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    Thursday
    Sep182014

    HBS Grads on Competitiveness, Jobs, and American Workers

    Is there a better cohort might to survey about the state of American business, workforces, and competitiveness than Harvard Business School grads? 

    Chances are a whole bit fat bunch of us are taking direction today from a grad of the famous business school. It does stand to reason that if you survey enough HBS grads you will get a pretty decent understanding of what business leaders are thinking, saying, and doing, (or importantly, not doing).

    This is a long read, so you might want to save it for the weekend, but I definitely encourage you to check out An Economy Doing Half Its Job: Findings of Harvard Business School's 2013-2014 Survey on US Competitiveness. The Harvard researchers, led by Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin, surveyed about 1250 HBS Alumni on questions of US firm's competitiveness, the quality of the workforce from a skills perspective, and their assessment of how the US K-12 Education system is performing in terms of producing capable and qualified workers.

    Long, long story short, while US firms remain highly competitive across a wide range of sectors, the HBS grads' responses about many important workforce-related questions do not bode well for workers today, and in the longer term as well. 

    There are lots of great money quotes from the study, (and again you really should take the time to read it all), but here is one that stuck out for me:

    Workers will not invest in developing their skills if it does not lead to employment and higher living standards. Employers will continue to turn to technology, vendors, or other alternatives to address their needs. The associated loss of productivity growth will further undermine both America’s economic growth and its long-term competitiveness

    Makes sense, people will not be incented to try and get better or improve their skills if they can't see a connection, even a potential connection, between this kind of investment and improved career prospects.

    But even if individuals don't see the link between skills development and a better living standard, then certainly organizations will still continue to invest in skills development anyway, right? After all, the organizations need and lament the lack of skills in large swaths of the workforce. Well, maybe not. Here is a another quote from the HBS study:

    Our survey reveals that business leaders in America are reluctant to hire full-time workers. When possible, they prefer to invest in technology to perform work, outsource activities to third-parties, or hire part-time workers. For instance, 46% of survey respondents strongly or somewhat agreed that their firms' US operations prefer to invest in technology to perform work rather than hire or train employees, while only 25% disagreed.

    So it seems like what we have been mostly thinking is likely mostly true - organizations would rather automate, outsource, find alternative (and cheaper) ways to get work done rather than take on more full-time staff (or train and 'upskill' the staff they have).

    It is a tough problem, with no easy solutions. The HBS authors do make several recommendations to try to better align workforce capability with opportunity and to encourage organizations to make investments in talent much like they have been making investments in technology. And while the answers to these problems are not simple, it does seem that unless we (all of us), begin to take them more seriously that large numbers of American workers are going to be left behind.

    Monday
    Sep152014

    CHART OF THE DAY: Read this while you're eating lunch by yourself

    Chances are if you are catching up on blogs on your lunch break today, you are probably at your desk, alone, while you read and munch on that tuna sandwich.

    Today's Chart of the Day comes courtesy of the retail and consumer goods research and advisory firm NPD Group that took a look at American's eating habits - specifically examining just how often people are eating alone. Turns out, you are not alone in eating alone. Take a look at the data and then some FREE commentary from me after the chart:

    A quick read of the data shows that we are eating alone about 60% of the time for breakfast and that about 55% of lunches are solitary occasions. We recover, and get more social for dinner however, with only about a third of evening meals take solo.

    What might this mean for you the HR/Talent pro? As usual, who really knows, but let's take a shot anyway.

    1. People will be more productive, (and probably happier), on the whole if they can take a complete break, even for 15-20 minutes from their work and the cognitive processing that accompanies said work. If someone never takes a break during the day time, then by about 2 or 3 in the afternoon they are likely to hit the wall, looking to some kind of artificial short-term remedy (like an energy shot which are disgusting or a candy bar, which are not disgusting but you probably don't need one), to try and make it until quitting time. If you in HR/Talent are really interested in helping people achieve the most they can at work, you are going to care if/when your entire organization seems to slow to a crawl at 3:30 every day. 

