Posts belonging to Category employee engagement

Another Sign Your Talent May Be Bolting: Hooky

160611067-- sick employeeA month ago, almost to the day, Editor David Shadovitz posted this about a Utah State University professor’s study laying out specific behaviors to look for in top talent about to head out the door.

I thought the signs themselves, as revealed by researcher Tim Gardner, were interesting and deserve repeating. Employees about to leave, he found:

  • Offered fewer constructive contributions in meetings;
  • Were more reluctant to commit to long-term projects;
  • Became more reserved and quiet;
  • Became less interested in advancing in the organization;
  • Were less interested in pleasing their boss than before;
  • Avoided social interactions with their boss and other members of management; and
  • Began doing the minimum amount of work needed and no longer went beyond the call of duty.

Now, thanks to this from Monster Worldwide, we have another dimension to offer up in this flight-detection protocol: playing hooky. Or at least playing “I have a doctor’s appointment.”

According to Monster’s global poll, based on votes cast by Monster visitors from Dec. 2 through 6 of last year, 44 percent of respondents consider telling their boss they have a medical appointment to be the best excuse to leave work for a job interview.

The second-most-popular choice for getting out of work to interview for other work is also health-related: saying they’re sick, weighing in at 15 percent. Of course, the way I see it, both excuses — especially the latter — requires some play-acting as well, so perhaps there are some additional behavior traits we can read between the lines.

There were other non-health-related excuses — childcare, at 12 percent, and delivery/repairman at 8 percent — but faking personal health challenges topped the chart.

Especially interesting, I thought, were the differences in faking forte by country. As the Monster release states:

French respondents are the most likely to create faux doctor’s appointments when sneaking out for interviews, with 54 percent answering that they believe it is the best excuse;      conversely, French respondents are the least likely to fake an illness to excuse an interview-related absence, with only 7 percent selecting it as the best option. Respondents in the United States were the biggest proponents of the call-in-sick method, with 16 percent choosing illness as their preferred excuse. Canadian respondents were the least likely to use a delivery/repairman excuse, with under 7 percent selecting this option and were the most inclined to use a childcare-related excuse, with 16 percent picking this answer.”

Mary Ellen Slayter, a career-advice expert for Monster, says all employers ought to look at this as a reminder that “they have no choice but to be on both sides of this coin.”

“Making it easy for people to be honest is a good approach,” she says. “That means when you’re recruiting, make an effort to schedule interviews before or after work hours — or perhaps at lunch. With your own workers, don’t press them about how they’re spending their requested time off.”

As for what you’re supposed to do when you notice your top talent scheduling an inordinate number of doctor’s appointments, that’s anyone’s guess. I would think that might be a good time to start examining their engagement levels.

Do Workers Value Their Benefits?

disgruntledThe latest Mercer Workplace Survey finds that the perceived value of employee benefits among workers who participate in their company’s health and retirement benefits is starting to erode — especially among the younger generation. Workers under the age of 50 who say their benefits are “definitely worth it” in terms of what they pay out of pocket has “dropped precipitously” in two years from 45 percent to 30 percent, according to Mercer.

The survey, which is based on input from 1,506 employees enrolled in their companies’ health and retirement benefits, finds that benefits are still critically important: 93 percent agree with the statement “My health benefits are as important as my salary” while 86 percent disagree with the statement “My benefits don’t matter much to me.”

These rising levels of discontent can at least be partly attributed to cost-shifting by employers, says Mercer’s Beth Umland:

Out-of-pocket expenses for employees are likely to continue to rise. We’re seeing more cost-shifting and rapid growth in high-deductible consumer-directed health plans as employers are asked to cover more employees under health reform.”

Employees are also undoubtedly peeved about cutbacks in 401(k) matches and delayed matches by many companies. Although AOL has reversed its decision to delay its 401(k) match (CEO Tim Armstrong had originally said the delay was needed to compensate for the cost of “distressed babies,” among other things), other large firms like JPMorgan Chase, Oracle and Caesars Entertainment have reduced or delayed payment of their 401(k) matches and lengthened vesting schedules for their DC plans, according to an analysis of hundreds of government filings by Bloomberg News.

IBM shifted last year to a lump-sum payment of its 401(k) match, similar to what AOL originally did. Oracle stretches out the vesting schedule for its DC plan participants: employees are 25-percent vested after their first year of employment, another 25 percent vested after a second year and fully vested after four years with the company, according to Bloomberg.

