Category Archives: HR profession

Employee Handbooks Under Scrutiny

OK, pop quiz: What’s the difference between these two employee-handbook policies?

  1. “Be respectful to the company, other employees, customers, partners, and competitors.”
  2. “Each employee is expected to work in a cooperative manner with management/supervision, co-workers, customers and vendors.”

One, according to the National Labor Relations Board, is legal. The other is not. (I’ll tell you which was which in a minute.)

Don’t fret if you have trouble seeing the difference. That’s why we have lawyers. And that’s why there’s plenty of work for them as the NLRB cracks down on employee-handbook language — including provisions that once were standard — that it says is too broad.

In a series of rulings the agency has told companies to revise policies that infringe on rights of workers — unionized or not — to talk to each other about the company in person or through social media.

“Employers are really waking up to this,” says Lauri F. Rasnick, a member of the firm at Epstein Becker Green of New York. “For a long time, nonunionized employers didn’t give a lot of thought to NLRB decisions.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce contends the effort is part of an anti-employer crusade. In a highly critical December report titled “Theater of the Absurd: The NLRB Takes on the Employee Handbook,” the trade group argues that the agency “has undertaken a campaign to outlaw heretofore uncontroversial rules found in employee handbooks and in employers’ social media policies.”

Worse, according to the chamber: the NLRB’s guidance to employers often is contradictory, creating “a morass of confusion that leaves employers wondering just how they are to exercise effective control over their workplaces.”

Rasnick agrees. “I do think that’s part of the challenge for employers,” she says, noting that NLRB decisions aren’t always consistent. And they are continuing to evolve, with confidentiality provisions attracting more scrutiny in recent rulings, she says.

The latest headline came this month after an administrative law judge ruled that Quicken Loans and five related companies had illegal rules in its employee handbook, which it calls “The Big Book.” (Despite the Quicken name, the companies are not owned by software company Intuit; they’re led by Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.)

To the untutored eye, many of the rules seem pretty standard stuff. An example: “Think before you Tweet. Or post, comment or pin. What you share can live forever. If it doesn’t belong on the front page of The New York Times, don’t put it online.”

The problem with this rule, wrote judge David I. Goldman in his April 7 ruling:  Although the policy doesn’t tell workers they can’t bad-mouth the company online, “an employee considering this suggestion would reasonably feel chilled by this rule from expressing negative (but protected) information” about the employer.

The companies are appealing the decision to the full board. But there’s little indication that the NLRB is letting up on the effort.

Back to our pop quiz. Of those two employee-handbook policies, the first (“be respectful”) is illegal, according to the NLRB’s general counsel. The second (“work in a cooperative manner”) is OK.

The problem is in telling workers they must be “respectful” to management, as well as customers and others, wrote Richard F. Griffin Jr. in a memo last year. An employee might reasonably see that as a ban on complaining about the company, he wrote.

The second example is legal, Griffin wrote. “Employees would reasonably understand that it is stating the employer’s legitimate expectation that employees work together in an atmosphere of civility.”

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What Winning at Wellness Looks Like

Curious to see what makes for a top-notch wellness program?

I’ll assume you said yes, which means you might want to take a peek at the new U.S. Chamber of Commerce Winning with Wellness report.

Released earlier this month, the new publication is designed to “demystify” health promotion initiatives, looking at some of the “fundamentals of workplace wellness programs,” including evidence-based critical components such as developing a plan and applying behavior change methodologies, for example.

The report also lays out “10 Essential Steps in Designing a Workplace Wellness Program,” urging employers to “rely on evidence-based best practice strategies and tailor interventions to their populations” when plotting out wellness initiatives.

To begin planning, for instance, the report suggests that employers assess the organization’s readiness to adopt a workplace wellness strategy, asking “crucial questions” such as: Are there business plans in place that support or impede behavior change? Is there a history of workplace wellness programs? If so, what are some lessons learned? Can the organization specify how health changes can improve the work environment?

In addition, the report cites case studies demonstrating “employee satisfaction and social or financial ROI” from wellness programs at companies such as PepsiCo Inc. and Johnson & Johnson.

An evaluation of PepsiCo’s Healthy Living wellness program, for example, studied the initiative over the course of seven years in an effort to determine the cost impact of its lifestyle and disease management programs.

