All posts by Jack Robinson

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

GOP Platform: An HR Cheat Sheet

ThinkstockPhotos-504283950The Republican Party platform approved on Monday hasn’t exactly drawn much attention, what with all the other interesting things happening at the GOP convention in Cleveland. But a look at HR-related provisions in the document gives us a window into how the party is evolving.

Some provisions are largely the same as in the party’s 2012 document. Both platforms, for example, call for portability in health plans and pensions.

But others have changed. Some reflect changing economic conditions. Others reflect changing politics — in particular, the rise of nominee Donald Trump, whose positions don’t always align with the party’s traditional views.

Here’s a quick rundown of policy positions of interest to HR leaders.

International trade: The 2016 platform repeats a 2012 pledge to pursue “a worldwide multilateral agreement among nations committed to the principles of open markets.”

“We need better negotiated trade agreements that put America first. When trade agreements have been carefully negotiated with friendly democracies, they have resulted in millions of new jobs here at home supported by our exports. “

Trans-Pacific Partnership: Reflecting nominee Donald Trump’s opposition, however, the platform does not explicitly mention the proposed trade deal, which the party supported in 2012. It only hints at a go-slow approach.

“[The] American people demand transparency, full disclosure, protection of our national sovereignty, and tough negotiation on the part of those who are supposed to advance the interests of U.S. workers. Significant trade agreements should not be rushed or undertaken in a Lame Duck Congress. “

Workforce development:  With unemployment rates down from four years ago, the 2016 platform drops a proposal backed by 2012 nominee Mitt Romney to replace dozens of retraining programs with state block grants. It does keep language suggesting a greater role for private worker training, however.

“We need new systems of learning to compete with traditional four-year schools: Technical institutions, online universities, life-long learning, and work-based learning in the private sector … a four-year degree from a brick-and-mortar institution is not the only path toward a prosperous and fulfilling career. “

Regulatory activism: The 2016 platform adds language criticizing the Obama administration’s activist approach to labor issues on the regulatory front.

“They are wielding provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act from the 1930s, designed to fit a manufacturing workplace, to deny flexibility to both employers and employees.”

Targeting NLRB: In particular, the 2016 platform steps up criticism of the National Labor Relations Board. Among policies targeted is the board’s support  of project labor agreements, which guarantee union wages. The platform also calls for repealing the Davis-Bacon Act, which has a similar effect on federal projects.

“Their patronizing and controlling approach leaves workers in a form of peonage to the NLRB. We intend to restore fairness and common sense to that agency. “

Labor unions: This year’s platform reiterates language from 2012 that supports laws allowing workers to opt out of union membership or dues requirements, even if they are covered by a collective-bargaining agreement.

“We support the right of states to enact Right-to-Work laws and call for a national law to protect the economic liberty of the modern workforce.”

Minimum wage: Reflecting new potency of the issue, the 2016 platform add language — albeit briefly — opposing any change in the federal minimum wage.

“Minimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level.”

Wait … Work Is Good for Your Health?

A compre200400993-001hensive survey of American workers this week offered some predictable findings about health and employment. But there are some happy surprises as well.

Perhaps most interesting was a finding that 28 percent of workers said their job was good for their overall health. That’s considerably more than the 16 percent who said it was bad.  (The rest, a slight majority, said their job had no effect on their overall health.)

Why the upbeat view? Researchers didn’t ask, and declined to share any thoughts about what respondents meant. But we can find some clues on our own by looking at this poll and other research. And those clues offer some encouragement for HR professionals.

How does your job affect your _____?
Good impact Bad impact No impact
Overall health 28% 16% 54%
Eating habits 15% 28% 56%
Stress level 16% 43% 39%
Sleeping habits 17% 27% 55%
Weight 19% 22% 57%
Social life 27% 17% 56%
Family life 32% 17% 50%
Source: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Make no mistake, there are plenty of concerns raised by this survey, which was performed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in conjunction with National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Researchers polled 1,601 working Americans across a range of ages, ethnicities, income levels and industries. The margin of error for the full sample was 2.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

NPR stories about the survey this week have highlighted how workers with disabilities often struggle at work, how lack of sick leave can drive some families into financial crisis and why so many employees go to work while sick.

