Category Archives: HR profession

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.

Report: Many Customer-Service Employees ‘Highly Disengaged’

The Corporate Leadership Council, part of the Corporate Executive Board consulting firm in Washington, has released its latest quarterly Engagement Trends report. The report measures employees’ discretionary effort, intent to stay and engagement levels and is based on responses from approximately 618,000 workers from every geographic region in the world (with 72 percent of respondents coming from the United States).

Perhaps not surprisingly, considering that the economy continues to recover (albeit slowly), the number of employees who said they have “high levels of intent” to stay in their current positions declined in the third quarter of this year, to 22 percent,  from a high of 27 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. On a more encouraging note, the number of participants who said they put out high levels of discretionary effort was up slightly, to 6.2 percent in the third quarter, from 6 percent in Q2—this was down from 7 percent in Q4 of 2009, however.

Disengagement levels remain high, according to the survey, which found that 21.6 percent of workers describe themselves as highly disengaged—down just a bit from a peak of 22.2 percent in Q4 2009. And which corporate functions have the most highly disengaged employees? Disturbingly, it’s customer service, with 25.2 percent of workers in this function reporting that they’re highly disengaged, closely followed by finance/accounting, at 22.5 percent. Manufacturing and sales were the areas with the lowest levels of highly disengaged employees, tied at 17.1 percent.

So, this holiday season, when you’re on the phone with a customer-service rep trying to figure out why your child’s new video-game console isn’t working properly, it might help to remember that the person on the other end probably wishes they were doing something else, too.

Most Read Stories on HREOnline™

Last week’s most popular articles on HREOnline™  — See what you may have missed:

* Bill Kutik’s latest column: When Will They Ever Learn?

The learning management vendors, now solidly selling talent management, are bubbling these days. Cornerstone OnDemand has announced its intention to go public; Plateau has shucked off its heritage of selling installed systems in favor of SaaS; and Saba (already public) is pioneering collaboration tools for corporate use.

* Chilling Worker Speech on Facebook

The NLRB’s case against an ambulance company that fired an employee for a posting on Facebook really boils down to traditional labor law, experts say. Can a worker be fired for bad-mouthing a supervisor who denied them access to union representation? The decision will have implications for company policies on social-media use.

* A New Era for HR Perks?

Increased public scrutiny has probably contributed to the leveling off of executive perquisites, but a recent analysis shows that two-thirds of HR executives receive some form of perk. The larger the company, the more likely HR leaders would receive perks, although there were industry differences.

* HR’s Role in ERISA Regulation

New regulations have been handed down from the U.S. Department of Labor related to fiduciary requirements for fee disclosures in retirement accounts, including 401(k)s. HR can play a key role in compliance by effectively getting the new information out to employees, experts say. 

* Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes in Congress

As the United States braces itself for a Republican-led House of Representatives after the sweeping GOP victories in the midterm elections, experts weigh in on what it all means for HR. 

Some Heartfelt Apologies from a First-Time Boss

Granted, this blog post by Roberta Matuson that I came across today speaks more to employees than managers, and certainly more to employees than HR executives, but it’s a very “from the heart” apology from a former first-time boss that’s a good read on all three accounts.

The e-mail from Matuson’s PR folks alerting me to her post, Confessions of a First-Time Boss: An Apology, makes the point that in this economy, with companies reorganizing and re-engineering, “thousands of people are finding themselves tossed into management every day.” And with training programs “going the way of the 401(k) match,” it says, “new managers have to fend for themselves.”

Matuson is an HR expert who appears pretty regularly on television and in news and business publications. She’s the author of a new book entitled Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around. She’s also one of the top bloggers for Fast Company and is the president of Northampton, Mass.-based Human Resource Solutions. She’s also real good at being real direct.

What she shares in her post should be good food for thought for anyone whose job it is to make sure first-time managers are trained properly. Like the propensity for new — often young — managers (like she was at 24) to come across as know-it-alls who fail to trust or delegate to their teams, who fail to manage down and up at the same time, who try to be a friend instead of a boss and who put their own political needs before the financial, career and work/life needs of their subordinates. The list goes on.

My favorite “confession” is the last one: “Being more concerned about my image than your paycheck. In my efforts to be a team player, I may have dimmed your light more than I should have. After all, how could I have more than one person on my team who exceeded expectations? In retrospect, I should have done everything in my power to make sure that your light shown brightly for all to see. My political aspirations took me to a place where my need to succeed trumped your needs. I know now that leadership is about making others look good. In turn, you’ll get what you deserve, and so will your team.”

Survey: Fewer Corporate Holiday Parties This Year

The economy may be improving (slowly), but the workplace holiday party scene is not, at least according to the annual holiday-party survey from New York-based exec-search firm Amrop Battalia Winston: 79 percent of companies plan on holding some type of holiday celebration this year, compared to 81 percent last year and in 2008. This represents the lowest number since ABW started doing the survey 22 years ago.  

For those that will be holding celebrations, just over a quarter (28 percent) say their parties will be more modest than in years past; this is on top of 49 percent who cut back on the lavishness last year.