As the Chamber report notes, the study revealed that Pepsi saw an average reduction of $30 in healthcare costs per member per month, after seven years of continuous participation in either the lifestyle or disease management program.

A 2011 evaluation of Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, compared a matched cohort sample of its 31,823 employees to similar organizations with a comparable number of employees. According to the U.S. Chamber, the findings demonstrated that, from the years 2002 to 2008, “Johnson & Johnson experienced a 3.7 percent lower average annual growth in medical costs compared to the comparison group,” and J & J wellness programs produced an ROI of $3.92 for every dollar spent.

Finally, the Chamber points to a 2013 RAND Inc. report that determined “there is solid evidence to be optimistic” that healthier employee behavior will correlate directly to lower healthcare costs. More than 60 percent of respondents in that survey indicated that workplace wellness programs reduced their organizations’ healthcare costs, while also reporting an overall decrease in healthcare service utilization, which, in turn, reduced the healthcare cost burden.

While pointing out that each of these studies had limitations, “the majority show that well-designed wellness programs lead to an ROI ranging from $1.50 [for each dollar spent] to more than $3 invested over a timeframe of two to nine years,” the report notes.

Cost savings aside, the report’s authors tout the non-financial advantages of developing a winning wellness program.

“Even if one assumes for the sake of argument that any limitation of each particular study leads to an ROI of less than $1.50 to $3,” they write, “there are other benefits to these programs, such as increased job performance, overall well-being, and happy and thriving employees who contribute to business and community success.”

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Safe and Secure, or Not So Sure?

The good news coming out of a recent CareerBuilder survey is that the overwhelming majority of employees (93 percent) feel their office is a safe, secure place to work.

A few other findings from the Chicago-headquartered employment website and HR software provider’s poll of 3,031 full-time, United States-based workers are less encouraging.

Some of these same employees, it seems, are less confident that their employers are adequately equipped to address specific threats in the workplace.

For example, 17 percent of those surveyed by CareerBuilder said they do not feel their workplaces are well-protected in case of a fire, flood or other disaster, and 26 percent don’t think their companies have an emergency plan in place should such events occur. Nineteen percent indicated their workplaces are poorly safeguarded from weather-related threats, and 26 percent don’t believe their organization has an emergency plan for responding to extremely severe weather.

In addition, 31 percent of respondents said they don’t feel their workplaces are well-protected from a physical threat posed by another person, and 41 percent said their company has made no provisions for handling such an attack.

This past February, I spoke with Michelle Colosimo, director of Black Swan Solutions, a Waukesha, Wis.-based provider of crisis management technology and services, about what employers can do to prepare workers for threats to their physical safety while on the job. More specifically, we talked about the importance of putting plans in place for an active shooter event in the workplace.

I sought Colosimo’s insight for an hreonline.com piece focusing on some of the tools and resources available to help employers equip employees to react should such an unthinkable scenario ever unfold in their office. (Incidentally, an expanded, more in-depth feature on this topic is set to run in our May print issue.)

HR leaders are faced with “a huge undertaking” in the event an active shooter descends on the workplace, said Colosimo at the time.

“Accounting for everyone is a big challenge. So, [HR] has to coordinate all of these things beforehand—What do you need to prepare for? And, what will you need to do when and if this does happen?”

Earlier this week, I reached out to Michelle for her take on the results of this CareerBuilder survey. She reiterated the need to have processes in place to potentially prevent an active shooter incident, and to provide employees with ways to anonymously report concerning behaviors or comments from another individual.

“If a report is made, the organization needs to have a threat assessment team in place to review each threat, and determine appropriate action needed to address the potential concern,” she says.

But, even the best, most comprehensive plan may not thwart an attacker, unfortunately.

“So, it’s critical that the organization train employees ahead of time on steps they need to take, as an individual, to protect themselves if an incident were to [take place],” she says.

Conducting realistic drills and active-shooter simulations and providing workers with practical tools and steps to follow also helps create “better muscle memory” in employees, she says, “so they take proper action when a crisis occurs.”

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More Sexual-Harassment-Policy Rethinking

Came across this recent research from the University of Missouri that adds credence to a Q&A I did late last year with the author of a Sexual harassment at work in the officebook titled Sex and the Office: Women, Men and the Sex Partition That’s Dividing the Workplace.

