Here are 5 things every employer needs to know about the millennials in their workforce


Source: Property Casualty 360

At the 2015 Property/Casualty Insurance Joint Industry Forum on January 15 a panel of six chief executive officers agreed that the “millennial question” is a big one for 2015 and beyond.

According to The New York Times, the total number of millennials—those born between 1981 and 1997—will reach 75.3 million this year, surpassing baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) as the largest living generation in the U.S.

There are many myths and stereotypes about millennials, but here are the five factors the the panel CEOs said are the most accurate about this generation as employees.

1. Millennials want openness and inclusion.

Paula Downey, president and CEO of CSAA Insurance Group, said that millennials make up about 25% of her company’s work force. “We need a cultural change to retain them,” she added. “They’re looking for a diverse, collaborative culture."

2. Millennials want a sense of community.

Steven D. Linkous, president and CEO of The Harford Mutual Insurance Companies observed that millennials are attracted to the mutual insurance structure of companies like his, where they can engage the community to “make a difference.”

3. Millennials need reinforcement.

This generation is composed of overachievers and has a constant need for reinforcement, said Thomas A. Lawson, president and CEO of FM Global. They’ve lived with hovering “helicopter parents” who praised their every step, which makes it important to them to know when a boss approves of their work. That approval brings out their best.

4. Millennials want more work-life balance.

“The millennial approach to work-life balance often differs from that of other generations,” noted Christopher J. Swift, chairman and CEO of The Hartford. “They’re also interested in more time off and in working in urban areas with mass transit and reasonable commutes,” he said.

5. Millennials are interested in social responsibility.

This generation has been raised with a strong sense of volunteerism and “giving back” to the community, according to the panel. “Millennials are also more likely to embrace corporate efforts in social responsibility,” Swift said. That’s one reason you’ll see many groups from insurance companies helping out organizations such as Habitat for Humanity or participating in cancer walks.

The efforts to understand millennials are worthwhile, said Lawson, because properly motivated millennials can be valuable employees.



Workforce participation: Entering later, staying longer

Originally posted October 3, 2014 by Nick Otto on

Retirement patterns are changing globally. As a result, providing employees greater retirement security and financial literacy can help employers cultivate a less stressed, healthier and more engaged workforce.

To fend off employee concerns about retirement savings, Shane Bartling, a senior retirement consultant at Towers Watson, says benefits managers should work to use impactful approaches to set smart retirement savings habits.

“Showing employees the age when their resources will maintain their lifestyle [and their] financial independence, provides a clear, personal and emotional motivation to save,” he says. That pre-retirement sweet spot, which the consultant firm dubs “the FiT Age,” can be reinforced with “emotionally impactful, personalized communications to drive behaviors, since auto-enrollment and auto-escalation may fall well short of what is needed.”

During the mid-to-late 20th century, labor force participation rates dropped for older workers and rose for younger ones. These trends have recently reversed, especially among men and younger workers.

More recently, a chart from the Senate Budget Committee shows that almost 1 in 4 Americans in their prime working years, between the ages of 25-54, are not working which could drastically affect changes in how and when an employee can eventually retire.

The trend of longer working careers is expected to continue, possibly even intensifying, according to recent Towers Watson survey results. On the other hand, those who are unemployed today require more and more education, resulting in many young adults putting off a potential job in favor of additional education. Typically, employees delay or take a break from labor force participation by spending more time in school.

Meanwhile, to assist employees to build better saving habits, Bartling advises that employers educate the advantages of increased tax efficiencies for workers which would provide for a stronger retirement. “Tax treatment of Social Security and post-retirement medical premiums makes Roth 401(k) and health savings accounts highly attractive for many workers, including [those in] middle income levels; tax efficiency alone may pay for a year of retirement,” he says.

“The risk of a workforce that is stuck, due to employee retirement financial shortfalls, merits re-examining how benefits are delivered,” he adds.  “Evaluate the business case for more efficient retirement benefit delivery,” adding that just matching contributions may not be the most efficient way to deliver benefits.

5 root causes of disengagement

Originally posted on

The one-size-fits-all communications approach is ending, but employee engagement is still an issue for many employers. Alison Davis, of employee communication firm Davis & Company, identified five root causes of deteriorating engagement, which she shared with attendees at this year’s Benefits Forum & Expo.

