All posts by Jack Robinson

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

On Social Media and Return to Work

Employers are understandably worried when workers use third-party social media sites such as Facebook to communicate with each other about work matters.

A recent personal experience has given me a different perspective. In some cases, I believe, these social platforms can provide benefits for both employers and workers.

I was diagnosed with a brain tumor late in November and had surgery on Dec. 2, followed by intensive physical rehabilitation to restore nerve-muscle connections on my left side.

I immediately used Facebook and LinkedIn to update my professional contacts. And I have reaped big benefits from support offered by colleagues at HRE and from former co-workers at other publications around the nation.

That support helps me tap into the power of my network for encouragement and will speed my return to productivity. That suggests to me that these social-media tools may have real value to employers who want to support sick and injured workers and help them quickly get back in the saddle.

‘Persuader’ Ruling Helps Employers

Barack Obama hasn’t yet turned the Oval Office over to Donald Trump, but already one of his administration’s signature pro-labor rules has been scrapped. Not by the new president, but by a federal court.

Gavel banging
Gavel banging

U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings  in Lubbock, Texas, on Nov. 16 made permanent an earlier temporary injunction halting the Department of  Labor’s controversial “persuader rule.” That rule, announced in April, expanded an existing requirement for employers  to disclose in government filings when they hire legal counsel to combat unionization drives. Under the new rule, disclosure was necessary even if those lawyers only provided advice on how companies should persuade workers to oppose representation. It was one of several pro-labor rules or standards set recently by Obama-administration agencies, including the DOL, EEOC and NLRB.

“It’s a good result,” says Jeff Londa, a Houston-based labor and employment attorney with Ogletree Deakins who led the legal effort to set aside the rule.  As a result, “We’re back where we were.”

Business groups that joined several states in seeking the order included the National Federation of Independent Business, whose members are generally small employers.

But larger companies also will benefit from Wednesday’s ruling, Londa says. Though more likely than small firms to  have their own attorneys on staff,  larger employers still “typically go to outside counsel” for training and advice on company policies  “when there’s a lot on the line” in a major union organizing campaign, Londa says.

The “persuader”rule had  stirred widespread objections not only from employers, but also from lawyers, who said it breached the attorney- client privilege.

The Labor Department had filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit after Cummings issued a preliminary injunction on June 27. That appeal is now mooted b this week’s permanent injunction, Londa says. That means “it would clearly be on the shoulders of a new administration” to appeal again  — unlikely, given Trump’s position on the Obama administration’s labor regulations. And given the GOP’s strong showing in Senate and House races on Election Day, Congress is not likely to intervene to revive the “persuader” rule, he notes.

“The inclination of the new Congress would probably be against the new rule,” Londa says. “I’m not sure they would get involved.”

 

 

 

What Now for Labor Relations?

Trump_by_Gage_SkidmoreUnions have had a pretty good ride during the Obama administration. That’s about to change, and it’s not hard to imagine a new age of labor strife dawning as Donald Trump settles into the Oval Office.

The Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board under Obama have favored rules that ease union organizing efforts. The agencies also have applied many standards that typically apply in a collective-bargaining relationship to nonunion workplaces as well.

Trump, however, is expected to embrace a traditional GOP pro-business stance. That makes it likely his agencies will be less friendly to unions. So, too, for federal judges and justices that ultimately rule on many tough legal issues involving labor. Trump also supports national right-to-work legislation. Does all that mean we’re headed for a more antagonistic relationship between management and labor generally?

Not necessarily. The Trump-labor relationship is complicated.

At least one union leader is talking tough. “We must pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and stand strong,” says Matt Loeb, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents workers in the movie industry. “We must demonstrate solidarity in an unprecedented way by locking arms as Brothers and Sisters.”

Of course, union members did not vote universally for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton; exit-poll data suggest over 40 percent of the union vote went to her opponent.  Indeed, labor unions are as diverse as the industries they organize. At least one union leader welcomed the election of Trump, hailing him as a potential savior of jobs: Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers.

“Working families in our nation’s coalfields are very concerned about their future, and they made their voices heard loud and clear yesterday,” Roberts said. “President-elect Trump has spoken many times about addressing the serious economic disaster that is affecting large areas of Appalachia and other coal-producing areas of our country by putting coal miners back to work. No one is more interested in doing just exactly that than the UMWA.”

And Dennis Williams, president of the United Auto Workers, on Thursday also emphasized areas of agreement with the incoming president, according to Automotive News.

