7 Steps to Running Better Meetings

A recent Accountemps survey revealed that office workers spend 21 percent of their time in meetings and feel that 25 percent of it is wasted. Read this blog post for seven steps to running better meetings.


We love to hate meetings. We groan about how annoying they are. We crack jokes about how much time gets wasted, about bureaucracy run amok.

But it’s not really a laughing matter.

Poorly run meetings can sap the lifeblood out of an organization. Not only are they mentally draining, but they can leave staff disengaged and demoralized, experts say.

On average, office workers spend 21 percent of their time in meetings and feel 25 percent of it is wasted, according to the results of a recent survey of 1,000 employees by Accountemps. One of the top complaints was that meetings are called to relay information that could have been communicated via e-mail.

Managers are also dissatisfied. In a Harvard Business School study last year, researchers found that 71 percent of the 182 senior managers interviewed said meetings were unproductive and inefficient, and 65 percent said meetings kept them from completing their work.

Fortunately, leaders can help improve how meetings are run. Indeed, their behavior is critical to achieving better results and a more positive outlook and engagement from employees, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies. In an earlier University of North Carolina study, researchers found a link between how workers feel about the effectiveness of meetings and their job satisfaction.

Other studies have found that dysfunctional communication in team meetings can have a negative impact on team productivity and the organization’s success.

What happens in these gatherings is a reflection of the workplace culture, experts say.

“It gets down to identity and performance,” says J. Elise Keith, co-founder of Lucid Meetings in Portland, Ore., and author of Where the Action Is (Second Rise, 2018). “The way in which an organization runs its meetings determines how it views itself.”

“Bad meetings are almost always a symptom of deeper issues,” Keith notes in her book.

Unfortunately, many business leaders don’t receive adequate training on how to manage or facilitate meetings, she says. “I believe that a lot of leaders have bought into the idea that poor meetings are inevitable.”

Here are 7 steps to making the time employees spend together more meaningful:

1. Prepare. Are you clear on the meeting’s purpose? What is your desired outcome? How will you achieve that?

More prep time is typically devoted to senior-level meetings compared to those held for individuals in lower-level positions, says Paul Axtell, a corporate trainer and author of Meetings Matter (Jackson Creek, 2015). He says that executive get-togethers are more effective “because people take them seriously.”

2. Limit the number of participants. The most productive meetings have fewer than eight participants, Axtell says. A larger group will leave some disengaged or resentful that their time is being wasted.

3. Send an agenda and background material in advance. If you want a thoughtful discussion, give your team members time to think about the problem or proposal that the meeting will focus on, he says.

4. Start and end on time. Don’t punish people for being punctual by waiting on late stragglers to get started. At the same time, it’s best not to jump right to the heart of the discussion in the first few minutes, Keith says. Provide a soft transition that will help those coming from other meetings to refocus.

5. Make sure all attendees can participate. One common complaint about meetings is that a few people tend to dominate the conversation. Call on other individuals to share what they think, Axtell says. Who is most likely to hold a different view? Who will be most affected by the outcome? Who has institutional knowledge that might be useful? Think about who to draw out on specific topics as you prepare. You’ll collect more ideas and leave participants with a more positive experience.

To feel good about work, people need to feel included and valued. “That means you have a voice and are allowed to express your opinions,” Axtell says.

Because you’re a leader, your views already hold more weight. If you share them too early, you may discourage others from presenting alternate perspectives. Focus on listening, and stay out of the discussion as long as you can, he says. You might learn something.

Avoid PowerPoint slides or other technology if it’s not required for an agenda item. They tend to shut down dialogue, Axtell says.

A surefire way for leaders to alienate participants is to use up most of the meeting time presenting a proposal and leave only a few minutes for questions and comments, Keith says. When people do speak up, thank them for their contributions. And use their ideas, she says.

6. Keep a written record. Posting the meeting agenda and taking notes that everyone can access will help keep participants on track. Unfortunately, many organizations fail to do so, Keith says. The written record ensures that faulty memories or differing interpretations don’t lead people down the wrong path. Are the notes detailed enough to allow you to tackle the action items days later? Are the deadlines reasonable? Be realistic. It doesn’t help the team to accept a giant list of action items that it likely can’t complete, she says.

7. Follow up. What percentage of the action items get completed by the deadlines? If you don’t achieve 85 percent, participants’ sense of effectiveness breaks down and they may disengage, Axtell says. Most groups complete just 50 percent to 60 percent.

“Whether you pay attention to them or not, meetings are in fact where your teams and your people are learning how they should behave and what they should be doing,” Keith says. “So identify the specific types of meetings your organization needs to run. Find great examples of how to run those meetings. You shouldn’t have to invent it. And set up a system that people can use successfully to become the organization that you want to become.”

