Category Archives: HR profession

Job Seekers: Speak Up and Sound Smart

speak up“The medium is the message,” said Canadian academic and author Marshall McLuhan.

He may not have had resumes in mind when he coined that phrase in his 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, but a new study suggests the old axiom could apply to the way jobs are landed or lost in 2015.

Nicholas Epley, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Juliana Schroeder, a PhD candidate at the school, conducted a series of experiments in which M.B.A. student job candidates developed written or videotaped pitches to present to the company for which they would most like to work.

In an initial experiment, a group of evaluators judged the spoken pitches by watching or listening to the video recording, listening to the audio only, or by reading a transcript of the pitch. Those who heard pitches rated candidates as more intelligent, thoughtful and competent than candidates whose transcripts were merely read by evaluators. Meanwhile, those who only saw video did not rate applicants any differently than those who heard pitches, according to a University of Chicago press release.

In another experiment, evaluators listened to trained actors reading candidates’ written pitches aloud, and assessed those applicants as being more intelligent and desirable for the job than did those who read candidates’ written pitches to themselves.

In the job hunt, presentation should certainly count for something. But, assuming all other things are equal, how likely would HR and hiring managers really be to lean toward a candidate they’ve watched and/or heard, as opposed to only seeing on paper?

More than they may even realize, says Greig Schneider, U.S. managing partner at Egon Zehnder International, a New York-based global executive-search firm.

“If you have two candidates—one candidate that you’ve spoken to on the phone and another for whom you’ve just received a resume—you’re naturally inclined to favor the person you spoke to on the phone, at least according to this data,” says Schneider.

But, as with any single factor in the hiring process, recruiters and hiring managers shouldn’t put too much emphasis on how candidates lay out their bona fides, he says.

“You need to make sure you’re diving into what is really needed for success in the job, and not cutting out someone who has a great background and competencies, but maybe isn’t a great talker.”

HR and hiring managers, just like everyone else, “pick up a lot of important information from how someone speaks,” says Schneider.

“When you hear someone’s cadence, their tone, you’re going to form an impression about their intelligence. It’s unavoidable. The challenge is determining whether this is an accurate portrayal.”

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A ‘Smarter’ Look at Transparency

Here’s an interesting twist of business-world irony: While a  company’s culture of transparency may help increase accountability, collaboration, knowledge sharing, innovation and productivity, it can also undermine it.

At least that’s the view being espoused by Harvard Business School’s Ethan Bernstein in a piece that recently appeared on the Wall Street Journal site.

Bernstein, an assistant professor of leadership and organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School, writes that quantity should never trump quality when it comes to how an organization approaches the issue of transparency:

The problem, I believe, is the conviction that when it comes to transparency, “more is better.” But more transparency isn’t necessarily better. Rather, smarter transparency is better. If leaders can adopt a transparency strategy that strikes a balance between openness and privacy, that tears some walls down while leaving others in place, they are more likely to get the results they want.

In the piece, Bernstein shares three guiding principles employers should follow in order to strike the right balance of openness and opacity within their organizations, including his take on open-office designs.

One global company Berstein studied had recently transformed its headquarters from traditional to open offices, he writes, and so he measured face-to-face and electronic interaction of its staff both before and after the redesign.

After the redesign, interactions between individuals who weren’t on the same team jumped more than 50%. Sounds good, right? Except that interactions between individuals who had to work together to get things done fell by almost an equivalent amount, and the total amount of interactions actually fell.

The moral of that particular story, he writes, is that organizations adopting transparent workplaces “need to think even more about who should observe whom, not just leave it to chance.”

And the key for organizations, he writes, is for company leaders to strategically consider when observation will improve productivity, and when it will undermine fertile soil for innovation:

As with all transparency efforts, a lot of good can come from putting everybody on stage some of the time.

But, he concludes, requiring “a constant performance [by employees] comes with a high price: the loss of experimentation and learning. It’s a price that companies should be unwilling to pay.”

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FMLA Update Redefines ‘Spouse’

same sex marriageAnd the reverberations of the United States v. Windsor decision continue to be felt.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced yesterday that workers in legal, same-sex marriages—regardless of where they live—will now have the same rights as those in opposite-sex marriages to federal job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a spouse with a serious health condition.