The shredded employment contract

Since the recession, employees are losing confidence in the security of their jobs. Workers feel there has been a shift and that employers are holding more of the cards. According to Gallup, the number of actively disengaged workers increased to 24% in organizations that have recently laid off employees. Additionally, Towers Watson notes that 72% of companies have reduced their workforce in response to the recession.

Lack of trust in leaders

According to Towers Watson, fewer than two in five employees have confidence in senior leaders. People are skeptical and often have a wait-and-see attitude to what leaders have to say. Employees are saying “let’s wait and see what really happens,” Davis says.

Demographic attitudes

Another, and probably the biggest, challenge revolves around the different attitudes of the three primary generations in today’s workforce, says Davis. Baby boomers are burnt out and display a negative attitude in their exchanges with co-workers; Gen Xers are balancing work and home life responsibilities; Millennials have an “all about me” attitude and are somewhat impatient about moving up (or across) the corporate ladder. The average length of tenure out one job for a millennial is 2.6 years, and by the age of 27 they will have already worked four different jobs.

Mad men management

Employers are trapped in a 1950s mindset. This can be seen in the organizational charts that show a top-down hierarchy. The decision-making is done at the top, and general access to information is scarce, even as corporate leaders talk about transparency.

The way work gets done

We’re in a 24/7/365 mindset where an employee is always on the job. Employees never feel quite done or that they can ever shut it down, which affects their work-life balance and causes them to feel disengaged.

7 tips to prepare your workforce for flu season

Since seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October, the time to prepare is now. While the vaccine is one of the most efficient ways you can protect your employees, there are other actions you can take to brace your workplace for the upcoming flu season. Alan Kohll, founder and CEO of wellness vendor, TotalWellness, offers these tips:

1. Educate employees

Educate employees about flu symptoms and how the influenza virus is spread.

2. Step up hygiene

Step up your office’s hygiene practices. According to a 2012 study, the dirtiest places in the office include break room sink faucet handles, microwave door handles, keyboards and refrigerator door handles.

3. Review policies

Review your policies for PTO/sick leave and telecommuting.

4. Create a communications plan

Create a communications plan for flu season, from the signs and symptoms to flu shot myths, sick time policies, wellness reminders and flu shot clinic dates and times.

5. Develop a contingency plan

Have a contingency plan in place to help maintain normal business operations in the event that key employees are out sick or other disruptions occur.

6. Communicate health plan details

Ensure that employees are aware of health insurance plan details and that they know who to call with questions.

7. Host an on-site clinic

Host an on-site flu shot clinic or participate in a voucher program so that staff can easily get vaccinated at a local pharmacy.


Enforcing employer policies outside the workplace

Originally posted August 7, 2014 by Tracy Moon and John Stapleton on

All employers adopt and enforce policies regulating conduct at the workplace. Many employers expect that employees will follow their employment polices at all times regardless of whether the employee is working or at work. Many employers expect that employees will follow their employment polices at all times regardless of whether the employee is working or at work.

Today, in the age of social media and smartphones, employers and employees have much greater visibility when they leave work – giving employers the ability (and desire) to monitor their workers after hours, and resulting in greater exposure and potential for harm to an employer’s reputation. But can you monitor or discipline employees for policy violations that occur when an employee is off-duty and off-premises?

First, regardingillegal off-duty conduct, employers are generally entitled to take action after learning of an employee’s conviction, although they may have to demonstrate that the decision or policy is job-related and consistent with business necessity. For instance, an employer would have a valid interest in an employee-driver’s recent conviction for drunk driving. In fact, failing to take remedial action could lead to a claim for negligent hiring or retention against the employer down the road.

The answer is slightly more complicated when an employer attempts to regulatelawful off-duty conduct, such as social-media postings or tobacco use. There are several competing interests at play. On one hand is the employees’ right to be free from the employer’s control while they are away from work, and to engage in conduct which may have no impact on their work performance. On the other hand is the employer’s desire to enforce its policies in order to minimize liability, protect its reputation, and maintain employee productivity.

In an at-will employment relationship, both the employer and the employee can end the employment relationship at any time without notice or reason. In other words, the employer has the right to terminate an employee at any time, for any reason, for no reason at all, or even for a “bad” reason, as long as it is not an unlawful reason. In order to determine what reasons are unlawful, one must look to federal, state, and local laws.