Both the MU researchers and the author of the book, Kim Elsesser, seem to be getting at the same point about today’s sexual-harassment policies in the workplace. For the most part, they’re not effective because they incite more fear of possible infractions than encourage healthy banter between men and women.

The more recent findings, from MU, studied how employees’ interpretations of sexual-harassment policies can invalidate the purpose of the policies. Researchers found that employee perceptions of how exactly “sexual harassment” is defined by a company’s policy can, in effect, eliminate or reshape the meaning of the policies and contradict the norms and values of the companies that try to enforce them.

As one of report’s co-authors, Debbie Dougherty, associate dean of research and professor of organizational communication in the MU College of Arts and Science, puts it:

“Although the policy statement [might specify] the importance of building a culture of dignity and respect, the participants in the study reinterpreted the policy in such a way that they believed it actually created a culture of fear. This inhibits the camaraderie participants believed was produced by normalized sexual banter, behavior and jokes.

“Our findings suggest that the ways in which employees construct meaning around the policy can preclude the usage and effectiveness of the policy; therefore, sexual-harassment-policy research should focus on the complex ways that our understandings shape policy meanings in order to find more effective ways to address sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Which is kind of what Elsesser gets at in her book. It’s her premise that senior male executives and male managers, who can and want to help women under their supervision advance, are reluctant to reach out or get into any personal discussions with them for fear they’ll be breaking company rules and policies governing sexual harassment and discrimination.

As her book’s description on Amazon puts it, “many male executives stick with other men, especially when it comes to dinners, drinks, late-night meetings or business trips, [and] when it’s time for promotions or pay raises, these same executives are more likely to show preference to the employees with whom they feel most comfortable — other men.”

So the vicious cycle continues.

Just as the MU researchers suggest, Elsesser thinks HR executives need to be aware that focusing on sexual-harassment prevention may have secondary consequences. As she says,

“Right now, our efforts to eliminate sexual harassment may be creating this barrier between the sexes. Obviously, we need to continue on the path of reducing sexual harassment — but we must figure out a way to do this without creating this barrier. Instead, we should be thinking of ways to bring the sexes together.”

Dougherty would add that organizations need to discuss their sexual-harassment policies in a clear, concise manner “to ensure each employee has the same understanding of what is meant by sexual harassment.”

“Organizations,” she adds, “also would benefit from sexual-harassment training that acknowledges the gender dynamics of harassment.”

Not to mention the gender dynamics of trying, at all costs, to avoid committing such harassment.

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Meet the 25 Highest Paying Companies

In case you missed it yesterday, Glassdoor released its list of America’s 25 highest paying companies, and the results show consulting and tech companies are writing the biggest paychecks to workers.

The top five are:

1. A.T. Kearney

  • Median Total Compensation: $167,534
  • Median Base Salary: $143,620
  • Industry: Consulting

2. Strategy&

  • Median Total Compensation: $160,000
  • Median Base Salary: $147,000
  • Industry: Consulting

3. Juniper Networks

  • Median Total Compensation: $157,000
  • Median Base Salary: $135,000
  • Industry: Technology

4. McKinsey & Company

  • Median Total Compensation: $155,000
  • Median Base Salary: $135,000
  • Industry: Consulting

5. Google

  • Median Total Compensation: $153,750
  • Median Base Salary: $123,331
  • Industry: Technology

According to Glassdoor’s latest report revealing the 25 Highest Paying Companies in America for 2016, several companies are offering employees six figure paychecks. This report is based on each company’s median total compensation, compiled by looking at salary reports at companies in which employees have anonymously and voluntarily shared both their base pay and other forms of compensation (i.e. commissions, tips, bonuses, etc.) over the past year.

“This report reinforces that high pay continues to be tied to in-demand skills and higher education, which in part, is why we see several companies on this list among the consulting and technology industries,” said Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor Chief Economist.

Salaries are sky-high at consulting companies, he says, due to “barriers of entry” in this field, which refers to employers wanting top consultants to have personal contacts, reputations and specialized skills and knowledge. In the tech sector, he adds, “we continue to see unprecedented salaries as the war for talent is still very active, largely due to the ongoing shortage of highly skilled workers needed.”

