A Wake-Up Call for the Sleep Deprived

Several familiar themes emerged at Virgin Pulses’ 2016 Thrive Summit in Boston this week, including some we heard at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference earlier this spring.

Arianna Huffington’s humorous and engaging keynote Tuesday afternoon on the topic of sleep deprivation was one that personally resonated with me. Maybe it had something do with the fact I was still struggling with jet lag, having just returned from a trip from Japan the weekend before?

Of course, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to grasp the detrimental impact sleep deprivation can have on effectiveness and productivity. Studies have repeatedly shown the huge toll it can take on businesses, including one titled “Insomnia and the Performance of U.S. Workers: Results from the American Insomnia Survey” that put lost workplace productivity at around 11 days per employee—or the equivalent of $2,280 per employee. If you’re a business leader, figures like these, you would think, could lead to a few sleepless nights of your own.

Huffington, founder, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, touched on the problem of sleep deprivation in Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. Most likely in the hopes of drawing more attention to this ever-important issue, she also came out with a new book last month dedicated to the subject titled The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. (As an attendee at the Thrive Summit, I received a complimentary copy, which I’m looking forward to giving a more thorough read.)

In her Thrive Summit talk, Huffington shared her own personal awakening, which involved pushing herself so hard nine years earlier that she collapsed and, in the process, broke her cheekbone. She noted that “you’re not successful when you find yourself in a pool of blood.”

After a series of doctor visits and testing, she said it was determined the cause of the fall wasn’t a brain tumor or heart condition, but was due to her not getting enough sleep.

“Sleep deprivation is the new smoking,” she said.

Despite noting that her talk would be apolitical, Huffington, a political commentary who regularly takes aim at the Republican Party, couldn’t refrain from taking a jab at the Republican Party’s “presumptive” nominee, who has, on occasion, boasted about the limited sleep he needs to get. That candidate, she said, seems to display all of the symptoms of a person who is sleep deprived: mood swings, bad judgement, etc.

Huffington said the science shows that people need seven to nine hours of sleep, not the three, four or five many are settling on—and employers and HR leaders need to do more to enable that to happen.

For starters, she said, business leaders need to end the practice of praising and rewarding those who never disconnect from their jobs. “When you congratulate people who work 24/7, it’s like congratulating them for coming to work drunk,” she said.

Huffington specifically praised the efforts of business leaders such as Amazon’s CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who have been ahead of the curve in talking about the value of getting eight hours of sleep a night. Other so-called “sleep evangelists” mentioned in The Sleep Revolution include Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt.

There are a number of steps people can take to get “rekindle our romance with sleep,” Huffington said. She specifically emphasized the value of creating a ritual before going to bed. For her, that ritual includes disconnecting from all electronic devices roughly 30 minutes ahead of time and taking a hot bath in Epsom salts.

Whether it’s 30 minutes or something less, she said, “we need to wind down and put the day behind us.”

Of course, for those of us who aren’t getting enough sleep, changing our behavior is often easier said than done. So it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the program kicked off the following morning with a workshop titled “Behavior Change is a Skill,” conducted by BJ Fogg, director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University.

The premise of his workshop was that people can learn to change their behaviors—that people can acquire skills for changing just as they can learn how to play a musical instrument or swim.

Or, I suppose for that matter, learn how to get a better night’s sleep.

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Can Sexual-Harassment Training Backfire?

An article in the British newspaper The Guardian has sparked new debate in HR circles over whether sexual-harassment training can cause more harm than good.

The article recounts research suggesting that training may make some men less sensitive, not more, to appropriate boundaries in the workplace. Among others quoted in the piece is Lauren Edelman, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley :

“Sexual harassment training may, in fact, make it less likely that males will recognize situations that are harassing … Sexual harassment training may provoke backlash in males.”

Some of the research pointing in this direction is more than a decade old. One often-cited study from 2001 concluded that men who had training were less likely than those who didn’t to recognize or report sexual harassment.

But some research is more recent, suggesting the problem is not going away. In one 2012 study, a sociologist interviewed workers and sat in on training sessions. Justine E. Tinkler, now at the University of Georgia, concluded that they often resisted the message:

“Gender stereotypes are used to buttress perceptions that sexual-harassment laws threaten norms of interaction and status positions that men and women have an interest in maintaining.”

sexual harassment

Related research has found that sexual-harassment training can mostly inspire fear among workers.

