Category Archives: HR profession

Research on Work and Family Issues

Interested in work/family issues? Seems like most people are — from both a personal and professional standpoint.

I recently attended a Focus on Workplace Flexibility conference that offered some studies pinpointing various issues affecting the integration of work and life.

I highlight some of those new academic studies in my write-up of the conference (here). These studies ranged from barriers that prevent women from remining in the science pipeline to the way blue-collar workers will find ways to create their own flexibility when their employers are inflexible. From the way working mothers give up leisure time and sleep to meet the demands of children and jobs to the extreme work/family issues affecting military families. (See all of the papers from the conference here.)

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which funded these studies, has for years also funded the Work and Family Researchers Network, which has been at Boston College since 1997. That funding of the Network, however, is ending, and it is now both moving to the University of Pennsylvania and is becoming a membership organization.

Anyone interested in work/family research can become a dues-paying general member for $100 a year. Seems like a membership many HR leaders should consider. See here for more information.

Most Read Stories on HREOnline last week

See what you may have missed:

* Checking in With the Next Generation

Peter Cappelli ‘s latest Talent Management column looks at Wharton’s annual mid-term exam, which explores students’ view of their last job and the way they were managed. In most cases, management was lacking. Feedback was limited or nonexistent, and bonuses — instead of resulting in engagement and motivation — often prompted these high-potential candidates to quit or slack off. 

* Time to Re-Engage

Top businesses for HR practices — according to an exclusive recalibration of Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies” list — are taking employee engagement very seriously in this economy. (A PDF of the Top 50 Companies is here.)

E-Learning Still Trending Up

Companies continue to adopt technology-based training for employees as expenditures in training and development decreased overall last year. At the same time, the expenditure per employee actually remained stable, because the workforce was smaller.

 * Pinpointing Leadership Qualities

Social networking is changing the way HR leaders think of legal risks and recruiting opportunities, writes Susan R. Meisinger in her latest HR Leadership column. It also should make them think about the way they select high-potential candidates for leadership-development programs.

* Talking up Flexibility

Work/life balance is drawing more attention from the White House and other policymakers as research continues to show that the issue has an impact on the decisions of working families. A recent conference brought together representatives from the administration, military, academia and corporate America to attempt to drive the discussion onward.

Into the Crystal Ball

With the end of the year approaching faster than employees can run to a plate of free holiday cookies, a few organizations typically take this time to cull their collective wisdom in an effort to predict the coming trends for the new year.

Among them is Bersin & Associates, which this morning released their view into the 2011 crystal ball: Enterprise Learning and Talent Management 2011: Predictions for the Coming Year — Building the Borderless Workplace.

In a brief chat yesterday afternoon with Josh Bersin, the Oakland, Calif.-based firm’s president and chief executive officer, he said the main themes of the coming year will be globalization, collaboration and employee re-engagement, as organizations shift to a global, borderless workplace in 2011.

“Companies are significantly shifting their new investments towards China, India, South America, to the growing parts of the economy, and they don’t have their people enabled to fulfill on that,” he said. “This is forcing HR to globalize learning and development and HR programs, as well as its own operational structure.”

In fact, Bersin research found that 17 percent of all organizations cited “globalization” as one of their top three business strategies in 2010 — three times the percentage of midyear 2009.

In addition to pressing outwards, Bersin said companies must also turn the lens back on themselves to ensure proper engagement levels are met.

“We have found that HR needs to look at their culture, because there’s been two or three years of upheaval at companies, and you can implement social networking all you want, but there’s really cultural issues underneath it that still need to be addressed.”

In addition to engagement, organizations will be re-focusing their energies on creating more innovative processes in 2011, Bersin said.

That’s based on their research that found 34 percent of all HR and business leaders now cite “driving innovation” as one of their top three talent challenges, up from only 14 percent last year.

“How do we create a culture of collaboration and innovation? Those are problems that companies haven’t thought about the last two or three years,” he says.

For access to the full report, click here.

