Category Archives: work/life balance

Repairing the ‘On Ramp’

As businesses in Japan brace for an inevitable labor shortage, employers there might look to a major segment of the Japanese population for at least part of the answer—highly qualified Japanese women who voluntarily “off-ramped” from their careers for a couple of years but now want to work again.

Today, the Center for Work-Life Policy officially released a report entitled Off-Ramps and On-Ramps Japan: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success during an event held at Goldman Sachs’Tokyo offices.

In it, the authors revealed that three out of every four (74 percent) highly qualified Japanese women who work voluntarily leave their jobs. In comparison, that number is 41 percent in the U.S. and 35 percent in Germany. That’s pretty huge difference!

But the findings also dispelled the commonly held view that these women who left their jobs do so for the long haul. Instead, the study found, their desired break from work is pretty short, just 2.4 years, and that about 77 percent of those who left actually want to return to the workforce. Sadly, because of a range of re-entry barriers, only 43 percent succeed (with many who do accepting lower paying jobs).

The story line here is that there’s “a tremendous waste of talent,” says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy and one of the report’s authors.

“Here’s a country heading into a demographic crisis, with lower birth rates and people living a lot longer,” points out Hewlett, who spoke to me earlier today from Tokyo. “[In such an environment], companies can’t simply throw away two-thirds of their female talent and get away with it.”

The findings also suggest a huge opportunity for European and U.S.-headquartered multinationals with operations in Japan. Many of the women indicted they’d prefer to work for these foreign concerns, with nearly seven out of 10 respondents (68 percent) viewing these companies as being much more women-friendly than their Japanese counterparts.

In light of this, you might think European and U.S. multinationals would be poised to take full advantage of this opportunity. But apparently not.

At the event, Hewlett says, a number of U.S. multinationals indicated that they weren’t doing nearly enough when it comes to positioning their companies as potential employers for the workforce segment. Which, in Hewlett’s opinion, is unfortunate. “It could be a real differentiator,” she says.

But perhaps that may soon change, as more studies like this one come to light.

Data Shows Educated Women More Prominent in the Workplace

OnlineSchools.com, a digital resource for online education, just put out an analysis of Forbes‘ list of the World’s Most Powerful Women of 2011, called “Wonder Women,” showing 56 of those 100 women holding graduate degrees.

The salaries of these educated women are also going up, according to the analysis: Since 1979, women with college educations have seen a higher increase in average earnings than men.

Perhaps the most striking statistic is that, of the 100 Most Powerful Women, 88 percent have children. Not coincidentally, many work in family-friendly companies — such as Kraft Foods and Morgan Stanley — that provide fully-paid maternity leaves (something all countries but the United States, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea guarantee today).

“Juggling a powerful career and a family can be a lot for anyone to handle,” says Seth Restaino, spokesperson for OnlineSchools. “However, this list … proves that it can be done … .”

But just how motivated women are, in general, to pursue this upper echelon appears to be another matter. I’m in the process of analyzing for our website (HREOnline.com) a nationwide study recently put out by More magazine showing 43 percent of women surveyed saying they’re less ambitious now than they were a decade ago.

Another eye-opener in that survey: 73 percent say they would not apply for their boss’ job. Two of three women in the poll, conducted by The Polling Company Inc./WomanTrend, say they prefer more free time over more pay and two of five say they’d be willing to accept less pay for more workplace flexibility.

More on that More poll to come. For now, as to the real status of women in corporate America, it appears the jury’s still out on where we really are, and where we’re headed.

In the Good Old Summertime

In these lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, workers are either goofing off and dressing down — or they’re ruining their vacations by checking in with the office. (Let me know later, if you find yourself unconsciously humming either of those tunes …)

At least that is the non-consensus from three, count ’em, three surveys that crossed my desk (well, showed up in my email, anyway) today.

One, from CareerBuilder, finds that one in four employers say their workers are less productive in the summer.

Another, from Adweek/Harris Poll, shows that nearly half (46 percent) of vacationing Americans worked during their vacations.

And the third, from Adecco Staffing US, relates to appropriate workplace attire — although six in 10 of the respondents would like some extra vacation days or the ability to leave early on “summer Fridays.”

