Category Archives: HR profession

Top Five Top Executive Career Mistakes

We all receive hordes of lists at the end of one year and the start of the next. Top 10 this of 2014. Top 5 that. So on first take, I was 185784831 -- executive interviewprone to ignore a release from JMJ Phillip Executive Search on the top five career mistakes executives made in 2014 when pursuing a career move.

Mind you, these “mistakes” aren’t even confined to HR executives. All the more reason to disregard.

But on second read, I decided to share it because every executive, HR or otherwise, could use pointers on what not to do to get where he or she wants to go. And these were put together by an executive search firm — “the top five mistakes our search consultants witnessed in 2014,” as its release states — so they’re not exactly being pulled from thin air.

The first no-no is to focus too heavily on a hypothetical bonus that may or may not come from your current, soon-to-be-previous, employer. As one “high-level executive” told Phillip’s researchers:

“You cannot keep looking backwards. Your future is in the hands of your new employer. So I lost some bonus money, not every step is forward and career growth certainly isn’t linear. If the job is worth taking, it’s worth taking whether you get your bonus from the old company or not.”

As Phillip’s release puts it, “one thing to think about before you sit down to talk compensation, if you’re flinging out wild numbers about a bonus that ‘may come,’ your chances of getting the job are going to go down.”

Second, the consultants found, was what they list as “relocation bi-polarism.” While executives “know the game [and] how to make a career change …,” they write, “we witnessed something in 2014 that was a bit disturbing. Companies often complained about candidates, be it from a firm or their own internally sourced, backing out in the 25th hour because of relocation.” They go on:

“If you don’t want to move, you need to figure that out early on in your career search, ideally before the first interview and absolutely no later than after the first interview. If you fly out somewhere three or four times only to back out, wasting people’s time may not go well for your reputation.”

Third is playing “hide the compensation.” In short, the release says, “nothing seems to stop an offer in its tracks faster than withholding what you are currently earning.” It continues:

“We know it’s a point of leverage and you don’t want them to lowball you, but we look at it from a different light. If the company see’s your value, [it’s] going to pay you what you are worth. Likewise if you are trying to get a 30 percent-to-40 percent raise by playing the hide the compensation game, the company can equally say you’re just looking for a pay day, not a career. Be honest with the company about your compensation, tell them where you would like to be AND WHY, then let the chips fall where they may.”

Fourth, be careful who you’re tempted to say you know in the company you’re interviewing with. Their opinion of you may not align with your perception and they might not even want you working there “because you have dirt on them,” the researchers write.

Lastly, they say, make sure your social-media profile aligns with your resume. As they put it,

“It seems everyone in their life took a position or two that didn’t work out. Maybe they only lasted three months because it was a bad cultural fit or the company wasn’t what they expected. So what do you do? You leave it off your resume but it’s listed on your LinkedIn profile or some other lead gathering site has your information listed and you cannot have it removed. So it only takes one simple Google search for someone to find that discrepancy and question your integrity.”

There you have it. Forgive me if I’m stating the obvious, but these weren’t exactly obvious to me.

Twitter It!

The 15 ‘Scariest’ Issues for HR This Year

It’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times: Society seems to be changing at breakneck speed as acceptance of LGBT rights, evolving immigration patterns and technological and scientific breakthroughs continue to remake society into something that alarms traditionalists while giving comfort to those who’ve historically been relegated to its margins. Yet, celebrate them or condemn them, someone has to translate these changes into workplace policies — and that someone is, of course, HR.

Our friends at online compliance firm XpertHR have just released their list of the 15 Scary Employment Issues of 2015. It’s a comprehensive list, covering everything from marijuana legalization to e-cigarettes to the growing movement for universal paid-sick-leave. And speaking of scary: Colorado, Washington and other states may have legalized the personal use of marijuana yet it remains classified as an illegal drug by the feds. Then there’s paid sick leave: XpertHR calls efforts to mandate it “one of the hottest trends in states and municipalities,” yet who must determine how it is accrued, the purposes for which it can be used and the procedures for using it? The answer is two letters. (I’ll give ya a hint: the first is “H.”)

The full list is below. (And I’ll remind you that “scary” refers to the burden of implementing processes for compliance and not to one’s personal stance on these issues.)

