Category Archives: HR profession

More Work/Life Woes?

In late June, we used this space to highlight study results implying that maybe, just maybe, employees are gaining real ground in the battle for work/life balance.

Now, not quite two months later comes research that suggests the battle might still be far from over.

The RAND Corp., Harvard Medical School and UCLA recently conducted the American Working Conditions Survey, which polled 3,066 U.S. adults. Among these respondents, roughly 25 percent say they have too little time to do their jobs, with this complaint being most common among white-collar workers.

Given this finding, it’s not surprising that many employees feel that the “intensity of work frequently spills over into their personal lives,” according to RAND. Just over 50 percent of those surveyed report feeling this way, saying that they perform at least “some work” in their free time in order to meet workplace demands.

RAND notes that many workers say they must sometimes adjust their personal lives to take care of job-related responsibilities. The opposite doesn’t seem to be true, though, with 31 percent of employees finding it “somewhat” or “very” difficult to adjust their work schedules to accommodate their personal lives.

Generally, women were more likely than men to report difficulty arranging for time off during work hours to address personal or family matters, according to RAND. Younger workers feel the strain as well, with more than one-quarter reporting a poor fit between their work hours and their social and family commitments.

Not exactly encouraging figures on the work/life balance front. But the news from this research isn’t all bad. Many employees can at least count on having some kind of support system on the job, with 61 percent of women and 53 percent of men saying that they have “very good friends at work.”

Participants were also asked whether they felt their immediate supervisor trusted them, respected them, offered praise and recognition, gets people to work together, is helpful, provides useful feedback, and encourages and supports professional development. Ninety-five percent of respondents agreed with at least one of those seven statements, with 58 percent agreeing with all seven.

All in all, “the many striking and complex findings regarding American working conditions will give social scientists, policymakers, employers and workers themselves much to consider,” the authors write, noting that they “hope … these data will contribute to a constructive debate on how to improve working conditions … .”

Indeed, the numbers to emerge from this study “suggest that there is ample scope for modifying work environments,” they conclude, “to keep workers healthier, happier and more productive.”

Want Happy Workers?

A new report by Adecco USA uncovers how employers are experimenting with ways to attract and keep skilled workers happy, with the C-suite considering pay the most important factor.

According to the report, Best in Class Workforce Management Insights,  77 percent of 500 U.S. executives surveyed for the report consider pay to be the top concern when it comes to attracting and retaining workers.

“In this candidate-driven market, the burden is on employers to offer compelling reasons for candidates to join and remain with their organizations. Right now, part of the conversation is centering around wages,” said Joyce Russell, president, Adecco USA.

“While fair pay is a key driver in securing today’s workforce, employers must also make predictions and be nimble in adopting new solutions as the meaning of ‘Best-in-Class’ continues to evolve,” Russell added.

Among the other findings in the report:

  • 77 percent of executives believe pay is the most important factor to employees.
  • More than half of respondents offer health insurance and 401(k) packages to salaried employees, and 40 percent say they now also offer “softer” benefits, like flexible schedules.
  • 47 percent of employers do not prioritize hard or soft skills over the other when vetting a job candidate, and they weigh a candidate’s happiness as early as the interviewing phase.
  • Less than half of employers are offering education courses to their employees, but 61 percent believe mentorships are of importance in determining employee happiness.

You can download the full report here.

Survey: 3-percent Raises in 2018

The economy is generally strong and low unemployment rates mean some organizations are scrambling for workers. But most companies are not planning to spend more on pay increases in 2018, according to a new survey.

Employers are prepared to open their checkbooks a bit wider to reward top performers, according to the global consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, which surveyed 819 U.S. companies in a range of industries from April through July.

Of companies surveyed, 99 percent expect to grant raises next year, according to a summary by Willis Towers Watson. The average 2018 raise forecast for most employees, including both professional and nonexempt workers, was 3 percent — the same as the average raise given in the last three years. The average expected raise for executives is about the same — 3.1 percent.

