Posts belonging to Category HR profession



A Setback for Anti-Bullying Efforts?

bullyEarlier this month, HRE Editor David Shadovitz reported on Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s signing of the Healthy Workplace Act, which made the Volunteer State the first in the Union to pass legislation aimed at putting an end to on-the-job bullying.

In that piece, Shadovitz pointed out that 28 states have introduced anti-bullying legislation this year. Experts, he said, predict other states will soon take similar measures, adding that New York and Massachusetts appear the most likely to pass anti-bullying laws applying to private-sector employers. (The Tennessee law only affects the practices of state and local government agencies.)

While some states may soon follow in Tennessee’s footsteps, it seems that New Hampshire took a step in the opposite direction this week.

On Monday, Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed a bill geared toward protecting New Hampshire state employees from abusive work environments, saying the bill was “well-intentioned but unworkable,” according to the Concord Monitor.

The measure—which state lawmakers passed after current and former state workers said they had experienced bullying behavior at work—would have required state departments and agencies to develop policies to address harassment, the Monitor reports.

Hassan, however, found the legislation’s definition of abusive conduct to be overly broad, which she says could make even routine employee interactions potential causes of action. The bill “also attempts to legislate politeness, manners and the interpersonal relationships of co-workers,” she said, contending the law would lead to a significant spike in lawsuits and subsequently hamper productivity.

Conversely, bill sponsor Rep. Diane Schuett feels a failure to put anti-bullying laws in place yields roughly the same end result, with respect to employee output.

“[Bullying] undermines the efficiency within state government if you end up with one or two employees being harassed on the job, either by another employee or a supervisor, and you end up with the entire agency being aware of it and feeling like they have to pick sides.”

There might well be some truth in both of those statements. Maybe the silver lining in the New Hampshire scenario is that the bill—which state lawmakers could revive by overriding the Governor’s veto—is at least on the table, with each side acknowledging that workplace bullying is a real and pervasive problem that must be addressed in some way, even if the legislation’s workability may be at issue.

‘The 27 Challenges Managers Face’

Bruce Tulgan

Bruce Tulgan

I just came across an advance copy of a book due on shelves Sept. 15 that takes a pretty interesting stab at itemizing and enumerating every key challenge a manager will face in his or her profession. I’m sharing it here — “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” — because I’ve found the author, Bruce Tulgan, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy RainmakerThinking Inc., to be pretty authoritative and sound over the years when it comes to manager-employee relationships.

HRE clearly concurs, as it will be featuring Tulgan in a webinar on Aug. 13, titled “Building a Better Boss: Engaging Managers to Inspire and Engage Workers.” In the webinar, he’ll discuss his latest research that finds “The Under-Management Epidemic,” first revealed in his company’s 2004 study, rages on 10 years later. According to the study, nine out of 10 leaders and managers are not providing their direct reports with sufficient guidance, support and coaching today. 

In his latest book, already listed on Amazon, Tulgan reiterates and underscores that fact, bringing together what he says are the 27 — not 26 or 28, mind you — challenges he’s heard repeatedly from managers over his 20 years of research. During that time, he says, he’s asked “hundreds of thousands of managers in organizations of all shapes and sizes, ‘What are the most difficult challenges you face when it comes to managing people?’ ” His finding:

Regardless of industry or job title, managers cite the same core issues — more than 90 percent of responses over the years refer to the same 27 challenges. The same cases come up over and over again — maybe it’s the superstar [who] the manager is afraid of losing, the slacker [who] the manager cannot figure out how to motivate or the two employees who cannot get along.”

As Tulgan says in a Q&A at the end of this link about the book, including excerpts:

It turns out that when things are going wrong in a management relationship, almost always, the common denominator is unstructured, low-substance, hit-or-miss communication. … Almost always, the ad-hoc manner in which most managers talk to their direct reports every day actually makes inevitable the most difficult employee situations that tend to vex managers. What is the key to avoiding most of these problems and the key to solving them quickly and with relative ease as soon as they appear? High-structure high-substance one-on-one dialogues with every direct report.”

For what it’s worth, I have talked to numerous experts over the years who have corroborated this need for more effective and authentic one-on-one business leadership, including folks at Bridgeville, Pa.-based Development Dimensions International, whose recent study finds a sorry lack of interactive-conversational skills among business leaders and managers worldwide. (I wrote about that study in this recent news analysis.)