“Obviously, we’ll work with him on NAFTA. We agree that NAFTA needs to be renegotiated or ended,” Williams said. “We are prepared to work with him on a jobs bill and an infrastructure bill.”

There you have it: Part of Trump’s agenda aligns with union interests, and part does not. We’ll soon see what that means for the climate of labor relations in America.

New Honors for Six Leaders in HR

The National Academy of Human Resources inducted its latest class of fellows Thursday night in New York City, honoring five high-profile HR leaders and scholars at the organization’s annual meeting.

2016 Fellows of the National Academy of HR, from left: Benito Cachinero-Sánchez, Mark Huselid, Mirian Graddick-Weir, Susan Schmitt.,Michael D’Ambrose, Boris Groysberg.
2016 fellows of the National Academy of HR, from left: Benito Cachinero-Sánchez, Mark Huselid, Mirian Graddick-Weir (distinguished fellow), Susan Schmitt, Boris Groysberg, Michael D’Ambrose.

The academy also elevated Mirian Graddick-Weir of Merck & Co. to the rank of distinguished fellow. First named a fellow in 2001, Graddick-Weir earned the latest honor for her record as “a true human-resources superstar,” said William J. Conaty, a former senior vice president of HR at General Electric who himself was named a distinguished fellow in 2007.

Graddick-Weir is executive vice president of human resources at the Kenilworth, N.J.-based  pharmaceutical giant, which employs 68,000 people in 90 countries. In 2006, she joined the company from a similar role at AT&T, where she held several posts over a 20-year career. With other honors that include being named Human Resource Executive® magazine’s HR Executive of the Year in 2000, she also holds a Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology from Pennsylvania State University.

In thanking members of the academy, Graddick-Weir called on HR leaders to recognize their role not only in helping employees and employers thrive, but in helping society tackle social challenges. Some of those challenges, she noted, are especially evident in the United States this year as the nation prepares to choose a president.

As HR professionals, “we have an incredible opportunity to play a leading role” in helping people grow professionally and succeed economically, Graddick-Weir said. She hailed companies that have invested in education and training, and those that have committed to addressing pay inequities and unconscious bias in hiring and promotion.

“What an exciting time it is to be a chief human resources officer,” Graddick-Weir said. “We have an enormous opportunity to … shape the workplace of the future.”

Also honored at the event, held at the Waldorf Astoria New York, was the academy’s 2016 class of fellows:

  • Benito Cachinero-Sánchez, senior vice president for human resources at E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., a global chemical company based in Wilmington, Del. Before joining the firm in 2011, he held leading HR jobs at companies that include Lucent Technologies and Johnson & Johnson.
  • Michael D’Ambrose, senior vice president and CHRO of Archer Daniels Midland Co. He joined the Chicago-based agricultural giant in 2006 after top HR posts with First Data, Citibank and other companies.
  • Boris Groysberg, a professor at the Harvard Business School whose research focuses on management of human capital. He’s the author of three books, including Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance.
  • Mark Huselid, distinguished professor of workforce analytics at Northeastern University. His research focuses on the interplay of HR management systems, corporate strategy, workforce differentiation and firm performance. He is author or co-author of several books, including The Differentiated Workforce: Transforming Talent into Strategic Impact.
  • Susan Schmitt, senior vice president of human resources at Rockwell Automation. Before joining the Milwaukee, Wis.-based industrial-technology company nearly a decade ago, Schmitt held senior HR roles with Kellogg Co., the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and others.

So Where Are We on H-1B Visas?

Here we are one week ahead of the presidential election, and it’s still clear as mud what the result could mean for one issue of great interest to HR: the future of employment-based immigration.

Athinkstockphotos-523158854s I wrote in our Sept. 2 cover story, the prospects for employers are not especially positive either way. With trade agreements in the political crosshairs and rising concern about how foreign workers may put residents out of work, this is not a good year to promise companies more access to talent from abroad.

But both candidates have been elusive on the subject. This spring, for example, GOP  nominee Donald Trump appeared to stake out contradictory positions, first proposing a higher bar for companies sponsoring worker visas and later announcing that “I’m changing,” recognizing the need for skilled workers, particularly in the tech industry.

More recently, Politico’s Morning Shift blog points out, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Trump surrogate, suggested in Iowa that a Trump administration might stop issuing H-1B visas entirely.

“We shouldn’t be bringing in people where we’ve got workers,” he said at a campaign event, according to the Des Moines Register. “I don’t think the republic would collapse if it was totally eliminated.”