1. Off-duty Use of Medical and Recreational Marijuana

2. Paid Sick Leave

3. Affordable Care Act Mandate

4. Immigration

5. Protecting Company and Employee Privacy in the Digital Age

6. Safe Driving Laws

7. E-Cigarette Use in the Workplace

8. Reasonably Accommodating Pregnant Women

9. Wellness Programs Conflicting with ADA, GINA and FMLA

10. Growing Acceptance of LGBT Rights and Same-Sex Marriage

11. Workplace Bullying

12. Addressing Domestic Violence

13. Minimum Wage and Wage and Hour Laws

14. Providing Workplace Protections to Interns and Volunteers

15. Ban the Box

Twitter It!

Not Ready for the Real World?

college studentsBrace yourselves, HR leaders: Some recent research suggests you may have your hands full with this next wave of employees about to join the workforce.

Earlier this week, the Association of American Colleges and Universities released Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success, which finds today’s college students ill-equipped to make the transition from campus to career, at least in employers’ eyes.

The report, conducted by Hart Research Associates, summarizes findings from two national surveys: one of business and non-profit leaders, and a second poll of current college students.

In the first survey, only about one-quarter of 400 employers said that recent graduates are well-prepared in terms of critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written and oral communication, complex problem solving, innovation and creativity, and applying knowledge and skills to real-world settings. Around 30 percent said the same with regard to new grads’ ethical judgment and decision-making skills.

Not surprisingly, students disagree with this assessment, as more than 60 percent of the 613 college students surveyed rate themselves as well-prepared with respect to critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written communication, teamwork skills, information literacy, ethical judgment and decision making, and oral communication.

This report’s release comes on the heels of a Council for Aid to Education test of nearly 32,000 students, the results of which suggest that four in 10 U.S. college students graduate without the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work. For example, the 40 percent of tested students who failed to meet a standard deemed as “proficient” were “unable to distinguish the quality of evidence in building an argument or express the appropriate level of conviction in their conclusion,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

The exam, known as the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus, was administered at 169 colleges and universities throughout 2013 and 2014, in an effort to measure the “intellectual gains made between freshman and senior year,” evaluating “things like critical thinking, analytical reasoning, document literacy, writing and communication—essentially mimicking the baseline demands for professionals,” according to the Journal .

Taken together, the data from these studies paint a grim portrait of college kids’ prospects for success in the working world, at least early on in their careers.

Employers taking part in the AAC&U have some suggestions for making that picture a bit brighter.

These companies strongly endorsed putting an emphasis on applied learning, with 87 percent saying they are “somewhat more likely” or “much more likely” to hire a college graduate if he or she had completed a senior project in college. Sixty percent said all students should be expected to complete a significant applied learning project before graduation, while 96 percent said all students should have educational experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own.

These are just a few specific steps toward better preparing the workforce’s next generation for taking the leap into the workplace, of course. But, in a broader sense, one theme emerging from this research is that more employers are seeking the prized—if increasingly elusive—blend of both field-specific and more wide-ranging knowledge and skills.

“Very few [organizations] indicate that acquiring knowledge and skills mainly for a specific field or position,” the AAC&U report notes, “is the best path for long-term success.”

Twitter It!

Are There Desks in Paradise?

While the concept of co-working centers is certainly not a new one, incorporating elements of vacation into the mix is helping to push the idea on to some companies’ radar screens, according to today’s New York Times :

These new centers are an offshoot of co-working spaces, which offer the benefits of an office environment on a temporary basis. But they also provide a place to sleep, have fun and mingle with colleagues — not in humdrum office parks, but in exotic locations around the world, in the European countryside close to urban centers or in warm-weather destinations like Bali.

The piece quotes Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research, an independent research and consulting firm in California, who says the trend to blend co-working with living started about five years ago.

 Advances in technology that allow people to work from anywhere there is fast Internet, the round-the-clock work mentality and the move toward more people traveling and rejecting the traditional work schedule are all factors in the growth of such accommodations, he says, adding that he expects the market to grow quickly in the future.

“I would be surprised if there were more than 20 to 30 co-working/co-living spaces around the world,” he said. “But I think there’s going to be very rapid growth.”

And Liz Elam, founder of Link Coworking in Austin, Tex., and executive producer of the Global Coworking Unconference Conference, a network of co-working conferences, told the Times the “co-working in paradise” concept could be a boon for employers looking to retain its young workers:

“More young people want work-life balance,” she said. “Maybe vacations completely unconnected are not feasible anymore; maybe people won’t take traditional vacations. But they can go to work in paradise for two months.”

