Category Archives: employee communication

Being a Black Professional Woman

I’m probably wrong going into this: posting something about what it’s like to be a black woman in corporate America when I’m white.

523400310-black-professional-womanI probably don’t get extra points for being a member of a mixed-race family
either. In today’s
hypersensitive, hyper-volatile,
racially divisive
environment, I tend to shy away from my biracial nephew’s political Facebook posts and stick to our shared summer-vacation pictures, and our beautifully diverse family updates. What right have I to even “Like” something I can’t possibly know?

But I decided to post this release anyway, about a documentary airing this coming Wednesday in Oakland, Calif., Head Not The Tail Productions’ Invisible Women: Being a Black Woman in Corporate America. Not because I’m vying for any points, but because what happens to black women in or pursuing corporate careers should be something we all take seriously. And dealing with it should be all our jobs as well.

The disappointment, discrimination and rejection described by the many women in the documentary (the link above includes another link to a short teaser trailer worth watching) is often subtle, say diversity experts, as is corporate unconscious bias, which we’ve reported on on our website and here on HRE Daily.

“In conducting the research, we found the corporate practice of discrimination to be a common harsh reality faced by countless women of color,” says Melody Shere’a, HNTT Productions’ founder and CEO, and director of the film. As her release states,

“The playing field isn’t level and well-qualified black women are too frequently denied the opportunity to explore similar career-growth opportunities as their white and other female counterparts. The facts and details you will learn from this documentary will surprise you.”

Granted, most of you are nowhere near Oakland, Calif., but I imagine a call to Shere’a at the number provided in her release would prove fruitful in getting your hands on the film. It’s worth a try. You can’t improve diversity in your corporate culture if you don’t fully understand all forms of discrimination and how they’re being perceived by those on the receiving end.

For that reason, I encourage you to give this a read as well, a professional black woman’s response to a white friend of hers asking for a better understanding of white privilege. Like the documentary, this piece by Lori Lakin Hutcherson, founder and editor-in-chief of Good Black News, centers on the subtleties she has had to contend with throughout her career — including her education at Harvard University. As she details for her friend:

“When I got accepted to Harvard — as a fellow AP student, you were witness to what an academic beast I was in high school, yes? — three separate times I encountered white strangers as I prepped for my maiden trip to Cambridge that rankle to this day.

The first was the white doctor giving me a physical … .:

Me: ‘I need to send an immunization report to my college so I can matriculate.’

Doctor: ‘Where are you going?’

Me: ‘Harvard.’

Doctor: ‘You mean the one in Massachusetts?’

The second was in a store, looking for supplies I needed from Harvard’s suggested ‘what to bring with you’ list:

Store employee: ‘Where are you going?’

Me: ‘Harvard.’

Store employee: ‘You mean the one in Massachusetts?’

The third was at UPS, shipping off boxes of said ‘what to bring’ to Harvard. I was in line behind a white boy mailing boxes to Princeton and in front of a white woman sending her child’s boxes to wherever:

Woman, to the boy: ‘What college are you going to?’

Boy: ‘Princeton.’

Woman: ‘Congratulations!’

Woman, to me: ‘Where are you sending your boxes?’

Me: ‘Harvard.’

Woman: ‘You mean the one in Massachusetts?’

I think: ‘No … the one downtown next to the liquor store.’ …

The point here is, if no one has ever questioned your intellectual capabilities or attendance at an elite institution based solely on your skin color, this is white privilege [or bias, as some might say].”

A later example comes from Hutcherson’s work as a film and television writer/producer:

“While writing on a television show in my 30s, my new white male boss — who had only known me for a few days — had, unbeknownst to me, told another writer on staff he thought I was conceited, didn’t know as much as I thought I did, and didn’t have the talent I thought I had.  And what exactly had happened in those few days?  I disagreed with a pitch where he suggested our lead female character carelessly leave a pot holder on the stove and burn down her apartment. This character being a professional caterer.

“When what he said about me was revealed months later — by then he’d come to respect and rely on me — he apologized for prejudging me because I was black and female. I told him — not unkindly, but with a head shake and a smile — that he was ignorant for doing so and clearly had a lot to learn. It was a good talk because he was remorseful and open. [The subhead of her piece, by the way, is “Nobody is mad at you for being white.”]

