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April 2008

HR Jobs From Hell - The LOA Administrator

By now, readers of the Capitalist know that I am a HR Generalist, meaning I do it all - recruit, employee relations, benefits, performance management, etc.   I'm also a firm believer that Generalist roles span the globe of HR titles - Generalists can be found at the Rep/individual contributor, manager, director and VP levels.

One of the things that is cool about being a HR Generalist is the variety - if you're sick of doing one Dirtyjobsthing, you just need to wait about 20 minutes, because you'll get a call shifting your priorities to another area as a routine course of business.

Some people call it chaos, I call it variety...

So, for me, a HR job from hell is one that includes no variety, and resides in an area of the HR practice where little joy is found.  Here's my first HR Job from Hell - the corporate Leave of Absence Administrator.

First up, let me say that me tagging the LOA Administrator as a job from hell has nothing to do with the people in the job, but instead has everything to do with what these folks have to put up with on a daily basis.  As luck would have it, HR Wench is currently in the job market, and recently phone screened for an LOA Administrator role:

"I had a phone screen yesterday that went ok. It was for the Leave of Absence Specialist. Get this: the organization has 15,000 employees. Guess how many NEW leave of absence cases were processed last year? 4,400. That is almost a 1/3 of their workforce, yo! Geez. Anyhow the in person interviews aren't until a few weeks from now due to vacations. So, we'll see".

UGH.  That pretty much sums up why I would consider the LOA Administer role as a HR role from Dante's 9th circle.  Here's what you have to deal with in that role:

-Primary focus is interacting with folks going through very rough times.  For the right person, this would be a plus, as they could use their empathy to make a difference.  But a steady diet of this over years surely leads to burnout.

-Being the tough gal/guy regarding compliance.  Folks are going through rough times, and you're the one that has to hassle them about the FMLA certification forms even though that's the last thing on their mind.

-Deciding when to play hardball on fraud.  You have 4,000 applications for LOA, you're going to have some folks gaming the system.  You have to decide when to play hardball and go after it.  You see the 5-10% that game the system - how can you not become jaded after a year or two of that?

Let me be clear - if you are in the LOA Administrator role in your company - thank you.   You are taking multiple hits daily for the HR function as a whole, and you're likely doing it very well.  If you get burned out, I hope your company has a rotational program in place, because you have skills that are a valuable resource.

That being said - HR Wench - Don't do it!!

Will You Eventually Have a Heath Care Score Similar to Your Credit Score?....

Imagine a Health Care system that functioned like the consumer credit industry.  Scott Kornhauser has.  The CEO of Healthation thinks the system will ultimately deliver a personal health care score (like a credit FICO score) that drives what consumers pay for healthcare, complete with the ability to improve rtheir rating over time with the right behaviors/performance. 

That tidbit was part of the vision Kornhauser delivered in "Processing the New Business of Health CareCredit_score in a Retail Marketplace" at the World Heath Care Congress.  Kornhauser's bigger vision is that the retail transformation of the U.S. health care delivery system is going to demand real time claims adjudication.  To make real time claims adjudication a reality, Kornhauser sees a combination of indexes and other data points coming together to make the real time claims process work.

What the heck does that mean to a HR Pro?

In Kornhauser's vision, consumers will have the ability to opt in or out of sharing their data with various types of providers.  However, to get the best health care credit score possible, they would have to share a great deal of data and then have their overall health judged - via a numerical score that looks a lot like the FICO score that drives your personal access to credit.

Ready to tell Danny in Accounts Payable he has a health care credit score of 500 and will have to pay double what others do for healthcare?


Have a bad health care FICO score like Danny?  In Kornhauser's world, you'd probably pay more for medical premiums.  But like the credit FICO score, you could improve your health care credit score by demonstrating desired behaviors - like paying your bills on time (easy for Danny, right?) or losing weight to get your BMI score within an acceptable range (harder for Danny...).

