Category Archives: compensation

Gaming the Gainsharing System

This is just a guess, but I’m going to say the mood throughout Whole Foods break rooms is less than festive this holiday season.

And if the claims made in a new lawsuit prove to be true, you couldn’t really blame the grocery store chain’s employees for not getting into the spirit this year.

Last week, one current and one former employee from a Whole Foods store in Washington, D.C. filed a federal class-action lawsuit claiming the Austin, Texas-based company “engaged in a nationwide scheme to strip hard-working employees of earned bonuses in order to maximize [its] own profit.”

More specifically, plaintiffs Michael Molock and Randal Kuczor assert that a group of managers gamed Whole Foods’ gainsharing program to avoid paying automatic bonuses to departments that came in under budget for the year, as reported by the Washington Post.

According to the lawsuit, the gainsharing program is intended to enable employees in such departments to share in surpluses. The plaintiffs claim, however, that Whole Foods avoided paying by shifting labor costs to other departments without properly accounting for it, as well as by creating “fast teams” comprised of employees who float from one department to another.

The complaint also alleges that company executives knew of the “illicit practice of shifting costs,” which the suit says has impacted as many as 20,000 past and present Whole Foods employees.

In a statement, Whole Foods acknowledges that some sort of bonus program manipulation took place, while maintaining that it was confined to a relatively small number of its stores. Nevertheless, Whole Foods says it is investigating the matter. And, as the Post reports, the organization has already terminated the nine managers known to have been involved.

The plaintiffs are asking for more than to see a few managers fired. The suit seeks $200 million in punitive damages and triple unpaid wages, among other relief, according to the Post.

“Defendants intentionally manipulated the program and illicitly engaged in a nationwide corporate practice of ‘shifting labor costs’ in order to pad its profits,” the suit claims, alleging that this “unlawful” maneuvering effectively wiped out surpluses in certain departments, “thereby robbing hard-working employees of earned bonuses.”

Holiday Bonuses Up This Year

the best gift- money. Gifts on wooden background.The holidays will bring a little extra cheer for many workers this season, with two thirds (66 percent) of companies planning to award year-end bonuses and gifts, according to a survey from Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That’s up from 50 percent from Challenger’s 2015 holiday bonus survey.

Another survey, this one from recruiting firm Accounting Principles, finds that 75 percent of companies will award bonuses this year. Thirteen percent of companies will provide bonuses of between $1 and $99, 37 percent  between $100 and $499, 21 percent will provide between $500 and $899, and 29 percent will be awarding their lucky employees $1,000 or more.

Credit the steadily improving economy for the rise in bonuses, says Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger. “As [the economy] continues to improve, employers will have to rely increasingly on bonuses and other perks to hold onto valuable employees,” he said in a statement.

Full results of the Challenger survey below:

Does your company award year-end/holiday bonus, perks or gifts to employees? (Check all that apply)

2016 2015
Yes, we provide a non-monetary gift to all employees (such as gift basket or extra vacation day). 14.8% 6.3%
Yes, we award a nominal ($100 or less) monetary award to all employees (cash or gift certificate). 11.1% 12.5%
We award a monetary bonus to all employees, the size of which is determined by the company’s overall performance throughout the year. 18.5% 18.8%
We award a performance-based year-end bonus to selected employees, the amount of which is determined by individual’s contribution to departmental and/or company-wide objectives. 22.2% 37.5%
No, we do not award any type of year-end/holiday monetary or non-monetary bonus/perk/gift. 29.6% 43.8%
No, we have awarded year-end/holiday bonuses in the past, but we will not be doing so this year due to the economy. 0.0% 0.0%
Other 3.7% 6.3%

 

If your company does award year-end/holiday bonus, perks or gifts to employees, please describe how this year’s distribution differs from last year.

2016
The monetary value of the year-end bonus will increase. 18.2%
The monetary value of the year-end bonus will decrease. 9.1%
The monetary value of the year-end bonus will be about the same as last year. 72.7%
We are reinstituting year-end bonus/perk/gift after one or more years of not offering such awards. 0.0%

 

Source: Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. ©

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.”

 

 

Benchmarking and Executive Comp

Executive-pay packages often don’t include a comparison of company performance and its competitors are regularly approved by boards of directors, and many have wondered why.