Among other troubling — if unsurprising — findings was that 43 percent of respondents said work added stress to their lives. A news release from the university quoted poll director Robert J. Blendon concluding that “The takeaway here is that job number one for U.S. employers is to reduce stress in the workplace.”

But what might workers be thinking when they say their job is good for their health?

One obvious point is that having a job means having an income and (often) having insurance. That’s definitely good for your health. But I wonder if many respondents were really thinking at that level of abstraction.

There’s also research suggesting that, in fact, work is good for your health. One frequently-cited research overview conducted in the United Kingdom concluded that meaningful, safe work generally offers physical and mental-health benefits. Being active and having a purpose is good for us.

But were many respondents thinking about arcane findings in the field of occupational health?

Perhaps a more plausible explanation is in the new poll itself — findings that suggest wellness programs really matter. More than half of respondents said their company had a formal wellness program.

Even more significant: Of those workers, a whopping 45 percent said that program was “very important” to their health. Nearly as many said it was “somewhat important.”

Wellness programs don’t offer any clues about some other surprising findings in this poll, alas. Respondents also apparently think work is good for their social life and (even more mysteriously) their family life. Let’s hope researchers some day will drill deeper to find out what’s really going on here.

College grads rule the workforce

ThinkstockPhotos-187066632A new report offers a startling insight into economic change that has driven a summer of political discontent: Among U.S. workers, those with bachelor’s degrees now outnumber those who didn’t get past high school.

Just eight years ago, people with no college experience held 39 percent of jobs. By January 2016, that share had shrunk to 34 percent. And college graduates rose to 36 percent of the workforce, from 32 percent in December 2007.

The reason: Virtually all the 11.6 million jobs created from 2010 through 2015, as the nation slowly crawled out of recession, went to workers with at least some college experience. Workers with no college experience recovered just 80,000 of the 5.6 million jobs they lost in 2008 and 2009.

The analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data comes in a report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. It underscores a tectonic shift in the U.S. economy that laid the groundwork for political discontent that has roiled the nation this year.

“Workers with a high school diploma or less essentially have experienced no job recovery,” write study authors Anthony P. Carnevale, Tamara Jayasundera and Artem Gulish.

If a college degree is essential to success today, a master’s degree may be necessary tomorrow. The study finds that workers with only a bachelor’s degree lost 66,000 jobs in the recession and gained 4.7 million in the recovery. But those with a graduate degree saw no net loss at all during the recession. Instead, they gained 253,000 jobs during the recession and another 3.8 million in the recovery.

Whether from the advance of technology in all industries or the phenomenon of “education inflation,” the economic shift has been building for decades, the study notes.

Growing demand for workers in “high-skill” occupations — including management, health care and technical jobs — across industries is critical to explaining the shift, study authors say. “Low-skill” occupations, such as construction jobs, saw net declines even after six years of recovery.

The study authors note that a fundamental shift in the composition of the U.S. workforce has rewarded those with advanced education in growing occupations. But in an echo of stories that have shaped much of the political debate in a presidential election year, they also acknowledge that some are being left behind.

“Men without a college degree were traditionally able to make their way into the middle class through manufacturing and construction jobs, and women without a college degree could get middle class jobs in office and administrative support occupations,” the study authors conclude. “These pathways are increasingly closing down, leaving few opportunities to access the middle class without postsecondary education.”

Are Long Hours Making Workers Sick?

ThinkstockPhotos-179039030In some parts of the world, workaholism is beginning to look uncool. Some companies in South Korea are literally turning off the lights to get people out of the office at a reasonable hour. Desks in a Dutch design studio automatically retract into the ceiling at 6 p.m. Researchers in Sweden report increased worker productivity with an experimental six-hour day.

What’s happening in the U.S.? Long workdays remain as popular — or necessary — as ever. And now some new research suggests there are long-term consequences that employers, as well as workers, need to understand.

A study conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University and the Mayo Clinic finds people who routinely work long hours have sharply higher risks of chronic conditions like cancer and heart disease later in life. And the risks are especially severe for women.

