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    Entries in labor (73)

    Monday
    Jan152018

    Striking for a 28-hour work week: What happens when workers feel like they have the upper hand

    Over the weekend while taking a break from freezing and shoveling snow, I caught this recent piece from the Guardian - German workers strike for the right to two-year, 28-hour working week'.

    Turns out in Germany the combination of the traditionally strong position of workers and worker's groups, historically low unemployment, and a robust and growing German economy have conspired to put industrial workers, in this case the Metal Workers Union, in a place where they can hold 'warning' strikes against employers as they advocate for a new benefit - the ability to reduce their hours to 28 per week for a period of up to two years. More details from the piece in the Guardian:

    Workers have downed tools at more than 80 companies across Germany as the country’s biggest union stepped up its campaign for a 28-hour working week to allow employees to improve their work-life balance.

    In what is shaping up to be the biggest industrial dispute in the metalwork sector in three decades, more than 15,000 employees took part in warning strikes at factories including those of the carmaker Porsche.

    The IG Metall union, which represents around 3.9 million workers, wants every employee in the metal and electrical sector to have the option to reduce their working hours for a total period of two years, with the automatic right to return to full-time employment afterwards.

    Later in the piece we learn that this reduced working week proposal is centered around the need for improved work-life balance for workers, particularly in times when they have more elder or child care responsibilities. Certainly anyone who has dealt with or is currently dealing with the constant struggle to balance family and personal care needs with work would appreciate the benefit for which the German workers are advocating.

    Before you pass off this as another 'Coddled European workplace' story and dismiss its importance or relevance for most of the rest of us, think about this.

    The conditions here in the US are not all that different than what is happening in Germany, and in many other developed countries right now. Unemployment is at or near decades-long lows. Skilled workers are incredibly hard to find (and to retain). In manufacturing and other heavy industries, long tenured and older workers are retiring much faster than they can be replaced with new talent. And finally, more and more American workers are also struggling with elder and child care needs, and making the balance with work and these personal obligations work. In fact, we did an entire recent HR Happy Hour Show on this topic.

    The main difference, you would rightly point out, in the story in Germany and the labor relations environment here in the US is the US worker generally does not have strong union/labor council representation that can advocate for these kinds of benefits and policies. And that is a big caveat, I admit.

    But all the other conditions are present, if not more acute here in the US. In fact, the US unemployment rate is about 4.1%, much lower than in Germany right now.

    So the thing to think about might not be 'What will I do when the workers agitate for 28-hour weeks?', but rather, 'Am I / we prepared for a labor environment where we (the employer), have even less power and influence than we have today?'

    And, 'Are we prepared for a world where we don't choose employees, but rather one where employees choose us?'

    Have a great week!

    Thursday
    Jan112018

    CHART OF THE DAY: The Changing Composition of the US Workforce

    There are only two websites you need. Actually three, if you count this one. And hint, none of them are Facebook. I promise you that one day you will regret all the time you wasted with Facebook. But I digress.

    One is BLS.gov, the Bureau of Labor Statistics site where all the employment, industry, productivity, time use, compensation (and more) information you need on the US labor force is located.

    The other is the Federal Reserve of St. Louis' fantastic FRED site, where you can download, graph, and track over 500,000 data series covering the economy, employment, demographics and much, much more. Data geeks like me can get lost in the FRED site for hours.

    I was using these two sources to update my notes and perspective on US aggregate employment across industry groups, useful information that helps me guide and shape the specific industry focus that results in both the content for this blog, topics for the HR Happy Hour Podcast, and the program for the HR Technology Conference.

    This data is also useful to consider in a larger sense - like when thinking about governmental policies and investments, the focus of secondary and higher education and training, and even when answering questions like 'Just what is our country good at?' from a business/economy perspective.

    Have a look at today's Chart of the Day - (built at the FRED site) aggregate US employment since 1980 in the largest category components of the labor force, then some comments from me..

    We all know that 100 - 120 years ago the US shifted from a largely agricultural economy/labor force to a manufacturing, shipping, and trading workforce. And then, slowly but surely, beginning in about 1980, a shift started to occur. Manufacturing employment began to decline while professional services, health care, and retail began to climb.

    Here's the snapshot of latest employment numbers for the categories in chart, (Nov 2017).

    Manufacturing, while pretty apparent to most casual labor market observers, has fallen below professional services, health care, leisure and hospitality, even retail employment in terms of its overall share of US employment. For some perspective, as of November 2017 total US non-farm employment was about 149 million. At that level, manufacturing now represents only about 8.5% of US employment.

