Category Archives: HR profession

What the Internet Thinks of HR

ThinkstockPhotos-494940180Google’s autocomplete feature is the closest thing we have to a mind-reading machine. The search engine is so widely used, and so good at collecting data about what we look up on the web, that it can tell us what people think about nearly anything.

Like, for example, HR.

I discovered this one day while doing a search and losing my train of thought (alas, this happens often). My fingers poised above the keyboard after typing “How HR should …”, Google helpfully offered options to complete the phrase:

  • handle complaints
  • handle a bad supervisor
  • do an employee HIPAA audit
  • handle the death of an employee
  • address flatulence
  • prepare for a merger
  • handle workplace bullies

That kind of says it all, doesn’t it? From bureaucratic issues to personal hygiene, now we have an idea what workers really want to know about HR.

Try it. Your mileage may vary — and I’ve discovered that results also change with time. Regardless, they offer fascinating insight into what the world at large wonders about HR. Surely many of the searches that went into these results were performed by human resource professionals, of course, but I’m betting most were not.

Likewise, Google and other web tools can give us a sense how well important industry trends are catching on. For example, though “chief human resource officer” is the industry-favored term for the top person in HR, the title still seems to lag the old-fashioned “personnel director” in much of the English-speaking world.

We find evidence for this in two places. One is Google Trends, a tool the search-engine provides for tracking search terms over time and geography. This search, for example, shows that “personnel director” and “human resource director” have lost steam over the last dozen years. But they are still favored over the newer term by a big margin. Ditto for “chief people officer.”

A second piece of evidence is the employment-ad aggregator Indeed, which offers analytics about job listings. This search also indicates that the older terms for top HR officers remain the most popular.

This kind of evidence is useful for anyone in the business world who hopes to shift public perceptions about a company, an industry or a profession. The Internet tells us what people are really thinking.

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NLRB: Grad Students Are Employees

In a 3-1 decision, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that graduate students working as research and teaching assistants at Columbia University are statutory employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act.

As the Washington Post reports, the ruling overturns a 2004 Brown University decision, in which the NLRB said graduate students engaging in collective bargaining “would undermine the nature and purpose of graduate education.”

The decision, which clears the way for these grad students to join or form unions, opens the door “to the full panoply of rights provided under collective bargains, and the effect will change the relationship between private sector universities and their students,” Joseph Ambush, a Boston-based attorney who filed the brief on behalf of the schools involved in this case (and who represented Brown in 2004), told the Post.

Philip Miscimarra, who offered the lone dissenting opinion in the Columbia case, voiced concerns that allowing students to collectively bargain could “wreak havoc” on their education, given the potential for strikes and lockouts, according to the paper.

That’s not all the decision could do.

Earning recognition as employees means that grad students working in teaching or research capacities “can bargain for larger stipends and better health coverage, especially if they have children,” according to the Post. “It also means they can get basic protections, such as unpaid leave.”

The ruling “could be huge,” says Laura Hung, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at American University. Hung, now working as an adjunct professor, told the Post that she’s making roughly the same salary (around $19,000) that she earned as a teaching and research assistant in her most recent academic year.

“The vast majority of my colleagues are swimming in student debt,” notes Hung, adding that her wages are “barely enough” to cover her $1,000 rent each month, and “certainly not enough” to pay for the health insurance offered by the university.

“The way things are right now obligates students to take out large amounts of debt to eat and live,” continues Hung. “There are students who are not going to find jobs that pay enough to pay that back.”

This struggle is real among young workers outside of academia as well. Pay attention, employers.

As HRE notes in an upcoming feature in our Sept. 2 print issue, the number of recent grads buckling under the weight of massive student loan debt is only growing. Recent data from the Plan Sponsor Council of America, for instance, finds 69 percent of students graduating college in 2011 and 2012 borrowed money to finance their educations, compared to 49 percent of 1992 and 1993 college graduates.