“But the point here is, if you’ve never been on the receiving end of a boss’ prejudiced, uninformed ‘how dare she question my ideas’ badmouthing based solely on his ego and your race, you have white privilege.”

If ever there was a compelling treatise on what goes on between the races inside our buildings of business as opposed to the far-more-combustible streets below, especially over the past year, this is it.

Hutcherson’s last example, especially, should give us all pause: Perhaps the only way to shore up the divides, even at their most subtle, is to start — whether we’re the CEO, the head of HR or a direct supervisor — by admitting that certain behaviors or patterns of communication that are allowed to exist in business today are just wrong. Then start the conversation.

And then the training, if necessary.

Does Your Firm Support Well-Being?

limeade_quantum_wbereportDid you know employee engagement and employee well-being are two different things? I kind of did, but this research by Limeade and Quantum Workplace (pictured at left) made the differences about as clear as they could be, given the subject matter.

The report, released last week, defines the two thusly:

“Engagement [is] the strength of the emotional connection employees have with their work, team, company and higher purpose. … Well-being [is] a state of optimal health, happiness and purpose.”

OK, different, yes, but clearly very related. In fact, that’s one of the report’s key takeaways: that when employees feel they have higher well-being, they’re more likely to be engaged in their work.

The survey of 1,276 employees across 45 U.S. markets found, more specifically, that 88 percent of employees who cited feelings of “higher well-being” (i.e., access to healthy options, the flexibility and freedom to pursue them and find balance between work and life, and a sense of belonging and value to an organization) also said they feel engaged at work, versus 50 percent for those citing “lower well-being.”

Moreover, 83 percent of those in the “higher” category say they enjoy their work versus 41 percent in the “lower” one, and 84 percent in the higher category say they’re loyal to their teams, versus 54 percent in the lower camp.

So, is all this an intuitive no-brainer? Well, yes and no, according to Dr. Laura Hamill, Limeade’s chief people officer and managing director of the Limeade Institute. As she puts it,

“The connection between well-being and engagement may seem intuitive, but there has been little research that statistically relates the two. These findings confirm the relationship and can serve as the foundation of taking companies from good to great.

“[This] connection is great news. It means that helping disengaged employees isn’t out of an organization’s control [and can actually, by enhancing retention and productivity, lead to] better business results. “

(Here’s another link to the study’s microsite with a cool video for your viewing pleasure.)

Also key to an employee’s feeling of well-being is organizational support, defined in the report as “the resources and nudges an organization intentionally provides to encourage well-being improvement.” More specifically, it says, “this research indicates that organizations should provide the policies, visible manager and leadership support, role modeling, encouragement and norms to fully support [that] improvement.”

(One interesting note: The study found managers to be the primary source of that support, or nonsupport, over and above executive leaders. “Managers,” Hamill told me, “can be the biggest obstacles to well-being improvement because they don’t understand its connection to team success or they are nervous about how to talk with their employees about their well-being. Organizations should educate managers about the impact of well-being on employee engagement — and give them the tools and support to make it a priority.”)

The numbers certainly bear out the importance of this organizational/managerial support. Seventy-two percent of people who felt their employer cared about their well-being also reported having higher organizational support, whereas only 7 percent of employees with lower organizational support reported feeling higher well-being. In other words, as perceptions of organizational support diminish, so do perceptions of well-being. So why is this finding important? According to the report’s authors,

“You’ve heard it before: It’s more expensive to replace an employee than to retain one. A 2015 study [‘The impact of human resource practices on employee retention in the telecom sector,’ published in the International Journal of Economics and Financial Issues] states that costs associated with a person leaving unexpectedly are usually 2.5 times greater than that person’s salary.

“So why not invest those dollars back in the people who already work for you to help retain them? Employees who feel they have higher well-being and who feel they have higher organizational support are more likely to want to stay in an organization — compared to those [in the lower groups].”

In fact, researchers found, about 98 percent of those who feel they have higher well-being and higher organizational support answered favorably to the statement “I would like to be working at this organization one year from now.” That number dropped to about 79 percent for people who feel they have lower well-being and lower organizational support.

