Anyone who’s been following coverage of Tropical Storm Harvey’s rampage through Texas and Louisiana knows the invaluable role social media’s played in helping victims get the word out to rescuers. The advent of social media has brought us many gifts — and curses. Witness the effect it’s having on our children, as documented by researcher Jean M. Twenge in her new book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–And What That Means for the Rest of Us.
Social media can — as Twenge and others have pointed out — both infantilize and enlighten us. And it can also have interesting effects on organizations, as a new survey out today from the Northern California Human Resource Association reminds us. That survey, which queried 20,000 HR professionals about social media and transparency, reveals that 59 percent agree with the statement that “The rise of social media has made my organization more transparent.”
The Google episode (and an earlier episode at Uber) were addressed in NCHRA’s survey, which asked respondents whether their organizations have changed their views/philosophy on how employees should utilize social media in light of those events. Only 24 percent of respondents said they felt their organizations had changed.
Another interesting finding: 68 percent of male respondents feel their organization has become more transparent due to social media. but only 54 percent of female participants said that was the case. And, while 69 percent of respondents from large organizations with 10,000 or more employees say their organizations have become more transparent thanks to social media, only 50 percent of those from organizations with between 201 and 1,000 employees say the same.
“Within the HR community, transparency is usually regarded as a positive attribute within the organization, because it can be used to cultivate trust,” says NCHRA CEO Greg Morton. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen several instances in the news recently that illustrate how that transparency can backfire if the organization has underlying cultural issues that haven’t been addressed.”
Well said. In other words, it’s probably best if HR be vigilant about listening carefully to employees and addressing any issues that are uncovered first, rather than waiting for transparency to do the job — and cause plenty of avoidable problems.
Months after the revelations that Wells Fargo had engaged in highly questionable (some say illegal) practices, including creating fraudulent accounts, its board of directors has taken action to recoup some of the compensation from the bank’s leaders during the time the nefarious schemes were ongoing.
According to the New York Times, an additional $75 million in compensation will be “clawed back” from the two executives the company’s says bear the majority of the blame for the scandal over fraudulent accounts: the bank’s former chief executive, John G. Stumpf, and its former head of community banking, Carrie L. Tolstedt:
The clawbacks — or forced return of pay and stock grants — are the largest in banking history and among the largest in corporate America. A four-person committee of Wells Fargo’s directors investigated the extensive fraud.
The Times says that while the amount of money customers lost was relatively small — the company has refunded $3.2 million — the scope of the fraud was huge: 5,300 bankers were fired for creating as many as two million unwanted bank and credit card accounts:
In one detail revealed by the board’s report, a branch manager had a teenage daughter with 24 accounts and a husband with 21.
According to Time magazine, Wells has instituted several corporate and business changes since the problems became known nationwide. Wells has changed its sales practices, and called tens of millions of customers to check on whether they truly opened the accounts in question.
Wells Fargo board Chairman Stephen Sanger also acknowledged in a Monday conference call with reporters that board members “could have pushed more forcefully to change leadership at the community bank,” according to USA Today.
While conceding he could not “promise perfection” in the efforts to regain trust from customers and regulators, Sloan said, “I’m very confident we’re on the right track.”
The good news coming out of a recent CareerBuilder survey is that the overwhelming majority of employees (93 percent) feel their office is a safe, secure place to work.
A few other findings from the Chicago-headquartered employment website and HR software provider’s poll of 3,031 full-time, United States-based workers are less encouraging.
Some of these same employees, it seems, are less confident that their employers are adequately equipped to address specific threats in the workplace.
For example, 17 percent of those surveyed by CareerBuilder said they do not feel their workplaces are well-protected in case of a fire, flood or other disaster, and 26 percent don’t think their companies have an emergency plan in place should such events occur. Nineteen percent indicated their workplaces are poorly safeguarded from weather-related threats, and 26 percent don’t believe their organization has an emergency plan for responding to extremely severe weather.
In addition, 31 percent of respondents said they don’t feel their workplaces are well-protected from a physical threat posed by another person, and 41 percent said their company has made no provisions for handling such an attack.
