All posts by Mark McGraw

How Does Bullying Affect Bystanders?

In case you needed further evidence of workplace bullying’s toxic and far-reaching effects …

In a new study, a University of North Texas professor finds that an office bully’s boorishness not only distresses the employee on the receiving end of such behavior, but is harmful to those who witness it as well.

Michele Medina, an adjunct professor in the department of management at UNT’s College of Business, studied how exposure to an in-office bully influences interpersonal attitudes, including employees’ expectations for how colleagues should treat one another. Medina also analyzed how individuals react internally to seeing a co-worker targeted by an office tormenter, and how witnesses’ empathy affects these factors.

“When people react to events emotionally, it has a direct influence on their attitude or how they behave,” says Medina, in a UNT statement. “And that can spill over into work.”

For the study, Medina enlisted 300 participants to serve as bystanders to office bullying. These observers watched a faux employee training video that showed either an actor berating a co-worker or a benign exchange between colleagues.

Their reactions “say a lot,” notes Medina.

For example, witnesses who observed peer-on-peer bullying report believing that they might become a target for bad treatment at work. Study participants also said they would often be inclined to disassociate from the bully, while those with higher levels of empathy would be more likely to relate to co-workers who had been bullied. In addition, witnesses of the same gender as victims of bullying behavior said they are less likely to identify with the perpetrator.

These conclusions do say a lot. And little of it bodes well for workplaces where bullies are present—and going unchecked.

“There’s a price to pay,” says Medina. “Kids who are bullies tend to grow up to be adults who are bullies. It doesn’t necessarily go away. Understanding how bullying affects everyone at work, and which employees are most likely to be affected, allows companies and organizations to address all aspects of workplace bullying properly.”

Risk on the Moral High Road

If, as an HR leader, you’re going to take a stand on ethical grounds, you had better be ready for the backlash if you change your mind later on.

That seems to be a key lesson to emerge from the findings of research recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

For their study, Tamar Kreps, an assistant professor in the department of management at the University of Utah, and Kristin Laurin, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia, conducted a series of 15 online experiments that involved more than 5,500 participants between the ages of 18 and 77.

In each experiment, these individuals were provided information about political or corporate leaders who had changed their opinions on a particular subject. Some participants were told that the leaders staked out their original positions on moral grounds, while others were informed that these initial stances were based on a more pragmatic view, such as “it was good for the economy.”

Across the multiple studies Kreps and Laurin conducted, they found that participants saw leaders who changed their minds after taking a moral stand as being hypocritical. In most cases, these individuals also perceived these leaders as “less effective and worthy of their support than leaders whose initial stance was pragmatic,” according to a statement.

“Leaders may choose to take moral stances, believing that this will improve audiences’ perceptions. And it does, initially,” says Kreps.

“But all people, even leaders, have to change their minds sometimes. Our research shows that leaders who change their moral minds are seen as more hypocritical, and not as courageous or flexible, compared with those whose initial view was based on a pragmatic argument.”

That perception can be tough to shake, too. According to the authors, they “tried to test various factors we thought might weaken the effect” across several studies. For example, the authors asked participants how they would feel if the leader “did not rely on popular support and therefore would have no reason to pander” or “used the same moral value in the later view as in the earlier view.”

Still, no dice.

“None of those things made a difference,” says Kreps. “Initially moral mind-changers consistently seemed more hypocritical” to those taking part in the study.

While opining that moral beliefs tend to stay constant over time, Kreps cautions that leaders should take the ethical high road on a given issue only if they genuinely feel that way.

“Taking an inauthentic moral view to try to pander to a moralizing audience could backfire,” she says, “if a leader needs to change that view later on.”

The ‘Why’ Behind Wellness Programs

It isn’t always about the money.

Or, at least it’s not when it comes to why many companies offer wellness programs, according to a new survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

For its new Workplace Wellness 2017 Survey Report, the Brookfield, Wisc.-based nonprofit organization polled 530 members of the IFEBP as well as the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists and the National Wellness Institute.

Overall, more than 90 percent of these organizations offer at least one wellness initiative. Among them, 75 percent report that improving overall worker health and well-being is their company’s No. 1 reason for doing so, with just one in four saying that controlling or reducing health-related costs is their primary motivation for implementing wellness programs.

As for what these wellness initiatives consist of, “traditional” offerings such as free or discounted flu shots “continue to gain steam,” according to an IFEBP statement.