The announcement comes not quite nine months after the DOL issued a proposed rule to change the FMLA’s definition of “spouse” in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision.

That June 2013 ruling, of course, struck down the Defense of Marriage Act’s provision interpreting “marriage” and “spouse” to be limited to opposite-sex marriage for the purposes of federal law.

According to the DOL, the rule change updates the FMLA regulatory definition of “spouse” such that an eligible employee in a legal same-sex marriage will be able to take FMLA leave for his or her spouse, regardless of what state the employee calls home. The previous regulatory definition of “spouse” didn’t extend to same-sex spouses if an employee resided in a state that did not recognize the employee’s same-sex marriage.

Under the new rule, eligibility for federal FMLA protections is based on the law of the place where the marriage was entered into, according to the DOL. This “place of celebration” provision allows all legally married couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, to have consistent federal family leave rights regardless of whether the state in which they currently reside recognizes such marriages.

We’ll see what this means for employers and HR. But yesterday’s announcement marks a step toward fulfilling the “basic promise of the FMLA,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in announcing the updated rule.

That guarantee, he said, “is that no one should have to choose between the job and income they need, and caring for a loved one.

“With our action today, we extend that promise so that no matter who you love, you will receive the same rights and protections as everyone else,” added Perez. “All eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages, regardless of where they live, can now deal with a serious medical and family situation like all families—without the threat of job loss.”

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Making Workplace Meditation Work

Mindfulness appears to be alive and well in Fort Collins, Colo. Or at the Fort Collins Housing Authority anyway.

139980668-- meditationJust before the holidays, I came across this release about the FCHA completing a month-long mindfulness program for its staff.  Seems the organization’s top leaders took its annual wellness survey seriously when a common complaint came back suggesting improvements in work/life balance and health and general well-being were needed.

In the words of FCHA Chief Executive Officer Julie Brewen: “We are committed to implementing new programs for the health and well-being of our staff.”

In an industry that deals with tough issues such as poverty, homelessness and families in crisis, she says, the program was a step in the right direction. The program consisted of daily, hour-long sessions during work hours that blended presentations, group discussion and meditation practice.

The results? According to Brewen, lowered stress and depression, and an increase in work/life balance.

What’s even more impressive is what she shared with me just recently, that her organization’s commitment to this lives on, with additional mindfulness training planned for this year, and some added questionnaires and wellness-survey questions designed to keep a close eye on the workplace well-being meter.

“Many of the participants [intend] to continue [their] meditation and mindfulness exercises” into the rest of 2015, she says.

Of course, putting this kind of program together takes a huge and collective commitment to the idea and the practice. It needs to come from the top and be ingrained into the culture, as this column a year ago (to the month) by our benefits columnist, Carol Harnett, suggests.

Her column also suggests the concept could use some booster shots in the business community. “In my experience,” she writes, “most employers pay scant attention to stress and defer to employee-assistance programs as check-the-box solutions — despite poor utilization of this service.”

So what’s it going to take for the Fort Collins approach to become the approach of most? Perhaps when employers start acknowledging they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, even as it relates to your brand and reputation. As Harnett writes:

” … mind-body curriculums will please a growing portion of your employee population and improve your workers’ perceptions of the workplace culture. And that may be an employer’s greatest consideration of all.”

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Wal-Mart’s Big Move

Wal-Mart has long been the McDonald’s of discount-chain stores: It’s big, it’s everywhere and — when people get angry about the social issues of the day, whether it’s outsourced manufacturing or low-wages for U.S. workers — it’s often the biggest target (so to speak).

Now the Bentonville, Ark.-based company is making a big move that will doubtless be watched by everyone else in the retail space: It’s spending $1 billion to raise the wages of many of its U.S. workers, improve the training they receive and adjust its scheduling practices to give part-timers more regularity in their hours.

Wal-Mart is also implementing programs to make it easier for employees to map out careers at the company, according to the Associated Press.

“We are trying to create a meritocracy where you can start somewhere and end up just as high as your hard work and your capacity will enable you to go,” CEO Doug McMillon told the AP.

The low wages paid by the retail and fast-food industries have become a flashpoint in recent years, with thousands of hourly workers striking and holding demonstrations over the issue. Fast-food workers in New York, Chicago and other large cities have held protests demanding that their wages be raised to $15 per hour.

