News on the M&A Front

Two items of note for HR leaders on the M&A front today: ADP completes its acquisition of Workscape, while one of the legal restrictions possibly hampering the merger of Aon and Hewitt disappears. [Duh: I wrote Workday earlier by mistake.]

 As for ADP/Workscape: Carlos Rodriguez, president of ADP National Account Services and Employer Services International, says the “strategic and cultural fit between ADP and Workscape is compelling, and will be extremely complementary in terms of services.”

 He notes that “an integral part of ADP’s growth strategy is expanding our benefits and talent-management portfolio and the strategic acquisition of a well-established player such as Workscape represents a significant step in that effort.”

 In the Hewitt/Aon merger, the organizations announced that the anti-trust waiting period had expired. The deal is still pending approval by stockholders and foreign regulatory officials. We previously wrote about the merger here.

 UPDATE: Make that three items of note … as Monster completes its acquisition of Yahoo! HotJobs and enters into a three-year agreement to provide career and job content to the Yahoo! home page. 

 

As Jobs Decline, So Do Workplace Fatalities

Some encouraging news from the Department of Labor yesterday: Preliminary data by the agency revealed a double-digit decline in workplace fatalities in 2009.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that “fatal work injuries” in the U.S. fell 17 percent in 2009—or 3.3 per 100,000 workers, down from a final rate of 3.7 in 2008 (though the agency adds that the counts are likely to increase with the release of final numbers in April 2011). 

The 2009 preliminary data follows two years of more modest single-digit declines.

The improvement was visible in most sectors and categories. Even workplace suicides, which had been on the rise, showed some improvement, down 10 percent in 2009 from its high of 263 in 2008. (Look for a story on this topic in HRE in the fall.) Workplace homicides, meanwhile, declined just 1 percent.

While the preliminary data is heartening, however, it’s still premature to say workplaces are becoming significantly safer places. As the BLS approporiately points out in its press release, the economy—and the loss of 4.7 million jobs in 2009—clearly played a “major role” in the betters numbers.

 So how big a role is a “major role?” I’ll leave it to others to speculate?

Reforms Stalled by Inadequate HR?

As we wrote on HREOnline™  a few months ago, an ambitious federal hiring-reform initiative wouldn’t be an easy task, requiring both training and buy-in from staff.

When Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry announced the initiative, he said that, “for far too long, our HR systems have been a hindrance. We have great workers in government now in spite of the hiring process, not because of it.”

But it seems as if HR is still a problem — and that has been acknowledged by OPM’s chief human capital officers, according to this story in the Washington Post about a Partnership for Public Service survey.

“The ‘competency of HR workers’ is one of seven ‘major obstacles’ to building a first-class federal workforce,” according to the 68 CHCOs, who “expressed strong doubts that the human resources community, the very people who will be on the frontlines seeking to implement the hiring reform plan, are up to the task.”

The problem seems to be a lack of training and adequate technology, according to the article.

In the Federal Eye blog on the Post site, OPM responded that CHCOs are generally positive and supportive of the reform, and that criticisms of the initiative “have been taken seriously and have been responded to promptly, leading to a more cooperative, productive and collegial environment for members.”

Well, as long as they are all getting along …

Training, the New Engagement/Retention Tool

Interesting and kind of surprising release here from Office Team citing a much larger number of HR professionals concerned about training and developing employees than those concerned about losing the top-performing ones.

Goes against much of what we’ve been hearing, that HR leaders’ top worries heading out of the recession and into the recovery are centered around keeping disgruntled employees engaged and retaining the top talent that’s already poised to leave.

But the release also includes a link to a recent Robert Half study confirming what the Office Team respondents seem to be “getting” — that post-recession employees are looking to employers more for their help in making them more marketable than as havens of job security. Makes sense that a shaky economy would have instilled in them this new sentiment.

In a survey we just conducted at HRE, which is at the heart of our upcoming Sept. 2 cover story on what’s keeping HR executives up at night, 45 percent of the 802 HR executives who responded said their most significant challenge today is the need to keep employees engaged and productive, followed by retaining key talent as the economy recovers (34 percent) and the importance of developing leaders (33 percent). In that survey, and in our story, development initiatives were cited as key tools for boosting engagement.

I think what these findings all underscore is that training and development — often relegated to the bottom rung of corporate expenditures during weak economies — now appear to be employers’ top engagement tools, topping any other morale-booster, or employee survey, or communication initiative.

Indeed, training and developing recession-weary workers — not just for your sake, but for theirs — appears to speak volumes.

A Glass Half Empty

Not much good news in the Business Barometer survey released today by The Corporate Executive Board. It reflects a drop in the optimism of HR executives — and other senior corporate leaders as well.

According to the survey, HR executives have dropped their expectations — from Q2 — of employee engagement (32 percent think employees will be less engaged) and anticipate higher turnover (54 percent compared to 39 percent in Q2). 

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of  HR leaders expect a moderate increase of one-to-four percent in average labor costs this year, while four in 10 (42 percent) expect average health benefits to increase by one-to-nine percent, with 18 percent expecting a higher than 10 percent increase.

The survey polls more than 440 senior executives in six functional business roles in North America and Europe across 33 industries.

It found that the executives expect higher revenues for their companies this year (68 percent), but fewer are optimistic about their respective industries’ growth prospects (only 50 percent say they expect their industries to grow). A majority are anxious about rising cost pressures (68 percent).

