Tuesday, November 30, 2010

USDOL + ABA = Trouble?

If you have spent any time at home during a weekday recently, or have noticed the billboards along the highway, you know that plaintiff attorneys (the ones who sue you) are increasingly advertizing to capture the business of unhappy ex-employees or unhappy employees who feel that they have been incorrectly compensated. Wage and hour lawsuits are on the rise. The ability to turn one complaint into a class action suit makes it even more attractive to these attorneys. The US Department of Labor has made it easier for attorneys by publishing on their website the names of companies that have been investigated by the USDOL, detailing the findings against them. (See US Department of Labor: It's War! And Employers Are The Enemy)

Yesterday I read (thanks to fellow blogger Stephanie Thomas) about a program between the USDOL and the American Bar Association that will provide referrals to attorneys when someone files a complaint. According to Patrick Smith "...the purpose the collaboration is to 'help workers resolve complaints received by DOL’s wage and hour division.'" According to his post in the Iowa Employment Law Blog:

Beginning December 13, 2010, people with unresolved complaints under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) or Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) will be sent a letter explaining their rights, and providing a toll-fee number that will connect them with an ABA approved lawyer referral service in their area. These are complaints that the Department of Labor is otherwise charged with investigating but apparently cannot because of what the Secretary of Labor described as the Department’s “limited capacity.”

Writing in The DOL's Lawyer Referral Arrangement with ABA Not Likely to Help Employers or Employees  Smith opines that this arrangement will not be good for employers or employees in the long run. He states that "Contrary to the assumptions underlying this program, in my experience and that of other employer side lawyers I know, the lion’s share of companies are conscientious about complying with the employment laws. The high cost of defending employee claims and the risk of an adverse outcome, regardless of the merits of the suit, give employers an economic incentive to comply with the law." He feels it will increase the cost of litgation and take money away from rewarding the employees in the company. His opinion is that are more effective ways to deal with non-compliant companies than increasing their litigation risks.

Attorney Daniel Schwartz, writing in the Connecticutt Employment Law Blog, has a diffferent opinion of the program. In his post, US Department of Labor Teams with ABA For Lawyer Referral Service, Schwartz says "This seems to be a win-win type partnership not only for the USDOL and the ABA, but also a win for employers and employees alike. Any employer that has dealt with a pro se litigant (i.e. someone representing his or her self) can understand how expensive it is to litigate such cases. Having a competent and qualified counsel to represent individuals should, in the long run, help employers solve any thorny issues that arise."

In a comment to Smith's article he also states "People who are going to sue are going to do so regardless of whether they have an attorney. And in such cases, employers are better off with an attorney representing that individual than a pro se plaintiff. All this program provides is something that local bar associations have done -- refer people to speak to an attorney." In this particular case Schwartz maybe right. This could be a good thing if the people suing you may have a better class of lawyer than you may find off a TV ad. Perhaps a good attorney may actually discourage them from pursuing a frivolous suit.

So "the jury is out on this one" (yes, pun intended). It remains to be seen what kind of activity this alliance aka "referral program" may bring. What do you think? Good thing or bad thing?

By the way, the best lawsuit preventative is a good, compliant Human Resources system with well trained supervisor and managers. If you are not sure you have one, let me know. I can help you.

If you wish to read Patrick Smith's post it can be found here. Likewise the different point of view by Daniel Schwartz can be found here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Formula for Success

I spent the Thanksgiving Holiday in Chicago visiting my daughter. We arrived on a Sunday evening and left on Friday, so it was a short visit. (And a cold one as well, at least for this Southern boy.) While there we visited a number of restaurants, all very good. But one in particular stood out. It seems to have hit on the formula for success. It is a lesson that can be learned by all organizations. From my observations (I ate there three mornings out of the 5 we were in town) here is the list:
  • Quality (the food was varied and delicious)
  • Fast (we never waited more than 10 minutes, barely time to finish a half cup of coffee, which was on the table within 2 minutes of our drink order)
  • Friendly (everyone had a smile and we were greeted as we walked in the door)
  • Pride (we overheard the chef, as he was handing a customer another egg, that one of her eggs had been "cosmetically challenged" so he wanted her to have one that looked better)
  • Understood their limitations (the restaurant was smaller and served breakfast and lunch.)
  • Knew that customers would pay extra for the extras. (It is not the McDonald's price list.)
Does your place of business exhibit these 6 features? Does your HR department abide by these? It should.

I was not only impressed with the place as a restaurant but also as a business. I have no financial interest in the place and will probably never visit again, but I will name them as a recommendation. If  you are ever in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago stop into the Over Easy Cafe. Everything I said about them is shown in a quote from the chef/owner Jon Cignarale, “Everything about the meal is important, from coffee on the table as soon as you sit down to your eggs actually coming over easy… This is what I love to do – I wouldn’t want to wake up everyday doing anything else.”

Do you have a similar quote about yourself?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Version of the HR Carnival

The Turkey Day verison of the HR Carnival is up and can be found at Trish McFarlane's blog site, The HR Ringleader. Trish wanted a different take on this carnival and asked for people to submit blog posts about "Game Chaning events" in each bloggers life. There are sure to be some compeling and inspiring stories so click on through and "eat up the inspiration"!

