Category Archives: HR profession

SHRM in the Big Easy

The heat and humidity of New Orleans in mid-June didn’t keep folks away from the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2017 annual conference, which, according to the association, drew a crowd of more than 15,000 attendees.

In her Monday morning remarks, the SHRM Board Chair Coretha Rushing noted that it was the largest SHRM ever.

If you’re an HR leader, I suppose you can read this to mean that employers are continuing to invest in their HR teams.

Held under the theme “All In,” reflecting the need for HR professionals to be fully engaged in what they do, the conference represents the final one under the stewardship of SHRM President and CEO Hank Jackson. In January, Jackson, 65, announced he would be retiring at the end of the year as head of the 290,000-member association. Earlier this month, SHRM announced his replacement: one-time SHRM chair Johnny Taylor, who is currently chairman and president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

SHRM continued its tradition of releasing its annual Employee Benefits survey at the conference.

According to the latest study, one-third of the 3,227 HR professionals who responded said their organizations increased their overall benefits in the past 12 month, suggesting that benefits continued to be an important tool for recruiting and retaining talent. Health and wellness were the two areas most likely to experience increases, cited by 22 percent and 24 percent of those responding, respectively.

Roughly one-third of organizations (34 percent) indicated they offered healthcare coverage to part-time employees, compared to 27 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, about three of every five organizations (59 percent) said they have a general wellness program for employees.

Just 6 percent of the organizations decreased their overall benefits, with healthcare and wellness topping the list of areas being cut.

Workplace flexibility also experienced a modest uptick, with telecommuting and flextime both experiencing increases from a year earlier. Roughly three out of five organizations (62 percent) allowed some type of telecommuting, and 57 percent offered flextime, allowing employees to choose their work hours within limits established by the employer.

Ellen Galinsky, a senior research advisor to SHRM who also serves as president of the Families and Work Institute and is chief science officer for the Bezos Family Foundation, noted that the flexibility findings are consistent with other research she’s done.

“Why are companies helping employees with flexibility?” Galinsky asked during a press conference that gave a first look at SHRM’s Effective Workplace Index, which uses seven components to measure workplace effectiveness. “We found it’s retention, retention, retention.”

In a national study of employers, she said, 39 percent identified retention as the major reason for adding these initiatives. Recruiting was naturally a key factor as well.

Of course, as Laszlo Bock suggested in his Monday morning keynote at the conference, giving employees the freedom to choose what they’re working on also goes a long way to keep them engaged in what they’re doing—and inevitably will lead to greater retention.

Bock, the former senior vice president of human resources at Google who recently announced the launch of a jobs startup called Huma, told those in the audience that “you want to give people a little more freedom than they’re comfortable with.”

The end result, he said, will be increased “productivity and happiness.” (Bock will be keynoting our HR Tech Conference this October, focusing on the role HR can play in building organizations that innovate.)

Bock shared three principles during his remarks.

First, Bock said, companies need to give work meaning. “The most important thing you can do is create an environment that … instills meaning in the work people are doing,” he explained. “If you can connect your work to something more meaningful, [people] will be more productive.”

Second is trust, he said. “Trust comes down to a fundamental question: Do you think people are good or evil? If you believe people are fundamentally good, you’re going to treat them that way. But most organizations [structure themselves in such a way that they] actually don’t assume that they’re good.”

Instead, Bock said, companies need to be more open and transparent with their employees. “One of the things Eric Schmidt at Google always used to do [at every quarterly meeting] was share his entire presentation,” he said. “I don’t know if they’ve been doing it in the last six months, but it never leaked while I was there, and it let people know they were trusted.”

A third principle Bock shared is to “always, always, always, always hire people better than you.”

Know what you’re interviewing for, he said. “I don’t mean the job description. I mean, What are the attributes a job needs.”

He advised HR professionals to not let hiring managers make the hiring decision. Why? “If you’re a hiring manager, you are susceptible to not just the bias inside your own brain, but pressure from outside people.”

Instead, Bock said, establish a hiring committee, one that doesn’t including anyone who’s going to work with the person. The committee’s whole job is to ensure quality, he explained. Was the assessment fair and unbiased? Was it valid?

