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August 2008

Say It Isn't So - Do Europeans Actually Work As Hard as Americans?

Since the name on the site is the HR "Capitalist", you can probably assume that I'm American, or at least a fan of any capitalist economic system that's based on merit.  If you assumed those things, you're right on both counts.  As a part of that mindset, I've long felt America is superior to the rest of the world when it comes to work ethic. 

The booming economies of China and India have shaken that broad statement a little bit, but I've alwaysDwight had Europe as a fallback.  The wide perception has always been that Europeans, with 35 hour work weeks and month-long vacations, value work-life balance to a great degree than we do in the US.  The flip-side/postive side of that picture for us is that we feel like we work harder.

A new study is out that shows that both views (Europe having more leisure time and the US working harder) might be a myth.  From Fortune's Geoff Colvin:

"The trouble with this narrative (America works harder than Europe) is that it's based on a myth. Recent studies show that Europeans work much harder than most people think, and some, such as the Germans, work every bit as hard as we Americans do. An analysis of why makes it tough to say that one culture is somehow wiser than the other.

The key to the research is a simple question: What's work? The statistics we usually see focus on jobs that people get paid for, and by that measure Americans do indeed toil much more than Europeans. But that measure overlooks all the cooking, cleaning, lawn mowing, and other home-based labor that most people do. We don't get paid for it, but it's just as real as other work. When we count it as well as paid employment, the whole picture changes.

A thorough study by Richard Freeman of Harvard and Ronald Schettkat of Utrecht University found that Germans and Americans labor almost exactly the same amount. (The researchers note, "While our data deal with Germany and the U.S., our findings reflect the difference between EU and American models of capitalism more broadly.") The difference is that we do more market-based work, and Germans do more home-based work.

That simple fact holds large implications. For starters, it means we're more likely to buy various goods and services that Germans are more likely to produce at home. For example, they spend more time preparing meals, while we spend more money on restaurant meals; as a society we do more of our hamburger flipping at McDonald's, while Hamburgers do more of it at home."

That sounds great, but it's not as simple as it sounds. Home-based work doesn't pay, which can have economic implications for countries as a whole.  I'll post on that next week.

For now, I'd like to welcome the Germans to the table of countries who work hard.  But what about the rest of the European Union?  Can I at least hold on to the picture of the US outworking France? 


Crazy Engagement Ideas - The Company Dorm...

Sure, your company wants engaged employees.  As a result, you're doing surveys, putting managers through training and maybe even letting employees chase some pet projects of their choosing on company time.

Have you bought a building and converted it into a dorm for your unmarried employees?  No?  Perhaps we should question your true commitment to employee engagement...

From the Wall Street Journal:

"Mitsui & Co., Japan's No. 2 trading firm by market capitalization after Mitsubishi Corp., hasJapanesefoodbento eight dorms -- six for men, two for women -- for about 430 unmarried hires in Tokyo. They can live there for their first several years at the company.  At Mitsui's dorm in Tokyo's Kasai neighborhood, five rules are plastered at the front entrance, including "No littering" and "Greet each other properly." The five-story gray apartment building comes to life in the early morning as the 60 men who live there head for the train to go to work and revives late at night as they come home.

For rent of less than $185 a month, the dorms offer a modest private bedroom, a large cafeteria and communal bathhouse -- a steal considering Tokyo's steep rents. Mitsui says it costs about $7 million a year to rent and operate the dorms.

Many big companies started offering corporate dormitories during Japan's rapid growth years in the 1950s and 1960s to provide single male employees financial support and foster a sense of community. Dorm life was one factor that helped build a corporate culture based on loyalty, dedication to hard work and identifying the company as family.

Company dorms... It just goes to show you how cultural norms can influence what we think is acceptable in the workplace.  When I think work-life balance, I don't think about riding the shuttle home with Chuck from Accounting, I think about getting away from Chuck for awhile, preferably to my "space is king' American version of home.

Still, it's good to see some Japanese companies trying to get back to their roots and develop the teamwork that comes with identifying your life/self with a single company.  I don't think that's coming back in the states.

