Survey: Employees Only ‘Moderately’ Engaged

The good news, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s latest Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, is that employee satisfaction is at its highest level in 10 years, with 88 percent of respondents saying they’re satisfied with their jobs. The bad news? The number of employees who say they plan to look outside their current company for a new job is also up, at 45 percent. SHRM announced the survey results at its Talent Management Conference in Orlando earlier this week.

The keyword for holding on to employees is spelled R-E-S-P-E-C-T: 67 percent of the 600 employees surveyed ranked “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” as “very important” to job satisfaction, followed by overall compensation/pay and benefits, job security and “opportunities to use skills and abilities,” which tied for fifth place with “trust between employees and senior management.”

As for employee engagement, actual engagement levels are little-changed from last year’s survey, said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs, coming in at 3.8 out of 5 with 5 being the highest, showing that employees are “moderately engaged.” Satisfaction and engagement aren’t always aligned, with engagement typically tied to employees’ connection and commitment to their work and organization, she said.

One of the top factors affecting employee engagement are the engagement level of their coworkers, said Esen. “If employees don’t see those around them as being engaged, this will impact the overall level of engagement in the organization,” she said.

Being engaged means feeling that you’re an important part of the organization’s mission, she said.

“The opportunity to use their skills and competencies is of continuing importance to employees – it gives them a sense of engagement and pride,” said Esen. HR should develop a “skills matrix” for employees to get a better sense of “what they do well, not just what they do” in their everyday jobs, she said. This will make it easier to determine if there are other ways employees could be contributing and – by extension – feel a tighter connection with the organization.

“Nobody is going to feel sustained doing the same job over and over,” she said.

Dissatisfaction with their compensation and benefits was a top reason why employees plan to look for new jobs, the survey finds. Sixty three percent of employees chose overall compensation as “very important” to them, yet only 23 percent described themselves as “very satisfied” with their own compensation. Similarly, 60 percent chose overall benefits as very important, but only 27 percent said they were very satisfied with their benefits.

“Companies have only reinstated some of the cuts to benefits they made during the Great Recession,” said Esen. “Organizations really need to focus on what benefits their employees really want, and offer the ones that appeal to all demographics of their employee base.”

HR must also keep in mind the needs of a multigenerational workforce, she said.

“Millennials want their ideas to be valued and not dismissed just because they’re younger and less-experienced,” said Esen. “Boomers want to be valued for their experience, but often feel they’re not sufficiently valued for it. It’s important to keep both groups satisfied.”

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SHRM Speaker: Culture Must ‘Rock’

Many people think their company’s culture is about its heritage, about “the way we’ve always done things.” Jim Knight thinks those people are wrong.

“At its core, a company’s culture is about the present — it’s really a collection of individuals and, as they join or leave the organization, it changes,” said Knight, the opening keynote at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Talent Management Conference and Expo in Orlando, titled “Culture that Rocks: How to Amp Up or Revolutionize Your Company’s Culture.” “People say ‘My culture’s not the same as it used to be.’ No duh, sister! People come and go all the time!”

Because culture is shaped by the present, it’s malleable, and HR has an opportunity to shape it through constant communication, said Knight, former senior director of training and development at Hard Rock International and author of the book Culture That Rocks. “You have to let people know what you’re trying to do, otherwise people will make it up on their own.”

A shared mindset is the key to success, Knight said. “Individual agendas produce random results, but a shared mind-set produces aligned actions.”

He cited fast-food chain Chik-fil-A as a prime example of a successful company culture that drives performance. Despite the company’s policy of having all stores closed on Sunday in observance of the Sabbath, the average Chik-fil-A restaurant generates $1 million more in a typical year than an average McDonald’s restaurant, said Knight. The company builds its culture starting with the entry-level employees at its restaurants, who receive two days of onboarding.

As part of their onboarding, the new employees watch a company video titled “Every Life Has a Story.” In the video, set to a violin score, a camera pans over a scene of customers at a Chik-fil-A restaurant, pausing over each one briefly as a bit of text appears over each person summarizing their story:  “Just lost his job and is wondering how he’ll support his family,” “Only son recently deployed to a war zone,” “Parents divorced when he was 7 ,” etc.

