Category Archives: time and attendance

Home (From Work) For the Holidays

empty cubeIt’s that time of year, when workloads lighten and the holidays are just ahead, and employees begin to cash in the blocks of paid days off they’ve been banking all year long.

At the risk of getting all Grinchy just eight days before Christmas, we invite you to take a look at SHRM’s new Total Financial Impact of Employee Absences Survey, which finds 75 percent of 1,280 HR professionals saying employee absences “carry hidden costs that can [affect] an organization’s productivity and revenue,” according to a SHRM statement.

That’s not all that surprising, and the survey was commissioned by Kronos Inc., which does provide workforce-management software and services, after all. So make of that figure what you will.

But one interesting finding from the survey, as this recent Washington Post article points out, is the difference in how United States-based HR professionals view the impact of unplanned work absences—defined in the survey as times when employees are sick, say they’re sick, or have to stay home to attend to personal matters—in comparison to those in other countries.

In the poll, 61 percent of U.S.-based respondents said unplanned absences increase stress for others in the workplace, while that number dipped to 54 percent and 51 percent in Australia and Europe, respectively. In addition, 48 percent of American respondents reported that unplanned absences hurt morale at the office, while just 36 percent and 31 percent said the same in Europe and Australia.

In an interview with the Post, SHRM Director of Survey Programs Evren Esen hypothesized that cultural norms in the U.S. may help explain these differing views of work absences—be they planned or unplanned. Indeed, as we’ve noted in the past, employees here in the States still aren’t guaranteed paid vacation time, and workers are sometimes hesitant to take advantage of the paid time off they do have available to them.

“There should not be a stigma for taking your vacation,” Esen told the paper, “but it’s evolved into that. And I think that’s [why] there may be a little bit of resentment or stress when others are out. ‘You’re taking vacation, or you’re sick, but I’m here and I have to deal with this.’ In other cultures, it’s more of an expectation that you take your time.”

Maybe it’s the eat, drink and be merry mindset that starts to take over around the holidays, but doesn’t it seem like maybe we should take a cue from these other cultures, and (finally) start taking a bit more time away from work?

More Perils of Shift Work Revealed

A new report in the journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine finds shift work may not just have negative effects on workers’ sleep patterns or social life, but also on their cognitive abilities.

According to CNN, researchers from the University of Swansea in the United Kingdom and the University of Toulouse in France followed approximately 3,000 employed and retired workers in southern France — some of whom had never worked shifts, while others had worked them for years — over the course of a decade. They found that shift work was associated with impaired cognition, and the impairment was worse in those who had done it for longer.

The impact was particularly marked in those who had worked abnormal hours for more than 10 years — with a loss in intellectual abilities equivalent to the brain having aged 6.5 years, CNN reports.

The researchers say that shift work, “like chronic jet lag, is known to disrupt workers’ normal circadian rhythms and social life, and to be associated with increased health problems (eg, ulcers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, breast cancer, reproductive difficulties) and with acute effects on safety and productivity.”

There was one (very weak) bright spot in the findings, though:  Workers were able to regain their cognitive abilities after leaving shift work behind, but it took at least five years to do so.

Sniffling While You Work

For the first time in five years, the number of employees who said they go to work with the flu has dropped to 60 percent, after four straight years of increases, according to the fifth annual Flu Season Survey from Staples.

The 60-percent figure marks a drop from last year, and yet many employees still feel they can’t take a sick day, according to the office-supply retailer. Indeed, despite 88 percent of managers encouraging sick employees to stay at home, 40 percent of workers feel there is too much going on at work to stay away, and 31 percent show up sick because they think their boss appreciates it.

The Staples survey finds there are a number of factors that have contributed to the drop in employees going to work sick, including:

• Sick employees coming into work are now considered worse for office productivity than a security breach;

• Presenteeism recognized as a bigger problem than absenteeism;

• Employees are taking charge of their own health and wellness; and

• Recent virus outbreaks are affecting behavior.

“While we are encouraged that for the first time in five years the number of sick employees coming into work has dropped, 60 percent is still a significant number,” said Chris Correnti, vice president of Staples Facility Solutions at Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples.

“Clearly there is still much work to be done. Recent outbreaks such as Enterovirus in the U.S. underscore the importance of fostering a culture of workplace wellness. ”

Meanwhile, last year was one of the worst flu seasons on record, reports outplacement consultancy Challenger, Christmas & Gray, with more than two-thirds of states reporting that the flu outbreak had reached “severe” levels, says CEO John Challenger.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that, on average, seasonal flu outbreaks cost the nation’s economy $10.4 billion in direct costs of hospitalizations and outpatient visits.  That does not include the indirect costs related to lost productivity and absenteeism.   Online resource,, cites one study estimating that each flu season 111 million workdays are lost to flu-related absenteeism, which amounts to about $7 billion annually in lost productivity.

