Category Archives: employee policies

Acknowledging Intersexuals in the Workplace

Here at HRE, we like to think we’re pretty well-versed in the labyrinthine lingo associated with the world’s workplace, including all manner of obscure HR term and every form of TLA (three-letter acronym).

So it came as quite a shock to me yesterday to discover a previously unknown — unknown to me, at least — term while participating in my company’s mandatory annual training sessions that addressed (among others) the old chestnuts of drugs in the workplace, IT usage, ethics, and gender, ethnic and sexual diversity.

The term in question? Intersexuals.

After some initial research (mostly the Wikipedia page for “intersex”) I found the following:

Like all individuals, intersex people have various gender identities. Most identify as either a woman or man, while some may identify as neither exclusively a woman nor exclusively a man. Some intersex individuals may be raised as a woman or man but then identify with another gender identity later in life.

That same Wikipedia page also notes that in 2015, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights described intersex people simply as being “born with atypical sex characteristics” that don’t meet “binary sex stereotypes.”

After learning a little more, the questions started popping up in my head: How can employers best accommodate such workers? How many people in today’s workforce actually identify themselves as intersexual? Which workplace bathroom should an intersexual person use?

I’ve reached out to the Human Rights Campaign as well as other experts in the arena of LGBTI issues, hoping to get some clarity on the issue in terms of how organizations can best accommodate such workers, but I’ve yet to hear back from them.

When I do, though, I’ll pass along their answers to you. In the mean time, I suppose I’ll just be thankful that I work for a company progressive enough to already acknowledge intersexuals in its work policies, even if not everyone (including me) may know they even exist.

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Do Parental Policies Work for Working Moms?

working mother 3For employers, the idea behind adopting family-friendly policies is pretty straightforward: to help workers with children juggle the demands of home and work.

And, while such policies might often be successful in that regard, there may also be some unintended consequences for the employees who take advantage of them—particularly mothers.

The New York Times’ Claire Cain Miller analyzed some of those consequences this week, in a piece that looked at the effect such policies have had on working women in the United States as well as other countries. And the research she cites on the subject doesn’t paint an especially positive picture.

For instance, Miller references a new unpublished study from Cornell University’s Mallika Thomas, who found that women in the United States are 5 percent more likely to remain employed, but 8 percent less likely to get promotions than they were before the Family and Medical Leave Act became law in 1993.

Thomas, who will soon take a position as an assistant professor of economics at Cornell, attributed these numbers partly to companies’ reluctance to invest in female employees who may wind up leaving.

“The problem,” Thomas told the Times, “ends up being that all women, even those who do not anticipate having children or cutting back in hours, may be penalized.”

The issue extends well beyond the U.S. too, as Miller points out.

For example, the most recent version of a child-care law in Chile—which became effective in 2009—was intended to increase the percentage of women who work in the country, which is below 50 percent.

Maria F. Prada, an economist at the Inter-American Development Bank, authored a study analyzing the effects of the law. While she says it may ease female employees’ transition back into work and aid children’s development, it has also led to declines in women’s starting salaries in the range of 9 percent to 20 percent.

“That was thought to be a provision to help them participate in the labor force and achieve more work/family balance, and it’s doing the opposite,” according to Prada, whose study was recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

There’s more.

Miller notes a law passed in Spain in 1999, designed to give workers with children under the age of seven the right to ask for reduced hours “without fear of being laid off,” she says, adding that those who have taken advantage of the law “were nearly all women.”

A study led by Daniel Fernandez-Kranz, an economist at IE Business School in Madrid, found that, in the decade since the law’s passage, companies were 6 percent less likely to hire women of childbearing age, compared to men. In addition, employers were 37 percent less likely to promote women and 45 percent more likely to dismiss them, according to the study, which also saw the probability of women of childbearing age being unemployed increase by 20 percent.

As Miller acknowledges, there’s no simple solution to these problems. There are, however, lessons to be learned from both here and abroad in terms of alleviating some of the unpleasant byproducts of parental-leave policies.

For example, employers in three U.S. states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—that offer paid family leave finance it through employee payroll taxes. Or, consider Sweden and Quebec, where both men and women are encouraged to take time off when a new baby arrives.