And to all my U.S. readers have a great Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Small Wins in the Field of HR

Last week was one of a couple of "victories" of sort for HR. At least in my opinion. The first of these is that the Paycheck Fairness Act was rejected by the Senate. Needing a vote count of 60 or more the bill was rejected when the 58-41 vote did not produce the needed 60 votes. It was mostly along party lines, with the exception of one Democrat voting against the bill. According to the Seyfarth Shaw alert on the matter,
"Three women Republican Senators whose votes were closely watched (Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas), all of whom voted in favor of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, citing the proposed law’s potential for increased litigation and negative impacts on small business, job creation and confidentiality of compensation information." 
It is now unlikely, given the shift of power in Congress next year, that the legislation will ever be passed. In my opinion this is a good thing. I thought it was unnecessary legislation that had a punitive intent rather one of correction. The Equal Pay Act and the changing market are already making things different. The USDOL and the White House both vowed to continue the administration's effort to enforce equal pay. Watch for even greater enforcement, punitive measures and rules changes to substitute for the loss of the legislation.

The other small victory for HR, but HUGE for Delta, was the rejection of union representation by Delta employees. In a year where the deck was supposed to be stacked in the favor of unions they have been twice unsuccessful at Delta. There are yet two votes to go, so we can keep our fingers crossed that those attempts will end up the same way. It is looking like unions may only be successful this year because of Executive Orders that dicate federal contractors must welcome unions with open arms or because management is too stoned to realize what is going one. (See What Do Marijuana, the Teamsters and $54,000 Have In Common? )

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Defining Moments: A Personal Story

We all have had defining moments in our lives, some positive, some not so positive. My behavioral psychology background leads me to say we are the sum total of our experience. However, I also believe in the Gestalt psychology statement of "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts". Trish McFarlane, blogger, HR professional, speaker, thought-leader and overall extraordinary person, is hosting the HR Carnival on the 24th (so check back then). She asked all the contributors to tell about a defining moment, a game changing event in their lives. So here is my story.

I have had several, that is one of the problems with being "older." There was the time I turned down the role of Indiana Jones opting to let Harrison Ford take the job. Then there was the time I missed the plane to Oslo and was unable to collect my Nobel prize, because I thought I was supposed to go to Geneva. Hey, all those European countries look the same... But I digress...

In reality, I have had two such moments that deal with HR. One was when I opted out of a Ph.D. program in psychology resulting in me going to work for a recruiting agency. I talked a bit about that in the past in Vroom Expectancy Theory: Should I Chuck My Career? so I will not spend any time on it. The other game changing event dealt with me becoming a consultant.

Like many of you I was a practicing HR manager. I was working for a rapidly growing software company. We tripled our size to over 1000 employees in just one year. I lived in a suburban neighborhood and belonged to the local tennis team. As I would sit up at the tennis matches I would have discussions with my team members who all ran businesses or managed. When they found out I was in HR they would ask me questions about how they should deal with employee issues, either because they had no HR pro in their company or they didn't trust them. One of them one day suggested that I could start a business consulting with business owners. I told him I was happy doing my current job. It was a fun "rocketship ride."

Unfortunately, a short time later my "rocketship" blew up. The company lost money and started shedding people right and left. Due to political issues I soon found myself being replaced by a friend of the company president, a friend who was an out of work pilot. Not exactly a great set of qualifications to be in HR, but it turns out that was the view of the importance of HR that the management team held.

By this time I had already become a critic of inept corporate human resources departments. And now suddenly I was given an opportunity. While all my compatriots went scrambling for jobs I reflected on the advice my tennis partner had given me and I said "Ok, here is my opportunity to help companies to good HR." I made some of my neighbors my first clients, joined the local Chamber of Commerce and picked up more. That was 20 years ago.

There was a time about 12 years ago that I got interested in getting back into a company role. A recruiter had called me looking for referrals for a VP job opening. It sounded intriguing so I told her I might be interested myself. But after a few questions she told me I was not a good candidate because I was "too old and too independent." (I was all of about 46 or so at the time, so I didn't think I was too old, but I was definately independent.) So as a result I am still a consultant. It has had its ups and downs, as do all jobs, but I have enjoyed the journey. Being a consultant, especially an independent one is not for the faint-of-heart. It is a 100% commission sales job where you also have to deliver the product/service. So I don't normally recommend it.

