Archive for Business

The Evolution of the Worker – #EWS2014

I’m a sponsored blog partner with Spherion and participating in the release of findings from this year’s Emerging Workforce Study.  All opinions are mine.

Since 1997 Spherion has released it’s Emerging Workforce Study and the findings, as always, provide a snapshot of trends in the workforce; the 2014 study is scheduled to be released in early April.    Over the years Spherion has surveyed nearly 200,000 workers and the results highlighting trends, issues and strategies can provide a framework for HR and organizational leaders to identify what’s of critical importance in their specific organization today.  As this infographic shows, the needs and expectations of workers has changed over time. When we look at trends such as the rise of the “free agent,” the impact of social technologies and the priorities that candidates/employees place on work-life integration we see how all of these have implications for HR professionals, recruiters and organizational leaders.

The Evolution of the Worker 11.22.13 FINAL


Data, such as that released in this year’s study, can provide us with insight on workforce trends and viewpoints which may not yet have manifested themselves in our particular organization but will, never fear, be showing up very soon.

Spherion’s Emerging Workforce Study has been tracking employees’ attitudes about their jobs or careers and there is some interesting data in the soon to be released 2104 study including:

▪   46% of survey respondents agree that the recession has made them more interested in pursuing a work arrangement outside of traditional full-time employment and 62% have believe they can make a stable income by means other than a traditional work structure within a company

▪   86% of workers rate work/life balance as their most important career priority

▪   Culture drives retention. One of the top reasons employees cite for staying at a job is because of the culture and work environment.

See what happened there?  According to the study, employees know what will make them stay with an organization: culture, work/life integration, work relationships, and career development/mentoring opportunities among other things. And, as we see, if these things are not in place employees are more confident with heading out on their own and being a “free agent.”

Interestingly enough, according to study results, only 30% of employers cited turnover (and retention) as a top HR concern.  I find this fascinating because I can barely turn around at an HR Conference without my peers lamenting their inability to attract and retain key talent.  Are HR practitioners and leaders making assumptions about what’s important to their employees rather than actually asking them and this, in turn, is what is leading to disengagement and outward migration? Or, to take a dark and twisted view of it, do some organizations continue to view workers as disposable?  Do some live by the motto “Retention doesn’t matter; we’ll just open up a requisition and hire someone else?”

I sure hope not.

The reality is that how we work, and what’s important to us, has changed dramatically and continues to evolve at lightning pace. Bottom line: if we are to get a handle on the workplace of the future it helps to pay attention to survey data such as this today.

I encourage you to watch for the release of the full findings in April. For updated information, you can follow Spherion on Twitter. Join them on Facebook or follow the hashtag #EWS2014.



Spherion partnered with bloggers such as me for their Emerging Workforce Study program. As part of this program, I received compensation for my time. They did not tell me what to purchase or what to say about any idea mentioned in these posts. Spherion believes that consumers and bloggers are free to form their own opinions and share them in their own words. Spherion’s policies align with WOMMA Ethics Code, FTC guidelines and social media engagement recommendations.

How to Lose an Employee in 3 Easy Steps

Steps2One of the key indicators we often review both in the overall labor market and within our organization is employee tenure and retention.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median employee tenure was 4.6 years in 2012 which has trended up since 2000 when it was 3.5 years.  The BLS points out that one of the factors in this is the overall aging of the workforce; over half of workers age 55 to 64 and those age 65 and over had 10 years or more of tenure in 2012, compared with less than 1 in 10 workers age 25 to 34.” 

 A few other interesting items from the report:

  • Mothers with young children have lower tenure than those with older children
  • Employee tenure varies by race and ethnicity; a higher proportion of white workers had at least 10 years of tenure with current employer than did Black, Asian and Hispanic workers
  • Workers with more education (age 25 and older) have higher tenure than those with less education

Now that doesn’t all sound so bad, does it?

