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What does workplace diversity look like?

10 Sep

Human resources professionals are at the forefront of employee management, acting as the gatekeepers in creating a high-impact and effective workforce. However, many organizations are still grappling with the role diversity plays in developing the strongest talent pool possible. One of the main issues facing HR is specifically defining diversity and accurately measuring it. At the same time, companies still struggle with implementing policies that allow for a wider range of ethnicities, races and gender distribution in the workplace.

What does diversity mean?
Traditionally, diversity has been recognized as the way a firm includes and engages workers from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds, as well as maintaining a fairly even balance of male and female employees. However, in a recent post for the SAP blog, contributor Susan Galer cited research from The Economist Intelligence Unit that may expand the very idea of diversity.

According to the report, a greater number of companies look at the role employee values play in changing the workplace dynamic. Much of the focus is on the idea of a multigenerational workforce in which it's difficult to discern whether younger employees feel they're part of the organization. In effect, HR professionals and management now have the task of evaluating workers based on their level of assimilation into a company's culture and understanding motivated them to join an enterprise in the first place.

Some of the biggest challenges lying in wait for HR managers stem from this idea. According to the EIU study, 60 percent of human resources executives highlight a demonstrable lack of interest in adhering to organizational values as a major characteristic in today's workplace. At the same time, more than 50 percent of these respondents said value-based conflicts among employees from different generations is a hurdle that needs to be overcome.

Exigent challenges
Meanwhile, there are residual issues resulting from traditional diversity initiatives that human resources professionals need to address to ensure stronger employee engagement. Fortune Magazine recently wrote that workers who were perceived to be hired specifically for diversity purposes are seen as less qualified for their positions.

"The Academy of Management Journal" recently released research which found this stigma to be present in more companies than many would assume. David Mayer, who teaches management at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business and is one of the authors of the study, explained this issue has a fairly easy solution. One idea involves being overt in explaining to coworkers that a minority employee was hired in purview of his or her qualifications, experiences and education. Mayer explained this information can be delivered in the form of an internal email sent out to various departments. If a company has an enterprise social network, it can easily and quickly introduce new hires – regardless of their age, gender and race – so that existing members of the organization know who's coming on board.

Harvard Business Review echoed this sentiment, explaining that diversity initiatives don't always go far enough. Human resources managers should work to foster inclusion among workers from different backgrounds. A few strategies to reach this goal is to make sure minority employees are part of discussions related to their duties and roles within the organization. Also, ensure everyone has equal access to training and development opportunities so that all employees can expand their skill sets, and workers have more chances to interact with each other.

Globalization has made it possible for businesses to attract and recruit workers from a diverse array of cultures and backgrounds, but it requires significant effort to make certain all employees function as team members.

What should HR say about surgical second opinions?

9 Sep

The debate around mandatory second surgical opinions is far from a new one. While information about the use of second opinions is important in the medical field, it's also a discussion that many professionals involved in human resources solutions must have with employees when they're making the decision to go through with a surgical procedure.

How did the conversation begin?
Original legislation dates back to the mid 1970s, a RAND Corporation report explained, and it sought to reduce healthcare costs. In effect, the bill asked employees to seek out a second opinion if they were planning to undergo any kind of surgery. The RAND report looked at both Medicaid and non-Medicaid MSSOP, especially in Massachusetts. Those with Medicaid coverage were the least impacted by secondary surgical opinions, but the indirect influence on surgery rates showed a decline in procedures performed.

What are the issues today?
According to the Society of Human Resource Management, companies have explored various avenues when trying to reduce costs for employees and the organization as a result. Some have even gone to the lengths of making a secondary surgical opinion required. Bill Carew, managing principal with Hartford, Connecticut-based Digital Benefit Advisors, told SHRM that the current healthcare environment errs on the side of strongly suggesting second opinions instead of outright mandates. Still, the focus is to provide employees with the most accurate information that they can use to make informed decisions about their personal well-being. 

