Posts belonging to Category HR profession

Facebook Ranked Last in 401(k) Contributions

It’s not very often that the 21st century’s titans of business, Facebook and Amazon, find themselves at the bottom of a list, but according to the Bloomberg News rankings of the largest public companies’ 401(k) plans, those two companies rank among the least generous:

A first-of-its-kind ranking of 401(k) plans at the 250 biggest companies in the U.S. found that ConocoPhillips and Abbott Laboratories are among those that provide the most lucrative retirement benefits. Among the least generous are Facebook Inc., Inc. and Whole Foods Market Inc. The natural-foods grocer offers a maximum contribution of $152 annually.

Facebook finished last in the Bloomberg rankings, which were based on 2012 data, the latest available for all companies. The Menlo Park, California-based social media company didn’t offer any match at the time. It started making contributions in April to its 401(k) plan.

The big winner, according to Bloomberg, is ConocoPhillips, a Houston oil and natural gas producer, largely due to a matching formula that contributes 9 percent of annual salaries for employees who save as little as 1 percent of their pay.

And these new rankings are designed to allow employees, for the first time, to see how their own 401(k) compares to others on such criteria as company match, investment options, and time to vest, according to the story:

For example, more than 40 percent of companies allow workers to vest immediately, enabling them to take company contributions with them if they leave. Retailers Home Depot Inc. and make employees wait three years, and software maker Oracle Corp., four.

It will be interesting to see how these rankings change over the coming years, as this research provides a great measuring stick to see just how well an employer stacks up when it comes to planning for workers’ retirement.

One Firm’s Bathroom Policy: Hold It

It seems the more versions of this story I read, the more ludicrous it becomes. A company in Chicago, WaterSaver Faucet, is facing a lawsuit filed with the National Labor Relations Board by the 455616613 -- toilet deskTeamsters Local 743 on behalf of its employees. Why? Because, according to the suit, they are only allowed to use the bathroom for six minutes a day. Anything more and they’ll face disciplinary measures.

Which is precisely what happened to 19 of the company’s 140 employees who were issued written or oral warnings for spending more than their allotted 30 minutes per week in the washroom, according to this story posted on the Opposing Views site.

The union says monitoring bathroom time is an invasion of privacy. As Nick Kreitman, the Teamsters’ WaterSaver representative, says in this CNN Money piece:

The company has spreadsheets on every union employee on how long they were in the bathroom. There have been meetings with workers and human resources where the workers had to explain what they were doing in the bathroom.”

Excuse me?? They really wanted that information?

That story goes into some detail about where this six-minute concept originated and why.

The company’s human resource department described ‘excessive use of the bathroom as … 60 minutes or more over the last 10 working days,’ according to the affidavit. Do the math and it works out to 6 minutes a day.

The controversy goes back to last winter when WaterSaver installed swipe-card systems on bathrooms located off the factory floor. The company said it had little choice because some employees were spending way too much time in there, and not enough time on the manufacturing line.

WaterSaver’s CEO, Steve Kersten, said 120 hours of production were lost in May because of bathroom visits outside of allotted break times.”

And then there’s this story in the New York Daily News detailing how WaterSaver even adopted a rewards system that allows workers to earn a gift card worth up to $20 each month if they don’t use the bathroom at all during their shift.

Kreitman’s quoted in that piece saying the company “offered $1 per day for anyone who doesn’t go to the bathroom at all.”

Uhm … excuse me?? Again??

Clearly, WaterSaver sees this as a real problem. Perhaps the picture above offers one way around that. But all joking aside, this appears to me to be a sad commentary on the level of trust — or lack thereof — that still exists at some companies today.

In addition to wondering how the company will respond to the union’s suit and the NLRB, I can’t help but wonder how its HR and benefits leaders plan to respond to questions from their insurance carrier about the inordinate number of doctor’s visits its covering for bladder and kidney ailments resulting from holding it all day long.


Branding, Schmanding

brandingHR hears a lot of talk about the importance of building a solid employer brand in order to lure top talent, and to make the company known as much for its cool, unique culture as the products and services it provides.

There’s no doubt that establishing and maintaining a reputation as a great place to work is extremely important. And, working for an organization with a fashionable employer brand may indeed be important to some job seekers. But not nearly as important as the work they do and the people they work with, apparently.

In a survey of more than 2,400 visitors to the site, job seekers were asked the question, “Aside from salary, benefits and location, which of the following would most likely attract you to a new job?”

The most common response, by a wide margin, was “the opportunity to work in an industry I’m passionate about,” at 61 percent, followed by “the opportunity to work with people I professionally admire,” at 17 percent. Thirteen percent cited “a lively and energetic office environment” as the biggest selling point for a potential new gig, with 6 percent and 3 percent saying the same about “the opportunity to work for an aspirational/cool brand” and “an innovative office design,” respectively.