Employees Who Play "Grand Theft Auto" - Good or Bad Thing?

We've been watching the NBA playoffs over the past couple of days, and here's the challenge.  It's PRIME TIME, and when the games go to commercial, my 7 and 4 year-old sons get exposed to programming clips and ads the networks view as acceptable at 7pm.

Case in point - On the video game front, Grand Theft Auto 4 is set to be released, featuring all the vicesGrand_theft_auto_4  you can name, set to a drug running culture where shooting cops is an afterthought.  Here's a taste of what the game entails from the London Free Press:

"Grand Theft Auto IV -- or simply GTA IV -- tells the story of Niko Bellic, a recent immigrant to the U.S. from an unrevealed Eastern European country. He's come to Liberty City, the game's through-the-looking-glass version of New York, lured by his cousin Roman's promises of wealth and opportunity.

Niko soon realizes his cousin has twisted the truth like a stoolie's arm: Roman lives in a fleabag apartment, runs a failing taxi company and is in trouble with several shady people. He's summoned Niko, an ex-soldier and all-around capable character, to help extract him from some sticky situations.

So begins Niko's pursuit of the American dream, a chase that will follow the Grand Theft Auto template of having players undertake dozens upon dozens of missions to advance the core storyline, while also pursuing any number of sideline activities, like going to the bar, playing darts and driving home drunk."

Of course, if I can't change the channel quick enough (where is the @#@* remote!?), my 7 year old ultimately see the shoulder fired missile going at the police chopper and asks if we can get that game for our Xbox.  Nice.

Here's a bigger question - are employees who band together at night via networked groups on the Xbox or Playstaion to play "shooter games" good things or bad things for your business? 

On the minus side - your employees are exposed to a steady range of violence via the normal shooter games like "Call of Duty".  Add drugs and poor treatment of women to the mix for games like Grand Theft Auto.  Is there a carry-over of aggression to the workplace?  I can't say that I see it, and it's not like we have the ability to stop what's going on in society.

But here's the big plus side - for every group of 5-10 employees you have that band together at night to save the war (or Niko), you get built-in teamwork.  That group is getting together after work, and doing team-based activities that require cooperation, leadership, accountability to the team and more - they're just exploding things while they do it.

That's got to be good for retention, right?

I think the group gamers are a good thing for your company.  It's also an area that's full of opportunity from a recruiting standpoint for those willing to step outside the box - what better way to recruit the gamer generation than to invite them to join the "Call of Duty" team for an evening of fun?

Of course, you would have to accept that your recruits are going to be exposed to cursing, violence and overall aggressive behavior. 

And that will keep most of us from capturing the promise - we can't accept the liability that goes along with it from a HR standpoint.... 

Steve Roesler - Performance Management and Change Truthteller....

Have you seen the work of Steve Roesler at All Things Workplace?  If not, you need to check it out.

Here's the 3-second elevator speech on what Steve does in his practice:  He specializes in communication training and development with an emphasis on improving systems, relationships, and large-scale change.

He's also a deep thinker about the elements of his practice, which is reflected in his blog.  It's a must read for me, even if Steve goes deeper into his niche than I feel like I have time for on certain days.

Of course, that's not his problem, that's mine...

The reason I read it is because he's good.  Case in point, this post reminding me that if you try and spare someone's feelings from a performance perspective, you may be hurting the long-term viability of their career.  Read the whole post here, and here's a clip:

"There is an admirable and desirable human tendency to not want to hurt other people. Thankfully.

At the same time, there seems to be a misunderstanding about what is hurtful and what is helpful. Wouldn't you think that a career filled with performance appraisals  might have surfaced this earlier?

Let's face it: in addition to not wanting to hurt someone's feelings, we also don't want to be seen as ogres. So we often hold back the part of the information that is the most serious and, therefore, potentially the most helpful.

Ask yourself this: Who in your life do you trust the most? The people who give you mostly 'yeses' or the people who say 'no' and then explain why?"

