Category Archives: HR profession

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For instance, Miller references a new unpublished study from Cornell University’s Mallika Thomas, who found that women in the United States are 5 percent more likely to remain employed, but 8 percent less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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Training Tutorial: ‘Please Steal Our Idea’

While many of us were off work and enjoying the Memorial Day holiday yesterday, the New York Times ran a piece on the ongoing efforts of Jon Stewart — the soon-to-be-departing host of The Daily Show — to get more veterans working in the entertainment industry.

According to the piece, Stewart and his show’s production team have been running a “five-week industry boot camp designed to bring young veterans into the television business,” regardless of whether they share Stewart’s political viewpoints.

The boot camp actually got its kick start (excuse the pun) in 2013, when American Corporate Partners, a mentoring nonprofit group, “asked Mr. Stewart to take a veteran under his wing and help find that person a job in television, which involved making a few calls,” according to the piece, but “Jon said he wanted to help, but wanted to do more than just drop his name,” said Sid Goodfriend, who runs the program.

Instead, the staff of “The Daily Show” developed an intense five-week immersion program to give veterans a crash course in their business, with behind-the-scenes looks at areas including talent booking and editing. And while they put the out word to veterans’ groups, they didn’t mention that the camp was at “The Daily Show” in an attempt to weed out fans and focus instead on veterans who really wanted to work in the industry.

Stewart and his show developed the program over the last three years without publicizing it, according to the NYT piece, but now, “because Mr. Stewart is preparing to leave the show, he has taken it into the open, urging other shows to develop their own programs to bring more veterans into the industry.”

“This is ready to franchise. Please steal our idea,” Mr. Stewart said in an interview at his Manhattan studio recently. “It isn’t charity. To be good in this business you have to bring in different voices from different places, and we have this wealth of experience that just wasn’t being tapped.”

While the entertainment industry may be much different than other industries we often cover, it’s always encouraging to see efforts being made to get more veterans not only back into the workforce, but into positions they are actually interested in as well.

The only question now is: Is your organization brave enough to steal Stewart’s idea and make it your own?

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Employees Treated Pretty Well on Memorial Day

148293872 -- memorial dayHappy Memorial Day everyone! No doubt most of you are not sitting at computers right now, but prepping for some enjoyable barbecued fare and time outside. Regardless, just in case you “stopped by” for a spell, thought you might also be interested in some recent findings on how the American workforce is experiencing the holiday.

According to this recent Bloomberg BNA nationwide survey with accompanying infographic, 97 percent of American employers are providing a paid day off today. (That’s heartening. I honestly thought that number would be lower.)

At the same time, more than two in five employers (43 percent) will require some employees to work on the holiday, and 85 percent of those working today will receive some type of additional compensation.

The most impressive breakdown are the differences among organizations by size and type. According to the survey, 80 percent of large organizations — those with 1,000 employees or more — are requiring at least some employees to work today, compared to only 31 percent of smaller organizations.

Also, interestingly, 59 percent of non-business organizations (hospitals, government agencies and municipalities) are requiring at least some of their people to be on staff, compared to only 35 percent of manufacturers and non-manufacturers.

The lion’s share of workers out there today, the survey finds, are in technical, public safety and security roles, which, along with hospitals, “have always been among the employer groups requiring workers to report on holidays,” says Matt Sottong, Bloomberg BNA‘s managing editor for surveys and research reports.

“A sign of the times,” he says, “is the increase in the number of technical workers, men and women, who keep our servers running and data flowing.” This year, 17 percent of tech workers are on duty today, “a greater percentage than even security and public safety,”  Sottong adds.

Holidays such as Memorial Day “pose a particularly nettlesome problem for employers because of the built-in expectation that the day will be provided as a paid day off,” he says. “When workers are told they need to report, managers should come prepared to offer whatever they can to offset the disappointment.”

Fortunately, most appear to be doing that. According to the survey, only 11 percent of employers are requiring some workers to be on duty at regular pay only.

Still, that is 11 percent. One point over 10. Not the most encouraging research, especially when you consider that only 5 percent of employers are sponsoring any kind of holiday-related events or activities this year.

Hope you’re not one of the Memorial Day scrooges. Then again, you are sitting here reading this when you could be outside tossing Frisbees and flipping burgers.