Wellne$$

Remember C. Everett Koop, the distinguished-looking gentleman with the Amish-style beard who served as the U.S. Surgeon General during the Reagan administration? Well, there’s an award named after him—the C. Everett Koop National Health Award, administered by The Health Project, a Washington-based nonprofit that works to bring about “critical attitudinal and behavioral changes in the American health care system.”

Three employers have been selected to receive this year’s Koop Award, it was announced today: Medical Mutual of Ohio, Pfizer Corp and the Volvo Group of North America, for their efforts to improve employee health and reduce costs.

 Medical Mutual of Ohio was cited for its comprehensive health promotion program that includes health assessments, biometric screenings and “building a healthy company culture.” Pfizer was lauded for health promotion programs that include full coverage for preventative services and “multi-channel marketing and communication.” Finally, Volvo’s union-endorsed “Health for Life” program was praised its use of incentives and leadership support to encourage employee participation.

 All three companies were able to demonstrate that their programs cut costs and improved the health of participating employees (Volvo says its program cut its annual medical cost trend in half, from 10 percent to 5 percent). Something to consider, given that there’s a fair amount of head scratching going on in the business community today about how (and whether to) measure the ROI of wellness programs. It’s a topic we’ll be addressing in an upcoming issue of the magazine, and in other forums as well.

The Costs of Coming to America

As unions and business groups squabble over the number of H-1B visas, the fee of those visas have increased about 600 percent, according to news reports.

To pay for border security, a bill signed by President Barack Obama last week increases the H-1B visa fee from $320 to $2,320.

The fees seem to offend just about every constituency. The business community, especially Silicon Valley firms, say it will hurt their organizations’ ability to recruit top talent, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Indian outsourcing companies say the law specifically discriminates against them as “the carefully crafted criteria” in the bill seems to target them.

Outraged companies may bring a suit before the World Trade Organization, contending the fees are protectionist, while other experts say that, instead of being protectionist, the fees will actually lead to more outsourcing of jobs overseas.

The increased fees are designed to raise about $200 million a year. “The money raised is insigificant and the damage [to America’s reputation] is huge,” Vivek Wadhwa, an immigrations expert and professor, told the WSJ.

Studying an Attitudinal-Economic Relationship

I came across this recent blog post I thought I’d share. Pretty interesting work being done by Jeffrey Saltzman, CEO at OrgVitality and an affiliated fellow at the Center for Leadership Studies at the School of Management at Binghamton University in Vestal, N.Y.

He establishes some pretty compelling arguments, with research to back it up, for there being a correlation between organizational performance and the performance of a country or region. (He calls his index for this regional-performance concept Employee Confidence.)

What’s more, he asserts both those performance readings can be used predictively. He suggests some interesting linkages between what he calls “citizenry attitudes” and unemployment. He says the attitude quotient can be used to predict future unemployment figures of a region — likewise, employee attitudes at a company can be used to predict future organizational performance.

Two other conclusions of his research, which you’ll simply have to link to to see how he formed:

  • People tend to be more positive when working productively and on the whole would rather be working harder than not having enough to do. When they do not have enough to do, either at their employer or when unemployed, there is a tendency to feel that their contribution is not valued either by their employer or society.
  • The notion that creating societies with strong social safety nets, such as unemployment insurance, diminishes the desire to work does not bear out.
  •  

    Not sure what a senior HR leader can do with all this information, but I have a high degree of “blogger confidence” they’ll (you’ll) find it intriguing.

    Escape from the Job

    You have to know most employees are retention risks when the antics of Jet Blue’s (former?) air flight attendant Steven Slater receive such acclaim.

    While your employees probably won’t have Facebook fans numbering in the millions or see supporters creating a legal defense fund — hopefully, that won’t be necessary! — HR leaders would be foolish not to think that at least some of their workers are dreaming of leaving their jobs in similarly brazen fashion.

    According to a recent HREOnline™ story, Top Performers Begin Their Flight, employers “need to know what their workers are thinking and what they want from their careers — and then align these with the direction of the business.”

    So says Bram Lowsky of Right Management. That’s hardly rocket science, but airline companies, and probably most companies, seem to be unaware — or uncaring — that employees are fed up with work conditions.

    With survey after survey showing that workers are fed up and just waiting for a chance to move on, the time is shrinking for HR executives to take the steps necessary to re-engage desired workers.

    Raising comp is a common method, but  pay alone won’t be sufficient. In this HREOnline™ story, Tom McMullen of Hay Group advises HR leaders to focus on “their ‘total’ reward programs by offering clearer career paths, more meaningful work experiences, improved work climates, global mobility and targeted development in addition to increased monetary awards.”

    Or watch employees jump ship — albeit not as dramatically as Slater!

    SHRM Forms Task Forces to Develop New HR Standards

    Wanted to make sure everyone saw this announcement from the Society for Human Resource Management that it is forming two task forces to develop two new standards: the standard for measures and metrics and the standard for diversity and inclusion.

    That will bring SHRM’s total to three since the American National Standards Institute designated the Alexandria-based organization as the exclusive U.S. developer of human resource standards in February of 2009. The first task force was formed later that year to develop a standard for performance management.

    Seems a true sign of the times for the HR profession that these three focuses — performance management, measures and metrics, and diversity — would be the first three “out of the corral.”  Will be interesting to see what four, five and beyond will be.