Federal law

Federal law clearly outlines many factors which would be unlawful reasons for making employment decisions. These include: race; color; religion; genetic information; national origin; sex (including same-sex harassment); pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; age; disability or handicap; citizenship status; and service member status.

Likewise, federal law prohibits making employment decisions based on whether employees have taken time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, made a safety complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, questioned the overtime practices of their employer, or filed a charge of discrimination or harassment.

Off-duty social media use may also be protected under federal law. As many employers have learned the hard way, the National Labor Relations Act applies to the private sector and may restrict an employer’s ability to terminate an employee for posting disparaging comments on social media. An employer may also violate the NLRA by maintaining an overbroad social-media policy if it could be construed by employees to prevent them from discussing their wages or other conditions of employment.

State and local laws

Next, consider state and local laws. Most states have laws that are similar to or mimic federal law. But many have laws that are much more expansive and protective of employees’ rights. For example, many states have laws protecting smoking, elections and voting, certain types of court-related leaves of absence, victims of crimes or abuse, medical marijuana, or the possession of firearms, among others.

In addition to laws that protect specific types of off-duty conduct, some states have enacted laws which protect broad categories of off-duty conduct, or require an employer to demonstrate some nexus between the employee’s engagement in an activity and the employer’s business before allowing the employer to take adverse action against the employee for engaging in the conduct. (This is also a typical standard under collective bargaining agreements in unionized workforces).

In Colorado, for example, it is illegal for an employer to terminate an employee because that employee engaged in any lawful activity off the employer’s premises during nonworking hours unless the restriction 1) relates to a bona fide occupational requirement or is reasonably and rationally related to the employee’s employment activities and responsibilities; or 2) is necessary to avoid, a conflict of interest, or the appearance of a conflict, with any of the employee’s responsibilities to the employer.

In Montana, an employer is prohibited from refusing to hire a job applicant or disciplining or discharging an employee for using “lawful consumable products” (such as tobacco or alcohol) if the products are used off the employer’s premises outside of work hours, with certain exceptions for a bona fide occupational requirement or a conflict of interest, similar to Colorado’s law.

In addition to the examples set forth above, here are additional instances of off-duty conduct which may be grounds for discipline or termination, depending on the state and the circumstances:

  • 20 states have enacted medical marijuana laws, and 13 states have similar legislation pending (Arizona and Delaware even restrict an employer’s ability to terminate an employee in response to a failed drug test);
  • while most employers may prefer that employees not bring firearms onto company property, some states have laws which protect an employee’s right to do so, including Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wisconsin; and
  • 29 states and the District of Columbia have statutes protecting the rights of employees who smoke.

As the above examples illustrate, you must carefully analyze each situation before refusing to hire a candidate, or disciplining or terminating an employee for having engaged in lawful off-duty conduct, even if such conduct violates your established policy.

Even with all of the possible restrictions in some states, employers may have more leeway than they think to consider off-duty conduct when making employment decisions. A wise employer seeks wise counsel to help the employer avoid possible legal pitfalls while exercising the full extent of its rights.



Millennials want healthier workplaces--10 things companies can do to develop a workplace wellness program

Originally posted March 19, 2014 on

A lot has been written about the impact of Millennials—those born between 1980 and 1995—on America’s workforce. Companies seeking to engage them often focus on their tech savvy, their teamwork bias, and their desire for work/life balance.

A new Aon Hewitt study reveals another way to create a Millennial-friendly culture—help them manage their health. Dr. Carmella Sebastian, also known as “Dr. Carm” and “The Wellness Whisperer,” says smart companies will heed this advice in light of the coming workplace demographic shift.

“Millennials are very comfortable with the idea of employers being involved in their health,” says Dr. Carm, a WELCOA (Wellness Council of America)-certified expert in workplace wellness. At Florida Blue, Dr. Carm oversees the National Committee for Quality Assurance-accredited wellness program “Better You from Blue” and manages over 100 client consultations per year.

She maintains “as Boomers retire and Millennials surge in the door, the demand to integrate wellness into the workplace will continue to grow. Best to get on top of this now.”

