Are You Lonely Today?

Loneliness is a growing epidemic in society at large and the workplace, writes Dr. Vivek H. Murthy in the Harvard Business Review. Murthy, who served as Surgeon General in the Obama administration, cites recent research finding that 40 percent of Americans report feeling lonely (a number that in reality is probably higher, he writes) and that many employees and half of CEOs report feeling lonely in their jobs.

It’s bad for the workplace and bad for our health, Murthy asserts in the piece, titled “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.” During his work as a physician and as Surgeon General, he witnessed firsthand the ravages that chronic loneliness can have on people’s mental and physical health. “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness,” Murthy writes. Loneliness is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression and anxiety, while in in the workplace it reduces task performance, limits creativity and impairs reasoning and decision-making.

Humans evolved as social creatures, depending on the cooperation of others to help fight off predators, find food sources and create shelter. We’re hardwired for socialization, Murthy notes, but in today’s society opportunities for socializing seem to be ever scarcer. The rise of telework, short-term gigs and screen-focused work — in which we sit in front of computers for most of the day, often with headphones stuck in our ears — means it’s increasingly likely we know next to nothing about the people we work with or sit next to.

That’s not just a sad state of affairs; it’s harming productivity and innovation, Murthy asserts.  He cites research by Gallup that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work. People with strong work connections can handle stress better and enjoy better health,  he writes, while workers who feel they have high-stress jobs have markedly higher healthcare costs than low-stress employees.

What to do? Murthy cites an example of what he did during his time as Surgeon General, where he oversaw a fast-growing staff of people who didn’t know each other very well. To bring people together, Murthy instituted “Inside Scoop,” in which staff members would take five minutes during weekly meetings to tell their colleagues something about themselves. In one case, a former Marine officer spoke about his complex relationship with his father and how his children’s musical talents reminded him of his dad. “As he spoke, his eyes glistened,” Murthy writes. “I felt a deep connection to him in that moment and was inspired by his honesty and compelled to reflect on my own relationships. Even though we were close before, my relationship with him became even stronger that day.”

Small steps can make a difference in making a workplace feel more warm and hospitable, and less lonely, Murthy suggests. On a deeper level, he writes, an organization’s leaders can make strengthening social connections a priority by modeling this behavior through building stronger connections with other team members and examining whether a company’s culture and policies support the development of trusted relationships.

Murthy’s own strong bonds with his colleagues eased his path through the many difficult and stressful moments of his medical residency, he writes, and helped make him a better doctor. The stakes are high, he warns, for the workplace and society at large:

If we cannot rebuild stronger, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and society. Instead of coming together to take on the great challenges before us, we will retreat to our corners, angry, sick and alone.”

Is Global Mobility Losing Popularity?

Taking a global assignment has been considered a stepping stone to moving up within the organization, but apparently some who have taken that step are having doubts.

A recent survey from Cigna, the health insurance carrier, reports that globally mobile employees see themselves as less satisfied than workers who reside in their home country (and who have chosen to bypass overseas assignments).

Two of the main reasons for that scenario are a loss of family time and support, and the financial consequence and availability of medical care in the event of major illness.  Regarding the latter, the Cigna survey, 2017 Cigna 360° Well-being Survey – Globally Mobile Individuals, found that 40 percent reported having no company medical benefits at all. For the survey, Cigna interviewed 2,003 globally mobile individuals online (ages 25-59) who are working in markets outside of their birthplace across 20 markets in Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, Africa and the United States.

Hard data for globally mobile individuals on Cigna’s favorability index across all categories is 61.5 points, 1.8 points lower than their stay-at-home counterparts. The most dramatic score difference came in family well-being, which was 9.4 points lower for globally mobile workers.

“The results show that globally mobile individuals are more concerned than the general working population about their own health and well-being, and that of their families,” said Jason Sadler, president, Cigna International Markets, in a press release.

