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.

    No Way to Spot Killers in the Workplace

    [UPDATE: Since Kris Frasch posted this item below, HREOnline (TM) did decide to write about the beer-distributor-shooting incident — focusing on the importance of compassion in termination/layoff discussions and the need for zero-tolerance policies for discrimination. To see that piece, click on the link above.] 


    We purposely did not follow last week’s beer-distributor-shooting tragedy near Hartford, Conn., that left nine dead, including the disgruntled gunman.  We talked about it the next day, and at our more recent news meeting, but determined — rightly, I think — that there was nothing much we could add to all the workplace-violence stories we’d followed in the past. It would be the same list of precautionary steps HR should take when laying off or terminating (or in this latest case, even reprimanding) employees. It’d be the same list of states where guns are prohibted on worksites, and where they’re not. It’d be the same list of behaviors and character changes that should set off red flags for HR and managers that someone’s about to blow. In the end, it’d be a classic case of SOS — same old story.

    But this blog posting on Workplace Violence News of an article by Philadelphia Inquirer legal columnist Chris Mondics really caught my eye this morning. I’m not sure I’ve read anything — at least not lately — that spells out this clearly the futility of thinking you can really spot these workplace powderkegs before they explode. As Mondics puts it, “Identifying the one-in-a-million person on the verge of committing mass murder is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.”

    Indeed, the Connecticut killer, it turns out, had been viewed by some of his acquaintances and co-workers as a “terrific guy,” he writes. Hardly the silent, brooding recluse most of the precautionary literature warns against.

    This has to be so incredibly difficult for employers — especially HR professionals, trained and encouraged to remain calm, compassionate and professional when delivering bad news, yet accutely aware that what they’re delivering could set off a killer. How do you straddle professionalism and possible paranoia at the same time?

    Especially, as Mondics indicates, when protective measures don’t really protect much at all?

    In Search of Diversity

    In April, I wrote a story for HREOnline™  about the efforts of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, to initiate a survey of Fortune 500 companies to see “if the boardrooms high atop Wall Street look like what we see every day walking down Main Street.”

    Well the findings are now in—and aren’t pretty. Though voluntary, the survey reaped an impressive response of 219 Fortune 500 corporations and 71 Fortune 100 corporations. It found that minorities represent a total of 14.5 percent of directors on corporate boards and overall have less representation on executive teams than they do on corporate boards.

    Hispanics, the study found, are the least proportionately represented on boards and fared even worse on executive teams. They comprise just over 3 percent of board members and just under 3 percent on executive teams.

    Obviously, the findings confirm what everyone pretty much already knows: That employers still have much more work ahead when it comes to diversifying their executive ranks.

    In releasing the findings, Menendez didn’t suggest a legislative response. But he did offer the following recommendation: creating a task force with select corporations, executive search firms, board members and other experts to help companies move in this direction.

    Ruling Against Google Will Impact HR

    The California Supreme Court ruled today on a pretty big age-discrimination case against Google that folks in the employment-law sector think could have significant repercussions in the HR profession.

    The decision in the case Reid vs. Google basically rules on two things: one, whether evidentiary objections are waived on appeal if a trial court does not rule on them (the court says they are not) and two, whether California should follow the federal “stray remarks” doctrine, which basically says statements made by employees who are not involved in the employment decision a discrimination suit is based on cannot be considered in support of a discrimination claim. (The court says that doctrine is unnecessary and should not be followed.)

    I won’t spell all the details of the case out here. They’re in the ruling linked above. What I will share are concerns from two employment attorneys who see some real precedent-setting effects on employers because of this, and not just employers in California.

    Eric Steinert, an employment partner at Seyfarth Shaw in San Francisco, says that, “as a practical result [of this ruling], employers will win fewer age cases on summary judgment. More cases will go to trial and presumably more evidence will come in at trial regarding general workplace comments not made by direct supervisors or decision makers.”

    Anthony Oncidi, who heads the Labor & Employment Law Group in Proskauer Rose’s Los Angeles office, seconds that and adds that the stray-remarks decision “points to the need for HR to be more comprehensive in doing complete investigations to determine whether or not there was discrimination” after a complaint is filed.

    It will no longer be sufficient, he says, “just to run the allegation down with a supervisor and not ask any further questions. HR will really need to ‘tease’ it out of the [complainant] now to get him or her to say there is or is not anyone else who did or did not make [similar discriminatory] comments.”

    Oncidi also says it will now be “very important to bear this ruling in mind” when you’re conducting anti-discrimination training and do everything you can to train “as many people as possible about what they can and cannot say” about a co-worker or employee.

