Category Archives: benefits

SHRM ’15: Global Shift, High Performers and More

Blistering temperatures hovering around 115 degrees apparently didn’t keep folks away from this week’s SHRM 2015 Annual Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas. Under the theme “It’s Time to Thrive,” the event attracted a record 15,500 attendees from around the globe. (Vegas seems to be a draw, no matter what the time of the year.)

SHRM photoCrowds and the heat index aside, I did notice at least one refreshing change at this year’s event: a lot more practitioner speakers.

Though I didn’t do a thorough analysis, a quick scan of the program book suggested there were definitely more HR leaders on the program than in prior years—a development I would certainly put under the category of a good thing.

Case in point: a Monday morning session by Steve Fussell, executive vice president of human resources for Abbott Laboratories in Abbott Park, Ill.  Titled “Managing a Global Workforce During Times of Change: M&A, Organic Growth and Spin Offs,” Fussell’s talk recounted Abbott’s dramatic and impressive transformation in the aftermath of spinning off its research-based pharma arm, AbbVie, in 2012. (Fussell, BTW, was named to HRE’s Honor Roll in 2010.)

As Fussell explained to the packed room, the spin off left Abbott with a much more global business and workforce. (Today, he said, less than one-third of the firms’ revenue now comes from the United States and 70 percent of employees are outside of the country.)

On top of that, he added, Abbott became, almost overnight, a much more customer-facing business.

These changes, Fussell said, will inevitably lead a very different leadership mix in the coming years.

“Three to five years out,” he said, “I can tell you that we will probably double the number of people in senior leadership roles … who do not carry a U.S. passport.”

As a part of the transformation, HR focused on three specific buckets: core, critical and unique.

“Core,” he explained, is having people who feel and behave like owners and are able to make hard decisions. “We don’t want GMs saying this doesn’t matter in this market,” he said. To that end, he continued, Abbott built business advisory committees in every one of its markets around the globe and requires leaders in those markets to talk about those areas they consider to be core.

“Critical,” he said, “are the [issues] we have to get right together to build the market presence that allows us to [successfully] compete.”

And then there are those issues that are “unique”:

Don’t call me up and ask me about the summer bonus somewhere … . If I’m getting those calls … I need to question the people we have in those jobs.

Fussell also shared what he looks for in leaders. First and foremost, he said, leaders need to be able to analyze a situation. “Do they have an analytical ability to notice the things that are happening in the markets in which they serve?” he asked. “Can they see things our competitors can’t see?”

Second, he continued, are they leaders who can diagnose the things that ultimately will determine outcomes?

Third, are they able to describe a direct course of action? “Do they have a sustainable record of taking what they’ve seen and diagnosed, and then put together an outcomes-based approach … ?”

And fourth, can they execute? With a tone of sarcasm, he said “I’m sure none of you have seen a business that noticeably missed its plan for the year, perhaps by a mile, and then, after looking at all your performance ratings, found that 36 percent [of the employees]exceeded performance.”

Performance—and rewarding those employees who excel at it—was certainly at the heart of a presentation delivered Tuesday afternoon by Michelle DiTondo, senior vice president of human resources for MGM Resorts in Las Vegas.

In the session title “MGM Resorts: What is it Worth to You to Keep Your Top Performers?” DiTondo shared the talent-retention challenges facing the gaming giant and detailed an approach currently being piloted to help address them.

Envision having 50,000 of your 62,000 workers all located on a single street—and then having the vast majority of biggest competitors located on that same street as well. (In this case, the street is the “Las Vegas Strip.”)

That’s the reality facing MGM Resorts, DiTondo said.

To tackle this challenge, DiTondo said she put a unique twist on question business leaders at MGM Resorts were more than familiar with: What are your very best customers worth to you?  She asked them to think about what their very best-performing employees were worth to them?

“It’s an easy analogy for us,” she said. “As business leaders, we understand the value of treating our best customers [known as ‘whales’] differently from all of our other customers. We understand why an airline has a first-class lounge for customers who pay more …  .”

By making sure all of this is done in a very public way, she said, you’re able to drive “aspirational behavior.”

Every industry has “whales,” not just gaming,  she added.

At MGM Resorts, DiTondo said, the highest level of its loyalty program is called “NOIR.”

These “whales” represent less than 1 percent of the company’s total customers and are treated very differently, she explained. “They get exclusive awards such as being picked up in a private plane [or] staying in “The Mansion,” [exclusive quarters] just behind the MGM Grand. Why are they treated differently? Because while they represent just 1 percent of MGM Resorts’ database, they drive 600x more revenue compared to the average customer.”

