Oliver Wyman Takes 7th Place?

The good folks at www.vault.com have just released their list of the top ten firms for human resources consulting, which was based on the input of 4,500 consultants and ranks firms by their “perceived prestige” in the field, rather than by size or revenue, according to a company press release.

And while the overwhelming majority of the names on the list are well-known to anyone in who has spent at least a single day wandering in the broad field of human resources — with Mercer, Towers Watson and Hewitt Associates among those listed — one name in particular elicited looks of suprise at a recent staff meeting since we had never had any previous contact with the No. 7 firm: Oliver Wyman.

A quick search of Hoover’s database finds that the No. 7 name on the list does not, in fact, refer to Oliver Wyman, a partner at Cambridge, Mass. -based On The Rise Inc.; nor to Oliver A. Wyman, president of Atlanta-based Rug Hold National Service Center Inc., but rather Oliver Wyman Inc., the New York-based consulting firm that was founded in 1972.

This from Hoover’s: Diversified consulting firm Oliver Wyman Group is led by its Oliver Wyman unit, a management consulting specialist that operates from more than 40 cities in about 15 countries worldwide. Oliver Wyman draws clients from a variety of industries and offers advice on business transformation, leadership, marketing and sales, operations and technology, risk management, and strategy. Other Oliver Wyman Group units include Lippincott (branding and identity) and NERA Economic Consulting. Oliver Wyman Group is a unit of insurance giant Marsh & McLennan, whose subsidiaries also include Mercer, a human resources and benefits consulting firm.

According  to its own site, Oliver Wyman has 35 years experience serving Global 1000 clients, with a staff of 2,900.

So congratulations to Oliver Wyman, the company, and all apologies to the other two Olivers who were named here and who may soon be receiving a Google alert referencing their name as a result of this post.


Washington ‘Fencing’ with Insurers over Premiums

Just last week, I posted here about employers passing a sharply higher healthcare buck onto employees (scroll down to Sept. 8). The sentiment on the part of employers seemed to be they had no other choice but to raise employee premiums significantly in light of current economic conditions.

Now, it appears, the insurance companies are doing the same thing, raising premiums by nearly 20 percent in September, according to a story Friday in the Wall Street Journal. Only this time, they’ve taken the blame game a step further — to the steps of the White House and the Obama Administration’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, i.e., the healthcare-reform law.

This posting today on HRMorning.com mentions not only how some insurance companies are blaming their increases on the mandates of the health-reform law, but how unhappy the president and his secretary of health and human services are about this finger-pointing.

In a counterpunch — or counterattack if you’re fencing, which this resembles more — the White House has announced that insurance companies enacting “unjustified” rate hikes linked to the healthcare-reform law will not be able to participate in the new state-run insurance exchanges that millions of people are expected to use to buy coverage beginning in 2014. Ouch!

Kathleen Sebelius, HHS secretary, confims in the HRMorning post that some insurance companies have started notifying enrollees their premiums will be going up as a result of the PPACA — “an action that will not be tolerated,” according to the post.

I realize there’s not a whole lot you can do with this, but you might as well be armed with all the latest fits, starts, blows and counter-blows as you head into open enrollment.

States Beat Ivies (No, We’re Not Talking Football)

After reading the front-page story in the Wall Street Journal today entitled “Employers Favor State Schools for Hires,” I called the National Association of Colleges and Employers to get their take on the study’s findings, particularly the bias of recruiters toward state schools.

“After I read the article, my reaction was ‘no duh!’ NACE Director of Strategic and Foundation Research Edwin Koc told me.

Recruiters are going to state schools because of the size of their student populations, Koc says. “You’re going to go to Penn State for accounting candidates because it’s the most efficient way to recruit them, not because of the quality,” he explains.

Of course, employers are paying a price limiting the number of schools they have a presence at. They’re missing some strong candidates.

Despite this, Koc doesn’t believe recruiters are going to change their way anytime soon, even as the economy gets some footing. “Once you incorporate these efficiencies, you’re not going to do things differently until you’re dissatisfied with the candidates you’re finding,” he says.

For those who don’t subscribe to the WSJ, the five schools recruiters favor most are: Penn State, Texas A&M, University of Illinois, Purdue and Arizona State.

Productivity Drains — With or Without Mustard

Preoccupation with March Madness and the Super Bowl — not to mention the World Series, which is of special interest to us here in the Philadelphia area — are perennial topics for stories in Human Resource Executive®; stories that deal with how such events hamper productivity.

Well, we’ve added another event to the list: a Soft Pretzel Eating Contest.

Being as we are in, as I mentioned, Philadelphia, soft pretzels are a staple (and we pity those of you who haven’t sampled these delicacies, with or without mustard). So, after much trash talking about who could consume the most, a contest was devised: 12 minutes to eat as many as possible.

I was a late entrant since Andy McIlvaine, our senior editor who was supposed to participate, suspiciously called out sick today. The other participants: Mike O’Brien and Jared Shelly, both HRE staff writers, and Matt Brodsky, web editor for our sister magazine, Risk & Insurance®.

Jared, who nicknamed himself Future Fat Boy, won by chewing and swallowing furiously five pretzels. Matt (No Mo’ Dough) was close with four-and-a-half, and Mike (The Irish Nightmare and creator of this event) and I (Twisted Sister) ate four.

But any time spent on devising this contest or the few minutes we spent embarassing ourselves was more than paid for in the team spirit that was created among the group of co-workers who came in to watch.

