Editor's News Picks

Innovative Benefits Focus on Reducing Workers' Stress at Home

A recent New York Times article highlights new approaches businesses are taking toward employee benefits. Evernote, a digital note-taking service, provides free housekeeping services every other week to each of its 250 full-time employees. Internet giants Facebook and Google provide new parents $4,000 and $500, respectively. In the medical sciences field, Genentech and Stanford School of Medicine provide employees take-home meals or in-home dinner delivery. Consulting firm Deloitte helps employees find backup caregivers for their aging parents and grandparents.

These non-traditional benefits are aimed at increasing employees' ease of life outside working hours. Moreover, they aim to benefit not only employees, but also their families. These perks, according to a UCLA compensation expert and management professor, represent an attempt by businesses to offer employees non-financial benefits that will provide them time and peace of mind.

Employers anticipate that these benefits aimed at reducing employees' stress levels at home will have positive effects in the workplace. As Evernote CEO Phil Liblin stated, "Happy workers make better products." Dr. Hannah Valentine of Stanford remarked, "If you're coming home at the end of the day exhausted and you have a pile of cleaning to do, it's the kind of things that leads rapidly to burnout, and burned-out physicians don't give the best care."

Although some compensation experts question whether these benefits help businesses attract and retain talent, the businesses showcased in the article believe they are beneficial, and interviewed workers responded positively to the perks.

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Bill Addresses Challenges Facing U.S. Expatriates

H.R. 6263, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on August 1, 2012, would establish a federal commission to examine how federal laws and policies affect U.S. citizens living abroad. The 15-member commission, with funding of $3 million for each of fiscal years 2013 and 2014, would examine issues such as:

  • Expatriates' ability to access foreign and domestic financial institutions;
  • U.S. citizenship obstacles facing an expatriate's foreign-born and foreign-residing spouse and children;
  • Ability to exercise voting rights;
  • Access to federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare;
  • Obtaining federal education loans for expatriates and their children.

The bill, which was introduced by U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Michael Honda (D-CA) and Charles Rangel (D-NY), has been referred to committee.

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To Get Ahead, Employees Are Expected to Get Abroad

The Wall Street Journal reports that foreign postings have become a prerequisite - not merely a preference - for employees interested in being promoted to or hired for a C-level position. To advance to a senior executive position, employees must resemble their employers, i.e., be "multinational." They must be willing to travel frequently to their employer's overseas entities or accept temporary, longer-term international assignments to gain insight into global business operations.

In the past, employees often shunned overseas assignments, believing that they might signal a lack of importance to headquarters' daily operations. Today, however, staying put could prevent advancement. In the article, an executive search firm director contends that 70% of clients request international experience for C-level positions.

Individuals with overseas experience offer various advantages: they maintain a network of foreign connections that can aid a business with current or future projects, they understand consumer markets, and their familiarity with local customs and government practices aids them in effectively guarding against ethical and legal violations, such as illegal payments. The praise for extensive experience working abroad, however, is not unanimous. Some contend that individuals with multiple international assignments are nomadic and lack effective leadership skills, given that foreign assignments tend to reward workers for short-term accomplishments rather than long-term results. One advisor interviewed for the article recommends that, instead of lengthy foreign assignments, employers send high-potential employees to foreign sites for extended trips of up to two weeks every month.

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China: "Naked" Resignations Gaining Popularity

The "naked" resignation - quitting without having new employment lined up - is a growing trend in China, according to China Daily. One headhunter reported that between 30-40% of his candidates had resigned "naked." The trend signals a change in cultural attitudes toward employment among the country's younger workers, who are more frequently valuing personal satisfaction over compensation. For these individuals, achieving work-life balance is more important than climbing the corporate ladder, and they are content to wait for the right job to materialize. And, analysts note, this trend reflects the transition of China's job market from "labor-intensive" to "more mature."

Employers appear to have caught on to the trend and are taking steps aimed at increasing employee retention rates and attracting new candidates, such as giving greater attention to employees' health and wellness. In recent months, some companies have significantly increased salaries - by as much as 30% - but the decline in applications for vacant positions continues. A study cited by China Daily found that during the same time period that job vacancies increased by more than 30%, applications increased by only 12%.

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Tags: China

National Smoking Ban Enacted in Brazil

Brazil recently became the largest "smoke-free" country in the world, according to the Pan American Health Organization, the regional arm of the World Health Organization. Previously, pursuant to Law No. 9.294 (in Portuguese) (July 15, 1996), smoking was permitted in public and private enclosed collective-use spaces if there was a designated, ventilated area exclusively for smoking. However,

Article 49 of Law 12.546 (in Portuguese) (Dec. 14, 2011) amends Law No. 9.294 to prohibit the use of cigarettes, cigars, pipes or any other smoking product in all public and private enclosed collective-use spaces. While such a ban already existed within some Brazilian states, e.g., Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the new law applies nationwide. Accordingly, employers should review their on-premises smoking policies for possible amendment in light of the revised national law.

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Survey: 73% of Companies Consider Whistleblowing and Retaliation Claims an Emerging Risk

According to the recent Littler Mendelson Whistleblower Survey (pdf), companies are increasingly concerned about the potential impact of whistleblower claims on their organizations, although the level of concern has not fully peaked as companies are still adapting to the new regulatory environment created by Dodd-Frank:

  • 73% of respondents identified whistleblowing and retaliation as an emerging risk area and 96% are either very concerned or moderately concerned about potential whistleblower claims.
  • Although a high percentage of respondents (45%) indicated that their company had experienced a whistleblower claim in the last 12-24 months, 67% anticipated whistleblower claims to increase within the next 12-24 months.
  • While respondents were undoubtedly concerned about whistleblowing activity and were anticipating an increase in claims, the financial incentives created by Dodd-Frank are relatively new and it is anticipated that the level of concern will rise in the next 12-24 months as companies continue to feel the impact of these changes.
  • Respondents also expressed concern that provisions within Dodd-Frank could undermine their compliance programs. Only 12% of respondents indicated this was not a concern, while 51% were concerned and 37% remain unclear on the impact on their current procedures.

