All posts by Michael J. O'Brien

Millennials Earn Less Than Boomers

As if young workers weren’t already  feeling  cursed on this Friday the 13th, here is more fodder for the Millennial Misery file (via the Associated Press and USA Today):

With a median household income of $40,581, millennials earn 20 percent less than boomers did at the same stage of life, despite being better educated, according to a new analysis of Federal Reserve data by the advocacy group Young Invincibles.

According to USA Today’s piece, the analysis of the Fed data shows the extent of the decline in outlook for millennials. It compared 25 to 34 year-olds in 2013, the most recent year available, to the same age group in 1989 after adjusting for inflation.

While education does help boost incomes, the median college-educated millennial with student debt is only earning slightly more than a baby boomer without a degree did in 1989.

The home ownership rate for this age group dipped to 43 percent from 46 percent in 1989, although the rate has improved for millennials with a college degree relative to boomers.

The median net worth of millennials is $10,090, 56 percent less than it was for boomers.

The analysis, the story notes, fits into a broader pattern of diminished opportunity.

Research last year by economists led by Stanford University’s Raj Chetty found that people born in 1950 had a 79 percent chance of making more money than their parents. That figure steadily slipped over the past several decades, such that those born in 1980 had just a 50 percent chance of out-earning their parents.

What’s even more troubling, though, is that the millennial malaise could be a portent of more economic worries:

The declining fortunes of millennials could impact boomers who are retired or on the cusp of retirement. Payroll taxes from millennials helps to finance the Social Security and Medicare benefits that many boomers receive — programs that Trump has said won’t be subject to spending cuts. And those same boomers will need younger generations to buy their homes and invest in the financial markets to protect their own savings.

“The challenges that young adults face today could forecast the challenges that we see down the road,” said Tom Allison, deputy policy and research director at Young Invincibles.

The Tall Costs of Short Workdays

Fans of shorter workdays may not like the recent news out of Sweden regarding the country’s attempt to scale back the length of the workday there.

A two-year experiment cutting working hours while maintaining pay levels for nurses at an old-age home in the Swedish city of Gothenburg is now nearing the end, according to a recent Bloomberg report.

While the take away was largely positive, with nurses at the home feeling healthier, which reduced sick-leave, and patient care improving, Bloomberg reports the city “has no plans in making the measure permanent or broadening it to other facilities.”

To do that, Bloomberg reports, it would need much more money and even help from the national government. To cover the reduced hours for the 68 nurses at the home it had to hire 17 extra staff at a cost of about 12 million kronor ($1.3 million).

“It’s associated with higher costs, absolutely,” said Daniel Bernmar, a local left-wing politician responsible for running the municipality’s elderly care. “It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame.”

The Gothenburg experiment has been closely watched globally, with labor activists touting progressive Sweden as a role model in shortening working hours.

For those of you wondering if such an innovative idea could take hold here in America, Bloomberg’s got your answer here.

A Spike in Workplace Deaths

In case you missed it, more workers died from on-the-clock injuries in 2015 than in any of the six previous years, though the rate of such deaths has been falling, according to a New York Times report based on data released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number of deaths recorded by the BLS in 2015 is 4,836, and that’s the total number of fatal workplace injuries in 2015, the highest since 2008, when such injuries resulted in 5,214 deaths, the paper reports.

But, as the story notes,  “high as the total may seem, the rate of workplace deaths — as a share of every 100,000 full-time equivalent workers — fell slightly from 2014 and has fallen relatively steadily since 2006.”

Among the many breakdowns of the data — men made up 93 percent of all workplace deaths last year, for example — the story notes that older workers (65 and older) died at higher rates last year than their peers in any other age group:

With 650 deaths for those senior workers, 2015 was the second-worst year for the age group since the data was first collected in 1992. Only last year’s total, 684, was larger.

These are some scary statistics for older workers, but the silver lining is that hopefully they make a compelling argument for increased training and worker safety in the coming year for all ages of employees, especially the oldest ones.


A Surcharge on CEO Pay

In case you missed it, the city council in Portland, Ore., voted last week to impose a surtax on companies whose chief executives earn more than 100 times the median pay of their rank-and-file workers beginning next year.

According to the New York Times piece, the legislation is ground-breaking:

The surcharge, which Portland officials said is the first in the nation linked to chief executives’ pay, would be added to the city’s business tax for those companies that exceed the pay threshold. Currently, roughly 550 companies that generate significant income on sales in Portland pay the business tax.

According to the Times piece, companies must pay an additional 10 percent in taxes if their chief executives receive compensation greater than 100 times the median pay of all their employees, and organizations with pay ratios greater than 250 times the median will face a 25 percent surcharge.

This new surcharge comes along just as companies are preparing to comply with the Security and Exchange Commission’s pay-ratio disclosure rules under the Dodd-Frank Act.

“Portland’s effort to impose pay ratio penalties would raise new issues for public companies already working to comply with the SEC’s pay ratio disclosure rules,” said Mike Stevens, a partner in Alston & Bird’s employee benefits and executive compensation group, shortly before the Portland City Council voted on the matter.