“New York alone saw more than 15,000 reported cases in the first month of the season, compared to fewer than 5,000 in the entire previous season.  These outbreaks and the resulting workplace absenteeism can have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line; particularly in smaller companies where illness can spread quickly and incapacitate large portions of a workforce,” Challenger adds.

A Few Surprises in Study on Hourly Workers

490136049 -- gavel and clockI met with some folks from St. Louis-based Equifax Workforce Solutions during the Society for Human Resource Management’s conference in Orlando (June 22 through 25) and they shared with me some stats they compiled recently reflecting the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act that even they admitted had some surprises in them.

Working toward Jan. 1, 2015, when the majority of the ACA’s employer mandate takes effect, the company had just released its Equifax Workforce Solutions June 2014 report, highlighting “key indicators of how the ACA will affect business[es] and what they can do to ensure compliance [thereby avoiding penalties] as the regulations continue to go into effect,” as Mike Psenka, senior vice president of Workforce Analytics for Equifax Workforce Solutions (formerly TALX), put it.

For the record, and some important reading, here is the press release and here is the infographic, based on Equifax data culled from 500 million consumers and 81 million businesses worldwide.

Surprisingly — and in keeping with employers making employee-schedule-and-status adjustments to prepare for the ACA’s mandate that all employees working an average of 30 hours or more per week be offered healthcare coverage — 66 percent of the current U.S. workforce is now hourly, accounting for more than 73.6 million active employees, and 59 percent of them are working more than 30 hours per week, according to the study. (Those numbers were higher than anticipated, the folks from Equifax told me.)

Remember, for these workers, employers must track hours for each employee over a 3-to-12-month measurement period to determine healthcare-coverage eligibility. The study found average workloads vary greatly by industry and can be a key indicator of workforce eligibility. “For example,” the report states, “hourly employees in the finance industry work an average of 37 hours per week while those in the restaurant industry work an average of 23 hours per week.”

Also somewhat surprising — to me as well — was the fact that 71 percent of hourly employees have been at their jobs longer than 12 months, which represents “a significant number of workers who may become eligible for coverage after their employer’s first measurement period,” the report says.

And don’t forget employers must also offer affordable coverage to all eligible employees, meaning the monthly premium cannot exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s income. Based on the average hourly pay rate by industry, as computed by Equifax, estimated maximum premiums can range from $108.80 per month (in the restaurant industry) to $251.20 per month (in the healthcare industry).

The goal here in releasing these stats, Psenka said, is not only to offer employers a few more tools for protection from potential penalties, “but also [to] ensure their valued employees receive appropriate — and affordable — coverage.”

Just bear in mind, as was underscored in an otherwise enjoyable, stress-free SHRM meeting, the clock is ticking and time to get this whole hourly, ACA-eligibility thing right is running out.

A Collective Approach to Time Management

time and teamsHow can you get a team to manage its time more efficiently and productively? Give them a time-off goal.

That’s according to Harvard Business School Professor Leslie Perlow, who writes in the June edition of Harvard Business Review (subscription required) about her work introducing time-based interventions at various companies in a range of industries, from consulting to pharmaceuticals. Given the modern workplace’s emphasis on connectivity and collaboration, she writes, the problem isn’t how individual employees manage their time — instead, it’s how employees manage their collective time in working together to get the job done. Often, Perlow writes, teams will — in the course of their work — stick to tried-and-true processes that are inefficient, simply because, well, that’s the way things have always been done.

Perlow cites the example of a large pharmaceutical firm she was advising, in which an “overly collaborative culture” resulted in constant meetings throughout the workday that got in the way of employees getting their work done during regular hours and necessitated them having to take it home or work weekends. The team Perlow was studying at this company decided to rally around the time-off goal of one meeting-free day a week. During that day, the team members worked from home and conference calls and other virtual meetings were banned. The day was a success: saved from constant interruptions as well as commuting time, the team members dubbed it their Enhanced Productivity Day.

The EPD was also effective in that it served as a “forcing mechanism” in getting the team to rethink its need for meetings and their duration, Perlow writes. As a result, meetings became smaller, shorter, more focused and less frequent — and, as the EPD concept spread to other teams in the company, managers reported that employees were more focused and producing higher-quality work.

Team time management can mitigate the problem of overworked and overstressed employees, Perlow writes:

To help workers manage their time, we should stop telling individuals to change themselves and start empowering them to act together to change the way they work. Small steps can make a big difference. By rallying around a modest time-off goal, teams can develop a new capability: managing their time as a team.