“Most companies are not under any significant pressure to increase their salary budgets in the near term,” said Laura Sejen, Willis Towers Watson’s managing director for human capital and benefits, according to a company announcement.

Employers continue to offer performance bonuses to their most valuable players, the survey found. Among companies surveyed, top performers received raises of up to 4.5 percent. Willis Towers Watson found some companies surveyed base their bonuses not only on performance, but on professional development.

“While organizations may be forecasting 3% increases, the landscape of how and when they are giving increases varies considerably,” said Sandra McLellan, North America rewards practice leader at Willis Towers Watson, according to the company announcement.

 

A Bill to Limit Microchipping

Just when you thought it was safe to go to work…

Pennsylvania State Rep. Tina Davis (D., Bucks) recently introduced a bill that would prohibit private employers and government entities in Pennsylvania from requiring employees to have microchips implanted in their bodies as a condition of their employment, according to this piece on Philly.com.

Davis floated her bill in response to news stories of a Wisconsin vending machine company asking its employees to voluntarily have an encrypted microchip inserted in their hands to log in to computers, use copiers, open office doors, and operate snack machines while at work. (We wrote about the topic here and here.)

According to Philly.com, Davis’ proposed Employee Subdermal-Microchip Protection Act would allow surgically implanted microchips only if workers made their own decision. It would require the state Department of Labor and Industry to investigate workers’ claims that they were victims of retaliation for refusing to get a chip. It also would impose fines for companies that violate the would-be law.

“My legislation will require that any employer that offers a microchip, or any kind of subdermal device to be implanted for use during the employee’s work, must make it a voluntary decision,” Davis wrote in a July 28 memo to the House of Representatives.

“An employee’s body is their own and they should have the final say as to what will be added to it. My bill will protect employees from being punished or retaliated against for choosing not to have the subdermal microchip or other technological device implanted. As technology advances, we need to make sure we provide employee protections that keep up with these advances and do not allow employers to have control over their employees’ bodies.”

Diversity Memo Causes a Stir

The tech world is chattering today about a widely circulated internal memo from a male software engineer unhappy with Google’s diversity practices.

Posted in full over the weekend by tech-oriented websites Motherboard and Gizmodo, the memo argues that innate biological differences between men and women account for underrepresentation of women in the upper reaches of the industry.

“I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ, in part due to biological causes, and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership,” the memo reads.

The engineer also argues that Google’s diversity practices amount to a politically liberal orthodoxy “that can irreparably harm Google.”

In response to the memo, which drew a harsh response from some Googlers on Twitter, the company’s vice president of diversity, integrity and governance offered a memo of her own. Danielle Brown had been on the job just a few weeks when the controversy erupted.

“Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate,” she writes. “We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul.”

Addressing the complaint about what the engineer perceived to be a pervasive liberal ideology at Google, Brown writes: “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”

(By Tuesday, word emerged that Google had fired the engineer for violating its code of conduct.)

Candidates Want the Personal Touch

Does your candidate experience resemble this?

A new study from Randstad US bolsters this point, with 82 percent of survey respondents agreeing that they are often frustrated with “an overly automated job search experience.” Ninety five percent of the 1,200 respondents to the survey agree tech should supplement, not replace, the recruitment experience and 87 percent agree that it’s made the search process more impersonal.

The top two aspects cited by respondents as contributing the most to a positive impression of an employer (aside from an actual job offer) were “the degree of personal, human interaction during the process” and “the recruiter/hiring manager I worked with.” Factors contributing to a negative impression of an employer included the length of the hiring process and “the communication level throughout the selection process.” One-third of the respondents who said they’d had a negative experience reported that they’d never apply to the organization again and would not refer a friend or family member there.

We’ve certainly touched before on how lengthy hiring processes and lack of communication can alienate candidates and undermine employers in their search for talented candidates. But now more than ever, jobseekers want a candidate experience that’s similar to or even surpasses the one that consumer-focused companies provide to their customers.

As Randstad North America CEO Linda Galipeau says, “Employers today, and in the future, will be judged by the experience they create for prospective hires. In a technology-driven world of talent, it’s not only about how a company markets itself, but what others say about the company that has a positive impact on employer branding.”

