All posts by Mark McGraw

Lean In and Hear What Holds Women Back

496065AX.TIFFacebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In was just released last week. Conversation about the book, however—in which she “cut[s] through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women,” according to—has been heating up for a while.

Last month on The Leader Board, our own Andrew McIlvaine offered a snapshot of Lean In, in which Sandberg shares her views on what often impedes women from achieving leadership positions within their companies. For example:

We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. [The result is that] men still run the world.”

Sandberg’s perspective is certainly not shared by everyone, as McIlvaine pointed out, referencing a New York Times article in which business consultant Avivah Wittenberg-Cox opined that Sandberg “does what too many successful women before her have done: blaming other women for not trying hard enough.”

The Times also references Princeton professor, former State Department official and Sandberg’s “chief critic,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, noting her claim that Sandberg—and feminism, for that matter—has been guilty of holding women to unrealistic professional and personal standards.

So, it’s safe to say that Sandberg has her detractors. But she may also have a point, according to an online poll being conducted by The Economist.

The still-open survey (you can vote here if so inclined) asks readers if they think that women derail their own careers. The answer? Yes, at least according to 64 percent of the 9,564 voters who have participated in the poll since it opened on March 15.

Interesting. This is a thorny subject, and a complex argument, to be sure. But it seems Sandberg is far from alone in the views she puts forward in Lean In, and she has started a dialogue that may only be heating up. In fact, if you want to feel some of that heat, take a look at the six-plus pages of comments on The Economist’s poll page and watch the opinions fly.

Productivity Naps: The New Coffee Break?

productivity napGeorge Costanza would love working for Nationwide Planning Associates Inc.

There, the Seinfeld slacker supreme—who once hired a carpenter to craft a secret napping area under his desk in the New York Yankees front office—would actually be encouraged to catch a few winks during the workday.

Indeed, employees at the investment firm’s Paramus, N.J. headquarters can sign up for blocks of time—20 minutes, twice weekly—in a remodeled closet that now serves as the company’s “rejuvenation center,” complete with a recliner, fountain and bamboo rug.

The company designed the area for its 20 employees to use for taking quick naps, with the idea of helping them ultimately be more productive on the job. Just don’t call it a nap room.

“We call it the ‘rejuvenation center’ to put a more positive spin on it,” James Colleary, a compliance principal at Nationwide Planning, recently told NBC Today. “People associate napping with laziness.”

According to the NBC piece, Colleary urged company executives to create the sleeping space, and leadership has since seen happier and more productive employees.

Nationwide Planning could be on to something, according to Steven Feinsilver, director of the Mount Sinai Center for Sleep Medicine in New York. He told Today:

We all get sleepy in the mid-afternoon, and it looks like our body clocks are winding down a little bit then. If you need an extra two hours of sleep, getting a half-an-hour is good, and it helps.”

Arianna Huffington seems to be of the same mind. The Huffington Post president and editor-in-chief had two nap rooms installed in the news website’s office about two years ago. Companies such as Google and Proctor & Gamble, however, have done her one better, purchasing “EnergyPods,” chairs specifically designed for napping at work. The chairs, which resemble chaise lounges, can cost anywhere from $8,900 to $12,900.

That’s a hefty price tag for a place where employees spend 20 minutes recharging their batteries. But for workers and their employers, the payoff from quick snoozes may prove to be well worth it, says Mike Karalewich, Nationwide Planning Associates chief compliance officer.

The nap for me, personally speaking, really allows me to approach the second half of the day with a lot more force,” Karalewich told Today. “I firmly believe that napping breaks will become the new coffee break eventually.”

Voters Decide Battle for Better Wages

votersThis past Monday, a law went into effect that granted San Jose, Calif., low-wage workers what decades of traditional labor-organizing efforts hadn’t: a higher minimum wage.

As reported by The Los Angeles Times, San Jose joins Long Beach on a growing list of American cities—including Albuquerque, San Francisco, Santa Fe and Washington—where voters have approved measures that secure higher wages for workers.