Building off of this model, DiTondo, with her CEO’s blessing, began to rethink the way MGM Resorts’ approached its top talent. “If we have high-performing employee, do we apply the same sort of things to them that we give to our high-performing customers?” she asked. “Do we give them access to the chairman? Are they given access to senior leaders? Are they given exclusive benefits that are only for high performers? Do we have personal relationships with them? Do we know about their family, their interests, their personal milestones? Do we understand the impact on the business were they to leave? Do we treat them like VIPs? From my standpoint … the answer is no.”

In the pilot, DiTondo said, MGM Resorts partly copied an approach taken by Chipotle Mexican Grill to groom more restaurant managers internally. Under the initiative, she said, general managers at the chain were given a $10,000 bonus for each individual who was promoted into Chipotle’s management program.

To hold onto and incent its top talent, DiTondo said, MGM created, as a part of the pilot, a tiered bonus program for general managers and executive chefs who met certain benchmarks that included a “super incentive” of 1 percent of both the restaurant’s top and bottom lines.  (At one of the highest performing buffets, she said, these high-performing individuals could now receive a $30,000 bonus, compared to $3,000 under the prior arrangement.)

On top of that, she said, they also now have the potential of reaping a bonus of 10 percent of a person’s base pay if that individual is promoted to a GM and executive chef job. (To receive the bonus, the individual needs to put in a place a plan, as well as coach and mentor the candidate.)

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In other news: SHRM continued its tradition of releasing its latest Employee Benefits Survey at the annual conference.

According to Evren Esen, director of SHRM’s survey programs, the big headline this year was employers’ continuing commitment to wellness. Of the 463 respondents, employers with wellness programs jumped between 2011 and 2015 by 10 percent, from 60 percent to 70 percent.

Esen suggested that employers were investing in wellness as a way to counter the financial strain resulting from healthcare.

In line with this increase, the study revealed significant increases over the past five years in the use of healthcare premium discounts for participating in wellness programs (from 11 percent to 20 percent) and healthcare premium discounts for those not using tobacco products (from 12 percent to 19 percent).

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Here’s a New Gen Y Adjective: Conservative

Gen Yers apparently don’t need to “get real” when it comes to retirement—a survey released earlier this week suggests many may already be “real,” at least when compared to their elders.

ThinkstockPhotos-494091025A study of 1,000 American adults released Wednesday by TIAA-CREF, titled the 2015 Lifetime Income Survey, found that, when it comes to retirement planning, Gen Yers (those between age 18 and 34) seemingly are more conservative than older generations in their retirement outlook, with only 56 percent saying they are counting on Social Security to provide income in their retirement. In contrast, 76 percent of those between ages 35 and 44 and 73 percent of those between ages 45 and 54 indicated that was the case.

According to the study, 34 percent of the respondents said if they could choose one primary goal for their retirement plan, it would be to ensure that their savings are safe, no matter what happens in the market—a marked increase from older generations. Only 16 percent of Americans ages 35 to 44 and 22 percent of Americans ages 45 to 54 reported the same.

The survey also found that Gen Yers tend to take a pragmatic view about the length of time their retirement may last: 34 percent say they plan to accrue retirement savings to allow them to live comfortably for more than 25 years, compared to only 26 percent of respondents overall. However—and here’s the particularly disturbing, though not necessarily surprising data point—31 percent aren’t currently saving any money for retirement, due in part to financial challenges such as student loans or jobs that don’t offer retirement plans.

Here’s one take on the findings, this from Teresa Hassara, executive vice president and head of Institutional Business at TIAA-CREF …

“Many in Gen Y came of age during the Great Recession, which helped shape their attitudes and outlook[s] on their own finances. They face higher student-loan debt and fewer prospects for full-time employment with benefits than previous generations, making it harder to save enough for a comfortable retirement. The gap between the need for financial security and having the will and the means to achieve it may well impact this generation for decades to come.”

All points well worth considering the next time you re-evaluate your benefits-communication strategy.

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Are We On the Path to Paid Sick Leave?

sick employeePaid sick leave seems to be on everyone’s mind lately, from Hillary Clinton and Thomas Perez to the leadership at Chipotle and McDonald’s.

For example, you may remember Secretary of Labor Perez recently embarking on the Lead on Leave—Empowering Working Families Across America tour, during which he sought to “promote best practices and discuss how paid leave and other flexible workplace policies can help support working families and business,” according to a Department of Labor statement.