Yet…other reports point out that as the job market has picked up, workers are abandoning the concept of extending their tenure with a job and moving at somewhat alarming rates; for employers at least.  This report that PayScale released last year showed that among Fortune 500 companies, the median tenure rate appeared to vary considerably from the data reported by the BLS; Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, with highest turnover rate, had a median employee tenure of 9 months and less than 10 companies on the list had a median tenure of 10 years or more.

Apples and oranges to some degree; the data collection methods were quite different.

But…there’s no denying that we like to gather these data points when we work in HR or run a business.  We invest a lot of time and money into hiring members for the team and find it quite disconcerting when they make an exit before we’ve even had the opportunity to derive much value from their employment.

People leave jobs and organizations for a variety of reasons. While I disagree with PayScale’s classification of tenure as an indicator of ‘loyalty” there are elements inherent in the concept that lead to employee’s seeking opportunities elsewhere.  And in many of these cases the ‘losing of an employee” is often because the employer/manager/organization screwed up by:

  • Disregarding an obvious style mismatch.   Call it fit.  Call it motivation.  Call it personality.  Whatever the moniker, hiring managers know it when they are interviewing correctly; a candidate’s work style, demeanor or motivational factors are not in sync with the job or organization yet the hiring manager proceeds with extending the offer.  A good pedigree on paper or a recommendation/referral from a respected peer does not mean that the candidate in question is the wisest hire and the mismatch may be so great that the employee’s tenure will be short-lived.
  • Hovering and micromanaging.  Management styles vary as do employee styles but, by and large, a highly skilled employee expects to be hired for her abilities and knowledge and allowed to do her job.  Hire the best and get out of the way, right?  Yet some managers still attempt to command and control which messages to an employee that she is a mere peon who is not trusted to do her job.  And she will leave.
  • Refusing to provide career development opportunities.  Providing growth opportunities for employees is of benefit to both the organization and the individual employee; it allows for optimization of performance and prepares the employee to take on broader responsibilities.  And, naturally, highly skilled and talented employees expect to be able to continue their professional development.  Denying employees the opportunity to join professional organizations, learn new skills or gain continuing education credits (to name just a few) often leads to an employee leaving Organization A for Organization B where learning and development is not only supported but expected.

I think we can all agree there are more than 3 steps.  Have you trod on any others? 

Warning: Don’t take that HR job!

bar codeI just finished reading an interview in Fortune magazine with Mary Barra, GM’s CEO who is, of course, the first woman to run a global automaker.

Upon her recent appointment we all found out that during her career path at GM (only place she’s ever worked) she spent some time in Human Resources.  Bells rang out across HR land and the crowds rejoiced.

You can read the entire article here, but I wanted to share a few interesting excerpts from this Q&A interview that specifically address her time in HR.


Mary, as head of HR, you reduced rules and policies. As head of global product development, you reduced executive layers and production platforms. As CEO, what do you plan to reduce?

There’s an opportunity to continually reduce complexity. I want to really empower the teams to be innovative. We have great innovation in pockets – the Volt being one example. But I want to make sure that we’re being innovative across the board. My definition of “innovative” is providing value to the customer.

Have you had a turning point in your career?

When I was asked to lead human resources as the company was coming out of the bankruptcy, we were going to work to change the view of the company both inside and outside. Prior to that, my whole career had been primarily in operations and engineering. I learned a lot in that role. I was involved with the senior staff on a lot of strategic issues, and I think that enabled me to transition into global product development.

Did anyone warn you against taking the HR job because it’s the stereotypical female job that a lot of women are advised not to take if they want to get to the top?

Absolutely. I had people from within and outside the company saying, “Hmm.” But when I looked at it, I said, “Hey, there’s a real opportunity here to make sure we start with the right plan in place to really engage our workforce.” So I was committed. Human Resources deserves a lot of respect.

You had no HR background before becoming chief of HR. You had no specific product oversight before heading product development. How do you get up to speed quickly?

I go in, ask a lot of questions, demonstrate the desire to learn, and really understand the key areas of the business. Then I think of it like an onion. You learn the first layer, and then you peel back and you peel back. And over not that long a period of time, you can have a very good grasp of the organization. The other advice I give is: Have the right team. If you need to make changes, make those changes.