This past February, I spoke with Michelle Colosimo, director of Black Swan Solutions, a Waukesha, Wis.-based provider of crisis management technology and services, about what employers can do to prepare workers for threats to their physical safety while on the job. More specifically, we talked about the importance of putting plans in place for an active shooter event in the workplace.
I sought Colosimo’s insight for an hreonline.com piece focusing on some of the tools and resources available to help employers equip employees to react should such an unthinkable scenario ever unfold in their office. (Incidentally, an expanded, more in-depth feature on this topic is set to run in our May print issue.)
HR leaders are faced with “a huge undertaking” in the event an active shooter descends on the workplace, said Colosimo at the time.
“Accounting for everyone is a big challenge. So, [HR] has to coordinate all of these things beforehand—What do you need to prepare for? And, what will you need to do when and if this does happen?”
Earlier this week, I reached out to Michelle for her take on the results of this CareerBuilder survey. She reiterated the need to have processes in place to potentially prevent an active shooter incident, and to provide employees with ways to anonymously report concerning behaviors or comments from another individual.
“If a report is made, the organization needs to have a threat assessment team in place to review each threat, and determine appropriate action needed to address the potential concern,” she says.
But, even the best, most comprehensive plan may not thwart an attacker, unfortunately.
“So, it’s critical that the organization train employees ahead of time on steps they need to take, as an individual, to protect themselves if an incident were to [take place],” she says.
Conducting realistic drills and active-shooter simulations and providing workers with practical tools and steps to follow also helps create “better muscle memory” in employees, she says, “so they take proper action when a crisis occurs.”
It serves as a reminder, in the event one is required, that HR departments need to be much more vigilant in their efforts to protect against such attacks—which continue to become more frequent and sophisticated—or suffer the consequences.
As the MJS story explains, the scam, involving fake emails purportedly sent by top company officials, convinced HR staffers to “send out W-2 tax forms that are ideal for identity theft.” Among the employers featured in the story falling victim: disk-drive-maker Seagate Technology and messaging-service Snapchat.
On March 1, the Internal Revenue issued an alert to payroll and HR professionals to beware of an emerging phishing email scheme that purports to be from company executives and requests personal information on employees.
“The IRS has learned this scheme—part of the surge in phishing emails seen this year—already has claimed several victims as payroll and human resources offices mistakenly email payroll data including Forms W-2 that contain Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information to cybercriminals posing as company executives,” the alert said.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen noted that …
“This is a new twist on an old scheme using the cover of the tax season and W-2 filings to try tricking people into sharing personal data. Now the criminals are focusing their schemes on company payroll departments. If your CEO appears to be emailing you for a list of company employees, check it out before you respond. Everyone has a responsibility to remain diligent about confirming the identity of people requesting personal information about employees.”
The IRS alert explained that this “phishing variation is known as a ‘spoofing’ email. It will contain, for example, the actual name of the company chief executive officer. In this variation, the ‘CEO’ sends an email to a company payroll-office employee and requests a list of employees and information including SSNs.”
The MJS article reports that both Snapchat and Seagate have “notified federal authorities” about the incidents and are offering affected workers two years of free credit monitoring.
Risa Boerner, a partner in Fisher & Phillips’ Radnor, Pa., office and the chair of its Data Security and Workplace Privacy Practice Group, told me yesterday that scam artists are becoming much more sophisticated in their efforts.
Today, she explained, they can clone a CEO’s email account and make it look like it’s coming from him or her, as was the case here. While that was possible 10 years ago, she added, it wasn’t very common for the messages to look as polished and believable as they often do today.
She noted that these incidents speak to the need for employers to not only thoroughly train their employees, but also update their training regularly to keep up with changing tactics. “What was current two years ago may not be current now,” she said.
Prudent advice, I’d say, considering the level of sophistication of the perpetrators. I’m sure no one reading this would like to see his or her company join the ranks of those falling victim to such a ploy—and then having to deal with the aftermath.
It’ll be interesting to see what comes of Volkswagen’s move to offer amnesty to all its bargaining-unit employees in hopes of uncovering just who was/is behind its emissions-cheating scandal.