The video, which closes with the message “Every person has a story … if we bother to read it,” left a number of people in the audience visibly moved.

“As a training guy, I so wish I’d been the one to make that video,” said Knight. The take-away, he said, is that customers crave differentiation and that employees should want to give customers “a little more than what they were expecting.”

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Rethinking Employer Values and Brands

Some interesting points about employer value propositions and employer brands in this recent piece by Susan LaMotte that I came 514648428 -- megaphoneacross on the HR Examiner website.

As her title makes clear, she’d like us all to start Rethinking EVP and Employer Brand Like You Never Have Before.

“We tweet, post and chat about our culture and employment experience,” she writes. “We worry about job descriptions and [applicant-tracking-system] branding. We choose just the right images for our careers site and collateral. But what exactly are we talking about?”

Here are some of her favorite descriptions, none of which really capture what makes any particular employer unique: “It’s a great place to work,” “We’ve got a great culture,”  “For me it means … ,” and “I love to work here because … .” As she puts it,

“We tend to talk in generalities and personal choices because we’re not sure what else to say sometimes. And that’s where the EVP comes in. EVPs are so often used to explain why employees work for a company. We often interchange it with employer brand. But over the years, it’s become a muddled mess. Maybe it’s time for a reset?”

First, she says, when you ask your employees what they value in their employment experience, your EVP is the sum of those common themes. Second, an employer brand is a subset of the EVP.

“If the EVP is all the things employees value,” according to LaMotte, “the employer brand is what you choose as an organization to hang your hat on when you market your employment experience.” As she describes it:

“Think about it like a new car. There are a ton of great things customers may value in the car. And things the car’s engineers think are worth touting. But the marketers at the car company know you can’t sell everything. So they have to choose. How do they choose? The same way the engineers decided what should go in the car: research. Let research be your base, then use marketing to sell.”

She goes on to lay out the best steps to take to find out what employees value most in the organization and what candidates want. Next on the list is narrowing the focus, she says:

“There are likely 10, 12, 20 themes that may comprise your EVP. Don’t try to sell a laundry list. Use your company’s core values and business strategy to narrow down your focus. And consider two key things marketers know well: You have to sell the reality [and] you have to consider what your audience wants.”

“Finally, build that brand. Once you decide what to hang your hat on, sell it over and over and over again. Weave the messages in varying ways through all those channels you’ve spent so much time on — social media, websites, job descriptions and branded platforms. Pull those messages through to job fairs, recruiter conversations and on campus. Whatever you do, just take the time to think it through.”

I ran LaMotte’s premise by the folks at the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), the Seattle-based human capital research and data firm, because much has come from that organization over the years pertaining to employer brand and EVP. Got some interesting and very thorough comments from Jay Jamrog, i4cp’s senior vice president of research:

LaMotte, he says, “correctly points out that there is a lot of confusion around the differences between employer brand, employee [and employer] value proposition and talent brand; and, they are often used interchangeably, as the article does when it trie[s] to articulate what needs to be done.”

So what does Jamrog suggest? “I believe the first step is to clearly define each term and then determine how to develop a strategy to leverage each one’s potential.” With that in mind, he says, here goes:

Employer brand:  How a business builds and packages its identity, origins and values, and what it promises to deliver to emotionally connect employees so that they, in turn, deliver what the business promises to customers.  Some of the ingredients that make up the employer brand are:

  • Company culture and history,
  • What a company stands for,
  • Work/life balance,
  • Rewards: compensation and benefits
  • Leadership and employee behaviors
  • Work environment

What to consider when developing an employer brand:

  • What employer brand you have already built?
  • How does your employer brand support your business strategy, and your talent strategy?
  • How well do your employees understand and believe in your customer brand?
  • How committed are your employees to deliver the brand to customers?