Gary Young, director of the Northeastern University Center for Health Policy and Healthcare Research in Boston, Massachusetts, went on to explain that research involving MSSOP doesn't demonstrate a clear path forward exactly. The underlying trend is that second opinions often reinforce the original finding, suggesting a second opinion may not make that much of a difference. SHRM also raised the question of what happens when another voice in the conversation recommends a more expensive procedure. It's not always guaranteed that doctors' advice will result in lower costs for the employee.

What should HR keep in mind?
Ultimately, the decision human resources professionals make regarding surgical second opinions must fit the company's needs and preferences, as well as those of the employees. Members of the workforce have a choice in deciding which healthcare providers to visit, but every plan will likely include a specified list of preferred medical professionals. As HR workers guide employees to make educated choices, it's also important to maintain compliance with the most recent changes in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Finding and building a team

2 Sep

Building great teams doesn't happen overnight. It requires an overall human resource planning strategy that goes beyond team building exercises. That being said team building exercises don't hurt, according to CEO.com. What matters is the right team and the right exercises.

How to find the best candidates for building a team
Ideally, a team works together because the members are all people who fit into the culture of the workplace. This returns the concept of teamwork to the now common discussion of whether or not companies should hire for culture. According to ERE, hiring for culture, when done in the right way, is ultimately a good thing.

Working with people who are very different from each other can also be a good thing. Workplace diversity is founded upon the idea that people with different backgrounds have different perspectives; by using a strategy formed from a group of unique people who work together, workers can forge a stronger company. If hiring for culture means hiring against diversity, then someone is making a mistake.

The best culture a company can have is a diverse one. When everything thinks and acts alike, then everyone will consistently make the same mistakes. Instead, hire people who are different from each other but also complement each other and get along. If your team has a weakness, then hire for strength in that area. This way, people will have different skills that all complement the overall teamwork of the company.

How to take the raw materials for a team and shape it into something great
After hiring the right people, how do you make sure you get them to find each other and get along? Ideally, team building exercises are ice breakers that let people get to know each other in ways that will stick, allowing everyone to bond and form a tactical unit.

CEO.com recommends looking for team-building activities that improve communication and help people understand each other better. Activities should also center on making decisions together and forming a group consensus, along with the ability to plan as a group.

Ultimately what a team has behind it is a trust that is formed through bonds. People in teams make bonds when they experience and overcome hardship together. When every person on a team trusts every other person, then people won't second guess someone or become angry and frustrated. People will know what their own personal strengths and weaknesses are, and they will work together in tandem as a unit.

Using evidence-based HR

28 Aug

More companies are trying increasingly outlandish things to improve quality of life for workers and boost culture. Businesses are also tapping into big data to look for correlations between traits and talents to find the best people available. But is all of this ultimately going to work? That's where evidence-based recruiting comes into play.

For a company to have a great HR department, it better have HR manager software. This is something every company needs no matter what size. But besides that element, what can those charged with human resource planning do to ensure their strategies are effective at improving a return on investment?

According to Harvard Business Review, Google has long been a proponent of using "out of the box" ideas to get work done. One such concept is the napping pods system. But Google has been smart enough to use an evidence-based approach, HBR reported, and this means that when investors are asking if the company's expenses coming from people sleeping on the job or making their own espressos with a $2,000 machine are returning anything profitable, the company can back everything up.

An evidence-based solution to work-life balance
The way Google does its evidence-based HR is through a random survey that samples 4,000 employees with two in-depth surveys.  A recent study done in this way looked at work-life balance. According to the study, only 31 percent of people were able to separate their work from their personal lives. The other members of Google found themselves focusing on work even when at home.

The findings indicated that most Google employees wanted to get a better work-life balance and separate their jobs from their personal lives. As a result, the company instituted several programs, such as "Dublin Goes Dark," in which Dublin-based office employees were asked to leave their phones and other devices at the front desk before going home. As a result, stress reduced considerably.