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The Biggest Lie Employers Tell Employees

That’s quite the headline, no?

But it’s also one of the most interesting nuggets to be unearthed in LinkedIn Co-founder and Executive Chairman Reid Hoffman’s book, The Alliance, according to Erza Klein’s post on Vox Technology this morning. (Before you read on, it should be noted that Hoffman co-authored the book with Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh.)

So just what is that untruth companies tell employees? Klein quotes Hoffman directly from the book:

“The biggest lie is that the employment relationship is like family,” Hoffman says.

Klein’s piece (which is well worth a read on its own) then goes on to quote Hoffman’s description of the two versions of the lie employers tell:

“One is where the employer is actually deluding themselves.” Employers may want to believe their workplace really is like a family, and, in that moment, they may convince themselves it actually is like a family.

The other version of the lie comes because the employer wants the employee to believe it. “They really want the employee to be loyal to the company,” Hoffman writes. “That’s when it gets deceptive.”

Indeed, the misplaced concept of family is central to the book, according to an interview the author Daniel Pink held on Amazon with the Hoffman and the co-authors Casnocha and Yeh.

When prompted by Pink to talk about the “notion” that successful companies are “families,” the authors responded:

Some CEOs like to refer to their companies as families. The concept of family is a powerful one, and describes how the best companies treat their people: with compassion and respect.

Yet we believe that using family language is a big mistake. The problem is that families are permanent–you can’t fire your kids, no matter how many times they may forget to take out the trash.

Companies are not permanent. The instant you lay off an underperforming employee, or someone leaves to pursue a better opportunity, the illusion of family is shattered. The only way to maintain the fiction is for people to lie to themselves and each other. This underlying dishonesty is corrosive, and prevents the kind of trust that is necessary for a close, high-performance relationship.

Both sides need to be honest with each other about the fact that the employment might not be permanent.

The authors definitely have an interesting take on the fallacy of the “company=family” dynamic.

It’s one that may be even worth pondering as you spend some real “family” time during the Memorial Day holiday weekend. (Just be prepared for an encounter with a family member you may wish to “fire.”)

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Still in Search of Skilled Workers

searching for talentAnd the talent shortage continues.

That’s the simple message found in survey results released by Manpower Group this week.

In its 10th annual Talent Shortage Survey, the Milwaukee-based Manpower surveyed 41,748 employers in 42 countries and territories, “to explore the extent of talent shortages within the global labor market, which job categories are particularly hard to fill and why, the impact of talent shortages on businesses, and how employers are responding to the challenges raised by the lack of available talent in specific job categories,” according to a press release announcing the survey findings.

Globally, the percentage of employers reporting trouble in filling job vacancies continued to rise, climbing from 36 percent last year to 38 percent in 2015. The shortage is most severe for organizations in Japan, where 83 percent of hiring managers said they encounter difficulty in finding the necessary talent, while 68 percent of employers in Peru and 65 percent of respondents in Hong Kong said the same.

The prognosis here in the States, however, seems somewhat better, with 32 percent of U.S. employers saying they struggle to fill positions due to talent shortages, compared to 40 percent who reported as much in 2014.

That’s not to say that closing the talent gap isn’t still a concern here at home, of course.

Indeed, 43 percent of respondents said talent shortages are taking a toll on their organizations’ ability to meet client needs, with 32 percent saying they’ve experienced increased employee turnover, and the same percentage reporting higher compensation costs and lower employee engagement. Forty-eight percent of the U.S. employers surveyed acknowledged that talent shortages have a “medium to high impact” on business in a broader sense.

More interesting, though, is the percentage of employers seemingly taking no action to blunt that impact. That number remains relatively small, but is going up.

According to the Manpower survey, 20 percent of U.S. employers are still not pursuing strategies to overcome talent shortages in 2015—a 7 percent increase from 2014.

What remains consistent this year is the trouble American companies face in filling skilled trade vacancies. For the sixth consecutive year, “skilled trade workers” topped the list of U.S. jobs most in demand, with drivers, teachers, sales representatives and administrative professionals rounding out the top five.

