THIS IS THE END: Skinny Jeans Now OK for Wal-Mart Employees...

You know the deal with Armageddon. You know it when you see it.  For some, that means bible verses. For others, it's a Cleveland team winning any type of championship.

Me? When Wal-Mart employees are allowed to wear skinny jeans, I think it's time to make sure the gas generator is operational. Skinny jeans

Everyone head to the storm shelter.  Wal-Mart is opening up it's dress code.  More from the Washington Post:

"In a cavernous college basketball arena on the campus of University of Arkansas, Wal-Mart announced workplace changes this morning that were based on employee feedback: It is tweaking the temperature in its stores, which employees have said are often too cold or too hot. It will relax its dress code, which currently only permits workers to wear khaki or navy pants with blue or white collared shirts. On July 1, employees will also be able to wear black or khaki-colored denim, and overnight workers will be allowed to wear blue denim and T-shirts.

Does that say skinny jeans are disallowed? No. So you know that you're automatically going to see things you don't want to see at Wal-Mart related to the move to denim.

When Aramark provides the khaki's, you never have to worry as an employer. When Maurice's or Rue21 is the source, you're in for a rude awakening.

The good news is that Wal-Mart is evolving, and they believe that happy employees equate to improved business results and customer service, and that's a welcome change from past practices.

The bad news is that there's going to be a new website called "Employees of Wal-Mart" that shows employees defying the laws of physics by squeezing into jeans that severely limit their mobility.

All in all, I give Wal-Mart a +1 for the move.  Just don't expect me not to smile when I see the judgement issues.

PS - read the article, Wal-Mart is also establishing a DJ to move from the tasty Celine Dion tracks we've come to know and love...


If I Was Running a Service Business, I'd Follow Starbucks on Tuition Aid So Fast It Would Make Your Head Swim...

What's the value proposition when it comes to people working at your company?  If you have a hard time answering that, you're undoubtedly struggling to find people who want to work for you in this economy - where talent has more options than they've had for awhile, or at least any time since 2009.

Some of creating a value prop comes down to what's valuable to the core positions that make up your company.  That's why I love what Starbucks recently did with Tuition Aid.  More from Bloomberg: Coffee town

"Starbucks Corp. will now pay full tuition for its workers to get a degree from Arizona State University online, instead of just partially footing the bill, giving it another way to entice employees in a tightening labor market.

Employees who work at least 20 hours a week will be eligible to have full tuition, the company said in a statement Monday. Starbucks founded the college program in 2014, with full-tuition reimbursement available only to juniors and seniors, while students in their first two years got a stipend of $6,500 to cover about half their fees.

Now, Starbucks is making full tuition available to more than 140,000 U.S. employees."

There's a lot to love here.  First, Starbucks is keenly aware who their target is from a talent perspective.  Young people on the way up, at times underemployed and/or in the process of figuring out what a full-grown up life looks like.  Next, what's most valuable from a benefits perspective to that group?  Building for the future, while I serve these godforsaken middle class people their coffee.
Going all in on tuition makes so much sense for Starbucks it's not even funny.  Especially when you consider that Tuition Aid is one of the classic benefits that looks great on the brochure, but is hard as hell to use - you actually have to be committed enough to enroll and do the work.  That means Starbucks knows exactly what % of their associates will use the benefit - and that number is waaaaay below 100% utilization.
If you're in the service business for 80% of your positions, full tuition aid is a great thing to add.  Whatever your business, find a value prop and clearly communicate it - and don't be afraid to spend.
By the way, if you haven't seen the low budget pic Coffee Town, you need to check it out.  Office Space meets Starbucks.  And yes, that is Josh Groban as a Barista..(email subscribers enable pics or click through)

You've Got An Opinion On The Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Decision? Join the Club...

Yeah - you've got an opinion on that, just like everyone else.  If you didn't catch it, the Supreme Court laid down a 5-4 decision on Monday that said closely held companies - where 5 or fewer individuals hold 50% or more ownership of a company - don't have to abide by the Affordable Care Act provisions that mandate coverage of contraceptives that bump up against the definition of abortion.


It generates a lot of emotion.  From women, Christians, women who are Christians, bros who know both women and women who are Christians.  From fundamentalists and feminists. 