Interestingly enough, the press release announcing the findings mentions that high compensation levels may not actually lead to high employee-engagement numbers:

While the companies on this list pay handsomely and a Glassdoor survey shows salary and compensation are among peoples’ top considerations before accepting a job, Glassdoor research also shows that salary is not among the leading factors tied to long-term employee satisfaction. In contrast, culture and values, career opportunities, and trust in senior leadership are the biggest drivers of long-term employee satisfaction.

Something to ponder: Would you rather have your company attain a spot on this list next year, or would you prefer higher employee-satisfaction numbers?

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Rethinking Employer Values and Brands

Some interesting points about employer value propositions and employer brands in this recent piece by Susan LaMotte that I came 514648428 -- megaphoneacross on the HR Examiner website.

As her title makes clear, she’d like us all to start Rethinking EVP and Employer Brand Like You Never Have Before.

“We tweet, post and chat about our culture and employment experience,” she writes. “We worry about job descriptions and [applicant-tracking-system] branding. We choose just the right images for our careers site and collateral. But what exactly are we talking about?”

Here are some of her favorite descriptions, none of which really capture what makes any particular employer unique: “It’s a great place to work,” “We’ve got a great culture,”  “For me it means … ,” and “I love to work here because … .” As she puts it,

“We tend to talk in generalities and personal choices because we’re not sure what else to say sometimes. And that’s where the EVP comes in. EVPs are so often used to explain why employees work for a company. We often interchange it with employer brand. But over the years, it’s become a muddled mess. Maybe it’s time for a reset?”

First, she says, when you ask your employees what they value in their employment experience, your EVP is the sum of those common themes. Second, an employer brand is a subset of the EVP.

“If the EVP is all the things employees value,” according to LaMotte, “the employer brand is what you choose as an organization to hang your hat on when you market your employment experience.” As she describes it:

“Think about it like a new car. There are a ton of great things customers may value in the car. And things the car’s engineers think are worth touting. But the marketers at the car company know you can’t sell everything. So they have to choose. How do they choose? The same way the engineers decided what should go in the car: research. Let research be your base, then use marketing to sell.”

She goes on to lay out the best steps to take to find out what employees value most in the organization and what candidates want. Next on the list is narrowing the focus, she says:

“There are likely 10, 12, 20 themes that may comprise your EVP. Don’t try to sell a laundry list. Use your company’s core values and business strategy to narrow down your focus. And consider two key things marketers know well: You have to sell the reality [and] you have to consider what your audience wants.”

“Finally, build that brand. Once you decide what to hang your hat on, sell it over and over and over again. Weave the messages in varying ways through all those channels you’ve spent so much time on — social media, websites, job descriptions and branded platforms. Pull those messages through to job fairs, recruiter conversations and on campus. Whatever you do, just take the time to think it through.”

I ran LaMotte’s premise by the folks at the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), the Seattle-based human capital research and data firm, because much has come from that organization over the years pertaining to employer brand and EVP. Got some interesting and very thorough comments from Jay Jamrog, i4cp’s senior vice president of research:

LaMotte, he says, “correctly points out that there is a lot of confusion around the differences between employer brand, employee [and employer] value proposition and talent brand; and, they are often used interchangeably, as the article does when it trie[s] to articulate what needs to be done.”

So what does Jamrog suggest? “I believe the first step is to clearly define each term and then determine how to develop a strategy to leverage each one’s potential.” With that in mind, he says, here goes:

Employer brand:  How a business builds and packages its identity, origins and values, and what it promises to deliver to emotionally connect employees so that they, in turn, deliver what the business promises to customers.  Some of the ingredients that make up the employer brand are:

  • Company culture and history,
  • What a company stands for,
  • Work/life balance,
  • Rewards: compensation and benefits
  • Leadership and employee behaviors
  • Work environment

What to consider when developing an employer brand:

  • What employer brand you have already built?
  • How does your employer brand support your business strategy, and your talent strategy?
  • How well do your employees understand and believe in your customer brand?
  • How committed are your employees to deliver the brand to customers?

Employee [or employer] value proposition:  Articulation of the value proposition is a shorter version of the employer brand that helps potential and current workers answer the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ In many cases, the EVP is part of the employer brand and contains many of the same characteristics.