Workers at the beginning of their careers may be happy to invest in long work-weeks, and employers benefit, notes lead author Allard Dembe, a professor of public health at Ohio State. But “you may be setting the stage for a physical breakdown later in life,” he says.

Other studies have found long hours at work can lead to stress, fatigue, reduced work performance and safety issues. But until now few researchers had looked at long-term health effects. Dembe and Xiaoxi Yao, now a research associate at the Mayo Clinic, found a way by analyzing a database that tracked both the work hours and self-reported health information of more than 12,000 people nationally from 1979 to 2011. Only full-time work was counted.

The results, published online last month in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, were particularly stunning for women: Those who averaged 60-plus-hour weeks over those 32 years were at least three times as likely to report heart disease, cancer, arthritis or diabetes. That’s compared to those who had average workweeks of 30 to 40 hours.

Men in the study showed smaller increased risk. The largest effect in men was with arthritis, which was more than twice as likely for those working 60 hours or more, compared to standard full-time hours.

Earlier research had suggested that women might see more long-term health effects, but the size of the disparity was surprising, Dembe says: “I didn’t expect the gender effect to be so, so striking … it was just day and night.”

Researchers can only speculate as to why, but Dembe thinks the most plausible explanation is that most women have greater responsibilities at home than men. “A lot of things are going on here,” he says. But one is the “multiple roles that women play in society, compared to men,” he says. “Women don’t have the time.”

What can employers do? Working long hours is “part of American culture,” Dembe says, and curbing workaholism isn’t easy. But companies can make employees aware of the consequences of long hours — and start health screening programs early, he says. Existing wellness and chronic-disease-management programs can be part of the effort .

“Talk about the issue when people are younger,” Dembe says. For employers, “this study suggests you really should think about it.”

A Lesson on Politics in the Office

ThinkstockPhotos-153920586Some of the biggest events at this week’s SHRM 2016 Annual Convention and Exposition had little to do with HR. One was a concert Tuesday night by the band Train. The other was a highly entertaining discussion about politics between pundits Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

I don’t know about Train — I didn’t go, but it’s hard to imagine that the performance had much instructive value. On reflection, though, I think Begala and Carlson had a lesson for HR practitioners.

They didn’t make their point explicitly, but rather by modeling a healthy way for colleagues to disagree. The takeaway: Political discussions — including those playing out every day in company lunchrooms — don’t have to be divisive.

It’s a natural concern, particularly this year. An unusually heated and dramatic presidential race has passions running high, and employers naturally don’t want workers distracted by conflict in the workplace.

A SHRM study released as the conference began Sunday in Washington, D.C., found 26 percent of HR professionals responding said employees are more vocal about their political opinions this year. The survey found 72 percent of employers discourage political activity in the workplace, but only 24 percent have a written policy.

Companies can ban bullying or active campaigning in the office. But a SHRM news release quotes Edward Yost, an employee-relations expert with the organization, saying they generally “cannot have policies that prohibit all political discussions,” without running into issues with the National Labor Relations Board.

Here’s where your company culture gets tested. If workers are going to disagree on political issues, you want them to do it the way Begala and Carlson do — with empathy, humor and respect for other views.

Begala is a former adviser to President Bill Clinton and longtime Democratic political consultant. Carlson is a commentator on Fox News and founder of the conservative news site The Daily Caller. The two co-hosted CNN’s political talk show “Crossfire” more than a decade ago and often appear together on stage as they did Tuesday morning at the SHRM conference.

In some ways their presentation was a comedy show, with the men gently poking fun at each other — and themselves. But they had serious and substantive disagreements.

Carlson’s main point was that the nation’s elites on both sides of the aisle have missed the rise of middle-class economic anxiety that fueled the rise of presumptive GOP nominee Donald J. Trump. And he freely included people like himself in that blame.

“Where I live, there is literally no downside to mass immigration,” because high-income jobs are not threatened, he said. “Immigration is a no-cost way to feel good in my neighborhood.”

Begala agreed that both parties have “failed a whole lot of people in Youngstown,” using that city as a proxy for white middle-class families whose livelihoods are threatened by a changing economy. But the answer is not to demonize immigrants, as he contends Trump is doing. Instead, “we have got to find a way to lift up the poor and middle class.”