Wow.  Everybody has an opinion on this one.  The meme above is the best I could do.  

What do moderates have to say about the Hobby Lobby decision?  Nothing, because they get attacked from both sides.

I'll be back on this topic with a Tuesday podcast on how HR pros should prepare to deal with the Hobby Lobby mandate, what you should know about it and prepare for, etc.

For now, I'll leave you with this - wait one month, and all the only question you need to ask to determine whether the company you're dealing with is closely held or not and what their politics are is the following:

"Questions?  Just one.  Does your medical plan cover the day after pill?"

Boom.  Be interesting to see if that question makes its way into any interview dialog.

The Best Looking Benefit They'll Never Use - Tuition Aid...

I'm on the record as saying there's a couple of ways to compete for the a Best Place to Work award.  Here's the playbook:

1. The easy part - write a check for benefits others can't or won't provide.

2. The hard part - Become world class in how you make your people more productive and happier while you squeeze more out of them. Crowded-studying

The first part is the easy part - as Ferris Bueller once said, "if you have the means..."  The second part is hard as hell.  

An ever better way to engage the first part - benefits others can't or won't provide - is to pick one that looks great but is hard to use. Example - Tuition aid.  It looks great, but it's hard as ##@# for busy adults to use.  That's why Starbucks could see their way clear to offer it via online courses to all associates.  Of course, there are some strings. 

First, the offer from Starbucks via a breakdown in the LA Times:

"The Seattle coffee giant announced this week it is helping employees who enroll in Arizona State University's online bachelor's degree programs for all four years. The company said it would provide full tuition reimbursement to juniors and seniors, and that freshman and sophomores would be eligible for a partial scholarship and other financial aid.

The assistance is open to employees who work at least 20 hours a week in any company-operated store, Starbucks said, regardless of how long they've been with the company.

Days later, however, the coffee purveyor clarified that scholarships to workers in their freshman and sophomore years were provided by ASU, not Starbucks. Company spokeswoman Jaime Riley said those students will get scholarships from ASU that will cover about 22% of tuition for their first two years.

Starbucks is assisting its workers who qualify as juniors and seniors, but that help comes with a long list of caveats.

The coffee company will reimburse students for any tuition that is paid out of pocket or that is covered by loans. However, Starbucks will only pay out an initial lump sum to juniors and seniors after they earn 21 credits. Additional reimbursements will be dispensed in 21-credit increments as well. The money is paid once a year in an employee's paycheck, Riley said."

Tagline - Hard as hell, people.  More on the general usage of Tuition Aid in the industry from The Atlantic:

"But as some have noted, this also is a savvy PR move. Many companies offer tuition reimbursement as a way to recruit and retain staff. But the benefits are used, on an average, by fewer than one in 10 workers: only 3.9% of retailers’ staffs, the sector that includes Starbucks, take advantage of tuition reimbursement, the lowest of any sector tracked by EdLink, a leading supplier of employer tuition reimbursement programs.

By comparison, 6.1% of Fortune 500 companies workers took a class on the company, 8.0% of health care workers—and in a few individual companies, one in five workers took classes that their bosses underwrote. Even at the best organizations for staff development, chosen by Training magazine, only 8% of eligible workers took college courses paid by the company."

It's a great benefit, but it's not going to apply to everyone.  That's the best type for any company, because it still attracts candidates who like to think they'll go back to school at some point in the future.

Well played, Starbucks.  I'm not hating, it's a smart play.

HR pros - take note.  This is from the gold level playbook of maximizing buzz and brand, but limiting financial exposure.

DATA & MONEY: Run a Vasectomy/March Madness Promo at Your Company Next January....

Heads Up - This is not your normal March Madness post about lost productivity.  Your employees don't need tourney brackets to screw you out of an honest day's pay - they're waaaaaay more creative than that.

Nope - this post is about how you combine March Madness, economic, medical coverage and bedroom issues that interest your employees into one big "marketing meets HR" extravaganza. March-madness

You need to mark your Calendars for January 5th, 2015, at which point you'll launch a "Vasectomy/March Madness" special.

