Friday, June 27, 2008

What I’m Hearing…The Latest from SHRM

What a week it’s been! I’m back from the SHRM conference in Chicago. It was, as expected, a great time. The conference hosted over 14,000 HR professionals from around the globe. Sidney Poitier was one of the most popular keynote speakers. The exhibit hall contained over 50 rows of vendors! And the Tuesday evening concert with Lionel Richie was entertaining, fast paced, and fun.

The SHRM conference wasn’t all fun and games, however. The Special Expertise Panels kicked off two of SHRM’s largest and newest initiatives for the coming year. The first addresses the issue of Workforce Readiness. Out of 100 students currently in the 9th grade, only 18 will receive a Bachelor’s degree within 6 years, or an Associate’s degree within 3 years of starting a program. Many of today’s graduates do not have the skills needed to perform successfully in the workplace. SHRM has begun the process of developing a response and action plan to address this major concern.

The second area of interest is developing a competency model for senior HR practitioners. Specifically what are those non-HR competencies necessary for someone below the C-Suite level to be a successful business partner?

Stay tuned to SHRM and What I’m Hearing for updates on these critical initiatives that impact you and your organization.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Point/Counterpoint: How to Manage an Office Full of 20-Somethings

First we have US News and World Report who has their view of managing 20 somethings in today's office environment:

And on our counterpoint is the always-edgy and youthful Gawker who says that the people at US News and World Report have no clue what they're talking about:


Monday, June 23, 2008

Executive Decisions

We're sorry we missed some of these articles, but we want to get back to you in style her at the Astron blog...

First, an old article recently reprinted in the Wall Street Journal gives some hints about what employers are seeking in Human Resource Executives: click here

Human Resource Executive Online follows up with an article about disclosing executive-pay goals: click here

HR Daily Advisor follows up on a recent SHRM discussion about when safety and religion collide: click here

Job Journal has an article about America's declining job readiness, a topic we have discussed on the blog before: click here

And lastly, following up on one of our big stories from last week...Jerry Manuel, the New York Mets new coach now has called the Mets fans a big pile of fertilizer (courtesy of the New York Post via FOX Sports on MSN): click here

This is an organization that's in need of some work...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Letterman Weighs In

One more and then we'll leave the Mets alone for now:

From David Letterman, on the firing of Willie Randolph (via Jason Stark of's blog: click here):
    "Willie is pretty good about it. He said he's looking forward to spending more time at home being booed by his family."

A New Approach

This is a new approach from the old manager to say the least (third paragraph down):

So to get his player in line Jerry Manuel is going to threaten to cut them? Those in Public Relations and Human Resources everywhere are pulling their hair out...


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Accountability in the Clubhouse

More on the Mets after Jennifer's great post...

The headlines aren't pretty: click here and here

And even Jon Stewart and the Daily Show have gotten into it:

And the articles about how poorly this was executed were numerous to say the least: click here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here (we'll stop here to be nice)

Willie Randolph's mother even got her opinion in here via the Journal News: click here

Journal News Beat Writer Peter Abraham thinks (and has thought) that the Mets need a Vice President of Common Sense: click here

But maybe one of the topics we need to be talking about, especially as HR Professionals, are how little accountability gets taken in this situation. The truth is that the easiest person to fire in sports is always the manager or head coach. But why wasn't it the owners faults? Or the players faults? Or, most glaringly, the General Manager's fault?

In sports (unlike a lot of other places in life) players cannot be simply and cheaply fired. In baseball, hockey and basketball you can waive or buy-out players but you still need to pay the entire amount of their contract. Football players can be waved but certain parts of salaries and bonuses still need to be paid and a certain salary cap hit still applies. Since most players that would actually change the tone of an underachieving team are the biggest stars, this can be an expensive and usually cost-prohibitive method. Trading a player is always an option but if a player is overpaid and underachieving you either get back another overpaid underachiever or pennies to the dollar in value for the guy you want to shed. A lot of marginal or young players end up getting moved because of the flexibility they retain in having a small contract. So the truth is that while the players have the largest impact by far on the end-product, and in a normal business they would be the first to go, the star players usually can escape the blame.