Sadler added that without exception, this group is worried about the consequences of personal or family member illness; an issue compounded by the gap in employer-provided health benefits.

It isn’t all bad news. The Cigna survey also found that there is an upside to taking a global assignment, mainly “international exposure, the opportunity to accumulate wealth, better career prospects, good working hours and positive relationships with co-workers” as positive outcomes aspects of the experience.

Even so, the anxiety driven by healthcare concerns is real, Cigna found.

“The survey shows health benefits are a very important factor when deciding to take an overseas posting,” Sadler said. “There is a clear need for employers to pay attention to the health and well-being of their globally mobile employees.”

Should HR Merge with RE?

Google and Facebook are both known for their innovative workplace policies on everything from hiring to parental leave.

A new post on JLL, however, offers those two organizations as a model for something else entirely: blending an organization’s HR and corporate real estate functions.

Google is already known for turning established thinking on its head when it comes to workplace design and policies, says Marie Puybaraud, global head of workplace research at JLL. “Its new £1 billion London campus features sports facilities some gyms can only dream of with a rooftop running track and a half Olympic sized swimming pool which act as a prime attraction for recruiting new talent, not to mention retaining existing employees.”

“Google’s high-end facilities are a physical demonstration that the organization is focused on looking after its staff,” continues Puybaraud. “Job-seekers will start to see such facilities as a benchmark —and all employers will put greater thought into how they use the quality of life at work as a way or recruiting and motivating staff.”

Meanwhile, the piece notes, Facebook’s new corporate village will include 1,500 apartments as well as a grocery store and offices. “The company is using its physical facilities to provide for its staff in ways which clearly go far deeper than the normal working relationship,” explains Puybaraud. “It is only when Real Estate and HR work seamlessly together that they can deliver such projects.”

Indeed, real estate teams suggesting such recreational facilities may well struggle to get them past the board without the backing of their HR colleagues. Equally, HR teams may be looking for new ways to increase engagement among staff yet may struggle with the practicalities of developing ambitious plans that require a rethink of current office space while working in a silo.

According to Puybaraud, if an organization’s workers are more engaged and fulfilled at work, they’re more likely to develop better relationships with colleagues and put more into their work. For companies, it equates to better productivity and lower turnover of staff., which is a key reason why more companies will merge their HR and Real Estate teams in the coming years.

“More businesses will realize how closely productivity follows on from deep level employee satisfaction,” Puybaraud says. “We predict that joint HR / Real Estate teams will be commonplace within a decade.”

Is your organization planning on merging HR with its real-estate functions? If so, we’d love to hear from you about the challenges and benefits of such a move.

A Hot Issue Reaches The High Court

As lawyers prepared to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court today over the legality of mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts, a new study came out that underscores what’s at stake, estimating that more than 60 million workers are now covered by them.

The Economic Policy Institute, which says its mission is “to inform and empower individuals to seek solutions that ensure broadly shared prosperity and opportunity” carefully timed the release of results to come as before a widely-watched case reaches the high court.

The case is actually three cases involving different employers: Epic Systems Corp., a Wisconsin-based maker of software for health care systems and medical groups, Ernst &Young U.S. and Arkansas-based Murphy Oil USA Inc. All invoked arbitration clauses in disputes with individual workers over overtime and other issues.

The Supreme Court like will take months to decide the issue. And employers will be watching carefully.

To  gauge the potential impact of that ruling, the Economic Policy Institute surveyed 627 private employers with 50 workers or more nationwide, focusing questions on their nonunion workers. Author of the study was Alexander J.S. Colvin., a professor at Cornell University’s ILR School.

Based on this sample, researchers estimate 53.9 percent of private employers require workers to sign arbitration clauses. Researchers estimate 60.1 million U.S. workers are subject to mandatory arbitration with waiver of class-action rights. The practice appears to be more common in large businesses, the study said.

 

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Time to ‘Fix’ the Labor Market?