Some employers are recognizing this trend, and are responding. As we report in the aforementioned Sept. 2 piece, for example, Nvidia Corp. is helping its youngest workers start off their careers on the right financial foot.

Designed to help employees repay student loans up to $30,000, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based technology company’s Student Loan Repayment program is open to all full- or part-time employees who have graduated within the past three years and are working 20 or more hours per week and provides monthly reimbursement up to $500 or the worker’s monthly payment amount, whichever is less.

Applicable to various types of loans—Federal Perkins loans, private student loans and subsidized Stafford loans, for instance—the repayment program also helps employees who go back to school for an advanced degree.

Beau Davidson, vice president of human resources at Nvidia, describes the effort as a “bridge program” geared toward helping recent grads transition into the working world.

“This kind of assistance might help them get started in an apartment, put a down payment on a car, and get themselves situated and ready to work,” says Davidson. “It’s one less stressor to worry about.”

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The Motherhood Tax at Work

New research out of the United Kingdom shows the gender-pay gap widens significantly after the birth of a child, otherwise known as the “motherhood tax.”

According to a new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, 12 years after giving birth for the first time, women are making 33 percent less per hour than men.

On average, women in work receive about 18 percent less per hour than men, down from 23 percent in 2003.

While the wider gap for mothers is not because women see an immediate cut in hourly pay after childbirth.

Possible explanations include mothers missing out on promotions or accumulating less labor market experience, the authors said.

“Comparing women who had the same hourly wage before leaving paid work, wages when they return are on average 2 percent lower for each year spent out of paid work in the interim,” the IFS wrote.

(Tip of the hat to CNN Money.)

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Gender Parity: Lead the Way, HR

For a study to find that women are underrepresented at the chief-executive level is not at all surprising. That much we already knew.

New research from Korn Ferry provides more evidence of the disparity between men and women in the executive ranks. The same study, however, finds one segment of the C-suite where something resembling gender parity may actually exist: HR.

Overall, the Los Angeles-based people and organizational advisory firm’s analysis found just 5 percent of the CEOs at the top 1,000 U.S. companies by revenue were women; a percentage that remains flat from 2015.

By industry, the highest percentage of female CEOs can be found in the consumer sector (9 percent), followed by energy (6 percent), financial and technology (both 5 percent), industrial (4 percent) and life sciences (less than 1 percent).

The numbers aren’t much higher throughout the C-suite. For instance, just 12 percent of CFOs across industries are women, while 19 percent of women occupy the chief information officer’s seat, and 29 percent of chief marketing officers at the top 1,000 revenue-generating companies are female.

You get the idea. There aren’t a lot of women holding the top spots within the top organizations. Except in HR, where 55 percent of CHROs are women, according to the Korn Ferry study.

“In our research, we find that women rank higher on key competencies needed in the CHRO role, such as collaboration and negotiation skills, the ability to balance multiple constituencies and an appreciation for the dynamics of the overall business,” says Joseph McCabe, vice chairman in Korn Ferry’s Global Human Resources Center of Expertise, in a press release highlighting the firm’s recent C-suite analysis.

“Interestingly, other Korn Ferry research shows a distinct correlation between CEO and CHRO competencies, but women are still not making it to the very top spot at the rate they should.”

In the same statement, Peggy Hazard laments the glacial pace of progress on this front.

“Study after study shows that diverse senior teams provide better corporate results,” says Hazard, managing principal at Korn Ferry. “Having more women at the top is a priority for our clients. However, the needle is not moving as quickly as any of us would like to see.”

A collaborative effort will be required to get things moving more briskly in the right direction, in HR and elsewhere, she says.

“In every industry we analyzed, there’s a tremendous need for improvement to bring more women to the C-suite. This is a joint responsibility of the women to seek out experiences and development that can help them lead and succeed, and for organizations to create an environment where women feel empowered to progress in their careers at all levels.”