Finding evidence-based solutions to other HR matters
When working out employee management solutions, Abhishek Mittal, an HR Blogger and freelance HR professional, tries to focus on using evidence to solve problems at the companies where he works. In one situation, he was asked to find out whether moving employees horizontally into skill areas outside their general expertise was a good idea. Mittal used an algorithm to find out any correlation between moving horizontally and performance.

"I worked with the client to design an analysis plan - examining patterns of career moves of high-potentials over several years and connected that with their KPI achievements," Mittal wrote. "After a few days of number-crunching, the verdict was out - high-potential employees who moved across businesses achieved an average 7 percent  more than those who moved within their business units."

Using this strategy offers a long-term benefit to any company that wants a real solution with the evidence to back it up.

Finding great leaders

25 Aug

Those who want to hire great leaders need not look much farther for human resources solutions than a few quick boxes to check during an interview. Great leaders often have similar traits that can be found through careful searching and navigation. But you may not need to hire a personable leader for every position. Someone in a management role who looks after HR payroll software may need great organization skills, but they may not need leadership skills.

In other words, hiring great leaders means fitting the right skills to the right job. Inc Magazine refers to this as the three kinds of focus that people in management positions can have.  Some people are focused internally on staffing issues while others reach outward to encompass other businesses and are more focused on the relationships a company has with its customers, partners and supply chain. Hiring for leadership, a good human resources professional should first look toward what kind of leader is necessary for the job.

There is also a third category of leader who focuses primarily on strategy. This kind of leader is the one you want making long-term decisions.

It may be an unusual concept for traditionally-minded companies, but while some people thrive moving in a straight upward path in a company, going from entry level to mid-level to managerial positions, others are automatically better at certain tasks that may be parallel to the original positions they started with. If a company finds someone who can write but would prefer to work with spreadsheets, then don't be afraid to perform a horizontal promotion and move that person somewhere he or she can thrive.

Improving leaders through skills development
Another important step when making leadership choices for a company is how to develop existing managers so they can excel and become better at their jobs. Entrepreneur recommended that managers look inward at their accomplishments and ask what they have done well so far and what they can improve on.

They should also focus on bettering those around them, according to the article. Companies with strong mentoring programs will likely have a stronger and more cohesive work culture. They will also foster loyalty between mentor and mentee, which can lead to a greater level of professionalism and discipline.

Finally, looking inside of oneself and asking about motivations is a key point. A person ideally should work to better the company rather than his or her own career. The company should be of paramount importance for leaders.

Training management is critical

22 Aug

Management training is a crucial step for companies that choose to promote from within rather than hire from without. When it comes to human resource planning, this strategy can sometimes be a way to let culture grow in a business so people who have already been indoctrinated in a company's message and method of operations are moving upward into managerial roles and directly educating the next generation of staffing. This is in opposition to creating seminars or showing in a guidebook how a culture is supposed to operate. One may find that culture is better cultivated through the direct teaching by management to employees rather than from reading about it or learning about it in another way. Direct experience has always been a great method for people to learn things.

Business Law Review cites the example of GEICO, which hires most of its managers from entry-level workers who have simply moved upward in the business after having grown there over the course of many years.

In order to train staff that may not have gotten a degree in business management or otherwise have experience in certain important business concepts like finance or accounting, the company offers something it calls GEICO University. This program is in addition to a tuition reimbursement program that it gives to full-time associates.

Companies without the resources for college-training can also teach managerial skills
According to Forbes, one way to train managers without having a large budget is to hire people with teaching experience. In the example Forbes gives, a business that works heavily with the military makes a point of hiring leadership with experience at TOPGUN, the Navy's military flight school. These are people who are trained educators that left the military to seek civilian jobs. Because they already know how to teach, the company makes it part of those people's jobs to educate managers-in-training on a weekend or during off-time hours as a kind of informal class.

Even when a company doesn't have any teachers, it can pick experts who already work for a company to help mentor managers in a particular skill set, according to Forbes. For example, people from an IT security background can teach managers about good security rules of thumb, while members of the finance or accounting team can bring managers up to speed about those areas of interest without the company needing to hire an extra staff member or reimburse a person's college courses.