Even more impressive in terms of sheer numbers, 99 percent of employees with high well-being and high organizational support recommend their employer as a great place to work.

“Employee engagement is the holy grail for many companies aiming to attract and retain top talent,” says Jason Lauritsen, director of customer success at Quantum Workplace. “[This report] validates this goal … .”

Coming Soon: ‘Facebook at Work’

facebookThere was a time not so long ago when most employees were blocked from accessing Facebook while at work. My, how times have changed: Next month, companies will be paying Facebook so their employees can use “Facebook at Work,” a suite of business communication tools that’s designed to compete with the likes of Slack and Microsoft Yammer. The new application has been in beta testing with large companies such as Royal Bank of Scotland, and its capabilities could include the use of artificial intelligence technology to “read the mood of employees, including how they feel on certain topics,” according to USA Today.

Although those two products and others such as Salesforce’s Chatter are well-established brands with large customer bases, the sheer familiarity of Facebook’s user-interface (Facebook has 1.71 billion active users) may give it an advantage in the marketplace, writes TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden.

Its advantage lies in the fact that Facebook at Work’s user interface, functionality and even sign-in are all based on Facebook. That makes it instantly easy and familiar to use for many professionals, who will already be at least familiar with the workings of the social network, if not using it on a regular basis. (And that is crucial in a landscape where many companies have struggled to get their workers to engage well on their in-house “conversation” platforms.)

Unlike the other services, Facebook at Work will be offered to clients on a “per seat” pricing model rather than a flat fee, which could make it more affordable for smaller companies, reports ZDNet’s iGeneration. Facebook has not disclosed any specific pricing information yet for the service.

Facebook at Work is part of a trend in which companies are trying to spur greater employee use of enterprise software by making it more simple and user-friendly, like Amazon, Google and … Facebook. It will be interesting to see its full suite of capabilities at the official launch, scheduled for Oct. 10 in London.

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.

The Political Season and the Workplace

There's no reason political discussions at work can't be civil and respectful.
There’s no reason political discussions at work can’t be civil and respectful.

Next week, the Republicans will hold their nominating convention in Cleveland — today, the party released a list of speakers at the event, who will include former Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow and Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It’s an unconventional list of speakers for a political convention, but that’s fitting because it’s been a thoroughly unconventional political season and will no doubt only get stranger still as Election Day approaches.

The anger and controversy the season has generated is resonating at many workplaces, of course, and today CareerBuilder released a survey of thousands of workers and managers that finds three in 10 employers and nearly one out of five employees have argued with a co-worker over a particular candidate this election season. Donald Trump has been the subject of most workplace arguments (13 percent), followed by Hillary Clinton at 8 percent.

Thirty percent of managers and 17 percent of employees have argued with a co-worker over a political candidate, the survey finds, and younger workers (ages 18 to 24) are the most likely to engage in heated political debate at work, at 24 percent.

In his campaign, Trump has stressed that political correctness is “killing our country,” and many employees share his concern: 50 percent of employees and 59 percent of managers say the American workplace has become “too politically correct,” with more workers saying it has hindered their business (34 percent) vs. the 22 percent who say it makes their business stronger. One third of employees (33 percent) say they’re afraid to voice certain opinions because they feel they may not be considered politically correct.

Of course, “political correctness” is a notoriously fuzzy term, and what some may consider overly PC behavior others would describe simply as common courtesy. In fact, PC behavior can actually boost productivity on male/female work teams, a 2014 study by Cornell ILR finds.

A few companies have fired employees for their political activity, prompting a conservative organization to call on large U.S. companies to publicly commit to respecting their employees’ rights to express their political opinions. That said, HR obviously needs to remind IT employees (who are the most likely to engage in political debates, at 47 percent, according to the CareerBuilder survey), manufacturing workers (37 percent), professional/business services employees (30 percent) and everyone else that –questions of free speech aside — if you can’t discuss a topic calmly and respectfully, it’s probably best to just leave it alone.

The Cybersecurity and Culture Connection

The cyber risk realm is one that’s generally inhabited by those in the IT department.

New research from Willis Towers Watson, however, looks at the role human resources can play in helping the organization wrestle with cybersecurity-related issues, and what HR can do to help in the event of an actual cyber breach.