These measures can make it much harder for employees to save enough for retirement, Brigitte Madrian, a Harvard professor who studies retirement policy, told Bloomberg:

There’s been an implicit contract for years and years — workers save and companies match — but now they’re changing the rules. Most individuals can’t do it on their own. We’re going in the wrong direction.”

The Mercer findings directly contradict a new survey from Guardian Life Insurance Co. which finds workers value their benefits plans more than they did two years ago.

Guardian says this increase in perceived value “suggests that American workers are valuing their benefit packages more than ever and reaffirms the value of workplace benefits for employers’ business strategy, especially for retaining employees.”

Whether to Treat Them Like They Own the Place …

Came across an intriguing conundrum on BLR’s HR Daily Advisor site: whether it’s wise to treat employees like they own their company or not.

144339020 -- trading keysThe piece by Dan Oswald, BLR’s CEO, makes cases for both. One suggests that inspiring this kind of ownership culture, where employees treat company reputation and resources as their own, can also engender abuses of, say, the organization’s travel expenses. Especially if certain employees are used to spending their own money on luxuries.

The lesson here, writes Oswald, is that “if you have someone with a real sense of entitlement, you might not want him thinking like an owner. It can be really expensive.”

On the other hand, employees — especially highly talented ones — taking ownership of their organization can be extremely beneficial to innovation, productivity, customer service, operations improvements, recruiting, you name it.

“That’s why Facebook uses the following motto with new hires: ‘This is now your company,’ ” writes Oswald. “That simple statement is plastered on all of Facebook’s onboarding materials, and it’s the first thing new employees see when they walk in the company’s training center. It’s a company goal to have every single employee carry a sense of ownership — not just in the individual jobs, but within the company as a whole.”

I happen to know Starbucks’ approach is a similar one, based on a feature I’m currently working on. At that company, instilling “coffee passion” and company knowledge in every barista is a well-thought-out leadership and talent-management approach. It includes store walk-throughs for new hires, followed by debriefings about what they liked and didn’t like; encouragement to strike up real conversations with customers about the coffee they’re drinking and the company’s ideals and philosophies; coffee-tasting rituals between managers and new hires; invitations to every employee to submit ideas to improve any and all company systems; and even a strong urging from the top down to look for other potential Starbucks recruits in their conversations with customers and friends.

So how do you create such a culture? Oswald has a few suggestions:

First, you  need to hire the right type of person. You need to hire people who think this way when they walk in the door. In fact, at Facebook, they talk about hiring  for the culture, not the skill set. Their rationale? Skills can be taught, but  mind-set can’t.

Second, you need to train and reinforce the ‘ownership’ mentality  at every level in the organization. That means you provide your people with the  information and opportunities that will allow them to act like owners. You  can’t expect people to act like an owner if they don’t have the information or  the freedom to do so in a meaningful way.

Finally, you must recognize and reward the people who think this  way. When people make a contribution because of their ‘ownership mind-set,’  make sure you let others know that you appreciate and respect that type of  thinking.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could say,  ’He acts like he owns the  place!’ and ‘She acts like she owns the place!’ about every one of your employees and mean it in the best [as opposed to the worst] way possible?

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Two different surveys showed up recently with some employment-related things to think about this Thanksgiving.

89319425-- thanksgivingThey’re not related … er, then again, maybe they are.

One, a new Thanksgiving survey from Chicago-based CareerBuilder, finds one in five workers (19 percent) plan to spend Thanksgiving this year with co-workers either in or outside the office. Most of them (14 percent) have to work the holiday.

Which brings us to the second poll from Menlo Park, Callif.-based OfficeTeam that finds 24 percent of workers are most thankful this holiday for — aside from salary — their friendly co-workers. (This was followed by a good benefits program, 20 percent; easy commute, 16 percent; challenging assignments, 15 percent, supportive manager, 11 percent; other, 9 percent; flexible hours, 3 percent; and don’t know/no answer, 1 percent. (Here is a report on the survey, and an infographic.)

So safe to say, if that many employees have to be working on our heaviest-travelled, family-focused national holiday, then at least it’s a consolation that they value the friendship and pleasantness of the employees alongside them in the same boat.

If you think about it, says Robert Hosking, executive direction of OfficeTeam, it makes a lot of sense that co-worker relationships are this important.

“Many full-time workers spend more than half of their waking hours at the office,” says Hosking, “so having friendly colleagues can make all the difference when it comes to job satisfaction.”

So what can HR leaders do with this information? I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to encourage behaviors and nurture environments that allow employees to do more of what OfficeTeam recommends they do to increase workplace happiness: socialize with co-workers, step away from the desk, explore flexible-scheduling options, take advantage of perks, and set goals and meet them.

