Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


E-mail Steve
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio

    free counters

    Twitter Feed

    CHART OF THE DAY: The Shrinking American Vacation

    Today's chart is perfectly timed for me, as starting from tomorrow I am heading out for a few days off. But my (too short) vacation I have lined up also aligns with an overall downward trend in the duration of American worker's vacations, as seen in the chart below, (courtesy of Vox). As always, some FREE commentary after the chart.



    From the data, which was sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 9 million Americans took a full week of vacation in July 1976. Contrast that to July 2014, when just about 7 million Americans scored a full week of sun or sand or just sleeping in on the sofa. If that does not seem like a big drop over about 40 years, consider that there are about 60 million more people employed in 2014 than there were in 1976. Bottom line, this data suggests that American workers, on the whole, are not taking long (used loosely) vacations like we used to.

    What might that mean for us today? Here are three quick takes, and I would love to hear what you think as well.

    1. The paradox of constant connectivity - Smartphones, tablets, Wifi in every coffee shop, bar, restaurant, etc. should (theoretically) make it easier for workers to go on longer vacations, but for some reason that is not happening. There are pretty few places in the country/world one can run off to on vacation and not be at least somewhat reachable. So in theory the ability to be reached, to monitor work and chech emails for any dire emergencies, and actually even do some work while on vacation has never been easier. But that still isn't allowing American workers to disconnect from work as much as we used to. Why not? 

    2. FOMO - Fear of Missing Out - This phenomenon, described as a form of social anxiety, fed by smartphones and social networking, is one where we become compulsively concerned that we might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, or other satisfying event. If you are not constantly checking your friends' Facebook and Foursquare updates, you might miss something really cool happening across town, for example. FOMO is a prety-well documented psychological dependence in social interactions, but since we use the same tools and tech more and more for work, then it makes sense that a kind of FOMO about work might be kicking in too. But in the work context, the perceived consequences of missing out might be greater. Instead of just missing a party or a Happy Hour, maybe you are missing out on some great work project or a rare chance to schmooze with the CEO. 

    3. It's a candidate's market, but the candidate's don't believe that yet - This is sort of the obvious one, where FOMO morphs into FOLOJ (Fear of Losing One's Job). Even though just about every labor market indicator is seemingly trending in a manner that suggest more power and leverage are shifting towards workers/candidates, (unemployment rate, job opening rates, time to fill, etc.), most workers are still not buying in to that story as yet. The brutal recession is not yet a distant enough memory for most of us to feel like we have either reasonable job security or a reasonable likelihood that we will find another suitable job should we lose the one we have. So we put in the extra hours, we check and respond to email at all times, and we don't go away on vacation for too long - lest anyone back at the office think, 'Hey, Steve has been out for a week, and things went just fine without him...'

    Anyway, that's it for today - I have to get back on the grind before I leave on my (short) vacation.

    No new content for a few days, but I am sure you will do just fine without me...


    WEBINAR: The 1st Timer's Guide to Buying HR Technology

    Buying HR Technology (System of Record/HRMS, Applicant Tracking Systems, Performance Management Systems, Recruiting solutions, etc.) should be as easy as buying a high-priced handbag or the latest pair of Jordans! Or Puma Clydes, since I am more of a Knicks fan.

    You see it. You like it. You know it’s going to fit and work for your needs. GO! Make the purchase. But it’s not that simple. Buying HR Technology is hard, confusing and frustrating.  A miss can potentially stall your career and undermine your credibility.

    But fear not, gentle readers, your pals over at Fistful of Talent are here to help, with the latest installment of the popular (and FREE), FOT Webinar series with Buyer’s Remorse: The FOT 1st Timer’s Guide to Buying HR Technology, set for August 28 at 12pm ET and which is designed to help the HR pro navigagte the sometimes tricky waters of the HR technology market and buying process. I will be on the webinar, joined by FOT's Tim Sackett to break it all down in classic FOT-style.

    So plan to join Tim and I on August 28 at 12pm ET and we'll hit you with the following


    1. The Difference between a Suite or a Best-of-Breed Product: Why you should care? Which one is right for you to buy? We'll break it down based on your unique needs.


    2. The Decision Tree/Process That Helps You Arrive at the Right Decision Regarding Which Solution to Buy. Yes, we can tell you exactly what to buy! But we won’t, because great HR Pros need to understand how to make these decisions. But don’t worry---we’ll show you how!


    3. Six Tips and Tricks the HR Vendor Community Uses to Get You To Buy Their Product---which might not be the product you actually need. Learn how to make sure you don’t succumb to these tactics when making your next buying decision.  This section alone will ensure you take control of your next buy like a pro!


    4. The Secret for Getting Your Organization to Invest in HR tech and How to Build ROI for your Executive Team. Every buying decision comes down to the why and ROI, and your ability to persuasively and concisely get your organization to support your recommendation.  Sometimes the hardest part of an HR Tech buy is your ability to get approval to buy!


    Bonus Feature: CEO Ben Peterson, from BambooHR (an HR solution specifically designed for small-to-medium-sized HR departments), will stop by and do a quick Q&A with Tim and Steve to discuss the biggest mistakes he sees HR buyers make when making HR Tech purchases... and how to avoid making those same mistakes yourself!