Owners don't fire themselves both in real life and on sports teams so that's out. But they write the checks and approve the deals and hire the General Manager, Manager and coaches.

General Managers seem to have a greater lifespan than managers (who also last longer than their coaches--who become sacrificial lambs at times). Omar Minaya showed that in this case. Minaya built the team and served as the axeman...but seemed to bear no responsibility in the end, even blaming the media in the end.

So it's the manager that goes and it brings up an issue for Human Resources: when things goes wrong and nobody is obviously solely to blame: who do you blame? who gets fired?

Many people feel like Minaya is next but the truth of the matter is that he should go just for how he handled the situation. Letting someone go is never easy to do but it should never be this difficult and drawn-out and messy and public. At this point, they are making the Yankees look like model citizens.

What I’m Hearing…The “Midnight Massacre”

Late Monday night, New York Mets fired their Manager Willie Randolph. While this news is not entirely surprising – the rumors had been flying for quite some time – the manner in which it was handled is enough to make any HR professional cringe.

First the team’s owners let Mr. Randolph begin a road trip on the West Coast. They decided to fire him the next day, 2,500 miles away from home. After the team won their game against the Angels. At midnight, local time (3 AM EDT).

Not surprisingly, the Mets lost their game last night.

Terminating an employee is never an easy task. But when did common sense, respect, and manners make a quick exit from the process? The team’s owner claims that Willie Randolph is still his friend, but this was strictly a business issue. I hope none of my friends ever treat me like that.

Certainly every employee relations issue has many factors influencing the termination decision. And in many cases, termination is the only viable option for organizational success. For the most part, though, no one wants to lose their job. Nor do most people want to terminate employees. The more respectful and swift the process, in a comfortable environment, the better the outcomes should be for everyone.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Going To The Vault

We're sorry we've missed you...but we want to update you with all the latest news in Human Resources (links and info from

Weekly Jobless Claims (Seasonally Adjusted), Week Ending 05/31 (reported 06/05) 357,000
Weekly Jobless Claims Change from Previous Week (seasonally adjusted) -18,000
Payroll Employment (Nonfarm Jobs Created or Lost), May -49,000
Unemployment Rate, May 5.5 percent

Six Essential Interview Questions: Vault Blogs

by Judi Perkins
An interview is a two-way street. It's not only important for the interviewer to learn if you fit them, but you need to find out if the company fits you. You also need to know if there are potential problems lurking behind the scenes. Most job seekers go to an interview prepared with questions, but not the ones which will ferret out the type of information they need to know before they begin working there.
Below area few questions that should always be asked. Not only will they help you to ascertain if the job for which you are interviewing meets the criterion of your perfect job, but the answers, when put together, will give you a fairly accurate picture of what's going on behind the interview.
Read more on Vault: click here

Unemployment spike stirs stimulus talk
The dismal jobs report on Friday has prompted renewed calls for a second congressional effort to stimulate the economy. The Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate jumped to 5.5 percent in May from 5 percent a month earlier. It was the biggest monthly increase in more than 20 years. Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill said the report shows that Congress and the Bush administration need to do more to help workers and the unemployed. Read more: click here .