Employers Passing the Buck to Employees

A recently released survey shows employers passed healthcare costs onto employees at a sharply higher rate this year over last. According to the survey by Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust, employee premiums rose an average of 13.7 percent this year, while employer contributions fell by 0.9 percent.

The survey also shows company premiums grew more slowly than they have in the last 10 years and companies are still paying nearly three-quarters of their workers’ premiums.

James Gelfand, director of health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the Wall Street Journal the increase is “no surprise, since businesses are struggling to keep their doors open.”

“The premium increase may have been modest,” he said, “but it’s still a premium increase and businesses can’t absorb those costs.”

Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman told the Washington Post that many employers “looked into their recession survival kits and seem to have concluded that one way to make it through the recession and hang on to as many employees as possible was to pass on their health premium increases to their employees this year.”


Jobs Slow to Return, Even for Tech

Catch today’s front-page New York Times story, entitled “Once a Dynamo, the Tech Sector is Slow to Hire?”

As the nation struggles to put people back to work, the story reports, “even high-tech companies have been slow to hire, a sign of just how difficult it will be to address persistently high joblessness.”

The piece points out that the disappointing hiring trend raises questions about whether the tech industry can help power a recovery and sustain American job growth in the coming years. “Its tentativeness has prompted economists to ask, ‘If high tech isn’t hiring, who will?’ “ the story says.

For areas such as computer systems design and Internet publishing, the story notes, job growth has been slow during the past year. Employment in areas such data processing and software publishing has actually fallen.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that I found another story in my mailbox this morning from eweek.com entitled, “H-1B Visa Cap for 2011 Has Not Been Met Yet.”

“With less than one month before fiscal year 2011 begins in October,” the story reports, “there are about 30,100 available visas for technology companies to apply for through the temporary work visa program …”

A few years ago that was unthinkable, thanks to the thirst of high-tech firms for talent.  (In years’ past, these visas used to be gone in a blink of an eye.)  But today, it’s simply further proof of how cautious businesses are these days when it comes to adding jobs, even those in the high-octane sectors like tech.

Taleo Acquires Learn.com

In a fragmented market — that often leaves large corporations depending on providers who were “essentially small companies,” this acquisition will accelerate market consolidation and expand the size of the learning management systems market, according to a blogpost by Josh Bersin, an LMS expert.

 The acquisition, for about $125 million in cash, will also help integrate learning management with the entire talent-management system, Bersin writes, noting that:

 “While all the integration between Learn.com and Taleo has yet to be done, Taleo has a track record of doing what it says it will do – and over time Taleo will likely deliver a seamless solution which integrates recruiting, performance management, succession, development planning, and learning management.”

Pay Gap Favoring Men Isn’t Universal

The gender pay gap, where men typically earn more than women, continues to persist. But according to a story posted on Time’s website today, there’s at least one segment of the workforce where the gap now favors women.

In a just released analysis of data from 2,000 communities, Slingerlands, N.Y.-based market research firm Reach Advisors reports that the median full-time salaries of young women who are unmarried, childless and under 30 are 8 percent higher than men in their peer group in 147 of  the 150 biggest U.S. cities.

Because the research was intended primarily for market-research purposes and not to shed light on HR practices, Reach Advisors’ president James Chung declined to comment for this blog post. But in the Time article, he primarily credits education for the difference.

“For every two guys who graduate from college or get a higher degree, three women do,” the Time article said. “This is almost the exact opposite of the graduation ratio that existed when the baby boomers entered college.”

Chung’s conclusion is certainly in line with other studies that show college degrees result in better wages.

Though the economic advantage sometimes disappears as women age and have families, Chung told Time he believes women may now have enough leverage so their financial gains aren’t completely erased as they get older.

In time, I guess we’ll find out whether Chung is right. But at least for now, it’s nice to see study findings that suggest the pay gap in favor of men isn’t true across the board.

Money Running Out for Retirees?

The Early Retirement Insurance Program, which is part of the healthcare-reform act that encourages employers to provide health coverage to retirees, may not have enough funding to fulfill its mission until the rest of the law kicks in, in 2014, according to this post from Reason magazine’s Hit & Run blog.

It notes that a report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that the program’s funds will dry up in the next two years.

Just one more reason affirming why 56 percent of voters support repeal of the reform bill (with 46 percent of them strongly supporting repeal) and 54 percent saying the law is bad for the country.

And the Mergers (Uh, Make that ‘Acquisitions’) Continue …

… with today’s announcement that Kenexa will acquire Salary.com.

HR technology expert Bill Kutik, who writes a monthly column for HREOnline as well as co-chairs our annual — and upcoming HR Technology® Conference — has the following reaction:

“Kenexa has long sought a Compensation Management solution to round out its suite of Talent Management applications. Even though Salary.com started life selling compensation surveys to corporations (and radically, even to individual applicants!), it has developed a strong market reputation for Compensation Management software and subscriptions for it have represented a substantial part of its revenue.

 “Recently Salary.com tried to widen its footprint, as outlined in February, and clearly some of those were mistakes, including its acquisition and then sale of Genesys, one of our mainframe HRMS providers. The CEO and founder left between those two events.

“The largest question remaining is how quickly Kenexa can integrate Salary’s software onto its new 2x platform, which is already used for Kenexa BrassRing for recruiting and its existing large-company Performance.

 “On the Wall Street conference call Wednesday morning (both Salary and Kenexa are public companies), CEO Rudy Karsan said that could “take years.” But maybe sooner.”