However a company chooses to hire managers, it will likely need to train them – even if this doesn't involve going back to school or building a special program.

Two approaches to management and HR

19 Aug

Management and human resources work together at IKEA, according to HC Online, and this allows the company a greater level of success than it otherwise would have enjoyed.

The plan to integrate HR and management was something planned from the beginning.

"Thirty years ago, [IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad] never imagined or constructed an organization of 'HR' people, but rather outlined a philosophy that put the growth of people and the growth of the business on an equal footing," IKEA HR Manager Jessica Murphy explained in an interview with HC Online.

Human resources are linked with management in a number of ways at IKEA. One such way is by having weekly meetings in which the two sides exchange ideas.

Why companies hate HR
This goes against many other leaders in the business field, who have written articles describing a desire to get rid of HR or change it in some way, according to Forbes. The theory is that HR is based on a collection of different regularity experts, people who are good at employee management systems and people who know how to use payroll software programs. In other words, the whole thing is unrelated to the act of managing people and making money, and therefore should be outsourced.

The two approaches – IKEA's approach and the one described by Forbes – show the discrepancies that can happen when companies don't understand what HR does. If a company's management doesn't know HR, then the human resources team must be sure to communicate this. HR is about much more than doing paperwork.

Introducing big data to an HR program

6 Aug

Using big data to select candidates is quickly becoming the new norm in the human resources field. Many companies are building human resource information systems that can scour the internet and find resumes. The software can analyze people based on things such as where they went to college and how much work experience they have. In the end, the software can make an estimate of how well such a potential candidate would work for a certain company.

A tool like this expands the reach of an ordinary hiring advertisement because HR professionals can even find people who have never heard of a company and include them in the pool of candidates used for human resource planning.

People analytics
The fancy word for this new way of doing HR is people analytics, according to The Washington Post. It means using big data to find correlations with various fields and job requirements. Some of the results might be surprising. According to the Post, for example, there is no correlation between being a skilled programmer and going to college. In fact, many skilled programmers didn't go to college. People analytics can determine this by looking at major companies and the backgrounds of the programmers who work there.

Using computers to determine whom to hire may seem like a less-than-ideal way of doing human resource planning, but according to the Post, a quarter of the people who get hired through the traditional process of posting a resume to a job site and then coming in for an interview last at their companies for less than one year.

HR professionals are using these new software programs to turn this number around so the vast majority of hires stick with a company for the long term.

Advice for those seeking to build a big-data HR program
Enterprise Apps Today recently offered some advice for those seeking to integrate big data into their existing human resource systems. The basic idea is to start small and figure out a way to bring data analysis into the equation slowly.

Big companies can take advantage of a large hiring budget to hire statisticians to crunch numbers on a larger scale. If a company can afford it, building a dedicated big-data team not only for the hiring process but also for analyzing performance of existing employees might be a good idea. Smaller companies may want to start with preexisting software and work their way toward further incorporation of data analysis as workers gain experience working with the specialized computer programs.

Enterprise Apps Today specifically advocates using software for smaller companies, since these packages often come with the advice of a dedicated team who will help human resources staff integrate data-based solutions software through an information hotline.

"Vendors have spent years developing vertical-specific online services and tools to help their customers make the most of their data, which means they're ready to use and already designed to help specific kinds of businesses," said Chad Carson, co-founder and vice president of products at Pepperdata, a company that makes big-data software.

The bottom line is for companies to take it slow and thoroughly understand each step of their integration of big data into the ordinary business of running human resources for a company.

Employers leaning more toward target date retirement funds

30 Jul

One of the major shake-ups in retirement planning has many businesses now using target date retirement funds (TDFs). However, many workers are still uncertain about their employee benefits management and how the new system works to their benefit and if it's in a company's best interest to use them.

TDFs have been around since the 1990s, but have become more widely used in the last few years because they give workers the option to invest more conservatively while employees get older, Benefits Pro reported.

