How To Know If Your Defined-Benefit Pension Plan Is In Trouble...

I'm not an expert on pension plan funding. But if you're relying on a pension in retirement, you might want to take a look at what % of obligations are funded currently in your pension plan.

Why would I say that? Because while I'm no expert, I can tell you when your pension plan is in trouble. Here's how you know: Ge1

You know your pension plan is in trouble when your company announces they're freezing pension benefits, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BIGGEST ECONOMIC EXPANSION IN HISTORY.

More specifics from the Wall Street Journal:

"General Electric Co. GE +0.06% said it was freezing its pension plan for about 20,000 U.S. workers and offering pension buyouts to 100,000 former employees, as the conglomerate joins the ranks of U.S. companies phasing out a guaranteed retirement.

GE’s traditional pension and post-employment benefits programs, which were underfunded by $27 billion as of the end of 2018, are one of the company’s biggest liabilities. The company said the latest changes could reduce its pension deficit by as much as $8 billion.

GE is still responsible for lifetime payments to more than 600,000 retirees, workers and beneficiaries. The latest changes won’t affect retirees or others already receiving pension payments.

The company’s pension plan is the second largest by projected obligations, only behind International Business Machines Corp.’s,according to consulting firm Milliman Inc., which compiles data on the 100 U.S. public companies with the largest pension plans.

GE had funded 76% of its projected pension obligations at the end of 2018, according to Milliman, compared with 91% funded at IBM. The median funding level was 89% for the group.

Man. While freezing pension plans has become a common technique to reduce risks and shrink corporate balance sheets, when you're doing it in the middle of the biggest expansion in history, you kind of know you're screwed. 

Let's do story time and look at another classic buy high, sell low type of investment fund for the common good.

My state has a Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program, created by the Legislature in 1989 and managed by the state treasurer. It almost collapsed during the last recession. Imagine the Dow at 14,000 in early 2007. Well, that investment group was struggling to meet the member requirements in 2007, and the Dow went to 7,000 during the recession, at which time they exited securities and went to a cash position. Buy high, sell low.  Great work, team! That decision combined with sharp tuition increases (healthcare costs as a comparison in a pension, anyone?) caused the fund to go insolvent and require a state bailout.

The point? If you're freezing pensions at the Apex of the market and the biggest expansion is history, sh#t's going to get real in even a moderate recession of any length.


FLSA Games: Exempt Salary Threshold Moves from 23K to 35K...

Heads up, HR friends at all levels...

Employees who make less than $35,568 are now eligible for overtime pay under a final rule issued today by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The new rate will take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

To be exempt from overtime under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employees must be paid a salary of at least the threshold amount and meet certain duties tests. If they are paid less or do not meet the tests, they must be paid 1 1/2 times their regular hourly rate for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek.

The new rule will raise the salary threshold to $684 a week ($35,568 annualized) from $455 a week ($23,660 annualized). A blocked Obama-era rule would have doubled the threshold, but a federal judge held that the DOL exceeded its authority by raising the rate too high.

The new rule is expected to prompt employers to reclassify more than a million currently exempt workers to nonexempt status and raise pay for others above the new threshold. 

My experience is that the new law impacts small to medium sized business the most, as they'll have a good number of employees labeled as exempt who have a salary in the low 30k's.  They'll be some exposure to huge companies that still have salaried supervisors in places like call centers in the low 30k's as well.

Feel bad about this?  Remember that the Obama rule was going to raise the threshold to 47K, my friends.

More details here from CNBC.

A good rundown here from SHRM of second-level details you'll need to know behind the broad threshold change.

 


Can the Young Star Ever Earn Less Than the Employees They Manage?

Capitalist Note - Got an email about this from a young gunner over the weekend, and sent her this post.  Felt like I should share again.  Cliff notes - you play to win the game, not win today.

-------------------------

In a word, yes.  It's rare, but it happens.

Here’s my take - most star managers on the upswing of their careers have usually faced the prospect of either managing someone who has either:

a) earned more than they have, or

b) earned close to what they have. 

It happens more often with rising stars who are relatively young in an organization, because they tend to aggregate additional responsibilities beyond their years.  You’re aggressive with the star within the definition of “aggressive” within your company, then the department of the star has to grow, you move people around internally to work for them and BAM!  You also experience the reality that in order to hire people with the skills to work for the young star in the growing department, those new hires need to come in at or around the salary you have the star at…

Is that a problem?  Many would say yes.  To anyone (this message is for you, young star) who finds themselves in that situation, I would say "have patience, young grasshopper".  If you are that star who finds themselves managing people who earn more or close to what you earn, you're right, there should be more of a divide.  However, note this - you got to where you are because you are viewed as a high, high potential asset to your company.  There's probably only one way you can mess that up if you continue to perform - by not handling the situation with class.