But if you have the backbone, you have the drive, you are of an independent frame of mind, then perhaps you too can take advantage of a game chaning event in your life.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Importance of Small Businesses

If you know me, or have been reading me for anytime, you probably have discerned that I am a human resources consultant. However, unlike most consultants who pursue big companies, I specialize in helping small companies deal with the challenges of having employees. So small business growth is important to me and apparently it is to country as a whole. In the Wall Street Journal this morning (11/19/2010) there is an article entitled "Few Businesses Sprout, With Even Fewer Jobs". The article reports start-ups have failed to keep pace with closings, and even those that do open up are doing so with fewer employees and hiring at a slower pace. The authors of the article, Justin Lahart and Mark Whitehouse, say that "Research shows that new businesses are the most important source of jobs and a key driver of the innovation and productivity gains that raise long-term living standards. Without them there would be no net job growth at all." Let me emphasize that
 "without them there would be NO net job growth at all."
That is how important small business growth is to this country. Yet there are major roadblocks to that growth occuring. Since I spend a great deal of time talking to small business owners and leaders , and I am one as well,  I can give you a first hand account of the "why." The biggest reason is UNCERTAINTY! They are uncertain about taxes and the impact of healthcare "reform." Most businesses are concerned about those, but it is magnified in a small business. For big businesses it may be expensive, for small businesses it may mean the end of the business or the failure to even start up. So you are not going to see small businesses grow in any significant fashion until that uncertainty is cleared up. And if it is cleared up in a way that has a large negative impact then there will be no movement there either.

The article also went on to show that another hindering factor is money. Lack of it, inability to get it from banks, and even hesitation on the part of "angle" investors to put money in without taking large amounts out. One business owner friend of mine has explored getting money that way and opted not to pursue it because the investors wanted control of the business. Most of us who have started a business are going to be very hesitant to give up control.

Another factor, not mentioned typically in articles, is the amount of regulation that small business have to deal with in starting a business. Even companies with as few as two or three employees have a slew of federal and state laws they have to comply with as they start up. My experience has been that typically they don't know what they don't know and it is only later when they get in trouble that they understand how daunting the task of having employees is. It is also an indication that most business owners do not realize how important good HR is to their success. They would be much better off if they constructed good HR from the outset. Many mistakes would be avoided.

To that end I have decided to dedicate my Friday posts to issues of small business HR. So if you know anyone starting a small business have them check in on Fridays (actually have them check in everyday, they will learn a ton.)

 (And now the commercial, I am always happy to provide consultation to anyone starting up a business or growing it.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Strategic Alert: How does the New View of Marriage Change HR?

A study by the Pew Research Center, in association with Time magazine, showed that about 39 percent of Americans said marriage was becoming obsolete. And that sentiment follows U.S. census data released in September that showed marriages hit an all-time low of 52 percent for adults 18 and over. This versus to the number in 1978, of just 28 percent, who believed marriage was becoming obsolete.

This is causing a shift in what is being viewed as a family. According to an Associated Press article “When asked what constitutes a family, the vast majority of Americans agree that a married couple, with or without children, fits that description. But four of five surveyed pointed also to an unmarried, opposite-sex couple with children or a single parent. Three of 5 people said a same-sex couple with children was a family.”

Beyond the Thanksgiving table this new finding and increasing trend has an impact on companies. Andrew Cherlin, of Johns Hopkins University, told the AP “"People are rethinking what family means, given the growth, I think we need to accept cohabitation relationships as a basis for some of the fringe benefits offered to families, such as health insurance." But the impact is more than just insurance packages. What else in HR might be impacted? Here is a first take:

• Re-definition of “next of kin”

• Changes in FMLA

• Attendance policies to allow for activities of “children”

• COBRA changes

• A changing view of relationships, inside and outside of work, thus impacting any company loyalty


The AP article said “The changing views of family are being driven largely by young adults 18-29, who are more likely than older generations to have an unmarried or divorced parent or have friends who do. Young adults also tend to have more liberal attitudes when it comes to spousal roles and living together before marriage, the survey found.”

These are the future drivers of the workforce, so how else do you think this changing family view may change your company?

Better start thinking about it!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Know What Is Really Going On

Reading the various (and numerous) newsletters and email alerts that I receive I came across one this morning that is entitled 3 Keys to Business Success (or, 3 Things to Avoid That Will Screw It Up). It was put out by the folks at TLNT and was a republish of the article written by Patty Azzarello. Her advice centered around People, Process and Profit. Most of this advice seemed directed at CEOs, but there was one sentence that struck me as being critical to HR professionals. Actually there was alot of good advice, especially in the Process section so go and read it.

The one that struck me the most was
Know what’s (really) going on. Come out of your corner office and spend time in the trenches.
Through all the time I have been in HR I have met alot of HR people who have not been out of their offices to spend time in their plant, their call center, or on the second shift or third shift, or wherever. With the advent of email and instant messaging it has become easy to "manage" from your desk. But I have always found that being seen, being accessible and being there at the moment is often the best way to know what is going on, in the business and in the lifes of employees. Walking by and talking to someone may prompt them to tell you something that they may not have wanted to come to your office for, or did not want to put in an email. Plus, if you are in a 24 hour operation, spending time with folks in their time frame will help you realize that they are much more talkative during a break than they are at the end of their shift.

So if you want to be more effective in your HR job and want to know what is really going on, get out and spend some time with employees. Go to them instead of having them come to you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why Everyone in HR Needs to Know About "Protected Concerted Activity"

There are many HR people who are unfamiliar with labor law, especially here in the Southeast. But recent events dealing with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) make it clear that everyone in HR, and management for that matter, needs to know something about it. The Democrat controlled (read Labor controlled) NLRB is in a made rush toward the end of the year to make as many decisions as possible why Craig Becker is still in place. (His recess appointment on the board ends with the new Congress).