Over time, he said, companies that hire better than their competitors will emerge as winners.

Solve a Puzzle, Get a Tech Job

British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover announced yesterday that it would be recruiting 5,000 people this year, including 1,000 electronics and software engineers.

While that announcement alone may not seem worthy of inclusion in the esteemed pages of the New York Times, how the upscale carmaker is conducting this recruitment process certainly is: The paper reports the carmaker “wants potential employees to download an app with a series of puzzles that it says will test for the engineering skills it hopes to bring in.”

While traditional applicants will still be considered, people who successfully complete the app’s puzzles will “fast-track their way into employment,” said Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by Tata Motors of India. Applicants are invited to explore a garage belonging to the band Gorillaz and assemble a Jaguar sports car. Once they complete that stage, they are confronted with a series of code-breaking puzzles.

The Times notes that the carmaker’s recruitment effort is “unusual but far from unique,” adding that increasing numbers of employers are using alternative methods to hire workers. The story goes on to cite Marriott hotel and a British communications agency as other examples of organizations changing their recruitment techniques to keep up with the pace of change in today’s marketplace.

“The nature of jobs is changing, and what we should be looking for is changing,” Barbara Marder, senior partner at Mercer, a consultancy that specializes in human resources and has a stake in Pymetrics, a company that makes games for recruitment purposes, told the Times. She added that such games had not been in use long enough to provide ample data on their effectiveness. Still, she said, they could be more useful than traditional tests and interviews.

Games offer additional benefits, she said, explaining: “They’re very attractive in attracting candidates and keeping the short attention span of millennials. That’s not an insignificant challenge.”

 

A Nation of Apprentices

According to U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, only 3 percent of the American workforce are apprenticeship graduates. But if President Trump’s new apprenticeship program delivers as promised, that number will soon be a lot higher.

Indeed, the Trump administration is now focused on getting universities and private companies to pair up and pay the cost of such learn-to-earn arrangements., according to the Washington Post, which noted that the president has accepted a challenge from Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff to create 5 million apprenticeships over five years.

“Our program will be geared toward all industries and all jobs,” Acosta said during a White House press briefing Monday. “The point here is to foster private-private partnerships between industry and educational institutions … so that when [students leave the program] they have the skills necessary to enter the workforce,”

President Trump also spoke about the need for a more robust apprenticeship program during his first full Cabinet meeting on Monday: “Apprenticeships are going to be a big, big factor in our country. There are millions of good jobs that lead to great careers, jobs that do not require a four-year degree or the massive debt that often comes with those four-year degrees and even two-year degrees.”

Many employers and economists on both sides of the aisle welcome the idea of apprenticeships as a way to train people with specific skills for particular jobs that employers say they can’t fill at time of historically low unemployment, according to the Post piece, which notes the most recent budget for the federal government passed with about $90 million for apprenticeships, and Trump so far isn’t proposing adding more.

More from the Post:

But the Trump administration, like President Barack Obama’s, says there’s a need that can be met with a change in the American attitude toward vocational education and apprenticeships. A November 2016 report by Obama’s Commerce Department found that “apprenticeships are not fully understood in the United States, especially” by employers, who tend to use apprentices for a few, hard-to -fill positions” but not as widely as they could.

The shortages for specifically-trained workers cut across multiple job sectors beyond Trump’s beloved construction trades. There are shortages in agriculture, manufacturing, information technology and health care.

George Brooks, leader of People Advisory Services at Ernst & Young, applauds the decision to focus on apprenticeships.

“Apprenticeship programs look like a win-win solution for employers, employees and society,” he says, before adding that companies must play their part.

“What resonates beyond the announced apprenticeship program is the need for companies we work with to fill many new types of jobs that will be in heavy demand, such as cyber, drone management, robotics management, etc., that are growing too quickly to wait for four-year STEM students to graduate or for older workers to go back to school,” Brooks says. “By the time these people have the traditional degree, technology will have evolved even further. That workforce challenge is why we see leading organizations starting their own training-apprenticeship-mentoring programs, thus building their own future workforce.”

 

 

Risk on the Moral High Road

If, as an HR leader, you’re going to take a stand on ethical grounds, you had better be ready for the backlash if you change your mind later on.