One of Perez’s stops on that roughly month-long jaunt was Oregon, where lawmakers recently passed a measure that would require employers with at least 10 workers to offer up to 40 hours of paid sick time annually. If Oregon Governor Kate Brown signs the bill—which she is expected to do—the Beaver State would join California, Connecticut and Massachusetts as the only states to have enacted paid sick leave requirements.

President Obama has urged Congress to pass federal legislation giving U.S. workers seven days of paid sick leave. But the consensus remains that such a bill would be unlikely to gain the necessary Congressional support in the near future.

Some companies, of course, aren’t waiting for a federal paid sick leave law to become reality. Microsoft, for example, made headlines in March by requiring many of its 2,000 contractors and vendors to offer 15 paid days off for sick days and vacation to their employees who perform work for Microsoft.

At the time, many scoffed at the notion of other large companies doing the same, but two of the biggest names in the fast-food universe were quick to follow the Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant’s lead.

Just days after Microsoft went public with its bold move, for instance, McDonald’s announced it would add paid time off to its roster of benefits, even for part-time workers, at the 10 percent of McDonald’s franchises that are company-owned.

And, effective July 1, Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. will provide paid sick leave to hourly workers—a benefit previously enjoyed exclusively by the restaurant chain’s salaried workers.

The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination would no doubt like to see more employers go a similar route.

Hillary Clinton has made paid sick leave a centerpiece of her platform, commending cities such as Philadelphia for signing paid sick leave bills into law, and expressing her support for such legislation in public forums.

This week, the New York Times made mention of Clinton’s assertion that no one should “have to choose between keeping a paycheck and caring for a new baby or a sick relative,” in a piece noting the momentum gathering behind paid sick leave in the business sector as well as the political sphere.

“With pay for most workers still growing sluggishly—as it has been for most of the last 15 years—political leaders are searching for policies that can lift middle-class living standards,” according to the Times. “Companies, for their part, are becoming more aggressive in trying to retain workers as the unemployment rate has fallen below 6 percent.”

Still, the fact remains that federal legislation seems unlikely to materialize any time soon, as the Times acknowledges.

“With most Republicans in Congress opposed to new leave laws, the biggest changes will probably occur at the state and local level, including in some Republican-led states.”

True enough. But with no federal movement on the horizon, it will be interesting to see if states or individual companies make significant changes in the coming months, or if Microsoft, Chipotle, McDonald’s and the like will remain outliers on paid sick leave.

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A Great Present for (Some) Employees

Sir Richard Branson (photo by Chatham House)

Sir Richard Branson (photo by Chatham House)

The U.K.’s Sir Richard Branson is quite a generous guy. For example, employees at the management and licensing division of his Virgin Group company are entitled to an unlimited number of vacation days each year (I should note that unlimited-leave policies such as this are not without controversy).

Now, the blonde-maned Englishman has introduced an expansive leave policy for new parents at his 140-employee management offices in London and Geneva, Switzerland: 12 months of paid leave, for both parents, for the birth or adoption of a child. What’s more, the company may expand this policy to its office in the U.S. — the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid leave for new parents.

“We are in the process of working hard on making this happen in the U.S. and hope to have an update in the coming months,” a Virgin spokesperson told ABC News.

Virgin Group’s paid paternity leave policy lets parents who’ve worked for the company at least four years to receive their full salary over 52 weeks of shared parental leave, regardless of gender. Employees with fewer than two years of service will receive 25 percent of their pay.

Generous, indeed — but then again, this benefit is available only to a small percentage of Virgin’s 50,000 or so employees (.2 percent, according to Bloomberg). Companies such as Google, Facebook, Bank of America and PricewaterhouseCoopers all offer from seven to 17 weeks of paid parental leave to their employees — far less than Virgin Group, but to a much greater share of their employee population.

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Looking to the Future for Total Rewards

It’s been 15 years since the American Compensation Association changed its name to WorldatWork, reflecting the group’s decision to increase its footprint beyond the world of compensation and embrace a broader total-rewards approach.

ThinkstockPhotos-175679126This year, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based HR association celebrates its 60th anniversary. And with that milestone comes a revamped total-rewards model.

Announced during the opening session of this week’s WorldatWork’s Total Rewards 2015 Conference and Exposition in Minneapolis, the new model now includes the verb “engage” (which joins attract, motivate and retain in describing total rewards’ contribution to the organization) and the addition of “talent development” as a sixth element of the total-rewards strategy.