“Job seekers are naturally most concerned about salary, benefits and convenience to their home,” said Mary Ellen Slayter, career advice expert at Monster, in a statement. “But once that’s settled, the intangibles come into play. People are craving ways to bring meaning to their work, and they want to work in an industry they feel passionate about. Employers can take an active role in supporting these positive feelings by helping people see the connection between the work they do and how it benefits others. No fancy office can replace that sense of satisfaction.”

From touting their freewheeling work environments to overhauling their “conventional” office spaces, some organizations are forever looking for new ways to present themselves as cool and progressive employers. And while there should always be room for innovation, it seems that coolness quotient still doesn’t quite trump passion for their work and respect for their peers in the eyes of most prospective employees.

Cynicism’s Impact on Business, Take Two

Here it is again. Another report on the harm cynicism can have on the workplace. This time, it’s from George Banks, a professor at Farmville, Va.-based Longwood University specializing in human resources and organizational behavior.

78459275 -- smug businessmanHis study, conducted in 2013 when he was a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and reported on by Longwood earlier this year (here’s the release about it and here is the study itself that can be downloaded for free), found the harm caused by cynical employees is greater than the good created by positive employees.

Banks and his co-authors — In-Sue Oh of Temple University, Dan Chiaburu and Laura Lomeli of Texas A&M, and Ann Chunyan Peng of Michigan State — analyzed 9,186 people from 34 organizations, examining how their individual differences, including attitudes, were related to organizational cynicism, as well as how organizational cynicism was related to job performance.

“We found that bad is stronger than good in terms of job performance and job satisfaction,” says Banks. “Cynical employees tend to be less motivated, grumpy with customers, maybe rude to their boss[es]. They’re bitter employees who don’t want to be there.”

He adds: “If I’m a cynical person, it will hurt my job performance, but if I’m a trusting person, it won’t help my job performance as much.”

So what does it mean and what can you do about it? Some say building a culture of corporate trust is one good approach.

In fact, my blog post from May 27 highlights Forbes Publisher Rich Karlgaard’s 10 strategic steps toward reconfiguring employee cynicism around a whole new form of corporate trust. As he puts it in that post:

Cynicism is the defense mechanism of people who feel unsafe and powerless. It’s an expression of the uncertainty that comes from working in an environment where ethics are lax, employees don’t feel valued and information is withheld. When it thrives in an organization, it signals a lack of employee trust — a problem that’s gotten significantly worse over the last generation.”



Same-Sex Harassment Claim at Yahoo

Things may not be so sunny in Sunnyvale, Calif. these days…

Late last Friday afternoon the news broke from Silicon Valley that a female tech executive at Yahoo is being sued for sexual harassment by a former female software engineer at the company, and the complainant lays some of the blame on the company’s HR department, according to a CNNMoney report:

The software engineer, Nan Shi, filed a complaint Friday, alleging sexual harassment, emotional distress and wrongful termination.

The executive is Maria Zhang, a senior director of engineering. Her previous company, Propeld, was acquired by Yahoo in 2013. She also held positions at Microsoft and Zillow in the past.

The complaint says that Shi had worked at Yahoo since February 2013, and that Zhang was her direct supervisor.

According to lawyers representing Shi, the two women had worked together at Propeld.

The complaint says that Zhang “coerced” Shi to have “oral and digital sex” with her on multiple occasions against her will.

The incidents took place at Shi’s temporary Yahoo housing unit in Sunnyvale, Calif., the complaint says.

Zhang promised a “bright future” at Yahoo, the complaint says, and also threatened that she could “take everything away from her.”

Shi’s lawyers told CNNMoney that the women never had an intimate relationship prior to the harassment.

A Yahoo spokesperson told CNNMoney in a statement on Friday that “there is absolutely no basis or truth” to the allegations against the executive. “Maria is an exemplary Yahoo executive and we intend to fight vigorously to clear her name,” the spokesperson said.

While Silicon Valley-based harassment claims may not be anyhing new, the fact that this suit involves two women may keep it in the headlines longer than a “typical” harassment suit might.

And it will be interesting to see just how exposed Yahoo’s HR protocols become during the course of this suit’s life. The complaint states that after Shi rejected Zhang’s advances, she received poor performance reviews and less important assignments, and when she reported the harassment to Yahoo’s human resources, the company allegedly did not perform a proper investigation and ultimately fired her.