I'd like to think I'm a leader in this area.  Once we had the second kid, it was time to decide if we were done or not.  We were done.  I went to a urologist to explore the male side of family planning.

My urologist was a immigrant from South America.  As part of his vasectomy package, he actually told us he had to talk with us as a couple.  Then he unleashes this (imagine Columbian accent):

South American Urologist - "Now Mr. Dunn, are you sure you want to do this?  I have to ask, because I see more and more men in their early 50's coming back with a young second or third wife who expects children.  At that point, they're looking to reverse the vasectomy.  I don't want you to be caught in those circumstances."

Me - "I'm sure, doc. Have you met Mrs. Dunn?  She's sitting right here."

What an ass. But the deal got done.  It also coincided with the purchase of our first big screen TV and conference tournament weekend in college basketball, when there's like 100 high-end games on in a single weekend.  I was a leader in this area.  It's now a trend - from CNN:

"A major clinic in Ohio reports it performs 40 or 50 more vasectomies a month before and during the 68-team basketball tourney. We do have (in March) typically about 50% more vasectomies than in other months," said Dr. Ed Sabanegh, chairman of the Department of Urology at the Cleveland Clinic.  A lot of patients come in and say, 'I have to have this during March Madness, you have to talk to my wife about it. Tell her what my limitations are and that I need to be on the couch."

Here's your opportunity HR - you launch a special next January and focus on your long term employees that look to be about done having kids and remind them of the possibilities.  The women probably wish the husband would take care of it.  The husbands are worried their macho level - or maybe the third wife in 13 years.  You bring them together by reminding them of the possibilities of the vasectomy/March Madness combo.  Maybe you throw in additional PTO and a platter from Chick-fil-A.

The wife wins because it's handled.  The guy wins because he gets to watch hoops. You win because you're creative, and let's face it, your medical plan doesn't need more covered dependents or pregnancies.

That's win/win/win where I come from.


AOL Learns the Hard Way: Don't Blame Rising Benefit Costs on Individual Employees...

THE FIRST RULE OF SHARING BENEFIT CUTS OR RISING BENEFIT COSTS IS: Never blame the situation on individual employees.  Couple reasons for that:

1. You're the leader, you're supposed to be figuring stuff as a leader out without pointing fingers.

2. You're known to employees as "the man" (even if you're a woman) and nobody is going to take your side when you refer to individual employees.  They're automatically going to say, "what if that was me?" and crush you in the court of public opinion for blaming a cost situation on something an employee had no control over.

Why am I talking about this today?  AOL recently cut total benefit costs by tweaking it's 401K match procedures, and CEO Tim Armstrong cited two family health situations as part of the reason why:

"In a call with AOL (AOL) employees in which he tried to explain why the company had changed its 401(k) plan, Armstrong, a former Google exec, said that two AOL employees' sick newborns factored into the decision.

"We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were okay in general," Armstrong said on the call. "And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost. So when we had the final decision about what benefits to cut because of the increased health care costs, we made the decision, and I made the decision, to basically change the 401(k) plan."

Of course, that's entirely lame.  My benefit leaders in the readership can pitch in her because they know more than me.  But, I have to assume that AOL is self insured, and if that's the case, they've got reinsurance on the aggregate spend company wide, but also on individual healthcare situations, which provides stop gap coverage for the major/major situations before it even gets to the aggregate spend for the company.  In that common circumstance, it wouldn't have cost them millions.  The cost per employee family situation would have stopped at 20/40/60K, wherever they put the individual reinsurance deductible.

But, whether you are self insured or fully insured on your medical plan, a bad year can definitely hurt your cost structure for the next year, which means the cost comments may have been true as they projected 2014.  

But you don't mention two families as the reason.  I've managed self insured plans that looked great and then had a bunch of bad stuff happen with 5-10 familes.  God bless them for what they went through.  It absolutely crushed the self-insured picture of the company/unit I was responsible for managing.  It never occured to me to point to a bunch of people who had cancer or other forms of major medical as the reason prices were going up.  

If you remember, Armstrong is the guy who fired an employee via conference call a while back.  Looks to be a classic case of a strong executive that's surrounding by a team who's afraid to tell him he's crazy.  