“As companies look to address the mechanics of the pay-ratio rules and prepare early disclosure models,” he said, “it’s important to understand that the SEC has given companies broad leeway in calculating these ratios. If Portland or other jurisdictions decide they are going to impose a penalty based on ratios, we  can expect that companies will take a hard look at the available alternatives and likely will become more aggressive with their method of calculation.”



Filling the Insurance Gap

The Wall Street Journal site posted a very interesting piece that explores the trend of employers offering “gap policies” to workers to help them cover unexpected out-of-pocket costs associated with their healthcare insurance.

For many workers, the WSJ notes, paying for healthcare has become “such a difficult budgeting exercise that the insurance industry is marketing additional products to help.” This gap insurance, also known as supplemental or voluntary insurance, is designed to provide extra coverage for things like hospital stays, unexpected accidents or treatment for acute illnesses such as cancer or heart disease. The policies are also designed to help cover the cost of high deductibles or copays for treatment—the gap that employees face before their health insurance kicks in.

“It is kind of like insurance on insurance,” says Brian Akian, a senior account executive with insurer Colonial Life, which provides gap insurance and is a unit of Unum Group.

The story goes on to detail how AmeriGas Propane Inc. recently began offering voluntary gap insurance to its 8,500 workers:

“Some people want more reassurance so they can put their head down and sleep well,” says Andy Rosa, director of human-resources and benefits at the propane-services company.

The piece goes on to lay out some of the different types of gap insurance on offer from the large insurers, including hospital-indemnity and critical-care insurance.

“It is growing like crazy,” says Shawn Jenkins, chief executive of Benefitfocus Inc., which provides benefit-administration technology to employers.

The whole piece is well-worth a read, especially considering that healthcare premiums show no signs of plateauing any time in the near future. Indeed, the WSJ piece notes that deductibles have grown 49 percent, on average, since 2011.

Landmark Ruling on the Horizon?

A new landmark ruling affecting how employers view sexuality when considering applicants could soon be in the offing, according to Reuters.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments tomorrow in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, in which a former Ivy Tech adjunct professor, Kimberly Hively, claims the college refused to allow her to interview for a full-time job and ultimately did not renew her contract because she is a lesbian.

The case , Reuters notes, gives the 7th Circuit a historic opportunity to fix what three of its own judges have called “a jumble of inconsistent precedents” and a “confused hodge-podge of cases.” If the full appellate court sides with Hively and her lawyers from the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, gays and lesbians will finally receive protection under federal law from workplace discrimination.

Lambda Legal lawyer Kenneth Upton told Reuters:

“Sexual orientation doesn’t have anything to do with employees’ ability to do their job,” Upton said. “It shouldn’t be a determiner of whether you should continue to be employed.”

The Hively case spotlights a weird legal paradox, according to the Reuters piece.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids employers from treating workers unequally on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. A plurality of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court said in 1989’s Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins that employers cannot discriminate against workers who don’t conform to sex stereotypes.

Yet as a three-judge panel at the 7th Circuit explained last summer in its since-vacated Hively opinion, every federal appellate court to have considered the question of whether employers can discriminate based on workers’ sexual orientation has concluded that Title VII’s bar on sex discrimination doesn’t give redress to gays and lesbians.

Upton added that three-judge panels at the 5th and 2nd Circuits are also facing the question, so ultimately, it will probably be up to the Supreme Court to provide an answer.


Thanksgiving with Co-workers

In advance of the upcoming feast day known as Thanksgiving, CareerBuilder has released a survey detailing how employees will be spending the holiday.

“Employees appear to be growing closer to those at work, or find it more difficult to break away from the office for Thanksgiving,” according to the press release announcing the annual survey, which was conducted nationally online by Harris Poll from August 11 to September 7, 2016 and included more than 3,300 workers across industries and company sizes.

More than one in four workers (28 percent) say they celebrate Thanksgiving with co-workers either in or out of the office – a substantial increase over 20 percent in 2015 and 19 percent in 2014. (Houston, Dallas and Miami continue to lead other major cities in percentage of workers that spend the holiday with co-workers.)

And more than 1 in 5 employees (22 percent) have to work on Thanksgiving (on par with last year) according the survey.

Below are the demographic breakouts of the survey.

Workers Who Celebrate Thanksgiving with Co-workers By:
U.S. Markets with the Largest Economies:

  • Houston: 44 percent
  • Dallas: 36 percent
  • Miami: 35 percent
  • Atlanta: 32 percent
  • New York: 27 percent
  • Los Angeles: 26 percent
  • Washington DC: 22 percent
  • Chicago: 20 percent
  • Boston: 19 percent
  • Philadelphia: 18 percent


  • South: 37 percent
  • West: 27 percent
  • Midwest: 23 percent
  • Northeast: 22 percent


  • Healthcare: 33 percent
  • Retail: 32 percent
  • Sales: 32 percent
  • Transportation: 30 percent
  • Manufacturing: 26 percent

Diverse Groups

  • Hispanic workers: 35 percent
  • LGBT workers: 35 percent
  • African American workers: 33 percent
  • Asian workers: 31 percent
  • Disabled workers: 27 percent

This compares to 29 percent of non-diverse workers (defined as white, straight, non-disabled male under 50) vs. 19 percent in 2015.