NLRB Moving Closer to Letting Unions Access Your Private Property

Spoke to an attorney today who had some interesting things to say about what the near future holds for unions wanting to gain access to private property. Make that alarming things if you’re an employer. Make that especially interesting/alarming if you happen to own or operate a medical facility.

Steven M. Swirsky, an attorney in the labor and employment practice of EpsteinBeckerGreen, took the time to talk to me about an e-mail alert I got from his firm saying the “new Obama Labor Relations Board has signaled that it will likely be granting union organizers the right to enter a healthcare facility’s premise to conduct union-organizing activity.”

That alert was based on this NLRB call for amicus briefs to help the board rethink how it rules on employers’ rights to limit union access to their private properties. For an even clearer understanding, here’s the NLRB’s press release about its call. The deadline for submissions, by the way, has just been pushed to Jan. 7.

The Supreme Court has said in the past that employers have the right to limit access to their properties so long as they don’t discriminate. The NLRB wants to rethink the legal definition of “discriminate.”

The problem is, says Swirsky, “you have to think about a hospital or rehab or nursing-care facility like you would a shopping mall or department store. There are areas, like the lobby or parking strip or front entrance, that are always open to the public. So now, if a hospital allows Girl Scouts to come in, will they then have the right to say they don’t want the Teamsters or the Teamsters don’t have the right to picket … in their lobby?” Based on every other ruling by the NLRB since President Obama has taken office, he says, this will likely not come down on the side of emplolyers. Swirsky thinks this’ll probably be decided before the summer.

The issue is complicated and involves a lot of legal cases and tangents, so rather than try to interpret, here are some links: one to an alert by an editor with HealthLeaders Media, another to an alert by Swirsky’s firm on what all employers should be doing to prepare for this,  another to an alert by employment law firm Littler, another to a link-filled legal rundown by Labor Relations Today of everything under consideration and, finally, to a whole rundown of “The Next Phase of the Employee Free Choice Act: Union Organizer Access to the Business” — or “son of EFCA,” or “grandson of EFCA,” or whatever they’re calling it now — by EFCA info.org.

According to Swirsky, this call for amicus briefs “gets at the heart of achieving EFCA without EFCA” and even includes an intent by the NLRB to re-examine its “registered guard” statute, which may lead to unions having access to employees’ e-mail as well.

So what are you supposed to do? Says Swirsky, “Look very carefully at your policies and how they’re enforced” to make sure you’re not discriminating against unions. Are employees allowed to distribute fund-raising solicitations for Johnny’s soccer team? Then you’ll probably have to grant unions the same physical and e-mail access. Do you enforce your limited-access rules only when unions want to organize? “Then the board will look at this and see discrimination,” he says.

How people learn about these rules, how they sign off on these rules, “how thoroughly managers are trained about these rules and why they exist, and what the consequences are if they don’t follow them … you’ll need to think of everything,” Swirsky says.

Wal-Mart v. Dukes: What’s at Stake

 Unless you’ve been vacationing in someplace really remote (like North Korea, perhaps), you’ve no doubt heard that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Wal-Mart’s challenge of the Ninth Circuit appeals court ruling that allowed the sex-discrimination class-action lawsuit against the giant retailer to proceed.

 Gerald Maatman, a partner and employment attorney at Seyfarth Shaw, says the Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter may change the workplace class-action landscape permanently. Maatman has written an article that outlines what will be at stake when the high court issues its ruling, which he estimates will occur by next June.

In particular, he writes, employers can expect a clarification of the federal Rule 23 certification standards in employment-discrimination class actions overall.

Additionally, the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Dukes effectively “eliminates individual-by-individual defenses stemming from personnel decision-making by employers and turns class actions into statistical exercises,” Maatman writes. It also rejects the notion that district courts must resolve challenges to an expert’s qualifications and the reliability of the expert’s testimony in order to determine whether it’s relevant to establishing any of the Rule 23 requirements for class certification.

 “The net effect is that plaintiffs are able to certify more case, and gain the leverage that comes with a certification order,” he writes. “The Supreme Court’s disposition of this issue has enormous consequences for employers in approaching the defense and litigation of class-action claims.”