SOURCE: Meinert, D. (30 October 2018). "7 Steps to Running Better Meetings" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/1118/pages/7-steps-to-running-better-meetings.aspx/


Interact Sensitively with Employees Addicted to Opioids

Opioid addiction is running rampant across the U.S. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 8-12 percent of patients prescribed opioids develop an opioid use disorder. Read this blog post to learn more.


Employees who abuse opioids often are given a second chance by their employers. But well-meaning employers could wind up being sued for discriminating against those workers in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if they don't handle the situation very carefully.

Opioid addiction has been rampant in the U.S. for some time. More than three out of five drug overdose deaths last year involved an opioid, and overdoses rose 70 percent in the 12 months ending September 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So what can HR professionals do about it? If a worker admits to the problem, the path is fairly clear. But if the employer merely suspects that an employee is addicted to prescription pain relievers but has no real proof, the employee should be treated like any other employee who is having attendance or performance issues, said Kathryn Russo, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Melville, N.Y.

An employer should never accuse someone of having an addiction, because if the employer is wrong, the accusation could lead to an ADA claim, Russo cautioned. Although current drug use isn't considered an ADA disability, a history of drug addiction is. Moreover, someone using prescription drugs might have an underlying condition covered by the ADA.

Statistics on opioid use

If an employee admits to opioid abuse, or the problem is discovered through drug testing, the employer should discuss it with the employee to determine if he or she needs a reasonable accommodation, such as leave to obtain treatment, Russo said. The illegal use of drugs need not be tolerated at work, she added.

Reasonably accommodate the employee so long as there's no direct threat to the health and safety of himself or herself, or others, recommended Nancy Delogu, an attorney with Littler in Washington, D.C.

Drug Testing

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has opined that employers may ask about an employee's use of prescribed medicine or conduct a drug test to determine such use only if the employer has reasonable suspicion that its use will interfere with the employee's ability to perform the job's essential functions or will pose a direct threat.

Many employers are expanding their drug-testing panels to include semisynthetic opioids such as hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone and oxymorphone, in addition to traditional opioids such as heroin, codeine and morphine, Russo said. This is lawful in most states as long as the employer does not take adverse employment actions when drugs are used legally, she noted, which is why an employer should use a medical review officer in the drug-testing process. If the medical review officer concludes that the positive test result is the result of lawful drug use, the result is reported to the employer as negative.

Sometimes an employer will say it has reasonable suspicion that the employee came to work impaired by drug use and is considering a mandatory drug test. At that point, some employees will say the drug test would be positive and the test consequently is not necessary.

Discussions with Employees

If there are performance problems and the employee has admitted to opioid addiction, some employers tell employees that they can remain employed so long as they go through inpatient treatment. Delogu discourages that approach. Employers aren't workers' doctors, so they shouldn't be deciding whether someone needs a treatment program, she explained.

But if someone voluntarily seeks to enter an addiction-recovery program, that person may have legal protections under state law, said Wendy Lane, an attorney with Greenberg Glusker in Los Angeles. For example, California has a law requiring employers with 25 or more employees to reasonably accommodate alcohol and drug rehabilitation.

Delogu recommended that employers that believe there is a problem with substance abuse ask if the addicted employee needs assistance from the employee assistance program.

An employer can require that an employee who has violated a policy be evaluated by a substance abuse professional and complete treatment prescribed for them, without dictating what that treatment will be, she said. The employer may choose to forgo disciplinary action if an employee agrees to these terms and signs an agreement to this effect. The employer then would not have to be informed about the person's decided course of treatment, whether inpatient, outpatient or no treatment at all, she said. The employee typically will be subjected to follow-up drug testing to make sure he or she hasn't resumed the use of illegal drugs.

Many employers are willing to give employees with performance problems resulting from opioid addiction a second chance, she noted.

SOURCE: Smith, A. (1 November 2018) "Interact Sensitively with Employees Addicted to Opioids" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/employees-addicted-to-opioids.aspx


HR’s recurring headache: Convincing employees to get a flu shot

According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the flu cost U.S. companies billions of dollars in medical fees and lost earnings. Read this blog post to learn how HR departments are convincing their employees to get a flu shot.


Elizabeth Frenzel and her team are the Ford assembly line of flu shots: They can administer about 1,800 flu shots in four hours.

Frenzel is the director of employee health and wellbeing at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and with 20,000 employees, she is no stranger to spearheading large flu shot programs. The center where Frenzel administers flu shots has roughly a 96% employee vaccination rate. Back in 2006, only about 56% of employees got their shots.

“When you run these large clinics, safety is critically important,” she says.

Problems like Frenzel’s are not unique. Every fall, HR departments send mass emails encouraging employees to get vaccinated. The flu affects workforces across the country, costing U.S. companies billions of dollars in medical fees and lost earnings, according toThe National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It is not only a cause of absenteeism but a sick employee can put their coworkers at risk. Last year the flu killed roughly 80,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Even if an employer offers a flu shot benefit, the push to get employees to sign up for the vaccine can be a two-month slough, with reminder emails going unanswered. Moreover, companies often contend with misconceptions about the shot, such as the popular fallacy that shots will make you sick, running out of the vaccine, and sometimes just plain employee laziness.