Employee [or employer] value proposition:  Articulation of the value proposition is a shorter version of the employer brand that helps potential and current workers answer the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ In many cases, the EVP is part of the employer brand and contains many of the same characteristics.

Talent brand:  Marketing of the employer brand and/or EVP to critical talent segments of the potential and current workforce, to become known as a magnet for talent.  It’s purpose is to create demand that attracts, retains and engages the right people to do the right work at the right time with the right results.  To do this, you need to segment the workforce and determine which roles are 1) critical to the business’ success and 2) difficult skills to acquire.  Then you need to treat the talent in these critical roles as “consumers of work.” To attract consumers of work, you need a compelling brand proposition as a place to work for that special critical role/skill.

To create a talent brand you need to:

  • Have a talent strategy,
  • Develop marketing strategy,
  • Segment the workforce, and
  • Articulate your employer brand.

There you have it. Lots of definitions, descriptions and bullets in this post, but just in case it helps … or at least adds to the discussion … it’s all yours.

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Ford’s Drive for a ‘Cooler’ Workplace

If you’re looking for additional signs of the digital economy’s impact on the workplace, check out this article appearing earlier this week on Forbes’ website titled “Ford Will Spend at Least $1B to Make Itself a Cooler Workplace.

300px-Ford_Motor_Company_Logo_svgAccording to the article, Ford Motor is reportedly looking to invest more than $1 billion into making its workplace a lot cooler.

The piece called into mind last year’s General Electric commercial, in which the main character, Owen, is surprised by friends with a cake, balloons and noisemakers. Why? Because they heard he had landed a job as a software developer. When he explains he’s going to be working for General Electric writing code for trains and planes, however, his friends seem confused, with one saying, “You mean you’re going to work on a train?”

It’s a clever commercial (a favorite of mine, I might add) that successfully gets across the point that GE in no longer just an industrial powerhouse, but rather an organization that’s increasingly depending on technological innovation to drive its businesses.

Nor is GE alone in that regard. Automakers such as Ford are also realizing they’re competing in a very different business environment today.

As Doron Levin writes in Forbes’ piece, “The No. 2 U.S. automaker has been saying that it believes digital companies like Uber Inc. and Good could overturn auto making unless it can create mobility products and services instead of just cars and trucks.”

Ford, in response, is now committed to revamping its workplace in order to make it an attractive place to work and, as the Ford press release puts it, “foster innovation and help drive the company’s transition to an auto and a mobility company.”

According to the release, the 10-year transformation of the company’s 60-plus-year-old Dearborn facilities will co-locate 30,000 employees from 70 buildings into primarily two locations—a product campus and a world headquarters campus. More than 7.5 million square feet of workspace will be rebuilt and upgraded into even more technology-enabled and connected facilities.

Changes include “a walkable community with paths, trails and covered walkways,” a new design center, autonomous vehicles, on-demand shuttles, e-bikes, new on-site employee services, wireless connectivity speeds that are up to 10 times faster than today, and more green spaces.

A second campus location—around the current Ford World Headquarters building—will feature “a new Ford Credit facility and provide on-site employee services, improved connectivity and enhanced accessibility to the expansive green space that surrounds the building.”

As Ford President and CEO Mark Fields notes, “As we transition to an auto and a mobility company, we’re investing in our people and the tools they use to deliver our vision. Bringing our teams together in an open, collaborative environment will make our employees’ lives better, speed decision making and deliver results for both our core and emerging businesses.”

It’s just one more example of how new business models, including those coming out of Silicon Valley, are increasingly borrowing from the Silicon Valley playbook and are beginning to think differently about their workplaces.

Think different? Now wouldn’t that make a nice ad slogan for someone.

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Americans’ Financial Wellness (Or Lack Thereof)

“Financial wellness” is a buzzword that’s really taken off during the last few years as companies attempt to figure out how to help their employees be better prepared for retirement in an era of longer lifespans, disappearing traditional pensions and uncertainty over the long-term future of Social Security.

financial worriesThe findings from the latest Workplace Benefits Report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch should add some urgency to the subject of financial wellness, with six in 10 Americans saying they feel stressed about their current financial situation — up from 50 percent in 2013.

