All posts by Tom Starner

Healthcare’s Looming Talent Troubles

If you are an HR leader in the healthcare sector, there’s good news and bad news on the jobs front. The good news is the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that healthcare jobs will be among the fastest-growing in the nation by 2026. BLS projects health care will account for about 2.3 million new jobs over the next nine years.  Growth is good.

The bad news? Pinpointing exactly how to fill those jobs won’t be easy, depending on location.

A recent U.S. healthcare labor market analysis from Mercer compares future supply and demand of workers to project workforce availability across 50 healthcare occupations through 2025. According to the report, the projected supply of healthcare workers in several states will fall short of demand.

In terms of category, more than half of the new jobs the BLS forecast – around 1.6 million combined – will come from employment of personal care aides, home health aides and registered nurses, driven by an American population that’s trending older, sicker and more sedentary.

“These high-growth jobs will likely have gaps in demand and supply of workers,” said Jason Narlock, senior consultant, Workforce Strategy and Analytics at Mercer, in a company statement.  “While BLS figures show employment for Home Health Aides is expected to grow forty-seven percent in 2026, our analysis shows that providers might find it tough to fill all these roles – with each state facing a likely gap of 2,000 workers on average by 2025.”

Potential gaps in key worker availability will greatly impact healthcare employers as they consider the future-ready workforce they need to deliver quality patient care, Narlock explains. Mercer recommends employers should:

  • Understand full exposure to potential workforce risks – both external and internal. In addition to considering external labor market risks, employers must also understand the flow of employees in, through and out of its organization for the full picture.
  • Be proactive to mitigate the impact – While employers can’t control what is happening in the external labor market, effectively managing internal labor markets can help mitigate exposure to these risks.
  • Figure out how proposed workforce changes will impact patient health and satisfaction. Before making large investments, employers can use data and analytics to better understand the likely impact of changes on patient metrics.

“The good news is that much of this work relies on data that healthcare systems already collect,” Narlock said. “It’s not a matter of getting new data, but better leveraging data to develop empirical insights that will drive strategic workforce planning and build a future-ready workforce.”

Financial Issues Worrying Workers

Despite a surging stock market and low unemployment, several years of apparent financial good times for American workers may be heading in the opposite direction, according to a new survey from Willis Towers Watson.

The consulting firm’s biennial 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey found that only 35 percent of nearly 5,000 U.S. employees polled felt satisfied with their financial situation this year. Two years ago, that number clocked in at 48 percent. Also, employees feeling satisfied with their financial situation had been improving steadily since the recession year of 2009, when it bottomed out at just 25 percent reporting being satisfied.

Another survey finding revealed that 34 percent of workers believe their current financial concerns are negatively affecting their lives. Two years ago, only 21 percent felt that way. Finally, 59 percent worry about their future financial state, according to Willis Towers Watson. In the last survey, that number stood at 49 percent.

So what’s going on?

Vincent Antonelli, senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson, said in a release that the “ongoing financial worries that are plaguing so many employees are taking a toll on their financial confidence.” He added that WTW knows from its research that more than half of all workers have experienced a major financial event in the past two years, such as divorce; a significant medical experience; or borrowing money from a friend, family member or payday loan.

“These factors, combined with growing debt and low wage growth, are leading to heightened worker angst,” he said.

As a result, productivity is, in part, bearing the brunt of this emerging trend, according to the research. For example, among “struggling” employees (identified as those worried about their short- and long-term finances; about 30 percent of the employees surveyed identified as “struggling”), about one-third report that “money concerns” were keeping them from doing their best at work. That translates into more absenteeism for those struggling employees.

Stress levels also are rising, as seven in 10 struggling employees reported high (37percent) or above average (33 percent) stress levels.

“Employers understand that financial worries, which are linked to stress, can have a negative impact on their employees’ personal and work lives,” said Shane Bartling, senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson, in the release.

What can employers do? One thing is to offer and promote service providers and technology solutions to employees suffering from personal financial issues, though there is some pushback as to how deep employers can delve into that situation.

While employees are eager for their employers to provide support and technology that deliver valuable guidance and suggestions on retirement and financial decisions, employees are very wary of personalized outreach.

“What’s the nuance? Workers are saying there is a distinct line between personalized tools where the interaction is controlled by the employee and personalized messages that can be unsettling,” he said.



Holiday Parties: Proceed with Caution

The almost daily revelations of workplace sexual harassment should be enough to drive home the idea that if your company is tossing a holiday party this year, be extra careful. And reconsider offering alcohol to party-goers, according to experts.

One related recent survey, from Global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., found that HR leaders nationwide may be a bit more cautious regarding the annual company year-end bash.

Reaching out to 150 HR representatives, the survey found 80 percent of employers plan to host holiday parties this year, approximately the same as last year. On the flip side, 11 percent of employers will not hold a holiday party, up from 4 percent in 2016. It’s also the highest percentage since post-recession 2009, when 25 percent did not have parties.

On the booze front, fewer of these parties will serve alcohol (47 percent, compared to 62 percent last year). Using caterers and/or allowing employees to bring guests are also down from previous years.