    In terms of where most observers see these trends continuing out into the future, the aging US population seems to clearly indicate that health services and health care will be the largest growth area moving forward. Retail jobs are under threat from automation, online shopping (and the efficiencies and lower labor costs associated), and by the constant chase for less expensive goods produced and shipped in lower cost countries. The same threats also impact manufacturing. Even the largest, new manufacturing plants require far fewer workers than the ones of just 10 - 20 years ago.

    There's lots more to think about when looking at this data. I encourage anyone interested to join me in a deep dive on BLS.gov and the St. Louis FRED.

    Thursday
    Dec142017

    Code words for 'Get ready for some layoffs', ranked

    Big news on the corporate M&A front announced this morning with the news that Disney has reached an agreement to acquire substantial portions of the Fox media empire (including Twentieth Century Fox film and TV studios, a bunch of cable and international TV businesses), for approximately $52.4B in Disney stock.

    While most of the coverage I read and heard this morning focused on the business and content strategy implications of the deal (basically these assets strengthen and augment Disney's content inventory for their eventual direct to consumer streaming service which will compete with Netflix), less attention was given to the inevitable 'people' costs of these kinds of transactions. Namely, the almost certain reductions in headcounts from the newly combined (and larger) entity as execs look for ways to try and pay for the huge acquisition cost, and wring more profit and efficiency from the combined entity.

    And the fun part (it is not really fun, I am being sarcastic), is that when the 'people' issues are discussed in these M&A deals the word 'layoffs' is never, ever used. No, we get other, less direct and more corporate-speak words and phrases that more or less try to mask what is really going to happen to a whole bunch of people that through no fault of their own become part of the costs (ironically savings to the corporation), of these transactions. This topic will always resonate with me because a few years back I was caught on the wrong side of one of these transactions myself.

    In that light then, I present my unscientific, unresearched, incomplete, subjective, and 100% accurate ranking of 'Code words for 'Get ready for some layoffs''...

    5. More than one appearance in a Press Release of any of the following words - 'Nimble', 'Optimize', 'Simplify', 'Align', ''Strategic', 'Targeted', (I could keep going but you get the idea). The key is the more corporate buzzwords you see, the more you need to worry.

    4. 'Refocus', 'Restructure', or for a modern spin 'Pivot to (insert something slightly different from what the company has been doing here)' - The 'Pivot to' something else one is my new favorite. Somehow most corporations equate 'trying something new' with 'get rid or everyone who was doing the old thing'

    3. 'Cost savings from efficiencies' - this phrase is actually used in the Disney-Fox press release. But be certain that most of these cost savings will come from the fact that the new entity won't need separate administrative and back office functions. Running payroll for 12,000 employees isn't that much more labor intensive than running it for 9,000 employees.

    2.'Rightsizing' - Ever notice that getting the company sized 'right' always means 'making the company smaller?'

    1. 'Synergies'- Any time 'synergies' are mentioned anywhere in the Press Release, time to polish up your LinkedIn profile 

    Of course you could disagree with these rankings, but sadly, you would be wrong.

    Happy Thursday. Hope you don't get M&A'ed before the holidays.

    Thursday
    Nov302017

    It doesn't matter if the robots aren't coming for your job, they are coming for your neighbor's job

    After reading a flurry of pieces over the last few days about the progress being made in self-driving vehicle technology, I was reminded that one job category that seems likely to be highly pressured by this type of automation is commercial vehicle driving. You don't have to be a genius to realize that once Tesla (and others), get enough of their new commercial trucks into service, that Generation 2.0 of these trucks will attempt to not just eliminate diesel fuel and noxious emissions from their products - they will try to eliminate the driver too.

    And you probably caught something about Amazon's newest experiments with retail stores that have no cashiers. Or maybe you have heard about fast food giants like McDonald's or Panera pushing more self-service kiosks into their locations, to reduce the need for human cashiers and order-takers. Or the hotels that are using mobile robots to deliver room service meals to their guests. And the list goes on and on.

    And maybe after reading all these stories you say to yourself: "Self, these technology advancements are amazing. But good thing I am a (insert the white collar 'knowledge' job you have here) and not a truck driver or a cashier.' 