New research by University of Michigan professor Martin Schmalz and co-authors Miguel Anton and Mireia Gine of the IESE Business School and Florian Ederer of the Yale School of Management helps explain why—and why benchmarking happens more in some industries than in others.

They found that when companies in an industry are owned by the same shareholders, the executives tend to be rewarded relatively more for industry performance and less for their own company’s performance.

“Many people have been puzzled why shareholders approve pay packages that lead to high pay without much benchmarking,” said Schmalz, the NBD Bancorp Assistant Professor of Business Administration and an assistant professor of finance. “But it’s actually not that puzzling once you analyze these shareholders’ economic incentives.”

Schmalz, Anton, Ederer and Gine examined 20 years’ worth of data from ExecuComp, which measures the compensation of top executives of the largest 2,000 U.S. companies.

The more a company’s institutional shareholders own big stakes in rival companies, the less pay managers receive for company performance and the more pay they receive in response to rivals’ performance.

The logic is easy to understand, the author contends:

If you benchmark performance against rival companies, that gives managers an incentive to compete aggressively. If you own a number of companies in the same industry, you don’t want that to happen,” Schmalz said. “If anything, you want them to cooperate more, because you want to improve the value of your entire portfolio, not just one company. Our findings suggest managerial contracts give managers economic reasons to act in their shareholders’ interests—it’s as simple as that.

What Drives Retention Rates?

Around the world, pay matters most to workers. But other factors that keep them loyal vary quite a lot, a new study finds. And they’re changing as the nature of work evolves.

The results are part of the 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey by Willis Towers Watson. Every other year the company surveys workers around the globe to see what rewards and conditions keep them happy or attract them to new jobs.

This year’s survey, conducted in April and May, included 31,000 employees in 29 markets. In studying retention factors, the London-based consulting firm ranked eight countries, including the United States. (See the full results at the bottom of this post.)

Pay was the top priority in each, says Laura Sejen, managing director for talent and rewards at Willis Towers Watson.  After that, the No. 2 retention driver in most countries, including the U.S., was career advancement opportunities.

For multinational companies, those two factors are fundamental to attracting and retaining workers, Sejen says. Workers want clear expectations not only for their current job, but also for what they need to move up.

For a global employer, “If I could only do two things right, I would focus on those,” Sejen says.

Career advancement opportunities wasn’t the No. 2 retention driver everywhere, however. In China it was the physical work environment. In Brazil it was the length of the commute. In India it was job security.

Sejen notes that work environment has been moving up in the list of priorities globally. She thinks longer hours and a trend toward open offices and shared workspaces may have increased employee awareness of the physical environment as a factor in their job satisfaction.

“That, I think, is just a reflection of how the work environment has changed,” Sejen says. “It’s important. We spend a lot of time at work.”

Among the eight countries studied, job security was No. 2 only in India. But it’s slowly rising in importance around the world, Sejen says.

How workers define job security varies, however. Few workers expect a job for life. But many worry about losing financial security, and others worry about their jobs changing.

Sometimes mundane local conditions like traffic congestion influence the rankings. It makes sense that commute times would be important in Brazil, because cities there tend to be dense, sprawling and challenging to navigate, Sejen notes. “If you’ve ever been to Sao Paulo, you can appreciate that.”

Retention drivers Globally Brazil Canada China Germany India Mexico U.K. U.S.
Base pay/salary 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Career advancement opportunities 2 3 2 3 2 3 2 2 2
Physical work environment 3 4 2 5 3
Job security 4 7 3 3 2 6 3 3
Work-related stress 5 6 4 5 6 7
Trust in senior leadership 6 5 4 4
Relationship with supervisor 7 5 7 7 6 7
Length of commute 2 4 4 4 5 6
Retirement benefits 6 6 4 5
Flexible work environments 5
Challenging work 6
Opportunity to learn new skills 7 7 7 5
Source: 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey by Willis Towers Watson

So Long, Salary History Questions?

It’s a topic that has made many an interviewee squirm. When asked to discuss compensation history, it’s only natural for job candidates to worry about either pricing themselves out of the market or setting the salary bar too low.

Depending on what happens when Congress returns from summer recess, job candidates may never have to answer uncomfortable salary history-related questions again.