Who's the Resident Assistant (RA) in that dorm in Japan? Has to be the youngest, single, exempt level HR professional.

The 4 Day Work Week - The Big Lie...

OK, before I go off on a Dennis Miller-style rant, let me report the news first.  Here goes..

The City of Birmingham recently made the switch to a four-day work week (as are many otherNevergettoworkontime municipalities across the US), and the Birmingham News reports the benefits:

"Leaders in some Birmingham-area cities say going to a four-day workweek reduced employee absenteeism and cut fuel costs for the cities and employees alike.  Irondale - well ahead of the curve when it went to a four-day week almost three years ago - reports fuel savings and a continuing drop in absenteeism. Midfield, which made the switch this summer, is experiencing the same trends.

Birmingham offered statistics to back the change it made in July. The city in July consumed 5,581 fewer gallons of diesel fuel and 13,669 fewer gallons of unleaded fuel than in June. Net fuel cost savings to Birmingham for July is $73,695.54, according to April Odom, director of communications for the Mayor's Office of Public Information.

At this rate, she said, the city will save $885,000 on fuel over the course of a year.

She said the city estimates 2,467 employees who work four-day weeks could save as much as $513,136 in personal fuel costs over the course of a year. Her figure is based on a 20-mile average daily commute at 20 mpg per personal vehicle, with gas at $4 per gallon."

OK, now for the contrarian viewpoint, or as they call it it my family, the rant.

4 day work weeks sound great. Employees get a longer weekend and, some argue, save money on commuting costs.  Other benefits include the possibility of companies saving money on real estate and utilities IF they can reduce their space needs as a result of the program.

Every employee wants a 4 day work week.  I've been asked about the possibility 4 times in the last week. 

But there are serious drawbacks to the 4 day thing.  Packing 40 hours into four days isn't necessarily the most productive way to work. Many people find that eight hours in a day is enough, and requiring them to do two extra hours a day can cause morale issues in other ways.  Folks with kids can be disadvantaged due to child care considerations, etc.

And then there's this little consideration in the category I call.... RESULTS...

I get that most businesses have office hours, even for exempt employees.  I also know that manufacturing environments have to hard-code hours from a production standpoint.  I get that.  For the purposes of the rest of the rant, I'm going to address your exempt level professional worker who is not supervising a production/manufacturing environment.  You know the type - they have decision making authority about when and how they work on their responsibilities and objectives.

By moving to a 4 day work week, you just told them the job was about hours - not about meeting the objectives, not about helping the company hit it's plan, and certainly not about dreaming up an innovation through their engagement level with their job.  You may not know it, or be willing to agree with it, but by moving them to a 4 day week, you just told them their objective was (shudder..) 40 HOURS. 

Here's the alternative.  Loosen your iron grip on face time, enhance how you do performance management in your organization (by measuring performance more frequently) and LET GO.  Allow people to telecommute some.  Offer flexible hours as long as the customer gets served.  Measure how people are doing every couple of months.  Manage by results, manage by objectives, manage by output.

Whatever you want to call it.  Just don't manage by hour count.  Unless you're on the factory floor, it's a surefire way to ensure you get less of lots of things - engagement, passion, innovation, etc.  Some people can get it done in 35 hours, some need 55 hours.  So stop counting hours and start counting performance and results.

Of course, that's just my opinion, and I'll be working from somewhere usually more than 5 days a week - because I love what I do...

SHRM Florida Knocks Off SHRM National In an "Upset Special"

You make choices every day.  Good choices, bad choices, quick choices... Safe choices...

And the choices we make allow people to make assumptions about us.  Even when you think you're making a great choice, especially as an organization, you've got to be aware that people are watching - and comparing...

Case in point?  The entertainment choice at SHRM's 2008 national convention in Chicago. SHRM went with the safe entertainment giant choice - Lionel Richie.  I've got nothing against Lionel Richie, in fact my mom would probably like me to go to one of his concerts.  It's safe, there are no curse words to speak of in his music, the parking would be in a controlled atmosphere and let's face it, the whole night would be so...so... NICE...

Just for the record, I'm promoting bringing AC/DC to the 2009 Convention to rock, then keeping them around for branding purposes - read more here.