Conaty on Squawk Box: Are You Ready?

Caught Human Resource Executive Forum® closing keynote speaker Bill Conaty (former GE SVP of HR) on CNBC’s Squawk Box this morning discussing his new book (The Talent Masters), the economy and jobs.

Conaty noted the leverage at this time continues to be with employees and not employers. “Employees right now are on the short end of the stick … they’re kind of stuck; they can’t move, they can’t sell a house, the job market isn’t that robust,” he said.

“But when the sun comes out in this economy, and it will at some point in time, I think those so-to-speak loyal, dedicated employees are going to start answering phone calls from search firms.”

You can read a Q&A we did with Bill in the November issue of HRE on “Mastering Talent,” here.

Can’t get work done? Blame the office.

CNN’s web site has an interesting post this morning from Jason Fried, co-founder and president of 37signals, which produces software enabling teams to work together online. He is also co-author of a new book entitled “Rework.”

Fried’s piece, entitled “Why the Office Is the Worst Place to Work”, takes a very interesting look at why so few people think of their office when asked where they’d go if they really needed to get something done:

I don’t blame people for not wanting to be at the office. I blame the office. The modern office has become an interruption factory. You can’t get work done at work anymore … .

When you’re in the office you’re lucky to have 30 minutes to yourself. Usually you get in, there’s a meeting, then there’s a call, then someone calls you over to their desk, or your manager comes over to see what you’re doing.

These interruptions chunk your day into smaller and smaller bits. Fifteen minutes here, 30 minutes there, another 15 minutes before lunch, then an afternoon meeting, etc. When are you supposed to get work done if you don’t have any time to work?

Fried then goes on to uncover the striking similarities between work and sleep:

I believe sleep and work have a lot in common. I don’t mean that you can sleep at work or you can work in your sleep. I mean sleep and work are phase-based activities. You don’t just go to sleep or go to work — you go towards sleep and towards work.

You aren’t sleeping when your head hits the pillow. You start the sleep process. You have to go through phases to get to the really beneficial sleep. And if you’re interrupted before you get there, you have to start over.

The same is true for work. You don’t just sit down at your desk and begin working effectively. You have to get into a groove. You go towards good work. It takes some time to settle in, clear your head, and focus on what you need to do.

I don’t think anyone would expect someone to get a good night’s sleep if they were interrupted all night long. So why do we expect people to get a good day’s work if they are interrupted all day long?

He concludes by suggesting a few options to increase productivity and uninterrupted work time, including “no-talk Thursdays” instead of casual Fridays, and using passive communication, such as instant messaging, instead of popping in on a colleague’s office.

But he saves his best bit of wisdom — at least in this over-scheduled writer’s opinion — for last:

3. Cancel your next meeting. Or just don’t attend it. I’m not suggesting you boycott all meetings — just the next one. Life will go on. And all that stuff you thought you had to talk about with eight other people around a table will get worked out some other way. You’ll gain an hour of time you can spend on more important things. And so will those eight other people. Work can happen without that next meeting. Once you recognize that meetings aren’t as necessary as you thought, they’ll become a last resort instead of a first resort.

Now go enjoy your Monday staff meetings! (Or not.)

Most Read Stories on HREOnline™ Last Week

Here’s what our readers found most interesting on HREOnline™ last week:

 Time to Re-Engage: Top businesses for HR practices — according to an exclusive recalibration of Fortune‘s “Most Admired Companies” list — are taking employee engagement very seriously in this economy.

Pinpointing Leadership Qualities: Susan Meisinger’s latest column on the way social networking is changing the way HR leaders think of legal risks or recruiting opportunities. It also should make them think about the way they select high-potential candidates for leadership-development programs.

Modifying Preconceived Notions: A study suggests millennials are happier with their bosses than many workplace observers thought; happier than baby boomers or Gen Xers. There could be many reasons for the phenomenon, experts say.

Ensuring Parity: The most significant points about complying with the Mental Health Parity Act and an update on the COBRA benefits — as modified by the economic-stimulus act — are summarized in this month’s Legal Clinic.