Hillary Clinton shattered a political glass ceiling
A new CBS News poll shows most voters think that by making a serious run for the Democratic nomination, Clinton made it easier for other women to run for president. Sixty percent of men and 76 percent of women agree with that statement. Among Democrats, 75 percent agree; among Republicans, it's 63 percent. Overall, 88 percent of voters agree with the statement "I am glad to see a woman as a serious contender for president." In 1984, when Geraldine Ferraro made history as the first female vice-presidential nominee for a major party, a CBS poll found only 62 percent of voters were "glad that a woman was nominated." Read more: click here

Some employers helping workers ease cost of commuting
A nationwide survey released last week found that 57 percent of employers offer some workplace program to ease commuting costs. The most popular: a condensed workweek of four 10-hour days, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consultancy in Chicago. The survey of 100 human resources executives across a variety of industries also found that one in five companies organizes employee carpools, with 14 percent increasing their telecommuting options and 18 percent subsidizing the cost of public transportation. Read more: click here

Pentagon's latest recruits: professors
Military power requires brainpower, and the Defense Department is moving to engage a new generation of scientists and engineers to conduct research that may pay off in technological breakthroughs for the nation's military. The department last week announced the selection of six university professors who will form the first class of the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellows Program. The professors will receive grants of up to $600,000 per year for up to five years to engage in basic research - essentially a bet by the Pentagon that they will make a discovery that proves vital to maintaining the superiority of the U.S. military. Read more: click here

A third of employed Americans do not take all the vacation days that they are entitled to
A global study by found that about a third of employed Americans usually do not take all the vacation days that they are entitled to, leaving an average of three days on the table. About a quarter of the workers in Britain do not take all their vacation time, and in France a little less. The only difference is that the British get an average of 26 days of vacation and the French about 37 - compared with our 14 days. 137 countries mandate paid vacation time. The United States is the only industrialized country that doesn't. About a quarter of all workers in the private sector do not receive paid vacation. And the number of Americans who said in April that they were going to take a vacation in the next six months is at a 30-year low, according to their regular consumer survey. Only 39 percent of those responding said they would go away on holiday over the next half year. Read more: click here (Free subscription required).

Helping teens find summer work
Only about one-third of teenagers 16- to 19-years-old will find a job this summer, a sign of slow economic growth and higher minimum wage for all workers in the U.S. In fact, their employment rate this season is expected to be the lowest in six decades, according to a study from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. Low-income and minority youths will have a particularly hard time finding work. For them, the study says, the job picture may look more like "a Great Depression." Some companies are cutting back or delaying summer hiring, while a tight job market is driving unemployed older workers into traditional teen jobs. Read more: click here

Some employers get tough on workplace gossip
In workplaces everywhere, gossip remains a daily fact of life. Around watercoolers, behind closed doors, and in e-mails, employees whisper about everything from office romances to rumored mergers and layoffs. Defenders insist that this chatter is often harmless, giving workers a window on legitimate news. Critics charge that it can be insidious and malicious, lowering morale. Read more: click here

Thursday, June 05, 2008

What I’m Hearing…Alumni Networks

Say the phrase “alumni network” and most people are bound to think about college. However, more and more organizations are using alumni networks to their strategic advantage. They consider “alumni,” or groups of employees who used to work for the organization, a key source of potential future talent. That potential talent would be either the former employees themselves or people those individuals know.

The other night, I passed Cipriani 42nd Street here in Manhattan. They were hosting a special event for PriceWaterhouse Coopers and its alumni network. Cipriani doesn’t come cheap, so PWC must consider the expense of catering worthwhile in terms of recruitment and retention ROI.

The event got me thinking – is it possible to go home again? If an organization is good, why do people leave? There are, of course, situations like retirement, spouses’ relocation, personal or family’s health, etc. that wouldn’t close the door on returning to a former employer. These situations aside, however, can a new relationship be as good as or better than the first time? I have seen a few instances where this is true, so the risk of spending countless dollars courting alumni must be outweighed by the potential reward. Maybe with their 70s hit “Reunited,” Peaches and Herb had it right after all.

Remembering Toby...

It's been two weeks since the Office season finale and I think I've finally digested all that happened. But after all the memories of jokes and pranks and marriage proposals, it's important to remember the main theme of the episode: Toby, the Human Resources of Dundler Mifflin Scranton left the show and is heading to Costa Rica.

Toby was Michael's foil the entire show and their juxtoposition was never more clear than in this final episode. And Michael's disdain for Toby and Human Resources in general was especialy present.