Boomers and the Four-Day Work Week

Great post on by Richard Eisenberg in which he outlines the benefits — and some of the drawbacks — of offering employees four-day work weeks, especially one group in particular:

Giving staffers one weekday off would be especially appealing to the biggest chunk of the American labor force – boomers.

Many of them could use the free day to take their parents to doctor’s appointments or handle other eldercare duties, spend time with their grandkids, learn new skills and transition into retirement. Four-day workweeks can also let them cut their commutes.

After a parade of positive comments from experts on why four-day work weeks can be beneficial to employees (both young and not-so-young) and employers, Eisenberg then flips the coin to ask Jessica DeGroot — founder of the Third Path Institute, a Philadelphia-based group that aims to help employees lead “integrated” lives — why employers may not be more embracing such schedules more often:

1. Strong organizational norms on who gets ahead at work. DeGroot says managers tend to promote staffers who “put work first,” which typically means showing up every weekday.

2. Four-day workweeks add complexity to managers’ jobs. “It’s much easier to say to everyone, ‘Come in at the same time every day and work long hours,'” she says.

“Often, it isn’t that employers don’t want to offer four-day workweeks, it’s that they’re not sure what’s in it for them,” says [SHRM’s co-leader of the Society for Human Resource Management Workplace Flexibility Initiative and partnership with the Families and Work Institute] Lisa Horn.

But one reason boomers may NOT appreciate a 4/10 schedule (four days a week, 10 hours per day) is simple, according to Groot:

“I’m 52 and I don’t have the energy I had when I was 22,” DeGroot says. “With a 4/10 schedule, I’d need the other day to recover and that defeats the whole purpose of a four-day workweek.”

United States Still a No-Vacation Nation

Just in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, this report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research confirms — yet again — that the United States is the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee its workers any paid vacation time.

91892542, US flagWhat seems to be the problem here? Well, according to John Schmitt, senior economist and co-author of the CEPR report, No-Vacation Nation Revisited, “relying on businesses to voluntarily provide paid leave just hasn’t worked.”

The report offers a stark reminder of what some of the other advanced economies are doing when it comes to paying for days off. Workers in the European Union, for instance, are legally guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days per year, with 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries. Canada and Japan guarantee at least 10 days of paid vacation per year.

On the contrary — and in case you missed the lead — U.S. workers have no statutory right to paid vacations.

The gap between the United States and the rest of the world is even bigger when legal holidays, such as Memorial Day, are included. According to the CEPR release, U.S. law does not guarantee any paid holidays, but most rich countries provide between five and 13 per year, in addition to paid vacation days.

As for what folks are saying or doing about the issue, according to this report Thursday from USA Today, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., introduced a bill this week that would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to require employers to provide paid annual leave.

“We need it for the health and well-being of our workers,” Grayson says in the story. “We also need it for businesses, because people who are forced to work every single day lose productivity.”

The story also quotes James Sherk, a senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, who cautions that employers take the cost of required benefits out of workers’ pay.

Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow at another Washington think tank, the Cato Institute, further cautions in the story that, “When you make it more expensive to hire workers, fewer workers get hired.”

All that said, I would imagine the majority of U.S. workers would say something’s gotta give in this land of the free and home of the brave and overworked.

Can Onboarding Be ‘Delightful’?

Stovepipes are great for chimneys–but for organizations? Not so much, said Katherine Jones, principal HCM analyst at Bersin & Associates, during a presentation at Bersin IMPACT 2012 on the latest developments in HR technology. “The key trends we’ve discovered include a move toward integration,” she said. “Companies are trying to get to one interface, one vendor–‘one throat to choke,’ if you will.”

Although “social” is one of the hot new buzzwords in HR technology these days, says Jones, it will soon no longer be necessary to use terms such as “social networking” or “social recruiting” simply because the use of social technologies in these processes will be a given. “Companies that have embedded social technologies into their organizations have revenues that are 24 percent higher than their non-social counterparts. Social leads to increased productivity, revenue creation and cost reduction,” she said. “Processes such as recruiting and performance management are inherently ‘social.’ Adding the word ‘social’ to them will soon sound as archaic as terms like ‘e-recruiting’ do today.”

Citing research that shows more than 8 billion mobile phones and 119 million tablet computers in use today worldwide, Jones said mobile technology is also changing the way organizations do business. “Keller Williams Realty built libraries for leadership skills development and rolled them out to their employees via mobile devices,” she said. “Some companies place QR codes on T-shirts that their representatives wear–by scanning the code with a cellphone, you’ll be taken to a video that shows how great it is to work at that particular company. People can apply for jobs, complete onboarding, do time-and-attendance, complete their learning and manage their shift schedules–all via their mobile devices.”