If you make it about the money, some people will chalk that up to maturity, and you might see theMo money upward arc of your career slow down a bit.  If you find a classy way to bring it to someone's attention without demanding any immediate action, I can guarantee you one thing: You're going to make a LOT more money than the people you're currently managing over the course of your career.
 
To the stars of the world who find themselves in this situation, I say: "Be the ball, Danny".  Don't let pride or some shortsighted advice from your Uncle Tommy drive your reaction to this situation.  You've managed to be different than everyone else to this point.  Keep being different. 

Play to win the game, not this possession.


PODCAST: e4 - This is HR - Women's Soccer Pay Equity, Management by 2Pac, Productivity Woes

(Email subscribers, if you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen to the podcast)

In Episode 4 of THIS IS HR, Jessica Lee (VP of Brand Talent, Marriott) is joined by Tim Sackett (President of HRU) and Kris Dunn (CHRO at Kinetix) for a discussion of industry news that only true HR pros could love.

The gang covers:

--Shots fired in pay equity between the USA Women's National Soccer team and the US Soccer Federation, which have different talking points when comparing total comp of the USA Men's and USA Women's National Soccer Teams (3:19).

--A Iowa state Director of Human Services gets canned for broad use of 2Pac lyrics in his management style, which begs the gang to wonder aloud how much 2Pac is too much if you're trying to lead a department of public servants... in Iowa (18:40).

--A new productivity study is out and has some interesting outcomes related to which days are the most productive (22:15).  The gang has issues with some of the findings, including that Thursdays suck.

KD closes it out by forgoing the mailbag and forcing the JLee and Tim to pick a single 2Pac song that most represents their management style, which includes the awkward reading of rap lyrics to defend said favorite 2Pac songs (28:53)

Just another day in the office at THIS IS HR.  


New Data Tells Us Which Companies/Vendors Owns Corporate Expense Accounts...

If you've ever wondered (what, just me?) what companies and vendors have the biggest share of corporate expense accounts/submitted expenses for approval, look no further.

The Certify SpendSmart™ quarterly report analyzes the most recent business expense transactions and vendor ratings data to provide valuable insights to Certify clients and the corporate T&E industry at large.

Translation - who is spending money on what?

In a bit of a surprise, Uber Technologies, Inc was the most frequently expensed vendor last quarter, according to Certify, a software provider enabling companies to manage travel expenses. Uber receipts made up 12.7% of all corporate transactions among Certify customers. On average, travelers spent $25.37 per Uber transaction.

Below is the entire trend chart (email subscribers click through if you don't see the the image below), which includes some interesting stuff:

Cerify

Note - being at the top of this chart doesn't mean you're generating the most revenue, only that you own X out of every 100 expensed items.

If you click through to see the entire report, you can add up categories to get a better idea on what the total market share is for each industry 

My hot takes on the data:

--Much has been said about today being a bad time to be a taxi driver.  It would also appear it's a bad time to be in the car rental business from the growth of rideshare total expensed receipts over the past couple of years (from 9.5% of corporate expense transactions 2 years ago to today's 16.5%)

--All airlines cited are down .25% of corporate expense transactions over the same 2 year period. Since we're in a peak economic period, the continuing growth and sophistication of video conferencing and virtual meetings would seem to be cutting in to airline growth.

--The presence of Starbucks in the top 2 shows its continued dominance in morning meetings, but the fact it's down a full percentage point of corporate expense transactions (down 18% over a two year period, per ticket price down significantly as well) means people are finding other places to go, growing a bit tired of Starbucks or finance is challenging the expense.

The only thing missing from the report from Certify is the strangest vendor that shows up in the top 100, 200 or 300 results.  I'd like to see that.  The fact that Amazon and WalMart show up as top 10 in corporate expenses hides many of the expensed items/companies we could have fun with.


Bernie Sanders: Proving the Compensation Side of the People Business is Problematic...

Let me start by saying this is not intended to be a political post. It is intended, however, to show the complexities of running a SMB (small to medium sized business).

Need a case in point?  Try Bernie Sanders.  Sanders is a Democratic presidential candidate, and part of his platform has been the need to pay workers a living wage.  No one really Bernie argues that this is a good idea, but once you get into the execution of the idea, it gets complex.