In Frenzel’s case, increasing the number of employees who got flu shots weren’t just a good idea, but it was needed to protect the lives of the cancer patients they interact with every day. The most startling fact, she says, was that healthcare workers who interact with patients daily were less likely to get vaccinated.

“So that’s how we started down the path,” she says. “Really targeting these people who had the closest patient contact.”

Frenzel credits the significant increase in employee participation in the flu shot program to several factors. They made the program mandatory — a common move in the healthcare industry — but Frenzel says their improvement also was related to flu shot education. The center made it a priority to explain to staff members exactly why they should get vaccinated. Frenzel made it more convenient, offering the vaccine at different hours of the day, so all employees could fit it into their schedule. They also made it fun, offering stickers for employees to put on their badge once they got a shot. Every year, she says, they pick a new color.

Employers outside of the medical industry are focused on improving their flu shot programs, including Edward Yost, manager of employee relations and development at the Society for Human Resource Management, who helped organize a health fair and flu shot program for 380 employees.

Yost says onsite flu shot programs are more effective than vouchers that allow employees to get vaccinated at a primary care doctor or pharmacy. The more convenient you make the program, he says, the more likely employees will use it.

“There’s no guarantee that those vouchers are going to be used,” he says. “Most people aren’t running out to a Walgreens or a CVS saying, please stab me in the arm.”

Besides the convenience, employees are more likely to sign up for a shot when they see co-workers getting vaccinated, Yost says. If a company decides to offer an onsite program, planning ahead is key. Sometimes employees will not sign up in advance for the vaccine but then decide they want to get one once the vendor arrives onsite. Yost recommends companies order extra vaccines.

“Make sure that you’re building in the expectation that there's going to be at least a handful of folks who are more or less what you call walk-ins in that circumstance,” he says.

Incentivizing employees to get the flu shot is also important, Yost says. Some firms will offer a gym membership or discounted medical premiums if they attend regular checkups and get a biometric screening in addition to a flu shot. He recommends explaining to employees how a vaccine can help reduce the number of sick days they may use.

“Employees need to see that there’s something in it for them,” Yost says. “And quite honestly, being sick is a miserable thing to experience.”

Affiliated Physicians is one of the vendors that can come in and administer flu shots in the office. The company has provided various employers with vaccines for more than 30 years, including SourceMedia, the parent company of Employee Benefit News andEmployee Benefit Adviser. In the past 15 years, Ari Cukier, chief operating officer of the company, says there’s been an increase in the amount of smaller companies signing up for onsite vaccines. HR executives should be aware of the number of employees signing up for vaccinations when scheduling an onsite visit.

“We can’t go onsite for five shots, but 20-25 shots and up, we’ll go,” Cukier says.

Cukier agrees communication between human resources departments and employees is crucial in getting people to sign up for shots. Over the years, he’s noticed that more people tend to sign up for shots based on the severity of the previous flu season.

“Last year, as bad as it was, we have seen a higher participation this year,” he says.

Brett Perkisonassistant professor of occupational medicine at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, says providing a good flu shot program starts from the top down. The company executives, including the CEO and HR executives, should set an example by getting and promoting the shots themselves, he says.

It’s also important to listen to employee concerns. Before implementing a program, if workers are taking issue with the shot, it’s best to hold focus groups to alleviate any worries before the shots are even being administered, he says.

Some employees may even believe misconceptions like the flu shot will make one sick or lead to long-term illnesses, he says. Others may question the effectiveness of the shot. Having open lines of communication with employees to address these concerns will ensure that more will sign up, Perkison says.

Regardless of the type of flu shot program, the most important part is preventing illness, SHRM’s Yost says. While missing work and losing money are important consequences of a flu outbreak, having long-term health issues is even more serious, he says. Plus, no one likes being sick.

“Who’s going to argue about that?” he says.

This article originally appeared in Employee Benefit News.

SOURCE: Hroncich, C (24 October 2018) "HR’s recurring headache: Convincing employees to get a flu shot" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/hrs-recurring-headache-convincing-employees-to-get-a-flu-shot


Why employee performance management needs an HR tech overhaul

Are annual performance reviews necessary? A recent survey by Adobe reveals that 58 percent of people feel that performance reviews are not necessary. Continue reading to learn more.


According to a recent survey conducted by Adobe, 58% of people feel that performance reviews “are a needless HR requirement.” Adobe, in fact, no longer has an annual performance review process and instead has adopted an approach involving ongoing discussions between managers and employees that emphasize talent development and future productivity instead of formal ratings and rankings based on past performance.

Still, the vast majority of companies continue to persist with a backward-looking evaluation process that is time-consuming for managers, demotivating for employees and of negligible benefit to the business as a whole. They do this because, as Adobe’s survey respondents suspected, performance reviews are more about “compliance than customer service.”