Back to the story.  In one of those comparison opportunities I was talking about, SHRM Florida has had entertainment at the recent HR Florida 2008.  SHRM Florida is no slouch, but let's face it - they're David to the SHRM Goliath with a measly 1,700 expected attendees expected to attend to the Florida meeting.

So, they can't possibly hang with SHRM on entertainment, right? 


In an upset that reminds me of Villanova vs. Georgetown or the USA hockey team beating the Russians in 1980's Miracle on Ice, SHRM Florida made the following selection for entertainment:

Morris Day and the Time....

It was over as soon as it was announced.  Down goes Goliath.  GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL.

What would you rather see crazy HR people rock to?  "Dancing on the Ceiling" or "Jungle Love"?  I hope they played Jungle Love 45 straight times.  Who cares?  It's MORRIS DAY.

Nicely done SHRM Florida.  You win.  Checkmate.

Boomers Don't Have to Hide their Age on Resumes...

Boomers - don't get cute with the resume details - keep it real...

Last week, I overheard someone recommending that a candidate take dates off resumes.  I'm weighing in, because removing dates from your resume is a forced, unnatural, red flag thing to do...

As a HR pro and someone who looks at thousands of candidates a year, I'm not a fan of removing datesBabyboomers1  from resumes. One of the things I rely on to make sense of a career, and how it fits our needs, is how many years you performed role A, B or C.  Take the dates off the resume, and it's hard for me to figure that out. If you're really concerned about the age thing, feel free to remove dates from your diploma or degree, because once you've been in the world of work for five years, those things become less important than your experience. 

Let's say you've got 30 years of experience and have worked for six different companies in your career. You should assume HR pros and hiring managers want you to spend 80 percent of your space talking about the last five years of your career. A good way to focus on your recent experience, and deemphasize what you did in the 1980's, is to outline the scope and accomplishments of your last two jobs in detail, then drop the rest of the work experience into a list format that only takes up a small portion of a page. Another handy tip, to avoid overwhelming a prospective employer with your experience, is to never go past two pages on a resume.  Your accomplishments warrant more than one page, but three pages is overkill.

As sad as it sounds, the average, initial resume review lasts five to 10 seconds, after which it's placed in a "yes" or "no" stack for a deeper review at a later time. All you want your resume to do is move to the "yes" stack and generate a phone call when the company is ready to talk.

More important than age, to any hiring manager, is your energy and confirmation that you are looking forward rather than backward. Change your perspective from "look what I have done" to "look what I can do for you".  How do you do that?  Move from statements on your resume that outline what you were responsible for ("managed three-state sales territory") to statements that show analysis and action ("developed low-cost database to track leads and automate mail-out process"). Transitioning from responsibility to action on your resume lets hiring managers see the value and envision how you can help them.

A forward-looking perspective is the key.  If HR pros and hiring managers can envision what you are going to do to help them, your age won't matter.   Look forward with your positioning, don't take the easy way out and simply remove dates from your CV... 

What An Angry Mob Looks Like - Reducing Healthcare Benefits of Retirees...

If you've been in HR for more than 5 years, you've been a part of what I'll call the "Great Benefits Crunch", which has forced your company to reduce overall benefit levels and/or pass along greater costs to employees.

You don't have to explain it to me.  I've had to explain those decisions to employees, and I'm aware that you didn't create the economic problem that is the "state of health care".  Sadly though, if you're in HR, you're left to explain the realities to a set of employees that doesn't feel great about costs being shifted their way.

You and I can understand that, because we're employees too.  Just because you manage the plan doesn't mean your health insurance is free. 

But being in HR means you take ownership of the employee relations side of the business, which means at times you're going to feel the laser on your back when employees vent their frustrations.

Watch the whole video below, which is one of the hardest rants about cost shifting I've ever seen captured on video...

Wow.  Did that get your attention?  Here are the details from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat:

"Convinced that the county no longer can afford spiraling health insurance premiums, Sonoma County (CA) supervisors told thousands of retirees and employees Tuesday that they will have to pay an increasing share of the cost.  Supervisors conceded their vote would be unpopular with the 2,500 retirees and 650 non-union workers who will be affected by the cost restructuring beginning in June.