The protests appear to be having an impact: Companies such as The Gap and IKEA have raised their starting wages to $10 an hour or more. Last fall, voters in several states — including Wal-Mart’s home of Arkansas — approved raising the states’ minimum wage. And Hartford, Conn.-based insurer Aetna recently announced that its lowest-paid workers would get a boost in their rate to $16 per hour.

At Wal-Mart, entry-level wages will be raised to $10 per hour by next February (new hires at its Sams Club division will get $10.50 per hour). A new program will allow some part-time workers to choose the same hours every week. Hourly workers will receive training in areas such as teamwork, merchandising and communications. The company will invest $100 million with its nonprofit Walmart Foundation over the next five years to “support programs that help advance careers for entry-level workers in the industry,” according to the AP.

Wal-Mart still won’t be a high-wage paradise by any stretch of the imagination, but the company clearly recognizes its image problem and is attempting to do something about it.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Ed Lazear, a Stanford University economics professor who advised Wal-Mart told the AP.

 

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Shaking the Mental Health Stigma

mental healthJust a few short weeks from now, our March issue will see the light of day. In it, you’ll find the second installment of a three-part series on employee health.

This Carol Patton-penned feature looks at how more employers are “recognizing the destructive footprint of depression on their workforce and bottom line, and are taking direct aim at the illness.”

There’s no doubt that many companies have made great strides in identifying the signs and understanding the insidious impact of this illness, and are acting to help employees affected by depression as well as those dealing with other mental health issues.

But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a ways to go.

The Disability Management Employer Coalition’s just-released 2014 Behavioral Risk Survey posed 42 online questions to 314 employers of various sizes between July and August of last year. The results suggest the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace still very much exists, to say the least.

For example, respondents were asked what level of, or change in, stigma associated with “having a psychological/psychiatric problem” they have witnessed in the last two years. (DMEC conducts its Behavioral Risk Survey on a biennial basis.)

Overall, 41.4 percent of respondents said the stigma remained the same, with 25.1 percent indicating that the stigma has actually decreased in that time.

Another 24.2 percent, however, said the stigma has increased since 2012. And, consider that just 7.6 percent reported feeling the same way two years ago.

Troubling as some of these figures are, the survey does show signs that management awareness and acceptance of behavioral health issues is growing, though. When asked how their upper management’s opinion regarding the need to review behavioral health issues has changed over the past two years, for instance, 36.8 percent of respondents replied, “yes, it has become more open” in that time. In 2012, 25 percent of respondents said the same.

In addition, 32.8 percent of survey participants said their organizations screen for underlying psychological or psychosocial issues, marking a slight, 3.2 percent increase from 2012.

In a statement detailing some of the survey’s findings, DMEC Executive Director Terri L. Rhodes described employers’ increased adoption of screening and other tools to identify and address mental health conditions as “heartening.”

But, she adds, “there is much more to be done to reduce the stigma still attached to these illnesses and create a consistently collaborative approach to treating them.”

(A full report on the 2014 Behavioral Risk Survey is available by contacting John Jordan at jjordan@principor.com or 202.595.9008.)

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Promotions on the Rise

If this isn’t a sure sign of an ascendant economy, then I’m not sure what one is: The percentage of employees receiving a promotion on an annual basis has increased from 7 percent to 9 percent since 2010.

This is according to a new survey titled “Promotional Guidelines” conducted by WorldatWork, a nonprofit human resources association and leading compensation authority based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The association conducted the 2014 survey — its fourth such survey — of its membership to better understand the trends in promotional guidelines.

The survey focuses on a variety of practices and policies including what employers consider to be a promotion as well as the standard pay increases that often accompany promotions. WorldatWork conducted similar compensation practices surveys in 2012, 2010 and 2006.

“The steady upward trend of employee promotions mirroring the economic recovery is further evidence that organizations are relaxing their budget purse strings,” says Kerry Chou, WorldatWork senior practice leader. “While the gradual trend is good news, the data also suggests that employee vacancies are helping employers foot the bill for these promotions.”

