Friday, March 29, 2013

The Best of Jobs and the Worst of Jobs

Forbes and CareerBliss just released the data of their research looking into the happiest and unhappiest jobs in the world. A few observations from the list:
  1. I am pretty shocked to see Real Estate Agent at number one. With the downturn in the housing market, the last job I expected to see on top would be one which is commission based on house purchases. But it is
  2. 2 out of the top 3 occupations on the list are usually highly commission-based. In an era where base salaries aren't going up a lot, maybe that is where the money is being made and the happiness factor is the highest
  3. Another commonality among the "happiest jobs"--a lot involve blue color jobs and quite a few involve some sort of IT/technology background.
  4. 3 of the 7 most unhappy professions are in law. Again, why are people going to law school? 
  5. It's not just law school that seems to be a mistake, 60% of the most unhappy professions usually require some sort of post-college degree. So while you're sitting in loads of debt, you're also miserable at your job? Pass!
  6. I still think the best job ever was Tom Hanks in BIG testing toys:

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

More Reason Why Companies Should Care about DOMA Arguments

Listening to NPR yesterday, the coverage was heavily-centered around the two cases that are being tried before the Supreme Court--about Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). While there are people who feel strongly about the issue on both sides, the tide is turning towards people supporting marriage equality--not just in the general public and politics, but in the business world as well. And here are some reasons from NPR why you may want to follow this a bit more closely (hint: it's bad for business)
The Defense of Marriage Act prevents same-sex couples from getting medical coverage and other tax and retirement benefits that other employees receive for their spouses. And that complicates things for any business that employs people in any of the nine states and Washington, D.C., where same-sex couples are lawfully married.

"We're basically treating people differently," says Mark Roellig, general counsel at MassMutual Financial. He says DOMA forces his company to keep track of a dual system, and that costs time and money.

"You have to keep separate sets of books. You've got to continually be adjusting. And then also picking up the potential legal risk if you make a mistake," he says. "So it's ongoing administrative costs that are pretty significant."

His company does not want to discriminate, Roelling says. So MassMutual uses a workaround to give employees benefits for their same-sex spouses. But then DOMA forces those employees to pay more in taxes and MassMutual pays more, too.

Profit cuts are not the only reason businesses are complaining about the law — it's also about the work environment. Hannah Grove, executive vice president at State Street, a financial firm, says DOMA is hurting company's ability to create an inclusive atmosphere.

"In order to compete in today's global competitive environment, our employees are one of our greatest assets," Grove says...

...Overall, 278 employers signed on to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act. The number of companies that filed a brief arguing DOMA is good for business? Zero.

Just something to keep in mind...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Compensation 105: Pay Communications

Compensation Programs and Practices 2012, conducted by WorldatWork, found that 80 percent of organizations relay pay information to their employees via brief written or oral communications. This may leave us wondering, what would be the most effective way to communicate with an employee about his or her pay?  Is there just one right way to share this information? Are there legal considerations that impact pay communications? The focus for this issue of Astronology on compensation basics is Pay Communications.

Why is pay communication important? One Bloomberg BusinessWeek article explains that, “a pay-related communication from a manager has three times the impact on engagement, performance, and retention as that same communication coming from a central function such as HR.”  Pay communication is so critical, that how the information is relayed and by whom can impact an employee’s work contribution to the organization. The article also pointed out that only 10 percent of managers effectively communicate pay to their employees. While quite a few managers do not feel adequate in relaying pay information, these skills can be acquired through active learning training.

