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    Friday
    Jun012018

    Five observations from the new Fortune 500

    Dug out from my Feedly 'Read later' list was the announcement a couple of weeks ago of the latest iteration of the venerable Fortune 500 - the annual list of the largest 500 US companies (ranked by annual revenues).

    The Fortune 500 has become a synonym for 'big business' in America, and taking a look through the list, and especially looking at changes and trends in the list, has become an annual exercise for folks like me who like to think about macro trends in the economy, and to think about how these trends suggest what might be coming next.

    Also, it's just fun. If you are a geek like me.

    So for an almost-summer Friday, here's my first five quick observations from looking the new Fortune 500"

    1. For all the talk about technology that dominates most business news cycles and programs, old-fashioned retailer Walmart remains number one on the list - and it isn't really even close. Walmart has double the revenues of the next closest rival for the top spot, ExxonMobil. And while we know all about the massive businesses in retail and in cloud computing, (an odd combination), that Amazon has built over the years, Walmart still has almost 3x the revenue as their competitor from the Northwest. I know I like to think of Amazon as the most interesting and important company in America, but we can't or shouldn't forget the outsize impact of boring old Walmart. And don't forget their 2.3 million (with an 'm', employees).

    2. Lots of 'The future is changing, are you ready' presentations like to talk about how much turnover there is over time in the list of Fortune 500 members. While interesting, I find it even more interesting, given the massive changes in business, technology, society, and more since the list's inception in 1955, that 53 companies (ExxonMobil, GE, Chevron, and GM to name some), have been on the list every year since 1955. That over 10% of the largest companies in American have been there for over 60 years is remarkable to me.

    3. Despite point 1 about Walmart's staggering size, it is true that technology or tech-dominated firms make up large portions of the upper end of the Fortune 500. Household tech names like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, IBM, Intel, Facebook, Oracle, and Intel all crack the top 100. And further down the list we see Netflix, Qualcom, Nvidia, and Adobe - all companies doing incredible things in their respective markets. And while the Fortune 500 ranks by revenue, if you think about company value as expressed by market cap, (subject to stock prices fluctuations), the most valuable list is also dominated by tech - Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft,  and Alphabet are five of the top six most valuable companies in America.

    4. There are 30 'mega-employers' on the list - companies with over 200,000 employees as of the date the list was compiled. The above mentioned Walmart leads the employment table, but some other notable massive employers are Amazon, (566,000); Home Depot, (413,000); Starbucks, (277,000); UnitedHealth Group (260,000); JP MorganChase, (252,000); and Ford Motor (202,000). And coming in just below the 200k employee threshhold are big names like Disney, Marriott, Boeing, Oracle, Microsoft, and Apple - each having more than 100K employees. 

    5. There are only 17 new companies on the list this year. The most interesting 'newcomers' to the Fortune 500 are, for me, Molson Coors Brewing, (Coors was my preferred beer once upon a time), Wynn Resorts, (I still need to get to Macau), and Conduent, (I just talked with them this week, look for an HR Happy Hour Show coming soon featuring some folks from Conduent). The last new entrant on the list is corporate supply company Cintas checking in at 500. For perspective, the last company on the list is a giant organization of 42,000 employees and 900,000 customers.

    Ok, that's it from my quick walk down the Fortune 500 this year, I find it interesting every year, hope you do too.

    Have a great weekend! 

    Tuesday
    May082018

    CHART OF THE DAY: Your semi-regular labor market update

    Two quick charts on my favorite CHART OF THE DAY topic - the trends in macro labor force dynamics in the United States.

    First, the big headline from a few days ago, the official unemployment rate in the US dipped below 4% for the first time since late 2000, ( was the ) hitting 3.9% as of the end of April 2018.

    For a look at this headline trend, see the below chart from our pals at FRED:

    And while this dip below 4% for the first time in almost 20 years was what most reports about the state of the labor market honed in on, (and probably rightly so), the 'truth' of the health of the labor market usually resided in other metrics. Like, for example, one of my favorites - the length of time it takes organizations to fill an average open position.

    Here's the latest on that - from the DHI-DFH "Mean Vacancy Duration" data (the latest I could find on this is from the end of February 2018).