Indeed, looking at parental-leave policies as being truly gender neutral would be a big step in the right direction, Sarah Jane Glynn, director of women’s economic policy at the Center for American Progress, told the Times.

“It has to become something that humans do,” said Glynn, “as opposed to something that women do.”

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Doing Good Through Better HR

doing goodChristine Bader, a former corporate social responsibility executive at BP, has an interesting piece up today at The Atlantic on the importance of a good HR department for companies that want to be better corporate citizens.

Bader, author of the 2014 book The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil (judging from the title, I assume it touches at least partly on her BP experience), cites companies such as auto-parts manufacturer Lear, Google and clothing company Eileen Fisher that take innovative approaches to HR to unleash their employees’ resourcefulness and creativity.

At Lear, Bader writes, CHRO Tom DiDonato did away with basing compensation on performance reviews, “realizing that the emphasis on pay created stress and stifled the candor that people need to improve and innovate.” Instead, the company now bases compensation on market conditions and awards equity and promotions for good performance.

Bader describes Google’s efforts to do away with unconscious bias through training that not only helps its employees recognize their own biases, but encourages them to step in and intervene when they see biased behavior toward others, Head of People Operations Laszlo Bock told her. The training isn’t being done entirely out of altruism, he said: People perform better when they feel more safe at work. However, Bader writes, if people are treating others more fairly at work, one hopes that will spill over into their lives outside the office.

At Eileen Fisher, the company’s long-term plan to improve the environmental and social sustainability of its supply chain depends on an intense spirit of collaboration within the organization — one that is carefully nurtured by HR, Bader writes. Eileen Fisher’s sustainability efforts are overseen by a team of leaders from different departments within the company who meet weekly by phone and monthly in person. “Traditionally, work evolves into buckets or silos; we help connect people so they can break down the silos,” Director of Leadership, Learning and Development Yvette Jarreau told Bader.

HR still has a reputation among too many people as a bureaucratic rut — a dark hole of stifling paperwork and mindless processes, writes Bader. But for companies that are trying to change for the better, she writes, a smart and flexible HR department is crucial.

 

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Starbucks Doubles Down on College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Krawcheck Calls for Greater Diversity

Sallie Krawcheck

Sallie Krawcheck

The second day of SHRM’s Employment Law & Legislative Conference featured a morning talk by Sallie Krawcheck, a former high-profile Wall Street executive who’s now the chair of Ellevate, a New York-based mentoring network for women (formerly known as 85 Broads).

In describing her experiences as one of the few female leaders in an industry that continues to be dominated by white males, Krawcheck paid tribute to HR. “The first young man I had to fire threatened to kill me,” she said. “He said he would hunt me down in a dark alley. The second young man I had to fire insisted that I was doing so because I was actually in love with him. He suggested that I put him up in a love nest. So, I have a great deal of respect for what you in HR have to deal with.”

She also offered her own take on what led to the financial meltdown of 2008: “I don’t think it was greed so much as groupthink,” she said. “And what breaks groupthink? Diversity of thought.”

Krawcheck called on HR to “keep us honest, give us training on this, encourage us to have those courageous conversations where we say, ‘Dave, you interrupted Susie five times during her presentation, but you didn’t interrupt Bill once during his.’ ”

Companies today suffer from a surplus of mentoring opportunities for women but a deficit of sponsoring programs, she said, in which executives actively advocate for women in their careers. “Some companies are actually replacing their mentoring programs with sponsoring programs.”

Companies can demonstrate their commitment to diversity by making it a key developmental milestone, said Krawcheck. “Here’s a thought: Give responsibility for diversity to a high-potential white guy.”

Later on that day, a breakout session featured two board members from the National Labor Relations Board, who sought to explain the Board’s reasoning on controversial matters such as so-called “ambush elections” rule regarding union-certification elections.

“I’m told the best part of the new rule starts on page 500, where [Harry] Johnson and I write our dissent,” said Philip Miscimarra, who is — along with Johnson — one of the two Republican appointees to the five-member Board.