Let's look at the Minimum Wage in America.  Sanders is on record that the minimum wage should be at $15 per hour nationwide, etc.  That's where it gets tricky as he attempts to build out his campaign organization for his presidential run.  More from the New York Post:

"The Vermont socialist senator made history by agreeing that his paid 2020 presidential campaign workers would be repped by a union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, with all earning $15 an hour. But now the union complains some employees are getting less. Worse, someone leaked the whole dispute to the Washington Post. Worse yet, Sanders’ response could be a violation of US labor law, all on its own.

The union’s gripe centers on the fact that field organizers, the lowest-level workers, often put in 60 hours a week but get paid only for 40, since they’re on a flat salary. That drops their average minimum pay to less than $13 an hour.

“Many field staffers are barely managing to survive financially, which is severely impacting our team’s productivity and morale,” the union said in a draft letter to campaign manager Faiz Shakir. “Some field organizers have already left the campaign as a result.”

The campaign’s immediate response, now that it’s all gone public, is to restrict the field workers from putting in more than 40 hours a week. Hmm: If it then brings on more unpaid volunteers to pick up the slack, that’s a different union grievance."

The HR pros who read the Capitalist - regardless of political orientation - know that Sanders has experienced the following:

1--He believed workers should be paid no less than $15 per hour.

2--While he partly accomplished that with how he set up his organization, he either didn't understand or cut a corner by classifying field organizers as "exempt".  My guess is he told his people his intent and they found the path of least resistance to make that marching order a reality while maintaining cost certainty - aka, salary over hourly.

3--The good people that read this site understand it's debatable that field organizers would be classified as "salaried" under the FLSA.  But collective bargaining with a union pushes some of the burden of classification to the background - at least initially.

4--Overtime pay kills all SMBs.  The Sanders campaign has a budget - they can't reclassify those workers to hourly status and make their budget (paying them $15 per hour for all hours worked and OT for hours past 40 per week).  Also, if they reclassified, they'd be on the hook for back pay for OT.  So they do what the only thing available to them - telling salaried field organizers to stop working at 40 hours.

What Bernie Sanders has ran into is a classic small business problem. As a business owner, you'd like for the vast majority of your workforce to be salaried - so you have cost certainty and instruct workers to work until their objectives are met - no overtime. The FLSA exists to provide legal boundaries for SMBs (as well as large companies) related to classification of workers.

The devil is always in the details.  There's never enough resources when you're attempting to bootstrap an organization, and that fact makes you look for the most affordable labor possible in some situations.  

Bernie Sanders is bootstrapping an organization in America.  It's an interesting contrast of ideas, market forces and math.


The Complex Relationship of A.I. and Labor's Share of GDP in the USA...

Will A.I. take jobs away? 

Of course it will. The only question is whether the jobs it eliminates are replaced by other jobs up the food chain, in different and perhaps yet unknown industries and job classes.

The world has seen various waves of automation and globalization over the last century. Name the game changing technology, and there was paranoia that jobs were being eliminated and workers would be idle, never to find work to replace what was lost.

Through it all, a little talked about stat called “US Labor Share” has tracked the worker’s share of the economic pie.  For the uninitiated, here’s the definition of US Labor Share from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

"The labor share is the percentage of economic output (GDP) that accrues to workers in the form of compensation. It is calculated by dividing the compensation earned during a certain period by the economic output produced over the same period."

For the sports fans out there, think about this as the salary cap number for the US non-farm workforce.  For the non-sports fans, think about your company’s salary budget as a percentage of revenue.

A quick historical look at the Labor Share (nonfarm business sector) chart from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that from the 1950’s through the year 2000, Labor Share remained fairly steady at 62% to 64% of US GDP.

Then, things changed. Labor Share started dropping hard in 2008-2009 (both in and coming off the recession) dropping from 60% of GDP to a level now looking to at the 56% range. According to Fortune Magazine, that equates into about $11,000 less in annual income for the average US household when compared to an economy that provides a 65% percent share to the US workforce.

Here's a look at the chart (email subscribers, please click through if you don't see the image):

Labor share

Machines displaced a lot of farmworkers in the 19th century, but millions of new jobs in manufacturing were created.  When the manufacturing sector in the US took a hit in the 50’s, 60’s and 70s’, new jobs in services became a much larger part of the economy, and Labor Share remained steady between 62% and 64%.

And here we are – at 56% - in a peak economy. What gives?

It all comes down to job creation as the term automation gets replaced by A.I.  What’s the new sector of jobs that’s coming online as A.I. – the new, at times scarier version of automation – displaces human labor?

Factory workers became truck drivers across the Midwest when factories went away. What blue collar profession do they turn to when automation/A.I. fully delivers self-driving, autonomous vehicles to the transportation industry?