“Talent shortages are real and are not going away,” said Kip Wright, senior vice president of Manpower North America, in the aforementioned press release. “Despite impacts to competitiveness and productivity, our research shows fewer employers are trying to solve the problem through better talent strategies.”

These companies fail to address the issue at their own risk, added Wright.

“As the struggle to find the right talent continues, and candidates with in-demand skills get the upper hand, employers will be under pressure to position themselves as ‘talent destinations’ to attract the best workers that will drive their business forward.”

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Are Job Seekers Saying No to Entrepreneurship?

Despite all you’ve heard about the rise of the entrepreneur and the growing number of young job seekers striking out on their own 451846939 -- younger workersrather than adhere to today’s workplace status quo, Challenger Gray & Christmas says not so fast.

The Chicago-based outplacement and career consultancy posted on its site recently a somewhat surprising report indicating job seekers today are actually risk-averse and are shunning entrepreneurship, even in this much-improved economy.

“Now that the economy is finally hitting its stride, one might expect a surge in start-ups,” says John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of the company. “While the percentage of unemployed managers and executives starting businesses has, in fact, increased, the survey results suggest that the severity of the recession [albeit over] had an adverse impact on would-be entrepreneurs, who appear to be far more sensitive to risk.”

Given the bulk of job seekers and newly-hired workers are younger — and given the results of a recent EY survey that Senior Editor Andrew McIlvaine posted about on May 7, finding millennials are getting fed up with the lack of flexibility in the current workforce — you’d think more of them would be setting out on their own.

Granted, the gradations in the Challenger report are fairly small, and it does indicate the numbers of entrepreneurs have, in fact, gone up since 2011:

“On average, just 5.1 percent of unemployed managers and executives started their own business in 2014, according to [the] quarterly survey of job seekers who found a position, pursued self-employment or retired.

“The 2014 start-up rate was down slightly from 2013, when it averaged 5.5 percent per quarter. However, both 2013 and 2014 rates were significantly better than the two previous years, when start-up activity averaged 4.2 percent in 2012 and 3.2 percent in 2011.”

But numbers are numbers, and 5.1 percent of unemployed Americans starting a business, in this economy, is surprising.

Especially considering all we’ve heard about the new age of self-employed self-starters … like this fairly recent account on the CNBC website. From the writer’s vantage point, there’s a whole lot of movement away from traditional employer-employee relationships. As the piece puts it:

“Watching the enormous success of companies like Facebook and Google — started by founders who were barely out of college — has dramatically altered the under-25’s sense of when it’s ‘right’ or ‘appropriate’ to pursue a good idea.”

It includes examples of some recent start-ups, some outside the United States, but not the numbers Challenger Gray & Christmas gives us.

Perhaps, as this HRE cover story from a year ago, “Leap of Faith,” suggests, maybe we’re not seeing as many entrepreneurs taking their dreams on the road because more employers are recognizing the power of innovation within their workforces and workplaces.

And maybe, for those millennials who want more flexibility but are staying put anyway, “intrapreneurship” is trumping work/life … at least for now.

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Watching Unconscious Bias at Work

watching workThere’s a theory that says men who assert themselves on the job gain respect for their take-charge attitudes, while women who do the same gain a reputation for being surly, difficult … or worse.

There’s also data supporting the existence of this phenomenon in the workplace, commonly referred to as unconscious bias.

A team of researchers expected to find more evidence of this type of bias in a recent study, working on the hypothesis that male employees who speak up regularly with suggestions or solutions would be viewed more positively by their managers than women who frequently offer input.

In evaluating 693 employees from 89 different credit union units, the study authors certainly found unconscious bias at work, in more ways than one.

For example, they determined that supervisors were “more likely to credit those reporting the same amount of voice if the employees have higher ascribed or assigned (by the organization) status-cued by demographic variables such as majority ethnicity and full-time work hours,” according to the study, recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The authors also found that, when certain groups of lower-status employees speak up more, “they cannot compensate for the negative effect of their demographic membership on voice recognition by their boss.”

This is all a very academic way of saying that input from full-time, non-minority employees with higher ranks and longer tenures seemed to carry more weight with supervisors in this particular study.

Gender was a factor as well, just not in the way the researchers anticipated.

In fact, the authors found that female employees’ contributions were valued as much as those of their male counterparts, if not more so.