He and Johnson disagreed with the new elections rule on a number of different issues, particularly its dramatic compression of the time allowed between when a union files a certification petition and the election. “The [National Labor Relations Act] is silent with respect to timing,” said Miscimarra. “How fast is too fast, or how slow is too slow — it is silent on those issues.” He noted that both houses of Congress have passed a “resolution of disapproval” of the new rule — a resolution that could potentially nullify the rule should a Republican win the next presidential election and sign the resolution into law.

One of the most contentious issues the Board continues to wrestle with, said Miscimarra, is the extent to which companies have the right to restrict concerted activities by employees that could be considered as “disrespectful, discourteous or insubordinate.”

“Employers have been surprised to learn that rules they have in place for a good reason — rules that require employees to show courtesy and respect — are unlawful under our statute,” he said.  “I do hope the Board can do a better job of devising a standard in this area that people will find helpful.”

 

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Workplace Romance Seems to Be Alive and Well

187334194 (3)I’m sure no one needs a reminder that tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day. Ads on TV. Messages rotating on electronic billboards on your commute to work. Product displays at your neighborhood pharmacy. Valentine’s Day spam in your email. And, oh yes, at least for me, the barrage of press releases that arrive in my Outlook sharing the findings of this or that study on workplace romance.

Normally, I might give those press releases a quick read and hit the delete key. But a couple did catch my eye this time around. Take the following office-romance poll issued by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder. According to the poll, which was based on a representative sample of 3,056 full-time, private-sector workers, 37 percent of the respondents said they have dated a co-worker; and 30 percent of those office romances have led to marriage.

To me, those numbers are higher than I would have thought, but what do I know?

Harris and CareerBuilder then went on explore what work-related traits would make someone “undateable.”  Here’s what they found:

  • Doesn’t work on a consistent basis: 39 percent

  • Has already dated someone else at work: 25 percent

  • Travels extensively for work: 21 percent

  • Has to work nights: 8 percent

  • Earns less money than me: 6 percent

  • Has to work weekends: 6 percent

In case you’re wondering, women were much less likely than men to date someone who doesn’t work on a consistent basis (52 percent versus 28 percent of men), has previously dated a co-worker (29 percent versus 21 percent) and earns less than them (10 percent versus 2 percent).

Next up: Vault’s 2015 Office Romance Survey found 51 percent of business professionals said they participated in some type of “workplace relationship.”  (Again, higher than I would have thought.) Of those respondents, 21 percent reported they had an ongoing, yet casual relationship; 18 percent were involved in a random office hookup; 16 percent said they enjoyed a long-term serious relationship with a co-worker; and 10 percent said they met a spouse or partner at work. (Three percent selected other.)

“Regardless of success or failure, 63 percent said they would do it again,” the press release said.

The Vault findings also suggest that office romance is becoming more acceptable, with just 5 percent of the respondents saying no office romances are appropriate, down from 11 percent in 2011. (More respondents than ever—29 percent—are of the opinion that all romantic connections in the workplace are appropriate, including those between managers and their direct reports.)

It’s also worth noting—the Vault press release describes it as “the most surprising finding” of all—that HR professionals are among the most likely to have had some kind of fling with a colleague: 57 percent of respondents in the field admitted to having participated in a workplace romance at some point in their career.

At the other end of the spectrum, believe it or not, are marketing professionals (43 percent).

Not what I would have expected.

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Fathers’ Jobs Enhanced by Father-Kid Time

487328649 -- father and childAn interesting finding comes to us from various professors at some well-reputed academic institutions — Northeastern University, Boston College and the University of Massachusetts — showing that the more time dads spend with their children, the better they fare on the job.

You’d think the opposite would be true, considering how more time with kids generally makes working mothers pull their hair out more and generally jeopardizes work, the release poses.

But in this month’s issue of Academy of Management Perspectives, a paper detailing the results of the study — based on a survey of close to 1,000 working fathers — will show that fathers spending more time with their kids and mothers spending more time with their kids yield very different results.

As the release about the study notes, researchers found that “the more time fathers spend with their children on a typical day, the more satisfied they are with their jobs and the less likely they [are to] want to leave their organizations.”