Read the whole thing.  If I ever need an executive coach (does that mean I have to be an executive first?), I'm asking my company to call Steve.

Steve - thanks for the great work and the reminder.  I'm skilled enough to deliver this type of news with directness and compassion.  Thanks for reminding me that's my responsibility....

Square Peg, Round Hole - Can The Traditional Organization Afford to Focus on Strengths?

Is performance management upside down in Corporate America?  Here are a couple of quick observations:

1.  Jobs are structured for the company, not the employee.  I'm not saying that's wrong,Workplace_hostage just outlining the facts.

2.  90% of the time we spend talking about performance is about how to manage negative variance.

3.  We don't spend a lot of the time evaluating how we can continue to maximize a person's strengths.  We'll tell them they are doing great, give them an "exceeds", then move on to how they can improve their "areas of opportunity". 

4.  The combination of those competencies that create "jobs", are pretty inflexible in corporate America.

With that in mind, it should come as no shock that while we love to read books like "Now Discover Your Strengths" and nod accordingly when discussing, we pretty much go back to the coal mine and expect people to fit in the traditional spaces we've defined.

Scott McArthur recently talked about the power of positive, strength-based psychology in the workplace.  From the sweet rundown at McArthur's Rant:

"Positive psychology suggests that by focusing on people’s strengths rather than on their development needs we can transform wellness at work and as a consequence improve organizational performance.

The notion behind the work that is being done under the banner of Positive Psychology is to enhance our experiences of love, work and play and by doing so encourage wellbeing. This is in contrast to the traditional ways of thinking in both psychology and business where the focus is on finding what isn't working and trying to fix it.

Techniques such as Appreciative Enquiry and Strength finders (Gallup) as well as writers such as Csikszentmihalyi in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience have been extolling the value of adopting this approach for some time. In Gallup’s case they have produced some strong statistical evidence that it works.."

Scott acknowledges in his post that while focusing on employee strengths is a powerful tool, it's problematic for the traditional organization to figure out how to do it.

Here's my take.  The power of focusing on strengths in corporate America is probably best used in a combination of performance management and engagement.  The smart managers know that they can't adjust a role to fit the employee's strengths with a 100% match.  But with the right amount of praise, coaching and organizational flexibility, they can create an environment where the employee understands that the more efficient they are in their formal job, the more they can chase what they really love to do, and maybe even innovate and create stuff on the way.

And that would be a pretty cool thing... 

This Just In - Eye Exams Stop Amputations (Seriously!)

If I asked you to list 5 things you could do in your benefit programs to identify disease and reduceEye_exam_2 avoidable costs, I'm guessing most of you would stay on the medical insurance front.

Would anyone think of Vision Care?  Not me.

Good thing I took in a session at the World Health Care Congress led by Rob Lynch, President and CEO of  VSP (Vision Service Plan).  As most of you know, VSP has the largest network of providers under contract in the vision field.  Their network and systems are so strong that even if you choose to contract with another provider (like Guardian, who's been in a dental and vision care market share push as of late), odds are those other providers are simply "reselling" the VSP network.

VSP is rapidly becoming the "Kleenex" of Vision Care.

But back to how VSP is linked with identifying disease and reducing cost.   In a strange benefit twist, only 14 percent of Americans with funded health insurance will get a physical in a given year.  But, as it turns out, almost 61% of those covered by a funded VSP plan will get an eye exam.  Nice stat.

Eye exams are key to catching one key disease early - diabetes.  Lynch quoted the cost savings associated with early detection of diabetes at $4,300 per year, per diabetic.  As horrific as it sounds, there are hundreds of serious procedures daily in the US related to diabetes, including unthinkable items like amputations...

If that's not a call for multiple insurance providers sharing information with each other toward the common good, I don't know what is. 

Obesity Surgery and Notre Dame Football - While Insurers Don't Automatically Approve...

Every time I think of obesity surgery, I think of the risks - see this article about Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weiss, who almost died on the table...