The London-based consultancy recently analyzed employee survey results from 12 organizations, examining engagement attitudes and opinions from more than 450,000 workers corresponding to a period in which significant data breaches were identified within the firms.

Employees’ responses were benchmarked against global high-performance companies and global IT staff from Willis Towers Watson’s database of employee opinion survey data. Overall, employee opinions within the organizations experiencing data breaches didn’t stack up favorably, with scores ranking the lowest in three aspects of company culture—training, company image and customer focus.

For example, fewer workers at firms that have recently encountered a data breach feel they have received adequate training for the work they do and have access to training to improve their skills and learn new ones to advance in their roles, while smaller numbers of employees at these companies feel their employers treat corporate social responsibility and customer focus as top priorities.

The lower scores emerging from organizations affected by a data breach were “expected,” according to Willis Towers Watson, but HR leaders “can use a number of tools at [their] disposal to help create a culture conducive to effective cyber risk management,” says Patrick Kulesa, global research director.

For example, he recommends stressing in training programs “the importance of customer information and the role that every employee plays in safeguarding details about customers—especially when training new hires generally and all hires in IT,” and suggests considering making such training programs an annual requirement for all employees, “to keep skills fresh.”

Kulesa also urges HR leaders to advocate providing or sponsoring continuing education programs on new developments in technology that impact the business.

With respect to consumer focus, “provide employees an opportunity to raise concerns about poor customer service, through employee surveys or other appropriate avenues,” he says, adding that leaders and managers should be evaluated on “how well they reinforce the value of customer service and reflect the image of the company through their actions.”

Ideally, such actions will help mitigate the organization’s risk of experiencing a cyber breach. But HR can also be integral in the recovery effort should one occur, says Kulesa.

“Help the businesses impacted to get out in front of the event through clear communications to employees, or through assisting leaders in crafting and delivering such messages,” he says.

In addition, “describe the steps already in place to encourage an effective culture—competencies for leaders, training for staff, avenues to raise concerns,” says Kalesa, adding that HR must also “be clear about steps being taken to improve risk management and the role each employee can play in that process.”

And, most importantly, “focus on continuing improvement,” he says, “not assigning blame.”

HR’s Role in Aiding Ailing Employees

We all know this standard bit of wisdom: When you’re told you have a major disease — like cancer — one of the first things you should do is get a second opinion from another doctor. However, employees at some organizations may have an easier time getting that second opinion than their counterparts at other companies, according to a recent survey from the Northeast Business Group on Health.

86507521The NEBGH conducted a benchmarking survey on employers and cancer care with self-insured companies representing 1.2 million covered employees, along with interviews with cancer experts and benefits professionals and two workshops held last year. The resulting report, Employers and Cancer Care Quality: A Closer Look, finds that nearly half the employers do not offer third-party second opinion services — a finding the NEBGH says is important not only because data shows that second opinions can often reveal an initial misdiagnosis or point to a different treatment path, but because health plan-directed second opinions are sometimes mistrusted by employees.

Less than half the survey respondents say they have a network of high-performing oncology providers in place, and results also show there are “variations and gaps” in the non-clinical support services they offer, such as treatment navigation, emotional counseling and financial-planning services.

“Another major gap highlighted in our work is the lack of accessible, organized and systematic communication efforts directed to employees [diagnosed with cancer],” says Dr. Jeremy Nobel, executive director of NEBGH’s Solutions Center, which oversaw the report.

Most employees diagnosed with cancer choose to continue working during treatment, partly because doing so “helps them cope,” according to a survey conducted last year by Harris Interactive on behalf of the group Cancer and Careers. More employees are choosing to share their cancer diagnosis with their supervisors, according to Brenna Haviland Shebel, director of the National Business Group on Health’s Institute on Healthcare Costs and Solutions. It’s incumbent upon HR, these experts say, to ensure that employees who are waging battle against cancer are equipped with the knowledge and support necessary to get what they need while fighting to regain their health.

When Peers Speak, Employees Listen

Who has the most sway over the financial decisions your employees make?

The answer seems to be “everyone but their employers,” according to a recent International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans poll.