Talent brand:  Marketing of the employer brand and/or EVP to critical talent segments of the potential and current workforce, to become known as a magnet for talent.  It’s purpose is to create demand that attracts, retains and engages the right people to do the right work at the right time with the right results.  To do this, you need to segment the workforce and determine which roles are 1) critical to the business’ success and 2) difficult skills to acquire.  Then you need to treat the talent in these critical roles as “consumers of work.” To attract consumers of work, you need a compelling brand proposition as a place to work for that special critical role/skill.

To create a talent brand you need to:

  • Have a talent strategy,
  • Develop marketing strategy,
  • Segment the workforce, and
  • Articulate your employer brand.

There you have it. Lots of definitions, descriptions and bullets in this post, but just in case it helps … or at least adds to the discussion … it’s all yours.

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Learning from Exiting Employees

Whenever we ask employment and HR experts about the value of exit interviews, they inevitably arrive at the same, logical conclusion: Departing employees can be a source of priceless advice that, if acted upon, may just save you from losing talented workers in the future.

Taking action, of course, is the key. And the problem, as the experts have always pointed out, is that some (many?) employers don’t do enough with the information gleaned from exit interviews to address the issues that soon-to-be-former workers bring to light.

Take heart, however. Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing firm Office Team offers evidence that more companies are getting the message.

Office Team’s recent survey of more than 300 HR managers found 63 percent of these respondents saying their organization commonly acts on feedback received in exit interviews.

How are they reacting? When asked how they follow up after conducting said interviews, the most common actions were to update job descriptions (29 percent), discuss feedback regarding management (24 percent), make changes to the work environment/corporate culture (22 percent) and review employee salaries (19 percent).

The poll also asked HR managers how often their firms act on the information gathered during exit interviews. Thirty-five percent said they do “somewhat often,” while 28 percent reported taking action “very often.” Another 24 percent indicated they instigate change based on exit interview feedback “not very often,” and 13 percent said they “never” do so.

In a press release highlighting these findings, Office Team offers some tips for getting the most out of these final sit-downs with employees about to leave the organization. For example:

  • Time it well. Consider scheduling the meeting on one of the worker’s last days. Keep the conversation brief and professional.
  • Don’t make it awkward (and make sure HR is involved). Because departing employees may be uncomfortable discussing certain topics with their supervisors, have an HR representative conduct one-on-one meetings in private settings.
  • Don’t get defensive. Avoid correcting or confronting the employee, and listen carefully in order to gather as many details as possible.
  • Don’t brush things off. Give all comments that are shared the proper attention. Also, check for patterns in feedback collected from employees, which can signal persistent problems.

“The only silver lining to losing employees is obtaining useful feedback to help stem further turnover,” says Brandi Britton, an Office Team district president, in the aforementioned statement.

“Departing workers can provide valuable insights that current staff may be reluctant to share. Although not every criticism will be worth responding to, the most crucial issues should be addressed immediately to help keep existing team members happy and loyal.”

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Commemorating Equal Pay Day

OK, so it may not be the most celebratory of occasions on the year’s calendar, but it is nonetheless well worth an HRE Daily post to acknowledge the persistent pay gap that has plagued women ever since joining the workforce many decades ago.

To that end, HREonline.com just posted a piece this morning titled “Pay Equity: New Challenges, New Pressures, New Strategies.” Written by Mercer’s Stefan Gaertner, Gail Greenfield and Brian Levine, the piece takes a look at the gender-pay landscape and what new challenges HR faces in ensuring a balance between the genders when it comes to pay:

More aggressive regulation for pay equity is clearly a trend. We believe this represents a stern call to action for employers to review their job and pay structures as well as analyze pay differentials to ensure that they understand their data, with a focus on pay gaps and business-related factors that may or may not explain them.

Employers also need to rectify any issues identified. We find that the all-too-common “wait and see” approach is not effective — once a plaintiff knocks on the door, it is too late to craft a story or actually address gaps in an orderly fashion.

Elsewhere in cyberspace, there’s an interesting piece on CNN.com titled “One Way to Close the Pay Gap for Women,” written by Mary Ellen Carter, an associate professor of accounting with the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, whose research focus is executive compensation.

In the piece, Carter argues that organizations can shrink or eliminate the gender-pay gap by including more women on corporate boards:

In new research, my co-authors and I found that pay gaps are much lower when more women serve on corporate boards.