HR Costs Rebounding? A new report on human-capital effectiveness finds HR costs for organizations are rebounding to pre-recession levels. But does that mean the war for talent is back on? 

CDHPs: It’s All in the Details

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, participation in account-based healthcare plans remains low, but continues to grow: 22 million Americans are currently enrolled in consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs) or high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), according to EBRI’s latest annual Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey.

Enrollment in CDHPs rose to 5 percent of the privately insured population in 2010, up from 4 percent last year. Enrollment in HDHPs, meanwhile, rose to 14 percent of the privately insured population, up from 13 percent in 2009. (CDHPs are high-deductible plans paired with a tax-favored health-savings account; HDHPs are plans with deductibles of at least $1,000 that are either not paired with an HSA or in which enrollees have elected not to sign up for an HSA.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the higher deductibles that enrollees in CDHPs and HDHPs must pay, they tend to exhibit more cost-conscious behaviors than their counterparts enrolled in traditional healthcare plans: 51 percent of CDHP enrollees and 50 percent of HDHP enrollees ask for a generic drug instead of a brand name, compared to 44 percent of employees in traditional plans.

CDHP enrollees are also more likely to participate in health-risk assessment programs and are more likely to choose doctors based on whether they use health-information technology such as electronic health records, according to the survey, which queried 4,509 adults between the ages of 21-64 with private health insurance coverage. They also tend to exhibit healthier behaviors (not smoking, exercising) than their counterparts in traditional plans, the survey found.

The last part, about CDHP enrollees being healthier, struck me as hardly surprising: After all, the conventional wisdom has been that healthier employees are more likely to choose these types of plans because they’re less likely to need healthcare services—and therefore less likely to be put off by those high deductibles. But the EBRI’s Paul Fronstin says that’s not necessarily true.

“Many employers, especially small businesses, offer only one plan, so in many cases employees enroll in a CDHP because that’s the only option,” he says.

More importantly, despite those high deductibles, CDHPs can be structured in such a way that employees can actually save a bit of money compared to a traditional plan,  he says.

“Plan design drives peoples’ behavior,” he says. “Employers can actually make it easier for employees to choose a CDHP over a traditional plan. For example, if you offer a CDHP with a $2,400 annual deductible for an employee and their spouse, with very low monthly premiums,  and a traditional plan with a much lower deductible but monthly premiums of $200, the CDHP could be the better deal, especially if the employer ‘seeds’ the HSA with $1,000 or so.”

According to the EBRI, 61 percent of employers that offer CDHPs contribute $1,000 or more to each employee’s HSA for family coverage; for employee-only coverage, 28 percent of employers contribute $1,000 or more.

An Interactive Study in Background Checking

I came across this interesting feature in today’s New York Times. It’s a case study about a small business owner — a guy by the name of Prasad Thammineni — whose company, OfficeDrop, scans clients’ documents to create digital files. His challenge: to make sure his employees aren’t the types to leak clients’ private information, but aren’t so put off by his background-screening methods that they can’t feel good about where they work.

The piece walks us through all his dilemmas, like how to search for good background screeners, how to pick one, which checks to go with — such as criminal checks — and which to decline — such as drug testing. (Essentially, he felt secure enough in his own ability to decide whether one of his employees, even one of his new hires, had a problem with drug use or addiction to forgo this one.)

“The last thing we want to do,” he tells the Times, “is tell people how to live their lives outside the office.” (Not everyone concurs with that sentiment these days, but I do.) He also decided to conduct background screens after his employees were hired and simply keep them out of reach of sensitive material until the check was finished. (Now that one raises the eyebrows.)

So far, pretty standard fare. But what’s fun about the piece is its interactive arm. Readers get to click on a link at the end, entitled “You’re the Boss,” where they can chime in — for publication — on what they think Thammineni should or shouldn’t have done.

Some of the critiques are pretty pointed. All are eye-opening for anyone close to, or especially new to, the background-checking routine. My take-away? Never underestimate the power and potential to further a journalistic discussion.