Twitter It!

Favoritism is No Friend of Diversity

469735239  -- workplace diversityI thought Martin Luther King Day might be a good time to reflect on the forces that make workplaces less diverse than they can and should be. Many are well-known and well-documented, including discriminatory hiring and promoting practices, lack of disability accommodations, insensitivity to gender-identity issues, unequal pay … the list goes on.

But as this recent piece in the Kansas City Star points out, it’s not just about tangible practices and accommodations — or lack thereof. It can be far more subtle and hard to pinpoint, writer Michelle T. Johnson says, when your diversity culprit is favoritism. As she writes:

“What does favoritism even look like? Favoritism is usually about choice. In some workplaces, the work and the people who do it don’t have much variance in how the work is done and who does it. However, in other workplaces, work decisions are made frequently — assignments, shifts, territories, days off. With most decisions come subjective judgments. Every industry and workplace is so different, yet everyone can probably relate to some area of the job that bosses influence [subjectively] at least weekly.”

Her advice to all managers and HR leaders is to always be examining “why you make the personnel decisions you do.” She continues:

“People are quick to defend their decisions, saying they base them on the best person to do the job. But over time, what conditions have you created to allow, for example, one person to inevitably do the job better than another? And if that has happened, what is the reason? Is it that the person reminds you of yourself or has similar interests, or because the person has a personality you find easier to get along with?”

Favoritism can be just that simple, she says. Some people make you spontaneously smile when they walk through the door. Others make you instinctively come up with an exit plan out of a conversation. “Know who those people are and go from there,” she says.

Granted, not all employers can be as proactive as Intel was in its recent announcement that Andrew McIlvaine blogged about earlier this month. Specifically, CEO Brian Krzanich shared in his keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas his company’s plans to spend $300 million dollars over the next five years to improve the gender and racial diversity of its U.S. employee base, and of Silicon Valley at large.

Though he made the announcement, the real powerhouse behind this initiative is Intel President Renée James, as this Fortune piece suggests. Since taking over the presidency in 2013, it says, James “has pushed to review a decade’s worth of diversity data and commissioned a new hiring program that incentivized managers to hire more women and minorities.”

Whichever end of the initiative spectrum you and your organization currently find yourselves on — boldly spending and going where few have gone, like Intel, or simply taking the kind of inward look at your management and personnel choices suggested by Johnson — there’s no better time than now to start thwarting your business’ inequality and no better day to get started than this one.

 

Twitter It!

Bigger Raises on the Way?

465463337The numbers have been awfully similar, and awfully stagnant, for some time now.

Employees in the U.S.—those lucky enough to get a raise—have been receiving, on average, something in the neighborhood of a 3 percent bump in pay each year. And there have been no shortage of experts forecasting comparable increases in the months ahead.

Still, there’s reason to be optimistic that things will start looking up in 2015, according to New York Times senior economics correspondent Neil Irwin. In an online piece appearing this week, Irwin asks whether pay raises will become more commonplace this year, and sees at least three recent signs that may point to “yes.” Specifically:

  • The number of available jobs in the U.S. rose to 4.97 million in November—the highest that figure has been since 2001—as seen in the Labor Department’s latest monthly job openings report.
  • The recently-released National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Survey finds overall optimism among small businesses at its highest point since 2006, with the proportion of small businesses planning to increase compensation in the next three months 17 percent higher than those that planned decreases.
  • Hartford, Conn.-based health insurer Aetna has announced that, beginning in April, it would set a minimum hourly pay rate of $16 for its workers, which Irwin described as “the most interesting piece of evidence for rising wage pressure.” This increase equates to a roughly 11 percent jump in pay for 5,700 claims administrators and various low-level workers at Aetna.

The company is “counting on the raise to make it easier to retain good employees and recruit for vacant positions,” says Irwin, who posits that continuing job growth could find organizations that fail to raise wages “at a competitive disadvantage, losing their best workers to companies like Aetna that try to get ahead of the curve a bit with pre-emptive raises.”

Whether that scenario plays out remains to be seen, of course. Irwin acknowledges as much, allowing for the possibility of the job growth rate flattening as the U.S. inches closer to full employment, and/or the millions of people no longer in the workforce re-entering in large numbers and subsequently holding down wages.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned developments present “a coherent, consistent story,” says Irwin, with employers looking to fill more openings, small businesses expecting to raise pay and “one giant employer … doing exactly that.”

