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    Tuesday
    Sep262017

    CHART OF THE DAY: What do employee health benefits cost anyway?

    In between arguing with sports teams, players, owners, and fans on Twitter, one of the other things that the US government's leaders have spent a bunch of time on in 2017 are the attempts, (and so far, 'attempting' is all that has been done), at revising, reforming, or replacing the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

    And while I, or no one else as far as I can tell, has any clue what is going to happen with the ACA and whatever might come next, I have been thinking about benefits, in particular employer sponsored health benefits lately, for reasons that are both boring and not really that important.

    While on a internet foray on this topic over the weekend, (I know, my life is REALLY exciting), I landed on an excellent resource for this kind of data, Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust (HRET) 2017 Employer Health Benefits Survey, which was recently released.

    The annual survey is a joint project of the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust. The survey was conducted between January and June of 2017 and included 3,938 randomly selected, non-federal public and private firms with three or more employees (including 2,137 that responded to the full survey and 1,801 others that responded to a single question about offering coverage).

    So to get back to the title/question of the post, here is today's CHART OF THE DAY, a quick look at just what employer sponsored health care benefits cost, (the premium) and how much the average employee contributes to that cost. Here's the data, then some comments from me after the chart:

     

    Some thoughts...

    1. Wow, that chart is harder to read than I hoped for. Here is a link to the in a much larger size.

    2. In case you still have trouble making out the details, for 2017 the average cost (premium) for employer-based family coverage was $18,764 annually with the employee contributing, on average, $5,714, or about 30% of the premium.

    3. This split, or ratio of employer funding to employee contribution varies a bit by company size. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, companies larger than 200 employees contribute about 72% of the annual premium, while smaller employers (fewer than 200 employees), only contribute 64%. This difference equates to about an extra $1,600 annually that the employee would have to contribute.

    4. Surprisingly, the rate of premium increases has slowed in recent years. According to the survey, annual family premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose an average of 3 percent to $18,764 this year, continuing a six-year run of relatively modest increases.

    5. There are about 151 million Americans who are covered via an employer-sponsored healthcare plan. That makes the employer market by far the single largest source of health care coverage for folks in the US.

    Really interesting data, and there is lots more to dig into at the KFF site.

    As I said, I have no clue what is going to happen with ACA, or whatever might come next. But I do think the more you know about how many Americans access and pay for health care the better informed you will be and the better prepared to make decisions for yourself, your family, and your organization.

    Tuesday
    Sep052017

    Learn a new word: Goodhart's Law

    Happy 'First-day-of-the-rest-of-the-year'. I suppose every day is the first day of the rest of the year, but for some reason on the Tuesday following the long Labor Day weekend that feeling is much more acute.

    Quick shot for your cram five days of work into four week. Another installment of your favorite series here on the blog - Learn a new word, where I share a word, term, phrase, or concept that I had not been familiar with previously, and for some reason seemed interesting/important/cool enough to share.

    So here goes - and this one is especially for the 'You can't manage what you can't measure' types out there.

    Our submission - Goodhart's Law

    (from our pals at Wikipedia)

    Goodhart's law is an adage named after economist Charles Goodhart, which has been phrased by Mary Strathern as: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure." This follows from individuals trying to anticipate the effect of a policy and then taking actions which alter its outcome.

    Actually Goodhart himself stated the 'law' just a little bit differently, theorizing that "When a measure becomes a metric, it ceases to be a good measure.”

    Either way, the key point by Goodhart is still sound (and pretty obvious, even if you have never heard of our friend Goodhart).

    Make a measurement - say time to fill open jobs, percent of new hires who stay longer than 6 months, or even number of new patents filed by the R&D department - doesn't matter, the sole or even a primary metric of success and evaluation and things tend to get a little strange.

    The effected people pretty quickly learn how to manage/game the measurement, they start thinking, maybe too much, about how to drive that specific measurement in a manner that is positive for them, and they stop thinking so much about other, perhaps more cross-functional or strategic measurements.

    And even worse, too many managers or leaders focusing too much on measurements can sometimes be an excuse for not exercising good judgement, a method that corporate bureaucrats use for CYA and holding on to territory, and an imperfect way to try and describe people and relationships in a numerical manner.

