Category Archives: HR profession

Comment Period Begins for OT Rule

The Department of Labor is expected to publish today in the Federal Register its anticipated Request for Information on its overtime rule.

As you may recall, the rule was blocked last November by a Texas federal judge before it would have expanded overtime protections to over 4 million workers, by more than doubling the annual salary level at which workers must be compensated for overtime pay, from $23,660 to $47,476. There will be a 60-day public comment period following tomorrow’s Request for Information.

Seyfarth Shaw attorney Alexander Passantino, former acting administrator of the Labor Department’s wage and hour division, and current partner in the D.C. office of the firm, writes in a blog post that the issues the DOL seeks comment on include whether the 2004 salary test should be updated based on inflation, and if so, which measure of inflation; whether duties test changes would be necessary if the increase was based on inflation; and other questions.

The issues on which the Department seeks comment, according to Passantino’s post, are:

  • Should the 2004 salary test be updated based on inflation? If so, which measure of inflation?
  • Would duties test changes be necessary if the increase was based on inflation?
  • Should there be multiple salary levels in the regulations? Would differences in salary level based on employer size or locality be useful and/or viable?
  • Should the Department return to its pre-2004 standard of having different salary levels based on whether the exemption asserted was the executive/administrative vs. the professional?
  • Is the appropriate salary level based on the pre-2004 short test, the pre-2004 long test, or something different? Regardless of answer, would changes to the duties test be necessary to properly “line up” the exemption with the salary level?
  • Was the salary level set in 2016 so high as to effectively supplant the duties test? At what level does that happen?
  • What was the impact of the 2016 rule? Did employers make changes in anticipation of the rule? Were there salary increases, hourly rate changes, reductions in schedule, changes in policy?  Did the injunction change that? Did employers revert back when the injunction was issued?
  • Would a duties-only test be preferable to the current model?
  • Were there specific industries/positions impacted? Which ones?
  • What about the 2016 provision that would permit up to 10% of the salary level to be satisfied with bonuses? Should the Department keep that? Is 10% the right amount?
  • Should the highly compensated employee exemption salary level be indexed/how? Should it differ based on locality/employer size?
  • Should the salary levels be automatically updated? If so, how?

“Of course, the value of these responses ultimately is dependent on the Fifth Circuit’s decision on whether the salary test is permissible to begin with,” Passantino writes. “Should the Fifth Circuit rule in the Department’s favor on that issue, the RFI responses will provide the Department with the information it needs to proceed on a new rulemaking adjusting the salary level . . .  assuming the employer community responds.”

The Telltale Text

Erika Nardini says she learns a lot about job candidates by how quickly they respond to text messages. And if you want to work for her, you better not leave her hanging when she sends you one.

Last week, I started seeing article after article focusing on Nardini—CEO of Barstool Sports—and a unique exercise she uses to get a sense of how devoted an applicant would be if hired by the New York-based sports and men’s lifestyle blog.

Earlier this month, Nardini told the New York Times about the random text messages she sends to prospective hires at odd times—9 p.m. on a weeknight or 11 a.m. Sunday morning, for example—just to see how long it takes them to get back to her.

The idea, of course, is that those who respond promptly would be more apt to show around-the-clock commitment once on the job, according to Nardini, who told the Times that she typically likes to see a reply within three hours.

(A quick sidebar … Considering the time that passed between me first reading about this unconventional hiring test and sitting down to write about it, it’s dawning on me that I should probably never apply at Barstool Sports. I’m guessing that I would screen out of the hiring process in pretty short order.)

Now, you can question whether Nardini—who admits to thinking about her job “all the time”—gives a rip about her employees ever achieving anything resembling work/life balance. But the former AOL chief marketing officer with a self-described “punishing” leadership style claims she’s just looking for others who share a similar preoccupation with their work.

“It’s not that I’m going to bug you all weekend if you work for me, but I want you to be responsive,” Nardini says in the Times interview. “Other people don’t have to be working all the time. But I want people who are always thinking.”

I’d be interested to hear how applicants who have been on the receiving end of a text from Nardini feel about being assessed in this way. I’m sure many are more than willing to go above and beyond to land a job. And you could argue that one quick text from a would-be boss isn’t that much of an imposition anyway. Still, could some qualified and talented candidates be scared off by the possibility of sacrificing even a little bit of their precious personal time should they get the position?

In fact, countless surveys have in recent years found that many employees would like to think less about work when they’re away from the office, but feel increasingly obligated—pressured, even—to stay connected in some way.