That seems to be a key lesson to emerge from the findings of research recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

For their study, Tamar Kreps, an assistant professor in the department of management at the University of Utah, and Kristin Laurin, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia, conducted a series of 15 online experiments that involved more than 5,500 participants between the ages of 18 and 77.

In each experiment, these individuals were provided information about political or corporate leaders who had changed their opinions on a particular subject. Some participants were told that the leaders staked out their original positions on moral grounds, while others were informed that these initial stances were based on a more pragmatic view, such as “it was good for the economy.”

Across the multiple studies Kreps and Laurin conducted, they found that participants saw leaders who changed their minds after taking a moral stand as being hypocritical. In most cases, these individuals also perceived these leaders as “less effective and worthy of their support than leaders whose initial stance was pragmatic,” according to a statement.

“Leaders may choose to take moral stances, believing that this will improve audiences’ perceptions. And it does, initially,” says Kreps.

“But all people, even leaders, have to change their minds sometimes. Our research shows that leaders who change their moral minds are seen as more hypocritical, and not as courageous or flexible, compared with those whose initial view was based on a pragmatic argument.”

That perception can be tough to shake, too. According to the authors, they “tried to test various factors we thought might weaken the effect” across several studies. For example, the authors asked participants how they would feel if the leader “did not rely on popular support and therefore would have no reason to pander” or “used the same moral value in the later view as in the earlier view.”

Still, no dice.

“None of those things made a difference,” says Kreps. “Initially moral mind-changers consistently seemed more hypocritical” to those taking part in the study.

While opining that moral beliefs tend to stay constant over time, Kreps cautions that leaders should take the ethical high road on a given issue only if they genuinely feel that way.

“Taking an inauthentic moral view to try to pander to a moralizing audience could backfire,” she says, “if a leader needs to change that view later on.”

Is One Watchdog Better Than Two?

The Trump administration wants to combine the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with another federal watchdog agency—and both worker and business groups are worried.

The issue got attention on Wednesday as new Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta testified before a House subcommittee about how President Trump’s proposed budget will affect his department.

Among other proposals that would cut Labor department spending by 20 percent overall, Trump’s budget also proposes merging the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs into the EEOC, an independent agency.

Acosta told skeptical Democrats on the panel that the merger made “common sense” and would not hurt workers, the Associated Press and other news organizations reported.

Off Capitol Hill, the merger idea has drawn fire from communities that often disagree—business leaders and worker-rights advocates. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition that includes labor unions, the ACLU and others, wrote the administration and Congress on May 26 that the merger would effectively shutter the OFCCP by folding it into the EEOC.

“Both OFCCP and EEOC help advance and protect equal employment opportunity, but they are distinct in their enforcement approaches and expertise, and they should remain separate,” said Leadership Conference CEO Wade Henderson in a prepared statement. “We strongly urge Congress to reject this proposal, which would lead to an erosion of key civil-rights protections for working people.”

Though the merger idea got an early boost from the business-friendly Heritage Foundation, some corporate leaders agree with critics that the agencies should remain separate. Some, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, fear the merger would create a mega-regulator with too much power.

”There is a fear in the business community that this newly formed grouping might result in the worst of all worlds from both agencies,” said Randy Johnson, a chamber senior vice president, in a prepared statement. He noted that the EEOC has legal powers the OFCCP does not.

The ‘Why’ Behind Wellness Programs

It isn’t always about the money.

Or, at least it’s not when it comes to why many companies offer wellness programs, according to a new survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

For its new Workplace Wellness 2017 Survey Report, the Brookfield, Wisc.-based nonprofit organization polled 530 members of the IFEBP as well as the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists and the National Wellness Institute.

Overall, more than 90 percent of these organizations offer at least one wellness initiative. Among them, 75 percent report that improving overall worker health and well-being is their company’s No. 1 reason for doing so, with just one in four saying that controlling or reducing health-related costs is their primary motivation for implementing wellness programs.

As for what these wellness initiatives consist of, “traditional” offerings such as free or discounted flu shots “continue to gain steam,” according to an IFEBP statement.