Focusing on past performance is an industrial-era hangover from when employees were mainly required to hit targets in easily measurable, repetitive tasks. Although most people’s jobs have evolved to be more complex and creative since then, the process and the tools used to manage their efficacy and performance in those roles have not.

In many respects, HR is still a defensive function whose role is to protect the business from its own employees. This is reflected by HR technology that is built for compliance, rather than helping managers and employees become more productive.

HR’s on-premise or enterprise resource planning systems can track performance reviews to prove a dismissal was not unfair, rank employees to justify compensation distribution and demonstrate effective people management to the board or shareholders. What they can’t do is react positively to the ever-changing demands of the modern business world and help employees and managers meaningfully improve their skills to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Performance management is changing — but HR tech is not

These days, a company’s and individual employee’s goals can change dramatically in the time between end-of-year reviews. Individual roles are more specialized and require frequent skill updates, while cross-functional teams have long since replaced the siloed departments that were standard just 10 years ago. In this environment, HR’s focus on past compliance is detrimental to future development.

Forward-thinking companies are changing the performance process to focus on development and continuous feedback that makes managers and employees more productive and engaged. The success of these trailblazers will encourage other businesses from a wide range of industries to follow suit.

This new model of performance management needs help from technology, but existing HR tech vendors are not keeping up. Their services are so embedded in the world of compliance, they cannot change to support the development needs of managers and employees. Fortunately, the solution already exists.

Creating a connected system of productivity

One of the key issues with performance reviews is that so much of the process involves looking back to gather the data. For managers, it is a huge time investment. For employees, end-of-year feedback about an issue that occurred months beforehand is too late to be useful.

The process seems doubly inefficient when you realize that real-time, instantly-actionable performance data is already available in productivity systems like JIRA and Salesforce that are used by different teams. The problem is HR’s defensive mindset has made it difficult to integrate existing internal or ERP systems with these tools.

For many employees, benefits enrollment can be tedious—sometimes even scary. They don’t want to make a mistake—and who can blame them?

Dedicated performance management services that connect to both HR systems and the departmental productivity tools can take HR technology out of its silo. This will create a connected system of productivity that uses real-time data alongside transparent and flexible goal-tracking to drive ongoing development conversations between managers and employees.

It’s time for HR to evolve from a defensive function to make a positive contribution to key business goals and become what HR analyst Josh Bersin calls the “chief of productivity.” This demands a shift from a performance review process based on compliance to a human-centered, development-focused experience.

Adopting new performance technology that integrates with widely-used productivity tools is a key step to ensuring everyone from employees to managers to HR can work on what matters most in order to meet today’s goals and tomorrow’s challenges.

SOURCE: Dennerline, D. (15 October 2018) "Why employee performance management needs an HR tech overhaul" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/why-employee-performance-management-needs-an-hr-tech-overhaul?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


What employers can do to combat risks of workplace opioid abuse

How can employers combat the risks associated with workplace opioid abuse? With an increase in opioid use, employers are now tasked with the challenge of addressing opioid misuse in the workplace. Continue reading to learn more.


The opioid epidemic presents a unique challenge for employers. While opioids can be beneficial for employees suffering from pain, they also pose grave risks and dangers for companies as even appropriate use of the drugs can cause impairment and lead to accidents.

For example, if an employee had an accident and suffers an injury, you may see the physical signs of the injury. However, it’s not as obvious if the employee was prescribed opioids for the pain associated with that injury. If the employee doesn’t disclose the prescription, they could resume their everyday duties, like operating machinery, when they should be restricted while using the drug.

Due to the increasing prevalence of opioid use, employers are likely now challenged with addressing misuse in the workplace. Often, companies may not know the best approach to supporting employees dealing with an opioid addiction. When speaking with employers, it’s important to stress the need for organizations to be well-versed in opioid misuse and ways to proactively identify and address it.

Employers can work to combat opioid use in their organization by providing accommodations and updating their policies, procedures and employee communications. Here are a few ways they can get started.

Short-term accommodations

If an employee is taking prescribed opioids for an injury and has specific limitations or restrictions, an employer can work with a disability carrier to determine potential short-term accommodations that can be made to meet the employee’s needs. Short-term accommodations can help keep an employee comfortable and productive at work during his or her recovery.

Policies and procedures

If an employer hasn’t done so already, it should consider putting a comprehensive drug policy in place to help it address issues that may arise if an employee misuses prescription drugs. The policy should include a description of available assistance options for employees who are struggling with substance abuse and clearly state consequences for employees who violate the policy, empowering supervisors to take appropriate action in response to employee issues.

Destigmatizing use

It’s easier to help someone if they come forward, but right now, stigma surrounding opioids can cause employees to keep their prescription use to themselves. Encouraging open lines of communication can help companies destigmatize prescription drug use so their employees feel comfortable disclosing the medications they’re taking that could limit them at work.