Both men acknowledged each other’s perspective and recognized that neither Democrats nor Republicans had all the answers — basic elements of any healthy political discussion.

The nation’s polarized political environment has led many to feel “a contempt for people who disagree with them,” Carlson said. “There should be a space for sincere, honorable disagreement.”

Splitting H-P: A Global-Sized HR Challenge

ThinkstockPhotos-82633540Imagine you arrive at the office one day and get this assignment: Take charge of everything HR-related in splitting up a company with 260,000 employees spread over 160 countries. Oh, and you have eight months to do it.

That happened to Cheryl Mohr. And she survived.

“This is probably one of the most challenging opportunities I’ve ever had” in more than 30 years in HR with the global tech firm, Mohr told a rapt audience of practitioners on Tuesday at the SHRM 2016 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C.

Despite her long experience, “you find out a lot of things you never knew” about HR in the process, Mohr said.

The challenge began in October 2014 with an announcement that Hewlett-Packard Co. would divide into two new companies. Hewlett Packard Enterprise, with about 220,000 workers, would keep all the service-related business. HP Inc., with about 50,000 employees, would keep the printer and PC business. “Day One” of the split was to be Nov. 1, 2015.

But the company — and Deloitte, which had the contract to manage the project — didn’t have a full year to plan. CEO Meg Whitman wanted the separation in place on Aug. 1 to make sure all the bugs were worked out before the formal division, Mohr said. That meant eight months to create two global companies out of one — and her job was to manage the people part.

In the end, “We did have a seamless Day One,” she said. But it wasn’t easy.

For starters, the business had to keep running — and hitting its goals — while the split occurred. That meant elevating or hiring leaders to replace about 1,000 people who were dedicated full-time to separation planning, Mohr said.

Among key strategies the company employed was a process dubbed “clone and go.” That meant replicating the current arrangement in both new companies with a minimum of tinkering, Mohr said. The philosophy was “speed over elegance,” she said. “In some cases we just had to get it done.”

“We didn’t have a lot of time to think ‘Do we really want this policy?’ “ she said.

That included sticking with technology that the company was using at the time. In HR, that meant keeping Workday for information systems and Taleo for recruitment in both new companies. And it meant keeping largely the same benefits packages.

Another strategy was adopting transition service agreements between the two future companies to dictate how they would help each other after Day One for up to two years. These agreements were especially important in functions that are especially complex to separate, such as IT, real estate and finance.

For HR, among the most important first steps was allocating employees to their new companies and roles — and doing it quickly, for the sake of other departments that needed that information to do their own planning. Mohr wanted a deadline of September 2015. With the accelerated schedule, IT said it needed those assignments by May.

“At the end of the day, I lost,” Mohr said. And by this point, that was just four months away.

That process started by defining 12 employee layers in the two new organizations, from CEO on down. At the management levels, that sometimes required recruiting from outside to fill a duplicated role. More often the company did it by promoting a top lieutenant, Mohr said.

Luckily, “we had a lot of good succession planning” that helped, she said. In the end, the company hired just 2,700 people to fill new roles — not bad, Mohr said, considering the size of the workforce.

Another task was spreading new people around, so that one company didn’t keep all the experience. One example from within HR: Hewlett-Packard had 59 people working on HR systems. The two new companies each would need a similar-sized HR systems staff. That mean hiring another set of people and distributing them equally between the two new companies.

Once decisions were made, all 260,000 employees needed offer letters spelling out their new employers and roles. Multiply the complexity of this by specific laws around the globe, including some governing how the letters were delivered and how people could sign them — electronically or on paper. In 22 countries, government approvals were involved.

The company used many approaches to get this work done in a hurry, Mohr said. In Russia, for example, where local laws required signatures on paper,, it held “signing parties” in company cafeterias.

HR also had to organize monthly training sessions for managers on separation issues. It also implemented an personalized interactive guides on the company intranet to help employees manage the transition. These electronic timelines told workers what they should do and when, allowing them to catch up on missed deadlines and see decisions they would need to make down the line.