But the aforementioned report also highlights some “popular emerging wellness benefits” that employers are weaving into their wellness initiatives, such as chiropractic services coverage, currently offered by 62 percent of respondents. In addition, 59 percent said they provide employees with opportunities to participate in community charity drives and events, attend onsite wellness-related events and celebrations (58 percent), and take part in wellness competitions such as walking/fitness challenges (51 percent).

Whatever form a wellness program takes, the effort seems to be paying off for many organizations. More than half of the responding companies that measure their wellness offerings, for example, say they’ve seen a decrease in absenteeism since putting a wellness program in place. An even larger number (63 percent) indicate that they are experiencing financial sustainability and growth in the organization, while 67 percent say their employees are more satisfied and 66 percent report increased productivity.

“Employers are realizing that wellness is not just about cutting healthcare costs, because wellness is not only about physical health,” says Julie Stich, associate vice president of content at IFEBP, in a statement.

“Embracing the broad definition of wellness has led to a tremendous impact on organizational health and worker productivity and happiness.”

It would stand to reason that a happier, more productive workforce translates to a bigger, better bottom line, of course. And, for those HR and benefits leaders who haven’t yet made the business case for developing workplace wellness programs, the numbers to emerge from this report could certainly provide them with some strong ammunition.

Report Targets Walmart Policies

Walmart’s absence control program “punishes workers who need to be there for their own families,” according to a new report released late last week.

The report, “Pointing Out: How Walmart Unlawfully Punishes Workers for Medical Absences,” was produced by A Better Balance, an advocacy group that supports legislators across the nation in “researching, drafting and testifying on behalf of bills to help workers care for themselves and their families without risking their paychecks,” according to its website.

“Walmart disciplines workers for occasional absences due to caring for sick or disabled family members and for needing to take time off for their own illnesses or disabilities,” the report states.

“Although this system is supposed to be ‘neutral,’ and punish all absences equally, along the lines of a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy,” the report continues, “in reality such a system is brutally unfair. It punishes workers for things they cannot control and disproportionately harms the most vulnerable workers.”

The group based its findings of alleged illegal behavior at the superstore chain on conversations with Walmart employees as well as survey results of over 1,000 current and former Walmart workers who have struggled due to Walmart’s absence control program.

“Walmart may regularly be violating the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) by failing to give adequate notice to its employees about when absences might be protected by the FMLA and by giving its employees disciplinary points for taking time to care for themselves, their children, their spouses or their parents even though that time is covered by the FMLA,” the report states.

In response, Walmart told the New York Times that it had not reviewed the report but disputed the group’s conclusions, and said that the company’s attendance policies helped make sure that there were enough employees to help customers while protecting workers from regularly covering others’ duties.

“We understand that associates may have to miss work on occasion, and we have processes in place to assist them,” Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Walmart, said. The company reviews each employee’s circumstances individually, he said, “in compliance with company policy and the law.”

Ready for More Immigration Audits?

With tougher immigration rules on the front burner in Washington, nearly every employer should be prepared for a visit from ICE agents sooner or later, warns an immigration lawyer who defends employers.
With President Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” policy increasing scrutiny of employer-sponsored work visas like the H-1B, “I do believe we’ll see increased enforcement with respect to audits and site visits,” says Montserrat Miller, a n employment attorney partner at Arnall Golden Gregory LLP in Washington who specializes in helping employers with immigration issues.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents aren’t just targeting packing houses and other businesses with a history of hiring undocumented workers, Miller says. And they’re no longer just looking for “criminal aliens” and gang members, common targets of ICE workplace enforcement operations under previous administrations.

Any business with workers who have “H” or “L “visas—commonly issued to let foreign citizens work in the U.S. for a sponsoring employer—should be prepared for a sudden visit by ICE agents looking to see that all the paperwork is in order, Miller says.

“Everybody has the potential to be detained if they’re not authorized to be in the United States,” she says. (Watch for more coverage of changes in immigration law, including a Human Resource Executive® magazine cover story to be published this month that looks at how employers are affected.)