The human resources section of mentions that if employees cannot fully understand the organization’s compensation philosophy, it is a sure sign that communication has been done poorly. Although a manager may not be responsible for selecting and establishing the pay philosophy, they do play a significant role in executing on that philosophy. Managers, in a nutshell, should be able to:
  • Understand their roles and the value that they add when they communicate employee pay information.
  • Understand the organization’s pay philosophy and be able to explain it clearly.
  • Communicate the employee’s pay raise in such a manner that the employee feels rewarded and acknowledges that the organization values the employee.
One of the most effective ways to share compensation information is a formal meeting between an employee and his / her manager. Depending on the environment, or type of work done in an organization, e-mail or instant messaging may be popular choices in regular communication between workers. However, due to the sensitive nature of the subject of compensation, nothing demonstrates value more than a personable, one on one chat. It is said that 90 percent of how we communicate is through our nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and gestures. These nonverbal cues help in conveying sincerity to employees, particularly in delicate conversations surrounding pay.
  • Don’t fail to communicate the context of a possible pay increase. If pay increases are awarded by merit and contribution, clearly define what would be considered merits and qualifying forms of contribution.
  • Do explain why the employee may be receiving a pay raise. Be specific in his / her contributions.
  • Don’t inform employees of the percentage of the increase. In an environment where nationally the pay increase is at an average of 2.5%-3.5%, in the eyes of the employee such an increase may not be motivating.
  • Do give the employee the salary increase in a dollar amount.
  • Don’t compare one employee’s increase to another’s employee’s increase.
  • Do thank the employee for HIS / HER hard work and commitment, and express confidence in the employee’s continued contributions to the organization.
  • Don’t focus on why the pay isn’t larger. Do confer with HR if the employee requests more information on why the pay isn’t larger. Be able to clearly explain what criteria were used to make the decision on the employee’s pay.
  • Do follow up with HR with a written document to be included in the employee’s file regarding the amount of the increase.  In addition, a personal copy should be sent to the employee’s home address, or given to the employee in person.
With respect to this last “do,” in some cases there may be state laws that require not only verbal communication but also written communication of employee’s pay history. For instance, in 2011 New York introduced The Wage Theft Prevention ACT (WTPA), which requires that employers give written notices of wage rates to each new hire, all employees by February 1 of each new year, and any time an employee’s pay rate is changed.  Be sure to check your state laws for similar requirements, as what each notice must include may be different from state to state.

A comfortable time to have a conversation with an employee with respect to pay can be when the employee is first hired.  That initial conversation is only the starting point, however.  Such conversations must happen on an on-going basis, after the annual review with the employee.  The employee will be already anticipating the conversation, and such timing will facilitate both parties feeling comfortable to voice their opinions and also to be more openly heard.  In addition, the more information an employer shares with its employees regarding compensation philosophy and the reasons and criteria behind pay increase decisions on an on-going basis, higher levels of trust continue to build.  Such trust is essential for truly attracting, retaining, and motivating an organization’s human capital.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ask the Expert: First-Time Manager

We got two excellent questions recently which spurred two awesome answer from Jennifer. Today's is about something that many people my age are going through: the anxiety that comes from being a manager for the first time and your responsibility to the people you are to manage. Here's the Q&A:

David Asks

I was recently made a real manager for the first time in my career but I'm a little nervous since I've never really been in charge of people before and I'm not sure what I'm doing is correct (there isn't much guidance from my company and the past inhabitants of this position weren't exactly role models of good managing skills). Is this something that people go into or are there courses that should be taught to managers to make sure they're doing the right thing? Or is there something I could suggest to my employer to do that may be beneficial not just for me but the whole company? I don't want to seem incompetent and unworthy of the new role but I also don't want to be a fish out of a water. Any advice?

Jennifer Answers

Congratulations on your promotion! How exciting for you! Managing employees can be one of the most rewarding aspects of work, and also one of the most challenging.

I am thrilled to see that you are proactively interested in developing your management skills. Many times, employers promote individuals who are technically savvy and experts in their positions, but lack the necessary skills to manage people. These individuals continue on for decades, not realizing their people skills could use some help! Your employees are lucky to have someone as caring as you for their manager.

Both Dale Carnegie Training ( and the American Management Association ( offer courses designed to help managers – both new and seasoned – excel in their roles!

You could also ask your employer about providing you with a mentor, someone within the organization who you perceive to be an effective manager. You could learn from him / her at your pace, with less out of pocket cost than a formal training course. One on one coaching could also be another option if you organization has internal coaches available. You could even explore all three of these options – they’re not mutually exclusive!

Good luck with your new role! I hope you enjoy the professional development opportunities this growth position offers you.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ask The Expert: Obligation to New Employer

I took a little while but we're now back to our "Ask the Expert Series", where our resident expert, Jennifer Loftus, answers your questions. Feel free to submit one and we will post the best of them here on the blog. The latest is about what happens when you get a new job...but a better one comes along?