Fostering transparency, combined with short-term accommodations and clear policies, can help employees feel more comfortable coming forward with their condition. Remind employers that their disability carrier can be a great resource to help with education, recommend proactive ways to address misuse at their organization and create accommodation plans for employees in need. With these steps, employers can help support their employees and, ultimately, make the workplace a safer place for all.

SOURCE: Jolivet, D (16 October 2018) "What employers can do to combat risks of workplace opioid abuse" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-employers-can-do-to-combat-workplace-opioid-abuse-risk


Ready for the sounds of office sniffles?

A recent study by law firm, Farah and Farah, states that one in four full-time workers receive between 1 and 5 sick days. Continue reading to learn more.


It’s not just a matter of whether they feel well enough to work, or whether they have sick days. The boss’s attitude about whether workers should take sick days or not can determine whether they actually do stay home when they’re sick, or instead come to work to spread their germs to all and sundry.

A new study from law firm Farah & Farah finds that even though it can take a person some 10 days to fully recover from a cold, approximately 10 percent of full-time workers in the U.S. get no sick days at all (part-timers don’t usually get them either), while more than 1 in 4 have to make do with between 1 and 5 sick days. Just 18 percent get enough sick time to actually recover from that cold—between 11 and 15 days.

The amount (or presence) of sick time varies from industry to industry, with government and public administration providing the most (an average of 12.1) and both hotel, food services and hospitality and manufacturing providing the least (an average of 5.4 for the hospitality industry and 5.1 for manufacturing). Some lucky souls actually get unlimited sick days, although even then they don’t always use them.

Regardless of industry, or quantity, just because workers get sick days it doesn’t mean they use them. Workers often worry that they’ll be discouraged from using them, with employers who may provide them but not encourage employees to stay home when ill. In fact, 38 percent of workers show up to work whether they’re contagious or not. Sadly for the people they encounter at work, the most likely to do so are in hospitality, medical and healthcare and transportation. Plenty of germ-spreading to be done in those professions!

 

And their employers’ attitudes play a role in how satisfied they are with their jobs. Among those who work for the 34 percent of bosses who encourage sick employees to stay home, 43 percent said they’re satisfied with their jobs in general. Among those who work for the 47 percent of bosses who are neutral about the use of sick days, that drops to 21 percent—and among the unfortunate workers who work for the 19 percent of bosses who actually discourage workers from staying home while ill, just 12 percent were satisfied with their jobs.

When it comes to mental health days (no, not that kind; the ones people really need to deal with diagnosed mental health conditions), fewer than 1 in 10 men and women were willing to call in sick. Taking “mental health days” when physically healthy, however, either to play hooky or simply have a vacation from the office, is something that 15 percent of respondents admitted to.

SOURCE: Satter, M (5 October 2018) "Ready for the sounds of office sniffles?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/10/05/ready-for-the-sounds-of-office-sniffles/

Original report retrieved from https://farahandfarah.com/studies/sick-days-in-america


U.S. Unemployment Drops to Lowest Rate in 50 Years

Last month the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent, the lowest it’s been in 50 years. Continue reading to learn how the low jobless rate is affecting the U.S. labor market.


Unemployment in the U.S. fell to 3.7 percent in September—the lowest since 1969, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The low jobless rate, down from 3.9 percent in August, is further evidence of a strong economy—employers added 134,000 new jobs in September, extending the longest continuous jobs expansion on record at 96 months. The continued gains run counter to economists' expectations for a significant slowdown in hiring as the labor market tightens. Through the first nine months of the year, employers added an average of 211,000 workers to payrolls each month, well outpacing 2017's average monthly growth of 182,000.

"This morning's jobs report marked a new milestone for the U.S. economy," said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor. "With good news in most economic indicators today, it's likely the economy will continue its march forward through the remainder of 2018."

Cathy Barrera, chief economist at online employment marketplace ZipRecruiter, pointed out that the jobless rate ticked down for all education levels. "Anecdotal evidence has suggested that employers have experienced labor shortages for entry-level positions, and the decline in unemployment for these groups reflects that," she said. "More of those joining or rejoining the labor force are moving directly into jobs, reflecting the high demand for workers."

The sectors showing the strongest jobs gains in September include:

  • Professional and business services (54,000 new jobs).
  • Healthcare (26,000).
  • Transportation and warehousing (24,000).
  • Construction (23,000).
  • Manufacturing (18,000).

"Retail job losses—20,000 jobs—were widespread, and the leisure and hospitality sector lost 17,000 jobs, largely confined to restaurants," said Josh Wright, chief economist for recruitment software firm iCIMS, based in Holmdel, N.J.

"We can clearly point to a slowdown in retail trade for the dip in [overall] payroll numbers in September," said Martha Gimbel, research director for Indeed's Hiring Lab, the labor market research arm of the global job search engine. "Retail trade had a strong first half of the year but has slowed down in recent months. In addition, recent Hiring Lab research saw a slight dip in the number of holiday retail postings, suggesting that the sector may struggle in months to come."