When it comes to evaluating job candidates, a college degree is often an over-used and overrated criterion that screens out otherwise-qualified people from good jobs and contributes to a worsening talent shortage.

So suggests the Rework America Task Force, a new organization that’s got some heavy hitters on its roster, including Siemens USA, Microsoft, IBM and Princeton University and is chaired by former Obama White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

Rework America’s stated goal is to “fix America’s broken labor market” by transforming it to a “21st century, skills-driven model.”

“The current labor market fails job seekers, workers and businesses,” says McDonough in a press release announcing the new organization. “Many workers have the skills employers are looking for to fill open positions, but don’t know it because too many job listings are written in a way that excludes qualified job seekers rather than attracting them.”

This includes requiring credentials such as a four-year degree as a proxy, McDonough says, instead of listing the actual skills needed for the job. That’s a problem, he adds, given that nearly seven out of 10 Americans don’t have a four-year degree, although they may possess skills that are actually relevant to the job.

Rework America is based on the Skillful Initiative, a partnership established last year between the state of Colorado and companies such as LinkedIn that helps companies use tools and data to create a skills-based hiring process that lets job candidates demonstrate the skills they can bring to an organization. Microsoft recently donated $25 million to Rework America’s parent organization, The Markle Foundation, to enlarge and expand the Skillful Initiative to another state.

A recent study by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte finds that six out of 10 production jobs remain open because of the talent shortage. Given this sad state of affairs, it will be interesting to see whether Rework America’s program can help fill this gap and ensure people with skills can find meaningful work.

Hiring for the Holidays

It’s the time of year when we start to see retailers bracing for the holiday shopping season. For the heavy hitters in the industry, this usually means hiring seasonal workers. Lots of them.

In the past week, for example, we’ve seen reports that J.C. Penney plans to bring on 40,000 new workers to handle the holiday load this year, while Target Corp. figures to add around 100,000 seasonal employees. Even Toys ’R’ Us, fresh off of filing for bankruptcy, is looking to hire roughly 12,000 part-timers for the holidays. (The toy product retailer also says it will pay weekend rates during peak holiday times and offer additional employee discounts over the 2017 holiday season.)

The biggest retailer of them all, however, is going a different route this year.

As noted by the Washington Post, Walmart’s answer for handling the 2017 holiday crush is to “dole out extra holiday work to its existing employees.”

These extra hours “will help staff traditional roles like cashier and stocker, and newly created positions such as personnel shoppers and pickup associates,” said Judith McKenna, chief operating officer for Walmart U.S., in a statement. “This is what working in retail is all about, and we know our associates have the passion to do even more this year.”

This holiday staffing strategy isn’t altogether new for Walmart. The Bentonville, Ark.-based corporation took a similar approach last year, which was “well-received by employees and customers,” according to the Post.

The new policy will allow employees to work up to 40 hours a week during the holiday season—Walmart considers 34 hours a week to be full-time—and will help address what the Post calls “long-standing complaints” among workers who feel they’re underemployed.

“The struggle to get enough hours has been the No. 1 issue angering associates,” according to Dan Schlademan, a spokesman for OUR Walmart, an employee group founded by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which has attempted to unionize Walmart locations in the past. “We’ve never been able to understand why Walmart continues hiring seasonal workers when there are so many people begging them for more hours.”

That said, questions remain around the new policy, as the Post points out. For example, will employees be forced to take on extra hours? And will they be penalized if they take time off during the holidays?

These kinds of questions aside, labor experts contend this approach makes sense for Walmart, according to the Post.

For example, even if the company ends up having to pay overtime to some of its employees, “it probably will save thousands of dollars” by not having to recruit, hire and train a fleet of temporary workers.

Richard Feinberg, a professor of consumer sciences at Purdue University, tells the Post that Walmart should see the decision to rely on its own veteran workers to get through the holidays pay off in additional ways.