Workplace wellness may be defined as any workplace health promotion activity or organizational policy designed to support healthy behavior in the workplace and to improve health outcomes. Participating companies might offer health education and coaching, medical screenings, weight management programs, on-site fitness programs, smoking cessation counseling, etc. They might also allow flex time for exercise, offer healthy options in vending machines, provide incentives for participation, and more.

“Harder to quantify, but just as impactful, is the fact that your investment in your employees’ well-being will jump-start their morale, loyalty, and engagement—all of which is good news for their productivity and your bottom line,” adds Dr. Carm. “And since the Millennials who are driving the wellness movement will be in the workforce for quite some time, think of proactively engaging with them as a smart long-term investment.”

Dr. Carm shares 10 components to include as your company develops its own company’s workplace wellness program:

1. Designate a wellness champion. As human beings, we learn by watching others and patterning our behavior after theirs. That’s why Dr. Carm recommends designating a “wellness champion,” someone visible and well known throughout the organization that is willing to be in the vanguard of implementing new wellness initiatives. Be sure to choose a person who has the authority to make decisions for the program and who can obtain the necessary funding to turn ideas into reality.

“In most cases this will be your CEO or chief medical officer, but not always,” Dr. Carm says. “I once had a CEO who hated to exercise and loved desserts. If your CEO is not game for becoming a wellness champion, have them appoint someone who is. (In this case, that was me!) It’s hard to tell 6,000 people, ‘Do what I say and not what I do.’ Remember, people will be watching their wellness champion. I had someone come up to me in line while I was buying a bagel to ask me why I was eating carbs!”

2. Form a wellness committee. Your wellness champion can’t be everywhere all the time, so find others who share the same vision and who are also willing to carry the wellness torch forward. Make sure to include all age ranges—Millennials included—in this group. Organize them into a committee with a charter and a budget. They will be empowered, and their excitement will be infectious.

“Don’t choose a group solely composed of ‘health nuts’ who are running marathons,” advises Dr. Carm. “Be sure to also pick some people who have struggled with their wellness behaviors. They will be easier for most people to relate to. For example, when my company went smoke-free, we had a committee made up of current smokers, prior smokers, and those who had never smoked. When we convinced the current smokers that we were on the right path, the news spread through the organization, and implementation of the program was that much easier.”

3. Know your population. If you’ve seen one company, you’ve … seen one company. The fact is healthcare and its associated costs differ dramatically from industry to industry and from organization to organization. (Think about how truck drivers differ from teachers, or how short order cooks differ from lawyers.) Before you get the wellness ball rolling, you need to know what you’re up against. Are your employees mostly sedentary? Are there a lot of smokers? Does your company provide a gym where the majority of employees exercise on a daily basis? All of these things will affect your healthcare costs.

“One key aspect of knowing your population is reviewing your claims with your health insurer on a quarterly basis,” comments Dr. Carm. “You also need to find out the reasons for absences (often, your worker’s comp provider can give you this information) and how many employees are accessing behavioral health providers (check with your employee assistance program vendor). But that’s not enough. By the time claims are filed and employees are absent, the proverbial horse is out of the barn.

“That’s why it’s especially important to assess the current status of your employees’ health,” she continues. “How do you find that out? Use the health risk assessments provided by your insurance provider and consider holding a health fair where you can have biometrics done (blood pressure, cholesterol level, height and weight, etc.). This will give you real-time information about your population and will reveal what your wellness program should focus on. Since Millennials place a high value on quantifiable health data, you’ll probably have an especially enthusiastic response from them.”

4. Assess your company’s culture. Dr. Carm suggests doing a cultural assessment (also called an environmental assessment) before you begin any wellness program. This will tell you what your employees really think about how health-friendly your organization is (which is often very different from what you think they think). The assessment should answer questions such as: Are the stairs available and easily accessed for use? Is every celebration accompanied by a cake or a veggie tray? What kinds of snacks are in the vending machine?

“As part of the cultural assessment, find out what health topics and initiatives interest your employees,” Dr. Carm recommends. “Putting together a great outdoor walking program won’t really be successful if you live in a place where the average temperature is 10 degrees and your employees would rather be bowling. Ask what your employees would like to do and how interested they are in improving their health. Make the survey anonymous, and you’ll get their honest answers.”