This is a hot topic with many in the HR field. Many who weighed in online acknowledged the problem, but argued it’s less of an issue if the training is of high quality.

Writing in Slate, Nora Caplan-Bricker cites a 2013 study that, she says, “suggests that it is possible to teach people how to identify sexual harassment — and to convey how company policies treat it — without inciting a backlash effect.”

Studies suggest that training that lasts at least four hours, that is interactive and led by an expert or direct supervisor, rather than an HR specialist, are most effective, Caplan-Bricker writes.

Many employment lawyers seem to agree. One is Richard Cohen, a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles. He writes:

“After conducting my fair share of harassment trainings, and studying, critiquing and/or sitting in on numerous others, I come down on the side of those academics who believe that harassment training is helpful and productive when done right.”

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New Trade Secrets Law: The HR Angle

It’s incredibly rare these days for a proposed law to receive near-unanimous backing in the U.S. House and Senate but, by George, our nation’s politicians managed to pull off this miraculous feat recently, which culminated with President Obama affixing his signature yesterday to the Defend Trade Secrets Act.

The new law puts trade secrets on par with patents, copyrights and trademarks, which are already protected under federal law. The Defend Trade Secrets Act provides a “uniform set of rules for trade secret protection” throughout the United States (although it does not replace trade secret laws passed by individual states). The upshot is that companies whose trade secrets were violated in multiple states can now file suit in a federal court rather than trying to determine which state may (or may not) provide the best legal remedy.

Trade secret claims have long been a key component of employee non-compete agreement lawsuits, writes Chris Marquardt, a partner at Alston & Bird’s labor and employment law group. For this reason, the new federal law “not only gives employers another tool to protect their confidential business information, but will also likely shift many routine employment-agreement lawsuits into the federal court system,” he writes.

Employee non-compete agreements can vary widely from state to state and the new law is written in such a way as to recognize that “the statute should not override state laws” on such agreements, Marquardt writes. However, he adds, “only time will tell how broadly federal courts interpret the new law and how willing they are to use it to prevent employees from accepting new jobs in competition with a former employer.”

Brett Coburn, also a partner with Alston & Bird, writes that one of the less-frequently discussed aspects of the new law is one that will impact nearly all employers: “The law grants both criminal and civil immunity under both federal and state trade secrets laws to individuals who disclose a company’s trade secrets to the government” if the person has reason to suspect that a legal violation has occurred. It also requires employers to notify employees of this immunity “in any agreements that govern the use of trade secrets or other confidential information.”

To ensure compliance, Coburn writes, HR leaders and legal counsel will need to reexamine their company’s restrictive covenant and nondisclosure agreements, as well as policies regarding the protection of confidential information and employee whistleblower activities.

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Worrisome Numbers for Working Moms

Mother’s Day may be three days behind us, but the time still seems right to direct attention to CareerBuilder’s most recent poll focusing on working moms.

The Chicago-based employment website and HR software provider’s 2016 Mother’s Day survey questioned 2,186 hiring and HR managers, along with 1,002 working parents (593 working mothers and 409 working fathers) with children 18 years old and younger who still live with them at home.

The picture the findings paint looks all too familiar, unfortunately: Despite successfully shouldering the same load on the job and at home, working moms’ salaries still lag behind those of their male counterparts.

(In some cases, moms are actually taking on more responsibility with the kids, as 58 percent of working mothers said they spend four or more hours with their children every day during a typical workweek, compared to 41 percent of working dads who said the same.)

For example, at least two in five of the mothers and fathers surveyed indicated they were the sole breadwinner in their family. This survey, however, finds fathers in this role nearly three times as likely to earn $50,000 or more, and three times more likely to bring in a six-figure salary.

Naturally, all parents sometimes struggle to balance the personal and the professional, as 23 percent of working mothers and 26 percent of employed fathers say they’ve missed three or more significant events in their children’s lives in the last year.

Many mothers still feel they can strike that elusive work/life balance, though. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed feel they can “have it all.” Just 50 percent, however, feel they are equally successful in their jobs and as parents, with 36 percent considering themselves more successful as a parent and 14 percent feeling they excel more at work.