The report, based on a survey of 1,200 employees with 401(k) plans, finds that feelings of financial uncertainty are widespread across all generations in the workplace, with only 24 percent of millennials, 18 percent of Gen Xers and 22 percent of baby boomers saying they feel “in total control” of their financial situations. Meanwhile, although 83 percent say their workplace financial benefit plans are critical to their financial security, more than half (59 percent) say they need help understanding how the financial benefits can work for them.

Americans appear to have only a vague understanding of how much they’ll need to have saved to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement, despite the fact that 70 percent of respondents say they have a “pretty good idea” of what they’ll need to have saved. Forty percent say they’ll need less than $500,000, while 61 percent say they’ll need less than $1 million. For context, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, a healthy couple retiring at age 65 with $1 million in accumulated savings could expect to receive $40,000 annually at a draw-down rate of 4 percent.

That same couple could expect to spend, on average, $400,000 on healthcare during the course of their retirement years, the report states. Nearly half the employees surveyed (46 percent) have started contributing, or increased their contributions to, health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts offered by their employer. Although the report finds that the percentage of employees participating in an HSA has grown by 50 percent since 2013, 53 percent of employees with an HSA view it as a “short-term vehicle” to cover near-term health expenses rather than as a long-term savings vehicle. Additionally, 55 percent usually spend their entire HSA balance within a given year.

The combination of trying to save for the future while paying for current expenses is a tough burden for most employees. “Given how many are struggling with today’s financial demands while planning for their future, employers are in a critical position to help their employees secure their financial future,” says Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Lorna Sabbia.

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Learning from Exiting Employees

Whenever we ask employment and HR experts about the value of exit interviews, they inevitably arrive at the same, logical conclusion: Departing employees can be a source of priceless advice that, if acted upon, may just save you from losing talented workers in the future.

Taking action, of course, is the key. And the problem, as the experts have always pointed out, is that some (many?) employers don’t do enough with the information gleaned from exit interviews to address the issues that soon-to-be-former workers bring to light.

Take heart, however. Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing firm Office Team offers evidence that more companies are getting the message.

Office Team’s recent survey of more than 300 HR managers found 63 percent of these respondents saying their organization commonly acts on feedback received in exit interviews.

How are they reacting? When asked how they follow up after conducting said interviews, the most common actions were to update job descriptions (29 percent), discuss feedback regarding management (24 percent), make changes to the work environment/corporate culture (22 percent) and review employee salaries (19 percent).

The poll also asked HR managers how often their firms act on the information gathered during exit interviews. Thirty-five percent said they do “somewhat often,” while 28 percent reported taking action “very often.” Another 24 percent indicated they instigate change based on exit interview feedback “not very often,” and 13 percent said they “never” do so.

In a press release highlighting these findings, Office Team offers some tips for getting the most out of these final sit-downs with employees about to leave the organization. For example:

  • Time it well. Consider scheduling the meeting on one of the worker’s last days. Keep the conversation brief and professional.
  • Don’t make it awkward (and make sure HR is involved). Because departing employees may be uncomfortable discussing certain topics with their supervisors, have an HR representative conduct one-on-one meetings in private settings.
  • Don’t get defensive. Avoid correcting or confronting the employee, and listen carefully in order to gather as many details as possible.
  • Don’t brush things off. Give all comments that are shared the proper attention. Also, check for patterns in feedback collected from employees, which can signal persistent problems.

“The only silver lining to losing employees is obtaining useful feedback to help stem further turnover,” says Brandi Britton, an Office Team district president, in the aforementioned statement.

“Departing workers can provide valuable insights that current staff may be reluctant to share. Although not every criticism will be worth responding to, the most crucial issues should be addressed immediately to help keep existing team members happy and loyal.”

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Commemorating Equal Pay Day

OK, so it may not be the most celebratory of occasions on the year’s calendar, but it is nonetheless well worth an HRE Daily post to acknowledge the persistent pay gap that has plagued women ever since joining the workforce many decades ago.