For example, the proportion of female directors at the Massachusetts company TJX (parent of T.J. Maxx, Home Goods and other apparel and home goods retailers) has hovered around 30% since 2006.

And in our analyses, Carol Meyrowitz, who retired as TJX CEO in January, was paid fairly, relative to executives of comparable companies as she rose through the ranks.

TJX illustrates what our overall analyses show — that this effect flows deeper into the executive pool. Other top-level female executives, like chief financial officers, are also better paid when the board includes more women.

It’s true that there is no easy answer or silver bullet to create an even playing field in all respects, but here’s hoping by the time the next Equal Pay Day rolls around, more organizations will be working earnestly to ensure the compensation rates between men and women will be even closer than it is today.

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Why You Shouldn’t Link Culture and Retention

Here are some vexing questions on culture: Why do people leave Google, Virgin and Zappos and take jobs elsewhere? Why, if 516216924 -- worker leavingthose companies are so focused on building exceptionally strong and compelling cultures, don’t people stay forever? Doesn’t it entirely contradict all the rhetoric about the power of culture if even the bellwethers of the corporate-culture surge can’t convince people to stay?

So poses Colin J. Browne — head of a Gauteng, South Africa-based culture, engagement and leadership think-tank firm called How to Build a Happy Sandpit — in a recent post on his company’s website. In his words,

“One of the greatest misunderstandings about culture is that it has some mystical power to lock people in to your organization for the long term. If you’re building it for that, you could be wasting your efforts … .”

On the contrary, he writes,

“[t]he answer lies in what I consider one of the most fundamental hallmarks of human nature: Familiarity breeds contempt. In a work sense, Happy Sandpit research [of 308 executives and business leaders over the past three years] shows that, within about 18 months, all employees slightly resent you for ever hiring them in the first place.

“It’s not that they don’t like their work, or their workplace, their colleagues or their bosses, it’s just that when we become used to things, we’re less inclined to see them as fresh and exciting and more inclined to overstate the irritations that surround us. And any workplace is full of irritations.”

In Browne’s estimation, given enough time and enough repetition of the tasks that make up [employees’ roles], the artifacts, strong values and general way of feeling while they are there begin to take a back seat to the day-to-day of their work. In that context, a new job offer bears the promise of reinvigoration, reinvention and a release from the things they’re bored with.

Since many more companies are awakening to the understanding that focusing on culture strengthens their employee-value proposition, the things you offer your employees may begin to lose their edginess, he says, adding that “you can get caught up in a vicious cycle if you react to that.” As he puts it,

“A far better goal for your culture efforts is to increase productivity, the voluntary sharing of talent, good will and skills, to iron out the rough spots that create barriers to team work and to develop a clear set of profiles for the people [who] you’ll have to hire to replace the ones [who] have left.

“Culture isn’t about retention. It’s about performance. Let that inform your decisions and you could save yourself from a world of pain.”

Not that we haven’t presented this premise in previous features and news analyses, but his way of articulating it caught a fresh eye so I gave it a fresh look.

I also contacted Browne to ask him specifically what HR practitioners and leaders should be doing to achieve that “far better goal.” His response:

“The one challenge shared by anyone who leads people in a discretionary environment [differentiated from a non-discretionary one, such as the military, where you are expected to follow orders fairly rigidly] is to convince people to volunteer their best efforts, loyalty and enthusiasm for the long term. You can’t lift them up by their feet and shake that stuff into their brains, so they have to choose to give it to you.

“Every culture conversation seems to be about how we make that happen, but I think we’re overlooking a couple of obvious things which keep hindering progress pretty much across the board:

  1. We don’t build jobs that support best efforts, loyalty and enthusiasm in the long term. You can come out of a design college and get a job at your dream digital-design company, be given the latest Mac computer and software to work on, in a great office, with exciting people and still feel like your job is boring within six months, because the projects you are working on and the clients you’re working with are, in fact, boring. Unless we’re building perfect jobs, therefore, which in an imperfect world with imperfect clients is impossible, people will find that they’ve had enough one day and go and find something else to do.