“Add it up,” he says, “and Aetna workers may not be the only ones seeing raises this year.”

Indeed. Aetna employees will certainly not be the only ones receiving raises in 2015. But it will be interesting to see if more large organizations follow Aetna’s lead and begin to break the 3-percent threshold that’s been the norm for so long.

Twitter It!

Supremes Look at EEOC’s Role in Conciliation

Today the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in Mach Mining v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — a key employment case that addresses whether a court may enforce the EEOC’s duty to conciliate discrimination claims before filing suit, legal experts say.

In the Mach Mining case, the EEOC alleged that Mach Mining had discriminated against a class of female job applicants at its mine near Johnston City, Ill. The EEOC notified the company of its intention to begin informal conciliation, and while the parties discussed possible resolution, they did not reach an agreement.

In the federal case, Mach Mining argued that the suit should be dismissed because the EEOC failed to conciliate in good faith. Then, in 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that an alleged failure to conciliate is not an affirmative defense to the merits of an employment-discrimination suit brought by the EEOC.

Gerald Maatman Jr., co-chair of the class action defense group of Seyfarth Shaw, says the Mach Mining case has significant implications for employers that are dealing with the EEOC.

“If the Supreme Court sides with the Seventh Circuit, employers will lose a powerful defense against the EEOC’s aggressive litigation tactics,” he wrote recently in Seyfarth’s Workplace Class Action Blog.

Maatman also says the Seventh Circuit’s decision had “far-reaching, real world significance to the employment community, for it means the EEOC is virtually immune from review in terms of the settlement positions it takes… prior to suing employers.”

In the amicus brief in support of Mach Mining on behalf of the American Insurance Association, Mr. Maatman and Seyfarth Shaw argue that insurers and employers facing EEOC litigation require detailed information in order to accurately set reserves and ensure that any settlement not only promptly and fairly compensates meritorious claims, but also satisfies the interests of insurance regulators.

Their brief contends that the Seventh Circuit’s ruling is “wrong as a matter of policy, since it is fundamental to the litigation process for a party to have fulsome information relative to the claims at issue. The Congressionally-mandated conciliation process was intended to provide that core knowledge;

“This is particularly important in EEOC-initiated litigation, where one of the government’s fundamental mandates is to achieve voluntary and informal compliance with anti-discrimination laws.”

And some of the reasoning behind the Seventh Circuit’s decision, as well as similar reasoning in the briefing the EEOC recently submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court—i.e., that it is essentially “too difficult” to articulate a workable standard for determining whether the EEOC met its good-faith conciliation requirement—defies practical experience, adds Steven Pearlman, partner and member of Proskauer’s employment litigation & arbitration group.

Moreover,  says Pearlman, if no limiting principle is imposed in this context, “the EEOC will be empowered to employ an unreasonable ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ approach to pre-suit settlement negotiations. In fact, courts recently have chided and even sanctioned the EEOC for engaging in such tactics.”

Twitter It!

Marijuana Acceptance Marches On

It’s still highly unlikely that any employer will ever have to allow an employee to work while he or she is stoned, whether there’s a safety 146967521 - smoking dopeor security risk or not, but the chips seem to keep falling away from those sturdy walls that made marijuana unacceptable, illegal and disallowed for years.

The latest indication that pot is going mainstream comes in this Illinois Appellate Court ruling (found on the Canna Law Blog site) affirming a Circuit Court’s ruling that just because a worker was fired for violating his employer’s drug-and-alcohol-free workplace policy doesn’t mean he can’t collect unemployment benefits.

Seems this maintenance worker for the Jefferson County Housing Authority fessed up to his employer — just before a random mandatory drug screening — that he might not pass because he had smoked pot several weeks earlier while on vacation. He was fired, even though his tests results were negative, and was turned down for unemployment benefits because of the nature of his termination.

The Housing Authority’s policy prohibits employees from being under the influence of any controlled substance “while in the course of employment.” Both the Circuit Court and Appellate Court agreed “course of employment” was interpreted too broadly by the Illinois Department of Employment Security to include off-duty hours.

“Among the reasons the Circuit Court found the agency’s interpretation unreasonable,” the blog states, “was the fact that marijuana is now legal in some states and the fact that it unreasonably restricted off-duty time while serving no legitimate public purpose.”

Yes, indeed, marijuana is absolutely now legal in some states, as this news analysis and this blog post by me indicate. But it’s more than going legal, as I also indicate. It’s becoming big business. Make that a huge industry.