    While you can see some upticks and downticks in the average time to fill, the trend since the end of the recession in 2009 is clearly up and to the right - meaning it continues to take longer and longer for most companies to fill open jobs. Officially, the mean vacancy duration for February 2018 is at 28.9 working days - essentially over a month to fill any open job.

    If you did into the details of the report, (and I did, since I am a weenie), one number really stood out. It now takes over 21 working days to fill roles in the hospitality and retail sector - think hotels, restaurants, fast-food, retail stores. That number is up dramatically from its 'bottom' of about 14 days just a few years ago. You would think that these roles should be the easiest to fill, and maybe they still are, but even today's easy roles to fill are taking longer and longer to actually be filled.

    There is more to this story, and I need to take some time to look at what is happening with wage data, labor force participation, and the openings and quits rates, but these two charts and their data are both pretty revealing.

    It's probably a good time to be a job seeker, all things being equal.

    And it is also a good time to be a recruiter - a good one anyway, because your value to organizations keeps growing.

    That's it from me - have a great day!

    Tuesday
    May012018

    Emotional surveillance - coming to a workplace near you?

    I am going to submit today's dispatch from the HR Happy Hour Home Office without much commentary, as like many tech-driven developments we hear about, this one is probably too extreme to have much of an effect in the US or any of the other places where readers of this blog reside, (Hi Canada!).

    From one of my favorite sources on all things going on in business in China, the South China Morning Post, here is a little bit of a piece titled 'Forget the Facebook leak: China is mining data directly from worker's brains on an industrial scale':

    Workers outfitted in uniforms staff lines producing sophisticated equipment for telecommunication and other industrial sectors.

    But there’s one big difference – the workers wear caps to monitor their brainwaves, data that management then uses to adjust the pace of production and redesign workflows, according to the company.

    The company said it could increase the overall efficiency of the workers by manipulating the frequency and length of break times to reduce mental stress.

    Hangzhou Zhongheng Electric is just one example of the large-scale application of brain surveillance devices to monitor people’s emotions and other mental activities in the workplace, according to scientists and companies involved in the government-backed projects.

    Concealed in regular safety helmets or uniform hats, these lightweight, wireless sensors constantly monitor the wearer’s brainwaves and stream the data to computers that use artificial intelligence algorithms to detect emotional spikes such as depression, anxiety or rage.

    The technology is in widespread use around the world but China has applied it on an unprecedented scale in factories, public transport, state-owned companies and the military to increase the competitiveness of its manufacturing industry and to maintain social stability.

    Wow, pretty wild, fairly extreme - even by the looser standards for what is ok and not ok in the workplace that still prevail in most of China.

    But here's the interesting thing, we all have already come to accept certain kinds of monitoring in the workplace. We make hourly workers punch in and punch out every day, (and remind them to be sure to punch out before taking lunch). All kinds of call center representatives have their calls and interactions with customers reviewed and even listened to in real time by supervisors. Warehouse workers are often subjected to really close and detailed kinds of monitoring - how fast they find items for an order, how many errors they make per shift, and how closely they achieve "goal" performance each week.

    Ever white collar jobs are subject at times to really close monitoring and supervision. Most lawyers and consultants are still billing by the hour, so they must keep and have reviewed detailed time and activity logs. Many organizations require receipts for every dollar spent on employee travel in order for the employee to get reimbursed. Are you sure you had that Dunkin' coffee for $2.65? Even the rise and increasing popularity of workplace chat apps like Slack have created more environments where your 'status', i.e. are you currently working, is visible to everyone and monitored by most.

    The point being that sure, this idea of monitoring employee brainwaves in real time, or as one Chinese official described it, conducting 'emotional surveillance' seems ludicrous, it can also be seen as just the next, tech-enabled step on a path that lots of organizations are already walking. And the deployment of these kinds of technologies for workers in dangerous, important roles like airline pilot or high-speed train operator could offer another level of safety for the public - a pilot judged to be in an emotional state prior to takeoff could be pulled from the flight as a precaution.

    I don't have a great, insightful conclusion to this story at the moment only to say that while it is inevitable that technologies will continue to advance, and offer better, more, and more personal information about workers, it is (hopefully), going to be the role of smart HR people to help guide organizations as to the best, fairest, and 'right' use of these kinds of tool. The pilot on the above flight is not just a pattern of brainwaves after all. He/she is an actual human.