All that said, how many potentially valuable performers wind up leaving a job in the early-going because they feel they weren’t given a true picture of what life would be like at the company?

Ultimately, employers have to find ways to provide interviewees with an honest, accurate preview of the organization’s employee experience before they come on board. And, however you feel about the approach she’s taking, you have to at least give Nardini points for doing just that.

Reconsidering Your Office Layout

Gallup survey results  reinforce a key point of my recent story about the distracting acoustical problems of open offices: In the workplace, privacy matters.

Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace (full report is  here) finds that while an estimated 70 percent of U.S. offices use open floor plans to encourage collaboration, “people still want a personal space at work,” according to Annamarie Mann, who is Gallup’s employee engagement and well-being practice manager.

Her  sensible recommendations are summarized on Gallup’s site in an article titled “How to Make an Open Office Floor Plan Work.”

Mann’s suggestions include:

  • “Allow every employee to have a home base, even in a flexible, collaborative office.”
  • “Provide a variety of types of spaces—big group tables, booths, comfy chairs, soundproof areas, large and small meeting rooms— that allow employees the freedom to choose how they work best.”
  •  “Start a conversation about how your organization understands collaboration in relation to productivity.”

Analyzing the responses to Gallup’s surveys, Mann finds a link between office environment and employee engagement. The research found “employees who have a personal work space are 1.4 times more likely to be engaged at work” than other workers, Mann notes. (Gallup found only 52 percent of responding workers have a work space with a door they can close.)

And “employees who have the ability to move to different areas at work are 1.3 times more likely to be engaged than other employees,” she writes. (Gallup found 74 percent of respondents said they have that freedom.)

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

Professionals surveyed by staffing firm OfficeTeam said they squander an average of 56 minutes per day, or the equivalent of nearly five hours a week, using their mobile device for non-work activities in the office. In contrast, senior managers estimate their staff members spend 39 minutes each day on their cell phones during business hours.

Workers also admitted to clocking 42 minutes a day on personal tasks. All in all, the average employee could be wasting more than 8 hours per work week on activities unrelated to the job, according to OfficeTeam.

“It’s understandable that employees may occasionally use their mobile devices or attend to personal tasks during business hours. But these activities can easily become big distractions,” said Brandi Britton, a district president for OfficeTeam. “To best manage their time, staff can take advantage of breaks during lunch and throughout the day to catch up on non-work email or errands.”

(View an infographic of the research and data tables with breakdowns of the results by gender and age.)

Additional findings:

  • Employees ages 18 to 34 rack up 70 minutes on mobile devices and 48 minutes on personal tasks each work day, the most of all age groups.
  • While 62 percent of managers think staff spend the most time on social networks when using their own mobile devices during business hours, workers said they’re most occupied by personal email (30 percent).
  • Male employees most frequently check non-work email on their cell phones (32 percent), while females browse social networks more (33 percent).
  • Workers reported social media (39 percent) and entertainment websites (30 percent) are most commonly blocked at their companies. Nearly half of respondents (48 percent) indicated their organization doesn’t restrict access to online content.
  • More than half of professionals (58 percent) often use their personal devices at work to visit pages that are banned by their company, a 36-point jump from a 2012 survey. Only 39 percent of managers think it happens that commonly.
  • Sixty-eight percent of male workers frequently use their cell phones to access blocked websites in the office, compared to 43 percent of females.

 

Who’s Afraid of Automation?

Despite all the hand-wringing over automation’s potential to displace scores of hard-working humans, it seems that a majority of employees are actually ready to welcome our new robot overlords.

In fact, just 14 percent of U.S. employees say they’re worried that automation will take their job away someday, according to new research from Atlanta-based Randstad North America.

The 2017 Randstad Employer Brand Research study polled more than 5,300 workers, with 76 percent of respondents saying they don’t fear automation. Nearly one-third of employees (30 percent) said they think artificial intelligence and automation will make their jobs better.

This optimism seems to be at odds with how some have described the prevailing employee sentiment toward robotics in the workplace.

In a May 2017 HRE feature, for example, Laura Maechtlen discussed the “Chicken Little-type thinking” she often encounters in discussions about automation’s impact on the future of work.

“There’s just so much fear about people being replaced,” said Maechtlen, a San Francisco-based partner at Seyfarth Shaw, and co-chair of the firm’s diversity and inclusion action team.