Currently, the county provides non-union workers 85 percent of the premium for any plan selected, and gives retirees 85 percent of the lowest-cost premium, either for an individual or couple. Under the adopted recommendations, there will be a gradual reduction of 20 percent annually over the next five years in the county's contribution to retiree and non-union health benefits to $500 a month.

Nearly two-thirds of the 2,400 retirees would experience a drop in county contributions to their medical premiums. Those who insure dependents or who retired before age 65 are likely to see the biggest reductions. For example, an early retiree insuring a dependent under age 65 on the least expensive PPO plan is now getting $1,043 a month. That amount would be reduced by 20 percent each year until 2013 when the $500 monthly level would be reached."

I suspect retiree benefits will continue to be under pressure based on the economics of health care, as will the plans for active employees. 

I don't have the answers, but I do know this.  If you're an HR pro with 20 years left, you're going be a part of transitions and cost-shifting that spur reactions like what you see in the video above.  Brace yourself for a bumpy ride.

The employee relations portion of the HR Manager's role - it's the toughest job you'll ever love...

Every Bad Boss Needs a Simple User's Manual...

Here's a good item to react to - Do you believe it would be good practice for managers to provide a "users manual" of sorts to their direct reports to provide a roadmap of their philosophy, likes/dislikes and pet peeves? 

That's the question from a special feature in BusinessWeek, where Ben Dattner believes a "User's Manual to Your Manager" can cut out office dysfunction.  Dattner feels by letting your staff know howBoss_badge you operate, you can teach them how to deal with you and avoid conflict.

Here are my thoughts:

-Pros of manager's user guide- Gives your staff fair warning to your hot buttons, including how to impress you, what ticks you off, what your standard operating procedures are, etc.  Helpful in that regard..

-Cons of a manager's user's guide - The inclusion of what you don't enjoy (see the section on Feedback below) or dislike as a boss can be used as a crutch.  If the user manual includes direction that you don't like to give feedback, then you've given people fair warning and it has a spirit of "that's something I don't enjoy, and no matter how important to you, I'm not going to try to improve."  That kind of stinks.  Additionally, the inclusion of data on when you are going to react negatively is a similar crutch - there's no reason for you to improve your negative reactions if you've done the negative disclosure route.

The negative items in such a user's guide has a "That's just Manny Bob being Manny Bob" feel to it.  No reason for Bob to try and improve as a manager - he warned us!!

The practice seems a little weak from that perspective.  Properly controlling for that, there's some good stuff to be had by such a practice.  Here's Dattner's personal user guide as a manager from BusinessWeek.  Let me know what you think of his guide...


Knowing what makes me tick will help both of us avoid a major meltdown


When I'm under pressure, I get serious. Be ready to answer "why" five times.


Please don't bring important issues to my attention if you run into me in the break room.


I value loyalty to our company's values. The CEO gets the same treatment as the janitor.


Have conviction for your point of view. I respect people who push back. Be prepared.


I am very unforgiving of people who don't admit to or cover up mistakes.


I don't give much feedback. Assume I'm satisfied with you unless I tell you otherwise.


I have a tendency to do things myself. Please suggest things you can take off my plate.

I'm Darth Vader, And I Approved This Dress Code...

After a hard week of talking about the benefits of being a communist in the Olympics, beer and HR and future ways to prevent mistakes in the workplace, I'm staying frosty today by imagining how Darth Vader would break down the dress code for new hires in an orientation.

(Email subscribers click through for video)...

Stay frosty this weekend.  Hat tip to Jason Pankow at Fistful of Talent...

To Win the Talent Game in the Olympics, Does It Help to be A Communist?

What's the best way to grow talent?  Invest heavily in training?  Go out and acquire the best when you need it?  Cool succession planning software?

Not corporate talent - Olympic Talent....

With the Chinese doing well in the Olympics and our memory of the USSR and East German machines still fresh, many are pointing to the presence of a nationalized sports program as a key to establishing Olympic superiority.  Bela Karolyi came out at the Olympics and pointed to missing teeth among the Chinese gymnasts as proof of a "win at all costs" attitude, as well as the potential superiority of a nationalized sports system, where kids get plucked at a young age and turned into specialists.