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Transforming the Workplace

I just came across this interesting piece on Forbes’ site about the different ways organizations are transforming the way business gets done in the modern workplace.

From office furniture with built-in tracking devices to measure users’ activity rates to desks that don’t stay put themselves, the experiments are indeed pushing the envelope of what’s to be expected in the workplace:

“There have also been some interesting approaches to encourage work/life balance among employees, with a Dutch startup called Heldergroen installing desks that literally get pulled up into the ceiling at 5:30 p.m. to force employees to go home.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, Greek designers NL Studio developed a desk that converts into a bed. While the aim is to perhaps encourage ‘power naps,’ it could also facilitate all-nighters at the office.”

The piece goes on to explore the merits of “encourag[ing] external people to come onto company premises,” which include:

1. They allow employees to rub shoulders with interesting people they might not ordinarily meet.

2. They allow HR folks to keep a much closer eye on potential talent to bring on board.

3. They allow those in the merger and acquisition team to keep tabs on interesting startups and spin-outs in their industry.

It’s an interesting, forward-looking piece and you can read the full story here.

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‘HR Lady’s’ Security Breach

177870130 -- credit card securityI’m imagining you, too, would stop your web browsing for one minute and read an article titled How we tricked your HR lady into giving us access to every customer’s credit card number. I obviously did.

The piece posted by network and security firm Netragard on its website lays out in pretty compelling detail all the steps the company went through to test one of its clients, unbeknownst to the client of course, for its level of vulnerability and/or security through a method it calls penetration testing. For the sake of the anonymity of the large retail corporation being tested, Netragard refers to it as Acme Corp.

What got my attention reading through the piece was just how clever and good hackers have to be, not to mention the companies offering their services to protect them from their covert ways.

Like many a hacker, no doubt, Netragard started out by identifying a job opportunity posted on LinkedIn, in this case for a senior security analyst. Here’s just a small portion of the company’s lengthy description of the ploy:

“Interestingly, the opportunity was not posted on Acme Corp.’s website. When Netragard reviewed the opportunity, it contained a link that redirected Netragard to a job-application portal that contained a resume-builder web form. This form was problematic because it worked against our intention to submit an infected resume to HR. We backtracked and began chatting on LinkedIn with the lady who posted the job opportunity. We told her that the form wasn’t loading for us but that we were interested in applying for the job. Then she asked us if we could email our resume to her directly, and of course we happily obliged.

“Our resume contained a strand of RADON 2.0. RADON is Netragard’s zeroday malware generator, designed specifically with customer well-being and integrity in mind. … Shortly after delivering our infected resume, RADON called home and had successfully infected the desktop belonging to the nice HR lady [who] we chatted with on LinkedIn. Our team covertly took control of her computer and began focusing on privilege escalation.

“RADON was running with the privileges of the HR employee that we infected. We quickly learned that those privileges were limited and would not allow our team to move laterally through the network. To elevate privileges, we impersonated the HR employee [who] we compromised and forwarded our infected resume to an IT security manager. The manager, trusting the source of the resume, opened the resume and was infected.

“In short time, RADON running on the IT security manager’s desktop called home. It was running with the privileges of the IT security manager who also happened to have domain administrative privileges.  Our team ran procdump on his desktop to dump the memory of the LSASS process. This is important because the LSASS process contains copies of credentials that can be extracted from a dump.  The procdump command is ‘safe’ because it is a Microsoft standard program and does not trigger security alerts. However, the process of extracting passwords from the dump often does trigger alerts. To avoid this, we transferred the dump to our test lab where we could safely run mimikatz to extract the credentials.

You with me still? The good folks at Netragard then used those credentials to access all three of Acme Corp.’s domains and extract their respective password databases. They then exfiltrated those databases back to their lab and successfully cracked 93 percent of all the current and historical passwords for all employees at Acme Corp.