For the record, Armstrong reversed his decision.  Funny how referencing distressed babies as reasons for a tweak in the 401k match plan can make you do that.

The 5 Biggest Lies In HR... (#4 - We Want to Provide Great Benefits to All Team Members)

This is a post in a 5-part series targeting the 5 biggest lies in HR.  Lucky you.

That’s right. I’m here today not to give you the normal PR spin about how strategic the HR function can be, but instead to call B.S. on the biggest lies in HR. It’s not that HR people want to lie, it’s just that we’ve created our own prison: urban myths developed over last 20 years as the HR function has matured.

As a result, we’re trapped. We’ve spawned narratives that make the HR function appear like a cross between Mother Teresa and Stuart Smalley, while the team members we serve need more tough love, a cross between Jack Welch and Dennis Miller.

You know, that little thing called the truth, effectively washed down with a bit of leadership, personality and at times, humor.

Here's the fourth biggest lie in HR.  t's timely with the emergence of Obamacare:

Lie #4: It’s the company’s desire to provide strong benefits to all team members. How many shades of gray are there are on the color wheel? While we like to take care of team members, if it wasn’t part of the American healthcare system and a competitive necessity related to talent, we’d be out of the benefits business so fast it would make the collapse of Martha Coakley in Massachusetts seem glacial in comparison. As someone who’s been fortunate enough to run a self-insured healthcare plan in a smaller environment and witness the humanity first hand, I can tell you the biggest component to this lie is our unwillingness to hold you accountable for your own health. We’ll talk about our cost increases during open enrollment, but do most of us never really try to change behavior through incentives or penalties.

The Truth: We’re not your Mom. We only provide benefits because it’s an expectation and we have to in order to compete in the talent game. We have little to no control over insurance costs incurred, and due to our collective unwillingness to penalize smokers and team members who are gold members at Krispy Kreme, we never will. You’ll have to take the cost increases we give you as a result, and if we ever get brave enough to try to change the behavior of the outliers, we’ll find we’re too late due to a legislative environment that protects those making unhealthy choices (althought maybe less so under Obamacare). Wow, that was depressing to write.

Could we even change your behavior? Probably not. You're a mess.  So are we. Fitness memberships probably aren't going to change you.  

Our biggest lever in the benefits world is cost. We tinker with the co-pay and co-insurance to try and keep the cost increase to 20% instead of 40%.

If you’re a good HR pro and don’t feel like you subscribe to this lie, I’ve got one question for you:

If you don’t actively pitch the lies outlined above, do you actively preach the truth?

If the answer is no, you’ve got work to do before you’re part of the solution.  

Lie #3 is up in a couple of days.

HR Playbook: UPS Does Spousal Benefits "Carve Out" on 15K Families

One of the games that HR Leaders of all shapes and sizes (company size, not body size) have to play is medical cost. How can I manage the cost of my medical plan?  Whether you're fully insured or self insured, you're still left to tweak the design of your plan to manage cost increases. Don't kid yourself, you'll still be doing this when and if Obamacare becomes official.  Unless you decide to stop providing benefits at all and take your Obamacare penalty. Good luck recruiting if that's your approach.

The normal flavors of these medical plan design tweaks are pretty obvious. You're basically looking to cut the quality of the plan to keep your costs under control. Flavors of that include - increase the deductible, raise the co-insurance, alter your prescription meds program, etc.

One heftier option was in the news last week - the spousal carve out, which means that you start denying coverage to spouses that have viable medical plans available where they work. Here's more from the New York Times:

"United Parcel Service has told its white-collar employees that it will stop providing health care coverage to their spouses who can obtain coverage through their own employers, joining an increasing number of companies that are restricting or eliminating spousal health benefits.

In a memo addressed to employees, U.P.S. said, “Limiting plan eligibility is one way to manage ongoing health care costs, now and into the future, so that we can continue to provide affordable coverage for our employees.”

The memo also estimated that about 33,000 spouses were covered under its insurance plan for white-collar employees and that “about 15,000 of these would have health care coverage available through their own employers.”

I did a spousal carve out one time at a mid-sized software company. Things you'll need to think about include:

1. The communication plan so you don't look like a total ###. You're going to look like an ###, but you don't want to look like a total ###.

