When It’s OK to Fake It

grin“Be authentic!” today’s leaders are urged. But what if they don’t know how? Worse yet, what if — in being authentic — they bare their soul to their direct reports in a way that causes them to lose confidence in said leader?

Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, tackles this subject in the cover story of the Jan/Feb Harvard Business Review, “The Authenticity Paradox.” Today’s leaders are under pressure to be “their true selves” as an antidote to the record-low levels of trust and engagement among employees today, she writes. However, new leaders also have a relatively short time frame in which to gain the trust and confidence of their direct reports — should they unwittingly alienate or lose the confidence of those employees within that time by failing to adapt their leadership style to the situational demands, then their goals will be that much harder to achieve.

Ibarra cites the examples of “Cynthia” and “George.” Promoted into a high-visibility role that included a 10-fold increase in the number of her direct reports, Cynthia sought to establish her role as a leader who valued transparency and collaboration by sharing with them her trepidation and need for their help.  But her candor backfired when she lost credibility with people who were looking for a strong leader. George, an executive at an auto-parts company where chain-of-command and consensus were paramount, felt conflicted when the company was acquired by a firm with a much more freewheeling culture: Urged by his supervisor to sell himself and his ideas more aggressively, George felt he was being pressured to be a “fake” by subsuming his modest nature.

Career advancement requires most of us to move beyond our comfort zones at some point, writes Ibarra. Yet, because going against our true inclinations can make us feel like impostors, “we tend to latch on to authenticity as an excuse for sticking with what’s comfortable,” she writes.

However, moments like these can help us grow into better leaders — if we take advantage of them, writes Ibarra:

The moments that most challenge our sense of self are the ones that can teach us the most about leading effectively. By viewing ourselves as works in progress and evolving our professional identities through trial and error, we can develop a personal style that feels right to us and suits our organizations’ changing needs.

Learning often begins with behaviors that may feel unnatural and fake to us, says Ibarra. But the only way to avoid being pigeonholed and to ultimately become better leaders “is to do the things that a rigidly authentic sense of self would keep us from doing.”

 

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Summer Jobs on the Decline

Leading up to his State of the Union later this month, President Obama has been giving folks a taste of some of the issues he’s likely to address.

466488753Among this sampling is a proposal he started talking about last week to make “the first two years of community college free for everybody who is willing to work for it.”

In a videotape message posted on Facebook, the president said: “It’s not just for kids. We also have to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to constantly train themselves for better jobs, better wages, better benefits.”

Few specifics were mentioned, but I would imagine the proposal is going to meet some serious opposition in today’s Republican-led Congress. Whether it succeeds or fails, though, there’s no denying a lot more work needs to be done to prepare our nation’s youth for the workplace. The issue is simply too important to overlook.

One reminder arrived in my email yesterday morning in the form of a press release from JPMorgan Chase & Co. In it, JPMC issued a report—“Building Skills Through Summer Jobs: Lessons from the Field”—that showed summer employment programs aren’t meeting the needs of young people seeking summer work, with fewer than half (46 percent) of those applying for such programs getting into them in 2014.

The report—a part of JPMC’s $250 million, five-year “New Skills at Work” initiative to address the mismatch between employer needs and the skills of job seekers—found a nearly 40 percent decline in summer youth employment over the past 12 years. One would think we could do better than that.

According to the JPMC report, the employment shortage disproportionately impacts low-income youth and young people of color. In 2013, the study found, low-income teens (with family incomes at less than $20,000) were 20 percent less likely to be employed than high-income teens (with family incomes of $60,000 or more); and the employment rate among white teens was 39 percent, roughly 27 percent among Hispanic teens and 19 percent among black teens.

The study is based on a qualitative analysis of 16 summer youth employment programs in 14 cities around the nation.

“Funding goes up and down, because it’s in the context of the local economies,” JPMC’s Head of Workforce Initiatives Chauncy Lennon told me. “But if you look at the macro picture, the slope of the funding is consistently downward.”