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has kept a low profile on the issue, though she appears more open than her rival to supporting the tech industry’s need for workers. Her campaign, for example, promises a President Clinton would support “stapling” a green card to certain advanced degrees earned in the U.S. by foreign workers in STEM fields.

But neither candidate addressed the issue in the three presidential debates, leaving companies that depend on foreign workers left to guess what policies they might pursue.

As befits a story important to the tech industry, there is a way to use data to get a sense which candidate might be best for the industry. The data-heavy political blog 538 this week looked at contributions from Silicon Valley to the two campaigns.

With 95 percent of the money from these donors, Clinton outdistances Trump by a huge margin. That might signal optimism about her policies on employment-based immigration.

Or it could mean something else entirely. After all, Silicon Valley is in the heart of ultra-blue California.

Walking the Talk on Time Off

thinkstockphotos-163664798Bad bosses discourage workers from taking time off. Good bosses encourage it. The best bosses also get out of the office and use their own vacation days.

That’s the takeaway from the latest report by Project Time Off, a feisty little offshoot of the U.S. Travel Association that likes to remind us of how bad Americans are at taking vacation.

As we’ve noted here before, Project Time Off has chronicled the startling decline of vacation usage in the U.S.  In 2015, the estimated average for an American worker was 16.2 days a year, down from a long-term average of 20.3 days from 1976 to 2000.

The group’s latest report — produced with analysis by Oxford Economics of government data and survey results from marketing firm GfK  —  looks at the evident hypocrisy of managers who pay only lip service to the idea of taking time off.

The good news is that 93 percent of managers surveyed say they believe employees benefit from vacations. Almost as many say they actively encourage workers to take time off. But only 41 percent used all their own time in the previous year.

Why that matters: Research makes a compelling case that how managers treat their own vacation time has a powerful effect on workers, says Ron Friedman, a psychologist, author and consultant who studies the subject.

Writing last year in the Harvard Business Review, Friedman summed it up like this: “When managers forgo vacation time, it not only places them squarely on the road to burnout, it also generates unspoken pressures for everyone on their team to do the same.”

And that not only deprives workers of a break that helps them perform, but also deprives the organization of “fresh perspectives and creative solutions” they bring back, he writes. “Simply put, you’re far more likely to have a breakthrough idea while lounging on a beach in St. Martin than you are while typing away in your office cubicle.”

There’s also a financial cost, in the form of accrued vacation time as a balance-sheet liability. The Project Time Off study looked at 10-K filings by public companies to conclude they collectively have $272 billion in vacation liabilities on their books.

Why are so many managers unwilling to use all their time? Of course some people really do have crushing loads of work that no one else can do. And sometimes — if you’re launching a company, say — it really does make sense to power through a tough year with few days off.

But those cases are rare. If Reed Hastings of Netflix, Jim Moffatt of Deloitte and Barack Obama of — well, you know — can take vacations, c’mon — what’s so special about the rest of us?

Here are some of the real reasons, I suspect, that some managers routinely skip vacation. And none of them, I’ll warn you, are flattering:

  • They’re inefficient and unproductive. They tend to run around in circles and waste everyone’s time. They don’t get much done. So they feel a need to catch up by skipping their vacation.
  • Obsessive tendencies. They spend every day pushing their folks to compete. They can’t take time off or their numbers will tank. So they don’t.
  • Free-floating anxiety. The world is changing. Who knows? Their job might disappear overnight, or a rising star might replace them. Or someone might notice they are dispensable.
  • They really don’t have anything else to do. It’s sad, but I’ve known managers who gave everything up for work. They really don’t have much of a family or a life outside the office. For them, vacation is no vacation.

None of those apply to you, right? So do yourself — and your people — a favor. Take that time.

Millennials: Not So Entrepreneurial

Earlier this month I wrote about some surprising research that suggests many millennial workers defy the slacker stereotypes and are apt to be workaholics.

ThinkstockPhotos-485914233Here’s another surprise: It turns out that millennials are shaping up to be less entrepreneurial than previous generations, too. That defies not only the general preconception about this generation, but the millennial self-image as well.

Add these findings together and we may be getting a glimpse of the future: Millennial workers, if treated right, may turn out to be more industrious and loyal to their employers than anyone imagined.