I took in a session at the World Health Care Congress led by James Roosevelt, the CEO of the Tufts Health Plan.  While the session focused on Tools for Consumer Engagement, Roosevelt focused on the Tufts strategy for Obesity/Bariatric Surgery.

Here's the definition of Obesity/Bariatric Surgery from Wikipedia:

"Although diet, exercise, behavior therapy and anti-obesity drugs are first-line treatment, these forms of medical therapyWeiss for severe obesity have limited short-term success and almost nonexistent long-term success.  Therefore, obesity surgery (or bariatric surgery for the professors reading this) has been a popular treatment in the war against obesity. Weight loss surgery generally results in greater weight loss than conventional treatment, and leads to improvements in quality of life and obesity related diseases such as hypertension and diabetes."

Several readers took exception to that definition, and I have to agree.  To say diet and exercise have non-existent long term success is clueless to say and the piece sound like it was written by a lobbying firm.

Roosevelt's rundown of the Tufts approach to Bariatric surgery was interesting in several ways.  First, Tufts gates access to the Bariatric program through BMI limits - including limits on the high side.  Have a BMI that goes over the acceptable threshold, and you can't get in the program due to the relative health of your body.  With the related stress that morbid obesity can cause, it's thought that those with super high BMI's were at the highest risk of not making it through the procedures.

Additionally, Tufts requires anyone entering the program to do a 6-month behavior modification program, where they get education and have to set and achieve two behavioral goals, such as to stop drinking soda.  So much for the Wikipedia definition from the Bariatric lobby... 

It's interesting stuff, as were the stats Roosevelt quoted regarding obesity surgery.  229 covered individuals have been accepted into the obesity surgery program, and at this point, 119 have graduated.

The education regarding alternatives to obesity surgery during the program must be working, as 17% of the graduates opt to forego or defer the obesity surgery they originally sought.

Estimated lifetime savings to the plan according to Roosevelt - 4 Million, or over 17K for each covered individual who's opted into the plan.

Big Bonuses - Good For Driving Everyday Performance?

Do Big Bonuses drive performance and behavior in general?  I've always broken this question up into two camps: the sales and non-sales camp. 

First, the easy one - Sales.  We can split hairs and argue whether commission to salespeople is a bonusSlot_machine or part of an incentive plan that's expected, but isn't that what bonus plans are supposed to do - drive behavior?  For me, the sales angle is the purest play in bonus and incentive pay.  You make enough sales, you get paid for your performance, usually monthly, which is also key. 

The harder call for me is for non-sales positions.  A big bonus is certainly attractive and desired by all of us in the workforce.  The real issue for me is the timing of the bonus and how the plan is structured.  Is it monthly, quarterly or annual in nature?  My guess is that most companies still work on the concept of the annual bonus, and most let company performance drive the majority of the payout. 

A focus on an annual payout, based on company-wide performance, seems pretty macro to me, meaning while it's expected and desired, it may not drive day-to-day performance of non-sales types, with the exception of causing employees to be careful spending money.

More from Paul Hebert at Incentive Intelligence:

"Here's the I2 spin - if the bonus is sufficiently large, participants in the program will behave in a way that reduces their risk of failure thereby reducing their desire to work in a way that might cause that failure.  In other words they start working much more "safely."  They start to think about each individual step in the process, instead of getting into the "flow" of the process where work becomes fluid and easy.  Too big a bonus and the idea of trying something "new" goes out the window in favor of the tried and true.  A pretty big problem today where innovation is the new black.

Therefore, if the bonus is big enough, the participant actually increases their chance of missing the goal by increasing their focus on not failing.  Counterintuitive, eh?

The key point in this is that there is a balance between the objective and the reward.  We need to look at business performance problems from a behavior point of view and not a results point of view. 

Break down the chain of behaviors that lead to a result and rewarding ongoing mastery of the few important behaviors in that chain - with smaller, more frequent rewards.  This will allow participants to focus on those important few things.