But the aforementioned report also highlights some “popular emerging wellness benefits” that employers are weaving into their wellness initiatives, such as chiropractic services coverage, currently offered by 62 percent of respondents. In addition, 59 percent said they provide employees with opportunities to participate in community charity drives and events, attend onsite wellness-related events and celebrations (58 percent), and take part in wellness competitions such as walking/fitness challenges (51 percent).

Whatever form a wellness program takes, the effort seems to be paying off for many organizations. More than half of the responding companies that measure their wellness offerings, for example, say they’ve seen a decrease in absenteeism since putting a wellness program in place. An even larger number (63 percent) indicate that they are experiencing financial sustainability and growth in the organization, while 67 percent say their employees are more satisfied and 66 percent report increased productivity.

“Employers are realizing that wellness is not just about cutting healthcare costs, because wellness is not only about physical health,” says Julie Stich, associate vice president of content at IFEBP, in a statement.

“Embracing the broad definition of wellness has led to a tremendous impact on organizational health and worker productivity and happiness.”

It would stand to reason that a happier, more productive workforce translates to a bigger, better bottom line, of course. And, for those HR and benefits leaders who haven’t yet made the business case for developing workplace wellness programs, the numbers to emerge from this report could certainly provide them with some strong ammunition.

Biometrics and New Privacy Concerns

A recently filed class action suit in Illinois could be the signpost for “a new employment law frontier,” according to at least one law firm.

As recently reported by Holland & Knight, a class action suit pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois centers around the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, which was passed in 2008 to prohibit the gathering and keeping of individuals’ biometric information without his or her prior notification and written permission.

In Baron v. Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc., et al., the plaintiff alleges that the supermarket chain violated BIPA by failing to meet the legal requirements to obtain and retain employee fingerprints the company used for timekeeping purposes.

Holland & Knight attorneys called biometrics an “emerging area” of employment law, as more employers begin to use the technology to log employees’ hours. Damages available under laws such as BIPA make this fertile ground for class actions as well. For each violation of BIPA, a prevailing party may recover the greater of actual damages or $1,000 for negligent violations of the Act, the attorneys note, adding that plaintiffs may recover the greater of actual damages or $5,000 for “reckless or intentional violations.”

With legislation comparable to BIPA already on the books in Texas, and states including Alaska, Montana, New Hampshire and Washington considering similar bills, employers would be wise to tread carefully when and if they introduce biometrics to their places of business.

“Laws like BIPA will become more relevant to employers and of increasing interest to the plaintiffs’ bar as the use of biometric data, such as the use of fingerprints or thumbprints for timekeeping purposes, becomes more prevalent in the workplace,” according to Holland & Knight.

“With the increasing awareness of such laws by the plaintiffs’ bar, it is important that employers using or considering the use of biometric data in the workplace ensure compliance with any state or local laws governing the use, retention and destruction of that data.”

No Break for the Burned Out

With the long Memorial Day weekend less than 24 hours away, where will you be staying as the unofficial start of summer gets underway?

For at least one-third of your employees, the answer is likely “at home.”

That’s according to a recent CareerBuilder survey of 3,215 employed U.S. adults, 33 percent of whom said they haven’t taken or don’t plan to take a vacation this year.

Not surprisingly, many workers say they could use a break, with 61 percent reporting that they are burned out in their current job, and 31 percent describing their work-related stress levels as “high” or “extremely high.”

The better news is that some of these overextended employees will still be able to find some time to get away this year. Sort of.

Among the remaining respondents who will be taking vacation sometime this year, three in 10 say they will still stay connected with work while on holiday. More specifically, 31 percent said they check work email while away, and 18 percent indicated that they would “check in” with work at least once during that time.

Workers feeling stressed out is far from a new phenomenon. And we’ve seen at least a handful of studies in recent years that have suggested many employees are leaving vacation days on the table each year, for a variety of reasons. The CareerBuilder survey, for instance, finds 36 percent of respondents saying they’ve come back from vacation with so much work to do that they wished they never left at all. Another 18 percent say taking vacation actually leaves them feeling more anguish over work.

The number of workers afraid of taking time off to recharge their batteries should be troubling.

Leaders within the organization—incidentally, the CareerBuilder poll sees senior management and vice presidents reporting the lowest stress levels of all workers—can set the tone for their teams, according to Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder.

“If you’re a boss, it’s important that you role model how to take a vacation,” said Haefner, in a statement.

“If you’re prone to answering every email and phone call that comes through on your own vacation time, consider the example you’re setting for your team members. You need to set up an automated response email, and only respond to absolutely urgent emails while you’re away,” she continues.