Lennon said there’s good employer participation, from the standpoints of both investments and partnerships, but the study suggests that more work needs to be done. Besides more slots being created, he said, greater effort needs to be made to ensure that those slots are of a higher quality and are tied to workforce needs.

The report goes on to highlight key opportunities to improve the ROI of summer youth employment programs …

Strengthen infrastructure and connections among programs: There is tremendous innovation across summer youth programs. But the cities and programs surveyed in the report identified the need for infrastructure to capture what’s being learned and to expand best practices to more cities. To strengthen quality and sustainability, summer programs need to be connected to each other and to local workforce systems … .

Deepen private sector engagement: Summer youth employment programs are looking for both resources and jobs from private sector employers. But they are also looking for deeper engagement that can improve the quality of these experiences for young people … .

Bring a skills focus to summer youth employment: Adding a focus on skills that are currently in demand by employers to summer jobs programs can better prepare young people to compete in the workforce … .

If you want to learn more about these programs, check the JPMC report out.  Among other things, it features a number of innovative programs currently under way.

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Bigger Raises on the Way?

465463337The numbers have been awfully similar, and awfully stagnant, for some time now.

Employees in the U.S.—those lucky enough to get a raise—have been receiving, on average, something in the neighborhood of a 3 percent bump in pay each year. And there have been no shortage of experts forecasting comparable increases in the months ahead.

Still, there’s reason to be optimistic that things will start looking up in 2015, according to New York Times senior economics correspondent Neil Irwin. In an online piece appearing this week, Irwin asks whether pay raises will become more commonplace this year, and sees at least three recent signs that may point to “yes.” Specifically:

  • The number of available jobs in the U.S. rose to 4.97 million in November—the highest that figure has been since 2001—as seen in the Labor Department’s latest monthly job openings report.
  • The recently-released National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Optimism Survey finds overall optimism among small businesses at its highest point since 2006, with the proportion of small businesses planning to increase compensation in the next three months 17 percent higher than those that planned decreases.
  • Hartford, Conn.-based health insurer Aetna has announced that, beginning in April, it would set a minimum hourly pay rate of $16 for its workers, which Irwin described as “the most interesting piece of evidence for rising wage pressure.” This increase equates to a roughly 11 percent jump in pay for 5,700 claims administrators and various low-level workers at Aetna.

The company is “counting on the raise to make it easier to retain good employees and recruit for vacant positions,” says Irwin, who posits that continuing job growth could find organizations that fail to raise wages “at a competitive disadvantage, losing their best workers to companies like Aetna that try to get ahead of the curve a bit with pre-emptive raises.”

Whether that scenario plays out remains to be seen, of course. Irwin acknowledges as much, allowing for the possibility of the job growth rate flattening as the U.S. inches closer to full employment, and/or the millions of people no longer in the workforce re-entering in large numbers and subsequently holding down wages.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned developments present “a coherent, consistent story,” says Irwin, with employers looking to fill more openings, small businesses expecting to raise pay and “one giant employer … doing exactly that.”

“Add it up,” he says, “and Aetna workers may not be the only ones seeing raises this year.”

Indeed. Aetna employees will certainly not be the only ones receiving raises in 2015. But it will be interesting to see if more large organizations follow Aetna’s lead and begin to break the 3-percent threshold that’s been the norm for so long.

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Supremes Look at EEOC’s Role in Conciliation

Today the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in Mach Mining v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — a key employment case that addresses whether a court may enforce the EEOC’s duty to conciliate discrimination claims before filing suit, legal experts say.

In the Mach Mining case, the EEOC alleged that Mach Mining had discriminated against a class of female job applicants at its mine near Johnston City, Ill. The EEOC notified the company of its intention to begin informal conciliation, and while the parties discussed possible resolution, they did not reach an agreement.