There is a silver lining, for a very few lucky souls: 11 percent of respondents plan to hold more lavish parties, which is up from 1 percent last year and 2 percent in 2008. The survey did not specify what “lavish” means, so it could refer to a dinner of prime rib and shrimp cocktail accompanied by a live orchestra to serving crackers with cheese this time. The number planning to serve alcohol this year is also up, to 79 percent, compared with 73 percent last year. Sixty-one percent say their parties will be “at the same level” as in years past.

Most workers should not plan on bringing a spouse to this year’s celebrations: 69 percent said their parties will be “employee only,” while a quarter (26 percent) intend to invite employees and their families to gatherings.

On a sadder note, fewer than half of the surveyed companies (47 percent) are planning to get involved with charity events (donating money, food, clothing, gifts and/or volunteering), compared to 66 percent in 2009 and 74 percent in 2008. Here’s hoping they at least encourage employees to donate what they can to a charitable cause. As we all know, the need has hardly subsided.

Testing HR’s Knowledge

WorldatWork released an interesting study today on the ability of HR professionals to determine the truth about various pay and incentive information. 

The HR professionals were asked to identify whether 10 statements were true or false — and a majority of the 641 respondents did well on eight of them. All of the statements were taken from academic research findings.

Wanna try? Here are four of the statements. True or false:

T or F * Some raises are too small to cause employees to put forth additional effort.

T or F * When pay must be reduced or frozen, there is little a company can do or say to reduce employee dissatisfaction and dysfunctional behaviors.

T or F * When workers understand how their pay is determined, organizational commitment and job involvement increase, but pay satisfaction does not.

T or F * When pay rates are based on political factors (liking, favors, etc.) rather than objective performance, employee performance and company performance suffers.

The answers? True. False. False. True.

Some of the answers seem obvious, of course, especially that final question, but it’s an interesting exercise.

See all of the questions in the full study (PDF): The Connection Between Academic Research Findings and Total Rewards Professionals.

The study’s author and research director, Brian Moore, says organizations and HR leaders should understand that “the combination of case studies, common practices and controlled scientific studies can come together to create something more powerful than any of them can deliver alone.”

HR Manager Killed by Workers in India

Sad — and scary –news from India, where a group of workers attacked and killed a 45-year-old HR manager at Allied Nippon, a joint Indo-Japanese venture that manufactures brakes and brake shoes for cars, according to the Times of India.

Joginder Singh died of multiple head and chest injuries about a day after workers suddenly attacked him and other managers with iron bars in protest of staff firings, according to AFP.

Nine of the factory workers in  Ghaziabad have been arrested and charged with murder. Another 27 workers were identified as being part of the brawl and 300 are so far unidentified.

Two company officials remain in the intensive care unit of a local hospital.

As HRE wrote earlier this year, HR seems to be a more frequent target of violence by workers — and not just overseas. That’s because HR leaders are often the messengers of bad news.

William J. Daly, senior vice president of London-based risk consultant Control Risks, was quoted in the story as saying that HR leaders can be hurt by the tendency of senior leaders bringing them up on stage to announce bad news and then leaving them on-site to deal with the repercussions.

“Traditionally, HR [leaders] have thought they were part of the solution and trying to help people but are now realizing that sometimes, during a difficult situation, there is no positive spin on the fact that jobs are being lost or some action should be taken against employees.”


 Daly says [scaling back the HR presence is] not the answer because communication from HR is too vital during those critical times and remains just as important to many laid-off workers after the fact.

 The best they can do, he says, is to handle it like any other security risk — with preparation. Identify workers who may pose a security threat and figure out how to handle violence if it happens.

 “You need to be aware of your surroundings,” Daly says. “This is your job, you need to go and do it, but you need to go in there with eyes open. If there are any threats or issues that come up, know how you’re going to deal with them. Have a plan.”

In this case, police said the company had no warning violence was about to explode.

The factory’s HR vice president Mahendra Chowdhary told the media the attack by workers “was premediated and unprovoked. Workers attacked and chased the human resources staff and those on the board of directors.”

HR Secrets Revealed!

In a new post entitled 10 Things the HR Department Won’t Tell You on the Yahoo! front page this morning, Woman’s Day scribe Kimberly Fusaro attempts to drop the veil on the tightly held secrets of the human resource profession.

But before reading it, be forewarned — especially if you live under a rock or haven’t read a newspaper in years — because this information may just shock you.  

Fusaro begins by saying it’s HR’s “responsibility to make sure you’re doing your job well. Which means they know a lot more than you might think.”

Sounds ominous. But informative? Not really.

Among the many gems of wisdom Fusaro and her gathering of experts offer are the following diamonds in the obvious:

“Smelling like cigarette smoke can work against you, as can having body odor.”

“If there’s something on the Internet you wouldn’t want your boss to see, it’s probably in your best interest to take it down.”

“If you’re applying for a work-from-home position, you need to present yourself as a ‘home professional’ from the get-go. This means that when HR first calls to express interest, there better not be crying babies or barking dogs in the background.”