WorldatWork’s previous model, introduced in 2006, featured the following five elements: compensation, benefits, work/life, performance and recognition, and development and career opportunities.

Anne Ruddy, president and CEO of WorldatWork, noted that the time was right for the association to re-examine its total-rewards model and make it more relevant to the kinds of issues members are facing today.

Models aside, it would seem many of those attending this year’s conference have their sights set on the future. On Monday afternoon, I attended a packed session presented by Steven Gross, a senior partner at Mercer, entitled “Total Rewards 2020: What to Expect in the Next Five Years Based Upon a Lifetime of Experience.”

Five minutes before the session began, attendees were being turned away at the door because the room was already filled to capacity. (Fortunately, for those unable to attend, the session was scheduled to be repeated the following day.)

Gross, who is based in Mercer’s Philadelphia office, gave attendees a quick rundown of the external factors influencing total rewards today, a glimpse of what the future might look like five years from  now and what steps employers ought to take to prepare for that world.

As might be expected, Gross led off his presentation by acknowledging the crucial role changing workforce demographics is playing in shaping the future of total rewards.

“It’s not only about people living longer, but people working longer,” Gross said. “Think about the implications of one quarter of folks over age 65 and 15 percent of folks over age 70 in the workforce”—and the kinds of challenges these changes are going to present to employers.

Generational differences, he said, are also likely to have an impact, as employers face the formidable challenge of addressing “the different sensitivities” of traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials.

Other external factors Gross cited included income disparities, diversity, globalization and technology.

Gross predicted that, five years from now, companies will be much more focused on “core employees” who are viewed as being crucial to their organization’s success, will continue to put more weight on individual accountability, and will pay greater attention to personalizing rewards to reflect greater workplace diversity.

Going forward, he said, companies will also be much more focused on “best fit rather than just best practice.” (In other words, he explained, does your total-rewards strategy fit the culture of your organization?)

What’s more, he added, do-it-yourself benefits programs will be far more common five years from now, with self-service becoming an even greater fixture of tomorrow’s workplace. (Gross also joined the chorus of those predicting employers will increasingly be getting  out of the “healthcare business.”)

I suppose we’ll know in five years which of Gross’ predictions were on target—and which ones missed the mark.  But of this we can be fairly certain: Tomorrow’s total-rewards landscape isn’t likely to look anything like the one that exists today. As Gross reminded those attending his session, there are simply too many significant forces at work to ensure that that’s the case.

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A Downside for Health Apps?

appsThis year’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference saw a host of vendors and experts touting the benefits of the smartphone in promoting employee health. Checking in with apps such as MyFitnessPal (an app for tracking calories and diet) or the FitBit activity tracker will “engage” (that crucial word!) employees in their health like nothing else, they say.

Not so fast, cautions a new article in BMJ, a British medical journal. The BMJ piece features opposing viewpoints from two doctors: Dr. Iltifat Husain, who oversees a review site for medical professionals, writes that apps can help doctors hold patients accountable for their behavior. In a counterpoint, Dr. Des Spence, a Scottish general practitioner, argues that health apps encourage healthy people to unnecessarily record their normal activities and vital signs, ultimately turning them into “continuously self-monitoring neurotics.”

Health apps, Spence writes, are untested and unscientific and should be viewed with skepticism. “Make no mistake,” he writes. “Diagnostic uncertainty ignites extreme anxiety in people.”

This caution is warranted: The New York Times notes that federal regulators have been cracking down on health-apps vendors who’ve falsely claimed, among other things, that their products could accurately analyze skin moles for potential melanoma.

“If an app claims to treat, diagnose or prevent a disease or health condition, it needs to have serious evidence to back up those claims,” the Federal Trade Commission’s Mary K. Engle told the paper. In other words, although health apps clearly have the potential to get employees more focused on improving their health, they should also be wary of apps that claim to diagnose or treat a health condition.

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Payment Reform Urgently Needed

The way in which healthcare is paid for in the United States is a perverse mess — it rewards unnecessary procedures and is lacking in transparency while failing to reward providers for doing things that are actually needed.

“We know the way we pay for healthcare today is inherently inflationary and often does not lead to the outcomes we want,” said Suzanne F. Delbanco, executive director of Catalyst for Payment Reform, a coalition of employers and healthcare purchasers. She spoke at a general session on payment reform on Day 2 of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference in Las Vegas.