To that end, HREonline.com just posted a piece this morning titled “Pay Equity: New Challenges, New Pressures, New Strategies.” Written by Mercer’s Stefan Gaertner, Gail Greenfield and Brian Levine, the piece takes a look at the gender-pay landscape and what new challenges HR faces in ensuring a balance between the genders when it comes to pay:

More aggressive regulation for pay equity is clearly a trend. We believe this represents a stern call to action for employers to review their job and pay structures as well as analyze pay differentials to ensure that they understand their data, with a focus on pay gaps and business-related factors that may or may not explain them.

Employers also need to rectify any issues identified. We find that the all-too-common “wait and see” approach is not effective — once a plaintiff knocks on the door, it is too late to craft a story or actually address gaps in an orderly fashion.

Elsewhere in cyberspace, there’s an interesting piece on CNN.com titled “One Way to Close the Pay Gap for Women,” written by Mary Ellen Carter, an associate professor of accounting with the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, whose research focus is executive compensation.

In the piece, Carter argues that organizations can shrink or eliminate the gender-pay gap by including more women on corporate boards:

In new research, my co-authors and I found that pay gaps are much lower when more women serve on corporate boards.

For example, the proportion of female directors at the Massachusetts company TJX (parent of T.J. Maxx, Home Goods and other apparel and home goods retailers) has hovered around 30% since 2006.

And in our analyses, Carol Meyrowitz, who retired as TJX CEO in January, was paid fairly, relative to executives of comparable companies as she rose through the ranks.

TJX illustrates what our overall analyses show — that this effect flows deeper into the executive pool. Other top-level female executives, like chief financial officers, are also better paid when the board includes more women.

It’s true that there is no easy answer or silver bullet to create an even playing field in all respects, but here’s hoping by the time the next Equal Pay Day rolls around, more organizations will be working earnestly to ensure the compensation rates between men and women will be even closer than it is today.

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Why You Shouldn’t Link Culture and Retention

Here are some vexing questions on culture: Why do people leave Google, Virgin and Zappos and take jobs elsewhere? Why, if 516216924 -- worker leavingthose companies are so focused on building exceptionally strong and compelling cultures, don’t people stay forever? Doesn’t it entirely contradict all the rhetoric about the power of culture if even the bellwethers of the corporate-culture surge can’t convince people to stay?

So poses Colin J. Browne — head of a Gauteng, South Africa-based culture, engagement and leadership think-tank firm called How to Build a Happy Sandpit — in a recent post on his company’s website. In his words,

“One of the greatest misunderstandings about culture is that it has some mystical power to lock people in to your organization for the long term. If you’re building it for that, you could be wasting your efforts … .”

On the contrary, he writes,

“[t]he answer lies in what I consider one of the most fundamental hallmarks of human nature: Familiarity breeds contempt. In a work sense, Happy Sandpit research [of 308 executives and business leaders over the past three years] shows that, within about 18 months, all employees slightly resent you for ever hiring them in the first place.

“It’s not that they don’t like their work, or their workplace, their colleagues or their bosses, it’s just that when we become used to things, we’re less inclined to see them as fresh and exciting and more inclined to overstate the irritations that surround us. And any workplace is full of irritations.”

In Browne’s estimation, given enough time and enough repetition of the tasks that make up [employees’ roles], the artifacts, strong values and general way of feeling while they are there begin to take a back seat to the day-to-day of their work. In that context, a new job offer bears the promise of reinvigoration, reinvention and a release from the things they’re bored with.

Since many more companies are awakening to the understanding that focusing on culture strengthens their employee-value proposition, the things you offer your employees may begin to lose their edginess, he says, adding that “you can get caught up in a vicious cycle if you react to that.” As he puts it,

“A far better goal for your culture efforts is to increase productivity, the voluntary sharing of talent, good will and skills, to iron out the rough spots that create barriers to team work and to develop a clear set of profiles for the people [who] you’ll have to hire to replace the ones [who] have left.