“Further,” the release says, “they experience less work-family conflict and greater work-family enrichment.”

Fathers spending time with their kids also put dedication to a career down a few notches on their career-identity/priority list, but the study says … hey, that’s … OK! As the release puts it, “any weakening of dedication can be effectively countered by management support with regard to work hours and family matters, the new research finds.” It goes on:

“In the words of the study, ‘Ideally, individuals should be able to foster a strong sense of involvement at home and still feel connected to their careers … . Analysis revealed that strong support from an organization via its management can mitigate the negative relationship between involved fathering and career identity.”

So why the difference between women and men? Though researchers Jamie J. Ladge and Maria Baskerville Watkins of Northeastern, Beth K. Humberd of U. of M. and Brad Harrington of Boston College don’t address it necessarily, an argument could be made that fathers are still getting the luxury of taking “baby steps” into more time with baby, whereas working mothers have long suffered “having to do it all.” (I say this as one who has been through multiple eras of this social experiment.)

But all in all, this is good news.

Now let’s see how many organizations can support the notion that fathers spending more time with their kids is a good thing. One study from a few years ago, written about in this HRE cover story, suggests they have a long way to go. It also suggests dads are more conflicted, not less, when they take that stand with their employers.

Looks like baby steps for both sides are in order.

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Marijuana Acceptance Marches On

It’s still highly unlikely that any employer will ever have to allow an employee to work while he or she is stoned, whether there’s a safety 146967521 - smoking dopeor security risk or not, but the chips seem to keep falling away from those sturdy walls that made marijuana unacceptable, illegal and disallowed for years.

The latest indication that pot is going mainstream comes in this Illinois Appellate Court ruling (found on the Canna Law Blog site) affirming a Circuit Court’s ruling that just because a worker was fired for violating his employer’s drug-and-alcohol-free workplace policy doesn’t mean he can’t collect unemployment benefits.

Seems this maintenance worker for the Jefferson County Housing Authority fessed up to his employer — just before a random mandatory drug screening — that he might not pass because he had smoked pot several weeks earlier while on vacation. He was fired, even though his tests results were negative, and was turned down for unemployment benefits because of the nature of his termination.

The Housing Authority’s policy prohibits employees from being under the influence of any controlled substance “while in the course of employment.” Both the Circuit Court and Appellate Court agreed “course of employment” was interpreted too broadly by the Illinois Department of Employment Security to include off-duty hours.

“Among the reasons the Circuit Court found the agency’s interpretation unreasonable,” the blog states, “was the fact that marijuana is now legal in some states and the fact that it unreasonably restricted off-duty time while serving no legitimate public purpose.”

Yes, indeed, marijuana is absolutely now legal in some states, as this news analysis and this blog post by me indicate. But it’s more than going legal, as I also indicate. It’s becoming big business. Make that a huge industry.

Just this month, news releases came across my screen announcing a Cannabis Career Institute opening in San Diego as well as three others in Florida, Illinois and Nevada, all designed, as the releases state, to teach “ganjapreneurs how to succeed in the marijuana industry as the green rush continues.”

Attorneys and experts I’ve talked to assure me employers will always have the legal right — and responsibility — to keep their workplaces safe and drug-free. I just wonder how all this nudging from the “cannabusiness” community and the courts is going to impact how those employers sleep at night.

 

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2014’s Top 10 Posts

Here at The Leader Board, it was another interesting year covering the HR arena, with issues ranging from the controversy surrounding the HR certification, to lawsuits based on a worker’s commute, to HR leaders’ efforts to ensure their organizations’ compliance with the Affordable Care Act and various other legal requirements, just to name a few.

Below are links to the top 10 most-read posts of 2014, according to Google Analytics.

When viewed together, the posts create an accurate mosaic of the issues HR leaders are faced this year and are likely to continue dealing with into the new year.

Enjoy!