The CPR is working to create a “critical mass” of employers that would push for changes needed to rectify serious problems — such as those uncovered by a report 15 years ago that found healthcare providers throughout the United States charging wildly varying prices for the same medical procedures that bore no relation to quality or outcomes. A decade and a half later, Delbanco said, little progress has been made.

That’s not to say there aren’t bright spots: New innovations such as accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes have proven to be viable alternatives to the traditional fee-for-service model and have resulted in lower prices and better outcomes, she said. The CPR is also encouraging employers to experiment with new approaches such as shared savings and non-payment for botched or unnecessary procedures.

One hurdle has been the fact that many employers are more comfortable making changes to benefit-plan designs that shift more of the cost to employees than in challenging the traditional way in which healthcare is paid for, said Delbanco. “Ideally, employers should be doing both,” she said, adding that employees have generally become more receptive to the need to control costs.

Delbanco was joined on stage by Anna Fallieras, G.E.’s program leader for healthcare initiatives and policy, who described her company’s journey to consumerism.

“Our message to employees is, ‘Be an active consumer: Think about managing costs and getting quality care,’ ” she said, adding that GE spends $2 billion per year on employee healthcare.

GE, which rolled out consumer-driven health plans to its employee population in 2013, also created new tools and services to help them make better healthcare decisions. These include a telephonic health-coach service designed to help employees get access to top-performing healthcare providers, and a treatment cost calculator that offers price and quality information on providers.

The cost calculator has helped employees save between 5 percent and 30 percent on their healthcare bills, said Fallieras. GE also offers a telemedicine service that’s garnered a 90-percent satisfaction rate from employees, she said.

Fallieras called on other employers to join GE in fighting for payment reform. “We can’t do it all ourselves,” she said. “We as employers have a central role.”

 

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Work/Life ‘Innovation’ in the Valley

As a session titled “Unlimited Time Off and the Leading Work/Life Benefits of Silicon Valley” reminded those attending this year’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, high-tech employers are innovating in areas well beyond technology.

ThinkstockPhotos-78521845Indeed, representatives from Adobe, Yahoo! and CA Technologies each detailed a wide range of work/life programs aimed at providing employees with greater flexibility and making their organizations more attractive places to work.

Lauren Vela, a senior director of member services at the Pacific Business Group on Health and the moderator of session, pointed out that bringing work/life balance to a high stressed, high-achieving population isn’t always an easy feat.

But that said, it’s clearly something companies such as Adobe, Yahoo! and CA Technologies take very seriously.

“In looking at our population,” explained Luz Garcia, senior Americas benefits specialist for San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe Systems, “people were not taking time-off. They were adding huge balances to their PTO accounts,” something that wasn’t in the spirit of Abode’s time-off program.

“We wanted people to take the time-off for rest and relaxation,” she said.

In response, Garcia said, Adobe revisited its program and implemented an unlimited time-off program.

Adobe’s policy states 

“… exempt U.S. employees will be paid their regular base salary at all times while they are actively employed by Adobe (including while on Adobe holidays and during Company break periods); the only time they will not receive their base salary will be during periods when they are on a leave of absence or are taking Sick Time Off, at which time they will be subject to the compensation and benefits provisions of the applicable Adobe leave of absence policy or the Sick Time Off provision below.”

Adobe, Garcia said, also enhanced its sabbatical program in 2009 with a tiered approach— so that after five years of service employees were entitled to four fully paid weeks off; after four weeks, five fully paid weeks off; and after 15 years, six fully paid weeks off.

Garcia noted that the changes helped reinforce the fact that “we value people taking time-off to decompress.”

Adobe also has instituted summer breaks. “We always had a winter break, where we shut down the last week of December. But now, with the summer break, we shut down the week of July 4,” she said.

CA Technologies’ Vice President of Global Benefits Lisa Mars, meanwhile, shared CA’s efforts in onsite day-care.

CA, with facilities in Silicon Valley, launched its first onsite Children’s Center in 1992 at its corporate headquarters in New York, Mars said. Since then, it rolled out centers in all of its large offices. “These sites have programs for children from six weeks of age to six years [and] teachers who we train … who are very highly skilled,” she said.

“It’s emerged as a wonderful influence on our culture,” Mars told attendees. “We have a very family friendly culture.”

CA also regularly holds onsite events, such as a “spring fling” (one was being held as Mars was speaking), where all of the families with children in the center, as well as other employees with children, are able to participate. (The events includes ponies, a petting zoo, kites and games.)

“It just nice to see people step back from all of that stress,” Mars said.