As it is, and as Tulgan’s book lays them out — grouped in chapters according to stages of one’s management career and types of problems — here they are, all 27 of them:

1, when going from peer to leader; 2, when coming from the outside to take over leadership of an existing team; 3, when bringing together an entirely new team; 4, when you are welcoming a new member to your existing team; 5, when employees have a hard time managing time; 6, when an employee needs help with interpersonal communication; 7, when an employee needs to get organized; 8, when an employee needs to get better at problem-solving; 9, when you have an employee who needs to increase productivity; 10, when you have an employee who needs to improve quality; 11, when you need an employee to start “going the extra mile”; 12, when your employees are doing “creative” work; 13, when the employee you are managing knows more about the work than you do (I, Kris Frasch, suspect that might be something managers are experiencing more frequently these days, given our demographic shifts in the workplace); 14, when an employee needs an attitude adjustment; 15, when there is conflict between and among individuals on your team …

Breath …

16, when an employee has personal issues at home; 17, when there is a superstar you need to keep engaged; 18, when you have a superstar you really want to retain; 19, when you have a superstar you are going to lose for sure: how to lose that superstar very well; 20, when you need to move a superstar to the next level to develop as a new leader; 21, when managing in an environment of constant change and uncertainty; 22, when managing under resource constraints; 23, when managing through interdependency management challenges; 24, when managing around logistical hurdles; 25, when managing across differences in language and culture; 26, when you need to renew your management relationship with a disengaged employee; and 27, when you need to renew your own commitment to being a strong, highly engaged manager.

As Rainmaker puts it in one promotional, “The 27 Challenges are enumerated not in order of frequency or difficulty, but rather according to the bigger-picture human capital issues in which [they] fall. Like a guidebook through the real life of a manager — from the ‘new-manager’ challenges, through performance management, retention, and all the way to the latter career stage when so many managers face the challenges of ‘renewal.’ ”

Tulgan says he hopes readers will use this book like reference material, referring to the specific challenge one is encountering and his solution for overcoming it, maybe reading others to prepare a little, but then shelving it until it’s needed again.

Personally, I can’t imagine many other challenges than the ones listed above, but Tulgan assures me there are hundreds more. Solve these ones, he says, and you’ll have a pretty good handle on how to apply “the fundamentals of management to gain control of any situation.” People managing managers, he adds, should keep it on hand, too.

Adding to ACA Uncertainty

ACAA pair of appeals court rulings made just hours apart yesterday seem to have compounded employers’ confusion surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

First, the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled in the case of Halbig v. Burwell that the ACA does not permit the Internal Revenue Service to distribute premium subsidies in the 36 states where exchanges are run by the federal government.

Later in the day, a federal appeals court panel 100 or so miles down the road in Richmond, Va., took the opposite view, determining the ACA’s “ambiguity” affords the IRS the authority to issue the subsidies.

Reaction to the contradictory rulings—which seem to pave the way for a likely Supreme Court case—was swift, strong and, politically speaking, true to party lines.

Noting his dissent in the later ruling, D.C. Circuit Judge Harry T. Edwards described the decision as a “not-so-veiled attempt to gut the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

Meanwhile, the conservative side of the aisle commended the Richmond panel’s decision.

Speaker John Boehner, for example, described the ruling as “further proof that President Obama’s healthcare law is completely unworkable,” saying in a statement that the Affordable Care Act “cannot be fixed.”

For employers in the majority of the U.S., what happened yesterday just seems to further cloud an already uncertain future with regard to the ACA.

“The D.C. Circuit’s decision is significant in that it calls into question whether employers [in the affected states] could be subject to a penalty under the ACA’s ‘pay or play’ penalty scheme,” according to Peter Marathas, a Boston-based partner in Proskauer’s employee benefits, executive compensation and ERISA litigation practice center.

Yesterday’s decisions are “not the final say on this issue,” he says, “but [they] certainly underscore the thin thread much of the employer penalty hangs on, particularly if other courts agree with this decision.”

The matter “seems destined for the U.S. Supreme Court,” said American Benefits Council President James A. Klein, in a statement.

Klein also offered his take on how things may ultimately shake out.

“Since the employer mandate penalty is triggered when employees receive a subsidy, some employers may be relieved of penalties, or may have different levels of penalties, depending on which states their workers reside.”

In addition, some companies have weighed whether employees may be better served through steady coverage in exchanges, especially those who frequently change jobs, said Klein.

“The lack of subsidies for workers in some states certainly would change the dynamics in that decision making,” he noted, adding that further uncertainty over the implementation of the healthcare law “chills” the decision-making process for employers.

“The courts need to quickly resolve this critical issue,” he said, “one way or the other.”

Facebook Ranked Last in 401(k) Contributions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Firm’s Bathroom Policy: Hold It

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

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

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

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

Excuse me?? They really wanted that information?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uhm … excuse me?? Again??

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

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

 

Branding, Schmanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynicism’s Impact on Business, Take Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Same-Sex Harassment Claim at Yahoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HR Tech’s ‘Glorious Time’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry Page Wants You to Work Less

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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