“You need to continually impress your employer in order to stand out as an exceptional employee. Bad behavior and negative experiences, on the other hand, can linger in an employer’s mind for years.”

After reading the list, it strikes me that the reason HR probably wouldn’t tell you most of these things is because, if you need to be told, then you probably shouldn’t be hired in the first place.

A Night of HR Excellence: Some Connections and Impressions

It was nice to see so many familiar faces — HR leaders we’ve highlighted in our magazine in recent years — taking the stage Thursday night at the annual dinner of the National Academy of Human Resources to become well-deserved inductees into the prestigious group’s Class of 2010 Fellows.

Included among the seven inductees were: Bonnie C. Hathcock, senior vice president and CHRO of Humana Inc., Human Resource Executive(R)’s 2007 HR Executive of the Year (featured in our Oct. 16, 2007 cover story); John T. (Jack) Mollen, executive vice president of human resources for EMC Corp., HRE‘s 2006 HR Executive of the Year (featured in our Oct. 16, 2006 cover story); and Sharon C. Taylor, senior vice president of human resources for Prudential Financial, an HRE 2007 HR Honor Roll inductee (featured Oct. 16, 2007).

Also inducted was Anthony J. Vegliante, executive vice president and CHRO of the United States Postal Service, who we just featured in this November’s cover story for his approaches to some very unique challenges at the U.S.P.S., and for his achievements in helping HR lead the organization through a very necessary transformation.

Completing the list of remarkable HR leaders and 2010 NAHR inductees were Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at the London Business School; Gary P. Latham, secretary of state professor of organizational effectiveness and professor of organizational behaviour at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto; and Charles G. Tharp, executive vice president for policy at the Center on Executive Compensation and a university lecturer.

Tharp, a 1998 NAHR Fellow and former NAHR president, received the last and ultimate honor as the group’s 2010 Distinguished Fellow, a title given to only 11 others since the group’s founding in 1992. Not only was he recognized for his many years of service in human resource and executive compensation positions, including long stints at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Saks Fifth Avenue, but also for his ongoing commitment to learning, teaching and HR thought leadership. (He’s held faculty positions at Rutgers University, Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and the University of Massachusetts-Boston.)

In introducing him, Bill Conaty, former CHRO for General Electric and former NAHR president, even joked that “this guy has more degrees than a thermostat.” (Oh, and while we’re mentioning — admittedly unabashedly — the evening’s ties to HRE, Conaty not only was an HR Executive of the Year, in 2004, with his cover story appearing Oct. 16, 2004, but will also be a keynote speaker at the magazine’s upcoming Human Resource Executive Forum(R), running March 14 through 16 at the Grand Hyatt New York. He’ll be focusing on the subject matter of his new book, The Talent Masters, out this month.)

Tharp, in his characteristically unassuming and humble fashion, took the podium and said to the group that, “As a teacher, I’m going to give you a homework assignment: Look at your calendars and carve out more time to help people in their careers, to give back to people in this profession and help them through the rough spots … because there are rough spots.”

Taking advantage of the opportunity to help less-experienced but promising HR professionals, he said, “is what this academy is all about.”

“My challenge to the fellows in this room, and all the other HR leaders,” he said, “is if we don’t do that, give back, then we’re not doing the most we can with this profession.”

From Tharp’s quiet but impassioned plea to the caliber and accomplishments of his six fellow Fellow inductees, Thursday’s dinner certainly underscored the fact that — at least in this circle — HR excellence is alive and well.

HR Marketing Trends Report Bodes Well

If the latest survey from HRmarketer is any indication — and I think it is — brighter days lie ahead for HR.

HRmarketer’s Trends in HR Marketing report, issued a few days ago, shows HR and benefits vendors plan to increase their marketing budgets in 2011; what’s more, the report reflects an overall increase in supplier optimism in talent management, employee recognition, consulting, training, assessments and other HR industries, as well as a general acceptance of social media as a marketing tool.

In the report, most vendors surveyed said they planned to increase or maintain their marketing budgets in 2011, a pretty noticeable turnaround from last year, when 30 percent of respondents said they would reduce their budgets.

“As another year of sluggish recovery draws to a close, we’re heartened to discover a great deal of optimism from HR suppliers about 2011,” says Mark Willaman, founder and CEO of “The challenge for vendors will be to transform the knowledge and insights revealed in our report into action.”

In the report, nearly 95 percent of HR vendors said their participation in social-networking and social-media marketing increased this year and will continue to increase in 2011. Also rising in popularity is the self-publishing of original content, such as white papers, eBooks and research reports — which bodes well for writers and editors here at HRE, always on the hunt for industry trends and sentiments.

I guess I’m not surprised by this uptick. We caught wind of the same optimism at the HR Technology(R) Conference last month in Chicago — not just in terms of its largest-ever attendance, but also in the sense of optimism that permeated the exhibit hall, sessions and conversations.

You think it’s safe to uncross our fingers now?