Littler surveyed 51 senior legal, compliance and human resources executives at publicly traded or highly regulated companies, the vast majority of which were based in the United States. Of those participating, by Standard and Poor's definitions, 60% were LargeCap companies, 26% were MidCap and 14% were SmallCap.

The survey also found that companies were somewhat confident about their ability to protect against whistleblower claims, but were taking steps to better prepare and train management on compliance with government regulations and proper handling of whistleblower claims:

  • The majority of respondents (65%) believed that their companies were only moderately prepared to handle whistleblower claims and 8% were not prepared at all. Furthermore, only 54% were confident that executives in their organizations understand unlawful retaliation concepts and knew not to engage in such conduct, while 32% were not confident and 14% did not know.
  • 84% of respondents indicated their companies had taken preventative steps to protect against unlawful retaliation claims. In addition, whistleblower and/or retaliation-related training appeared to be prevalent at the companies surveyed, with 41% conducting training in the next 12 months, 18% planning to do so and 27% considering implementing such training.
  • Respondents from LargeCap companies expressed greater concern about whistleblower claims, with 73% anticipating claims will increase within the next 12-24 months (compared to 66% of all respondents). A higher percentage of respondents from LargeCap companies indicated they have taken preventative steps to protect against unlawful retaliation claims (93%) and 59% will be conducting training in the next 12 months.

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Work: That's the Name of the Game

To help increase worker productivity, foster innovation, and make work seem less like work, some companies have incorporated gaming into their businesses processes, reports the Chicago Tribune. This "gamification" of the workplace includes virtual badges for completing tasks, unlocking more complex training courses when basic levels are completed, and awarding points for improvements, which are noted on an employee scoreboard. A research firm estimated that 70% of large companies will use gaming techniques for at least one business process by 2014.

Global technology and accounting firms are leading the way to putting the "fun" back into business fundamentals. For example, one company's game challenges employees to increase a virtual city's efficiency, and another incorporates gaming into its Leadership Academy. While no metrics currently exist to gauge the effectiveness of workplace games, a cited study shows employees who used video games while training had better factual learning skills, reached higher skill levels, and were better able to retain information compared to non-interactive learners.

Despite its noted potential in the workplace, at least one communications professor advises that companies should ensure that games do not get out of hand. He reasons that what might be perceived by some employees as healthy competition could create resentment among others.

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Survey: Most Firms Have Disaster Preparedness Plans in Place, But Many Lack Confidence in Ability to Face Threats

As the ten-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks approaches, the Society for Human Resources announced results from a survey it conducted on organizations' disaster preparedness plans. Although 61% of the 306 respondent organizations had either implemented or revised their plans since the attacks, only 33% felt prepared "to a great or very great extent" to manage a threat or disaster (terrorist attack, natural disasters, epidemics, workplace violence, etc.), while 42% felt prepared "to a moderate extent." The survey indicated that large firms (2,500 or more employees) were most likely to have in place a formal disaster preparedness plan. The most common security provisions were "offering and requiring more training about crisis/disaster management," and "developing business continuity plans." Remarkably, identification badges for employees are required by only 18% of respondents.

A security expert quoted in a related report by Workforce Management noted that, in addition to physical safety concerns, companies must concern themselves with "computer hacking, pre-employment screening and other types of security concerns." He also noted that businesses need crisis preparedness plans addressing all issues, and recommended that companies with sensitive data perform pre-employment background checks. However, employers conducting such checks must ensure they comply with applicable privacy and discrimination laws.

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Recession's Impact on Employee Benefits Lingers

A recent study of the types of benefits U.S. employers offer to their employees, Examining Employee Benefits Amidst Uncertainty, found that the recession has significantly impacted employee benefits. The study, conducted annually by the Society of Human Resources Management, found that as companies struggle to remain competitive in recruiting and retaining top talent, employees have been bearing greater financial responsibility for benefits such as retirement and health care plans. Key findings of the 2011 study include:

  • Nearly 75% of surveyed human resources practitioners report a negative impact on benefits due to the economy, up from 70% in 2010.
  • Ninety-three percent of respondents' employers offer defined contribution pension plans, compared with only 22% that offer defined benefit pension plans.
  • Health savings accounts are becoming more prevalent while HMO plans continue to decline in popularity.
  • In the past five years, 25% of employers have offered housing and relocation programs (e.g., assistance selling previous home, cost-of-living differential, spouse relocation assistance), a decrease from 42% in 2007.
  • Though employers may see a $6 gain on a $1 investment in wellness programs, the number of companies offering such programs has remained flat, at around 59%.

One offering showing a gain in popularity is workplace flexibility benefits: More than 50% of respondents' companies offer flex time (up from 45% in 2010), and 20% offer full-time telecommuting, up from 17 % in 2010.

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Survey: Talented Workers in Short Supply Globally

The Global Talent Index, which analyzes 60 countries' "capacity for developing, attracting and retaining talent," was recently issued by leadership advisory firm Heidrick & Struggles in partnership with the Economist Intelligence Unit. The examined indicators (e.g., education, demographics, openness of labor market) and business executives' survey responses indicate that demand for talented workers exceeds supply, both in the current market and also as projected for 2015.

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