The total elapsed time between initial point of entry and password database exfiltration was 28 minutes. Let me repeat that: 28 minutes. That’s less than half an hour. And at that point, the company had reached what it calls “an irrevocable foothold” in Acme Corp.’s network. “With that accomplished,” its post says, “it was time to go after our main target,” the cardholder-data environment.

And this, mind you, was a company whose principals had told Netragard that they were highly confident they could withstand any attempted security breach or inadvertent lapse, and that no vendor (or hacker to their knowledge) had ever breached their corporate domain let alone their CDE.

Thank goodness Netragard was simply trying to protect them by revealing their weakness — a “nice lady” sitting in the HR department. Perhaps, on reading this post, you might want to set up some special communications with all the nice folks in your HR organization (?)

As Netragard’s post implores:

” … the differences between compliance and security are vast. In the past decade we’ve seen countless businesses suffer damaging compromises at the hands of malicious hackers. These hackers get in because they test with more talent, more tenacity and more aggression than nearly all of the penetration-testing vendors operating today. For this reason, we can’t stress enough how important it is that businesses select the right vendor and test at realistic threat levels.”

And self-promoting though it may be, I couldn’t resist including its sign-off:

“It is impossible to build effective defenses without first understanding how a real threat will align with your unique risks. At Netragard, we protect you from people like us.”

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The ‘Ban the Box’ Paradox

HRE columnist Peter Cappelli recently penned a piece suggesting that “ban the box” legislation, while certainly well-intentioned, may not be the best approach to helping ex-felons transition back into the workforce.

Such laws, which prohibit employers from making questions about criminal convictions part of the hiring process, have been adopted in 24 states and more than 100 cities and counties in the U.S.

The good news is that “more ex-felons seem to have gotten jobs,” says Cappelli, a professor of management and director of the Center for Human Resources at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, the overall hiring of young black and Hispanic men has declined, he adds.

“In other words, we swapped one form of discrimination for another,” says Cappelli. “It wasn’t supposed to work that way. The problem is people don’t behave the way the legislation anticipated. We don’t wait until the law allows us to find out about criminal records. We start guessing.”

Researchers Jennifer Doleac, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Virginia, and Benjamin Hansen, an associate professor of economics at the University of Oregon, seem to share that view.

In their recent study (which Cappelli does reference in his column), the pair of professors tested the net effects of ban-the-box policies on employment outcomes for various demographic groups, using data from the Current Population survey.

The authors found that, among men between the ages of 25 and 34 who don’t hold a college degree, BTB policies decrease the probability of being employed by 4.5 percent for black men, and by 3.5 percent for Hispanic men.

In the same age group, black men with a college degree and white women of all educational levels benefit from this policy, according to the study. This finding suggests that, when criminal history information is unavailable, “employers pursue candidates who are less likely to have been recently incarcerated based on their remaining observable characteristics,” the authors write.

The goal of BTB laws “is to improve employment outcomes for ex-offenders and thereby reduce racial disparities in employment.”

The legislation, however, “could do more harm than good,” they continue, noting that firms that don’t want to hire ex-offenders might statistically discriminate based on race and gender in order to avoid interviewing applicants who are more likely to have been recently incarcerated.

“Of particular concern, employers might avoid interviewing young, low-skilled, black and Hispanic men when [ban-the-box legislation] is in effect,” note Doleac and Hansen. “This could worsen employment outcomes for those already-disadvantaged groups, without meaningfully improving outcomes for ex-offenders.”

In a recent UVA Today article, Doleac offers a “two-fold policy plan” to help combat discrimination against those for whom “ban the box” laws were designed, “without unintentionally hurting minority men without criminal records.”

For example, “individuals with criminal records may have histories of violent or dishonest behavior, and on average might struggle with greater emotional trauma and have worse interpersonal skills,” she says.

Providing opportunities for such applicants to demonstrate that they don’t have these problems—perhaps by having a local job-training program vouch for them—could potentially “help them overcome automatic assumptions about their temperament and suitability.”