Prior to September, employment in leisure and hospitality had been on a modest upward trend and the losses last month may reflect the impact of Hurricane Florence.

The Department of Labor said it's possible that employment in some industries was affected by Hurricane Florence which struck the Carolinas in September. Nearly 300,000 workers nationwide told the BLS that bad weather kept them away from their jobs last month.

"That's far below the level in September 2017 amid hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but significantly above the average of about 200,000 over the prior 13 years," Wright said. Upward revisions are likely, he added.

Wages Stubborn but Rising

In September, average hourly earnings for private-sector workers rose 8 cents to $27.24. Over the year, average hourly earnings have increased by 73 cents, or 2.8 percent.

"That's down slightly from the 2.9 percent pace last month, but consistent with a steady upward trend in wage growth we've seen as the job market tightens and more employers face labor shortages," Chamberlain said. "We expect to see that pace continue to rise throughout the holiday season, likely topping 3 percent within the next six months."

Glassdoor has recorded strong wage growth in tech-heavy metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.

"If the true wage growth rate is at or below 2.8 percent year-over-year, it is disappointing that it is not growing faster," Barrera said. "Given how tight the labor market has been not only with overall unemployment below 4 percent, but particularly so at the entry level, we would expect wage growth to be higher. The labor turnover numbers suggest that mobility is lower than it historically has been in periods where unemployment is very low. This is one reason wages may not be rising as quickly as we'd expect."

Labor Force Participation Stalled?

The nation's labor force participation rate held at 62.7 percent.

"Looking at the labor flows data, the rate of movement of the civilian population into the labor force hasn't moved much in the last couple of years, however, more of those folks are moving directly into employment rather than into unemployment," Barrera said.

Wright noted that the number of new labor force entrants and reentrants going directly to unemployment was just 33,000. "This raises interesting questions—whenever we get a recession, how long will these reentrants and new entrants continue searching for jobs before leaving the labor force?" he asked.

The percentage of the population in their prime working years with a job also held around 79 percent, where it's been for about eight months, Gimbel said, adding that the measure suggests that the number of workers remaining to pull into the labor force may be exhausted.

"The share of the labor force working part-time but who wants a full-time job unfortunately ticked up," she said. "Any remaining slack in the economy may be concentrated in part-time workers who want more hours."

SOURCE: Maurer, R. (5 October 2018) "U.S. Unemployment Drops to Lowest Rate in 50 Years" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/us-unemployment-drops-lowest-50-years-bls-jobs.aspx/


8 keys to developing a successful return to work program

What does your return to work program look like? Read this blog post for 8 tips to developing a successful return to work program at your organization.


No matter the size of your organization, there’s about a 99% chance at some point dealing with employees going on leave. Most HR professionals are well-versed on the logistics of what to do when an employee is on short- or long-term disability — but what sort of culture do you have in place that encourages and supports them with a return to work (RTW)? Developing a positive and open RTW culture benefits not only the organization but the employee and their teams as well.

An effective RTW program helps an injured or disabled employee maintain productivity while recuperating, protecting their earning power and boosting an organization’s output. There also are more intangible benefits including the mental health of the employee (helping them feel valued), and the perception by other team members that the organization values everyone’s work.

See also: 7 Ways Employers Can Support Older Workers And Job Seekers

Some other benefits of an RTW program can include improvement of short-term disability claims, improvement of compliance and reduction of employer costs (replacing a team member can cost anywhere from half to twice that employee’s salary, so doing everything you can to keep them is a wise investment).

Some of these may seem like common sense, but I’m continually surprised how many (even large) organizations don’t have an established RTW program. Here are eight critical elements of a successful program.

1. Support from company leadership.

No change will occur if you don’t have buy-in and support at the top. Make the case for a defined RTW program and explain the key benefits to leadership. Know what’s driving your existing absences: Is it musculoskeletal or circulatory? What’s the average length of absence? How many transition from STD to LTD? Come in with some of this baseline data and make the case for an RTW program. Having a return to work champion on the senior leadership team is essential to the program’s success.

2. Have a written policy and process.

There are many considerations when developing an RTW program including how it’s being administered, how employees learn more and engage with HR once out, and when they need to notify the company. Unless you have these policies in place, nobody will be held accountable. This also is an important time to bring in your legal consultation to assure you’re compliant with current company policies and municipal, state and federal laws.

3. Establish a return to work culture.

Once you have leadership support, make your RTW program just like any other championed within the organization. Develop clear messaging about what it means to employees, how they can get more information when they need it, steps for engaging with an RTW specialist and other key advantages. Then, disseminate this information through all appropriate channels including e-newsletters, intranet, brochures, posters and meetings.

4. Train your team members.

Educate managers on why an RTW program is important, why they should get behind it, how it impacts the organization, and what it means for both them and the returning employee. This training can be built into your onboarding process so that all new employees are made aware at day one. Having core messaging about the program and clear policies and procedures will assure everyone is singing from the same hymnbook.

