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    Entries in work (127)


    Fondly remembering the days of 3% raises

    Quick shot for a busy Tuesday - check out this piece that ran on USA Today online over the weekend - Is the annual pay raise dead?, a look at some recent studies and trends in the world of employee compensation.

    For what seems like ages, once per year the big total rewards consultancies like Towers Watson or Aon Hewitt would diligently report back that for the average employee annual salary increases would be about 3% (again). The news that annual salary increases would be about 3% became somewhat of a running joke, since it was so consistent and predictable. The phrase of employees being '3-percented until retirement' was fairly common.

    Well, if the latest news on annual salary increases is accurate, we may all look back on the 3% raises of the past and wonder what happened to them. Check out some of the comments in the above-mentioned USA Today piece:

    "Base salary increases are flat. We don't see the prospect of that changing much at all in the next several years," said Ken Abosch, who studies compensation issues for Aon Hewitt.

    In other words, the annual raise is dead. It was already on life support last decade, but the Great Recession has finished off the raise. It's been replaced by "variable compensation" — the bonus.

    "The quiet revolution has been the change in compensation mix," Abosch said. "Through a series of recessions, organizations have pulled back dramatically on fixed costs. And base salaries are often a company's most significant fixed cost ... [They] have a compounding effect, and create a drag on an organization's ability to change."

    Awesome isn't it when your salary, (and by extension, you), are described and probably considered as 'a drag on an organization's ability to change', instead of, I don't know, a strategic investment of organizational resources in order to hire and retain great people.

    One of the effects of a relatively higher percentage of one's overall compensation being shifted towards bonuses or other kinds of variable pay is that it makes 'regular' employment look and feel more like contingent labor. One of the reasons people like 'regular' jobs is the 'regular' nature of their weekly, monthly, and annual earnings. Drive more of these earnings into more company-friendly (and easier to reduce and/or eliminate), irregular compensation, then, well, earnings stability becomes much more tenuous.

    Companies need to be more agile and flexible these days, no doubt. But at least in the US they have had the benefit of pretty much universal employment-at-will arrangements to ensure labor and labor cost flexibility. Now it seems like that might not be flexible enough for many organizations.

    They want your 3% as well.


    It's going to keep getting harder for traditional workplaces and policies

    Last week I wrote about the six-hour workday, and experiment that some companies and public sector organizations have been running in Sweden (and some other places), that is designed to reduce employee stress, improve work/life balance, and improve employee engagement and retention. And the six-hour workday comes with the side benefit of helping employees stay more focused on their work while reducing unnecessary distractions.

    So far, in limited experiments, the six-hour workday is proving to be pretty effective at moving the needle in a positive direction on some of HR and talent pros most intractable challenges - engagement, retention, and employer brand. Despite all this, will the six-hour workday catch in here in the USA in any noticeable way?

    Maybe not. 

    Or perhaps the answer is maybe not yet.

    'Radical' new ideas are only radical until they hit a tipping point when they have reached just enough adoption, and from a few influential organizations, and suddenly candidates are asking your recruiters about whether or not you have six-hour days or have eliminated annual performance reviews or have implemented an unlimited vacation policy.

    I just caught this piece about LinkedIn, and their recent decision to adopt an unlimited vacation policy for their employees. While LinkedIn is certainly not the first organization to trash the traditional PTO process in favor of one where employees and managers figure it out for themselves, they might be one of the largest, with about 9,000 employees worldwide. LinkedIn has likely many motivations that drove the decision to scrap the 'three weeks vacation after 5 years of service' nonsense that probably 97% of organizations use to award and track time off for their employees, but my guess would be the primary ones would be for recruiting and retention.

    Likely there are dozens of Silicon Valley startups that have not bothered to worry about setting up traditional PTO plans at all that are competing with LinkedIn for talent. Just think about the difference in these two sentences in the point of view of a talented tech candidate:

    1 You will accrue 4.25 hours of paid vacation every bi-weekly pay period, maxing at 80 hours until you reach 5 years of service, when the accrual maximum increases to 120 hours'

    2. 'You take as much vacation as you want. Work it out with your manager and team.'

    Don't bother telling me in the comments that people don't actually take as much vacation when it is 'unlimited' as they do when their is a set PTO policy and schedule. That doesn't matter one bit to the candidate, or anyone else really.

    What matters is that when you can't match (and sometimes you do have great reasons why you can't), more innovative, modern, and employee-friendly policies and perks you are going to be always at a competitive disadvantage.

    Once these innovations and perks make that important shift to become 'expectations' you had better have a decent rebuttal to candidates and employees who won't understand why they suddenly have to start worrying about having enough accrued hours of PTO in order to take that long weekend they deserve after pulling 70 hour weeks for two months to meet the last big ship date. 

    It is only a matter of time, if it has not happened yet, when one of your hiring managers comes back to you in HR and asks 'Why can't we have unlimited PTO?, the talent we need expects it.'

    Have a great week!