All that said, it seems working mothers—and working fathers, for that matter—wouldn’t give up the work/life juggling act even if they could. Overall, 40 percent said they would be unlikely to leave their jobs if their spouse or partner made enough for the family to live comfortably. In addition, 55 percent of working moms suggested they wouldn’t be willing to take a pay cut if it allowed them to spend more time with their kids (66 percent of working dads indicated as much).

Still, while many women balancing family obligations with professional duties feel they have a handle on both, the issue of pay equality continues to make the job more difficult.

“The pressure to succeed in both arenas can be tough, especially if you’re not earning enough money to take care of financial demands at home,” said Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder CHRO, in a statement highlighting the Mother’s Day survey findings. “More working moms today feel that they are able to balance the needs of their professional and personal worlds, but household income still remains a major concern.”

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Temp Jobs: 3 Million and Counting

New research from CareerBuilder and Emsi (Economic Modeling Specialist Intl.) shows more companies will be tapping into the temporary labor segment of the labor pool, with temporary employment expected to add 173,478 jobs from 2016 to 2018 – an increase of 5.9 percent.

The analysis was reportedly based on data pulled from more 100 national and state employment resources.

“Today, nearly 3 million people are employed in temporary jobs, and that number will continue to grow at a healthy pace over the next few years as companies strive to keep agile in the midst of changing market needs,” said Kyle Braun, President of CareerBuilder’s Staffing and Recruiting Group:

“Opportunities are opening up in a variety of occupations and pay levels, and this is a trend we’re seeing in a wide range of industries and company sizes.”

Click here to see CareerBuilder’s list of fast-growing occupations for temporary employment from 2016 to 2018.

To further bolster the claim that temp jobs are here to stay, in a Harris Poll study commissioned by CareerBuilder and completed in December 2015, 47 percent of employers reported that they plan to hire temporary or contract workers in 2016, up slightly from 46 percent last year. Of these employers, more than half (58 percent) plan to transition some temporary or contract workers into full-time, permanent roles.

“Temporary employment benefits both sides of the labor market. Hiring temporary and contract workers helps companies stay flexible and adapt quickly to changing market demands,” Braun said. “For workers, it opens doors for those who want to utilize various skills, build relationships with different organizations and explore career options.”

More proof that temporary jobs are now a permanent fixture in the labor landscape. Is your organization ready to embrace the temp trend?

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‘I’m Not Your Mother!’ In Defense of Happiness

Figured the day after Mother’s Day was a perfect time to run with a post I’ve been hanging on to for a while from China Gorman, then CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute, now board chair of Las 520179370 -- happy workerVegas-based management consultancy Universum North America.

Her title? “I’m Not Your Mother!”

Now before you start imagining a tough stance on the softer side of workplace culture, I’m here to tell you this is all about the importance of breeding out-and-out happiness at work. But, as Gorman writes, it took some ups and downs and ins and outs to get her to this point:

“Early in my career as a business leader, I always believed that people were my critical competitive edge and that creating a strong, caring culture was my job. But happiness? Come on. I wasn’t my employees’ mother.

“The nature of the employer/employee relationship, I believed, was a commercial relationship. Employees come to work, do a good job and I pay them. The more I could remove obstacles from their ability to do good work, the more I could offer development and thanks for a job well done, the better they performed. Its wasn’t rocket science. Treat people well and they’ll treat your employees well. I got that. But trying to make them happy? I didn’t think that was part of the deal. And I was a pretty effective business leader.”

Then she matured. She spent some time at Zappos — “a culture whose leader is all about making his workforce happy,” she says. And while the Zappos culture wouldn’t be a fit for her, “it worked for them,” she adds. “And they were happy. Really happy. And their business results were such that they could sell the business to Amazon for over $1 billion.”

Sitting atop the Great Place to Work Institute, says Gorman, she was deluged in data proving there was “a direct line from employee well-being to financial performance.” As she puts it, that’s where she took a turn:

“And so, while early in my career, the notion of employee happiness didn’t register as a leadership imperative, I now believe that creating a culture that … delivers happiness to employees is quite clearly a practical and effective way to achieve top-line growth, profitability, customer loyalty and, most importantly, employee loyalty.”