Just this month, news releases came across my screen announcing a Cannabis Career Institute opening in San Diego as well as three others in Florida, Illinois and Nevada, all designed, as the releases state, to teach “ganjapreneurs how to succeed in the marijuana industry as the green rush continues.”

Attorneys and experts I’ve talked to assure me employers will always have the legal right — and responsibility — to keep their workplaces safe and drug-free. I just wonder how all this nudging from the “cannabusiness” community and the courts is going to impact how those employers sleep at night.

 

Twitter It!

Looking Ahead at Litigation Trends

looking aheadIf December was the time for workplace experts to parse the year that just went by, then January is when those same experts shift into prediction mode and forecast what may happen in the 12 months ahead.

In its 11th annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, Chicago-based labor and employment law firm Seyfarth Shaw does a bit of both.

The 844-page report, an executive summary of which is available here, analyzed 1,219 class-action rulings on a circuit-by-circuit and state-by-state basis to “capture key themes from 2014 and emerging trends facing U.S. companies in 2015,” according to a Seyfarth Shaw press release.

For example, two cases—Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes and Comcast Corp. v. Behrend—continued to serve as “the most influential ‘pivot points’ for Rule 23 decisions in 2014, having a wide-ranging impact on virtually all class actions pending in federal and state courts,” the report notes. According to Seyfarth Shaw, Wal-Mart was cited 571 times across lower federal and state courts in 2014, while Comcast was cited 261 times, “which in turn generated a bevy of new case law.”

These decisions have reshaped settlement strategies, according to the report, which found governmental enforcement litigation settlements dropping to their lowest levels in a decade last year, while ERISA settlements shot up nearly tenfold from 2013. (Employment discrimination and wage-and-hour class-action settlements remained flat, however.)

Other key trends the Seyfarth Shaw report sees as poised to continue in 2015 include:

  • Wage-and-hour litigation, which represents the prime litigation risk in the workplace, as case filings increased yet again in 2014.
  • FLSA collective actions and state law wage-and-hour class actions, which produced more decisions than any other area of complex employment litigation in 2014.
  • The Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission continued their aggressive litigation approaches with mixed results in 2014, marked by several losses in the federal courts and their lowest aggregate settlement recoveries since 2006.
  • The Class Action Fairness Act, which experienced a “transformative” year in 2014, solidifying defense strategies to secure removal of class actions to federal courts.

“In response to recent Supreme Court decisions on class-action issues, Rule 23 law is undergoing a major transformation, and as a result, employers litigated an increased number of novel defenses in 2014,” says Gerald L. Maatman Jr., co-chair of Seyfarth Shaw’s class-action defense group and author of this year’s report.

“At the same time, wage-and-hour class actions and collective actions also continued their meteoric rise to new record levels, while the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission advanced their litigation agendas in an aggressive fashion,” continues Maatman. “All told, employers face a much more challenging landscape for defending workplace class-action litigation in 2015.”

Twitter It!

Are You a Minister of Culture?

How’s your company’s mojo supply these days?

According to a new piece by Forbes contributor Liz Ryan, it’s likely lower than it could be because some “leaders can’t imagine treating their employees any better than the law requires.”

And that’s what happens when fear-based leaders tell their HR people to simply focus on employment-law compliance instead of employee engagement and other strategic issues, she writes in a new post titled “Reinventing Human Resources For The Human Workplace.”

In the piece, Ryan calls it “a tragedy when HR people are assigned to spout policies and process performance reviews rather than to serve as the Ministers of Culture every organization needs.”

“HR people who see their job as keeping the firm out of court miss dozens of chances a day to build community and trust.”

In order to do this, she says, HR needs “to actively get out there with our teammates and into the talent market and say ‘How do we make this place the hands-down coolest place to work?’ I’m not talking about slogans and happy talk or even Friday night pizza parties or foosball.”

“I’m talking about grown-up accountability for the trust level in the organization. That’s the fuel tank your HR team is responsible for keeping full to its brim. Your Finance team looks after the money. Your HR people keep the mojo stores full.”

And one of the best ways for HR leaders to maintain a company’s good energy, she says, is actually quite simple: “They have to ask way more questions than they answer.”

Indeed, when it comes to mastering a topic as tricky as mojo, taking a “curious” approach certainly seems to make quite a bit of sense.

Twitter It!