All posts by Jack Robinson

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

Flying High with Employee Motivation

ThinkstockPhotos-186381804You could fill the Grand Canyon with all the studies researchers have produced on ways to motivate employees. But one published this summer stands out. It’s an elegantly simple illustration of how the most effective strategies may also be the cheapest.

Three economists from the University of Chicago and London School of Economics worked with Virgin Atlantic Airways to try several ways of persuading pilots to save fuel. (It turns out that airliners in some ways are like cars — if you drive with a heavy foot, you use more gas.) Along the way they saved the airline more than $5 million, cut carbon emissions by 21,500 metric tons — and learned a thing or two about human behavior.

A working paper on the study was published in June by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The authors — Robert  Metcalfe, Greer Gosnell and John List — highlight their findings this week in a piece published online by the Harvard Business Review.

In a nutshell, the study confirms that you can work wonders simply by telling employees you’re watching them and providing targets to hit. This simple strategy may even work better than offering incentives.

Here’s how the study worked: In January 2014, Virgin Atlantic told pilots that their fuel-saving performance would be monitored for the next eight months.

To test different motivational strategies, the researchers divided the pilots randomly into four groups. Group No. 1, a control group, received no further attention. Pilots in group No. 2 got a monthly summary of how well they carried out specific company suggestions for saving fuel. That report — and I think this is important — was delivered by mail to their home.

The third group got those reports, plus individualized targets set at 25 percent above their pre-experiment performance. And group No. 4 got all of that plus a small incentive: £10 donated to the cause of their choice for each target they hit.

When results were tallied, it turned out that pilots in all four groups improved their practices and saved fuel. The study authors note this confirms a well-known principle called the “Hawthorne effect” — namely, that people act better when they know someone is watching. Those that received reports by mail at home got an especially strong reminder that the company was paying attention to their performance.

The more interesting effect was that both groups 3 and 4 did much better than the others, improving their fuel-saving practices by up to 20 percent. The fact that the improvement was similar for both groups, regardless of whether an incentive was offered, is telling, the study authors say. It suggests that in such a situation, setting targets alone is the most cost-effective strategy for getting employees to do the right thing.

It’s worth noting that Group No. 4 did distinguish itself in another way: In anonymous surveys after the experiment, pilots who had been offered incentives reported significantly higher job satisfaction. This suggests that while incentives may not mean better results, they can improve morale.

Why is setting targets so effective? The study authors think that set a higher expectation for job performance, and “captains successfully adjusted their habits to meet it.”

Writing about the study in his Financial Times column, economist Tim Harford put it succinctly: “If you want people to do a good job, tell them what success looks like to you — and that you’ve noticed when they’ve achieved it.”

Intuitively, we also can imagine that setting targets also helped by activating competitive instincts, the way “gamification” strategies do — who can resist a challenge to hit a target? I also have a hunch about why the incentive didn’t make much difference in fuel-saving behavior: I think it implicitly told the pilots that improving performance was optional. Why would the company offer an incentive if it could make improvement mandatory?

This points to how easily employers can go astray if incentives aren’t part of a broader strategy to recognize success. Among those who have studied this is Stanford University management professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, who wrote in 2007 about how financial rewards can backfire, incentivizing the short-sighted or otherwise harmful behavior.  Focusing on executive compensation, he notes that “financial incentives offer the mirage of a quick fix.”

The Democratic Party Platform: A Cheat Sheet

ThinkstockPhotos-476244660Turnabout is fair play — at least when it comes to politics in 2016. Last week I gave you a rundown on HR-related provisions in the Republican Party platform. Now it’s time for the Democrats.

Reflecting the unusual character of this year’s race, the document — formally approved on Monday — contains many direct attacks on GOP candidate Donald J. Trump. In some cases the narrative has to stretch a bit to do so. In declaring the party’s support for small business, for example, the platform says:

“The Democratic Party will make it easier to start and grow a small business in America, unlike Donald Trump, who has often stiffed small businesses—nearly bankrupting some—with his deceptive and reckless corporate practices.”

Anyway. Back to HR. Following are the main provisions of interest.

Minimum Wage: Language in the platform on the federal minimum wage reflects some tension between the party and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Clinton favors a raise from $7.25 an hour today to $12, leaving states and cities to set higher minimums. Her now-vanquished rival, Bernie Sanders, pushed for $15. What emerged in final platform language was a compromise: $15 … “over time.” The party also calls for eliminating minimum-wage exemptions for tipped workers and those with disabilities.

“No one who works full time should have to raise a family in poverty. … We should raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over time and index it [to inflation].”

Employer incentives: The party also favors federal support for employers who “provide their workers with a living wage, good benefits, and the opportunity to form a union without reprisal.” The language doesn’t specify the form of this support, but suggests such employers would get preference in existing programs.

“The one trillion dollars spent annually by the government on contracts, loans, and grants should be used to support good jobs that rebuild the middle class.”

‘Card Check’: The platform reiterates a long-held argument in favor of allowing unions to organize workplaces where a majority of workers have signed cards indicating approval — with no election. The idea, called “card check,” has been proposed in Congress for more than a decade, so far without success.

The provision is part of a larger argument the party makes in favor of stronger legislative and regulatory support for labor unions.

“A major factor in the 40-year decline in the middle class is that the rights of workers to bargain collectively for better wages and benefits have been under attack at all levels. … We oppose legislation and lawsuits that would strike down laws protecting the rights of teachers and other public employees. We will defend President Obama’s overtime rule, which protects of millions of workers by paying them fairly for their hard work.”

Mandatory Arbitration: Federal regulators have been going after companies that require workers to sign arbitration agreements that waive their rights to sue or join class-action suits. The topic got a big boost this month with news that former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes is citing such a clause in the contract of former Fox commentator Gretchen Carlson to keep her sexual-harassment lawsuit out of court.

The 2016 platform adds the cause to a list of labor measures.

“We will support efforts to limit the use of forced arbitration clauses in employment and service contracts, which unfairly strip consumers, workers, students, retirees, and investors of their right to their day in court.”

Paid leave: After a passing reference to the party’s support for gender-based pay equity, the Democratic Party platform gets more specific about laws that would mandate family and medical leave.

“Democrats will make sure that the United States finally enacts national paid family and medical leave by passing a family and medical leave act that would provide all workers at least 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or address a personal or family member’s serious health issue. We will fight to allow workers the right to earn at least seven days of paid sick leave. We will also encourage employers to provide paid vacation.”

Profit-sharing: Suggesting a program that may appeal to some employers, the party also backs an unspecified government incentive to some that provide profit-sharing bonuses to employees.

“Corporate profits are at near-record highs, but workers have not shared through rising wages. … we will incentivize companies to share profits with their employees on top of wages and pay increases, while targeting the workers and businesses that need profit-sharing the most.”

International trade: Trade policy is a sore subject for both parties, with Trump and Sanders railing against NAFTA and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Democratic Party platform walks a narrow line, calling for tougher bargaining — without shutting the door on the TPP.

“Trade agreements should crack down on the unfair and illegal subsidies other countries grant their businesses at the expense of ours. … These are the standards Democrats believe must be applied to all trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Immigration: The 2016 party platform reaffirms longstanding calls for comprehensive immigration policy reform — but makes no mention of increasing employment-based visa allowances to help companies recruit talent abroad.

“Democrats believe we need to urgently fix our broken immigration system—which tears families apart and keeps workers in the shadows—and create a path to citizenship for law-abiding families who are here, making a better life for their families and contributing to their communities and our country.”

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.