“Culture isn’t about retention. It’s about performance. Let that inform your decisions and you could save yourself from a world of pain.”

Not that we haven’t presented this premise in previous features and news analyses, but his way of articulating it caught a fresh eye so I gave it a fresh look.

I also contacted Browne to ask him specifically what HR practitioners and leaders should be doing to achieve that “far better goal.” His response:

“The one challenge shared by anyone who leads people in a discretionary environment [differentiated from a non-discretionary one, such as the military, where you are expected to follow orders fairly rigidly] is to convince people to volunteer their best efforts, loyalty and enthusiasm for the long term. You can’t lift them up by their feet and shake that stuff into their brains, so they have to choose to give it to you.

“Every culture conversation seems to be about how we make that happen, but I think we’re overlooking a couple of obvious things which keep hindering progress pretty much across the board:

  1. We don’t build jobs that support best efforts, loyalty and enthusiasm in the long term. You can come out of a design college and get a job at your dream digital-design company, be given the latest Mac computer and software to work on, in a great office, with exciting people and still feel like your job is boring within six months, because the projects you are working on and the clients you’re working with are, in fact, boring. Unless we’re building perfect jobs, therefore, which in an imperfect world with imperfect clients is impossible, people will find that they’ve had enough one day and go and find something else to do.

  2.  People are more loyal to their friends than they will ever be to a boss or a company. Ironically, the best reference for this is the behavior of soldiers in combat. While it’s often supposed that soldiers commit acts of great bravery for the grand notion of country, or unit or even God, the evidence suggests that, instead, they do it for the person next to them. When the order to retreat is given, they will blatantly ignore that order in order to rescue one of their colleagues. At the moments that matter, their loyalty is clear, and it’s not to ‘management’ or any sort of system. It’s to each other.”

I asked him to send me a specific, itemized list of the things HR should be doing or thinking about in light of his research. Here is that list:

  • You increase productivity when employees feel that they will let their colleagues down by slacking and care enough not to want to do that either because they’re emotionally invested or feel emotionally handcuffed. Either way, it works. This doesn’t happen overnight of course, but, by increasing the autonomy of individual teams — you can be as granular about this as you like, and I would encourage you to not be too broad — [so they can] make decisions on their own behalf [and] you make them more accountable for their results and actions, which then makes each individual member accountable to the others. You can’t be the one person who never pulls [his or her] weight in such an environment and expect to get anywhere. And to counter an obvious objection, if you find you have an entire team of slackers who merely cover each others’ backs instead of a productive team that cheers one another along, you change the challenge that they must meet and leave them to sort out the how. Raised expectations can have a very big impact.

  • They share talent, good will and skills voluntarily, because they’re sharing them with people they care about and whose success they link to their own. It doesn’t have to be altruistic; it just makes good sense as long as it is reciprocated and constant.

  • You iron out the barriers to teamwork by allowing them to decide how to work together. This goes to point one. Managers should care about the results and have a view about the way in which those results are achieved, but you’re unlikely to get the best out of people when you force them to stick to a rigid process that prevents them from developing their own flow. This may seem like voodoo to many organizations, which depend on processes to iron out the risk of defect, but those things are not mutually exclusive. You can have processes that must be adhered to, being followed by two teams with wildly different personalities, and get identical quality.

  • You create a clear set of profiles to replace those people by giving employees some say, or perhaps even all the say, about the people who join their team. They’re the ones who have to work with that new person and, unless you long to deal with employee friction, the manager’s view should be given less importance.

His list, he says, is a worthy goal of culture because it achieves the things you need it to: people giving their best efforts while they are with you.

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Bezos Offers His Take on Culture

I have no way of knowing the full extent to which last August’s New York Times’ blistering article about Amazon’s workplace irked founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. But if I’m correctly interpreting his most recent shareowners’ letter, I can’t help but conclude the story, though not mentioned by name, continues to weigh heavily on his mind.