At a recent meeting for its board and committee members, the Brookfield, Wis.-based non-profit organization asked 150 benefit industry leaders to name the single-biggest influencer on their workers’ financial decisions. In response, 74 percent of those on hand said their employees’ money moves are most affected by the input of family members, friends, co-workers and peers.

While financial education has become a larger part of many companies’ broader employee wellness initiatives, IFEBP finds more employers expanding their efforts in an attempt to also reach those who have the ear of their workers when it comes to financial matters.

The foundation’s Financial Education for Today’s Workforce: 2016 Survey Results report, for example, saw two-thirds of employers offering financial education to their employees. The same report found 40 percent of employers saying they provide financial education to spouses and partners of employees, while 41 percent offer financial education opportunities outside of normal business hours and 20 percent make financial education available on the weekends, so spouses and partners can attend.

Meanwhile, another IFEBP report suggests that a majority of organizations are turning to employees’ peer groups to spread the word, with 63 percent of employers saying they are relying on word-of-mouth communication via workplace “champions” to increase employees’ awareness of benefits such as financial education.

Such employee advocates can play an invaluable role in the effort to increase financial education throughout the organization, said Julie Stich, research director at IFEBP, in a recent statement.

“In our focus groups, surveys and case study work, we’ve seen the importance of workplace champions,” said Stich. “Champions are passionate about the benefit in question—in this case, financial education.”

These “champions” often embrace the education they receive from their employer and pursue more information on their own, she added, noting that 75 percent of employers who indicated in the aforementioned report that their organizations use a “champion approach” report success with this strategy.

“They’ll adopt the benefit in their own life and eagerly talk with their co-workers about it as well,” said Stich. “Their enthusiasm, knowledge and ‘peer’ status grabs their co-workers’ attention and trust.”

Safe and Secure, or Not So Sure?

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.”

Survey: Employees Only ‘Moderately’ Engaged

The good news, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s latest Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, is that employee satisfaction is at its highest level in 10 years, with 88 percent of respondents saying they’re satisfied with their jobs. The bad news? The number of employees who say they plan to look outside their current company for a new job is also up, at 45 percent. SHRM announced the survey results at its Talent Management Conference in Orlando earlier this week.

The keyword for holding on to employees is spelled R-E-S-P-E-C-T: 67 percent of the 600 employees surveyed ranked “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” as “very important” to job satisfaction, followed by overall compensation/pay and benefits, job security and “opportunities to use skills and abilities,” which tied for fifth place with “trust between employees and senior management.”

As for employee engagement, actual engagement levels are little-changed from last year’s survey, said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs, coming in at 3.8 out of 5 with 5 being the highest, showing that employees are “moderately engaged.” Satisfaction and engagement aren’t always aligned, with engagement typically tied to employees’ connection and commitment to their work and organization, she said.

One of the top factors affecting employee engagement are the engagement level of their coworkers, said Esen. “If employees don’t see those around them as being engaged, this will impact the overall level of engagement in the organization,” she said.

Being engaged means feeling that you’re an important part of the organization’s mission, she said.

“The opportunity to use their skills and competencies is of continuing importance to employees – it gives them a sense of engagement and pride,” said Esen. HR should develop a “skills matrix” for employees to get a better sense of “what they do well, not just what they do” in their everyday jobs, she said. This will make it easier to determine if there are other ways employees could be contributing and – by extension – feel a tighter connection with the organization.

“Nobody is going to feel sustained doing the same job over and over,” she said.

Dissatisfaction with their compensation and benefits was a top reason why employees plan to look for new jobs, the survey finds. Sixty three percent of employees chose overall compensation as “very important” to them, yet only 23 percent described themselves as “very satisfied” with their own compensation. Similarly, 60 percent chose overall benefits as very important, but only 27 percent said they were very satisfied with their benefits.

“Companies have only reinstated some of the cuts to benefits they made during the Great Recession,” said Esen. “Organizations really need to focus on what benefits their employees really want, and offer the ones that appeal to all demographics of their employee base.”

HR must also keep in mind the needs of a multigenerational workforce, she said.

“Millennials want their ideas to be valued and not dismissed just because they’re younger and less-experienced,” said Esen. “Boomers want to be valued for their experience, but often feel they’re not sufficiently valued for it. It’s important to keep both groups satisfied.”