The entrepreneurship data came early this year in a study by the Small Business Administration that didn’t get as much attention as it deserved. Credit goes to the Economic Innovation Group and EY for highlighting the data in September along with results of their own survey of millennial workers. (Hat tip also to the Washington Post’s Wonkblog for reporting this first.)

millennial-entrepreneursSBA economist Daniel Wilmoth’s study, published in February, used Census data to look at self-employment rates by age for three generations: millennials (born after 1981), Gen-Xers (1963-1981) and baby boomers (1944-1962). In short, he found that self-employment rates declined for each succeeding generation (see graphic above) .

“At age 30, less than 4 percent of millennials reported self-employment in their primary job in the previous year, compared with 5.4 percent for Generation X and 6.7 percent for baby boomers,” Wilmoth writes.

Of course, self-employment isn’t quite the same as entrepreneurship. And each generation grew up in different economies, with different technology. And we don’t know what may happen as that generation ages. But I think this research provides persuasive — and surprising — insight into millennial workers.

Those of us who  — ahem — happen to be in an older generation may not be the only ones surprised. Millennials might be as well. The Economic Innovation Group survey found that 55 percent of millennials surveyed believe their generation is more entrepreneurial than those that came before.

And 62 percent said they’ve considered starting their own business. But 42 percent said they can’t afford to take that step.

Little wonder: It’s well known that millennials have higher student-debt loads that previous generations did at comparable ages, and that their entry into the job market often was hampered by the Great Recession.

So it’s not unreasonable for employers to be optimistic about millennial workers. They may not turn out to be the job-hopping, disengaged, self-centered population some have imagined. If nothing else, this number from the Economic Innovation Group survey should be encouraging: 88 percent of millennials agreed that “hard work is an important factor to get ahead in life.”

 

 

 

 

 

In HR Tech, All that Glitters is not Gold

After a week of bold pronouncements about things to come, one respected observer wrapped up this year’s HR Technology Conference & Exposition with a sober warning: New software isn’t always the answer.

Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and veteran thought leader in human resources, urged executives to think critically about the practical benefits of shiny new HR technology.

The multibillion-dollar industry offers dazzling possibilities through applications of cutting-edge techniques such as artificial intelligence. But that doesn’t mean new software will always produce results worth the cost and effort, Cappelli warned.

“All kinds of things are possible,” he said in a closing keynote address in Chicago on Friday. “That doesn’t mean they’ll take over.”

Many in the business world believe the pace of technological change is faster than ever, and accelerating. That makes buzzword-laden vendor sales pitches tempting because they offer a chance to catch the edge of the next big wave. But Cappelli believes we overestimate the pace of real change.

To illustrate the point, he noted that offices are not much different today than they were a half-century ago. Word processing, for example, has been in offices since the 1980s. A visitor from that decade to a modern office “wouldn’t be surprised by that much,” Cappelli said.

He said experts in the subject generally agree that the pace of technological change in recent decades is slower than in the 1960s – with transistors, for example, and sweeping advances in chemistry. The pace was even quicker in the 1910s, with telephones, radios and automobiles transforming business in fundamental ways. “Now that was dramatic technological change,” he said. The social-media revolution of recent years, by contrast, “didn’t change the way people live.”

Many innovations fail to catch on because they turn out to be too expensive or too hard to use. One example: VCRs. Once they were expected to eliminate TV commercials because viewers would skip over commercials. But most consumers could never figure out how to program their machines, Cappelli noted.

That’s not to say that software hasn’t transformed business, of course. Certain innovations have been particularly important to HR: file-sharing technologies that allow outsourcing, for example. Others include job boards and their successors, enterprise resource planning programs and LinkedIn as a tool to find candidates.

But Cappelli urged caution in adopting platforms that promise dramatic results from “big data,” “machine learning”or “predictive analytics.” Those techniques have value in some settings, Cappelli said. But deriving valuable insights from a complex analysis of HR data often will cost too much and take too long. In the end “you might find something – you might not.”

Cappelli’s prescription is for HR leaders to focus first on what problem they are trying to solve, and get the data needed for a straightforward solution. Instead of focusing on employee engagement under the assumption that engagement improves performance, for example, employers might be better advised to just study what characterizes high-performing workers, he said.

Solutions that allow organizations to standardize, organize and simplify their data often make sense, Cappelli said. One example: Switching from a rating-based performance management system to one based on frequent manager check-ins cries out for technology to properly organize records of those conversations.

Cappelli also thinks dashboards are valuable – digital tools to measure what is happening with a workforce in real time. They can give HR leaders early warning of trouble or important trends.

In the end, Cappelli says, employers need to take a back-to-basics approach before splurging on advanced analytic capacities with uncertain potential.