HR Tech’s ‘Glorious Time’

In a just-posted contributed piece on the Forbes website, Gene Marks notes that industry experts have been tracking a recent rise in the popularity of HR tech software:

There has been a quiet explosion of cloud based HR applications during the past few years. And venture capital firms are literally throwing money at the companies that make them. For example:

  • Work4, a social and mobile recruiting service, raised $7 million from investors in April, bringing its total funds invested to $18 million.
  • A cloud-based service called Lever that assists human resource departments and outsourced hiring companies with their recruitment processes received its first venture funding in 2012 and now various investors from companies including Yahoo YHOO +1.1%!, Yelp YELP -0.34%, LinkedIn LNKD +0.34% and Pinterest have jumped into the fray.
  • In February, cloud-based payroll provider ZenPayroll raised a $20 million Series A round of financing from General Catalyst Partners and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, after previously raising a $6.1 million seed funding round from the chief executives of Yelp, Box, Dropbox, Yammer and others, as well as Google GOOGL +0.84% Ventures and Salesforce.
  • Zenefits, a start-up whose cloud-based software helps small businesses manage compliance and human resources-related tasks, has raised $84 million funding to date.  A recent deal, according to Lars Dalgaard a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, was unusually competitive.  “I’ve never seen a deal like this,” he said in an interview. “The top five firms all asked me personally whether they could get a chance to get in.”

But why the sudden popularity? It’s not just the number of jobs the economy has been adding over the past few months. According to Marks, it’s a triangulation of three trends that are particularly impacting this type of application: acceptance of the cloud; pent-up demand and more affordable answers.

The piece is a fascinating one and should be on all HR techies reading list, regardless of whether they are in the market for new HR tech solutions.

After all, as Marks quotes Dalgaard, “It’s a glorious time to be in HR.”

Larry Page Wants You to Work Less

Larry PageIt may seem a tad unrealistic to those of us who didn’t help start a billion-dollar behemoth of a company such as Google, but you have to like Larry Page’s concept of a world where we all spend less time at work. At least in theory.

In a recent interview with technology venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, Page and his Google co-founder Sergey Brin touched on subjects ranging anywhere from the San Francisco housing market to artificial intelligence.

During the interview, Page also offered up his vision of an ideal working world, in which employees work fewer hours, are more productive and “have more time with their family or to pursue their own interests.”

While theorizing that many of today’s employees are driven to work longer and harder mostly by a desire to feel valued and useful, fulfilling that need shouldn’t require a superhuman effort, he said.

“I think there’s a problem that we don’t recognize that,” said Page. “And I think there’s also kind of a social problem. A lot of people aren’t happy if they don’t have anything to do. So we need to give people things to do. [People] need to feel needed and wanted, and need to have something productive to do.

“If you really think about the things you need to make yourself happy—housing, security, opportunity for your kids—it’s not that hard for us to provide those things,” continued Page. “So the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet peoples’ needs is just not true. The amount of resources we need to do that, the amount of work that needs to go into that, is pretty small.”

Page suggested a few alternatives to free up more of employees’ time while maintaining a productive work environment, such as adopting four-day work weeks, or splitting full-time jobs between part-time workers.

“I was talking to [Virgin Group founder] Richard Branson about this,” he said. “They have a huge problem there. They don’t have enough jobs in the U.K. He’s been trying to get people to hire two part-time people instead of one full-time [employee], so at least the young people can have a half-time job rather than no job.”

Brin wasn’t so sure that idea would fly, however.

“I don’t think that, in the near term, the need for labor is going away,” said Brin. “It gets shifted from one place to another, but people always want more stuff, or more entertainment, or more creativity or more something.”

Brin has a point there. And there’s also the question of how the average employee would maintain his or her current standard of living on a part-time job that would presumably mean less money. Page didn’t shed any light on just how that might work. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be an HR professional given the task of clearing it up for a full-time employee who was just bumped back to part-time status.

A Few Surprises in Study on Hourly Workers

490136049 -- gavel and clockI met with some folks from St. Louis-based Equifax Workforce Solutions during the Society for Human Resource Management’s conference in Orlando (June 22 through 25) and they shared with me some stats they compiled recently reflecting the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act that even they admitted had some surprises in them.

Working toward Jan. 1, 2015, when the majority of the ACA’s employer mandate takes effect, the company had just released its Equifax Workforce Solutions June 2014 report, highlighting “key indicators of how the ACA will affect business[es] and what they can do to ensure compliance [thereby avoiding penalties] as the regulations continue to go into effect,” as Mike Psenka, senior vice president of Workforce Analytics for Equifax Workforce Solutions (formerly TALX), put it.

For the record, and some important reading, here is the press release and here is the infographic, based on Equifax data culled from 500 million consumers and 81 million businesses worldwide.

Surprisingly — and in keeping with employers making employee-schedule-and-status adjustments to prepare for the ACA’s mandate that all employees working an average of 30 hours or more per week be offered healthcare coverage — 66 percent of the current U.S. workforce is now hourly, accounting for more than 73.6 million active employees, and 59 percent of them are working more than 30 hours per week, according to the study. (Those numbers were higher than anticipated, the folks from Equifax told me.)