    And whether or not the robots are coming sooner or later for whatever 'knowledge' job you have today is probably debatable, let's pretend for the moment in the words of Big Brother, (yes, I am fan), - 'Knowledge worker X, you are safe'. Phew. That is a relief.

    But here is the thing, the kinds of jobs that are most vulnerable, most likely to be adversely impacted by automation are ones that are held by millions of people. Have a look at the chart below, from BLS data from May 2016.

     

    Look closely at that list of the Top 10 'most-held' job categories in the US and think about which of them, (Clue: It is almost all of them), are going to be increasingly pressured by technology, automation, and 'self-service'.

    There are about 150M people in the US labor force give or take. The Top 10 job categories in the above chart represent about 21 or 22 million workers - roughly 15% of all US workers. That is a huge number, especially considering that half a percent or a full percent moves in the unemployment rates are such big news.

    The potential and the consequences of labor automation are concerns for everyone - whether or not your job is 'safe'.

    And one last bit of food for thought. This issue, this challenge of automation and technology threatening jobs is also going to be a local one. Check out this chart below that shows the largest private employer for each state in the US. See any cause for concern?

    When Walmart decides to move more aggressively into online, self-service, robot customer service pods, and Amazon-like efficiency in their distribution centers there will be an impact too.

    But that's ok. You don't work at Walmart.

    But I bet you know someone who does.

    Friday
    Oct272017

    What do you think you know about job hopping?

    Probably my favorite movie of the last few years is The Big Short, the adaptation of the Michael Lewis book detailing the run-up to the financial crisis/meltdown in 2007 - 2008.

    If you have not seen it, take some time this weekend and do so, you will be glad you did.

    But why I bring it up is that the movie opens with an on screen quotation, which is attributed to Mark Twain and that reads as follows:

    It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.

    If you know the story of The Big Short you'll know why the Twain aphorism resonates. Again, take some time this weekend and catch the film if you haven't.

    But back to the point, or, rather, here's the point I want to make and why I thought of that quote this week.

    What do you think you know about job hopping? Meaning, do you think, as I suspect most of us do, that younger generations of workers, (younger Gen X, Millennials, etc.), are more likely to 'job hop', i.e., have shorter average tenures in their jobs than prior generations?

    I mean, that seems to be the convential wisdom, that the Millennials in particular have shorter job tenures, are much more likely than us older types were to leave a job that either is not working out for them, or for what they perceive is a better opportunity, and overall are less attached to workplaces and employers than we were in the past.

    Do you think that is more or less true?

    I admit, I did, (without ever looking it up), until I caught this piece in the Economist recently, Workers are not switching jobs more often. Here is a quick chart and excerpt from the piece:

    EVERYBODY knows—or at least thinks he knows—that a millennial with one job must be after a new one. Today’s youngsters are thought to have little loyalty towards their employers and to be prone to “job-hop”. Millennials (ie, those born after about 1982) are indeed more likely to switch jobs than their older colleagues. But that is more a result of how old they are than of the era they were born in. In America at least, average job tenures have barely changed in recent decades.

    Data from America’s Bureau of Labour Statistics show workers aged 25 and over now spend a median of 5.1 years with their employers, slightly more than in 1983 (see chart). Job tenure has declined for the lower end of that age group, but only slightly. Men between the ages of 25 and 34 now spend a median of 2.9 years with each employer, down from 3.2 years in 1983.

    And here is a quick chart showing tenure not really moving, at least at younger cohorts, over time.

    So yes, Milennials switch jobs more frequently than older workers. Younger workers have always switched jobs more frequently than older workers. The data shows that the phenomenon hasn't really changed much over the last 30 years.

    What's really striking from the chart is not just that the 25 - 34 age cohorts is basically exhibiting the same characteristics with respect to changing jobs than they did 20 or 30 years ago, but that the largest and steepest declines in job tenures are seen in the Men aged 45 - 54 group. That group's average job tenure has declined from 12.8 years in 1983 to 8.4 years by 2016.

    There are tons of possibly reasons for this, primarily how the events so well portrayed in The Big Short put so many of this group into unforeseen unemployment, as well as how technology, automation, and outsourcing have seem to affected this group more significantly than other labor cohorts.

    But that is a post for another day.

    The main reason this one stood out for me is that the data shows pretty clearly that what we think we know for sure, that Milennials are job hopping, low attention span miscreants, probably really isn't true.

    What else about work, and careers, and employees do we know for sure that might be, in the words of Twain, 'Just not so?'

    Have a great weekend!