“Direct all calls to an assistant or colleague at the office. Show your employees that vacation time matters to you and to your company and its culture.”

Wearables and Wellness Programs

If you’ve been wondering how to seamlessly integrate wearable devices into your wellness programs, the Health Enhancement Research Organization has some success stories to share.

In a new report, HERO includes findings from three case studies of organizations that, combined, employ more than 60,000 people, “and whose incorporation of wearables into their wellness program reflects a comprehensive, results-oriented approach,” according to a statement from the Waconia, Minn.-based organization.

Each of the employers that participated—BP, Emory University and Ochsner Health System—took a different path to achieve positive results, but also showed some “clear commonalities” in the way they implemented wearables as part of their wellness plans, such as sound communication strategies, encouraging long-term use of wearables and making them financially feasible for employees, for example.

The report identified a handful of promising practices for organizations that have added wearables to their wellness initiatives, or are planning to do so, including giving or subsidizing devices for employees rather than requiring them to buy their own; involving spouses and domestic partners to increase participation and create a support system outside the workplace; and using a pilot program before expanding the use of wearables to include the entire workforce.

Emory relied on the latter approach when it rolled out its wearables program in 2014, with a pilot program at five sites. According to HERO, Emory made modifications and offered wearables to all Emory University and Emory Healthcare employees the following year, based on the results of the initial pilot program.

When Emory expanded the program, 6,300 Emory employees participated in the university’s Move More Challenge, with 82 percent of them remaining active for its eight-week duration. In a post-program survey, 67 percent of participants said it was the first time they used a wearable device, with 82 percent reporting that they used one every day of the challenge.

Such results only hint at the potential in using wearables as a component of comprehensive workplace wellness programs, says Jessica Grossmeier, vice president of research at HERO, stressing the need to “continue our focus on research that uncovers what works and what doesn’t.

“Early research supports that a device, on its own, will not change health behaviors over the long-term,” continues Grossmeier. “That’s why we’re focused on identifying those leading-edge strategies that employers can use to ensure an effective, safe and engaging approach for employers and individual participants.”

 

Inquiries, Apologies and HR Lessons

Last month, we reported on an investigation into Barclays CEO James Staley’s handling of a whistleblower’s complaint at the British banking and financial services giant.

How did Staley find himself on British authorities’ radar? By enlisting Barclays’ internal security team in an effort to unmask an anonymous employee who had sent letters to Barclays officials alleging that an executive hired by Staley had “acted erratically” in a previous job.

Naturally, the bank’s leadership caught wind of Staley’s ill-conceived plan and the regulators’ inquiry that ensued. They were not pleased.

Barclays Chairman John McFarlane, for example, reportedly made his disappointment with Staley quite clear in a one-on-one meeting with the embattled chief executive. Meanwhile, the Barclays board determined that sanctions for Staley’s actions would include a “very significant compensation adjustment,” according to a statement from the bank.

Having already felt the wrath of the chairman and the board, Staley faced some pretty frustrated shareholders earlier this week.

As the New York Times reports, Staley took part in the bank’s annual meeting in London on Wednesday, where one shareholder called for him to step down from the stage upon which he and McFarlane stood to address those in attendance. Another asked that Staley step down from his role as CEO.

For his part, Staley offered an apology to investors, just weeks after going to the Barclays board with hat in hand.

“I feel it is important that I acknowledge to you—our shareholders—that I made a mistake in becoming involved in an issue which I should have left to the business to deal with,” the Times reports Staley telling investors. “I have apologized to the board, and I would today like to apologize to you as well, for that error.”

Staley is far from being out of the woods, of course. British regulators are still looking into his missteps. And that “very significant compensation adjustment” is still to come, with the board planning to make that tweak to his bonus after the investigation is complete.

Nevertheless, Staley was re-elected to the Barclays board at the recent shareholders’ meeting. And he seems to still have the support of his chairman. The Times quotes McFarlane as saying that Staley simply “thought he had a green light” to send the company’s internal security team in to identify the author of the aforementioned letters.

“He went through the green light and it was actually red,” said McFarlane, who has dismissed calls for Staley’s resignation. “The action for going through a red light is usually you do not lose your license.”

McFarlane and Staley have maintained that Staley believed he had the clearance to seek out the anonymous employee’s identity, with McFarlane saying that Staley “only wanted to contact the individual to get him or her to stop writing letters, because he believed they were malicious,” according to the Times.