One broadly ballyhooed activity of the NLRB was its investigation regarding Facebook postings as a "protected concerted activity." But more about that in a minute. First, to understand their statements you must know what "protected concerted activity" is and how it impacts a company. Directly from the NLRB website comes this definition.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects employees’ rights to engage in protected concerted activities with or without a union, which are usually group activities (2 or more employees acting together) attempting to improve working conditions, such as wages and benefits. Some examples of such activities include:

a) 2 or more employees addressing their employer about improving their working conditions and pay;
b) 1 employee speaking to his/her employer on behalf of him/herself and one or more co-workers about improving workplace conditions;
c) 2 or more employees discussing pay or other work-related issues with each other.

The NLRA also protects any individual employee’s right to engage in union support, membership, and activities.
The NLRA protects an individual employee’s right not to engage in union activities or in other protected, concerted activities.
You will notice the sections I highlighted. "Protected concerted activity" is not restricted to companies which are already populated with unions. In fact, employers violating these rights often prompt employees to seek union support. This law is also why it is illegal for companies to have policies that forbid employees from discussing their pay with other employees. Such a policy can be construed as prohibiting employees from discussing pay or other work-related issues with each other, a direct violation of the NLRA.

Now back to the Facebook blowup. This deals with the actions of a Connecticut company in dealing with a worker in a disciplinary situation. She was already a union member and in this disciplinary situation, or at least one she perceived as disciplinary, she requested union representation. She was denied that representation (probably not a good thing because of the Weingarten rule.) Later that day she went home, and from her home computer, posted disparaging remarks about the supervisor on her Facebook page. Other employees, who were Facebook "friends", added to the remarks and supported her on her page. Two weeks later she was fired for violating the company's Blogging policy. A complaint was filled and the NLRB investigated. The result of their investigation was stated as:
"the employee’s Facebook postings constituted protected concerted activity, and that the company’s blogging and internet posting policy contained unlawful provisions, including one that prohibited employees from making disparaging remarks when discussing the company or supervisors and another that prohibited employees from depicting the company in any way over the internet without company permission. Such provisions constitute interference with employees in the exercise of their right to engage in protected concerted activity."
As blogger/attorney Daniel Schwartz, at Connecticut Employment Law Blog states, "Employers are increasingly looking at and monitoring social media usage. The NLRB's complaint makes it clear that it intends to challenge employers who over-reach." He indicates that a hearing for the case is scheduled on January 25, 2011.

So what is the upshot of this? First you need to make sure your policy is not one of those overreaching policies. As one union blog stated "This is a big step forward for workers, who don’t necessarily have to fear being fired for discussing their work on Facebook with coworkers on their own time. But the key phrase here is “with coworkers” – there may be a danger of an employer taking disciplinary action if an employee takes to Facebook about their work, but doesn’t involve coworkers in the discussion." You need to make sure your policy does not step on an employee's right to engage in protected concerted activity.

Secondly, be very careful before taking action against an employee for Facebook, or any other social media site, activity. Make sure you understand the players and the issues involved. INVESTIGATE before you REACT.

Third, train your supervisors and and managers on this. 

As a last note, I did read that the supervisor was still free to sue the employee for defamation of character. We will see.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Edgy HR": Strategic Advice to SHRM

When I was asked “What would you do if you were running SHRM?” my immediate thought was “I would be ‘edgier’.”

SHRM, on the national level and often on the local level has a rather dry and staid reputation. It is not seen as being a “thought leader” but rather a repository of older information. In sum, it is seen the same way many HR departments are seen within their companies. And that is a problem the profession as a whole has.

So what steps would I take to change this? Here is my list:

  1. I would have a VISION, a VISIBLE VISION. Not a plan for the organization of SHRM, but a vision for the Profession of Human Resources. What do we want the profession of HR to look like in 10 years?  
  2. From that vision of the profession I would do some backcasting and determine what the organization of SHRM would need to do to get the PROFESSION to be where we want it to go. Backcasting would provide us with a road map of how we would progress. This would lead to a strategic plan for the organization.
  3. I would convene “thinking panels” of “edgy”, “snarky” thought leaders to tell me about “out there” HR.  
  4. I would hire a VP of Edgy HR to be on the Leadership Team. 
  5. I would think in terms of a model of the HR professional having broader based education and experience in operations. 
  6. I would give a serious look at Josh Letourneau’s model of social networking and having HR drive that process in organizations.  
  7. I would thoroughly understand the power of social media to disseminate information, drive thought, communicate, bolster efforts and even to ruin companies and reputations.

 Those are just a few of my ideas. Well here is one more. Find a CEO soon. One that is not boring.

This post also appeared at the Voice of HR in their series on 2011 SHRM Strategic Guidance. Check it out for more great blog posts.

Friday, November 12, 2010

These Will Make You Go "Hmm": Great HR Posts

There is a ton of stuff in the blogsphere to read. There is NO way you can keep up on it all and get your job done. So that is why I try to help and pass on to you some great things I read. Here is a list of posts that will make you think. And who knows you may learn something in the process.