“Employers are currently very wary of creating an environment where inappropriate contact between employees could occur,” Challenger said. “One way to create a safer environment is to limit the guest list, hold the party during the workday, and avoid serving alcohol.”

Beth Zoller, legal editor at XpertHR, an online HR compliance resource, said in a company release that thanking employees for a job well done via holiday parties is a good thing, but certainly there are risks, ranging from claims of religious discrimination and sexual harassment to drunk driving.

Zoller said employers should be especially careful if serving alcohol because it can result in some very bad outcomes, including car accidents, injuries, discrimination, harassment and inappropriate and offensive conduct. Management should make sure that all employees are completely sober before driving home. In fact, she said, a luncheon may be safer as employees may be likely to drink less during daytime hours.

Employers should also avoid hanging mistletoe as a decoration, as this not only could lead to religious discrimination claims, but also to potential claims for sexual harassment.

“If an employer is not extra careful, things can turn sour in a hurry,” Zoller said.

Survey: It Pays To Be Fair

Employers are keenly aware that employee engagement and satisfaction have fast become two of those seemingly elusive culture goals. Surveys from a variety of sources over the past few years peg engagement levels in the low-to-mid thirties.

Gallup, for example, which follows employee engagement closely, reports that in 2016 employee engagement remained stagnant from the previous years, barely budging from 31.4 in 2014 and 32 percent in 2015. Of course, there are many factors that go into high levels of employee satisfaction.

Now, a study out this week reveals that the pay process at an organization, in terms of fairness and transparency, is 5.4 times more impactful on how satisfied employees are than how they are paid relative to their market value.

PayScale, Inc., a cloud-based compensation data and software provider, designed the survey to identify the drivers of employee engagement. It queried more than 500,000 employees for its employee engagement research on various aspects of their job that could potentially contribute to both employee satisfaction and potential attrition.

“This research aims to shed new light on employee satisfaction and intent to leave in an era where engagement is at an all-time low,” Lydia Frank, vice president of Content Strategy at PayScale, said in a news release. “Our study shows that just by having an open dialogue about the pay process and employees’ contributions at the company, employers can ultimately drive better outcomes for their businesses.”

Another interesting finding is that when employees feel appreciated by their employer – and believe their company has a bright future – they are far more likely to be satisfied at work and remain at the company.

Other findings include: employees don’t know whether they’re paid fairly. Of the respondents who felt they were paid below market rate, nearly 90 percent were actually paid at or above market rate. That means only 11 percent of people who felt they were underpaid were correct; also, paying fairly really matters. The research shows 75 percent of respondents who think they are paid at or above the market rate said they were satisfied with their job, compared to only 59 percent of workers who felt they are paid below the market rate.

“This is provocative research that comes at a time when more and more companies are looking for ways to increase satisfaction with employees so they can get the biggest return from their talent investments,” said Pete DeBellis, research leader at the analyst firm Bersin by Deloitte. “The results are surprising and show us just how crucial it is for employers to make the leap and start talking more openly about pay in order to build more trusting relationships with their employees.”

Compromise or Crackdown?

When the owners of National Football League teams decided not to ban players league-wide from kneeling in protest during the national anthem, it brought to public attention the notion that even if employers have the legal right to  institute such a ban, staying neutral and working things out is the more prudent strategy.

According to an expert from outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, while freedom of speech does not extend into the workplace, NFL owners – and employers in general – should be more focused on compromise than cracking down on employees who express and debate their political views.

“It is surprising to many, but the First Amendment does not extend to workers in private companies. The league does have the right to establish rules with consequences,” said Andrew Challenger, a vice president at the firm, in a statement. “Companies sometimes get dragged into political conflicts against their will. They should try to remain neutral and broker a win-win for both sides.”

A Challenger, Gray and Christmas survey around the issue found that 94 percent of respondents have witnessed political discussions in the workplace, with 18.2 percent reporting that those discussions happening often.  So this is not an unusual scenario.

In the case of the NFL, there is no rule in place to force players to stand so no official league punishment for players who protest will happen. As of last Sunday, a scattering of players continued to take a knee during the national anthem, without repercussions.

According to Andrew Challenger, suppressing demonstrating employees by brute force tends to further politicize the situation; the more effective path is to “deescalate the political tension” by having private conversations within the organization.

“In today’s climate, employers recognize political discourse is unavoidable at work. However, employers must be careful that these discussions do not violate anti-discrimination or harassment laws,” he says, adding that management should refrain from political discussions or imposing their own viewpoints on their subordinates. Above all else, he says, respect and professionalism must prevail in the workplace to ensure success and growth.

“The consistent and uniform administration of policies and procedures is the best way to ensure a positive work environment,” regardless of the profession or industry sector, he said.

Women’s Workplace Engagement Gap

Despite the fact that workplace gender equality is getting the media attention it deserves, women continue to be less than enthused about their current work situations when compared to their male co-workers.