“If you want to spend some money, you want to spend it first figuring out your own data, figuring out who is a good employee,” he said. “If you don’t have that, ‘machine learning’ isn’t going to do anything for you.”

 

Prepare for Technology Disruptions

Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

HR tech guru Josh Bersin may not have quoted Bette Davis, but that was his message to a large crowd in Chicago on Tuesday for the opening of the 2016 HR Tech Conference and Expo. The conference brings vendors, HR executives, industry experts and others together once a year to josh_bersin_rassess the state of digital innovation for human resources.

Bersin, principal and founder of the Bersin by Deloitte consultancy, set the stage for the conference by describing a chaotic environment for employers and software vendors. Technology is allowing companies to do more things than ever before with data, but many have yet to reap the rewards in productivity, he said.

“We have more disruption and change … than ever before,” Bersin said. But “despite the best efforts of our technology providers, technology is not making our lives better.”

Bersin noted that the digital revolution has produced relatively modest gains in productivity, compared to other major technological advances of history. “All the research we do … seems to show we are not adapting to technology very well,” Bersin said. In some cases, “it’s actually making our work harder.”

One illustration he cited is the recent decline in vacation usage by U.S. workers. People are working more hours, but aren’t necessarily producing more.

Making companies more productive and workers happier will require a rethinking of the way organizations operate, Bersin said. Few any more are strict hierarchies. Rather, in practical terms, they are interlinked networks of teams. HR leaders must choose digital tools that help workers connect with each other, he said.

That means orchestrating digital tools in a way that serves and motivates employees. “We have to bring this together into a seamless employee experience,” he said.

Bersin described the evolution of HR technology as a series of leaps. Starting with a focus on benefits administration and compensation at the turn of the millennium, the industry has advanced through tools for hiring, e-learning, performance management, and newer tools in the last year such as corporate-culture assessment and real-time engagement monitoring.

He sees that progression continuing over the next decade into software that reinvents performance management, video-based learning, social recognition for employees, wellness and more expansive tools for managing work that perhaps are no longer truly HR applications.

Bersin urged HR executives to move thoughtfully in adopting new technology. “We have to be the curators of technology,” he said. “We can’t just get more stuff and bring it into our companies.”

Increasingly, HR technology will develop through a process called design thinking, Bersin said. Rather than labor for years to produce an application that then must be taught to employees, companies increasingly will roll out small tools that are refined in response to how employees use them.

“This is the future of how you have to deliver HR solutions,” he said.

Culture Change: Chicken or Egg?

Which comes first, culture change or increased profits?

I touched on this chicken-and-egg issue in our October 16 cover story, “Culture-Change Agents.” The article looks at how Microsoft CHRO Kathleen Hogan and her team have been working to develop a “growth mind-set” among 118,000 workers at the tech giant.

Some experts argue the best way to get the culture you want is to rack up some business successes first. Bob Herbold, a business consultant and former Microsoft COO, says it’s no different than getting a football team on a winning streak. First you need to win, and then use employee excitement to create a virtuous cycle.

“The primary ingredient for changing the culture is winning,” he told me. The key, he says, is to get employees “to realize that we’re having fun, I have stake in this, I feel part of it.”

It’s a lot tougher to create success by first changing the culture, he says. “To try to create an ‘up’ culture in a ‘down’ business is almost impossible.”

But there is some evidence that culture change can improve the bottom line, says Felix Meschke, an associate professor of finance at the University of Kansas School of Business.

Research by Meschke and several of his colleagues in Lawrence, along with others, “suggests that a positive work environment is associated with higher firm performance,” he told me in an email interview over the summer as I was working on the Microsoft story.

Meschke worked with Minjie Huang , Pingshu Li  and James P. Guthrie on a study published last year in the Journal of Corporate Finance. It found that in family-owned companies, at least, having a “human-capital-enhancing culture improves firm performance.”

Meschke says that study looked at a large number of companies and controlled for many variables. “Based on large-scale statistical analysis,” he told me, “I am quite confident that, in general, corporate culture can be an asset for companies that benefits shareholders and other stakeholders.”

But he notes that isn’t the same as saying a specific HR initiative at a specific company, like Microsoft, improves profits. Measuring the effect of a such an effort requires something that’s impossible: a “control” that researchers can use for comparison — a company that is identical in every way except lacking the culture change.

“In a nutshell,” Meschke wrote, “Is it plausible that the HR approach improves performance? Yes, it is. Is there a way to attribute its impact on MSFT’s performance through quantitative analysis? No.”