It all got done by Aug. 1, Mohr said. But there were some issues, which led to some lessons learned.

Principal among them was that some data got lost when HR data in a planning database was transferred into Workday, Mohr said. It overwrote some 75,000 day-to-day entries that managers had been making in the course of normal business. That work had to be done over.

Now, seven months after the split, the two companies are in a “transformational phase,” said Mohr, who became a senior vice president for global HR with HP Inc. The two companies now have time to reexamine the processes they cloned from Hewlett-Packard and retool them as needed for their narrower missions.

“Separation does not end on Day One,” she said.

Telecommuting Up, Wellness Down

ThinkstockPhotos-491705703SHRM’s latest benefits survey suggests that the range of offerings has exploded over the last 20 years — yet many of the core health and retirement offerings remain the most popular.

The Society for Human Resource Management has surveyed its members annually since 1996 to gauge how their organizations spend resources on benefits ranging from health plans to child care referral services.

The share of companies offering core benefits like health coverage has changed little over those 20 years, the survey suggests. About 98 percent offered health plans in 2016 and 94 percent offered some kind of retirement plan.

But a 20-year comparison shows the rise and fall of specific benefits as employee needs, company resources, technology and fashions changed. Overall, this year’s survey asked about 344 different benefits, up from 60 in 1996, said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs. She briefed reporters on the results Monday at the organization’s 2016 annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Among newly included benefits: coverage of genetic testing, student-loan assistance and freezing of women’s eggs for nonmedical reasons as a recruitment tool, Esen said. “That wasn’t even on the radar screen” in 1996, she said. “We couldn’t have imagined that.”

Perhaps the most dramatic rise is in the share of employers offering telecommuting — 60 percent in 2016, up from from 20 percent in 1996.

Also seeing significant gains were legal assistance services, up 12 points to 25 percent in 2016; and help with professional dues, up 23 points to 88 percent. In the shorter term, since 2012, fast-rising benefits include health savings accounts, up 7 points in four years to 50 percent, and standing desks, up 20 points to 33 percent.

The list of benefits losing steam over those 20 years is longer. Among the most dramatic drop was credit union services, declining by 47 percentage points to 23 percent of employers in 2016. Employee stock-ownership plans also have declined sharply, the survey suggests. In 1996, 28 percent of employers offered the benefit; the share in 2016 was just 9 percent.

And the share of organizations offering help with parking also dropped significantly, to 10 percent from 25 percent 20 years earlier.

Some benefits showed evidence of losing popularity after years of gains. Wellness benefits were offered in 2016 by 72 percent, up 18 points from 1996. But that share was down from 80 percent in 2015.

While weight-loss and smoking-cessation programs “have stood the test of time,” some other wellness programs may not, Esen said.

“I think wellness is here to stay,” she said. “However, it may be that organizations are taking a step back, to see what’s working.”

Political Landscape Uncertain, SHRM Lobbyist Says

With presidential politics entering uncharted waters, the legislative and regulatory road ahead is hard to map, SHRM’s chief lobbyist told human resources professionals gathered this week in Washington, D.C. But one thing is virtually sure: The federal government is likely to tighten restrictions on employment visas.

“I do think this is going to be an area of focus … regardless of who wins in November,” said Michael J. Aitken, vice president for government affairs of the Society for Human Resource Management. He spoke Monday at the group’s annual conference and exposition.

ThinkstockPhotos-504283950In a presentation on legislative and regulatory issues facing employers, Aitken pointed to public-opinion surveys to show why neither a Democratic nor Republican administration would be likely to loosen limits on immigration through H-1B visas and other programs.

Voters across the usual party and ideological lines feel “the economy isn’t benefitting them,” Aitken said. “There’s a lot of anger out there.” That has powered the insurgent candidacies of Donald J. Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders and driven increasing dissatisfaction with government.

Immigration, closely tied to feelings about the economy, is a key issue for Trump. Aitken noted the likely Republican nominee has promised not only to step up enforcement against illegal immigration, but also has been critical of legal immigration under the H-1B program and others. Clinton also has expressed little support for helping employers fill critical slots by recruiting workers abroad, Aitken said.