Maybe so. But even Staley acknowledges that his response to those letters was out of bounds; a response that CEOs—and HR leaders—at other organizations would be wise to hold up as an example of how not to handle a whistleblower complaint.

Hurting for Talent in HR?

In the never-ending quest to boost HR’s profile in the C-suite, CHROs must first surround themselves with top-notch talent in their own departments, according to new research from Korn Ferry.

The problem, the same survey finds, is that serious talent gaps exist within the HR suite.

The Los Angeles-based advisory firm recently polled 189 chief human resource officers, finding that “as the HR function becomes more strategic and high-profile, HR professionals need to step up their game when it comes to business insights and achieving results,” according to a Korn Ferry statement.

More specifically, CHROs were asked to name the skills they find are most lacking as they search for human resources talent.

A mere 4 percent reported having no difficulty finding the necessary skills to round out their HR teams. Otherwise, respondents said:

  • Business acumen (41 percent)
  • Ability to turn strategy into action (28 percent)
  • Intellectual horsepower (10 percent)
  • Analytical skills (7 percent)
  • Diversified experience (6 percent)
  • Relational skills (3 percent)
  • Technical skills (1 percent)

Of course, the role of the HR function, and the CHRO, is much more complex than it was even five short years ago, says Joseph McCabe, vice chairman of Korn Ferry’s Global Human Resources Center of Expertise.

“Disruptors such as digitization and globalization are creating an environment of constant organizational change,” says McCabe. “HR leaders must understand the business challenges that occur as a result of these disruptions, including the impact on the business strategy, and be able to quickly adapt and act.”

The Korn Ferry poll allowed respondents the chance to do a bit of self-examination as well, asking CHROs what competencies were most important to helping them handle the ever-changing environment in which they operate.

By far, the most common response was “tolerance for ambiguity,” cited by 52 percent of the CHROs surveyed. Twenty percent pointed to the confidence to make bold, yet informed decisions as most critical, followed by the ability to sustain analytical thinking and motivate others (11 percent) and the ability to listen to and accommodate others’ methods (6 percent).

The study finds that a failure to cultivate both “hard” and “soft” skills could be costly for a CHRO; a reality that respondents seem to recognize. Indeed, when asked to name the top reason that a CHRO would get fired from an organization, the largest percentage (37) said “personality issues/inability to work well with or lead others,” with 34 percent reporting that an “inability to direct connect HR efforts to tangible business outcomes” would be the most likely cause for being let go.

“Today’s CHROs are judged both on what they do and how they get things done,” says McCabe. “While it’s critical that HR must act quickly to adapt to changing business strategy, it’s also important to align their team and other key leaders to foster engagement and a shared vision.”

Breaking Into the Boy’s Club

Whether it’s a result of not seeking out women workers or not being able to attract them, or a combination of factors, some fields remain heavily male-dominated.

Many of these same industries—construction, automotive and trucking, to name just three—are facing a worker shortage fueled in no small part by scores of retiring baby boomers.

It seems that at least some of these traditionally male-centric sectors are focusing more closely on female talent in an effort to fill the vacuum.

Earlier this month, for example, the Iron Workers Union and the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust began offering a new paid maternity leave benefit to members.

According to a statement from the organization, it is “the first to introduce a generous paid maternity leave benefit in the building trades,” where adequate paid maternity leave is “virtually unheard of.”

The new policy includes six months of pre-delivery maximum benefit and six to eight weeks of post-delivery benefit, according to the union. In addition, members are eligible for up to six weeks of paid leave after the birth of the child and two additional weeks for Cesarean deliveries, regardless of what was covered pre-delivery.

The Washington Post recently detailed the new Iron Workers Union policy, noting that all baby boomers will be over the age of 65 by the year 2029, which means one-fifth of the U.S. population will have reached retirement age.

Iron Workers President Eric Dean feels that offering benefits such as paid maternity leave finds the organization well-positioned for the ongoing boomer exodus.

“The whole world is suffering the baby boomer retirement tsunami,” Dean told the Post. “All the construction trades are in competition for capable people. Wouldn’t it be a distinct advantage for us to be the first?”

These trades have other issues to contend with, of course.

The same article points out that “millennials, the workers who would replace [boomers], aren’t as interested in pursuing careers in the trades.” Enrollment in vocational education has dropped over the last three decades as well, according to the Post, adding that the current opioid epidemic “has zapped some of the male workforce, because men are more likely than women to both use and overdose on illicit drugs.”

Other fields with predominantly male workforces—such as the trucking and automotive technician sectors—see such factors draining their applicant pools as well.