In the federal case, Mach Mining argued that the suit should be dismissed because the EEOC failed to conciliate in good faith. Then, in 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that an alleged failure to conciliate is not an affirmative defense to the merits of an employment-discrimination suit brought by the EEOC.

Gerald Maatman Jr., co-chair of the class action defense group of Seyfarth Shaw, says the Mach Mining case has significant implications for employers that are dealing with the EEOC.

“If the Supreme Court sides with the Seventh Circuit, employers will lose a powerful defense against the EEOC’s aggressive litigation tactics,” he wrote recently in Seyfarth’s Workplace Class Action Blog.

Maatman also says the Seventh Circuit’s decision had “far-reaching, real world significance to the employment community, for it means the EEOC is virtually immune from review in terms of the settlement positions it takes… prior to suing employers.”

In the amicus brief in support of Mach Mining on behalf of the American Insurance Association, Mr. Maatman and Seyfarth Shaw argue that insurers and employers facing EEOC litigation require detailed information in order to accurately set reserves and ensure that any settlement not only promptly and fairly compensates meritorious claims, but also satisfies the interests of insurance regulators.

Their brief contends that the Seventh Circuit’s ruling is “wrong as a matter of policy, since it is fundamental to the litigation process for a party to have fulsome information relative to the claims at issue. The Congressionally-mandated conciliation process was intended to provide that core knowledge;

“This is particularly important in EEOC-initiated litigation, where one of the government’s fundamental mandates is to achieve voluntary and informal compliance with anti-discrimination laws.”

And some of the reasoning behind the Seventh Circuit’s decision, as well as similar reasoning in the briefing the EEOC recently submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court—i.e., that it is essentially “too difficult” to articulate a workable standard for determining whether the EEOC met its good-faith conciliation requirement—defies practical experience, adds Steven Pearlman, partner and member of Proskauer’s employment litigation & arbitration group.

Moreover,  says Pearlman, if no limiting principle is imposed in this context, “the EEOC will be empowered to employ an unreasonable ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ approach to pre-suit settlement negotiations. In fact, courts recently have chided and even sanctioned the EEOC for engaging in such tactics.”

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Marijuana Acceptance Marches On

It’s still highly unlikely that any employer will ever have to allow an employee to work while he or she is stoned, whether there’s a safety 146967521 - smoking dopeor security risk or not, but the chips seem to keep falling away from those sturdy walls that made marijuana unacceptable, illegal and disallowed for years.

The latest indication that pot is going mainstream comes in this Illinois Appellate Court ruling (found on the Canna Law Blog site) affirming a Circuit Court’s ruling that just because a worker was fired for violating his employer’s drug-and-alcohol-free workplace policy doesn’t mean he can’t collect unemployment benefits.

Seems this maintenance worker for the Jefferson County Housing Authority fessed up to his employer — just before a random mandatory drug screening — that he might not pass because he had smoked pot several weeks earlier while on vacation. He was fired, even though his tests results were negative, and was turned down for unemployment benefits because of the nature of his termination.

The Housing Authority’s policy prohibits employees from being under the influence of any controlled substance “while in the course of employment.” Both the Circuit Court and Appellate Court agreed “course of employment” was interpreted too broadly by the Illinois Department of Employment Security to include off-duty hours.

“Among the reasons the Circuit Court found the agency’s interpretation unreasonable,” the blog states, “was the fact that marijuana is now legal in some states and the fact that it unreasonably restricted off-duty time while serving no legitimate public purpose.”

Yes, indeed, marijuana is absolutely now legal in some states, as this news analysis and this blog post by me indicate. But it’s more than going legal, as I also indicate. It’s becoming big business. Make that a huge industry.

Just this month, news releases came across my screen announcing a Cannabis Career Institute opening in San Diego as well as three others in Florida, Illinois and Nevada, all designed, as the releases state, to teach “ganjapreneurs how to succeed in the marijuana industry as the green rush continues.”