Miller says it’s key to be prepared for these visits. First, she says, make sure people on the front lines, such as receptionists, know what to do when an agent arrives. They also should know what documentation ICE agents are required to present when they arrive, she adds, and whom to summon for help, including HR leaders and legal counsel.

Employers, Miller says, should also determine before any site visit where agents may and may not go to inspect company records.

Employees with work visas should be familiar with details provided on their visa applications “so they don’t accidentally say something [to agents] that raises questions” during a site visit, according to Miller.

The bottom line:”You need to have a plan in place.”

SHRM Names Taylor to Post

As many of you know, Society for Human Resource Management CEO Hank Jackson announced his retirement in January, after 12 years at the helm of the world’s largest HR association.

Johnny Taylor

The expectation by some was that the Alexandria, Va.-based group, with 285,000 members globally, would officially announce his replacement around the time of its annual conference later this month. Well, the suspense ended yesterday with the appointment of Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a familiar face in SHRM circles, as the new SHRM president and CEO, effective this November.

Taylor is currently president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a national organization representing nearly 300,000 students attending 47 publicly supported, historically black colleges and universities. He’s been in that role since 2010.

Before TMCF, Taylor worked for IAC/InterActiveCorp, first as senior vice president of HR for IAC/InterActiveCorp and later as president and CEO of one of IAC’s operating subsidiaries. Prior to that, he was a litigation partner and president of the HR consulting business for the McGuireWoods law firm; executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for Compass Group USA; and general counsel and senior vice president of HR for Viacom’s Paramount Pictures Live Entertainment Group.

Taylor served as SHRM’s board chair in 2005 and 2006. (Gerry Crispin, principal and co-founder of CareerXroads, recalled that when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Taylor, who was board chair at the time, was “instrumental in honoring many of the HR leaders who reached out to help those who had to leave the area for other communities.”)

Johnny was Chair of the Board of SHRM when Katrina hit N’Awlins and instrumental in honoring many of the HR leaders who reached out to help those who had to leave the area for other communities.

In making the announcement, SHRM Board Chair Coretha M. Rushing called Taylor a “visionary leader and accomplished HR strategist who is committed to the continued advancement of the profession … .”

SHRM board member Patrick Wright, meanwhile, said Taylor will be a great successor to Jackson.

“Johnny has such a breadth of experience: HR, legal, operational, strategic, for profit, not for profit, etc.,” said Wright,  a professor in the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.  “He brings to SHRM a vision for the organization and an even larger vision for the profession. I look forward to working with him.”

It’s been a busy year in terms of leadership changes at HR professional associations. SHRM’s announcement follows the appointment in April of Scott Cawood as president and CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based WorldatWork.

Biometrics and New Privacy Concerns

A recently filed class action suit in Illinois could be the signpost for “a new employment law frontier,” according to at least one law firm.

As recently reported by Holland & Knight, a class action suit pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois centers around the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, which was passed in 2008 to prohibit the gathering and keeping of individuals’ biometric information without his or her prior notification and written permission.

In Baron v. Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc., et al., the plaintiff alleges that the supermarket chain violated BIPA by failing to meet the legal requirements to obtain and retain employee fingerprints the company used for timekeeping purposes.

Holland & Knight attorneys called biometrics an “emerging area” of employment law, as more employers begin to use the technology to log employees’ hours. Damages available under laws such as BIPA make this fertile ground for class actions as well. For each violation of BIPA, a prevailing party may recover the greater of actual damages or $1,000 for negligent violations of the Act, the attorneys note, adding that plaintiffs may recover the greater of actual damages or $5,000 for “reckless or intentional violations.”

With legislation comparable to BIPA already on the books in Texas, and states including Alaska, Montana, New Hampshire and Washington considering similar bills, employers would be wise to tread carefully when and if they introduce biometrics to their places of business.

“Laws like BIPA will become more relevant to employers and of increasing interest to the plaintiffs’ bar as the use of biometric data, such as the use of fingerprints or thumbprints for timekeeping purposes, becomes more prevalent in the workplace,” according to Holland & Knight.

“With the increasing awareness of such laws by the plaintiffs’ bar, it is important that employers using or considering the use of biometric data in the workplace ensure compliance with any state or local laws governing the use, retention and destruction of that data.”