  • First up is The Employee With The Achilles Heel written by Kimberly D. Urban at her blog site Kim's HR Potpourri. This post is one that all of us can identify with. My story was similar to hers. Great employee who could not make it to work.
  • Next up is What If We Kill Incentives? Laura Schroeder, writing at the Compensation Cafe, discusses what has to be in place if we take away monetary incentives. Her real-life example comes from time spent in Russia.
  • Some of you have probably seen the NLRB activity on employee Facebook activity. I have even considered writing on it myself. I may no after having seen Jon Hyman's post WIRTW #152. It is his usual collection of excellent articles, but the first group focuses on Facebook Firing. So if  you want to be caught up on this controversy read this series. It DOES HAVE AN IMPACT ON YOU! Ignore it to your own peril.
  • Another selection from the Compensation Cafe is on The Importance of "Why" written by Derek Irvine. Derek talks about the importance of meaning and purpose on the job.
  • Lastly, there is the entire series of posts offering strategic advice to SHRM and how things can be improved for the association and the profession. This is found at Voice of HR. My reaction to most of these posts has been "Damn, I wish I had written that!" (I did write a post as well, though it has not yet been published. But it will pale in comparison to most of these.)
So there is your list of thought provoking, stimulating stuff to read today or this weekend. I will defy you to tell me these did not make you go "HMMM".

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Relocation as a Strategic Tool

One of the things I try to get across to students in the classes I teach is to view human resources in their company as a SYSTEM. Most of them have a tendency to think in terms of PROGRAMS. When you think in terms of "programs", such as compensation program, safety program, benefits program, performance management program, you imply a discreteness that does not actually exist. What actually occurs is that changes in a program have an effect in the system. And if you are not aware of that you may be setting yourself up for some unintended consequences that could end up being problems. Sometimes very expensive ones.

One "program" that I have not thought of in awhile is relocation. I had never really thought of relocation as a strategic tool. But the fact that it is, especially in today's marketplace, was made much clearer to me in a conversation with Jill Heineck, a new blogger who writes a blog called Inside Relocation. In a new post entitled Relocation: Strategic Planning Leads to Top Talent Jill makes the statement "When asked when was the last time they reviewed their relocation strategy, most say, “Strategy? What strategy? You mean program. We look at that all the time.” No, I am not referring to the policy or program, but the strategy, in that the way it is used to attract and retain top talent, and adding to the bottom line."

The fact that a strategy approach should be used, rather than a programs approach, is shown in her statement "... to provide more predictable results ... plan how to leverage your relocation strategy creatively, by collaborating with the executive teams that are impacted by relocation, such as Talent Acquisition, Talent Management, Marketing and Finance."

My experience as always been that relocation is an after-thought. It is something touted up front in a simple statement of "we offer relocation" and worried about the recruitment is done. Only then do you discover the problems. Jill has an example of just such a problem. "...They had made the offer and he had accepted. But there was a hitch. Relocation benefits were never discussed, and once they began to delve into the candidate’s real estate situation, they then delved into his financial situation. And then they realized it was a bust. The company wasn’t prepared to spend the kind of money required to help the candidate make the move." And as it turns out the candidate could not afford it either. NO PLANNING = FAIL and loss of money.

Since relocation is not an issue most HR folks have any expertise in I suggest that if you deal this you subscibe to her newsletter. It can be found at Focus Relocation. (And in case you are wondering, I have no financial stake, or any other stake for that matter in her business. I just think it is an area few of us HR types know anything about so I wanted to point out the resource.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rockin' HR! The HR Carnival is Jumpin'

The November 10, 2010 issue of the HR Carnival is up and rockin'. Keving Grossman over at Leaders. Better. Brighter.™ was the host. He wanted a Rock n' Roll themed carnival this time. His fellow bloggers helped him make it so... (some of them did better than me errr.. others). This HR Carnival can be found at The Latest Rock, Rock, Rock and Roll Carnival (of HR) and includes things like:
  • A playlist to rock HR
  • Workplace trust
  • Rockout teaching moments
  • An HR Remix
  • Going GaGa for HR
  • Rocking HR at Disney
  • Six Strategies for boosting morale
  • Tips for a unique voice in leadership
and much more. So head on over to visit Kevin's blog by clicking the link above and enjoy some "headbangin'" learning.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Cup of Coffee and A Chat: Networking at Its Core

Some times we get so wrapped up in our Social Media connecting frenzy that we lose the true essence of what networking is all about. I had the good fortune to act as a "connector" today and introduce one friend to two other friends. They already "knew" each other through social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogs) but had never actually met. So I facilitated them getting together over a cup of coffee (I will let you guess which coffee shop) and we chatted for two hours. Each told their stories, their interests and their plans to the group. We are all now in a much better position to help each other, to introduce each other to valuable contacts and we have now taken a step toward cementing friendships that may last for years.

Social media facilitates the connections. Each of us had a story to tell of meeting someone on Twitter which then further developed into more. Each of us had a story to tell of a blog post getting a reaction that then sparked a connection that then turned into something else. So I am not here to pooh-pooh the value of social media.

There are wonderful tools to connect with people. Twitter, Linked In, and Facebook are the three most common ones that come to mind, but not the exclusive ones. (Dating sites and other companion sites are pretty common too.)You can even get to know someone quite well through these mediums. But to me, to really know them requires a face-to-face meeting.  (I have not yet heard of anyone getting married from an Internet relationship without first meeting face-to-face.)