Interesting things for me:

  • I like (a lot!) that while CHRO she focused on reducing complexity and eliminating rules and policies that were, no doubt, redundant and unnecessary
  • She considered her role leading the human resources function as a turning point in her career
  • People both inside GM and outside GM warned her against taking the CHRO job

But perhaps more interesting than Mary Barra’s answers/insight was the characterization of HR by reporter Patricia Sellers as “…the stereotypical female job that a lot of women are advised not to take if they want to get to the top.”

It’s highly likely that a lot of Fortune’s readers share this sentiment; I imagine the reporter was phrasing the question as her audience would.  What was affirming however is Mary Barra’s answer – read it again:

“… when I looked at it {HR}, I said, “Hey, there’s a real opportunity here to make sure we start with the right plan in place to really engage our workforce.” So I was committed. Human Resources deserves a lot of respect.

Talk about re-branding the profession and instilling pride in everyone who works in HR.  I sure wish SHRM could still get her in as a keynote speaker at the 2014 Annual Conference in Orlando. That could be some tasty HR kool-aid.




Run, Score and Win: Collaboration in the Workplace

Jean-De-Villiers-scores-a-try-against-Wallabies1There’s a concept of organizational ecology put forth by Franklin Becker and Fritz Steele back in 1995 (Workplace by Design) in which they discussed two different approaches that organizations may take as they work to create synergy and encourage interaction: the “relay race” model vs. the “rugby” model.

Relay Race: Traditional and Sequential

If you imagine a team working on a project the group that employs the relay race model operates by having each function complete its work and then pass it on to the next function.  As an illustration a team may be chartered and roles assigned but the process lumbers along as, for example, marketing conducts research, sends the results to the product design group, which then, only when finished, passes the results along to the engineering group which, when done, passes the information back to marketing. And on and on and on.

Rugby: Speed and Flexibility

In the rugby model however all players take the field at the same time and for the duration of the game.  There is constant interaction as the team moves toward its goal and, as is the case in a rugby match, different players take the lead or employ a stronger approach at various stages throughout the game.  The difference from the relay race approach is striking; in the rugby model the entire team is in the game for the whole time.  All players participate in decisions and understand the status of the match at all times. Constant communication is crucial and not in a “let’s plan an update meeting” type of way but rather in a manner that is ongoing, spontaneous and ever evolving as the dynamics of play change.

The application of rugby to business and HR is one I’ve discussed before; there are components of the game and skill sets needed by the players that have interesting parallels to the workplace.  Skilled rugby players must be constantly aware of shifting conditions; they must have the ability to recognize, interpret and respond to the game all while anticipating the moves that will come further on in the match. Sounds like what we expect from our employees and leaders.

That’s but one of the many reasons I find the rugby vs. relay race approach to collaboration and collocation so fascinating. With the complexity of today’s business environment we recognize that we need to regularly assess, and possibly re-align, how we collaborate within our organizations.  Our “teams” today are often cross functional and made up of highly specialized knowledge workers and experts as well as being diverse and geographically dispersed.  Many organizations are well on their way to optimizing the productivity of such teams whether through the use of technology or understanding the importance of providing opportunities for socialization and connection to enhance cohesion and results.

But there are also departmental or functional teams, sometimes in one geographical location, that need to accomplish goals or innovate effectively through collaboration.  When we dive down into a human resources department, as an example, there are advantages to be found if they adopt the rugby model.  I’ve certainly seen HR Departments running a relay race rather than playing rugby even while working on a shared and critical initiative: Employee Relations conducts research, passes on the results to the Recruiting Group which then adds some components and passes on the information to the Training & Development function which then loops back with Employee Relations to provide more information. And on and on and on.

As Becker & Steele explained, the goal is ʺto bring all the players in the process together as a team at the projectʹs inception.ʺ

I, for one, think there’s a better chance of victory in our organizations when we take that approach.

Or at least we can score a try.


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