    Things that are hard:  Riding a bike on a freeway. Getting your kids to eat peas. Buying HR Tech. Join us on August 28 at 12pm ET for "Buyer’s Remorse: The FOT 1st Timer’s Guide to Buying HR Technology," and we'll make buying HR Tech easier. You're on your own with the other two.


    Please join Tim and I on August 28, I promise, as always, 60% of the time our advice works every time!



    Weekend Update: Soccer and Robots

    I spent the weekend on two things, (really three if you add in making some BBQ) - watching way too much soccer (it is awesome to have the EPL back and to watch my Liverpool Reds open with a win) and reading about robots and automation.

    I want to call out two longish pieces on automation and its potential impact on work, workplaces, and society that are definitely worth your time to check out. The first, and useful to set some historical context, is an essay from Daniel Askt titled, 'What Can We Learn From Past Anxiety Over Automation?', a really interesting look at what many leading scientists, economists, and other wonky types were thinking and predicting about the 'threat' of automation in the middle part of the 20th century.

    It turns out that in the 50s and 60s the worries over the increasing pace of technological advancements and the potential disruptions to many forms of work and workers sound much like those same concerns about modern innovations and increased automation. Check out this passage from the piece, and ask if this exact same argument made in 1966 could be reasonably accurate today:

    In 1966, the Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress issued a sensible report rejecting the argument that technology was to blame for a great deal of unemployment, although, with the wisdom of Leopold Bloom, it recognized technological change as “a major factor in the displacement and temporary unemployment of particular workers.”

    And who were those workers? The answer will be all too familiar: “Unemployment has been concentrated among those with little education or skill, while employment has been rising most rapidly in those occupations generally considered to be the most skilled and to require the most education. This conjunction raises the question whether technological progress may induce a demand for very skilled and highly educated people in numbers our society cannot yet provide, while at the same time leaving stranded many of the unskilled and poorly educated with no future opportunities for employment.”

    It all sounds pretty familiar, right? Technological advances tend to reduce the demand for unskilled or relatively lower-skilled forms of labor, as better, faster, cheaper forms of capital are introduced as replacements for human labor. The macro-education system is called upon to adapt and adjust, as the aggregate skills of the workforce need to shift towards those higher order and more technical skills that employers are demanding.

    Fast forward from the 1960s to the present day where the disruptive nature of technological progress on the workforce remains a subject of intense debate, interest, and importance. And that leads me to the second longer form piece I'd like to highlight which comes from the Pew Research Internet Project and is titled AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs.

    Pew conducted a survey and produced a detailed report that covers numerous experts’ views about advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, and their impact on jobs and employment. And interestingly enough, these experts were split almost down the middle on whether or not the inevitable continued advances in AI and robotics would displace 'significant' numbers of both lower skilled as well as higher skilled, or 'white collar' workers. Here is an excerpt from the Pew report:

    Half of these experts (48%) envision a future in which robots and digital agents have displaced significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers—with many expressing concern that this will lead to vast increases in income inequality, masses of people who are effectively unemployable, and breakdowns in the social order.

    The other half of the experts who responded to this survey (52%) expect that technology will not displace more jobs than it creates by 2025. To be sure, this group anticipates that many jobs currently performed by humans will be substantially taken over by robots or digital agents by 2025. But they have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

    Similarly to the divided opinions of 'experts' in the 50s and 60s, there is simply not a consensus leading technology thinkers today about the ultimate effects of technological progress on work and the workplace - at least in an overall, society-wide sense.

    There is however, general agreement, (and there was back in the day as well), of the micro or individual likely impacts of increased automation, AI, and robotics on workers. Perhaps these comments from Robert Cannon  in the Pew report sum up these predictions the best:

    Non-skilled jobs lacking in ‘human contribution’ will be replaced by automation when the economics are favorable. At the hardware store, the guy who used to cut keys has been replaced by a robot. In the law office, the clerks who used to prepare discovery have been replaced by software. IBM Watson is replacing researchers by reading every report ever written anywhere. This begs the question: What can the human contribute? The short answer is that if the job is one where that question cannot be answered positively, that job is not likely to exist.”

    So again, the way we describe the types of effects and the nature of the impact of technological change on work and workers hasn't really changed all the much in the last 50 or 60 years. Machines disrupt work, particularly work that is process-defined, repetitive, and where words like initiative and creativity are missing.

    But was has changed, and some modern commentators argue that the pace of this change is accelerating, is that the definition of jobs that are process-defined, repetitive, and non-creative is getting closer and closer to home for many folks that have always considered themselves 'knowledge workers' or 'professionals.' 

    In the 50s and 60s, automation (mostly) threatened manual laborers and lower skilled manufacturing workers. The advances in technology hadn't yet infiltrated the professional offices of that time. Watch a few episodes of the TV series Mad Men and you will see lots of office workers typing up notes, filing things, preparing correspondence for other people, and more of less passing around papers. Today's offices? Well not so much. 