There are alot of definitions of networking, from handing someone your business card to connecting with them on social media. But to me the core of networking is meeting face-to-face, going beyond the superficial, and truly understanding the person in front of you. By the way, this works very well in getting to know fellow employees better too.

So I encourage you to take the opportunity to invite someone you have been wanting to meet and invite them for a cup of coffee and a chat.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Telecommuting and HR

I read an article in Fast Company entitled Robots Are Changing the Future of Telecommuting written by Ariel Schwartz in which she describes her experience with using a robot as her presence in the office. The robot is, as she describes it, "a hybrid of WALL-E and a Segway". Although she was in her home office, the robot represented her physical presence in the corporate office in New York. She sat in on meetings, she made her way through the hallways, she stood beside peoples desks and she made her way around the office remotely. To her the advantages were that when she did visit the office in person she knew the layout.

Some people may think there is not enough advantage to the technology to offset the cost of the technology. But it did make me think about how telecommuting has advance and also made me think about the issues that the Human Resources department might have with advancing telecommuting. It is no secret that working out of the office, either on the road or working out of a home office (or the couch as it may be), has changed significantly. Initially it was keeping in touch via the telephone, then connecting through a modem to an office main frame, then through an Internet connection. Today with smart phones funtioning as computers and wi-fi being ubiquitous (connect while you are at McDonalds, Starbucks or even Waffle House) it is not hard to be continually connected.

There are many studies that show that telecommuting can be very advantageous to both the company and the employee. These advantages include:
  • For the Employer:
    • Higher productivity due to fewer interruptions
    • Happier employees
    • Reduced need for actual square footage
    • Increased applicant pool since you don't need to be in the same city
    • Greater capability to get the needed talent
    • Reduced relocation costs
  • For the Employee:
    • Ability to concentrate
    • No, or reduced time, in traffic
    • Less wear and tear on a car, saving money
    • Less money spent on gas
    • Less money spent on lunches
    • More time to spend with family, or exercising or whatever.
There are however disadvantages. Here is what I see some of those being.
  • For the employer:
    • Need to have the appropriate technology in place to handle telecommuters
    • Need to change methods of management. Productivity no longer equals physical presence
    • Managers have to have ways of actively connecting with employees
    • Potential liability for Workers Comp issues due to egronomically improper work postures
    • Necessity of evaluating employees for ability to work at home (not everyone is well suited)
    • Tracking time worked, which is important if the telecommuter is non-exempt
    • Deciding which jobs are telecommuting appropriate
    • Dealing with morale issues of those employees who are not telecommuting eligible
  • For the employee:
    • Lack of connectivity or social interaction with fellow workers
    • Lack of connectivity (loyalty or identification) to the company
    • Potential lack of direction
    • Feeling of "out of sight, out of mind" may lead to being let go in down times
    • Potentially being overworked, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Because  you can always connect you find yourself working more.
I am sure there are more issues that I have missed. Please let me know. The HR department gets thrown into the mix by having its own set of problems associated with telecommuting. These include:
  • Staying connected to employees. We often hear of issues by being out of our offices and walking around. So how do you "walk around" with telecommuters?
  • Staying connected with managers and supervisors.
  • Dealing with differing capabilities of employees to deal with technology
  • Being aware of "plaintiff" issues that may arise with improper pay, harassment by computer or email, claims of workers comp injuries, or unionization attempts.
  • Balancing what kind of presence and how much presence is important in a workplace that is split between telecommuters and non-telecommuters.
I know that there are many of you out there that have already successfully dealt with some of these issues. Please share with us by leaving a comment so that others may learn. Telecommuting is here to stay. Technology advances is going to make it easier to do. But that does not mean it is going to make the "people" issues of management, social interaction and abuse go away.

Friday, November 05, 2010

D'oh Guess We Should Have Thought of That: A Lesson in Unintended Consequences

I am not sure where this falls really... lack of foresight, the bigger picture was more important, guess we should have read those 2000 pages more carefully... I decided to use Homer Simpson's "D'oh" as the best expression. I am sure you are wonder what the hell I am talking about. Well this is it.. a news headline that read "Citing health overhaul, AARP hikes employee costs". The article then starts off
"AARP's endorsement helped secure passage of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Now the seniors' lobby is telling its employees their insurance costs will rise partly as a result of the law....In an e-mail to employees, AARP says health care premiums will increase by 8 percent to 13 percent next year because of rapidly rising medical costs.....And AARP adds that it's changing copayments and deductibles to avoid a 40 percent tax on high-cost health plans that takes effect in 2018 under the law...Shifting costs to employees lowers the value of a health care plan and acts like an escape hatch from the tax."
This is AARP's attempt to avoid being classified as a "Cadillac Plan". As writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the AP states in the article "...employers are already beginning to assess their potential exposure because it is hefty: at 40 percent of the value above $10,200 for individual coverage and $27,500 for a family plan. The tax is intended as a savings measure, to prod employers and workers into more cost-efficient plans."