Another “broad category of policies” that might improve upon current legislation includes education and rehabilitation programs that “would actually improve the underlying job readiness of this population,” says Doleac, who is currently working on a new technology-based project aimed at improving re-entry outcomes for individuals leaving prison.

“The reason that employers discriminate against people with [criminal] records is that, on average, that group is less job-ready than people without records.”

 

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Randstad to Acquire Monster

Randstad, a leading human resources services provider, and Monster Worldwide, Inc., a global leader in connecting jobs and people, today announced the signing of a definitive agreement under which Randstad will acquire Monster, according to this press release.

Under the terms of the merger agreement, Randstad will pay $3.40 per share in cash, or a total purchase price of approximately $429 million (enterprise value).

By leveraging Monster’s multiple distribution channels to bridge two different but complementary parts of the extended recruiting industry, Randstad intends to build the world’s most comprehensive portfolio of HR services. Monster will continue operating as a separate and independent entity under the Monster name.

“In an era of massive technological change, employers are challenged to identify better ways to source and engage talent,” said Jacques van den Broek, CEO of Randstad. “With its industry leading technology platform and easy to use digital, social and mobile solutions, Monster is a natural complement to Randstad. The transaction is aligned with our Tech and Touch growth strategy and reflects our commitment to bringing labor supply and demand closer together to better connect the right people to the right jobs. We look forward to welcoming the Monster team and working together to shape the evolving global job industry.”

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Supporters of E-Cigs Fight Back

There’s some real pushback under way to what I was thinking had become a generally agreed-upon vice worth eradicating from our streets, public arenas and workplaces: e-cigarette vaping.

470456691--vapingMy eyebrows were raised on Friday when I came across this release from the National Center for Public Policy Research announcing an amicus brief that had just been filed by the NCPPR and TechFreedom in support of an earlier challenge to the Food and Drug Administration’s war on vaping.

Specifically, the initial challenge that got a major boost on Friday was filed by Nicopure Labs, a manufacturer of e-cigarette liquid, against the FDA’s Deeming Rule, which was finalized in May. That rule would force e-cigarette manufacturers to undergo an expensive and time-consuming premarket tobacco-application process unless their products were on the market prior to the predicate date of Feb. 15, 2007. As the NCPPR release puts it:

“The high cost of the application process means most e-cig businesses will be forced to shut down, eliminating choices of dramatically safer alternatives to combustible cigarettes, which will leave smokers with fewer options to compete against the most harmful form of nicotine consumption, [again,] combustible tobacco.”

It also states that:

“The FDA’s Deeming Rule fails to consider the scientific evidence readily available to the agency regarding the safety and the public health benefits of e-cigarettes.”

Is it just me or is this the first time you’ve read anything about the “public health benefits of e-cigarettes”?

I love how this guy, Tom Remington, on his blog post, compares  choosing between e-cigs and tobacco to choosing between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Mind you, I’m not 100-percent sure what position he’s taking here (something tells me he’s anti e-cigs … and don’t ask me to even hazard a guess as to who he plans to vote for), but his quote is pretty fun:

“Having a discussion about whether or not e-cigarettes are more healthy than real tobacco-product cigarettes is akin to deciding which crook, Hillary or Donald, should get your vote. Would you rather die from e-cigarettes or from tobacco? Would you rather get screwed and further forced into slavery by Hillary or Donald?”

For a much more complete and sobering look at why clamping down on the e-cigarette business isn’t necessarily a good thing for health but IS a big victory for Big Tobacco, read this opinion piece on the Washington Post site by Jonathan Adler. Here’s just one compelling thought to come away with, as Adler writes it:

“With the new FDA rule, Big Tobacco is getting just what it wanted. … [A]s a consequence of the FDA rule, the e-cig market will shrink, and Big Tobacco will be in a better position to dominate what’s left. A vibrant competitive market will be replaced with a cartel, much like the one we see in the cigarette market.”