According to a letter that went out Thursday from Herbert Diess, chief executive of the division that produces Volkswagen brand cars, employees have until Nov. 30 to come forward with information about who was responsible for installing software in 11 million diesel vehicles that disguised nitrogen-oxide output.
The letter, reviewed and reported on by the New York Times, says “people who provided information would not be fired or face damage claims [but] the company could not shield employees from criminal charges.”
In other words, the amnesty isn’t really designed for the really bad guys, “but rather, for the midlevel people who may have, without even knowing it, some relevant information,” Mike Koehler, a law professor at Southern Illinois University, told the Times.
It’s also, according to another legal source for that story — Alexandra Wrange, president of Trace International in Annapolis, Md. — “a tacit admission … that the usual reporting channels have been ineffective.”
You might call it a kind of pulling-out-all-the-stops kind of move, above and beyond the more commonplace no-retaliation policies contained in most whistleblowing programs, says Allan Weitzman, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based partner with Proskauer, whose list of specialties includes whistleblowing.
(At Volkswagen, it was an internal whistleblower who uncovered the false carbon-dioxide claims that the company made public last week. “German news media reports have said that internal investigators looking into the emissions-cheating software, which came to light in September, have been hampered by a reluctance among employees to come forward,” the Times story states.)
Weitzman joins in the general chorus of employment attorneys who consider Diess’ move new and different, to say the least.
“I know I’ve never heard of [this kind of corporate amnesty],” he says. “But these are unusual circumstances, and [as pointed out in the Times article as well], Volkswagen wants to show to governmental agencies that it has done everything it can to solve this problem; well, amnesty is pretty broad … I’d say ‘Yes, they have gone about as far as possible’ ” in this endeavor.
Is it the right move? Weitzman thinks so.
“I think it’ll work, too, if it has the support of the union, meaning [very simply] that the people who look to unions as their source of job security will participate in the amnesty program if their union supports it,” he says.
“And the union should support this,” he adds, “because the future of the union is tied to the future of Volkswagen, and if Volkswagen cannot solve this problem, it’s going to result in the unemployment of many, many union members.”
“Hurricane Katrina pounded the Gulf Coast with devastating force at daybreak on Monday, sparing New Orleans the catastrophic hit that had been feared, but inundating parts of the city and heaping damage on neighboring Mississippi, where it killed dozens, ripped away roofs and left coastal roads impassable.
Officials said that, according to preliminary reports, there were at least 55 deaths, with 50 alone in Harrison County, Miss., which includes Gulfport and Biloxi. Emergency workers feared that they would find more dead among people who had been trapped in their homes and in collapsed buildings.
Jim Pollard, a spokesman for the Harrison County emergency operations center, said many of the dead were found in an apartment complex in Biloxi. Seven others were found in the Industrial Seaway.
Packing 145-mile-an-hour winds as it made landfall, the storm left more than a million people in three states without power and submerged highways even hundreds of miles from its center.The storm was potent enough to rank as one of the most punishing hurricanes ever to hit the United States. Insurance experts said that damage could exceed $9 billion, which would make it one of the costliest storms on record.”
As we all know, the toll turned out to be a lot worse than those (and other) initial estimates—and, as Gary Rivlin makes clear in his new book Katrina: After the Flood(the release of which was obviously timed for the 10th anniversary), the impact, in many ways, continues to be felt today.
Of course, as far as employers are concerned, Katrina’s 10th anniversary raises the ever-important question, “From an employee and operational standpoint, are we better prepared to respond when a natural disaster strikes than we were 10 years ago?”
I’m not really prepared to address that question in this particular post, but figured it might be as good a time as any to dust off an article we posted in 2011 on HREOnline titled “Being Prepared When Disaster Strikes.” Written by Ann D. Clark, CEO and founder of ACI Specialty Benefits, an EAP and leading provider of student-assistance programs, and wellness, concierge and work/life services, the piece offers employers a road map for navigating natural disasters such as Katrina.
“Too many businesses wait until crisis strikes to act,” Clark wrote in 2011. So as Erika approaches Florida and the nation and world remembers Katrina 10 years later, here are a few of the pointers featured in Clark’s article.