On most other subjects, much depends on the outcome of the general election, Aitken said. Control of Congress will help determine the fate of a rash of Obama administration regulatory initiatives in employment law. Democrats could take control of the Senate, which would stifle such efforts to roll them back — especially if Clinton wins the White House, he said.

Some issues are likely to be front-burner topics no matter what, he noted. These include pay equity, an issue where SHRM is actively working with legislators, Aitken said. “It will be a big issue with the next Congress and next administration,” regardless of the election result, he said.

Also likely to continue are efforts to modify the so-called Cadillac tax on rich employer health plans, Aitken said. Complicating that campaign is the fact that the concept has some bipartisan support.

Legislative efforts also will continue to roll back or amend the increased threshold for overtime due to take effect in December. SHRM “supported increasing the salary threshold … we felt the final rule, however, went too far, too fast,” Aitken said.

“You need to proceed as if it’s taking effect Dec. 1,” he said.

How Microsoft’s LinkedIn Deal Could Change HR

The HR tech world just got a big new player. Really big.

Once Microsoft closes its $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn late this year, the software giant will own a service that has become increasingly important to HR departments around the world. With Microsoft’s resources behind it, LinkedIn could become a massive force not only in recruiting, but in the larger world of HR, experts say.

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said as much in an email to his staff on Monday announcing the deal.

Among the business opportunities for Microsoft, he noted, is “expanding beyond recruiting and learning and development to create value for any part of an organization involved with hiring, managing, motivating or leading employees. This human capital area is a massive business opportunity and an entirely new one for Microsoft.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean a Microsoft-backed LinkedIn will be moving into payroll, benefits administration and other bread-and-butter HR applications, though.  Many experts see the company integrating LinkedIn data into Microsoft Office tools, but not moving wholesale into new lines of business.

Under Microsoft, “LinkedIn could become a network for learning and collaboration,” providing HR departments a tool for connecting employees, says George LaRocque, a well-known HR technology consultant. “I think that’s the direction.”

LinkedIn already is a force to be reckoned with. Though far smaller than social-media titans like Facebook, it virtually owns the world of professional connections, with over 100 million active users and four times as many profiles. It’s increasingly necessary for an active business person to have a presence on the site, which has made it a critical resource in many businesses — particularly sales and HR.

The company posted $2.9 billion in revenue last year. About $1.9 billion of that was in its “talent solutions” business, the company says. Most of that came from recruitment services, which include premium search functions, targeted job postings, a referral tool for current employees and company branding. Through its April 2015 acquisition of the online tutorial site, LinkedIn also has a solid presence in training.

Though revenue was up 41 percent from 2014, in other ways LinkedIn has lost momentum, which is what helped make it an acquisition target. After disappointing earnings, the share price had dropped by 50 percent — from over $260 in February 2015.

Many experts say the marriage with Microsoft makes sense because the two companies don’t overlap in services, yet cater to the same audience — business professionals. That opens up the potential for connections between Microsoft productivity tools and LinkedIn’s vast people database.  The immediate opportunities may be in customer relationship management — an area where Microsoft already has a presence with its Microsoft Dynamics software.

The reality, though, is that no one knows what Microsoft plans to do with LinkedIn — likely including Microsoft itself, notes LaRocque, principal analyst and founder of New Providence, N.J.-based #hrwins.

“I think we’re all going to be reading tea leaves for a little bit on this one,” he says. “The opportunities are endless.”

But most experts say Microsoft is most likely to build on its strengths as a provider of tools that business professionals use every day. LaRocque sees the company connecting LinkedIn’s Lynda tutorial videos to Excel, for example, so that users can get immediate help.

He and others don’t see this as a beginning of a move to take over HR technology — or even just recruiting.

“I have a hard time thinking Microsoft is excited about getting into talent acquisition,” though LinkedIn may well stay in that business, LaRocque says. On the other hand, LinkedIn’s networking and communication functions could become another “pillar” of the company’s Office 365 platform. “They’re impacting HR technology in a huge way,” he says. “But they’re not the classic HR player.”