“There’s a shortage of high-end, heavily trained individuals who can do diagnostic work,” Tony Molla, vice president of the Automotive Service Association, told the Post. “We’re graduating about 30,000 new technicians a year, mostly men, but that’s not enough to keep up with attrition.”

In response, automakers have been funneling more corporate sponsorships to groups that work to recruit female trainees, such as the Automotive Women’s Alliance Foundation and the Car Care Council Women’s Board, according to the paper. Meanwhile, some trucking companies have begun to hire “female driver liaisons” in addition to creating support groups geared toward female truckers, the Post reports.

Naturally, there’s no promise that these efforts will pay off in the form of more female workers in male-dominated industries. And there’s still the long-standing, problematic perception that women “aren’t cut out” for some work; a stigma that can be extremely difficult to shake for those who do pursue careers in certain fields. But there seems to be an acknowledgement in some corners that change is needed if these industries wish to survive, as Dean told the Post.

“We have to innovate,” he said, “if we want different results.”

Studying Sleep at Goodyear

According to Dr. Brent Pawlecki, the goal of his Thursday morning presentation here at Human Resource Executive‘s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference (held April 19 – 21 at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas) was to “make the case for why sleep is important” to employees’ health.

Making that case was also part of his plan when he took over as chief health officer at Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. six years ago.

At the time, the company has begun investing more in the health of its 69,000 employees around the world. Pawlecki was brought in to “build a culture of health” at the organization. When he took the job in 2011, he was charged with helping Goodyear to better define its overall healthy strategy.

“We said, we’re a global company, with well over 20,000 U.S.-based employees,” says Pawlecki. “We need to build a strong foundation of healthy employees here in the U.S.”

Part of that building process was addressing the impact of sleep, or the lack thereof, on Goodyear employees. Why study sleep?

“I was at a conference where I attended a presentation on how sleep affects workers,” says Pawlecki. “And I thought that, if we can get our employees thinking and talking about sleep issues—which could be caused by or contributing to underlying health issues— then maybe we can get them to focus on those larger issues.”

Enter Big Health, the San Francisco-based provider of the Sleepio sleep health app.

Sharing the stage with Pawlecki was Jenna Carl, medical director at Big Health. She talked about the “hidden nature” of behavioral health problems, and how tackling sleep issues might “offer a gateway to solving mental health problems” and subsequently creating healthier and happier workers.

Those suffering from insomnia, for instance, often find themselves more easily irritated and more sensitive to stress, she says.

“Insomnia also affects the frontal cortex—the CEO of the brain—which is responsible for decision making,” continues Carl. “And, behaviorally, those with sleep problems fall into a vicious cycle. They start worrying about not sleeping, and/or might start using more caffeine or alcohol, which actually have a negative impact on the ability to sleep.”

Naturally, employees trying to work their way through such problems are going to be less than their best while on the job. Pawlecki and Goodyear were acutely aware of this reality when bringing in Big Health to help conduct a sleep awareness campaign, “designed to engage good and poor sleepers,” says Carl.

The campaign began with encouraging employees to take a sleep test, the results of which led to creating personalized plans for employees who took part.

In getting employees to participate, “it’s important to know your employee population in order to know how to reach them,” says Carl.

Goodyear, for example, has 24,000 U.S. employees spread across plants and retail locations. Roughly 60 percent of these associates have no company email address, says Pawlecki.

As such, the initial sleep awareness campaign included home mailers and in-person communications in the form of posters and animated videos geared toward these workers, as well as providing intranet articles and sending emails detailing the campaign to those with Goodyear email accounts.

Overall, the campaign netted 2,798 employees who completed the sleep test, the majority of whom suffered from poor sleep, says Carl, adding that about one third of these workers could meet the clinical criteria for insomnia, while around half were experiencing less-than-optimal sleep. Plant workers, she says, struggled the most.

These plant employees also reported that poor sleep impacted their productivity close to 28 percent of the time, with retail workers saying that sleep affects their productivity 23 percent of the time. Office workers said that inadequate rest took a toll on their work 21 percent of the time.

“This is a pretty significant impact,” says Carl, adding that Goodyear employees who used the Sleepio app and underwent cognitive therapy reported getting an additional five hours of sleep per week after using the application. Those same workers also saw their stress reduced by 54 percent, and experienced a 35 percent drop in anxiety.

“These are obviously big improvements,” says Carl, noting that these workers also reported productivity improvements in addition to improving their overall mental health.

“And that’s just from getting better sleep.”