According to a recent survey from Mercer Sirota, female employees are significantly less satisfied and engaged with their organizations compared to their male counterparts. Measuring employee happiness based on three factors — achievement, camaraderie and equity – Mercer Sirota found that 43 percent of women are satisfied with their organization in matching pay based on performance, while slightly more than half of men (51 percent) are satisfied with their pay based on performance.

(Mercer Sirota is the result of Mercer’s December 2016 acquisition of Sirota Consulting LLC, a global provider of organizational assessments, surveys, technology and analytics.)

The Mercer Sirota research surfaced three major areas with significant gaps for women in the workplace: fair and transparent pay, defined career paths, and inclusive work environments. The survey also found that keeping employees engaged not only leads to long-term employment, but also growth within an organization.  Women have a focus on longer term career and collaboration not seen in men, according to Megan Connolly, senior associate with Mercer Sirota, which is something employers need to realize.

“Although the drivers of engagement and satisfaction may vary from company to company, our research clearly illustrates that fair and transparent pay, defined career paths, and inclusive working environments are the key to engaging women employees,” Connelly says.

Other findings found trust to be the key factor in terms of sharing ideas and innovations. For example, one in four female employees is apprehensive to report an ethical concern without fear of repercussions, which creates mistrust between employees and employer.

“Understanding the unique needs of women and taking proactive steps to create more fulfilling work experiences may be the key to solving the puzzle that continues to confound organizations, which is how to increase performance through gender parity,” says Pete Foley, principal at Mercer Sirota.

Stressing over Pay-Ratio Strategies

The Dodd-Frank Act mandated the CEO pay ratio rule — which goes into effect in early 2018 — with the intention of making the public and employees aware of how much a CEO is paid when compared to the median compensation of all employees.

The odd part is employers apparently have little problem coming up with the CEO pay-to-worker data, but the real challenge is figuring out when, how or if they will tell employees about it, according to a recent poll Willis Towers Watson conducted with 360 corporate executives and compensation professionals in September 2017.

No doubt this lack of action is partly because many employers are stressed about how employees will respond to the pay ratio disclosure. WTW believes that’s a mistake, according to Steve Seelig, senior regulatory advisor for Executive Compensation at WTW.

The survey found that roughly half of poll participants report their biggest challenge in complying with the forthcoming pay ratio disclosure rule is forecasting how their employees will react. The poll also revealed that 48 percent of participants haven’t considered how, or even if, they will communicate the pay ratio – even though employees’ reaction to the disclosure is their biggest worry.

“It’s somewhat surprising that so many companies haven’t considered how or if they will communicate the ratio to their employees, given that so many are concerned about how they will react,” said Jim Kohler, director, Communication and Change Management at Willis Towers Watson, in a company news release. Kohler added that employers should view the act as “a golden opportunity” to launch a dialogue with not only employees but also customers, investors and the media about pay positioning and pay transparency.

“In fact, we are working with several companies on developing a communication road map to guide them through the process,” he says.

To help employers out, the Securities and Exchange Commission also issued detailed guidance recently so affected employers can manage their data issues using statistical sampling.

“The clock is ticking for companies to comply,” WTW’s Seelig said.

The good news is of those who have a communications plan in place (a meager 14 percent), 39 percent are prepping  leadership to respond to employee questions. On the downside, just 16 percent of them are prepping managers to have employee discussions. As for a “do nothing” strategy, a similar number as those with detailed plans are not going to say anything at all to employees, according to the poll.

Is Global Mobility Losing Popularity?

Taking a global assignment has been considered a stepping stone to moving up within the organization, but apparently some who have taken that step are having doubts.

A recent survey from Cigna, the health insurance carrier, reports that globally mobile employees see themselves as less satisfied than workers who reside in their home country (and who have chosen to bypass overseas assignments).

Two of the main reasons for that scenario are a loss of family time and support, and the financial consequence and availability of medical care in the event of major illness.  Regarding the latter, the Cigna survey, 2017 Cigna 360° Well-being Survey – Globally Mobile Individuals, found that 40 percent reported having no company medical benefits at all. For the survey, Cigna interviewed 2,003 globally mobile individuals online (ages 25-59) who are working in markets outside of their birthplace across 20 markets in Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, Africa and the United States.

Hard data for globally mobile individuals on Cigna’s favorability index across all categories is 61.5 points, 1.8 points lower than their stay-at-home counterparts. The most dramatic score difference came in family well-being, which was 9.4 points lower for globally mobile workers.

“The results show that globally mobile individuals are more concerned than the general working population about their own health and well-being, and that of their families,” said Jason Sadler, president, Cigna International Markets, in a press release.

Sadler added that without exception, this group is worried about the consequences of personal or family member illness; an issue compounded by the gap in employer-provided health benefits.

It isn’t all bad news. The Cigna survey also found that there is an upside to taking a global assignment, mainly “international exposure, the opportunity to accumulate wealth, better career prospects, good working hours and positive relationships with co-workers” as positive outcomes aspects of the experience.

Even so, the anxiety driven by healthcare concerns is real, Cigna found.

“The survey shows health benefits are a very important factor when deciding to take an overseas posting,” Sadler said. “There is a clear need for employers to pay attention to the health and well-being of their globally mobile employees.”