    The difference today, and to some the more profound worry, is best summarized in this observation from the piece from Akst:

    Instead of automating repetitive tasks, technology today is climbing the cognitive ladder, using artificial intelligence and brute processing power to automate (however imperfectly) the functions of travel agents, secretaries, tax preparers, even teachers — while threatening the jobs of some lawyers, university professors, and other professionals who once thought their sheepskins were a bulwark against this sort of thing. Maybe this time, things really are different.

    So while we have been as a society collectively worried (and changed) by advances in technology and in the automation of some kinds of work for at least 100 or maybe 150 years, we still struggle in predicting what these changes might mean.

    It seems comforting to fall back on the 'Technology always changes work, but it always creates lots of new opportunities as well' argument and try to cling to the notion that after the turbulence of change, things will turn out all right in the end. After all, proponents of this line of thinking say, technology has displaced millions of farmers and factory workers in the past, and the overall economy did not implode.  

    In the past, the former agricultural workers were able to (largely) migrate to manufacturing jobs. When the manufacturing jobs began to get displaced, many of these workers ended up in service jobs, lower paid and less secure kinds of jobs. Now that automation is threatening these service jobs, (have you seen the burger-making robot?), where can these workers go? Especially when more and more of the 'white collar' jobs that might have been reasonable landing places, (clerks, claims processors, customer service agents), are themselves increasingly becoming the realm of technology, algorithms, and machines. Every displaced worker can't suddenly become a coder.

    What if, indeed, this time things really are different?

    I might hit some of the possibly answers to that question in a follow-up post later in the week if I can.

    Have a great week everyone, and definitely read the two pieces that I linked to and cited in the post, I think you will find them both incredibly interesting.


    OFF TOPIC: Classic toys, ranked

    You know you have a favorite toy from the past, from your childhood, but is your favorite toy the BEST toy of all-time/forever? Read on and find out...

    100 - 26 - (in no particular order) Wooden blocks, the duck that you pulled with a string thing, the vacuum-like toy that had a round plastic bubble full of little balls, Magic 8-ball, Erector Sets, frisbee, Lincoln Logs, and about 60 other fun for a few minutes but otherwise not that awesome toys

    25. NERF football

    24. Rock'em Sock'em Robots

    23. Ken

    22. Silly Putty

    21. Slinky

    20. Mr. Potato Head

    19. Play-doh

    18. Lite-Brite

    17. Mattel Electronic Football, (the small, hand-held one where the players were just tiny green lines)

    16. Transformers

    15. G.I. Joe

    14. Yo-Yo

    13. View-Master

    12. Etch-a-Sketch

    11. Tonka (props to the classic yellow dump truck, but they were all pretty cool)

    10. Barbie

    9. SuperBall

    8. Wiffle Ball

    7. Rubik's Cube

    6. Simon (original one with the red, blue, yellow, green lights)

    5. Hot Wheels

    4. Little plastic green Army Men

    3. LEGOS

    2. Star Wars Action Figures

    1. Crayola Crayons


    The best 'Out of the Office' message might be this one from Germany

    Regular readers (and people who have the occasion to want to get in touch with me) probably know that I have a troubled, difficult, and often non-productive relationship with email. Honestly, email and I should have broken up a long time ago, as clearly it is just not working out for either of us.

    So it is from that point of view that I offer up what I think might be the best (partial) solution to one of the biggest problems with email today for the busy professional - just how much of it piles up when you are away from it for some time, like when you are out on holiday or if you are traveling for business, or even if you just need to turn off the email incoming fire hose for a while and actually do some work.


    Check out what the German automaker Daimler is offering up to its 100,000 or so employees to help stem the tide of email when they are out of the office on holiday. Note: these excerpts are taken from a piece on FT.com, it is free to read but requires registration to get access to the article.


    The Stuttgart-based car and truckmaker said about 100,000 German employees can now choose to have all their incoming emails automatically deleted when they are on holiday so they do not return to a bulging in-box.


    The sender is notified by the “Mail on Holiday” assistant that the email has not been received and is invited to contact a nominated substitute instead. Employees can therefore return from their summer vacation to an empty inbox.


    “Our employees should relax on holiday and not read work-related emails,” said Wilfried Porth, board member for human resources. “With ‘Mail on Holiday’ they start back after the holidays with a clean desk. There is no traffic jam in their inbox. That is an emotional relief.”
    An 'Out of the Office' that not only lets the person know that the intended recipient is actually out, but also deletes the incoming email entirely? 


    Sign me up for that right now!


    Email and the never ending battle to not allow email to sap productivity, destroy morale, and turn into your job instead of a tool you use to help you do your job is likely to continue to be a contentious subject as long as email remains the primary tool for business communication and collaboration.


    And that kind of stinks, because in 2014 when we have robot butlers, self-driving cars, drones that can make package delivery, and digital assistants that can guide us and help us navigate our days that most of us have to stare at and wade through hundreds of seemingly random messages every day before we actually get to 'do' anything.


    I am going to be on vacation/holiday for a few days in a week or so, I wonder if the good people at Daimler would be willing to license out their little 'Out of the Office' auto-delete tool to me.

    I definitely would use it.

    Have a great day! (And if you are waiting for an email from me, be patient a little longer....)