    He also thinks more HR leaders will be putting arbitration agreements in place now, because the ruling makes it harder to get summary judgment granted before trial — something many employers relied on up to now as a way to dismiss what they considered to be frivolous lawsuits.

    And don’t sit back on the fact that it’s only the California (not the U.S.) Supreme Court. Oncidi says this is the most broad-based, lengthy and definitive ruling in this legal area to date, “reviewing all the existing stray-remark cases throughout the country.”

    “I would not be surprised,” he says, “if other courts look to this as precedent.”

    Sartain Joins Manpower’s Board

    It’s hardly a tidal wave, but slowly but surely companies are waking up to the merits of having someone with a solid HR background on their board of directors.

    The latest example: Manpower. Yesterday, the Milwaukee, Wisc.-based workforce solutions firm named Libby Sartain, former chief human resources officer of Yahoo! Inc. and Southwest Airlines, to its board. (A story on the Milwaukee Business Journal website notes that five of Manpower’s 11 directors are now women or minorities.)

    “Libby’s distinguished 30-year career in human resources will be a great asset to our company as we continue to strengthen our position as a multi-faceted provider of HR services that complement and expand upon our roots in the staffing industry,” said Jeffrey A. Joerres, Manpower Inc.’s chairman and CEO.

    As the press release goes on to point out, HRE named Libby one of the 25 most powerful women in HR when it last compiled such a list five years ago.

    Considering the business Manpower is in, it’s a no-brainer to add a top-notch former HR leader to its board (or that it has decided to assemble a board that is one of the most diverse around).  But when you contemplate the kinds of HR-related challenges awaiting companies in the coming years, I would think someone with a strong HR background is going bring a valuable perspective to most boardroom discussions—even if they’re not in the business of providing “workforce solutions.”

    The Value of the Liberal Arts

    For those of us (like me) who studied the humanities in college, a typical question we got was “So what are you going to do with a degree in [blank]?” I got tired of hearing it after a while and so I’d retort with this snappy comeback (especially if it was asked by a business major): “I’m gonna write about how computers are taking over your job.”

    Aside from provoking extreme defensiveness, I do think studying English, history, political science, etc, really does give you the broad education that a college degree was always intended to provide. It forces you to learn to write clearly, digest huge amounts of information and do lots of critical analysis. These are skills that are important in any profession, including the medical field.

    In fact, New York-based Mount Sinai medical school, considered to be among the top such schools in the country, sets aside slots for about 35 undergraduates a year specifically for humanities and social sciences majors.

    Students admitted to the program can bypass the MCAT, the rigorous entrance test that applicants to most medical school programs must take before being admitted. Instead, Mount Sinai conducts a “boot camp” with accelerated courses on organic chemistry, physics and so on during the summer prior to when they enter med school. Students are admitted to the program on the basis of their SAT scores, high school and early college grades, two personal essays and interviews.

    So how well do these lit majors and history buffs actually do in medical school? Turns out they do just as well as their counterparts who went the traditional pre-med, MCAT route, according to a peer-reviewed study conducted by Mount Sinai that compared outcomes for 85 students in the Humanities and Medicine Program with those of 606 traditionally prepared classmates.

    So let’s hear it for liberal arts grads. We may not come equipped with specific skills, but we’re eminently trainable and have a thirst for knowledge.

    Changes at SHRM

    Lon O’Neil out. Hank Jackson in.

    Two years after taking over the helm at the Society for Human Resource Management, Lon O’Neil announced his resignation. “It was a personal choice. He chose to leave,” says Kate Kennedy of SHRM’s office of public affairs.

    The change — which elevates CFO Jackson to the CEO and president position pending completion of a search for a new leader — was made announced Monday.

    SHRM put a notice on its website today.

    Kennedy says O’Neil greatly helped the organization by helping to “create a new vision for SHRM’s leadership role” by developing a strategic business plan (which we wrote in September 2009).

    She says she can’t  address rumors that the organization had been disorganized under O’Neil’s leadership.

    Want to Work with Mad Men?

    To celebrate the new season of Mad Men, (quite possibly the highest-quality TV series of all time, in this blogger’s humble opinion) the AMC Web site now offers an interactive “job interview” so fans can see how well (or not) they’d fit in with the mad men (and women) at the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ad agency.

    Take the quick quiz and see how you do. (Full disclosure: After taking the quiz, I was not offered a position with the firm, but that’s probably because I asked too many pointed questions about their positions on equal-employment opportunities, family leave and accomodations for disabilities; none of which were on the law books in their current form when the show’s Season 4 takes place, in late 1964.)

    But even if you’re not hired, there’s at least one way to still be a part of the action: The next episode of Mad Men airs Sunday at 10pm on AMC. Be there or be square.