Amazon.com Sign

As I’m sure most of you remember, the article—titled “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace”—takes aim at Amazon’s hard-charging culture, one that reportedly encourages employees to “sabotage” co-workers.

Some of those interviewed by the NYT said “the culture stoked their willingness to erode work-life boundaries, castigate themselves for shortcomings (being ‘vocally self-critical’ is included in the description of the leadership principles) and try to impress a company that can often feel like an insatiable taskmaster.

“Even many Amazonians who have worked on Wall Street and at start-ups say the workloads at the new South Lake Union campus can be extreme: marathon conference calls on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving, criticism from bosses for spotty Internet access on vacation, and hours spent working at home most nights or weekends.”

Soon after the NYT’s article appeared, Jeff Bezos sent a memo to employees expressing is disbelief in the article’s claims, noting that it doesn’t reflects the Amazon he knows.

Well, now roughly eight months later, Bezos obviously felt that further clarification or messaging was needed.

After noting that Amazon has now become the fastest company ever to reach $100 billion, Bezos went on to share his point of view on the topic of corporate cultures, pointing out that, “for better or for worse, [corporate cultures] are enduring, stable, hard to change.”

The letter explains …

“They can be a source of advantage or disadvantage. You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it—not creating it. It is created slowly over time by the people and by events—by the stories of past success and failure that become a deep part of the company lore.”

It continues …

“If it’s a distinctive culture, it will fit certain people like a custom-made glove. The reason cultures are so stable in time is because people self-select. Someone energized by competitive zeal may select and be happy in one culture, while someone who loves to pioneer and invent may choose another. The world, thankfully, is full of many high-performing, highly distinctive corporate cultures. We never claim that our approach is the right one—just that it’s ours—and over the last two decades, we’ve collected a large group of like-minded people. Folks who find our approach energizing and meaningful.”

It’s anyone’s guess, of course, as to whether Bezos’ latest shareowners’ letter is his final volley at the NYT’s article—and certainly that was one of its intended targets. But a close reading of it certainly suggests Bezos wants the world to know he’s quite satisfied with the culture he’s built at Amazon.

And why wouldn’t he be? After all, whether Amazon is your cup of tea or not, Bezos now has 100 billion reasons to be satisfied.

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The DOL’s New Fiduciary Rule

The new fiduciary rule issued yesterday by the Dept. of Labor, which is designed to address conflicts of interest among financial advisers, will require HR departments to review their arrangements with vendors that provide retirement-plan services, say experts.

“The definition of ‘fiduciary’ is being expanded, and HR will need to determine if they have vendors that will now fall under this category,” says Robert Kaplan, associate attorney in Ballard Spahr’s employee benefits and executive compensation group.

The rule is designed to protect the best interests of retirement-plan participants and sponsors by applying the “fiduciary standard” to all those who provide investment advice in order to prevent conflicts-of-interest, which the White House Council of Economic Advisers says costs retirement savers $17 billion a year.

In many cases, vendors that provide services for employer-sponsored retirement plans that hadn’t been fiduciaries before the new rule – such as broker-dealers, mutual-fund representatives, etc. – will be considered fiduciaries once the new rule takes effect (it goes into final effect on April 1, 2018, with a “transition period” starting April 1, 2017). HR will need to carefully evaluate all advisers that provide services to their organization’s retirement plans to determine whether they’ll now be considered fiduciaries, says Kaplan.

For example, many 401(k) record-keepers offer “reach out” campaigns targeted at plan participants (including former employees who still have accounts in the company plan) who may be considering whether to rollover funds from a 401(k) plan into an individual retirement account. Today these services only need to meet a “suitability” standard, says Kaplan; under the new rule, they must meet the fiduciary standard.

Much of the compliance duties for the new rule will be handled by vendors and record keepers, says Kaplan. However, in a few instances HR may encounter vendors that refuse to recognize that they will now be considered fiduciaries – in such cases, HR will need to terminate the relationship, he says.

“There are some less-than-reputable vendors that don’t want to be held to the fiduciary standard, and they will probably be driven out of the business,” says Kaplan.

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