“The Vulnerability Audit”
Before creating a response plan, first take a vulnerability audit or risk assessment. Remember, the workplace can be directly affected through actual physical damage in the event of an earthquake, tornado, tsunami or other natural disaster, and can also be adversely affected by employees having family members or friends impacted by a traumatic event … .
Creating a Plan
An effective plan is one that is well-rounded and capable of responding to any incident, regardless of size, scope or complexity. Make sure the plan addresses up-to-date evacuation procedures, property-damage protection, systems back-up, communication and business contingency.
HR professionals should also consider consulting with first responders and employee-program-assistance providers to ensure the plan effectively covers major areas of concern.
When preparing for an immediate threat such as a natural disaster, safety comes first.
Disaster Training and Communication
The next major step in disaster preparedness is adequate training and communication to ensure the workforce has all the tools necessary to respond and recover in times of crisis.
HR professionals should start by having a meeting focused on disaster preparedness where all of the important information can be disseminated to the entire workforce. At these meetings, topics such as where the emergency supplies are located, where the office safe area can be found and how to respond to each kind of respective emergency can be covered.
Preparedness in Action
In Florida, companies are often threatened by hurricanes and have learned first-hand how preparedness works.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House learned the communication plan was one of the most important pieces of its disaster planning when Hurricane Katrina struck. Without phone lines, the management team was able to locate all but three of 370 employees in affected areas within a few days using text messaging.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the company’s disaster plan also includes pre-hurricane-season tree-trimming around restaurants, an outline of items for each store’s disaster-supply kit and step-by-step instructions on ways to secure the building and food supplies before evacuations.
Turning to Professional Resources
A major part of disaster preparedness is knowing where to turn for resources and support. One of those crisis-response resources is the employer’s employee-assistance program.
When the tragic 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, there were a variety of U.S.-based companies with employees and family members in Japan who needed to be evacuated immediately. Some of ACI Specialty Benefits’ clients turned to the EAP resources for prompt support in ensuring these employees and family members were taken care of. …
In critical situations, EAP services can be invaluable in providing prompt and professional support to address a wide range of business and personal needs, including the provision of on-site counseling support to management and staff.
Advice well worth remembering, I would think, especially as the coast of Florida braces for Tropical Storm Erika, which could possibly make landfall as a hurricane early next week.
Like most, I was sickened to read the news reports Wednesday morning about another terrorist attack, this time on those working in the Paris office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
As you no doubt know, the horrific act took the lives of 12 people—including the publication’s editor and four of the magazine’s cartoonists—and set in motion a manhunt for those responsible, which reportedly includes two brothers who were already under police surveillance.
Over the years, HRE has published its share of stories on the devastating toll terrorist acts can have on the workplace—and the steps employers might want to consider taking to minimize risks and assist employees and the victims’ families in the aftermath. But while most of those pieces have addressed the impact of such attacks on those workplaces where the incidences occurred, there’s little question (at least to me) that the impact very often extends well beyond the organization itself. (For many of us, 9/11 is etched in our minds and will remain there until we take our final breath, whether we were in New York, Somerset County or Washington—or not.)
I’m not really sure if the timing here is a coincidence or not (since it doesn’t mention the Paris attack), but yesterday a new Tel Aviv University study linking terrorism to incidences of job burnout over time was posted online.
In the study—led by professors Sharon Toker of TAU’s Faculty of Management, in collaboration with Dr. Gregory A. Laurence of the University of Michigan and Dr. Yitzhak Fried of Syracuse University and Texas Tech University—a random sample of 670 Israeli employees underwent routine checkups at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in 2003 and 2004, completing questionnaires to assess the incidences of insomnia, fear of terror, fear for personal safety, tension experienced in public places, level of workplace support and signs of job burnout. Employees were then followed from 2003 to 2009, completing two additional questionnaires over that period. (The study is being published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.)
Toker reports …
“We found that the higher your levels of fear of terror at baseline, the higher your risk of developing insomnia—and those who were more likely to develop insomnia were also most likely to experience job burnout several years later. Burnout is a direct outcome of depleted resources, so those who consistently don’t get enough sleep report job burnout.”