    'You can't manage what you can't measure' is a fun thing to say. And sort of easy to agree with. But like Drucker's other widely quoted maxim, 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast' it definitely deserves more and closer scrutiny than it is typically given.

    We manage the unmeasurable all the time. And reducing everything to something we can measure, to a number, is probably the fast path to inflexibility, failure to adapt, and a workforce conditioned to respond and behave to the movements of numbers on a spreadsheet.

    Have a great week!

    Wednesday
    Aug232017

    Tenure and Unhappiness at Work

    Caught some interesting data looking at the happiness and satisfaction with work of employees in the UK broken down by different age cohorts. As reported in Bloomberg, UK workers aged 35 years and up were twice as likely to be unhappy with work as their younger, millennial colleagues.

    Here's a quick look at one data set from the research conducted by Happiness Works and Robert Half UK about employee unhappiness distributed across age groups:

    According to this data, unhappiness at work takes a pretty decent sized step up in the 35 to 54 age group and increase a bit more with the 55+ group. Couple of small/medium/big things to think about before we take this data totally at face value.

    One is just what do we mean by 'unhappiness?' Is it 'kind of had a bad day that day' unhappiness or is it 'I am about three minutes away from quitting and smashing the printer on the way out the door' unhappiness? And second, what is the 'normal' or expected amount of unhappiness we'd expect to find in an average workplace? I can't think of any scenario when you get a large group of people in any kind of shared endeavor where some of them wouldn't be happy. Even a few folks I heard from yesterday thought the Great American Solar Eclipse was a little underwhelming.

    But getting past those concerns for a second, let's think about the implications of increasing unhappiness as the workforce ages a bit more. If true, or even kind of true, this could be an issue for more and more workplaces and more and more leaders of HR and people.

    Here's some more data, courtesy of my pals at the BLS. From 2015, a quick look at the median age of the US workforce, and some projections out to 2024

    How about that? The US labor force is trending older, and the trend is expected to hold for the next decade if not a little longer. So if workforces are getting older and unhappiness with work seems to be associated with the employee's age, then you could expect even more acute challenges to come with respect to happiness and its cousin employee engagement.

    The problem of course with aging in the workforce is that it is pretty similar to our own personal battles with aging and its effects. It happens, or seems to happen, so gradually that we hardly even notice it. And then Wham! all of a sudden we have gotten older. And we usually are not prepared for that day.

    If you are someone who has some concern or responsibility for the health, wellbeing, happiness, and productivity of a workplace you probably ought to be thinking about these issues a bit more than you have in the past.

    And it probably wouldn't hurt to take time to think about your own happiness and wellbeing too.

     

    Friday
    Aug182017

    CHART OF THE DAY: There are more job openings in the USA than ever

    I know I have written a couple of versions of this post in the last year or so, but to me, and as the data referenced in the post title keeps increasing, I think it is worth taking a look at the latest job openings data.

    As always courtesy of our pals at the BLS and using the fantastic charting capability from the St. Louis Fed.

    Here's the chart showing the total number of non-farm job openings in the US over the last 10 years or so and hen some words of wisdom and whimsy from me as we get ready to head into the weekend.

    Three quick takes...

    1. It may be hard to see on the chart, but the end of June 2017 data point shows a whopping 6.2 million open jobs in the USA. That is the record high for this measurement since records began to be kept starting in 2000. To give the 6.2 million number a little context, the total US labor force at the end of June is just over 160 million. Said differently, if we could magically fill the 6.2 million openings today, total US employment would jump almost 4%. That is a huge, huge number when talking about this kind of data.

    2. Wages, while growing, are not yet, (maybe never?), catch up to the fact that job openings keep increasing and time to fill metrics also continue to climb. I caught a quote from a random Fed official recently, can't remember which one at the moment, that essentally said something like 'If your business has a hiring problem or you think you have a 'skills gap' problem, and you have not taken steps to meaningfully increase wages and benefits you are offering, then I just don't believe you actually have a problem.' Persistent sluggish wage growth has been the most baffling element of the sustained labor market recovery of the last several years.