  2.  People are more loyal to their friends than they will ever be to a boss or a company. Ironically, the best reference for this is the behavior of soldiers in combat. While it’s often supposed that soldiers commit acts of great bravery for the grand notion of country, or unit or even God, the evidence suggests that, instead, they do it for the person next to them. When the order to retreat is given, they will blatantly ignore that order in order to rescue one of their colleagues. At the moments that matter, their loyalty is clear, and it’s not to ‘management’ or any sort of system. It’s to each other.”

I asked him to send me a specific, itemized list of the things HR should be doing or thinking about in light of his research. Here is that list:

  • You increase productivity when employees feel that they will let their colleagues down by slacking and care enough not to want to do that either because they’re emotionally invested or feel emotionally handcuffed. Either way, it works. This doesn’t happen overnight of course, but, by increasing the autonomy of individual teams — you can be as granular about this as you like, and I would encourage you to not be too broad — [so they can] make decisions on their own behalf [and] you make them more accountable for their results and actions, which then makes each individual member accountable to the others. You can’t be the one person who never pulls [his or her] weight in such an environment and expect to get anywhere. And to counter an obvious objection, if you find you have an entire team of slackers who merely cover each others’ backs instead of a productive team that cheers one another along, you change the challenge that they must meet and leave them to sort out the how. Raised expectations can have a very big impact.

  • They share talent, good will and skills voluntarily, because they’re sharing them with people they care about and whose success they link to their own. It doesn’t have to be altruistic; it just makes good sense as long as it is reciprocated and constant.

  • You iron out the barriers to teamwork by allowing them to decide how to work together. This goes to point one. Managers should care about the results and have a view about the way in which those results are achieved, but you’re unlikely to get the best out of people when you force them to stick to a rigid process that prevents them from developing their own flow. This may seem like voodoo to many organizations, which depend on processes to iron out the risk of defect, but those things are not mutually exclusive. You can have processes that must be adhered to, being followed by two teams with wildly different personalities, and get identical quality.

  • You create a clear set of profiles to replace those people by giving employees some say, or perhaps even all the say, about the people who join their team. They’re the ones who have to work with that new person and, unless you long to deal with employee friction, the manager’s view should be given less importance.

His list, he says, is a worthy goal of culture because it achieves the things you need it to: people giving their best efforts while they are with you.

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Study: Credit-Check Bans Lead to More Bias

I just came across this interesting Washington Post story on its Wonkblog about a new study that finds when employers are prohibited from looking into applicants’ financial history, African-Americans become more likely to be unemployed compared to other demographic groups.

Which is odd, the story notes, considering that studies find little evidence that possessing a clean financial record has anything to do being a good worker. Regardless, according to a 2012 survey, 47 percent of employers said they run credit checks on applicants.

The study, from Robert Clifford, an economist at the Boston Federal Reserve, and Daniel Shoag, an assistant professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, turns on its head  the idea that such bans are actually helping to tamp down discrimination in the workplace.

From the Post piece: “To understand how banning credit checks can lead to unforeseen repercussions, consider the problem from the employer’s perspective. A single job opening these days can get hundreds of applications. Since hiring managers can’t interview every candidate, they need some way to narrow the field. Filtering out people with bad credit helps them bring the number of applicants down to a manageable size. But if employers can’t look into a job-seeker’s financial history, they try something else.”

“Employers have many screening measures to narrow down who they want to hire,” Shoag says. “If you take one away, they’ll put more weight on the others.”

That’s exactly what seemed to happen in places that outlawed employer credit checks. Clifford and Shoag looked at 74 million job listings between 2007 and 2013 and  found that employers started to become pickier, especially in cities where there were a lot of workers with low credit scores.If a credit-check ban went into effect, job postings were more likely to ask for a bachelor’s degree, and to require additional years of experience.

But Shoag says there are other ways that employers could have also become more discerning, including relying on referrals or recommendations to make sure that applicants were high-quality.

The story notes that, in the absence of credit information to establish trustworthiness, employers may even have fallen back on racial stereotypes to screen candidates. The researchers couldn’t measure these tactics, but they’re possibilities.

Since 2007,  eleven states, as well as Chicago and New York City, have passed laws prohibiting employers from looking into the financial histories of job applicants.

And as more states and cities consider enacting similar measures, we must seriously wonder if these bans actually doing more to aid discrimination than end it.

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