Of course, Toker explains, managers have an important role to play in promoting interventions for healthy sleep habits, initiating retreats and launching employee-assistance programs. But the research he and his colleagues conducted suggests that their best course of action might very well be to create “a workplace environment that is conducive to a strong social support network … .”
Why? Because, in their study, the researchers found that those who reported support from their colleagues—and not their managers—were less likely to experience insomnia and the inevitable burnout that comes with it than those who didn’t.
In a more perfect world, we wouldn’t have to worry about terrorist acts like those that played out in Paris this week. But as we all know, we don’t live in a perfect—so, for now anyway, I guess we’re confined to look to studies like Toker’s to find more effective ways to minimize their impact.
As you just might have heard, AOL chief Tim Armstrong is making headlines again, this time for attributing recent alterations to the company’s 401(k) plan in part to rising medical costs associated with two employees’ families “distressed babies.” Armstrong has since apologized, and emailed AOLers two days after making the contentious comments, to announce his reversal on the changes.
This latest flap comes just months after Armstrong made news by angrily firing an employee during a meeting; a move he apologized for within four days.
So, Armstrong has offered up the expected mea culpa here, expressing his regret for singling out two employees’ children as factors in AOL’s climbing medical costs.
But we thought it would be interesting—albeit in hindsight—to ask a handful of HR experts how they would handle Armstrong’s penchant for creating controversy, and perhaps give HR leaders a few pointers on how to keep executives at their organizations from making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Here’s a sampling of what they had to say:
Rita McGrath, an associate professor of management at the Columbia Business School in New York, says a little coaching could go a long way for Armstrong.
“If there were ever a case for why a top-notch executive coach would be great for a CEO, this would have to be it,” says McGrath, who was quick to offer the disclaimer that executive coaching is “not the work that I do.”
“As an executive, everything that you do has substance and symbolism. In both of Armstrong’s somewhat bizarre communications—firing an employee in a public meeting, blaming cutbacks on ‘distressed’ babies—the symbolism conveys mean-spiritedness at best, and at worst [reveals] a guy who is unable to control himself in a public forum.”
A good executive coach, she says, “would be able to do two things: increase his awareness of the perception of his communications, and put in place mechanisms to help him change the more dangerous aspects of his behavior.”
Lou Solomon, founder of Charlotte, N.C.-based communication consultancy Interact and author of Say Something Real, doesn’t quite get why Armstrong was commenting on employee benefits at all, let alone making questionable remarks about “distressed babies.”
“Any changes in employee benefits should be facilitated and communicated by HR,” says Solomon. “There is nothing more destructive than a lone, loose-cannon CEO. The folks in HR and communications have to scramble to pick up the pieces, when they should have been out front to begin with.”
(Incidentally, Solomon raises an interesting point there. In a Feb. 10 column, Forbes contributor Dan Munro went a step further, wondering if the comments—whether uttered by Armstrong or anyone else—were not only insensitive, but perhaps constituted a HIPAA violation as well. Read it here.)
The fact that Armstrong even knew of these two employees’ healthcare situations is cause for concern, adds Rob Wilson, president of Employco USA Inc., a Westmont, Ill.-based employer management, contract staffing and human resource outsourcing services provider.
“From an HR perspective, you cannot talk about individual cases or personal employee issues,” said Wilson, in a statement. “Further, taking that information and using it as a scapegoat to cut retirement benefits is a poor business move.”
Matt Eventoff, owner of Princeton Public Speaking in Princeton, N.J., suggests HR can help keep executives from committing similar slips by helping them take a good look at themselves. Literally.
“Exposure is often very, very valuable for an executive,” says Eventoff. “Prior to an important call, presentation, panel discussion, etc., prep the executive by asking continuous questions and allowing the executive to answer—all while being taped, and then allowing the exec to review the tape.
“This is obviously very sensitive training, but simply seeing the answer on tape is eye-opening, especially for an executive who’s used to speaking ‘off the cuff.’ ”
The second step would be taking the executive’s answers to the aforementioned questions and “illustrating how they might sound and look to different audiences,” he continues, adding that HR may want to bring in an outsider for this part of the process.