Toby's situation is a nightmarish one in many ways. He has an off-the-cuff manager who is totally politically incorrect and bordeline harassing at times to his employees. He has a workplace where employees date, bring in dead animals or weapons to work, talk back to the bosses, don't follow rules, and generally don't seem to like being there or like their fellow co-workers.

Worst of all, Toby seemed to have no power. Michael, the manager, was not only a non-help in creating a human-resource-compliant office, but he was also the cause and example of these violations. Anytime Michael or someone else should have been disciplined, Toby got overruled by someone else.

So Toby decided he had enough and made plans to leave for Costa Rica. There is a new human resource officer in town and we as human resource professionals hope that she has an easier time at it than Toby did.

Good-bye, Toby; we'll miss you.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The start of mobile blogging

Welcome to the new age of the Astron Solutions' blogging

So we'll now be even more capable of bringing you the most up-to-date HR news out there...not that we think we were too shabby to begin with :)

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Eavesdropping in the office....

Last week I started to talk about eavesdropping in the office...but maybe it's time to have it's own blog article...

There are many types of eavesdropping in the office. One could occur when someone overhears your personal phone conversation with a family member or friend. Another could occur when two colleagues are talking about a third worker, a client, or a potential deal and are overheard by a third party. Yet another could occur when a coworker is talking to a client and you overhear this conversation.

All of these have great potential conflicts for Human Resources. In places like New York City where space is at a premium so offices are abandoned in lieu of cubes, people's phone conversations as well as conversations with other works can be easily overheard.

And these have implications beyond privacy issues. If an investment banker is talking about a deal with Material Non-Public Information (MNPI) and another employee eavesdrops on this and uses that information in their personal or professional life in an unethical way, this could lead to serious problems for a company.

Feelings get hurt or rumors get started when certain conversations are overheard. Client's personal information can get into the wrong hands. In medical organizations, HIPPA violations can occur when this happens. And conversations in a public place like an elevator can lead to eavesdropping by competitors.

Ladies Home Journal says to always watch what you're saying because you NEVER know who's listening and gives a few examples: click here

Almost three years ago a company named "Babble" came out with a product to help drown out eavesdropping as reported in this old CNN piece: click here

And, lastly, the US Department of Energy has some advice on those that think they are being eavesdropped upon by a competitor: click here

The lesson here for HR is to make sure to tell your employees (and, even more importantly, practice this to the utmost) to remember that Big Brother is always listening and to mind what they say when others can be listening...

Monday, June 02, 2008

What I’m Hearing…Rising Gasoline Prices and Employers’ Responses

According to a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, U.S. companies have more than doubled their gas-cost related efforts as a means to attract and retain employees. With prices over $4 a gallon in New York City, and near $3.89 in Northern New Jersey, driving to work is costly. Some of the recent employer initiatives include providing higher pay raises, increasing mileage reimbursement rates, and awarding special bonuses. Other approaches to this thorny situation include encouragement for employees to use public transportation and buying buses and vans to take employees to and from work.

Interestingly, one item that didn’t make the list, but is starting to generate some buzz, is the use of compressed workweeks. Under a compressed workweek, employees work four 10 hour days, for example, to accomplish a full week’s work in fewer days. I’ve also started to hear of a three 12 hour day option.

Compressed workweeks can be tricky from several perspectives, including employee burnout and team member morale for those not working the special schedule. In addition, not all positions lend themselves to such a schedule. However, the more creative an organization can be in helping employees deal with this situation, the better their chances of attracting and retaining the talent needed for success.

Longer-term changes need to come from the broader societal and economic areas to remedy this oil situation. While individually it is difficult to make changes that impact the world, we as employers can do our part by helping employees through the short-term immediate issues, without creating negative impacts in the long-term. For instance, if we give everyone a 10% pay raise now, what happens when we stop giving those types of increases down the road? The short- and long-terms are equally at stake in this new economic climate.

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