    Have a great day!

    Friday
    Apr202018

    CHART OF THE DAY: Mount Stupid

    Really quick shot for the end of a busy week, where despite it being nearly May, it is still snowing as I write this.

    Today's CHART OF THE DAY does not cover one of the normal themes I usually like to hit with these posts - employment, the labor force, the aging population, how terrible the Knicks have been, etc.

    No, today's chart, courtesy of SMBC Comics, is meant to elicit a chuckle and perhaps make you think, even just a little, before you feel the urge to chime in on a topic, issue, person, or event that you really don't have all that much information about.

    Here's the chart, the one last comment from me after that:

    Knowing just about nothing about a subject generally doesn't get you into trouble. Neither does being incredibly well-versed. In the former case, we usually have enough sense to keep out of the conversation and debate. And in the latter case, even if we run into a disagreement, we can usually have facts, data, or even just plain old experience to back up our opinions.

    But when we know just about enough to simultaneously not seem like a complete fool but not enough to avoid becoming that fool?

    That my friends is 'Mount Stupid.'

    And you don't ever want to be up there. Besides being unpleasant, it's way, way too crowded.

    Have a great weekend!

    Monday
    Apr022018

    CHART OF THE DAY: On the future of employer based health care benefits

    Is it Spring Break where you live?

    It is where I live - so I am going to be trying to balance some Spring Breaky things along with the blog, work, the HR Happy Hour Show and some other things.

    So if you are trying to reach me on something this week please be patient more patient than normal.

    But on to today's topic and Chart of the Day - and with a special bonus chart.

    A few weeks ago on the HR Happy Hour Show I was joined by benefits expert Shan Fowler to talk about the Employer Health Care Benefits Update for 2018.On the show, we discussed changes (or potential changes) to the Affordable Care Act, how some employers may shift the health care burden back to employees, and what the future of employer-based health care benefits might look like. In that same vein, I wanted to present two charts today - one directly related to this topic of the future of employer health care benefits, and a second chart that may help to give some depth and context towards understanding the first chart.

    Chart 1 - Courtesy of the Kaiser Famlly Foundatain's March Health Tracking Poll, which asked a representative sample of over 1,200 US adults whether or not they were in favor of a 'national health plan, or a Medicare for all plan', and also if they favored such a plan that was 'opt-in' only?

    Here are the results which showed 59% of Americans in favor of a national health plan, and 75% in favor of such a plan with an 'opt-in' provision.

      

    Let's go to Chart 2 before offering up some comments and observations about what the data might mean.

    Chart 2- From the Brookings Institute, 'Rethinking worker benefits for an economy in flux', a look at the growth (and comparative growth) of non-employer firms, basically independent workers in the 'gig' economy.

     For nearly two decades, the growth of nonemployer firms - firms that have no employees and mostly constitute incorporated self-employed freelancers (workers in the “gig economy”), has consistently outpaced traditional payroll growth. More and more workers in the 'gig' economy generally translates to more and more workers who lack access to 'tradtional' employment benefits - health care, paid time off, retirement and 401(k) plans, etc.

    And it's this trend in workplaces, and truly, in the nature of work and jobs themselves, that probably is driving the increases in interest and/or support for some kind of nationalized, and more importantly portable, set of health care benefits. Increased workplace fluidity, less growth in traditional payroll employment compared to gig work, and additional pressures on workers to provide child and elder care are all conspiring to make the idea of national/portable health care coverage more appealing to Americans.

    Politics (and passions) on both sides of the spectrum will likely make the passage of any kind of nationalized or Medicare for all plan really unlikely in the near term. But that is not the only mechanism to create platforms for more portable health care - programs that would be more easily accessible to the growing number of workers who lack access to traditional employer-based plans.

    A number of states, (most notably Washington) are proposing programs that would create non-profit benefit providers, to which employers of 1099 workers would contribute, and who would then collaborate with workers to determine which kinds of benefits to offer - like heath care, retirement, and PTO. Other state and local laws that have expanded access to retirement plans and paid time off and family leave are all being pressured to expand access to independent worker as well.

    The growth of the gig economy has changed and will continue to change the way we think about work, workplaces, jobs, and careers. It just might also change the way we think about and ensure access to, affordable health care in our country too.

    Have a great week!