In November, 58 percent of San Jose voters endorsed raising the minimum wage in the city from $8 to $10 an hour.  In Long Beach, 63 percent of voters awarded the city’s hotel workers an increase of about $4 per hour, on average.

According to The Times, “the victories put these two California cities on the cusp of an emerging trend: Ballot initiatives, labor experts say, have the potential to rewrite labor’s playbook for how to win concessions from management.”

This labor strategy began in the 1990s, the article notes, with labor unions reaching out to city councils in an effort to pass living-wage requirements. The initiatives have expanded in recent years, however, as labor activists have bypassed city council to team with labor and community leaders in taking minimum wage issues to the ballot box.

Organized labor’s successes in states such as California and Washington could spread to communities in other parts of the country where union-friendly politicians are elected, Maria Anastas, a shareholder in the San Francisco office of labor and employment law firm Ogletree Deakins, told HRE.

“It’s already become a trend a sorts, given that other cities have followed suit,” says Anastas. Still, she doesn’t necessarily anticipate a nationwide trend emerging, “because it depends on the electorate in each community or state.”

For example, she says, Minnesota—where Democrats control both houses—is on the verge of passing the highest state minimum wage in the United States.

In addition to urging local politicians to pass higher minimum wage ordinances, organized labor has publicly targeted specific industries for failing to pay workers a ‘fair wage.’ These web-based campaigns and public rallies have recently focused on fast food and other restaurant workers. The combination of political efforts and public awareness will likely lead to more success for organized labor’s efforts in this arena.”

The message for employers and HR, she says, is twofold:

Organized labor has in some cases concentrated their minimum wage efforts on select industries, i.e., hospitality. Therefore, employers in these industries who may be impacted by a higher minimum wage should recognize that organized labor will likely capitalize on these successes by increasing their organized efforts.”

Secondly, employers with concerns about minimum wage ordinances “should focus on strengthening their relationships with political leaders and business advocates in advance of organized labor’s legislative initiatives,” she says, “in addition to maintaining a positive public image.”


The Elevator Speech, Social-Media Style

online repSucceeding in the social-media space requires an ability to communicate in short, fast and succinct bursts.

If you want to be a digital media manager at Pizza Hut, you’d better be able to adopt this straight-to-the-point, social-media mindset right out of the gate.

Representatives from the Plano, Texas-based restaurant chain descended on Austin’s annual South by Southwest music festival this past weekend, to seek out and interview job candidates for the aforementioned position.

Lots of candidates, apparently: Each interviewee was to be given just 140 seconds (an homage to Twitter’s 140-character limit) to sum up their social-media bona fides, and convince the organization he or she has the goods.

One of the people they’ll need to convince is Caroline Masullo, Pizza Hut’s director of digital and social media. Masullo, who conducted interviews at the SXSW site for four hours on Sunday, explained the rationale behind the 140-second interview to Bloomberg Businessweek:

We need this person to be super-knowledgeable in the social space. They need to be able to communicate with our consumers in fun, quick, concise ways. … We need someone who knows who they are, what they are looking for, someone who’s super-passionate, quick on their feet, able to communicate clearly in a short amount of time.”

Candidates were also asked to bring only their IDs and smartphones, the latter of which would be used for a quick review of the applicant’s LinkedIn profile during the interview.

Ultimately, the 140-second interview is “like an elevator [pitch],” Masullo told Businessweek. “Tell me in 140 seconds why you think you should be the next manager of … . ”

Pizza Hut, which will conduct another lightning round of interviews via Google+ on March 14, is already being lauded for its unique strategy in finding sharp, quick-witted candidates; a tactic that Masullo hopes will net the company someone “on the cutting edge of the social space” that will “keep us at the forefront” of said space.

Time will tell if they find that someone, but you have to give Pizza Hut some credit for taking a novel approach. Just do it quickly.

Rethinking the Resume

resume imageMany job seekers like to get a bit creative in making their resumes really pop.

But the candidates behind these CVs, summarized here by the folks at Yahoo! Finance, are taking some especially imaginative (and in some cases calorie-laden) approaches to grabbing HR’s attention.