As for wardrobe, 71 percent of Americans say flip flops are the biggest summer no-no.

Amusingly, men and women differed in the acceptability of mini-skirts and strapless tops or dresses. For both, men were much more willing to see such items in the workplace.  Hmmm. Big surprise there, huh?

As for those non-vacationing vacationers in the Adweek/Harris Poll, the most frequent work-related duties involve monitoring email (35 percent), checking voicemail (22 percent) or taking phone calls from work (22 percent).

Employers in the CareerBuilder survey blame nicer weather, vacation-fever and kids being out of school for lower productivity, but nearly half (45 percent) of the employers say burnout is a problem. They may want to check out some of the tips we included in our recent HREOnline™ story, “Reversing Burnout.”

Foxconn, One Year Later

Nearly a year ago we featured a post here on a New York Times report about the high rate of suicides at Foxconn, a producer of electronic components in China. It noted that the company planned to take some unusual steps to address its problems, including bringing in 2,000 singers, dancers and gym trainers to improve workplace life, and constructing fences to prevent workers from jumping to their deaths. 

So where do things stand today? Well, a report released earlier today suggests that, at least at two of the Foxconn plants, things aren’t a whole lot better (though the study does mention a couple positives).

Researchers from Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) in Hong Kong visited two Foxconn production facilities in Chengdu and Chongqing in Western China, where workers manufacture the Apple iPad 2 and HP laptops, and report finding the “predicaments of workers remain.”  The report alleges “labour rights abuses such as miscalculation of wages, excessive and forced overtime, threat of occupational diseases … and use of student labour.”

Meanwhile, a recent story in the U.K’s Daily Mirror says the company requires employees to sign an “anti-suicide pledge.”  The piece reports that at least 14 workers at Foxconn factories in China have killed themselves in the last 16 months as a result of working conditions.

In February, Apple released a report on its efforts to drive the “highest standards of social responsibility throughout its supply base.” If we’re to believe the findings of the SACOM report, it would appear that a bit more work needs to be done at the two aforementioned plants.

New Social Network for Business People Launches

Hard to say just how far this will go or how successful it will be, but I was intrigued by this announcement today about a brand new social networking site for business folks called WhenTheMeetingsOver.com.

It’s a London-based start-up that says it positions itself “between Facebook, LinkedIn and other key networks,” and is designed to embrace both the working and personal lifestyles of business professionals — unlike LinkedIn, which focuses more on the former, and Facebook, which focuses more on the latter.

WTMO CEO Stuart Dawson says new members are joining from all over the world and arriving from many destinations, including blogs, forums, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. His group’s press release says the network “has drawn instant membership clusters from the U.K., U.S., Asia and Australia, with professionals across a spectrum of industry sectors.”

I tried to join just now to see if I could find out how many of these new members hail from HR, but got stopped on the sign-in page by a request for an “invite code.” (I’m awaiting word back on that.) I also found the site to be a bit slow.

Beyond those two minor aggravations, though, I was interested enough to blog about it. The release poses the question, “Could this be the next big thing?” The answer: Still too early to tell.

What Dawson can tell us is that the WTMO site “embraces the fact that we are all busy and provides an environment to optimize our time online, whether that’s networking, consuming media or looking for something different in a new city.”

“It’s  not designed for the time-rich, Facebook generation of soul-baring wall writers,” he says, “but for professionals who require a social network to enhance their work/life balance.”

I confess I haven’t a clue whether this will take off as a neat new tool for busy HR practitioners, but if it does, I’ll no doubt be hearing about it soon with some key HR events approaching — including our own HR Technology® Conference and Expo at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, running Oct. 3 through 5. Visit this link to find out more about that one.

As for the site, I definitely plan to keep my eye on it. Oh yes, and join — if and when they get back to me.

Top Stories on HREOnline Last Week

These were the most-read stories on HREOnline™ last week, in case you missed any:

1. Technological Revolution: Sue Meisinger’s latest HR Leadership column:

The ease of using social-media tools, combined with recent indications that the Democratic-controlled National Labor Relations Board will be examining acceptable uses of technology by employees — and not just union employees — means that HR leaders should be taking a hard look at the issue as well.