The new system strongly favors equities and stocks when workers are younger and gradually moves to bonds and fixed income options once employees get closer toward their retirement age, the Motley Fool reported.

However, after the stock market crashed in 2008, many found out that TDFs took a hit as well, which made it nearly impossible to see a return on investment when workers were just two years away from retirement, the source reported.

Jake Adamczyk, associate vice president for Aurum Wealth Management Group, explained that if companies continue to stick with TDFs, employers should still comply with current regulations, but something should be done if they are going to be used as a "quantified default investment alternative," the source reported.

"The alternative is employees or participants investing on their own and all the studies done, all the research says professional guidance is better than folks doing it by themselves," said Adamczyk, according to Benefits Pro.

TDFs grow rapidly after market settles
The importance of saving for retirement is only growing since many workers are nearing their expected retirement date with little funds saved, USA Today reported. Currently, TDFs account for $670.6 billion in total assets, which is more than four times higher than the $160 billion reported at the end of 2008. One of the biggest concerns for businesses implementing these plans is if their workers will have too much equity exposure when they are getting close to the targeted retirement date, Barron's reported.

Generally, younger workers will see equity allocation make up around 90 percent of their funds, while it will slowly move to 50 percent or less when workers are nearing their retirement date, the source reported. TDFs have seen success since the market has rebounded and several industry observers believe it's not a bad idea to shift 401(k) plans to TDFs since it's a good investment.

"Target-date funds are a better choice for almost everyone than trying to manage their own retirement portfolio," said Joe Nagengast, a spokesperson for Target Date Analytics, a retirement plan consulting firm, according to financial investment publication Barron's. "With a target-date fund, you get a rational investment approach, broad diversification and a strategy for lowering risk as the retirement date approaches."

Employees looking for unique options
There are three major companies that cover 70 percent of the TDF market: Fidelity, Vanguard and T. Rowe Price, Barron's reported. Specifically, Fidelity currently has $186 billion target-date funds at the end of May 2014, which has grown since businesses are comfortable having them manage retirement-plan assets.

"A lot of what we see with smaller plan sponsors is that they're skeptical that they can find an investment manager who can beat the market over time after fees," said Greg Carpenter, CEO of Employee Fiduciary, a firm that controls 401(k) plans, according to the source. "They're choosing index target-date funds. That gives their employees a fighting chance to be retirement ready."

Experts believe that TDFs are a "sound alternative" for several 401(k) plan investors, but employees are going to want to have their funds specifically tailored to their unique needs, U.S. News and World report said. In some circumstances, workers are finding out that their TDF plan is not specifically adjusted to the date they wish to retire, which can change retirement plan outlooks.

Employee Retention Remains a Top HR Concern

21 Jul

HR professionals know that recruiting talented workers is just the beginning of their employee management duties, with retention being one of the core workforce elements every HR department needs to focus on. According to a recent poll by Human Resource Executive (HRE) Online, HR professionals continue to see numerous challenges, with employee retention being one of them. 

HRE Online's "What's Keeping HR Up at Night?" poll received more than 400 responses from HR professionals, and found retaining workers came in at No. 3 on the list. Employee engagement and productivity earned the top spot with 36 percent of responses, while development leadership talent secured No. 2 with 28 percent. But retaining key talent was considered by 24 percent to be a key challenge. In fact, 37 percent of respondents said they gave their concern about losing top performers a 4 out of 5, showing many are very concerned about their retention of crucial workers.

Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital management practice The Conference Board, told HRE Online that keeping workers at the organization is important for every business, large or small.

"There is no greater challenge than the need to have high-performing, engaged employees and effective leaders to deliver on a business strategy," Ray said. "This is the same in every region, in every market, in every industry."

According to an article in TLNT, HR professionals don't have to let their worry about employee management stop them from getting their needed eight hours of shuteye. There are numerous strategies to increase retention, and many have a talent management element to them. Recruiting the right workers in the first place is one of the easiest ways to improve retention, but providing workers professional development opportunities, rewarding and recognizing strong performance and promoting strong leaders can also make a difference to retention. 

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