They were careful to point out, however, that demographics may be at least partly responsible for this result. In a recent Washington Post article, the researchers note that women made up 80 percent of the employee base and more than 70 percent of the managerial ranks at the credit unions they evaluated.

“It was very dominantly female,” Taeya Howell, research scholar at New York University and study co-author, told the paper.

“It was just what we were able to get access to,” added Howell. “In a perfect world, we would hope gender would have no effect, but women were heard more than men [in this case], and it was because they were in the majority.”

But, putting the aforementioned percentages aside, this research seems to offer evidence that a greater number of women in leadership positions could help eliminate the idea that assertiveness and outspokenness are only positive traits when found in male employees.

“What this finding sort of says is, look, when you’re in an environment where the people above you are more like you, suddenly all those problems disappear,” James Detert, co-author of the study and a professor at Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, told the Post.

“It’s not causal proof,” continued Detert. “But isn’t that suggestive that, in fact, all this focus on how women are behaving is nonsense? When you put them in a situation where they’re in the majority, suddenly the focus on their behavior—Is it too meek? Is it inappropriate, too assertive?—seems unnecessary.”

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HR, Big Brother and the Nanny State

There’s an interesting new thought piece by author and data expert Bernard Marr on Forbes‘ site today that explores the elusive intersection of HR, worker behavior and the new ways employers can — and likely will — use the health information they collect via wearable technology (such as FitBit or the AppleWatch) in the future.

While the term nanny state has been used ad nauseum in countless other situations, Marr uses the term to open a conversation on the purpose of all this data collection that companies around the world appear to be doing these days.

He cites companies including Bank of America and European grocer Tesco as organizations that are already using such technology to improve bottom-line results:

In Ireland, grocery chain Tesco has its warehouse employees wear armbands that track the goods they take from the shelves, distributes tasks, and even forecasts completion time for a job. In other sectors, including healthcare and the military, wearables can detect fatigue that could be dangerous to the employee and the job they perform.

But, Marr wonders, should companies use treat workers the same way they treat office appliances?

Is it even ethical to treat us like copiers and routers? One vendor, Cornerstone onDemand, believes it can help companies predict and improve employee performance. Its analytics software is able to take over half a billion employee data points from across the world to identify patterns and make predictions about hiring decisions and employee performance.

This kind of analysis, he says, can be used to identify the most successful recruitment channels or key employees that might be at risk of leaving. But, he adds:

[M]y fear is that many companies will spend too much time crunching all the things they can so easily collect data on, including how much time we sat on our office chair or how many people we have interacted with, rather than the more meaningful qualitative measures of what we did when we sat on the chair and the quality of our interactions with others.

It’s certainly an interesting debate point, and one that HR leaders will have to confront (if they haven’t already), as the coming years will only bring more and more data to aggregate, analyze and decide whether to act upon — or not.

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Intel’s Putting Its Money Where Its Mouth Is

dv1080001Intel Corp.’s Diversity in Technology Initiative that Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced in January — and Senior Editor Andrew R. McIlvaine blogged about at the time — appears to be chugging along quite nicely.

In a speech delivered Wednesday at the Rainbow PUSH Silicon Valley Tech 2020 Summit, Krzanich announced some impressive progress, confirming he was dead serious four months ago when he presented plans to make Intel more representative of the U.S. population by 2020, with some $300 million dedicated to the effort.

For one, he told summit-goers, 41 percent of hires at Intel this year have been diverse, versus 32 percent last year. For another, 17 percent of senior hires in the first quarter of 2015 are underrepresented minorities and 33 percent are women, up from 6 percent and 19 percent in 2014, respectively.

He also announced that Intel has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Oakland Unified School District to commit $5 million over the next five years to implement a comprehensive, “education-transformation solution” that will create a computer-science and engineering pathway for more than 2,400 students, with a graduating cohort of 600 students over the next five years.

“We knew we wanted to do something in K-12 education that targeted underrepresented minorities and we thought we should start in our own backyard,” Krzanich says in this USA Today piece about that initiative.

Lastly, he said Wednesday, his company has committed to spending $1 billion with diverse-owned businesses by the year 2020.