Attorneys and experts I’ve talked to assure me employers will always have the legal right — and responsibility — to keep their workplaces safe and drug-free. I just wonder how all this nudging from the “cannabusiness” community and the courts is going to impact how those employers sleep at night.

 

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A Treatment for Terror?

Like most, I was sickened to read the news reports Wednesday morning about another terrorist attack, this time on those working in the Paris office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

450968335As you no doubt know, the horrific act took the lives of 12 people—including the publication’s editor and four of the magazine’s cartoonists—and set in motion a manhunt for those responsible, which reportedly includes two brothers who were already under police surveillance.

Over the years, HRE has published its share of stories on the devastating toll terrorist acts can have on the workplace—and the steps employers might want to consider taking to minimize risks and assist employees and the victims’ families in the aftermath. But while most of those pieces have addressed the impact of such attacks on those workplaces where the incidences occurred, there’s little question (at least to me) that the impact very often extends well beyond the organization itself.  (For many of us, 9/11 is etched in our minds and will remain there until we take our final breath, whether we were in New York, Somerset County or Washington—or not.)

I’m not really sure if the timing here is a coincidence or not (since it doesn’t mention the Paris attack), but yesterday a new Tel Aviv University study linking terrorism to incidences of job burnout over time was posted online.

In the study—led by professors Sharon Toker of TAU’s Faculty of Management, in collaboration with Dr. Gregory A. Laurence of the University of Michigan and Dr. Yitzhak Fried of Syracuse University and Texas Tech University—a random sample of 670 Israeli employees underwent routine checkups at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in 2003 and 2004, completing questionnaires to assess the incidences of insomnia, fear of terror, fear for personal safety, tension experienced in public places, level of workplace support and signs of job burnout. Employees were then followed from 2003 to 2009, completing two additional questionnaires over that period. (The study is being published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.)

Toker reports …

“We found that the higher your levels of fear of terror at baseline, the higher your risk of developing insomnia—and those who were more likely to develop insomnia were also most likely to experience job burnout several years later. Burnout is a direct outcome of depleted resources, so those who consistently don’t get enough sleep report job burnout.”

Of course, Toker explains, managers have an important role to play in promoting interventions for healthy sleep habits, initiating retreats and launching employee-assistance programs. But the research he and his colleagues conducted suggests that their best course of action might very well be to create “a workplace environment that is conducive to a strong social support network … .”

Why? Because, in their study, the researchers found that those who reported support from their colleagues—and not their managers—were less likely to experience insomnia and the inevitable burnout that comes with it than those who didn’t.

In a more perfect world, we wouldn’t have to worry about terrorist acts like those that played out in Paris this week. But as we all know, we don’t live in a perfect—so, for now anyway, I guess we’re confined to look to studies like Toker’s to find more effective ways to minimize their impact.

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Intel Takes the Lead

diversity Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp. is a lot like most other Silicon Valley tech companies: Its workforce is primarily male and majority white. Women make up only 24 percent of its workforce, blacks and Hispanics just 12 percent (and only 4 percent of its senior execs and managers). However, the company just announced a bold move at the Consumer Electronics Show: CEO Brian Krzanich said Intel plans to make its workforce much more representative of the U.S. population — at all levels of the organization — by 2020. And, it’s committing $300 million to the effort.

“Intel plans to lead by example,” said Krzanich. “We invite the entire technology industry to join us.”

The technology industry has been under pressure in this area since May of last year, when Google released statistics that underscored the lack of diversity in its own workforce. Google’s move sparked a conversation among other large tech companies about their own lack of diversity; last December, Microsoft’s general manager for global diversity, Gwen Houston, told 300 attendees at a forum organized by Intel that “the reason we haven’t seen the progress is our leaders haven’t been held accountable.”