5. Establish an RTW coordinator.

Depending on the size of your organization, this may be a part-time or full-time role. It’s essentially establishing someone as the day-to-day owner of work and could be a nurse, benefits coordinator or someone from your HR team. This person will need to work with various department managers (some who may at times be difficult) to define RTW roles, track compliance and measure success.

6. Create detailed job descriptions.

It’s important to have functional job descriptions for all employees which include physical requirements and essential duties. Often, when employees have an RTW, there are specific lifting, sitting or standing requirements. These are all compliance issues that the EEOC will pay close attention to.

7. Create modified duty options.

Some of the strongest pushback I get is from managers who claim there’s no way to modify an employee’s duties. However, when asked about back-burner projects they haven’t gotten to, the same manager will quickly come back with 5-10 tasks. Often, it’s a combination of that employee’s existing duties and some of these special projects which make a perfectly modified list of responsibilities.

8. Establish evaluation metrics.

Senior leaders love metrics, so if you can benchmark on the front end how many people are out and what that equates to in lost time/productivity, you can easily begin to evaluate what having an RTW program brings to the organization. Make your RTW coordinator responsible for tracking this information and share it with not only senior leadership but also managers and even team members. This will help reinforce the importance of the program to everyone.
SOURCE: Ledford, M. (2 October 2018) "8 keys to developing a successful return to work program" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/list/8-keys-to-developing-a-successful-return-to-work-program

Severance plans: How savvy employers can stay ERISA compliant

How can employers’ severance plans stay ERISA compliant? There are significant advantages associated with ERISA severance plans. Continue reading to learn more.


An employer’s promise to provide severance benefits may be written or oral, formal or informal, and individual or group. Determining whether an ERISA plan already exists, or whether an employer wants its severance arrangement to be subject to ERISA, is an important consideration in determining an employer’s obligation and liabilities associated with a severance arrangement.

There are significant advantages associated with a severance arrangement that is an ERISA plan as discussed in detail below. An employer, however, cannot unilaterally decide that the severance arrangement is an ERISA plan. Instead, an employer, when designing and administering a severance arrangement, can take definitive steps to ensure that the arrangement is treated as an ERISA plan.

Employers may assume that the first step to ensure the existence of an ERISA plan is to have a written plan document, which is required by ERISA. Surprisingly, this is not necessarily determinative as to whether an ERISA plan exists. Courts have held that ERISA plans can exist without a written plan document and vice versa.

Case law has provided the broad outlines of the nature of an ERISA-governed severance plan. An essential characteristic of ERISA severance plans is that, by their nature, they necessitate “an ongoing administrative scheme.” Courts have looked at the following indicators when determining what constitutes an ongoing administrative scheme:

  • The employer’s discretion in determining (1) eligibility for benefits or (2) available plan benefits
  • The form of payment such as lump sums versus periodic payments
  • Any ongoing demand on the employer’s assets such that there is an ongoing scheme to coordinate and control the distribution of benefits
  • Calculations based on certain factors such as job performance, length of service, reemployment prospects, and so forth.

Severance plans or arrangements that normally do not require an ongoing administrative scheme, and therefore, do not implicate ERISA, are plans that have lump-sum payments that are calculated under a formula and are mechanically triggered by a single event (such as termination). Where severance payments are made over time (through payroll, for example) and/or additional benefits (such as continuation of benefits or outplacement services) are provided, the severance arrangement is likely subject to ERISA.

As a practical matter, whether severance arrangements are ad hoc or recognized in a formal plan document, they may end up providing ERISA-covered benefits. In a dispute, an employer generally prefers that ERISA applies because of ERISA’s preemption of state laws. Preemption protects employers from state laws that may favor employees and generally limits the dispute to an ERISA claim for benefits, thereby avoiding the potential exposure to punitive, extra-contractual or special damages under state laws. In addition, ERISA’s claim procedure, which provides a pre-litigation administrative process for dispute resolution, will apply if proper plan language is provided. If employees with a severance claim fail to faithfully follow the ERISA claims procedure, their lawsuits may be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

Typically, the plan document gives the employer, in its capacity as plan administrator, the discretionary authority to interpret the plan’s language and make decisions about the plan. If the employee follows the claim procedures and the claim is denied, the decision-making process of the employer (or its designee) if done properly, is given deferential treatment by a reviewing court. Moreover, in many cases, judicial review is limited to only those matters addressed in the administrative record of the claim. In other words, many federal courts would decline to consider factual matters that were not raised by the employee in the claim procedure process.

Another consideration for the savvy employer is that severance benefits are almost always considered to be “welfare” benefits. Welfare benefits, as opposed to pension benefits, are afforded an extremely low level of protection under ERISA. Essentially, the employer’s exposure as to promised severance benefits is only as broad as its express contractual commitment to them. By appropriately documenting the benefits with “best practices” language (such as specifying that the amendment or termination of benefits may be done with or without advance notice), employers can take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the relatively thin protections provided by ERISA. On the other hand, poor or no documentation of a severance arrangement may leave an employer with difficult-to-prove assertions as to what severance commitments were actually made.