In her May 6 blog post about Krzanich’s update, Rosalind L. Hudnell, Intel’s vice president of human resources and director of diversity and inclusion, addressed some of the underlying philosophies behind this push:

“Improving the diversity of our workforce and the pipeline of students going into this field is not just the right thing to do.  It’s the critical thing to do.  The people who purchase and use technology come from all walks of life.

“Without employees with diverse backgrounds, opinions and problem-solving skills, Intel can’t properly address the needs of a diverse market. Diverse teams and companies lead to greater creativity, strategic thinking and innovation. Greater diversity also results in better products and smarter business decisions. So how do we get there? This is the hard part, because diversity is a complex issue.”

In many stories we’ve written over the years about meaningful workforce initiatives, diversity included, a repeating theme has been the need for top-down buy-in and commitment to occur if any of them are to succeed and if promised goals are to be met.

Nice to see that working so well in the Intel corner of Silicon Valley.

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Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

feet upIt’s a scene that’s been played out in countless movies and television shows, and, for better or worse, in real corporate offices everywhere.

A determined go-getter logs punishing hours—days, nights, weekends—on a tireless quest to earn that big promotion, missing wedding anniversaries, kids’ soccer games and other important personal stuff along the way.

In the movies, the ultra-ambitious workaholic eventually has some kind of epiphany, learns to slow down, stops doggedly pursuing the corner office, and starts spending more time actually living life.

In the real world, however, there’s a nagging perception that the “all work, all the time” approach is still the surest way to the top.

Some interesting new research, however, suggests that simply giving the appearance of a slavish dedication to your work may be enough to get there—especially if you’re a man.

That’s what Boston University’s Erin Reid found in a study of one global consulting firm’s American offices, the findings of which were recently published in Organization Science.

Reid, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at BU’s Questrom School of Business, interviewed more than 100 employees at said consultancy. She also had access to performance reviews as well as internal HR documents within the firm, which has “a strong culture around long hours and responding to clients promptly,” according to a New York Times piece highlighting some of Reid’s findings.

Her research found that those who embraced this culture tended to be top performers, while those who resisted it—insisting upon more flexible work schedules or less travel, for instance—were “punished in their performance reviews,” according to the Times.

Overall, Reid found that both men and women were likely to have trouble with “always on” expectations within the firm. It was how men coped with these demands “that differed strikingly,” Reid wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review summary of her findings.

For instance, women who struggled with work hours tended to take formal accommodations, reducing their work hours but also “revealing their inability to be true ideal workers,” wrote Reid, noting that these female employees “were consequently marginalized within the firm.”

Men, meanwhile, often found unobtrusive, discreet ways to alter the structure of their work—such as seeking mostly local clients or building alliances with other colleagues, for example—that allowed them to work more predictable schedules in the range of 50-to-60 hours per week.

“In doing so,” wrote Reid, “they were able to work far less than those who fully devoted themselves to work, and had greater control over when and where those hours were worked, yet were able to ‘pass’ as ideal workers, evading penalties for their noncompliance.”

Take Lloyd (not his real name), a senior manager at the firm. Lloyd was “deeply skeptical about the necessity of being an ideal worker, and was unwilling to fully comply” with steep expectations, according to Reid.

“He described to me how, by using local clients, telecommuting and controlling information about his whereabouts, he found ways to work and travel less without being found out,” wrote Reid, noting that “Lloyd” even went skiing during the day five times in the week prior to their interview.

“He clarified,” added Reid, “that these were work days, not vacation days.”

Reid is careful to point out that the lessons learned from this unidentified firm can’t necessarily be applied to other organizations. And she acknowledges that men experience difficulties meeting job demands just like women do, noting that men also “face resistance and penalties” for expressing reservations about working more hours, being available on nights and weekends and so on.

What seems to vary, she says, “is that many men are able to stray while passing as fully devoted.”

Reid’s findings underscore yet another example of the disparities that still exist between how men and women are viewed in the workplace. But the notion of “passing” also highlights the flaws in how and why some organizations reward employees, she concludes.

“Passing is not a good strategy for the organization as a whole,” according to Reid. “Not only does it involve an element of deception between colleagues, bosses and subordinates, it also perpetuates the myth that those who are successful are also all wholly devoted to work.”

 

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