That fear isn’t well-founded, she told us, adding that automation should be seen as an opportunity to augment an organization’s talent, not to supplant its employees.

This recent Randstad poll certainly suggests that employees are getting more comfortable with the concept of artificial intelligence and automation, and many would be willing to take part in additional training to maintain their current job status. Overall, 51 percent said they would be happy to retrain in order to develop and update the skills needed to work alongside AI—provided that they were being paid the same or more than their current salary.

“It is evident from our research that not only are workers not afraid of losing their jobs to automation, they are more than willing to retrain to leverage the efficiencies and benefits of artificial intelligence and robotics in the workplace,” says Linda Galipeau, CEO of Randstad North America, in a statement.

“These sentiments should be welcome news for companies as they seek greater adoption of automation to drive productivity and innovation,” says Galipeau. “As we have known for quite some time, the success of organizations in the future will depend greatly on their ability to strike a balance between valuable human insight and interaction with technology.”

While AI is “becoming a reality” in the workplace, this influx of automation “doesn’t make human skills less valuable,” Jim Link, chief human resources officer at Randstad North America, tells HRE.

In the future, says Link, an organization’s success will depend on its ability to enable humans and AI to function collectively and collaborate effectively.

“Companies and HR leaders owe it to both their companies and their employees to play an active role in communicating and teaching the skills needed for the future, as automation moves into the workplace,” he says.

“This can encompass anything from training programs that focus on upskilling employees’ strategic, problem-solving skills—expertise that AI doesn’t necessarily possess—to providing employees with incentives to develop these skills on their own time.”

Back From Vacation — And Stressed

That week in the Bahamas was everything you’d hoped it would be. And now it’s Monday, your first day back at the office — and life stinks.

If this scenario rings true to you (regardless of whether said vacation was in the Bahamas, Disney World or your own backyard), then take heart in knowing you’re hardly alone: Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of 1,000 full-time U.S. workers polled by training and communications firm Fierce Inc. say they’re either more stressed or have the same level of stress upon returning to work after taking paid time off. The reasons why aren’t that surprising, with most respondents citing having to catch up on missed work, followed by having to readjust to “a work mindset” and needing to resolve major issues that arose while they were away.

Not all employees feel equally stressed, however, with only 14 percent of respondents who said they were “very satisfied” with their job feeling more stressed returning from vacation. Meanwhile, 38 percent of those who reported being unsatisfied with their jobs said they felt more stressed returning to work.

“The fact that returning to work is a stressful situation speaks volumes to the lack of support many employees feel both leading up to, and returning from, vacation,” says Stacey Engle, Fierce’s executive vice president of marketing.

Interestingly, while more than half of employees believe their managers support and encourage them to take time off, only 40 percent say the same of their co-workers. Once again, there’s a correlation between this factor and job satisfaction, with 57 percent of those unsatisfied with their current job saying no one encourages or supports them in taking paid time off, while just 18 percent of those who are very satisfied say the same. Lower-paid employees also report a lack of support, with 45 percent of those with annual household incomes of $50,000 or less saying no one encourages them to take a vacation. Meanwhile, less than 30 percent of employees who make $100,000 a year or more say no one encourages them to take time off.

Then there’s the perennial issue of under-vacationed Americans: Although a third of the Fierce survey respondents say they receive 20 or more vacation days each year, one in every five say they receive less than 10. Not surprisingly, younger and lower-paid workers tend to receive the least PTO days. By way of comparison, countries within the European Union require a minimum of four weeks (20 days) of paid leave for all workers, while a number of them(such as Germany and Switzerland) are even more generous.

Given that there is no national law requiring paid time off in the U.S., employees and HR need to keep the lines of communication open regarding the issue of vacation. As Fierce’s Engle says, “employees need to feel empowered to ask for what they need, and managers must be open to hearing concerns of these employees.”

Improving the Candidate Experience

A new CareerBuilder study outlines the complex perceptions, attitudes and behaviors of both candidates and hiring managers to better help employers identify and address where they fall short in their current candidate process.

CareerBuilder’s 2017 Candidate Experience study included 4,512 workers ages 18 and over, and 1,500 hiring decision makers. (You can view full results and the executive summary here.) The study’s results show what peers and competitors have identified as shortcomings in their process, illustrate the role for technology to help improve the process and provide tips to make things easier for employers and prospective employees.