Late last week, a trio of lawmakers announced that they planned to introduce a bill that would prohibit employers from asking job applicants for their salary history before making a job or salary offer.

These legislators, however, have loftier aspirations than just making the interview process a little less awkward for job seekers.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, along with Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), will introduce the bill, which “seeks to eliminate the wage gap that women and people of color often encounter,” according to a statement announcing the bill.

“Because many employers set wages based on an applicant’s previous salary, workers from historically disadvantaged groups often start out behind their white male counterparts in salary negotiations and never catch up.”

Ultimately, “the only way to make sure women and minorities will be treated equally is to remove the early biases that exist, both in hiring practices and salary negotiations, and our bill works to eliminate those obstacles by requiring employers to offer salaries based on the value of the work,” said Congressman Nadler, in the aforementioned statement. “Employers can and should hire good employees without taking into account prior pay history or condemning someone to depressed wages due to gender and racial inequity.”

The Washington Post calls the bill “the latest sign that efforts to dump the dreaded [salary history] question could be gaining momentum.”

In August, for example, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed an equal pay bill—passed unanimously by both of the state’s legislative branches—forbidding employers from asking about salary history until a job offer was extended.

Meanwhile, an amendment to California’s Fair Pay Act went into effect at the beginning of 2016 that would bar companies from basing compensation decisions on prior salaries alone, according to the Post.

Such recent examples aside, the new bill’s prospects for passage aren’t great, the paper notes, pointing out that bills attempting to legislate equal pay have been introduced in every Congress since 1997, to no avail.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the legislation is dead on arrival, as Fatima Goss Graves, senior vice president at the National Women’s Law Center, told the Post.

“People can see the connection of the deep unfairness of carrying past discrimination with you to job after job,” Graves told the paper, noting that the support the Massachusetts business community has shown since the state banned salary-related questions could have a mobilizing effect.

“When states show that something is possible,” says Graves, “that’s extremely reinforcing.”

The Motherhood Tax at Work

New research out of the United Kingdom shows the gender-pay gap widens significantly after the birth of a child, otherwise known as the “motherhood tax.”

According to a new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 12 years after giving birth for the first time, women are making 33 percent less per hour than men.

On average, women in work receive about 18 percent less per hour than men, down from 23 percent in 2003.

While the wider gap for mothers is not because women see an immediate cut in hourly pay after childbirth.

Possible explanations include mothers missing out on promotions or accumulating less labor market experience, the authors said.

“Comparing women who had the same hourly wage before leaving paid work, wages when they return are on average 2 percent lower for each year spent out of paid work in the interim,” the IFS wrote.

(Tip of the hat to CNN Money.)

A Groundbreaking New Pay Equity Law

Beginning July 1, 2018, employers in Massachusetts will be prohibited from asking job candidates about their salary history before offering them a job or asking candidates’ former employers about their pay. The new law, the Pay Equity Act, is designed to reduce the pay disparities between men and women in the workplace.

Although other states (including California and Maryland) have also enacted recent legislation designed to reduce pay inequity, Massachusetts is the first state to ban employers from asking about candidates’ salary history. The law, signed earlier this week by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, not only had bipartisan support in the state legislature but also from business groups such as the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

Nationally, women still earn only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Because companies tend to use candidates’ pay history as a guideline in making offers, these inequities can follow candidates throughout their lifetimes, pay-equity advocates say.

The Massachusetts law, which amends and expands upon the state’s pre-existing pay equity law, also makes it illegal for employers to ban employees from discussing their pay with others and will require equal pay employees whose work is “of comparable character or work in comparable operations.” The law also bars employers from reducing the pay of any employee in order to come into compliance with the Pay Equity Act.

The law also increases the penalties for violations, according to an analysis by law firm Holland & Knight:

The law expands the remedies available to plaintiffs by extending the statute of limitations from one year to three years, and creating a continuing violation provision under which a new violation of the law occurs each time an employee is paid an unequal amount. This provision may permit employees to recover years of back pay discrepancies as well as liquidated damages. Fines are increased from $100 to $1,000 per violation. There is no requirement that an employee file first with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). Lawsuits may be filed directly in court.