David Certner, the legislative affairs director for AARP, said that they make public policy decisions without regard to the effect it might have on their own employees. So the employees are going to be getting an 8% to 13% increase in their insurance costs and more will be coming.

Hmmm... I wonder what the enthusiasm for healthcare reform is now with those employees and how do they feel about the organization pushing public policy without regard to their well being?

An alternative seniors group to AARP, the Seniors League, says that Health Care Reform Legislation Could Hurt Seniors. They make two points about healthcare: 1. Shaky Medicare Financing: The bill will not shore up Medicare’s financing, despite claims to the contrary; and  2. Reduced Access to Care: Seniors may have reduced access to medical care as providers experience cuts and go out of business.

With the mid-term elections having changed the power structure in Congress it will be interesting to see what happends with healthcare reform. I just hope whatever is done they look at what the "unintended consequences" could potentially be of either allowing the bill to go unchanged or by changing the bill.
Sometimes I think we often miss that part of thinking.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Flight Attendants Say "NO" To Union: Delta Breathes Deep

Tuesday November 3rd was a day on which two allied parties were dealt crushing blows. The Democratic Party lost control of the House of Representatives was the first loss. The second was that Delta flight attendants handed a major loss to the Association of Flight Attendants, the union seeking to represent the combined workforce of Delta and the former Northwest Airlines.

This loss was despite the changes in rules about how elections were to be held. Prior to this election Delta had been victorious in two prior elections. But at that time if a flight attendant opted not to vote that lack of a vote was counted as a "NO" vote. This time the rules were changed and only the votes of people who actually cast a ballot were counted. Thus all the "NOs" actually had to show up and vote that way. So the non-union flight attendants had to be educated on the new process. Apparently Delta did a good job in this education process.

The union, AFA, also campaigned heavily. Here in the Atlanta area they benefited from  public radio and TV commercials from the machinist union that touted how it was "good for America" that the Delta workers be unionized. It would mean that "we were fighting the Wall Street pirates". Those commercials did not address the needs or concerns of the flight attendants but seemed to be designed to get the public to pressure any flight attendant they knew to vote for the union. An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution entitled Delta Flight Attendants to Union: No Thanks quoted Barry Hirsch, a professor of economics at Georgia State University, who said "...too few Delta attendants saw a clear economic incentive to pay $43 a month in AFA dues. Because the airline industry is so highly unionized, there is little difference between pay, benefits and work rules between unionized airlines and non-union major airlines..."

The vote on the unionization was 51% against and 49% for. As typically happens in a union loss the AFA is crying "foul" and they plan on contesting the loss. They claim intimidation on the part of Delta management caused the election to turn out the way it did. The union was considered to have a good shot at winning this and according to the article they had even gone so far as to plan their victory celebration. As the article said "Given the presumed built-in support from Northwest workers and recent election rules changes favorable to organizers, the AFA was regarded as having a strong shot. The union planned a celebration at its Washington headquarters and had already scheduled initial training for union leaders."

OOPS! This loss for the AFA is a major blow. Not only does it mean they will not get the Delta flight attendants they lose the former NW attendants. This is approximately 7000 people and at $43 a month in dues they are going to lose $3.6 million in revenue from no more dues. Maybe the union will have to lay some of their workers off. That would be an interesting development. Afterall unions are in the business of making money off of organizing employees. The loss of that revenue could put a major kink in their operations.

This loss may also have a chilling effect on the machinist vote for a union. And it could be tied into the general overall feeling about the direction of the country at this time. Time will tell.

I am happy that the flight attendants get to keep that $43 a month. Maybe they can use that money to stimulate the economy?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Independent Contractor Alert: Pending Legislation

There are two pieces of legislation pending in Congress that have a high likelihood of passing before the end of this 2010 calendar year. Both of these pieces of legislation regard Independent Contractors and the way in which a company recognizes them and deals with them. If you are a company that deals with independent contractors you need to be prepared to deal with this legislation if it passes.

The first bill is The Fair Playing Field Act of 2010. This legislation will amend the Internal Revenue Code to eliminate a “loophole” that has allowed companies to avoid paying penalties for improper classification of independent contractors. The so-called loophole that the Fair Playing Field Act seeks to close is Section 530 of the Revenue Act of 1978. (You can read more about Section 530 by clicking here.)That law currently affords businesses a safe harbor to treat workers as independent contractors for employment tax purposes if the company has had a reasonable basis for such treatment and has consistently treated such employees as independent contractors by reporting their compensation on Form 1099s.

Going forward, the Fair Playing Field Act would eliminate the continued use of the Section 530 safe harbor. It would require the Treasury Secretary to issue regulations or other prospective guidance clarifying the employment status of individuals for federal employment tax purposes. The act would also prohibit the IRS from making retroactive assessments for past unpaid taxes in cases in which the business consistently treated the worker involved as an independent contractor and filed Form 1099s each year for the worker, unless the business had “no reasonable basis for not treating such individual as an employee.”

One major provision of the Act would require businesses who use independent contractors “on a regular and ongoing basis” to provide them with a written statement informing them of their federal tax obligations, notifying them of the employment law protections that do not apply to them, and telling them how they can seek a determination of their status from the IRS.