Gamification is another trend that lets HR take a new approach to old processes, said Jones. “There’s a vendor called MindTickle that offers gamification tools for onboarding. I don’t know whether they’re effective or not, but MindTickle advertises them as ‘making onboarding delightful.’ Now, who would have thought that onboarding would ever be described as ‘delightful’?”



Burning ‘Bridges’ to Keep Vacationers Working

I didn’t realize the United States was among the world’s standard-bearers when it comes to vacation ogres until I read this story in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required). Seems an attempt by the Spanish government to save tons of money lost in worker productivity by moving holidays to the beginnings and ends of weeks is something we did here long ago.

I did not know that.

I guess there must have been a time when U.S. workers were doing (a whole lot more than they do now) what Spaniards have been doing for years — “deploying paid vacation days as ‘puentes’ — literally bridges — to skip town for an extra-long weekend whenever public holidays fall in the middle three days of a week,” according to the story.

For one Spanish worker, Tatiana Restrepo, that meant 36 legally mandated days off (OK, that does it, we must really be ogres) turned into more than 50 days of rest and relaxation, weekends included. But now, trying to boost productivity in a sagging economy and join with other countries trying to contain Europe’s debt crisis, Spain’s unions and business associations have agreed to suppress three bridges by moving those holidays to Mondays.

“The two sides, which rarely agree on anything, say the bridges cost the Spanish economy hundreds of millions of euros in lost production, as they result in idle plants and half-empty offices,” the story says.

Needless to say, the plan is not going over well among workers. Restrepo, a hotel marketer, calls her bridges an “escape valve” between the long breaks in August to the winter holidays. She refers to the idea as “just horrible.”

Seems the whole country is caught up in a debate now over what an appropriate balance between work and play should be in a country that relies heavily on tourism and where one government agency even “subsidizes vacations for hundreds of thousands of elderly people during the winter low season to help keep tourism workers employed,” according to the story.

But wait. Broken down, we’re talking about moving three of Spain’s 14 public holidays to Mondays. And no one’s planning to touch Spain’s guaranteed minimum of 22 additional vacation days. Is this really so “horrible”? Or is it, as one Alberto Nadal, who works on labor issues for a big business association in Spain, tells the WSJ, “a symbol of a change in mentality, the idea that we have to change the way we do things to belong to the euro zone”? Hmmm.

And are we really just talking about the euro zone or are we talking about an entire, stingy global economy?





The Struggles of Working in Retail

If you think you have it tough balancing the demands of child care, housekeeping and–maybe–night classes with a 9-to-5 office job, then try working in retail. A recently published study based on interviews with 463 employees at retail stores throughout New York City found that more than half learned their work schedules a week or less prior to the actual work week. Two in five said the number of hours they worked each week always or often varied, while one in five said they always or often had to be available for call-in shifts. The report, entitled “Discounted Jobs: How Retailers Sell Workers Short,” notes that “guaranteed work hours are no longer the normal and just ‘getting on the schedule’ has become the reward for job performance.”

So just imagine dealing with such unpredictability while trying to attend classes and/or raise a family. It should be noted that this study was financed by the Retail Action Project, a pro-union organization, and conducted by the City University of New York’s Murphy Institute, which also appears to have a union affiliation. Yet the rise of “just-in-time” scheduling at many stores, further enabled by technology, has been noted elsewhere for the negative effect it can have on workers’ lives.  A team of researchers from the University of Chicago examined workforce data and surveyed workers and managers at a nationwide women’s apparel chain (with the company’s full cooperation).  The report, published in fall 2010, noted that just-in-time scheduling makes it difficult for workers to count on reliable earnings or plan for family responsibilities.

By comparison, the researchers discovered that the more hours employees at the apparel chain worked and the less their hours fluctuated, the longer they remained employed at the firm, regardless of age and job status. Stores with smaller staff size and more hours per employee have lower turnover and higher retention, the report found, while employee survey findings indicate that more-predictable work schedules led to less work/family conflict and lower stress levels for the workers. Sounds like a recipe for improved workforce health and greater productivity, no?

Of course, retail by its very nature is less predictable than other industries. Yet the researchers found that “overall store hours fluctuate much less than is commonly believed.” They suggest that managers can add some stability to employees’ work hours by using “predictable unpredictability”–keeping employees’ work hours the same for 80 percent of the week while telling them to expect that 20 percent of their hours may vary week to week.” Not a perfect solution, but one that may enable stores to remain profitable while giving employees a chance for some balance.