Anonymous asks 

I recently took a new job but at another company, a position that I interviewed for that's better overall (pay, location, benefits, etc.), said that they would get back to me next week--what is my obligation to my new employer to stay and is there any repercussions to my leaving? (I'm just trying to really figure out if there is a "good" way to handle this tough situation and be fair to the company that I just started at since I don't want to burn bridges)

Answer from Jennifer

Congratulations on being accepted at two positions! That is great for you, particularly in this economy! However, moving between jobs very quickly does pose challenges. On the one hand, you want to do what’s best for you and your career. On the other, you don’t want to do something that potentially could come back to haunt down the road.

Assuming that your job with your new employer is “at will,” meaning that you don’t have a contract for employment for a set period of time, there’s no legal obligation to stay. If you do have a contract, however, leaving before the contract is up could put you in a breach of contract situation.

Legal issues aside, you do have the ethical dilemma to address. Your employer has spent time interviewing, on-boarding, and training you. Those activities have cost the organization time and money. How would it feel to you to leave after only a few weeks? Would you feel comfortable with your decision to leave? Think carefully about your decision to accept the new position. While pay, benefits, and work location are important considerations, you must also reflect on the culture and work environment of the potential employer. Will you like working for this organization? Does the culture match your style? How do your current manager and your potential manager compare, in terms of work styles, expectations, and reputations? While more money is appealing to most people, many have found that a few less dollars in salary is worth the peace of mind that comes from working with a fair and pleasant manager in a supportive work culture.

If you have made the decision to leave, you still should give your two weeks’ notice, even though your employment has been relatively short. As for the reasons why you’re leaving, this is challenging. If the change in the commute is great, such as 20 minutes as opposed to two hours, focus on that. We’ve all known people who left positions because they didn’t realize how grueling the commute would be every day. If that’s not the case, is the job offer one that is for very different work than your current role? A change in career direction can also be an effective way to start the conversation. If neither of those options fits, however, you can be honest and say that the total compensation package is much larger than your current one, and to pass it up would be a disservice to your family.

No matter what reason you give for leaving, end the relationship on positive terms. Do you know someone who would be a good fit for the job? If yes, bring their resume to the meeting to demonstrate your support for your employer and not wanting to leave them in the lurch. Do your best to show that you care for your employer, even though you’ve been there only a short while. While the employer may not want to serve as a reference for you, the more you can do to help them get through this sudden transition, the less negatively they’ll view the bad news that you’re leaving.

Good luck with one of life’s hard conversations, and good luck with your new role!

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

2013 Survey of Human Resource Priorities

"Human resource management is responsible for how people are treated in organizations. It is responsible for bringing people into the organization, helping them perform their work, compensating them for their labors, and solving problems that arise."  
Cherrington, David J. (1995). The Management of Human Resources. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 

 Astron Solutions, LLC ( is reaching out to clients, associates, and colleagues to conduct a survey of 2013 Human Resource management priorities. The results of this short survey will be provided to participants free of charge, as part of our continued efforts to support HR professionals in the challenges they face on a daily basis. The results will provide you with a guide for setting strategic priorities and determining the allocation of limited HR resources. Thank you in advance for your participation.


Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Compensation 104: Pay for Performance

Continuing our series of compensation topics, this week’s Astronology will review the basics of Pay for Performance programs. About 71% of organizations have a formal employee performance appraisal system. Linking pay to performance through that appraisal system raises questions: How flexible can an employee performance appraisal system be? How can HR ensure that the performance appraisal system is fair? Does compensation link with performance appraisal score? Should it?

A pay for performance program is used to reward employees based on measurements of their performance through an appraisal system. These programs are heavily used in many industries, including healthcare. Pilot studies in some hospitals found using a pay for performance program led to an increase in efficiency.  Major concerns with pay for performance in the healthcare industry, however, are system validity, patient and physician autonomy / privacy, and the increase of administrative responsibility. Concerns regarding validity and workload can apply in other industries as well.  In addition, one must determine if the reward for high performance is an adjustment to an employee’s base pay, or an incentive or bonus reward.  While salary adjustments may have limited flexibility, in many industries, these “incentive-based compensation” or “bonus plans” are easily adaptable to meet a variety of needs.

Many organizations find pay for performance programs an answer to the complex problem of keeping up with a competitive market. Here are a few of the advantages of using pay for performance:
  • Pay for performance makes it clear to the employee what areas should receive priority attention.
  • Employees motivated by financial rewards are driven to achieve high levels of performance.
  • The organization enjoys high performance from its staff and rewards such performers appropriately.
Given that the performance appraisal is linked to an employee’s pay, it is essential that the performance appraisal is fair.  The following are some aspects to consider when designing or updating a performance appraisal system used in a pay for performance program:

-The relative balance between the base salary and performance based pay: Many employees are willing to accept a below-market base salary if the incentive could add up to above market pay.