Intel’s move drew praise from Operation PUSH’s Jesse Jackson, who’s been in the forefront of the move to push Silicon Valley to diversify. “It’s morally right, and it’s also good business,” Jackson told the San Jose Mercury News. “I think there are pockets of talent that Silicon Valley had not imagined to exist.”

Intel plans to spend a chunk of the $300 million on efforts to encourage more women and minorities to enter the tech industry. It will also increase its hiring of women and minorities, focus on retaining them and tie some of its managers pay to meeting its diversity goals. It plans to release regular progress reports on the 2020 plan.

“This isn’t just good business,” Krzanich said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

 

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Looking Ahead at Litigation Trends

looking aheadIf December was the time for workplace experts to parse the year that just went by, then January is when those same experts shift into prediction mode and forecast what may happen in the 12 months ahead.

In its 11th annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, Chicago-based labor and employment law firm Seyfarth Shaw does a bit of both.

The 844-page report, an executive summary of which is available here, analyzed 1,219 class-action rulings on a circuit-by-circuit and state-by-state basis to “capture key themes from 2014 and emerging trends facing U.S. companies in 2015,” according to a Seyfarth Shaw press release.

For example, two cases—Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes and Comcast Corp. v. Behrend—continued to serve as “the most influential ‘pivot points’ for Rule 23 decisions in 2014, having a wide-ranging impact on virtually all class actions pending in federal and state courts,” the report notes. According to Seyfarth Shaw, Wal-Mart was cited 571 times across lower federal and state courts in 2014, while Comcast was cited 261 times, “which in turn generated a bevy of new case law.”

These decisions have reshaped settlement strategies, according to the report, which found governmental enforcement litigation settlements dropping to their lowest levels in a decade last year, while ERISA settlements shot up nearly tenfold from 2013. (Employment discrimination and wage-and-hour class-action settlements remained flat, however.)

Other key trends the Seyfarth Shaw report sees as poised to continue in 2015 include:

  • Wage-and-hour litigation, which represents the prime litigation risk in the workplace, as case filings increased yet again in 2014.
  • FLSA collective actions and state law wage-and-hour class actions, which produced more decisions than any other area of complex employment litigation in 2014.
  • The Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission continued their aggressive litigation approaches with mixed results in 2014, marked by several losses in the federal courts and their lowest aggregate settlement recoveries since 2006.
  • The Class Action Fairness Act, which experienced a “transformative” year in 2014, solidifying defense strategies to secure removal of class actions to federal courts.

“In response to recent Supreme Court decisions on class-action issues, Rule 23 law is undergoing a major transformation, and as a result, employers litigated an increased number of novel defenses in 2014,” says Gerald L. Maatman Jr., co-chair of Seyfarth Shaw’s class-action defense group and author of this year’s report.

“At the same time, wage-and-hour class actions and collective actions also continued their meteoric rise to new record levels, while the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission advanced their litigation agendas in an aggressive fashion,” continues Maatman. “All told, employers face a much more challenging landscape for defending workplace class-action litigation in 2015.”

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Are You a Minister of Culture?

How’s your company’s mojo supply these days?

According to a new piece by Forbes contributor Liz Ryan, it’s likely lower than it could be because some “leaders can’t imagine treating their employees any better than the law requires.”

And that’s what happens when fear-based leaders tell their HR people to simply focus on employment-law compliance instead of employee engagement and other strategic issues, she writes in a new post titled “Reinventing Human Resources For The Human Workplace.”

In the piece, Ryan calls it “a tragedy when HR people are assigned to spout policies and process performance reviews rather than to serve as the Ministers of Culture every organization needs.”

“HR people who see their job as keeping the firm out of court miss dozens of chances a day to build community and trust.”

In order to do this, she says, HR needs “to actively get out there with our teammates and into the talent market and say ‘How do we make this place the hands-down coolest place to work?’ I’m not talking about slogans and happy talk or even Friday night pizza parties or foosball.”