5. Go for the low-hanging fruit. As you begin to look at the data, a picture of your company’s wellness challenges will start to form. Your biggest problems will stand out. For instance, maybe 25 percent of your employees smoke, or there’s a high rate of obesity in your workforce. These numbers might actually be the easiest to move, so focus on the issues they represent first.

“At one company I worked with, smoking numbers were very high, and the rate of bronchitis and lung cancers were also higher than average,” recounts Dr. Carm. “So the wellness committee decided to grasp this low-hanging fruit and go smoke-free. In other words, no more smoking in front of the building or on any company property. This was a good strategy because studies have shown that going smoke-free can decrease smoking rates in a company by 6 percent. People who are smoking socially or for stress relief won’t put up with the hassle of having to walk off the property or giving up their lunch hour to find a suitable place to light up. We had 10 people quit smoking in the first month!

“When you are starting a workplace wellness program, you really want a successful first year,” she adds. “You need a win to let employees know that this program is not just a ‘flavor of the month,’ but is something that your organization believes in and will invest in.”

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for freebies. Paying for a wellness program can be costly, but not if you know where to go for discounted services and freebies. First, make sure that you are getting all the help you possibly can from your health insurance carrier. It is in their best interest to keep your employees healthy and you happy, and that means low claim costs. At the very least, your insurer should be able to provide a health risk assessment, and beyond that, most will cover the cost of having a health fair with biometrics. The labs can run through the medical claims so that should not be an extra charge.

“If your insurer isn’t willing to help with a health fair, or if you are a small employer, health risk assessments are available free of charge online—and you can collate the information yourself,” points out Dr. Carm. “Another great source is The Wellness Council of America provides all kinds of free stuff for the asking.” She also recommends looking for help in the following areas:

◦                     Ask local healthcare providers to perform biometrics. Doctors who are new to the area can get established by spending a couple hours of doing blood pressure checks, and health fairs are a great way for hospitals and group practices to market themselves


  • Weight Watchers® will come to your office and do a program at lunchtime as long as you have 15 people to participate.
  • The American Lung Association can provide assistance with a smoking cessation program. And as a result of a smoking litigation settlement that occurred several years ago, various states have great—and free! — online resources for smoking.
  • The American Diabetes Association may be able to assist with a diabetes education program or free screening.


“The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to ask,” says Dr. Carm. “The worst a person or organization can say is no!”7. Give your facilities a health makeover. For instance, if you have stairs, make sure they are safe and brightly lighted. Place signs by the elevators encouraging your employees to use the stairs rather than the elevators. If you provide food on-site, ask the cafeteria to load up on fruits and vegetables and avoid heavily processed foods.

“The same goes for the vending machines—ask the vendor to pack them full of pretzels and nuts rather than cookies and chips,” Dr. Carm notes. “And regarding food in general, remember that if you make the healthy items cheaper, they will be purchased.

“If your company is situated on a large enough plot of land, think about starting a walking program,” she suggests. “I often see companies’ outdoor spaces going unused, which is a shame! Pedometers are really cheap, and people love to get out and walk. Some companies have even instituted walking meetings, which I think is great. Walking is a terrific form of exercise, and all you need is a good pair of sneakers. Just be careful about walking off-site for liability purposes.”

8. Be sure to incentivize. It’s important to start your workplace wellness program gently and to reward employees for participating. You want people to understand that this is not a heavy-handed company and that your first priority is their health. So to begin with, Dr. Carm simply recommends making participation in the program your goal. Be sure to communicate that personal information will be kept in the strictest confidence no matter the size of your company. As employees get used to the program, which can take a couple of years, you can move to outcomes as a barometer of success. And in the meantime, incentivize early and often! Remember, Millennials cite tangible benefits as a big motivator.

“The good news is, incentives don’t have to break the bank,” she assures. “You can get employees to participate in a walking program for as little as the cost of a pedometer and a water bottle. A t-shirt can also be a great motivator. And nothing beats a plum parking space for a month to get someone thinking about good health habits!

“As your program advances, you will want to tie the incentives you offer into the benefit plan,” Dr. Carm continues. “One way is to offer a higher cost share by the company for certain outcomes. Another is to require employees to complete a health risk assessment in order to get healthcare coverage. Some companies even mandate participation in a disease management program in return for health benefits. You will want to consider mandates only as your program advances into years three through five, though.”