White collar workers have been impacted by automation as well, but globalization and the impact of cheap labor available overseas has had greater impact. What happens when A.I. delivers a seamless tax return or handles coding at a deeper, more self-aware level that transcends the age-old argument of chasing cheaper white collar labor in the Philippines?

Read enough, and you'll find opinions that A.I is the beginning of the end, or overhyped to a large degree.

I’m a fan of technology and progress. I’ve always believed that jobs eliminated by technology would re-emerge up the food chain.

The current Labor Share chart in the USA is making me think deeper. We’re almost a decade into the expansion, the toughest recruiting environment for employers imaginable, and workers still can’t get theirs?

Buckle up.  The next couple of decades are going to be interesting.


5 Questions: Should Amazon Employees Take the Company Offer (10K, 3 Months Pay) to Quit?

I’ll give you $10,000 and 3 months of pay if you quit today and do something else. 

Who’s interested? Everyone!

Who takes me up on my offer? Well, that’s where it gets interesting. Amazon van

If the whole “we’ll pay you to quit” sounds familiar, it was the rarified air of the HR culture darling, Zappos.com.  We loved Zappos back in the day for a variety of things, including their offer to pay new hires to quit early in their tenure.  Here’s how the thinking went – if you’re not sure this is for you, we’ll pay you to eliminate the cultural misfit and just go.

The Zappos offer to pay you to quit was child’s play. Amazon saw that offer and said, “Hold my beer.”

In case you missed it, Amazon was in the news again late last week with a Godfather offer (you can’t refuse) to employees designed to create momentum to build the delivery capability needed to meet its future needs. The offer was this - 10K and 3 month’s pay for any employee who will quit and start a franchised delivery business under the Amazon partnership umbrella.  Here’s the details of the announcement:

The company announced they will pay two to three months salary and $10,000 in startup costs if an employee will quit their post and start a package delivery service. The company wants to make good on its promise to Prime members to cut delivery time in half from two days to one.

The offer is open to most part-time and full-time Amazon employees, including warehouse workers who pack and ship orders. The employee still has to be accepted into this program, and the company did not share how many people they think will apply and be accepted.

Newly anointed entrepreneurs can lease blue vans with the Amazon smile logo on it. The company estimates someone who owns 20 to 40 delivery vans can potentially earn $300,000 a year.

You have to admit, that’s kind of cool.  But it’s a trap for many of the Amazon employees who hear the offer and think being their own boss is a path that’s for them.

That’s because the business those employees would be entering under the Amazon partnership umbrella isn’t a delivery business, it’s actually a people management business.  CBS news did the math last year and reported that to make low six figure as an owner of this business, you’d need to employ at least 20 full-time equivalents per year.

Danger!! (Siren sound in the background)

Not sure whether the offer is for you, Amazon employees?  Fear not, because I’m here with an uber-simple 5-item questionnaire designed to help you understand whether you should quit your Amazon job and start a delivery business once you’ve been accepted into the Amazon “lease some vans and start a business” incubator. 

Answer the following questions “yes” or “no”:

  1. Have you ever thought your manager was a complete dipshit related to business savvy?
  2. Do you actively avoid dealing with some people at work?
  3. Have you ever been asked to be part of an interview process for open positions and thought, “I’m too busy” or “that’s not my job”?
  4. Do you ever vent to your spouse for long periods of time about co-workers?
  5. Have you ever had a co-worker vent to you and refused to get involved in whatever issue they had, either directly (telling them you didn’t want to get involved) or indirectly (waiting for them to finish their rant and excusing yourself as softly as you could)?

Score your answers in the following way:

--0-1“yes” answers: This Amazon offer might be for you.

--2-3 “yes” answers: You shouldn’t quit your day job. You’ll likely start well in your Amazon delivery franchise, only to grow disenchanted, look back and see year one was by far the best year of your delivery business.

--4-5 “yes” answers: Run away. You’re going to burn the f###ing trucks by month six, end up in jail for arson, insurance fraud and divorced.

The Amazon deliver business is a “people” business. Don’t be fooled by the vans, the cool scanners and the Amazon tech stack.  If you don’t enjoy (or can’t tolerate) the people side of business, you have NO SHOT at employing/retaining 20-40 full-time drivers in 2019, with America at peak economic cycle, hourly employees employed at their next job 3-7 days after quitting on you, and the 200 ways people will disappoint you in a given day and force you to engage them directly.

I hope Amazon will evaluate you for inclusion into the program with this in mind. 