As it turns out, medal count almost always comes down to population and GDP, although GDP could beSports_school partially replaced by a hat tip to Lenin or Marx.  From the Financial Times in the UK:

"Every country is at it. China has spent a fortune on its quest to win the most gold medals at Beijing. The UK is likely to spend more than $1bn on elite sports in the run-up to the London games in 2012. Just like military planners, Australia’s Olympic Committee, a sporting power, is demanding more money to keep up with emerging threats.

It might be worth it to sustain Aussie sporting pride – if there were any evidence that it is possible to buy Olympic gold medals. In fact, almost all Olympic success can be explained using only five factors: population, gross domestic product per capita, home advantage, the use of an elite sport system to identify talent, and a country’s system of government. Tired of Olympic failure? Install a communist regime.

The first two factors are by far the most important: more people means more exceptional sporting talent; higher national income means leisure time to spend on fencing or handball; and at the Olympics, home advantage allows the hosts to field a larger team.

What nations can do is target sports that no one else plays. South Korea wins a lot of medals for archery, Germany always wins the team dressage, and while US and Russian athletes both win a lot of medals, it is surprisingly rare for them to share an Olympic podium.

Interesting analysis, and it makes sense for the business world as well.  Looking to develop a new piece of software?  Take this lesson and do it with a technology/geographic center combination that will allow you to get talent.  Nothing worse than chasing a total of five developers, working in a retired technology, in a metro area with 3 million people. 

For the record, I'm saying that the US has three of the five factors in place.  Population, GDP, and an elite sporting system that ID's talent in the USOC.  For the communist players that have been the yin to our yang (USSR, East Germany and now China), they replace the GDP with the system of government, effectively nationalizing the whole operation.

People lose sight of the fact that we have the elite system in place in the USOC, just like the Chinese do with the nationalized system.

The primary difference?  Our government doesn't force the kids into specialized schools away from their families, like the Chinese do.

In the USA - we let the parents do that...  It's all about choice here... :)

Go USA!!

Your HR Shop and the DMV - Can Anyone Tell the Difference?

For the all the hand-wringing about HR wanting to be strategic, the following snippet from Knowledge Infusion's Neil Jensen happens way too much:

"Please print, complete, sign and fax...  Heard these same words three times this week and all inBureaucrat very different settings. The words were clear as day and were inserted into the conversation like it wasn't a big deal. In all three cases, the person saying them simply put it out there like it didn't mean anything. They said, "To make a data change in the HRIS system, you need to find the job action form on the HR intranet, print it, complete all the required information, sign it, and fax it to HR."

In each case, this statement was followed by a lengthy description of all the things that were wrong with the HR data including incorrect or stale reporting relationships, incorrect organization structures, outdated personal demographic information, etc. When we got to the topic of reporting, the tale of woe continued with stories that described the inability to report even basic data and extreme efforts to piece together even basic metrics and analytics."

It's a digital world or at least strongly moving that way in most organizations.  If you run a HR shop that still requires managers to print a form, complete, sign and fax it in, you HAVE to get your digital game face on and find a way to prevent the manager from printing.  You're looking analog in a digital world.  Eliminating paper and bureaucracy is getting to first base in the "I'm strategic" game.  If you can't do that, you'll struggle to really be viewed as a strong player.

I know lots of you are in small shops and can't fully automate via a HRMS, even one of the affordable web-based ones.  I get that, but it's still no excuse not to take action.  Other alternatives include:

1.  Setting up some web forms to dump into your email box.

2.  Getting a propeller head on your team to help you set up a secure database that automates much of the process for you and generates email notifications, etc.

3.  You can just say "no paper", have managers email you all requests, and you make sure they are approved by whoever needs to do so, via email.

I hear the same thing Neil's referring to in talking to folks every week.  Want to do cool stuff?  Get rid of the paper first as an entry fee to the game.

Or you can be viewed as the disgruntled person behind the counter at the DMV.  Your choice...