“Experienced employees are … more knowledgeable and effective than new hires,” says Feinberg, “which means [Walmart is] getting greater productivity while also cutting costs.”

Such benefits are no small matter, especially at a time when, as the Post notes, the national unemployment rate is nearing a 16-year low and economists say attracting temporary workers for low-paying jobs is becoming “increasingly difficult.” Given such realities, it will be interesting to see if other leading retailers adopt a similar staffing model in holiday seasons to come.

New Guidance on Pay-Ratio Rule

In case you missed it, last week the Securities and Exchange Commission approved interpretive guidance to assist companies in their efforts to comply with the pay ratio disclosure requirement mandated by Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Under the Commission’s rule implementing the pay ratio requirement, companies are required to begin making pay ratio disclosures in early 2018.

“It’s our priority to make sure that we implement disclosure rules mandated by Congress in a way that is true to the mandate and, to the extent practicable, allows companies to use operational data and otherwise readily available information to produce the disclosures,” said Chairman Jay Clayton.  “Today’s guidance on pay ratio reflects the feedback the SEC has received and encourages companies to use the flexibility incorporated in our prior rulemaking to reduce costs of compliance.”

In particular, the guidance:

  • States the Commission’s views on the use of reasonable estimates, assumptions and methodologies, and statistical sampling permitted by the rule;
  • Clarifies that a company may use appropriate existing internal records, such as tax or payroll records, in determinations about the inclusion of non-U.S. employees and in identifying the median employee; and
  • Provides guidance as to when a company may use widely recognized tests to determine whether its workers are employees for purposes of the rule.

The Commission’s staff is also providing guidance separately about the pay ratio rule.

“This additional staff guidance, which includes examples illustrating how reasonable estimates and statistical methodologies may be used, is intended to assist companies with their compliance efforts and reduce the costs associated with preparing disclosures,” said Bill Hinman, director of the division of corporation finance. “We encourage companies to contact the division staff if additional interpretive questions arise as the compliance date approaches.”

B-School Applications Are Up

Applications for graduate business degree programs are up this year, suggesting a bumper crop of potential recruits down the road, reports the Graduate Admissions Council. The nonprofit association of B-schools administers the GMAT admissions exam.

Among larger programs, 73 percent reported an uptick in applications in the council’s latest annual survey . Smaller programs saw increases of 39 percent to 51 percent. The survey polled 965 degree programs at  351 business schools in 45 countries.

The survey also showed growth of a trend we first noted early this year: amid uncertainty about the nation’s immigration policies, foreign students are steering away from U.S.business schools. About 75 percent of full-time two-year MBA programs in the United States saw a decline in foreign-student applications. By contrast, 22 percent saw increases in U.S. applications.

 

The report quotes one unnamed admission official at a U.S. school  offering an explanation: “Anecdotally, we have had prospective and admitted students express concern about applying for and enrolling in [graduate management programs  in the United States because of the current political situation and fears of finding employment/H1Bs after graduation.”

 

How to Address the Labor Crunch

It’s the best of times for U.S. workers, it’s the worst of times for U.S. employers. Unemployment is at record lows while wage growth is at record highs, and many companies are hitting a wall trying to find qualified new hires to fill their ranks.

Jobs — particularly in industries such as construction — are going begging. And unless something changes fairly soon, this is going to have a big impact on economic trends. As Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, tells NY Times business columnist Eduardo Porter for a recent column, “Over the next 20 to 25 years, a labor shortage is going to put a binding constraint on growth.”

One of the biggest factors in the current talent scarcity is the withdrawal from the labor force by working-age (25 to 54) American men. The nation’s labor-force participation rate of this demographic is nearly the lowest in the industrialized world, Princeton University economist Alan B. Krueger tells Porter. Many of these men lack the skills that today’s new jobs require, while others have been lost due to disability or opioid addiction.