I agree with Paul's analysis, and think the best thing to do to truly engage non-sales professionals with a bonus program is to make it monthly in nature.  That would keep everything laser-focused.

Of course, the reason sales commission can be monthly is because it's the one area where performance is unquestioned.  You either made the sale or you didn't.

Measurement can be very messy for the rest of your key spots in the company.  The one set of numbers that never lies for the rest of the company?  Revenue and Cash Flow.  The combination of measurement being problematic and Revenue and Cash Flow being king means the annual bonus is probably here to stay for the rest of us....

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em - German Company Fires Non-Smokers....

Has there ever been a harder transformation in societal expectations than the one that has occurred in the last 30 years regarding smoking?  I was raised in a family of smokers, and in the 70's and 80's, as a kid, it really never occurred to me that the whole habit was dangerous.  In a weird twist, it also never occurred to me that I should smoke. 

I hear I beat the odds...

Then, society got cracking and made all who smoke a little uncomfortable.  Don't smoke here, here orLeary here, and just so you got the message, here's a fishbowl to smoke in at the airport with your friends.

Of course, the whole thing has been good for our health care plans.  Fewer people smoking is good for what ails your PPO.  I'm channeling John Lennon when I say "imagine" if the U.S. made the same shift with Crisco.  Now that would really help the PPO trendline.

Of course, smoking is now seemingly uncool in the U.S.  Other countries however, like Germany, would like to thank you for smoking:

"The owner of a small company in Germany fired three workers because they were not smokers. It seems that their boss (evidently a smoker himself) felt that they were “disturbing the peace” in the workplace by being vocal about their smoking colleagues.

I can’t be bothered with trouble-makers,” said the boss. “We’re on the phone all the time and it’s just easier to work while smoking. Everyone picks on smokers these days. It’s time for revenge. I’m only going to hire smokers from now on.”

Of course, being anti-smoking doesn't fall in a protected class.   Here's my ridiculous list of other things that are easier while smoking:

1.  Filling out a health history at your local doctor's office.
2.  Helping your son bat during a father/son baseball game.
3.  Engaging a fire extinguisher.
4.  Typing a Blackberry message while driving, and smoking...

Hat Tip to Andrew Scott-Holman, keeper of the best blog in Kiwi-land....

Dealing With Employees Who Are "Strapped" - Guns in Cars...

Guns in the workplace.  Interesting topic among HR pros, in that everyone agrees you can't bring one on your person into the building, but there's a lot of confusion on whether you can enforce a policy that says employees can't have a firearm in their car while on company property.

Here's what I hear when I talk to other HR pros about the topic:

1.  "We have the right and need to ban firearms on company property, including in employeeClinteastwoodposters vehicles in our parking lot."

2.  "You can't ban it - they have the right to have that firearm in their car as long as it is not on their person."

3.  "You could ban it, but then to enforce it you would have to do an illegal search and seizure of their car if you had suspicion they were packing."

4.  "I know I can ban, but if I clarify the policy, I'm going to upset a lot of people who are currently packing in their cars.  So I'm going to leave it alone.

My take has always been you need a policy that says firearms are never OK on company property, including locked, parked vehicles.  I always figured I would work through all the issues related to a search if I got to that point, which I hoped I never did.

Now comes Florida Governor Charlie Crist, signing a law that protects the right to keep a loaded gun in your car, as long as it's locked up:

"With the stroke of a pen, Governor Charlie Crist has made it legal for Floridians to take their guns to work and keep the weapon locked in their car.

Crist signed the bill into law Tuesday, and it will go into effect July 1st.

The law says businesses cannot stop employees or customers from keeping a gun locked inside their car.

Some places, like schools and prisons, are still off limits."

Welcome to America.  I'm a big constitutional rights guy, but clearly businesses need to have the right to require workers to leave the guns at home . . . if for no other reason than to diffuse the crazy situations that come up at any business.