Mars noted she’s been required to do a lot of CEO education over the years, as new CEOs have joined CA and want to know “why we’re spending money” on these programs. “I have to explain to them [that it’s not just about] dollars and sense,” she said. “We have to look at it as something you can’t really apply a dollar value to, but it still brings the organization value.

“We’ve done studies that show that the retention levels of people who bring children to our programs are really much higher than those who don’t,” she added.

At Yahoo!, meanwhile, the goal of its various work/life programs is to not only make the firm a great place to work, but also to draw in “the best of the best.”

One of the areas the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo! has focused on is extending paid leave of new mothers and fathers, explained Joe Gracy, director of global benefits for Yahoo! “If you had a baby, adopt a child, provide foster care placement, you get eight [fully paid] weeks off. Birth mothers get an additional eight weeks [fully paid] as a part of their disability leave.”

Management, Gracy said, also wanted to make the experience fun for those new parents by introducing new-child gift baskets that included a diaper bag, toys and more.

All of the initiatives are aimed at “making the employee feel valued and engaged,” Gracy said.

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Starbucks Doubles Down on College

Starbucks, the Seattle-based coffee giant, announced yesterday it was doubling its free college tuition plan for employees to cover a full four years of college instead of two. Starbucks will offer employees faster tuition reimbursement–after every semester instead of after completing 21 class credits.

The program, in partnership with Arizona State University, offers all eligible full-time and part-time employees full tuition coverage for a four-year bachelor’s degree though ASU’s online degree program. Starbucks says it will invest up to $250 million or more to help at least 25,000 employees graduate by 2025.

Nearly 2,000 Starbucks employees have already enrolled in the program, which offers 49 undergraduate degree programs through ASU Online.

“By giving our partners access to four years of full tuition coverage, we provide them with a critical tool for a lifelong opportunity,” says Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, in a statement. “We’re stronger as a nation when everyone is afforded a pathway to success.”

And in a LinkedIn piece announcing the move, CEO Schultz talks in a video interview about the importance of education and his company’s role in making the American workforce a more robust and agile one within the next 10 years.

“We have a long history of under-promising and over-delivering,” he says. “We think we’ll do the same there.”

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Hitting the Road to Promote Paid Leave

X-7Last week, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez told the Washington Post that “so much of what becomes law in Washington starts out as an experiment in different states.”

For the next month or so, Perez will be conducting his own state-to-state experiment of sorts; one that he hopes will result in workers nationwide being afforded greater flexibility in their jobs, including the right to paid leave.

As part of the Lead on Leave—Empowering Working Families Across America tour, Perez will meet with workers, state officials and employers in a handful of cities in an effort to “promote best practices and discuss how paid leave and other flexible workplace policies can help support working families and businesses,” according to a Department of Labor statement.

Perez will have company on the coast-to-coast jaunt, which kicks off today with a stop in Seattle. Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to the White House, and Tina Tchsen, assistant to President Barack Obama, will join him on the tour, which also includes scheduled visits to Minnesota, California, Oregon, Georgia, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

Currently, just three states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—offer paid family and medical leave, while only California and Massachusetts require private employers to provide paid sick leave. Meanwhile, Illinois, Ohio and Virginia provide paid parental leave to state employees, while cities such as Chicago, Austin, Texas and San Francisco do the same for municipal workers.

We may be a ways off, however, from federal legislation that obliges employers to provide paid sick leave. As a recent New York Times article points out, President Obama has urged Congress to pass a bill giving U.S. workers seven days of paid sick leave. But, garnering the necessary support in that same Congress to approve such a bill would be “a tough obstacle” to surmount, the Times article notes.

Some organizations, however, aren’t waiting on government action.

The aforementioned Times piece details Microsoft’s “unusual” method of overcoming the absence of a federal policy, noting the company’s March 26 announcement that it would require many of its 2,000 contractors and vendors to offer their employees who perform work for Microsoft 15 paid days off for sick days and vacation time.

“In some ways, it’s a uniquely American solution,” the article continues. “ … The biggest and wealthiest companies are performing the role of setting workplace policy for other businesses.”

While applauding Microsoft’s approach to providing paid leave, Ruth Milkman told the Times she doesn’t foresee other corporate heavyweights following its lead.

“It’s a moral model, but I don’t think there’s a high probability it’s going to become universal through business initiatives,” said Milkman, a professor and sociologist of labor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. “The public wants this. The resistance is all from employers. The only way is through public policy.”

We’ll see if the Lead on Leave tour takes us any closer to such policy becoming reality.

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