9. Celebrate your successes. As your workplace wellness program advances, transparency is important. Your employees need to know about setbacks and challenges, certainly…and they definitely need to celebrate successes! Whenever your organization focuses on and eventually reaches a goal, make a big deal about the achievement in order to maintain and increase morale.

“Take every opportunity to share participation numbers, statistics on progress, or best of all, human interest stories,” advises Dr. Carm.

“When a company I worked for went smoke-free, we let everyone in the organization know when someone successfully quit smoking (with the individual’s agreement, of course). We also held a celebration for the ‘quitters,’ during which each person told his or her story. This helped not only the smoking cessation program, but the wellness strategy overall, because everyone could see and enjoy the program’s tangible real-world benefits.

“Remember, everyone enjoys celebrations and rewards,” she adds. “Even your most health-resistant employees will put forth a little more effort when they know there’s something in it for them!”

10. Evaluate your outcomes and PLAN, PLAN, PLAN. When organizations start workplace wellness programs, a common complaint from employees is that the programs are only another “flavor of the month,” and that they will be short-lived. That being the case, you need to show that good health is part of the fabric of your organization—not a passing fad. Nothing does this more effectively than scheduling a yearly review of your program’s results and proactively planning for the coming year.

“These two activities are critical when incentives become part of the benefits plan as this is communicated to employees during open enrollment,” she adds. “Regardless, your wellness committee should formally review the outcome of the previous program year, as well as compile goals and suggest a budget for the next year. And, of course, their conclusions and recommendations should be communicated to all employees as a continuous quality process.”

"Over time, these programs create a “culture of wellness” that’s good not only for your company and employees, but for the entire community, asserts Dr. Carm.

“With the Affordable Care Act (ACA) aiming a spotlight on preventative care, it’s time for the business world to increase its role in helping people change their lifestyles,” she says. “In fact, the legislation includes a $9 million national initiative designed to establish and evaluate workplace wellness programs. As you focus on your own organizational health initiatives, know that Millennials are the perfect partners to help develop and roll them out. Young, health-conscious employees can be your staunchest allies and wellness ambassadors for years to come.”


Creating the Adaptable Workforce

By Alan See

Source: Networking Exchange Blog

Cross-Training, Job Rotation, and Skills Development Prepare Employees for Business Change

“I’ve been in this business for 30 years and I’ve never seen it like this.”

I can recall hearing that statement three times over the course of my adult working life.  The first time I heard it was very early in my career.  My boss at the time had been a part of the Texas oil field service industry for over 30 years and the mid-80’s oil crash was taking its toll.  What once had boomed was now busting. Stripper wells that had been profitable were being plugged, and new drilling activity came to a virtual standstill.  Prospects in the oil business were looking pretty dim.

I also remember the second occasion as if it were yesterday. It was the early 90s and I was at lunch with a co-worker who had just received their 30-year service pin from a major computer company.  The World Wide Web was just beginning to make the world a much smaller place, and Louis Gerstner stepped in to save IBM from going out of business.

A couple of years ago I heard the statement again.  Let’s just say that social media, digital marketing, and mobile applications are proving to be major change agents for marketers in general.  Tracking that statement for three decades, it’s obvious that change is timeless and cuts across all sectors of the economy.

How are you dealing with constant change?  From my perspective I can vouch for the following:

  1. Don’t try to ignore the situation creating the change because that will only keep you off balance.
  2. Getting angry doesn’t help and often makes it worse.
  3. The “good old days” never really happened, and wishful thinking is a waste of time.

More importantly, top management can’t hand out “grand plan” detailed answers to address the entire transition because all the information they need simply doesn’t exist.  Their new strategy in its full detail will need to evolve during the change process.  In short, top management doesn’t have all the answers because some of the questions keep shifting.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t need your support.  In fact, broad-based, grassroots support of change can make the difference for every organization.