2.  Certification - in order for you to really execute this, you're going to have to make all spouses ineligible, then only add spouses that bring you certification from their company that no viable medical option is available.  Open enrollment is really the only time to do this without causing a riot.

3.  You'll have to define what a viable medical plan looks like at a spouse's company so you can easily determine whether the spouse is eligible to join your plan.  My definition of viable is communication related to quality of the plan (what does it cover) and cost (how much comes out of the spouse's paycheck to get coverage).  Needless to say, there are a lot of decisions to be made with this.

Having said all of that, the number of employers who have executed the spousal carve out on their medical plans is fairly low.  The Times article goes on to outline the following:

"While the percentage of employers adopting changes in policies like U.P.S.’s new limits remains in the single digits, it is growing. According to a corporate survey by Mercer, a consulting firm, 6 percent of companies with 500 or more employees excluded coverage for spouses in 2012 if their spouses could obtain coverage through their own employer. That is double the percentage in 2008, Mercer found."

Notable - The new U.P.S. policy does not apply to the children of those employees. Nor does it affect the company’s 250,000 unionized workers, who belong to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. At the end of last year, the company had around 399,000 employees, which means 3-4% of it's employees are impacted by the change.




I'm on record as having a game plan for helping your company become a Great Place to Work.  See that Kinetix whitepaper here.

It's a PR game you have to play and the first part is easy if you have the means (Ferris Bueller reference for those of you who track these things) - you have to buy GPTW attention.  Write a check.

One of the easy ways to buy attention that stacks up towards a GPTW award is to give more vacation time then reasonable companies are inclined to provide.  That leads to big vacation packages, the no set vacation package (take it when you want it!) and all the other flavors that you've seen toward the GPTW goal, wished you could give, then gradually grew to hate because you work at a standard place that can't buy GPTW attention (or decides not to).

But one vacation policy recently caught my eye - a week off ever quarter in addition to the company's standard vacation policies at a startup called Quirky.  Notes from the CEO of Quirky:

"We’ve found that our cadence as a business is very centered around 90 day sprints. Retail seems to have 4 major seasons, our best products seem to be baked in 90 day time frames, the longest we can lock in tactical plans without completely guessing as to what products we will be talking about/investing in is quarterly.

Pressure slowly builds throughout these 90 day periods, culminating in an extremely stressful and magically productive final 2-3 weeks of a calendar quarter. It’s been this way for 3 years.

Historically, we’ve jumped right back into it. But beginning in 2013, the first week of every new calendar quarter will be lights out.

We are going to shut down the entire machine for 4 weeks next year. Instead of running for 52, it will run for 48.

This is a full, mandatory shutdown of all internal activities. Lights out. Deep breath.

Time for us to explore other creative interests. Relax without worrying about what we’re missing. Time for us to get our head back into the game. For some of us, time for us to clean our apartments, see the dentist, and buy a new pair of kicks."

I know. You hate it. "I got your kicks right here" is what you are saying. I hate these guys and gals too. For being small. For being edgy. Most of all for doing sh#t that puts pressure on everybody else.

But here's the thing.  This one actually makes sense. They're doing the smart business thing for their type of business.  

Software development shops run in what are known as sprints. The product team decides what's going into the next release, and the development team literally "sprints" across a defined period to get the roadmap features built. In shops like these, it's more than a 40-50 hour week to get it done - for the entire sprint period.

Shutting down at the end of the clearly defined sprint period is actually pretty smart and innovative.

So why I'd love to scream, "GIMMICK" from the top of my building like so many other countless vacation policies that are chasing the Great Place to Work designation, I can't on this one.

Shutting down once a quarter actually makes sense for a software development shop.

I highly recommend it if you have the means. (FBR)

Pampered Employees of Rich Companies With Workout Facilities: Watch the Path of the Towel...

Damn it feel good to have a workout facility at your company - right big/rich company employees?

Of course there are some hazards (email subscribers click through for the video):

"Hey Ron, great workout..." (exiting gym floor)

"You too, Steve..."

"Let's cool down and go plot the downfall of Google, Ron..."(Wipes faces, shares towel with Ron in sign of solidarity and man club membership)