In summary, an ERISA-governed plan provides an employer with significant advantages in litigation. In addition, a severance arrangement subject to ERISA will enjoy the powerful benefits of ERISA preemption and the ERISA claims procedures.

SOURCE: Rothman, J.; Ninneman, S. (3 October 2018) "Severance plans, Part 1: How savvy employers can stay ERISA compliant" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-employers-can-stay-erisa-compliant-with-severance-plans


6 Books on the Future of Work That Every HR Professional Should Read

What do the next 50 or 100 years have in store for organizations and workers? Read this blog post for six books on the future of work that every HR professional should read.


As HR professionals and organizational leaders, it seems we are increasingly bombarded with messages about disruptive innovations and the changing nature of work. While calls to prepare strategically for the "future of work" might sometimes seem over-the-top, it doesn't change the fact that we've seen tremendous shifts in the global economy (including the labor economy) and technological innovation over the past 50 years that have had significant implications for the nature of work.

So what do the next 50 years have in store for organizations and workers? How will disruptive technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence/machine learning, pharmacogenetics, quantum entanglement, virtual presence/augmented reality, 3-D printing, and blockchain (among many others) influence future labor markets?

Here are six books I believe every HR professional and organizational leader should read to better understand these trends and the drivers influencing the shifting trajectories in the future of work.

1.  The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts(Oxford University Press, 2017) by Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind

The Future of the Professions closely examines the intersection of rapidly advancing innovative technologies and the shifting nature and transformation of work and the professions, providing theoretically grounding and ample examples of emerging technologies, organizations and work arrangements. It is intended for organizational leaders and policy practitioners of all stripes who are interested in the effects of disruptive technologies on the future of work.

2. The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation (Brookings Institution Press, 2018) by Darrell M. West

In The Future of Work, West sees the U.S. and the world at a "major inflection point" where we have to grapple with the likely impact of an increasingly automated and technologically advanced society on work, education and public policy. The insights provided will be useful to those who manage others and to those who are managed in the workplace of the future.

3. Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (Basic Books, 2016) by Martin Ford

Rise of the Robots is a somewhat unsettling vision of a future world dominated by artificial intelligence, machine learning and highly automated industries, where most members of the current workforce find themselves replaced by technology and machines; in other words, a jobless future. Based on recent economic and innovation trends, Ford argues that the rapid technological advancement will ultimately result in a fundamental restructuring of corporations, governments and even entire societies as middle-class jobs gradually disappear, economic mobility evaporates and wealth is increasingly concentrated among the elite super-rich.

4. Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work (St. Martin's Press, 2018) by Sarah Kessler

Gigged examines the shifting psychological contract between organizations and workers, discusses trends in the organization of work, and documents the movement in recent decades away from traditional employment models and toward part-time work and contingent employment arrangements such as independent contracting and project-based "gig" work. While such work has always been a part of informal economies around the world, the trend is increasingly common in traditional organizations as well, bolstered by the success of companies like Uber and Airbnb.

5. The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization (Wiley, 2014) by Jacob Morgan

In The Future of Work, Morgan continues the argument that the world is changing at an accelerated pace. He demonstrates that the way we work today is fundamentally different from how previous generations worked (due to globalization, technological innovation and shifts in the composition of national economies) and suggests that the future of work will be drastically different from what we experience today (a shift from knowledge workers to learning workers), where employees can work anytime and anywhere and can use any devices.

6. Shaping the Future of Work: A Handbook for Action and a New Social Contract (MITxPress, 2017) by Thomas A. Kochan

Probably the most academic book on this list, Shaping the Future of Work acknowledges an increasingly digitized economy and examines the resulting shift in social contract with regard to work and the professions. Kochan provides a road map for what leaders across contexts need to do to create high-quality jobs and develop strong and successful businesses.

What Does All This Mean?

In the next 50 years, we will likely see:

  • A continually shifting geopolitical landscape.

  • Continued movement from linear organizations to a more latticed/connected framework.

  • The displacement of jobs and the hunt for talent in a more automated economy.

  • An increasingly mobile and flexible labor force, and a push toward a reskilling agenda within organizations to continually leverage human capital value.

  • Technological advancements that continue to disrupt traditional organizational models and shift the very nature of work and professions.

So what does this all mean for HR professionals and organizational leaders? What are the core competencies of organizations that are prepared for these technological disruptions? How does the shifting nature of work influence needed HR competencies?

Regardless of what the future holds, these are questions we need to be asking and discussions we need to be having so that we are prepared for the future of work.

SOURCE: Westover, J. (5 September 2018) "6 Books on the Future of Work That Every HR Professional Should Read" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/book-blog/pages/6-books-on-the-future-of-work-that-every-hr-professional-should-read.aspx/