During a time of constant change (which is all the time!) here are five things you can do to prepare yourself and support your company:

  1. Volunteer for assignments that push you out of the framework of your current job responsibilities.  Some projects can give you medium-term exposure to new people and new kinds of tasks, preparing you for a broader range of future responsibilities.  Assignments that provide extended exposure may include such things as cross-training, job rotation, and stretch assignments.
  2. Take advantage of available learning and development resources.  At many companies, training is available but under-utilized.  Most of us feel too rushed in our current work to fit in the occasional hour or two of training.  Become the exception to the rule — the employee who learns, grows, and actively prepares for new pursuits.  It’s good for your image as well as your broadening skill set.
  3. Make it a personal goal to learn more from your boss and your colleagues.  Close work relationships put you in daily contact with the parts of other people’s work you may not fully grasp at present.  Management practices in today’s business world call for flexible workers who can step in to perform available tasks rather than filling a single defined role.
  4. Put some thought into the learning and development activities you would most like to pursue. Have an informal conversation with your boss about them.  Then weave together your ideas and your boss’s ideas and bring them with you to your next performance review.  After the usual evaluation of your work, turn the conversation to future growth of your skills to make you that much better of an employee.
  5. Explore career opportunities that take you to different functional units within your company.  Moving employees from role to role across leadership and functional areas is common in organizations that adapt quickly to changing environments.  By pursuing those opportunities, you make yourself more valuable to the company while expanding your professional horizons.


The above are practical steps for embracing change and putting you on the leading edge of your constantly evolving work life.  They can give your business a leg up in dynamic times and help you become the employee who pushes ahead, rather than the one who hears about change only as it happens.


3 Simple Ways to Make People Happy at Work

By Margaret Heffernan

Learn these strategies to make your employees happy, and extravagantly execute them. You'll create a better business.

Most CEOs know that, if their workers are happy, they're also more productive. But how to make them happy is the challenge. Many take the goal too personally and try to build staff contentment through personal relationships. They get exhausted and find the strategy simply won't scale.

So what can you realistically pull off to make people happy at work?

Professional growth

People want to stretch, to develop their natural talents, feel their life has a narrative and is going somewhere. When they feel that they are growing, they may be exhausted but they're also inspired, energetic, and willing to take on a great deal. (That's one reason why investing in people can deliver a higher return that investing in new technology.) Anyone who reports to you (and anyone who reports to them) should have a professional development plan. That will keep everybody engaged, busy, and--eventually--happy.

Strong community

Everybody wants to be proud of where they work, to feel that they are investing the most precious thing they have--time--in something that matters. For some companies, the mission or the products are enough. If you make things that cure disease, create cleaner air, save carbon emissions, or improve life in any way, your business has an intrinsic sense of purpose which is probably what drew people to it in the first place. If you make ball bearings, knowledge-management software, light switches, or other kinds of widgets, you may find it tougher to demonstrate how you make the world a better place. Superficial social-responsibility projects won't fill this gap for you. You need to create direct links between the success of the business and the community you serve. These need to involve the entire work force and should be active, public, visible, and long lasting. Many companies get their staff to choose the causes or charities they support. The more they're engaged in these commitments, the more meaningful they will be to them--and your company community.

Fair treatment

"Everybody here is somebody." That's how one call-center rep once explained to me why he loved the company where he worked. The job wasn't thrilling, the pay wasn't great, but every single person was treated with love and respect. Just walking through the door, he said, made you glad to come to work. When people got sick, co-workers worried. When someone was due to retire, she most likely came back to work part time, just for the camaraderie. Sooner or later, everyone in a company like this talks about it as being like "family." The CEO knows everyone's name--even the names of everyone's kids and pets. This kind of fair--and kind--treatment also means startlingly low turnover rates, which also saves money. But it's not really about the money.

The very best companies I've studied and written about honor these principles and enact them lavishly. They don't pay lip service, and they don't do the bare minimum; they go overboard. Their CEOs do so because they know the secret of leadership: Look after the people, and the people look after the business.


Benefit Aspects of Employee Leaves of Absence

Employee leaves of absence raise a number of difficult questions under federal employment laws.  Must a requested leave be granted?  Under what conditions?  Must the employee's position be held open so that the employee may return to it after the leave?

In addition to those questions, employers often must address the benefits-related aspects of any leave of absence. Complicating a benefits manager's task are a host of federal laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, COBRA and more.

Learn what you need to know to cope with leave-related challenges from your workforce. Please contact us for more information.

Job Gains by Demographic

May 21, 2012

By Michael J. O'Brien 

Despite the weakening jobs data of late, signs of an economic recovery abound. But is the rising tide lifting all demographic boats equally? 