Consider marketing professional Nicholas, for example. Nick decided the way into hiring managers’ hearts was through their stomachs, and created the “resumebar,” a chocolate bar promoting “credentials that will satisfy any organization’s appetite.”

He even went to the trouble of providing a label with personal facts and a list of skills, or ingredients, ranging from copywriting and brand management to search-engine marketing and revenue generation. This scrumptious curriculum vitae got picked up on Reddit, viewed more than one million times, and helped Nick land a job with LeagueApps, a platform that connects adult recreational athletes.

Jordan McDonnell, a financial analyst seeking more creative pastures, went the anti-resume route. Struggling to gain entry into the marketing industry, he created an “alternative CV” that proudly advertised the fact it was NOT a resume. The Power Point-style slideshow presentation, which neatly encapsulated his professional and personal lives to date, garnered 90,000-plus views in just over a week. Soon flooded with job offers from around the world, McDonnell wound up accepting a position as an account manager with Twitter.

My favorite may be a young finance major’s brutally honest twist on a time-honored tradition. Here’s an excerpt from the cover letter he sent to a New York investment bank in January, seeking a summer internship:

I won’t waste your time inflating my credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles, or feeding you a line of crapp [sic] about how my past experiences and skill set align perfectly for an investment banking internship.”

The truth, continued this candid applicant, “is that I have no unbelievably special skills or genius eccentricities, but I do have a near perfect GPA and will work hard for you.”

The duly impressed recipient forwarded the frank letter to several colleagues and peers, sparking interest up and down Wall Street and becoming a viral online hit in the process. No word on where the young man will be interning this summer, but his prospects may be looking up.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” commented one banker at Business Insider, “if this guy gets at least a call from every bank out there.”

Who’s Got the Entrepreneurial Spirit?

entrepreneur and Millennial Branding put that question to nearly 3,000 Monster users in a recent survey, and got some surprising answers.

Among the 2,828 respondents, 41 percent of Generation X employees (roughly defined as those between the ages of 30 and 49) and 45 percent of baby boomers (50-to-69-years-old) said they consider themselves to be entrepreneurial. In comparison, 32 percent of Generation Y respondents (ages 18 to 29) said the same.

These findings rebut the survey authors’ original hypothesis that Gen Y possessed a stronger entrepreneurial spirit than their older counterparts, says Dan Schawbel, founder and managing partner of Boston-based Millennial Branding and author of Promote Yourself. He attributes these figures to a combination of factors working in older employees’ favor.

“I believe that older workers view themselves as being more entrepreneurial because they have work experience, strong Rolodexes and [more] wealth compared to Gen Y,” says Schawbel.

Gen Ys are just starting out, and have a lot to learn in order to be fully equipped to start a business. Gen Y isn’t in a good financial situation right now, has the highest unemployment rate, has student loans, and many are living with their parents. We hear a lot of success stories of Gen Ys making millions through entrepreneurship, but those are still rare cases.”

Differences aside, the survey authors note more employees across generations indicating an itch to pursue their own endeavors as opposed to “traditional jobs or careers.” As such, employers would be wise to harness employees’ entrepreneurial skills and put them to work within their organizations, or risk seeing them in action elsewhere.

“Companies and HR leaders should focus on creating intrapreneurship programs that satisfy these employees, so they don’t leave to start their own ventures,” says Schawbel, citing companies such as DreamWorks, Google, 3M and Microsoft as examples of organizations using such programs “as a marketing tool to attract the best talent and as a way to increase retention rates among current employees.”

And, it seems a fair number of employees are ready to stretch beyond their everyday duties and take on new tasks within the company. Nearly one-third of respondents feel they have the freedom, flexibility and resources to be an intrapreneur, and 42 percent of respondents feel they have opportunities to work on projects outside their direct responsibilities.

Only 23 percent, however, said they feel encouraged to work on such projects. HR leaders must train managers to be more open to intrapreneurship and “have formal programs that embrace it,” says Schawbel.