    How to quickly solve your engagement, retention, and employer brand problems

    If you (and the people in your organization) are representatives of what has been happening more generally in work and workplaces over the last decade or so then you are likely working more hours, remain as disengaged as ever, and now, more acutely, are struggling to find and retain the needed talented people for many of your key roles.

    These challenges of work/life balance, engagement, and retention collectively have had about 4,958,909 articles and 'advice' pieces written about them in the last few years, (I looked it up), and yet most organizations and people still struggle with one or all of these problems. But what if there were one simple change to the design of work and workplaces that actually could improve the situation across all three of these measures? What if there were the equivalent of an HR/Talent/Org Design magic wand that you could wave and you'd pretty quickly see employees happier with their work/life balance, become more enthusiastic and engaged with their work, and be much less likely to leave your organization to search for greener pastures?

    When you hear this idea (especially if you are from the USA), your first reaction is almost certainly going to be 'There's no way that will ever work here', but I ask you just suspend your cynicism for three minutes and at least allow your imagination to play with the concept - it's Monday morning and you are having a hard time getting going anyway.

    So here it is, the easy solution to burnout, engagement, and retention:

    Change your standard workday to 6 hours.

    That's it. Keep everything else (salary, benefits, performance standards, org structure, etc.) the same. Just cut the workday from the 8 hours down to 6, and remind everyone that you still expect and require the same productivity and outcomes as you did on the 8 hour day, but you now only 'require' them to work for 6 hours.

    This is an idea that has been in the news again lately, based on a few experiments both in the public and private sectors in Sweden, and are reviewed in this recent piece in the Guardian. Organizations that have either tested or totally adopted the reduced hours have consistently reported improvements across the three key objectives I have been mentioning - work/life, engagement, and retention.

    From the Guardian piece, the experiences of a tech startup, (a type of company much more commonly associated with 12 or more hour days):

    For Maria Bråth, boss of internet startup Brath, the six-hour working day the company introduced when it was formed three years ago gives it a competitive advantage because it attracts better staff and keeps them. “They are the most valuable thing we have,” she says – an offer of more pay elsewhere would not make up for the shorter hours they have at Brath.

    The company, which has 22 staff in offices in Stockholm and Örnsköldsvik, produces as much, if not more, than its competitors do in eight-hour days, she says. “It has a lot to do with the fact that we are very creative – we couldn’t keep it up for eight hours.”

    And what about a more 'normal' job, say as an auto mechanic? Well their is evidence that shorter workdays can be successful there as well:

    Martin Geborg, 27, a mechanic, started at Toyota eight years ago and has stayed there because of the six-hour day. “My friends are envious,” he says. He enjoys the fact that there is no traffic on the roads when he is heading to and from work. Sandra Andersson, 25, has been with the company since 2008. “It is wonderful to finish at 12,” she says. “Before I started a family I could go to the beach after work – now I can spend the afternoon with my baby.”

    I know what you are thinking - there is no way a 25% reduction in work hours without a reduction in comp and ben costs will EVER work for you. 

    The bosses will never go for it, and for US companies, it just sounds too 'European' and vaguely socialist an idea to ever merit serious consideration. But if you can get past your instinctive reaction as an HR pro and just consider the notion as an individual employee you might think differently.

    How much time, really, do you spend each day on 'non-work' - catching up on your idiot friends posts on Facebook, calling to schedule a Dr. appointment, or doing the lunchtime 'bank/dry cleaner/pharmacy' trifecta? 

    How many of your kids school activites to you either miss or have to guiltily sneak out of work to try and attend?

    How many times to you sit in traffic from 5:45PM - 7:00PM only to reach home completely frazzled and wiped out?

    And after all of that, how much work, actual important and quality work did you get done that day?

    Definitely some, you are a solid pro, but definitely not 8 hours worth, that is for sure. Work expands to fill the available space and time provided, often crowding out the other, 'non-work' parts of our lives. And, if your job is similar to many of the other folks I know, it never really is 'done' anyway - no matter how much time you spend in the office.

    These small experiments with shorter working days all seem to turn out the same - employees are more focused, have more energy, provide better service, are happier, and are much less likely to leave what they perceive to be a great working situation.

    What's not to like about that?

    Nah, it would never work here.

    Have a great week!


    Three lessons from getting caught offline unexpectedly

    Everyone runs into this at one point or another - a sudden, unexpected, and uncertain as to the duration period where you are knocked offline, out of contact, and unable to do just about any real work. It happened to me this week, and I have to admit I was not really unprepared as to how to make the best (or at least not have it be the worst), of a tough situation.

    These days, even a short stint of being out of contact can quickly escalate into a pretty dire set of circumstances - incoming messages pile up at an alarming rate, people are not sure why you are not getting back to them, (since you didn't know you needed to alert them), and certain folks begin to resort to alternate/additional means of contacting you when Option 'A' fails. To the person who followed up their email to me with a call, text, LinkedIn message, Twitter DM, AND Facebook message - this one is directed at you.