Economists continue to argue about the overall significance of jobs-report figures released by the U.S. Department of Labor, but debates notwithstanding, data from earlier this year shows that older workers -- those ages 55 and older -- may be making a better argument for their employment than their slightly younger competitors.

According the Labor Department's March 2012 figures, those older workers gained 2.8 million jobs since March 2010, compared to a net job loss of 258,000 for workers between the ages of 45 and 54 during that same time period.

Such figures should not come as a surprise, says John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

"The 55-plus population is expanding rapidly and, whether by choice or by necessity, many of these older workers plan on working beyond the traditional retirement age of 65," he says.

Some of these older workers are continuing in the occupations and industries where they spent most of their careers, he says, but many others are starting entirely new career paths.

"Because they may be more willing to work fewer hours or accept lower pay in exchange for better health benefits," Challenger says, "employers are welcoming these older job seekers.

"The older worker's experience makes it more likely that he or she can hit the ground running with little or no training and, in many cases, can do the job of two younger workers, simply by knowing the 'tricks of the trade,' " he says.

But, despite the advantages that many older workers offer to employers, Challenger says, recent college graduates should be stepping into a labor market that is more positive than in the recent past.

"Each year, we continue to see improvement in the college-graduate job market," he says. "Last year was slightly better than 2010, and this year should be slightly better than 2011."

Challenger points to two surveys to support his theory: one from the National Association of Colleges and Employers that finds employers plan to increase hiring of spring graduates by 10 percent over last year; and a survey from Michigan State University's Collegiate Employment Research Institute, which finds that employers are planning to hire bachelor-level graduates at a 7-percent higher clip than last year.

Indeed, according to DOL data from March, workers ages 20 to 24 gained 939,000 jobs during that same March 2010 to March 2012 period -- second only to the 55-plus segment.

Challenger says that, while the slowly improving economy is creating more opportunities for all job seekers, many companies have started looking beyond recovery toward expansion, and those organizations have to make sure they have started to develop the talent they will need to fuel the next period of growth.

"That means beginning to build the entry-level ranks now," he says, "so that, over the next five or six years, it is possible to identify and cultivate the high potentials who will drive the company forward."

There is also new data confirming that the economic recovery is impacting passive candidates.

According to the Corporate Executive Board, for the first time in five years, the ranks of passive candidates -- or employees who aren't actively looking for a new job -- shrank in the first quarter of 2012.

While still below pre-recession levels, active job seekers now make up 27 percent of the employed workforce, which the Board calls "another sign that the job market is recalibrating."

"Overall, this is a positive trend," says Christopher Ellehuus, managing director of the Washington-based Corporate Executive Board. "It means candidates in the labor market are feeling more bullish about job opportunities in the labor market and are more willing to take risks and move to another job with better career opportunities or better pay."

Ellehuus says the Board's new data also finds that employees who left their old companies in the second half of 2011 received 10-percent higher pay with their new employer, up from 8.5 percent in the first half of the year.

"While the global downturn provided organizations with selective opportunities to 'trade up' on talent for bargain prices," he says, "that opportunity appears to be fading quickly as the market begins to re-equilibrate in favor of candidates."

But one demographic that is not enjoying any effects of a revived economy is disabled workers, according to a new study based on DOL data analyzed by Allsup, a Belleville, Ill.-based provider of Social Security disability representation.

The Allsup Disability Study: Income at Risk finds that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was nearly three-quarters (74 percent) higher than for non-disabled workers during the first quarter of 2012: 15 percent for disabled workers versus 8 percent for non-disabled workers.

And compared to the first quarter of 2011, the figures show no positive movement for either group: 13 percent for disabled workers versus 8 percent for non-disabled workers.

Allsup has been tracking such figures since the first quarter of 2009.

"People with disabilities often face a much greater challenge in securing employment," says Paul Gada, personal financial planning director for the Allsup Disability Life Planning Center. "Their health condition may make it difficult to continue to work for extended periods, or it worsens so they are forced out of the labor market entirely."

With all this data, it's no surprise many HR executives are unsure of their next step, says Challenger.

"This is complex time for HR executives," he says. "HR has to manage staffing demands for the next six months without losing sight of what will be needed over the next six years.

"Unfortunately," he says, "those expecting a rapid turnaround and sudden burst in hiring will be disappointed."