  1. SHRM Rolls Out New Certification (May 13)
  2. HR Plaintiffs Build Their Case Against Lowe’s (Jan. 24)
  3. Google Tackles Incentives and Rewards (April 29)
  4. More Restrictions on Criminal-Background Checks (Feb. 10)
  5. Employers Missing ADA Coverage in FMLA Cases (June 30)
  6. Friedman Shakes It Up at SHRM (June 23)
  7. ‘The 27 Challenges Managers Face’ (July 28)
  8. Who’s Leading the Way? (Nov. 13)
  9. Woman Sues Ex-Employer Over Commute (July 2)
  10. Giving HR the Boot (April 9)
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Career Management Missing the Mark

For all the stories we’ve written through the years about the merits of career management, you’d think the practice would have gotten a 178784049 -- career pathbit more efficient than it apparently has.

The latest indication that career-planning programs are basically failing to help employees plot their courses and understand advancement opportunities they might find at their companies comes from Towers Watson’s 2014 Global Workforce Study, which finds fewer than half (46 percent) of more than 32,000 global employees polled say their organizations provide useful tools for plotting their career paths.

Worse still, at least in my opinion, is that 59 percent of high-potential employees — a group employers should be working hard to keep — say their employers provide the right tools.

Here’s another discrepancy: According to another Towers Watson poll — the 2014 Global Talent Management and Rewards Study — half of employers (49 percent) say they’re effective at providing traditional career-advancement opportunities; however, employers also rank career-management opportunities as the No. 1 reason employees would join a company, ahead of base salary and challenging work.

“Many companies are failing to see the big picture when it comes to career-management programs and are in danger of losing some of their best talent,” says Renée Smith, a talent and rewards director at Towers Watson. “The lack of career-advancement opportunities is the No. 2 reason that employees leave an organization. Pay is the No. 1 reason.

“At a time when hiring and turnover are increasing, and employers are experiencing problems attracting and retaining talent,” she says, “employers need to understand the importance of providing [these] opportunities. Currently [and clearly], their programs are coming up short.”

In a newly published paper, “Career Management: Making It Work for Employees and Employers,” Smith says that, while it might seem simple enough to organize jobs, provide career-planning tools, define competencies and communicate opportunities, the reality of building an effective career-management program is more complicated. She points to several challenges identified in the Talent Management and Rewards Survey that employers face when trying to get the right kind of programs off the ground:

  • Career architectures and paths are poorly defined. Fewer than half of employers (48 percent) report their organizations have career architectures (or formalized frameworks) and career paths in place.
  • Managers are ill equipped to deliver. Only one-third of employers (33 percent) say managers are effective at conducting career-development discussions as part of the performance-management process.
  • Technology is not effectively leveraged for career management. Fewer than half of employers (45 percent) make effective use of technology to deliver career-advancement programs.
  • Most organizations don’t know if their programs are working. Only one in four respondents (27 percent) monitors the effectiveness of their programs.

Smith says there are other factors contributing to this challenge. “Information related to career management is often communicated in a disjointed manner. In some organizations, different parts of HR own different elements of the career-management process without clear accountability or partnership,” she says.

“Additionally, organizations may lack the business buy-in, which can make career management the sole domain of HR. Given this situation, it’s critical for employers to step back and think through how to best design, deliver and measure an effective and integrated career-management program,” says Smith.

Granted, we’ve gotten wind of this problem from other sources as well. This HREOnline news analysis in June by Tom Starner is based on research from BlessingWhite that found fewer than half of 2,000 employees surveyed expect to receive any kind of career-planning advice from their employers.

In that piece, Jeff Kudisch, assistant dean of corporate relations and a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, says the main challenge is that many leaders and managers lack basic people-development skills.

“They can’t begin to help with career pathing if they can’t coach their people,” he says. “And worse, in many cases there are no incentives to hold managers accountable for that responsibility.”

There have also been pieces through the years pointing out that managers not only lack coaching skills, but are simply — and perhaps selfishly — reluctant to buy in to the whole internal-mobility thing and let (or even usher) top talent out of their hands.

“The company wins when you think about it from an employee’s perspective,” says Kurt Metzger, vice president of talent management at Newark, N.J.-based Prudential, in the Starner piece. “We are less focused on retention specifically than we are about what will get them excited and engaged [and] in the end, we have a much more productive workforce.”

Food for thought.

 

 

 

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