Who knows, with enough focus on the above, maybe “friendly employers” will top next year’s gratitude list.



A Little Help?

little helpI recently spoke with Mark Royal and Mel Stark of The Hay Group, to discuss the latest edition of the annual “Most Admired for HR” list; a group of companies Hay and HRE annually identify among Fortune’s Most Admired Companies as those that typify best HR practices.

Over the course of our approximately 50-minute chat—snippets of which will appear in our December cover story highlighting a few of this year’s winners—we talked a lot about the traits Most Admired organizations share.

When asked what sets the HR functions at these companies apart, both Royal and Stark repeatedly pointed to their ability to redefine career arcs; getting employees involved in customizing their professional development courses—wherever they may lead—and helping them create plans for navigating their chosen paths.

Leading employers, for example, “are clarifying where employees should expect career development to happen—in their day-to-day job roles versus through formal development initiatives—as well as the roles and responsibilities of employees, managers and the organization in career development processes,” said Royal, senior principal at Philadelphia-based Hay Group Insight.

Some recent data, however, suggests the “average” employer hasn’t yet latched on to this idea.

For example, a recent survey from Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based talent mobility consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison asked 379 U.S.-based workers if their organizations used career planning and development to prepare employees for roles. Respondents said:

• Rarely (35 percent)

• Never (30 percent)

• Sometimes (19 percent)

• Frequently (10 percent)

• Nearly always (6 percent)

So, if you’re scoring at home, that’s just 16 percent of employees saying they are the beneficiaries of career planning and development support on a consistent basis, with 65 percent saying they hardly ever receive such support, if they receive any at all.

Those numbers align with Hay Group employee opinion norms, which reveal that only 57 percent of employees hold favorable views of their opportunities for learning and development in their organizations, and just 44 percent rate their opportunities for advancement highly.

Without the proper career planning and development support, workers will naturally scuffle, said Kristen Leverone, senior vice president of global talent development practice leader at Lee Hecht Harrison, in a statement.

“Pressures are mounting for a hyper-efficient workforce made up of just-in-time employees who are skilled and ready to take on roles and responsibilities quickly,” said Leverone. “But, with just 16 percent of employees [in the LHH survey] reporting they receive career planning and development support, many employees will struggle to succeed if they lack resources to build the skills needed to perform optimally.”

And, employees that aren’t adequately equipped to perform their jobs aren’t typically happy employees, which creates employee-engagement and possible retention issues as well, adds Royal.

“Opportunities for growth and development,” he says, “are among the most consistent predictors of employee engagement.”

Got Issues? Talk to Watson

The bleary-eyed attendees sipping their coffee and munching their pastries got a non-caffeinated jolt at this morning’s opening general session at HR Tech when Kenexa founder Rudy Karsan took to the stage and told them why he’s so optimistic.

“We are living in the golden age!” he said, a statement that might be viewed quizzically in this era of government shutdowns and economic and political turmoil. But that’s a shortsighted view, as Karsan went on to note how, in fact, the human race is much better off today than at any time in its history.

“Every positive metric has not only grown but accelerated in the last 50 years, while every negative metric is decelerating,” he said. Today, an average person has better health than a monarch did 100 years ago, Karsan noted. Rapidly growing GDP and plummeting illiteracy levels are being accompanied by innovations such as vertical farming, transforming cities like Munich, where a growing percentage of that German city’s fresh produce is produced within its boundaries.

The future will be even better because of innovations like cognitive computing, said Karsan. This led him to the main part of his presentation, which was a demonstration of how IBM’s Watson computer can help organizations boost employee engagement and productivity by rapidly answering their questions and helping them with their development. (IBM recently acquired Kenexa.)

“One of the best ways to engage employees is to give them access to information effortlessly, where and when they need it,” he said.

Watson can serve not only as a “knowledge concierge” to employees, quickly resolving concerns related to payroll and their employer’s philanthropic activities, but it can also help managers translate the findings of employee-engagement surveys into action plans so they can become more effective mentors and champions to their employees, said Karsan. It’s able to do this not only by supplying direct answers but also combing through the company’s informational warehouses and finding relevant documents and reports, he said.

In a follow-up interview after the presentation, Karsan told me that Watson is already live at clients such as USAA. “We do expect some bumps in the road as we deploy Watson to other companies — it’ll be no different than any other major innovation,” he said. “Look at the early days of the Internet.”

Speaking of the Internet, it’s important to note that Watson isn’t connected to the Internet; it hasn’t been programmed but instead is taught the domains it knows.