Remember, for these workers, employers must track hours for each employee over a 3-to-12-month measurement period to determine healthcare-coverage eligibility. The study found average workloads vary greatly by industry and can be a key indicator of workforce eligibility. “For example,” the report states, “hourly employees in the finance industry work an average of 37 hours per week while those in the restaurant industry work an average of 23 hours per week.”

Also somewhat surprising — to me as well — was the fact that 71 percent of hourly employees have been at their jobs longer than 12 months, which represents “a significant number of workers who may become eligible for coverage after their employer’s first measurement period,” the report says.

And don’t forget employers must also offer affordable coverage to all eligible employees, meaning the monthly premium cannot exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s income. Based on the average hourly pay rate by industry, as computed by Equifax, estimated maximum premiums can range from $108.80 per month (in the restaurant industry) to $251.20 per month (in the healthcare industry).

The goal here in releasing these stats, Psenka said, is not only to offer employers a few more tools for protection from potential penalties, “but also [to] ensure their valued employees receive appropriate — and affordable — coverage.”

Just bear in mind, as was underscored in an otherwise enjoyable, stress-free SHRM meeting, the clock is ticking and time to get this whole hourly, ACA-eligibility thing right is running out.

Woman Sues Ex-Employer Over Commute

Just when you think that every possible employment-based lawsuit that could be filed has been filed…

According to a piece in Cherry Hill, N.J.’s Courier-Post, a woman has filed suit against her former employer that refused to change her work schedule to avoid rush-hour traffic. The woman also contends in her suit the company fired her in May 2013 in retaliation for her efforts to address alleged workplace bias.

From the Courier Post:

In her lawsuit, [Andrea] DeGerolamo says she joined [Lancaster, Pa.-based] Fulton Financial as a marketing consultant in 2007 and took a medical leave in August 2012.

Around that time, DeGerolamo “began to feel great anxiety and depression, which was especially aggravated by crowded roadways experienced during the heavy traffic of rush hour,” the suit says.

“Her medical condition qualified her as being disabled,” it asserts.

When DeGerolamo returned from leave in November 2012, she requested a work shift “by which she could come in after morning rush hour and leave prior to evening rush hour.”

The lawsuit asserts that change, requested “at the mandate” of DeGerolamo’s doctor, would have been a reasonable accommodation for the woman’s disability.

According to the lawsuit, Fulton Financial changed DeGerolamo’s schedule for a short period, then made no effort to accommodate her. The suit also says DeGerolamo returned from leave to find her duties were downgraded improperly to “clerical-type work.”

DeGerolamo objected through her firm’s ethics review board in May 2013 but never heard back about the complaint; instead, she was terminated on May 17, the lawsuit says.

The story also notes the case has been moved from Superior Court (where it was originally filed) to federal court in Camden at Fulton Financial’s request, which should give the company better hope for a quick dismissal.

But, if allowed to proceed, the suit could eventually have far-reaching ramifications for employers everywhere, and that’s certainly not good for any HR leader’s anxiety levels.

Millennial Meltdown

stressed womanBy definition, employee burnout occurs when someone begins to feel emotionally and physically spent after doing a difficult and demanding job for a long time.

With that in mind, it seems to make sense that older employees—baby boomers bearing down on retirement age, Gen Xers now hitting their 40s and 50s—would be the most likely to feel worn down from work.

Doesn’t it?

Not necessarily, according to a recent survey, which actually finds millennial-age workers to be the most burned out of the bunch.

In a Monster poll of nearly 1,100 employed or unemployed job seekers, 81 percent of workers said they feel some sense of burnout in their jobs. Eighty-six percent of millennials report experiencing some level of burnout, compared to 76 percent of more experienced workers saying the same.

Of course, with some of their more seasoned colleagues moving into different positions or getting ready to settle into retirement, many Gen Y workers may find themselves bearing a larger load than ever before in their relatively young careers.

Looking through that lens, maybe it’s not so surprising that more members of Gen Y are feeling fried, according to Jeffrey Quinn, vice president of Monster’s global insights.

“It’s probable that millennials are expected to take on larger roles than their more experienced predecessors, and thus are feeling the pressure,” said Quinn, in a statement.

“That said, millennials are proving to be more open-minded than the more experienced workers when it comes to job locations and roles,” he said. “This flexibility will be advantageous to the millennial generation, allowing them to cast a wider net and find better success and satisfaction in their careers.”

HR and managers can play a part in helping Gen Y get a handle on their increased responsibilities, but should bear in mind that “millennials have a very different mindset from the older generations in the workforce,” says Jay Meschke, president of Leawood, Kan.-based CBIZ Human Capital Services.

“For example, millennials are eager to please, but they tend to require more feedback than other generations,” says Meschke. “Executives should communicate and provide [frequent] feedback that is timely and specific, and addresses performance issues, not intergenerational differences.

“It’s also important to create an emotional connection,” he adds, “through simple acts like highlighting internal promotions.”