Speaking Up in the C-Suite

A recent series of experiments, which we wrote about here at HRE, sought to get a sense of employees’ feelings about corporate leaders who base business decisions on their moral beliefs.

In that study, researchers found that workers saw executives who staked out positions on moral grounds and later changed their minds as being hypocritical, and “less effective and worthy of their support than leaders whose initial stance was pragmatic.”

So, CEOs take a chance when they choose to travel the moral high road, especially if they flip-flop on an issue in the future.

A newer survey, however, finds that, yes, there are hazards that come along with speaking out on controversial subjects. But there are also reasons to remind your CEO that saying something might be better than staying quiet, at least in the eyes of some (mostly younger) employees.

In partnership with KRC Research, New York-based public relations firm Weber Shandwick polled 1,021 U.S. adults, gauging respondents’ attitudes toward “the trend of chief executive officers speaking out on hot-button societal topics,” according to a Weber Shandwick statement.

They ultimately found that one generation of employees in particular—millennials—feel that CEOs actually have a responsibility to make their voices heard on matters that are important to society. Nearly half of millennials polled (47 percent) said they feel this way, while just 28 percent of Generation Xers and baby boomers agree. And, given the current cultural climate, it’s not exactly surprising that a larger portion of Generation Y (56 percent) feels that CEOs and other business leaders have a greater duty to take a stand on societal concerns now than they did in the past.

In addition, the report sees 51 percent of millennials saying they would be more apt to buy from a company whose chief executive spoke out on an issue they agreed with; an 11 percent increase from a 2016 Weber Shandwick survey. From an employee perspective, 44 percent of full-time Gen Y workers said they would be more loyal to their organization if the CEO took a public position on a “hotly debated current issue,” in comparison to the 16 percent of Gen Xers and 18 percent of boomers saying the same.

What exactly is the cost of a CEO’s silence? Overall, 47 percent of respondents said that some form of criticism—from the media, customers, employees or the government—would be the biggest downside to a CEO’s decision to sit out a social debate. Another 20 percent suggest that the organization could be hurt financially, while 14 percent reckon that potential job candidates would instead shy away from applying with the company. Twelve percent foresee current employees quitting.

The risk of incurring such damage apparently depends on the issue at hand. When asked which topics—all of which relate to the workplace in some way—that CEOs and other business leaders should express an opinion on, job and skills training was the most common response among all respondents, closely followed by equal pay in the workplace, healthcare coverage, maternity and paternity leave, and gender equality.

That said, there seem to be instances when executives should think carefully before entering the fray. Less than 35 percent of all respondents said business leaders should weigh in on immigration, for example, with roughly 25 percent saying the same about LGBT rights, gun control and refugees, respectively.

As a PR firm, Weber Shandwick is happy to offer tips on how to approach activism in the C-suite, of course. And this report does just that. But, however they decide to broach thorny subjects like those mentioned above, CEOs and other executives should be aware that the call for them to take at least an occasional social stand is only going to get louder.

“CEOs are expected to make a strong business case for any environmental or social issues they speak up about or which they commit time and resources to,” says Paul Massey, global lead of social impact at Weber Shandwick, in a statement. “This research tells us that millennials, more so than older generations, will also be vigilant when it comes to CEOs being held accountable for defending corporate values and conduct.”

 

A Warning to Employers

The Third Circuit’s recent decision that a single use of a racial slur, rather than pervasive conduct, can sustain a workplace harassment claim sends a clear warning to employers to preempt potential liability by providing training to prevent even single-serve incidents from happening in the first place, according to a recent post on Law360.

The Third Circuit’s ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by Atron Castleberry and John Brown against staffing agency STI Group over their experiences after being assigned to work as general laborers for Chesapeake Energy Corp. The new ruling clarified that the standard to be met for asserting a valid harassment claim was whether the treatment they faced, which included a supervisor’s use of the N-word, was either severe or pervasive.