As the chair of the WorkHuman Advisory Board at Dublin, Ireland-based reward and recognition company Globoforce, Gorman also came across that company’s recent white paper, The Science of Happiness. It cites some pretty compelling research posted by the Wall Street Journal and the iOpener Institute that finds happy employees:

  • Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least-happy colleagues,
  • Believe they are achieving their potential twice as much,
  • Spend 65 percent more time feeling energized,
  • Are 58 percent more likely to go out of the way to help their colleagues,
  • Identify 98 percent more strongly with the values of their organization, and
  • Are 186 percent more likely to recommend their organization to a friend.

I love how Globoforce puts it in the paper:

“It is tempting for many to think of company culture in terms of fringe benefits — like funky offices, on-site massages and free soda. These outward trappings of companies with great culture are often what we think of when we think of Great Places to Work.

“But perks grow from culture, not the other way around. Perks are just the manifestation of what makes a particular group of people [your employees] happy. Likewise, leaders tend to see culture in terms of things they can do — like setting goals and core values. Their participation is an important part of the picture, and trust in leaders is one of the key drivers of engagement, but execs cannot dictate a great culture. They can only lay the groundwork for a great culture to take hold.

“It is your employees who control your culture. When they are happy, it thrives. If they are stomping around complaining … well, your culture probably stinks — no matter how great your mission statement is or how free your dry cleaning.”

A few things to think about as you contemplate “mothering” your workforce into an entire family of engaged, productive and happy people who support your bottom line.

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Trade Secrets Law Has Broad Effects

If you’re not tuned into the world of intellectual property, you may not have heard of the federal “Defend Trade Secrets Act.” But the new law has effects so sweeping that most large companies will be affected, experts say. And that includes their HR departments.

Passed by overwhelming margins in both houses of Congress, the bill went to President Obama last week. He’s expected to sign it any day now, and it will take effect immediately.

The main goal of the law is let companies sue under federal law over breaches of trade secrets. Until now, such cases landed in state courts. Lawyers say the act provides an important new tool for enforcing intellectual-property rights.

But a couple of provisions in the law relate to employment practices. The big one is a whistleblower clause that protects workers who disclose trade secrets to government investigators looking into violations of the law.

Here’s what this means for companies: The act also requires employers to notify workers Confidential documentsof those rights if they have contracts with non-disclosure or other trade-secret provisions.

“Because the notice requirement will ultimately appear in tens of millions of contracts, it’s another example of the law’s broad impact,” writes Santa Clara University School of Law professor Eric Goldman.

The new law also will let companies seek a court order to stop a former employee from taking trade secrets to a competitor. Employers can’t do this just because a former worker possesses protected information, though. They must have evidence that misappropriation is likely.

Depending on where you do business, things could get a little sticky, note David Almeling, Eric Amdursky and Darin Snyder of O’Melveny & Myers.

“Because state laws governing restraints on employment vary, this may result in different outcomes in different states,” the lawyers write.

Intellectual-property lawyers call the act a game-changer. Since so many trade-secrets cases involve employees, you can count on the effects reaching into HR departments across the nation.

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HR’s Role in Aiding Ailing Employees

We all know this standard bit of wisdom: When you’re told you have a major disease — like cancer — one of the first things you should do is get a second opinion from another doctor. However, employees at some organizations may have an easier time getting that second opinion than their counterparts at other companies, according to a recent survey from the Northeast Business Group on Health.

86507521The NEBGH conducted a benchmarking survey on employers and cancer care with self-insured companies representing 1.2 million covered employees, along with interviews with cancer experts and benefits professionals and two workshops held last year. The resulting report, Employers and Cancer Care Quality: A Closer Look, finds that nearly half the employers do not offer third-party second opinion services — a finding the NEBGH says is important not only because data shows that second opinions can often reveal an initial misdiagnosis or point to a different treatment path, but because health plan-directed second opinions are sometimes mistrusted by employees.

Less than half the survey respondents say they have a network of high-performing oncology providers in place, and results also show there are “variations and gaps” in the non-clinical support services they offer, such as treatment navigation, emotional counseling and financial-planning services.