    2. Most people eat breakfast on the run and lunch by themselves at their desks because they have this sense of 'I can't take a real break, I just have too much to do', even if that is not really true. But we have gotten conditioned to see fully disconnecting from work as some kind of admission of slacking off, or of lack of dedication. We also think 'busy' equates to 'important' and while sometimes that is true, I bet the really important people at work probably are taking more social and casual lunches than most. HR pros should be mindful or at least aware of any ill-effects of burnout one symptom of which is an army of cube-dwellers eating/working through lunch day after day.

    3. If you need to 'catch' people that usually prove difficult to pin down, (Note: I am one of these kind of people), then you might want to attempt to hit them up at lunch time. Sure, there is some risk in interrupting someone's 'downtime' at lunch, but chances are they are not really taking a break anyway, they are by themselves still glued to their computer, and you won't be competing with anyone else for their time. 

    What's your take? How often are you eating lunch alone at your desk? See any problem with that?

    Have a great week!

    Tuesday
    Sep022014

    It's a short week, make sure you still put in your 47 hours

    Quick shot for a Tuesday that feels like a Monday and also feels like a Wednesday since it seems like I am already two and half days behind.

    Just before the long Labor Day weekend Gallup released some figures from its 2014 Work and Education poll that showed Americans that are employed full-time are, on average, putting in about 47 hours per week on the job, almost a full working day longer than what has been the 'standard' 40 work week.

    Here's some of the Gallup data in chart form (thanks Forbes), since we know that charts make everything better:

    The trends for both full-time and part-time workers, as you can see in the chart, have held fairly stready over time. But what also has not changed is the notion, at least held nominally, of the standard 40-hour work week.

    According to the Gallup data, only about half of full-time workers report their normal working week as 40 hours, (or fewer), with almost 4 in 10 workers reporting work weeks of 50+ hours on average. And I have a sneaking suspicion that surveys like this are under-reporting time employees spend tethered to their phones and emails that are spent at night or on the weekends.

    There is more data and analysis over at Gallup, but the real point I suppose I wanted to make here is that it probably is time to drop the '40 hours' a week notion if in fact that is not the reality for you or your organization. If you are an 'average' shop, then folks are already working almost 6 days a week now. Just face it if that is what reality suggests and expectations demand.

    And now we all better get back to work, going to be tough to cram in 47 into what is now about 3.85 workdays left in the week.

    Have a great week!

    Wednesday
    Aug202014

    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...

    Monday
    Aug112014

    CHART OF THE DAY: Hoping it doesn't rain

    Today's Chart Of The Day comes courtesy of the Federal Reserve Board's recent and definitely interesting Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2013.

    The report, an in-depth look at the state of the American consumer/citizen in 2013 across a wide range of topics (debt, savings, job readiness, confidence in the economy, etc.), has a plethora of great insights and data sets about the economy and I probably could have picked about 15 different charts/tables to call out here.

    But the one I was most interested in is below, having to do with American's readiness or ability to withstand economic hardship like a job loss or a major (and costly) health crisis. Turns out, many of us are not at all prepared for those situations. Here is the data, then some comments as per usual from me:

    Wow, well over half of the survey respondents, (survey group and methodology here), report that they have not saved or set aside a 3-month emergency fund as a hedge against a sudden or unexpected loss of income. That is pretty bad, and even worse still when you think that many financial planner/advisor types will push their clients to have a 6-month rainy day fund at all times.

    While many of the macro-economic indicators have begun to show an improving economy, (unemployment rate, ratio of unemployed to job openings, even most of the major stock market indices), this kind of a statistic on the relative lack of preparedness for unexpected financial distress reminds us that the effects of the recession are much longer lasting than we perhaps like to think.

    If your employees are at all closely aligned with these results, then that means that perhaps half of them are much closer to personal financial crisis than they should be. And that is kind of a drag, and kind of a heavy burden to be carrying around. It also can make people 'play it safe' a little too much, over-compensating against any perceived risk in their decision making, as they get consumed with fear of losing their income if they were to get sacked for making the 'wrong' decision.

    I think people probably perform better when they are excited at their jobs, not when they are afraid to lose them.

    Have a great week!