“I’m talking about grown-up accountability for the trust level in the organization. That’s the fuel tank your HR team is responsible for keeping full to its brim. Your Finance team looks after the money. Your HR people keep the mojo stores full.”

And one of the best ways for HR leaders to maintain a company’s good energy, she says, is actually quite simple: “They have to ask way more questions than they answer.”

Indeed, when it comes to mastering a topic as tricky as mojo, taking a “curious” approach certainly seems to make quite a bit of sense.

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What Workers Want and How to Supply It

As most of you embark on your first official work day of 2015, and Bruce-Tulgan-New-Photo-June-2014-200x300just in case a New Year’s resolution was to treat your employees even better this year than last, I thought I’d start you off with some suggestions from workplace and demographic expert Bruce Tulgan.

As I noted in this earlier (summertime) blog post about his recent book, The 27 Challenges Managers Face, Tulgan, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy RainmakerThinking Inc., is pretty authoritative when it comes to employer-employee relationships.

In this more recent post, What Employees Want and How to Give It to Them, Tulgan once again relies on his and Rainmaker’s more than 20 years of research into workplaces and manager-employee relationships to give you these “key elements of every job that employees typically care about,” he says.

As he puts it in the post:

“You want to be generous and flexible with your employees. Why wouldn’t you? Everybody is working harder. Everybody is under more pressure. Everybody needs more than what they are getting.

If you are the boss, one of the most important parts of your job is taking care of your people. Remember, people work to take care of themselves and their families. They want your help. Some managers consistently do more for their employees. If you’re not one of those managers, what is your problem?”

He’s not the only one stressing the importance of treating workers with respect and helping them develop — especially as more millennials and Gen Zers enter the workforce. But he’s one of the few with this much research behind what he recommends.

So here’s Tulgan’s list of what employees really care about:

  1. The ability to earn more money. This is all about the compensation package. What is the base pay and the value of the benefits? How much of the pay is fixed? How much is contingent on clear performance benchmarks tied directly to concrete actions the individual employee can control? What are the levers for driving the pay up or down?
  2. More control over their own schedules. What is the default schedule? How much flexibility is there? What are the levers for achieving more or less scheduling flexibility?
  3. Relationships at work. Who will the employee be working with? Which vendors, customers, co-workers, subordinates, and managers? What are the levers for controlling who the employee has a chance to work with (and/or avoid)?
  4. Task choice. Which regular tasks and responsibilities will the employee be assigned to do? How much of it is “grunt work” (tedious or otherwise difficult recurring tasks)? Are there any special projects? What are the levers for controlling the employee’s opportunities to work on more choice tasks, responsibilities or projects?
  5. Learning opportunities. What basic skills and knowledge will the employee be learning in order to handle his basic tasks and responsibilities? Will there be any special learning opportunities? What are the levers for controlling access to those special learning opportunities?
  6. Location and workspace. Where will the employee be located? How much control will the employee have over his workspace? Will there be much travel? Are there opportunities to be transferred to other locations? What are the levers for controlling these location issues? Within a given workspace, how much latitude will the employee have to customize his/her immediate surroundings?

Tulgan says the key to making these desires work for you has a whole lot to do with how you leverage them, as bargaining chips. He offers these examples:

  • “You don’t want to work on Thursday? I’m glad to know that. Here’s what I need from you by Wednesday at midnight.”

  • “You want your own office? Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to bring your dog to work? Great. Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to have lunch with the senior VP? Here’s what I need from you.”

“When managers are able to [leverage employee desires and business needs like this],” Tulgan says, “they are giving the employee control over [his or] her rewards by spelling out exactly what [he or] she needs to do to earn them.

“In exchange,” he says, “the employee will probably be willing to do a lot [more] — to work longer, harder, smarter, faster or better” — while getting a valuable and immediate reward in return.

Sure, you can say all this is intuitive, but I would counter with, “then why aren’t more employers doing it?”

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