I asked Karsan whether having constant access to a service like Watson could risk employees becoming a bit lazy — what if Watson went down one day and they’d have to do their own research? “If you have the right person in the right job, laziness does not exist,” he responded. “The laziness trait gets expanded when you have people doing what they perceive as meaningless work. That’s why it’s important to put the right person in the right job in the first place.”

Karsan says he’s particularly excited by Watons’ potential impact on managerial and leadership development. “These are not hard sciences,” he said. “It’s more of an art form — there’s lots of communication and collaboration involved. Watson will give you a range of solutions, rather than a deterministic solution. Watson will not replace judgment. It will lend precision to a lot of the guesswork out there — it will let us replace guesswork with data and science.”

Just Another (Long) Day at the Office

long day 2In recent months, The Leader Board has touched on the issue of employees being unable to disconnect from work while on vacation. We’ve talked about how many United States workers aren’t guaranteed paid vacation time to begin with, and we’ve shared survey results showing a majority of American employees don’t use the vacation time they do have.

Now, here comes data that suggests U.S. workers are finding it harder and harder to even leave the office at all.

A recent survey from Milwaukee-based Right Management polled 325 employees, asking participants if workers in their organizations were working longer hours than five years ago. They said:

• Yes, a great deal (67 percent)

• Not really (23 percent)

• Yes, somewhat (10 percent)

So, a clear majority of the employees polled find themselves and their colleagues spending more time at the office.

And, according to Right, these workers are barely coming up for air while they’re there. Another Right survey saw 81 percent of 1,023 North American employees indicating they don’t typically take what they consider to be a proper lunch break at work. The grind doesn’t end after going home, either: A June 2013 poll from Right found more than one-third of 422 workers dealing with work-related emails outside of business hours.

Given the business climate of the past five years, these findings don’t come as a great shock. But they do help paint a picture of a frazzled workforce putting in more hours, dealing with more stress and perhaps becoming increasingly disgruntled as a result.

And that’s a picture that HR leaders—already battling to keep employee engagement levels high—probably don’t want to envision with a recovering economy (and job market) on the horizon.

Perfect Time to Celebrate Older Workers

older businessman -- 134075082What better time to personally invite you to read our Sept. 16 Human Resource Executive® cover story, “The Age Factor,” than today, the beginning of National Employ Older Workers Week, a week established back in the Eisenhower era to increase awareness of this labor segment and develop strategies to tap it.

And what better time to honor such a week than now, with the ranks of older workers growing to historic numbers — well beyond what anyone could have imagined during the Eisenhower administration.

This post on the website of the Department of Labor, host and sponsor of the dedicated week, says that by 2014, 41 percent of Americans 55 or older will be employed, making up more than 21 percent of the U.S. labor force. (For more information on National Employ Older Workers week, this DOL release from 2005 and this 2010 announcement from then Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis should bring you fully up to speed.)

Our cover story, featuring companies that are finding ways to effectively work with and benefit from this growing segment of the workforce, quotes from a 2012 Wells Fargo Retirement Survey that finds 70 percent of middle-class Americans say they’ll work in retirement, with one-third believing they will need to “work until at least 80″ in order to live comfortably in their post-work years.

If that’s not scary enough, this survey report in CNN Money says it now appears one in eight workers worldwide will never retire. I guess we’re talking about keeling over mid-sentence or mid-phone call at their desks.

The DOL post says this influx may not be such a bad thing: “The Committee on Economic Development indicates that employers rate older workers high on characteristics such as judgment, commitment to quality, attendance and punctuality.” But not sure it had working to death in mind. (Obviously, avoiding such an “unrealistic reality” will depend on additional approaches by employers and their HR leaders as this growing sector continues to age.)

In the meantime, couldn’t hurt to reflect on your company’s policies and programs — especially this week — to ensure you’re doing everything you can to reap the benefits of your older workers, for as long as they’re willing to stay or you’re willing to keep them.

A few things to consider along these lines might be whether they’re being properly managed, especially by managers their children’s ages. This story I wrote two years ago probes this particular problem, as do many of the additional web-enhanced features we ran with it at the time.

I guess you won’t know what your workers 55 or older are contributing — or what obstacles they’re facing trying to contribute — if you don’t carefully assess the situation. You might find there’s no problem at all.

As Jerold Ramos, AlliedBarton’s director of strategic recruiting, put it in a release about his company’s support for older workers and this designated week, “experienced workers are essential to today’s workforce, and fit very well into the security industry. They are flexible, punctual, trainable and mature.”

I would add experienced, knowledgable and willing to share their skills and perspectives with anyone and everyone if doing so would be of some help.