“The big accounting firms have contests where employees compete to get their ideas funded. Ernst & Young’s Power Pitch program is one example. And Dreamworks teaches [employees] to pitch ideas, and then lets [them] pitch their executives,” he says.

What it comes down to is fostering a culture of innovation and enabling everyone, regardless of age, to let their ideas be heard.”

Harassment by Association

legalCan an employee’s connection to someone in a protected class be the basis for a successful harassment lawsuit?

It may be, according to the California appeals court ruling that allows former firefighter David Derr to proceed with his claim that a supervisor regularly harassed him for defending his lesbian daughter.

Derr, employed by the Kern County Fire Department for 29 years, claims James Rummell—who became department captain and Derr’s supervisor near the end of Derr’s tenure—made anti-gay remarks in his presence sometime during Rummell’s first year as supervisor. Upon learning Derr’s daughter was gay, Rummell allegedly started to regularly harass him about his daughter’s homosexuality.

According to court records, the harassing behavior reportedly included comments about how gays were “led in that direction” or had experienced childhood traumas that “twisted” them, as well as emails sent to Derr from Rummell’s wife saying his acceptance of his daughter’s homosexuality was a “blatant opposition to the commands of God.” Court records indicate Derr told Rummell he “did not want to hear any more such commentary,” and reiterated that he had a gay family member.

Derr was eventually granted a shift change, but Rummell allegedly continued to stay behind after his own shifts ended in order to further harass Derr, who began to show physical symptoms of stress including insomnia, chronic diarrhea and headaches. Derr attended counseling, but the fire department’s employee assistance program terminated the sessions after three appointments, reportedly informing Derr that “no further treatment was available” and that he should “suck it up” with regard to handling his treatment at the hands of Rummell.

Derr ultimately retired in July 2009, citing Rummell’s abuse among the reasons. He subsequently sued the department, claiming harassment. A lower court dismissed Derr’s complaint, but the appeals court decision reversed that ruling.

This state-level decision only applies to California-based companies, but exemplifies a “noticeable trend” in the workplace, says Ron Chapman, Jr., a Dallas-based labor and employment attorney with Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart.

“Employees are becoming increasingly assertive, and that includes speaking out against perceived wrongs toward others,” says Chapman. “In other words, even when the employee affected by the alleged misbehavior does not complain, one of his or her co-workers might.”

Employers and HR leaders must react accordingly to protect employees as well as the organization, he says.

Depending on the circumstances, it could be unlawful if the person who complains becomes the target of harassment or retaliation, even if the underlying behavior complained about was directed at someone else. To help avoid liability and promote best practices, human resource professionals should update their policies and training programs to ensure they cover this type of scenario.”

Reaping the Rewards of Wellness

wellness blogGenerally speaking, employers have long since made the connection between a healthier workforce and improved productivity. Still, corporate wellness initiatives are sometimes viewed as “nice extras” as opposed to critical, must-have programs with bottom-line implications.

A new study, however, finds more employers recognizing the impact of wellness programs on profitability, and committing to promoting health and wellness as a core business value—even in the midst of economic uncertainty.

New York-based HR consulting firm Buck Consultants’ Working Well: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies polled more than 1,300 organizations in 45 countries, finding health promotion “taking its place as a top consideration among drivers of profitability and performance.”

The poll found 87 percent of respondents indicating they recognize their organization’s role in managing employee health; an 8 percent increase over 2010. Among multinational participants, 49 percent said they have a global health promotion strategy, compared to 34 percent that said the same in 2010.

While companies seem to be increasingly cognizant of how employee health affects the organization’s success, only 36 percent of respondents reported measuring specific outcomes of their health promotion programs. A lack of resources (68 percent) and simply not knowing how to measure (34 percent) were the top reasons cited.

Study authors also noted the difference between how employers measuring program results and those not measuring have reacted to the economic downturn. Thirty percent of companies that measure program outcomes said they increased their emphasis on wellness programs in a difficult economic climate, versus 21 percent of employers not measuring outcomes.