According to CareerBuilder, here are some aspects employers are struggling with:

  1. Not having a quick apply process for every device: The application process itself can contribute to a negative experience for modern candidates as “applications taking too long” (28 percent), “having to customize documents for every job” (34 percent) and “uploading a resume into a system but still having to manually fill out fields” (29 percent) are reiterated as frustrating aspects of the process by a considerable amount of candidates.
  2. Not preparing hiring managers: On average, only 2 out of 5 hiring managers are prepped by recruiters or talent acquisition specialists. Of those who do, only 2 out of 5 prep hiring managers specifically on the topic of candidate experience. This means only 16 percent of hiring managers overall are prepped by specialists to help manage the candidate’s experience.
  3. Not having an effective career site: An employer’s career site is important for getting key information, according to 89 percent of job seekers. But a quarter of employers (24 percent) say their company career site doesn’t accurately portray what it’s like to work for their organization, and only 45 percent of candidates say they can typically tell what it would be like to work for a company based on their career site.
  4. Not tailoring communications methods to specific segments: The ever-emerging multigenerational workforce demands a shift in the way we communicate. Millennials significantly prefer email communications (57 percent) over phone calls (31 percent), whereas boomers significantly prefer phone calls (58 percent) over emails (37 percent). Gen Xers have equal preferences towards email and phone calls (47 percent for both). Further, millennials are 2-3 times more likely to prefer alternative communication methods (text messaging, social media messaging and video calling) compared to Gen X and baby boomer generations.
  5. Not recognizing when the employee experience really begins: The lines between the candidate and employee experience are blending – at least in the eyes of candidates, as 3 in 4 say their candidate and onboarding experience with a company is the first part of their broader employee experience with that company.
  6. Not building relationships with candidates for future opportunities: The most valuable resource an employer has is their talent pool. While it is important to attract the top candidates, it is equally as important to frequently and effectively communicate with your talent pool, but more than a third of employers (35 percent) say they don’t put time into doing this.
  7. Not having an efficient background check process: Employers that want to keep top talent from talking to other companies while they want to receive employment screening results should improve their screening process. Sixty percent of candidates continue communicating and interviewing with other companies while waiting on background results.
  8. Not having the right ATS or an ATS at all: Organizations currently utilizing an ATS (applicant tracking system) reported placing more emphasis on the candidate, employee and hiring manager experiences. For example, those who currently use an ATS are 25 percent more likely to have a standardized process to help deliver a consistent candidate experience.
  9. Not informing the candidate where they stand: More than half of job seekers say employers don’t do a good job of setting expectations in terms of communication at the beginning of a potential hiring interaction. Eighty-one percent of job seekers said continuously communicating status updates to candidates would greatly improve the overall experience.
  10. Not staying connected with candidates once they have accepted the position: Once the hiring process is in the post-acceptance and onboarding stage, the expectation is for the process to be seamless and frustration-free for new hires – yet a noticeable number of candidates say this stage has not been ideal. Two in 5 candidates (40 percent) say they’ve experienced a lack of communication in the past between when they accepted the job and their first day of work. This is not surprising, since less than half of employers (47 percent) have a formal process in place for communicating and interacting candidates between the time the day they accepted the job and the day they start work.
  11. Not paying attention to how their employer presence/brand is portrayed on social media: Employers are trying to reach an audience, and they can’t afford to let their brand’s social media pages fall by the wayside. Yet, 60 percent of employers don’t monitor their employer presence/brand on social media. Of those who do, 68 percent take steps to encourage positive reviews while 16 percent just react to negative information.
  12. Not treating candidates with the same respect as employees: While the majority of employers (51 percent) say the line is blurring between the company experience and employee experience, less than half of job seekers (49 percent) say employers treat candidates with the same level of respect and accountability as current employees. This is an issue since the vast majority of job seekers (nearly 4 in 5) say the overall candidate experience is an indicator of how a company values its people.

“A positive candidate experience is a competitive advantage in a job market where candidates have flexibility in their job selection,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. “To remain competitive and create a candidate experience that attracts, secures and retains today’s top talent, you need to determine how your current hiring methods measure up to what candidates are looking for.”

 

Unlimited Vacation and Productivity

Since the earliest days of unlimited PTO policies, supporters have argued they are more likely to help productivity than hurt it. A new analysis of data supports that claim.

In a report titled HR Mythbusters 2017, developers of the HR technology platform Namely analyze their data from 2016 to test the notion that unlimited vacation does more good than harm.

The result: Employees with unlimited time took an average of 13 days off, during the year, compared to 15 days for employees with a traditional allowance.