How, in my humble opinion, do I know this? I’m 56.

Open Workspaces: Optimal or Overrated?

open officeIf your company is among those considering a drastic redesign of your “conventional” work environment, you may not want to tear down those cubicle walls just yet.

Well-known companies such as Campbell’s Soup, Google and Microsoft, and even government agencies such as the General Services Administration, have made news by eliminating cubicles and other barriers between employees to create more innovative, open and collaborative work areas, and save space while they’re at it.

Some recent research, however, suggests such open-office spaces—if not done right—can be a drain on employees’ productivity as well as their health and job satisfaction.


• The 2013 U.S. Workplace Survey, conducted by Washington-based architecture, design, planning and consulting firm Gensler, polled 2,035 U.S. workers, finding that only one in four employees were in an optimal workplace setting. While the firm points out its research “shows that effective work can happen in both open and enclosed environments,” it also found that office layouts without walls could be rendered ineffective if open design schemes didn’t also allow for enough privacy to let employees focus on their individual tasks.

• A recent study appearing in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health found employees in an open office set-up reported getting sick 62 percent more than their cubicle-dwelling colleagues.

• A University of Calgary study analyzed a group of 21 employees completing surveys at three stages: prior to moving from a personal office to an open-plan layout, four weeks after making the move, and six months after the move. Researchers assessed employees’ satisfaction with their physical environment, physical stress, worker relations, perceived job performance and the use of open office protocols at each interval. Employees reported more stress and less satisfaction on the job after making the move, and their dissatisfaction did not abate after the six-month adjustment period, according to researchers.

While the bugs are clearly still being worked out, it seems the Googles and Microsofts of the world are far from alone in opting for more open office layouts. In fact, the International Management Facility Association estimates 70 percent of American employees work in open-plan environments. So, if open workspaces are indeed the wave of the future, how can employers avoid the aforementioned problems?

The answer, according to Diane Hoskins, co-CEO at Gensler, may be in creating a sort of hybrid environment, and giving employees the freedom to determine how and where they get things done.

“Balanced workplaces where employees have the autonomy to choose their workspace based on the task or project at hand are more effective and higher performing,” said Hoskins, in a statement announcing Gensler’s 2013 survey findings.

“This is not about mobility,” she continued. “In fact, those who choose to remain in the office are more engaged and satisfied than those who have to be mobile most of the day. Our research indicates that employees will leverage autonomy for optimal productivity when given the choice in where and how to work as well as the technology and infrastructure to support their choice.”

‘What Does the C-Suite Think HR Does?’

57571241--exec alone in officeWe get an awful lot of consultants chiming in regularly on the things HR professionals need to be doing to be doing their jobs better … and I often give them shorter than longer shrift.

But this release from HR Daily Advisor caught my eye today, not just because of the catchy headline, “What Does the C-Suite Think HR Does?” but because of what follows.

The piece, by Steve Bruce, quotes Andrew Botwin, founder of SPC Consulting, who offered the following tips — I’d like to call them talking points — at BLR’s 2013 Strategic HR Summit held recently in Scottsdale, Ariz.

For starters:

What the C-Suite Thinks HR Does

  • Says  “No”
  • Hires  and Fires
  • Controls  with rules and enforcement
  • Generates  costs and overhead
  • Gets  in the way

What HR Really Does

  • Looks out for the company
  • Makes sure bad things don’t happen
  • Engages in risk management
  • Makes money
  • Saves money

Talk about competing — make that conflicting — perceptions.

According to Bruce, Botwin then went on to quote a recent Forbes article, “It’s time to  fire HR,” reminiscent of the now-famous Fast Company‘s “Why We Hate HR” from 2005. This latest article “says HR is a necessary evil, a dark force that revels in red tape and gibberish,” according to Botwin, who adds that yet another indicator of HR’s less-than-stellar reputation “is that top students are not thinking about HR as a career.”

Without vouching yay or nay for this being today’s real perception of the HR profession (I see both truths and exaggerations in the notes above), I thought Botwin’s recommendations for curing the misperceptions were worth sharing. In short, they include taking unconditional responsibility for things that happen; talking like a business person and problem solver; looking for ways to create analytics, but never relying exclusively on one metric; developing programs that foster engagement, but remembering that programs don’t engage, people do; and a few other gems.

His concise, straightforward explanations for all these “tips” are worth the read. So is the comment from reader Barb: “Unfortunately, HR usually is not for the sensitive. You need a tough skin to deal with the perceptions of both the C-suite and the rank and file.”