But you might just have decent credit and be able to float a note for 20 leased vans.

Unless you passed my 5-question quiz with flying colors, stay on the Amazon payroll. As hard as life is there, it’s safer for you.


Daily Pay: Discount it at Your Own Peril As an HR Leader...

Most readers of this blog are blessed in many ways, including financially.  As HR and recruiting pros, many of us live our lives and really don't consider things from our workforce's point of view often enough.

Case in point: The concept of Daily Pay as a tool for retention. IMG_2818

Daily pay is something that doesn't feel natural to HR pros. After all we've long since settled into our 2 week cycles for payroll.  Payroll is due!! What's our error rate on Payroll?  Are the transactions getting done in a systematic way?

Our 2-week payroll cycles make the concept of Daily Pay foreign to a lot us.  I was reminded of this when P Hall, a reader of the Capitalist, sent me the picture you see at the right (email subscribers click through if you don't see the photo) from a Taco Bell in the Carolinas.  My reaction to it was mixed, which underscores what a lot of HR pros and TA leaders would say about the concept of Daily Pay.

"Nobody really needs daily pay."

"Daily pay would cause anarchy in our department"

"Our employees need to wait until payday. We're not the bank"

But our own perspective and experience isn't shared with the rest of the world.  For those of you with large hourly populations, you've got a workforce with a high number of people living paycheck to paycheck. And that means that disruptions in your employee's lives can cause bad things - absenteeism, lower focus on their job at your company via second jobs, moonlighting and turnover.

Payroll technology in the app world makes the transition to daily pay easier than you might think.  More from SHRM:

"We're seeing a lot of traction for instant pay apps in companies with large hourly workforces where employees live paycheck to paycheck and unexpected expenses can cause big disruptions to their lives," said Ron Hanscome, a research vice president at Gartner in Minneapolis who specializes in HR technologies. "It can be a differentiator in markets where turnover is high and organizations are looking to create a more stable workforce." The ability to draw pay right away can keep some hourly workers from jumping ship to competitors for a 25-cent or 50-cent per-hour pay increase, Hanscome said.

Organizations including Outback Steakhouse, McDonalds, Dial America and Maids International are using some version of the pay option, with some saying it has contributed to a reduction in turnover among hourly workers. Walmart has announced it will begin allowing its workers to use an app called Even to access a portion of their wages before standard paydays.

Just as importantly, we're in a peak economic cycle, and your hourly workforce has more options than ever before.  You've got employees who live paycheck to paycheck, and being able to tap into their wages before you decide to pay them every two weeks might be a contributing factor moving forward to you being able to attract hourly workers - or keep them.

Turns out, you might need to be the bank in today's world.


Amazon Raising All US Workers to a Minimum of $15/hr Is The Simplest Business Decision Ever...

In case you missed it, Amazon announced today that it would establish a $15/hr minimum hourly wage for all 350,000 of its U.S. employees.

The new pay threshold will go into effect Nov. 1 and impact all full-time, temporary and seasonal workers across the company’s U.S. warehouse and customer service teams as well as Whole Foods, the company said in a blog post. It did not disclose what its current minimum pay wage is for U.S. workers, perhaps in part because there is not one set rate. Jeff-bezos-

You can say that it's the right thing to do, but beyond providing a livable wage for employees, THIS IS THE SMARTEST THING AMAZON COULD HAVE DONE FROM A BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE.

Why is that? Because the Amazon effect is on the cusp of being like the Wal-Mart effect of a decade ago.  Remember that vibe?  Wal-Mart put small, local mom and pop shops out of business.  Then they were accused of providing bad jobs and poor working environments.

We all love Amazon Prime.  But Amazon is eliminating as many jobs as Wal-Mart.  They just aren't as visible as the mom and pops that went out of business a decade or two ago.  They're putting big box retailers, malls, strip malls and e-commerce shops out of business.  Why?  Amazon Prime.  We love it.  It's changing a lot of things.

Meanwhile, click on the links below to learn about some reports of working conditions at Amazon:

Workers at Delivery Services contracting to Amazon claim deplorable conditions

Amazon Execs Admit "Employee Cages was a bad idea"

With AI coming on the scene and more disruption on the way from Amazon, the decision to pay all workers a minimum of $15 should have been easy.

If you work for Amazon in Kentucky, you're feeling great today.  If you are based in California, you're probably asking "where's mine?"  If you work for a contractor of Amazon in delivery, it doesn't impact you.

Amazon's going to have the same PR issues as Wal-Mart did within 2 to 5 years.

This move made perfect sense.  Way to get ahead of the coming storm, Amazon.