-How will the criteria be weighted?:  To over-reward employees for short-term accomplishments can be quite costly to an organization. It is important to clearly define what would be considered short-term versus long-term actions.

-How will the organization guard against score inflation or other manipulation?:  Manipulation of performance appraisal scores by raters and managers undermines the fairness of the employee appraisal and pay for performance systems.  Employees will perceive management as “gaming the system,” and the rewards become meaningless.  To guard against this demoralizing effect, Human Resources must continually review score results across departments and managers to identify scoring trends, and address score inflation or manipulation sooner rather than later.

-Will there be a partial incentive or reward if goals are partially achieved?: To have an “all or nothing” incentive or other reward can work for some industries, but not all. Establish at what rate rewards will be provided and what constitutes a “partial reward.”

-How will the criteria be established? How are the accomplishments measured?: Tapping into the expertise of an HR consulting firm is recommended when it comes to answering these questions. Utilizing an external third party enables the organization to explore the types of systems the competition uses, performance management trends, best practices, and pitfalls to avoid.  For example, Astron Solutions’ Web-Based Talent Management program, Flare™, combined with supportive consulting, has helped many organizations efficiently manage the challenges of creating and implementing a pay for performance program. Why not request a demonstration to learn more?

-Can we establish any of the rewards to be paid out on a discretionary basis?: Perhaps an employee may handle an unforeseen task so masterfully that those responsible for handling bonus awards or merit increase awards may deem it necessary to reward the employee outside the scope of the formal pay for performance program. Keep in mind, however, that it can be demotivating to have compensation based on unknown criteria. When using this type of discretionary plan, be discreet and make payout decisions wisely.

Pay for performance programs run contrary to the thought that performance should not be linked to compensation. This is especially so when one questions the structure of a pay for performance program. One person writing for the Harvard Business Review recently said, “When you try to institutionalize pay for performance you actually ruin the concept.” Others even question whether board members or HR professionals in an organization would know enough about what it takes – skill and difficulty – to perform at current levels.  As such, it is important to make sure when creating the pay for performance program design team that all sides or concerns are represented and considered. Examining the experience each team member has in areas such as compensation and management is critical.

When structured appropriately for the organization’s jobs and industry, pay for performance can provide multiple benefits to the employer.  Without careful development and on-going monitoring, however, the program may run contrary to the organization’s Human Resource goals.  Pay for performance is an important part of the compensation world that must be considered carefully by all organizations.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Working from Home Is the Wave of the Future

There are memos and then there are MEMOS like the one from Office Space about the TPS reports or the one sent by the Yahoo! CEO Marissa Myers (outed by AllThingsD) which banned working from home. There have been a myriad of reactions from the memo (mostly negative) and some of them are worth getting more into--and we'll do so right now.

Huffington Post (H/T Shira) wrote about why it's good for everything from the environment to the employee turnover and productivity. CNN wrote why this is a women's issue, followed up by TIME saying that is a men's issue as well. But the biggest thing of all is that Yahoo! is missing the point here, and missing the wave of the future according to Today:

By focusing more on measuring how well employees are doing their job, and worrying less about where the work gets done, companies with flexible work policies are seeing productivity go up, according to human resources experts. 

That may be one more reason American companies are adopting flexible work policies. As of last year, nearly two-thirds of employers offered flexible work rules to at least some of their employees – up from about a third in 2005, according to a national study by the Society for Human Resource Management. 

“We don’t see this trend going away,” said Michael Aitken, SHRM’s vice president of government affairs. "This is the way that work will get done in the future. I spend a great deal of time and energy in educating our members about the value that it offers.”
The key is the last part. Employers know about certain benefits of working from home (and the disadvantages of not allowing employees to take advantage of it), but it's the education of companies and those in charge of decisions like these that need to understand the pros and the cons. Not every type of job (and not every employee) will be able to work in this environment. But for the ones that are, the wave of the future is telecommuting and you better at least get educated about it before you get left behind.

(We'll discuss this more later in the week)

Friday, March 01, 2013

It's Casual Friday

From my favorite current hockey player in the latest of the string of my favorite commercials:

Have a great weekend!

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