    So what did I learn from the aftermath of being offline and off-guard for a few days that might help me be better able to handle such a situation should it occur again in the future? I can think of three big and simple things, plus one request for a tool that if it existed, would have helped me out immensely.

    1. Making sure I had the actual phone numbers programmed into my phone of the most important 5 people that I am currently worknig with on various projects.  When you rely on email for about 95% of your work communication, and you are forced into a situation where you only have access to a phone, (and no charger), have extremely limited windows of time where you can work,  then trying to get much of anything done in email only for an extended period is just about impossible. Sometimes you have to just connect via phone to get anything done, and not having all of the numbers I needed at hand was a huge barrier to getting anything done.

    2. Figuring out how to set up an 'Out of the Office' auto-responder when having access only to the email apps on my phone. Like I mentioned, I was caught off guard to being out of touch and I didn't know how long I would be essentially out of reach. From the apps I use on my phone for my various email accounts, I was unable, (given my limited time and attention), to set up the classic 'Out of the Office' auto-responders that while not perfect, at least would have given people trying to get in touch with me a general sense of what to do or expect. I need to figure out how to make that work.

    3. Setting up 'smarter' email filtering. In the few moments I had to take a look at my email, I was simply overwhelmed with the volume of 'non-essential' messages I had to sift through in order to find the ones that did, truly matter. I have to take some time, find some add-on tools if needed, and set up a smarter system for tagging and filtering incoming messages to keep the Inbox clean of non-important items and more easily surface what is actually important. When you are working only with a phone, in very short time intervals, you need to only see what is needed.

    So those are the three things I need to do to be ready to handle this situation the next time it comes up. But there is one thing I don't know how to do at all, because I don't think it exists, and that is how to set up the equivalent of the email 'Out of the Office' auto-responder on all of the other ways that people try and connect these days. Like I mentioned, when some emails were going unresponded to, I started getting LinkedIn messages, Twitter mentions, and texts, and there is not any way that I know of to have one, universal, 'Out of the office' that would cover all of these methods and platforms. Which is why, I continue to contend, they are mostly terrible for business communication. So please, someone build a tool (and it has to be an App), that can make the 'Out of the Office' universal across other apps and platforms besides email.

    Ok, that is it. Now back to trying to catch up!


    The obligatory Amazon take

    By now you have read (or at least heard about), the New York Times' blistering takedown of life working at Amazon, your favorite online shopping destination for just about anything you'll ever need, (and lots and lots of things you don't). If you are interested in work, workplaces, culture, and performance, the piece is definitely worth a long read, and it just might make you pause for a moment before you order your next shipment of stuff from the giant retail machine.

    Most interestingly, the Times' piece largely focuses on working culture for Amazon's white collar or professional workers, and not on the many, many thousands of Amazon employees and contractors that toil away in their massive distribution centers, often in extremely harsh conditions. Most Amazon customers already know how tough the warehouse workers have it at Amazon, and judging by Amazon's continued revenue growth, we have shown that we really don't care about people in the warehouses all that much. We just want our stuff faster.

    The responses to the Times piece have more or less fallen into two camps - one; Amazon is a horrible, terrible, dystopian place and shame on them for not (for some inexplicable reason), treating their white collar professional staff 'better' than their front-line warehouse staff; or two, creating a high-performing organization demands focus, dedication, long hours, and most importantly, no tolerance (for long anyway), for average performance. No exceptions. And as the Times reports this lack of tolerance for anything less than high performance and an almost singular dedication to the Amazon cause can look really cold, ugly, messy, and heartless.  

    So where does the 'truth' lie in all of this? Kind of hard to say unless you have direct experience working at Amazon. Chairman and Founder Jeff Bezos issued a kind of non-denial denial of the Times piece. Something along the lines of 'This is not the Amazon I know. This can't really be true or no one would want to work here.' That sort of thing. Note he didn't really say 'This is NOT true, just that it probably can't be true.'

    And ultimately, like in most other complex situations the real truth is somewhat blurry, inconsistent, and as always very, very subject to interpretation and bias. What do I think? Well since it is my blog I get to share.

    I think that any organization that, at least for a time, was willing to subject any of its workforce to the kind of brutal conditions like at the 115 degree Pennsylvania warehouse where workers had to be carried off by paramedics, has pretty much determined that performance, or rather the ability and willingness to sacrifice in order to achieve high performance, is what matters most. 

    Amazon is/has been willing to push warehouse workers to the point of heat exhaustion and collapse, why should we be surprised (and angered), that it is willing to push its professional staff into 80-hour weeks, emails and texts at all hours of the night, and has, if the Times piece is true, to have persistently pushed employees to think of their work first, last, and at every time in between?

    I think, more or less, this 'outrage' against Amazon is at least a little misplaced. Most of us, by virtue of how we spend our money, (and let's not even talk about under what conditions our iPhones are assembled), don't really care how badly most companies treat their workers. 

    We only start to care when these workers begin to, uncomfortably, look a little too much like us, and do the same kinds of jobs that we do.