“Another major gap highlighted in our work is the lack of accessible, organized and systematic communication efforts directed to employees [diagnosed with cancer],” says Dr. Jeremy Nobel, executive director of NEBGH’s Solutions Center, which oversaw the report.

Most employees diagnosed with cancer choose to continue working during treatment, partly because doing so “helps them cope,” according to a survey conducted last year by Harris Interactive on behalf of the group Cancer and Careers. More employees are choosing to share their cancer diagnosis with their supervisors, according to Brenna Haviland Shebel, director of the National Business Group on Health’s Institute on Healthcare Costs and Solutions. It’s incumbent upon HR, these experts say, to ensure that employees who are waging battle against cancer are equipped with the knowledge and support necessary to get what they need while fighting to regain their health.

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When Peers Speak, Employees Listen

Who has the most sway over the financial decisions your employees make?

The answer seems to be “everyone but their employers,” according to a recent International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans poll.

At a recent meeting for its board and committee members, the Brookfield, Wis.-based non-profit organization asked 150 benefit industry leaders to name the single-biggest influencer on their workers’ financial decisions. In response, 74 percent of those on hand said their employees’ money moves are most affected by the input of family members, friends, co-workers and peers.

While financial education has become a larger part of many companies’ broader employee wellness initiatives, IFEBP finds more employers expanding their efforts in an attempt to also reach those who have the ear of their workers when it comes to financial matters.

The foundation’s Financial Education for Today’s Workforce: 2016 Survey Results report, for example, saw two-thirds of employers offering financial education to their employees. The same report found 40 percent of employers saying they provide financial education to spouses and partners of employees, while 41 percent offer financial education opportunities outside of normal business hours and 20 percent make financial education available on the weekends, so spouses and partners can attend.

Meanwhile, another IFEBP report suggests that a majority of organizations are turning to employees’ peer groups to spread the word, with 63 percent of employers saying they are relying on word-of-mouth communication via workplace “champions” to increase employees’ awareness of benefits such as financial education.

Such employee advocates can play an invaluable role in the effort to increase financial education throughout the organization, said Julie Stich, research director at IFEBP, in a recent statement.

“In our focus groups, surveys and case study work, we’ve seen the importance of workplace champions,” said Stich. “Champions are passionate about the benefit in question—in this case, financial education.”

These “champions” often embrace the education they receive from their employer and pursue more information on their own, she added, noting that 75 percent of employers who indicated in the aforementioned report that their organizations use a “champion approach” report success with this strategy.

“They’ll adopt the benefit in their own life and eagerly talk with their co-workers about it as well,” said Stich. “Their enthusiasm, knowledge and ‘peer’ status grabs their co-workers’ attention and trust.”

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Merck Suit Certified as Collective Action

In case you missed it, last week the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted plaintiffs’ motion to conditionally certify a collective action under the Equal Pay Act in the $250-million gender-discrimination suit filed against pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc.

The Court further ordered that thousands of female Merck sales representatives should be given notice and an opportunity to join the case. The lawsuit alleges that Merck systematically discriminates against female sales representatives, and pregnant women in particular, in pay, promotions and other terms and conditions of employment. The Court held that plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence of discrimination in pay to warrant notifying women across the country.

The Court’s decision also affirmed that an internal Merck policy purporting to govern contact between Merck employees and “third parties” does not bar Merck female sales representatives from communicating with Plaintiffs’ counsel and joining this lawsuit.

Some background on the case: In May 2013, Kelli Smith filed a class action lawsuit in New Jersey federal court alleging that pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., Inc. (“Merck”) discriminates against female employees in its sales force in pay and promotions. Ms. Smith also claims that Merck discriminates against pregnant women and women who take maternity leave.

Early in 2014, several other women from across the country who had experienced similar discrimination at Merck joined Ms. Smith’s lawsuit. They too alleged class wide discrimination against female employees in pay and promotion, and on the basis of pregnancy. Although Merck sought to have the plaintiffs’ claims dismissed, the court denied Merck’s request.

Just how big this collective action will get is ultimately anyone’s guess, but the case should act as a stark reminder that “equal pay” is still largely a concept — and not a reality — in today’s business world.

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