The court clarified the standard after a trial court had thrown out the case after concluding the workers had to show their treatment had been pervasive and regular.

“I think what a case like this, at least from my perspective, really sets forth for employers is the importance of training on harassment prevention in the workplace and making sure your employees — certainly managers, but ideally everyone — know that even a single comment may now be enough to create liability for the organization,” said Duane Morris LLP partner Michael Cohen.

For more details on the case and the ruling, click here (subscription required).

H-1B Visa Limits Ease — Just a Bit

Hold on, employers! The immigration roller coaster just took another turn. And it may — or, more likely, will not — help you.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced last week that on July 24 it resumed expedited processing of H-1-B visas – but only in certain cases.

The so-called premium service is effectively a fast lane that, for a $1,225 fee, speeds the hiring of foreign skilled workers in certain “specialty occupations” such as software engineer. The service ended in March, soon before President Trump issued his “Buy American, Hire American” executive order. The Trump administration signaled at the time that it would be scrutinizing H-1-B applications more carefully prevent fraud. The apparent targets include offshore staffing services that have been accused of scooping up technical workers in India, China and elsewhere, then placing them in American jobs using visas obtained in bulk.

The new policy applies only to employers not subject to a cap on H-1B visas — that is, universities or related nonprofits, such as institutes and medical centers. Government research organizations also qualify.

The immigration agency said that in June it already had resumed premium processing for physicians. Hospitals, particularly those in rural areas that struggle to find highly experienced doctors without recruiting abroad, had complained about the limit on expedited visa processing.

Comment Period Begins for OT Rule

The Department of Labor is expected to publish today in the Federal Register its anticipated Request for Information on its overtime rule.

As you may recall, the rule was blocked last November by a Texas federal judge before it would have expanded overtime protections to over 4 million workers, by more than doubling the annual salary level at which workers must be compensated for overtime pay, from $23,660 to $47,476. There will be a 60-day public comment period following tomorrow’s Request for Information.

Seyfarth Shaw attorney Alexander Passantino, former acting administrator of the Labor Department’s wage and hour division, and current partner in the D.C. office of the firm, writes in a blog post that the issues the DOL seeks comment on include whether the 2004 salary test should be updated based on inflation, and if so, which measure of inflation; whether duties test changes would be necessary if the increase was based on inflation; and other questions.

The issues on which the Department seeks comment, according to Passantino’s post, are:

  • Should the 2004 salary test be updated based on inflation? If so, which measure of inflation?
  • Would duties test changes be necessary if the increase was based on inflation?
  • Should there be multiple salary levels in the regulations? Would differences in salary level based on employer size or locality be useful and/or viable?
  • Should the Department return to its pre-2004 standard of having different salary levels based on whether the exemption asserted was the executive/administrative vs. the professional?
  • Is the appropriate salary level based on the pre-2004 short test, the pre-2004 long test, or something different? Regardless of answer, would changes to the duties test be necessary to properly “line up” the exemption with the salary level?
  • Was the salary level set in 2016 so high as to effectively supplant the duties test? At what level does that happen?
  • What was the impact of the 2016 rule? Did employers make changes in anticipation of the rule? Were there salary increases, hourly rate changes, reductions in schedule, changes in policy?  Did the injunction change that? Did employers revert back when the injunction was issued?
  • Would a duties-only test be preferable to the current model?
  • Were there specific industries/positions impacted? Which ones?
  • What about the 2016 provision that would permit up to 10% of the salary level to be satisfied with bonuses? Should the Department keep that? Is 10% the right amount?
  • Should the highly compensated employee exemption salary level be indexed/how? Should it differ based on locality/employer size?
  • Should the salary levels be automatically updated? If so, how?

“Of course, the value of these responses ultimately is dependent on the Fifth Circuit’s decision on whether the salary test is permissible to begin with,” Passantino writes. “Should the Fifth Circuit rule in the Department’s favor on that issue, the RFI responses will provide the Department with the information it needs to proceed on a new rulemaking adjusting the salary level . . .  assuming the employer community responds.”