What to do? Porter cites a new study from researchers at the University of Maryland that recommends a number of policy solutions that may appeal to conservatives and liberals alike. The researchers, Melissa Kearney and Katharine Abraham, say improving access to high-quality education and providing more child-care resources will help people upgrade their skills while making it easier for working moms to re-enter the workforce. Expanding the earned-income tax credit may also entice nonparticipants to get back in the job-hunting game.

And, although support seems to be growing for raising the minimum wage ( to as high as $15 per hour in some quarters, in order to equalize it with the inflation-adjusted minimum wage from decades ago), Kearney and Abraham express caution about doing so, noting that it will price some job seekers out of the market. They also recommend reforming disability insurance to encourage recipients to seek jobs. And, they say, limiting immigration will only exacerbate the labor shortage, notwithstanding the stated conviction of many Americans that immigrants take jobs from deserving citizens.

These are all common-sense proposals, but they require political unity and some expenditure of public funds. That’s a tall order, of course. So maybe it’s time the nation’s employers take it upon themselves to be activists on this front, for the sake of the labor market and the economy.

Take My Employees, Please

Jolt CEO and co-founder Roei Deutsch doesn’t necessarily want his talented young employees to stay.

Deutsch, who heads the San Francisco-based career development start-up, started experimenting with “charterships” about a year ago; an arrangement in which workers would leave the job they were hired for after two years. At that time, they would either find a new internal role that would get them closer to their ultimate career destination or they would leave to pursue that dream elsewhere.

Earlier this year, Business Insider’s Matt Weinberger explained the key tenets of the chartership concept:

“After two years, your job is done, no matter what,” Weinberger wrote. “At that point, you can either leave the company with no hard feelings or find a new two-year ‘mission’ at the company.”

An employee’s exit “doesn’t mean I’m firing you,” Deutsch told Business Insider at the time. “It means, ‘Let’s find something new for you to do.’ ”

Jolt also goes against the start-up grain by not offering an overabundance of perks, and Deutsch “cops to the fact that he’s paying employees below market rate,” according to Weinberger.

The idea, he wrote, is to instead reinvest that money into what Deutsch calls “employee success,” meaning that new hires “come in with a list of things that [they] want to learn,” and Jolt devotes resources to helping them reach their professional goals, and assigns them a manager to co-pilot the journey, wherever it takes them.

Business Insider recently followed up with Deutsch to see how this experiment is playing out.

So far, things haven’t gone exactly according to plan.

Part of the problem, he says, is that some millennial workers aren’t sure where they want their professional path to lead them.

“People have no idea what they want to do next,” says Deutsch. “Therefore, it’s hard for them to prepare for it.”

He’s staying the course, however, and Jolt’s embrace of charterships hasn’t seemed to affect its ability to attract talent. In fact, the company has added five new employees since February of this year.

Instead of abandoning the chartership philosophy, Deutsch and the organization are making some tweaks to it.

“Originally, Jolt’s managers were responsible for making sure that the workers who reported to them were sticking to their career development plans,” according to Business Insider. “But the company came to believe that arrangement was unsustainable. The company was essentially asking managers to prepare employees to leave the company for their next jobs at the same time it was requiring them to get the employees to do their current work.”

That approach included a “built-in conflict of interest,” Deutsch told the news website, “that makes helping your employees prepare for their next chapter harder.”

So, in addition to giving employees more time to create their personal development plans—they now have a year, as opposed to the three weeks they were allotted when the experiment started—Jolt has also begun bringing in career coaches to meet with workers in confidential sessions every two weeks.

I don’t know if Business Insider plans to check in on Deutsch and his chartership program again, but it would be interesting to see where this first group of Gen Y workers find themselves when their two years are up, and how much this experience helped them get there.

“Basically, a huge part of helping millennial employees,” he says, “is actually helping them figure out what they want to be.”

Jolt and Deutsch might be focusing on younger talent, but that seems like it would be true enough for companies looking to help develop employees of all ages.