analysis of data supports that claim.

In a report titled HR Mythbusters 2017, developers of the HR technology platform Namely analyze their data from 2016 to test the notion that unlimited vacation does more good than harm.

The result: Employees with unlimited time took an average of 13 days off, during the year, compared to 15 days for employees with a traditional allowance.

“The data prove that on average employees with unlimited PTO plans do in fact take less time off than employees with a set amount of vacation days,” the report authors write. “This calls for a change in the way HR teams and managers communicate about time off.”

In a related finding, the Namely analysis compared vacation-time usage with job performance. The result: “High performers tended to take an average of 19 vacation days per year, while individuals who scored lower took only 14.”

The State of Independence

The “gig economy” may be the future, but growth in the number of independent workers is slowing as the nation’s robust job market lures some back to traditional employment, a new report concludes.

MBO Partners, a Virginia-based firm that offers a technology platform for self-employed professionals, each year tallies the number of independent workers. Its 2017 State of Independence in America, seventh in an annual series of reports, finds the total number of such workers edged up just 3 percent to 40.9 million since 2016.

Most of that growth was in what the authors call “occasional” independent workers — including people with regular jobs who pursue a freelance “side gig” at least once a month. The number of these workers soared 23 percent in one year to 12.9 million, the report finds.

By contrast, the number of full-time independent workers — those working for themselves at least 15 hours a week — dropped more than 4 percent to 16.2 million. This is the second straight year of decline for this group, study’s authors say. “Surveys tell us … that many people prefer the security of full-time jobs,” they note. “We expect the number of full-time independents to cycle up and down in response to the strength of the jobs market.”

Predictably, part-time independent workers — those working for themselves fewer than 15 hours a week but devoting more time than an “occasional” independent  — fell in the middle: Their numbers declined only slightly, by 3 percent, to 11.8 million.

 

Will Foreign Students Shun the U.S?

The Trump administration’s increased scrutiny of H-1B visas affects not only experienced foreign workersit also could pinch the flow of talented international students who, after earning U.S. graduate degrees, traditionally start their careers in the lower rungs of major American companies.

A May 2017 survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the exam that students usually must take to enter an MBA or other business-focused graduate program, found that two-thirds of 700 foreign students seeking admission to a U.S. graduate business program would consider shifting their destination to another country if they couldn’t get a work visa after graduation.

The U.S. remains the top choice for graduate business education, with 62 percent of respondents listing it as their first choice. India, at 9 percent, was the overall second choice. Canada, at 6 percent, was third, with China, the United Kingdom and France also mentioned.

But already there is evidence that U.S. visa policies are discouraging graduate business students. About two-thirds of MBA programs are reporting a decline in foreign-student applications, the council reported. And 56 percent of students who plan to study outside the U.S. cited American immigration policies as the reason, the GMAC survey found.

Life at Ground Zero

If anybody in HR sits in the middle of  the  chaos over U.S. immigration rules, it might be Vicky Turk. She works for SimCorp, a Copenhagen-based maker of advanced financial software with 1,376 employees all over the world. Based in New York, she’s  head of HR for a region that includes both the U.S. and Canada.

Lately, that hasn’t been easy.

Over recent months, the Trump administration has twice shut the door on visitors from certain countries, only to be stymied  — temporarily — each time by the courts. The legal battle is far from over; a federal judge in Hawaii on June 28 extended an earlier order blocking the ban.

Turk says the North American division of SimCorp has had two employees blocked by the travel ban as they tried to return from overseas.

 

“As a global company, Simcorp has consultants that travel on short and long term assignments between countries,” Turk says. “The uncertainty surrounding the travel ban and its potential evolution make it more difficult for the company and employees to plan with confidence.”

 

Is One Watchdog Better Than Two?

The Trump administration wants to combine the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with another federal watchdog agency—and both worker and business groups are worried.

The issue got attention on Wednesday as new Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta testified before a House subcommittee about how President Trump’s proposed budget will affect his department.

Among other proposals that would cut Labor department spending by 20 percent overall, Trump’s budget also proposes merging the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs into the EEOC, an independent agency.

Acosta told skeptical Democrats on the panel that the merger made “common sense” and would not hurt workers, the Associated Press and other news organizations reported.

Off Capitol Hill, the merger idea has drawn fire from communities that often disagree—business leaders and worker-rights advocates. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition that includes labor unions, the ACLU and others, wrote the administration and Congress on May 26 that the merger would effectively shutter the OFCCP by folding it into the EEOC.

“Both OFCCP and EEOC help advance and protect equal employment opportunity, but they are distinct in their enforcement approaches and expertise, and they should remain separate,” said Leadership Conference CEO Wade Henderson in a prepared statement. “We strongly urge Congress to reject this proposal, which would lead to an erosion of key civil-rights protections for working people.”

Though the merger idea got an early boost from the business-friendly Heritage Foundation, some corporate leaders agree with critics that the agencies should remain separate. Some, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, fear the merger would create a mega-regulator with too much power.

”There is a fear in the business community that this newly formed grouping might result in the worst of all worlds from both agencies,” said Randy Johnson, a chamber senior vice president, in a prepared statement. He noted that the EEOC has legal powers the OFCCP does not.