Additional highlights from the 2014 survey include:

  • Less than half (42 percent) of responding organizations budget separately for promotional activity.
  • In order to define employee movement as a “promotion,” 77 percent of responding organizations require higher-level responsibilities and 75% require an increase in pay grade, band or level.
  • 63 percent of respondents said their organization does not feature or market promotional opportunities or activities as a key employee benefit when attempting to attract new employees.
  • More than 60 percent of workforces consider their organization’s promotional opportunities to have a positive effect on employee engagement and employee motivation.
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Watching a Big Move to Help Women in Tech

A recent announcement by Facebook and LinkedIn that the two entities are joining forces to boost the dwindling numbers of women 462444481 -- women in techstudying technology and working in the field is certainly worth watching.

Short on a lot of details about the collaboration, the announcement still got an amazing amount of press because of the two parties involved — led, in part, by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Sandberg has been a prominent advocate for women in the workplace, ever since her 2011 book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead came out. (Here is one of many pieces we’ve posted about her book and her premise that women need help fighting the barriers — some within themselves — that keep them from achieving leadership positions. Here is one other, primarily about her book and the “Lean In” support circles it aimed to spark in workplaces nationwide.)

As the first post quotes her from her book:

“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. [The result is that] men still run the world.”

Whether Sandberg and the people she’s working with think this inability to effect their own progress is a primary reason behind women’s dwindling numbers in technology studies and jobs isn’t real clear. Nor is it clear how much money each company is committing to this effort, or just how it will function. (The announcement simply says Sandberg and LinkedIn CEO Jeffrey Weiner will be “launching mentoring and support programs at colleges to get more women involved in studying technology in general, but also as future employees for their companies.”)

What is clear, though, is the fact that the talent pool is shrinking. According to the announcement, the percentage of people enrolled in undergraduate computer-science programs who are women peaked at 35 percent in 1985 and is now down to about 17 percent.

Clearly, something needs to be done. Will be interesting to see just what this initiative is and what it can do.

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Workplace Romance Seems to Be Alive and Well

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

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

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

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

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

  • Has already dated someone else at work: 25 percent

  • Travels extensively for work: 21 percent

  • Has to work nights: 8 percent

  • Earns less money than me: 6 percent

  • Has to work weekends: 6 percent

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not what I would have expected.

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Bound for a Breakdown

burnoutEmployees who describe themselves as perfectionists who take work home with them and can’t bear the thought of being average sound like a manager’s dream, right?

Not necessarily, according to new research that finds employees with such workaholic tendencies may not always work out so well.

In its recent study of 1,385 individuals taking a “Type A Personality Test,” online psychological assessment provider PsychTests found 86 percent of respondents classifying themselves as workaholics saying they push themselves to accomplish their goals. Sixty-five percent of those in this group said they take work home with them, with 63 percent claiming they “hate the idea of being considered an average performer.”

That all sounds fine and good, but there’s a downside to an intensely driven personality that can manifest itself in some nasty ways.

For example, 73 percent of those who consider themselves workaholics said they have trouble unwinding at the end of the day. The same number reported getting angry with themselves when they “don’t finish everything they wanted to do.” (These folks aren’t exactly thrilled with co-workers they see as creating distractions, either, as 68 percent said they “can’t tolerate people who slow them down.”)

In addition, 60 percent said they tend to be overcompetitive and impatient with co-workers. Fifty-eight percent report feeling tense, 49 percent have trouble falling asleep and another 46 percent find their lives are too stressful.

These figures certainly aren’t the first indication that workers who regularly push themselves to extremes may be barreling toward a breakdown—and may end up taking some of their colleagues along for the ride. And, other studies offer evidence that this type of employee often reaches a point where his or her efforts simply become counterproductive.

Just last week, in fact, HRE Managing Editor Kristen B. Frasch reported on recent Stanford University research findings that suggest employees working more than 50 hours a week are essentially spinning their wheels soon after hitting the half-century mark.

In that piece, work/life experts urged employers and HR leaders to implement initiatives such as paid-time-off banks and flexible hours for all employees as a way to encourage better work/life balance among the workforce.

While making such options available is certainly a positive first step, PsychTests President Ilona Jerabek advised managers to be a bit more direct in dealing with hard-charging workers who may sometimes need saving from themselves.

“This kind of extreme, ‘Type A’ personality has a shelf life as an employee, as [such an employee] cannot keep up this kind of schedule and work dedication for a sustained period of time,” Jerabek recently told Bloomberg BNA.

“You need to give them permission to take it easy,” she said, “and explicitly tell them to take some time off.”

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