“A healthier workforce is a more productive workforce, which produces greater revenue than is sustainable over the long term,” says Dave Ratcliffe, principal at Buck Consultants. “So these employers [measuring program outcomes] understand the value of continuing their wellness initiatives even during hard economic times.”

Further, nearly a quarter (23 percent) of U.S.-based employers polled indicated their wellness programs helped cut employee benefit costs. Among these companies, 62 percent reported healthcare cost-trend rate reductions of two percentage points or more, with 13 percent seeing reductions of six percentage points or more.

Overall, these findings reflect the growing awareness among employers that employee health can help drive business results, says Ratcliffe.

With productivity having a direct tie to bottom-line revenue, organizations now consider health promotion as a core business value that positively impacts their ability to compete.”

Bosses Get the Boot

boss boot“People join companies and leave managers,” the old saying goes.

Well, if a recent poll is any clue, you may want to keep one eye on the door.

The informal survey of 577 users from around the world found more than three-quarters of respondents saying they would boot their boss from their position if given the chance.

Not all of these respondents, however, thought they were necessarily the ones to fill the void. Here’s what participants had to say when asked who they would put in the big chair:

• I’d vote for the current boss to keep his or her job (24 percent).

• I’d vote for a colleague who’d make a better manager (25 percent).

• I’d vote for myself (30 percent).

• I’d hope for a new candidate to enter the race (21 percent).

Workers surveyed in Mexico were the most likely to believe they were ready to take the reins, with 46 percent saying they would prefer to see themselves in their manager’s role. Forty-five percent of employees in France said the same. Overall though, workers in Europe expressed less confidence in their potential managerial prowess, with just 28 percent reporting they would vote for themselves.

Respondents in the United States were among the most supportive of their colleagues’ abilities, with 27 percent saying they believe a co-worker would be a step up from their current boss.

From an employer standpoint, findings from the poll—which Monster notes was not scientific and reflects only the opinions of users who chose to participate—are a sort of mixed bag.

“The fact we see such a large percentage of people who would vote themselves into their boss’s position shows many workers have confidence and drive, which is ultimately good for any organization,” says Mary Ellen Slayter, career expert.

On the other hand, employees who are less than thrilled with their supervisors often start to entertain thoughts of leaving their current role, or exiting the organization altogether. And rightfully so, says Slayter.  

“If people don’t feel confident with their current leadership, they should consider alternatives, such as moving to a new group within their organization where managers have a good reputation for their leadership qualities, and failing that, explore better opportunities elsewhere outside the company.”

The Importance of Online Reputation

online repHow much of a role does social media play in shaping perceptions of your company?

Depends on who you’re asking, according to a recent poll

The study of 225 HR managers and 2,035 employed adults, conducted by Harris Interactive for Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based Spherion Staffing Services, found some significant differences in how employers and employees see the importance of a company’s online reputation.

In the study, nearly half of workers (47 percent) said they “strongly agree” or “agree” that, when considering new employment, a company’s online reputation is just as important as the offer they’re given. Just 27 percent of companies, however, said they believe social media outlets are influential in how a candidate views their organization.

Some other findings suggest a connection between companies’ online cachet and satisfaction among existing employees, but declining employer interest in using social media to recruit, retain and rally the troops.

According to the survey, employees who are highly satisfied with their employer’s online reputation are nearly four times as likely to have high job satisfaction (76 percent) than those who are not satisfied with their organization’s online reputation (20 percent).”

However, fewer employers (6 percent) reported using social media to motivate and retain existing employees in comparison to its 2010 study, in which 20 percent said they relied on social media for such purposes. Companies also appear to be turning less to social media as a recruiting tool, with 28 percent of respondents using social media to find new talent; a 16 percent drop from 2010.

Employers would be well-served to reverse this particular trend, says Sandy Mazur, division president of Spherion Staffing Services.

“Organizations must become socially engaged in order to drive key business outcomes such as talent attraction, engagement, satisfaction and positive brand awareness, and reputation,” according to Mazur.

Decisions, including whether people want to work for your organization, stay with your organization, and sing your praises socially are all highly dependent on your ability to be socially engaged and socially adept.”