  • 18-24: 36 percent
  • 25-34: 35 percent
  • 35-44: 27 percent
  • 45-54: 25 percent
  • 55+: 20 percent

If, like many of my colleagues, your holiday weekend begins when today’s work day ends, then I wish you a happy and healthy holiday.

Room to Improve Pay Equity

A new survey from Willis Towers Watson  finds that employers and employees aren’t on the same page when it comes to discussing fair pay.

More than half of U.S. employees believe they’re paid fairly when compared to workers who have similar jobs either at their own or other companies, according to the survey. But at the same time, barely half of U.S. employers have a formal process in place to ensure pay fairness, indicating significant room for improvement.

“Pay equity is rapidly becoming a high priority for employers, especially with base pay continuing to be the most frequently cited reason employees choose to join or leave an organization,” said WorldatWork member Laura Sejen, managing director of talent and rewards at Willis Towers Watson.

“For employers,” she adds, “there is much at stake and also room for improvement. Employees’ perception that they are paid fairly is closely linked to their engagement which, in turn, drives overall productivity and, ultimately financial performance.”

Sejen also says employers will have to address the growing need for more pay transparency, given the increasing expectation of openness regarding pay and pay equity.

“It’s becoming much easier for employees to gather salary information from online sources and learn what people with jobs similar to theirs are earning. But before they can be more transparent about pay, employers will have to make sure their programs are designed, administered and delivered effectively.”

The ‘Creepiness’ of Data Collection

In my search to read anything — anything! — unrelated to last night’s election, I came across a  new piece by Oracle’s Rob Preston on the Forbes site that takes a look at the “Continuum of Creepiness,” which rates how creepy an organization’s data-collection efforts may be perceived by employees.

New technologies, Preston says, allow employers to have many more ways to gather employee data to do things such as improve  their performance, gauge their sentiment, measure their engagement, monitor their safety and root out misconduct:

“And on the face of it,” he says, “some of those collection methods and data types may seem more ‘creepy’ to employees than others.”

“Data collected from electronic sensing badges, email headers, online calendars, and social media sites? Creepy. Data collected from employee surveys? Not so creepy.”

But before assigning something as “creepy” or not, we must first consider the circumstances before making sweeping judgments because “creepiness is contextual” according to  Dr. Mary Young, principal researcher in the area of human capital management at The Conference Board, who spoke on the topic at a recent HR workshop in New York.

Preston goes on to list the nine factors that influence the “creepiness” of an organization’s data-collection efforts, including: employees’ right to opt in or out of collection efforts, their trust in the employer and the benefit to employees, among others.

The entire post is well-worth a read, especially on a day when you might not want to read anything more about last night’s election. But for those who can’t get enough of such things, HRE Senior Editor Jack Robinson just posted a  piece on our site Wednesday morning that takes a look at how a Trump presidency will affect organizations’ HR policies and regulations.

Melnkovic Honored in Boston

Barry Melnkovic, executive vice president and CHRO at Amtrak, was recognized as the HR Executive of the Year at the annual Human Resource Executive® magazine awards ceremony at the Trustee Ballroom at Boston University Thursday evening.


In accepting what he called “the most prestigious honor in all of HR,” Melnkovic said that, while the honor is indeed a personal one, he also sees it as “team recognition for Amtrak.”

“We have 22,000 great employees whose stories do not get told often enough of the great things they do,” he said. “We have great people who have gone through budget cuts, budget deficits, no funding, always seemingly in the crosshairs, and yet we’ve got multi-generational families working as railroaders, we’ve got people with 30 and 40 years of service, a multitude of them, and they wouldn’t think of working anywhere else because they’re committed to one another. And that’s something I respect coming in as a non-railroader trying to be accepted into that culture.”

Former Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman spoke in praise of Melnkovic, while also adding a dose of levity. “Leadership is character,” he said with a smile, “and Barry is a character.”

In addition to Melnkovic’s honor, four executives were added to the HR Honor Roll (below, from left): Jennifer Martin, senior vice president of HR, Alliant Insurance Services Inc.; Melnkovic; Timothy Richmond, senior vice president of HR, AbbVie Inc.; Jennifer Piscopink, senior vice president of HR, Carhartt Inc.; and (not pictured) Mark Andrekovich, chief of human capital, Maximus.


The HR Executive of the Year and Honor Roll awards are presented each year to the individuals in the HR profession who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary vision, strategy, direction and leadership in their organizations. A prestigious panel of judges, including previous award winners, HR thought leaders and the HRE editor, select the winners from a field of worthy candidates.

HRE presented the first HR Executive of the Year award in 1989. Since that time, 27 other HR professionals have been honored with this top award, and 91 Honor Roll recipients have been recognized, including this year’s winners.