“The data prove that on average employees with unlimited PTO plans do in fact take less time off than employees with a set amount of vacation days,” the report authors write. “This calls for a change in the way HR teams and managers communicate about time off.”

In a related finding, the Namely analysis compared vacation-time usage with job performance. The result: “High performers tended to take an average of 19 vacation days per year, while individuals who scored lower took only 14.”

Keeping a Distance Between Genders

If you believe the findings of a recent survey, conference rooms at the average company look like the gym at a typical middle school dance: boys on one side and girls on the other.

All jokes aside though, the results of a new poll conducted for the New York Times paint a picture of modern workplace dynamics that should be a bit unsettling.

For example, the survey of 5,282 adults asked respondents whether it was proper to take part in a variety of activities—enjoying a drink or a meal, driving in a car—alone with someone of the opposite sex who was not their spouse.

With respect to the workplace, 25 percent of women said having a one-on-one work meeting with a man would be inappropriate. Twenty-two percent of men said the same about private meetings with female colleagues. Overall, close to two-thirds of respondents said employees “should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work,” according to the Times.

In interviews conducted with survey respondents, some depicted the workplace as a “fraught atmosphere in which they feared harassment, or being accused of it,” the Times reports.

At first blush, it might be startling to think that roughly one quarter of employees feel this way. But consider recent developments at companies such as Uber and Fox News, for example. One can certainly hope that organizations like these are outliers; exceptions rather than the rule. But the headlines are inescapable, and the specter of sexual harassment looms a bit larger than usual at the moment. And some employees are apparently nervous about how their private interactions with colleagues of the opposite sex—however harmless they might be—could be perceived.

Count construction worker Christopher Mauldin among the apprehensive.

“When a man and woman are left alone, outside parties can insinuate about what’s really going on,” Mauldin told the Times. “Sometimes false accusations create irreversible damages to reputations.”

Without a doubt, those on the wrong end of unfounded harassment allegations can pay a steep price. As do victims of actual sexual harassment.

Just ask Kathleen Raven, a science writer in the office of communications at Yale School of Medicine.

While telling the Times that she “considers herself to be progressive in many ways,” Raven says she no longer conducts closed-door or offsite meetings alone with men, because she has been sexually harassed in the past. Raven also says that she “tries to avoid being too friendly, to ensure she doesn’t give the wrong impression.”

Hannah Stackawitz, on the other hand, can’t imagine a professional life that doesn’t include taking solo meetings with men.

“I do it every day, honestly,” the Langhorne, Pa.-based healthcare consultant told the paper, adding that her husband has frequent one-on-one meetings with women as part of his job.

Employers and HR have a duty to ensure that male and female colleagues feel this comfortable working with each other.

However, not a lot of companies have been able to do so, according to Kim Elsesser, author of Sex and the Office: Women, Men and the Sex Partition That’s Dividing the Workplace.

“Organizations are so concerned with their legal liabilities, but nobody’s really focused on how to reduce harassment and at the same time teach men and women to have working relationships with the opposite sex,” Elsesser told the Times.

This recent New York Times poll suggests that the problem Elsesser describes is a very real one. Stackawitz makes a very simple case for why fixing it is important.

“There’s no way that women or men can become their full and best selves,” she said in the Times piece, “by closing themselves off.”

The State of Independence

The “gig economy” may be the future, but growth in the number of independent workers is slowing as the nation’s robust job market lures some back to traditional employment, a new report concludes.

MBO Partners, a Virginia-based firm that offers a technology platform for self-employed professionals, each year tallies the number of independent workers. Its 2017 State of Independence in America, seventh in an annual series of reports, finds the total number of such workers edged up just 3 percent to 40.9 million since 2016.

Most of that growth was in what the authors call “occasional” independent workers — including people with regular jobs who pursue a freelance “side gig” at least once a month. The number of these workers soared 23 percent in one year to 12.9 million, the report finds.

By contrast, the number of full-time independent workers — those working for themselves at least 15 hours a week — dropped more than 4 percent to 16.2 million. This is the second straight year of decline for this group, study’s authors say. “Surveys tell us … that many people prefer the security of full-time jobs,” they note. “We expect the number of full-time independents to cycle up and down in response to the strength of the jobs market.”

Predictably, part-time independent workers — those working for themselves fewer than 15 hours a week but devoting more time than an “occasional” independent  — fell in the middle: Their numbers declined only slightly, by 3 percent, to 11.8 million.