The second piece of pending legislation is Employee Misclassification Prevention Act. It would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the federal law mandating the payment of minimum wage and overtime for employees who work more than 40 hours in a work week, creating a new labor law offense: misclassification of an employee as an independent contractor. EMPA would also impose strict record-keeping and notice requirements upon businesses with respect to workers treated as independent contractors, expose such businesses to fines of $1,100 to $5,000 per employee for each misclassification, and double the liquidated damages provisions under the FLSA for violations of the minimum wage or overtime provisions.

The paperwork burden and monetary fines associated with both these pieces of legislation can be significant. It is recommended that companies that use independent contractors make a concerted effort to reevaluate those relationships and determine how things might need to be changed.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Thinking STEEP: A Bit of Economic Environmental Scanning

If you have read me for any period of time you know I pay attention to "futurism" topics and I try to make you aware of this issues as well. To me a good strategic HR professional is part futurist. So I eat this stuff up. At the Atlanta Business Chronicle's Growth Expo that I attended the other day (where I heard about Disney's approach to people Hire Attitude vs Aptitude: A Lesson from Disney) they had three economist discuss the state of the economy and what the future held. The economists, who are well respected in the Southeast, were Rajeev Dhawan of Georgia State University, Jeff Humphreys of the University of Georgia, and Roger Tutterow or Mercer University. Here are my notes on some of what they had to say.

  • They were all in agreement that the jobs picture for the entire country will be very slow to recover and job growth will 1% to 1.5% at most. Gone are the days of 3% job growth.
  • Job growth is driven by investment. And investment is driven by CEO confidence in the economy.
  • It will take until 2014 or 2015 before jobs return to the pre-recession levels. We lost 8.4 million jobs and at 1% it is going to take awhile to get back to even.
  • Job growth driven by government hiring will continue to diminish and for the remainder of 2010 and some of 2011 will drag down growth numbers, but the private sector will be hiring.
  • Companies expect workers to "retool" themselves by acquiring new skills that will make them more attractive to companies.
  • Workers will need technical skills regardless of what industry segement they work in.
  • Job growth will come in these areas:
    • Professional business services
    • Healthcare
    • Some high tech
    • Some education
    • Entertainment and hospitality
    • Export services and companies
  • But, repeating, job growth is driven by investment, investment is driven by CEO confidence and CEO's are uncertain about what the government is doing. Thus they are not confident. So job growth will be slow.
  • The job market will be competitive through 2015.
So there you have a dose of economic environmental scanning. It means a couple of different things. If you are a job applicant it means you need to increase your skills. What you knew 6 months ago is OUTDATED. Laws change, technology changes, social movements change and more. You MUST stay up to date.

If you are an employer, you must change too. However, it will still continue to be a "buyers" market that allows you to get the cream of the crop. Some people may still be reticent to trade a "sure thing" for a "new thing" so you will have to hone your sales skills to attract the best. One thing you may need to do if you have a new technology is to provide some help in people acquiring that new technology. Hire for attitude and train for aptitude, like Disney. Or work with a school and sponsor them training for that technology.

BTW, for those of you that don't remember STEEP stands for Socitial, Technological, Economic, Evironment and Political. It is a good way to classify your environment scanning. You can learn more about it here by reading Future, Inc.: How Businesses Can Anticipate and Profit from What's Next and by reading my post about it here.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Monday Inspiration: Posts to JAZZ You for the Week Ahead

I have a confession to make. I am not one of those people who jump up on a Monday morning raring to go, at least not all the time. So sometimes I need some inspiration to get my day going. Today was just such a day. (Too much baseball too late) So I headed to my reading list to see what could get me going. Here is the list, hope it gets you going too. (The nice thing was that apparently some of my stuff was on other peoples lists. http://www.maximizepossibility.com/employee_retention/)

  1. First out of the chute is HR Plays Too Much Defense written by Paul Herbert on Fistful of Talent. Paul's premise is that too often HR acts out of an abundance of caution and says "no" instead of considering alternatives. It is a good read, and even better are some of the comments made. (I weighed in on this one.)
  2. Next up is Bosses: Give Frequent and Usable Feedback written by Wally Bock at his Three Star Leadership Blog. Wally is dead on about how and when bosses want to interact with employees and he provides great advice on how to help them  overcome their reluctance to provide constructive feedback.
  3. Ann Bares, a favorite of mine, offeres up The Immeasurable Value of Being Needed. What a great title. I have had some interactions with people along these same lines and it was nice to be reminded of my stories.
  4. My good friend Cathy Martin, the metrics maven, offers up 7 Ways to Tell If Your Metrics Matter. If you are struggling with instituting metrics and are wondering why you are mired down these seven questions may provide you with some clarity. READ AND HEED.
  5. Lastly is a profile found on Rehaul, written by Lance Haun. Lance profiles Ben Eubanks in HR Star: Ben Eubanks. Ben is an up-and-comer in the field of HR. He is creative and hardworking and you need to pay attention to him and his blog. He represents THE generation that will be doing all of the HR in our organizations and they are going to change things and he will be one of their thought leaders.
So there you have it. If you need a kick in the fanny this today, do some reading, get inspired and then get to work.