2. Bridging the Credibility Gap: a contributed article by Sarita Bhakuni and Michelle Johnston, both with CPP.

To retain top talent, organizations need to start talking to their employees. When left in the dark, people draw conclusions which tend to be worse than reality. HR leaders should also be aware of uncharacteristic behavior by their managers, which often indicates high levels of stress.

3. Court Rules for Third-Party Retaliation Claims, by Tom Starner

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to reactivate a lawsuit — based on a claim that a company retaliated against one employee by firing her fiancee — should result in more lawsuits being filed by spouses and significant others. But the unanimous decision did not define just how expansive the “zone of interests” is, leaving HR leaders in the dark about where to draw the line.

4. Marketing HR Messages, by Kristen B. Frasch

Should HR leaders turn over their internal communications and engagement efforts to marketing professionals? No, say HR experts, but their organizations sure could benefit by HR learning more about the marketing mind-set.

5. Temp Salaries Rising, By Michael O’Brien

Wages for skilled, temporary workers are beginning to inch up from their low points, according to new benchmarking information. And since demand for temps — which historically precedes the demand for permanent workers — is increasing, does this mean the job market is finally improving?

On Workaholics and the New Year

I thought it a bit ironic that I chose to take a moment to work from home while on vacation today only to come across this Career Builder survey on signs of being a workaholic. Although the findings appear alarming at first, the only truly significant number I can see is the 51 percent of 3,100 employees polled who’ve had more work piled on them this year. Significant, but not surprising.

Still, 24 percent of people at home or out socially are still thinking about work. That means about one in every four people I’ve seen in the mall, post office, traffic (with trees tied to their roofs), on ladders hanging lights from windows and gutters, etc., etc., isn’t really connected to the holiday he or she appears to be enjoying. That’s kind of sad. Then again, that leaves 76 percent who must have perfected the art of leaving everything at the office. So, there’s a hopeful sign that our society is that maladjusted.

The release isn’t directed at HR professionals, but it might offer some insight into the dangers of letting workers obsess over work without stepping in and addressing it. It also lists some tips for establishing and maintaining a better balance between life and work that you might share with them when the new year begins.

As Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, puts it: “While a strong work ethic is valued, a lack of balance with … personal life can ultimately work against [employees] in the long run.” She recommends that, as the year wraps up, workers take inventory of their personal time and figure out where they “need to make adjustments in 2011.”

Maybe employers can lend a bigger hand with that going forward.

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.

Jump in Job-Security Fears Impacting Holiday Stress

Some 68 percent of employees report having high levels of stress at work, with extreme fatigue and out-of-control feelings, according to the latest StressPulse survey by Chicago-based ComPsych Corp., a leading global employee-assistance provider. That represents a jump from 65 percent in 2009.

Although a much lower percentage, the biggest jump in the survey of employees from more than 1,000 ComPsych client companies, 20 percent, cite lack of job security as their primary cause of stress, up from 10 percent in 2009. The survey was conducted from Oct. 15 to Nov. 12.

“As the holiday shopping season begins [on Friday, officially], employees are trying to balance the urge to spend with the worry that they will retain their job,” says Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, chairman and CEO of ComPsych.

“We increasingly get calls from employees who are struggling to manage their daily expenses,” he says. “On top of that, they are now faced with gift-giving costs.”

His company and other EAP providers now provide financial coaching along with psycholgical counseling, Chaifetz says. Not only should employers be on the lookout for signs of acute anxiety and changes in behavior, but they should also be reminding all workers that their EAPs are there, especially in this season, to “help individuals set and stick to a budget, as well as get counsiling to keep stress levels in check,” he says.

The next highest jumps in the survey were employees who say they lose more than an hour a day due to personal tasks, from 10 percent in 2009 to 19 percent in 2010 (trying to fend off creditors, perhaps?) and those who say they come to work one to four days per year when they’re too stressed to be effective, from 58 percent in 2009 to 64 percent in 2010.

Granted, none of this is all that surprising in this economy, but just in case you were wondering how worried employees appear to be heading into December — and about what, primarily — I thought I’d share.