    3. I know this is obvious, and I know I have blogged this bit a few times before when considering the tight labor market, but it bears repeating. More and more power is shifting to employees, candidates, graduates - almost anyone with up to date skills and a desire to succeed. Factor in the myriad ways for people to side hustle, and employers have to continued to raise their game and their value props to have any chance of staying competitive in today's market. I am a 'labor' guy at heart, and more leverage and negotiating power shifting to workers just feels like a decent thing to me.

    Have a great weekend all!

    Wednesday
    Aug162017

    Three quick takes on the LinkedIn - hiQ Labs news

    First the news in case you missed this yesterday.

    From our pals at Fortune:

    A U.S. federal judge on Monday ruled that Microsoft's LinkedIn unit cannot prevent a startup from accessing public profile data, in a test of how much control a social media site can wield over information its users have deemed to be public.

    U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco granted a preliminary injunction request brought by hiQ Labs, and ordered LinkedIn to remove within 24 hours any technology preventing hiQ from accessing public profiles.

    And a little bit on the back story, in case you had not been following this case over the last few months:

    The dispute between the two tech companies has been going on since May, when LinkedIn issued a letter to hiQ Labs instructing the startup to stop scraping data from its service.

    HiQ Labs responded by filing a suit against LinkedIn in June, alleging that the Microsoft-owned social network was in violation of antitrust laws. HiQ Labs uses the LinkedIn data to build algorithms capable of predicting employee behaviors, such as when they might quit.

    Got all that?

    Seems pretty simple, but at the same time the ulitmate outcome of this case (LinkedIn will almost certainly appeal this ruling) could be pretty important not just for LinkedIn and hiQ Labs, but also for you and me and everyone else who's data/profiles are at the core of this case.

    Three quick takes from me since it's my blog...

    1. While we are all pretty aware and comfortable with the social network concept of 'You are not the user, you are the product', most of us have continued to rationalize this away as it pertains to our usage and participation on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. If we get enough utility and value from being a member of LinkedIn, (networking, job opportunities, sales leads, etc.), then we are ok with LinkedIn building their business around selling access to and ways to interact with our profile data. But even if we are ok with LinkedIn earning revenue in this way, are we as comfortable with a third party like hiQ doing much the same? When you and I signed up for LinkedIn, I don't recall any T&C that asked if that would be ok? I personally get value from LinkedIn. I doubt the same can be said for hiQ.

    2. hiQ's business seems to be about aggregating and analyzing public LinkedIn profile data and then building out a set of tools that can help organizations make predictions about potential turnover. They are making a pretty big assumption that the 'right' amount of people have up-to-date, accurate, and meaningful profiles. And I think that is a pretty big assumption. I had to look up about 5 people on LinkedIn today, and two of them I am 100% don't have their current job title listed correctly. And these are the kinds of folks that use LinkedIn pretty regularly.

    3. And despite the above caveat about the completeness and accuracy of user profiles, it is indeed true that LinkedIn (courtesy of all of us), do possess an incredible amount of workforce data. Companies, jobs, career progression, contacts, etc. All good and important stuff. But you know who else possesses an even more accurate and more detailed data set about workforces, compensation, job moves, career paths, mobility andmore? Your current HR Tech provider(s), that is who. The bigger cloud HR providers, (ADP, Oracle, Ultimate, SAP, Workday, Infor, and more), all have incredibly detailed data sets on people. Where thry work, how much they earn, where they went to school, how their careers have evolved, etc. And these providers are all taking positive and aggressive steps to create valuable tools and insights from these large data sets. Plus, I would gather that while the data in your HRMS might not be 100% perfect, it is likely closer to the truth than the stuff on the average LinkedIn profile. If you haven't yet, talk to your HR tech provider about what they are doing to create new tools to help you that are based on the knowledge that can be gleaned from millions of data points in the cloud.

    I will keep an eye on the LinkedIn - hiQ case to see how it develops, but if nothing else it has served as a semi-occasional reminder that once it is on the internet, data flows like water. And you probably can't hold it back forever.

    Happy Wednesday.