So what does all this have to do with HR? Probably not as much as other topics we’ve raised here, but I do know many of you are grappling with your smoking policies, and many of you have opted to lump vaping in with the rest of your organization’s prohibited activities.

I guess this might just give you something more to think about as you go about drafting or enforcing such a policy … like who’s hands you might be playing into(?) Or where the real truth lies(?) If, indeed, these things are so much healthier than cigarettes, for all concerned, and can help move the quitting process along, are you sure you want to deny your employees any and all access(?)

Maybe just put all this in your pipe and smoke it(?) (Sorry.)

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Flying High with Employee Motivation

ThinkstockPhotos-186381804You could fill the Grand Canyon with all the studies researchers have produced on ways to motivate employees. But one published this summer stands out. It’s an elegantly simple illustration of how the most effective strategies may also be the cheapest.

Three economists from the University of Chicago and London School of Economics worked with Virgin Atlantic Airways to try several ways of persuading pilots to save fuel. (It turns out that airliners in some ways are like cars — if you drive with a heavy foot, you use more gas.) Along the way they saved the airline more than $5 million, cut carbon emissions by 21,500 metric tons — and learned a thing or two about human behavior.

A working paper on the study was published in June by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The authors — Robert  Metcalfe, Greer Gosnell and John List — highlight their findings this week in a piece published online by the Harvard Business Review.

In a nutshell, the study confirms that you can work wonders simply by telling employees you’re watching them and providing targets to hit. This simple strategy may even work better than offering incentives.

Here’s how the study worked: In January 2014, Virgin Atlantic told pilots that their fuel-saving performance would be monitored for the next eight months.

To test different motivational strategies, the researchers divided the pilots randomly into four groups. Group No. 1, a control group, received no further attention. Pilots in group No. 2 got a monthly summary of how well they carried out specific company suggestions for saving fuel. That report — and I think this is important — was delivered by mail to their home.

The third group got those reports, plus individualized targets set at 25 percent above their pre-experiment performance. And group No. 4 got all of that plus a small incentive: £10 donated to the cause of their choice for each target they hit.

When results were tallied, it turned out that pilots in all four groups improved their practices and saved fuel. The study authors note this confirms a well-known principle called the “Hawthorne effect” — namely, that people act better when they know someone is watching. Those that received reports by mail at home got an especially strong reminder that the company was paying attention to their performance.

The more interesting effect was that both groups 3 and 4 did much better than the others, improving their fuel-saving practices by up to 20 percent. The fact that the improvement was similar for both groups, regardless of whether an incentive was offered, is telling, the study authors say. It suggests that in such a situation, setting targets alone is the most cost-effective strategy for getting employees to do the right thing.

It’s worth noting that Group No. 4 did distinguish itself in another way: In anonymous surveys after the experiment, pilots who had been offered incentives reported significantly higher job satisfaction. This suggests that while incentives may not mean better results, they can improve morale.

Why is setting targets so effective? The study authors think that set a higher expectation for job performance, and “captains successfully adjusted their habits to meet it.”

Writing about the study in his Financial Times column, economist Tim Harford put it succinctly: “If you want people to do a good job, tell them what success looks like to you — and that you’ve noticed when they’ve achieved it.”

Intuitively, we also can imagine that setting targets also helped by activating competitive instincts, the way “gamification” strategies do — who can resist a challenge to hit a target? I also have a hunch about why the incentive didn’t make much difference in fuel-saving behavior: I think it implicitly told the pilots that improving performance was optional. Why would the company offer an incentive if it could make improvement mandatory?

This points to how easily employers can go astray if incentives aren’t part of a broader strategy to recognize success. Among those who have studied this is Stanford University management professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, who wrote in 2007 about how financial rewards can backfire, incentivizing the short-sighted or otherwise harmful behavior.  Focusing on executive compensation, he notes that “financial incentives offer the mirage of a quick fix.”

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