Notably, however, the law features a safe harbor provision for employers that have been accused of pay discrimination, writes attorney Victoria Fuller of White and Williams:

Employers may avoid liability for pay discrimination under the Act if they can show within the last three years and before the commencement of the action, they have completed a good-faith self-evaluation of their pay practices and can demonstrate that reasonable progress has been made towards eliminating compensation differentials based on gender for comparable work in accordance with the evaluation.

Hope Reigns Supreme in the HR Suite

As a good HR leader, you probably have a handle on hiring trends within your organization’s industry.

But what about your profession? What’s the employment forecast for HR?

At the moment, the prognosis is pretty good. And the younger the HR practitioner, the brighter the outlook, according to the 2016 HR Jobs Pulse Survey, recently released by the Alexandria, Va.-based Society for Human Resource Management.

The SHRM poll asked 365 U.S.-based HR professionals to gauge their faith in their own job security and ability to find work if they were to leave their current employer.

Overall, 75 percent of all respondents reported confidence in their job security, with that number climbing to 85 percent among early-career HR professionals.

Those at the earliest stages of their careers were found to be “particularly confident” in the stability of the profession, “which suggests that new entrants to the profession are feeling optimistic about their future as HR practitioners,” says Alex Alonso, SHRM senior vice president of knowledge development, in a statement.

Some of these younger professionals, however, are a bit unsure about their chances outside their current organization, at least in comparison to their more experienced colleagues. Sixty-three percent of early-career respondents said they were “somewhat” or “very” confident that they could find a new job. Overall, 88 percent of respondents described their prospects the same way.

Regardless of age, most of these HR practitioners intend to stay put anyway, as just 19 percent of those polled said they were looking for a new job.

The roughly one-fifth of those pursuing other opportunities have their reasons for doing so, of course. Not surprisingly, money tops the list, with 42 percent citing “more compensation/pay” as their primary motivation for seeking new employment. Thirty-seven percent said they were in search of “better career advancement opportunities.”

Just 27 percent of those surveyed said their companies were hiring for HR positions, however. That percentage remains unchanged from 2015, according to SHRM.

What kind of talented HR practitioners are organizations looking to find? According to the SHRM survey, HR generalists continue to be in the highest demand (49 percent), followed by HR professionals with employment and recruitment skills (31 percent).

Ultimately, while hiring remains fairly flat for HR positions relative to last year, the findings suggest an air of optimism in the HR suite, says Alonso.

“Confidence in the stability of the profession has increased slightly,” he says. “The vast majority of HR professionals … had some level of confidence that they could land a new job if necessary.”

 

 

Job Satisfaction Hits New High

According to the Conference Board’s latest job satisfaction survey, the rate of job satisfaction among U.S. workers is at the highest level it’s been since 2005, with nearly half (49.6 percent) of workers reporting that they’re satisfied with their jobs. The Conference Board notes that job-satisfaction rates have increased steadily since 2010.

Of course, this also means that half of U.S. workers are not satisfied with their jobs. The latest number is also a far cry from the highs hit in 1987 and 1995, when the Conference Board’s survey found that 60 percent of American workers were satisfied with their jobs.

The strengthening economy is a big factor in the higher job-satisfaction rates in the latest report, says the Conference Board’s Michelle Kan, who co-authored the report. “The rapidly declining unemployment rate, combined with increased hiring, job openings and quits, signals a seller’s market, where the employer demand for workers is greater than the available supply.”

In other words, employees today have more options than they’ve had in some time, and they know it — and HR needs to pay attention to their needs. Indeed, while the Conference Board report finds that workers are most satisfied with their colleagues (59 percent), interest in their work (59 percent) and their supervisors (57 percent), they’re much less satisfied with their organizations’ pay and promotion policies. In fact, the five job components with the lowest satisfaction are promotion policies (24 percent), bonus plans (24 percent), the performance review process (29 percent), educational/job training programs (30 percent) and recognition/acknowledgement (31.5 percent).

Gad Levanon, the Conference Board’s chief economist for North America, tells the Wall Street Journal that the high satisfaction rates of 1987 and 1995 are unlikely to be repeated soon.

“It was a whole different world in terms of employee-employer relationships,” he said. “There was much more loyalty. People looked to their employer for more than a job, in many cases.”

Nevertheless, said Levanon, a satisfaction rate of 55 percent may be achievable.