Kyle Lagunas of the IT market research firm International Data Corp. has a similar view. He sees three key opportunities for Microsoft in the acquisition: LinkedIn’s in endorsements, recommendations and posts.

If properly leveraged by Microsoft, LinkedIn endorsements — in which users rate each other for various skills — could be used internally “to map influence across various subject matters, skills and capabilities,” he notes in an email.

Recommendations shared among LinkedIn users could provide a powerful tool for recruiters, he says. And companies could track posts on LinkedIn’s Pulse service to help workers develop — and demonstrate — expertise.

Another HR tech expert agrees that the Microsoft-LinkedIn deal will lead to new tools for HR departments, but not fundamentally change the landscape.

Kathryn Minshew, CEO of a career site called The Muse, notes that the two companies both target established white-collar professionals. She doesn’t see that changing with Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn — leaving plenty of room for businesses like hers.

“I think this acquisition is a great thing  for the industry — it validates the core role that HR has,” Minshew says. ” Companies are starting to realize that products and platforms in the human-capital space have a much broader impact.”

Muse, with 50 million site visitors annually, serves a diverse population of workers with an average age of 29, and 60 percent female. Those people, she says, may keep their resume on LinkedIn, but The Muse “is where their heart is.”

“I don’t know that the human-capital space is ever meant to have a single winner-take-all,” Minshew says. “There’s a lot of room for those who want to take a different approach.”

Two Tough Lessons on Training

New commercial truck drivers must cover thousands of miles with a trainer before they can work on their own. For women, that means ThinkstockPhotos-57533192spending weeks in close quarters with a boss who most likely is a man.

What could go wrong?

A pair of recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cases suggests the situation is every bit as risky — both for drivers and employers — as you might think.

The cases involve two trucking companies that got in trouble over sexual harassment of female trainees. One escaped major sanctions and may even recover legal costs from the agency, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that lawyers call a victory for employers.

The other … let’s just say it didn’t go well.

That company, Missouri-based Prime Inc., is one of the nation’s largest long-haul truck companies. After a female trainee charged the company with sexual harassment and the EEOC sued, the company in 2004 adopted a new procedure: women trainees were paired only with female trainers.

But in the end, the new procedure apparently did far more harm than good.

Because the company had only five women trainers, according to the EEOC, women trainees had to wait a year or more to get in. Men, however, were accepted immediately.

In 2011 the EEOC sued again, and U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Harpool didn’t have much trouble concluding the training practice was discriminatory. In April he signed a consent decree ordering the company to pay $2.9 million to 68 women who had applied to the company’s training program.

The settlements, which include back pay and compensatory damages, ranged from about $29,000 to nearly $92,000 each. The company also agreed to hire all the women immediately. In addition, the company paid $250,000 to another female driver trainee who had brought the complaint to the EEOC.

On top of that, the company — which finally ended its same-sex training policy in 2013, two years after the EEOC filed suit — promised not to reinstitute the practice.

Was Prime’s 2004 training policy a well-intentioned response to the first complaint that accidentally led to a second one? Or a passive-aggressive jab at women who had complained? In a final order in the case dated May 26, the judge says he can’t tell.

“While Prime’s same-gender training policy was illegal, misguided, and ill-advised, the court is not willing to find … [it] was evil or malicious,” Harpool writes.

The other trucking company fared better in its battle with the EEOC. On May 19 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found that Iowa-based CRST Van Expedited Inc. may be entitled to $4.5 million in legal expenses it incurred battling the agency over another sexual-harassment case.

The case stems from a 2005 claim by a female driver trainee who said she was sexually harassed. Two years later the EEOC filed a class-action suit on behalf of 250 women whom it said had been victimized. Most of those plaintiffs were dismissed, however, after the court found the EEOC had not properly investigated their claims.

Employment lawyers lauded the Supreme Court’s ruling as a victory for employers.  The ruling “has made clear that a defendant may be entitled to recover attorneys’ fees even absent a victory on the merits,” write Lindsey M. Marcus and Michael A. Warner Jr., partners in the employment law practice of Franczek Radelet in Chicago.

Though the outcomes were very different, the lesson for folks in HR is the same: Training, like trucking, can be a risky business.