All posts by Michael J. O'Brien

Office Romances Hit 10-Year High

In case you haven’t noticed all the heart-shaped sweet treats making the rounds today at work, it’s Valentine’s Day!

And, just in time for the annual event, a new report from CareerBuilder finds romantic relationships among co-workers “may be more common than you think.”

According to CareerBuilder’s annual Valentine’s Day survey, 41 percent of workers have dated a co-worker (up from 37 percent last year and the highest since 2007). Additionally, 30 percent of these office romances have led to marriage, on par with last year’s findings.

(The national survey was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder from a representative sample of 3,411 full-time, private sector workers across industries and company sizes.)

Office romances are just not happening between peers, according to the report:

Of those who have had an office romance, more than 1 in 5 (29 percent, up from 23 percent last year) have dated someone in a higher position than them — a more common occurrence for women than men (33 percent versus 25 percent).

Fifteen percent of workers who have had an office romance say they have dated someone who was their boss.

And as if dating a superior weren’t risky enough, 19 percent of office romances involved at least one person who was married at the time.

As you might expect, keeping a workplace relationship out of the workplace is difficult. with nearly two in five workers who have had an office romance (38 percent) saying they had to keep the relationship a secret at work. Male workers were just as likely to keep their office romances secret (40 percent) compared to their female counterparts (37 percent).

By region, of those who have had office romances, 45 percent of workers in the Northeast say they kept their office relationships secret compared to 41 percent in the South, 34 percent in the West, and 31 percent in the Midwest.

On an admittedly rather ambiguous concluding note, the survey notes that, while 7 percent of workers say they currently work with someone they would like to date this year, 5 percent of workers who have had an office romance say they have left a job because of an office relationship gone sour.

 

 

‘Flexing’ to Close Gender Gap

Seventy percent of working mothers say having a flexible work schedule is extremely important to them, according to a Pew survey. (So do 48 percent of working fathers.)

To that end, a new job board is looking to leverage workplace flexibility to help close the gender gap, according to this new piece in the New York Times Upshot section:

A new job search company, Werk, is trying to address the [gender-gap] problem by negotiating for flexibility with employers before posting jobs, so employees don’t have to.

Facebook, Uber and Samsung are among the companies with job listings on the Werk site, in which all the positions listed “are highly skilled jobs that offer some sort of control over the time and place of work. People can apply to jobs that let them work away from the office all the time or some of the time, and at hours other than 9-to-5, part time or with minimal travel.”

Another option the site offers gives workers the freedom to adjust their schedules, no questions asked, because of unpredictable home and/or family obligations.

The story quotes Gerard Masci, founder and chief executive of Lowercase, a start-up eyeglass maker in Brooklyn, who just hired a vice president for communications on Werk. The company’s new hire works part-time and remotely, except for monthly in-person meetings.

“I don’t care if this week you work less if in a month you work more, and whether they work in the space or not is irrelevant,” Mr. Masci said. “All I care about is the productivity in the end.”

The full story is well worth a read for any HR leaders who are looking for ways to improve flexibility efforts without sacrificing productivity or quality talent.

 

LGBTQ Protections Spared — For Now

Given the combative tone of the first week of the Trump administration (at least as it related to Mexicans, Muslims and the media) it may have come as a surprise to some to learn President Trump will maintain workplace protections for gays and lesbians instituted during the Obama administration, according to multiple news reports.

“The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump,” the administration said in a statement.

USA Today reported that gay rights groups had expressed concern that Trump would reverse that order, but White House aides said such a step has not been contemplated. Drafts of proposed orders to roll back the Obama order had circulated through Washington in recent days, which caused concern among LGBTQ activists and others.

The Washington Post’s coverage includes a statement from Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in which he says he and other activists remained concerned that the new administration could still undermine other legal protections based on sexual orientation or gender identify:

“Claiming ally status for not overturning the progress of your predecessor is a rather low bar. LGBTQ refugees, immigrants, Muslims and women are scared today, and with good reason. Donald Trump has done nothing but undermine equality since he set foot in the White House,” Griffin said. “Donald Trump has left the key question unanswered — will he commit to opposing any executive actions that allow government employees, taxpayer-funded organizations or even companies to discriminate?”

The New York Times first reported the decision by the White House to stick with the Obama-era protections.

 

Philly Bans Salary Questions

Philadelphia, well known as this country’s Cradle of Liberty, may soon become known as a Grave of Salary Questions.

According to this Associated Press report, Philadelphia has joined other cities and municipalities that have banned employers from asking potential hires to provide their salary history, a move supporters say is a step toward closing the wage gap between men and women.

(The story notes that similar salary history bans have been introduced in New Jersey, and the city councils of New York City and Pittsburgh as well as the District of Columbia. In November, New York City stopped asking applicants for municipal jobs what they currently earn, and earlier this month Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order banning state entities from asking about pay history. Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s delegate to Congress, has sponsored similar legislation in Congress.)

Mayor Jim Kenney (Democrat) signed the measure on Monday, and said he’s confident the bill can withstand legal challenges, likely led by Philadelphia-based Comcast.

“I know that Comcast and the business community are committed to ending wage discrimination, and I’m hopeful that moving forward we can have a better partnership on this and other issues of concern to business owners and their employees,” he said. “This doesn’t need to be an either/or argument — what is good for the people of Philadelphia is good for business, too.”

However, the report notes, Comcast and the Chamber of Commerce see the bill as yet another roadblock to Philadelphia-based businesses:

“The wage equity ordinance as written is an overly broad impediment to businesses seeking to grow their workforce in the City of Philadelphia,” Rob Wonderling, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an opinion piece to a city business journal this month, adding it “infringes upon an employer’s ability to gain important information during the hiring process.”

Comcast had urged the mayor to veto the bill or face legal challenges, according to a legal memo obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this month. The memo said the law would violate employers’ First Amendment rights to ask potential hires about their salary history.

Comcast referred questions to the Chamber of Commerce for AP’s story.

 

 

Your Job’s ‘Automation Potential’

In case you’ve ever laid awake at night and wondered about the question in this post’s headline, fear not: the McKinsey Global Institute recently released an interactive graphic that shows how much potential specific jobs have for becoming automated in the future.

McKinsey analyzed the detailed work activities of more than 750 jobs in the United States to “estimate the percentage of time that could be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technology.”

According to Fast Company’s take on the McKinsey, graphic, “filling machine operators, dredge operators, medical appliance technicians, graders of agricultural products, sewing machine operators are all 100% automatable, according to McKinsey.

“Also highly automatable are butchers and meat cutters, bakers, bus mechanics and laundry workers. Security guard jobs are 40% automatable (note, this is already happening). And computer system analysts are only 28% automatable. Amongst the least automatable jobs, according to the analysis, are those in PR, legal services, accountancy, and grounds-keeping.”

For those of you wondering just how “automatable” HR jobs are, the graphic illustrates that HR assistants (with the exception of payroll and timekeeping) are 51 percent automatable, while HR specialists are 22 percent automatable and HR managers are 14 percent automatable.

 

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.