“Asking difficult questions of a C-level executive can be uncomfortable for all parties, especially if they work together every day,” says Eventoff. “And it’s also difficult to tell your boss he or she is wrong on a regular basis. Every boss says they want this feedback, but the number [of those that truly do certainly does not include] every boss.”
How often do you collaborate with your risk-management counterparts at your organization? You should be doing so on a regular basis, according to Lowers Risk Group, a consulting firm with about 1,000 global clients. We’ve covered the issue of risk and human capital before, including this byline and this cover story. Now, a new whitepaper from Lowers highlights what it believes are key trends “driving the expanding role of human resources in enterprise risk management.”
Vince Pascarella, who has an SPHR and is vice president of Lowers Risk Group, has this to say:
Executives tend to rank human capital very high in terms of the potential impact on business results — often ahead of financial risks — but few believethey are managing human capital risk effectively. Most risks begin and end with people, so it’s not surprising to find that human resources is increasingly being called to the table to help mitigate risk.”
The whitepaper is free but requires registration, so I’ll summarize some of the key points and then you can decide whether to delve deeper. First, it cites a Deloitte report that finds a number of trends are leading to a greater focus on human capital risk management: “Black swans,” or low-probability events that have far-reaching impact (including the Euro crisis, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the tsunami in Japan, the Middle East uprisings) and “people risks” such as fraud, theft and security breaches that end up making headlines. The view of what constitutes human capital risks is expanding, the whitepaper notes, and now includes four “manageable areas of HCM”:
1. regulatory compliance
2. position risk level
3. management risk tolerance levels, and
4. onboarding issues “that may allow individuals to fall through the cracks.”
This new awareness of risk is, according to the whitepaper, leading HR to collaborate more closely with their risk-management brethren and create a “risk mindset” for day-to-day HR activities. HR must also “make the most of its existing data” to help identify potential risks.
Effective communication is extremely important for strong leadership, according to 85 percent of 3,759 respondents in 12 countries.
That’s according to a global study by Ketchum, not surprisingly a global communications firm. But even with the organization’s undoubted self-interest in such a finding, the survey found that nearly half (48 percent) of the respondents called clear, transparent communication was the No. 1 key to effective leadership.
As big part of that, however, is trustworthiness, which ranked higher than management and financial strength as a source of leadership credibility for corporations. “In order to win that trust, the report found that the personal ‘presence’ and involvement of a leader in communicating with vital,” according to the Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor.
Face-to-face contact provided the greatest source of leadership credibility (50 percent), followed by televised speeches (43 percent), broadcast media (41 percent) and print media (38 percent). Digital platforms and social media were well off the pace, with blogs at 20 percent, Facebook at 16 percent, advertising at 13 percent and Twitter at just 8 percent.
“When it comes to digital and social media, the message is that most people don’t believe that the leader is actually involved,” says Rod Cartwright, director of Ketchum’s global corporate practice.”This doesn’t mean we should conclude that these channels are redundant as a vehicle for establishing credible leadership — quite the contrary. Rather it underlines the absolute imperative of making the ‘presence’ of the leader shine through.”
It’s probably a good idea, also, to keep in mind the limitations of the media and public pronouncements.
With all of the anti-business, Occupy Wall Street, overpaid-fat-cats rhetoric that has been floating around the last few years, the survey found that business leaders were seen as more effective during the past year than politicians, not-for-profit bosses and religious leaders.
More than one-third of the respondents said they were “more confident in business leaders than a year ago, with 36 percent viewing business as providing effective leadership … and 48 percent seeing them as effective communicators.” Twenty-five percent said the same of politicians and religious leaders.
One other note from the survey, 57 percent of the respondents preferred leaders to be “open and honest about the nature and scale of the challenge ahead.” Only 17 percent said leaders should “spare them the full picture to avoid panic.”
So you may want to consider that trust goes two ways. If you treat your employees as adults and trust them to understand the business’ objectives and strategies, they will probably reward you with their trust.
News, Strategies and Resources for Senior HR Executives (formerly The Leader Board)